President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to jail critics if they try to impeach him, as he faces accusations of defending Beijing after a boat crash in the disputed South China Sea.
After a string of small street protests, as well as criticism from opposition politicians and former officials, President Duterte lashed out while talking to reporters late Thursday.
“You will impeach me? I will deliver you all to jail. You try that. You want me not only to violate the Constitution,” Duterte told reporters.
“I tell these stupid people, I said I deal with reality,” he added.
Critics had raised the spectre of impeachment after Duterte, responding to the sinking controversy, said he allowed Chinese fishermen in Philippine waters because “we’re friends.”
Still, the President is confident that an impeachment case against him will not prosper in Congress, Malacañang said Friday, saying the Chief Executive’s actions are “constitutionally feasible.”
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo pointed out that Duterte had a supermajority of allies in Congress.
“How can a President be scared of an impeachment? An impeachment is a numbers game. We have a supermajority in Congress. It might not even pass the committee on justice,” Panelo said.
Panelo said Duterte was “incensed” because his critics cannot understand or see that what he is doing is for the good of the country.
“The guy puts his life at stake yet some don’t appreciate him, that’s why he’s annoyed,” Panelo said.
In his speech after the oathtaking of Senator-elect Christopher Go on Thursday evening, the President threatened to jail those who would seek to impeach him.
“Try. I am challenging you to do it. You really want me to force my hand? Okay. Son of a b****, fine, file it. You’ll see where you’ll land,” Duterte added.
The issue has flared up since a Chinese fishing trawler hit and sank a Filipino boat on June 9 near Reed Bank
, an area that is within the country’s exclusive economic zone but which is also claimed by Beijing.
Duterte has tried to downplay the case, calling it an “accident”
and accepting Beijing’s offer to conduct a joint investigation.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and several other lawmakers said Duterte may be impeached for allowing Chinese fishermen to exploit the resources within the Philippines’ EEZ, which are reserved for Filipinos.
But Malacañang said this did not amount to an impeachable offense and dared critics to file a complaint against Duterte.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Friday dismissed Duterte’s threat to jail those who would impeach him.
“We know he won’t do it,” Lacson said.
The problem of the President, he said, would be if one-third of the members of the House of Representatives―the number needed to transmit an impeachment complaint to the Senate—feel more challenged than afraid of his threat.
He said the bigger problem would be if 16 senators or one-third of the Senate, sitting as the jury in an impeachment trial, would find him guilty.
But all these are hypothetical scenarios, he said, adding that as it stands, any complaint based on Duterte’s media statements would not even get past the justice committee for lack of form and substance.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also played down the President’s threat, saying he did not take it seriously.
He also pointed out that the President has a supermajority in the House, so any impeachment complaint is doomed to fail.
But Senator Richard Gordon said Duterte may be impeached if he agreed with China to allow its fishermen to trawl within the Philippines’ economic exclusive zone.
Gordon said this amounts to violation of the Constitution, but this must be proven first.
He pointed out that Duterte’s agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping for each side to continue fishing in the disputed areas was personal. “Our foreign policy can’t rely on personal friendship,” Gordon said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio also said there is overwhelming evidence to file an impeachment complaint against the Preesident for his failure to secure the Philippine territory.
Interviewed over ANC’s “Headstart” television program, however, Tinio acknowledged that such a complaint would not prosper in the 18th Congress because of the supermajority he enjoys.
Also on Friday, the wife of the captain of the ship that was sunk by a Chinese vessel on June 9 said she supported the impeachment of the President after he said he would not stop the Chinese from fishing in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Lanie Insigne said she was irked to hear the President’s defending Chinese poachers who intrude into Philippine waters.
“It seems like the Philippines has no rights there,” she said in Filipino, referring to the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea. “He’s just obeying the Chinese. I was irked when I saw him on TV, and I thought, it would be better if he is impeached.”
Opposition politicians allege that violates a provision of the Philippine constitution mandating the government to protect its marine wealth, including its exclusive economic zone, “and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.”
Duterte enjoys firm popular backing but his setting aside of the standoff with China over the resource-rich waterway is criticized as weakness by some in the Philippines.
Duterte enjoys sky-high public popularity in the Philippines despite international disapproval of key policy measures, like his narcotics crackdown that has killed thousands.
His allies will hold the majority in the upcoming session of the legislature, which would be the authority in impeachment proceedings against any Philippine official.
However, segments of the public and press question whether Duterte’s pivot toward China has brought too little in hoped-for investment and infringed too much on the nation’s sovereignty.
China claims most of the waterway, through which billions in trade passes annually, and has rejected a 2016 international tribunal ruling that its claim was without basis in law.
A 1982 United Nations treaty on the law of the sea gives coastal states like the Philippines jurisdiction in exploring and exploiting marine resources over their exclusive economic zone, including waters extending 322 kilometres (200 miles) from the shore.
Twenty-two Filipino fishermen were rescued by Vietnamese fishermen hours after the June 9 collision,
in which Manila initially alleged the Chinese vessel left Filipinos dead after their boat sank. With AFP
READ: Impeachable, if...