(OCTOBER 21, 2019) – Anyone is free to file lawsuits against President Rodrigo Duterte as soon as he steps down from office, his legal counsel and spokesman said on Monday, leaving it to the courts to determine the validity of the cases.
Salvador Panelo was reacting to statements from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, which plans to sue the President for human rights violations in connection with his war on drugs policy.
More than 6,000 suspected drug peddlers and users had been killed in anti-drug operations by the police and thousands more were killed by unknown asssailants. Police said those killed in anti-drugs operations resisted arrests and chose to shoot it out with undercover policemen.
“It’s a free country; everyone is entitled to file any case against whomsoever they think that has violated the law and let the courts decide the validity of such complaint,” Panelo told reporters during his regular press briefing at the Palace.
Sitting presidents are immuned from legal suits but they may face charges after they step down from office.
Congress can impeach and legally remove a president from office after a fair trial in the Senate.
Several lawyers from various NUPL chapters nationwide agreed to begin preparing criminal cases against Duterte in 2022, once his term ends. Aside from Duterte, state security forces will also be faced with charges for the alleged extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the administration’s war on drugs.
“It is timely that human rights lawyers from our chapters all over the country converged today considering the escalating human rights violations and the continuing impunity,” NUPL secretary-general Rey Cortez said.
“We will exhaust all legal venues, both domestic and international, to provide legal remedy to the families of victims of human rights violations,” he added.
The Palace, however, does not consider this worrisome for Duterte.
“The only worry that the President has is the sufferings of the people. That’s why he does a lot of things to make lives comfortable for them,” Panelo said.
Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs had claimed lives of more than 5,500 drug personalities since assuming office in 2016 per official data. Human rights groups, meanwhile, have a higher count of more than 27,000 lives including personalities killed vigilante-style.
The administration had consistently denied the existence of extrajudicial killings. (Randell Ritumalta/MM)