Manila—The hashtag #DuterteDuwag (DuterteCoward) trended on the Philippines’ Twitterverse in mid-March after President Rodrigo Duterte declared to withdraw the Philippines from the International Criminal Court, or ICC, where he would be facing a formal investigation that will look if his drug war would amount to crimes against humanity.
Critics were not surprised that Duterte wanted to withdraw the Philippines from ICC, as his blood-soaked campaign against drugs has left more than 13,000 mostly poor Filipinos dead, yet not a single person responsible for the deaths has been held to account. The death toll was based on human rights groups’ estimate.
“Cowardice to the highest degree,” and “Flight is a sign of guilt,” read two of the tweets and social media comments accusing Duterte of attempting to shield himself and 11 of his officials from ICC prosecution for mass murder and crimes against humanity. The hashtag further went viral after Sen. Leila de Lima shouted out "Coward Duterte!” as she was filmed by media while being escorted by policemen. De Lima is Duterte's staunchest critic whom he jailed on allegations of corruption through drug trading.
The ICC immediately stated it will push through with its preliminary review of the war on drugs despite the Philippines' wish to withdraw from the Rome Statute, the ICC's founding treaty, which it joined as a state party in 2011. "In the event of a withdrawal from the ICC, this decision will not affect the continuation of the preliminary examination process," said a statement from the office of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Withdrawal will also have no impact on the process of ICC as it still obliged Filipino authorities to cooperate in the proceedings. The international tribunal clarified that this preliminary step is not an investigation but a process to determine if there is basis to proceed with a proper investigation.
Duterte's wish to withdraw was a complete turnaround from his statements welcoming the probe although he called the ICC "biased" and doesn’t have jurisdiction over him. He even called Bensouda "the black woman" and UN representative Agnes Callamard the "undernourished one." Callamard, a special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, has visited the Philippines and wanted another visit.
Duterte's disregard for the rule of law continued to obscure democracy in the country that just observed the 32nd anniversary of the February 1986 People Power revolt, not by recalling fond memories of the peaceful revolution that became a model to the world but by mounting protests against Duterte and his government that continues to silence media, hush criticism and demean women.
He made good his earlier promise not to punish, but instead pardon any police officer who would kill drug traders and users in the name of his brutal drug policy. Under his watch, the Department of Justice dismissed drug trafficking charges against suspected bigtime drug lords Peter Lim, whom Duterte himself identified as a Triad leader, and Kerwin Espinosa, who admitted in a Senate inquiry that he was indeed into the drug trade, and other drug dealers.
More perplexing perhaps was the justice department's decision to include in the witness protection program Janet Napoles, the pork barrel scam queen who faces plunder and graft cases in connection with scams involving legislators' development assistance funds.
Further, Duterte issued an all-out war against communist rebels and instructed the military to "shoot (female rebels) in the vagina." The justice department issued a list of hundreds of people it tagged as terrorists, including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
His tirades against women continued with efforts by those supportive of his presidency, especially against Maria Lourdes Sereno, the first female Supreme Court chief justice. He barred a female journalist from social news media network Rappler from covering the presidential office, the same media outfit whose operating license was revoked by the securities office.
Conferences on democracy centered on how to "push back" against Duterte's misogyny and "drunken language" by supporting efforts to improve the sourcing and processing of information and to hold Duterte accountable for leading the disinformation himself and his government's organized disinformation and fake news campaign