MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte committed to ensure a peaceful and credible May 2022 national and local elections at the United States’ Summit for Democracy convened by US President Joe Biden  last December 10,

“My administration will ensure an honest, peaceful, credible, and free elections in May. It will be my highest honor to turn over the reins of power to my successor knowing that in the exercise of my mandate I did my best to serve the Filipino nation,” Duterte said.

“I step down in June 2022. The work of our imperfect democracy will certainly continue,” he added. ”

Duterte also cited corruption, poverty and peace and order issues  “weakened our institutions and deprived many Filipinos of democratic agencies.” 

Duterte said “difficult undertakings” had to be done to make necessary reforms, heal deep wounds of division and re-dress stark inequalities in the country despite his government’s failure to broaden democratic participation through federalism.

“So be it. I respect the separation of powers vital for democracy,” he said.

The 2022 elections will determine Duterte’s successor, with ally and dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., opposition leader Vice-president Leni Robredo, Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manny Pacquiao, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Labor leader Leody de Guzman vying for the top job.

Duterte, is seeking a Senate seat after withdrawing his initial vice-presidential bid while his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is Marcos’ running mate.

Meanwhile, Duterte’s inclusion in the summit was criticized, including those directed at Biden after he excluded China and Russia.

During the event, Biden touted the two countries as the “supreme leaders of the autocracies camp.”

Before the summit, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) labelled the event as a “showcase for populist autocrats and human rights violators” following Duterte’s inclusion.

“Duterte’s reign of terror and mass murder, which have provoked an (International Criminal Court) investigation of crimes against humanity, would seem to disqualify him from providing advice on anything except fascist populism, repression and human rights violations,” ICHRP Chairman Peter Murphy said.

Malacañang, on the other hand, described Duterte’s decision to participate as “consistent with his independent foreign policy of being friend to all, enemy to none.”

On the eve of the Summit and International Human Rights Day, Filipino-American activists gathered outside the Philippine Consulate General in New York to condemn the inclusion of Duterte to the Summit.

In a report by ABS-CBN’s The Filipino Channel (TFC), activists also staged a candlelight vigil to remember human rights defenders allegedly killed for their political beliefs and activism under the Duterte regime.

“It seems so ridiculous to invite somebody like Duterte who has shown time and time again that he does not respect the idea of democracy, does not respect the idea of human rights,” Anakbayan Queens’ Nico Cabanayan said.

“We are trying to send a message to stop the killings, to stop the human rights abuses. We want the Philippine government to know that there are people in the United States that oppose what he is doing very much,” New York City Veterans for Peace’s Tarak Kauff said.

Protesters have also urged US legislators to pass the Philippine Human Rights Act sponsored by Representative Susan Wild which will cease US military aid to the Philippines unless human rights abuses stop.

Wild is set to hold a Congressional briefing on the situation in the Philippines on December 13, EST.

PH’s ‘free press’ — Duterte

During his speech, Duterte insisted what he claims is the Philippines’ “vibrant democracy.”

“I am proud to be at this Summit for Democracy to tell you about the Philippine experience. Philippine democracy is indeed a work in progress. But the Filipino is free. The Philippines is free,” Duterte said, touting the Philippines as being the “first republic in Asia” and the “inspiration of all Asian struggles for independence.”

“Freedom of expression and of the press are fully enjoyed and the regular transfer of power is guaranteed through free and honest elections,” he added.

Held on the same day was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize for journalists and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and Russia’s Novaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov and the marking of International Human Rights Day.

In a report by The Philippine Star, Norwegian Nobel Committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen explained last October that Ressa and Muratov were being recognized “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a pre-condition for democracy and lasting peace” while the committee also noted Rappler’s reporting of Duterte’s “murderous, controversial” war on drugs.

In another report by Rappler, it noted that the Duterte government tried to keep Ressa from personally receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo, Norway deeming her a flight risk until the Court of Appeals allowed the travel.

Ressa, the first Filipino to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, was convicted of cyber libel in 2010 in one of the numerous cases piled up against her and Rappler following the start of Duterte’s presidency in 2016.