By Beting Laygo Dolor | Contributing Editor
A Duterte supporter in the Senate warned him to back off from arresting anyone seeking to impeach the President.
Senior Sen. Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson said last week that jailing those who seek to impeach Duterte will create bigger problems for the Chief Executive.
“The President knows he can’t do it and we know he won’t do it,” Lacson said in a statement to media.
Legal experts said what the President said was “an empty threat” since the act of filing an impeachment complaint is not a crime.
Duterte had stated in Malacañang Palace last week that he would not allow any impeachment proceedings against him to proceed, saying, “you’re going to impeach me? I will imprison them all. I dare you.”
The President reacted to calls from various parties including a sitting Supreme Court associate justice, a former Foreign Affairs secretary, and a senator to make Duterte liable for willful disregard of the Constitution when he said he would allow Chinese ships to fish in Philippine waters.
It was senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio who first accused the President of willful violation of the basic law of the land. His view was echoed by former Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario.
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima likewise said that Duterte very likely broke the law but his threat was his way of addressing critics.
Although a supporter of the President, Lacson warned that the House of Representatives – where all impeachment complaints emanate – could defy Duterte, if only to show their independence.
If the House votes to impeach a president, it is the Senate acting as an impeachment court that decides the fate of the accused chief executive.
The possibility of the current House turning against the President is not lost on the administration.
Like Duterte, then President Joseph Estrada was a popular chief executive who had massive support in the House. But in a surprise twist, then House Speaker Manuel Villar allowed the impeachment complaint to move forward.
Before Estrada could be tried by the Senate, he resigned as a consequence of what has been called the EDSA Dos rebellion.
Under the Constitution, only Filipinos may catch fish or extract anything of value from its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a principle recognized by member states of the United Nations.
But the President said he saw nothing wrong with allowing Chinese vessels in Philippine waters “because we are friends.”
Chinese fishing vessels have been known to intrude into Philippine waters for some time but have been more aggressive during the Duterte administration.
Last month, a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a boat manned by 22 Filipino fishermen.
Despite the sinking of the Philippine boat, the Chinese abandoned the fishermen, who might have drowned had they not been rescued by a Vietnamese ship.
The near universal reaction among Filipinos was one of anger, worsened by the failure of the President to react for a full week after the incident.
Duterte then dismissed the incident as nothing more than “a maritime accident,” although he later told the fishermen that there was little he could do as China also claims ownership of the waters where the incident took place. He asked the fishermen to just accept their fate.
To appease them, the Palace donated smaller fishing boats to the 22 fishermen in place of their sunken larger vessel.
For failing to protect the country’s territorial waters, critics of the President raised the specter of removing him by impeachment.