DOJ chief tells PNP: Filing impeachment case not unlawful
MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday cautioned the Philippine National Police (PNP) against arresting proponents of impeaching President Rodrigo Duterte for allowing the Chinese to fish in Philippine waters in violation of the Constitution.
“The question before us now is: Is filing a complaint for impeachment an unlawful act? My answer to that question is certainly no,” Guevarra said in a news conference a day after Gen. Oscar Albayalde, the PNP chief, said he would obey a presidential order to arrest people who would bring complaints for the President’s impeachment.
Guevarra said the Department of Justice would “always follow the rules and the law.”
“There are only a few situations where warrantless arrests are allowed or permitted under our rules. So in situations where an unlawful act is not being committed in the first place, there will be no legal basis for an arrest,” he said.
On Saturday, the President threatened to jail his critics who had been saying he could be impeached for violating Article XII, Section 2 of the Constitution, which requires the state to protect the Philippines’ territory and reserves the right to exploit resources found in the country’s waters for Filipino citizens.
Albayalde followed through on the President’s warning on Monday, telling reporters that he would obey a presidential order for arrests but stressing that there would be investigations first.
Told that filing an impeachment complaint against the President is not a crime, Albayalde said other offenses could be cited, such as sedition and libel.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros found the PNP chief’s remarks “extremely disheartening.”
“Is it now the job of the PNP to intimidate people who only want to exercise their constitutional and democratic rights to hold our leaders accountable?” Hontiveros said in a statement on Tuesday.
She said Albayalde’s statements were intended to serve as a warning to those who would try to call the President to account that they would be put through police investigation and, possibly, charged.
“Why would the PNP chief even insinuate possible violations on the part of those who criticize the President, if not to intimidate and threaten them?” Hontiveros said.
She reminded him that impeachment was a constitutional and democratic process and that any citizen could use it to hold public officials accountable for betraying the public trust and violating the Constitution.
President’s ‘praetorian guard’
The PNP’s duty, she said, was to protect citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights, not to serve as the President’s “praetorian guard.”
But Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, the President’s first PNP chief who pursued his brutal war on drugs that has killed more than 6,000 as of May this year, said the President must have learned something that made him threaten his critics with arrest if they proceeded to go for his impeachment.
“He has a basis for that. It’s not an arbitrary arrest of someone filing something,” Dela Rosa told reporters.
Commenting on the issue on Tuesday, Malacañang said the President was just indignant at his critics when he threatened to arrest them.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President’s remarks to reporters on Saturday were only “an expression of displeasure, disappointment.”
“It is a righteous indignation,” Panelo said.
At the DOJ, Guevarra tried to play down Malacañang’s declaration that the Chinese could fish in Philippine waters in exchange for Filipinos to fish again at Panatag Shoal by pointing out that no formal bilateral agreement had been signed.
“I guess it’s more like a mutual understanding, a mutual personal understanding between” President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, he said, adding that any policy agreement would have been properly documented if it was meant to bind the two governments.
But when asked about the impact of the supposed “mutual understanding” between Mr. Duterte and Xi, Guevarra admitted “it’s quite difficult to characterize that kind of agreement.”
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares described the deal as a “phantom agreement.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Colmenares said the agreement was just the President’s excuse to justify his unwillingness to defend Philippine waters and Filipino fishermen.
Malacañang’s failure to produce a copy of the agreement, claiming later that it was “verbal,” proved that there was no such accord, as the Palace reported no such concession after the President’s visit to China in October 2016, Colmenares said.
He pointed out that Malacañang had never referred to the agreement whenever Filipino fishermen complained about Chinese harassment at Panatag Shoal.
“This phantom agreement violates not only the Philippine Constitution but other Philippine and international laws,” Colmenares said.
He cited Presidential Decree No. 1599, which requires an agreement or governmental authorization for access to resources in Philippine waters by foreigners.
“A supposed verbal and personal concession given by Mr. Duterte, especially if everyone, including Congress, is unaware [of it], cannot be deemed [an] agreement … under PD 1599,” Colmenares said.
As there is no written agreement to serve as evidence, it would be difficult to impeach the President, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
The evidence must be a written document or direct testimony, Drilon told reporters.
“When [it comes to impeachment], you observe the rules of evidence and the President, as a former prosecutor, knows this. You need either a written document or direct testimony,” he said. —With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and DJ Yap
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