PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte could face prosecution over his controversial drug war among other issues after stepping down from office, analysts said, but several factors such as his continuing popularity and his successor would come into play as to whether he will ever be put behind bars.
Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, told BusinessWorld in a text message that “given the weak party system in the Philippines, President Duterte will likely lose many allies once he steps down from office by end of June as politicians will gravitate to the new president.”
This is even more likely if Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, an opposition icon, leads the next administration, she added.
“A Robredo presidency may leave him without much options as there will be a strong demand from Robredo supporters for investigations related to the drug war, red-tagging of opposition, harassment of (the) opposition, pandemic response, graft and corruption, etc.,” Ms. Atienza said.
Mr. Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, does not have an official presidential candidate as it has been divided into two warring factions. The President himself has declined to personally endorse any of the aspirants.
“It is quite unfortunate on his part and his allies that they failed to have a strong official candidate for president,” Ms. Atienza said. “He said he will not endorse any presidential candidate but we don’t know if he can make a deal with whoever becomes president so that he will be protected from legal challenges and investigations.”
University of the Philippines Political Science Assistant Professor Sol Dorotea R. Iglesias said the President’s transformation into citizen Duterte will put his popularity to the test.
“Is it genuine or are respondents motivated by fear or other reasons, as new research is beginning to show?” she told BusnessWorld in an email.
A Social Weather Stations survey released in February showed that Mr. Duterte’s satisfaction rating stayed “very good” as 75% of Filipinos remained satisfied with his performance.
“Compared to September 2021, gross satisfaction with President Duterte rose by eight points from 67%, gross undecided fell by two points from 11%, and gross dissatisfaction stayed at 15%,” it said in a statement.
A Robredo presidency could back domestic and international prosecution against Mr. Duterte since the vice president has long opposed the popular leader’s war on drugs and has made clear statements about allowing the International Criminal Court to conduct its investigation, Ms. Iglesias said.
“Prosecution of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations during President Duterte’s term, particularly of activists and targets of red-tagging, can also be expected,” she said.
On the other hand, Froilan C. Calilung, a political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas, said in a Viber message to BusinessWorld that although cases were filed against former Philippine presidents after their respective terms, Mr. Duterte’s popularity is on an entirely “different level.”
It is “the first in recent history where an outgoing president enjoys a high satisfactory and trust rating,” Mr. Calilung said.
“This may mean that the public may not be interested in pursuing a case against him once he steps down,” he said. “Even if Leni wins, a Duterte imprisonment may be (a) far-fetched idea.”
Other presidential candidates, except for the late dictator’s son and namesake Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., have expressed openness to an investigation of Mr. Duterte.
Ms. Atienza said the possibility of legal scrutiny will still depend on Mr. Duterte’s level of authority after leaving Malacañang Palace.
“A Marcos Jr. presidency may give him time to bargain for lesser legal battles and investigations but it depends on whether he will remain influential,” she said.
“Either way, his lawyers may use the usual route of appealing for leniency because of advanced age and illness.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan