Philippine lawmakers on Monday rejected an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte that accused him of a crime against humanity over the deaths of thousands of people killed in his war on drugs.
The complaint alleged Duterte had adopted a state policy of extrajudicial killings that led to more than 8,000 deaths in his first eight months as president, and was involved in mass murder as well as widespread corruption in his previous stint as a mayor of a southern city.
The congressional justice committee quickly dismissed the complaint in its first day of hearings on the issue, overwhelmingly voting that it was “insufficient in substance”.
“The complaint filed was frivolous. How can you proceed if the complaint has no basis,” committee chairman Reynaldo Umali, who is a member of Duterte’s ruling party, told reporters afterwards.
The committee vote effectively ends the impeachment case, which even Duterte’s opponents conceded had little chance of prospering with the president enjoying a commanding majority in the lower house of congress.
A plenary of the lower house still needs to endorse the committee’s decision, although political observers and lawmakers said there was zero chance of Monday’s vote being overturned.
“We have nowhere to go (but) we will find a way to get justice,” opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano, who filed the impeachment case, told reporters. Duterte, 72, won presidential elections last year after promising to launch an unprecedented crackdown on crime in which tens of thousands of people would die.
Police have reported killing about 2,700 people since Duterte took office at the end of June and immediately launched his war on drugs. Unknown assailants have killed more than 1,800 others, while about 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation, according to police data.
Duterte has called for addicts to be slaughtered and repeatedly promised to pardon police if they are found guilty of murder while prosecuting his drug war.
The United Nations, the European Union and the US government have criticised the drug war, while rights groups have warned Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.
However surveys show Duterte remains a popular president at home and that many Filipinos support the drug war, believing tough tactics are needed to tackle crime.
Duterte’s spokesman Ernesto Abella welcomed Monday’s rejection of the impeachment complaint.