Salvador Panelo said yesterday that the President is not afraid of impeachment since he knows where he stands.
“How can the President be scared of impeachment? An impeachment is a numbers game.We have the super majority in Congress,” Panelo said.
He said an impeachment complaint might be junked as soon as it reaches the House of Representatives.
A grumpy Duterte on Thursday dared critics to impeach him, warning that he would put all of them behind bars.
He also said the constitutional provision on the country’s exclusive economic zone is for the “thoughtless and the senseless” as he claimed that the Charter would become a mere piece of paper in case war erupts over the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Explaining Duterte’s remarks, Panelo said, “He was incensed because he cannot understand why these people who are against his policies cannot understand and even visualize that what he is doing is for the good of the country.”
Panelo said Duterte is exerting all efforts – mentally and physically – but critics do not appreciate this. “Which is why he is so brash and angry,” he said.
More than having allies in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Panelo expressed belief that any complaint won’t stand scrutiny in the House.
“Of course, it will not (prosper). First to know if there was culpable violation. How can he even be violating? He’s even going beyond the provision (of the Constitution),” Panelo said.
“The provision says you protect the mineral, the maritime assets, all of those things. What else do you want? It’s not only those things but the whole of the Philippines the President is trying to protect. If the country is gone what else is there to protect? That’s what the President is trying to do,” he said.
As a lawyer, the President knows where he stands in the realm of the constitutionality of his actions related to the protection of the country’s marine wealth,
Panelo said, stressing the President is on the right track.
‘He won’t do it’
Senators, on the other hand, dismissed Duterte’s threats of jail time in retaliation of impeachment moves.
“The President knows he can’t do it and we know he won’t do it. His problem is when one-third of the members of the House of Representatives feel more challenged than afraid of his threat,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
“A bigger problem is when 16 senators are convinced by the evidence presented during the trial. Everything of course is hypothetical,” he added.
In an impeachment process, the House acts as prosecutor in filing a case against an impeachable official before the Senate, which hears it as an impeachment court.
Lacson said Malacañang may have a messaging problem on the issue as allowing foreigners to fish in the country’s EEZ is different from not being able to prevent them from entering and fishing.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan scoffed at Duterte’s threat, saying “impeaching a President is not a crime.”
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima said she was not surprised by Duterte’s remarks, saying the President always resorts to diverting public attention on crucial issues.
“Instead of mustering the courage to defend Filipino fishermen and the dignity of our country against China, Duterte instead threatened imprisonment against those who will file impeachment cases against him,” De Lima said in a statement.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra believed Duterte’s threats should not be taken seriously. “I don’t think he meant it,” he said.
Guevarra said anyone could file an impeachment complaint against the President, but they would have to prove that the Chief Executive acted against public interest.
“Remember that unlike an ordinary action in court, impeachment is not a strictly legal proceeding. It involves a whole gamut of political, economic and other considerations,” Guevarra said.
“In the end, the question is, did the President act against the general interest of the entire Filipino nation,” he added.
Del Rosario saddened
Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said Duterte’s pronouncement in allowing China in the country’s EEZ because of “friendship” would worsen the situation.
“I am deeply saddened. It is my hope that we will endeavor to do what is right and we will work to give primacy to our people over China,” Del Rosario said.
Panelo said Duterte is being true to his mandate to serve and protect the Filipino nation when he agreed not to force the 2016 arbitration ruling with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte has regarded as “thoughtless and senseless” the claim of critics that he could be violating the Constitution, particularly on the provision that the state shall protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, when he did not force the issue with Beijing.
“When you force the issue, you will bring your armed ships to the area, and that will necessarily trigger, precipitate hostilities from the other side then war will break out. They are talking as friends, ‘we will not talk about it. We’ll just help each other’,” Panelo said.
He said the President could use the 2016 arbitral ruling as leverage against China.
“What we cannot get from the arbitral ruling by force or through enforcement, we can get through friendly negotiations,” he said.
Panelo said he does not see anything wrong with the President’s pronouncement allowing Chinese fishermen to venture in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The spokesman said he saw the logic of Duterte’s pronouncement in allowing the Chinese, notwithstanding the constitutional provision.
“He is even going beyond that provision. That is why he said ‘I’m looking for the welfare of the 110 million Filipinos’,” Panelo said.
He said the President is baffled why the Filipino people, particularly his critics, do not see the reason why his administration is choosing to talk with China regarding maritime disputes in the South China Sea.
Duterte admitted the Philippines could not afford to initiate activities that might trigger a violent response from China. He even compared the Philippines’ defense system to a firecracker as against Beijing’s missiles. – With Paolo Romero, Evelyn MacairanChristina Mendez