In October, former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte issued a death threat against progressive lawmaker France Castro, sparking outrage in the country. On October 24, Castro, an Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list representative, filed a criminal complaint against Duterte.
Citing Article 282 of the Revised Penal Code, Castro, accompanied by her lawyers, filed the case before the Quezon City Prosecutors Office.
“I filed a grave threat case against former president Rodrigo Duterte because I am protecting myself, my family and my colleagues. Death threats and red-tagging accusations aired on television must be stopped because they endanger the lives of people. Death threats are different from criticisms and should not be tolerated. We have to draw the line,” she said.
The ex-president’s children vice-president Sara Duterte and Davao mayor Paolo Duterte have come to the defense of their father and said Castro was being “too sensitive”.
During his “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” TV show on SMNI in October, Duterte went on a rant against Castro while talking to his spiritual adviser and staunch supporter, Apollo Quiboloy. They were discussing the controversial issue of Sara Duterte’s refusal to explain her spending of P125 million (US$2.2 million) of government fund in 11 days, saying only it was for “intelligence purposes”.
“But, the first target of the intelligence fund would be you, France. I want to kill all you communists,” Duterte said.
Castro – a frequent target of Duterte’s red-tagging even during the latter’s presidency – took the statement as a threat.
“How can parliamentarians do this effectively if they are threatened with violence for simply questioning the use of state funds?”
Castro is one of the few voices in the House of Representatives supporting investigations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Duterte’s “killing spree” during his failed war against drugs.
Sara Duterte (middle), vice president of the Philippines.
Support for Castro
International organizations of lawmakers have rallied to give support to Castro.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) lawmakers denounced Duterte and demanded he apologize to her and the House of Representatives.
The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also expressed support for Castro and said Duterte’s threat should have no place “in a democracy or, indeed, any civilized society”. It added that “if allowed to go unchecked”, his remarks could even lead to physical violence.
APHR member and Malaysian lawmaker Syerleena Abdul Rashid said in a statement that one of the mandates of parliamentarians is to act as a check and balance for other branches of governments, including by overseeing the state budget.
“How can parliamentarians do this effectively if they are threatened with violence for simply questioning the use of state funds?” she asked.
Castro’s allies in congress have also rallied to her side.
“We, leaders of all political parties in the House of Representatives, take utmost exception to the remarks made by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Our institution, the House of Representatives, has been unwavering in its dedication to the Filipino people,” stated House Secretary General Reginald Velasco in a statement.
“We call upon the former president and all parties involved to avoid making threats or insinuating harm against any member of the House or the institution itself. Dialogue and understanding should always be at the forefront, superseding divisive rhetoric.”
Castro, a mathematics teacher turned lawmaker, said it was ironic how the Dutertes are always challenging critics to file charges against them if they think the Dutertes are breaking the law.
“Now that we have filed charges against them, they’re crying foul,” Castro said.
Castro cited the onion skin doctrine which, even in libel cases, does not give license to anyone to issue death threats.
“Legitimate criticism of public officials is valid but what Duterte did was not criticism but threats. Also, such a doctrine neither discounts nor diminishes the right of persons to life and safety which includes freedom from fear. Death threat is not the same as criticism,” she said.
Representative France Castro with her lawyers when she filed her case against former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Unexplained use of public fund
Observers said Duterte’s attacks were motivated by his anger at Castro’s stance regarding his daughter. For nine months, news of the bloated allocation of confidential and intelligence fund (CIF) for civilian agencies have hogged the headlines.
Castro and her allies in the Makabayan bloc of opposition, lawmakers Rep. Raoul Manuel of Kabataan (The Youth) party-list group and Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), have been actively opposing the CIF allocations in government offices, particularly those of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
The Commission on Audit (COA) announced it will conduct a special audit of Duterte’s CIF, but Castro and her allies said the COA should also audit her official expenses when she was mayor of Davao City from 2016 to 2022.
According to data from COA, the CIF of the Office of the Mayor of Davao amounted to P144 million in 2016, P293 million in 2017 and P420 million in 2018. The office also secured and used P460 million every year in the next four years, from 2019 to 2022, for a total of P2.697 billion in CIF in just six years.
Castro said it was unimaginable for a local public official to spend P2.6 billion in CIF in just six years.
“Were these funds fully spent to the last centavo each year? Nothing was left? This is quite unbelievable, and the audit authorities should determine if this was fully liquidated with supporting documents of payments or receipts,” Castro said.
The lawmaker said if the entire P2.6 billion was allocated and spent in just six years then the people of Davao deserved to know.
“All that money could have been spent on education, free medicine, health services and other social services for the people instead of being spent in a difficult to audit item called confidential fund,” she said.
Activists calling to abolish confidential fund.
Allergic to accountability
A human rights lawyer has also given his view on the issue of the death threat against Castro.
Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Patriotic) chairperson and Bayan Muna (People First) party-list Neri Colmenares said Duterte’s red tagging and threats to activists and the opposition must be stopped.
“At the very least, what Duterte did is tantamount to grave threats, which is a crime committed by a person who shall threaten another with the infliction upon the person or of his family of any wrong amounting to a crime. This felony is already consummated as soon as the threats come to the knowledge of the person threatened,” he explained.
Colmenares said this time round, Duterte issued threats because his daughter was being questioned about the illegal use of P125 million CIF in 2022.
“He is truly allergic to transparency and accountability. Now, he is threatening Congress so that his daughter can get more confidential funds,” he said.
He added that Duterte’s death threat against Castro was also directed against everyone else who questioned the confidential funds.
“The public has the right to know where their public funds are spent. To threaten those who criticize wanton spending of public funds in 11 days is vintage Duterte who is intolerant of dissent and criticism.”
Sensing that charges may be filed against them, the network SMNI, which aired the interview with Duterte, took it down from YouTube.
In the meantime, former senator and staunch Duterte critic Antonio Trillanes said his group has submitted to the ICC a video wherein Duterte publicly admitted that he used his own CIF to conduct extrajudicial killings on his constituents in Davao City when he was mayor.
As of this writing, the Department of Justice has announced it is considering the call of the Makabayan bloc that representatives of the ICC be allowed into the country to further its investigations into Duterte.
All photos credit: Kodao Productions
Top photo: Representative France Castro (middle).