MANILA -- Living up to his election campaign promises, President Rodrigo Duterte displayed yet another immense political will and courage to have his relentless war against corruption and illegal drugs felt in 2018 amid criticisms from political opponents and various human rights and leftist groups.

In most of his speeches, Duterte was unyielding in pounding strong words against individuals, including his fellow public servants engaged in the illicit drug trade, which has left millions of lives in shambles and many families dysfunctional.

“Let me begin by putting it bluntly: the war against illegal drugs is far from over. It will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began," Duterte said in his third State of the Nation Address in July.

"If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of demonstrations, your protests which I find misdirected, then you got it all wrong. Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” he added.

In a recent inauguration of the Las Piñas Drug Rehabilitation Center, Duterte repeated his warning to destroy everyone who is into illegal drugs.

“Let me repeat it for all. Do not go into drugs because if you do that, I will kill you. If you destroy our children, then I’ll just have to kill you,” he warned.

Duterte said he will take full responsibility for the more than 4,000 drug personalities who died in legitimate police anti-drug operations.

“Do not worry, I can go to prison. I am old. What I said before when I assumed the office that I am ready to put into the table my life, my honor and the presidency itself,” the 73-year-old President said.

Duterte said if he will not continue his bloody war against the drug menace, "nobody will."

According to the latest government’s #RealNumbersPH data, a total of 271 drug dens and clandestine laboratories have been dismantled while anti-drug operations conducted has reached 113,570, resulting in the arrest of 161,584 individuals and killing of 4,999 drug personalities as of October 31, 2018.

The total value of seized illegal drugs, as well as clandestine and laboratories ballooned to PHP25.06 billion, including PHP18.31 billion worth of shabu.

Duterte has also warned policemen engaged in unscrupulous activities, particularly illegal drugs, offering a PHP3-million reward for the arrest of ninja cops.

“Drug is really killing my country and I have to protect my country. Me. I'm determined. I'm ready to do anything at all. Anything basta mahinto lang ito (just to stop this). I will go to the extremes. Anything,” Duterte said.

ICC withdrawal

In March, Duterte announced that he is withdrawing the Philippines from its ratification of the Rome Statute, an international treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Duterte made the decision after ICC special prosecutor Fatou Bensouda decided to initiate a preliminary examination into allegations of extrajudicial killings being linked to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

He said the ICC “cannot ever, ever hope“ to acquire jurisdiction over him since the courts and justice system in the Philippines are functioning well.

“You cannot acquire jurisdiction over me, not in a million years,” Duterte told the ICC.

He explained the Rome Statute never took effect in the Philippines due to its non-publication in the country’s official gazette when it was ratified in 2011.

He also said the ICC is apparently being “utilized as a political tool against the Philippines.”

"Given the baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person as well as against my administration, engineered by officials of the United Nations, as well as an attempt by the International Criminal Court special prosecutor to place my person within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. I therefore declare and forthwith give notice. As president of the Republic of the Philippines, that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute effective immediately,” Duterte said in a statement early this year.

The ICC defended its “ongoing proceedings” which, it claimed, will not be affected by the country’s exit since withdrawal will become effective only one year after.

It also clarified that preliminary examination is not an investigation but an initial step to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation based on complaint filed by lawyer Jude Sabio against Duterte and senior officials at ICC.

Sabio, lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, accused the government of crimes against humanity in a nationwide campaign against illegal drugs.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and Presidential Spokesperson said the illegal drugs crackdown is not a crime against humanity and therefore, the complaint will not prosper.

Opposition senators, including Duterte’s staunch critic, Antonio Trillanes IV, have asked the Supreme Court to declare the Philippines’ withdrawal from ICC invalid.

Duterte revokes Trillanes’ amnesty

Aside from the ICC withdrawal, another Duterte decision that dominated the headlines in 2018 was the signing of Proclamation No. 572 on August 31, declaring "void ab initio” or invalid from the beginning, the amnesty granted to Trillanes in 2010.

Duterte cited the former Navy officer’s alleged failure to comply with minimum requirements to qualify under an amnesty program.

In the proclamation, the President said Trillanes has no copy of amnesty application and "never expressed" his guilt for the crimes of rebellion against former president and now House of Representatives Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

It was later learned that Trillanes’ amnesty was not signed by former President Benigno Aquino III but by former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.

Trillanes, one of the leaders of the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege, questioned the Proclamation’s legality before the Supreme Court and asked the court to stop his arrest.

The SC denied Trillanes’ petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) but sent back the case to the two Makati Regional Trial Courts (RTC) that handled his amnesty and rebellion cases.

Makati RTC Branch 150 Judge Elmo Almeda ordered Trillanes’ arrest with bail, but Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano dismissed the government’s motion to issue an alias warrant and hold departure order against the senator.

Trillanes stayed for almost a month in the Senate despite assurance from Duterte that the senator will not be arrested without order from the Makati courts.

Continuing drug war support

Despite criticisms, majority of Filipinos remained satisfied with the government’s crackdown against illegal drugs.

A second quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) found that 78 percent of adult Filipinos said they were satisfied while only 13 percent dissatisfied, giving Duterte’s campaign a net satisfaction score of +65, which SWS classified as “very good”.

Support was “excellent” in Duterte’s home region of Mindanao at +84 (89 percent satisfied, five dissatisfied) while also “very good” in Visayas at +69, Metro Manila (+65), and balance of Luzon (+58).

Another survey conducted by Pulse Asia also showed that majority of the Filipinos support war on drugs with 69 percent, saying it is the “most important achievement” of Duterte administration.

Conducted midway through the year, the Pulse Asia survey said sentiment is highest in Metro Manila with 77 percent.

Duterte’s campaign has also gained support abroad with Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena stepping up his own government’s fight against illegal drugs.

The Sri Lankan officials, according to government spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne, wanted to "replicate the success” of Duterte’s drug war.

Senaratne said Sirisena “was ready to sign the death warrants” of repeat drug offenders.

Duterte shakes graft-ridden BOC

In three occasions, Duterte spearheaded the destruction of smuggled luxury vehicles worth hundred million in 2018 as display of his fight against corruption, particularly in the graft-ridden Bureau of Customs (BOC).

BOC commissioner Isidro Lapeña had implemented more reforms that resulted in substantial increase, some were in record-high, in the Customs’ revenue collections under his stewardship and lessened corruption.

However, Lapeña’s impressive performance was overshadowed by the entry of worth of billions of shabu, prompting Duterte to bring in another former military chief, Rey Leonardo Guerrero, as new BOC head.

The President also fielded military personnel in a bid to wipe out "dirty games” being played by corrupt Customs personnel.

Duterte promoted Lapeña to Cabinet rank to head the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

He said Lapeña and former Customs chief and now Bureau of Corrections head Nicanor Faeldon were victims of rotten systems in the BOC.

More heads roll due to corruption

Just like his war on drugs, Duterte kept his campaign against corruption burning in 2018 as he fired more government officials due to allegation of irregularities.

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Undersecretary Ronald Flores and Assistant Secretary Yeshter Don Baccay, both assigned in OPAPP Support Services and Panama National Program Management Office, were dismissed due to alleged corruption in November.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza took full responsibility and stepped down despite being cleared by the President.

In August, Duterte ordered the dismissal of 20 military officials due to alleged anomalous transactions at the V. Luna Medical Center under the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine Military Academy (PMA) comptroller Major Hector Maraña for alleged malversation of PHP15 million funds of the academy.

In the same month, he also dismissed the board members and management of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation for entering into a disadvantageous lease contract with a Hong Kong-based developer for a casino resort project.

Two Cabinet secretaries, Wanda Teo of tourism and Vitaliano Aguirre II of justice, stepped down in 2018 due to controversies involving Teo’s brothers and dismissal of charges against drug suspects Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim.

Others removed in 2018 were Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) interim president Celestina dela Serna over excessive hotel stays and travel expenses; Labor Undersecretary Dominador Say for alleged corruption; Commission on Higher Education chief Patricia Licuanan (irregularities); Social Security System (SSS) chairman Amado Valdez and commissioner Jose Gabriel La Viña; and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) Administrator Marcial Quirico Amaro III (excessive trips).

Duterte also advised Justice assistant secretaries Moslemen Macarambon Sr. and Public Works assistant secretary Tingagun Ampaso Umpa to step down due to corruption allegations.

He also fired Transportation assistant secretary Mark Tolentino for allegedly making deals with Duterte’s sisters; and Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado for favoring Aurora Pacific Economic Zone.

Duterte mulls resignation

Exasperated over a seemingly "endless" chase against corrupt government officials, Duterte had said he is thinking of giving up the presidency.
“I am not angry with anybody. My chase against corrupt government officials seems to be endless, and it has contaminated almost all government departments and offices,” Duterte said in a gathering of business leaders in August.

He said corruption is embedded and will always be part of the transactions in government.

“I do not think that I can fulfill my promise to the people. I said I will try to stop corruption, which I’m doing. But I cannot succeed even beyond my term,” Duterte said.

Duterte, however, said he won’t follow the succession because Vice President Leni Robredo “can’t do it.”

“That’s my honest opinion. I would prefer the likes of Escudero or Bongbong Marcos,” he said, referring to Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos who ran but lost in the 2016 vice presidential race.

Termination of peace talks

While keeping his vow to get rid of corruption and illegal drugs until his last day in Malacañang, Duterte reiterated his decision to terminate peace talks with national leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Duterte cited the abuses committed by the CPP’s armed group New People’s Army, tagged by the United States as terrorist, and their demand for a coalition government as grounds for termination of peace talks.

He, however, said he will pursue a "whole-of-nation" approach “which shall include, among others, a mechanism for local peace engagements or negotiations and interventions that is consistent with constitutional integrity and national sovereignty, responsive to local needs, and sensitive to realities on the ground.”

The new approach was stated in Executive Order No. 70 signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea by authority of the President last December 4.

Under the new EO, a national task force will be created to formulate a National Peace Framework anchored on the "whole-of-nation" approach. (PNA)