DAVAO City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte can still run for President in 2016 even if a criminal complaint is filed against him in connection with his admission of having killed suspected kidnappers in the past, lawyers polled by The Manila Times said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero, retired chief state prosecutor Jovencito Zuño and private practitioners Melanio “Batas” Mauricio Jr. and Emily Padilla were one in saying that the 70-year-old mayor could not be barred from seeking an elective post unless he is convicted of a crime.
Duterte has filed a certificate of candidacy for President as a substitute candidate of the PDP-Laban.
The validity of his entry into the presidential contest is being assailed before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Duterte in a recent radio interview admitted shooting and killing three rape and kidnap-for-ransom suspects in 1988.
The Commission on Human Right (CHR) said Duterte could face multiple murder charges if his involvement in extra-judicial killings in Davao City can be proven.
CHR Chairman Jose Luis Gascon said the constitutional body is looking into the cases.
Duterte claims to have killed 1,700 crime suspects in Davao City.
Belmonte told reporters that the mayor’s admission of killing criminals has no bearing unless he could name even one of his alleged victims.
The House leader, who is the campaign manager of the Liberal Party, said Duterte could only be making use of the human-rights issue to bolster his image as a crime fighter.
“Di ko alam kung 1,700 ang pinatay niya o kung 1 or 2 [I don’t know if he killed 1,700 or 1 or 2]. To be very frank, baka wala [maybe none]. I haven’t heard of a single complaint from any relative. I have not heard of any name being mentioned. I have not heard of any occasion or date [when those killings happened]. Baka image-making lang ito [I think it is all about image],” Belmonte, a police reporter of The Manila Chronicle in his student days, said.
“I would like to dare our very brave mayor, name names… Name names,” he added.
Belmonte said Duterte may be able to justify any of the killings he purportedly did or ordered.
Nevertheless, he added, the mayor should substantiate his claims.
Escudero, an independent vice presidential candidate, said a candidate who is facing a criminal case could only be disqualified if he gets a final conviction, which would disallow the convicted individual from holding public office.
“Usually, the absolute perpetual disqualification to hold public office is included in the penalty,” he added.
Escudero, however, sees nothing wrong with the move of the CHR to look into Duterte’s supposed crimes.
“Bear in mind that the CHR is an independent constitutional body, we cannot dictate on or ask the commission to stop the investigation,” he said.
Retired prosecutor-general Zuño, meanwhile, said cases against the Davao City mayor will not prosper.
According to him, Duterte’s admission does not specify anything in particular–no mention of any case, no victim and the statements were not made under oath and without the assistance of a lawyer.
“It may be an admission but what case? Who was the victim? The admission is not under oath, not assisted by counsel. [They were] mere statement[s]. It could easily be denied,” he said.
Zuño pointed out that there must be a complainant before a case can be filed, and only the family of the supposed victims can file the case.
He noticed that Duterte’s controversial statements only make him more popular.
According to lawyers Mauricio and Padilla, the supposed killing of crime suspects happened 27 years ago, way past the prescribed period of only 20 years for murder.
“Can Duterte be prosecuted in connection with his admission that he killed three kidnapers who abducted and then raped a Chinese girl in 1988, and in dropping a drug dealer from a flying helicopter? My answer is no,” Mauricio said.
“Duterte could not be charged for those incidents anymore, even if he claimed he actually perpetrated the killings, whether those killings are classified as murder or as simple homicide,” he added.
The first reason why Duterte could no longer be charged, the lawyer explained, is that the crimes have already prescribed, assuming they were indeed committed, and assuming there is evidence, other than Duterte’s admission, to prove them.
“Under Article 90 of the Revised Penal Code, crimes which are punishable with death, reclusion perpetua [for crimes committed under the code]or life imprisonment [for crimes penalized by special laws]and with reclusion temporal [or imprisonment from 12 years to 20 years], the penalties for murder and homicide, prescribe in 20 years,” Mauricio also pointed out.
He said the second reason why Duterte could not be charged, assuming the crimes have not prescribed, is his invocation of the rules on citizen’s arrest, under Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rule on Criminal Procedures.
“Under the doctrine of citizen’s arrest, any citizen can effect the arrest of any person who is committing a crime in his presence, or who has just committed a crime and the citizen has reasonable basis for believing that the person to be arrested was the culprit, or when the person to be arrested escaped from detention,” Mauricio added.
In effecting the arrest, he argued, the citizen can use “reasonable force” to defend himself and other people from any aggression coming from the person to be arrested. This includes firing at the person to be arrested, either to just maim him, or, depending on the circumstances, to prevent him from killing anyone.
“Now, whether the killings alleged to have been admitted by Duterte are classified as murder or as homicide, they already prescribed—that is to say, the complainants and the State have lost their right to institute and prosecute the alleged offender, simply because 20 years already lapsed from the time of [their]commission. Since these crimes allegedly happened in 1988 yet, the 20-year period by which they can be prosecuted ended in 2008, or almost seven years ago. This law on prescription of crimes remains a good law in our country, serving as a warning to the complainants and to the State to act with dispatch against the supposed offender,” Mauricio said.
In 1988, any city mayor at the time was under the coverage of Batas Pambansa 337, the Local Government Code enacted by then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
Under its Section 171 (b), city mayors were obliged to maintain peace and order in their cities, authorizing them to carry firearms of their own.
“Clearly, therefore, Duterte can no longer be investigated or prosecuted for the crimes of homicide or murder, which allegedly took place in 1988 yet,” Mauricio said.
Padilla said Duterte is aware of the consequences of his public pronouncements and that he would not utter a word that could land him in jail or cause trouble.
“He is a lawyer, a prosecutor and experienced local chief executive and lawmaker. Mayor Duterte knows what he’s talking about. The crimes, if indeed he committed [them]already prescribed,” she told The Manila Times.