MANILA — A quiet retirement for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is unlikely when he makes way for successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr, but efforts to put him on trial for thousands of killings in his “war on drugs” appear unlikely to prosper.
Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, helped get Marcos elected by agreeing to be his vice presidential running mate, allowing the son of the late dictator to tap her father’s huge support to seal a comeback for the disgraced Marcos dynasty.
Though there has been no formal quid-pro-quo, political experts say it is unlikely Marcos would risk burning crucial bridges by allowing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Duterte over the alleged execution-style killings in his war on drugs.
Duterte, 77, will be stripped of the legal armour shielding him from legal action once he becomes a private citizen next month, making him an open target. Unbowed, he has said he will search for drug peddlers after he retires and “shoot them and kill them”.
At least 6,200 people have been killed in the war on drugs during Duterte’s six-year rule. Rights groups and critics say law enforcers summarily executed drug suspects, but police say those killed were armed and had violently resisted arrest.
The ICC in September approved an investigation into the killings, but temporarily suspended it in November at Manila’s request.
The ICC did not immediately respond when asked for an update on the probe’s status.
“He will be safe, untouchable. Worse, even as ex-president, he could still weigh in on policy,” said Carlos Conde, senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch.
Marcos, during the campaign, has already intimated what he might do with the ICC investigators. “I will let them into the country, but only as tourists,” he said in January.
“We have a functioning judiciary that is why I do not see the need for a foreigner to come and do the job for us,” Marcos said, mirroring the position of Duterte, who has repeatedly said he will not cooperate with the ICC.
Politics in his DNA
However, it is not only the ICC that Duterte would have to contend with but also families of victims and human rights groups demanding accountability for the killings and other violations in the past six years.
Randy delos Santos, an uncle of high-school student Kian delos Santos, whose death in 2017 led to rare convictions of police officers in the drug war, hoped the ICC would resume its probe.
“There are so many families of drug war victims, not just me,” said Delos Santos, who cited many other cases belying government claims the victims had fought back.
Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan said: “We are also preparing cases to file against Duterte after he steps down from office.”
Spokespersons for Rodrigo Duterte and Marcos did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
Duterte has only given hints on his future plans. He said this week he will return to his hometown of Davao city, where he served as mayor for more than two decades before becoming president in 2016.
“I will stay here in Davao. Even as a civilian, I will still help you. Just like what I promised when I first became mayor,” Duterte said after casting his vote on Monday.
Earl Parreno, author of a biography of Duterte entitled “Beyond Will & Power”, said he finds it difficult to imagine the president totally dropping out of politics. “Will he really retire quietly?” he said.
Duterte may decide to run for local office in the mid-term polls in 2025, Parreno said. It is not uncommon for former presidents in the Philippines to seek lower posts in office.
“If you have politics in your DNA, it would be difficult to stay away from it,” he said.
True to form, Duterte did not mince words when telling supporters of his plans after the presidency.
“I will go riding on a motorcycle and roam around…and I’ll search for drug peddlers, shoot them and kill them,” he said.