Duterte faces more impeachment charges over 'inaction' in sea row

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Additional grounds filed by Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano question the President's "special relationship" with China, but Malacañang denies the allegations and maintains that grounds for impeachment are baseless.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 30) — In a bid to strengthen the impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte, a congressman on Thursday filed more grounds to oust him.

Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano filed a 12-page supplemental complaint before the House of Representatives' Office of the Secretary-General, two weeks after filing the first impeachment complaint against the President.

The President failed to defend the country's sovereign rights and territorial claims amid reported Chinese presence in Benham Rise in the eastern coast, and Scarborough Shoal and other areas in the disputed South China Sea, the document said.

"Duterte has refused to act on these urgent security matters, thus threatening the security and territorial integrity of our country," the supplemental complaint read.  

Alejano said Duterte betrayed public trust, violated the Constitution and committed the high crime of dereliction of his sworn duty as President to protect national interest, which are grounds for impeachment under the 1987 Constitution.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Thursday the new charges raised are baseless "propaganda against the President."

"He (Alejano) does not even have any proof that such and such took place," Panelo told CNN Philippines.

 

Duterte's 'defeatist stance'

Alejano's claims come even as President Duterte reiterated Wednesday that he will bring up the South China Sea issue with China during his term.

"At any time during my term, we will have to talk about the arbitration of the China Sea. When that time comes, I would present to you the judgment on all four corners of the paper," Duterte said in remarks to residents and officials in the municipality of Socorro in Oriental Mindoro. The President was recounting his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to China in October 2016.

Alejano hit Duterte's alleged inaction against China's "aggression" in the South China Sea, after China's reported plans of building environmental monitoring stations in Scarborough Shoal.

Read: China denies reports of building facility on Scarborough Shoal

"The President, instead, has taken a defeatist stance and openly signaled China to go ahead with whatever it intends to do in the West Philippine Sea," Alejano said in a news briefing.

Scarborough Shoal is one of the islets and reefs in the South China Sea that lie within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone, which was awarded to the Philippines in a landmark ruling July 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

China has refused to acknowledge the decision and claims the South China Sea in its entirety.

Alejano said that Duterte chose to "cast aside" the arbitral ruling.

Also read: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

The mutineer-turned-congressman took a dig at Duterte's campaign promise a year ago to ride a jet ski to the Spratly Islands to raise the Philippine flag and affirm the country's rights over the disputed reefs.

Malacañang: No violation over Benham Rise

The impeachment complaint also blames Duterte for recent Chinese ships seen in Benham Rise, a resource-rich undersea plateau off the province of Aurora.

Read: PH, China exchange statements over ships spotted in Benham Rise

Alejano said Duterte "allowed and permitted" Chinese vessels to enter Benham Rise, which is part of the extended continental shelf where the country has the sole right to its resources.

Panelo on Thursday reiterated China's claim that its ships were merely doing an innocent passage in the area, and were not conducting research.

"I don't think it is a violation of our territorial rights," Panelo said.

Special relationship with China?

The President has  said the Philippines cannot afford to declare war against China.

Also read: Duterte: We can't stop Chinese structures in Panatag Shoal

But Alejano said the government can pursue non-military actions against China's supposed militarization in the South China Sea, if the President wishes.

He said the President could lobby the country's rights before the international community.

Since there is no such action from the government, Alejano questioned Duterte's "special relationship" with China.

Duterte "has permitted China to trample upon our country's rights and interest, and those of our people, apparently because he is afraid to offend his Chinese friends," he said, adding that the President made possibly made secret deals with China, and this is tantamount to betrayal of public trust.

Panelo cast Alejano's complaint as a publicity stunt, "So it's for publicity only. Publicity for him as complainant," Panelo said.  

Numbers game

Alejano said several lawmakers have already expressed their support in the impeachment complaint against the President.

According to the Constitution, a vote of at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives, or 98 out of the 292 incumbent congressmen, can start an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Before being a member of the "Magnificent 7" minority bloc of the House of Representatives, Alejano was a former marine captain who was among the leaders of the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, a failed attempt to oust then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In Alejano's initial complaint, he said Duterte should be impeached over killings in the conduct of the war on drugs and over his alleged involvement in vigilante killings in Davao City when he was mayor.

Alejano also accused Duterte of committing graft and corruption over P2.2 billion in alleged unexplained wealth.

Also read: Impeachment complaint filed vs. Duterte over alleged killings, corruption

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.