Rodrigo Duterte, the foul-mouthed former President of the Philippines who drew infamy for, among other things, publicly threatening to “shoot women in the vagina” and “kill corrupt journalists,” once enjoyed impunity from legal challenges. But for the first time since he stepped down last year, Duterte may soon have to answer to a court.
According to government documents released Wednesday, a prosecutor in Metro Manila subpoenaed Duterte to answer to allegations that he gravely threatened an opposition lawmaker. Grave threat can carry a jail sentence of up to six months, and if compounded by local cybercrime laws, may carry a sentence of up to six years.
Duterte was ordered to appear before the prosecutor’s office to submit a counter-affidavit in person on Dec. 4 and 11. No motions to dismiss would be entertained, the subpoena read.
Duterte made the alleged threat in an Oct. 10 episode of his local TV program when he doled out advice to his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, the current vice president and education secretary to Duterte’s successor President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., on how to use proposed confidential funds. In Tagalog, he said, “But your first target there with your intelligence funds, are you, you France, you Communists that I want to kill.” The episode was reshared on social media, but has since been taken down.
Rep. France Castro, the legislator who lodged the complaint on Oct. 24, believes the threat was directed at her over her role to scrutinize the allocation of confidential and intelligence funds to the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education.
Duterte-Carpio made the request for additional intelligence funding to counter supposed communist rebels’ indoctrination and recruitment in Philippine schools. The vice president has since withdrawn the request.
Castro’s legal counsel, Antonio La Viña, expects the former President to be formally indicted. If ultimately charged, it would be the first criminal case in the Philippines against Duterte.
“It doesn’t matter what the intent is, if he’s joking or not, he cannot get away with that excuse again—he’s no longer President,” La Viña tells TIME. “It created fear on the part of Congressman Castro. And therefore he should be held liable.”
Duterte’s six-year presidency after his election in 2016 has been heavily criticized for his violent drug crackdown, which led to at least 6,000 government-recorded killings in narcotics-related operations, though human rights advocates estimate the death toll to be in the tens of thousands when also accounting for officially unexplained deaths. Duterte implemented a “shoot-to-kill” order for drug smugglers, which his critics say enabled such a large number of extrajudicial killings in the country, which the International Criminal Court has been investigating since 2021 to determine whether he committed any “crimes against humanity.”
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