Commentary: The ploy to destroy Duterte’s external legitimacy

ANYONE who seriously studied international relations wouldn’t buy what Senator Leila de Lima said in relation to the complaint filed by Jude Sabio, the lawyer of Edgar Matobato, against Duterte and other government officials at the International Criminal Court (ICC). De Lima said in a statement that the complaint is “not…a political ploy to oust the President.” Who is she fooling?

This highly-publicized filing of a complaint at the ICC is just another element in the ploy to destroy Duterte’s external legitimacy, which started during the 2016 elections.

National leaders have two sources of legitimacy: internal and external. To remain effective, he must build and sustain both types of legitimacy and become aware of how they affect each other. Certainly, a dwindling internal legitimacy destroys external legitimacy. Though often ignored, the reverse is also true: a deteriorating external legitimacy can also diminish internal legitimacy.

Internal legitimacy depends on the confidence citizens have in their leader; external legitimacy comes from the recognition from other heads of states, multilateral organizations, and global public opinion. For now, Duterte’s internal legitimacy is quite solid as he enjoys a very high trust rating from Filipinos. His external legitimacy is extremely weak.

The precarious state of Duterte’s external legitimacy didn’t just suddenly emerge. Anti-Duterte forces have been destroying it since the 2016 campaign period.

Among all the propaganda, two stand out as their moments of brilliance: the May 2016 John Oliver comedy takedown of Duterte, and the August 2016 New York Times feature of the “Pieta-like” photo. We may laugh at the ridiculousness of John Oliver’s skit, but it was a very effective way of shaping an anti-Duterte global public opinion. The New York Times Pieta feature was an emotional appeal. Its intention was to break the heart of the global public.

Expect more heart-wrenching moments like this. What inevitably accompanies the breaking heart of the global public is an international outcry against the person who they thought broke their heart: Duterte. To keep on rending the heart of the global public, media will feed them tragic stories and implicate Duterte in each of them.

Mexico has a far worse war on drugs than the Philippines. But the ICC didn’t interfere. In November 2011, Mexican human rights lawyer Netzai Sandoval filed a complaint at the ICC against Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who deployed the military to fight the war against drugs, which, at that time, had already claimed at least 40,000 lives, including more than 1,000 children and young people. Backed by at least 23,000 signatures from Mexican citizens, the complaint alleged that Calderon was behind the widespread and systematic killing, kidnapping, and torture of civilians by Mexico’s security forces. However, in December 2011, former ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo decided not to proceed with the complaint because it concerned “political decisions or political responsibility” (Latin American Herald Tribune, December 2011).

There’s a way for the current ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to be nudged to do what her predecessor didn’t. A sustained, pervasive, and systematic international pressure, which weren’t present in the case of Calderon. The international press, with the aid of international human rights organizations could mount it. Philippine civil society groups allied with the Liberal Party have an extensive international human rights network, which can mobilize global public opinion against Duterte. They’ve been doing it already by conducting forums abroad.

Given the horrifying international PR Duterte has been getting since the 2016 elections, it would not be too farfetched that an international campaign akin to Kony 2012 might be launched against him soon. Kony 2012 was a documentary produced by Invisible Children to support the indictment at the ICC of Joseph Kony, the leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army. International celebrities were recruited to popularize the video, which has been viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.

Getting Duterte indicted at the ICC is the ideal goal of anti-Duterte forces. Like what happened to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, in order for Duterte to appear in court he would need to leave the Philippines and hand over powers to the Vice President, until the trial ends. It would make Leni Robredo President even temporarily. However, the complaint would probably be rendered inadmissible due to the principle of complementarity, which emphasizes the primacy of national mechanisms and solutions over ICC processes.

So, what’s the next best thing to indicting Duterte?

In general, the ICC prosecutor follows four steps after it receives a complaint: conduct a preliminary examination of the situation; get authorization to investigate; launch a formal investigation; and apply for a warrant of arrest or summons to appear against the accused. If anti-Duterte forces could get the ICC prosecutor to do even the first step, that would already aid them in their agenda. As Nesam McMillan and David Mickler wrote in “From Sudan to Syria: Locating ‘regime change’ in R2P and the ICC,” activating ICC processes “may function to delegitimize political actors, thereby potentially facilitating their exit from the national political scene in a less direct manner.”

You can’t fool everyone, Senator de Lima. Destabilizing a government by way of international pressure is a reliable political tool. And your camp has been utilizing it by shaping the global public opinion and mobilizing the world’s sentiments against our president. You want him ousted.

(Published in The Manila Times on 27 April 2017)


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One comment

  1. Sass, so that explains by Lugaw’s camp is always seeking postponement at PET. Nababahala ang Magmamasa ng semento na baka bago makapag desisyon ang ICC, which they believe it will prosper, eh meron na tayong TUNAY na VP.

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