Manila: Philippine lawmakers on Monday rejected an impeachment complaint against President Rodrigo Duterte that accused him of a crime against humanity over the deaths of thousands of people killed in his war on drugs.
The complaint alleged Duterte had adopted a state policy of extrajudicial killings that led to more than 8,000 deaths in his first eight months as president, and was involved in mass murder as well as widespread corruption in his previous stint as a mayor of a southern city.
The congressional justice committee quickly dismissed the complaint in its first day of hearings on the issue, overwhelmingly voting that it was "insufficient in substance".
"The complaint filed was frivolous. How can you proceed if the complaint has no basis," committee chairman Reynaldo Umali, who is a member of Duterte`s ruling party, told reporters afterwards.
The committee vote effectively ends the impeachment case, which even Duterte`s opponents conceded had little chance of prospering with the president enjoying a commanding majority in the lower house of congress.
A plenary of the lower house still needs to endorse the committee`s decision, although political observers and lawmakers said there was zero chance of Monday`s vote being overturned.
"We have nowhere to go (but) we will find a way to get justice," opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano, who filed the impeachment case, told reporters.
Duterte, 72, won presidential elections last year after promising to launch an unprecedented crackdown on crime in which tens of thousands of people would die.
Police have reported killing about 2,700 people since Duterte took office at the end of June and immediately launched his war on drugs.
Unknown assailants have killed more than 1,800 others, while about 5,700 other violent deaths are under investigation, according to police data.
Duterte has called for addicts to be slaughtered and repeatedly promised to pardon police if they are found guilty of murder while prosecuting his drug war.
But Duterte also insists that he is not breaking any laws with his rhetoric, and that police are only allowed to kill in self-defence. He has said he does not encourage or endorse extrajudicial killings.
The United Nations, the European Union and the US government have criticised the drug war, while rights groups have warned Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.
However surveys show Duterte remains a popular president at home and that many Filipinos support the drug war, believing tough tactics are needed to tackle crime.
Duterte has also won some support internationally, including from China.Duterte`s spokesman Ernesto Abella welcomed Monday`s rejection of the impeachment complaint.
"We maintained that it was from rehashed, trumped-up charges aimed at undermining the duly constituted government," Abella said.
Monday`s vote showed that Duterte still enjoyed the overwhelming backing of lawmakers, according to Gladstone Cuarteros, a political analyst at Manila`s De La Salle University.
"They are sending the message that from the first instance they will dismiss it and they are showing the president has large support. `We are the super-majority,`," Cuarteros told AFP.
A Filipino lawyer last month filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing Duterte of mass murder in relation to the drug war.
However many observers saw that complaint as premature, arguing all legal remedies had yet to be exhausted in the Philippines, which is an ICC requirement.
The ICC has not given any indication as to whether it will pursue that complaint.
Alejano said Monday he was also considering filing a case with the ICC.
Cuarteros said Alejano`s failed impeachment effort could have been part of a strategy to pave the way for an ICC probe.
"He wants to show people that (Philippine) institutions are compromised because of strong support for Duterte and by extension perhaps external institutions, international organisations can step in," Cuarteros said.