Why would Duterte’s son quit as vice mayor if he is innocent

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Paolo Duterte quit as Davao’s vice mayor. The move only increased suspicion of his involvement in a high-profile drug smuggling case.

By Oliver Ward

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte left his post as vice mayor of Davao on Christmas Day, further fuelling speculation of his links to a high-profile drug smuggling case. In a case unfolding like a Shakespearean tragedy, Filipino authorities seized US$125 million of crystal meth bound for Manila from China. Evidence implicated Paolo Duterte in the case in May 2017.

Paolo Duterte and his brother in law, Manases Carpio face charges of facilitating the entry of the shipment. The pair testified at a Senate hearing in September. However, many questions remain unanswered. If the court finds the pair guilty, they could receive life sentences and a 10 million pesos (US$200,000) fine.

Why would an innocent man leave his position?

Paolo’s decision to suddenly leave his position as vice mayor does nothing to help prove his innocence. If he had nothing to hide, why would he leave? Paolo himself has blamed his decision on family problems.

He said in a statement, “there are recent unfortunate events in my life that are closely tied to my failed first marriage”. He added, “these, among others, include the maligning of my reputation in the recent name-dropping incident in the Bureau of Customs’ smuggling case and the very public squabble with my daughter.”

There are many unanswered questions

The case was not just a “name-dropping incident” as Paolo says. Several pieces of evidence raised serious questions about Paolo’s involvement. Paolo has not been forthcoming in answering these questions.

For example, Senator Antonio Trillanes presented photographs to the Senate panel investigating the case. The photographs showed Paolo standing alongside the businessman whose shipment contained the drugs. Paolo has not explained the nature of his relationship with the businessman.

The broker behind the shipment also mentioned Duterte and Carpio’s names. The broker, Mark Taguba, described to the hearing how he had paid 1 million pesos (US$20,000) a week to representatives of the pair as protection money. During Paolo’s hearing, when the Senate asked details of his bank accounts, he refused to answer the questions. He called them “irrelevant”.

Paolo also declined to describe a tattoo which he has on his back. An unnamed foreign intelligence agency disclosed information that Paolo Duterte has a “dragon-like” tattoo on his back. It claims the tattoo signifies his connections to a criminal organisation. When Trillanes asked him if the investigators could photograph the tattoo and investigate its meaning, Paolo replied with, “no way”.

Photo: Facebook of Rodrigo Duterte

How will Paolo’s conviction affect President Rodrigo Duterte?

With the evidence mounting up, and the resignation further stoking the fires of suspicion, President Duterte will have a tough decision on his hands. So far, Duterte has kept out of the investigation and encouraged his son to tell the truth. But if the hearings prove Paolo’s involvement in drug smuggling, Duterte will have no choice but to involve himself in the aftermath.

Initially, President Duterte said he would resign if the Senate finds his son guilty. He has since changed his stance. In September he told government workers at the Presidential Palace he would kill his son if the claims prove to be true.

The resignation alone strikes a dent in the power of the Duterte family. If the allegations against Paolo prove to be true, the family will have far bigger problems. Paolo will likely meet his grizzly end at the hands of his own father. Critics of the Duterte dynasty will receive a significant boost, and Duterte’s drugs war will claim its most prominent scalp yet. Before the curtain closes on this tragedy, there may be a final, bloody act to come.