President Marcos won't follow Duterte's bloody approach to drug war

Former first lady Imelda Marcos with her son, the new Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr (both centre), as they posed with family members after he took his oath of office in Manila, on June 30, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr plans to pivot away from his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte's bloody approach to the country's drug problem, but still intends to protect his ally from any investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible crimes against humanity.

In his first sit-down interview since he won the presidency in May, Mr Marcos said that he wants to run an anti-drug campaign that is holistic, focusing more on prevention and rehabilitation.

He said kids would be taught about the bad effects of drugs, while the government would give proper treatment to drug addicts.

"The war on drugs will continue, but we will have to do it a different way," Mr Marcos said. "In fact, right now, we are trying to formulate what is the best way for the rehabilitation programme. These are all being formulated".

This is a stark contrast to the enforcement-heavy policy started by the Duterte administration in 2016. Mr Duterte also pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2019 after it launched a preliminary probe into the thousands of drug-related deaths during his term.

The ICC then authorised a full investigation on the drug war in September 2021, but suspended it two months later, after Manila said it was already looking into the crimes.

Mr Marcos made the comments in a pre-recorded interview with actress and host Toni Gonzaga that aired on Tuesday, which was also his 65th birthday. Ms Gonzaga counts Mr Marcos among the godfathers in her 2015 wedding to director Paul Soriano, a relative of First Lady Louise Araneta-Marcos.

During the interview, Mr Marcos argued that the ICC should step in only when the country's judiciary is no longer functioning.

"The ICC, very simply, is supposed to take action when a country no longer has a functioning judiciary... That condition does not exist in the Philippines. So I do not see what role the ICC will play in the Philippines," he said.

Mr Marcos considers the Duterte clan his ally. His running mate in the May elections was Mr Duterte's daughter, Sara Duterte, who is now the Vice-President.

In the same interview, Mr Marcos also broke his silence on the estate tax issue that his critics raised during the campaign period. He said his clan should be given a chance to defend themselves in the case involving multi-billion pesos worth of their unpaid estate taxes, despite the Supreme Court ruling with finality on the matter.

Mr Marcos, the only son and namesake of the late dictator who plundered the nation's coffers during his 21-year-rule, claimed his family could not defend themselves when they were first ordered by the Bureau of Internal Revenue to pay 23 billion pesos in estate taxes in 1991. He said they were still exiled in the US then.

The Marcoses were again ordered to pay after they were allowed to return to the Philippines later that year by then-President Corazon Aquino. But they still failed to pay the taxes.

"We were never allowed to argue because when this came out, we were all in the United States. So when it was the time for us to answer (in the Philippines), we had no chance to answer," Mr Marcos said.

"Now we're all here. Open the case and let us argue it."

The estate tax case hounded the Marcoses for years and eventually reached the highest court in the Philippines in 1997.

Court documents obtained by Rappler news website in March 2022 showed the Supreme Court ruling demanding that the heirs of Marcos Sr pay their unpaid estate taxes was already "final and executory" as of March 9, 1999. The Marcoses did not contest this ruling.

Lawyers and candidates who opposed Mr Marcos' presidential bid said that based on penalty and interest, the tax liability has allegedly ballooned to around 203 billion pesos (about S$5 billion).

Mr Marcos has also contested this amount, claiming his critics just lumped together the value of properties that do not belong to the family.

"They put different properties together, but we have nothing to do with them. In fact, I have signed quit claims several times," he said. "If you want those properties, take them. But we are not the owners."

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