Philippine prosecutor summons Duterte over death threat

A Philippine prosecutor has summoned former president Rodrigo Duterte to respond to an accusation that he threatened to kill a Filipino congresswoman.

The subpoena — dated October 27 but released to the media on Wednesday — is part of an initial investigation into a criminal complaint filed by House of Representatives Deputy Minority Leader France Castro.

Castro alleged Duterte committed the crime of “grave threats” under the Cybercrime Prevention Act during an October 10 interview with local broadcaster SMNI.

Duterte gave on-air advice to his daughter, Vice President Sara Duterte, about how she could use intelligence and confidential funds allocated to her office and the education department, which she also heads.

“Your first target with your intelligence fund is you, you France. ‘Tell her, it is you communists who I want to kill,’” Duterte said in the interview that was reshared thousands of times on Facebook. It was later deleted from SMNI’s Facebook page.

In her complaint, Castro said Duterte’s threats were “factually baseless and clearly malicious”, but she could not dismiss them as “figurative, joking, or otherwise benign”.

The subpoena ordered Duterte and Castro to appear at the prosecutor’s office on December 4 and December 11 to present witnesses and supporting documents.

The prosecutor will then decide if there is enough evidence to charge Duterte in court.

Duterte was protected from prosecution when he was president, but now that he is an ordinary citizen he can be charged for alleged crimes committed in the Philippines.

His former chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo told AFP that Duterte had been “ignoring” Castro’s criminal complaint.

“He can waive his right to preliminary investigation if he wants,” Panelo said, adding that Castro was only after publicity.

He said Duterte’s comments about Castro were not a death threat, but “just an expression of desire”.

Duterte often threatened to kill people, including drug dealers and rights activists, when he was president from 2016 to 2022.

He also frequently labelled critics as communist sympathisers — a practice known as “red-tagging”, which can result in the arrest, detention or even death of the person targeted.

His signature policy was an anti-drug campaign that killed thousands of people and triggered an international investigation into an alleged crime against humanity.