Duterte refuses call to open his bank accounts to scrutiny

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine president refused a demand by his most vocal critic to publicly release details of his bank accounts to disprove allegations that he had large sums of undeclared money.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in a news conference Wednesday that if opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV wanted "to get evidence, do not get it from my mouth. You must be stupid ... Why would I give you the pleasure?"

Trillanes first alleged Duterte had unexplained wealth during the presidential campaign last year. In February, he publicly raised the issue again because he said Duterte had not yet revealed details of the more than 2 billion pesos ($39 million) he allegedly kept in bank accounts as a former city mayor.

Duterte inadvertently brought the issue back to public focus recently when he alleged Trillanes has several undeclared joint bank accounts with unidentified Chinese men in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and the United States. Trillanes denied it and signed about a dozen waivers for authorities to look into the alleged bank accounts and demanded that Duterte do the same.

Duterte went on a personal attack against Trillanes, one of his harshest critics and a former navy officer once detained for a failed coup plot. He mocked Trillanes for losing the vice presidential race last year and alleged that the senator keeps huge funds in his bank accounts in amounts just below the level that could spark a Central Bank inquiry.

Duterte said a move by another senator to file an ethical complaint against Trillanes could lead to his ouster from the chamber "because of his behavior."

Trillanes is among key officials critical of some of Duterte's policies who are facing ouster attempts by the president's political allies who overwhelmingly dominate the Philippine Congress.

On Wednesday, the majority of the members of the Justice Committee of the House of Representatives voted to declare an impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno sufficient to investigate her.

On Tuesday, lawmakers voted to slash the annual budget of the Commission on Human Rights to 1,000 pesos ($20) for next year, although the decision can still be changed.

Critics were alarmed by the move, which they said could effectively abolish the agency, which was created under the constitution to investigate human rights violations. The agency was seeking an annual budget of 649 million pesos ($12.7 million).

Commission Chairman Chito Gascon has been a vocal critic of Duterte's bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has left thousands of people dead.

U.N. rights expert Agnès Callamard said the move to massively cut the rights agency's budget was "reprehensible and unconscionable." Filipino Rep. Edcel Lagman said the congressional move that could virtually abolish a constitutional commission was "unconstitutional."

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the move would deal a blow to human rights accountability in the Philippines.

"The vote by an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives is part of the Duterte administration's attempt to prevent independent institutions to check its abuses, particularly in the context of the brutal drug war," said Phelim Kline of Human Rights Watch.

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