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Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:08 AM March 12, 2019
Today, if plans push through, Malacañang’s list of politicians allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade would be released to the public.
The so-called narcolist supposedly contains the names of 82 incumbent officials linked to illegal drugs, 64 of whom are running for reelection in the midterm polls in May.
The Duterte administration is hell-bent on disclosing the names despite well-meaning advice from its own allies that the disclosure would violate the basic presumption of innocence of individuals.
“You cannot let the people wait,” insisted presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo last week.
And yet, the Duterte administration has wasted two years and seven months without a single case filed against the alleged drug suspects mentioned in an earlier similar list that President Duterte had brandished in August 2016.
That first narcolist of some 150 officials later turned out to be riddled with errors. Mr. Duterte had to publicly apologize to Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr., board member Raul Sison and former administrator Rafael Baraan, all of whom he had accused of coddling drug syndicates in the province, for what he said were lapses and negligence committed by his subordinates.
The list also included names of judges or local officials who were either in jail or long dead, and numerous misspellings of names and other information.
Inclusion in the list proved to be fatal to a number of people. Five accused mayors ended up dead, including suspected drug lords Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera, Leyte, and Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. of Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental.
It remains a puzzle why the Duterte administration has not pursued the investigation of the rest of the alleged drug suspects on that list and filed cases against them, if indeed it’s dead set on going after the illegal drug trade.
Now, conveniently when the campaign for the midterm elections is in full swing, someone in Malacañang has had the bright idea to resurrect the list and essentially conduct a shame campaign against certain candidates.
Obviously, the 64 reelectionists implicated in drugs by mere mention on the list cannot be Duterte allies; tarring them this way expediently eliminates them from the race, earning for the administration both the gratitude of their opponents for such help, and the further consolidation of political control across the land.
Panelo, a veteran lawyer, didn’t bat an eyelash in declaring that those on the list do not enjoy the presumption of innocence — because “they know they are involved, they run for public office and it’s fair game.”
This, even with Interior Secretary Eduardo Año’s admission that the list was still “undergoing evaluation,” and that he has yet to coordinate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the office tasked to handle the matter.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, appeared to have completely lost grasp of what his office stands for when he said the Department of Justice will “build up the proper cases” against the accused individuals after the list has been made public.
Mr. Duterte had previously made the incendiary claim that the intelligence and information backing the list came from wiretaps provided by foreign countries (the United States, Russia and China).
The idea that foreign governments are wiretapping Filipino citizens with the approval and perhaps active collusion by the Duterte administration immediately kindled a firestorm.
Panelo had to backtrack on the claim after Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former military officer and police chief, reminded him that wiretapping (unless authorized by court) is illegal and cannot be used as evidence.
Only one Duterte official has had the good sense to state publicly that he is against releasing the list: PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino. And the reason for him is simple — the list is, at this point, unreliable at best, and dangerous at worst.
“I cannot do it right now because we haven’t finished our revalidation of all the narcopoliticians,” Aquino said in a press conference on March 5. And, in a TV interview, he said that, as early as the 2018 barangay elections, he had been warned about the fatal consequences of releasing such a list. “I have an experience during the barangay elections. Many told me that it will become a death list if I released it.”
That’s probably what it will turn out to be — a hit list against disagreeable candidates and political nonallies, and yet another illustration of this administration’s ruthless assault on basic due process and democratic norms.