File raps vs narco pols — Comelec

Gilbert Bayoran - The Philippine Star
File raps vs narco pols â Comelec
Rowena Guanzon said the Comelec can perpetually disqualify a politician from holding public office if he is convicted of drug-related offenses.

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) urged the government to file appropriate charges against the supposed narco politicians instead of shaming them.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said yesterday that the poll body might just ignore the list and allow the alleged narco politicians to run in the May 13 elections.

Guanzon said the Comelec can perpetually disqualify a politician from holding public office if he is convicted of drug-related offenses.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said Saturday that the list of supposed narco politicians would be made public by his department before the start of the campaign period for local bets, as a guide to voters.

Año said he would meet with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Aaron Aquino and Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Catalino Cuy this week to thresh out details of the release.

The PDEA said there are still 83 politicians on the list, with six recommended for delisting if approved by President Duterte. 

Those on the list are mostly mayors, with a smattering of vice mayors, governors, vice governors and congressmen. 

Last month, President Duterte said he was open to the release of the narco list to guide voters in the midterm elections. 

Guanzon, however, cautioned authorities against accusing politicians of being drug lords or protectors, even if there are no charges filed against them.

Guanzon also said releasing the list could violate election laws, as it is a form of negative campaigning that government officials are prohibited from engaging in during election period.

While it is the right of DILG and PDEA to release the names of the so-called narco-politicians, Guanzon said the presumption of innocence must be observed.

Heightened violence

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also expressed concern over the move of releasing the list of alleged narco-politicians.

“The Commission on Human Rights recognizes that the pending release of the supposed list of narco-politicians is meant to ensure that only deserving, law-abiding candidates get elected in government. However, we equally remind the administration that presumption of innocence is a constitutionally guaranteed right,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

De Guia said charges must be filed against the suspected narco-politicians if there is enough evidence.

“The just way to proceed is to file appropriate charges against these personalities to make them accountable before our laws,” she added.

De Guia warned the release of the narco list would trigger violence.

“The last thing that we want to happen is to heighten violence because of the release of such list in an, oftentimes, already violent period triggered by the election season,” she said.

Lawmakers, for their part, strongly warned against the release of the so-called narco list.

“Until backed by evidence, a narco list remains unvalidated and should be used only for intelligence purposes in order to assist law enforcement in pursuing their case buildup with the end in view of filing appropriate criminal charges against those in the list,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.

Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said making the narco list public “is unjust and unfair to those who may be delisted later, worse after the May elections.”

He cited several instances where local political leaders were included in the list only to be exonerated later but with their reputations already damaged after political opponents and the public feasted on the allegations against them.

He noted there was no formal report of authorities having filed charges against all those in the previous list as sought by lawmakers and the public in the past.

“This has happened before and it could happen again,” Lacson said.

Sen. Richard Gordon warned the authorities would be treading on shaky legal grounds in such a move where those in the list could sue for libel at the very least.

“Don’t put out the narco list, just file cases against them... it would be better if they file charges against them instead of just releasing the list,” Gordon told dzBB.

He said the DILG can also file administrative charges or suspend the local officials that Año strongly believed are involved in illegal drugs.

Gordon said the DILG could also suspend or administratively charge a local official for being “notoriously undesirable” based on persistent complaints from their constituents.

Gordon said the DILG and PDEA, as well as other law enforcement agencies, should report what they have done to prosecute those in the list released three years ago. – With Paolo Romero, Rainier Allan Ronda

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