Narco list: Palace says presumption of innocence âwaivedâ for candidates

Narco list: Palace says presumption of innocence ‘waived’ for candidates

Ryan Macasero (Philstar.com) - March 5, 2019 - 6:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — As far as President Rodrigo Duterte is concerned, those running for elected positions had waived their right to be presumed innocent, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said. 

“Moreover, the constitutional presumption of innocence, to my mind, and to the president's mind, have been waived by reason of their running for public office,” the spokesperson told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday.

However, Article III, Section 14 (1-2) of the Constitution, which articulates the principle of the presumption of innocence, does not list any exemptions. 

It states: 

"No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and his failure to appear is unjustifiable."

Panelo, who is also Duterte's chief legal counsel, said that the Palace understands the principle of the presumption of innocence, but he believes the public’s “right to know” about alleged drug-linked candidates takes precedence. 

“We'd like to tell them that the Constitution gives people right to know matters of public concern, especially those that concern their lives and welfare,” Panelo said.

“Now we have placed the drug problem as a national security [threat]. We are on the precipice of destruction if we cannot stop this drug industry,” he added. 

Amid concerns that names may be erroneously placed on the list, Panelo said on Monday’s press conference that they have legal recourse and may sue if names on the list feel like they are being “libeled.” 

But during Tuesday’s press conference he said that even proving libel would be “difficult.”

“We believe presumption of innocence does not apply,” Panelo said. “Even if they file for libel, it would be difficult. Because libel has malicious intent, this doesn’t have it [malicious intent],” Panelo said.

'Gross ignorance of the law'

Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, who is running for senator under the Otso Diretso slate, said in a statement that there are no exemptions to the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence. 

“Sal Panelo’s opinion is gross ignorance of the law. He cannot give out exemptions and new interpretations, because the Constitution’s provisions about this are clear,” he said. 

“The imposition of justice should be fair, and should respect the process of a democracy,” the lawyer said.

“The plan of releasing the narco-list, especially at this time, is a clear proof that the administration wants to push those who are running to silence and absolute submission.”

He also pointed out that it is the same principle that allowed candidates running under Hugpong ng Pagbabago — a regional party headed by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte — to run for office despite facing various cases themselves. 

“Sal Panelo might also have forgotten that it is Presumption of Innocence that allowed some of the candidates of their camp to run,” Hilbay said. “Following his ‘opinion,’ we can already say with certainty and finality that the admin’s bets for this elections are thieves and plunderers.”

Panelo said during the press conference that he was told by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Duterte that the list would be released sometime next week ahead of the March 29 campaign period for local candidates. 

This is not the first time the president has released a list of suspected drug personalities. Some names on earlier lists of alleged drug-linked police, local officials and judges have ended up shot or killed in police operations or by unknown gunmen. 

In 2016, for example, former Albuera, Leyte, Mayor Rolando Espinosa was killed while in government custody for allegedly resisting a search of his cell at a Leyte jail. 

Daanbantayan Mayor Vicente Loot, who was called a "narco general" in 2016 was ambushed in 2018, although he survived the shooting. 

READ: Cebu mayor in narco list survives ambush

Panelo believes, however, that releasing the list is part of being open to public scrutiny as an elected official. 

“Because when you run for public office, everything is fair game. you open yourself to criticism, kalkalin lahat ng buhay mo diyan (they’ll dig up everything about your life),” he said.

“When they entered, they already take the risk of being exposed if they are involved.”

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