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Duterte orders release of narco list

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Duterte orders release of narco list
Salvador Panelo said the President has authorized Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to release the list of politicians linked to illegal drug activities ahead of the campaign period for local bets.
Michael Varcas / File

MANILA, Philippines — Despite concerns raised by several quarters, President Duterte has ordered the release of the list of so-called narco politicians, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

Panelo said the President has authorized Interior Secretary Eduardo Año to release the list of politicians linked to illegal drug activities ahead of the campaign period for local bets.

Panelo said the release of the list was discussed at a meeting last Monday at Malacañang. He said he was at the meeting with the President and Año where it was agreed to release the list of narco politicians next week in an effort to warn voters.

Año will be releasing the list next week, as administrative charges are also being readied against those confirmed to be involved in illegal drug activities, Panelo said.

Malacañang invoked public interest and said voters’ right to information should prevail over individual rights of every citizen.

“You must remember that in the balancing of interest between the individual right as against the people’s right – the interest of the people – unquestionably the interest of the country prevails. You have to balance the interest,” Panelo said over ANC.

Panelo had earlier given assurance the list will not be used to put down the administration’s political opponents.

“The voters and the public have the right to know who are these destroyers of our society,” Panelo said.

“You must remember that the drug menace has reached the level of national security and it threatens the republic’s safety. And it is the primordial duty of the state to protect and to serve these people,” he said.

“They cannot – and must not – be given the authority to rule and govern for they will only hasten the destruction of our country.”

Much greater evil

Amid mounting criticisms, Panelo allayed fears that the release of the list will violate a person’s right to due process.

“Well-meaning personalities have expressed concern that releasing the narco list is a violation of due process as the persons listed therein will be painted in public as evil doers without them being afforded (the chance) to refute the accusation,” he said.

Panelo assured the public that the list underwent prior investigation and vetting. He argued the government wants to stop the greater evil caused by illegal drugs. 

“The evil sought to be avoided by its release is much, much greater than the perceived violation of an individual’s right,” Panelo said.

Panelo also argued the candidates generally had waived their rights to presumption of innocence when they filed their certificates of candidacy.

“In balancing the interests between those of the individual candidates, who take the risk of being exposed by running for a public office and therefore effectively waiving their right to the presumption of innocence, that of the nation, unquestionably the country’s interests prevail,” he said.

Opposition senatorial bet Florin Hilbay took exception to Panelo’s statements and reminded the spokesman that the presumption of innocence applies to all at all times.

“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,” Hilbay said.

“The presumption of innocence applies to all and at all times, whether it is election season or not,” the former solicitor general said.

Hilbay said Panelo might also have forgotten that it is presumption of innocence that allowed some of the candidates of the administration to run, referring to the three senatorial bets who were charged with plunder.

“Why were they allowed to run? If this is the quality of the people they endorsed in their coalition, maybe it reflects the reality of the kind of administration we have,” Hilbay said.

Opposition senatorial candidates Lorenzo Tañada III and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said the release of the narco list may lead to “gross neglect of due process.”

Tañada said the move is the Duterte administration’s way to influence voters.

Alejano, for his part, said the government should file charges against the narco-politicians where they could be held criminally liable.

“I hope that the release of this document achieves something outside of public-shaming,” he said.

Rep. Tom Villarin of party-list Akbayan opposed the release of the list, saying the move “smacks of partisan politics and gross violation of human rights.”

“The list is a virtual death warrant for politicians and their families who will not only be publicly humiliated but will become a target for political killings from death squads,” he said.

Villarin added that not giving those in the list due process would be “highly unconstitutional and a grave abuse of authority.”

He noted Duterte’s previous drug list had erroneous information.

“The sure way is to file cases and let the courts decide,” Villarin said.

Former congressman and senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares said Malacañang should “stop weaponizing its supposed narco list of government officials and terrorizing candidates.”?“If they have adequate evidence, then they should go to court and file a case, not dangle this supposed narco list so that politicians would obey their whim in fear of being added to the list,” he said.

The Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) said the release of the list would be a violation of constitutional rights. 

“Just to repeat our position, release of such list violates the constitutional rights to be presumed innocent and right to due process of individuals who would be contained in such list. The government should just directly file cases against these individuals in our courts,” the group of lawyers said. – With Jess Diaz, Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan

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