Walden Bello ‘persona non grata’ in Davao City over drugs, corruption comments

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
Walden Bello �persona non grata� in Davao City over drugs, corruption comments
This April 2016 photo from his official Facebook page shows Laban ng Masa vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello.
Walden Bello Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines — The vice-presidential bet of the Partido Lakas ng Masa has been declared a "persona non grata" in Davao City  for calling it the "drug center of the South" during the Commission on Elections’ vice presidential debate held Sunday.

But Bello said he is "unconcerned and unbothered" by the decision, saying this was done by local elites. He said the views of "ordinary people in Davao" are more important than those whom he called a "privileged few who have sold their souls to the Dutertes."

A persona non grata declaration is more commonly issued by entire countries and bars a person entry into its borders. It has also been used by local legislatures to express local sentiment.

In 2014, the Davao City council declared comedian Ramon Bautista persona non grata in 2014 for a joke that they felt was disrespectful of the city's women. In 1998, the city council of Manila declared actress Claire Danes persona non grata for comments about poverty in the city.

"My conversations with these people last week — with workers, farmers, professionals, and so on — have revealed an immense dissatisfaction with the corruption and hypocrisy of the city’s dynasty," he said in a statement just a few hours after the 19th Davao City Council banned him from stepping inside city on Tuesday.

To recall, Bello called Davao a "drug center of the South under the control of a member of the Duterte family." These allegations have been disputed by local authorities and a Senate hearing into them in 2017 went nowhere as senators found no proof to support the claims.

"As we condemn Walden Bello’s acts, we also vehemently declare that he is not welcome to enter the borders, and the entire territorial jurisdiction of Davao City,” the resolution read, a copy of which was made public by state-run Radyo Pilipinas Davao on Facebook.

The city council said: "Bello’s persistent attacks will debilitate Davao City’s economic recovery efforts, especially in promoting the city’s tourism and investment opportunities to the local and international scene, and ultimately reflect Davao City’s reputable governance in general."

Davao's city council noted that it received 118 awards and citations recognizing the local government’s efforts and leadership from 2016 to 2021.

It listed some of its awards issued by government agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Competitiveness Council and the Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Philippine National Police, among others.

‘Cleaning up Davao’

Bello also said on Sunday that he will "focus on cleansing up, cleaning up Davao," claiming there was corruption in the city. He cited supposed corruption in the Davao City Coastal Road project and in the upgrades to the city's PUV system, where, he said, the city's public transport was consolidated into three companies.

Hugpong ng Pagbabago, a political party founded by the president’s daughter, called Bello a narcopolitician "in a way that he withheld information crucial in the government’s anti-drug campaign."

In a statement on Monday, HNP said it was "alarmed" by Bello’s statement as it takes the fight against illegal drugs seriously.

The party accused Bello of deliberately keeping information from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police. HNP said it has since requested an investigation on Bello’s "knowledge and involvement in the illegal drug trade in Davao City."

‘Ridiculous’ accusation

In a statement, Bello said the accusation is “ridiculous.”

"Not only have I never been involved in the drug trade, I have never been rumored to be involved in the drug trade," he said as he repeated his allegations.

Pointing to what he learned from the ground work he did during his campaign, he said people told him that it is already an “open secret” that Davao has become the country’s drug den in the south.

Former Davao city information officer Jefrey Tupas filed a cyber-libel case against Bello earlier this month for his "below the belt" accusation of her being involved in illegal drug trade

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