The Palace on Monday defended the move to release a list of politicians allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade, saying that making it public had more pros than cons.
While acknowledging concerns expressed by lawmakers that releasing the list violates the presumption of innocence of candidates seeking public office, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said part of the risk of running for public office is being exposed to public scrutiny.
Panelo said the Department of the Interior and Local Government would release the list by next week and file charges against those on the list.
In defending the move, Panelo said the Constitution recognizes the right of the people to information on matters of public concern, especially when this affects their lives and welfare.
“The evil sought to be avoided by its release is much much greater than the perceived violation of an individual’s right, which the law allows a vindication and compensation,” he said in a statement.
“In balancing the interests between those of the individual candidates, who took the risk of being exposed by running for a public office, and that of the nation, unquestionably the country’s interests prevail,” he said.
Panelo said the people have a right to know which politicians are involved in illegal drugs so they could make responsible choices when casting their vote in May.
“The public and the voters have the right to know who these destroyers of society are who have placed all of us to the brink,” 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.”
Panelo said the government is duty bound to undertake measures to prevent the proliferation of illegal drugs.
“Thousands of barangays have been contaminated. There is no doubt that we are now in a state of narco-politics,” he said.
“The matter of illegal drugs is a matter of national security given that its continued proliferation, despite the government’s success in containing it by the relentless police operations against it, has put in peril not only the basic unit of our society, which is the family, but the local government units as well,” he added.
He said that if those involved in the illegal drug trade will be running the local governments, public safety will be endangered.
He also reiterated that the narco-list has been validated by law enforcement agencies after investigation and surveillance using modern technology and sourcing credible information from those who have been previously arrested and prosecuted.
Earlier, Panelo said that politicians who have been wrongly accused always have the option to avail of judicial remedies to clear their names.
“The fear that it may destroy the presumption of innocence, to my mind there is a judicial remedy for that: If you feel that you’ve been libeled, you can always go to the courts,” he said.
Panelo also suggested that criminals no longer had a right to be presumed innocent.
“How can you demand that you are presumed innocent when you are involved in something criminal?” he said. “Another thing, the due process clause applies to the life, liberty or property. It may not even apply to them because you don’t deprive them of those three things when you release the list,” he said.
Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez maintained that the mere inclusion of a candidate’s name in the list was not the basis for disqualifying a candidate.
In October 2018, Duterte rejected the plan of the DILG to disqualify politicians in the list from running in the upcoming elections.
READ: ‘Duterte has power over narco-list’
Duterte then said it was not “good policy” for the government to disclose the names.
According to the DILG, about 93 local officials, including 58 mayors, were reported to have been included in the government’s list of narco-politicians.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima branded as “farce” the government’s so-called narco-list, asking why it has not filed charges yet.
She also chided the government for resorting to “naming and shaming.”
“It’s just a list,” she said.
Senator Nancy Binay said she doubted the true intent of the DILG’s plan, saying the list could be used to shame candidates.
“They said they will come out with the list to guide our voters, but how could that be possible if the list was not verified?” she asked.
She urged the DILG and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to immediately file charges against the narco-politicians if they were sure about their list. With PNA