On narco-list: Convict first

Comelec says drug suspects presumed innocent

Commission on Elections spokesman Director James Jimenez on Monday said that even if a candidate is included in the so-called ‘narco-list,’ he or she cannot be automatically disqualified for the May 13 midterm elections.

“We maintain na until there is a final conviction, there should be a presumption of innocence and therefore, hindi sya disqualifying,” Jimenez said.

The Comelec official said, however, that the list might be useful for law enforcement agencies, but insisted that it would not affect the status of electoral candidacies.

Earlier, Department of the Interior and Local Government spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the “narco-list” made public in time for the barangay or village elections in 2016 showed mixed results on the candidacies of those named in the narco-list.

Malaya said that despite repeated warnings, some still won, while some also lost.

The DILG plans to release a similar document before the May 13 elections and it has again raised concerns that it would violate the right to due process of those on the supposed narco-list.

Meanwhile, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino on Monday said he is against the move to release the so-called narco-list ahead of the May 2019 elections.

Aquino said he’d rather work silently, and build up and file cases against narco-politicians, instead of coming up with a list of politicians who may be involved in the illegal drug trade.

“Since the very first time, I for one don’t want the disclosure of the narco-list. [I would] just work silently and file necessary charges against those involved,” he said in an interview.

As early as November last year, Aquino had said that he was not in favor of releasing a narco-list months before the midterm elections, saying that based on his experience in the May 2018 barangay polls, the disclosure of politicians allegedly involved in the illegal drugs could only make things more chaotic.

Malacañang had stood by its ground that the voters must know who they should vote, and that they should not be deprived of the information about any politicians supposedly involved in the illegal drug trade.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Elections said it cannot stop the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency from releasing the names of candidates on their list of politicians involved in illegal drugs.

“Call ‘yan ng DILG at PDEA. Wala kaming problema diyan,” Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas said.

“Siguro may basis din sila. May mandato sila,” he added.

Still, the Comelec official said that a candidate’s inclusion in the government’s narco-list is not a basis for disqualification in running for an elective position.

“As far as Comelec is concerned, hindi naman ibig sabihin na nandoon ka sa listahan eh talagang accused ka na. Hindi naman siya ground for disqualification.

In the Senate, Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Aquilino Pimentel III urged the government to file criminal charges against politicians allegedly linked to the illegal drug trade instead of releasing the narco-list ahead of the midterm elections.

Gatchalian said the Interior Department should file appropriate charges to bar narco-politicians from joining the upcoming polls.

“Shaming them can only do so much. They have the money and local relationships that will ensure their victory,” Gatchalian said.

“The best strategy is to remove them legally through the proper courts,” he added.

Pimentel, meanwhile, said that the Comelec cannot prevent those on the list from running for office in May because “being on a list, even on a narco-list” is not recognized as a legal ground for disqualifying candidates since they are all presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“If the government has included them in a list because the government is convinced, by evidence, of their involvement in the narco trade, then it is government’s duty now to file charges against them using the evidence which made them land in the said list,” he said.

Senator Nancy Binay echoed Gatchalian and Pimentel’s stand, as she likewise urged the Interior and Justice departments to file cases against politicians in the “narco-list” instead of publicly naming them.

She added that those in the list should be afforded their Constitutional rights.

Binay also reminded the DILG and other government agencies to be careful in validating and vetting the list.

“Kasi kung hindi pa 100 percent sure ang involvement ay magiging kakatawanan lang ang laban na ito,” she said.

The reelectionist senator also warned that the list could be used to shame candidates for the May elections.

Senator Franklin Drilon, for his part, said that the DILG “exposes itself to an administrative complaint for abuse of authority, libel and damages for the release of such list.”

He also urged the DILG should file cases against these candidates.

Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed support for the DILG’s proposal to release the narco-list ahead of the May 13 midterm elections.

But Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said releasing the list would be “unfair” as it is a form of negative campaigning.

The PDEA said the list currently includes 83 politicians.

The campaign period for senatorial candidates and party-list groups started on Feb. 12 while the one for local aspirants will kick off on March 30.

Amid the controversy, Davao City Mayor and Hugpong Ng Pagbabago party head Sara Duterte-Carpio said HNP-backed candidates who are included in the list will be given a chance to explain and answer the allegation.

“I think that is fair doon sa mga tao na nakalista to make sure na meron silang opportunity na sumagot so we will ask them to answer kung ano yung accusation,” she told reporters on the sidelines of a campaign caravan in Pasay City.

(We will ask candidates that will figure in the narco-list to answer the accusation against them.)

The presidential daughter said that there is actually no law that prohibits the release of a narco-list.

“There is no law na nagbabawal na maglabas ang PDEA  ng narco-list of politicians,” she said.

The Philippine National Police had said that releasing such a list would depend on the President’s decision.

But Hugpong-backed senatorial aspirants former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and former broadcast journalist Jiggy Manicad are in favor of releasing a vetted list to aid national security and public interest.

“Additional information din yun para sa mga botante just in case hindi nila alam kung sino at ano yung kanilang mga binoboto,” Dela Rosa said.

 (It will serve as additional information to voters just in case they don’t know who they are voting for.)

Dela Rosa served as PNP chief and led Duterte’s war on drugs and later became head of the Bureau of Corrections.

Manicad, on the other hand, said the list should be verified before releasing it to guide the public properly.

“It’s a matter of national security. Imagine niyo kung makaboto kayo ng isang drug lord. It’s a matter of public interest. Dapat alam natin sino yung tamang leaders para di mapariwara ang bansa natin,” he said.

(People should know who the right leaders are so that our country will not suffer setbacks.) With PNA

READ: Senators, Comelec: Release of narco list premature, unfair

Topics: Commission on Elections , James Jimenez , narco-list , May 13 midterm elections , Department of the Interior and Local Government
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