The Commission on Elections on Friday said it cannot force candidates in the 2022 national elections to submit to mandatory drug testing as substance abuse is not a ground for disqualification.
The poll body, citing a Supreme Court ruling that struck down its previous order as unconstitutional, made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte said one of the current presidential bets used cocaine.
Presidential bets have urged Duterte to unmask the alleged drug user and file charges as the Palace assured the public there will be no special treatment for the candidate mentioned by the chief executive.
“Substance abuse is not among the disqualifications provided for by law. In any case, the Comelec did try to require candidates to submit a negative drug test several elections ago. The move was disapproved by the Supreme Court,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said in a statement Friday.
Duterte on Thursday refused to name the presidential aspirant but alluded that the person is among the top contenders.
"There’s even a presidential candidate who does cocaine… There are candidates who take cocaine. These are rich kids," Duterte said.
The camp of presidential aspirant and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Friday brushed off the President’s claims that a candidate for Chief Executive is a cocaine user.
“We don’t feel alluded to,” Marcos’ spokesperson, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, said in a radio interview, adding that Marcos has the “highest respect” for Duterte.
“We only have the highest respect, and knowledge of the President,” Rodriguez said.
Malacañang on Friday assured the public the unnamed presidential aspirant accused of being a cocaine user would not get any preferential treatment from the government.
In an online press briefing, acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles said the Palace would leave the fate of the presidential candidate to the law enforcement agencies.
"Our drug enforcement agencies know their mandate," he said. "It is safe to assume that if there is an investigation, then they’re already doing everything in their power to catch whoever perpetrators and law violators are."
Quizzed about Duterte's source, Nograles said the President may have gotten the information from "intelligence reports."
He also declined to spill more information, saying he would let Duterte use his "wise and sound judgment" on the possible naming of the presidential aspirant accused of taking cocaine.
"Of course, the President has access to many sources, including the intel reports. On naming the said individual, we will leave it to the sound judgment of the President," Nograles said.
He added that Duterte might eventually reveal the identity of the presidential aspirant in his future public engagements. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Duterte did not divulge the identity of the presidential hopeful but dropped hints the person is a male with a "very weak" character and comes from a wealthy family with a prominent patriarch.
Among the male presidential candidates are incumbent senators Christopher Lawrence "Bong" Go, Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao and Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., and Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso.
“I am 1,000% sure he (President) was not referring to me. I have no comment,” said Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police who also led a presidential anti-drug task force.
Domagoso on Friday warned that presidential candidates who use drugs may become drug lords themselves.
"What is my moral ascendancy to go against drugs if I’m a drug user?” the Manila mayor said in an ambush interview.
Pacquiao said a mandatory drug test must be required for anyone who wants to work in government, elective or appointed, adding he would not prevent any reformed drug user from being appointed to his administration.
Go, whom Duterte endorsed for the presidency, said he is ready to subject himself to a drug test “anytime and anywhere.”
He noted that before choosing a candidate, the Filipino people have the right to know that a candidate who will lead them is “clean.”
Vice President Leni Robredo, the only woman in the current field of presidential bets, on Friday said she favors surprise drug tests for candidates.
“It should not be announced so the candidates would not be able to prepare for it," she told reporters during an event in Quezon.
Nograles said there will be no special treatment for anyone who is involved in illegal drugs.
“There are no holy cows here. We do not choose based on social rank or status. Everyone involved in illegal drugs will be charged and prosecuted,” he said.
In 2008, the SC struck down as unconstitutional section 36 (g) of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (RA No. 9165) and Comelec Resolution 6486 – both pertaining to mandatory drug testing of candidates.
Section 36 (g) likewise compelled those seeking to be appointed in government office to undergo the mandatory requirement.
“All candidates for public office, whether appointed or elected both in the national or local government, shall undergo a mandatory drug test,” the said section read.
Meanwhile, the assailed Comelec resolution required all candidates for national and local positions in the May 10, 2004 elections to “undergo mandatory drug tests in government forensic laboratories or any drug testing laboratories monitored and accredited by the Department of Health.”
In its ruling, the high court sided with the argument raised by petitioner Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. that the Constitution provides only for a maximum of 5 qualifications for one to be a candidate for senator namely, (1) citizenship, (2) voter registration, (3) literacy, (4) age, and (5) residency.