Duterte adds dozens seeking office to his deadly drug list

Ahead of elections, Philippines president names political rivals on list of ‘narcopoliticians’

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte (left): “I will just be clear that my last remaining years will be the most dangerous years for a person into drug trafficking,” he said.  Photograph:  Mark R Cristino/EPA

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte (left): “I will just be clear that my last remaining years will be the most dangerous years for a person into drug trafficking,” he said. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

 

Two months ahead of elections in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly released a new list of people that he claims are “narcopoliticians”, vowing his remaining three years in office will be the bloodiest yet in his war on drugs.

The list includes the names of 46 officials – 33 mayors, eight deputy mayors, one ex-mayor, a provincial board member and three members of Congress. In the past, many of those who were listed ended up dead at the hands of policemen or vigilantes.

Almost all of those named are running for office in May, when Filipinos go to the polls to choose senators, representatives, mayors and other local officials. Many are political opponents of Duterte, and he is again being widely accused of playing deadly politics against his critics.

“I will just be clear that my last remaining years will be the most dangerous years for a person into drug trafficking,” Duterte said over national television from the southern city of Davao, his hometown, where he released the list. He said that those in the drug business “flaunt their joys and happiness” on social media while ordinary citizens wallow in drug addiction and poverty.

“My decision to unmask these drug personalities was anchored on my trust in the government agencies who have vetted and validated the narco list,” Duterte said, stressing that since he was elected to office in 2016 he has “committed to eradicate the drug problem”.

The government’s interior department has already filed administrative cases against the officials he named, while the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the state’s anti-corruption commission would help track down any illegally acquired wealth.

However, while Duterte said the list of names was vetted, he did not confirm that formal criminal cases had been filed against the officials. The president said that among those on the list are people associated with Proceso Alcala, an agriculture minister under former President Benigno Aquino III, whom Duterte has accused of being traffickers. Neither Aquino nor Alcala could be reached for comment.

Duterte insisted, however, that the new list had nothing to do with politics. “I’m not really interested in releasing it before or after the elections,” Duterte said. “I don’t have the slightest intention of hurting anybody, or to cause a certain man who wants to serve the public not to be elected.”

Gunned down

Shortly after he took office, he released the first of his drug lists, accusing 150 judges, mayors, policemen and military officers of being involved in the drug trade. He never explained how he came up with the list, and his aides said that the president had his own sources. Many of those in that original list have been killed – including about a dozen mayors and several vice mayors – usually gunned down either in police encounters or by pro-government vigilantes.

Among those slain was a mayor who had already surrendered but was gunned down by police officers who raided his jail cell. In July last year, two mayors were gunned down a day apart. One of them, Antonio Halili, of Tanauan City, about 65km south of Manila, was killed by a sniper during a flag ceremony.

More than 5,000 people – and perhaps thousands more who have gone unreported – have been killed in Duterte’s drug war. Nearly all of them were killed in similar circumstances, with police typically saying the person pulled a gun, prompting a fatal gun battle.

Vicente Veloso, a congressman in the central Philippines who was named by the president, said on Friday he would sue the government for including him on the list. He said that Duterte’s list was not thoroughly vetted and said he welcomed an investigation.

“I will go straight to the point: This is politics,” Veloso, a former judge, said over local radio. He stressed he had no quarrel with Duterte.

Neri Colmenares, a lawyer and former congressman now running for the Senate, accused Duterte of releasing the list in order to terrorise his political opponents. Colmenares is part of a lawyers’ group representing relatives of several people killed in the drug war.

The government “should file criminal cases so that those in the list can be imprisoned,” he said. “But exposing the list even if the evidence is still weak only warns the real culprits and makes it difficult to gather evidence.”

Church criticism

The Catholic Church has also been a critic of Duterte’s drug war, and several bishops have recently come out in public saying that they received death threats from unknown sources. While Duterte has called on the police to protect the priests, on Thursday night he said he did not care if they died.

“You should actually be shot,” he said, using an epithet to refer to priests. Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said on Friday that the president’s outburst was “an outrageous attempt to influence local elections in May”. “More critically, it’s a veritable hit list in his drug war, as past politicians accused of drug involvement all too often end up being shot dead by police,” Conde said, adding that those in the list had been deprived of due process and presumption of innocence.

“This weaponising of the drug war against politicians further undermines the rule of law, democracy and civil liberties in the Philippines,” he said. – New York Times

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