President Duterte announced last Thursday, March 14, a list of 46 officials allegedly involved in the local drugs trade. They were 33 mayors, eight vice mayors, three congressmen, a provincial board member, and a former mayor.
Eleven days after the names were announced, how has it affected those in the list, especially the ones running for office in the coming mid-term elections?
Most of the politicians in the list have denied their involvement in the drug trade, some of them claiming their inclusion in the list was politically motivated. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), however, vouched for the list’s accuracy. A spokesman said the PDEA and the other members of an Interagency Committee on Anti-iIlegal Drugs (ICAD) spent 14 months investigating, evaluating, and validating the charges against the 46 in the list.
The PDEA expressed apprehension that those in the list may leave the country to escape prosecution. There is nothing to prevent them from leaving, according to Secretary Menardo Guevarra of the Department of Justice (DOJ) since no criminal case has been filed in court. “We can’t apply for a preventive hold-departure order since there are no complaints filed,” the secretary said.
One of the mayors in the list left for Singapore with his family last Tuesday, according to the Bureau of Immigration, while a vice mayor on the list said his name has been now been excluded.
What the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has filed are administrative charges with the Office of the Ombudsman which could, after due investigation, issue a ruling of suspension or dismissal. The DOJ said it is waiting for copies of the complaints and intelligence reports, after which its National Bureau of Investigation will conduct investigations, which could lead to the filing of court cases.
Legally, therefore, there is yet no case against the officials in the narco-list that could bar their candidacies. There is nothing to keep them from proceeding with their campaigns in the May 13 midterm elections. This campaign period for local officials begins March 29, only four days from today.
Very probably, the President chose to disclose the narco-list in a bid to reach out to voters in the coming election. Last Wednesday, the Social Weather Stations announced the results of a survey on what voters look for in their candidates. The top quality they want, according to the survey, is “not corrupt.” This was the answer of 25 percent of the respondents. The next two qualities they cited were “concern for those in need,” 20 percent, and “fulfills promises,” 14 percent.
The President and other officials hope that even if there is yet no legal case that can stop the politicians in the narco-list, the voters will respond to his call for them to reject those involved in the illegal drugs trade, even if only on the basis of the findings of the PDEA and other government agencies that drew up the narco-list after 14 months of investigation. We will find out after the election how well-founded those hopes are.