PDEA chief nixes release of narco list

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief is standing by his position that he does not want the list containing the names of politicians who are allegedly involved in the drug trade to be released.

"I stand (by) it. But it still depends on the President if I will be ordered (to release it,)" PDEA chief Dir. Gen. Aaron Aquino told CNN Philippines in a text message.

Aquino previously told CNN Philippines' The Source that he would rather work silently and just file charges against narcopoliticians.

"May experience ako nung barangay election eh. Maraming nagsasabi it will become a death list 'pag ipinalabas ko iyan," Aquino said in November 2018.

[Translation: I had an experience during the barangay elections. Many said that it will become a death list if I release that.]

President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would not interfere with the release of the so-called narco list and left it to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) if it will publicize it.

Commission on Elections chair Sheriff Abas also said that it is the DILG and PDEA's call if they will make the list public, but said that the poll body would still consider those in the list to be innocent.

But Abas backed the government's plan to release it ahead of the campaign for the local elections, saying it will be a good guide for voters – as long as it is verified.

"Personally, tingin ko mas maganda na guide 'yun. Pero ang problema lang, totoo ba 'yun?" Abas told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday. "Pero kung totoo, for me, maganda kasi naga-guide mo 'yung tao kung sino kasama sa narcopolitics."

[Translation: Personally, I think that's a better guide. But the problem is, is that real? If it's true, then for me, it's good that we guide people on who are involved in narcopolitics.]

Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde also backed the release of the narco list, but stressed that it is important that the information on the list is validated.

"I think 'yung taong bayan [the people,] they deserve to know. They deserve the truth," Albayalde said in a press briefing.

But some senators and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) are not as receptive to the idea, with the government's rights watchdog warning that its release may lead to more election-related violence

"The last thing that we want to happen is to heighten violence because of the release of such list in an, oftentimes, already violent period triggered by the election period," CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement on Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, meanwhile, warned that the DILG is courting administrative raps for abuse of authority, libel and damages if it pushes through with the release of the list.

For his part, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said the narco list should remain unpublished and be used only for intelligence purposes until backed by evidence.

"Making it public is unjust and unfair to those who may be delisted later, worse after the May elections. This has happened before and it could happen again," said Lacson, who was a former police chief.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said it would be better for the DILG to talk to and investigate those they suspect to be involved in illegal drugs.

The PDEA released last year a list of barangay officials who were allegedly involved in illegal drugs ahead of the village polls, despite the government admitting that there is not enough evidence to charge those in the list before courts.

At least five local chief executives tagged in illegal drugs have been slain. Mayors Mariano Blanco III and Antonio Halili were shot dead, while Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom died in a shootout with anti-drug operatives, Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr. was killed in a raid and Mayor Rolando Espinosa was killed in his jail cell.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Joyce Ilas, CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong and CNN Philippines Digital Producer Janine Peralta contributed to this report.