Palace advises 'narco pols' to file libel case if allegations not true

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — Politicians and candidates on the government's drug watch list can always take their case to court to deny the allegations, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Monday.

"If they feel like they've been libeled, they can file a case," Panelo said in a media briefing when asked if the Department of Interior and Local Government's (DILG) planned release of "narco list" will go against the "presumption of innocence."

"Me, as a lawyer, mas gusto kong ilabas niyo ang pangalan ng kliyente ko. Para I can immediately respond to it at magawan ko ng paglilinis kung inosente naman," he said.

[Translation: Me, as a lawyer, I would rather have my client's name released so I can immediately respond to it, especially if he or she is innocent.]

Panelo said Malacanang "will make it a point" that the list, which includes names of politicians allegedly involved in drug trade, would be validated.

During a speech in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte talked about a "narco list," which he said includes names of mayors, governors, congressmen, barangay (village) captains, and police officers.

In April 2018, the chief executive ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to release the drug watch list of barangay chairmen ahead of the midterm polls.

READ: Duterte's drug list: What we know so far

Narco list will help public vet bets

Panelo said the planned release of the narco list will also prove to be beneficial for the electorate ahead of the polls.

He said the move will serve as a platform for the public to vet candidates early on.

"The idea of presenting a list by DILG and PDEA is to tell the electorate on the kind of candidates that they will choose from. And I think it will help them," Panelo told reporters in Malacañang. "That's the judgment call of the DILG chief and the PDEA. The President, if you recall, already released that list. Logically, he will not oppose it."

Panelo added it would be unfair for the DILG and PDEA not to release the list, amid criticisms of some lawmakers on the planned move.

"From the point of view of the voters, it would also be unfair if you don't tell them exactly your investigation relative to those involved in the drug industry," the spokesman said. "If they're elected and suddenly, their place is contaminated with drugs, they will blame the government, 'why didn't you tell us this? You've known pala (actually) all the time?'"

Commission on Elections chair Sheriff Abas told CNN Philippines' The Source on Monday that he favors the government's plan on the issue.

Administration bets Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa and Jiggy Manicad also expressed support for the release of the watch list.

"Mas maganda yun para additional information din yun sa botante just in case hindi nila alam kung sino at ano yung kanilang binobotohan na pulitika," the former police chief said.

[Translation: That would be better so that it would serve as additional information for voters just in case they don't know who to vote for.]

"It's a matter of national security. Imaginenin niyo kung makaboto kayo ng isang (Just imagine if you vote for a) drug lord. Number 2, it's a matter of public interest. Dapat alam natin sino ang tamang leaders na iboboto natin para di naman mapariwara ang bansa natin (We should know the right leaders to vote for so that our country won't get lost)," Manicad said.

Presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte said that while there is now a law prohibiting the PDEA from releasing the list, the agency should make sure the information would have enough basis.

Opposition senatorial candidate and Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano pertained to the move as a "scare tactic" of the administration.

"The rule of law and due process must always prevail. If there is substantial evidence linking officials to illegal drugs then there is proper forum for them in the courts where they could be held criminally liable. I hope that the release of this document achieves something outside of public-shaming," Alejano said in a statement.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, suggested for the DILG to just "talk directly" with and investigate the personalities in the list, instead of publicly releasing the list to the media.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra added the main issue will not be the release of the list itself, but rather the factual basis for the inclusion of names.

The Philippine National Police said it will support the move should the President officially order the its release.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Joyce Ilas and Digital Producer Alyssa Rola contributed to this report.