Barangay chair on PDEA narco list denies involvement in illegal drugs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 1) — The lone barangay chairman from Zamboanga del Sur who was included in the government's list of alleged narco-politicians was in tears as he denied he was connected to the illegal drugs trade.

"Before charging me with such accusations, they should have conducted investigation, checked on my background, the properties I own… These simple properties I have are not the things drug lords own," said Barangay Old Labangan captain Mohibat Pagayao said.

Pagayao recalled receiving a letter last year from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), indicating that he was identified as a drug personality.

On the contrary, he claimed to be active in the peace campaigns in the Municipality of Labangan. He suspects that his political ties with former Labangan mayor Wilson Kitti Nandang was the reason for his inclusion in the list.

Nandang was named by President Duterte as among Mindanao's narcopoliticians.

"But it is common in all towns that barangay captains should partner with the current administration. But I was never involved in illegal drugs," Pagayao said.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Monday released over 200 names of barangay officials allegedly involved in illegal drugs.

While the government said the list has been "validated," it also admitted a lack of material evidence to take the cases to court. The PDEA even appealed to the public to come forward if they wished to testify against the suspects.

"When you say validation, there's a confirmation that indeed these particular barangay officials are involved. But it doesn't mean nandoon lahat na ng ebidensya [It doesn't mean all the evidence is there]," PDEA Director-General Aaron Aquino told reporters.

The PDEA and the DILG plan to file criminal and administrative charges against the officials, likely within the next two weeks.

The list stemmed from the order of President Rodrigo Duterte last week to disclose the names of barangay officials linked to illegal drugs ahead of election day for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls on May 14.

'Trial by publicity'

Both Senators Gregorio Honasan and Win Gatchalian expressed disapproval of the release of the so-called "narco list".

"I objected to (the) premature release, not only of the narco list but any list because of our historical propensity to try and convict institutions, groups and personalities by publicity, at the expense of due process and the rule of law," said Honasan.

Gatchalian echoed Honasan's sentiments: "The public release of the barangay drug list will surely result in the crucification of those … alleged narco-politicians in the court of public opinion."

However, he said it is time for the DILG "to finally make good on its promise by spearheading the immediate filing of administrative and criminal raps against the barangay officials named on the drug list."

On Friday, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said naming the 211 barangay officials on the government's drug watchlist will put their lives at risk.

"The Duterte administration will be putting hundreds of people in danger if it released the names of barangay officials it accuses of involvement in the illegal drugs trade," HRW said in a statement.

Stringer Marlon Pañares contributed to this report.