Senators call for amendment in antidrug war
SENATORS on Sunday called on the Duterte administration to observe due process in its war on drugs, saying the rule of law should not be disregarded in the campaign to crush the narcotics trade. President Duterte publicly linked 159 current and former local, military and police officials, lawmakers and judges to illegal drugs early on Sunday and ordered them to turn themselves in for investigation. “Due process has nothing to do with my mouth. There are no proceedings here, no lawyers,” Mr. Duterte said in a predawn speech just before he began naming the suspects.
The President, who has led a bloody war on drugs, ordered the security escorts of the suspects withdrawn and canceled their firearm permits. He said they would face sanctions. “If you show the slightest violence in the resistance, I will tell the police, ‘Shoot them,’” Mr. Duterte told reporters and soldiers at Camp Panacan, headquarters of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, in Davao City. The President, however, conceded that he “might be wrong” about the guilt of the suspects named on a list distributed to reporters. He said the military and the police had compiled the list, which he insisted was not colored by politics or personal links, adding that some of those named were even his friends. One of the judges on the list has been dead since 2008, an indication that the list is based on old information.
‘Name and shame’
Commenting on Mr. Duterte’s latest controversial move in the drug war, Sen. Leila de Lima, chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, on Sunday warned that the President’s apparent “name and shame” strategy could be seen as hollow if evidence against the suspects were not brought forth before the opening of legal proceedings. De Lima, however, commended Mr. Duterte for having a “strong will and great determination to end the drug problem.” The former justice secretary and human rights chief has been following the drug campaign and is set to lead later this month an inquiry into extrajudicial killings that have come with the fight against narcotics. “To be honest, it’s difficult to pass judgment on the style of the President, especially that a great majority of our people seem to approve of this naming and shaming strategy. If the President thinks it’s an effective strategy, then who are we to dictate to him?” De Lima said. But she emphasized the constitutional requirement of due process.
“If there is evidence against these people he has named and shamed, cases should just be filed against them so that warrants for their arrest can be issued. If there is no evidence, then this is a plain and simple witch-hunt,” the senator told the Inquirer. De Lima warned that publicly naming the suspects prior to bringing charges against them in court was tantamount to “a death sentence,” given the President’s shoot-to-kill order against narcopoliticians. “We are already on the slippery slope toward tyranny, without martial law, when we allow one man to be judge, jury and executioner. This is just the start,” De Lima said.
“The endgame is just too terrible to imagine, when anyone can be accused and shot on sight based on a list that has the same legal value as a grocery list. I hope this is not what our situation is right now,” she added. Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, also a former justice secretary, echoed De Lima’s sentiment, saying “due process and the rule of law must be dutifully upheld.” He said, however, that he strongly supported President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs. “I urge the President that if there is evidence that these officials are involved in the drug trade, he should immediately charge them administratively or in court. There should be no shortcuts,” Drilon said. Sen. Grace Poe said the administration “must pursue” the drug suspects “with vigor [and] in accordance with the rule of law, until their individual guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt and not let it just remain in the news.”
“Everyone, the accuser and the accused, deserves to be given the constitutional right to due process,” Poe said by phone. She said speedy legal proceedings would strongly show that the government could deal with the drug scourge “in accordance with the rule of law.” President cannot be judge Sen. Risa Hontiveros likewise expressed concern about the naming of the suspects publicly, saying “democracy was never about the President’s absolute power to determine innocence or guilt.”
“The executive cannot blacken the reputation of people and judge them at will. The responsibility falls upon our judicial system. Sadly, the President’s list, while it may be motivated by good intentions, preempts the court’s judgment and tears at the very fabric of our democracy,” she said.
Hontiveros said the public should be given access to information that landed the officials’ names on the President’s list. “The public deserves to know. The government’s war on drugs must be free from the influence of political bias, vendetta and rivalry. Information must be judiciously vetted and not violative of the rule of law,” she said. Sen. Joel Villanueva also hopes to see the administration back up its claims with evidence. “I am hoping and praying that these allegations will be substantiated in the next few days. I think it’s crucial and that cases will also be filed against them and equally important is that they be given their day in court to defend themselves,” he said. Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said the suspects should be accorded due process.
“It is not enough to name and shame them. Guilt must be established through evidence in a trial where the accused can refute the charges,” he said. “The cases must be filed in court because it is the right forum for the government to prove its allegations and those named to present their defense,” he said.
Ready to investigate
The Department of the Interior and Local Government said it was ready to investigate the local officials named by Mr. Duterte. “We assure you that the probe will be swift yet fair to the accused,” Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said in a statement. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said all the military personnel named by Mr. Duterte were considered immediately relieved. Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said the suspects would be charged, heard, and judged under “applicable military, criminal and civil laws.”