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Drug War Spotlighted In Lead-Up To Philippine Midterms

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to focus in on the Philippines now. There is an election coming up there, and President Rodrigo Duterte's violent drug war is front and center. Duterte has vowed to disclose the names of politicians alleged to have ties with the illegal drug trade. NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Manila that the naming and shaming is creating a lot of unease.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Duterte allies are dissenting. Philippine Senator Richard Gordon says the plan to expose the names of candidates allegedly linked to illegal drugs could smear them and violate their most basic constitutional right.

RICHARD GORDON: The presumption of innocence, and everybody is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. It's a violation of the bill of rights, basically.

MCCARTHY: A growing number of lawmakers oppose the release of the government's so-called narco list on the grounds that it may wrongly accuse a politician, or worse, invite harm. Three out of the nine mayors and vice mayors shot dead in the Philippines last year had been tagged with drugs. Even the chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency says he's wary about publicly divulging names before an investigation is complete. Philippine DEA spokesman Derrick Carreon says it telegraphs to suspects what authorities know.

DERRICK CARREON: It's not supposed to be put out there for public consumption. These people will be alerted that they're actually the subjects of law enforcement intelligence and will therefore be very likely to lie low or to totally stop their illegal activities, thereby negating our efforts on building up a case and eventually arresting them.

MCCARTHY: Carreon says 82 politicians, many of them vice mayors and mayors, are on the list about to be made public. He says they're a fraction of the 5,000 names on the government's rolling list of people suspected of links to the drug trade.

CARREON: These are private individuals, members of drug trafficking organizations, members of the law enforcement and, yes, there are government officials there as well.

MCCARTHY: Carreon says the list could be released next week before any criminal charges are even filed.

CARREON: Under Philippine criminal law, the weight of evidence should be proved beyond reasonable doubt. And we all know that's quite difficult to prepare.

MCCARTHY: President Duterte has elevated the illegal drug scourge to a national security issue. Chief presidential legal counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo says politicians on the narco list have forfeited their due process rights.

SALVADOR PANELO: Because they run for public office, you open yourself to criticism. And it's fair game.

MCCARTHY: Duterte insists he has a public duty to alert voters to drug-linked politicians and that the public's right to know outweighs any consideration of a suspect's individual rights. But political scientist and columnist Segundo Romero sees nothing well-intentioned here. He says releasing the names of so-called narco politicians in the run-up to an election amounts to trial by publicity and is likely to target the opposition. Romero says listed politicians who ignore the message to remove themselves from the scene could pay dearly.

SEGUNDO ROMERO: Well, they might be targeted for an extreme solution. They will be assassinated by an assortment of vigilantes. And the people will simply accept it as a consequence of your being in the narco list.

MCCARTHY: As President Duterte wields this latest weapon in the war on drugs, a new survey reveals that a majority of Filipinos worry about becoming a victim of an extrajudicial killing. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRTWIRE'S "RUSTED RAILWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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