Seares: Who’s afraid of the narco-list? Not the candidate allied with ruling party.

News Sense

DID news reporters get Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak right? Last Wednesday, March 6, he reportedly advised candidates for next May’s elections, who would be named in the President’s “narco list” scheduled to be released next week, to withdraw their candidacy. And yet at the same time, the councilor wanted them to be charged and “given their day in court.”

Resignation is not consistent with presumption of innocence.

Under Comelec rules, public officials accused of corruption because they pocketed public funds can still run for public office. They are in the roster of candidates and their names are on the ballot. A number of officials already facing anti-graft charges—some found guilty by the Sandiganban or ordered dismissed and barred perpetually from public office by the Ombudsman—have not been stripped of their certificates of candidacy.

Indulging in a wish

If Councilor Dave would have candidates, named on a list but not charged with drug trafficking, withdraw from the race, would there not be a bigger reason to quit for aspirants already indicted and found guilty but have appealed to a higher court?

Tumulak must have been merely indulging himself in a wish. He must know the law, which the Comelec made clear: Being in such a list won’t disqualify the candidate.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government, supported by Malacañang, is pushing for the release of the list ostensibly to persuade voters not to vote for candidates suspected of being into illegal drugs.

Good motive, downside

The good motive, however, may not be supported by the downside:

[] There is no assurance of a probable cause against those in the list. If they have enough evidence, the charges would’ve been filed already with the prosecutors, then the courts.

[] No guarantee that there are no more errors like those in the first list: names of dead persons, innocent people implicated, bungled fact-checking, jumbled data and the like.

[] The timing of release is suspicious and unfair. The list should’ve been published at a decent distance from the May 13 elections. And content is controlled by the administration, which is fielding its own candidates. Those named cannot adequately defend themselves as no specifics will be released, just names. What will they refute? A general denial will be puny and hollow. The unkindest cut of all: if the information is rigged or false and the voters use it to reject the smeared candidate, he will have no more recourse.

[] It violates the basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. And there is no mechanism for redress. The aggrieved person cannot sue the President until after his term. The department official who actually releases the list can invoke executive privilege, meaning he acted solely on the President’s order. Public shaming is cruel and unusual punishment, more so when it is inflicted on someone who cannot defend himself.

Bang or whimper

The administration looks unstoppable about the list, said to contain 81 names, barring last-minute insertions, House-budget-ambush style. Whatever furor or disappointment the list would cause, an event to watch out for looms ahead.

It could be a whimper, not a bang, as the pre-election barangay/SK list last year turned out to be.

Or list #2 could shake the campaign of some candidates to its foundations. Innocent or guilty, candidates who are not allied with the President or his daughter-heir apparent Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio would have larger cause for worry.


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