FLANKED by his family and political allies, former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama denied any involvement in illegal drugs, after President Rodrigo Duterte named him among 159 personalities allegedly protecting the trade.
He described the accusation as the biggest challenge he has to face in 24 years as a public official, but said he is ready to defend himself.
“I am very much saddened by what the president uttered. In my own view, it is very much untrue...So I wish wherever they ask me to be at, I am very much eager to know where to go to clear the air of doubts,” Rama told a news conference yesterday morning in his family’s compound in Barangay Basak San Nicolas.
Rama was among 159 local officials, judges and police whom President Duterte announced as “drug protectors” during a speech after 1 a.m. Sunday in Camp Panacan, Davao City.
The President apologized for announcing the names, particularly of friends like Rama and Marawi City Mayor Omar Solitario Ali.
“I am sorry but you know, if there is a rule, a law, either you enforce it or not at all. Kung hindi ko basahin dahil kilala kita, ang pinaka-mabuti kong magawa para sa bayan mag-resign...Either I read all or I read none. I cannot, you know, play,” he said.
Duterte also said the names will be revalidated and that he would take full responsibility for any error.
“I could be wrong. So any mistake of the military and the police dito, ako yung nakasala. I ordered the listing. I ordered the validation. I am the one reading it. I am the sole person responsible for the same,” he said. The President is immune from prosecution during his term.
Duterte ordered the executive officials he named to report directly to him, while police officials should report to Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa, and the judges to the Supreme Court within 24 hours.
“If you will not report within 24 hours, I will order the entire police and military to hunt you,” said Duterte.
Rama said he was ready to fly to Manila to present himself to the Office of the President, but that he wouldn’t call it a surrender, because he has committed no crime.
Rama said he had hoped to see President Duterte because Team Rama wants to join the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), the president’s political party.
But he also said he wants to know how the list was established.
“How could I have been a protector when, in the past years of being a mayor, two of my regional directors were removed? Four of my chiefs of police were removed. So how can I be protecting, if there is such a protector, when
I did not have much control over the police?” Rama said.
Rama also asked: who was he supposed to have protected?
“You know, it has already been too much, being persecuted politically. So I cannot discount anymore that this is again part of my buhing kalbaryo (a reference to the persecution of Jesus Christ),” he said.
Rama was suspended twice during his second term as mayor. He pointed out that over the years, some political opponents have been linking him to alleged drug lord Cresistomo “Tata Negro” Llaguno, when he had only played basketball with him. Llaguno was killed in 2010.
Rama went on to say that the list submitted to Duterte might have been a list prepared during the time of former Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Marcelo Garbo, Jr.
Garbo, who had also been named last month by President Duterte as an alleged drug protector, is a “close friend” of Mayor Tomas Osmeña, Rama said.
“I wish it is not switching,” Rama added.
When the news broke out, Osmeña, in his Facebook page, said that Team Rama is always trying to make it look like he is the drug protector. He is in the United States for his annual medical checkup.
Rama, however, also said he believes it wasn’t the President’s fault.
“If ever I am there, it is not the President who made a mistake. It is the one who placed it there,” he said.
“I do not have any qualms. Now if they want to kill me, I am a goner. Who is going to kill me? The wicked will flee but the innocent is as bold as a lion. I am here and I am unafraid of the accusation,” he added.
In a separate interview, the former mayor’s son Mikel, who is also a lawyer, said their family will take legal actions once his father’s name is cleared.
They want to get more details on the document given to President Duterte and how his father came to be tagged as an alleged drug coddler.
“Pero bisan unsaon, naa nay damage that has been done. Ako, nasakitan gyud ko isip anak pero wala ko’y kahadlokan kay kahibaw ko inosente akong amahan (The damage has been done. As his son, this pains me, but I am not afraid because I know my father is innocent),” he said.
Acting Mayor Edgardo Labella and Association of Barangay Councils President Philip Zafra said they don’t believe the allegation and will continue to support Rama.
Another Cebu-based official on the list, San Fernando Vice Mayor Fralz “BB” Sabalones, went to the local police less than 12 hours after President Duterte’s announcement to try to clear his name.
He went to the police at 12:45 p.m. yesterday and requested officers to record his statement in a blotter report.
“This is just a classic case of mistaken identity,” Sabalones said. The first-term vice mayor said that President Duterte may have mistaken him for his older brother, Franz, who was rumored to be involved in illegal drugs.
He, however, didn’t categorically deny that his older brother was involved in narcotics.
Sun.Star Cebu tried to interview Sabalones in his residence and his family’s Paolo Luna Resort in Barangay South Poblacion, but he was not there.(Sunnex)