Philippines names ‘narco’ officials ahead of elections

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director Aaron Aquino (L) and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Ano (R) hold lists of alleged politicians involved in drugs at PDEA headquarters in Manila on April 30, 2018. (Photo by AFP)
The Philippines on Monday released the names of over 200 local officials with alleged links to drugs, rejecting concerns it amounted to a "hit list" in President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly narcotics crackdown.
The names were made public on Duterte's orders weeks ahead of local polls in a nation where electoral campaigns are known to result in bloody violence.
"The disclosure of the names of barangay (district) officials involved in the illegal drugs business is first and foremost a direct order from President Rodrigo Duterte," Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino told reporters.
Authorities said the list was a way to name and shame the 207 officials as the May 14 local elections approach, but rights advocates said it could amount to an incitement to kill.
"These lists subvert due process and (are), at best, a form of trial by publicity. At worst, it is a hit list," Carlos Conde, a Filipino campaigner for the US-based monitor Human Rights Watch told AFP.
Duterte vowed in his 2016 election campaign to kill a hundred thousand criminals to rid the country of the scourge of drugs, and police have since killed more than 4,100 alleged drug dealers and addicts they accused of resisting arrest.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (C) speaks to members of the Philippine community during a gathering in Singapore on April 28, 2018. (Photo by AFP) 
Rights groups allege the actual number of dead suspects was at least three times that, including those murdered by shadowy vigilantes.
AFP visited the offices of two Manila district chiefs on the narco list and called the offices of some of the others in the region, but aides said they were not reachable.
Aquino said four police and intelligence agencies have established that these officials were either users, dealers, or even drug lords, but that most extended protection that allowed the narcotics trade to flourish in their districts.
Authorities released the names despite conceding they did not have enough evidence to charge any of them with drug-related offenses.
"I don't believe it is equivalent to a hit list," Aquino said, and the government was assuring them of protection so that "nobody will harm them if there will be operations against them".
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said the public has a right to know the actions of their officials, who he said were not private citizens entitled to privacy.
"They will have a chance to defend themselves. We are observing due process," Ano added.