PDEA still gathering evidence on 200 'validated' drug-linked barangay officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 30) — The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Monday released over 200 names of barangay officials allegedly involved in illegal drugs.

While the government says the list has been "validated," it also admits a lack of material evidence to take the cases to court. The PDEA even appealed to the public to come forward if they wished to testify against the suspects.

"When you say validation, there's a confirmation that indeed these particular barangay officials are involved. But it doesn't mean nandoon lahat na ng ebidensya [It doesn't mean all the evidence is there]," PDEA Director-General Aaron Aquino said in a media briefing.

The PDEA and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) plan to file criminal and administrative charges against the officials, likely within the next two weeks. Aquino said these would be filed "not immediately, [but] in due time," after evidence is gathered to make the cases "air tight."

The Interior Department already filed administrative cases from five out of 16 barangays that failed to set up Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Councils. These include Barangays 471, 477, 482, 659-A, and 690 in Manila. The remaining 11 barangays are expected to be charged within the week.

Aquino said the list was "validated" by the PDEA, Philippine National Police (PNP), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, and the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

However, Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Chair Catalino Cuy said there was a lack of material evidence because there was no paper trail in drug-related transactions.

"Intelligence information, meron nga, kumpleto, but the court will only accept cases... kung meron material evidence, at napakahirap po iyan," said Cuy. "In many criminal proceedings, lalong lalo na sa drugs, wala kayong makikitang traces."

[Translation: There is complete intelligence information, but the court will only accept cases... with material evidence, and that's hard to find. In many criminal proceedings, especially in those involving drugs, you won't find any traces.]

Human Rights Watch on Friday slammed the announcement of the list, warning it "violates due process" and "(puts) hundreds of people in danger."

Both the PDEA and DILG denied that the release of the names of barangay officials was premature or would cause harm. Aquino insisted that the names "will not serve as a hitlist."

When pressed on whether it was necessary to release the list before filing charges, Aquino responded, "I don't have any option. The President gave me an order to release it. Meron pa ba kayong iisipin pag ganun [Is there anything else you will think of given that]?"

The PDEA first announced on April 25 that President Rodrigo Duterte gave the order to release the list. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday confirmed the names were revealed upon his orders.

Roque, Aquino, and Interior Officer-in-Charge Eduardo Año maintained they released the list to inform voters in the upcoming elections. The announcement comes two weeks before barangay elections on May 14.

Barangay leaders: File cases

Barangay leaders are calling on the government to file the cases in court as soon as possible.

Liga ng mga Barangay National President Edmund Abesamis said Monday that while his organization supports an initiative to crack down on local officials involved in drugs, he believes the suspects should be given due process.

"Dapat kaagad nang makasuhan ang mga sinama diyan sa listahan para mabigyan ng pagkataon... na patunayan na sila ay walang kasalanan," Abesamis told CNN Philippines' Balitaan.

[Translation: Cases should be filed against those on the list immediately so they are given a chance... to prove their innocence.]

Abesamis emphasized that constitutional provisions might be broken if a list is released without any legal grounds. He said that proof beyond reasonable doubt could be gathered in the later stages of the case.

"Dapat maging sensitibo tayo sa mga probisyon ng Constitution na sinasabi nila ay maaaring malabag kung listahan lamang ang ating ilalabas, at walang kaukulang kaso," said Abesamis.

"Kung meron naman pong ebidensya, hindi naman kinakailangan sa pagkakataong ito ay air tight. Sampahan na ng kaso, because all the Department of Justice or the Ombudsman will consider is: Meron bang probable cause?" he added.

[Translation: We should be sensitive to Constitutional provisions that could be defied if only a list is released, without a tantamount case... If there is evidence, it doesn't need to be air tight now. File the case, because all the Department of Justice or Ombudsman will consider is: Is there probable cause?]

Breaking down the 'narco-list'

The list released by PDEA contains 90 barangay captains and 117 barangay kagawad. About 70 hail from Region 5, 34 from Cordillera Administrative Region, and 13 from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

Aquino said it was composed of both former and incumbent barangay officials whose offenses include using drugs, peddling drugs, and being drug lords. He added that most of the names "protected" those involved in drug crimes.

There were about 293 initial names on the list, but some names have since been removed. According to PDEA, 46 had already been arrested, 30 were killed in homicides under investigation, five were killed in either police operations, and five died of natural causes.

The PDEA said it was looking into 274 more names at the barangay level, while the PNP had its own list of about 200 or 300 people. Both lists have yet to be validated.

He also said there is another list of 93 local government officials — from the ranks of vice mayor to vice governor — in a separate narco-list. The director-general said he would "wait for the order of the President" before releasing the list.

Aquino added, "Marami pa ito — (there is) more to come."

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.