The office of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte published a list of over 200 elected officials in the country accused of ties to drug trafficking organizations on Monday, urging the public not to vote for them in upcoming elections.
Opponents of the president and human rights organizations objected to the move, likening the reveal to publishing a “hit list” and encouraging the killing of these individuals without due process. International human rights organizations have accused Duterte of promoting the use of extrajudicial killing by police to neutralize suspected drug criminals, violating international law. Duterte has not refused this, instead threatening to “whack in the head” any international observer who dares enter the Philippines and criticize him.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) named 207 local village officials on Monday believed to either harbor drug traffickers, traffic in drugs themselves, or use drugs, and added that another 274 names may soon join the list. Manila is referring to the document as a “narco-list” and insisting that concrete evidence exists against these suspects, who should soon expect to see cases filed against them, according to the Philippine Star.
“Some of the officials in the list are users, some are pushers, some are even drug lords but most are protectors,” PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino told reporters Monday. He estimated it would take a “week or two” for prosecutors to begin official actions against them. The PDEA head insisted that the release is not “equivalent to a hit list” because authorities announced the individuals in question will face justice, so “nobody will harm them if there will be operations against them.”
The individuals are mostly leaders and administrators of local barangays (neighborhood or village, the smallest political division of land in the Philippines).
The list publication came as something of a surprise for Philippines reporters, who had quoted Duterte as confirming on Sunday that “it is not time” for the names to be released yet. On Friday, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque confirmed that Duterte wanted a list of names to be published, insisting such a move is necessary to encourage voters to reject the people on the list. Local Philippine elections are scheduled for May 14.
“The President has already ordered the release of the list,” he told reporters, according to ABS-CBN. “Do not elect [individuals with] connections to drugs.”
On Monday, Roque reiterated that the list was “released to help guide voters to choose wisely.” He also clarified that Duterte’s remark that it was “not time” for the list was incorrect, and that Duterte was “tired” when reporters asked him about it.
PDEA chief Aquino also told reporters that the list was a preliminary one and authorities would soon release a list of higher-ranked politicians accused of ties to drug traffickers.
“We have 93 from vice mayor up. Vice mayor, mayor, congressman, governor, vice governor. I have 93 on the narco-list, more on the PDEA’s list,” Aquino said, adding that Duterte had not yet approved the publication of that list.
Critics of the president fear that the lives of those listed as accomplices in the drug trade are now in danger.
“Releasing the hit list of these barangay officials ahead of the election next month—without solid proof or evidence, as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency—is almost certain to worsen the bloodshed,” Human Rights Watch Asia Division researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement published this weekend, before the names were released. “Far too many cases of those people who end up on lists of suspected drug personalities have ended up as victims of summary executions as we’ve seen in Duterte’s ‘drug war’ in the past 21 months.”
Duterte has not addressed the concerns posed by Human Rights Watch over the weekend. He has faced significant condemnation for his war on drugs since taking office in 2016. Official statistics show that over 4,000 people have been killed in police action related to anti-drug activities; critics say these individuals should have instead received due process.
The list published Monday is not the first of its kind. In August 2016, Duterte published a list of 150 political actors accused to ties to drug trafficking and stated that police had orders to arrest the politicians or kill them if they resisted. 18 mayors and 21 police officials named surrendered almost immediately. One mayor notably resisted—Ronald Espinosa of Albuera town, whose personal bodyguards attacked police; six of his staffers were killed in the ensuing shootout and he was arrested.
Espinosa, the father of alleged methamphetamine trafficker Kerwin Espinosa, was killed three months later in a prison shootout. Police claim Espinosa was selling drugs in prison and resisted when guards attempted to inspect his cell.
Following the initial release of the list of 150, Duterte published another list of 1,000 “barangay [neighborhood] captains, policemen, mayors, governors and judges” accused of cooperating with drug traffickers.