Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has named 45 politicians who he claims to be involved with the illegal drug trade, ahead of the country’s general election.
In a speech on March 14 in his home city of Davao, Duterte read out the names of mayors, vice mayors, and Congressmen that his government agencies allege to be involved in the country’s drug trade. The announcement comes less than two months before the general election in May, when voters will elect candidates to Congress, as well as voting for mayors and other municipal positions.
Duterte justified making the public accusations, despite the people named not having faced trials for their alleged crimes:
“Remember that public office is a public trust. An official’s right to privacy is not absolute and there is a compelling reason to prioritize the interest of the state and the people. As your President, my ultimate concern is the pursuit of order in government and the welfare of the Filipino people. My administration assures you of our dedication to change the lives of Filipinos now, not tomorrow.”
Philippines publication Rappler reports that Duterte made brief commentary when reading certain names, such as “You haven't died yet?” for one alleged offender, and “You, you're on the list every year” for another.
Many Filipino publications and journalists have refused to publish the names of those on the list, due to the threat to life that could result from doing so.
The Philippines drug war – during which people have been publicly killed without trial for alleged drug offences – has had an enormous death toll; over 12,000 people are estimated to have been slaughtered. Among these, at least 19 local government officials – including mayors and vice mayors – have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, with the latest being the former mayor of Parang, Talib Abo, who was shot to death by police in January. The New York Times reported that Abo “had a long history of conflict with Mr. Duterte”.
Duterte has much to gain from announcing specific allegations of involvement in the drug trade against political opponents. As TalkingDrugs has previously described, such claims serve a threefold purpose for the government.
Firstly, they can absolve the state of any guilt for politician’s deaths that may occur, placing the blame squarely on the victims themselves for their supposed criminality. Secondly, they can legitimise Duterte’s claim to power by purporting that his anti-drug agenda is being enacted. Finally, they can silence the opposition and intimidate anyone else who may feel inclined to speak out against the government – a particularly useful element ahead of a crucial election.
The Philippines general election will be held on May 13.