Narcoflop: Palace says wiretap talk ‘educated guess’
A Malacañang official on Thursday clarified a statement attributed to him to the effect that President Duterte’s so-called narcolist was based on information from intercepted phone calls provided by foreign governments, saying he might have been misunderstood by the press.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo clarified his statement after the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) denied that it had sourced the list from information derived from intercepted phone conversations shared with the Philippines by foreign governments.
Speaking in a radio interview on Thursday, Director General Aaron Aquino of the PDEA said his agency used no information from foreign governments in compiling the list of politicians that Duterte claimed were involved in the illegal drug trade.
Info ‘from our people’
“We have not received any information or intelligence for the narcolist that came from other countries,” Aquino said.
He said the list was prepared using information from local government agencies.
“The information came from our people in the field, which started as raw data then was validated and processed into intelligence that later went into the list,” he said.
On Tuesday, Panelo said the list would be released by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año next week.
He said foreign governments that were wiretapping the phone conversations of criminals in the country had shared information with the Philippines.
He said Philippine law enforcement agencies did not have the surveillance capability of the United States, Israel, China and Russia.
Wiretapping is illegal in the Philippines, but Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel, said there was no law prohibiting accepting intercepted information and that the Philippines should be grateful for the foreign help.
Inadmissible in court
On Thursday, Panelo said some reporters might have misunderstood him as referring to information that went into the compilation of the narcolist.
The remarks attributed to him drew a firestorm of objections from lawmakers, who reminded Malacañang that any evidence, including intercepted phone conversations, obtained illegally is inadmissible in court.
“My elucidation was more on general term, it was not the narcolist,” Panelo told reporters on Thursday.
According to Panelo, he was just using “logic” or making an “educated guess” about “what is happening in the world today” when he said that foreign governments were helping the Philippines with information they get from their own investigations.
“Countries whose survival depends on measures that they will undertake to preserve their territory or sovereignty will have to use that. But again, I will say that as far as I know, they did not provide us information,” he said.
Asked whether foreign governments were wiretapping Filipinos, Panelo said he did not know.
“That’s why with respect to the narcolist, I do not know if they provided us,” he said.
Panelo said he did not know if foreign governments had provided intercepted information to the Philippines in the past.
He maintained that wiretapping is illegal in the Philippines and said that the government will not allow foreign governments to use that surveillance method in the country.
But if helpful . . .
Panelo, however, said that if the intercepted information could help as a “lead” for investigators to put people under surveillance then he did not think using it was illegal.
“If it’s a matter of survival, why will you not use it?” he said. “The country’s interest will always prevail.”
Asked where the authorities got the information that went into the compilation of the narcolist, he said it came from police surveillance, drug suspects who had surrendered or had been arrested, and from the communities.
But the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday reiterated its warning that publishing the narcolist would be a violation of due process and could cause violence ahead of midterm elections in May.
In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said putting anyone on the narcolist would constitute denial of their right to due process.
Presumption of innocence should prevail, De Guia said.
Let them campaign
If politicians being tried for plunder and graft in the Sandiganbayan are free to campaign for May’s elections, then politicians on the narcolist should be allowed to do the same because they also have not been convicted yet, she said.
Releasing the narcolist, she said, could inspire mudslinging, character assassination and violence during the campaign.
Campaigning in Baguio City on Thursday, reelectionist Sen. Grace Poe said releasing the narcolist could help the politicians named on it in court.
Noting that illegally intercepted information is inadmissible as evidence, Poe said the politicians could walk free.
“Instead of providing the state a chance to catch them, wiretapping removes any chance for the government to charge them in court,” she said.
Opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno said the Duterte administration had “weaponized” the list.
“And because it’s election time, it is obviously used for political purposes,” Diokno said as he campaigned in Dagupan City on Wednesday.
Another opposition senatorial candidate, Neri Colmenares, on the stump in Cabanatuan City on Wednesday, said the administration was using the narcolist to force local officials to support its candidates.
Colmenares said the administration should file charges against the alleged narcopoliticians instead of releasing the list. —WITH REPORTS FROM CATHRINE GONZALES, PATRICIA DENISE CHIU, VINCENT CABREZA, GABRIEL CARDINOZA AND ARMAND GALANG
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