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Iloilo groups call for speedy probe of drug coddling suspects

/ 05:49 PM August 08, 2016
The Iloilo Convention Center has become the face of the province's push for economic growth and openness to new investments. However, President Duterte's allegation that many of its local officials are protectors of illegal drugs have alarmed business groups worried about the province's image. (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

The Iloilo Convention Center has become the face of the province’s push for economic growth and openness to new investments. However, President Duterte’s allegation that many of its local officials are protectors of illegal drugs have alarmed business groups worried about the province’s image. (INQUIRER FILE PHOTO)

ILOILO CITY — An umbrella of business and civic groups in Iloilo has called for accountability and a speedy investigation of Iloilo officials named by President Duterte on Sunday as among those involved in illegal drugs.

“When the cases are filed and pieces of evidence are presented, let (those named by the President) defend themselves. Due process demands this,” the Iloilo Economic Development Foundation, Inc. (ILEDF) said in a statement.

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The ILEDF is a group of more than 300 business, professional and civic organizations as well as government agencies and officials in the province, which has been pushing for investments to Iloilo.

The group said it was concerned that “a prolonged investigation might impact on the competitiveness of city of Iloilo as an investment destination. Iloilo has enjoyed an enviable track record in investments, growth and development in recent years, and will be unfortunate if such momentum will be allowed to dissipate due to non-resolution of these cases.”

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It said it was “saddened” by the inclusion of Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog and other mayors in the province along with key police officials in Western Visayas in the list of alleged drug lord protectors named by the President.

“For the past nine years, ILEDF has been working alongside national and local governments and private business groups and civil society organizations to make Iloilo a destination to live and do business. (We) strongly condemn the presence, use and proliferation of illegal drugs in the city and province of Iloilo,” the group said.

It called for “unity and resilience among the Ilonggos in these challenging times.”

“We (undoubtedly) believe that Iloilo is still the best destination for business and tourism because of its favorable business climate, better roads and infrastructure, highly skilled workforce, (and) accessibility to key cities…,” it said.

Iloilo leaders earlier expressed doubts on the President’s statement labeling Iloilo as “most shabulized” or having the worst illegal drugs problem in the country.

The President, who spoke partly in Hiligaynon, coined the term while naming Mabilog and Iloilo Mayors Alex Centena (Calinog), Salagunting Betita (Carles) and Mariano Malones Sr. (Maasin).
The officials have denied the President’s allegation.

He also accused Vice Mayor Francis Amboy of Maasin town, former Iloilo City councilors Antonio Pesina and Erwin Plagata, and 19 retired and active police officials including high-ranking ones as involved in illegal drugs.

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Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor said he was unsure if the point of reference of the President was Western Visayas or the entire country.

“If he meant that Iloilo was the worst nationwide, I doubt that very much,” Defensor told the INQUIRER.

But he said he would ask the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Philippine National Police for data based on the President’s statement.

Defensor said he would also ask the PNP to conduct an immediate investigation on Iloilo officials named by the President.

“If they are guilty, they should be punished. If not, they can be exonerated even if the damage has already been done,” he said.

Sen. Franklin, Drilon, stalwart of the Liberal Party and a native of Iloilo, said in a statement that he was “saddened and hurt that the perception that Iloilo local officials are involved in the drug trade became the basis of such a sweeping description of Iloilo.”

He expressed support for the President’s campaign against illegal drugs “but due process and the rule of law must be dutifully upheld.”

“All the efforts of the Ilonggos for the past five years to make Iloilo an attractive and progressive investment destination and a livable city is negated by a sweeping judgment of the city and province of Iloilo. Whatever these officials may have allegedly done are their individual acts, and cannot be the collective guilt of the Ilonggos,” Drilon said in the statement.

Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said he was aware of the drug problem in the city but was shocked with its prevalence.

He said drastic measures should be taken to address the situation.

Treñas, who belonged to the Liberal Party, bolted to the PDP-Laban, the President’s political party, shortly after the May 9elections.

Other Ilonggos expressed varied views on the President’s remarks.

In social media sites of Iloilo radio stations, several lauded the President for naming the officials and agreed that the drug problem in Iloilo has become prevalent.

“Truth hurts. Congratulations Mr. President. People of the Philippines should know,” said Bebot Donesa in a post at the Facebook page of radio station Aksyon Radyo Iloilo.

Others, however, disagreed.

“There are two sides of a coin. (This could be true. This could also be in retaliation for getting small votes in Western Visayas),’ said Rodel Ola.

Western Visayas was a bailwick of defeated presidential candidate and former Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II. SFM

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