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Editorial

Elementary fairness

/ 05:08 AM March 20, 2019

Former Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte was livid on Facebook last week, and the way he expressed himself, you could imagine him virtually popping a vein.

The cause of his rage was a post by Cagayan de Oro journalist Nelson Constantino saying that he couldn’t believe the latest narcolist unveiled publicly by President Duterte, because Paolo’s name wasn’t in it.

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What he was referring to, of course, was the alleged involvement of the President’s son in the smuggling, in May 2017, of some P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” from China, with Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV even accusing Paolo Duterte of being a member of a criminal syndicate.

Paolo vehemently denied all these charges, as he did now when he lashed at Constantino for resurrecting the accusation.

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“Mr. Constantino… please produce your evidence that I am involved in illegal drugs. ’Wag kang dada para sumikat ha. See you in court! F—k you, pareha ra mo ni Trillanes puro satsat! So puwede ko rin sabihin nanay niyo ni Trillanes burikat? (Mr. Constantino… please produce your evidence that I am involved in illegal drugs. Don’t just talk to get famous. See you in court! F—k you, both you and Trillanes are all talk. So can I also say that your and Trillanes’ mothers are prostitutes?)”

Never mind the crude language. Was it right for Paolo Duterte to be royally pissed at the criminal insinuation directed at him?

Of course. He’s well within his rights to cry foul at the perceived slander, and demand that hard evidence of his alleged wrongdoing be produced before anyone can make that incendiary claim against him.

That is elementary justice. Anyone in a similar situation would raise a howl, too. The entire legal system, in fact, rests on the basic presumption that all citizens are innocent until proven guilty.

The Constitution itself guarantees the right to due process and equal protection under the law, and Paolo Duterte, just because he is the son of the President and thus may be a convenient political target for administration opponents, is not exempt from that constitutional protection.

But, having said that, it must also be said: What is good for Paolo Duterte should be good for everyone else. That basic presumption of innocence happens to apply as well — surprise! — to people not in the Duterte camp, or people this administration dislikes.

The fundamental right of a person to defend himself, to confront his accuser and require that accuser to prove his charge and not the other way around (despite Sen. Sonny Angara’s imbecilic tweet otherwise, that the accused in the President’s narcolist must “prove their innocence” as if the burden of proof is on them) adheres to every Filipino citizen of whatever status, background or political persuasion. The presidential son has no monopoly on it.

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That means the principle applies, too, to the 46 politicians fingered as drug suspects by no less than the President, just as the campaign for the midterm elections is heating up. They, too, deserve the basic standard of fairness and justice that Paolo Duterte rightly claims for himself.

They, too, have every right to demand, as the younger Duterte did, “to please produce your evidence that I am involved in illegal drugs!”

Evidence, it should be noted, that was nowhere in sight when the list was read, and still unavailable for independent scrutiny even at this time, many days after the President read off the names with relish, when the government could have disabused the public’s perception that it was engaging in reckless politicking by simply filing the proper charges against its targets.

But it hasn’t. Perhaps because it can’t? The Philippine National Police has been candid in saying there is a lack of “strong evidence” on hand, while the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has also admitted it has yet to finish “validating” the evidence against the so-called narcopoliticians.

Might those 46 politicians then use Paolo Duterte’s very words to defend themselves? Inclusion in the list, after all, carries grave risks.

As the delegation of international lawyers that recently visited the country to review the attacks against lawyers under the Duterte administration noted: “The consequence of being on this list is to be discredited, exposed, and subject to a high probability of being killed.”

The list is not, in the tone-deaf formulation of senatorial candidate Mar Roxas, “just a statement of fact.” It is an offense against fundamental due process — and, look, the presidential son himself has been forced to acknowledge as much, now that his own name has been dragged into it.

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TAGS: Antonio Trillanes IV, Inquirer editorial, narcolist, Nelson Constantino, Paolo Duterte, Rodrigo Duterte
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