Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday released the latest edition of his list of politicians allegedly involved in the country’s drug trade.
The president read out the list at a National Peace and Order Council meeting attended by law enforcement officials in Davao.
“An official’s right to privacy is not absolute, and there is a compelling reason to prioritize the state and the people. As your president, my ultimate concern is the pursuit of order in government,” Duterte said before diving into the list, the reading of which was peppered with asides such as, “You, you’re on the list every year” and “You haven’t died yet?” according to Rappler, an English-language Philippine media outlet that also has been the target of government pressure.
“The Department of Interior and Local Government has filed administrative cases against them, local officials, today, March 14, 2019, at the Office of the Ombudsman,” Duterte added.
State television broadcast the list, which mainly comprised mayors, though a few vice mayors and congressmen also were named.
Duterte’s list was released ahead of midterm elections to be held in May. The Senate and House of Representatives, as well as local positions, will be up in the vote.
“I think [Duterte’s announcement] is enormously politically significant,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, told The Washington Post. “There are two elements to it. Duterte is clearly trying to influence who is elected and who is not.”
But he is also trying to remind those who are elected that they need him, Felbab-Brown said.
“He’s not running, but he wants to be driving home the agenda that the entirety of the political process in the country revolves around him,” Felbab-Brown said. “He wants to be sure that the people who are elected know that they would not elected if he said they were drug dealers.”
The country’s Commission on Human Rights warned against releasing the list, saying it could lead to violence ahead of the elections. (Rappler cited this warning in explaining its decision not to release the list.) But Salvador Panelo, Presidential Palace spokesman, said that it was the government’s duty to let voters know who is involved in the drug trade before the vote, the Manila Times reported. The idea, he said, “is to tell the electorate on the kind of candidates they would choose from, and I think it will help them.”
But even the potential for violence is potentially useful to Duterte, Felbab-Brown said: “The chaos and instability, violence, justifies his authoritarian tactics.”
Duterte’s war on drugs, which relies heavily on extrajudicial killings, has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.