Malacañang on Tuesday denied that the rich and powerful are being spared from the Duterte administration’s drug war.
Cabinet Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles made this remark after President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said an unnamed presidential aspirant, whom he said was a cocaine user, slipped past authorities because he does the illegal act in places like on a yacht or a private plane.
Duterte’s rant versus the cocaine-using presidential candidate was met with criticism, with some describing it as an admission that the drug war only targeted the poor.
Nograles, however, said Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has been prioritizing high-value and high-impact targets since the start of the administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs in 2016.
“No. Actually, if you look at data, according to PDEA and other law enforcement agencies, we have arrested a lot of high value targets who have violated the Dangerous Drugs Act,” he said in a Palace press briefing.
According to the government data posted on PDEA website, the anti-drug operatives have arrested 391 elected government officials and 121 uniformed personnel from July 1, 2016 to September 30, 2021.
Nograles said Duterte’s statement was his way of calling on the public to do their part in reporting suspicious individuals and activities to authorities.
“If you know any information, continue to call for the public to cooperate and inform our law enforcement agencies when they know anything,” he added.
Nograles also assured the Philippine National Police is currently conducting a fact-finding investigation regarding the matter.
In a speech in General Santos City, Duterte said it is up to the public to believe him or not, but added that he divulged the information to avoid being blamed for keeping quiet.
“If you do not believe it, well, leave it that way. But I’m just saying do not – let it not be said later on that I did not tell you,” Duterte said.
Last week, Duterte said a presidential aspirant in the May 2022 elections was a cocaine user and described the person as someone belonging to a rich family that is known for its patriarch.
He did not name the presidential hopeful, but implied that he was a “weak” leader with many supporters.
Meanwhile, Nograles welcomed moves made by some presidential aspirants to undergo drug tests.
“That’s voluntary. Even it’s not among the requirements for candidates, whether presidential, vice presidential, senator or whatever position, it’s purely voluntary at and it’s up to them if they want to undergo voluntary drug test to publicize that they are drug-free,” he said.
Two presidential aspirants – former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Senator Panfilo Lacson – have undergone voluntary drug testing and were found negative for cocaine and other illegal drugs.
Other presidential hopefuls have also expressed willingness to undergo drug tests.