SouthCot mayors deny involvement in drug trade

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 21 July) – South Cotabato province’s 11 city and municipal mayors denied on Wednesday any involvement in the illegal drug trade and related activities, and expressed willingness to undergo drug tests and investigation by authorities.

In a press conference in Koronadal City, the mayors countered earlier reports that linked some of them to illegal drug activities and branded them as “baseless and mere political propaganda.”

“There is no mayor in South Cotabato who is involved in illegal drugs,” declared Tupi Mayor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr., president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines-South Cotabato chapter.

He said they had checked with the Police Regional Office-12 and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)-Region 12 regarding a supposed list of mayors in the province who are reportedly involved in the illegal drug trade and found out that it doesn’t exist.

Two weeks ago, South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes said two mayors from the province were included in the list of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) central office of local officials in the country who are allegedly acting as protectors and directly involved in the distribution of illegal drugs.

The list eventually expanded to five mayors although the governor said it is still subject to verification.

But as of Wednesday, Fuentes, who joined the press conference, said only two mayors in the province have no report of supposed involvement in illegal drug activities.

She said these are Lake Sebu Mayor Antonio Fungan and Surallah Mayor Antonio Bendita.

The governor said the reports held by the DILG that linked the other mayors to illegal drug activities did not originate from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“They were from text messages and letters sent to the DILG central office, which then ordered local police units to validate them,” she said.

Tamayo lamented that while the reports are still subject for validation or verification, they were immediately subjected to “trial by publicity.”

“It really pains us because everybody assumed that we were guilty already and we have to prove that we’re not,” he said.

Banga Mayor Albert Palencia admitted that his name earlier came out as among those allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade.

In March, he said the South Cotabato Provincial Police Office subjected him to an investigation due to such accusation.

“I was investigated over an allegation that I was operating a drug laboratory at my piggery. But intelligence operatives inspected the place and found nothing there. So the report was not true,” he said.

For his part, Sto. Nino Mayor Pablo Matinong said authorities can arrest any of his immediate family, relatives and close friends if they are involved in any drug-related activity.

Sto. Nino town, specifically Barangay Ambalgan, is a known drop-off point of illegal drugs in South Cotabato.

T’boli Mayor Dibu Tuan said he is willing to undergo investigation by regarding the matter by the police and other concerned agencies.

“I’m leaving it to the PNP and PDEA to investigate us,” he said.

Following the press conference, five of the mayors submitted themselves to drug tests and yielded negative.

These are Polomolok Mayor Honey Lumayag-Matti, Tuan of Tboli, Benjamin Figueroa Jr. of Tantangan, Matinong ofg Sto. Niño and Fungan of Lake Sebu.

The other mayors said they will undergo drug tests next week along with their vice mayors, councilors and barangay officials based on a directive from the DILG.