2 South Cotabato mayors in ‘narcolist’ deny illegal drug links

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 15 March) – The two mayors in South Cotabato province President Rodrigo Duterte tagged as “narco politicians” on Friday strongly denied they are involved in the illegal drugs trade.

Duterte made public the “narcolist” on Thursday night in Davao City ahead of the May 13 midterm elections. The campaign period for local candidates, such as governors, representatives, mayors and councilors, will start on March 29 until May 11.

The President’s narcolist names 46 individuals – 35 mayors, seven vice mayors, one provincial board member, and three members of the House of Representatives.

Mayors Albert Palencia of Banga town and Pablo Matinong Jr. of Sto. Niño both lamented their inclusion anew in the list, saying they already “cleared” their names by submitting themselves and documentary evidences to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and other concerned government agencies after they appeared in the first narcolist disclosed by Duterte in 2016.

“I fear for my life with my inclusion anew in the narcotics list of the President,” said Palencia, citing the cases of drug personalities killed during raids whom authorities often claimed fought the arresting team.

In November 2016, authorities raided Palencia’s house and piggery in Banga town but failed to find any shabu or shabu factory. He was arrested after the raiding team allegedly found a grenade launcher.

Palencia was freed after posting bail.

Palencia said he had submitted various documents and clearances to the National Police Commission (Napolcom) and the PDEA in Manila regarding the matter.

The mayor said the documents were received then by Napolcom vice chair and executive Rogelio Casurao and he was told that his case would be referred and discussed by a committee that drew the list.

He did not follow up the matter and no results were released by concerned agencies regarding his case.

Palencia said he has supported the anti-drug operations in his town and provided the local police with the necessary support, through the Municipal Anti-Drug Abuse Council (MADAC).

He said he had never intervened in the operations nor protected any of the arrested drug personalities in his area.

The mayor, who admitted that he was once a financier of the “last two” illegal numbers game, urged authorities to just file a case so he would know what they really have against him.

“This is clearly politically motivated. But my constituents knew me well. If they saw any bad thing that I did and If I had not served them well, they will not vote for me,” said Palencia, who was the only mayor in South Cotabato who ran under the PDP-Laban in the 2016 elections.

Palencia, who is now running under the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said he has no ill feeling and will continue to support the President.

“He just released what was fed to him by authorities,” he said.

For his part, Matinong said he is ready to face the charges to clear his name, adding that he is a strong supporter of Duterte’s all-out war against illegal drugs.

“I was saddened by my inclusion anew in the narco-politician list…. This is destroying our reputation,” he said.

“Politics was behind my inclusion in the list,” Matinong said.

When the previous narco list was released, Matinong said he feared that he would be subjected to raids, and thus stayed at his office inside the municipal hall for several months.

“I was surprised why my name again came up. I had been actually working to cleanse my town of illegal drugs,” he said in an interview over DXMC Bombo Radyo.

In Sto. Niño town, Barangay Ambalgan is notorious in Region 12 as a haven of drug dealers for a long time.

To address the illegal drug activities in the village, Matinong said he ordered the closure of all arterial roads and set up only one entry and exit point.

Besides South Cotabato, Region 12 also includes the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and Sarangani. (Bong S. Sarmiento, with reports / MindaNews)