DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 22 March) – After criticizing that Davao City is a “drug center,” the regional party of Mayor Sara Duterte called vice presidential bet Walden Bello as a “narco-politician” for allegedly keeping information on the illegal drug trade in the city from authorities.
Alarmed by Bello’s allegations, the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) said in a statement on Monday that it requested authorities for an investigation to know the “knowledge and involvement” of Bello, who is a staunch critic of the Duterte administration, in the drug trade here.
“Yung Davao is the drug center of the South under the control of a member of the Duterte family. My God this is really something. We need to bring this out … so that the people can in fact examine the record of Sara Duterte,” Bello said during the vice presidential debate organized by the Commission on Elections over the weekend.
“HNP takes this information seriously as a regional party with incumbent elected official members who want to strengthen our coordination with law enforcement agencies fighting the proliferation of prohibited drugs,” the party’s statement read.
The regional party, co-founded by Duterte along with Davao Region’s provincial governors, alleged that Bello is keeping information on illegal drug operations here from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police.
The party labeled Bello a “narco-politician” in “a way that he withheld information crucial in the government’s anti-drug campaign.”
Bello is the running mate of presidential candidate Leodegario “Ka Leody” De Guzman under Partido Lakas ng Masa.
“As a Vice Presidential candidate in a narco-politics, as someone who knowingly and purposely refused to disclose information or cooperate with the authorities, Mr. Bello has just presented himself as a danger to peace and order and a threat to the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the government,” the statement read.
Bello lashed at HNP for calling him a “narco-politician” and asked if the mayor is setting him up to be killed just like the estimated 27,000 people who died in the Duterte administration’s drug war on mere suspicion of being involved in the illegal drug trade.
“Hukbong ng Pagbabago’s (HNP) charge that I am a ‘narcopolitician’ is ridiculous. I am not, and I have never been, involved in the drug trade,” he said.
Bello also denied having “knowingly and purposely refused to disclose information or cooperate with the authorities” and has never been involved in the drug trade.
“Not only have I never been involved in the drug trade, I have never even been rumored to be involved in the drug trade—unlike certain members of the Duterte family. Maybe Sara Duterte’s party is confusing me for Pulong Duterte?” he said.
Bello said how could he have refused to disclose information when no government agency has even asked him for any information.
“Here’s what I have been told by many people, including those we met in Davao City last week: that it is an ‘open secret’ that their city has become the ‘drug center of the South’ under the control of the Duterte family,” he said.
Bello added that the HNP would have to charge so many people of “knowingly and purposefully refusing to disclose information or cooperate with the authorities.”
“What I said in the debate is this: Sara Duterte needs to answer some very important allegations—allegations that I did not invent but allegations that are already out there in the public realm: Is it true that her city has become the drug center of the South? How did this happen? Why did she fail to stop it from happening?” he asked.
Bello also alleged corruption in the ongoing multi-billion big-ticket projects in the city, including the Davao City Coastal Road project and the High Priority Bus System (HPBS).
If he gets elected, Bello said he would focus on cleaning up this city.
“For instance, yung coastal highway road project – P1 million per meter? That’s crazy. That’s really corrupt. Yung modernization nila ng PUB system nila they took away, they defrauded so many people and consolidated the whole PUB system into three bus companies. Corruption yan,” Bello said.
Dean Ortiz, Department of Public Works and Highways-Davao Public Affairs and Information Officer, refused to comment and said the central office of DPWH will release a statement on Bello’s allegation.
The 18.2-kilometer Davao City Coastal Bypass Road Project is worth P19.8 billion. The government started in 2017 the construction of Segment A, which has a length of 1.682 kilometers, from Bago Aplaya to Times Beach area.
Meanwhile, the HPBS has an estimated cost of the P18.6 billion
City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) head Ivan Cortez said Bello must prove his allegations in “a proper forum.”
“HPBS is in the bidding stage already. It is the most feasible type of mass transport system for Davao. The loan structure for this project requires a social development package for all affected sectors,” he said.
Cortez added that the city’s vision for the “bus system is a reliable mass transport unlike the current one wherein when it rains, chances of catching a ride becomes impossible.”
Bello told Duterte to address the issues he raised by attending the debates.
He said Duterte must stop being a coward and stop disrespecting the Filipino people.
“But instead of Sara committing to attend future debates to answer our questions, her former aide issues a multimillion cyber-case to intimidate me and her party issues a serious but completely laughable accusation to bully me,” he added.
Bello was referring to former City Information Office chief Jefry Tupas who was involved in a controversial drug raid at a resort in Pindasan, Mabini, Davao de Oro last November 6, 2021. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)