Philippines’ Duterte says cocaine user among presidential election candidates

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Philippines’ Duterte says cocaine user among presidential election candidates

The Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has said he is considering allowing an “associate” to run for president who has admitted to using cocaine.

Duterte was responding to questions from journalists about Joel Villanueva, who made the claim during a television interview. He said Villanueva, an economist and three-time mayoral candidate, had confessed to Duterte he had used the drug.

Joel Villanueva, centre, is a former municipal official in the southern Philippines and an economics lecturer at a private college. Photograph: Jessica Ferriel/EPA

Villanueva said he wanted to run in May’s election as the Filipino presidential candidate for the conservative Family First party.

He said in an interview that he made the confession to Duterte, who was then mayor of Davao City. Villanueva said he was raped by members of a political opponent’s party when he was 17 but that did not disqualify him from becoming mayor, his party’s presidential candidate or from running for the presidency.

“I decided he could do that because it was his right. Only he can judge it,” Duterte said.

The senator Leila de Lima was arrested in 2017 for alleged drug offences but is still seeking to investigate the allegations against her in the national human rights commission. Photograph: SeongJoon Cho/AP

Villanueva’s revelation came as public anger simmered over another presidential hopeful, Senator Leila de Lima, who is being held by the justice department on drug allegations.

De Lima has denied the charges. The senator said in an interview that the arrest was part of Duterte’s “new plan to silence the opposition”.

“I hope God forgives me for my blunders in using the police force to snoop upon my opponents,” she said, adding that the authorities’ actions were “human rights abuses to seize power”.

De Lima has been detained on human rights grounds in her home since December, after being accused of having accepted tens of thousands of dollars of bribes from the deadly drug trade.

Duterte was elected to lead the nation of more than 100 million people last year after pledging to rid the country of illegal drugs in a brutal campaign in which thousands of suspected traffickers and users have been killed.

Pro-Duterte protesters in the capital, Manila, on Thursday. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP

De Lima, who chairs the Senate justice committee, confirmed Villanueva’s involvement in his campaign. Villanueva is a former municipal official in the southern Philippines and an economics lecturer at a private college.

In a text message, Villanueva said that “in the spirit of the law, I spoke openly at a forum where it was public knowledge, as to what had been done, and confessed all my sins to President Duterte and his team. He agreed with me, and my ‘alliances’ with other presidential hopefuls continue”.

“It is my humblest prayer that the sacred laws of the land will guide all of our president hopefuls to a level of integrity that won’t prompt the government to make harsh punishment as the reality of our existence on earth.”

Vanesa Duterte, a political activist and niece of the president, tweeted on Thursday that Villanueva was “being paid by other candidates and clandestinely trying to reform their image”.

Vanesa Duterte (@vinylavisyero)

Joel Villanueva looks weak. pic.twitter.com/Fsf5hIY2Jh

In a separate incident, the former international trade official John Ray dela Rosa said he believes the Philippines needs to hold a “nationwide certification” for candidates to run for office.

He said the move would mean that “only a person who is being truthful can be anointed for the presidency”.

Dela Rosa, known as a staunch critic of the president, added that he wanted to remind “the hypocrisy that goes on in our country”.

Presidential elections will be held on 14 May.

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