THE son of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday refuted allegations he was personally linked to a shipment of US$125 million worth of narcotics from China amid his father’s fierce crackdown on the drug trade that has claimed the lives of thousands.
Brushing aside the allegations as “baseless”, Paolo Duterte denied suggestions that he may have helped ease the entry of the drug shipment at a port in Manila.
Paolo said this during a Senate inquiry which his father asked him to attend to show he had nothing to hide, apart from being advised not to answer questions and invoke his right to keep silent.
“I cannot answer allegations based on hearsay,” Paolo, the vice-mayor of the southern city of Davao, told the Senate.
“My presence here is for the Filipino people and for my fellow Davaoeños whom I serve,” he added, referring to the people of Davao, where his father served as mayor for more than two decades before being elected president in 2016.
President Duterte has repeatedly said he would resign if critics could prove any members of his family were involved in corruption.
Senator Antonio Trillanes, a staunch critic of the president, displayed to the Senate panel photographs of Paolo Duterte beside a businessman who was behind the shipment in which the alleged drugs were found.
According to ABS-CBN News, Trillane first presented two photos of Paolo with Kenneth Dong, an alleged “middleman” who facilitated the massive shipment of methamphetamine in May.
Dong verified that it was him and Paolo in the pictures. Trillanes then showed another photo of Dong with Paolo’s brother, Sebastian.
Trillanes said the photos proved that Dong was a “family friend” of the Duterte family. He also presented photos as “evidence” that the president’s eldest son was involved in graft at the country’s Customs Bureau.
Trillanes said he had intelligence information from an undisclosed foreign country that Paolo was a member of a criminal syndicate, citing as proof a “dragon-like” tattoo with secret digits on his back.
Asked about the tattoo, Duterte said he had one, but declined to describe it, invoking his right to privacy.
Asked by Trillanes if he would allow a photograph to be taken of the tattoo and sent to the US Drug Enforcement Agency for the secret digits to be decoded, Paolo said: “No way”.
He refused to respond to questions about his bank accounts, calling them “irrelevant”.
The president’s son-in-law, Manases Carpio, who has also been accused of links to the May drug shipment from China, told the hearing he had no involvement.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Paolo and Carpio’s attendance “demonstrates that both gentlemen are willing and ready to face malicious allegations intended to impugn their character and credibility.”
President Duterte unleashed his bloody campaign the day he took office on June 30 last year, after promising Filipinos he would use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.
Police records show more than 3,800 people have died in police operations since July last year, and more than 2,100 other reported murders are linked to drugs.
Police reject activists’ allegations that they are executing suspected drug users and dealers and say officers shoot only in self-defence.
Additional reporting by Reuters