Why Are Presidential Candidates in This Country Getting Tested for Cocaine?

When one candidate posted evidence of a clean drugs test, his rivals competing in the Philippine presidential race felt compelled to follow.
drug tests philippines
PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANT FERDINAND "BONGBONG" MARCOS JR FILES HIS CANDIDACY IN MANILA ON NOV. 3, 2021. PHOTO: AP / AARON FAVILA

No one asked them to do it, it probably shouldn’t have been necessary either, but politicians running for president and vice president in the Philippines have clambered over one another this week to take drug tests.

Their results, showing the lists of narcotics they’ve tested negative for, have been plastered all over social media this week, as candidates scramble to prove themselves drug-free. In a moment of oversharing, one pair of running mates even posed before cameras showing off the little translucent bottles containing their urine samples.

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None have tested positive for any illicit substances so far.

It all started on Nov 18. when President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that one of the presidential candidates for May’s elections is a cocaine user.

“We have a presidential candidate who’s on cocaine... a child of rich parents,” Duterte said in a televised speech. “I’m just asking: What contribution has he made to the Philippines? Why are Filipinos going crazy in supporting [him]?”

A salacious claim in any presidential race, Duterte’s words carry extra weight in the context of his infamous “war on drugs”. Since Duterte’s 2016 election win, being associated with drugs has proved tantamount to a death sentence for thousands, as he has led a crackdown on users and sellers.

Although Duterte did not name the candidate he was referring to, the subtext was hard to miss. Saying that it was the candidate’s father, not the candidate himself, who was accomplished, one person among the roster appeared to fit Duterte’s description: Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, the son of the deceased dictator who ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.

“We don’t feel alluded to,” Marcos Jr’s spokesman said the next day. “We only have the highest respect for the President.”

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But Duterte didn’t let up, reiterating a few days later: “There is a candidate using cocaine. Now, the police would say, ‘Why didn’t we catch him? Why didn’t the President catch him?’ You just don’t know. The rich, they do it on a yacht or [up] in the air. That’s where they do it.”

Duterte and Marcos Jr were political allies until recently. Duterte, whose mandatory single six-year term ends in June, wanted his daughter Sara Duterte Carpio to replace him. She had other plans—and allegiances—as she announced her plan to run for vice president in tandem with Marcos Jr. This angered her father, prompting him to run for senator in a bid to retain influence over national politics.

In an attempt to put the controversy to rest, Marcos Jr announced on Nov. 23 that he had voluntarily had himself tested for cocaine, submitting his results to the national anti-drug agency and police.

“I really don’t feel that I am the one being alluded to,” he said in a statement. “In spite of that, I believe it is my inherent duty as an aspiring public official to assure my fellow Filipinos that I am against illegal drugs.”

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With that act, he started an unlikely trend in a presidential race, one few expected to see, as the other candidates and their running mates began publicising their clean drug tests too.

Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III were first up, followed by Francisco Moreno and Willy Ong. Bong Go, the presidential candidate endorsed by Duterte, said he was willing to get tested. Manny Pacquiao, the retired boxing champion also running for president, released his most recent drug test, dated Sept. 8, which was negative too.

On Thursday, Sara Duterte Carpio posted her negative results for 11 different substances on her official social media pages.

Keeping a level head in this drug test frenzy was current vice president Leni Robredo, now running for president and seen as Duterte’s antithesis. She pointed out that drug tests should be done randomly—by surprise—if the goal is to catch users.

She’s open to such a test anytime, Robredo added, as she declined to speculate on which candidate Duterte was referring to.

“I’m just sure it wasn’t me,” she said.

Follow JC Gotinga on Twitter.