Photos of Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo "Pulong" Duterte with Kenneth Dong and actor Cesar Montano presented before the Senate blue ribbon committee investigating drug smuggling at the Bureau of Customs. Dong is the alleged middleman for the P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped past the BOC last May. Image Credit: Philippine Senate

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s son and son-in-law denied allegations Thursday that they belonged to a drug trafficking gang, with the explosive claims raising questions about the government’s bloody anti-narcotics crackdown.

Paolo Duterte, during a public hearing conducted by the Philippine Senate on September 7, admitted having a tattoo on his back upon questioning by opposition Senator Antonio Tillanes III, who alleged that the tattoo is in the form of a dragon.

When asked by Trillanes to show the tattoo during the hearing and have it photographed by the legislative chamber's sergeant -at-arms for decoding by drug enforcement agents, Paolo Duterte invoked his right to privacy.

Trillanes alleged that the tattoo is worn by members of a Chinese drug triad that operates in Hong Kong and China.

Both Paolo, vice mayor of southern Davao City, and son-in-law Manases Carpio appeared at a Senate inquiry Thursday to answer accusations that they helped facilitate the shipment of crystal methamphetamine worth 6.4 billion pesos (Dh461 million; $125.4 million) into the Philippines from China in exchange for payment.

Paolo Duterte (left) son of President Rodrigo Duterte and the President’s son-in-law Manases Carpio, take their oaths during a Senate probe into illegal drug smuggling from China. AP

Drug trafficking gang

The allegations emerged last month when a customs broker told the Senate panel that he had heard the names of Duterte’s son and son-in-law mentioned while seeking to expedite the shipment.

The broker later issued a statement clearing the two men of involvement.

But during the inquiry, Trillanes accused Duterte’s son of belonging to a drug trafficking gang, saying the 42-year-old had a tattoo on his back, resembling a dragon, that was “proof ... of his membership” in the gang.

Paolo Duterte, vice-mayor of the southern city of Davao (his sister is the city's mayor), told the panel that he had a tattoo — but said he could not answer allegations based on hearsay.

“The law of karma will operate especially to those with evil intent,” he added in an apparent swipe at Trillanes, an arch-critic of the president.

Local media quoted Trillanes as saying that his knowledge of the younger Duterte’s tattoo was based on “intelligence from a foreign country” that he did not, however, name.

The senator that the supposed "Triad" connection indicated that there was a “competition among syndicates” and then asked Duterte: “Will you show us that tattoo?”

“I invoke my right to privacy,” the vice mayor replied.

At this point, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, cautioned against making “allegations without any basis. Triad is a serious allegation.”

Allegations

Carpio, who is married to Davao City's Mayor Sara Duterte, also rejected allegations against their family.

“Me and my brother-in-law have been publicly crucified based on rumours and gossip,” said Carpio, a lawyer.

“I have no knowledge of or involvement in the illegal drugs shipment.”

The sensational allegations have captured the attention of Filipinos, many of whom back the president’s vow to pursue an unrelenting war against drug traffickers.

Duterte, 72, has said he would be “happy to slaughter” three million Filipino drug addicts, even as critics warn the deaths of thousands of people killed in the crackdown may amount to a crime against humanity.

Duterte has denied ever inciting police or vigilantes to commit mass murder.

In speeches, he had encouraged his son to attend the hearing but advised him to invoke his “right of silence”.

Paolo’s lawyer Rainier Madrid revealed that Trillanes has been critical of Duterte because the latter did not choose the former right wing rebel as a vice presidential team mate in the May 2016 elections

Hinting that Trillanes could have another motive for demanding a public viewing of the tattoo, lawyer Madrid said, “Why does he want to see my client’s tattoo? Is he (Trillanes) gay?

If he’s gay, I may have allowed him to see it. (But) a tattoo is a very private matter. I won’t (even) ask my client to show it to me (his lawyer) unless I’m gay and I want to see his body.”

Fad

“My client refuses to be gullible. I will not allow my client to be humiliated under such a silly circumstance,” said Madrid, adding, “A tattoo is a fad, even celebrities from Hollywood have it ...

"He (Duterte) was good enough to admit he has a tattoo, he was a young lad who followed fads. But to say that he is a member of a triad is too much.”

Giving more details about Duterte’s “coloured green tattoo,” Trillanes said it has serial numbers, alleged as proof of his membership to a “triad faction” with smuggling activities in China and Hong Kong.

“Me and my brother-in-law have been publicly crucified based on rumours and gossip. I have no knowledge of or involvement in the illegal drugs shipment,” said Carpio.

Duterte earlier said his family members could attend the Senate inquiry, but advised them to invoke their right to silence.

A customs broker told the Senate panel last month that he forged deals with people close to Duterte’s son and son-in-law, for the expedition of his shipment.

He later exonerated the two members of the presidential family.

Filipinos back drugs war

Many Filipinos back Duterte’s relentless pursuit of drug pushers and traffickers, with the police having killed 3,800 suspects.

The police also blamed drug syndicates for other mysterious killings, which, critics have blamed Duterte for crimes against humanity.

Duterte came to power last year promising to wage a brutal and unprecedented war on drugs.