Seares: ‘Drug-tagging’ Niña Mabatid; why Cosap must be seen as non-partisan

Pachico A. Seares

NO SUCH word as “drug-tagging”? There is, now.

Cebu City Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid is apparently a victim of drug-tagging.

A cloud of doubt has descended on Mabatid--Cebu City north’s No. 2 councilor and member of the dominant Partido Barug--since a drug test ordered last December by Vice Mayor Mike Rama among all city councilors reportedly resulted “positive” for her.

The adverse result was not officially released since it was initial and not conclusive. It must have been leaked by someone in the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse Prevention (Cosap), which did the testing. That’s what drug-tagging is: Casting suspicion, without formally accusing, that one uses illegal drugs.

Rumor mill

Thus, Councilor Mabatid in effect was labeled or tagged as a probable user of illegal drugs.

Which was enough to set off the rumor mill at City Hall humming, at one point reaching Mayor Edgar Labella. The mayor was asked on Jan. 16 by a dyMF radio reporter if he knew about “a certain councilor” who was tested positive of drug abuse. The mayor said he didn’t and would ask Cosap head Jonah John Rodriguez about it, but if true the councilor must face the consequences. “Let the heavens fall” was the sound bite from Labella.

Addicted to bags

Mabatid must know that too, maybe earlier, even before the gossip spread. But she didn’t want to be explicit about her annoyance and distress. Earlier, on Jan. 4, she declared on Facebook, “I am not an addict about drugs but about shopping, in short I’m not a drug addict, ok.” She also posted a photo of herself standing in front of a Beverly Hills, California boutique for upscale bags and dresses.

Barely disguised by the thin humor was the suspicion that Cosap was doing her a knife job, propaganda-wise. She said she volunteered to a drug test by the NBI on the same day she underwent the Cosap test “as insurance against any sabotage.”

Suspicion bred by political differences, even within one party, is inevitable. More so in the case of rival parties, in which distrust is more persistent and runs deeper.

Conspiracy theory

Mabatid herself must have flirted with the conspiracy theory. She publicly noted that Cosap is headed by Rodriguez who was known to be sympathetic to councilors who hated Niña’s strategies in the last election campaign. Niña once wondered to media why Cosap was taking time to release the results when other agencies could do it in an hour or two.

Broadcaster-newspaper columnist Bobby Nalzaro, blunt and in-your-face, asked in a Jan. 28 SunStar column: “Is Cosap chief out to destroy Mabatid?” (No, Jonah John told Bobby, “Wa’y binuang (no foolishness) in our screening. I can look straight to her eyes.”)

With gall and practice, one can stare forever and not blink. But about Cosap’s delay: The excuse was that they waited for the result of the “confirmatory” test. Announcing the result (“negative”)-–relayed by Rodriguez to Mabatid only last week-–took too long. “Tsismis” feeds on and grows fast in a prolonged vacuum of information.

Seed of doubt

Drug tests, experts tell us, are not beyond manipulation by those tested, especially when the subjects have the chance to cheat. The tests are not infallible, depending upon the kind of test and how it’s conducted.

Still, an adverse result can damage the reputation of an elective public official. Even though Cosap’s test result ultimately cleared Mabatid, the seed of doubt has been planted. The leakage on the result neatly did that.

That’s how fragile reputations are when it comes to any “careless whisper” about public officials and drugs. Vice Mayor Mike Rama still sounds defensive whenever anyone brings up then mayor Tomas Osmeña’s repeated remark in the past about Mike’s alleged but never-proven taking of drugs. Maybe Mabatid is made of sterner stuff.

What Cosap can do

To be sure, Cosap needs to speed up future confirmatory tests and plug any leak on confidential information in its office. However innocent the premature disclosure may be, it increases the perception of personal bias or partisanship.

The Cosap head, particularly, must take the lead in persuading its primary clients--officials and employees of City Hall-–that the screening is above board.