The recent release of former Rep. Ronald Singson from a Hong Kong prison after serving sentence for dangerous drugs possession provides a stark contrast between the laws of the Philippines and those of Hong Kong. Singson was released after spending only 18 months in prison. In the Philippines, illegal possession of shabu weighing less than five grams is punishable by imprisonment from 12 years and one day to 20 years; if the quantity is more than 10 grams but less than 50 grams, the penalty is life imprisonment.
Because of the harshness of the Philippine law on dangerous drugs, thousands of young Filipinos are languishing in jail. Indeed, it has not been shown that the harshness of the law has served as an effective deterrent to drug-related crimes. More pathetic is that most of these drug convicts are first offenders and belong to the youth sector.
Since the passage of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (Republic Act 9165), there has been an increasing court backlog of drug cases due notably to the fact that plea bargain are no longer allowed and there are not enough public lawyers, private lawyers and forensic chemists to testify before the courts on the results of examinations done on confiscated drugs.
It is high time we took a second hard look at low-risk, non-violent drug offenders involving mostly young Filipinos.
1. Plea bargain and probation must be allowed in cases involving youthful offenders, 18 to 30 years old, and those arrested for possession of “minimal quantity” of drugs.
2. The procedure for availing voluntary treatment and rehabilitation must be simplified.
3. The harsh penalties for possession of a minimal quantity of drugs must be eliminated by introducing shorter and lighter penalties and fines in consonance with the latest trend in the United States.
4. Introduce measures for a more effective probation supervision and mandatory drug treatment programs.
The foregoing proposals will go a long way in decongesting our prisons and will give young offenders, who constitute the bulk of detention prisoners, a new lease on life. As Chief Justice Earl Warren once said: “Once a boy has a crime record, his opportunities for success are 76 percent and he loses 90 percent of his self-respect. Those are hard odds to fight against.”
Indeed, it is now imperative to explore and adopt a sensible, cost-effective approach to the dangerous drugs menace in our country. It is always emotionally wrenching whenever a judge sentences a young Filipino to life imprisonment for the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs weighing 10 grams.
—EDWARD B. CONTRERAS,
Regional Trial Court,
Hall of Justice, Roxas City