Unless proven otherwise, any person found or is present within or inside the place of sale, trading, marketing, dispensation, delivery, or distribution of dangerous drugs is presumed to have been involved in the sale, trade, or distribution of such drugs. Any person found in possession of dangerous drugs of a certain quantity or weight is presumed to have been engaged in illegal drugs. A person is presumed a protector or coddler of a drug suspect if he/she knows the seller, trader, distributor, or violator and uses his/her influence, power, or position in shielding, harboring, or facilitating the escape of the drug suspect.
These are among the many “presumptions’’ contained in the controversial House Bill No. 7814, which seeks to amend the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Approved by the House with a vote of 188-11 with nine abstentions on March 2, the bill has raised alarm from other legislators and human rights advocates for the threat it poses to the cornerstone due process principle of “innocent until proven guilty’’—a right enshrined not only in the Constitution but also in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Some House members have withdrawn their support for the consolidated bill after objecting to the dangers of the “presumptions’’ included in the final bill. Among them are Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte, who warned that “many innocents will be endangered by wrong assumptions”; Quezon City Rep. Jesus Bong Suntay, the House human rights committee chair; and Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, one of the authors of the bill.
Legal experts have also assailed the measure. In his column in this paper last Sunday, retired chief justice Artemio Panganiban pointed out that “Though the presumption is disputable in court, the bill still violates the basic constitutional right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty after observing due process before an impartial judge. Worse, the presumptions could be used as prima facie bases for capital offenses that would lead to the indefinite detention of suspects who would then bear the burden of proving their innocence without any strong factual evidence of guilt other than the presumptions provided in the bill.”
Law dean Mel Sta. Maria, commenting on the provision that anyone in the vicinity of a drug transaction would be presumed involved, wrote in a Facebook post: “So if you just happen to pass by and you didn’t know there was a transaction, you can be arrested. Or if you just alighted from a jeepney where there is a transaction (that you don’t know about), you can be arrested because you are ‘in the vicinity of an area’ where the transaction is being made…’’
The criticisms have miffed Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chair of the House dangerous drugs committee, who denied that the bill disregards due process. The “legal presumptions’’ of guilt in the measure are “not conclusive’’ and would still need to be established during the trial, he insisted.
Why the need, then, for such presumptions? Barbers said the measure is meant to plug loopholes and flaws in existing laws and “give more teeth’’ to the drug war. According to him, data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed that since 2013, no one has been charged as a protector, coddler, or financier of the illegal drug trade.
But that is hardly the fault of existing laws. Who bears responsibility, for instance, for the fact that big-time drug smugglers have not been identified, much less arrested, even if they were able to smuggle in billions of pesos’ worth of shabu right under the noses of Customs officials? Or the fact that despite the killings of thousands of drug suspects, the illegal drug trade persists, not only on the streets but even inside the national penitentiary which is under the administration’s control?
The drug war is now widely seen as a failure not because the law lacks teeth, but because of yawning flaws and glaring corruption in its implementation. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s own report to the United Nations Human Rights Council last Feb. 24 admitted that in half of the police operations reviewed, the police failed to follow standard protocols in inter-agency coordination and processing of crime scenes.
The sinister presumptions in the House bill indicate how far administration allies are willing to thrash fundamental human rights to continue to enable a drug war that has unleashed unprecedented violence on the country, but has failed to dent the illegal drug supply or put drug lords behind bars. (How about the public presuming that lawmakers who lobby and allocate pork barrel for their pet projects are guilty of embezzlement, ill-gotten wealth, and plunder unless proven otherwise?) It is incumbent upon the Senate to put a stop to this pernicious measure.