HONG KONG ? (UPDATE 3) Representative Ronald Singson was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in a Hong Kong prison after he pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking and avoided a maximum life penalty by convincing a judge the drugs were for his personal use.
District Court judge Joseph Yau described the prison term as a serious fall from grace for Ronald Singson, also a music promoter, who was caught with 6.67 grams of pure cocaine and two tablets of the narcotic Nitrazepam at Hong Kong's international airport en route to a poker tournament in the gambling enclave of Macau in July.
"The defendant imported a substantial amount of cocaine into Hong Kong," Judge Yau told the packed courtroom, adding that Singson was a respected politician whose family has substantial wealth.
"However, he does not treasure what he has and indulges in dangerous drugs."
The judge finished reading his sentence in 45 minutes.
The judge said he took into account Singson's guilty plea, previous good character, clear criminal record, the fact he had not planned to re-sell the drugs before handing down his sentence, and the prospect of his expulsion from the Philippine Congress.
Before his sentencing, Singson told reporters he was "very nervous" and "remorseful," and hoped for a light jail term.
Yau later said Singson had "asked for" a prison term by smuggling drugs into the southern Chinese territory, which regularly hands out stiff sentences to traffickers.
"It is the view of the court that there is a latent risk that the cocaine might fall into the hands of others" Yau said, adding that the threat was "substantial."
The sentence was broken down as one year and four months for cocaine and two months for tablets.
Under Hong Kong law, bringing drugs into the territory can be defined as trafficking, regardless of the purpose. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and a fine of HK$5 million ($640,000).
Hong Kong police immediately took custody of Singson for processing of his prison papers.
Prosecutors had challenged Singson's claim that the drugs were intended for his own consumption.
But Yau sided with Singson, saying he did not think the politician needed to sell drugs given his wealth from various business interests.
The judge noted that Singson came from a prominent family, was well educated, had a two-year-old daughter and a movie star girlfriend, actress Lovi Poe.
The legislator is one of seven children by an estranged wife of Ilocos Sur governor and political kingpin Luis "Chavit" Singson, one of the most controversial political figures in the Philippines.
"He has virtually anything that any man would dream to have," Yau said, adding, however, that Singson "indulged in the abuse of a dangerous drug" and should have sought medical help for his addiction.
"It's sad to see a man of the defendant's background fall from grace," Yau said.
He also said that Singson did not have any friends in Hong Kong or Macau he was likely to share the drugs with.
Yau, however, found that Singson likely exaggerated his level of drug use to justify his claim.
Singson, 42, previously testified he had used cocaine at various times since 2004 and amphetamines in his 20s. He said he went on a cocaine-and-gambling binge after attending an Usher concert in Manila and arguing with his girlfriend.
Singson added that he was undergoing rehabilitation for his drug addiction.
Addiction experts who testified at Singson's sentencing hearing earlier this month disagreed on whether the politician had a serious drug habit, but his lawyer has insisted he was deeply involved in cocaine abuse.
"He is not a commercial trafficker but a person who has become dependent on drugs. A person who needs help instead of being incarcerated," Singson's lawyer John Reading told the court this week.
The elder Singson, his wife and other children attended Wednesday's hearing, as did Lovi Poe.
"I'm very remorseful for what I've done and as you can see I'm paying the price for it," Ronald Singson said shortly before sentencing.
His father said later he expected the sentence but did not know if there would be an appeal.
Singson's light sentence was in sharp contrast with the death sentences that China had handed down on three Filipinos convicted of being drug mules.
Vice President Jejomar Binay traveled to Beijing last week and persuaded China to postpone the executions originally scheduled for this week. They would have been the first Filipinos to be put to death in China for drug trafficking.
The three, who unlike Singson come from humble backgrounds, were arrested separately in 2008 carrying packages each containing more than eight and 13 pounds (four and six kilograms) of heroin. They were convicted and sentenced in 2009. Cynthia D. Balana, Inquirer; Radyo Inquirer