House bloc sees ‘bloodier’ drug war
The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives sees President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs becoming “bloodier” after the chamber approved a bill amending the dangerous drugs law that critics said would presume the guilt of some drug suspects ahead of a trial in violation of the Constitution.
The progressive bloc, composed of six lawmakers from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Kabataan party list, said House Bill No. 7814, which would amend the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, “whittles down the constitutional presumption of innocence to a mere sliver.”
They said the amendments, once enacted, would signal the “the start of a new phase of the so-called war against drugs, characterized by bloodier operations threatening the lives and safety of innocents and more extrajudicial killings, alongside sweeping discretion yet zero accountability of law enforcement agents.”
“One’s mere presence in the place of a drug operation makes him or her presumptively involved in the sale or dispensation of illegal drugs,” the lawmakers pointed out.
“The mere judgment of agents or their assets—despite their lack of medical knowledge or training—that one has ‘some physical manifestation of being a drug user’ is enough for the latter’s arrest for being a drug user,” they added.
The lawmakers also warned that “any paralegal, human rights worker, humanitarian, or far-removed relative who intercedes or represents a suspect will be presumed as his or her protector or coddler.”
The group said “any person who pays or raises money for a transaction that turns out to be related to drugs will be presumed as financier of the transaction.”
“The knowledge of and consent to the illegal drug transaction of the ‘protector’ and ‘financier’ are presumed. Many of the presumptions found in the bill are even irrational or have no medical basis,” Makabayan said.
They added that “numerous presumptions favoring government agents give these agents too much leeway to arrest, detain and charge too many persons, regardless of their actual participation in alleged drug transactions and the nature of their participation.”
“At the root of these presumptions is the oft-flaunted ‘presumption of regularity’ in the performance by the police and drug agents of their functions, or the presumption that they will never resort to shortcuts and violations and irregularities in procedure,” the lawmakers said.
But according to Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, the primary author of the bill and chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs, “legal presumptions are not the same as presumption of guilt.”
“Legal presumptions are used and allowed in our laws, embodied in judicial decisions and in international laws. Presumption of guilt on the other hand is illegal and has no place in modern society,” he said.
“A man who shoots and kills another is presumed to be the killer,” argued the lawmaker. “Is he presumed guilty? No. The state will have to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt even if he was caught in the act of killing another man.”
“Even if he has confessed to the killing and pleaded guilty to the charge, he still has to be proven guilty on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence. And if the evidence of the prosecution is found wanting, this accused will be set free. Such is the weight of the evidence needed and imposed by law to prove guilt,” Barbers said.
He explained further that “the presumed perpetrators of the illegal acts mentioned will have to be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt as well before their guilt may be established.”
“It is the commission of the prohibited act that is being presumed, not the guilt of the accused,” he said. “Such commission or involvement in the commission of the prohibited act may only be presumed if certain facts are proven by the state, such as possession of incriminating evidence and knowledge of certain circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense.”
Barbers assured critics of the bill that it is “in no way connected nor [is it] a knee-jerk reaction to the unfortunate [Feb. 24] encounter” between members of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
President Duterte has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into that shootout that killed two policemen, a PDEA agent and an informant working for the antidrug agency.
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