Senate unlikely to back controversial anti-drug bill
It’s highly improbable that any senator would concur with controversial House Bill No. 7814 that proposes an unconstitutional “presumption of guilt” on drug trafficking suspects, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Friday.
“Maybe I know my colleagues too well to assume that there is no way a member of the upper chamber will support that proposition from the House,” he told the Inquirer, referring to the House bill that would violate the presumption of innocence enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
Lacson, a former police chief, suggested that the 24-member Senate was too cognizant of presumption of innocence as a basic pillar of criminal law to consider reversing it on the pretext of strengthening the illegal drug campaign.
“With due respect to our counterpart in the House, the Senate will not allow itself to break away from that time-honored legal principle,” he said in a Viber message.
“It is a basic international human right observed under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the Philippines strongly supports for several decades,” Lacson noted.
The Supreme Court has also affirmed in many cases over many years that suspects in criminal cases are “to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved beyond reasonable doubt” in accordance with the 1935, 1973 and 1987 Constitutions.
Senate concurrence needed
Still, the 304-strong House approved the bill on Tuesday by a 188-11 vote, with nine abstentions. It will require Senate concurrence to be passed into law.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III told the Inquirer that no senator had filed a counterpart measure to the bill to his knowledge, but he did not reject the idea outright and said he would study the House proposal first.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon deferred comment, saying he was preparing a legal study on the matter in order to “effectively oppose it” in the Senate.
But for Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs and one of the principal authors of HB 7814, criticism of the measure was only “continued whining” of people who can’t understand or pretend not to comprehend the essence of the bill.
“We have already explained in all languages understandable to them that the presumption of innocence is not lost nor replaced and that there simply is no presumption of guilt in the approved bill,” Barbers said in a statement.
But in the same paragraph, he said, “To be presumed as protector/coddler, one must be in a position of power or influence and he uses this position or influence to protect the suspect, shield him, prevent his arrest or aid in his escape.”
He then outlined instances when the “presumption of guilt” applies and said that “if the police or the prosecution is able to establish that, only then will the presumption attach to you. Then it is your turn to present evidence to the contrary. Mahirap po bang imemorize yun? (Is that hard to memorize?)”
Barbers lamented that critics of HB 7814 do not mention the safeguards against police abuses that were embodied in the bill.
But all of the safeguards he mentioned were already covered by the Revised Penal Code or the Rules of Evidence, except for a provision on an automatic legal inquiry on accusations of law enforcers accused of planting evidence.
“When a drug case being handled by an antidrug law enforcer is dismissed or acquitted by the courts for any reason including alleged bungling of the case, a report about such incident would be copy furnished to the Office of the Ombudsman and to the Civil Service Commission,” he added.
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