Thursday, August 05, 2021

Nalzaro: Drug suspects presumed guilty


SECTION 14, Article 3 (Bill of Rights) of the 1987 Constitution states: (1) “No person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law. (2) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved and enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; to have a speedy, impartial and public trial; to meet the witnesses face to face; and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf. However, after arraignment, trial may proceed notwithstanding the absence of the accused provided that he has been duly notified and failure to appear is unjustifiable.”

But there is a pending bill at the House of Representative, House Bill 7814, that runs counter with the above cited provision in the Constitution, providing for legal presumption on who is considered an importer, financier or protector of illegal drugs. Meaning, suspects would be presumed guilty upon apprehension.

In fact, lawmakers in the lower House have approved this bill last week on final reading. It would amend and give more teeth to Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002.

Under the bill, a person is immediately presumed to be a protector or coddler of illegal drugs if he or she knows an importer or exporter and helps the latter evade arrest. “Unless proven otherwise, a person who shields, harbors, screens or facilitates the escape of or prevents the arrest, prosecution or conviction of the importer or exporter is presumed to have knowledge of, or has willfully consented to, the illegal importation or exportation and that he/she used his/her influence, power or position.”

The bill also states that a person found in possession of a purchase order, receipt, bill of lading or similar document related to the importation or exportation of illegal drugs “is until proven otherwise presumed to have imported or exported” the illegal substance. The bill likewise presumed a person is a drug financier if he or she would “cause the payment, raises, provides or supplies money for or underwrites the importation of illegal drugs.”

The bill also proposes a providing stating that “unless proven otherwise,” a person found present in the immediate vicinity of an area where illegal drugs are being sold, delivered or distributed “is presumed to have been involved” in the illegal drug trade. “Negligence” of owners or lessors of properties used as secret laboratories for illegal drugs would be penalized under this bill with jail time raging from six years and one day up to 12 years and a fine between P500,000 to P1 million.

In the normal criminal prosecution, the burden of proof to prove the accused’s guilt “beyond reasonable doubt” is with the prosecution. But in this case, the burden of proof is with the accused to prove his innocence. I am not a lawyer, but isn’t this a contradiction to the provision I cited above and if this bill is passed, won’t this be unconstitutional? Well, I am sure if this will become a law, there will be some sectors that will question its constitutionality before the Supreme Court like those other controversial laws like the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Isn’t it unfair for the accused who don’t have any practical knowledge of the illegal drug activity of his relatives or friends will be arrested and automatically considered guilty? What if there is a police drug raid and if you just happened to be in the premises, but you have no personal knowledge or involvement, you will also be arrested and charged? A warehouse (bodega) owner is presumed guilty because his facility is used as a drug laboratory even if he has no full knowledge of the activity of the lessee? Drug dealers are not crazy to declare that they are renting that facility for illegal activities. This happened in the busted shabu laboratory in Mandaue City several years ago where the bodega owners were also charged and jailed despite their claim that they did not have any knowledge of the activities of the Chinese renters. But they were eventually acquitted of the charges.

What’s wrong with our present anti-drug campaign and in the criminal justice system that we need to come up with more laws? We have enough laws pertaining to illegal drugs. Our government will just have to strengthen the five pillars of the criminal justice system. The police and prosecution have to improve their intelligence, investigative and prosecutorial skills, respectively and eliminate corruption. Corruption decreases public trust in our criminal justice system. Even in rehabilitation, there is still rampant corruption. Why are those convicted drug lords languishing in our jails still manage to do business in illegal drugs?


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