Proposed drug law: Conviction based on presumption

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    THE House of Representatives on Tuesday night approved on third and final reading a bill which would, among others, allow the conviction of a drug suspect on the basis of presumptions.

    Congressmen voted 188-11 with nine abstentions in favor of House Bill No. 7814, which introduces amendments to Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, including the provision for legal presumptions on who can be considered importers, financiers, protectors or coddlers of illegal drugs.

    Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, earlier said the bill, if enacted, would help the government in prosecuting and convicting big-time drug personalities and their protectors.

    But congressmen who opposed the approval of the measure said it was unconstitutional because it seeks to presume drug suspects guilty before they are proven otherwise.

    HB 7814 states: “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 influencer, power or position.”

    Those who voted against the measure expressed concern that the provisions on legal presumptions would violate the Bill of Rights because they presume the guilt of drug suspects sans a proper investigation.

    Quezon City Rep. Jesus “Bong” Suntay, chairman of the committee on human rights, voted against the bill “not because I do not want to strengthen our laws on dangerous drugs but because of my belief that the need to protect an individual’s right against wrongful prosecution is stronger.”

    “I am in full support of this administration’s campaign against illegal drugs and in this respect, I would not want our country to be a transshipment destination of dangerous drugs. However, as a lawyer, I do not want to send the wrong message to the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency), to the police authorities and the prosecution that an accused may now be convicted on mere presumptions,” said Suntay.

    Suntay said the bill does not only amend RA 9165 but it is also “revising the penal laws of our country” because of its presumptions of guilt for certain criminal acts committed that will result in the penalty of life imprisonment.

    “Under these proposed amendments, a person may now be convicted on the basis of presumptions. This is unconstitutional because they run contrary to the constitutional presumption of innocence,” he stressed.

    Another lawyer, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate of the militant Makabayan bloc, cited Section 14 of the Bill of Rights, saying that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.

    “Sa pamamagitan ng presumptions na ito, binabaliktad natin ito. Kinakailangang patunayan ng akusado na siya ay inosente sa halip na ang nag-akusa ang dapat magpatunay na tunay siyang nagkasala. Sa panukalang batas na ito, kalaban ng isang mamamayang Pilipinong pinagbintangan, totoo man o hindi, ang buong makinarya ng estado (Because of these presumptions, we’re now reversing this. The accused now has to prove his innocence instead of the accuser proving his guilt. In this bill, an accused Filipino citizen, regardless of his innocence or guilt, is pitted against the whole machinery of the State),” he said.

    Under the bill, a person who is found to have in his possession or under his direct or indirect control any document, purchase order, memorandum receipt, delivery receipt, bill of lading in connection with dangerous drugs is automatically presumed to have imported or exported illegal drugs.

    A person is also presumed to be a drug financier if he or she would “cause the payment, raises, provides or supplies money for or underwrites” the importation of illegal drugs.

    Any evidence showing that money was transferred to a person or entity linked to a drug importer or exporter would also be considered “prime facie proof” of consent or knowledge of the “sender, transferor, or issuer.”

    The bill also states that a person is presumed to be a protector or coddler of an illegal drug importer if he knows the suspect and uses his influence, power, or position to shield, harbor or facilitate the escape of the suspect.

    A person is presumed a coddler if he has knowledge of or has reasonable ground to believe that the violator is an importer or exporter of illegal drugs and uses his power and influence to prevent the arrest or prosecution or conviction of the suspect.

    A person who is found present in the vicinity of an area where illegal drugs are being sold, delivered, or distributed “is presumed to have been involved” in the illegal drugs trade “unless proven otherwise.”

    The bill also seeks to penalize “negligent” owners or lessors of properties that are used as illegal drug laboratories by imposing an imprisonment of six years and one day up to 12 years and a fine ranging between P500,000 to P1 million.