Amendments to Philippine anti-drug law erode presumption of innocence: Lawmakers

The amendments to the dangerous drugs law would make it harder for suspects to prove their innocence as the burden of proof shifts to them, according to human rights advocates. — INQUIRER FILE

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): The Makabayan bloc on Thursday (March 4) expressed its “resounding objection to proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, which it said “whittles down” the constitutional presumption of innocence to a “mere sliver.”

According to the Makabayan bloc — composed of Bayan Muna Reps Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat; Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas; ACT Teachers France Castro; and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago — the House’s approval of House Bill No. 7814 “signals the start of a new phase of the so-called war against drugs.”

The measure has been criticised over the measure for providing legal presumptions on who is considered a drug importer, financier, or coddler.

“With at least 30 presumptions against mere suspects and favouring PNP (Philippine National Police), PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency), and other law enforcement agents, House Bill 7814 whittles down the constitutional presumption of innocence to a mere sliver, ” the lawmakers said.

“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 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 in a joint statement.

Further, the Makabayan bloc criticised the measure, saying that many of the presumptions found in the bill “are even irrational or have no medical basis.”

“Numerous presumptions favouring 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, ” the House bloc said.

“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, ” lawmakers further said.

The lawmakers maintained that the drug problem in the country can only be eradicated “through effective law enforcement, policies reflecting public accountability and good governance, and competent officials both at the helm of agencies and on the field.”

“Shock-and-awe strategies such as tokhang which target users, small fry, and the poor while exempting big-time and high-profile traders, smugglers, and importers among the rich and powerful will not protect Filipinos from dangerous drugs, ” the lawmakers said.

House committee on dangerous drugs committee chairperson Robert Ace Barbers, a primary author of the bill, has defended the measure, saying the constitutional right of the accused “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty” remains undisturbed and totally respected.

“In the proposed amendment, each of the presumptions does not presume the guilt of the accused because the burden of proof to establish the guilt remains in the prosecution, ” Barbers has said.

“The presumptions in the proposed amendment arise only after the prosecution has presented proof beyond reasonable doubt of certain facts (the proven facts) upon which the presumption is based (the facts presumed), ” he added. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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Philippines , anti-drug , law , amendments


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