By Ellson Quismorio
Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers wants all vehicles that daringly violate the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to be thoroughly searched for illegal drugs by the Philippine National Police (PNP) at their checkpoints.
Barbers noted on Tuesday how many motorists are out and about despite the government’s strict travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“I’ve seen on TV and [read on] newspaper reports that PNP personnel manning those checkpoints just flag down and issue traffic citation tickets against quarantine travel violators without conducting a thorough search on the erring drivers and their vehicles,” said the solon, who chairs the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs.
He explained that under Republic Act (RA) No. 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, quarantine violators’ vehicles can be thoroughly checked for illegal drugs or other contraband since they have already committed a violation of the law.
“They’ve already violated travel restrictions under the Bayanihan law kaya pwede na arestuhin (we can arrest them). So, a search is incidental to a valid arrest. Kaya sa Amerika, pinabubuksan pati and trunk ng sasakyan pag nasisita ng police dahil meron ng probable cause (that’s why in America,, the vehicles’ trunks are opened during searches because there’s already a probable cause),” Barbers said.
The Mindanao lawmaker said he has received reports that drug traffickers, due to the ECQ and the strict travel restrictions that come with it, are now trying to unload their drug stockpile into the street level.
He added that there’s currently a high demand for illegal drugs from clients in Metro Manila.
“May malaking shortage sa supply ng droga sa kalye dahil sa ECQ laban sa COVID-19. At nitong mga nakaraang araw, maraming sasakyan ang lakas loob na tumatawid sa PNP checkpoints dahil tinitikitan lang sila at di tsini-check kung ano ang karga–kung may kontrabando ba o wala ang kanilang mga sasakyan,” he said.
(There is a big shortage on drugs on the streets because of the ECQ against COVID-19. And these past few days, a lot of vehicles bravely passed through PNP checkpoints knowing that they are merely issued tickets and not searched for possible contraband.)
“Sa dami ng mga violators, malaking posibilidad na ang ilan dito ay pasok sa transport ng droga. Walang search, eh (With the sheer number of violators, it’s possible that drugs are being transported. There’s no search at all),” added Barbers, who is a staunch supporter of President Duterte’s hardline stance against illegal drugs.
The Palace-ordered ECQ over the entire Luzon island was originally set to run from March 15 to April 13. President Duterte extended it unitl April 30 to avoid a surge in COVID-19 infections.