House panel spares mediamen from serving as witnesses in drug operations

Published August 21, 2020, 7:10 PM

by Ben Rosario

A House technical working group (TWG) tasked to consolidate three amendatory bills of the country’s anti-illegal drug law has agreed to exclude media members as witnesses in anti-narcotics operations.

In the same online hearing of the TWG, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, scolded representatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for its belated submission of stand on the proposed provisions of three bills seeking to further strengthen Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Code of 2002.

“Those who are considered stakeholders should comply with the request of the chairman as to the deadlines set,” Barbers said as he noted that the country’s leading anti-drugs agency has been notified several times to cooperate with the House panel.

The TWG, presided by Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, started working on the bills two weeks ago.

Reps. Rufus Rodriguez (CDP, Cagayan de Oro City); Manuel Cabochan III (Magdalo partylist) and Barbers individually filed bills proposing to amend RA 9165 to further improve the drugs laws in the country.

Barbers filed House Bill 68 which provides for a legal presumption of who is considered as the importer, financier, and protector or coddler of illegal drugs.

It also proposes penalties for lessors of properties used for illegal drug activities.

On the other hand, Rodriguez is seeking stiffer penalties for foreigners involved in drug trafficking and other related activities in the country.

Cabochan’s bill deals mainly on granting drug users a second chance in life by allowing them to voluntarily undergo appropriate drug treatment and rehabilitation program.

The TWG agreed on Thursday to approve provisions that would prevent tampering of evidence, reselling, or reuse of seized drugs, planting of evidence and abuses that may be committed during drug raids.

Also approved is the exclusion of media persons as witnesses in the serving of search warrants and the conduct of buy-bust operations.

Rodriguez insisted that journalists may still cover drug operations but mainly for journalistic purposes only.

“The position of media is that if they are required to become witness, the courts will mandate them to appear in hearings. It would put their lives in danger,” explained Barbers of Rodriguez’s stand.