Amid concerns aired against its alleged unfair and constitutionally questionable provisions, the bill proposing to plug legal loopholes in the current drugs law was approved on third and final reading in the House of Representatives.
With 188 “yes” and 11 “no” votes, House Bill 7814 which proposes amendments to Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 was passed by the chamber and will await action in the Senate.
Nine House members who have expressed certain misgivings on the constitutionality of the measure abstained from voting.
HB 7814 consolidated various provisions of 11 bills filed among others, by, Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez; Reps. Elizaldy S. Co and Alfredo A. Garbin Jr. of Ako Bicol Partylist: Mario Victor A. Marino (PDP-Laban, Batangas); France Castro (ACT Teachers Partylist); Eufemia Cullamat (Bayan Muna); Manuel DG Cabochan III (Magdalo Partylist) and Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte).
Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, made a successful defense of the measure that was attacked by critics as an “endangerment of basic human and constitutional rights” of individuals.
The bill seeks to legalize “presumptions” of who can be held liable to stiff penalties for being “importer, financier, and protector or coddler of illegal drugs.”
Barbers underscored the need to provide such provisions in the anti-drug law in order to block efforts of drug suspects to resort to legal tactics that have prevented a complete success of the government’s anti-drug war.
Initially supportive of the bill, Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte registered a “no” vote after failing to convince Barbers to accept amendments that will prevent miscarriages of justice.
He slammed the legal presumptions on the guilt of a party as dangers to justice and fairness, saying that the presumption of innocence will be violated by the measure.
“Lalong maraming inosenteng mapapahamak sa maling akala (More innocent persons will be placed in danger due to wrong presumptions),” he warned.
ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro said many of the over 6,000 drug personalities slain after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office have not even been charged for drug offenses.
Castro lamented that almost all acts cited in the bill are now presumed as being illegal acts.
“Ibig sabihin po ay wala nang ligtas ang mamamayan dahil kailangan mo pang patunayan na ikaw ay inosente dahil para ka na ring nahatulan dahil ikaw ay guilty sa mismong pagkakataon na iyon. (This means that there is no escape for any citizens because you have to prove your innocence because you have been condemned as guilty during that particular instance),” Castro stated.
For his part, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate objected against the “assumptions” provided by the bill as it places the burden of proof, not on the arresting officers, but instead to the accused.
“Ayon sa Section 14 ng Bill of Rights, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved,” stressed Zarate.
HB 7814 provides for legal presumptions on who is considered an importer, financier and protector or coddler of illegal drugs.
Negligent lessors whose properties are used as clandestine laboratories are also penalized unless they are able to submit documents that would free them from liabilities.
The bill limits the validity of drug test certificates issued by accredited drug testing centers to just three months.
Persons found in possession of unauthorized narcotics may be allowed to under drug rehabilitation if they test positive for drug use. Otherwise, an individual arrested with possession of illegal substance but is found negative to drug test, is presumed to be a drug peddler.
The bill also provides that persons found or is present within the premises of a clandestine laboratory or place where dangerous drug is manufactured, produced, paced or processed is presumed to be involved in the illegal activity.
Acquittal of an accused due to “patent laxity, inexcusable neglect, unreasonable delay or deliberate action by the concerned prosecutor, arresting officers or law enforcers shall be investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman or the Civil Service Commission.