Members of the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Thursday, March 4 warned of a ‘”bloodier” campaign against illegal drugs should the proposal allowing the presumption of guilt on suspected importers, financers and protectors of illegal drugs be passed into law.
The opposition lawmakers reiterated their “resounding objection” to House Bill No. 7814, which seeks to strengthen the Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The bill was approved by the lower chamber on third and final reading last Tuesday.
In a statement read during their presser on Thursday, March 4, the opposition lawmakers said the House’s approval of the measure “signals the start of a new phase of the so-called war against drugs, characterized by bloodier operations threatening the lives and safety of innocents and more extrajudicial killings.” “With at least 30 presumptions against mere suspects and favoring [the] 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,” they 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,” they pointed out.
Bayan Muna Party-list Reps. Carlos Zarate, Eufemia Cullamat, Ferdinand Gaite; Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene Brosas; ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro and Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago comprise the 18th Congress’ Makabayan bloc.
They are among the 11 congressmen who voted against the passage of HB No. 7814.
The bill, they said, will give law enforcers “sweeping discretion yet zero accountability” and “too much leeway to arrest, detain, and charge too many persons regardless of their actual participation in alleged drug transactions.” They cited as a “case in point” the recent misencounter between the PNP and PDEA in Quezon City last February 24, in what both parties maintained was a “legitimate” anti-drug operation.
“[It]” does not bode well for this bill giving unrestrained powers to authorities,” they said.
They further 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, that they will never cook up ‘nanlaban’ stories, plant sachets of shabu, round up people in communities then force them to ‘surrender, or conduct poorly-planned operations.” “Placing immense discretion and power in the hands of the police and drug agents while greatly diminishing the rights of the people will only claim more innocent lives and keep the drug war under the Duterte administration raging against the people, rather than against drugs,” they warned.
House Committee on Dangerous Drugs chairman and Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers had earlier denied that the bill he principally authored will violate the Constitution on the presumption of innocence of suspects.
The burden of proof, he said, “is always with the prosecution”, but he stressed that the “burden of evidence” to counter the charge rests on the accused.