Legal armor for abusive law enforcers

Published March 10, 2021, 12:24 PM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

It is difficult to accept even at face value the claim of the author of the amendments to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act that the constitutional right of an accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty remains intact and respected under his bill.

House Bill 7814, which the House of Representatives approved last week, provides a list of around 30 “legal presumptions” where a drug suspect is presumed to be a willing participant in drug activities “until proven otherwise.”

The condemnation over these provisions is universal, and they come from other lawmakers, lawyers, and local and international human rights organizations. It would be hard to accept, as the author maintained, that the provisions being assailed were not appreciated correctly.

Those who are opposing the bill point out the incompatibility of specific provisions with the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights, let alone the clearly enunciated and very specific mandate  of Article 3, Sec. 14(2) of the Constitution ensuring a person’s presumption of innocence. It has been correctly pointed out that in criminal law, presumption of innocence is pre-eminent. The bill, therefore, is seen as legislating the weakening, even the demise, of this sacred and inviolable guarantee.

These presumptions, according to a position paper by the Ateneo Human Rights Center, “automatically labels a person as importer, financier, or protector/coddler of those involved with illegal drugs — effectively creating a presumption of guilt upon their apprehension.”

“The amendments also relieve the government of its duty to first establish a prima facie case before filing a criminal complaint,” they said.

The chair of the House human rights committee, who voted against the bill, illustrates the consequences should the measure become law. In a media interview, he said that under these presumptions, the owner of a property where drugs are found is presumed to be the owner of the drugs, and if a drug bust was conducted in a bar, everyone inside is presumed to have knowledge of the presence of drugs.

By ignoring Constitutional rights and granting law enforcement authorities more powers which are open to indiscriminate and deliberate abuse, the author of House Bill 7814 is applying the template of the Anti-Terror Law to shore up the floundering war on drugs.

The author puts excessive faith in the professional conduct of law enforcers and the regularity in their operations despite evidence to the contrary.  The author wants us to trust law enforcers with a proven track record for planting evidence, lying to the courts, ignoring standard operating procedures, and disregarding human rights and due process.

Illegal drugs continue to proliferate despite a five year-old bloody drug war that has failed miserably in targeting big time drug syndicates. Illegal drugs enter the country using the ports of entry, evading the scrutiny, either by design or sheer incompetence, of port authorities. And the anti-drug campaign has provided fertile opportunities for policemen who are neck-deep in the drug trade.

This will not be solved by extending to law enforcement authorities an open invitation, or providing legal armor, to commit acts of abuse, neglect, and indiscretion, the same acts acknowledged recently by the Justice Secretary when he rendered the official government report on the drug war’s conduct before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights DOJ (UNCHR).

We all share a concern over the proliferation of illegal drugs. But fighting it should not be at the expense of our basic rights and due process.

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