MANILA, Philippines — More lawmakers and rights advocates expressed Thursday their opposition to amendments to the country's anti-drug laws that add legal presumptions of involvement in drug crimes.
The amendments to Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, were in a consolidated bill that the House passed on third and final reading on Monday.
"We note that the bill provides for presumptions of guilt for people accused of being traffickers, financiers, protectors, coddlers and/or being involved in illegal drugs which we strongly believe to be patently unconstitutional," Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"It also attempts to reintroduce the death penalty, which we have committed to tirelessly assail."
Sen. Leila de Lima, in a statement, acknowledged that the intentions of the amendments were "generally good" but maintained that "particular provisions in the proposed bill are patently offensive to the Bill of Rights."
"Legal presumptions are a means to expedite trials by shifting the burden of proof from complainant to defendant under situations in which the allegations appear to be likely correct. In this situation, the court makes an inference, given a set of facts, which the defendant is given the opportunity to refute by presenting evidence against it," the senator and former CHR chair said.
"While it is very useful in civil cases, mandatory presumptions have no place in criminal law. The primordial presumption that governs all others when it comes to criminal law is the presumption of innocence. Anything contrary to that is unjust, invalid and unconstitutional."
Barbers: Reports 'totally missed the point'
Though he did not single out an outlet or writer, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (Surigao del Norte), who chairs the House committee on dangerous drugs, slammed a news article that he claimed "totally missed the point" of the bill's amendments.
“Legal presumptions are not the same as presumption of guilt. Legal presumptions are used and allowed in our laws, embodied in judicial decisions and in international laws. Presumption of guilt on the other hand is illegal and has no place in modern society," he said.
"The presumed perpetrator is the same as the principal, accomplice, and accessory to the crime. The liabilities differ in the degree of participation in the commission," he added.
Under the bill, a drug suspect is presumed to be a willing participant in illegal drug-related activity "until proven otherwise" so long as certain conditions are present. No mention of due process is made.
It was, in fact, not just a "news article" that pointed this out about the amendments, but also other lawmakers, as well as international rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Under the new additions to the country's Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, the following are presumed to be drug suspects or someone with "knowledge of or has wilfully consented to the illegal importation or exportation" of dangerous drugs:
- Anyone found to have in their possession any form of drug-related documents
- Anyone who "causes, raises, provides, or supplies" drug money is presumed to be a drug financier
- Anyone who "harbors, screens, facilitates" the escape of an importer or exporter
- Anyone who is found or is present inside the premises of transaction or manufacturing linked to illegal drugs
- Anyone is "presumed a protected or coddler if he/she knows the seller, trader, distributor"
- Anyone is "presumed [to be] an operator, maintainer or administrator of a [drug] den…if he/she has actual or constructive control and management of such premises"
"The presumed perpetrators of the illegal acts mentioned will have to be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt as well before their guilt may be established. It is the commission of the prohibited act that is being presumed, not the guilt of the accused," Barbers said.
Even sans the newly-added amendments, though, the existing law already defines a drug coddler as:
"Any person who knowingly and willfully consents to the unlawful acts provided for in this Act and uses his/her influence, power or position in shielding, harboring, screening or facilitating the escape of any person he/she knows, or has reasonable grounds to believe on or suspects."
"Such commission or involvement in the commission of the prohibited act may only be presumed if certain facts are proven by the state, such as possession of incriminating evidence and knowledge of certain circumstances surrounding the commission of the offense," Barbers claimed.
He did not address the provisions that some evidence linking one to drug money, including equipment that is deemed "suitable for the use, manufacture, or production" of dangerous drugs, is prima facie, or sufficient evidence to proceed to trial or judgment at first sight.
'Focus on pandemic instead of drugs,' lawmakers told
The Duterte administration continues to present a fluctuating death toll linked to anti-drug operations.
Former police leadership placed the tally at around 8,000 dead, though the national government's consolidated "Real Numbers" program only acknowledges 6,039 deaths.
Rights groups both here and abroad, however, say the actual number may be as high as 30,000 deaths, with most going undocumented since Duterte's "war" began in 2016.
"We most respectfully urge our legislators to pursue bills that would address recovery from the pandemic. We are still in the middle of a pandemic – where thousands of lives have been lost and many lives are still at peril," Gomez-Dumpit said.
"We call on our legislators to refer to the different evidence-based studies on the death penalty, which show how ineffective it is in deterring crimes, and look to other alternatives that have been proven to be effective in curbing crime. We stand ready to work with government in crafting human rights- and evidence-based policies to comply with the standards and principles of the rule of law particularly on the rights of the accused, and to affirm the right to life."
De Lima also added: "If our countrymen see that our Congress passes unjust laws, they will cease to follow and believe in our justice system. Then we would see a rise in criminality, which in turn poses a danger to our country and our democracy."
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