Death bill for foreign drug traffickers pushed

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DEATH penalty for foreign drug traffickers would effectively discourage international drug syndicates, including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel, from doing business here, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said on Sunday.

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Add to this allowing PDEA to do wiretaps on suspected big-time drug syndicates to ensure that law enforcement agents would strike the heart of these drug rings, said PDEA Dir. Gen. Arturo Cacdac.

“PDEA has already signified its support for the measure that was proposed by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez during the last House Committee on Dangerous Drugs meeting chaired by Congressman Vicente Belmonte,” Cacdac told The Manila Times.

The House panel approved House Bill 1213 seeking to impose capital punishment for foreign drug offenders and endorsed it for plenary discussion when Congress resumes session on January 20. In the past Congress, the bill was approved by the House but the Senate failed to act on it.

Rodriguez maintained that the death penalty should be imposed on aliens who violated the country’s Comprehensive Anti-Drugs Act of 2002.

“These foreigners use our country for their drug operations. Without death penalty, where would be the equity there?” he pointed out.

The measure slaps “death penalty for aliens who violate the Dangerous Drugs Act based on the law of their home country or the Philippines, whichever is higher.”

Likewise, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito has filed a similar measure that seeks to impose stiffer penalties against foreign nationals found violating the country’s drug laws to discourage aliens from using the Philippines as their transshipment point and a lucrative market.

Ejercito pointed out that although the penalty of life imprisonment is imposed on the importing and selling of dangerous drugs, the continuous proliferation of prohibited substance seems to imply that it has not been a sufficient deterrent.

While PDEA has thrown its full support to the measure, officials said it would be up to lawmakers on whether the bill should be passed or not.

“The imposition of the death penalty is a policy issue, thus we will abide by the collective decision of the lawmakers,” stressed Cacdac.

In a separate interview, PDEA Spokesman Derrick Carreon explained that the original Dangerous Drugs Law allowed capital punishment for drug traffickers.

“But this was changed when the death penalty was abolished during the past administration,” Carreon told The Times.

Both officials claimed there are two major issues that need to be settled before the death penalty can be imposed—the equal protection clause as embodied in the Philippine Constitution and the principle of reciprocity governing international relations.

“Should it apply to all and not just foreigners or should foreigners whose countries of origin allows the death penalty be subject to the same penalty here also? These are the issues that are now being considered,” added Carreon.

Rodriguez said he hopes the plenary would prioritize the passage of his pet measure and for the Senate to act on it before the 16th Congress adjourns.

Meanwhile, Cacdac said that while they respect the opinion of some lawmakers who are against wiretapping of drug suspects for fear it could be used to invade people’s privacy, he said he hopes the measure would see through the legislative mill.

“We respect the individual opinions of some congressmen regarding the proposal. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that the measure will be granted to enable the PDEA, PNP [Philippine National Police] and NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] to hit the command and control structure of the drug syndicates,” he said.

“Again, since this is a policy issue, we will abide by the collective decision of the members of Congress. This measure was already passed by Sen. Gregorio Honasan but was not tackled in the lower House,” he further noted.

The Senate had approved on third and final reading a bill seeking to authorize the wiretapping of individuals suspected involved in the illegal drug trade.

Senate Bill 3341 specifically authorizes the wiretapping, interception, recording of communications, and surveillance of pushers, manufacturers, cultivators, importers and financiers of dangerous drugs.

“It will take more than the present methods to address the drug trade which has assumed global proportions and now poses a threat to national security. We need to upgrade our countermeasures against this global menace,” Honasan explained.

But Honasan said that since the law recognizes wiretapping as an invasion of one’s privacy, all intercepted conversations shall only be used as evidence in court and that probable cause shall be required for the issuance of a wiretapping order similar to search warrants or warrants of arrest.

Last December, anti-narcotics operatives raided an alleged lair of the dreaded Mexican-Sinaloan drug cartel in Lipa City in Batangas province. Seized from the suspects were some P84 million worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

Unfortunately, the cartel’s pointman, Jorge Torres, was able to flee the country and hide in the United States where government agents are now tracking him.

The discovery led authorities to conclude that the drug cartel has engaged Chinese drug lords in a “joint venture.” Suspected Chinese drug lord Gary Tan was arrested during the raid, along with a Filipino couple.

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