The Chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs is seeking an amendment of Section 21 of Republic Act 9165, otherwise known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 1992” to enable the government to pursue an intensive and unrelenting campaign against the trafficking and use of dangerous drugs and other similar substances.
Rep. Vicente “Varf” Belmonte (Lone District, Iligan City) said Section 21 pertains to the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized, and surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments or paraphernalia and laboratory equipment.
Belmonte said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) cited Section 21 of RA 9165 to be too stringent and thus, a hindrance in the anti-drug operations.
“In the case of People v. Pringas, the Court of Appeals brushed aside the attack on the non-compliance to Section 21 of RA 9165 where it was held that non-compliance is not fatal as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the confiscated items were properly preserved because the same will be utilized in ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused,” said Belmonte.
From 2003 to June 2010, he said the total seizures of dangerous drugs, controlled chemicals and laboratory equipment amounted to P76.62 billion, while seized dangerous drugs can be quantified in terms of monetary value amounting to billions of pesos, the potential damage, however, to the socio-economic, political and cultural foundations of the country can never be measured.
However, Belmonte said from 1999 to December 2010, the conviction rate was only 7.30 percent or 8,063 out of 110,494 drug cases filed. The reasons for acquittal or dismissal include the following: irregularity/illegality of arrest, search and seizure; reasonable doubt; insufficiency of evidence; inconsistencies in testimony; filing of wrong information; non-coordination with PDEA; failure to present vital witnesses; and failure to observe Section 21 of RA 9165.
“It is imperative that Section 21 be amended in order for the government to pursue an intensive and unrelenting campaign against the trafficking and use of dangerous drugs and other similar substances,” Belmonte said.
Under Section 21, the PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments or paraphernalia or laboratory equipment, or both, so confiscated, seized or surrendered, or both, for proper disposition.
House Bill 2285 filed by Belmonte provides that the apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments or paraphernalia and laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person or persons from whom such items were confiscated or seized, or his or her representative or counsel, with an elected public official who has jurisdiction over the scene of the crime or a representative of the Department of Justice or the media who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.
Furthermore, the amendment provides the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer or team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures. Non-compliance of these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the apprehending officer or team properly preserves the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, shall not render void and invalid such seizures and custody over said items.
The amendment also provides that a certification of the forensic laboratory examination results, which shall be done by the forensic laboratory examiner, shall be issued immediately upon the receipt of the subject item or items.
Furthermore, the amendment provides that when the volume of the dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals does not allow the completion of testing within the time frame, a partial laboratory examination report shall be provisionally issued stating therein the quantities of dangerous drugs still to be examined by the forensic laboratory. A final certification shall be issued immediately upon completion of the said examination and certification according to the amendment. PNA