Bill on presumption of guilt in drug-related crimes hurdles House

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that amends the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act despite contested provisions seeking to establish when a person can be presumed to have committed drug-related offenses.

Voting 188-11 with nine abstentions, lawmakers passed on third and final reading House Bill 7814, aimed at strengthening the country's drug prevention and control.

Those who voted against the proposed measure explained that while they agree with some of the provisions, several sections provide legal presumptions on who can be considered an importer and seller of illegal drugs, and coddler of drug operations, among others.

For instance, under Section 2, a person is presumed to have imported or exported illegal drugs, "until proven otherwise," when relevant documents are found "in his/her possession or under his/her direct or indirect control." Documents include "purchase order, memorandum receipt, delivery receipt, bill of lading, or any written matter containing information related to or in connection with dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemicals."

The section also states when a person is presumed to be a financier and protector of an importer or exporter of illegal drugs.

Under Section 3, anyone spotted in the place where the sale, trading, marketing, dispensation, and delivery or distribution of drugs happen is presumed to be involved in these illegal operations "unless proven otherwise."

The law goes on to enumerate presumptions in all the other criminal acts, such as the maintenance of a drug den, manufacture of drugs, and possession and use of drugs and other paraphernalia.

Death is the maximum penalty stated in the bill, but capital punishment has not been reinstated in the country.

Up to 12 years of imprisonment is imposed on the owner or lessor of a warehouse, building, or any property found to have been used as a clandestine laboratory or storage of illegal drugs. Tougher penalties await those found to have discovered the illegal activity but did not report to authorities.

Meanwhile, owners or lessors are "presumed to have given their consent to the illegal use of the leased property if they fail to visit and inspect the leased property at least once every quarter."

Penalizing on mere presumptions

Lawmakers who rejected the bill said these legal presumptions are unconstitutional, violating the people's rights to presumption of innocence and due process.

"House Bill No. 7814 is not simply amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. It is revising the penal laws of our country," said Quezon City Rep. Jesus “Bong” Suntay, who heads the House Committee on Human Rights.

"As a lawyer, I do not want to send the wrong message to the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency), to the police authorities, and the prosecution that an accused may now be convicted on mere presumptions," he added.

Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate likewise said the bill, once passed into law, would shift the burden of proof to the accused, who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Meanwhile, Zarate expressed support for the provision that states members of the media should not be asked to sign the inventory of seized drugs. He said the practice exposes journalists to the threat of retaliation by drug suspects and to prosecution.