Senator, CHR disagree on death penalty for drug criminals

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 25) — A senator who once led the administration's war on drugs on Tuesday failed to convince a Commission Human Rights official that the death penalty should be reinstated for narcotics-related crimes.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa led a Senate hearing on House Bill No. 7814, which aims to strengthen the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The senator, who earlier steered the bloody crackdown on drugs as chief of police, said Chinese drug lords serving life sentences continue to lead the country's illegal drug trade.

Some inmates are even able to orchestrate misencounters between law enforcement agents, he noted, referring to a shootout between PDEA and QC cops in February.

"Yung frustration ng law enforcement na sana nabitay na itong drug lord na ito kasi kung nabitay na ito noon wala na itong problema na ito ngayon," dela Rosa said.

[Translation: The frustration of law enforcement is that had these drug lords been executed, we would not have these problems now.]

CHR Commissioner Karen Dumpit, however, insisted that everyone's right to life must be respected as government tries to free the country from illegal drugs.

"On your example of a drug lord orchestrating misencounters, why is he enabled to do that? He is already confined. Where is the accountability of custodians?" Dumpit said.

Drug policy reform advocate Dr. Lee Edson Yarcia also pointed out that under the proposed bill, the death penalty is not imposed on top drug lords or syndicates.

"Ipinasok po ito doon sa persons who are possessing dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings," Yarcia explained.

[Translation: This was included in the provision about persons who are in possession of dangerous drugs during parties, social gatherings, or meetings.]

Presumption of guilt amendment unconstitutional

The CHR also told the senate panel that the proposed measure's provisions on legal presumptions on drug-related offenses are unconstitutional.

Under HB 7814, a person present in the immediate vicinity of an area of distribution or sale of illegal drugs is "presumed to have been involved" in such activities "unless proven otherwise".

The National Bureau of Investigation agreed.

"Instead of the government proving the guilt of the accused, the accused will be proving his innocence. We're going to have a reverse trial," NBI Atty. Ross Galicia said.

Dela Rosa said a technical working group will be created to further discuss issues under the proposed bill.

The House of Representatives passed HB 7814 last March but there is no counterpart measure yet at the Senate.