The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third and final reading the measure that proposes amendments to Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
This was despite criticisms that the measure will lend itself to wrongful prosecution and sneak in the reimposition of the death penalty.
Voting 188-11 with nine abstentions, the lower chamber passed House Bill 7814 principally authored by Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers.
Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said the bill's enactment will strengthen the government's drug prevention and control campaign.
However, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and Quezon City 4th District Rep. Bong Suntay opposed the bill for setting death as the maximum penalty for a crime under Section 11 and the need to protect an individual’s right against wrongful prosecution.
But Barbers said: "The bill will reinforce the campaign against the proliferation of dangerous drugs by providing for a legal presumption on individuals considered as importers, financiers, protectors, or coddlers of illegal drugs."
It seeks to penalize negligent lessors of properties used as clandestine laboratories.
Under the measure, local governments shall be mandated to allocate at least 2 percent of their annual appropriations in support of well-functioning Anti-Drug Abuse Councils (ADAC) and the establishment of Anti-Drug Abuse Offices (ADAO).
The bill provides that the ADAC would be tasked to monitor drug-related problems in the local government units (LGUs) and implement measures to address them, and that the ADAO would serve as the technical and administrative support of the council.
“We all want illegal drugs to be totally eradicated from our society and I am in full support of this administration’s campaign against illegal drugs and in this respect, I would not want our country to become a transshipment destination of dangerous drugs. However, as a lawyer, I do not want to send the wrong message to the PDEA, to the police authorities and the prosecution that an accused may not be convicted on mere presumptions,” he added.
Suntay said "HB 7814 is not simply amending the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002."
"It is revising the penal laws of our country. It contains more than 20 presumptions of guilt for certain criminal acts committed by anyone that will result in the penalty of life imprisonment. Under these proposed amendments, a person may now be convicted on the basis of presumptions. This is unconstitutional because they run contrary to the constitutional presumption of innocence,” he said.
House Deputy Minority Leader Quezon City 6th District Rep. Kit Belmonte pointed out in a statement read during the plenary session by Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo that the bill will only affect small-time drug suspects and not the drug lords and syndicates.
"Para sa akin po, at dapat para sa lahat ng sakop ng batas na ito, ang pinakamahalagang akala ay ang nasa ating Constitution na 'presumption of innocence'," Belmonte said.
Zarate took issue with the legal presumptions, as ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro made similar observations.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago warned the bill will just worsen the undesirable impact of the administration’s war on drugs.
Zarate, however, pointed out portions of the bill that he supports.
Barbers stated the following important provisions of the bill:
It would provide the law with legal disputable presumptions that could be used in running after "big personalities" behind the drug syndicates such as drug lords, and protectors/coddlers (narco-generals, narco-judges, narco-politicians);
It would add a feature too to legally presume owners and managers of houses, condo units, den and resorts that are being used for drug sessions or venues for drug sale, as involved in the drug trade;
If approved, the law will compel these owners to periodically check their condos, houses, etc that are being rented out, to submit a periodic report to the local government unit, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Dangerous Drugs Board;
It will also feature legal disputable presumptions of owners of cargoes imported or exported which are apprehended and found to have rugs as the one responsible in the importation/exportation of the said drugs.
The bill will be sent to the Senate for its action.