"The young and the old have been victimized by this menace."
The drug problem in the Philippines is more real than we think. It is deeply rooted in the system. The young and the old and their respective families have been victimized by this societal menace. Finances of drug users have been depleted, relationships damaged, and peace and order in their communities affected. Despite this, rehabilitation can give them a lease to a new life.
According to the 2019 National Household Survey on the Patterns and Trends of Drug Abuse, there are around 1.67 million or two out of every one hundred Filipinos aged 10 to 69 who are current drugs users. This is a decline from the number of drug users in 2016 which was estimated to be around 4 Million (https://www.ddb.gov.ph/newsroom/511-2019-drug-survey-shows-drug-use-prevalence-rate-falls-to-2-05).
The survey also showed that at least 4.73 million or six out of every 100 Filipinos aged 10-69 have used drugs at a certain point in their life. Cannabis or marijuana is the most used dangerous drug with a 57% utilization rate followed by methamphetamine hydrochloride, publicly known as “shabu,” with a 35% utilization rate. (https://www.ddb.gov.ph/newsroom/511-2019-drug-survey-shows-drug-use-prevalence-rate-falls-to-2-05).
While drug survey results are figures that may appear to be harmless, the danger of drug abuse is immeasurable. The short- and long-term effects include changes in appetite, blood pressure distortion; and an increased risk for stroke, psychosis, heart and lung disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, mental illness and addiction (https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/health-consequences-drug-misuse/introduction).
Aside from physical and mental harm, a person who is caught in possession of drugs (Sections 11 and 13, Republic Act [RA] 9165), using dangerous drugs (Section 15), or found to be in possession of equipment, apparatus or drug paraphernalias (Sections 12 and 14) may be held criminally liable. A person arrested, who is found to be positive for use of any dangerous drug after a confirmatory test, shall be imposed a penalty of a minimum of six (6) months rehabilitation in a government center for the first offense (Section 15).
If the person is apprehended using dangerous drugs for the second time, he shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years and a fine ranging from fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) to two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00). However, the fine and the jail term will be increased if the illegal drugs seized from the suspect exceeds the weight threshold (in terms of grams) under Section 11 (Section 15).
The following persons are also criminally liable: (a) importers of dangerous drugs (Section 4); (b) sellers or traders of drugs (Section 5); (c) operators of drug dens, dives or resorts where any dangerous drug is used or sold (Section 6); (d) employees and visitors of the drug den, dive or resort (Section 7); (e) manufacturers of dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors (Section 8); and (f) those who cultivate or culture plants classified as dangerous drugs or its sources (Section 16).
The most common strategy to arrest a seller or trader of dangerous drugs is through “entrapment” or that which is commonly known as a “buy-bust” operation. During such operations, there is a poseur buyer, a law enforcement officer, who transacts with the seller or trader and hands over the “marked money,” and with a pre-arranged and rehearsed signal the arrest and seizure of the illegal drugs will be effected.
On the other hand, the user or possessor of illegal drugs may be arrested in a search of a moving vehicle, airport security search, search as an incident to a lawful arrest, stop and frisk, or raids conducted on parties or drug dens. In one case, the Supreme Court found probable cause to conduct without a judicial [search] warrant an extensive search of moving vehicles in situations where the distinctive smell of marijuana had emanated from a package (DOMINGO AGYAO MACAD @ AGPAD v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 227366, August 01, 2018).
An important question is — who will take charge and have custody of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors, equipment and paraphernalias seized, confiscated or surrendered? It is the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA). The apprehending team, after seizure, shall immediately conduct physical inventory and photograph the dangerous drugs in the presence of the persons from whom the illegal items were confiscated or his representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall sign the copies of the inventory (Section 21).
Within twenty-four (24) hours upon confiscation of the dangerous drugs, its controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment, the same shall be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination. A certification of the forensic laboratory examination results shall be issued within twenty-four (24) hours after the receipt of the subject items (Section 21).
The procedure outlined in Section 21 of RA 9165 is known as the chain of custody rule which must not be broken to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized drugs. The Supreme Court has repeatedly stressed that "[w]ithout the insulating presence of the representative from the media or the [DOJ], or any elected public official during the seizure and marking of the [seized drugs], the evils of switching, 'planting' or contamination of the evidence that had tainted the buy-busts conducted under the regime of [RA] 6425 (Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) will again rear its ugly heads” (People v. Tamayo and Eguiso G.R. No. 231130, July 09, 2018).
I recall speaking before the Regional Trial Court Judges of Regions 1 to 3 and the PDEA operatives more than a decade ago in a Philippine Judicial Academy sponsored lecture series on the Dangerous Drugs Law. A PDEA operative shared his misgivings about Section 21 of RA 9165 when he said that a number of his colleagues have lost their lives in strictly observing the requirements of marking and physical inventory of the seized drugs at the scene of the crime.
He shared that the cohorts of the persons arrested usually return to attack them or to rescue the suspects. This is one of the reasons why jurisprudence had relaxed the strict application of Section 21 of RA 9165. The non-compliance with the requirements of the chain of custody rule will not render void and invalid the seizure and custody over the seized items so long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved (People v. Tamayo and Eguiso G.R. No. 231130, July 09, 2018).
However, it is the duty of the prosecution to satisfactorily prove that: (a) there is justifiable ground for non-compliance; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. In People v. De Guzman, it was emphasized that the justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact, because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist(People v. Tamayo and Eguiso G.R. No. 231130, July 09, 2018). In simpler words, the non-compliance must be explained.
Not all is lost for a drug user or dependent because he may by himself, through his parent, spouse, guardian or relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity may apply to the Board for treatment and rehabilitation for drug dependency. Upon such application, the Board shall bring forth the matter to the Court which shall order the applicant to be examined for drug dependency (Section 54).
A drug dependent person under the voluntary submission program shall be exempt from the criminal liability under Section 15 of RA 9165 provided that (a) he has complied with the rules and regulations of the center and the Board; (b) he has never been charged or convicted of any offense punishable under RA 9165, RA 6425, the Revised Penal Code, or any special penal laws; (c) has no record of escape from a center; and (d) he poses no serious danger to himself, his family or the community (Section 55).
To some, illegal drugs may bring fleeting and momentary happiness to escape their problems. To others, its use is just to be part of the “fun.” However, it may be too late to stop or withdraw from illegal drugs when the person is already addicted. Hence, it is always best to avoid completely, because its initiation may be the regret of a lifetime.