Lawmakers: Wiretapping of drug suspects may result in corruption

By Paolo Romero, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 09 2014 07:47 AM | Updated as of Jan 09 2014 03:47 PM

MANILA - Lawmakers are not keen on empowering the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to eavesdrop on suspected narcotics syndicates because of the high risk of abuse.

Iligan City Rep. Vicente Belmonte, House of Representatives committee on dangerous drugs chairman, told The STAR one of the problems they foresee is extortion.

“We would support (PDEA request) if we can come up with an effective safety provision, otherwise this will only result in corruption, violation of privacy and other human rights violations,” he said.

Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop said it might be premature to grant the PDEA wiretapping powers.

The Supreme Court has included the PDEA in the list of agencies that can apply for search warrants enforceable nationwide, he added.

The former police director said the anti-wiretapping law allows the PDEA to record conversations with permission from the courts.

“Has the PDEA proven itself worthy of more powers?” he said. “If there are guarantees against abuse maybe we can grant that to protect the innocent.”

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said wiretapping is one of the strongest and most effective weapons that the PDEA could use against drug syndicates, but that he fears the possibility of abuse.

“But the possibility of abuse is much greater than what PDEA can do in terms of results to make sure drug pushers are stopped,” he said. “Wiretapping equipment can easily fall into the wrong hands or scalawags in the agency.”

Rodriguez said the government has made certain exceptions in the Human Security Act or the anti-terrorism law.

“But in the case of the PDEA, it has to show first a record of success or make proper arrests to ensure that cases will not be dismissed in the courts,” he said.

The House is also set to conduct an inquiry on allegations that PDEA has been going easy on big-time Chinese drug lords, Rodriguez said.

Representatives Romero Quimbo of Marikina City and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption believe laws are enough to enable the PDEA to carry out the fight against illegal drugs.

“What it should do is to exert more effort on basic house cleaning and remove the few rotten eggs that tarnish its reputation,” Quimbo said.

“Giving them unilateral power to wiretap is far too a broad power and is dangerous. It’s like the policeman today asking us to give them bazookas to enforce street peace and order when what we need is simply their presence in crime-ridden areas.”

Tugna said wiretapping is essentially an intrusion into the private sphere of an individual and a violation of the laws on search and seizure.

Under the current setup, even court-approved wiretaps are prone to abuse, he added.

Sotto against legalizing marijuana

Senate Deputy Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III rejected yesterday proposals to legalize marijuana use.

“Give me incontrovertible data that marijuana has medicinal or therapeutic purposes,“ he said.

“Up to now, that is still subject to international debate. We cannot trifle with something that we might regret later on. Toying with the idea of legalizing marijuana use is like playing with fire.” – With Christina Mendez