PDEA seeks changes in drug laws

By Jorge Cariño, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 13 2012 04:19 PM | Updated as of Nov 14 2012 12:19 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) sought the help of Congress to address what they see as an obstacle in anti-drug operations.

During a hearing of the Dangerous Drugs Committee of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Director-General Arturo Cacdac of the PDEA admitted before congressmen that their agency is now facing so many issues and concerns that have led to a low turnout of conviction from their anti-drug operations.

Among the primary concerns of the agency is the rigid requirements of Chain of Custody as provided in Section 21 of Republic Act 9165, otherwise known as Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Cacdac said law enforcers find it difficult to meet the requirements set by law, and this is being exploited by defense counsels.

Cacdac cited that inventory of drug evidence at the place of operation is difficult during wee hours of night or morning when anti-drug operations are being conducted.

The provision also presents security risks to operatives and civilians in the surroundings.

According to the PDEA Chief, this has resulted in dismissals and acquittals due to technicalities.

"Kaya nga hinihingi namin dito sa Kongreso na sana amyendahan ‘yung batas, baka pwedeng hindi na 3 ‘yung witnesses, kung hindi 2 na lang. Sa Metro Manila madaling maghanap, pero sa ibang lugar, ang hirap," said Cacdac.

‘Alabang Boys’

Cacdac gave as an example, the case of Richard Brodett and Jorge Joseph, also known as the “Alabang Boys”.

Despite the volume of ecstacy, marijuana and cocaine seized by PDEA Special Enforcement Service in a buy-bust operation, Judge Juanita Guerrero of Muntinlupa City Branch 204 acquitted Brodett and Joseph.

The defense counsel, Atty. Felisberto Verano, questioned the Chain of Custody of Evidence and proved that it was violated by law enforcers after the legitimate operation.

The Alabang Boys' case is only one of many drug cases that suffered due to technicalities.

Based on records submitted by PDEA to Congress, from 2002 to September of 2012, PDEA filed 79,920 drug cases nationwide. Since 2002, only 13, 776 (17%) cases have been resolved while 66,144 (83%) are still unresolved.

But these "resolved cases" do not translate to successful conviction of arrested suspects.

The same record provided by PDEA revealed that only 4,111 (30%) have lead to conviction, while 3,682 (27%) have been dismissed and 5,983 (43%) ended in acquittal.

PDEA attributed the dismissal of the cases to non-appearance of prosecution witness (40%), insufficiency of evidence (11%), irregularity/illegality of the arrest search and seizure (10%), inconsistencies of testimonies (8%) and failure to comply to Section 21 of RA 9165 (6%).

On the acquittal, the factors attributed by PDEA were reasonable doubt (27%), irregularity in the arrest, search and seizure (24%), failure to observe Section 21 of RA 9165 (17%), insufficiency of evidence (14%), inconsistencies in testimonies (8%) and the non-coordination with PDEA (3%).

PDEA’s wish list

PDEA’s Congressman Vicente Belmonte, who heads the Dangerous Drugs Committee, said they are likely to amend the law to help the anti-drug operations.

"Kaya ang Senado din, handa nang amyendahan ito kasi nakikita natin na hirap ang PDEA," said Belmonte. Belmonte also noted that PDEA's “wish list” is quite practical.

Included in PDEA's wish list is the development of ladderized and specialized trainings, recruitment and career advancement, modernization of facilities and equipments and benefit package for personnel.

"Nalaman ko po kasi na sa PDEA, after ng basic enforcement training, wala nang kasunod," said Cacdac.

Cacdac also believes that providing for the PDEA personnel will improve the morale of the agency and will deviate their mind from corruption and bribery. This has hounded PDEA recently, but Cacdac said the agents alleged have been assigned to the Central Office and are now awaiting the results of the investigation by the NBI.

PDEA asked Congress for additional funds. Cacdac explained that top-level drug syndicates require 3 to 6 months of surveillance operations, and the trend is bank-to-bank transaction before actual delivery of drugs is made.

They will also use the funds to launch a massive advocacy efforts and information drive to reduce the demand.