MANILA - A lawmaker on Friday slammed as "patently unconstitutional" a bill in the House of Representatives amending the country's drugs law that presumes drug suspects guilty until proven innocent.
Quezon City 4th District Rep. Jesus "Bong" Suntay raised concerns that House Bill 7814, which was approved in the lower House on third and final reading, "has far-reaching implications" on the person's individual rights.
"For me, it would be patently unconstitutional. It runs counter to Article 3 of the Constitution. It not only amends our Constitution, it also revises various penal laws, which provides the presumption of innocence on the part of a person accused," he said, referring to Section 14, Article 3 of the 1987 Constitution where the accused shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in all criminal prosecutions.
"I would rather see 10 guilty people be set free than have 1 innocent individual wrongly accused and put to jail. Once you take away liberty from a person, once you take time away from that person, this is something you can't give back," he said.
Under the bill, an owner of a property where drugs are found is also presumed to be the owner of the drugs, he said.
If a drug bust was conducted in a bar, everyone inside is presumed to have knowledge of the presence of drugs, he added.
"While I'm also one with other legislators that we have to protect our children and citizens from the scourge of dangerous drugs, we should not sacrifice individual rights just because we want to strengthen our drug laws," Suntay, chairperson of House committee on human rights, said. Some 188 lawmakers in the lower House voted in favor of the proposed legislation.
Suntay stressed that the guilt of a person should be proven on the strength of the evidence of the prosecution.
For Suntay, Republic Act 9165 or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 "does not need any amendment at this time."
He cited the gunfight between police officers and anti-narcotics agents in Commonwealth Ave., Quezon City that left 4 people dead and 4 others wounded. Both the Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency had maintained the anti-drug operation was legitimate.
"With all the powers of the state, I don't think we need such type of a law. Usually the problem which law enforcers encounter are problems with police protocols on how to conduct arrest and how to take care of evidence," he said.