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DILG institutes nationwide use of drop boxes to collect info on drug users, other criminals

The Department of the Interior and Local Government has recently institutionalized the use of drop boxes to collect information on drug suspects and other criminals. Boy Santos/File

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of the Interior and Local Government recently institutionalized the use of "drop boxes" nationwide to gather information on drug syndicates and suspects, corrupt officials and extremist groups, a move which the Commission on Human Rights said could lead to the violation of people's constitutionally enshrined rights.

In a memorandum circular issued on August 29, the DILG instituted its community-based program "Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga" or MASA MASID to rid the country of narcotics, crimes, corruption, violent extremism and other threats to national security.

"The MASA MASID Project promotes community involvement to contribute in addressing the problems on corruption, illegal drugs, criminality, violent extremism and other threats to peace and security down to its sources," DILG Memorandum Circular 2017-112 said.

To attain its objectives of curbing drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism, information can be gathered through drop boxes installed in municipal or city and village halls.

Hotlines, electronic mails and dedicated mobile numbers can also be used to gather reports from citizens, according to the DILG.

However, the CHR warned that data gathered from these were susceptible to abuse as individuals might be exposed to mistaken arrests if the information was not verified and courts were not involved.

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Residents without drug-free stickers can also be unduly "discriminated or tagged" as drug users or peddlers without due process of law protected by the Constitution, the CHR said.

"This also violates the right of any person to be heard before he/she is condemned. A person’s honor, as well as the reputation of his/her family, would also be harmed," the rights agency said in a statement.

The CHR, however, was careful to point out that they were not against the government's campaign to combat the dangers spawned by illegal drugs in the country.

It said that in the performance of their duty, security officials are required by the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials to respect and protect human dignity and maintain the human rights of all persons.

The CHR said: "[T]he individual’s right to privacy, human dignity, and equal treatment before the law (without discrimination) are enshrined, protected, and guaranteed not only by the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, but likewise by international covenants."

The CHR said community-based programs and concerned citizens could proactively help the government in its campaign against crime and illegal drugs.

"But the CHR remains firm that authorities must ensure that these measures are not, in any way, violative of the Constitution and other human rights standards," it added.

According to the DILG, MASA MASID groups would be formed in different villages which would include the village chairman, the chairperson of the barangay's committee on peace and order and representatives from civil society groups.

The groups would be tasked to collect reports from village drop boxes which would be verified by the localities' technical working groups.

After verification, the TWGs would then submit the reports to concerned agencies if needed, according to the DILG.

In August, the CHR also raised concern over the use of drop boxes in some communities because this could lead to harassment or wrongful apprehensions.

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