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Shabu makers freed for ‘human rights’

President Rody Duterte is so allergic to the term “human rights” that it causes him fits of cussing. He probably caught the allergy in the ‘80s when he was a state prosecutor. Even back then drugs dominated the caseloads, he often recounts. Prosecutions would collapse due to overly lenient judges. This or that principle of human rights inaptly would be cited to acquit narco-traffickers. If drug lords did get convicted, prison wardens were so lenient in the name of human rights, letting them continue narco-trading from behind bars. Police and prosecutors got so demoralized they slackened. Some fell into temptation, turning into “ninja-cops” who resold the narcotics they seized in raids, or simply fixed cases for a fee.

Thus were four of the five pillars of the justice system – the police, prosecution, courts, prisons – coopted, leaving the fifth, the community, to the mercy of the drug menace. Thus did the country come to this point where, Duterte says, there are now 3.7 million shabu addicts. An astounding 700,000 addict-pushers reportedly have turned themselves in for fear of vigilante execution.

In the wake of Duterte’s “shoot-on-sight” orders against persons in his drug intelligence list and police inability to stop the vigilante killings, human rights activists understandably are concerned. They ask if Duterte could be inciting vigilante violence. It would help though if the activists also denounce the misuse of human rights to coddle drug lords.

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Two incidents I reported 14 years ago, Apr. 20, 2002, illustrate the situation then and now. The STAR reporter Non Alquitran, then-PNP Narcotics Group Director Efren Fernandez, and I were slapped with nuisance libel suits – fortunately dismissed – for those. The title alone was portentous, “Fight Versus Drugs Can Only Lose”:

“A Pasig City judge released on bail five Chinese chemists arrested in a police raid of a shabu factory. Six kilos of shabu were taken from the factory, along with a dozen drums of chemicals used to process methamphetamine hydrochloride. The law states that possession of at least 200 grams of shabu constitutes drug trafficking, a non-bailable heinous crime. Due to an alarming rise in the number of pushers to about half-a-million, Congress will soon lower the limit to a mere 19 grams.

“Operatives of the PNP Narcotics Group suspect justice-for-sale. They want the justice department to look into reports that P12 million changed hands for the release of a suspect [in a separate raid]. That may be hard to prove. Narc agents know only too well that drug cases can be fixed using legal technicalities. It’s as easy as [reassigning the arresting] policemen to faraway posts so they can’t testify in hearings, or prosecutors to alter the volume of evidence to reduce the charge to bailable drug addiction, or judges to cite noble rulings on human rights, or jail wardens to let suspects escape. Usually it’s a collusion of all four ‘pillars’ of the justice system.

“In the Pasig case the narc operatives feel aggrieved. They have leads that their raid in Barrio Capitolyo led to the vendetta killing of their agent, David Sy-Lato, in Binondo, Manila.

“Judge Rodrigo Lorenzo used the very words of the police report on the raid to justify his grant of bail. When the narcs barged into the shabu lab, they found the five Chinese nationals sitting there. With that, Lorenzo cited a Supreme Court ruling that ‘merely standing on or sitting in an alleged scene of the crime is not unlawful.’

“Of course it’s not, says one of the officers who directed the raid, but who else could have been cooking the six kilos of shabu and preparing the drums of chemicals for processing? The five suspects admitted during tactical interrogation that they indeed were shabu chemists from Fujian province.

“But Lorenzo had required confirmation of the confession. Police chemist Insp. Vivian Sumabay failed to heed summonses for her to appear in court. Sumabay could only scratch her head when told about her alleged lapses, for she hadn’t received a single summons at her office. Meanwhile, City Prosecutor Conrado Tolentino reportedly did not oppose the bail petition. So off went the five: Chua Chiy Li, 37; Huang Hongwei, 34; Xingfu Wang, 31; Tomas Lu, 34; and Joey Lu, 25. Bail was set at P500,000 each. They paid only P700,000 and were set free Tuesday night.

“Inside PNP headquarters, high-ranking officers exposed in recent Senate hearings to be into narco-trafficking are still holding sensitive posts. Thousands of cases pend on prosecutors’ desks and judges’ salas, waiting to be fixed perhaps. There’s money to spread around in drugs. It comes from 1.4 million addicts and 3.5 million occasional users. Shabu suppliers from China don’t care about them. Neither do their local partners, who can easily migrate to America when the going gets rough. Street pushers care about them so long as they buy the stuff. On the law-enforcement side of the fence, do policemen, prosecutors and judges care enough? No, not from what we see, save for rare examples of committed ones. So how can this fight against drugs ever win?”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

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