House bill hit for presuming guilt of drug suspects

Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - March 7, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Leila de Lima expressed her opposition to a House of Representatives bill providing legal presumptions in drug-related offenses, which she said essentially presumes the guilt of drug suspects.

While the intention of House Bill 7814 is generally good, De Lima said certain provisions in the proposed amendatory bill to the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act are “patently offensive to the Bill of Rights.”

“If the laws are not just, the rule of law falls,” she said. “The bill creates presumptions which, when uncontroverted, would allow the courts to convict the accused without the prosecution having to present evidence.”

De Lima said that under the Constitution, it is the prosecution’s job to “present evidence that an accused has committed a crime. It is not the accused who has to prove his innocence.”

Last March 2, lawmakers voted 188-11, with nine abstentions, to approve HB 7814, which includes legal presumptions on who are to be considered as importers, financiers, protectors or coddlers of illegal drugs, among others.

The proposed measure, intended to strengthen the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, was approved just days after the shootout between operatives of the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Citing a particular provision of the measure that she finds alarming, De Lima stressed that Section 3 states that “anyone spotted in the place where the sale, trading, marketing, dispensation, and delivery or distribution of drugs happen is presumed to be involved in these illegal operations unless proven otherwise.”

“Legal presumptions are a means to expedite trials by shifting the burden of proof from complainant to defendant under situations in which the allegations appear to be likely correct. In this situation, the court makes an inference, given a set of facts, which the defendant is given the opportunity to refute by presenting evidence against it,” she said.

De Lima warned that the bill, if enacted, “will give the government a license to harass and imprison innocent people.”

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