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Letters to the Editor

Barbers explains HB 7814

The Philippine Star

Please allow me to try to explain the salient features of HB 7814 and address the critics’ misperception of the proposed House bill.

Using the term “presumption of guilt” could be misleading to the public. While legal presumption may appear to violate the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent, this legal issue, however, has long been settled by jurisprudence. In the case of People vs. Mingoa (G.R. No. L-5371 March 26, 1953), the Supreme Court said:

“[T]here is no constitutional objection to the passage of law providing that the presumption of innocence may be overcome by contrary presumption founded upon experience of human conduct, and enacting what evidence shall be sufficient to overcome such presumption of innocence.”

This doctrine has been reiterated and applied in a number of cases up to the present. Disputable presumption is not NEW and it has the IMPRIMATUR from both the legislative and the judicial branches.

The drug law (RA 9165) provides presumptions in Sec. 12 (use if found in possession of drug paraphernalia), Sec. 16 (cultivation of illegal drug plants) and Sec. 38 (consumption if found positive in drug test).

They can also be found in other criminal laws like the Revised Penal Code (Arts. 135, 217 & 354) and the Anti-Fencing Law (Sec. 5). The Rules of Court also enumerate a long list of presumptions under Rule 131 Section 2 (conclusive presumptions) and Section 3 (disputable presumptions). To underscore the function presumptions, the new rules on evidence (effective last May 2020) states:

“Section 6. Presumption against an accused in criminal cases. – If a presumed fact that establishes guilt is an element of the offense charged, or negates a defense, the existence of the basic fact must be proved beyond reasonable doubt and the presumed fact follows from the basic fact beyond reasonable doubt.”

Our proposals are also in conformity with Art. 3 par. 3 of the UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances which states that the element of knowledge, intent or purpose of an act constituting a drug offense may be inferred from objective factual circumstances. Many other countries also utilize legal presumptions in dealing with illegal drug problems, including among others, Australia, United States, India, Malaysia and Singapore.

Fear or apprehension may arise from abuses in the enforcement of any law. This concern should be addressed to counter-balance and safeguard possible abuses in enforcing our anti-illegal drug laws. After all, these laws are sincerely intended to go after drug syndicates, including their protectors, coddlers and financiers.

In this bill this concern has been addressed to a certain extent by providing – presumptions against “planting of evidence” committed by police officers (Sec. 29); criminal liability for enforcing warrants based on perjurious, false or planted evidence (Sec. 29a); requiring body camera in illegal drug operations (sec 21 item 1); and presumptions for bungling of illegal drug cases (Sec. 92).

One’s presence in a place where drug transactions are happening does not automatically make everyone in the vicinity a suspect, contrary to what critics say. It will depend largely on the overt act one has committed in the area where illegal transactions are taking place and everyone in the area can be invited for questioning by the police during the investigation phase. What will play a vital role here are the circumstances surrounding the reason of a person’s presence in the said place or vicinity of the illegal transactions.

On the issue of the owner of a property where a clandestine shabu laboratory was discovered – this does not make the owner immediately criminally liable just by owning such property. Again there must be an unlawful act/overt act that the owner must have committed in order that he/she will be charged for the said violation.

In this example the owner must be the occupant of the property where the shabu laboratory exists or he/she has effective and active management and control of the said property before he could be charged. If the owner leases the said property to another person, the occupant who has effective and active management and control of the property is presumed to be the operator of the shabu laboratory and consequently may reduce the culpability of the owner of the property. We can go on discussing the rest of the provisions of this bill which I believe will raise the same criticism, knowing that it emanated from the misperception that it does not respect the constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and thus the guilt of the accused is presumed.

In all these views, let me just state for the record that there is no provision in this bill that will not consider a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights. A legal/disputable presumption will only take place after a set of facts to be proven are achieved or facts proved circumstantial to the unlawful act committed by a person is established.

This bill was approved during the 17th Congress and now in the 18th Congress, which means it has been studied, scrutinized and reviewed during the committee deliberations and TWG sessions attended by representatives from Department of Justice, Commission on Human Rights, PNP legal department, PDEA legal department, Dangerous Drugs Board, National Bureau of Investigation, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, National Prosecutors Association and of course members who are considered to be legal luminaries.

At the end of the day, the guilt or innocence of the accused will largely be dependent on the sound judgment of the courts after its evaluation of evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense. – Robert Ace S. Barbers, Congressman, 2nd District, Surigao del Norte

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