The opium seizures in Cebu during the US occupation
CEBUPEDIA - Clarence Paul Oaminal (The Freeman) - September 5, 2014 - 12:00am

When the Americans occupied the Philippines in 1899 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, they found out that there was drug abuse by residents, mostly the Chinese.

The drug of choice, opium (there was also cocaine) came from China (but was imported from India, a colony of the British Empire, as it was the British Merchants who sold the drugs, which resulted in the Opium War). The American authorities in the Philippines played politics and instead of immediately prohibiting the sale and use of opium, it facilitated the enactment of a law by congress. The law is contained under Act 1761 entitled: "An Act gradually to restrict and regulate the sale and use of opium pending the ultimate prohibition of the importation of opium into the Philippine Islands in whatever form except for medicinal purposes as provided by Act of Congress approved March 3rd, Nineteen Hundred and Five…." It was only in the Revised Penal Code that the Philippine Congress expressly penalized the sale and use of Opium under Title V entitled Crimes Relative to Opium and Other Prohibited Drugs. The Revised Penal Code was approved by the Philippine Congress on December 8, 1930, but it took effect only on January 1, 1932 as the law, just like all laws passed by Congress, has to be reviewed by the American President.

In Cebu, the law was first tested when Juan Samson of the Cebu Customs House seized cans of opium on January 20, 1914. The accused were convicted by the Court of First Instance of Cebu and the two accused appealed their conviction before the Supreme Court. The first accused was represented by lawyers Ledesma, Clarin, Gabaldon, and Recto. The second accused was represented by the legendary hero-general, Pantaleon E. del Rosario. The client of del Rosario invoked poverty for committing the crime for he merely accompanied the first accused so he will be given a percentage of the profit of the sale.

The two accused were given lighter penalties by the Supreme Court, the moneyed accused was meted the penalty of nine months imprisonment, while the second who invoked of his being poor with a penalty of six months imprisonment (the original penalty was one year). The Supreme Court through Chief Justice Arellano wrote the decision on August 20, 1915.

Years later, 96 kilos of opium aboard the steamship Erroll was discovered in a cabin in a ship when inspected by Customs officials. The owner, Look Chaw (alias Luk Chou) argued that the opium (from Hong Kong) was not meant for Cebu but for Mexico. The accused who was convicted by the Court of First Instance of Cebu argued that it has no jurisdiction over the case. The Supreme Court on December 16, 1911 declared that even if the ship was of foreign nationality and in transit for it in fact landed in Philippine soil.

Cebu was again beset by an Opium Case, this time with Chinese merchants named Lua Chu and Uy Se Tieng, who were aboard the ship "Kolambogan". It was an anti-drug operation planned by Juan Samson, the Supervising Customs Service Agent.

Juan Samson facilitated and played decoy in the delivery of the opium. Samson was assisted by Captain Buenconsejo, the Constabulary Provincial Commander. The Chinaman was convicted by the Court of First Instance with imprisonment of 4 years for the sale of 3,252 tin cans of opium. The accused appealed his conviction before the Supreme Court and cried that the arrest was an "Instigation." The Supreme Court declared that it was an entrapment which is allowed by law and no bar to the prosecution and conviction of smugglers or law offenders. The decision was written by Justice Villa-Real on September 7, 1931.


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