The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) strongly denounces the passage of HB 7814, as a blatant violation of the basic human and constitutional right to be presumed innocent.
Amidst serious concerns regarding the Duterte administration’s ongoing war against illegal drugs, the House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) No. 7814 which proposes amendments to Republic Act No. 9165 (RA 9165) or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The amendments introduced in HB 7814 create a series of presumptions that automatically labels a person as importer, financier, or protector/coddler of those involved with illegal drugs — effectively creating a presumption of guilt upon their apprehension. The amendments also relieve the government of its duty to first establish a prima facie case before filing a criminal complaint.
For instance, HB 7814 establishes a presumption that persons who happen to be within the immediate vicinity of an area of distribution or sale of drugs are involved in such activities.1 Likewise, if an instrument or paraphernalia deemed “suitable” for the use of drugs is found in a resort, that resort is presumed to be used for illegal drug activities and that the operator of the said resort is presumed to permit such illegal activities.2
The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty enshrined in Art. 3, Sec. 14(2) of the 1987 Constitution is a cornerstone of the Philippine justice system. As a limitation to the power of the State, this fundamental principle is essential in safeguarding the integrity of the procedure and the protection of the accused from any exercise of unbridled discretion by the police.
This presumption of innocence cannot be legislated out. The burden to overcome this presumption lies with the government and can be “overturned only when the prosecution has discharged its burden of proof xxx by proving each and every element of the crime charged.”3 Particularly for drug-related charges, the Supreme Court has emphasized that the State has the additional responsibility of complying with the “chain of custody rule” under Sec. 21 of RA 9165. It further emphasizes that “we cannot presume that the accused committed the crimes they have been charged with. The State must fully establish that for us.”4
If passed into law, HB 7814 would not only imperil our constitutional guarantees of the presumption of innocence and due process but also places Filipinos in grave danger of abuse and violence, given the recent lapses by law enforcement agents in conducting the administration’s anti-drug war.
Just last week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council that in more than half of the reports on the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war, law enforcement protocols were not followed in these operations which led to the deaths of thousands. In the same week, a shootout between the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency left five dead after a buy-bust operation that was characterized as a “misencounter” between the two agencies. No officer has yet to be held accountable for these serious lapses.
Allowing the amendments introduced by HB 7814 would open the floodgates to further abuses and would legitimize these lapses in the conduct of such law enforcement operations.
The AHRC calls on Congress to faithfully exercise its sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and safeguard the fundamental rights upon which the Philippine justice system was built. Curtailing the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty cannot be justified for the sake of making arrests and the filing of cases easy for law enforcement. This should never be the purpose of the law and the lawmakers. In the words of the Supreme Court in Sec. of Justice v. Lantion, G.R. No. 139465 January 18, 2000,
One of the basic principles of the democratic system is that where the rights of the individual are concerned, the end does not justify the means. It is not enough that there be a valid objective; it is also necessary that the means employed to pursue it be in keeping with the Constitution. Mere expediency will not excuse constitutional shortcuts. There is no question that not even the strongest moral conviction or the most urgent public need, subject only to a few notable exceptions, will excuse the bypassing of an individual’s rights. It is no exaggeration to say that a person invoking a right guaranteed under Article III of the Constitution is a majority of one even as against the rest of the nation who would deny him that right (Association of Small Landowners in the Philippines, Inc. vs. Secretary of Agrarian Reform, 175 SCRA 343, 375-376 ).
1Sec. 5, HB 7814.
2Sec. 6, HB 7814.
3People v. Manabat y Dumagay (G.R. No. 242947 July 17, 2019).
4People v. Andaya (G.R. No. 183700 October 13, 2014).