CNN Philippines Investigates: Drug cases in court

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Since the Duterte administration started its war on drugs, up to 8,600 drug cases have been filed, based on data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

But the cases filed are just 25 percent of the total number of suspects arrested: 35,607 as of Nov. 15.

During the recent budget hearing of PDEA at the Senate, lawmakers noted that the success of the anti-illegal drugs campaign also depended on the filing of airtight cases against drug traffickers that led to jail convictions and a stop to their operations.

"Ang giyera ay hindi sa dami ng napapatay kung hindi sa dami ng nakukulong" [The war is not on the number of those killed, but on how many are jailed], said Sen. Win Gatchalian.

But PDEA officials admit, they aren't successful in convicting drug suspects.

To date, of 8,444 resolved drug cases since 2014, only 20 percent (1,697 cases) led to convictions, PDEA data shows.

Suspects were acquitted in a whopping 55 percent of cases (4,688 cases), while 25 percent (2,059 cases) were dismissed, it added.

The low conviction rate was mainly attributed to no-shows of law-enforcement witnesses against the drug suspects in 28 percent of the cases, said PDEA Director-General Isidro Lapena.

Other reasons he cited were:

  • Insufficiency of evidence: 14%
  • Reasonable doubt: 10%
  • Demurrer to dismiss evidence, granted by courts: 9%
  • Death of accused: 8%
  • Irregularity/illegality  of arrest, search and seizure: 7%
  • Failure to comply with Sec. 21 of the Dangerous Drugs Act or chain of custody: 7%

Senator Richard Gordon points out these factors show one thing: the inefficiency of PDEA and agents involved in arrests.

Mishandling of evidence, not following procedure

CNN Philippines talked to Victor Lizardo, a lawyer who has handled several drug cases, some where suspects were acquitted or charges dismissed.

He says the most common reason for this was the violation of Section 21 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which covers the custody and disposition of confiscated drugs, paraphernalia and laboratory equipment.

"Palibhasa, before naging rampant yung planting of evidence, yung Section 21 nilagay nila 'yun para magkaroon ng strict mandate ang law enforcers na pagka sila nanghuli, mag-comply sila dito sa section 21," Lizardo said.

[Translation: In the past, the planting of evidence was rampant. They put in Section 21 so that there would be a strict mandate for law enforcers to follow this when they arrest someone.]

"Laging ginagawa nila, nag-i-inventory sila sa police station na at hindi sa scene of the crime. Ang lagi ginagamit na grounds diyan, for 'security purposes,'" Lizardo said.

[Translation: What they do is to conduct the inventory at the police station, and not at the scene of the crime. The grounds they use to justify this is for 'security purposes.]

"Danny," not his real name, was a former drug suspect who was jailed for six years for a crime he says he didn't commit.

Danny claimed police officers who raided his home, planted the shabu, which was used as evidence against him for drug trafficking.  

"Wala sila nakuha dito (sa bahay). Pagdating namin sa presinto, nakita ko shabu. Kinuha niya yung plastic, nagsalin siya. Sabi ko, 'Patay, kaso ito,'" Danny recalled.

[Translation: They didn't find anything here (in the house). When we arrived at the precinct, I saw the shabu. He got (a piece of) plastic and placed the shabu inside. I said, 'I'm dead, this will be a case.']

Danny was released from prison in 2015 last year, after a court acquitted him and a companion because "the evidence presented is not enough to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt," the court decision read.

He has filed a case with his city's People's Law Enforcement Board against one of the police officers who arrested him.

Some 194 police personnel are on a watchlist for mishandling evidence, absences in court hearings and extortion, said Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde of the Philippine National Police in the National Capital Region office.

Policemen found guilty will undergo evaluation, a hearing, and face charges if warranted, Albayalde said.

PNP, PDEA actions

The country's police chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa on Monday sent a warning to rogue policemen and called on the public to report them.

"I will neutralize them. Kaya warning ito sa mga pulis natin na umiikot diyan; ginagamit yung war on drugs para sa pangongotong. I will break your neck. Babaliin ko 'yung leeg ninyo, literally." 

[Translation: This is a warning for policemen who go around; using the war on drugs for extortion. I will break your neck, literally.]

The PDEA, for its part, vowed to strengthen the training program of its agents.

PDEA Director-General Lapena said he's hopeful that their request for a budget of P1.85 billion in 2017 — an additional P640 million from this year — will be granted. This will go to hiring additional personnel and purchasing communication and surveillance equipment.