Air-tight drug cases

In what may be considered a strong message to the Philippine National Police, other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors involved in the Duterte administration's war on illegal drugs,

the Supreme Court has come up with a mandatory policy aimed to immediately “weed out early from the courts the poorly built up drug-related cases.”

          In a decision last week, the High Tribunal enumerated a four-point rule that should be strictly enforced in connection with arrest and seizures related to illegal drugs.

          First, in the sworn statements/affidavits, the arresting officers must state their compliance with the requirements of a provision of RA 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 regarding the so-called “chain of custody”. This requires the arresting team to immediately undertake a physical inventory of the confiscated drugs, and to take photographs in the presence of the accused. The law also requires a representative from the media and Justice department and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory.

          Second, in case of non-observance of the provision on the chain of custody, the arresting officers must state the justification or explanation and the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items.

          Third, if there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn affidavits, the investigating prosecutor must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he must refer the case for further preliminary investigation to determine the existence of probable cause.

          Fourth, if the investigating prosecutors filed the case despite non-compliance with the chain of custody and absence of explanation why, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with the Rules of Court.

          This four-point rule is a welcome development as it upholds due process and the rule of law in the government's war on drugs. The entire PNP, PDEA and the DOJ should be briefed on this Supreme Court directive to avoid any shortcuts that human rights groups claim abet serious human rights violations.