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PDEA still can’t destroy P22B worth of drugs in its custody

MANILA, Philippines — A total of P22 billion worth of illegal drugs confiscated in several anti-drug operations are still in the custody of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), including 300 kilograms of crystal meth, or shabu, that were seized nine years ago.

PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino himself disclosed this on Monday during the hearing of the Senate finance subcommittee on his agency’s proposed 2020 budget.

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The senators at the hearing had asked him about the status of the PDEA inventory.

“There’s a large seizure, especially for 2019,” Aquino said. “From January to August alone, we have seized around P10 billion worth of drugs.”

“And this is mainly due to the failure of the judges to issue the order to destroy?” Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who presided over the hearing, asked Aquino.

“We still have drugs seized in 2010,” the PDEA chief said in Filipino. “In the Las Piñas raid, there were more than 300 kilograms. Sir, there’s no court order [to destroy the drugs].”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon noted that he had repeatedly suggested to PDEA in past budget hearings to “sit down with the court administrator.”

“There is nothing wrong with that, you sit down with the court administrator,” he said. “Point out this provision of law and express your disappointment at the lack of cooperation of the judges in authorizing PDEA or whoever to follow the procedure of destroying the evidence.”

He was referring to Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which says: “After the filing of the criminal case, the Court shall, within seventy-two (72) hours, conduct an ocular inspection of the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals, including the instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment.”

The law also says: “The PDEA shall within twenty-four (24) hours thereafter proceed with the destruction or burning of the same, in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the DOJ, civil society groups and any elected public official.”

Aquino said he did follow Drilon’s suggestion.

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He said he talked with Court Administrator Midas Marquez and raised the agency’s concern over the delay of issuing court orders to destroy the confiscated drugs.

According to him, Marquez said it was easier said than done.

Aquino said court representatives should inspect the evidence 72 hours after filing a case. Then it would take PDEA another 24 hours to destroy the drugs.

“So in short, every four days we should be burning the drugs. This has not been followed, sir,” he said.

“On our side, we have no proposal for a timeline on how to do it,” he added. “So they said they would study it, and in the meantime, they will give a circular to all RTC (regional trial court) judges to expedite the prescribed 72 hours.”

The circular, however, had not been issued, he said.

Drilon wondered why PDEA needed a court order to destroy the drugs seized in the 2010 Las Piñas operation that Aquino earlier mentioned.

Drilon admitted that 72 hours waiting for an order might not be practical.

But he said: “Ten years is too much. Why can we not secure the authorization in the last 10 years for this particular apprehension?”

“We filed a motion for the destruction of drugs,” Aquino said. “In fact, the judge already conducted an ocular inspection. The problem, sir, is that after so many years that we’ve been asking for a court order for the destruction, we have been denied. I really don’t know why.”

“Now we are sending letters again. Why is it that they are denying our request?” he added.

Drilon then offered to join a meeting between PDEA and the Supreme Court (SC) — “just to emphasize to them that this is a matter which is serious.”

Following the discussion, Lacson suggested another hearing to tackle the issue.

“We will plead with the SC to put its foot down on judges who refuse to abide by the law to follow the implementation that within 72 hours the confiscated drugs should be destroyed,” Lacson, speaking partly in Filipino, told reporters in an interview.

“So we will plead with the SC to find a way to help PDEA — maybe through the intercession of the Senate — to fast-track or expedite the destruction of drugs,” he added.

/atm

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