THE National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC), the country’s oldest and biggest national organization of active members of the press, has requested the House of Representatives and the Senate to amend a provision of RA 9165 or the ‘Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, requiring the presence of a member of the press during the inventory of seized illegal drugs.
In a letter to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dated November 20, 2018, the club noted that advances in communication technology, especially, ‘body’ and ‘surveillance’ cameras, “now necessitates” the amendment of Paragraph 1 of Section 21 of RA 9165.
The Paragraph 1 of Section 21 of RA 9165 presently reads: “(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph 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 Department of Justice (DoJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof...”
NPC president Rolando Gonzalo said with surveillance and body cameras now freely available for use by the authorities in their anti-drug operations, the presence of the media, especially during the inventory of seized drugs, is no longer necessary.
“At the time this provision was incorporated into the law, we recognize that there have been many reports by the media of our anti-drug operatives engaging in corrupt activities during their operations, such as, but not limited to, the so-called ‘bangketa operation’ wherein drug suspects are immediately released by the arresting unit in exchange for bribe money.
“But now, there have been great advances in technology that without the presence of the media, anti-drug operations can be conducted with greater transparency and on ‘real-time,” Gonzalo added.
He also noted that members of the press are put in harms way each time they join the police or the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during their anti-drug operations, citing the case of NPC member and Remate reporter, Tiburcio ‘Jojo’ Trajano, who was shot dead on June 3, 2009 by drug suspects during a police anti-drug operation in Rizal that turned violent.
NPC vice president Paul Gutierrez, for his part, also expressed the concern that some drug cases might have ended being dismissed in favor of the suspects on a technicality for failure of the member of the press to attend court hearings.
He added that on some occasions, the NPC was furnished copies of a bench warrant issued by the court for failure by members of the press to attend drug-related court hearings.
Gonzalo expressed the hope that their proposal would receive favorable attention from the two leaders of Congress, noting that Sotto is the principal author of RA 9165 while it was Arroyo who approved it during her term as president.
“Aside from this, both of them are known supporters of the welfare of the members of the press,” he added.
Also furnished copies of the NPC letter are the respective chairs and members of the two chambers’ anti-drug committees as well as PDEA director general, Aaron Aquino.