DOJ suggests wiretapping to fight drug syndicates

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DOJ suggests wiretapping to fight drug syndicates
Iligan Representative Vicente Belmonte Jr says it will be easier on the part of law enforcement agencies to track down drug traffickers and their laundered monies if the exemption raised by DOJ is in place

MANILA, Philippines – Pressed by lawmakers on Wednesday, May 27, on how legislation can help curb the illegal drug trade, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima suggested that suspected drug traffickers be wiretapped.

“Maybe in certain cases, limited instances and maybe on very strict condition,” De Lima said, adding that such communication surveillance must specifically be meant to address “the proliferation of drug syndicates.”

Exempting drug-related cases from the Anti-Wiretapping Law or Republic Act 4200 would allow concerned government agencies through a court order to listen, intercept, and record calls without the consent of the suspected parties in communication.

The wiretapping results will supposedly aid these agencies in their probe. These cannot be admitted as evidence in court, however.

Crimes exempted from RA 4200 already include treason, espionage, provoking war and disloyalty in case of war, piracy, mutiny in the high seas, rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, inciting to rebellion, sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, inciting to sedition, and kidnapping.

“There are jurisdictions that allow wiretapping based on administrative actions,” explained De Lima about adding grave drug-related offenses to the list.

De lima said any legislative amendment that would give way to wiretapping of suspected drug syndicates must be “subject to very strict conditions and safeguards.”

The Cabinet official was speaking to the House committee on dangerous drugs and the oversight committee on dangerous drugs during its joint hearing on the case of Filipino-on-death-row Mary Jane Veloso, an alleged victim of West African drug syndicates.

Veloso was meted the death penalty in Indonesia for smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin into the predominantly Muslim country. Her alleged recruiters now face multiple complaints before the DOJ and an illegal recruitment case before a Nueva Ecija court.

A high school drop-out and a mother of two, Veloso insists she was framed and duped into becoming an unwitting drug mule. (WATCH: The fate of Mary Jane Veloso)

HEARING. Iligan City Representative Vicente Belmonte Jr gestures during the hearing of the Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs at the House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

Lawmakers to work on amendment

Iligan Representative Vicente Belmonte Jr, dangerous drugs committee chairman, said it will be easier on the part of law enforcement agencies to track down drug traffickers if the exemption raised by De Lima is in place.

“There are 19 drug lords operating their businesses – drug trafficking – inside the New Bilibid Prison. So how come? By the mere use of cellphone and high-tech communication,” he said in a chance interview, citing reports by the justice department.

During the hearing, Belmonte cited Senate Bill 3341 of the 15th Congress. During his previous term, the Senate approved the said bill that authorized the wiretapping, interception and recording of communications and surveillance of pushers, manufacturers, importers and financiers of dangerous drugs.

Such a measure had failed to pass in the lower chamber of Congress, he said.

Money laundering

Belmonte added that the exemption of drug-related offenses from wiretapping limitations by law would also aid the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the country’s financial intelligence unit, in its probe into suspected movements of laundered money. 

The Philippines already included drug trafficking and related offenses among the predicate crimes of money laundering, which makes it easier for the state to go after the profits gained from these illegal activities.

Predicate crimes of money laundering are unlawful activities which generate dirty money or assets.

Since drug trafficking is considered a predicate crime of money laundering, the AMLC may be allowed by a court order to look into monetary instruments suspected to be linked to the crime.

A suspected drug traffickers’ assets can also be frozen upon order of the Court of Appeals, which grants bank inquiry applications of the AMLC. This allows the council to probe and trace the movement of dirty money.

Belmonte said there are no reported frozen assets of suspected drug traffickers to date and expressed dismay.

The AMLC had already earlier explained that combatting the movement of dirty money relies mostly on primary enforcement agencies – in this case, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency – as the financial aspect of the crime can only be investigated if the crime had been discovered in the first place.

“Money laundering is quite common as a result of these drug transactions,” De Lima also told the House panel. – Rappler.com

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