Sotto: No need for media, prosecutor, elected officials during anti-drug operations

An elected official and a representative from the National Prosecution Service or a member of the media are not required to be physically present during an anti-drug operation, Senate President Vicente Sotto III clarified.

Sotto said in a November 20, Friday, Senate plenary session on the proposed 2021 budget, that prosecutors have misinterpreted existing measures and required these witnesses to be present during an operation.

“It has come to my attention that the current practice of the prosecution now is to require the PNP (Philippine National Police) and the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) that the witnesses enumerated under Section 21 of Republic Act 10640… be present during the conduct of the anti-drug operations” Sotto said.

“Requiring these witnesses to be present during the conduct of the anti-drug operations – buy bust or implementation of the search warrant, is misinterpreting the law” Sotto said later in the session.

Sotto introduced amendments to Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which was revised into Republic Act 10640, also known as the Sotto amendment to the anti-drug (SAD) law.

The revised measure states that the accused or their representative, an elected official and a representative from the National Prosecution Service or a member of the media are to be physically present during the inventory of seized illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia after an anti-drug operation.

These 3 required witnesses are to sign copies of the inventory.

Senator Sonny Angara said the Department of Justice affirms Sotto’s interpretation of the law.

However, Senator Panfilo Lacson read a Supreme Court ruling which stated that these witnesses should already be physically present during the time of apprehension. 

Angara responded that “the Supreme Court subsequently issued a clarificatory note on that to say that they don’t actually have to be present during the buy bust.” This was issued through a circular by the Office of the Court Administrator.

Senator Franklin Drilon was concerned that the Supreme Court ruling may prevail over the circular if used as a defense by accused drug suspects.

Drilon suggested that a new measure should be proposed to resolve the issue.

Lacson added that the issue may also be resolved by securing another Supreme Court ruling on the matter. – Rappler.com

Jacob Reyes is a volunteer at Rappler. He is studying AB Communication at the Ateneo de Manila University.