On a drug list and innocent? Here’s what you should do

Jodesz Gavilan

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On a drug list and innocent? Here’s what you should do
Among others, know that you can't be forced to go to a police station without an arrest warrant – unless you're caught in the act of committing a crime

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s intense anti-illegal drugs campaign has yielded at least thousands of drug personalities seeking an opportunity to be rehabilitated.

As of August 31, Philippine National Police data show that 627,358 drug personalities have surrendered under Project TokHang. 

Under TokHang, police across the country go house-to-house to convince drug pushers and users to surrender to authorities. They are also given the chance to change their ways.

Some individuals who were visited in their homes were identified on the basis of the watch lists. The process behind the intelligence-gathering on those identified as suspected drug personalities, however, is still being heavily debated, with some criticizing the use of anonymous and unverified tips. 

But what should you do when you are included in a drug list despite being innocent? In quick summary, these should be: seek the help of a lawyer, know your legal rights, know that you can’t be forced to go to a police station without an arrest warrant, and make the police accountable.

Legal help

According to lawyer Arpee Santiago of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, it is best to seek legal assistance when you find yourself in such a situation.

“My advice now is basic counsel,” he told Rappler. “They should seek counsel agad kasi mukhang walang choice iyong mga nasa listahan, whether you’re innocent or not, except to surrender themselves.”

(My advice now is basic counsel. They should seek counsel immediately since it looks like those who are on the list do not have a choice, whether you’re innocent or not, except to surrender themselves.)

Having legal assistance on hand can make sure that basic human rights will not be violated. The lawyers, even without a case, can advise an individual on what he or she can and cannot do, depending on circumstances.

The need for counsel, especially for those arrested or under custodial investigation, is also highlighted in Republic Act 7438.

Most importantly, Santiago emphasized, is that it can save you from consequences of the current war on drugs.

“There is a vast number of deaths [whose perpetrators we don’t know],” he said. “But what is common is that they are all drug-related.”

According to data from the Philippine National Police, as of August 31, at least 1,507 individuals have been killed by unknown perpetrators outside police operations. With 929 drug personalities and 10 policemen killed in legitimate operations, the total number of drug-related deaths is now at least 2,446. (READ: ‘Nanlaban sila’: Duterte’s war on drugs)

In the police station

Seeking legal assistance was what a 26-year-old call center agent did when he suddenly discovered he was included in the community police precinct’s drug watchlist in Manila. What’s worse was that he was listed not just as a user but a drug pusher.

Santiago said that Miguel* was afraid that he might be targeted, considering the number of drug-related killings recently, if he does not get delisted. However, the process of clearing one’s name is “vague.” 

After refusing to sign the “surrender form” in the station, the police officer relented and just asked Miguel to fill in a “personal data sheet” that asked for details such as his name and his parents’ names, among others. He left without signing anything but eventually returned with Santiago. 

In the police station, Santiago said that he had a long argument and discussion with a police officer over the credibility of the information that put Miguel on the list.

They found out that Miguel was “negative”, meaning, the “raw information” they got was simply wrong.

As the actual “delisting” from the watchlist takes “3 months” (they were told that the list was already with the “higher-ups”), Santiago told the police officer that they would be held responsible for whatever happens to Miguel.

“I got the personal assurance of the police and intel officer that my guy is “negative”, and that they will follow the procedure to delist him,” he narrated.

“I also blatantly told the police officer that I will personally hold them accountable should something happen to him. Again, they assured us that he will be safe.”

Know your rights

But what Miguel went through to be “safe” may not be experienced by others on the list. With the intense anti-illegal drugs campaign the current administration is leading, almost everyone has no choice but to comply.

Santiago explained it is possible that people, regardless of whether they are innocent or not, will just surrender to authorities to “have peace of mind.”

“The possible risk is, everyone is fearing for their lives, so this fear drives a person to actually just declare and write on the surrender form para magkaroon ng (to have) peace of mind,” he said. “I’m not saying this always happens. More likely than not, this is what happens. Whether they are involved or not, takot sila (they’re afraid).”

But that ideally should not happen as there are laws and processes that need to be followed.

Some of these procedures can be found in the Know Your Rights: A Citizen Primer on Law Enforcement, published in 2008 by the PNP and Hanns Sidel Foundation.

For example, if you are invited to the police station for questioning, it is important that a lawyer whom you can consult is present. You cannot be forced to go to the station without an arrest warrant, except if you are caught in the act of committing an alleged crime.

An arresting officer is also required to inform suspects that they have:

  1. the right to remain silent and be informed that whatever they say can be used against them in court
  2. the right to counsel and be given a lawyer if they cannot afford to hire one
  3. the right to communicate with immediate family or lawyer

Santiago said that he is aware that several groups – such as those from the Ateneo Law School are mobilizing to assist individuals even without a case filed against them. 

“We in the Ateneo Law School, we are preparing to accept, quick reaction. Not really case handling, but really legal assistance,” he said.

Meron na kaming inquiries na nakukuha tapos soon, I think, merong pupunta sa amin at i-interviewhin namin kung anong nangyari.” (We’ve been receiving inquiries already and I think soon, we will come over to interview and ask about what happened.) – Rappler.com

*Name has been changed for protection

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.