IN CHARTS: Drug cases take over PH courts, have low disposition rates

Lian Buan

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IN CHARTS: Drug cases take over PH courts, have low disposition rates
Only 12% of the 289,295 drugs cases at the lower courts are disposed of in 2017. A big problem is that courts just can't keep up.

MANILA, Philippines – Drug cases have taken over Philippine courts over the last 9 years, data from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Supreme Court show.

According to the records of the National Prosecution Service (NPS) under the DOJ, the number of drug cases that prosecutors have filed in court shot up from 2009 to 2017.

As seen from the chart below, there were only 7,675 drug-related cases filed in court in 2009, way behind cases for estafa, theft, and bouncing checks.

But over the next years, drug cases took over other crimes so drastically that by 2017, they increased to 70,706 cases, with bouncing checks a far second at 21,760.

Success, disposition rates

But the prosecution success rate for drug cases remains one of the lowest, according to NPS data for 2016 and 2017, the only data publicly available. (READ: 19 cases of drug war deaths filed in court – DOJ)

In 2016, it had a prosecution success rate of 50.2%, and in 2017, it improved slightly to 52.5%.

Courts are also dismissing drugs cases by the thousands, which is a point of concern for Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

For example in 2016, of the 68,895 cases the prosecutors filed in court, 2,617 were dismissed. In 2017, the courts dismissed 5,270 cases out of the 70,706 cases filed, equivalent to about 7.5%.

Though the percentage is relatively low, Guevarra is worried the government may be losing cases because of flawed handling.

“Often the main reason for dismissal is technical – that is, failure to observe procedural requirements, particularly on the chain of custody of the drugs seized,” Guevarra said.

Confronted with this question during the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) interview for Chief Justice, Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta said the court’s hands are tied because following procedures in drug evidence is the duty of the executive.

“What we should do is to have a summit among prosecutors, judges, and among those who are involved in the enforcement of the drugs law, and we should come to an agreement [on] what should be done. The laws are already there,” Peralta said. 


Big picture

For the big picture, data released by the Supreme Court in its 2017 Judiciary Annual Report (JAR) revealed that over time, the lower courts had accumulated 289,295 drug-related cases.

And in 2017, the lower courts disposed of only 34,673 equivalent to a low 12% disposition rate.

One big problem is that the courts just cannot keep up, so much so that Peralta said, “We are failing in drug cases.”

There are 204,795 regional trial courts tasked to handle 289,295 drug cases alone, on top of everything else.

Under the Dangerous Drugs Act, trial of a drugs-related case has to be finished not later than 60 days from the filing of information.

“It is humanly impossible to come up with a termination of a criminal case when you start the counting of period from the filing of information,” Peralta said.

Peralta explained that when judges schedule trial dates when respondents are arraigned, they end up scheduling “6-7 cases” for hearing on the same day, when “they can only hear 3 cases on the same day.”

Ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno assigned hundreds of additional drug courts in 2016 when the campaign against drugs was launched. 

Peralta suggested that there has to be a review of the continuous trial rules in drugs-related cases to address the problem, as well as more training of judges on how to address dilatory pleadings. –


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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.