Due process and the rule of law

Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published on January 7, 2009 in page A6 of the Business Mirror.

In September 2008, agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) arrested and charged Richard Santos Brodett, Jorge Jordana
Joseph, and Joseph Ramirez Tecson for the use, possession, and sale of
illegal drugs.

The PDEA saw it as an “open and shut” case.  Prosecutors from the
Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed. But not in the way the PDEA
expected.

The DOJ’s prosecutors threw out the drug case on the grounds that the
PDEA agents acted illegally, carrying out warrantless arrests and
searches.

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno explained what happened, “The
car’s rear compartment was forcibly searched. Therefore, any object
seized during the search is inadmissible for having been unlawfully
obtained.”

He cited two other grounds for dismissing the case:

1. The suspects were arrested indiscriminately, thus illegally.
2. The confession of one of the suspects was made without his counsel.

A lawyer for the suspects added, “It was a buy-bust, yes, but an
illegal buy-bust. Even if they have evidence, that becomes inadmissible
if the evidence was obtained illegally.”

PDEA director Dionisio Santiago could only say, “That’s always their reason. They will cite you on a technicality.”

Well, Mr. Director, technicality is what due process is all about. Due
process is what prevents our society from becoming a police state. It’s
unfortunate you don’t put too much value on due process and the rule of
law.

You showed your disdain for the rule of law when you admitted to
reporters in May 2008 that your agents engage in “farming,” police
jargon for planting evidence on suspects.

You even justified the illegal practice.

You said:

“We sometimes do this although this is against the rule of law.
Definitely we only apply this matter to some cases, like a subject who
is publicly known to be peddling drugs but always escapes arrest. This
is when we enter the picture.

“But PDEA operatives make sure that they (known drug traffickers) won’t
know that we put planted evidence. We are doing this because we want to
neutralize big personalities engaged in the illegal drug trade which
destroys the future of the youth.

“This is a remedy that we sometimes undertake so that we can put to
rest some people. Kesa naman patayin natin e di plantingan na lang
natin para mabilanggo. Alam niyo to kill a cat there are so many ways,
pero hindi naming gagawing very obvious ang planting. (Rather than
killing them let’s just plant evidence so they go to jail. You know to
kill a cat there are so many ways, but we won’t make very obvious the
planting.)”

Although a few days later you said you only made the remarks in jest,
the damage has been done. Henceforth, any drug case you file will
become suspect.  There might even be reasonable doubt for all your
previous cases. Sadly, your agency was made inutile by your frivolous
remarks.

There’s no doubt Director Santiago’s intentions are good but good
intentions are no substitute for adhering to due process and the rule
of law. Law enforcers should always remember that they are agents of
the law not the law unto themselves.

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