ROUGH CUTS| The 28% conviction rate on drug cases

FOR THE years 2014 to 2016 the Regional State Prosecution Office (RSPO) reported a measly 28 percent conviction rate for illegal drugs cases filed in courts.

This figure is out of the 603 resolved by the courts during the same period. The total number of cases involving illegal drugs filed by prosecutors with the courts for disposition for the 3-year period was 6,208.

Data at the RSPO XI disclose that the 28 percent conviction rate means only 167 of the 603 cases disposed of by the courts. Some 402 cases were either dismissed or the accused acquitted. Thirty three (33) cases were archived.

The Regional Office of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has its justification for the low conviction rate. Its head says most witnesses do not anymore appear in courts during hearings. And since majority, if not all, of the witnesses are agents of the PDEA the reason why they fail to attend the hearings is because they are either on assignment or moved to other regions. Hence, it becomes very expensive for these witnesses to come to Davao to attend the hearings. And the PDEA regional head says the agency does not have the resources to ensure their witnesses’ availability during trial days.

To us this very low conviction rate and the disclosure of the PDEA of the problem that is preventing its witness agents to attend hearings are two very critical issues that the Department of Justice must look into seriously.

This report brings back to our mind the images of the country’s jails over-congested with detainees. So many of those detained are suspects in illegal drugs cases. There was even this report that because of the huge number of prisoners in one jail it is already three to four times the actual capacity of the prison facility. Because of this over-congestion the jail was documented with some inmates caught sleeping while standing. And if they sleep lying they do it on the pavement floor so closed to each other that even a needle dropped cannot anymore hit the ground as there is no more space in between the sleeping inmates. And these reports are documented both in still and video!

In fact, we need not go far. Even Davao City’s jail in Maa is also hell to inmates whose number is more than double its capacity. And the sad thing about this situation is that many of the inmates are still awaiting the resolution by the courts of their cases.

We know of one woman from Piapi in Davao City who has been languishing at the city jail for so many years already that if her case on illegal drugs was resolved by the court she could have served her sentence out a long time ago. But still, she is waiting for the final resolution of her case by the court where it is assigned.

It is our suspicion that the court’s turtle-paced process of disposing of her case and those of the others like her, could be attributed to the reasons cited by the PDEA regional head.

Meanwhile, a significant number of years on the life of that detained woman from Piapi, and many other inmates similarly situated to her, are already lost. The chances for them to recover whatever opportunities that could have come their way had they been released according to the appropriate sentence of their cases if they were convicted are already nil.

We do not have any idea who our congressmen from the Davao Region are members of the House Justice Committee. If there are, we urge them to take a hard look on the problems cited by the Regional PDEA head. They might just be able to introduce legislations that will eventually correct the injustice done to some of the accused who have been languishing in jail for the longest time when they should not be.

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Yes, we strongly agree with the Department of Energy (DOE) officials’ urgent call for the Department of National Defense (DND) to ensure protection of power generating and transmission facilities in Mindanao amidst the highly visible vulnerability of the power assets to the ongoing armed encounters in Marawi City. With Martial Law in place the DOE believes that the fighting could escalate in other areas. Or even if the clashes will remain confined in Lanao del Sur the terrorist group could surreptitiously lay siege on power generating plants in the Lake Lanao Agus complex of the National Power Corporation.

The same armed insurgents are also likely to have sympathizers in other areas where power transmission facilities are located. And these supporters could do the attacks for and in their principal’s behalf.

So, we can see the urgency of the DND responding to the urgent request of the DOE. And the former has to do it quite fast or the terrorists might beat the DND to the draw. That would be a major disaster to the economy of Mindanao already slowly shattering from the declaration of Martial Law alone.

Posted in Opinion