When I first heard the news that the House has approved a bill (HB 7814) that presumes drug suspects guilty until proven otherwise, I was transported back to the 16th century, to the following conversation between William Roper and Sir Thomas More.
William Roper: “So now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Yes, what would you do? Cut a great road through the laws to get after the Devil?”
William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that.”
Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ‘round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?... Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.”
Our legislators better think this bill over because presumption of innocence besides protecting the falsely-accused innocent is also a fundamental constitutional right not just of every Filipino but of every citizen of any country that deserves to be called “civilized.”
This bill puts small fries like addicts and small-time pushers on a slick and slippery slope. The fight is against drug lords and their politician and police coddlers. Addicts or victims are for rehabilitation not for arrest, imprisonment and least of all death for being presumed under HB 7814 guilty even before being tried in court.
I am made to understand the law is designed to give prosecutors more guilty verdicts. It seems, however, that the low rate of conviction is due to technical-legal flaws in the arrest of suspects, custody of evidence, and the behind-the-scenes strings pulled by politician and police padrinos.
In that case, I do not see how presumption of guilt can lead to more conviction as it will not do away with the technical flaws that cause mistrials and non-convictions. Nor will presumption of guilt do away with the strings that political and police personnel pull for drug lords that they coddle.
I cannot see how presumption of guilt will do away with the technical flaws in the arrest of suspects and in the custody of material evidences. What is needed is a law that will penalize police and PDEA operatives who pull off technically-flawed arrests and mishandle evidence. What is needed is a law that penalizes political and police coddlers of suspects.
All suspects are just that, suspects until tried and proven guilty. You have to give suspects (the Devil?) the benefit of law precisely because only a competent court can judge if they are indeed the Devil (guilty?) or not.
I understand government’s frustration at the low rate of conviction. But presuming suspects guilty until proven otherwise, besides being unconstitutional and violative of a basic human right, will just create more problems than it will solve.