By Chito Chavez
Suspicions of confiscated illegal drugs being recycled, and returned to the streets have remained a great public concern even with the government’s intense illegal drug campaign.
This is why President Dutere has repeatedly warned rogue police officers, military men and state forces of the most severe punishment who have illegal drug links.
Reports of cops suspected to be involved in the illegal drug trade being killed or ambushed by unknown assailants have remained unfounded.
To erase public doubts, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) assured it has strictly complied with transparency, safety and security in handling illegal drugs seized during anti-drug operations.
PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said his office “abides with the provisions stated in Section 21 (Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/ Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment) of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, as amended by Republic Act No. 10640’’.
“Apart from the accused, PDEA requires the presence of two of the three compulsory witnesses each time there is physical inventory of confiscated drug and non-drug evidence: an elected public official, a representative from the National Prosecution Service (NPS), or a member of the media,” Aquino said.
Aquino said PDEA has strictly adhered to the law by its routine inventory of seized illegal drugs either at the site of recovery, the nearest police station or office of the apprehending unit as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items are properly preserved. This gives its forensic chemists ample time to complete the examination of drug evidence.
Based on the 2018 audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA) on PDEA’s safekeeping, monitoring, and disposition of seized/confiscated dangerous drugs in its custody, the agency has improved its evidence room by fully implementing all the recommendations of the audit team in the previous year.
The laboratory and storage facilities for drug evidence are now housed in a new three-storey building of the PDEA Laboratory Service, considered to be the country’s premier drug forensic center, at the agency’s national headquarters in Quezon City. The P25 million-building was inaugurated last June 1, 2018.
Restriction in the accessibility of the storage facility has been one of the controls instilled by PDEA to ensure the security of drug evidence, and avoid legal implications in the future.
A three-man COA audit team was granted access to the new PDEA Evidence Room on May 15, 2018.
The entry to the restricted area was PDEA’s way of showing transparency with regard to safekeeping of drug evidence, and let COA do its job.
PDEA is also strictly adhering to the provisions of RA 9165, in particular the conduct of annual physical inventory of evidence in the presence of two personnel each from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
In addition, destruction of drug evidence is always done in public by PDEA as a testament to transparency and accountability.
Safety and Security
Aquino noted the new PDEA evidence room has an upgraded security system, making it inaccessible to unauthorized personnel.
He noted that closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were installed for 24/7 monitoring which leave no blind areas in the premises.
ABC class fire extinguishers were placed as part of the fire exhaustion system. Metal grills and double doors were also installed around the facility.
The doors of the evidence rooms are secured with three sets of locks, the keys left under the custody of three authorized holders such that the absence of one key holder makes the entry inside impossible.
Preservation of the physical evidence is as important as its security. Thus, air conditioning units, exhaust fans and dehumidifiers were also installed for proper ventilation inside the facility.
Biometrics is set to be installed outside the evidence room to control access to the facility. The procurement of 10 new steel racks is also in the offing to enhance the storage of evidence.
Online inventory system
Aquino noted that the revitalized PDEA Laboratory Service was already in the process of developing an online drug inventory system throughout all PDEA Regional Offices to automate its inventory system through tagging and barcoding of evidence for speedy and accurate documentation and accounting of evidence.
“This is part of our continuing capability enhancement program for safekeeping of drug evidence. As the lead agency in the country’s anti-drug campaign, the integrity of PDEA in safekeeping of all pieces of drug evidence is of paramount importance,” Aquino said.
On alleged recycling of illegal drugs
“The public display of destroying dangerous drugs is PDEA’s way of ensuring the Filipino people that they are indeed destroyed and not peddled back in the streets,” Aquino.
This dispels lingering public notion that some of the confiscated illegal drugs are being recycled.
“PDEA is currently intensifying its internal cleansing efforts, as part of its commitment to weed out erring agents and personnel involved in illegal drug trade, including drug recycling. The agency continues to conduct lifestyle checks to its personnel, while strengthening its internal counter-intelligence and security audit of all PDEA Offices/Services and Regional Offices nationwide,” Aquino added.
An annual physical inventory is conducted as a routine to address the issue on possible risk of loss/destruction/pilferage that may compromise the evidentiary value of illegal drugs.
Chain of custody
Proper documentation in the handling of illegal drugs is strictly observed which makes it difficult to tamper or pilfer with the drug evidence.
The evidence is sealed with markings of the examining chemists when they reached the hands of the evidence custodian.
Aquino said the persons who handled the drug evidence are logged in the chain of custody, together with the details of the evidence and its whereabouts.
The chain of custody reflects the entry of evidence in the storage room and retrieval of the same by virtue of a subpoena, or court order, whether for court presentation or destruction.
“PDEA conscientiously implements the procedures on how to go about the turn-over, retrieval and disposal of drug evidence as prescribed by law. Any revision of the guidelines on handling and disposition of illegal drugs are within limits of the new or amended laws,” the PDEA chief concluded.