MANILA, Aug. 11— There is no conflict of authority between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) on the custody and disposition of seized drug evidence with respect to the country’s customs laws.
This was the legal opinion made by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in connection with the request letter of PDEA Director General Isidro S. Lapeña.
Aguirre said it is clear under Section 21 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, that “the PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, controlled precursors, and essential chemicals…so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered for proper disposition.”
The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), according to Aguirre has strengthened PDEA’s authority on seized contrabands when it stated under Section 1147 “that the dangerous drugs shall be turned over to the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).
“To note, PDEA serves as the implementing arm of the Dangerous Drugs Board and is responsible for the efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical as provided under RA 9165,” Aguirre said in his legal opinion dated July 27, 2017.
“Again, since the subject statutes are clear and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempted interpretation,” Aguirre added.
For his part, Lapeña welcomes the opinion made by Justice Secretary.
Lapeña’s letter came on the heels of congressional inquiry on the seizure of more than PHP6-billion illegal drugs in Valenzuela.
Lapeña, in his letter, said there are incidents that BOC personnel has refused to cooperate in their investigation citing exclusive authority over the seized contrabands under Republic Act 10863 or the CMTA.
The PDEA Chief said there have been instances where the BOC disposes of equipment used in the manufacture of illegal drugs, hindering their investigation to identify and arrest “big fishes.”
“According to the DOJ, there is no conflict of authority between PDEA and BOC relative to the custody and disposition of confiscated illegal drugs. The categorical command of Section 21 of RA 9165 says that PDEA shall remain the custodial authority over drug evidence seized even if it is an anti-drug operation conducted by BOC,” Lapeña said.
“In fact, the CMTA has confirmed and strengthened PDEA’s authority on the custody of seized dangerous drugs,” he added.
Section 214 of CMTA states that restricted goods, including illegal drugs, which were seized shall be turned over immediately to BOC unless provided under existing laws, rules and regulations.
“The CMTA provision, however, provided for an exception when other existing laws can be relevant. In this case, the provision of Section 21 of RA 9165 will be applied. This means that PDEA has the sole custodial authority of confiscated dangerous drugs,” Lapeña said.
In addition, in lieu of Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), PDEA, as its implementing arm, should have the authority to dispose of illegal drugs confiscated by the BOC pursuant to the provision of Section 1147 of CMTA.
The confusion emerged from the refusal of BOC personnel to turn-over seized illegal drugs to PDEA and being uncooperative with investigations conducted by the Agency.
“As a matter of fact, there have been incidences where BOC asserted exclusive authority over the contrabands pursuant to their jurisdiction over importations of restricted goods, as provided in the CMTA. The BOC also disposed of seized instruments and equipment for the manufacture of dangerous drugs according to their rules,” Lapeña noted.
Due to the supposed conflict of authority, PDEA has lost its opportunity to investigate, identify, arrest and prosecute high-profile drug personalities in the past.
On May 26, 2017, the PHP6 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or shabu, were recovered during separate raids by combined elements of PDEA Regional Office-National Capital Region (PDEA RO-NCR), BOC, the Philippine National Police, and the National Bureau of Investigation, in two warehouses in Valenzuela City. The packs of shabu were shipped into the country and passed through the BOC’s green or express lane.
Lapeña said that BOC has violated operational protocols by turning over the seized shabu to the NBI instead to PDEA.
“They did not even bother to coordinate with us immediately upon learning the shabu shipment in the first place,” he said.
The BOC also has received flak for mishandling procedures and contaminating the evidence that was meant for a possible controlled delivery operation, an investigative technique of allowing an unlawful consignment of dangerous drugs and substances to be tracked, leading to the identification and arrest of the intended receiver.
“The law, given its literal meaning, is very clear. PDEA shall take charge and have custody and disposition of all dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals and laboratory equipment confiscated in anti-drug operations,” the PDEA chief said.