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Congress asked not to require media presence in drugs inventory

The National Press Club (NPC) has asked the two chambers of Congress to amend a law requiring the presence of members of the media during inventories of seized illegal drugs.

In a letter dated Nov. 20, 2018, the country’s oldest and biggest media organization called on Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to amend Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The law’s Section 21 provides: “(1) the apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, ‘a representative from the media’ and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof…”.

NPC president Rolando Gonzalo said with surveillance and body cameras now freely available for use, the presence of newsmen is no longer necessary during the anti-drug operations, especially during the inventory of seized drugs.

“There have been great advances in technology that without the presence of the media, anti-drug operations can be conducted with greater transparency and on ‘real-time,” Gonzalo said in a statement.

He noted that members of the press are placed in danger each time they join the police or the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in anti-drug operations.

He cited the case of NPC member and Remate reporter, Tiburcio "Jojo" Trajano, who was shot dead by suspects during a police anti-drug operation in Rizal on June 3, 2009.

Gonzalo relayed favorable support for the call from the two Congress leaders considering Sotto was the principal author of RA 9165 which was signed by former President Arroyo in 2002.

NPC vice president Paul Gutierrez, for his part, also expressed the concern that some drug cases might have ended being dismissed in favor of the suspects on a technicality for failure of a media member to attend court hearings.

Gutierrez said on some occasions, the NPC is furnished copies of a bench warrant issued by the court for failure by members of the press to attend drug-related court hearings.

Also furnished copies of the NPC letter are the respective anti-drug committees of the Senate and House of Representatives and PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino.

Jelly Musico / PNA