Senate president says time to pass law for just one agency to handle anti-drug enforcement

THE deadly shootout in a busy commercial area Wednesday night between members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the police warrants the passage of the bill seeking to create a unified drug enforcement body, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said. “The ‘misencounter’ between PDEA and PNP (Philippine National Police) shows the wisdom and ripeness of my bill creating a united Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority,” Mr. Sotto told reporters via Viber on Thursday. Mr. Sotto in July 2019 filed Senate Bill No. 3, which seeks to create the drug enforcement authority that will be under the police. The measure aims to “further strengthen” the fight against illegal drugs by “unifying the four major programs of enforcement, prosecution, prevention, and rehabilitation, under one agency.” If passed into law, PDEA and the Dangerous Drugs Board will be dissolved and the former’s functions will be exercised by the police. “This fiasco will not be the last if we do not act on this soon,” he said.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said she will file a resolution to conduct a Senate investigation on the incident, noting that there was a “dramatic lack of coordination” between the agencies. “We need to look into this further. It is very alarming that this is not the first time that such a ‘misencounter’ has happened. The National Capital Region Police Office did admit that this has happened numerous times. These ‘misencounters’ should be rare, not common,” she said in a statement. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is also conducting a separate probe on the incident upon the order of Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra. The NBI’s investigation “is separate and distinct” from that being jointly conducted by the two agencies, Mr. Guevarra said. The gun battle between police and PDEA agents outside a shopping mall and fastfood restaurant in Quezon City left at least two cops and one still unidentified person dead and four others injured, based on reports as of Wednesday evening. Police chief Debold M. Sinas announced the creation of a PNP-PDEA Board of Inquiry for a joint investigation. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Bianca Angelica D. Añago

Senate panel says mechanisms in place to penalize unwarranted tagging of persons and groups as terrorists

A Senate panel said there is a need to pass a law that penalizes those linking progressive groups and other individuals to terrorist groups without evidence or legal basis. “At present, various legal and institutional mechanisms are in place for the State to protect constitutional rights and civil liberties, which can be availed by the leaders and members of the progressive groups, as they have done in the past,” read the report of the Senate committee on national defense and security. The Senate committee probed the red-tagging of progressive organizations and other personalities by military officials, but noted that some of the recourse available were already provided under the Revised Penal Code and Civil Code, among others. The committee said that current legal remedies were “sufficient and available” to those who were subject to “red-tagging,” adding that some have already filed cases before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The panel, however, said the security sector “should exercise caution” in making public pronouncements as these carry a semblance of authority from the government. “The authorities should refrain from publicly vilifying, labeling and imputing guilt by association to the communist groups, various institutions and progressive organizations based on false or unverified information,” it said. The security sector should also “reassess their communication and information dissemination strategies in consideration of the resulting increase in polarization between the government and the people.” The panel also said that red-tagging is not related to the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which does not penalize advocacy and legitimate dissent. There are 37 petitions filed before the Supreme Court against the implementation of the law — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Ex-special envoy to China could also be included in NBI probe on illegal COVID vaccines

RAMON T. Tulfo, a former special envoy to China, could be included in the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) ongoing probe on the smuggling and administration of China-made uncertified coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters on Wednesday that he is leaving it up to the NBI to make the decision. “I have directed the NBI to submit a progress report on the above investigation ASAP (as soon as possible),” Mr. Guevarra said. The Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health had already confirmed the inclusion of Mr. Tulfo in their respective investigations on the matter. Mr. Tulfo publicly admitted to having knowledge on the alleged smuggling of Sinopharm vaccines from China, and had himself injected with one dose last year as he wanted to be the local distributor of the vaccine brand. The China state-owned Sinopharm has yet to apply for emergency use of its vaccines in the Philippines. The Presidential Security Group also confirmed earlier that they inoculated their members with unregistered COVID-19 vaccines to better protect President Rodrigo R. Duterte from getting infected with the virus. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago