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Published October 6, 2022, 3:20 PM
by Czarina Nicole Ong Ki
Newly-appointed Human Rights Commissioner Beda A. Epres believes that the government, through the Supreme Court (SC), should designate additional special courts to handle illegal drugs cases.
This is one of the recommendations Commissioner Epres made during his speech at the 51st Regular Session United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)-Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Philippines currently being held in Geneva, Switzerland.
Epres, the first appointed commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), shared with the pronouncement of Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla on President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s approach on the war against illegal drugs.
Remulla, in his speech before the UNHRC session, said that President Marcos wants to nip the “source” of illegal drugs and stresses the need for rehabilitation, education, and assistance for drug users. Epres agreed.
“The CHR welcomes Senate Bill No. 48 that seeks to establish a Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in every province,” Epres said in his speech.
“In further improving the bill, we remind the government of the 2015 consensus in the East and Southeast Asia Region, alongside the joint statements from the UN in March 2012 and June 2020, calling for the closure of compulsory in-house treatment centers for drug use, and instead, investing in voluntary community-based approaches,” he said.
Epres also highlighted the issue of overcrowding and congestion of detention facilities. In order to solve this problem, he said that the government’s campaign against illegal drugs must look into the delays in the delivery of justice.
He stressed that the speedy disposition of cases should be a priority especially for the elderly. The government should likewise do a “consistent review” of cases on eligibility of detainees for good conduct and time allowance, he also said.
If the government would give sufficient resources and capacity for special courts for drug cases, Epres believes that it will help reduce the problem of illegal drugs and reduce the number of pre-trial detainees. “Prison reform and other alternatives to imprisonment should also be explored and implemented,” he said.
Also, Epres said there is a need for “confidence-building measures” from the government so that witnesses in drug cases are encouraged to testify in pursuing justice for victims and their families.
“The government has an important role in encouraging a constructive dialogue on human rights, including respect and protection of human rights defenders, advocates, witnesses, victims, and their families against reprisals,” he pointed out.
“Solutions to drug addiction should focus on mental health services, rehabilitation, and education. Police operations should ensure observance with rules of engagement, respect for human rights and due process,” he said.
He cited the promulgation by the Supreme Court of A.M. No. 21-06-08-SC or the “Rules on the Use of Body-Worn Cameras in the Execution of Warrants,” which he considered as a “welcome safeguard” to ensure that the rule of law is followed.
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