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With Mexican drug cartel upping ante in PH drugs scene, PDEA seeks wiretap powers

PDEA chief Arturo Cacdac (left)joins PNP Director General Alan Purisima in file photo at the recent news conference confirming the presence of the Mexican drugs cartel in the Philippines.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA – The recent confirmation of the presence in the Philippine illegal drugs scene of the Mexican cartel has prompted the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to press Congress to rush long-sought amendatory legislation. The top priority is to have legislation in place designating PDEA among the law-enforcement agencies that can seek wiretapping authority from the courts in order to speed up its work in neutralizing syndicates and their coddlers.

In a press conference on Monday at the Senate, PDEA Director –General Undersecretary Arturo Cacdac said that even if their agency is on top of the situation, they need extra powers “such as congressional authority to ask the courts for wiretapping powers” to monitor illegal drug activities.

“So, we are on top of the situation, [we will make sure the situation does not get out of control]. But we will seek the support of Sen. (Grace) Poe because we are proposing policies that we hope she can help put in place,” Cacdac said.

Cacdac said the anti-drug agency needs the authority from Congress to apply for a court order to conduct wiretapping activities, similar to the authority explicitly granted to the police, under the Human Security Act of 2007, to wiretap suspected terrorists and their networks.

The amendments sought by Cacdac’s agency will be part of the proposed amendments of Republic Act No. 9165, the law creating PDEA, to strengthen its capability in combating illicit drug trade in the country.

The other key amendments sought by PDEA, some of which are already moving in the congressional mill, were discussed at a presentation made by Cacdac before Senator Poe’s public order and dangerous drugs committee on Tuesday.

Aside from wiretapping powers, Cacdac also solicited Poe’s support in amending the agency’s charter (RA 9165), as initiated by Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, increasing their manpower by 3,000 more agents, granting hazard pay to those doing the most dangerous assignments, and allowing the agency to retain revenue for upgrading laboratory facilities.

Cacdac said the House of Representatives has already passed the amendment reducing from three to only two the number of people who must witness the inventory of seized illegal drugs after the police, NBI or PDEA conduct arrests or raids. The House-proposed amendment says only two out of three, an elected official and a member of media, or an elected official and a member of DOJ, will be required to witness the inventory.

US practice on wiretaps authority

In pushing the request for PDEA to be given congressional authority to conduct court-sanctioned wiretaps, Cacdac cited the practice in America where the US Drug Enforcement Agency (USDEA) is given the authority to ask the court for the issuance of a permit for wiretapping activities on known drug personalities and groups to combat their illicit trade.

In America, he added, 98 percent of the wiretapping authority given to law enforcement officers concerns drug cases. “If this authority is not granted, it will be hard for us to reach the command and control structure of entrenched syndicates,” Cacdac said. The PNP and PDEA earlier raised the alarm on the entry into the country of the Sinaloa drug cartel, whose leader El Chapo Guzman escaped from federal prison in 2001 and is considered one of the richest and most dangerous criminals in North America.

Initial investigation indicated the Mexicans are more into financing, and not directly running, the operations of syndicates already operating in the country, such as those of the Chinese- and West African-initiated ones.  The Sinaloa cartel’s hand was seen in the Christmas Day raid on a ranch in Batangas City where authorities seized methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) and arrested two people. The Filipino-American businessman who leased the farm is still at large.

Former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste was earlier tagged as the property owner, but his lawyer said it was his twin brother Conrad who was developing that property and selling off parcels.

Recalling Vidal Doble case, Poe backs PDEA's bid

For her part, Poe supported the proposal made by Cacdac before her committee, which listened to an executive briefing regarding the Mexican drug cartel.

“Yes, I am for it,” Poe said of the request for the amendment allowing PDEA to conduct wiretaps upon approval by the Court of Appeals of each specific operation. She cited the case of Technical Sgt. Vidal Doble, who was caught tapping the conversation between then-President Gloria Arroyo and elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about possibly massaging the results of the 2004 presidential elections.

“Do you remember Vidal Doble? He was tapping something important but it was not admissible in court,” said Poe, whose father Fernando Poe Jr. had run against Arroyo, and complained of massive fraud in the elections where the sitting President was declared winner. A year after that controversial victory, the “Hello, Garci” scandal broke, with the nation listening in to a conversation between Arroyo instructing Garcillano to do something to help her keep a comfortable margin of at least a million votes.

Sec.7 of the Human Security Act of 2007, which PDEA wants to use as template for the grant of similar authority, says that, “the provisions of Republic Act No. 4200 (Anti-wire Tapping Law) to the contrary notwithstanding, a police or law enforcement official and the members of his team may, upon a written order of the Court of Appeals, listen to, intercept and record, with the use of any mode, form, kind or type of electronic or other surveillance equipment or intercepting and tracking devices, or with the use of any other suitable ways and means for that purpose, any communication, message, conversation, discussion, or spoken or written words between members of a judicially declared and outlawed terrorist organization, association, or group of persons or of any person charged with or suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism.”

It has a proviso, however, saying the  “surveillance, interception and recording of communications between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources and confidential business correspondence shall not be authorized.'