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As a Public Attorney, one of my tasks is to assist the inquest prosecutor in ensuring that a warrant-less arrest has been done by the book. To ensure that, we have to interview the arrested person and know his side of the story. Obviously, a common narrative among arrested persons is that they are innocent of the crime they were arrested for.
“I didn’t do it!” – You’d hear that all the time.
I am sharing here some inquest stories I have encountered in light of the drug war. About ninety-five percent of inquests are drug related and below are just some of the stories I have heard from our clients.
I will not state here whether or not I believed those stories, though I will share my take on what can be done when faced, fate forbids, with such a situation.
ARRESTED FOR PETTY CRIME. CAUGHT WITH DRUGS
Story goes like this: The client was arrested for a petty crime, say theft, drinking in public, or physical injuries. Police was called to the scene of the crime. Police frisked the person of the client for any weapon (the police can do this) and took from him his wallet, or purse, or cellphone, or his matchbox. Police will return said item to the client. Client’s person will again be searched and voila, illegal drug was recovered from him. Client swears that the illegal drug was planted.
This is a common story and if no one witnessed the “planting”, then it is the client’s word against that of the arresting officer.
SOME TIPS: If you are arrested before a crowd, it is best to encourage the onlookers to record the situation using their cellphone. I would normally inquire for security cameras in the area where the arrest took place or for witness accounts to verify the client’s story. The client would be lucky if there is evidence to corroborate his story. Sometimes though, a client may have been arrested in a secluded area with no witnesses or security cameras or the witnesses are scared or the CCTV recording was already overwritten. So if he is really innocent, his situation is really, really bad simply because he has nothing to show to prove his story. His best hope is for the arresting officer to falter in court, otherwise, enter into plea bargain – which still sucks.
DETAINED FOR SAFEKEEPING. RELEASED. REARRESTED.
Story goes like this: The client was arrested for a petty crime or was caught violating curfew ordinances or drinking in public and was detained for safekeeping. Later that day/night, he was brought out of the detention cell. He was then brought to some secluded part of the locality. When brought to said secluded area, he was made to wear a sling bag or was ordered to pocket a black purse (always a black purse). He will be ordered to wait until some media personnel, some barangay officials, and some DOJ representative/s are called to the scene for the inventory of alleged illegal drugs and marked money (usually a five hundred peso bill, which is funny considering declarations from the PDEA that a gram of shabu costs more than that) recovered from him. Client swears that buy-bust was all made up and all the pieces of evidence were planted.
On the other hand, the affidavit of the police will go like this: (1) an informant messaged him that a certain drug pusher is looking for a customer (2) police contacted alleged seller and acted as poseur-buyer (3) they met in a secluded place specified by the seller (4) police prepares the marked money (often Php500.00 bill), (5) at the meeting place if sale is successful, the pre-arranged signal was either (a) pretend to call someone (miss call, as they love to state it in their affidavits), or (b) scratch their head, or (c) raise their “bullcap” (I do not know what a bull cap is but I think it should be a ball cap but that is how they state it in their affidavits), (6) thereafter the backup arrived and they arrested the suspect, (7) they called the required witnesses (but this was fixed when the Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory witnesses should be present at all times) (8) they inventoried the seized items.
SOME TIPS: In general, avoid petty crimes. Avoid going out at night if you have nothing important to do. If arrested and this was done to you, you better hope that somehow somewhere, someone witnessed the entire frame-up and that someone is brave enough to offer his statement for you. Or, that the officers who framed you missed a CCTV camera which recorded the entire incident. Otherwise, your ticket to freedom is either the police falters in court or you enter into plea bargain – which, again, sucks.
TRIKE DRIVER, BUSTED FOR DRUGS
Story goes like this: Client is a tricycle driver. He picked up a passenger and ferried said passenger to his destination. Passenger then pays for his fare but was handing a Php500.00 bill. After receiving the Php500.00, cops swooped in and client was arrested for selling drugs. Turns out the five hundred peso bill was a marked money.
SOME TIPS: Well, this is a tricky situation. Tricycle drivers tend to trust their passengers. There is really no way of telling that you would be the victim of a frame up. It might help though to demand a much lower bill or the exact fare from a passenger who is handing you a Php500.00 peso bill or a Php1,000.00 peso bill. For all you know, such big a bill might be a marked money. Or, instead of touching the money immediately, offer to bring the passenger to the nearest store to have his money changed.
HOOK-UP WITH A LADY. BUSTED FOR DRUGS
Story goes like this: Client was messaged by a beautiful lady either via text message or Facebook messenger. Client was invited to a house party or a drinking spree. Client agreed to meet said lady at a particular meeting place. When client arrived at the agreed meeting place, client was arrested for selling drugs. Client swears evidence were planted.
SOME TIPS: Never meet up with someone you just encountered online. It is nice to be friendly but it is nicer to be safe at home. Nevertheless, when caught in such a situation, make sure that you password locked your cellphone. Save those messages/conversation between you and the beautiful lady. If the cops force you to give them access to your phone, resist. Barangay officials, DOJ representatives, and media men will be called to the scene. Declare before them that your cellphone is password locked. Request that you be assisted to contact relatives or a lawyer. It is important that you do not give the cops access to your phone because, if they are really crooked, they will plant messages/conversations in your phone.
HELPED A FRIEND. BUSTED FOR DRUGS
Story goes like this: Client received a phone call or text message from friend’s phone asking him (client) to meet with said friend as the friend was in an emergency. Client went to the aid of said friend and when he arrived at the meeting place, he was arrested for conspiring in a drug sale. Turns out his friend was (1) earlier arrested for selling illegal drugs, (2) the cops checked his friend’s phone book, (3) they found the client’s name there, and (4) the cops lured client to pad their arrest stat.
SOME TIPS: Always inform your family or relatives where you are going. If you are going to help a friend, maybe bring someone with you (this could be a bad advice though because if the cops are really crooked, they might involve that other person you’re bringing to the crime). Also, do not give the cops access to your phone. Password protect your phone always.
HOMELESS PERSON ARRESTED FOR SELLING DRUGS
Story goes like this: Client, a homeless person, was minding his/her own business when a police mobile passed by him/her. Later, said police mobile returned and said homeless person was then arrested for selling drugs or possession of illegal drugs. Client swears the illegal drugs were planted.
SOME TIPS: No actual tips here but it is my observation that there is some profiling involved in these cases and I doubt if the cases against the persons arrested under this situation will even stand in court. Some of these homeless persons arrested do not even appear to be fit to stand trial in court. Firstly, it is quite incredible for a homeless man to be peddling illegal drugs. Some might joke that the homeless person should be thankful as s/he would be given free food and shelter in jail, but hey, homeless or not, s/he has rights.
ADVANCE PARTY/HOME INVASION
Story goes like this: Client was awaken by knocks on his door. Client opened his door and masked men entered his house and they began roaming around his house. About ten minutes later, the masked men will leave. Another ten minutes later when daylight is breaking, uniformed police officers will arrive at client’s house and they will serve him a search warrant. A search will be conducted and the search will yield illegal drugs and sometimes firearms and ammunition will also be recovered. Client swears all those were planted.
SOME TIPS: If you can afford it, as a precaution, install CCTVs at your home. Do not open your door to anyone without verifying their identity. Tell them to come back later. Always have your barangay officials’ phone number with you so that you can easily call them if unknown persons are knocking at your door. If you have a cellphone, secretly record the entire incident. Resist by all means. Shout to wake up all your neighbors. Your house is your castle. This is easier said than done though because, obviously, we are all aware of the darker horror stories of those tagged as “nanlaban” – those who fought back.
POLICE’S VERSION OF THE STORY IDENTICAL
What is striking is that, in almost all cases, the affidavits of the arresting officers and the seizing officers are identical which usually go like this: (1) an informant messaged the police officer that a certain drug pusher is looking for a customer (2) police contacted alleged seller and acted as poseur-buyer (3) they met in a secluded place specified by the seller (4) police prepares the marked money (often Php500.00 bill), (5) at the meeting place if sale is successful, the pre-arranged signal was either (a) pretend to call someone (miss call, as they love to state it in their affidavits), or (b) scratch their head, or (c) raise their “bullcap” (I do not know what a bullcap is but I think it should be a ball cap but that is how they state it in their affidavits), (6) immediately thereafter the backup arrived and they arrested the suspect (if the suspect dies there is a different allegation in place here, like how he shot at the police officer when he noticed that he was transacting with a cop), (7) recovered from the suspect is the marked money and additional sachets of illegal rugs either found in his pocket, or black purse, or sling bag, (8) they called the required witnesses (but this was fixed when the Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory witnesses should be present at all times) (9) they inventoried the seized items.
You could compile hundreds of these cases and the stories are identical. You can almost just copy the transcript of one drugs case and adopt it in the next drugs case. Personally, I see a loophole in the prohibition against the presentation of informants in court and the seeming reliance of courts in testimonial evidence over trace evidence. There is simply a lot to be desired.
WHY ARE THESE HAPPENING?
Well, rumor has it that crooked cops are out for a fishing expedition/witch hunt for promotion purposes. Some say the police are also pressured to do these in order not to be labeled as under performing police units. They say that the heads of the under performing police offices are either relieved or re-assigned elsewhere. Of course, there is also the other side of the coin – that we allegedly have an illegal drug epidemic. It is up to you what to believe in.
BODY CAMS, DASH CAMS, HIDDEN CAMS. There is no question that there must be a war on illegal drugs but it should be a transparent and effective one. To this end, I am an advocate that police operations, buy bust or search warrant implementations, should be documented via body cams, dash cams, all sorts of hidden cams in order to ensure transparency and to avoid accusations that evidence are being planted. In fact, I am of the view that absence of video documentation should immediately be considered as doubt in favor of the accused in court.
AN INDEPENDENT CRIME LAB. The crime lab should neither be controlled by the police, the DOJ, nor even the PAO. The crime lab should be complete with modern equipment, tools, and well-trained, competent, independent investigators. Most clients are being convicted solely upon the testimonies of arresting officers. If a client has no witness, he is pitted against a seasoned arresting officer who has testified, in numerous cases, in court. Just imagine how an independent crime lab might help out an innocent client whose only hope are the trace evidence which are usually disregarded in view of the testimony of the arresting officer. For instance, trace evidence could be found to link an allegedly planted evidence to the planter. Epithelial could be recovered from an allegedly planted evidence and it could link it to whoever planted it. Illegal drugs could be further studied to determine if it was used before (recycled) in another case. These aspects of trial are usually disregarded simply because we do not have an independent crime lab.
SEPARATE WARRANT FOR DIGITAL CONTENT. Cops should obtain a separate warrant if they want to access the content of a seized phone or computer or any digital device.
EASIER GATHERING OF DATA FROM TELCOS. There should be some sort of an “express lane” for government agencies like the PAO if they would like to request certain data from phone service providers. For instance, data on from where a certain text message was sent and where it was received. These data would greatly help in determining where a client was at a certain time. Though there are some data privacy considerations here, if the client is willing to waive his privacy, why not?
INDEPENDENT ASSESSMENT OF THE DRUG WAR AS A WHOLE. I mean, if you have read police affidavits about how they conducted each and every operation, you could clearly see they have a template. And it is the same across the nation. The narrative is the same. The story-line is the same. It is like they copy-pasted their story from another case. It is as if no case is unique. We need to have statistics other than what the police is showing us. If we need to trust the drug war, it should be transparent.
If you are caught and you know very well that the evidence are planted. Demand for a lawyer immediately. In drugs cases, representatives from the barangay, the DOJ, and from the media are always called as part of the procedure. They are mandatory witnesses which should be present at every stage of the operation. They are not there for the police alone. Their presence is also to ensure that an orderly operation is followed. You can ask their help in obtaining a lawyer, or at the least, in calling a relative.