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Nationwide round-up (02/28/21)

Supreme Court approves destruction of inspected illegal drugs even before case filing

THE SUPREME Court (SC) has approved the destruction of seized drugs that were already inspected by designated authorities even before a case is filed. The rule, published on Sunday and takes effect on March 16, is contained under A.M. 21-02-01-SC titled Rule on the Destruction of Seized Dangerous Drugs, Other Substances, and Instruments Prior to the Filing of an Information. The resolution cites the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which provides that the law enforcement agent who seized the drugs must immediately file an application for destruction before the court that issued the search warrant or has territorial jurisdiction over the case and the place of seizure. The new rule states that “if the seized drugs amount to 1 kilogram or more… the judge shall conduct an ocular inspection… within 72 hours from the time the application is filed.” Further, within 24 hours after the ocular inspection, the court must issue an order for the retention of a representative sample of the seized drugs that will be kept in the forensic laboratory of the operating unit that seized the drugs. The taking of the representative sample must be witnessed by either the person from whom the drugs were seized or a representative counsel, an elected public official or a media representative who witnessed the inventory and documentation of the seized drugs, or a National Prosecution Service official. Within the same 24 hours after the ocular inspection, law enforcement agents must immediately turn over the remaining seized drugs to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for immediate destruction. The actual destruction of the drugs must be witnessed by the same parties present during the taking of a representative sample. Seized drugs may be exempted from destruction if these are to be used for training K9 dogs in detecting narcotics. In July last year, the country’s highest court ordered lower court judges to comply with the law by ensuring the immediate inspection and destruction of seized drugs. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

Renewal of foreigners’ re-entry permits can now be done at airports

FOREIGNERS may now renew their re-entry permits to the Philippines upon arrival at the airport, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) announced on Sunday. “Many of these foreign nationals have already expired (re-entry permits) and (special return certificates), and the new procedure will allow them to renew this at the airport upon arrival,” BI Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a press release. Mr. Morente said this policy, which was ordered by the Department of Justice, “will facilitate the unhampered entry of foreigners with existing valid visas who were not permitted to enter the Philippines when the coronavirus struck the world last year.” A re-entry permit is issued to foreigners with immigrant visas but with permanent residence in the Philippines, while a special return certificate is issued to non-immigrants or those with working visas and student visas. The re-entry permits are valid for six months to one year from the date of a foreigner’s departure. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

Bill filed to update, strengthen child online protection

A SENATOR has filed a measure to strengthen the protection of children against sexual exploitation online. Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel filed Senate Bill No. 2068, which aims to amend Republic Act No. 9775 or Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 and RA No. 9995 or the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009. Ms. Baraquel said the current laws covering online sexual abuse and exploitation were “outdated” and “are not responsive to the protection needed by children using the internet.” The bill proposes treatments and penalties for unlawful acts constituting virtual abuse. She added that this will also strengthen government institutions, regulate industry players, and provide structures and services on the aftercare and reintegration of the victims. The senator noted that the Philippines has been considered as “one of the top sources of child abuse material” worldwide, citing a study by the International Justice Mission in 2020. About 43.7% of children aged 13 to 17 have experienced violence online, according to the UNICEF study in 2016, the proposed law’ explanatory note read. Under the bill, hiring and using children to create any form of abuse and exploitation online, conspiracy to commit such, production and direction and streaming of these contents are prohibited.

The bill also requires internet service providers (ISP) to notify authorities within two days from obtaining facts of any form of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The ISPs will also be mandated to block the involved sites within 48 hours from discovery, and failure to do so “shall be conclusive evidence of willful and intentional violation thereof.” Owners of establishments that were used for committing online abuse crimes are also required to notify authorities within 48 hours from obtaining facts. Financial institutions or persons who have direct knowledge on transactions related to online abuses of children shall report suspected activities to authorities within seven days. ISPs and any person found guilty of failing to comply to give notice and other requirements will face a fine of at least P2 million and up to P10 million as well as revocation of license to operate. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Solon calls for 5-year extension of PHL-US military pact

DEPUTY Speaker Michael L. Romero called for a five-year extension of the Philippine’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States after some senators last week recommended keeping the treaty. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Romero said an extension of the bilateral military pact “would be the more prudent thing to do, but this time with a five-year program, where every year our counterparts in the US will have an assessment or review of sorts with our own defense secretary.” Senators last week said they support keeping the VFA to strengthen relations between the Philippines and the US. President Rodrigo R. Duterte has threatened to end the VFA, which affirms the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and serves as basis for the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the two countries. Mr. Duterte said last week he will first seek public opinion before making a final decision of the VFA’s cancellation. — Gillian M. Cortez

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