PDEA opens ‘evidence room’ to disprove drug recycling claims

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Thursday opened to media its newly-improved Evidence Room where seized dangerous drugs are being kept.

“In the past, only a limited number of people are allowed entry inside the Evidence Room. But now, we are opening it to the media as a testament of transparency and accountability in handling illegal drugs confiscated during anti-drug operations,” PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said adding this is the first time in PDEA’s history that the depository of seized drugs will be exposed to the public.

“From the moment the public first laid eyes on the Evidence Room, PDEA hopes to foster credibility, improve public trust, and build transparent and accountable government for the whole nation to see,” the PDEA chief said.

The laboratory and storage facilities for drug evidence are housed in a new three-story building of the PDEA Laboratory Service, considered to be the country’s premier drug forensic center, at the agency’s national headquarters in Quezon City.

The PHP25 million-building was inaugurated last June 1, 2018.

The new PDEA evidence room has an upgraded security system, making it inaccessible to unauthorized personnel.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were installed for 24/7 monitoring which leaves no blind areas on the premises. ABC-class fire extinguishers were placed as part of the fire exhaustion system. Metal grills and double doors were also installed around the facility.

The doors of the evidence room are secured with three sets of locks under the custody of three authorized key holders, which makes the absence of one key holder makes the entry to the room impossible.

Air conditioning units, exhaust fans, and dehumidifiers were also installed for proper ventilation inside the facility in order to preserve physical evidence.

A biometrics machine is also installed outside the evidence room to control access to the facility. The procurement of 10 new steel racks is also in the offing to enhance the storage of evidence.

PDEA has the sole authority to take charge and have custody of seized drug evidence under Section 21 (Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/ Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment) of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, as amended by Republic Act 10640.

Restriction in the accessibility of the storage facility is one of the controls instilled by PDEA to assure the security of drug evidence and avoid legal implications in the future.

However, a three-man audit team from the Commission on Audit (COA) was granted access to the new PDEA Evidence Room on May 15, 2018. The entry to the restricted area is PDEA’s way of showing transparency with regard to safekeeping of drug evidence and let COA do its functions.

Based on the 2018 audit report of the Commission on Audit (COA) on PDEA’s safekeeping, monitoring, and disposition of seized/confiscated dangerous drugs in its custody, the agency was commended for improving its evidence room by fully implementing all the recommendations of the audit team in the previous year.

The forensic laboratories of PDEA in the regions are now using an automated inventory system through tagging and barcoding for speedy and accurate documentation and accounting of drug evidence.

Known as PDEA Evidence Inventory and Information System, or PEIIS, the system provides additional security features, achieves organized data collection while preserving the integrity and evidentiary value of seized drug evidence received in its custody during legitimate anti-drug operations.

The PDEA Laboratory Service, the premier drug forensic center located in the agency’s national headquarters, is using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), a technology that uses radio waves to track and monitor the movement of the evidence.

“This makes PDEA the first government agency to pioneer the use of these technologically-advanced drug inventory systems in the country,” Aquino said.

The PEIIS and RFID, Aquino said, will address questions on the integrity of drug evidence, issues on recycling, and the manner of safekeeping, quantity and destruction of evidence.

“This is part of our continuing capability enhancement program for safekeeping of drug evidence. As the lead agency in the country’s anti-drug campaign, the integrity of PDEA in safekeeping of all pieces of drug evidence is of paramount importance,” Aquino said.

As of August 31, 2019, a total of 3.6 tons, or PHP22 billion worth of dangerous drugs are presently stored inside the PDEA Evidence Room. PNA.GOV.PH