THE Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said the Commission on Audit’s finding that the agency’s laboratory service lacks transparency, safety and security in handling seized drug evidence is “moot and academic.”
PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino, reacting to Thursday’s news report on the COA’s finding concerning the agency’s alleged lack of transparency on the illegal drugs it confiscates and the firearms it issues on its personnel, said on Friday the COA report has no practical value since the laboratory service being referred to in the report was the one in the old annex building that was struck by fire in 2015.
During the fire, the evidence room where confiscated illegal drugs are stored, was spared.
“Please bear in mind that these observations were from the old laboratory service. After the fire, no additional CCTV cameras were installed apart from the ones existing. Water sprinklers, as firefighting system, are not appropriate for laboratory protection as water may aggravate chemical fire. Illegal drugs, like shabu, are also water-soluble. Instead, foam fire extinguishers were mounted in the area,” Aquino explained.
In order to show transparency, PDEA invited a three-man COA Audit Team last May 15, 2018 for an ocular inspection of the new evidence room.
“I believed we were able to convinced them that the previous observations were properly addressed,” Aquino stressed.
“The PDEA Laboratory Service, which prides itself as the country’s premier drug forensic center, is now housed in a new three-storey building at the agency’s national headquarters in Quezon City where the laboratory and storage facilities for drug evidence are relocated. The PhP25 million worth building was inaugurated last June 1, 2018,” Aquino said.
Moreover, Aquino also said the revitalized PDEA Laboratory Service is in the process of developing an on-line drug inventory system throughout all its Regional Offices to automate its inventory system through tagging and bar coding of evidence for speedy and accurate documentation and accounting 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,” the PDEA chief explained.
Aquino assured the COA that “the new evidence room has an upgraded security system, making it inaccessible to unauthorized personnel. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras cover all angles leaving no blind areas in the premises, with fire extinguishers, with proper labels and instructions of use. 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 such that the absence of one key holder makes access inside impossible. Biometrics is set to be installed outside the evidence room to control access to the facility.
Aquino said preservation of the physical evidence is as important as its security. Thus, air conditioning units, exhaust fans and dehumidifiers were also installed for proper ventilation inside the facility.
The new PDEA Laboratory Service is the first and only forensic laboratory in the country that specializes in impurity drug profiling. The facility is likewise the first of its kind to conduct research on new emerging drugs; and the only forensic laboratory to attain 100 percent accuracy in international proficiency testing.
On March 19, 2018, the COA has released a compliance audit report concerning PDEA’s safekeeping, monitoring, and disposition of seized/confiscated dangerous drugs in its custody for the period of January 1 to December 31, 2017.
According to the report, the safety and security controls of the PDEA forensic laboratory where seized illegal drugs are tested, and the evidence room where these are stored for safekeeping, needs improvement to curb possible risk of loss/destruction/pilferage that may compromise the evidentiary value.
The auditors who inspected the storage facility at PDEA’s national headquarters in Quezon City found it to be “vulnerable to forced entry.” Behind the rear wall of the evidence room, for example, is a multilevel parking lot, the report said.
In addition, the COA said, most of the accomplished/prepared documents to monitor the movement of drug evidence from confiscation to disposal though kept in strict confidence is questionable due to limited access to documents, as well as the evidence room for confiscated items.
“The Audit Team cannot form a conclusion on the existence or effectiveness of controls as well as on the compliance of the agency with the guidelines on the safekeeping and monitoring of seized/confiscated dangerous drugs,” the report said.
Based on the PDEA inventory obtained by COA, 1.11 million g and 1.17 million g of “shabu” were seized in 2016 and 2017, compared to 114,156.94 g in 2015. The volume of liquid shabu seized reached 68,429 ml in 2016 and 1.11 million ml in 2017, far exceeding the 141 ml recorded in 2015.
Meanwhile, 45,445.07 g and 135,525.63 g of marijuana were added to the PDEA inventory in 2016 and 2017, respectively, up from the 12,753.96-g haul in 2015. Recovered ecstasy tablets totaled 9,556.25 g in 2016 and 669.05 g in 2017.
PDEA intercepted cocaine amounting to 60,915.78 g in 2016 and 14,980.44 g in 2017.
Meanwhile, the COA also noted in its report the lack of accountability concerning the issuance of firearms to PDEA agents, saying only 18.6 percent of the firearms had proper documentation that can help pinpoint their end users.
Of the 1,403 firearms covered by the annual audit, 898 were not supported with property acknowledgment receipts (PARs)—which indicate the persons to whom the weapons were issued—or “any other accountability form,” according to the report.
Even the holders of the 505 firearms with PARs were not all well-documented, it added. And of this number, 135 PARs were left unsigned, while 109 were signed by the property custodian instead of the end users.
COA warned that poor documentation would make it “difficult to identify the agency personnel who would be liable in case of loss or theft.”
This is part of the commission’s report which the PDEA failed to address in its statement sent to media.