COA report on evidence storage ‘moot’: PDEA

MANILA -- The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) rebutted the Commission on Audit (COA) report which flagged the former's alleged lack of transparency and security in handling evidence such as seized illegal drugs, noting that it is already "moot and academic".

PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said the COA report would be of no practical value since the laboratory service being referred to in the report was the one in the old annex building that was razed by fire in 2015.

During the fire, the evidence room where confiscated illegal drugs were stored was spared.

Last March 19, COA 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.

In addition, most of the accomplished/prepared documents to monitor the movement of drug evidence from confiscation to disposal was questioned by COA due to limited access to documents, as well as the evidence room for confiscated items.

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 said in a statement over the weekend.

Aquino said the PDEA Laboratory Service is now housed in a new three-story building at the agency's national headquarters in Quezon City where the laboratory and storage facilities for drug evidence are relocated. The building worth PHP25 million was inaugurated last June 1, 2018.

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 convince them that the previous observations were properly addressed, Aquino stressed.

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, he added.

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.

The revitalized PDEA Laboratory Service is in the process of developing an online drug inventory system throughout all PDEA 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 noted. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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