A lawmaker urged law enforcers to phase out obsolete and unreliable investigation procedures, such as paraffin testing, to make way for modern, science-driven techniques in gathering and preserving evidence at crime scenes.
Bicol Saro Party List Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan said shifting to modern crime investigation method using technology and forensic science will help the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcers better secure evidence at crime scenes and improve their case buildup in court.
These modern techniques should be complemented by continuing education and retraining on police operational procedures, Yamsuan added.
He said one obsolete technique—the use of paraffin tests on persons suspected of discharging a firearm—has long been ruled by the Supreme Court (SC) as unreliable more than 30 years ago and abandoned as part of casework in other countries.
To do away with such obsolete procedures, Yamsuan filed House Bill (HB) 7975, which aims to modernize the crime investigation methods of law enforcement agencies and put in place rigid standards for ensuring the integrity of evidence at crime scenes.
“Out with the old, in with the new. Our law enforcers should ditch outdated crime investigation methods and embrace technology and science in doing their jobs. This would not only ensure airtight cases against crime suspects; it would also help build the public’s trust in police investigations,” said Yamsuan, a former assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which supervises the PNP.
The SC has already held in several rulings that paraffin tests for gunpowder residue are inconclusive in proving whether or not a person has fired a gun, Yamsuan noted.
He said the High Court has already pointed out that the procedure only establishes the presence or absence of nitrates or nitrites on the hand. This is inconclusive as evidence that one has discharged a firearm because nitrates or nitrites can be absent even if a person has fired a gun or present if the person has held substances other than gunpowder but with nitrates present in them.
Yamsuan recalled that former PNP chief and now Senator Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa also said that even a non-shooter could yield a positive paraffin test if someone fires a gun near him or her.
Aside from doing away with obsolete crime investigation methods, Yamsuan said HB 7975 also stresses the importance of securing crime scenes and preserving them with minimal contamination and disturbance of physical evidence.
Yamsuan said this is important because a report quoting the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that 90 to 95 percent of cases filed by law enforcement agencies before state prosecutors are dismissed “due to lack of documents or technicalities.”
Also, he said 80 to 90 percent of cases filed by prosecutors are dismissed by the courts because of a lack of evidence or technicalities. These shortcomings are often committed by law enforcers at the scene of the crime.
HB 7975 also calls for the creation of a Crime Investigation Modernization Committee (CIMC), chaired by the Secretary of the DILG and with the chief of the PNP, the director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and two forensic experts appointed by the President as members.
Yamsuan said the CIMC is tasked, among others, with conducting a study on modern criminal investigation methods and their applicability to the Philippine setting and creating a crime investigation manual for law enforcement officers according to the standards set under the bill.
The CIMC is also responsible for sending scholars for training in forensic science and related fields. These scholars are required to render government service for at least 3 years after completing their studies and training.
Within 2 years after its creation, the CIMC should also complete a study to be submitted to Congress on the feasibility of creating a course on forensic science in state universities and colleges (SUCs), according to Yamsuan.
Under the bill, the CIMC is also duty-bound to engage in dialogues with foreign police agencies for the possible transfer of technology in forensic investigations.
Yamsuan said within three years after its creation, the CIMC would also be also tasked with submitting a report to Congress on the costs and ways of implementing a comprehensive program on modernizing crime investigations.
“The science of criminal investigations should also change to keep up with the rapid pace of modern life and the heavy reliance on computers and technology for a wide array of transactions. Keeping up with strategies is significant in the maintenance of peace and order in our society and in the administration of justice,” he said.