By Cynthia Balana, Philippine Daily Inquirer
HONG KONG—His days as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives are numbered. Sentenced on Thursday to 18 months in jail in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, Rep. Ronald Singson is preparing to resign his House seat, his father, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson, said hours after a Hong Kong judge court pronounced the sentence.
Interviewed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer by telephone from Hong Kong, the elder Singson said his son would quit his post as Ilocos Sur’s first district representative.
“He had long thought of resigning,” the governor said. “We are just readying the documents needed.”
The elder Singson said he would personally talk with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on his son’s return to the House of Representatives, in which he would make arrangements before resigning.
Singson was meted out a jail term of one year and four months for bringing 6.67 grams of cocaine into the southern Chinese territory on July 11, 2010, and an additional two months for the two tablets of the prohibited narcotic Nitrazepam which he also carried.
In his ruling, which he took 45 minutes to read, Wan Chai District Court Judge Joseph Yau said the prison term should be at least two years and six months but he decided to give a “discount” by giving credit to the congressman’s guilty plea, his “positive character,” his clear criminal record, and his being a member of the House of Representatives.
It was an ironic twist to the political career of the lawmaker who a few years ago filed a bill in the House, denouncing illegal drugs as one of society’s most pernicious evils.
Fall from grace
Yau noted that Singson “has virtually everything that every man would want to have.”
“Being an educated man, he should know very well the harm of illegal drugs and should have sought treatment immediately instead of using the drugs for self-medication,” he stressed.
“It is sad to see a man of the defendant’s background fall from grace.”
Under Hong Kong law, bringing drugs into the territory can be defined as trafficking, regardless of the purpose. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment plus a fine equivalent to about P28 million.
Prosecutors challenged Singson’s claim that the drugs were intended for his own consumption, but Yau sided with Singson, saying he did not think the Philippine lawmaker needed to sell drugs given his wealth from various business interests.
Yau added that Singson did not have any friends in Hong Kong or Macau where he was likely to share the drugs with.
Singson’s face turned red and sad after the judge’s unfavorable statements on the mitigation issue.
As the reading of the sentence came to a close and the judge began to announce the punishment, Singson clasped his hands together and closed his eyes.
All sentences in Hong Kong are normally reduced one-third if one pleads guilty to an offense.
In the sentence, Yau said the amount of drugs was substantial and the issue of drugs for personal consumption was “a very important consideration” in sentencing.
“Trafficking in dangerous drugs is a very serious offense. It’s evil,” the judge said.
He said that while the drugs were intended for personal use, the court also considered the “high risk” of the drugs “falling in the hands of others.”
“Although the defendant did not intend to sell, it’s the view of the court that the cocaine might fall into the hands of other people. The risk is a substantial one. This is a factor that the court will have to consider in determining the sentence,” he said.
Yau rejected the defense argument in Wednesday’s mitigation hearing that Singson’s good educational background and extensive business interests, his family’s support and his having a 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, should make for a lighter sentence.
Shortly after the sentence was read, a Hong Kong policeman immediately took Singson to an adjacent room, while his father, mother and six siblings rushed to a conference room.
In the commotion, daughter Samantha cried, shouting “Daddy, Daddy,” as her grandmother carried her off.
Singson’s girlfriend, movie star Lovi Poe, broke into tears upon hearing the sentence and ran away from the media, saying she had to be at the airport for her flight back home.
Singson was caught with the drugs last year while transiting through Hong Kong’s airport en route to the gambling enclave of Macau.
Singson previously testified he had used cocaine at various times since 2004, and amphetamines in his 20s.
The elder Singson, his wife Evelyn, and other children attended the sentencing, as did Poe.
The elder Singson said he was told by lawyers that his son would be detained at Hong Kong’s Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institution, where the congressman had spent 40 days before posting bail.
“Nobody is above the law,” the former governor said, holding back his tears, after the hearing. “I’m not surprised but we’re sad.”
“We feel bad about it but it’s expected. I don’t know what the lawyers will do but to me, it’s better not to appeal it,” he added.
Before the sentencing, the Singson family prayed for a suspended sentence, which is tantamount to deportation and being blacklisted in Hong Kong. The defense counsel said it was not possible and instead appealed for less than two years imprisonment during Wednesday’s mitigation hearing.
Evelyn said the family was devastated.
Minutes before he was sentenced, Singson talked to the media for the last time as a free man. He apologized to the people of Hong Kong for the crime that he had committed.
He also said he was “very remorseful” for what he had done, and that he was paying the price for this.
“I’ve been here in a foreign country for seven months now. I’ve been incarcerated for two months prior to my bail and that’s not easy to go through, this being away from my family, being away from my loved ones,” he said. “There’s nothing I want much more than to have a conclusion to this uneventful part of my life.”
Asked why he decided to plead guilty to trafficking instead of to the lesser offense of illegal possession of drugs, Singson said he could only plead guilty to the offense he was charged with, which was trafficking.
He said he would announce later his decision on whether to resign as a congressman.
“After this, when I get back to the Philippines then I’ll face whatever I will have to face there. I can’t deal with both at the same time because of the uncertainties of the situation here,” he said.
Singson also thanked the Hong Kong courts for their objectivity and said he was “very satisfied” with their professionalism.
“I still hope that God will give me more strength to get through this whatever the outcome will be,” he said.
Back home, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said: “He should resign for the sake of Congress as an institution.”
Should he refuse to do so, the House committee should speed up the process of expelling him, Evardone added.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casi?aid that the House ethics committee had no choice but to recommend Singson’s expulsion to the plenary. Casi?lso noted that resignation remained an option for Singson.
Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay also said that if Singson does not resign, the ethics committee should rule on his case soon. She noted that Singson had planned to announce his next move after the verdict on his case was handed down.
The House ethics committee chair, Bohol Rep. Erico Aumentado, said Singson would have to be given a chance to respond to the ethics complaint filed against him over his drug case.
“We will give Congressman Singson a chance to answer in the same way he was given a chance by the Hong Kong courts. But our process will be much faster,” Aumentado said. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Leoncio Balbin Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon
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