|Rep. Ronald Singsond|
HONG KONG (AP) - A Philippine congressman was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in a Hong Kong prison after he pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking and avoided a maximum life penalty by convincing a judge the drugs were for his personal use.
Rep. Ronald Singson was caught with 0.24 ounces (6.67 grams) of cocaine in July while transiting through Hong Kong's airport en route to a poker tournament in the gambling enclave of Macau.
District Court Judge Joseph Yau gave Singson credit for pleading guilty to the charge of trafficking in a dangerous drug. The judge also took into account Singson's "positive good character," his personal background and the prospect of his expulsion from the Philippine Congress.
Under Hong Kong law, bringing drugs into the territory can be defined as trafficking, regardless of the purpose. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and a fine of 5 million Hong Kong dollars ($640,000). Prosecutors had challenged Singson's claim that the drugs were intended for his own consumption but Yau had sided with Singson, saying he did not think the Philippine politician needed to sell drugs given his wealth from various business interests. He added that Singson did not have any friends in Hong Kong or Macau he was likely to share the drugs with.
In handing down his sentence, Yau noted that Singson came from a prominent family, was well educated, had a 2-year-old daughter and a movie star girlfriend.
"He has virtually anything that any man would dream to have," Yau said, adding, however, that Singson "indulged in the abuse of a dangerous drug" and should have sought medical help for his addiction.
"It's sad to see a man of the defendant's background fall from grace," Yau said.
Singson is the son of Luis "Chavit" Singson, a provincial governor in the Philippines whose testimony in the corruption trial of his former friend, ex-President Joseph Estrada, helped convict the ousted leader in 2007 and secure a life prison term. Estrada was later pardoned.
The younger Singson's girlfriend is Philippine actress Lovi Poe. Singson, 42, previously testified he had used cocaine at various times since 2004 and amphetamines in his 20s. He said he went on a cocaine-and-gambling binge after attending an Usher concert in Manila and arguing with his girlfriend.
Singson's light sentence was in sharp contrast with the death sentences that China had handed down on three Filipinos convicted of being drug mules.
Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay traveled to Beijing last week and persuaded China to postpone the executions originally scheduled for this week. They would have been the first Filipinos to be put to death in China for drug trafficking.
The three, who unlike Singson come from humble backgrounds, were arrested separately in 2008 carrying packages each containing more than more than eight and 13 pounds (four and six kilograms) of heroin. They were convicted and sentenced in 2009.