People vs Oriza (GR No. 202709 July 3, 2013)

People of the Philippines vs Oriza
GR No. 202709 July 3, 2013

Facts: On June 21, 2004 the public prosecutor’s office filed (of Rizal) separate charges of possession of dangerous drugs before the RTC of Rizal Branch 2, against accused spouses, Romeo in criminal case no. 7598 and Mercy in criminal case no. 7599. The prosecution further charged the spouses with selling dangerous drugs in criminal case no. 7600, all allegedly in violation of dangerous drugs act. The prosecution’s version is that they received an information from their asset that a certain Mercy Oriza is engaged in the selling of dangerous drugs, and a buy-bust operation was planted in order to capture said Mercy in their home in Phase 1-D of Kasiglahan Village, Rizal. On the day of the buy-bust, upon the giving of the signal, the police headed to the home of Mercy and Romeo, however, the accused ran into their house when they saw the police officers but the latter rammed the door until they were able to get in and found from the accused 4 heat-sealed sachet containing white crystalline. On the other hand, the defense’s version is that Mercy was caught by the police and was invited to the police station when she went out of their house due to one of her neighbour’s call that her brother, Valentino were being arrested in an accusation he did not do. The prosecution and the defense stipulated that the specimens that PO1 Annalie Forro, a PNP forensic chemical officer, examined were methamphethamine hydrochloride. They further stipulated, however, that officer Forro could not testify on the source and origin of the subject specimens that she had examined. As a result, PO1 Forro did not testify and only her report was adduced by the prosecution as evidence.

Issue: Whether or not the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that Romeo and Mercy were in possession of and were selling dangerous drugs when the team of police officers arrested them on June 16, 2004.

Held: No. Compliance with section 21, RA 9165, especially the required physical inventory and photograph of the seized drugs in the presence of the accused, the media and responsible government functionaries, would be clear evidence that the police had carried out a legitimate buy-bust operation. Here, the prosecution was enable to adduce such evidence, indicating that the police officers did not at all comply with the prescribed procedure. Worse, they offered no excuse or explanation at the hearing of the case for their blatant commission of what the law required of them.

Apart from the above, the prosecution carried the burden of proving and establishing the chain of custody of the dangerous drugs that the police allegedly seized from the accused in the night of June 16, 2004. It should establish the following links in that chain of custody of the confiscated item: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court.

Still, jurisprudence has established a rare exception with respect to the first link – immediate seizure and marking of the seized items in the presence of the accused and others namely, that a.) There must be justifiable grounds for non-compliance with procedures; and b.) The integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved.

Yet, the police officers did not bother to offer any sort of reason or justification for their failure to make an inventory and take pictures of the drugs immediately after their seizure in the presence of the accused and the other persons designated by law. Both the RTC and CA misapprehended the significance of such omission. It is imperative for the prosecution to establish a justifiable cause for non-compliance with the procedural requirements set by law. The procedures outlined in section 21 of RA 9165  are not merely empty formalities – these are safeguards against abuse, the most notorious of which is its use as a tool for extortion.

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