drugs

People vs Eyam (GR No. 184056 November 26, 2012)

People of the Philippines vs Eyam
GR No. 184056 November 26, 2012

Facts: An information for illegal possession of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu was filed on July 17, 2003 against accused-appellant George Eyam Y Watang to which upon arraignment he pleaded not guilty. After evaluating the evidence for the prosecution and the defense, the trial court, in its Decision dated March 8, 2006, found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 11, Article II of RA No. 9165 and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P400,000.00. The honorable court of appeals affirmed in toto the trial court’s decision.

Issue: Whether or not the the identity of the illegal drug was properly identified despite the failure to present the forensic chemist. 

Held: Yes. Appellant wittingly overlooked the fact that during the pre-trial, the prosecution and the defense stipulated that the specimen submitted for examination was positive for Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, per Physical Science Report No. D-925-03S.  This was the very reason why the testimony of the forensic chemist was dispensed with during the trial.  Stipulation of facts at the pre-trial constitutes judicial admissions which are binding and conclusive upon the parties.

Regarding the chain of custody rule, records reveal that after S/G Sahid confiscated and marked with GEW the plastic sachet containing the substance seized from appellant, S/G Sahid, together with his OIC Ruben Geronimo, then immediately brought the appellant and the plastic sachet to Police Community Precinct 2 from whence the incident was referred to the DEU for investigation.  PO3 Mapili thereafter received the plastic sachet and made a request for laboratory examination of its contents.  When the prosecution presented the marked specimen in court, these witnesses positively identified it to be the same plastic sachet seized from the appellant.  Thus, the prosecution had indubitably established the crucial links in the chain of custody as the evidence clearly show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated substance have been preserved.  This is the clear import of the chain of custody rule to ensure the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized item as it would determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Significantly, in no instance did appellant manifest or at least intimate before the trial court that there were lapses in the handling and safekeeping of the seized item that might affect its admissibility, integrity and evidentiary value.  When a party desires the court to reject the evidence offered, he must so state in the form of objection.  Without such objection, he cannot raise the question for the first time on appeal as we ruled in People v. Sta. Maria and reiterated in People v. Hernandez.

In People v. Sembrano, we ruled that “for illegal possession of regulated or prohibited drugs, the prosecution must establish the following elements: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object, which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and, (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug.”  All the foregoing elements were duly established by the prosecution in this case.  Appellant was caught in possession of shabu, a dangerous drug.  He failed to show that he was authorized to possess the same.  Lastly, by his mere possession of the drug, there is already a prima facie evidence of knowledge, which he failed to rebut.  All told, we sustain the conviction of appellant.

In the absence of palpable error or grave abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court, its evaluation of the credibility of witnesses will not be disturbed on appeal.  And “in cases involving violations of Dangerous Drugs Act, credence should be given to the narration of the incident by the prosecution witnesses especially when they are police officers who are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner unless there is evidence to the contrary.” We cannot find anything to justify a deviation from the said rules.

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People vs Robelo (GR No. 184181 November 26, 2012)

People of the Philippines vs Robelo
GR No. 184181 November 26, 2012

Facts: At about 10:00 a.m. of March 26, 2004,  the Station of Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Force (SAID),  Police Station 2 in  Moriones, Tondo, Manila received information from a civilian  informer that a certain alias “Kalbo” (appellant) is involved in the sale of illegal drugs in Parola Compound.  Forthwith, the Chief of SAID organized  a team composed of  eight  police officers to conduct a “buy-bust” operation to entrap appellant.  PO2 Arnel Tubbali (PO2 Tubbali) was designated as the  poseur-buyer and was thus handed a 100 peso bill which he marked with his initials.  The rest of  the team were to  serve as back-ups. During investigation it was found positive that the confiscated items were shabu. On arraignment, accused-appellant pleaded not guilty and invoking his alibi that at the time of said sale, he was at his mother’s house.

Issue: Whether or not accused-appellant is liable for the crime charged.

Held: Yes. A buy-bust operation has been proven  to be an effective mode of apprehending drug pushers.  In this regard, police authorities are given a wide latitude in employing their  own ways of trapping or apprehending drug dealers in flagrante delicto.  There is no prescribed method on how the  operation is to be conducted.  As ruled in  People v. Garcia,  the absence of a prior surveillance or test-buy does not affect the legality of  the buy-bust operation as there is no textbook method of conducting the  same.  As long as  the constitutional rights of the suspected drug dealer are not  violated, the regularity of  the operation will always be upheld.  Thus, in  People v. Salazar,  we ruled that “if carried out with  due regard to constitutional and  legal safeguards,  buy-bust operation deserves judicial sanction.” 

Neither impressive  is appellant’s contention that it is contrary to human nature to sell the illegal stuff to a complete  stranger.  The law does not prescribe as an element of the crime that the vendor and the vendee  be familiar with  each other.  As aptly held by the CA, peddlers of illicit drugs have been known with ever increasing casualness and recklessness to offer and sell their wares for the right price to anybody, be they strangers or not.

Conspiracy may be inferred from the acts of the  accused before, during and after the commission  of the crime suggesting concerted action and unity of purpose among them.  In this  case, the testimony of  the poseur-buyer clearly shows a unity of mind  between appellant  and Umali in selling the illegal drugs to him.  Hence, applying  the basic principle in conspiracy that the “act of one is the act of all” appellant is guilty  as a co-conspirator and regardless of his participation, is liable as co-principal.  Appellant’s silence when the poseur-buyer was introduced to him as an  interested buyer of  shabu  is  non-sequitur.

Time and again,  we  have  stressed virtually to the point of repletion that alibi is one of the weakest defenses that an accused can  invoke because it is easy to fabricate.  In order to be  given full faith and credit,  an alibi must be clearly established and must not leave any doubt as  to its plausibility and veracity.  Here, appellant’s claim that  he was at his mother’s house  at the time of  the incident cannot stand against  the clear and positive  identification of him  by the prosecution witnesses.  As aptly held by the RTC, “the  portrayal  put forward by [appellant] remained uncorroborated.  The testimonies of the  witnesses presented by the defense do not jibe with one another and  that of the  claim of  the [appellant] himself. x x x  Lastly,  the demand for money worth P10,000.00 remained unsubstantiated. x x x  If indeed [appellant] is innocent he  or his family who were his witnesses should have filed a case of planting of evidence against the police which is now punishable  by life imprisonment.”

The general rule is that findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses deserve  great weight, and are generally not disturbed, on  appeal.  We find no reason to  depart from such old-age rule as there are no  compelling  reasons which would  warrant the reversal of the verdict.

Moreover, “non-compliance with  Section 21 does not render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him  inadmissible.  What is essential is the ‘preservation  of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items as the same would be  utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.’”   The records  reveal that at  no instance did appellant hint a doubt on the integrity of  the seized items. 

Undoubtedly, therefore, the suspected illegal drugs  confiscated from appellant were the very same substance presented and identified  in court.  This Court, thus, upholds the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties by the apprehending police officers. 

People vs Aneslag (GR No. 185386 November 21, 2012)

People of the Philippines vs Aneslag
GR No. 185386 November 21, 2012

Facts: Respondents were arrested during a buy bust operation for sale of illegal drugs (Shabu) in the city of Iligan, Philippines. During the proceedings before the trial court, the credibility of evidence was challenged by impugning the chain of custody which was allegedly broken and questionable. There are several bags of shabu presented before the honorable court to establish the sale and testimonies of the investigating officer together with the forensic chemist were also presented. It was find out that there are discrepancies in the weight of the subject evidence upon its presentment before the court, as well as inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution’s witness, hence this appeal.

Issue: Whether or not the conviction is proper.

Held: Yes. Section 21(1), Article II  of R.A. No. 9165 provides  the procedure for the handling of seized or  confiscated illegal drugs: 

Section 21.  Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant  Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors  and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. —  The  PDEA shall take  charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant  sources of dangerous  drugs,  controlled precursors  and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so  confiscated,  seized and/or  surrendered,  for proper disposition in the following manner: 

(1) The apprehending team  having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically  inventory and photograph the same in the presence  of  the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or  his/her  representative or counsel,  a representative from the media and the Department of Justice  (DOJ), and any elected public  official who  shall be required to  sign the copies  of the inventory and be given a copy thereof; x x x  

However, non-compliance with Section 21 does not necessarily render the arrest illegal or the items seized  inadmissible.  What is essential is  that the integrity and  evidentiary  value of the seized items are  preserved which would be  utilized in the determination of the guilt or  innocence of the accused.   Thus, Section 21, Article II of the Implementing Rules  of R.A. No. 9165 provides – 

SECTION 21.  Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant  Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors  and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. —  The  PDEA shall take  charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant  sources of dangerous  drugs,  controlled precursors  and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so  confiscated,  seized and/or  surrendered,  for proper disposition in the following manner: 

(a) The apprehending officer/team  having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence  of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or  his/her representative or counsel, a  representative  from the  media and the Department of  Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall  be required to sign the  copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof;  Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the  search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/ team,  whichever is practicable, in case of  warrantless seizures;  Provided, further, that non-compliance  with  these requirements under  justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and evidentiary  value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of  and custody over said items. x x x (Emphasis supplied.) 

Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1,  Series of 2002, which implements R.A.  No. 9165, defines the chain of custody — 

b. “Chain of Custody” means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or  controlled chemicals  or  plant sources  of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each  stage, from  the time of seizure/ confiscation to  receipt  in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of  movements and custody of seized item  shall include the identity and signature of  the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when  such transfer of custody made in the course of  safekeeping and use in court  as evidence, and the  final disposition. 

In the case at bar, while the procedure under Section 21(1), Article II  of R.A. No. 9165 was not strictly  complied with, we  find that the  integrity and the evidentiary  value of the seized  shabu  was duly preserved consistent with the chain of custody rule.  As correctly  observed by the appellate court, from the time of the arrest of the appellants  and  the confiscation  of the subject  shabu  packs until their turnover for laboratory examination, SPO2 Salo was in  sole possession thereof.   During his testimony, he  identified the subject  shabu  packs and the markings that he had previously  made  thereon.

We have  examined the testimonies of  the prosecution witnesses and we find that the alleged inconsistencies are minor or trivial which serve to strengthen, rather than destroy,  the credibility of  the said witnesses as  they erase doubts that the said testimonies  had been  coached or  rehearsed.

Neither law nor jurisprudence requires that the police must apply fluorescent powder to the buy-bust money to prove the commission of the offense. The same holds true  for the conduct of  finger print examination on the money used in the buy-bust operation. What is crucial is that the prosecution proves, as in this case, the delivery of  the prohibited drugs to the poseur-buyer and the presentation  of the confiscated drugs before the court.

Anent the claim that the Thin Layer Chromatography used by the forensic chemist in determining the presence of  shabu  in the six packs is unreliable, we find the same to  be  unsubstantiated.   Except for their bare allegation, the defense did not present clear and convincing evidence to prove  that the findings of the forensic chemist were erroneous. 

People vs Tapere (G.R. No. 178065 February 20, 2013)

People of the Philippines vs Tapere
G.R. No. 178065 February 20, 2013

Facts: At around 7:30 p.m. on September 2, 2002, elements of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) arrested Tapere for selling shabu to a poseur buyer during a buy-bust operation conducted against him in Purok San Antonio, Iligan City. Prior to the buy-bust operation, Tapere was already included in the PDEA’s drug watch list as a drug pusher based on the frequent complaints made against him by residents of Purok San Antonio, Iligan City. It appears that SPO2 Diosdado Cabahug of the PDEA, a neighbor, had warned Tapere to stop his illegal activities, but he apparently ignored the warning and continued to sell shabu in that locality. Such continuing activity on the part of Tapere was the subject of the report of PDEA informant Gabriel Salgado. An entrapment was executed in order to arrest Tapere in the act of selling shabu while vending lanzones along side Tipanoy. Accused alleged that he was just asked by Salgado to buy the shabu where disobeying him is not an option for him. He further alleged that the way he was arrested was by instigation which is absolutory in nature entitling him to acquittal.

Issue: Whether or not Tapere is liable for the illegal sale of shabu.

Held: Yes To establish the crime of illegal sale of shabu as defined and punished under Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the Prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the identity of the object and the consideration of the sale; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and of the payment for the thing. The commission of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, like shabu, requires simply the consummation of the selling transaction, which happens at the moment the buyer receives the drug from the seller.  In short, the Prosecution must show that the transaction or sale actually took place, and present in court the thing sold as evidence of the corpus delicti.

Instigation takes place when a peace officer induces a person to commit a crime. Without the inducement, the crime would not be committed. Hence, it is exempting by reason of public policy; otherwise, the peace officer would be a co-principal. It follows that the person instigating must not be a private person, because he will be liable as a principal by inducement. On the other hand, entrapment signifies the ways and means devised by a peace officer to entrap or apprehend a person who has committed a crime. With or without the entrapment, the crime has been committed already. Hence, entrapment is not mitigating. Although entrapment is sanctioned by law, instigation is not. The difference between the two lies in the origin of the criminal intent – in entrapment, the mens rea originates from the mind of the criminal, but in instigation, the law officer conceives the commission of the crime and suggests it to the accused, who adopts the idea and carries it into execution.

Tapere was caught in flagrante delicto committing the illegal sale of shabu during the buy-bust operation. In that operation, Salgado offered to buy from him a definite quantity of shabu for P100.00. Even if, as he claims, he was unaware that Salgado was then working as an undercover agent for the PDEA, he had no justification for accepting the offer of Salgado to buy the shabu.  His explanation that he could not have refused Salgado’s offer to buy for fear of displeasing the latter was implausible. He did not show how Salgado could have influenced him at all into doing something so blatantly illegal. What is clear to us, therefore, is that the decision to peddle the shabu emanated from his own mind, such that he did not need much prodding from Salgado or anyone else to engage in the sale of the shabu; hence, he was not incited, induced, instigated or lured into committing an offense that he did not have the intention of committing.

People vs Bartolome (GR No 191726 February 06, 2013)

People of the Philippines vs Bartolome
GR No 191726 February 06, 2013

Facts:  On August 10, 2003, at around 1:00 a.m., an informant went to the Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Unit (ADSOU) in Caloocan City to report the illicit drug dealings of the accused on Reparo Street, Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City. Acting on the report, Police Inspector Cesar Cruz of ADSOU immediately instructed some of his men to conduct a buy-bust operation against the accused. During the pre-operation briefing, the buy-bust team designated PO1 Borban Paras as the poseur-buyer. Paras was given a P100.00 bill that he marked with his initials BP. It was agreed that the informant would drop a cigarette butt in front of the suspect to identify him to Paras; and that Paras would scratch his head to signal to the buy-bust team that the transaction with the suspect had been consummated. The operation was coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. Upon arriving at the target area at around 2:00 a.m. of August 10, 2003, the team members positioned themselves in the vicinity of a store. The informant then approached a person who was standing in front of the store and dropped a cigarette butt in front of the person. Paras, then only two meters away from the informant, saw the dropping of the cigarette butt. Paras went towards the suspect and said to him: Pre pa-iskor nga. The suspect responded: Pre, piso na lang tong hawak magkano ba kukunin mo? Paras replied: Ayos na yan, piso lang naman talaga ang kukunin ko, after which he handed the marked P100.00 bill to the suspect, who in turn drew out a plastic sachet containing white substances from his pocket and gave the sachet to Paras. With that, Paras scratched his head to signal the consummation of the sale. As the other members of the team were approaching, Paras grabbed the suspect. PO3 Rodrigo Antonio, another member of the team, confiscated the marked P100.00 bill from the suspect, who was identified as Noel Bartolome y Bajo. Paras immediately marked the sachet at the crime scene with Bartolomes initials NBB. Insp. Cruz later requested in writing the PNP Crime Laboratory in Caloocan City to conduct a laboratory examination of the contents of the plastic sachet seized from Bartolome. PO2 Rolando De Ocampo, another member of the buy-bust team, brought the request and the sachet and its contents to the laboratory. In due course, Forensic Chemical Officer Jesse Abadilla Dela Rosa of the PNP Crime Laboratory confirmed in Physical Science Report No. D-1038-03 that the plastic sachet contained 0.06 gram of methamphetamine hydrocholoride or shabu, a dangerous drug.

Issue: Whether the transaction resulting to the arrest of Bartolome is an instigation.

Held: No. Instigation is the means by which the accused is lured into the commission of the offense charged in order to prosecute him. On the other hand, entrapment is the employment of such ways and means for the purpose of trapping or capturing a lawbreaker. Thus, in instigation, officers of the law or their agents incite, induce, instigate or lure an accused into committing an offense which he or she would otherwise not commit and has no intention of committing. But in entrapment, the criminal intent or design to commit the offense charged originates in the mind of the accused, and law enforcement officials merely facilitate the apprehension of the criminal by employing ruses and schemes; thus, the accused cannot justify his or her conduct. In instigation, where law enforcers act as coprincipals, the accused will have to be acquitted. But entrapment cannot bar prosecution and conviction. As has been said, instigation is a “trap for the unwary innocent,” while entrapment is a “trap for the unwary criminal.

As a general rule, a buy-bust operation, considered as a form of entrapment, is a valid means of arresting violators of Republic Act No. 9165. It is an effective way of apprehending law offenders in the act of committing a crime. In a buy-bust operation, the idea to commit a crime originates from the offender, without anybody inducing or prodding him to commit the offense.

A police officers act of soliciting drugs from the accused during a buy-bust operation, or what is known as a “decoy solicitation,” is not prohibited by law and does not render invalid the buy-bust operations. The sale of contraband is a kind of offense habitually committed, and the solicitation simply furnishes evidence of the criminals course of conduct. In People v. Sta. Maria, the Court clarified that a “decoy solicitation” is not tantamount to inducement or instigation.

In recent years, it has become common practice for law enforcement officers and agents to engage in buy-bust operations and other entrapment procedures in apprehending drug offenders, which is made difficult by the secrecy with which drug-related offenses are conducted and the many devices and subterfuges employed by offenders to avoid detection. On the other hand, the Court has taken judicial notice of the ugly reality that in cases involving illegal drugs, corrupt law enforcers have been known to prey upon weak, hapless and innocent persons. The distinction between entrapment and instigation has proven to be crucial. The balance needs to be struck between the individual rights and the presumption of innocence on one hand, and ensuring the arrest of those engaged in the illegal traffic of narcotics on the other.

Applying the foregoing, we declare that the accused was not arrested following an instigation for him to commit the crime. Instead, he was caught in flagrante delicto during an entrapment through buy-bust. In a buy-bust operation, the pusher sells the contraband to another posing as a buyer; once the transaction is consummated, the pusher is validly arrested because he is committing or has just committed a crime in the presence of the buyer. Here, Paras asked the accused if he could buy shabu, and the latter, in turn, quickly transacted with the former, receiving the marked bill from Paras and turning over the sachet of shabu he took from his pocket. The accused was shown to have been ready to sell the shabu without much prodding from Paras. There is no question that the idea to commit the crime originated from the mind of the accused.

Prior surveillance is not necessary to render a buy-bust operation legitimate, especially when the buy-bust team is accompanied to the target area by the informant.

People vs Belocura (G.R. No. 173474 August 29, 2012)

People of the Philippines vs Belocura
G.R. No. 173474 August 29, 2012

Facts: Belocura was charged on April 13, 1999 by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila with a violation of Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, in the Manila RTC through the information: That on or about March 22, 1999, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his possession and under his custody and control one (1) plastic bag colored red and white, with label “SHIN TON YON”, containing the following: One (1) newspaper leaf used to wrap one (1) brick of dried marijuana fruiting tops weighing 830.532 grams; One (1) newspaper leaf used to wrap one (1) brick of dried marijuana fruiting tops weighing 959.291 grams. With a total weight of 1,789.823 grams, a prohibited drug.

Issue: Whether or not the prosecution established the guilt of the accused using the evidence obtained.

Held: No. The Court holds that the guilt of Belocura for the crime charged was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Mere suspicion of his guilt, no matter how strong, should not sway judgment against him. Every evidence favoring him must be duly considered. Indeed, the presumption of innocence in his favor was not overcome.

The elements of illegal possession of marijuana under Republic Act No. 6425, as amended, are that: (a) the accused is in possession of an item or object that is identified to be marijuana, a prohibited drug; (b) such possession is not authorized by law; and (c) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. What must be proved beyond reasonable doubt is the fact of possession of the prohibited drug itself. This may be done by presenting the police officer who actually recovered the prohibited drugs as a witness, being the person who has the direct knowledge of the possession.

The Prosecution thereby failed to establish the linkage between the bricks of marijuana supposedly seized by PO2 Santos from Belocura’s jeep following his arrest and the bricks of marijuana that the Prosecution later presented as evidence in court. That linkage was not dispensable, because the failure to prove that the specimens of marijuana submitted to the forensic chemist for examination were the same marijuana allegedly seized from Belocura irreparably broke the chain of custody that linked the confiscated marijuana to the marijuana ultimately presented as evidence against Belocura during the trial. Proof beyond reasonable doubt demanded that unwavering exactitude must be observed in establishing the corpus delicti – the body of the crime whose core was the confiscated prohibited substances. Thus, every fact necessary to constitute the crime must be established.

That this case was a prosecution brought under Republic Act No. 6425 (Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972), as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, did not matter. The chain-of-custody requirement applied under both laws by virtue of the universal need to competently and sufficiently establish the corpus delicti. It is basic under the Rules of Court, indeed, that evidence, to be relevant, must throw light upon, or have a logical relation to, the facts in issue to be established by one party or disproved by the other. The test of relevancy is whether an item of evidence will have any value, as determined by logic and experience, in proving the proposition for which it is offered, or whether it would reasonably and actually tend to prove or disprove any matter of fact in issue, or corroborate other relevant evidence. The test is satisfied if there is some logical connection either directly or by inference between the fact offered and the fact to be proved.

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.