CASE BRIEF 2019 – 0011

Case: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. EMMANUEL OLIVA et. al. (G.R. No. 234156, January 07, 2019)

Ponente: PERALTA, J.

SUBJECT: R.A. No. 9165; R.A. No. 10640

FACTS:
The Chief of Station Anti-Illegal Drugs – Special Operations Task Group (SAID-SOTG) received a report regarding the sale of dangerous drugs by a certain “Manu” somewhere in Makati City. As such, a buy-bust operation was planned.  


When they arrived at the target area, the Poseur-buyer (a police officer) and the confidential informant approached Manu. The Poseur-buyer handed Manu the marked money after the latter demanded payment. Manu then showed Poseur-buyer four (4) transparent plastic sachets with white crystalline substance and asked the latter to choose one. Meanwhile, two (2) other persons, Barangot and Manalastas were also at the target area to buy shabu. Barangot and Manalastas, and the Poseur-buyer each took one sachet from the four sachets that Manu showed.

Upon receiving the dangerous drug, the Poseur-buyer immediately scratched his chin, which is the pre-arranged signal to his back-up that the transaction has been completed. Manu et. al. were arrested.

Manu, Barangot and Manalastas were arrested and brought to the barangay hall where an inventory was conducted and on the basis thereof, an inventory report was prepared. During the inventory the only one present to witness the inventory and the marking was an elected official, Barangay Captain Evelyn Villamor.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, Manu et. al. argue, among others, that the arresting officers failed to immediately conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph the same in the presence of the accused, their representative or counsel, a representative of the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who are required to sign the copies of the inventory. Thus, according to Manu et. al., the prosecution failed to establish every link in the chain of custody of the seized items.

ISSUE: Whether 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 is mandatory.

RULING:

NO.
Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165 specifies:

The apprehending team having in trial 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.

Supplementing the above-quoted provision, Section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No. 9165 provides:

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 non­compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the 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.

On July 15, 2014, R.A. No. 10640 was approved to amend R.A. No. 9165. Among other modifications, it essentially incorporated the saving clause contained in the IRR, thus:

The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a physical inventory of the seized items 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, with an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media 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, finally That noncompliance of these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures and custody over said items.

In his Co­-Sponsorship Speech on Senate Bill No. 2273, which eventually became R.A. No. 10640, Senator Vicente Soto III noted:

“Non-observance of the prescribed procedures should not automatically mean that the seizure or confiscation is invalid or illegal, as long as the law enforcement officers could justify the same and could prove that the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are not tainted. This is the effect of the inclusion in the proposal to amend the phrase “justifiable grounds.” There are instances wherein there are no media people or representatives from the DOJ available and the absence of these witnesses should not automatically invalidate the drug operation conducted. Even the presence of a public local elected official also is sometimes impossible especially if the elected official is afraid or scared.”


In this case, the absence of a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media during the inventory of the seized items was not justifiably explained by the prosecution. A review of the Transcript of Stenographic Notes does not yield any testimony from the arresting officers as to the reason why there was no representative from the DOJ or the media. Neither was there any testimony to show that any attempt was made to secure the presence of the required witness.

Manu et. al. were acquitted.

THINGS DECIDED:

1.What are the instances where the absence of the required witnesses may be justified?

In People v. Angelita Reyes, et al., this Court enumerated certain instances where the absence of the required witnesses may be justified, thus:

x x x It must be emphasized that the prosecution must able to prove a justifiable ground in omitting certain requirements provided in Sec. 21 such as, but not limited to the following: 1) media representatives are not available at that time or that the police operatives had no time to alert the media due to the immediacy of the operation they were about to undertake, especially if it is done in more remote areas; 2) the police operatives, with the same reason, failed to find an available representative of the National Prosecution Service; 3) the police officers, due to time constraints brought about by the urgency of the operation to be undertaken and in order to comply with the provisions of Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code in the timely delivery of prisoners, were not able to comply with all the requisites set forth in Section 21 of R.A. 9165.

The above-ruling was further reiterated by this Court in People v. Vicente Sipin y De Castro, thus:

The prosecution never alleged and proved that the presence of the required witnesses was not obtained for any of the following reasons, such as: (1) their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area;·(2) their safety during the inventory and photograph of the seized drugs was threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused or any person/s acting for and in his/her behalf; (3) the elected official themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended; (4) earnest efforts to secure the presence of a DOJ or media representative and elected public official within the period required under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Could prove futile through no fault of the arresting officers, who face the threat of being charged with arbitrary detention; or (5) time constraints and urgency of the anti-drug operations, which often rely on tips of confidential assets, prevented the law enforcers from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses even before the offenders could escape.

2. Note also the modifications made by the new law (R.A. No. 10640)

Under the old law (R.A. No. 9165) the witnesses required are: “xxxThe 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 xxx”

Now, the new law requires that “xxxThe apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a physical inventory of the seized items 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, with an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.

3. Bear in mind also that the physical inventory and taking of photographs of seized illegal drugs be allowed to be conducted either in the place of seizure or at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending law enforcers.

Senator Soto III, in his sponsorial speech said:

“Numerous drug trafficking activities can be traced to operations of highly organized and powerful local and international syndicates. The presence of such syndicates that have the resources and the capability to mount a counter-assault to apprehending law enforcers makes the requirement of Section 21(a) impracticable for law enforcers to comply with. It makes the place of seizure extremely unsafe for the proper inventory and photograph of seized illegal drugs.
x x x x
Section 21(a) of RA 9165 needs to be amended to address the foregoing situation. We did not realize this in 2002 where the safety of the law enforcers and other persons required to be present in the inventory and photography of seized illegal drugs and the preservation of the very existence of seized illegal drugs itself are threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of drug syndicates at the place of seizure. The place where the seized drugs may be inventoried and photographed has to include a location where the seized drugs as well as the persons who are required to be present during the inventory and photograph are safe and secure from extreme danger.

It is proposed that the physical inventory and taking of photographs of seized illegal drugs be allowed to be conducted either in the place of seizure or at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending law enforcers. The proposal will provide effective measures to ensure the integrity of seized illegal drugs since a safe location makes it more probable for an inventory and photograph of seized illegal drugs to be properly conducted, thereby reducing the incidents of dismissal of drug cases due to technicalities.”

                                                              ‘Stand by things decided’ – Stare Decisis