CASE BRIEF 2019-0005

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Rodelina Malazo [ G.R. No. 223713, January 07, 2019 ]

PONENTE: Carpio, Acting C.J.:

SUBJECT: RA No. 9165: Witnesses during the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized drugs

FACTS:        P/Insp. Cabaddu received a report from a civilian asset that Malazo and her mother were drug peddlers. A buy-bust team was formed with P/Insp. Cabaddu as leader and some police officers of the Dagupan City Police Station to entrap Malazo and his mother.


During the entrapment operation Malazo tried to escape by running towards her house. P/Insp. Cabaddu chased Malazo and upon getting hold of her, P/Insp. Cabaddu searched Malazo’s pockets, and he found and confiscated three more heat-sealed plastic sachets of shabu.


After the arrest, P/Insp. Cabaddu prepared a Confiscation Receipt with a note that states that Malazo and her mother refused to sign the same. P!Insp. Cabaddu marked the confiscated items. The confiscated items, Malazo, her mother, and a barangay kagawad were all photographed.


Subsequently, Malazo and her mother were brought to the police station where P/Insp. Cabaddu immediately prepared the affidavit of arrest, the letter to the Dangerous Drugs Board and the letter-request to the crime laboratory upon arrival. P/Insp. Cabaddu personally turned over the confiscated items to PO3 Carvajal and instructed PO3 Carvajal to submit the same to the crime laboratory for examination.


P/SInsp. Malojo, the forensic chemist, confirmed that the substance was indeed Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug. This was shown in Chemistry Report No. D-027-08L P/SInsp. Malojo prepared.


After trial, RTC found Malazo guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Sections 5 and 11 of Article II ofRA 9165.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the RTC Decision.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Malazo alleged that the Court of Appeals “failed to take into account the glaring lapses which the prosecution witnesses committed from the time the alleged illegal drugs were seized from Malazo up to the time the same were presented in court, thereby resulting in a broken chain of custody.

ISSUE:

Who are the persons needed to be present during the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized drugs?

RULING:
Section 21(1) of RA 9165  thus reads:

“Section 21. x x x
(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.”

Section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9165 reads:

“Section 21. x x x.
(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 persons 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”

(Note: Section 21 (1) of RA 9165  was amended by  Republic Act No. 10640. see: People vs Corral )

The original provision of Section 21(1) enumerates the four persons who need to be present during the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the drugs after the apprehending team seizes and confiscates the same. These are: (1) the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel; (2) a representative from the media; (3) a representative from the DOJ; and (4) any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof. The presence of these persons will guarantee “against planting of evidence and frame up.”

Further, non-compliance with the procedure shall not render void and invalid the seizure and custody of the drugs only when: (1) such non-compliance was under justifiable grounds; and (2) the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team.


In this case, the apprehending team not only failed to secure the attendance of persons from the media and the DOJ, and to secure the signature of the elected public official on the copies of the inventory, the prosecution also failed to state the justification for non-compliance and the explanation that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved by the apprehending team. On this ground, we have no recourse but to reverse the Court of Appeals since the seizure and custody of the drugs were void and invalid.

NOTE: The Supreme Court has reiterated in this case the guidelines laid down in People v. Limthat must be followed in order that the provisions of Section 21 of RA 9165, as amended, be well-enforced and duly proven in courts:

  1. In the sworn statements/affidavits, the apprehending/seizing officers must state their compliance with the requirements of Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165, as amended, and its IRR.
  2. In case of non-observance of the provision, the apprehending/seizing officers must state the justification or explanation therefor as well as the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized/confiscated items.
  3. If there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements or affidavits, the investigating fiscal must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of probable cause.
  4. If the investigating fiscal filed the case despite such absence, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with Section 5, Rule 112, Rules of Court.

It must be noted that the above-mentioned guidelines are prospective in nature. This was explained in the Court’s Resolution, dated 13 November 2018, in People v. Lim. The Court stated:

“x x x. Thus, in order to weed out early on from the courts’ already congested docket any orchestrated or poorly built up drug-related cases, the following should henceforth be enforced as a mandatory policy:

Synonymous to “henceforth” are “from now on,” “from this point forward,” “henceforward,” “afterward,” “later,” “subsequently,” “hereupon” or “thereupon.” Without doubt, the mandatory policy in Lim is applicable only to drug cases under R.A. No. 9165, as amended by R.A. No. 10640, filed in court after the promulgation of Limon September 4, 2018.x x x.”

Such policy does not apply to cases filed before the promulgation of Lim where the accused has already been arraigned and is undergoing continuous trial, because the justifiable reasons for non­compliance with Section 21, R.A. No. 9165, as amended by R.A. No. 10640, can still be established during trial. Non-compliance with the policy in Lim is not a ground for acquittal based on reasonable doubt or violation of the chain of custody rule, which can only be decreed after trial, or pursuant to a demurrer to evidence under Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court.

Read related Case Brief: People vs Corral

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      Section 21(1) or RA No. 9165 enumerates the four persons who need to be present during the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the drugs after the apprehending team seizes and confiscates the same. These are: (1) the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel; (2) a representative from the media; (3) a representative from the DOJ; and (4) any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.

B) Non-compliance with the procedure shall not render void and invalid the seizure and custody of the drugs only when: (1) such non-compliance was under justifiable grounds; and (2) the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team.

C) The guidelines laid down in People v. Limthat must be followed in order that the provisions of Section 21 of RA 9165, as amended, be well-enforced and duly proven in courts:

  • 1. In the sworn statements/affidavits, the apprehending/seizing officers must state their compliance with the requirements of Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165, as amended, and its IRR.
  • 2. In case of non-observance of the provision, the apprehending/seizing officers must state the justification or explanation therefor as well as the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized/confiscated items.
  • 3. If there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements or affidavits, the investigating fiscal must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of probable cause.
  • 4. If the investigating fiscal filed the case despite such absence, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with Section 5, Rule 112, Rules of Court.

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