CASE BRIEF 2019-0078

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Frankie Magalong @ Angkie [G.R. No. 231838, March 04, 2019]

PONENTE: Peralta, J.:

SUBJECT:

  1. R.A. No. 9165:
  2. Illegal sale of dangerous drugs – Elements;
  3. Chain of Custody – Required witnesses during inventory;

“As long as the integrity and evidentiary value of an illegal drug were not compromised, non-compliance with R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR may be excused.”

FACTS: Magalong was the target of a buy-bust operation conducted by the PDEA, Region 1. 

Thus, Magalong was contacted by a confidential informant that a man wants to buy shabu from him. Then a meeting place was agreed. A few minutes after the agents arrived at the agreed place, Magalong arrived. Eventually, Magalong handed a plastic sachet containing what appeared to be a shabu and, in return, the poseur-buyer gave the payment. When Magalong noticed the boodle money, the poseur-buyer grabbed him and introduced himself as a PDEA agent. The other team members immediately rushed to the area. Magalong was frisked and apprised of his constitutional rights.

The seized drug, buy-bust money, and boodle money were marked. In the presence of Magalong, PDEA agents also conducted an inventory of confiscated items at the place of arrest and, thereafter, prepared the Certificate of Inventory of Drug Evidence. During the inventory, PDEA agents tried to secure the attendance of a representative of DOJ, elected official and representative from media. They had to immediately leave the area to avoid commotion. Consequently, representatives of the DOJ and media signed the certificate at the PDEA office in Astrodome, Tapuac District, while the barangay chairman did the same at the barangay hall of Bonuan Gueset.

 
ISSUE:

  1. What are the elements of the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs?
  2. Whether the confidential informant need to be presented for a successful prosecution of illegal sale of dangerous drugs.
  3. What does “Chain of custody” mean?
  4. What are the links on the chain of custody that need to be established by the prosecution?
  5. Under R.A. No. 9165, who are the required witnesses during the inventory and photographing of the seized dangerous drugs?
  6. In case of absence of the required witnesses, will it render the confiscated items inadmissible?
  7. Whether the apprehending officers exerted earnest efforts to comply with the witness requirements.

HELD:
A) For a successful prosecution of illegal sale of dangerous drugs under Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the following elements must be satisfied: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. In the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money consummate the illegal transaction. What matters is the proof that the sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the prohibited drug, the corpus delicti, as evidence.

In this case, all the requisites for the sale of an illegal drug were met.

B) The confidential informant need not be presented in order to successfully hold Magalong criminally liable. Confidential informants are usually not presented in court because of the need to hide their identity and preserve their invaluable service to the police. Where the sale was actually witnessed and adequately proved by prosecution witnesses, like in this case, the non-presentation of the confidential informant is not fatal since the latter’s testimony will merely be corroborative of the apprehending officers’ eyewitness testimonies. Presentation of confidential informant is necessary, if not indispensable, when the accused vehemently denies selling prohibited drugs and there are material inconsistencies in the testimonies of the arresting officers, or there are reasons to believe that the arresting officers had motives to testify falsely against the accused, or when the informant was the poseur-buyer and the only one who actually witnessed the entire transaction. These exceptional circumstances are not present here.

C) At the time of the commission of the crime on July 10, 2013, the applicable law was R.A. No. 9165. Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002, has defined chain of custody as – 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 were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition.

D) The links in the chain of custody that must be established are: (1) the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; (2) the turnover of the seized illegal drug by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; (3) the turnover of the illegal drug by the investigating officer to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and (4) the turnover and submission of the illegal drug from the forensic chemist to the court.

In this case, Magalong did not present any evidence to substantiate his allegation that the integrity and evidentiary value of the shabu presented as evidence at the trial have been compromised at some point. Instead, the body of evidence adduced by the prosecution supports the conclusion that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized illegal drug were preserved and safeguarded through an unbroken chain of custody – from the arresting officers, to the investigating officer, then to the forensic chemist, and until the dangerous drug was presented in court. Certainly, the evidence submitted by the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt the crucial links in the chain, starting from its seizure and confiscation from Magalong until its presentation as proof of the corpus delicti before the RTC.

Here, IO1 Tabuyo marked the plastic sachet containing shabu, the buy-bust money, and the boodle money immediately upon their confiscation. In the presence of Maga1ong and the rest of the PDEA team members, he also conducted an inventory of confiscated items at the place of arrest and, thereafter, prepared the Certificate of Inventory of Drug Evidence that was signed by the barangay chairman at the barangay hall of Bonuan Gueset, as well as by the representatives of the DOJ and the media, at the PDEA office in Astrodome, Tapuac District. All these are in substantial compliance of the requirements of Section 21(1) Article II of R.A. No. 9165, which states:

“Sec. 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.”

E) 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.

F) The absence of these required witnesses does not per se render the confiscated items inadmissible. However, a justifiable reason for such failure or a showing of any genuine and sufficient effort to secure the required witnesses under Section 21 of RA 9165 must be adduced. The prosecution must show that earnest efforts were employed in contacting the representatives enumerated under the law for “a sheer statement that representatives were unavailable without so much as an explanation on whether serious attempts were employed to look for other representatives, given the circumstances is to be regarded as a flimsy excuse.” Verily, mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses are unacceptable as justified grounds for non-compliance.

G) The Court is convinced that the arresting team exerted earnest efforts to comply with the mandated procedure, and that under the circumstances present in this particular case, the actions of the PDEA operatives were reasonable. Based on the testimonies of IO1 Tabuyo, Inocencio, and Ramirez, the arresting team had tried to secure the attendance of the necessary witnesses during the conduct of the buy-bust operation, but only the representatives of the media and the DOJ responded, albeit belatedly, and the members of the arresting team had to make a judgment call of immediately leaving the place of arrest in order to avoid commotion and ensure their own safety.

Indeed, as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of an illegal drug were not compromised, non-compliance with R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR may be excused.

The Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. No. 9165 clearly expresses that “non-compliance with the 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.”

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)       In the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money consummate the illegal transaction. What matters is the proof that the sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the prohibited drug, the corpus delicti, as evidence.

B)       Where the sale was actually witnessed and adequately proved by prosecution witnesses, the non-presentation of the confidential informant is not fatal since the latter’s testimony will merely be corroborative of the apprehending officers’ eyewitness testimonies.

C)      Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002, has defined chain of custody as – 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.

D) The links in the chain of custody that must be established are: (1) the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; (2) the turnover of the seized illegal drug by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; (3) the turnover of the illegal drug by the investigating officer to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and (4) the turnover and submission of the illegal drug from the forensic chemist to the court.

E) 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.

F) The absence of these required witnesses does not per se render the confiscated items inadmissible. However, a justifiable reason for such failure or a showing of any genuine and sufficient effort to secure the required witnesses under Section 21 of RA 9165 must be adduced.

G) As long as the integrity and evidentiary value of an illegal drug were not compromised, non-compliance with R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR may be excused.

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