CASE BrieF NO. 2019-0042


“The absence of a DOJ representative during the marking, inventory and photographing of the seized items was due to the fact that it was already late at night. This explanation, however, was found unjustifiable and unacceptable.


CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Marylou Gumban y Caranay and Joel Cheng Ng [G.R. No. 224210, January 23, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Mariano Del Castillo

SUBJECT:

          A.       SPECIAL LAW – R.A. NO. 9167 or the COMPREHENSIVE                                    DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002:

                   i.        Witnesses Requirement

                   ii.       Chain of Custody

                   iii.      Buy-bust operations

FACTS:        In July 2012,Marylou, along with Joel Cheng Ng, were charged with violation of Section 5, Article II of RA 9165 after they were apprehended in a buy-bust operation.

During the buy-bust operation, Intelligence Officer 1 Cesar Dealagdon (IO1 Dealagdon) and IO2 Aldwin Pagaragan (Pagaragan), both of the PDEA-NCR, were designated as the poseur-buyer and arresting officer, respectively. They recovered from Marilou and Joel  several sachets that contains dangerous drugs. Since the crowd was beginning to grow in number, the team proceeded to the nearest police station to undertake the markings, listing and taking of photographs of the subject pieces of evidence.

At the police station, Dealagdon prepared the inventory and marked the pieces of evidence. Pictures were taken during the inventory. These proceedings were witnessed by two Brgy. Kagawads, namely, John Carlo Marquez and Alfredo Lazatin as well as JL Asayo, a media representative from TV 5.

After the inventory and marking of the subject pieces of evidence, Dealagdon closed the box and sealed it with a scotch tape. He brought it to the PDEA office for laboratory examination. The specimens were received by Chemist Jerome Garcia who conducted an examination.

When it was the turn of Joel and Marylou to prove their innocence, they both waived their right to present evidence.

The RTC found Marilou and Joel guilty of the crime charged. The RTC decision was affirmed by the CA.

ISSUES:

A.       Whether or not the apprehending authorities followed the procedural safeguards           in buy-bust operations.

          a.       What are the procedural safeguards in buy-bust operations?

B.       Whether or not there was a break in the chain of custody.

          a.       What is the importance of the observance of the chain of custody rule?

RULING:

A.       The apprehending officers did not faithfully observe the foregoing mandatory requirements.

Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 provides the mandatory procedural safeguards in buy-bust operations, thus:

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 x

In addition, Section 21(a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165 reads: x x x x


(1) 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; x x x x

While admittedly there was marking, inventory and photographing of the seized items, all these were done only in the presence of the elected public officials and media representative. No representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ) appeared as witness thereto as required by law. In addition, the witnesses present during the inventory were not given copies thereof, another mandatory procedural safeguard outlined by the law.

Indeed, non-compliance with the procedures thereby delineated and set would not necessarily invalidate the seizure and custody of the dangerous drugs as long as there were justifiable grounds for the non-compliance and the integrity of the corpus delicti was preserved [People v. Miranda, 788 Phil. 657, 668 (2016)].In this case, it reveal that the absence of a DOJ representative during the marking, inventory and photographing of the seized items was due to the fact that it was already late at night.This explanation, however, was found unjustifiable and unacceptable in People v. Mirandaand recently in People v. Lim (G.R. No. 231898, September 4, 2018). Moreover, assuming to be true, coordination with the mayor in securing the attendance of a DOJ representative was not tantamount to a genuine and serious attempt to secure the presence of the DOJ representative. No follow up was made as regards the outcome of the alleged coordination; besides, the mayor is not duty-bound to secure the attendance of a DOJ representative. The duty is vested by law on the apprehending officers. It is significant to note that the apprehending officers were already enroute to the target area as early as 1:30 p.m. and arrived at 4:00 p.m. Thus, they had more than sufficient time to make the necessary arrangements regarding the presence of a DOJ representative to serve as witness during the inventory and photography of any illegal item that they might seize from the suspect. This omission, to our mind, is a clear violation of the procedure provided by law. Strict compliance with the required witnesses as mandated in the procedure is necessary because of the alleged drug’s unique characteristic rendering it indistinct, not readily identifiable and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise [People v. Nandi, 639 Phil. 134, 143 (2010)].

B.       There was an obvious gap in the chain of custody of the seized items.

In People v. Cayas [789 Phil. 70 (2016)], the Court explained the importance of the chain of custody of the confiscated drugs as follows:

As a method of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. It would include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered into evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. x x x x

The rule on chain of custody expressly demands the identification of the persons who handle the confiscated items for the purpose of duly monitoring the authorized movements of the illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia from the time they are seized from the accused until the time they are presented in court.

In the present case, there were other personalities belonging to a so-called Compliance Team who touched and examined the drugs but nobody from the team testified. Since the seized items were left for some time in the custody and possession of the Compliance Team who failed to describe how and from whom the items were received by them, the distinct possibility that the items were tampered with, contaminated, substituted or pilfered could not be ruled out. Substantial gaps in the chain of custody of the seized drugs would cast serious doubts on the authenticity of the evidence presented in court.

In view of the failure of the arresting officers to comply with a mandatory requirement in Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 coupled with the obvious break in the chain of custody of the seized items, there is no absolute certainty if the seized items were the very same drugs object of the sale, transmitted to the crime laboratory and eventually presented in court as evidence.

Indeed, appellant’s failure to present any evidence for her defense as she waived her right to do so was inconsequential. The well-entrenched dictum in criminal law is that “the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own weight and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the defense.” [People v. Dacuma, 753 Phil. 276, 287 (2015)]. If the prosecution cannot, to begin with, establish the guilt of accused beyond reasonable doubt, the defense is not even required to adduce evidence [People v. Pepino-Consulta, 716 Phil. 733, 761 (2013)].

Related CASE BrieFs:

          a)       People v. Pepino-Consulta, 716 Phil. 733, 761 (2013)

          b)       People v. Dacuma, 753 Phil. 276 (2015)

          c)       People v. Cayas, 789 Phil. 70 (2016)

          d)       People v. Miranda, 788 Phil. 657, 668 (2016)

          e)       People v. Nandi, 639 Phil. 134, 143 (2010)

————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       Non-compliance with the procedures delineated and set under Section 21 Article 2  of RA 9165 and its IRR would not necessarily invalidate the seizure and custody of the dangerous drugs as long as there were justifiable grounds for the non-compliance and the integrity of the corpus delicti was preserved.

B.       The absence of a DOJ representative during the marking, inventory and photographing of the seized items was due to the fact that it was already late at night. This explanation, however, was found unjustifiable and unacceptable.

C.       Strict compliance with the required witnesses as mandated in the procedure is necessary because of the alleged drug’s unique characteristic rendering it indistinct, not readily identifiable and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise.

D.      The evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own weight and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the defense.

E.       If the prosecution cannot, to begin with, establish the guilt of accused beyond reasonable doubt, the defense is not even required to adduce evidence.

F.       The rule on chain of custody expressly demands the identification of the persons who handle the confiscated items for the purpose of duly monitoring the authorized movements of the illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia from the time they are seized from the accused until the time they are presented in court.

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