CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0045


“The marking of seized illegal drugs at the nearest police station (not at the place of entrapment) is allowed whenever the same is availed of due to practical reasons


CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Josh Joe T. Sabihil [G.R. No. 228953, January 28, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Marcelo Del Castillo

SUBJECT:
          A.       SPECIAL LAW – R.A. NO. 9165 COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT:
                   i.        Sale of illegal drugs– Elements
                   ii.       Chain of Custody Rule – “Four links”
                   iii.      Required witnesses during inventory of seized drugs.

FACTS:        After confirming that drug sales were being held at the Terminal, the CIDG-Tagum formed a buy-bust team designating SPO3 Joseph Gaco, SPO1 Rosil A. Ellevera (SPO1 Ellevera), and PO3 Johnny Collado (PO3 Collado) as team leader, poseur-buyer, and arresting officer, respectively.

On January 31, 2012, Josh Joe Sabihil (Sabihil) was arrested in the Terminal in a buy-bust operation of operatives from CIDG-Tagum and PDEA. Right after the successful entrapment, the team leader of the buy-bust team (SPO3 Gaco) directed the police operatives to proceed to the Panabo Police Station, which was just a kilometer away from the scene of the entrapment because: (1) of security reasons as there were many people in the Terminal and the police operatives were unaware if Sabihil had companions; (2) a commotion transpired since Sabihil was resisting arrest and people in the vicinity were asking what happened; and (3) the Terminal was busy and there was no place to do the markings of the seized items considering that buses were exiting the Terminal where the buy-bust transpired.

While in transit to the police station, SPO1 Ellevera kept custody of the two sachets seized from Sabihil. At around 8:00 p.m. of the same day at the police station, SPO1 Ellevera marked the sachets with his initials (“ERA”) and signatures as well as the date and time of the operation. On the other hand, PO3 Collado conducted an inventory of the seized items in the presence of Sabihil, including an elective official (Barangay Kagawad Joselito Ohaylan), and representatives from the media (Gilbert P. Bacarro), and the DOJ (Ian R. Dionola). Pictures were also taken during the conduct of the inventory.

At about 10:00 p.m. of even date, the police operatives brought Sabihil and the seized items to their office in Tagum City. Afterwards, they brought the evidence to the PNP Provincial Crime Laboratory but the same was closed. As such, they returned to their office, and SPO1 Ellevera placed the subject items in his evidence locker to which he had sole access. The following day, SPO1 Ellevera delivered to the Crime Laboratory the recovered sachets and the request for their laboratory examination. In turn, PO1 Jeffrey Cambalon (PO1 Cambalon) received, weighed, and labelled them with their weights and his signatures. PO1 Cambalon also asked SPO1 Ellevera to affix his signature on each specimen. Per the examination of PCI Virginia Sison Gucor (PCI Gucor), the Forensic Chemist at the Crime Laboratory, these specimens gave positive results for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug. 

The RTC found Sabihil guilty as charged imposing upon him the penalty of life imprisonment, and ordering him to pay P500,000.00 as fine.

The CA affirmed in toto the RTC Decision.

ISSUE:
A.       What are the elements of the crime of violation of Section 5, Article II of RA 9165 or sale of dangerous drugs?
a.       Are the elements of the crime present in this case?
B.       Whether the police operatives failed to comply with the Chain of the Custody Rule.
a.       What is the Chain of Custody Rule?
b.       What are the four links that must be proved to comply with the Chain of Custody Rule?
C.       Whether the marking of the seized items at the police station, not at the place of incident, impair the chain of custody of the drug evidence.
a.       In the conduct of marking of seized illegal drugs, what does “immediately upon confiscation” mean?
D.      Whether the police operatives comply with the required witnesses during inventory of seized dangerous drugs.
a.       Who are the required witnesses during the conduct of inventory of seized drugs?

RULING:
A.       In order for the accused to be convicted of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must establish the elements of the crime as well as the corpus delicti or the drug/s subject of the case. These primordial requirements were duly proved in this case leaving no doubt that Sabihil was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Under Section 5, Article II of RA 9165, any person, who, without lawful authority, shall sell any dangerous drug, regardless of quantity and purity, shall be guilty of illegal sale of dangerous drugs. More particularly, to be convicted of this charge, the prosecution must prove with moral certainty: (1) the identity of the seller and the buyer; (2) the object and consideration of the sale; and, (3) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.

All these elements were present here.

During the buy-bust operation, Sabihil sold to SPO1 Ellevera two sachets of shabu in exchange for money placed in an envelope, which in fact comprised of P1,000.00 marked money, the rest being just boodle money. This being so, the identity of the seller (Sabihil) and the buyer (SPO1 Ellevera); the object (two sachets of shabu) and their consideration (marked money), as well as the delivery of the illegal drugs and payment for the same, were established.

B.       Sabihil insists that he must be acquitted on the ground that the police operatives failed to comply with the Chain of Custody Rule which governs the handling of the drug evidence from its confiscation until its presentation in court as evidence.

The Court disagree.

Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 provides for the Chain of Custody Rule or the procedure on how seized drug/s and/or related items must be handled until they are presented in court as evidence, to wit:

Section 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs x x x. — The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs x x x 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;

(2) Within twenty-four (24) hours upon confiscation/seizure of dangerous drugs x x x the same shall be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination;

(3) A certification of the forensic laboratory examination results, which shall be done under oath by the forensic laboratory examiner, shall be issued within twenty-four (24) hours after the receipt of the subject item/s X X X.

There are generally four links that must be proved to comply with the Chain of Custody Rule. 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 officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court.” [People v. Calvelo, G.R. No. 223526, December 6, 2017].

In addition, there was nothing irregular in the turnover of the seized illegal drugs to the Crime Laboratory. Note that it was established that, within 24 hours from the seizure of the shabu, SPO1 Ellevera delivered them to the Crime Laboratory. PO1 Cambalon received, weighed, and labelled them and, thereafter, turned them over to their Forensic Chemist, PCI Gucor. In turn, upon examination by the Forensic Chemist, these specimens tested positive of methamphetamine hydrochloride. In fact, the counsels of the parties stipulated on the Chain of Custody document and even dispensed with the testimonies of PO1 Cambalon and PCI Gucor as well as that of PO1 Federe, who delivered the drug evidence to the court. These matters only proved that even the defense had, early on, agreed to the full compliance with the Chain of Custody Rule by the buy-bust team.

Furthermore, SPO1 Ellevera and PO3 Collado identified in court that the items presented thereat were the same ones they recovered during the buy-bust operation against Sabihil.

Taken together, all the foregoing circumstances showed that the buy-bust team had fully observed the required chain of custody of the confiscated illegal drugs. Without doubt, the existence of the corpus delicti was established in this case.

C.       The marking of the seized items at the police station, not at the place of incident, did not impair the chain of custody of the drug evidence.

For one, the marking at the nearest police station is allowed whenever the same is availed of due to practical reasons [People v. Pundugar, G.R. No. 214779 (Resolution), February 7, 2018].  For another, the prosecution had explained the failure of the buy-bust team to immediately mark these items at the place where the buy-bust operation was conducted.

These justifications include: (i) because of security reasons — there were many people in the place of incident, which was a public transport terminal, and the buy-bust team was uncertain if Sabihil had any companion; (ii) after the buy-bust was concluded, Sabihil was resisting arrest and consequently, people were asking what had happened and a commotion transpired; and (iii) as mentioned, the buy-bust happened in a bus terminal, which was a busy place where buses were going out at the very exit where the actual buy-bust took place.

To put it simply, as a rule, marking of the illegal drugs must be done immediately upon confiscation. “Immediate confiscation,” however, has no exact definition; and in case there is such a practical reason, the marking at the nearest police station falls within the concept of immediate marking of the seized drugs. For indeed, “marking upon ‘immediate’ confiscation can reasonably cover marking done at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team, especially when the place of seizure is volatile and could draw unpredictable reactions from its surroundings,” [Macad v. People, G.R. No. 227366, August 1, 2018].

D.      Yes. The required witnesses are present during the inventory of seized drugs.

At the Panabo Police Station, PO3 Collado conducted an inventory of the recovered sachets of shabu. The inventory of these items was done in the presence of Sabihil and the necessary witnesses – an elective official, Brgy. Kagawad Joselito Ohaylan; a media representative, Gilbert P. Bacarro; as well as a representative from the DOJ, Ian R. Dionola. At the same time, pictures were taken during the inventory of these items.

Related CASE BrieFs:
a)       People v. Calvelo, G.R. No. 223526, December 6, 2017
b)       People v. Pundugar, G.R. No. 214779 (Resolution), February 7, 2018
c)       Macad v. People, G.R. No. 227366, August 1, 2018

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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       To be convicted of the crime of sale of illegal drugs, the prosecution must prove with moral certainty: (1) the identity of the seller and the buyer; (2) the object and consideration of the sale; and, (3) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.

B.       There are generally four links that must be proved to comply with the Chain of Custody Rule. “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 officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court.” [People v. Calvelo, G.R. No. 223526, December 6, 2017].

C.       The marking at the nearest police station is allowed whenever the same is availed of due to practical reasons [People v. Pundugar, G.R. No. 214779 (Resolution), February 7, 2018]. 

D.      As a rule, marking of the illegal drugs must be done immediately upon confiscation. “Immediate confiscation,” however, has no exact definition; and in case there is such a practical reason, the marking at the nearest police station falls within the concept of immediate marking of the seized drugs. For indeed, “marking upon ‘immediate’ confiscation can reasonably cover marking done at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team, especially when the place of seizure is volatile and could draw unpredictable reactions from its surroundings,” [Macad v. People, G.R. No. 227366, August 1, 2018].

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