CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0067


“The law further requires that the said inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses.


CASE:  People of the Philippines vs. Edwin Alconde y Madla and Julius Querquela y Rebaca [G.R. No. 238117, February 04, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe

SUBJECT:
A.       SPECIAL LAW:
          i.        RA 9165 or the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002”
                   –        Chain of Custody
                   –        Witness requirement
                   –        How and when to conduct the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted

FACTS:        This case stemmed from two (2) separate Informationsfiled before the RTC, respectively charging Alconde of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs and Alconde and Querquela of Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs. The prosecution alleged that on August 9, 2015, the members of the Puerto Police Station 6 arrested a certain Angkie for violation of RA 9165 and held him for further questioning. In the course thereof, Angkie revealed that Alconde was his source of shabu, prompting PO3 Agravante to arrange a meet-up with Alconde. Accordingly, a buy-bust operation was conducted, and the team proceeded to the said area. Alconde and Querquela arrived, PO3 Agravante immediately handed over the P1,000.00 worth of marked money to Querquela; in exchange, Alconde gave the two (2) sachets containing a total of 0.1903 gram of shabu to PO3 Agravante. Shortly thereafter, PO3 Agravante executed the pre-arranged signal, prompting other police officers to rush towards the scene and restrain Alconde. Meanwhile, PO3 Agravante frisked Querquela and recovered from him the marked money. He likewise performed a body search on Alconde, from whom he recovered one (1) sachet of marijuana fruit tops. Subsequently, the seized items were photographed only in the presence of Alconde and Querquela. Not long after, they were brought to the police station where the requisite marking and inventory were conducted by PO3 Agravante in the presence of Alconde and Querquela, and Brgy. Capt. Malingin. The seized items were then delivered to the PNP Crime Laboratory wherein upon examination, tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu and marijuana, both dangerous drugs.

 The RTC found Alconde and Querquela guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes charged.

The CA affirmed in toto the RTC’s ruling.


ISSUES:
A.       Whether the CA correctly upheld Alconde and Querquela’s conviction.
        a.       What must be proved to establish the identity of the dangerous drugs with moral certainty?
          b.       How and when should the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted?
        c.       Who are the required witnesses during the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items?
         d.       Whether compliance with the chain of custody procedure is strictly enjoined.


RULING:
A.      
In cases for Illegal Sale and/or Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs under RA 9165, it is essential that the identity of the dangerous drug be established with moral certainty, considering that the dangerous drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime [People v. Viterbo, 739 Phil. 593 (2014)]. Failing to prove the integrity of the corpus delicti renders the evidence for the State insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and, hence, warrants an acquittal (People v. Gamboa, G.R. No. 233702, June 20, 2018).

To establish the identity of the dangerous drug with moral certainty, the prosecution must be able to account for each link of the chain of custody from the moment the drugs are seized up to their presentation in court as evidence of the crime. As part of the chain of custody procedure, the law requires, inter alia, that the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted immediately after seizure and confiscation of the same, although jurisprudence recognized that “marking upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team” [People v. Mamalumpon, 767 Phil. 845 (2015)]

Pertinent to this case, the law further requires that the said inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses, namely: (a) if prior to the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640,a representative from the media AND the Department of Justice, and any elected public official; or (b) if after the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service OR the media. The law requires the presence of these witnesses primarily “to ensure the establishment of the chain of custody and remove any suspicion of switching, planting, or contamination of evidence” [People v. Mendoza; 736 Phil. 749, 764 (2014)].

In this case, the inventory and photography of the seized items were not conducted in the presence of the required witnesses, namely: an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media. As the records show, the taking of photographs was immediately done upon the arrest but only in the presence of Alconde and Querquela. It was only later when the police officers proceeded to the police precinct that a singular witness, Brgy. Capt. Malingin (an elected public official), was called to attend the marking and inventory of the confiscated items. Evidently, this procedure veers away from what is prescribed by law.

While compliance with the chain of custody procedure is strictly enjoined as the same has been regarded “not merely as a procedural technicality but as a matter of substantive law”, the Court has recognized that strict compliance with the chain of custody procedure may not always be possible due to varying field conditions. As such, the failure of the apprehending team to strictly comply with the same would not ipso facto render the seizure and custody over the items as void and invalid, provided that the prosecution satisfactorily proves that: (a) there is a justifiable ground for non-compliance; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. The foregoing is based on the saving clause found in Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9165, which was later adopted into the text of RA 10640.

Anent the witness requirement, it is settled that non-compliance may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear (People v. Crispo, G.R. No. 230065, March 14, 2018). In this case, however, no plausible explanation was given by the police officers as to why all the required witnesses were not around during the conduct of inventory and photography of the confiscated items. Neither was it shown that genuine and sufficient efforts were made to secure the presence of all the witnesses, as in fact, it was only “after the consummation of the buy-bust operation” when PO3 Agravante called Brgy. Capt. Malingin to witness the marking and inventory of the confiscated items.

Thus, in view of this unjustified deviation from the chain of custody rule, the Court is constrained to conclude that the integrity and evidentiary value of the items purportedly seized from Alconde and Querquela had been compromised, which consequently warrants their acquittal.

Related Case Briefs:
a)       People v. Viterbo, 739 Phil. 593 (2014)
b)       People v. Gamboa, G.R. No. 233702, June 20, 2018
c)       People v. Mamalumpon, 767 Phil. 845 (2015)
d)       People v. Mendoza; 736 Phil. 749 (2014)
e)       People v. Crispo, G.R. No. 230065, March 14, 2018
————————————————-

THINGS DECIDED:

A.       In cases for Illegal Sale and/or Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs under RA 9165, it is essential that the identity of the dangerous drug be established with moral certainty, considering that the dangerous drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime [People v. Viterbo, 739 Phil. 593 (2014)]. Failing to prove the integrity of the corpus delicti renders the evidence for the State insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt and, hence, warrants an acquittal (People v. Gamboa, G.R. No. 233702, June 20, 2018).

B.       To establish the identity of the dangerous drug with moral certainty, the prosecution must be able to account for each link of the chain of custody from the moment the drugs are seized up to their presentation in court as evidence of the crime. As part of the chain of custody procedure, the law requires, inter alia, that the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted immediately after seizure and confiscation of the same, although jurisprudence recognized that “marking upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team” [People v. Mamalumpon, 767 Phil. 845 (2015)]

Pertinent to this case, the law further requires that the said inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses, namely: (a) if prior to the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640,a representative from the media AND the Department of Justice, and any elected public official; or (b) if after the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service OR the media. The law requires the presence of these witnesses primarily “to ensure the establishment of the chain of custody and remove any suspicion of switching, planting, or contamination of evidence” [People v. Mendoza; 736 Phil. 749, 764 (2014)].

C.       Anent the witness requirement, it is settled that non-compliance may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear (People v. Crispo, G.R. No. 230065, March 14, 2018).

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