Procedural lapses
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2019 - 12:00am

Violations of R.A. 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act are usually committed in a clandestine manner. So, law enforcers have devised a method to effectively catch the culprits known as the “buy-bust operations”. To ensure the integrity of the drugs seized in a buy-bust operation however said law has also established a procedure to be observed. The items seized must be inventoried and photographed in the presence of the accused or the person from whom such items were seized or confiscated or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from media and the Department of Justice and any elected official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof. This is the procedure explained in this case of Laura.

Laura was charged with violation of R.A 9165, Section 5, for selling, delivering and giving away 0.08 gram of shabu, and Section 11, for directly having custody and possession of another 0.14 gram of shabu. The charges against her stemmed from a buy-bust operation conducted by the police of the City where Laura and her husband John resided.

According to the witnesses for the Prosecution composed of the policemen who conducted the operation, a confidential informant reported to their office that Laura and John were peddling prohibited drugs in their Barangay. Acting on said information, the Police Chief Inspector formed a team and held a briefing to conduct a buy-bust operation in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). PO2 Roger was designated as poseur buyer and given a P500 bill as marked money.

Upon arrival of the team at the target area, PO2 Roger and the informant approached Laura who was standing along a street. PO2 Roger signaled the other members of the team watching from vantage points that he had identified their target. He then gave Laura the marked money as payment for the shabu which Laura took from her wallet. After signaling the rest of the team that the transaction has been consummated, the back-up policeman, PO2 Benny rushed to the scene of the crime and assisted PO2 Roger in arresting Laura. Recovered from her was the marked money, another sachet of shabu and a disposable lighter. Due to the gathering crowd, the team decided to conduct the inventory of the seized items at the nearest Barangay Hall. But they transferred to another Barangay Hall after waiting in vain for 5 hours for the arrival of an elected public official. The marking and inventory of the seized items were then conducted in the presence of Laura and the Barangay Captain. Photographs were also taken during the inventory.

Then the team proceeded to the police station and turned over the custody of Laura and the seized items to the duty investigator PO3 Cornelio who prepared a letter-request for the drug test of the shabu and brought the items to the crime laboratory. Police Senior Inspector Randy then conducted the laboratory examinations and confirmed that the sachets sold by Laura and found in her possession marked as “RAG” and RAG-1” with a weight of 0.08 gram and 0.14 gram respectively, indeed contained shabu.

For her defense, Laura testified that at said day and time she was inside their house with her husband and four year old daughter when five armed men suddenly barged inside and ransacked their house. She did not resist for fear of physical abuse. Then the policemen took her and her family to the police station where they were detained for two days and not given food. Her husband and daughter were later released and told to return with P50,000 as payment for her freedom. When her husband failed to bring the money, false charges were filed against her.

After trial, the Regional Trial Court (RTC found Laura guilty beyond reasonable doubt of illegal sale of 0.08 gram of shabu under Section 5 RA 9162 and sentenced her to life imprisonment. But it acquitted her of illegal possession of 0.14 gram because SPO1 Benny failed to identify the same during his cross examination. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). It said that the buy-bust team had substantially complied with the procedural requisite as it was able to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized shabu.

Laura thus appealed the CA decision insisting that the buy-bust team failed to comply with the procedural requirements because of the non-attendance of a representative from the media and the DOJ.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Laura and acquitted her. According to the SC, the corpus delicti of the crime here is the shabu or the dangerous drugs. So its integrity and evidentiary value must be established. In this case, while the inventory and photograph of the seized shabu were done in the presence of a barangay captain there was no mention that the same was conducted in the presence of a representative from media and the DOJ. The signatures of said representatives do not even appear in the Inventory Receipt. In such a case, the prosecution must establish not only the reasons for their absence, but also that earnest efforts has been exerted in securing the presence of the required witnesses. The prosecution must explain and prove the justifiable grounds for the procedural lapses particularly the following: (1) their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest is a remote area; (2) their safety was threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused or any person acting for and in his/her behalf; (3) the elected officials themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended; (4) earnest efforts to secure their presence were made but proved futile within eighteen hours of detention required under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code to avoid the charge of arbitrary detention; (5) time constraints and urgency of the drug operations prevented the law enforcers from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses. The court cannot presume what these grounds were or whether they even existed. (People vs. Cadiente, G.R. 228255, June 10, 2019)

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