Freeman Region

On dismissal of drug cases; RTC cites police’s flaws in operation procedures

Eileen Nazareno-Ballesteros - The Freeman

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — Three persons got acquitted of drug cases because of the police’s  failure to observe procedures required under Republic Act 9165 (Dangerous Drugs Act) in conducting search and seizure, and in presenting evidences in court.

In a 19-page decision acquitting the accused—Anthony Sarmiento, a certain “Vilma” and a minor—Regional Trial Court-Branch acting presiding Judge Lauro Castillo Jr. reminded the police on the importance of “preserving the chain of custody over the seized items until these are presented in court as evidence and of every person’s constitutional right to privacy of abode.”

Castillo said that, “Proving the existence of the corpus delicti (concrete evidence of a crime) should follow the guidelines as prescribed under Section 21 of RA 9165 or the so-called ‘chain-of-custody-rule,”’ to determine if this subject of a buy-bust operation was preserved.

The judge said the prosecution was unable to prove that the chain-of-custory of the seized items during the operation was not broken, and that the policemen violated the rule during the conduct of the operation.

The police team “failed to observe and comply with Section 21 of the law,” which requires them “to physically inventory and photograph the seized items in the presence of the accused or his representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice, and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof,” Castillo declared in his decision.

In the evening of October 3, 2004 in Tacloban City, then Police Officer 2 (now Senior Police Officer 1) Erwin Chiong Manalo of the Police Regional Office-8’s Special Operations Group on anti-illegal drugs—acting as poseur-buyer—bought .35 grams of shabu from Sarmiento for P1000, outside the house of the suspect.

After the buy-bust, the police team raided Sarmiento’s house, where they also arrested two females, allegedly on the act of repacking shabu scattered on the floor.

The court, however, noted from the testimonies of witnesses—both of the prosecution and the defense—that the repacking was done at the second floor and not in plain view at the ground floor of the house. Besides the buy bust was conducted outside the house, thus a search warrant issued by a court was required, it added.

In Manalo’s affidavit, the court further noted that the police team did not conduct an inventory of the illegal drugs seized during the buy-bust and instead—after the search of the house in the presence of a barangay official and the media—brought Sarmiento and the two females to the Police Regional Office-8 headquarters.

“The failure of the arresting officers to conduct an inventory at the crime scene … has cast doubt on the integrity of the seized dangerous drugs,” Castillo ruled, while further noting that there was discrepancy on the weight of shabu, which was initially reported as .35 grams but later recorded in Chemistry Report No. D-397-2004 as 3.35 grams.

The prosecution also did not cure the discrepancy thereby compromising the integrity of the seized shabu or the corpus delecti, said the judge.

As to the arrest after the warrantless search, Castillo cited a Supreme Court ruling that “any evidence obtained in violation of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.” (FREEMAN)


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