Six people who had been convicted by both the lower courts and the Court of Appeal (CA) for selling and possessing illegal drugs were acquitted and released by the Supreme Court (CS).
In five separate resolutions, the SC ruled that the law enforcement officers who conducted the bust buying operations did not strictly follow the procedures prescribed by law, the comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act en under Republic Law No. 9165, in the treatment of seized objects. illegal drugs.
By not strictly following the chain of custody. reasonable doubt about the integrity and identity of the illegal drugs seized which led to the acquittal of those convicted, he said.
Acknowledged in the resolutions promulgated on April 28 but published on the SC website only on June 22 were:
- Angelo C. Aranas who was arrested on July 20, 2016 in Malate, Manila and charged with illegal sale and possession of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride). On July 21, 2017, the lower court sentenced him to life imprisonment for selling shabu and 12 to 20 years in prison for possession. CA upheld the trial court’s conviction on December 7, 2018.
- Antonio Ancheta who was arrested in the town of San Fernando in La Union on August 17, 2015 and charged with selling shabu. He was found guilty by the court of first instance on November 17, 2016 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The decision was confirmed by the Board on September 28, 2017.
- Ronald D. Orale and Renato C. Gutierrez who were arrested in Paranaque City on August 26, 2013 for selling and possessing shabu, respectively. On September 30, 2016, Orale was sentenced to life imprisonment while Gutierrez was sentenced to a prison term ranging from 12 to 17 years. Orale called on CA, while Gutierrez did not. CA, on January 31, 2019, upheld the trial court’s decision.
- Nelly A. Ortizano who was arrested inside her home in Bacolod City on April 24, 2014. She was accused of selling shabu to police officers. She was found guilty by the court of first instance on August 31, 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The CA confirmed the conviction on January 30, 2019.
- Arnel M. Verbo who was arrested on September 28, 2014 in Gattaran, Cagayan. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by the lower court on November 17, 2016. The CA upheld the sentence on February 23, 2018.
The SC’s directive to release them was addressed to the Bureau of Corrections. It was not immediately clear whether they had been released.
In their appeal, they all told the SC that the prosecution had failed to establish an unbroken chain of possession of the allegedly seized illegal drugs.
In a long series of decisions and resolutions, the SC has stated that in cases involving dangerous drugs:
âThe prosecution has the burden of proving compliance with the chain of custody requirements under section 21, article II of RA 9165, namely: (1) seized items must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure or confiscation; (2) the physical inventory and the photograph must be taken in the presence of (a) the accused or his representative or lawyer, (b) an elected official, (c) a representative of the media, and (d) a representative of the Department of Justice (DOJ), who must all sign the copies of the inventory and receive a copy; and (3) seized drugs must be turned over to a forensic laboratory within 24 hours of forfeiture for examination.
âStrict adherence to the above requirements is necessary to protect the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti (the body of the crime), without which the crime of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs cannot be proven beyond of any reasonable doubt âmentioned.
In the case of Aranas, the CS said: âOnly a representative of the media signed the inventory of evidence. Yet officers did not provide any justification showing that the integrity of the evidence had always been preserved. Worse, there was no attempt by the buyout team to comply with the law and its rules. “
âIn short, the bag presented in evidence against Ancheta remained unmarked from the time it was allegedly confiscated until the team arrived at the office. Doubts therefore remain as to the identity, integrity and location of the object during the transport period, creating a critical loophole in the chain of possession, which justifies Ancheta’s acquittal â , said the SC.
In the case of Orale and Gutierrez, the SC declared: âThe prosecution in this case has failed to prove sufficient justifiable grounds for the failure to comply with the requirements of section 21, article II of RA n Â° 9165 and its IRR. The absence of the required isolating witnesses seriously questions the integrity of the confiscated items. Admittedly, only a representative of the media attended the inventory. The prosecution gave no explanation as to why the presence of an elected official and a representative of the Ministry of Justice was not guaranteed.
âThe Court cannot tolerate the lax approach of the police in the treatment of the corpus delicti itself of the crime. Therefore, Nelly Ortizano y Arce must be acquitted of the charges against her since the prosecution has not proven an unbroken chain of custody, âsaid the SC.
In this case (of Verbo), “the arrested agents certainly did not strictly observe the chain of custody procedure, that is to say they carried out the inventory without the presence of a representative of the NPS (National Prosecution Service) or the media, âsays SC.
“Given the nature of a buyout operation as a planned activity, the team could have obtained or made efforts to ensure the presence of the isolating witnesses before the operation unfolded,” he said. highlighted.
âIn this case, however, the team admittedly coordinated with the required isolates only after the operation. Worse, the files are devoid of any indication that they have taken other measures and made sufficient efforts to ensure the presence of witnesses during the inventory, âhe said.
The SC also said:
âWe emphasize, the presence of the people who should attend the post-operative measures is necessary to isolate the apprehension and incrimination procedures from any trace of illegitimacy or irregularity.
“The isolating presence of such witnesses would have preserved an unbroken chain of custody given that a buyout transaction is susceptible to abuse, and the only way to avoid this is to ensure that the procedural safeguards provided by law are strictly observed. “
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