G.R. No. 200877 November 12, 2014
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CHARVE JOHN LAGAHIT, Accused-Appellant.
“x x x.
Now, going to the crime of illegal possession of marijuana, there is also no doubt that the prosecution was able to fully satisfy all the elements of the crime. The prosecution, however, failed to show that the apprehending team complied with the required procedure for the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs set forth in Section 21, ArticleII of Republic Act No. 9165.
The procedure for the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, among others, is provided under Section 21(a), paragraph 1, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, thus:
(a) 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. (Emphasis supplied).
The specific procedures relating to the seizure and custody of drugs have been laid down under the Implementing Rules and Regulations for Republic Act No. 9165, particularly Section 21(a), Article II thereof, and it is the prosecution’s burden to adduce evidence that these procedures have been complied with in proving the elements of the offense.29The said Section 21(a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9165 reads:
(a) The apprehending team having initialcustody 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 ofthe inventory and be given a copy thereof; Provided, further that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officers/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items. (Emphasis supplied).
In the present case, the records are bereft of any indication that would show that the prosecution was able to establish the apprehending team’s compliance with the above procedural safeguards. The records similarly do not contain any physical inventory report or photograph of the confiscated items. Even the lone prosecution witness never stated in his testimony that he or any member of the buy-bust team had conducted a physical inventory or taken pictures of the items. Although PO3 Lawas, Jr. testified that the seized drugs subject of the illegal possession case had been marked, nowhere can it be found that the marking thereof was done in the presence of the appellant or any of the above-mentioned third-party representatives.
While this Court recognizes that non-compliance by the buy-bust team with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165 is not fatal as long as there is a justifiable ground therefor, for and as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team, these conditions, however, were not met in the present case.30 Despite of all the aforesaid major lapses, the prosecution neither offered any explanation why the procedure was not followed nor mentioned any justifiable ground for failing to observe the rule. In People v. Ancheta,31 this Court pronounced that when there is gross disregard of the procedural safeguards set forth in Republic Act No. 9165, serious uncertainty is generated as to the identity of the seized items that the prosecution presented in evidence. Such doubt cannot beremedied by merely invoking the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties for a gross, systematic, or deliberate disregard of the procedural safeguards effectively produces an irregularity in the performance of official duties.32 Also in People v. Ancheta,this Court explained that:
Indeed, it is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items that is of utmost importance in determining the admissibility of the evidence presented in court, especially in cases of buybust operations. That is why Congress saw fit to fashion a detailed procedure in order to ensure that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items would not be compromised. The marking of the seized items was only a piece in a detailed set of procedural safeguards embodied in [Republic Act No. 9165]. If the arresting officers were unable to comply with the other requirements, they were under obligation to explain why the procedure was not followed and prove that the reason provided a justifiable ground. Otherwise, the requisites under the law would merely be fancy ornaments that may or may not be disregarded by the arresting officers at their own convenience.33 (Emphasis supplied).
In view of the foregoing, serious doubt exists whether the drugs subject of the illegal possession case presented in court were the same as those recovered from the appellant. Thus, the prosecution likewise failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the corpus delictiin the crime of illegal possession of marijuana.
Concededly, the evidence of the defense is weak and uncorroborated. This, however, cannot be used to advance the cause of the prosecution as the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own weight and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the defense. Moreover, when the circumstances are capable of two or more inferences, as in this case, such that one of which is consistent with the presumption of innocence and the other is compatible with guilt, the presumption of innocence must prevail and the court must acquit.34
It is truly distressing how courts are constrained to make acquittals, dismissals, or reversals by reason of the inadvertent failure of the arresting officers and the prosecution to establish compliance or justify noncompliance with a statutory procedure. It is even more troubling when those cases involve apparently known or long-suspected drug pushers. Congress was clear in its declaration on the eradication of the drug menace plaguing our country. Yet, also firm and stringent is its mandate to observe the legal safeguards provided for under Republic Act No. 9165. This is the reason why this Court has emphasized countless times that courts must remain vigilant in their disposition of cases related to dangerous drugs. Also, this Court has already called on the police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the prosecution to reinforce and review the conduct of buy-bust operations and the presentation of evidence.35
All told, the prosecution failed to establish the element of corpus delicti with the prescribed degree of proof required for successful prosecution of both sale and possession of prohibited drugs, thus, no valid conviction for the crimes charged can result.
X x x.”