In a 20-page decision dated Dec. 20, 2018 and released to the media Wednesday, the CA's ninth division set aside the June 2017 decision of Sorsogon City Regional Trial Court that found respondent Noel Lasca guilty of violation of Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act).
The CA pointed out officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) failed to secure the chain of custody of evidence under Section 21 of RA 9165 when they did not conduct the inventory of the sachets of shabu confiscated from the accused at the place of the seizure due to unavailability of mandatory witnesses.
“In this case, however, the physical inventory of the seized drugs was not immediately conducted at the place of seizure. In fact, the buy-bust team, along with the appellant, had gone to the Burabod Barangay Hall, about 900 meters away from the place of seizure, to conduct the physical inventory,” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Geraldine Fiel – Macaraig.
Associate Justices Apolinario Bruselas Jr. and Myra Garcia-Fernandez concurred in the ruling.
“Given that there are patent irregularities present at the point of seizure, which is the “fist link” in the chain, there is no more practical value to establishing the unbroken chain of custody to show the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved,” the court explained.
The CA explained that the “entire rationale of placing witnesses at the scene and conducting an inventory and photographing in their presence immediately after the seizure of the dangerous drugs is to guarantee with moral certainty that the items were indeed recovered from the accused and not planted by the police officers.”
The appellate court further held that while RA 9165 provides exemption to the rule, the prosecution in this case failed to sufficiently provide a justification for the violation of the rule by the arresting authorities.
“While, this Court fully supports the State's campaign against illegal drugs, it cannot turn a blind eye to breaches of the requirements under the law and the rules. We hold that it is the core duty of the prosecution to account for and explain any deviations from the mandatory requirements outlined in Section 21. Unfortunately, the prosecution in this case failed to sufficiently advance a justifiable reason for the deviation,” it said.