G.R. No. 208685, March 09, 2015
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RODRIGO CASACOP Y DE CASTRO, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Failure to observe the chain of custody required under Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165 or failure to sufficiently explain the reason for non-observance of the chain of custody creates reasonable doubt as to the integrity of the corpus delicti in cases involving dangerous drugs.
An Information was filed against accused-appellant Rodrigo Casacop (Casacop), the accusatory portion stating:
That on or about July 24, 2002, in.the Municipality of San Pedro, Province of Laguna, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Rodrigo Casacop y de Castro without being authorized/permitted by law did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to a poseur buyer for one hundred peso bill (P100.00) one (1) small heat-sealed transparent sachet containing methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) weighing zero point zero four (0.04) gram, a regulated drug.
CONTRARY TO LAW.1
WHEREFORE, the Court hereby sentences accused RODRIGO CASACOP y DE CASTRO to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine in the amount of P500,000.00.
The 0.04 grams of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride "shabu" is confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government. Atty. Jaarmy Bolus Romero, Branch Clerk of Court is hereby directed to immediately transmit the 0.04 grams of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride "shabu" to the Dangerous Drugs Board for proper disposition.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED for lack of merit. The assailed Decision rendered by the Regional Trial Court of San Pedro, Laguna, Branch 93 on November 10, 2008 is AFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED.20 (Emphasis in the original)
[t]he failure to present in court the poseur-buyer did not affect the prosecution's case. In People vs. Lucero, reiterating previous pronouncements, this court said: "It is now well-settled that except for a situation where the appellant vehemently denies selling any prohibited drugs coupled with the inconsistent testimonies of the arresting officers or coupled with the possibility that there exist reasons to believe that the arresting officers had motives to testify against the appellant, or the situation where it was only the informant-poseur-buyer who witnessed the entire transaction, the testimony of the informant-poseur-buyer can be dispensed with as it will be merely corroborative of the apprehending officers-eyewitnesses' testimonies.48
(1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment. What is material is the proof that the transaction actually took place, coupled with the presentation before the court of the corpus delicti.57 (Citations omitted)
SEC. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. — The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:1. 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;
2. Within twenty-four (24) hours upon confiscation/seizure of dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment, the same shall be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination;
3. A certification of the forensic laboratory examination results, which shall be done under oath by the forensic laboratory examiner, shall be issued within twenty-four (24) hours after the receipt of the subject item/s: Provided, That when the volume of the dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals does not allow the completion of testing within the time frame, a partial laboratory examination report shall be provisionally issued stating therein the quantities of dangerous drugs still to be examined by the forensic laboratory: Provided, however, That a final certification shall be issued on the completed forensic laboratory examination on the same within the next twenty- four (24) hours[.] (Emphasis supplied)
SECTION 21. . . .
(a) The apprehending officer/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: Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures; 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 officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items[.] (Emphasis supplied)
First, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer;
Second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer;
Third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and
Fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized by the forensic chemist to the court.63
PROSECUTOR SERRRANO [sic] (On Direct Examination) Q: So what did your asset do, if any? A: He approached the house of the accused to buy shabu, Sir. Q: And what happened after he approached the house of the accused purposely to buy dangerous drug? A: I saw the accused run out of his house and made transaction to [sic] our poseur buyer, Sir. Q: How far were you again[,] Mr. Witness[,] when you noticed that the accused came out of his house and approached your asset? A: More or less seven (7) meters, Sir. Q: And what happened next as soon as the accused went out of his house and approached your asset? A: I saw the accused hand over something to our asset, Sir.64
PO1 Bautista's testimony is silent as to where the seized sachet was marked.70 In People v. Sabdula:71
PROSECUTOR SERRANO (On Direct Examination) Q: How about the item that was given by the accused to your asset, what happened to that item? A: It was handed over to me by our asset and I put the marking, Sir. Q: Will you please describe to us that item that was handed over to you by your asset, the very same item that the accused gave to your asset in exchange for the marked money? A: A small heat[-]sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white substance suspected as shabu, Sir. Q: You said you made marking on that sachet? A: Yes, Sir. Q: What else did you do[,] if any? A: After I put the marking, we brought it to the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, Sir.69
We are not unaware that the seized plastic sachet already bore the markings "BC 02-01-04" when it was examined by Forensic Chemist Jabonillo. In the absence, however, of specifics on how, when and where this marking was done and who witnessed the marking procedure, we cannot accept this marking as compliance with the required chain of custody requirement. There was also no stipulation between the parties regarding the circumstances surrounding this marking. We note in this regard that it is not enough that the seized drug be marked; the marking must likewise be made in the presence of the apprehended violator. As earlier stated, the police did not at any time ever hint that they marked the seized drug.72 (Emphasis supplied)
Compliance with the chain of custody requirement provided by Section 21, therefore, ensures the integrity of confiscated, seized, and/or surrendered drugs and/or drug paraphernalia in four (4) respects: first, the nature of the substances or items seized; second, the quantity (e.g., weight) of the substances or items seized; third, the relation of the substances or items seized to the incident allegedly causing their seizure; and fourth, the relation of the substances or items seized to the person/s alleged to have been in possession of or peddling them. Compliance with this requirement forecloses opportunities for planting, contaminating, or tampering of evidence in any manner.
By failing to establish identity of the corpus delicti, non-compliance with Section 21 indicates a failure to establish an element of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs. It follows that this non-compliance suffices as a ground for acquittal. As this court stated in People v. Lorenzo:In both illegal sale and illegal possession of prohibited drugs, conviction cannot be sustained if there is a persistent doubt on the identity of the drug. The identity of the prohibited drug must be established with moral certainty. Apart from showing that the elements of possession or sale are present, the fact that the substance illegally possessed and sold in the first place is the same substance offered in court as exhibit must likewise be established with the same degree of certitude as that needed to sustain a guilty verdict.The prosecution's sweeping guarantees as to the identity and integrity of seized drugs and drug paraphernalia will not secure a conviction. Not even the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties will suffice. In fact, whatever presumption there is as to the regularity of the manner by which officers took and maintained custody of the seized items is "negated." Republic Act No. 9165 requires compliance with Section 21.77 (Emphasis in the original)
. . . .
While the miniscule amount of narcotics seized is by itself not a ground for acquittal, this circumstance underscores the need for more exacting compliance with Section 21....
. . . .
Trial courts should meticulously consider the factual intricacies of cases involving violations of Republic Act No. 9165. All details that factor into an ostensibly uncomplicated and barefaced narrative must be scrupulously considered. Courts must employ heightened scrutiny, consistent with the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt, in evaluating cases involving miniscule amounts of drugs. These can be readily planted and tampered.78
Atty. Ilagan: Before you conducted this buy-bust operation[,] Mr. Witness[,] do you remember if you prepared [a] pre-operation report? A: I cannot recall, Sir. Q: After you confiscated the alleged marked money from the accused, did you prepare an inventory [,] Mr. Witness? A: As far as I can recall, no Sir. Atty. Ilagan: Do you remember[,] Mr. Witness[,] if you were authorized by your Chief of Police to conduct this buy bust operation? A: Yes, Sir. Q: And who was the Chief of Police at that time? A: It was Police Supt. Reyes, Sir. Q: Was this authority in writing, Mr. Witness? A: No, Sir. Q: So you mean to say it was a mere verbal instruction? A: Yes, Sir.81 (Citations omitted)
To determine whether there was a valid entrapment or whether proper procedures were undertaken in effecting the buy-bust operation, it is incumbent upon the courts to make sure that the details of the operation are clearly and adequately laid out through relevant, material and competent evidence. For, the courts could not merely rely on but must apply with studied restraint the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty by law enforcement agents.84
Non-compliance is tantamount to failure in establishing identity of corpus delicti, an essential element of the offenses of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs. By failing to establish an element of these offenses, non-compliance will, thus, engender the acquittal of an accused.86
As to the issue of non-compliance with the rules in handling and custody of confiscated illegal drugs, it is not amiss to point out that Republic Act No. 9165 already took effect when the accused-appellant was apprehended and charged for the illegal sale of drugs, contrary to what the Office of the Solicitor General posited that the law effective at the time of the commission of the crime is Republic Act No. 6425.87 (Citation omitted)
It is lamentable that while our dockets are clogged with prosecutions under Republic Act No. 9165 involving small-time drug users and retailers, we are seriously short of prosecutions involving the proverbial "big fish." We are swamped with cases involving small fry who have been arrested for miniscule amounts. While they are certainly a bane to our society, small retailers are but low-lying fruits in an exceedingly vast network of drug cartels. Both law enforcers and prosecutors should realize that the more effective and efficient strategy is to focus resources more on the source and true leadership of these nefarious organizations. Otherwise, all these executive and judicial resources expended to attempt to convict an accused for 0.05 gram of shabu under doubtful custodial arrangements will hardly make a dent in the overall picture. It might in fact be distracting our law enforcers from their more challenging task: to uproot the causes of this drug menace. We stand ready to assess cases involving greater amounts of drugs and the leadership of these cartels.88
1Rollo, p. 3.
2 Id. at 4.
11 Id. at 5.
15 CA rollo, pp. 54-55.
16 Id. at 55.
17 Id. at 54.
20Rollo, p. 15. The Court of Appeals Decision was penned by Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybanez and concurred in by Associate Justices Japar B. Dimaampao (Chair) and Victoria Isabel A. Paredes of the Fourteenth Division.
21 CA rollo, pp. 113-114.
22 Id. at 117.
23Rollo, p. 1.
24 Id. at 22.
26 Id. at 23-25.
27 Id. at 23.
28 Id. at 28.
29 Id. at 34-36.
30 Id. at 34.
31 Id. at 30-32.
32 Id. at 30.
33 Id. at 39.
34 Id. at 40-45.
35 Id. at 48-49.
36 Id. at 51-52.
37 Id. at 56.
38 Id. at 42.
39 Id. at 42-43.
40 Id. at 43.
41 CA rollo, p. 71.
43 Id. at 71-72.
44 Id. at 73.
45 Id. at 74.
47 317 Phil. 518, 524 (1995) [Per J. Vitug, Third Division].
48 CA rollo, pp. 72-73.
49 Id. at 42.
50 Id. at 43.
51Rollo, p. 42.
53 Id. at 43.
56 SEC. 5. Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. - The penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to Ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any dangerous drug, including any and all species of opium poppy regardless of the quantity and purity involved, or shall act as a broker in any of such transactions.
The penalty of imprisonment ranging from twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years and a fine ranging from One hundred thousand pesos (PI00,000.00) to Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any controlled precursor and essential chemical, or shall act as a broker in such transactions.
If the sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution or transportation of any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical transpires within one hundred (100) meters from the school, the maximum penalty shall be imposed in every case.
For drug pushers who use minors or mentally incapacitated individuals as runners, couriers and messengers, or in any other capacity directly connected to the dangerous drugs and/or controlled precursors and essential chemical trade, the maximum penalty shall be imposed in every case.
If the victim of the offense is a minor or a mentally incapacitated individual, or should a dangerous drug and/or a controlled precursor and essential chemical involved in any offense herein provided be the proximate cause of death of a victim thereof, the maximum penalty provided for under this Section shall be imposed.
The maximum penalty provided for under this Section shall be imposed upon any person who organizes, manages or acts as a "financier" of any of the illegal activities prescribed in this Section.
The penalty of twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years of imprisonment and a fine ranging from One hundred thousand pesos (PI00,000.00) to Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who acts as a "protector/coddler" of any violator of the provisions under this Section.
57People v. Almodiel, G.R. No. 200951, September 5, 2012, 680 SCRA 306, 316 [Per J. Carpio, Second Division].
58People v. Beran, G.R. No. 203028, January 15, 2014
17 [Per J. Reyes, First Division]. See also People v. Adrid, G.R. No. 201845, March 6, 2013, 692 SCRA 683, 697 [Per J. Velasco, Jr., Third Division].
59Rollo, p. 42.
60 CA rollo, p. 76.
62 G.R. No. 189277, December 5, 2012, 687 SCRA 336 [Per J. Perez, Second Division].
63 Id. at 351-352, citing People v. Kamad, 624 Phil. 289, 304 (2010) [Per J. Brion, Second Division].
64 CA rollo, p. 80.
65 Id. at 82-83.
66 Id. at 69.
69 Id. at 75.
70 Id. at 45-46.
71 G.R. No. 184758, April 21, 2014 [Per J. Brion, Second Division].
72 Id. at 7.
73 CA rollo, p. 48.
74 Id. at 69.
75 Id. at 54; Rollo, p. 13.
76 G.R. No. 207992, August 11, 2014 [Per J. Leonen, Third Division].
77 Id. at 10, citing People v. Lorenzo, 633 Phil. 393, 403 (2010) [Per J. Perez, Second Division] and People v. Navarrete, G.R. No. 185211, June 6, 2011, 650 SCRA 607, 618 [Per J. Carpio Morales, Third Division].
78 Id. at 14-15.
79 CA rollo, pp. 72-73; See also People v. Abbu, 317 Phil. 518, 524 (1995) [Per J. Vitug, Third Division].
80 CA rollo, p. 10.
81 Id. at 45-46.
82People v. Ong, 476 Phil. 553, 572 (2004) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].
83 476 Phil. 553 (2004) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].
84 Id. at 571-572.
85 G.R. No. 205821, October 1 2014 [Per J. Leonen, Second Division].
86 Id. at 7.
87Rollo, p. 10.
88 G.R. No. 207992, August 11, 2014 [Per J. Leonen, Third Division].