[ G.R. No. 233702. June 20, 2018 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. MANUEL GAMBOA Y FRANCISCO @ "KUYA," ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
SEPARATE CONCURRING OPINION
I concur with the ponencia in acquitting accused-appellant Manuel Gamboa y Francisco of the charges of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs, or violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (R.A. No. 9165),1 respectively. I agree that despite the nonobservance of the three-witness requirement under Section 212 of R.A. No. 9165, no justifiable reason was proffered by the prosecution as to why the marking of the seized items immediately upon confiscation at the place of arrest was only done in the presence of appellant and a media representative, without the presence of any elected public official and a representative from the Department of Justice. Be that as it may, I would like to emphasize on important matters relative to Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, as amended.
To properly guide law enforcement agents as to the proper handling of confiscated drugs, Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No. 9165 filled in the details as to where the inventory and photographing of seized items had to be done, and added a saving clause in case the procedure is not followed:3
(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.
It bears emphasis that R.A. No. 10640,4 which amended Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, now only requires two (2) witnesses to be present during the conduct of the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized items, namely: (a) an elected public official; and (b) either a representative from the National Prosecution Service or the media.
In her Sponsorship Speech on Senate Bill No. 2273, which eventually became R.A. No. 10640, Senator Grace Poe conceded that "while Section 21 was enshrined in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act to safeguard the integrity of the evidence acquired and prevent planting of evidence, the application of said Section resulted in the ineffectiveness of the government's campaign to stop the increasing drug addiction and also, in the conflicting decisions of the courts."5 Senator Poe stressed the necessity for the amendment of Section 21 based on the public hearing that the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs had conducted, which revealed that "compliance with the rule on witnesses during the physical inventory is difficult.(awÞhi( For one, media representatives are not always available in all comers of the Philippines, especially in the remote areas. For another there were instances where elected barangay officials themselves were involved in the punishable acts apprehended and thus, it is difficult to get the most grassroot-elected public official to be a witness as required by law."6
In his Co-sponsorship speech, Senator Vicente C. Sotto III said that in view of a substantial number of acquittals in drug-related cases due to the varying interpretations of prosecutors and judges on Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, there is a need for "certain adjustments so that we can plug the loopholes in our existing law" and ensure [its] standard implementation."7 Senator Sotto explained why the said provision should be amended:
Numerous drug trafficking activities can be traced to operations of highly organized and powerful local and international syndicates. The presence of such syndicates that have the resources and the capability to mount a counter-assault to apprehending law enforcers makes the requirement of Section 21 (a) impracticable for law enforcers to comply with. It makes the place of seizure extremely unsafe for the proper inventory and photograph of the seized illegal drugs.
x x x x
Section 21(a) of RA 9165 need to be amended to address the foregoing situation. We did not realize this in 2002 where the safety of the law enforcers and other persons required to be present in the inventory and photography of seized illegal drugs and the preservation of the very existence of seized illegal drugs itself are threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of drug syndicates at the place of seizure. The place where the seized drugs may be inventoried and photographed has to include a location where the seized drugs as well as the persons who are required to be present during the inventory and photograph are safe and secure from extreme danger.
It is proposed that the physical inventory and taking of photographs of seized illegal drugs be allowed to be conducted either in the place of seizure of illegal drugs or at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending law enforcers. The proposal will provide effective measures to ensure the integrity of seized illegal drugs since a safe location makes it more probable for an inventory and photograph of seized illegal drugs to be properly conducted, thereby reducing the incidents of dismissal of drug cases due to technicalities.
Non-observance of the prescribed procedures should not automatically mean that the seizure or confiscation is invalid or illegal, as long as the law enforcement officers could justify the same and could prove that the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are not tainted. This is the effect of the inclusion in the proposal to amend the phrase "justifiable grounds." There are instances where there are no media people or representatives from the DOJ available and the absence of these witnesses should not automatically invalidate the drug operation conducted. Even the presence of a public local elected official also is sometimes impossible especially if the elected official is afraid or scared.8
However, under the original provision of Section 21 and its IRR, which is applicable at the time the appellant committed the crimes charged, the apprehending team was required to immediately conduct a physical inventory and photograph the drugs after their seizure and confiscation in the presence of no less than three (3) witnesses, namely: (a) a representative from the media, and (b) the DOJ, and; (c) any elected public official who shall be required to sign copies of the inventory and be given copy thereof. The presence of the three witnesses was intended as a guarantee against planting of evidence and frame up, as they were "necessary to insulate the apprehension and incrimination proceedings from any taint of illegitimacy or irregularity."9
The prosecution bears the burden of proving a valid cause for non-compliance with the procedure laid down in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, as amended. It has the positive duty to demonstrate observance thereto in such a way that during the trial proceedings, it must initiate in acknowledging and justifying any perceived deviations from the requirements of law.10 Its failure to follow the mandated procedure must be adequately explained, and must be proven as a fact in accordance with the rules on evidence. It should take note that the rules require that the apprehending officers do not simply mention a justifiable ground, but also clearly state this ground in their sworn affidavit, coupled with a statement on the steps they took to preserve the integrity of the seized items.11 Strict adherence to Section 21 is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is minuscule, since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering or alteration of evidence. 12
In this case, the prosecution never alleged and proved that the presence of all the required witnesses was not obtained for any of the following reasons, such as: (1) their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area; (2) their safety during the inventory and photograph of the seized drugs were threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused or any person/s acting for and in his/her behalf; (3) the elected official themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended; (4) earnest efforts to secure the presence of a DOJ or media representative and an elected public official within the period required under Article 12513 of the Revised Penal Code prove futile through no fault of the arresting officers, who face the threat of being charged with arbitrary detention; or (5) time constraints and urgency of the anti-drug operations, which often rely on tips of confidential assets, prevented the law enforcers from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses even before the offenders could escape.
Invocation of the disputable presumptions that the police officers regularly performed their official duty and that the integrity of the evidence is presumed to be preserved, will not suffice to uphold appellant's conviction. Judicial reliance on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty despite the lapses in the procedures undertaken by the agents of the law is fundamentally flawed because the lapses themselves are affirmative proofs of irregularity.14 The presumption may only arise when there is a showing that the apprehending officer/team followed the requirements of Section 21 or when the saving clause found in the IRR is successfully triggered. In this case, the presumption of regularity had been contradicted and overcome by evidence of non-compliance with the law.15
At this point, it is not amiss to express my position regarding the issue of which between the Congress and the Judiciary has jurisdiction to determine sufficiency of compliance with the rule on chain of custody, which essentially boils down to the application of procedural rules on admissibility of evidence. In this regard, I agree with the view of Hon. Associate Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro in People v. Teng Moner y Adam16 that "if the evidence of illegal drugs was not handled precisely in the manner prescribed by the chain of custody rule, the consequence relates not to inadmissibility that would automatically destroy the prosecution's case but rather to the weight of evidence presented for each particular case." As aptly pointed out by Justice Leonardo-De Castro, the Court's power to promulgate judicial rules, including rules of evidence, is no longer shared by the Court with Congress.
I subscribe to the view of Justice Leonardo-De Castro that the chain of custody rule is a matter of evidence and a rule of procedure, and that the Court has the last say regarding the appreciation of evidence. Evidentiary matters are indeed well within the powers of courts to appreciate and rule upon, and so, when the courts find appropriate, substantial compliance with the chain of custody rule as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items have been preserved may warrant the conviction of the accused.
I further submit that the requirements of marking the seized items, conduct of inventory and taking photograph in the presence of a representative from the media or the DOJ and a local elective official, are police investigation procedures which call for administrative sanctions in case of non-compliance. Violation of such procedure may even merit penalty under R.A. No. 9165, to wit:
Section 29. Criminal Liability for Planting of Evidence. - Any person who is found guilty of "planting" any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical, regardless of quantity and purity, shall suffer the penalty of death.
Section 32. Liability to a Person Violating Any Regulation Issued by the Board - The penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and a fine ranging from Ten thousand pesos (₱10,000.00) to Fifty thousand Pesos (₱50,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person found violating any regulation duly issued by the Board pursuant to this Act, in addition to the administrative sanctions imposed by the Board.1a⍵⍴h!1
However, non-observance of such police administrative procedures should not affect the validity of the seizure of the evidence, because the issue of chain of custody is ultimately anchored on the admissibility of evidence, which is exclusively within the prerogative of the courts to decide in accordance with the rules on evidence.
1 "AN ACT INSTITUTING THE COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002, REPEALING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6425, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES"
2 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;
3 People v. Ramirez, G.R. No. 225690, January 17, 2018.
4 "AN ACT TO FURTHER STRENGTHEN THE ANTI-DRUG CAMPAIGN OF THE GOVERNMENT, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE SECTION 21 OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE "COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002."
5 Senate Journal, Session No. 80, 16th Congress, 1st Regular Session, June 4, 2014, p. 348.
8 Id. at 349-350.
9 People v. Sagana, G.R. No. 208471, August 2, 2017,
10 People v. Miranda, G.R. No. 229671, January 31, 2018; People v. Paz, G.R. No. 229512, January 31, 2018; and People v. Mamangon, G.R. No. 229102, January 29, 2018.
11 People v. Saragena, G.R. No. 210677, August 23, 2017.
13 Art. 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. — The penalties provided in the next preceding article shall be imposed upon the public officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of; twelve (12) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; eighteen (18) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent and thirty-six (36) hours, for crimes, or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties, or their equivalent.
14 People v. Ramirez, supra note 3.
15 People v. Gajo, G.R. No. 217026, January 22, 2018.
16 G.R. No. 202206, March 5, 2018.
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