PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MARLON ABETONG y ENDRADO, Accused-Appellant.
G.R. No. 209785 June 4, 2014
TOPIC: Section 5 of RA 9165, chain of custody, testimony of keyholder of evidence locker, discrepancy in weight of substance
PONENTE: Velasco, Jr.
According to the prosecution, on August 22, 2003, PO3 Perez received an information that a certain “Cano” was selling drugs in his house at Bacolod City. Inspector Lorilla then called a briefing for a buy-bust operation where PO3 Perez as designated as the poseur-buyer. Two (2) P50 bills were prepared as marked money.
Upon arrival at the target area, PO3 Perez and the asset knocked on the door and were greeted by accused Abetong, who asked the purpose of the visit. PO3 Perez answered that he wanted to buy P100 worth of shabu. The two were ushered in by accused-appellant and once inside, PO3 Perez saw three persons sitting around a table, passing to one another a tooter and allegedly engaged in a pot session. The three were identified as Bayotas, Relos and Berturan. PO3 Perez then drew two PhP 50 bills marked “WCP” and handed them over to accused-appellant who in turn gave him a plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance from his right pocket.
After receiving the plastic sachet, PO3 Perez introduced himself as a police officer and signalled his back-up to effect the arrest of the four individuals. The suspects attempted to flee but their plans were foiled by the timely arrival of the other policemen. They were then brought to the police station where their arrest and the list of the items confiscated from them were entered in the police blotter. From their arrest until the items seized were transmitted to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory, the pieces of evidence were allegedly under PO3 Perez’s custody. In his testimony, PO3 Perez stated that he kept the items inside the evidence locker in the Drug Enforcement Unit Office, to which only Inspector Lorilla has a key.
On August 25, 2013, PO3 Perez brought the sachet containing crystalline substance and the tooter to the PNP Crime Laboratory for testing. Inspector Ompoy received the items and performed the necessary examinations. She testified that the white crystalline substance in the plastic sachet tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, weighing 0.04 gram while the tooter tested negative for any prohibited drug.
RTC found accused-appellant guilty of violation of Section 5 of RA 9165. CA affirmed said decision.
- Whether or not the prosecution was able to establish an unbroken chain of custody over the drug evidence.
- Whether or not presumption of regularity in the performance of duty of the police officers has been overturned.
FIRST ISSUE: No.
The Court held that prosecution failed to establish an unbroken chain of custody over the drug evidence.
Jurisprudence indeed instructs that failure to observe strictly Section 21 of RA 9165 can be excused as long as (1) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officers and (2) non-compliance was attended by justifiable grounds. However, the prosecution in this case was unsuccessful in showing that there was no opportunity for tampering, contamination, substitution, nor alteration of the specimens submitted. On the contrary, there is a dearth of evidence to show that the evidence presented was well preserved. The prosecution likewise failed to offer any justification on why the afore-quoted provision was not complied with.
Testimony of keyholder of evidence locker vital
In the case at bar, the failure of Inspector Lorilla to testify is fatal to the prosecution’s case. To recall, only PO3 Perez and Inspector Ompoy testified against accused-appellant. During his testimony, PO3 Perez admitted that he put the confiscated item in the evidence locker on August 22, 2003 for safekeeping and subsequently brought them to Inspector Ompoy at the crime laboratory on August 25, 2003. During this three-day interval, the items were allegedly kept inside the evidence locker to which only Inspector Lorilla has the key.
It is evident from this sequence of events that during the interim, Inspector Lorilla constructively acquired custody over the seized items. As the lone key holder and consequentially a link in the chain, Inspector Lorilla’s testimony became indispensable in proving the guilt of accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Only he could have testified that from August 22 to 25, 2003 no one else obtained the key from him for purposes of removing the items from their receptacle. Only he could have enlightened the courts on what safety mechanisms have been installed in order to preserve the integrity of the evidence acquired while inside the locker. Absent his testimony, therefore, it cannot be plausibly claimed that the chain of custody has sufficiently been established. To be sure, PO3 Perez did not even testify that he was assigned to safeguard the evidence locker for the said duration; only that he was the one who put it in and three days later took them out of the locker room before bringing them to the crime laboratory.
SECOND ISSUE: Yes.
The Court held that, in this case, the prosecution cannot skirt the issue of the broken chain of custody by relying on the presumption of regularity. This presumption, it must be stressed, is not conclusive. Any taint of irregularity affects the whole performance and should make the presumption unavailable. The presumption, in other words, obtains only when nothing in the records suggests that the law enforcers involved deviated from the standard conduct of official duty as provided for in the law. But where the official act in question is irregular on its face, as in this case, an adverse presumption arises as a matter of course.
Discrepancy in the weight of substance in Information and Chemistry Report fatal
A perusal of the Information filed against accused-appellant and Inspector Ompoy’s chemistry report reveals a glaring inconsistency in this case. In the Information, the subject plastic sachet contains 0.02 gram of shabu. However, in the Chemistry Report, the specimen stated weighs 0.04 gram.
The Court held that this discrepancy in the weight of the substance is fatal to the case of the prosecution. It automatically casts doubt as to the identity of the item seized and of the one tested as it erases any assurance that the evidence being offered is indeed the same as the one recovered during the buy-bust operation.