Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 242686 | July 07, 2020
People of the Philippines, Plaintiff-appellee,
Zaldy Sioson Y Limon, Accused-appellant.
D E C I S I O N
REYES, J. JR., J.:
This is an appeal from the May 16, 2018 Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 09204 affirming the Joint Decision dated March 29, 2017 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Balanga City, Bataan, Branch 92 in Criminal Case Nos. 15273-74 finding accused-appellant Zaldy Sioson y Limon (Sioson) guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violating Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165 otherwise known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”
The present case stemmed from two separate Information dated October 28, 2015 charging Sioson with illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs. The prosecution alleged that on October 27, 2015, members of the police force stationed in Pilar, Bataan, in coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, planned a buy-bust operation against Sioson based on a tip received a week prior from a confidential asset. After the buy-bust team was organized, the operatives proceeded to the area of operation in Barangay Sta. Rosa, Pilar, Bataan together with the confidential informant. There, at around 8:15 p.m., the team saw Sioson alight from a tricycle. The designated poseur-buyer Police Officer 1 Juncarl G. Pataweg (PO1 Pataweg) and the asset then approached Sioson and told the latter of their intent to buy shabu worth P500.00. Sioson thereafter handed over to PO1 Pataweg one plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance in exchange for the marked P500.00 bill. Then, as the prearranged signal, PO1 Pataweg tapped the shoulder of Sioson and thanked him. Thus, PO2 Nadzmer R. Sahibul (PO2 Sahibul), who was 10 meters away from the target area, rushed to the target area and apprehended Sioson. PO1 Pataweg requested Sioson to empty his pockets whereupon Sioson pulled out four other plastic sachets of shabu. PO1 Pataweg then seized all five plastic sachets and marked them in the presence of Sioson. PO2 Sahibul testified that he witnessed the marking of the seized specimen. Thereafter, the buy-bust team brought Sioson to the Pilar Police Station for the conduct of the Inventory. PO1 Pataweg kept the subject evidence in his pocket from the time it was recovered from Sioson at the crime scene up to the police station. PO1 Pataweg and PO2 Sahibul then conducted the inventory while PO2 De Vega took photos of the seized items as witnessed by Sioson, media representative Danny Cumilang (Cumilang), Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Enuna Sangalang (Sangalang) and barangay official Rogelio Reyes (Reyes). Upon securing the necessary equest for Laboratory Examination, PO1 Pataweg and PO2 Sahlbul delivered the confiscated plastic sachets for testing at the Bataan Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, Balanga City, Bataan. Forensic Chemist Police Chief Inspector Vernon Rey Santiago (PCI Santiago) received the seized items from PO1 Pataweg and conducted tests thereon. In her Chemistry Report No. D-418-15-Bataan, PCI Santiago stated that the contents of the plastic sachets tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu.
For his part, Sioson claimed that on October 27, 2015, while he was in Prado Siongco, Lubao, Pampanga for the wake of his aunt Edna L. Sioson, he received a text message from his friend Edgar Nuestro (Nuestro) inviting him to his house in Pilar, Bataan. At Nuestro’s house, Sioson averred that six police officers suddenly barged in and physically assaulted him. He was then brought to the Pilar Municipal Hall on board a white vehicle.
In a Joint Decision dated March 29, 2017, the RTC adjudged Sioson guilty as charged and sentenced him: (1) to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00 for violating Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165; and (2) to serve a prison term of 15 years and one day as minimum to 20 years as maximum without eligibility for parole and to pay a fine of P300,000.00 for violating Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165. The RTC found that the prosecution was able to prove, with the required quantum of proof, all the elements of the crime of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs, and that the identity, integrity, and probative value of the sequestered drugs were preserved and kept intact by the evidence custodian until its presentation in court. It brushed aside Sioson’s defense of frame-up for being unsubstantiated and upheld the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties.
Upon appeal, the CA sustained the ruling of the RTC agreeing that Sioson’s defense of frame-up and alibi crumbles in the face of proof beyond reasonable doubt of his violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
Hence, this appeal.
The Court’s Ruling
The appeal is granted.
In order to ensure Sioson’s conviction for the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must satisfactorily establish: (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, for the charge of illegal sale of dangerous drugs; while the elements of illegal possession of dangerous drugs are: (1) the accused was in possession of an item or object identified as a prohibited drug; (2) such possession was not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug, for the illegal possession charge.
Additionally, in such cases of illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs under R.A. No. 9165, it is essential that the prosecution successfully demonstrate, with moral certainty, the identity of the subject drugs, especially since the dangerous drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime; failing to do so, renders the evidence for the State insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused, hence, warrants an acquittal.
In the case at bench, the Court is not convinced that the buy-bust team adequately complied with the chain of custody rule under Section 21(1), Article II of R.A. No. 9165, as amended by R.A. No. 10640, which requires:
SEC. 21. x x x. —
(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a physical inventory of the seized items 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, with an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media 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, finally, That noncompliance of 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 and custody over said items. (Emphasis supplied)
In recent cases, the Court has held that the prosecution has the positive duty to demonstrate strict observance of the chain of custody rule, and “[a]s such, they must have the initiative to not only acknowledge, but also justify any perceived deviations from the said procedure during the proceedings before the trial court.” Stated otherwise, any procedural lapses must be explained, and the justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact by the prosecution.
Here, it cannot be denied that the apprehending officers committed a serious breach of the mandatory procedures required by law in the conduct of buy-bust operations. Corollary, reasonable doubt is cast upon the integrity of the allegedly confiscated drug specimens, and consequently, on the guilt of appellant Sioson.
Both PO1 Pataweg and PO2 Sahibul attested to the following facts: (1) the seized plastic sachets were marked at the place of arrest with only Sioson present; and (2) the inventory and photography of the confiscated items were done at the police station witnessed by representatives from the media and the DOJ, and an elected public official.
Clearly, the required witnesses were not present during the marking. In People v. Peliño, the Court stressed that marking of the evidence is a crucial step in a drug operation as it sets apart and identifies the illegal drug from all other materials present and/or seized at the locus criminis. And, the presence of the three insulating witnesses during the seizure and marking of the drugs was emphasized in People v. Sood where the Court stated that:
[T]he presence of the three witnesses required by Section 21 is precisely to protect and guard against the pernicious practice of policemen in planting evidence. Without the insulating presence of the three witnesses during the seizure and marking of the drugs, the evils of switching, “planting” or contamination of the evidence that had tainted the buy-busts conducted under the regime of RA 6425 (Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) again reared their ugly heads as to negate the integrity and credibility of the seizure and confiscation of the seized drugs that were evidence of the corpus delicti, and thus adversely affected the trustworthiness of the incrimination of accused-appellant.
Moreover, the inventory and taking of the photograph were not done immediately at the place where Sioson was apprehended, but only at the police station.
Yet, the prosecution offered no explanation therefor. The prosecution kept silent and did not even bother to show, at the least, that these were done due to extraordinary circumstances that would threaten the safety and security of the apprehending officers and/or the witnesses required by law or of the items seized, such as: that their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area; that their safety during the inventory and photography of the seized illegal drugs were threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of those who have the resources and capability to mount a counter-assault; or that the elected public officials themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended.
Verily, compliance with the procedures laid down in Section 21(1) of RA. No. 9165 is determinative of the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti and ultimately, the fate of the liberty of the accused, the fact that any issue regarding the same was not raised, or even threshed out in the court/s below, would not preclude this Court, from fully examining the records of the case if only to ascertain whether the procedure had been completely complied with, and if not, whether justifiable reasons exist to excuse any deviation. If no such reasons exist, then it is the Court’s bounden duty to acquit the accused and, perforce, overturn a conviction, as in this case.
All told, the unjustified failure of the police officers to observe the rule on the chain of custody of the seized item warrants the reversal of the assailed rulings and acquit Sioson of the charges.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The Decision dated May 16, 2018 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 09204 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accused-appellant Zaldy Sioson y Limon is ACQUITTED of the crimes charged against him, and is ORDERED to be IMMEDIATELY RELEASED, unless he is being lawfully held in custody for any other reason. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is DIRECTED to inform this Court of the action taken hereon within five (5) days from receipt hereof.
Caguioa, (Acting Chairperson), Inting,* Lopez, and Delos Santos,** JJ., concur.
* Designated as additional member in lieu of Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta per Raffle dated March 4, 2020.
** Designated as additional member in lieu of Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier per Raffle dated
March 4, 2020.
 See Notice of Appeal dated June 11, 2018; CA rollo, pp. 158-162.
 Penned by Associate Justice Ma. Luisa C. Quijano-Padilla, with Associate Justices Fernanda Lampas Peralta and Amy C. Lazaro-Javier (now a Member of the Court), concurring; id. at 141-151.
 Penned by Presiding Judge Gener M. Gito; id. at 65-80.
 Criminal Case No. 15273 (violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165)
That on or about October 27, 2015, in Pilar, Bataan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there willfully [have] in his possession, custody and control four (4) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets each containing methamphetamine hydrochloride commonly known as “shabu” having a total weight of ZERO POINT TWO SIX ZERO FOUR (0.2604) GRAM, a dangerous drug.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
Criminal Case No. 15274 (violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165)
That on or about October 27, 2015, in Pilar, Bataan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there willfully sell, distribute and give away to another one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing methamphetamine hydrochloride commonly known as “shabu” weighing ZERO POINT ZERO SEVEN NINE FIVE (0.0795) GRAM, a dangerous drug.
CONTRARY TO LAW; id. at 142.
 Id. at 106.
 Id. at 68.
 Id. at 69.
 The plastic sachets were marked with “JGP-1,” “JGP-2,” “JGP-3,” “JGP-4,” and “JGP-5;” id.
 Id. at 70. See also Salaysay Panghukuman of PO2 Sahibul.
 See TSN, March 7, 2016, pp. 13-15.
 CA rollo, pp. 115.
 Id. at 116.
 Id. at 117.
 See Exhibit “C;” id. at 153.
 Id. at 117.
 Id. at 55.
 Id. at 72-78.
 Id. at 150-151.
 People v. Jugo, G.R. No. 231792, January 29, 2018.
 People v. Baradi, G.R. No. 238522, October 1, 2018.
 People v. Camiñas, G.R. No. 241017, January 7, 2019.
 Entitled “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,'” approved on July 15, 2014.
 People v. Sipin, G.R. No. 224290, June 11, 2018; People v. Lim, G.R. No. 231989, September 4, 2018.
 People v. Mamangon, G.R. No. 229102, January 29, 2018; People v. Miranda, G.R. No. 229671, January 31, 2018. (Underscoring supplied)
 G.R. No. 227995, January 15, 2020 (Minute Resolution).
 G.R. No. 227394, June 6, 2018.
 People v. Mola, G.R. No. 226481, April 18, 2018; see also People v. Padua, G.R. No. 239781, February 5, 2020 (Minute Resolution).
 People v. Sood, supra note 30.