Criminal Law, Remedial Law

Casilag v. People G.R. No. 213523, March 18, 2021 Presumption of Innocence, Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 (Acquitted)


On April 16, 2010, PO1 Ramos and company, of the San Pedro Municipal Police Station were conducting a monitoring and surveillance operation of persons involved in illegal drug activities in Barangay Cuyab, Gitna, San Pedro, Laguna, after receiving information that illegal drugs were being sold thereat rampantly.

While walking towards an alley, PO1 Ramos noticed two men who seemed to have an ongoing transaction. One of them was holding in his left hand a transparent plastic sachet, which appeared to contain grounded candy, and showed it to the other. He also showed another plastic sachet, which he was holding in his right hand.

After being approached, and asked what they were talking about, they both ran away but PO1 Ramos was able to catch the one holding the two plastic sachets. He then seized and marked the sachets as MC-1 and MC-2 and informed him of his constitutional rights. They then brought him to their police station where his identity was confirmed as Michael Casilag, herein appellant.

The qualitative examination on the specimen yielded positive results for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. 

On the part of the defense, Casilag narrated that he was in the house of his friend, Crisanto Ambayac because he wanted to ask the latter if he could drive the tricycle in Ambayac’s possession. Ambayac left the house to ask the permission of the owner of the tricycle.

Suddenly, two men armed with guns entered the house. They pointed their guns at Casilag and told him not to run, otherwise he would be shot. They told him to turn his back then handcuffed and frisked him. They were not able to recover anything from him. They asked him where ‘Alias Bukol’ was, to which he replied that he does not know.

They forcibly took him out of the house and brought him to the San Pedro police station, at the municipal hall. When they entered the office, two (2) other men inside uttered ‘yan ba.‘ The men who forcibly brought him there replied, ‘hindi namin inabutan.’ 

Casilag was charged for Violation of Section II, R.A. No. 9165.

The RTC convicted Casilag of the crime charged on the strength of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses.

Aggrieved, Casilag appealed to the CA.

The CA affirmed the RTC’s conviction of Casilag, holding that the prosecution was able to prove the elements of the crimes charged.

He then sought reconsideration of the Decision, which was denied by the CA.


Whether the RTC and the CA erred in convicting Casilag of the crime charged.


The appeal is impressed with merit. The Court acquits Casilag for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

At the outset, the Court emphasizes that “in the course of its review of criminal cases elevated to it, [it] still commences its analysis from the fundamental principle that the accused before it is presumed innocent.”

This presumption continues although the accused had been convicted in the trial court, as long as such conviction is still pending appeal.

 As the Court explained in Polangcos v. People:

Article III, Section 14 (2) of the 1987 Constitution provides that every accused is presumed innocent unless his guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. It is “a basic constitutional principle, fleshed out by procedural rules which place on the prosecution the burden of proving that an accused is guilty of the offense charged by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Corollary thereto, conviction must rest on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.”

This presumption in favor of the accused remains until the judgment of conviction becomes final and executory. Borrowing the words of the Court in Mangubat, et al. v. Sandiganbayan, et al., “[u]ntil a promulgation of final conviction is made, this constitutional mandate prevails.” 

Hence, even if a judgment of conviction exists, as long as the same remains pending appeal, the accused is still presumed to be innocent until his guilt is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, in People v. Mingming, the Court outlined what the prosecution must do to hurdle the presumption and secure a conviction:

First, the accused enjoys the constitutional presumption of innocence until final conviction; conviction requires no less than evidence sufficient to arrive at a moral certainty of guilt, not only with respect to the existence of a crime, but, more importantly, of the identity of the accused as the author of the crime.

Second, the prosecution’s case must rise and fall on its own merits and cannot draw its strength from the weakness of the defense.

In the present case, what militates against a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt for Casilag is the failure of the prosecution’s version to pass the test of credibility.

In convicting Casilag, the RTC and the CA relied on the testimonies of the police officers who arrested him as to the circumstances which led to his arrest. To recall, the version of the prosecution is that Casilag was arrested in the course of a legitimate police operation in the area. On the other hand, Casilag claims that he was suddenly arrested for no apparent reason by two armed men who were looking for a certain “Alyas Bukol” while he was at the house of his friend. A perusal of the records and the transcripts of stenographic notes leads the Court to believe the version of the defense over the prosecution.

To the mind of the Court, the discrepancies in PO1 Ramos and PO de Leon’s testimonies, along with the ring of truth to Casilag’s version of the story, cast grave and serious doubt as to the credibility of the testimonies of the police officers. The RTC and the CA thus erred in their wholesale acceptance of the testimonies of the police officers to justify Casilag’s conviction.

In addition to the foregoing, the Court also finds that the prosecution committed another error that militates against a finding of guilt by proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165 provides for the procedure in conducting the required inventory immediately after the arrest of a person involved in dangerous drugs. The said provision states:

SECTION 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[.] 

In the present case, only a representative from the media was present in the conduct of the inventory, as shown by the Certification of Inventory dated April 16, 2010 wherein only Mr. Nick Luares from The Laguna Expose Star signed as a witness to the inventory. That only a media representative witnessed the inventory was likewise confirmed by the testimonies of both PO1 Ramos and PO de Leon.

In People v. Malana, the Court emphasized that the presence of the required witnesses at the time of the inventory is mandatory, and that the law imposes the said requirement because their presence serves an essential purpose, i.e., to protect against the possibility of planting, contamination, or loss of the seized drug. In addition, the Court has held that:

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. 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.

Here, the police officers and the prosecution were unable, nor did they attempt to explain the deviations from the requirements of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165. Thus, the prosecution simply failed to establish the integrity of the seized items – the corpus delicti of the crime in drugs cases such as this one. The acquittal of the Casilag must thus perforce follow

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