PNB/Supt. Nilo Pagtalunan, acting on a report from a confidential informant about the illegal drug activities of Bricero, formed a team for the conduct of a buy-bust operation. Prosecution witness PO1 Reyes was designated as the poseur-buyer.
The team proceeded to the target area located at Ilagan Street, Brgy. Paltok, Quezon City.
PO1 Reyes was accompanied by the confidential informant, who introduced her to appellant as a friend and a buyer of shabu. Appellant took out from his pocket and handed to PO1 Reyes a small plastic sachet containing a white crystalline substance in exchange for P300.00. PO1 Reyes executed the pre-arranged signal by rubbing her nose. Appellant was apprehended and placed under arrest.
The examination results showed that the contents of the sachet taken from the appellant tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
Appellant denied possession and ownership of the sachet of shabu, contending that he saw them for the first time at the police station, where he was brought by the police officers.
During the trial, PO1 Reyes, the poseur-buyer herself, testified that none of the three required witnesses was present at the time of seizure and apprehension.
The RTC found Bricero guilty of the crime charged.
Aggrieved, Bricero appealed to the CA.
The CA affirmed Bricero’s conviction.
Hence, the instant appeal.
Whether or not Bricero’s guilt for violation of Section 5 of RA 9165 was proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The appeal is meritorious.
After a review of the records, the Court resolves to acquit Bricero as the prosecution admittedly failed to prove that the buy-bust team complied with the mandatory requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165, which thus results in its failure to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
While it is true that a buy-bust operation is a legally effective and proven procedure, sanctioned by law, for apprehending drug peddlers and distributors, the law nevertheless also requires strict compliance with procedures laid down by it to ensure that rights are safeguarded.
In the present case, the buy-bust team committed several patent procedural lapses in the conduct of the seizure, initial custody, and handling of the seized drug — which thus created reasonable doubt as to the identity and integrity of the drug and, consequently, reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused.
Records also show that the apprehending team did not conduct an inventory nor did it photograph the confiscated item in the presence of the accused-appellant or his representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the DOJ, and any elected public official. They did not state that they exerted earnest efforts to ensure the presence of the required witnesses. Neither did they explain the absence of the three required witnesses.
As a reminder, the Court exhorts the prosecutors to diligently discharge their onus to prove compliance with the provisions of Section 21 of RA 9165, as amended, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations, which is Decision fundamental in preserving the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti. To the mind of the Court, the procedure outlined in Section 21 is straightforward and easy to comply with.
Accordingly, accused-appellant SEGUNDO BRICERO y FERNANDEZ was ACQUITTED of the crime charged on the ground of reasonable doubt.