Criminal Law

PEOPLE v. MAMA G.R. No. 237204, October 01, 2018 RA 9165, Three Witnesses Rule J. Perlas-Bernabe

FACTS:
This case stemmed from two Informations filed before the RTC charging Mama with violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of RA 9165.
Taguig city PNP received a tip of a high-volume drug trade of a certain “RJ” – later identified as Mama – in Barangay Tunasan, Muntinlupa. After verification of said tip, the DAID-SOTG organized a buy­bust team. SPO2 de Lima was the poseur-buyer, and PO3 Cayas was the immediate back-up. Upon arrival thereat, the police asset and SPO2 de Lima met with Mama. After a brief conversation, SPO2 de Lima gave Mama the marked money, and Mama brought out a green pouch bag from his black shoulder bag and took from it a white envelope containing a plastic sachet of suspected shabu. After Mama gave the sachet to SPO2 de Lima, Mama’s common-law wife – approached Mama and took his black shoulder bag. At that point, SPO2 de Lima performed the pre-arranged signal, prompting PO3 Cayas and the rest of the buy-bust team to swoop in and arrest Mama and his common-law wife. During the arrest, the police officers retrieved Mama’s shoulder bag and inspected the same, discovering eleven more plastic sachets containing suspected shabu therein. SPO2 de Lima marked the seized items in front of Mama and his common-law wife. Thereafter, the police officers brought Mama, his common-law wife, and the seized sachets to the DAID-SOTG office for booking and inventory purposes and then brought them to the PNP Crime Laboratory for drug-testing. The examination confirmed that the sachets indeed contained methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug.
The RTC found Mama guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crimes charged
Aggrieved, Mama appealed to the CA.
The CA affirmed Mama’s convictions.

ISSUE:
Whether or not Mama is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Sections 5 and 11, Article II of RA 9165.

RULING:
The appeal is meritorious.
After a judicious study of the case, the Court finds that the police officers committed unjustified deviations from the prescribed chain of custody rule, thereby putting into question the integrity and evidentiary value of the dangerous drugs allegedly seized from Mama.
A perusal of the Inventory of Seized Properties/Items readily reveals the glaring absence of the signatures of any of the required witnesses to the inventory, i.e., public elected official, DOJ representative, and media representative, thereby indicating their failure to witness the conduct of such inventory.
Based on jurisprudence, it is well to note that the non-compliance with the required witnesses rule does not per se render the confiscated items inadmissible. However, a justifiable reason for such failure or a showing of any genuine and sufficient effort to secure the required witnesses under Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 must be adduced.
In People v. Umipang, the Court held that the prosecution must show that earnest efforts were employed in contacting the representatives enumerated under the law for “[a] sheer statement that representatives were unavailable – without so much as an explanation on whether serious attempts were employed to look for other representatives, given the circumstances – is to be regarded as a flimsy excuse.”
Verily, mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses are unacceptable as justified grounds for non-compliance. These considerations arise from the fact that police officers are ordinarily given sufficient time – beginning from the moment they have received the information about the activities of the accused until the time of his arrest – to prepare for a buy-bust operation and consequently, make the necessary arrangements beforehand knowing fully well that they would have to strictly comply with the set procedure prescribed in Section 21, Article II of RA 9165. As such, police officers are compelled not only to state reasons for their non-compliance, but must in fact, also convince the Court that they exerted earnest efforts to comply with the mandated procedure, and that under the given circumstance, their actions were reasonable.
Here, not only do the records disclose that the apprehending officers totally failed to comply with the required witnesses rule, SPO2 de Lima even admitted that they were not strictly implementing the mandate of Section 21, Article II of RA 9165. Thus, for failure of the prosecution to provide justifiable grounds or show that special circumstances exist which would excuse their transgression, the Court is constrained to conclude that the integrity and evidentiary value of the items purportedly seized from Mama have been compromised.

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