On December 17, 2002, a team of five police officers led by SPO2 Peñascosas, with designated poseur-buyer PO1 Pedrigal, conducted a buy-bust operation.
At around 2:00 p.m. that day, PO1 Pedrigal went to Augusto Regalado’s house and asked Regalado’s wife, Marilyn, “Meron kayo ngayon, bibili ako?” Regalado was not home, hence, Marilyn asked her daughter to fetch him.
When Regalado arrived, he asked PO1 Pedrigal the quantity he sought to buy, to which the latter replied that he wanted two.
Regalado went into his house, returning with a plastic sachet suspected to contain marijuana, which he then exchanged with PO1 Pedrigal’s marked bills amounting to P200.00. Regalado took the money and put it in his pocket.
At this point, PO1 Pedrigal scratched his head—the pre-arranged signal signifying to the team that the transaction had been consummated. The rest of the team rushed to Regalado’s house and identified themselves as police officers. They arrested Regalado after PO1 Pedrigal retrieved the marked money from his pocket.
The forensic chemist confirmed upon a laboratory examination that the confiscated items were indeed marijuana.
In his defense, Regalado alleged that on December 17, 2002, he was ploughing the field in his farm located about 100 meters from his house when his son, Alvin, told him to come home. There, he was met by a teenager who gave him P200.00, wanting to purchase marijuana.
As soon as Regalado gave the teenager marijuana, he stated that five police officers arrived and arrested him. PO1 Pedrigal recovered from him the P200.00, which the teenager had handed him. When asked about the rest of his stash, Regalado immediately divulged its hiding place and surrendered the marijuana “because he was scared.”
The RTC found Regalado guilty of violating Article II, Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165.
On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC decision.
Hence, this Petition for Review on Certiorari.
Petitioner maintains that there was no elected official, media representative, or Department of Justice representative present during the physical inventory of the seized items.
Whether or not the absence of an elective official, a representative from the media, and a representative from the Department of Justice during the buy-bust operation, as well as the non-presentation of the photographs of the seized marijuana before the trial court warrants petitioner’s acquittal.
This Court denies the Petition.
As for the conviction of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the following elements must be established:
“(1) the accused was in possession of an item or an object identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug,
(2) such possession is not authorized by law, and
(3) the accused was freely and consciously aware of being in possession of the drug.”
Here, the testimonies of the law enforcers who conducted the buy-bust operation are clear and categorical. They recalled in detail the buy-bust operation and the steps they had taken to maintain the integrity of the seized marijuana.
What sustains petitioner’s conviction is his damning admission in open court that the police officers had found the three (3) plastic sachets and four (4) sticks of marijuana in his possession during his arrest on December 17, 2002. He admitted telling the law enforcers where he had hidden the rest of the marijuana because he was scared.
Ultimately, petitioner’s free and conscious possession of the dangerous drug has been established, warranting his conviction.
However, this Court laments the prosecution’s apparent nonchalance in observing the procedure for the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized, and/or surrendered drugs and/or drug paraphernalia under Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, as amended by Republic Act No. 10640.
Section 21(1) requires at least three (3) persons to be present during the physical inventory and photographing.
These persons are: first, the accused or the person/s from whom the items were seized; second, an elected public official; and third, a representative of the National Prosecution Service.
There are, however, alternatives to the first and the third. As to the first (i.e., the accused or the person/s from whom items were seized), there are two (2) alternatives: first, his or her representative; and second, his or her counsel. As to the representative of the National Prosecution Service, a representative of the media may be present in his or her place.
Here, none of the three (3) people required by Section 21(1), as originally worded, was present during the physical inventory of the seized items.
Since preliminaries do not appear on record, this Court cannot speculate why the law enforcers neglected the simple rules in the conduct of a buy-bust operation. Nonetheless, police officers are reminded that lapses like this—absent any justifiable ground—cast doubt on the integrity of the seized items and can be fatal to the prosecution’s cause.