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CAUGHT IN CHAIN: STORIES ON INTEGRITY AND

EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF THE SEIZED ITEMS IN DANGEROUS DRUGS CASES


IN THE PHILIPPINES

Sheena Mae S. Alcala

ABSTRACT
The State promotes the well-being of its people from the detrimental effects of
dangerous drugs. With this, the State enhances further the efficacy of the law against
dangerous drugs, it being one of today's most serious social ills. This article unfolds
stories on the weak handling of the police which lets a man previously sentenced to life
in prison walk free, on one hand. And the application of stringent measures provided
in the chain of custody procedure as deemed fit by the court to avoid frame-ups and
planting of evidence, on the other hand.

I. INTRODUCTION
Drug cases have taken over Philippine courts over the last nine years. Records
of the National Prosecution Service (NPS) under the Department of Justice (DOJ)
show that the number of drug cases filed in court shot up from 2009 to 2017. There
were only 7,675 drug-related cases filed in court in 2009. But over the next years, drug
cases took over other crimes so drastically that by 2017, they increased to 70,706 cases.1
Any person found using, selling, trading, dispensing, delivering, distributing,
transporting, and of other means, dangerous drugs shall be apprehended. This measure
is upheld by Republic Act 9165, known as the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act
of 2002". This must be complied without prejudice to the constitutional right against
unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency 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.

II. IMPORTANCE OF HANDLING SEIZED DRUGS FOR EVIDENCE


Section 21(1) of RA 9165 lays down the handling of seized drugs for evidence.
It provides the important links in a chain of custody. Failure to comply thereof entails
acquittal of the alleged suspect.
First, it mandates the conduct of a physical inventory of the seized items and
taking of photos of the same by the apprehending team “in the presence of the accused

1Drug cases take over PH courts, have low disposition rates, https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/210516-charts-number-
drug-cases-disposition-philippine-courts
or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized…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.”
Second, it directs 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, whichever is practicable, in case of
warrantless seizures.
Within 24 hours upon confiscation or seizure of dangerous drugs, the same shall
be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative
examination. The agency issues certification of the forensic laboratory examination
results, done under oath by the forensic laboratory examiner.
It is important to note the inclusion of the proviso as to the noncompliance with
said 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.”
The Supreme Court has imposed a mandatory policy for apprehending/seizing
officers, investigating prosecutors, and courts in the custody and disposition of
confiscated, seized, and/or surrendered dangerous drugs in connection with arrests and
seizures related to illegal drugs.2
1. In the sworn statements/affidavits, the
apprehending/seizing officers must state their compliance with
the requirements of Section 21 (1) of RA 9165 (Comprehensive
Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002), and its Implementing Rules
and Regulations (IRR);
2. In case of non-observance of the provision, the
apprehending/seizing officers must state the justification or
explanation therefor as well as the steps they have taken in
order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the
seized/confiscated items;
3. If there is no justification or explanation expressly
declared in the sworn statements/affidavits, the investigating
fiscal must not immediately file the case before the court.
Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary
investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of
probable cause; and
4. If the investigating fiscal filed the case despite such
absence, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to
issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the

2 People v. Lim, G.R. No. 231989, September 4, 2018.

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case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with
Section 5, Rule 112, Rules of Court.
Under the principle that a procedural rule favorable to the accused can be given
retroactive effect, this new rule will be applicable even to pending cases resulting in the
acquittal of the accused if the same was not followed.

III. THE PRESSING EFFECT OF A WEAK HANDLING


As established, incorrect police procedures in drug cases can lead to acquittals.
The court sees this stringent application fit to avoid frame-ups and the planting of
evidence.
The corpus delicti of the crime of violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act
In all prosecutions for violation of the Act, the existence of all dangerous drugs
is a sine qua non for conviction. The dangerous drug is the very corpus delicti of the
crime of violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act. Appellant can be acquitted for failure
of the prosecution to establish the identity of the prohibited drug which constitutes the
corpus delicti.3
In the case of People v. Kimura4, the prosecution failed to prove the crucial first
link in the chain of custody. The prosecution witnesses admitted they did not write their
initials on the brick of marijuana immediately after allegedly seizing from accused-
appellant outside the grocery store but only did so in their headquarters. Thus, failing
to prove that the marijuana presented in court was the very same marijuana seized from
appellants.
Records of the case established that police operatives failed to comply with the
procedure in the custody of seized prohibited and regulated drugs as embodied in the
Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 3 Series of 1979 amending Board Regulation
No. 7 Series of 1974,
Any apprehending team having initial custody and control of
said drugs and/or paraphernalia, should immediately after
seizure or confiscation, have the same physically inventoried
and photographed in the presence of the accused, if there be
any, and/or his representative, who shall be required to sign the
copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.
It was ruled that the prosecution has not proven the indispensable element of
corpus delicti of the crime which failure produces a grievous doubt as to the guilt of
the appellants. In criminal cases, proof beyond reasonable doubt is required to establish
the guilt of the accused. Similarly, in establishing the corpus delicti, that unwavering
exactitude is necessary. Every fact necessary to constitute the crime must be established
by proof beyond reasonable doubt.

3 People v. Casimiro, G.R. No. 146277, June 20, 2002.


4 People v. Kimura, G.R. No. 130805, April 25, 2004.

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In a recent jurisprudence, People v. Romy Lim5, a 2018 decided case where weak
handling led to acquittal of accused, the court emphasized that the chain of custody
must be a mandatory requirement, as well as other rules found under the law, to "weed
out early on from the courts' already congested docket any orchestrated or poorly built
up drug-related cases."

IV. APPROVED MODIFICATIONS IN 2014 AMENDING


THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002

On 15 July 2014, R.A. No. 10640 was approved to amend R.A. No. 9165. Among
other modifications, it essentially incorporated the saving clause contained in the IRR
on the physical inventory and photograph evidence in the presence of the accused or
his representative, a member of the media, a member of the DOJ, and an elected public
official.
This immediate physical inventory and photograph of the confiscated items at
the place of arrest may be excused, however, only in instances when the safety and
security of the apprehending officers and the witnesses required by law or of the items
seized are threatened by immediate or extreme danger such as retaliatory action of those
who have the resources and capability to mount a counter-assault.
Lim’s case is not one of those. None of the three independent representatives
were present in PDEA's inventory, and therefore, did not make the required signatures
on the inventory receipt. Prosecution witnesses also failed to establish the details of an
earnest effort to coordinate with and secure presence of the required witnesses.
The overarching similarity of the first two cases aforementioned is the failure to
comply with a single link among those mandated in the chain of custody which let a
man previously sentenced to life in prison walk free. Lim’s acquittal was a result of
failure of the police to bring required witnesses during the inventory of seized drugs.
Kimura’s acquittal, on the other hand, was a result of the police’s failure to write the
initials on the evidence immediately after allegedly seizing from accused-appellant.

V. PROPERLY PRESERVED INTEGRITY AND EVIDENTIARY VALUE OF THE SEIZED


ITEMS RENDERS THE SEIZURES AND CUSTODY VALID
To juxtapose with settled decisions in favor of the accused, the case of People v.
Rosialda6 citing People v. Rivera will show how the court led to a decision on the validity
of seized evidence despite failure to comply with the provision of the law.
The main contention of this case is as follows:
Anent the second element, Rosialda raises the issue that there
is a violation of Sec. 21, Art. II of RA 9165, particularly the
requirement that the alleged dangerous drugs seized by the

5People v. Lim, G.R. No. 231989, September 4, 2018.


6People v. Rosialda, G.R. No. 188330, August 25, 2010; citing People v. Rivera, G.R. No. 182347, October 17, 2008, 569
SCRA 879.

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apprehending officers be photographed “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.” Rosialda argues that such failure to comply with the
provision of the law is fatal to his conviction.
Contrary to the decisions in the cases of Kimura7 and Lim8, the court held
Rosialda’s contention untenable.
It emphasized the proviso implemented by Section 21(a), Article II of the
Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9165, viz.:
(a) 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:
Provided, further, that non-compliance with 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 of and
custody over said items.
It is important to stress that this proviso provides that when there is failure of
the prosecution to show that the police officers conducted the required physical
inventory and photograph of the evidence confiscated pursuant to said guidelines, such
is not fatal and does not automatically render accused-appellant’s arrest illegal or the
items seized/confiscated from him inadmissible.
This begs the question of validity and admissibility of evidence in illegal drug sale
cases. The ruling in the case of Rosialda brings light to this question where it emphasized
that as long as the chain of custody remains unbroken, even though the procedural
requirements provided for in Sec. 21 of RA 9165 was not faithfully observed, the guilt
of the accused will not be affected.
Clearly, the implementing rules offer some flexibility when a proviso added that
‘non-compliance with 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 of and
custody over said items.’ The same provision clearly states as well, that it must still be
shown that there exists justifiable grounds and proof that the integrity and evidentiary
value of the evidence have been preserved.

7 People v. Kimura, G.R. No. 130805, April 25, 2004.


8 People v. Lim, G.R. No. 231989, September 4, 2018.

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What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary
value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt
or innocence of the accused. The chain of custody requirement performs the function
of ensuring that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are preserved, so
much so that unnecessary doubts as to the identity of the evidence are removed.

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