Wed. Aug 4th, 2021

The Supreme Court (SC) emphasized the importance of law enforcement officials complying with guidelines in drug cases after the acquittal of two suspected peddlers arrested in Manila in 2016.

(photo courtesy: http://www.pna.gov.ph)

In a recent resolution, the SC’s Second Division reversed a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling and acquitted Ernesto Crisostomo and Elenita Cruz.

In acquitting the two, the SC said it was “not convinced by the prosecution’s flimsy excuse” that the arresting officers failed to secure the cooperation of the village officials to be witnesses in the arrest.

“If they could not secure the presence of an elected official, they could have invited a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ), which they did not even attempt to do. This, in fact, reflects their nonchalant attitude towards their duty to strictly comply with the chain of custody rule,” the court said.

The CA previously upheld the July 28, 2017 decision of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 42’s Judge Dinnah Aguila-Topacio who found Crisostomo and Cruz guilty.

They were arrested on July 3, 2016 for selling to a police officer/poseur buyer around .073 grams of shabu contained in a plastic sachet.

They were also carrying two sachets containing .171 grams and the other .425 grams of the prohibited substance.

A concerned citizen reported the rampant selling of shabu along Romana Street in Barangay 96, Tondo to Police Station 1 officers Ed Dyson Banaag and Carl Anthony Casimiro.

The court said the prosecution failed to prove the crime, citing that “especially since the amount involved in this case is minuscule, the likelihood of tampering, loss or mistake with respect to an exhibit is greatest when the exhibit is small and is one that has physical characteristics fungible in nature and similar in form to substances familiar to people in their daily lives”.

The arresting officers also failed to establish an unbroken chain of custody of the seized drugs and likewise failed to offer any explanation why the chain of custody rule was not complied with.

The first refers to the seizure and marking which must be done immediately at the place of the arrest.

It includes the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized items which should be done in the presence of the accused or counsel, together with an elected public official, a DOJ representative, or the media.

The court ruled that in this case, “the first link of the chain of custody had already been breached early on” since based on the admission of the prosecution witnesses (Banaag and Casimiro) themselves, the inventory and photographing were done at Police Station 1.

Banaag said he secured the items he recovered from Crisostomo, including the buy-bust money, inside a plastic bag and placed it in his right front pocket while Casimiro also kept in his possession the items he recovered from Cruz.

They said they could no longer control the commotion and had to proceed to the police station.

The prosecution acknowledged that the arresting officers were not able to secure the presence of an elected official as required by Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, due to the refusal of barangay officials to cooperate. SOVEREIGNPH

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