[ G.R. No. 229092, February 21, 2018 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. RAUL MANANSALA Y MANINANG, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
D E C I S I O N
This case stemmed from two (2) Informations filed before the RTC charging Manansala of the crimes of Illegal Sale and Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, respectively defined and penalized under Sections 5 and 11, Article II of RA 9165, the accusatory portions of which state:
Crim. Case No. 16329-2009-C
(For violation of Section 5, Article II of RA No. 9165)
That on or about 11:30 a.m. of 07 March 2009 at Brgy. Parian, Calamba City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without any authority of law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to a poseur buyer a one (1) plastic sachets (sic) of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, otherwise known as "shabu", a dangerous drug, having a total weighing (sic) 0.02 grams.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
Crim. Case No. 16330-2009-C
(For violation of Section 11, Article II of RA No. 9165)
That on or about 11:30 a.m. of 07 March 2009 at Brgy. Parian, Calamba City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without any authority of law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously possess one (1) plastic sachets (sic) of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, otherwise known as "shabu", a dangerous drug, having a total weigh of 0.01 grams, in violation of the aforementioned law.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
The prosecution alleged that on March 7, 2009, a buy-bust team composed of Police Senior Inspector Jaime V. Pederio, Police Inspector Jose Mari Pena, Police Officer (PO) 2 Dela Rosa (PO2 Dela Rosa) and PO2 Renato Magadia, Jr. (PO2 Magadia) was formed, in response to an information given by a confidential agent that Manansala was selling shabu at Barangay Parian, Calamba City. After conducting a pre-operation procedure and coordinating with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), as well as the barangay officials of Parian, the buy-bust team together with the confidential agent, proceeded to the target area. As soon as Manansala was identified, PO2 Magadia, the designated poseur-buyer, approached Manansala and asked if he could purchase shabu. Manansala asked how much money PO2 Magadia had and in turn, the latter gave the marked P500.00 bill, while Manansala simultaneously handed over one (1) plastic sachet of suspected shabu. After inspecting the same, PO2 Magadia introduced himself as a police officer and arrested Manansala. Subsequently, a preventive search was conducted on Manansala to ensure that he had no firearms. Not finding any, Manansala was ordered to empty his pockets which yielded another plastic sachet of suspected shabu. Upon confiscation and marking of the items at the place of arrest, PO2 Magadia brought Manansala to the Parian Barangay Hall where a blotter of the incident was made. Thereafter, Manansala was taken to J.P. Hospital for medical examination, and then to the police station where PO2 Magadia prepared a request for laboratory examination of the seized items. After securing the letter-request, PO2 Magadia delivered the said items to the crime laboratory where it was received by forensic chemist Lalaine Ong Rodrigo who confirmed that they tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.
For his part, Manansala denied the charges against him, claiming that at around eleven (11) o'clock in the morning of March 7, 2009, he was at home doing the laundry with his daughter, when two (2) persons entered, pointed a gun at him, and made him board a black car. He averred that he was later transferred to a police mobile and interrogated about a certain "Iko." When he replied in the negative, he was returned to the black car and brought to the Parian Barangay Hall where two (2) officers told the barangay officials that they recovered from his possession the P500.00 bill and a tawas-like substance.
The RTC Ruling
In a Judgment dated September 5, 2014, the RTC ruled as follows: (a) in Crim. Case No. 16329-2009-C, Manansala was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 5, Article II of RA 9165 and, accordingly, sentenced to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00; and (b) in Crim. Case No. 16330-2009-C, Manansala was likewise found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 11, Article II of RA 9165 and, accordingly, sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment for an indeterminate term of twelve (12) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, as maximum, and to pay a fine of P300,000.00.
The RTC held that the prosecution sufficiently established all the elements of Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs as it was able to prove that: (a) one (1) sachet of shabu was sold during the buy-bust operation; (b) Manansala was positively identified by PO2 Magadia as the seller of the said dangerous drug; and (c) the said dangerous drug was presented and duly identified in court as the subject of the sale. Also, the RTC observed that the essential elements of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs were established since another plastic sachet of shabu was recovered from Manansala during the preventive search. On the contrary, Manansala's denial and defense of frame-up were given scant consideration for lack of substance.
Furthermore, the RTC declared that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved from the time of their seizure by PO2 Magadia until their turnover to the crime laboratory.
Aggrieved, Manansala appealed to the CA.
The CA Ruling
In a Decision dated November 27, 2015, the CA affirmed Manansala's conviction for the crimes charged. It ruled that all the elements of the crimes of Illegal Sale and Possession of Dangerous Drugs were duly proven by the prosecution through PO2 Magadia's detailed narration of the incident. It further held that the confidential informant need not be presented in order to successfully hold Manansala liable. More importantly, the CA admitted that while the requirements under Section 21 of RA 9165 were not perfectly adhered to by the police officers, considering the absence of representatives from the media, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official during the inventory and photography of the seized drugs, the integrity and evidentiary value of the same were shown to have been duly preserved as PO2 Magadia was its custodian from the time of their confiscation until presentation in court as evidence.
Hence, this appeal.
The Issue Before the Court
The issue for the Court's resolution is whether or not the CA correctly upheld Manansala's conviction for Illegal Sale and Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs.
The Court's Ruling
The appeal is meritorious.
At the outset, it must be stressed that an appeal in criminal cases opens the entire case for review and, thus, it is the duty of the reviewing tribunal to correct, cite, and appreciate errors in the appealed judgment whether they are assigned or unassigned. "The appeal confers the appellate court full jurisdiction over the case and renders such court competent to examine records, revise the judgment appealed from, increase the penalty, and cite the proper provision of the penal law."
In this case, Manansala was charged with the crimes of Illegal Sale and Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, respectively defined and penalized under Sections 5 and 11, Article II of RA 9165. Notably, in order to properly secure the conviction of an accused charged with Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs, the prosecution must prove: (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment. Meanwhile, in instances wherein an accused is charged with Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, the prosecution must establish the following elements to warrant his conviction: (a) the accused was in possession of an item or object identified as a prohibited drug; (b) such possession was not authorized by law; and (c) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug.
Case law states that in both instances, it is essential that the identity of the prohibited drug be established with moral certainty, considering that the dangerous drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime. Thus, in order to obviate any unnecessary doubt on its identity, the prosecution has to show an unbroken chain of custody over the same and account for each link in the chain of custody from the moment the drugs are seized up to its presentation in court as evidence of the crime.
Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 outlines the procedure which the police officers must follow when handling the seized drugs in order to preserve their integrity and evidentiary value. Under the said section, prior to its amendment by RA 10640, the apprehending team shall, among others, immediately after seizure and confiscation conduct a physical inventory and photograph the seized items in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his 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 of the same, and the seized drugs must be turned over to the PNP Crime Laboratory within twenty-four (24) hours from confiscation for examination. In the case of People v. Mendoza, the Court stressed that "[w]ithout the insulating presence of the representative from the media or the Department of Justice, or any elected public official during the seizure and marking of the [seized drugs], the evils of switching, 'planting' or contamination of the evidence that had tainted the buy-busts conducted under the regime of [RA] 6425 (Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) again reared their ugly heads as to negate the integrity and credibility of the seizure and confiscation of the [said drugs] that were evidence herein of the corpus delicti, and thus adversely affected the trustworthiness of the incrimination of the accused. Indeed, the x x x presence of such witnesses would have preserved an unbroken chain of custody."
The Court, however, clarified that under varied field conditions, strict compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165 may not always be possible. In fact, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of RA 9165 - which is now crystallized into statutory law with the passage of RA 10640 - provide that the said inventory and photography may be conducted at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team in instances of warrantless seizure, and that non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165 - under justifiable grounds - will not render void and invalid the seizure and custody over the seized items so long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer or team. In other words, the failure of the apprehending team to strictly comply with the procedure laid out in Section 21 of RA 9165 and its IRR does not ipso facto render the seizure and custody over the items as void and invalid, provided that the prosecution satisfactorily proves that: (a) there is justifiable ground for non-compliance; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. In People v. Almorfe, the Court explained that for the above-saving clause to apply, the prosecution must explain the reasons behind the procedural lapses, and that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized evidence had nonetheless been preserved. Also, in People v. De Guzman, it was emphasized that the justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact, because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist.
In this 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 items purportedly seized from Manansala.
An examination of the records reveals that while the prosecution was able to show that the seized items were marked by PO2 Magadia immediately upon confiscation at the place of arrest and in the presence of Manansala, the same was not done in the presence of any elected public official, as well as a representative from the DOJ and the media. Despite the failure to observe these requirements, no justifiable ground was given to explain such lapse. Additionally, records are bereft of evidence showing that a physical inventory of the seized items was made or that photographs of the same were taken.
The prosecution itself admitted these lapses when PO2 Magadia testified that:
[Prosecutor Joyce M. Barut]: Are you aware Police Officer Magadia of the provisions of Section 21, RA 9165 particularly the preparations of inventory and the taking of photographs of the accused and the items?
[PO2 Magadia]: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Were you able to comply with the provisions?
A: No ma'am.
Q: Why not?
A: Because commotion already happened that is why we just made a blotter on the barangay, ma'am.
Q: Did you take photographs of the accused and the items confiscated?
A: No ma'am.
Q: Why not?
A: Because we do not have any camera at that time, ma'am.
x x x x (Underscoring supplied)
The mere marking of the seized drugs, unsupported by a physical inventory and taking of photographs, and in the absence of the necessary personalities under the law, fails to approximate compliance with the mandatory procedure under Section 21 of RA 9165. Needless to state, the barangay blotter, which is merely a recording of the incident, is not equivalent to or a substitute for a physical inventory that accounts and lists down in detail the items confiscated from the accused. Besides, "[e]ntries in official records, as in the case of a police blotter, are only prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated" and are "[n]ot necessarily entitled to full credit for it could be incomplete and inaccurate, sometimes from either partial suggestions or for want of suggestions or inquiries." Neither can the Court excuse the alleged absence of a camera as a justifiable reason for non-compliance with the photography rule, since the cause of such absence was never explained. Nor does the plain allegation that the "commotion had already happened" - without explaining its compelling nature - dispense with the necessity for the seized items to be properly inventoried. It is well-settled that the procedure in Section 21 of RA 9165 is a matter of substantive law, and cannot be brushed aside as a simple procedural technicality. Therefore, it must be shown that earnest efforts were exerted by the police officers involved to comply with the mandated procedure so as to convince the Court that the failure to comply was reasonable under the given circumstances. Since this was not the case here, the Court is impelled to conclude that there has been an unjustified breach of procedure and hence, the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti had been compromised. Consequently, Manansala's acquittal is in order.
As a final note, the Court finds it fitting to echo its recurring pronouncement in recent jurisprudence on the subject matter:
The Court strongly supports the campaign of the government against drug addiction and commends the efforts of our law enforcement officers against those who would inflict this malediction upon our people, especially the susceptible youth. But as demanding as this campaign may be, it cannot be more so than the compulsions of the Bill of Rights for the protection of liberty of every individual in the realm, including the basest of criminals. The Constitution covers with the mantle of its protection the innocent and the guilty alike against any manner of high-handedness from the authorities, however praiseworthy their intentions.
Those who are supposed to enforce the law are not justified in disregarding the right of the individual in the name of order. Order is too high a price for the loss of liberty. x x x.
In this light, prosecutors are strongly reminded that they have the positive duty to prove compliance with the procedure set forth in Section 21 of RA 9165, as amended. As such, they must have the initiative to not only acknowledge but also justify any perceived deviations from the said procedure during the proceedings before the trial court. Since compliance with this procedure is determinative of the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti and ultimately, the fate of the liberty of the accused, the fact that any issue regarding the same was not raised, or even threshed out in the court/s below, would not preclude the appellate court, including this Court, from fully examining the records of the case if only to ascertain whether the procedure had been completely complied with, and if not, whether justifiable reasons exist to excuse any deviation. If no such reasons exist, then it is the appellate court's bounden duty to acquit the accused, and perforce, overturn a conviction.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The Decision dated November 27, 2015 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 07080 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, accused-appellant Raul Manansala y Maninang is ACQUITTED of the crimes charged. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ordered to cause his immediate release, unless he is being lawfully held in custody for any other reason.
Carpio, J.,[*] (Chairperson), Peralta, and Reyes, Jr., JJ., concur.
Caguioa, J., on official leave.
[*] Acting Chief Justice per Special Order No. 2535 dated February 20, 2018.
 See Notice of Appeal dated December 18, 2015; rollo, 16-17.
 Id. at 2-15. Penned by Associate Justice Socorro B. Inting with Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla concurring.
 CA rollo, pp. 16-25. Penned by Presiding Judge Caesar C. Buenagua.
 Entitled "AN ACT INSTITUTING THE COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002, REPEALING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6425, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES," approved on June 7, 2002.
 Both dated March 10, 2009. See records (Crim. Case No. 16329-2009-C), pp. 1-2; and records (Crim. Case No. 16330-2009-C), pp. 1-1-A.
 Records (Crim. Case No. 16329-2009-C), p. 1.
 Records (Crim. Case No. 16330-2009-C), p. 1.
 "PO1 Renato Magadia, Jr." in his Sinumpaang Salaysay dated March 7, 2009; records (Crim. Case No 16329-2009-C), pp. 6-7.
 See rollo, pp. 3-4. See also Chemistry Report No. D-093-09 dated March 8, 2009; records (Crim. Case No. 16329-2009-C), p. 8.
 See rollo, pp. 4-5.
 CA rollo, pp. 16-25.
 Id. at 24.
 See id. at 19-20.
 See id. at 18-20.
 See id. at 20-24.
 See Notice of Appeal dated September 8, 2014; id. at 26.
 Rollo, pp. 2-15.
 See id. at 14.
 See id. at 6-12.
 See id. at 12-13.
 See People v. Dahil, 750 Phil. 212, 225 (2015).
 People v. Comboy, G.R. No. 218399, March 2, 2016, 785 SCRA 512, 521.
 People v. Sumili, 753 Phil. 342, 348 (2015).
 People v. Bio, 753 Phil. 730, 736 (2015).
 See People v. Viterbo, 739 Phil. 593, 601 (2014).
 People v. Sumili, supra note 23, at 349-350.
 Entitled "AN ACT TO FURTHER STRENGTHEN THE ANTI-DRUG CAMPAIGN OF THE GOVERNMENT, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE SECTION 21 OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE 'COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002,'" approved on July 15, 2014, Section 1 of which states:
SECTION 1. Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002", is hereby amended to read as follows:
"SEC. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. — The PDEA 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 in the following manner:
"(1)The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the persons from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, 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: Provided, 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/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures: Provided, finally, That noncompliance of 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 net render void and invalid such seizures and custody over said items.
x x x x"
 See Section 21 (1) and (2), Article II of RA 9165.
 736 Phil. 749 (2014).
 Id. at 764; emphases and underscoring supplied.
 See People v. Sanchez, 590 Phil. 214, 234 (2008).
 See Section 21 (a), Article II of the IRR of RA 9165. See also People v. Ceralde, G.R. No. 228894, August 7, 2017.
 See People v. Goco, G.R. No. 219584, October 17, 2016.
 631 Phil. 51 (2010).
 Id. at 60.
 630 Phil. 637 (2010).
 Id. at 649.
 TSN, May 8, 2014, p. 14.
 See Lescano v. People, G.R. No. 214490, January 13, 2016, 781 SCRA 73, 92-93, citing People v. Garcia, 599 Phil. 416, 429 (2009). See also People v. Pagaduan, 641 Phil. 432, 448-449 (2010).
 People v. San Gabriel, 323 Phil. 102, 111 (1996).
 See People v. Macapundag, G.R. No. 225965, March 13, 2017, citing People v. Umipang, 686 Phil. 1024, 1038 (2012).
 People v. Go, 457 Phil. 885, 925 (2003), citing People v. Aminnudin, 246 Phil. 424, 434-435 (1988).