The procedure to be followed in the custody and handling of seized dangerous drugs is outlined in Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165

Accused-appellant contends that the arresting officers did not comply with the requirements for the handling of seized dangerous drugs as provided for under Sec. 21(1) of RA 9165:

Section 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.¾The 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 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; (Emphasis supplied.)

          In particular, accused-appellant argues that:

While the marking of the specimen was done in the place of incident by MADAC operative Soriano, the inventory of the item was done at Cluster 4. There was no photograph made of the plastic sachet in the presence of the accused, media, any elected local official, or the DOJ representatives, in clear violation of Section 21, R.A. No. 9165.[17]

          Based on such alleged failure of the buy-bust team to comply with the procedural requirements of Sec. 21, RA 9165, accused-appellant posits that he should, therefore, be acquitted. Such reasoning is flawed.

          In People v. Rosialda,[18] the Court addressed the issue of chain of custody of dangerous drugs, citing People v. Rivera, 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 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.

This contention is untenable.

The Court made the following enlightening disquisition on this matter in People v. Rivera:

The procedure to be followed in the custody and handling of seized dangerous drugs is outlined in Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 which stipulates:

(1) 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.

The same is 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.

The 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, is not fatal and does not automatically render accused-appellant’s arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him inadmissible. Indeed, 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.

This Court can no longer find out what justifiable reasons existed, if any, since the defense did not raise this issue during trial. Be that as it may, this Court has explained in People v. Del Monte that 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 existence of the dangerous drug is a condition sine qua non for conviction for the illegal sale of dangerous drugs. The dangerous drug itself constitutes the very corpus delicti of the crime and the fact of its existence is vital to a judgment of conviction. Thus, it is essential that the identity of the prohibited drug be established beyond doubt. 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.

To be admissible, the prosecution must show by records or testimony, the continuous whereabouts of the exhibit at least between the time it came into possession of the police officers and until it was tested in the laboratory to determine its composition up to the time it was offered in evidence. (Emphasis supplied.)

          Here, accused-appellant does not question the unbroken chain of evidence. His only contention is that the buy-bust team did not inventory and photograph the specimen on site and in the presence of accused-appellant or his counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice, and any elected public official. However, as ruled by the Court in Rosialda, 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.

          And as aptly ruled by the CA, the chain of custody in the instant case was not broken as established by the facts proved during trial, thus:

          Lastly, the contention of appellant, that the police officers failed to comply with the provisions of paragraph 1, Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 for the proper procedure in the custody and disposition of the seized drugs, is untenable. Record shows that Serrano marked the confiscated sachet of shabu in the presence of appellant at the place of incident and was turned over properly to the investigating officer together with the marked buy-bust money. Afterwards, the confiscated plastic sachet suspected to be containing “shabu” was brought to the forensic chemist for examination. Likewise, the members of the buy-bust team executed their “Pinagsanib na Salaysay sa Pag-aresto” immediately after the arrest and at the trial, Serrano positively identified the seized drugs. Indeed, the prosecution evidence had established the unbroken chain of custody of the seized drugs from the buy-bust team, to the investigating officer and to the forensic chemist. Thus, there is no doubt that the prohibited drug presented before the court a quo was the one seized from appellant and that indeed, he committed the crimes imputed against him.

 http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/jurisprudence/2011/january2011/189806.htm

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About Erineus

Ernesto O. Bendita. Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
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