This case is about the need for the prosecution and all law enforcement agencies involved in illegal drugs operations to ensure proper observance of the rules governing entrapment of peddlers of prohibited substances.
Appellants chiefly argue that the police officers involved in the buy-bust operation failed to comply with Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 9165, which requires them to take immediate inventory of and photograph the seized item in the presence of the accused or his representative or responsible third persons mentioned but always taking care that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized articles are preserved.
The Court has held in numerous cases that the failure of the police to comply with the procedure laid down in R.A. 9165 would not render void the seizure of the prohibited substance for as long as the apprehending officers give justifiable reason for their imperfect conduct and show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items had not been compromised.
Here, the prosecution failed to show that the substances allegedly seized from the accused were the same substances presented in court to prove their guilt. Usually, the seized article changes hands from the police officer who takes it from the accused, to the supervising officer at their station, to the messenger who brings them to the police crime laboratory, and then to the court where it is adduced as evidence. Since custody and possession change over time, it has been held indispensable that the officer who seized the article places it in a plastic container unless it is already in one, seals it if yet unsealed, and puts his marking on the cover. In this way there is assurance, upon inspection, that the substance reaches the laboratory in the same condition it was seized from the accused.
Here, the police officers did not mark the sealed plastic sachets to show that they were the same things they took from the accused. Rather, the marking on the items were done by the station investigator who would have no way of knowing that the substances were really seized from the accused. The marking of captured items immediately after they are seized from the accused is the starting point in the custodial link. This step is vital because succeeding handlers of the specimens will use the markings as reference. Failure to place such markings paves the way for swapping, planting, and contamination of the evidence. These lapses seriously cast doubt on the authenticity of the corpus delicti, warranting acquittal on reasonable doubt.
Further, as a rule, the police chemist who examines a seized substance should ordinarily testify that he received the seized article as marked, properly sealed and intact; that he resealed it after examination of the content; and that he placed his own marking on the same to ensure that it could not be tampered pending trial. In case the parties stipulate to dispense with the attendance of the police chemist, they should stipulate that the latter would have testified that he took the precautionary steps mentioned. Here, the record fails to show this.
It is a serious concern that quite often the failure of the police to observe the rules governing buy-bust operations results in acquittals. Drug enforcement agencies should continually train their officers and agents to observe these rules and transfer out those who would not. The prosecutors conducting preliminary investigation should not file in court drugs cases where the sworn statements of the police officers, the report of the chemical analyst, and the object evidence do not show compliance with the same. And trial courts should order the case dismissed and the accused released from detention if on examination the supporting documents are wanting in this respect. They should not waste their precious time to useless exercise where the police and the prosecution fail to observe the rule of law especially in so serious offenses.