Jan 28, 2021 @ 13:13
SC acquits Chinese over possession of 7.5 kilos of shabu due to lapses of cops, PDEA men
The Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted a Chinese national who was allegedly caught in a buy-bust operation with 7.456 kilograms of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) in 2015, citing the mishandling of the evidence by the operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Special Enforcement Service (PDEA-SES) and the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drug Group (PNP-AIDG).
In a recent 14-page minute resolution, the SC 1st Division granted the appeal of Chiu Chien Chun, also known as Qui Jian Jun, and set aside the Court of Appeals’ (CA) September 20, 2018 decision that affirmed his July 3, 2017 conviction by the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 116.
The SC ordered Chun’s immediate release, unless he is being lawfully held for another cause. It gave a deadline of 10 days from receipt of notice to be informed when he was released or why he would still need to be confined.
Chun was arrested after the alleged buy-bust operation along Diokno Boulevard corner Coral Way, Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on December 12, 2015.
The SC said there were “several lapses” in the conduct of the PDEA and PNP operatives in the seizure and custody of the items. For one, the buy-bust team did not open the gym bag on the spot and immediately mark the seized items; instead, they brought it to the PDEA headquarters in Quezon City.
It stressed that the failure to properly record the confiscation of the items cast doubt that the evidence was not planted.
Although law enforcers may inventory and photograph the evidence in places other than where the arrest is made, this may only be done in the nearest police station or office and on the basis of danger or threat to the officers’ safety. There was no attempt to prove these exceptions.
“We emphasize that the initial links in the chain of custody begin with the seizure and immediate marking of the items. This step is vital as it forestalls switching, planting or contamination of evidence,” read the minute resolution signed by Division Clerk of Court Librada Buena.
“The apprehending team’s failure to observe the initial link in the chain of custody renders the purpose of immediately marking evidence futile. To a reasonable mind, the unrecorded movements of the apprehending team opened possibilities of polluting the integrity of the corpus delicti, even more, the planting of evidence against the accused,” it added.
The SC noted that since this was supposed to be a planned buy-bust, there should have been time to invite the required witnesses to be on standby to ensure that evidence was not planted.
However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) representative and the public official who were supposed to serve as witnesses were invited belatedly, causing them to arrive only three hours after the apprehending team reached the PDEA headquarters.
“Undoubtedly, the witnesses had no personal knowledge of the buy-bust operation, the car chase, the arrest of Chun and the proper custody over the gym bag and seized items from buy-bust operation,” it pointed out.
Other circumstances surrounding the alleged buy-bust were found questionable too. Not only was there only one genuine P1,000 bill placed on top of the P2-million boodle money used in the sting, the SC could not believe the claim of the poseur-buyer that Chun immediately accepted the brown paper bag without being shown its contents or allowed to count the money.
The SC stressed that the PNP and the PDEA operatives cannot claim presumption of regularity since they failed to observe the chain of custody procedures required by Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
“The identity of the prohibited drug must be established with moral certainty. What is clearly established here is that the prosecution failed to convince Us that planting, tampering, alteration, or substitution of substance in the initial link in the chain of custody is unlikely,” the SC concluded. #