Oct 5, 2020 @ 8:12

SC scolds gov’t again over Islamophobia in drug case: Cops’ hatred of Muslims no excuse for disobeying evidence rules

For the second time this year, the Supreme Court (SC) has again called out the government for claiming it was “unsafe” to conduct the required on-the-spot inventory of drugs that were seized from “a Muslim area.”

In a recent 12-page decision, the SC acquitted Samiah Abdulah of the crime of selling shabu, a few months after ordering the release of Gilbert Sibelleno for similar reasons related to the police’s non-compliance with the chain of custody rules.

Under Section 21(a) of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, authorities have to conduct a physical inventory and photograph the drugs “immediately after seizure and confiscation,” in the presence of the suspect and certain witnesses.

In the case of Abdullah, who was arrested in a buy-bust operation on November 21, 2014, the police team decided to mark and inventory the items at the barangay hall in Barangay Tumana, Marikina City.

Police Officer 3 Erich Joel Temporal testified that they did this because the place in where the incident happened was “a Muslim area.”

But, the SC said the prosecution’s attempt to justify the delay in marking and inventorying the items was “too weak, if not callous, a reason to validate the police officer’s noncompliance with the chain of custody requirements.”

It said “Islamophobia, the hatred against the Islamic community, can never be a valid reason” for the police to fail to comply with the law.

“To sustain the police officers’ equating of a so-called ‘Muslim area’ with dangerous places does not only approve of a hollow justification for deviating from statutory requirements, but reinforces outdated stereotypes and blatant prejudices,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who also wrote the ruling in favor of Sibelleno.

The chain of custody rule was meant to ensure the integrity of the seized drugs and protect suspects against the possibility of planted evidence.

Another fault by the police is the absence of any member of the media or the National Prosecution Service to avoid doubts about the integrity of the evidence.

“The prosecution cannot merely rely on the oft-cited presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty to justify noncompliance with the law’s mandate. The presumption of innocence enjoyed by the accused stands so long as there is reasonable doubt on their culpability,” the SC said.

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