The Supreme Court has cleared more drug pushers due to the failure of arresting police officers to follow procedures under the law, official court sources said.
In a 13-page decision dated Jan.7, the SC’s Third Division through Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta reversed and set aside the October 2015 decision of the Makati City Regional Trial Court that found Emmanuel Oliva, Bernardo Barangot, and Mark Angelo Manalastas guilty of sale and possession of illegal drugs, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in May 2017.
The SC cited as ground the failure of authorities to conduct the inventory of the drugs confiscated from them during the operation in 2015 in the presence of a representative from the Department of Justice and the media—as required in Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
“Certainly, the prosecution bears the burden of proof to show valid cause for non-compliance with the procedure laid down in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, as amended. It has the positive duty to demonstrate observance thereto in such a way that, during the proceedings before the trial court, it must initiate in acknowledging and justifying any perceived deviations from the requirements of the law. Its failure to follow the mandated procedure must be adequately explained and must be proven as a fact in accordance with the rules of evidence,” the SC ruled.
Section 21 of RA 916 specifically requires the presence of the suspect, their lawyer, an elected public official, a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media during the physical inventory of the seized items.
The high court also cited the additional rule promulgated last September that requires arresting officers to state their compliance with the said rule and sets courses of action in case of non-compliance.
It explained that the additional rule was meant to weed out “poorly built up” drug cases from court dockets.
“A stricter adherence to Section 21 is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is minuscule since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering, or alteration,” the tribunal stressed.
Associate Justices Marvic Leonen, Ramon Paul Hernando and Rosmari Carandang concurred in this ruling.
In several cases, the SC similarly decided last month to acquit drug convicts due to the failure of authorities to comply with the rules and establish an unbroken chain of custody of the illegal drugs seized from the accused.