The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the acquittal and immediate release from jail of two women who were arrested in 2012 in a buy-bust operation conducted by the police and convicted by the trial court in 2013 of peddling illegal drugs.
The SC ruled that their guilt could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt when the policemen disregarded the procedures in the handling of the seized illegal drugs and the prosecution failed to justify the non-compliance with the rules under Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Thus, after almost eight years from their arrest and detention, and almost seven years from their conviction by the trial court, Rosalina A. Manzanilla and Arlene C. Anonuevo, both residents of Binangonan, Rizal, could now be set free.
The Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City has been ordered to release Manzanilla and Anonuevo “unless they are being lawfully held for another cause.”
Since the SC resolution was promulgated last Dec. 2 but made public only last Jan. 21, it was not known immediately if the two women have been freed.
In its resolution, the SC lamented that “the RTC (Regional Trial Court) and the CA (Court of Appeals which affirmed the RTC’s judgment of conviction) turned a blind eye to the police officers’ complete and utter derogation of Section 21 (of RA 9165) and instead erroneously relied on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty.”
“Judicial reliance on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty despite the lapses in the procedures undertaken by the agents of the law is fundamentally unsound because the lapses themselves are affirmative proof of irregularity,” it said.
“More importantly, the presumption of regularity in the performance of duty, a mere rule of evidence, cannot overcome the presumption of innocence in favor of the accused guaranteed by no less than our Constitution,” it stressed.
The SC said that in cases involving dangerous drugs, “the prosecution has the burden to prove compliance with the chain of custody requirements under Section 21, Article 2 of RA 9165, to wit: (1) the seized items must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure or confiscation; (2) the physical inventory and photographing must be done in the presence of (a) the accused or his/her representative or counsel, (b) an elected public official, (c) a representative from the media, and (d) a representative from the Department of Justice (DoJ), all of whom shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy of the same; and (3) the seized drugs must be turned over to a forensic laboratory within 24 hours from confiscation for examination.”
“Strict compliance with the foregoing requirements is necessary in protecting the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti, without which the crime of the illegal sale and illegal possession of dangerous drugs cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt,” it said.
“Further, it is only by such strict compliance that the grave mischiefs of planting, switching and contamination of evidence may be eradicated and the legitimacy of the buy-bust operation may be proved,” it added.
Manzanilla and Anonuevo were arrested on April 23, 2012 in Binangonan during a police buy-bust operation. Seized from them was a plastic sachet containing 0.08 grams of shabu, a dangerous drug.
They were charged with violation of Section 5, Article 2 of RA 9165 on the sale of illegal drugs. They denied the charges and said they were framed up.
After almost one year of trial, they were convicted by the Binangonan RTC and sentenced to life imprisonment and fined P500,000 each.
On May 29, 2015, the trial court’s decision was affirmed by the CA which ruled that “the chain of custody cannot be said to have been interrupted or broken as to taint or create a doubt as to its integrity and evidentiary value and accordingly warrant the acquittal of accused-appellants.”
The CA also said: “We cannot reverse the judgement of conviction on the basis of accused-appellants’ testimonies alone, alleging frame-up. Their testimonies, uncorroborated and unsubstantiated, are merely self-serving and cannot be given any probative value. While there may have been inconsistency in some of the details in the testimonies of the apprehending officers, such details are of little significance.”