CA affirms foreigner’s conviction on 2.8 kilos of illegal drug seized in police’s buy-bust operation

Published February 7, 2021, 10:21 AM

by Rey Panaligan 

The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the life imprisonment and the P500,000 fine imposed by the trial court in 2019 on a foreigner from whom 2,815.5 grams of shabu, an illegal drug, was confiscated in a buy-bust operation conducted by the police in 2018 in Makati City.

Affirmed was the conviction of Shi Jianjia, a Chinese national who was identified in the trial court proceedings as “engaged in the smuggling and distribution of illegal drugs” in the Philippines.

Shi was arrested by members of the Philippine National Police Drug Enforcement Group (PNP-DEG) in Barangay Pio del Pilar in Makati City on a tip from an informant in late 2017 and after several days of surveillance. Confiscated from him, among other things, were two plastic packs containing more than 2.8 kilos of shabu, methamphetamine hydrochloride.

On April 4, 2018, a criminal case was filed against him in court for violation of Section 5 (sale of illegal drugs), Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. 

On May 2, 2019, the trial court convicted Shi. It ordered the turnover of the seized illegal drug to the government for proper disposition.

Shi elevated the case to the CA on appeal. Aside from denying ownership of the seized illegal drugs, he also claimed that the identify of the plastic pack was not established because the police failed to weigh them before turning them to the crime laboratory for examination. 

He also claimed that the police failed to follow the provisions of the law in the handling of the seized illegal drugs.

In affirming the ruling of the Makati City regional trial court (RTC), the, in a decision written by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas Peralta, said it scrutinized meticulously – in line with Supreme Court (SC) decisions and provisions of RA 9165 — the proceedings during the buy-bus operation conducted by the police and in the trial court, particularly in the observance of the procedures in the handling of the seized illegal drugs.

In countless SC decisions, the High Court has been emphasizing that “the prosecution has the burden to prove compliance with the chain of custody requirements under Section 21, Article II 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,” the SC 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.

 The CA said that “a perusal of the testimonies of the apprehending officers as well as the documentary exhibits presented by the prosecution show that the chain of custody of evidence was unbroken.”

“Considering that the prosecution was able to satisfactorily establish an unbroken chain of custody, the integrity and evidentiary value of the illegal drugs confiscated from accused-appellant (Shi) were preserved,” it said.

The CA also said:

“Again, it must be stressed that the amount of shabu involved in this case cannot be considered as miniscule, as no less than two (2)plastic packs of shabu, weighing a total of 2,815.5 grams, are involved. Such considerable amount can hardly be planted by the police officers.

“There is no merit in accused-appellant’s contention that the prosecution failed to comply with Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 on chain of custody requirement because the mandatory witnesses were not present during the actual arrest of accused-appellant and seizure from him of the subject illegal drugs.”

CA Associate Justices Zenaida T. Galapate Laguilles and Carlito B. Calpatura concurred in the decision that was promulgated last week.