On the Identity of the Dangerous Drugs:
In cases for Illegal Sale and/or Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs under RA 9165, it is essential that the identity of the dangerous drug be established with moral certainty, considering that the dangerous drug itself forms an integral part of the corpus delicti of the crime (People v. Crispo, GR 230065, 14 March 2018). Failing to prove the integrity of the corpus delicti renders the evidence for the State insufficient to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, and hence, warrants an acquittal (People v. Gamboa, GR 233702, 20 June 2018).
To establish the identity of the dangerous drugs with moral certainty, the prosecution must be able to account for each link of the chain of custody from the moment the drugs are seized up to their presentation in court as evidence of the crime (People v. Ano, GR 230070, 14 March 2018, 859 SCRA 380). As part of the chain of custody procedure, the law requires, inter alia, that the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted immediately after seizure and confiscation of the same. In this regard, case law recognizes that “marking upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team (People v. Mamalumpon, 767 Phil 845 ). Hence, the failure to immediately mark the confiscated items at the place of arrest neither renders them inadmissible in evidence nor impairs the integrity of the seized drugs, as the conduct of marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team is sufficient compliance with the rules on chain of custody (People v. Tumulak, 791 Phil 148 .
Chain of Custody
As a general rule, compliance with the chain of custody procedure is strictly enjoined as the same has been regarded not merely as a procedural technicality but as a matter of substantive law. This is because “the law has been crafted by Congress as safety precautions to address potential police abuses especially considering that the penalty imposed may be life imprisonment (People v. Bangalan, GR 232249, 03 September 2018).
Nonetheless, the Court has recognized that due to varying field conditions, strict compliance with the chain of custody procedure may not always be possible (People v. Sanchez, 590 Phil 234 ). As such, the failure of the apprehending team to strictly comply with it would not ipso facto render the seizure and custody over the items as void ad invalid, provided that the prosecution satisfactorily proves that:
(a) there is a justifiable ground for noncompliance; and,
(b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved (People v. Almorfe, 631 Phil 51 ).
The foregoing is based on the saving clause found in Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165, –
“Provided further, that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items.”
which was later adopted in the text of RA 10640 –
“Provided, finally, Than noncompliance of these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures and custody over said items.”
It should, however, be emphasized that for the saving clause to apply, the prosecution must duly explain the reasons behind the procedural lapses (People v. Almorfe, supra.), and that the justifiable ground for noncompliance must be proven as a fact, because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist (People v. De Guzman, 630 Phil 637 ).
On the Witness Requirement
Anent the witness requirement, noncompliance may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear. While the earnestness of these efforts must be examined on a case to case basis, the overarching objective is for the Court to be convinced that the failure to comply was reasonable under the given circumstances (People v. Manansala, GR 229092, 21 February 2018). Thus, mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses, are unacceptable as justified grounds for noncompliance (People v. Gamboa, GR 233702, 20 June 2018 [867 SCRA 548]). These considerations arise from the fact that police officers are ordinarily given sufficient time beginning from the moment they have received the information about the activities of the accused until the time of his arrest to prepare for a by-bust operation and consequently, make the necessary arrangements beforehand, knowing fully well that they would have to strictly comply wit the chain of custody rule (People v. Crispo, GR 230065, 14 March 2018).
Notably, the Court, in People v. Miranda (GR 229671, 31 January 2018 [854 SCRA 42]), issued a definitive reminder to prosecutors when dealing with drugs cases. It implored that “since the procedural requirements are clearly set forth in the law, the State retains the positive duty to account for any lapses in the chain of custody of the drugs/items seized from the accused, regardless of whether or not the defense raises the same in the proceedings a quo; otherwise, it risks the possibility of having a conviction overturned on grounds that go into the evidence’s integrity and evidentiary value, albeit the same are raised only for the first time on appeal, or even not raised, become apparent upon further review.”
Source: People of the Philippines v. Edward Colenares, GR 234650, 05 February 2020