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Republic of the Philippines

Court of Appeals
Manila

NINTH DIVISION

PEOPLE OF THE CA-G.R. CR-HC. NO. 09710


PHILIPPINES,
Plaintiff-Appellee, Members:

Bruselas, Jr., Chairperson


–versus – Garcia-Fernandez, and
Fiel-Macaraig, JJ.

NOEL LACSA y GUAB a.k.a. Promulgated:


“NOEL”,
Accused-Appellant. 20 December 2018

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

Fiel-Macaraig, J.

On appeal is the Joint Decision1 dated 28 June 2017 of the


Regional Trial Court, Branch 53, of Sorsogon City (hereinafter, court a
quo), finding the accused-appellant Noel Lacsa y Guab alias “Noel”
(hereafter, appellant) guilty beyond reasonable doubt in Criminal
Case No. 2011-8214 for violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic
Act (RA) 9165,2 but acquitting him in Criminal Case No. 2011-8213
for violation of Section 11, Article II of the same Act.

1 Rollo, 57-68.
2 Otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
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The Case

In two (2) separate Informations dated 28 November 2011,


the appellant was charged with Illegal Possession and Sale of
Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu), respectively, under
Sections 11 and 5, Article II of R.A. 9516 to wit:

Criminal Case No. 2011-8213

“That on or about the 25th day of


November 2011 at about 2:00 o'clock in the
afternoon at Barangay Burabod, Sorsogon City,
Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this
Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did
then and there, willfully, unlawfully and
feloniously had in this possession, custody (sic)
three (3) heat sealed (sic) transparent plastic
sachet (sic) containing white crystalline substance
which yielded positive from metamphetamine
(sic) hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, having a
gross weight of 0.17 gram without legal authority
to possess the same, to the damage and prejudice
of the state.

CONTRARY TO LAW.”3

Criminal Case No. 2011-8214

“That on or about the 25th of November


2011 at about 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon at
Barangay Burabod, Sorsogon City, Philippines
and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable
Court, the said accused, without authority of law,
did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and
criminally sell, dispense and deliver one (1) heat-
sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white
crystalline substance which was tested positive
for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, locally
known as “shabu”, a dangerous drug, weighing
0.0167 grams, to a PDEA-poseur buyer in
3 Records, p. 1 (Criminal Case no. 2011-8213).
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exchange of Php 2,000.00 marked money, to the
damage and prejudice of the state.

The offense was aggravated/qualified by


the fact that the sale took place within 100 meters
from the Sorsogon East Central School, a public
elementary school.

CONTRARY TO LAW.”4

Upon Motion5 filed by the prosecution, these cases were


consolidated.6

At his arraignment, appellant pleaded NOT GUILTY to the


offenses charged.7 After the pre-trial conference, trial on the
merits ensued.

The prosecution presented Intelligence Officer 1 Arnel Ditan


Lasay (hereinafter, IO1 Lasay),8 Agent Reynaldo Benzon
(hereinafter, Agent Benzon),9 PO2 Kwencie M. Fortuno10 and
Forensic Chemist Reynalyn Barbacena (hereinafter, Barbacena)11
as witnesses.

On the other hand, only the appellant testified in his


defense.12

The Antecedent Facts

The Version of the Prosecution

4 Records, p. 1 (Criminal Case No. 2011-8214).


5 Records, p. 35(Motion for Consolidation).
6 Records, p. 36.
7 Records, p. 47 (Certificate of Arraignment).
8 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN) of Io1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, July 15, 2013 and
November 4, 2013.
9 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN) of Agent Reynaldo Benzon dated May 19, 2013.
10 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN) of PO2 Kwencie Fortuno dated December 8, 2015.
11 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN) of Reynalyn Barbacena dated September 18, 2012.
12 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN) of Noel Lacsa dated September 5, 2016.
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On 24 November 2011, a confidential asset contacted IO1
Lasay, a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agent,
regarding the illegal drug activities of appellant, particularly, that
he was engaged in the sale of shabu and had scheduled a drug
transaction the following day. Later that evening, IO1 Lasay
relayed the information he received to the other operatives of
PDEA.13

Around 11 o'clock in the morning on 25 November 2011,


IO1 Lasay, together with the PDEA Agent Reynaldo Benzon,
Sergeant Villanueva and Sergeant Giba of the Sorsogon Police
Station, as well as PO3 Estrellado, PO2 Antes, PO2 Lajada and
PO1 Fortuno of the Sorsogon Provincial Public Safety Company
(SPPSC), conducted a briefing and planned a buy-bust operation.
They agreed that IO1 Lasay would act as the poseur-buyer while
Agent Benzon would be the back-up apprehending officer. IO1
Lasay would purchase shabu worth P 2,000.00 from the appellant
using two (2) P 1,000.00 bills respectively bearing serial numbers
FY 886632 and DZ 265921, which were marked with his initials
“ADL.” It was also agreed that IO1 Lasay would invert his hat as
the prearranged signal, to confirm the exchange of the marked
money and the shabu.14

Around 1 o'clock in the afternoon, IO1 Lasay instructed the


confidential asset to call the appellant; the latter agreed to meet
with them in front of the Burabod Elementary School.15
Thereafter, the appellant arrived on board a motorcycle. The
confidential asset approached the appellant and introduced IO1
Lasay as his cousin who wanted to buy shabu. The appellant then
asked IO1 Lasay how much worth of shabu he wanted to buy,
13 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, pp. 4-5.
14 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, pp. 6-7.
15 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, pp. 7.
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which the confidential asset answered, “P 2,000.00.”16 After the
confidential asset responded, the appellant immediately took out
his black pouch and gave a blue colored paper/container to IO1
Lasay. Upon opening the colored paper, IO1 Lasay saw inside
one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white
crystalline substance, suspected to be shabu.17 The appellant told
him that it was of good quality and then asked for his payment.
IO1 Lasay then handed over to the appellant the marked money,
which the latter received and placed inside his pocket. 18 At this
juncture, IO1 Lasay inverted his cap and introduced himself to
the appellant. He informed appellant that he was being arrested
for violation of RA 9165. Shortly, the police operatives rushed to
the scene to secure the area while Agent Benzon held the
appellant.19 Immediately thereafter, IO1 Lasay marked the
suspected shabu specimen with his initials and the date of the
operation (ADL 11/25/2011).20 The buy-bust team and the
appellant subsequently proceeded to Burabod Barangay Hall,
where IO1 Lasay conducted another body search on the appellant
in the presence of the DOJ agents, media representatives,
barangay officials and the buy-bust team. IO1 Lasay recovered
the following items from the appellant: three (3) sachets of shabu,
a cellphone and Php 122.00 cash, which he immediately marked
and inventoried.21

From the Burabod Barangay Hall, they proceeded to the


SPPSC Office in Camp Escudero, Sorsogon City, where the
appellant was interviewed by an SPPSC personnel. 22 Therein, IO1
16 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, pp. 9-12.
17 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated May 15, 2013, pp. 13.
18 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 4.
19 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 5.
20 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 5-6; Records, p. 21 (Exhibit R-1 and R-2,
Photographs of the Actual Marking).
21 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 7.
22 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 12-13.
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Lasay recorded the incident in the police blotter, while
maintaining custody and possession of the seized items.

Around 4 o'clock in the afternoon that same day, they went


to the PDEA Regional Office in Camp Simeon Ola, Legaspi City.
Upon their arrival, IO1 Lasay placed the suspected shabu inside
his locker as he prepared the request for laboratory examination.
Afterwards, he took the sachets of shabu from his locker and went
together with Agent Benzon to the Regional Crime Laboratory for
the turn-over of the drug specimen to Forensic Chemist
Barbacena.23 The laboratory examination of the four (4) sachets
yielded positive results for the presence of methamphetamine
hydrochloride.24

PO2 Kwencie Fortuno's testimony was dispensed with upon


the defense's admission that the witness was the police officer on
duty who recorded the entries in the police blotter dated 25
November 2011. Forensic Chemist Barbacena's testimony was
also dispensed with after the parties stipulated on her
competence as witness as well as the due execution and
authenticity of the Initial and Final Chemistry Reports.25

The Version of the Defense

According to the appellant, around 1 o'clock to 1:30 in the


afternoon of 25 November 2011, he was at the house of one Carlo
Mendenilla (hereinafter, Mendenilla) in Burabod, Sosorgon City
to buy a fighting cock. After he had paid Mendenilla, IO1 Lasay
and Agent Benzon suddenly pointed a gun at him, commanding
23 TSN of IO1 Arnel Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 14-15.
24 Record, p. 15 (Initial Chemistry Report No. PDEAROV-DD011-017) and Records, p. 76 (Final
Chemistry Report No. PDEAROV-DD011-017).
25 TSN of PO2 Kwencie Fortuno dated December 8, 2015, p. 4. and TSN of Chemist
Reynalyn Barbacena dated September 18, 2012, p. 21.
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him not to move; he was asked if he was Joel, and he answered in
the negative. He then heard Agent Benzon utter, “he might not be
the one.”26 Allegedly, Agent Benzon took his wallet from his back
pocket and then placed something inside; he merely thought it
was his wallet. Appellant claimed that he was then handcuffed
and told not to resist as they were PDEA agents. IO1 Lasay and
Agent Benzon searched his pocket and showed him a pouch; he
denied that the items inside belonged to him. 27 He was later
brought to the Burabod Barangay Hall, where he was subjected to
body search for the second time. The PDEA agents showed him
some cash which they claimed were recovered from his back
pocket. He claimed that prior to his arrest, he was carrying the
total amount of P 3,622.00; P 3,000.00 was inside his wallet, the P
500.00 was paid to Mendenilla, and only P 122.00 was in his other
pocket.28 Subsequently, the PDEA agents filed this case against
him.

The Ruling of the Court a quo

After trial, the court a quo rendered the assailed Joint


Decision29 dated 28 June 2017, finding the accused-appellant
guilty of illegal sale of shabu but acquitting him of illegal
possession of shabu. The fallo reads, thus:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:

i. In Criminal Case No. 2011-8213,


ACQUITTING the accused for violation of
Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165;
and,

ii. In Criminal Case No. 2011-8214, finding


accused GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for
26 TSN of Noel Lacsa dated September 5, 2016, pp. 4-5.
27 TSN of Noel Lacsa dated September 5, 2016. pp. 6-7.
28 TSN of Noel Lacsa dated September 5, 2016, p. 8.
29 Rollo, p. 57.
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violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act
No. 9165 and he is hereby sentenced to suffer the
penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of
P500,000.00.

SO ORDERED.30

In finding the appellant liable for illegal sale of shabu, the


court a quo gave credence to the testimonies of the prosecution
witnesses since they were able to establish the elements of the
offense through both oral and object evidence. The court a quo
further found the testimony of IO1 Lasay direct and
straightforward, that he was able to buy shabu from the appellant
worth P 2,000.00. The court a quo further found that the testimony
of Agent Benzon bolstered IO1 Lasay's narration. On the other
hand, the court a quo was unpersuaded by the appellant's defense
of alibi and denial that he was just buying a rooster from
Mendenilla prior to his arrest. As regards the charge of illegal
possession of shabu, however, the court a quo concluded that the
prosecution was not able to prove its elements.

Aggrieved by the above-quoted ruling, appellant


seasonably filed a Notice of Appeal.31 He is now before this Court,
seeking the reversal of the court a quo's Joint Decision, anchored
on the following alleged errors, to wit:

I.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN


CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF
VIOLATION OF SECTION 5, ARTICLE II OF R.A.
NO. 9165, ON THE BASIS OF THE
INCONSISTENT AND IMPROBABLE
TESTIMONIES OF THE PROSECUTION
WITNESSES.

30 Rollo, p. 68.
31 Records, p. 130.
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II.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN


CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF
VIOLATION OF SECTION 5, ARTICLE II OF R.A.
NO. 9165, NOTWITHSTANDING THE
PROSECUTION'S FAILURE TO PROVE THE
ELEMENTS THEREOF BEYOND REASONABLE
DOUBT.

III.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN


CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF
VIOLATION OF SECTION 5, ARTICLE II OF R.A.
NO. 9165, DESPITE THE PHILIPPINE DRUG
ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (PDEA) OFFICERS'
FAILURE TO FAITHFULLY COMPLY WITH THE
PERTINENT DRUG ENFORCEMENT RULES
AND REGULATIONS.

IV.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN


CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF
VIOLATION OF SECTION 5, ARTICLE II OF R.A.
NO. 9165, DESPITE THAT THE SEIZED SACHET
OF PROHIBTED DRUGS IS A PRODUCT OF
ILLEGAL SEARCH, HENCE INADMISSIBLE IN
EVIDENCE.

In his Brief,32 appellant points to the inconsistencies in the


testimonies of IO1 Lasay and Agent Benzon, which he claims cast
serious doubt on their credibility. He also contends that the
prosecution was not able to establish the elements of illegal sale of
dangerous drugs. He further avers that the apprehending officers
failed to comply with Section 21 of R.A. 9165 regarding the chain
of custody, and emphasizes that the seized sachets of shabu are
inadmissible in evidence because these were obtained during an
illegal search and seizure.

32 Rollo, p. 34.
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On the other hand, the appellee, through the Office of the
Solicitor General (OSG), argues that the inconsistencies in the
testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are trivial and do not
negate the fact that appellant sold illegal drugs to the poseur-
buyer. It further claims that the chain of custody of the seized
item was unbroken and its evidentiary value was well preserved.

The Ruling of this Court

The appeal is granted as reasonable doubt on appellant's


guilt exists.

To secure a conviction for illegal sale of dangerous drugs


under Section 5, Article II of RA 9165, the prosecution must
establish the following elements: (1) the identity of the buyer and
the seller as well as the object and the consideration; and, (2) the
delivery of the thing sold and the payment. Similarly, it is
essential that the transaction or sale is proven to have actually
taken place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of
corpus delicti.33

Similarly, it is essential to establish that the procedure


provided in Section 21 of R.A. 9165 is followed, to wit:

SEC. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized,


and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of
Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential
Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or laboratory
Equipment. - The PDEA shall take charge and have
custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of
dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential
chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia
and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized
and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the
following manner:

33 See People vs. Abarquiz, G.R. No. 210617, December 7, 2016.


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(1) The apprehending team having initial custody
and control of the drugs shall, immediately after
seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and
photograph the same in the presence of the accused or
the person/s from whom such items were confiscated
and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a
representative from the media and the Department of
Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall
be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be
given a copy thereof;

Meanwhile, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of


R.A. 9165 (IRR) filled in the details as to where the physical
inventory and photographing of the seized items could be done,
i.e., at the place of seizure, at the nearest police station or at the
nearest office of the apprehending officer/team. Section 21 (a),
Article II of the IRR, thus states:

(a) The apprehending officer/team having


initial custody and control of the drugs shall,
immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a
physical inventory of the seized items and photograph
the same in the presence of the accused or the
person/s from whom such items were confiscated
and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a
representative from the media and the Department of
Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall
be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be
given a copy thereof: Provided, That the physical
inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the
place where the search warrant is served; or at the
nearest police station or at the nearest office of the
apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable,
in case of warrantless seizures: 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 be
render void and invalid such seizures of and custody
over said items; (emphasis supplied.)

In essence, Section 21 requires the apprehending team to


conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph
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the same immediately after seizure and confiscation in the
presence of the accused, with (1) an elected public official, and (2)
a representative of the Department of Justice (DOJ), or (3) a
representative of the media, all of whom shall be required to sign
the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.

In People v. Luna,34 the Supreme Court declared that the


plain import of the phrase "immediately after seizure and
confiscation" means that the physical inventory and
photographing of the drugs must be performed immediately at
the place of apprehension. And, in case this is not practicable,
then the inventory and photographing may be done as soon as the
apprehending team reaches the nearest police station or office of
the apprehending officer/team. Necessarily, this could only mean
that the three (3) witnesses should already be physically present
at the time of apprehension - a requirement that can easily be
complied with by the buy-bust team, considering that buy-bust
operations, by their very nature, entail meticulous planning and
coordination.

In the same case, the High Court elaborated that it is at the


time of arrest - or at the time of the seizure and confiscation of the
drugs - that the insulating presence of the witnesses is most
needed, as it is their presence at the time of seizure and
confiscation that would foreclose the pernicious practice of
planting of evidence. Without the actual presence of the
representative from the media and the DOJ, and any elected
public official during the seizure and marking of the confiscated
drugs, the evils of switching, planting or contamination of the
corpus delicti that had tainted the buy-busts conducted under the
regime of RA 6425, otherwise known as the "Dangerous Drugs
34 G.R. No. 219164, March 21, 2018.
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Act of 1972," could again be resurrected.35

Although Section 21 of the said Act allows the application of


the saving clause, the application thereof was not triggered as the
prosecution failed satisfy the two-pronged requirements: first,
present justifiable grounds for the non-compliance, and second,
show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items
were properly preserved.36

In People v. Almorfe,37 the High Court stressed that for the


above-saving clause to apply, the prosecution must explain the
reasons behind the procedural lapses, and that the integrity and
value of the seized evidence had nonetheless been preserved. In
People v. De Guzman,38 it was further emphasized that the
justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact,
because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that
they even exist.

In People v. Sipin,39 the High Court expounded that the


circumstances which may be considered as justifiable grounds in
deviating from the mandatory requirement set in Section 21 are
the following: (1) the required witnesses' attendance was
impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area; (2) their
safety during the inventory and photograph of the seized drugs
was threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused
or any person/s acting for and in his/her behalf; (3) the elected
officials themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought
to be apprehended; (4) earnest efforts to secure the presence of a
DOJ or media representative and an elected public official within
35 Ibid.
36 See People v. Ga-a and Adobar, G.R. No. 222559, June 06, 2018.
37 G.R. No. 181831, March 29, 2010.
38 G.R. No. 185717, June 8, 2011.
39 GR No. 224290, Jun 11, 2018.
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the period required under Article 12540 of the Revised Penal Code
proved futile through no fault of the arresting officers, who face
the threat of being charged with arbitrary detention; or, (5) time
constraints and urgency of the anti-drug operations, which often
rely on tips of confidential assets, prevented the law enforcers
from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses even before
the offenders could escape.

In this case, however, the physical inventory of the seized


drugs was not immediately conducted at the place of seizure. In
fact, the buy-bust team, along with the appellant, had go to the
Burabod Barangay Hall, about 900 meters away from the place of
seizure, to conduct the physical inventory.

In his direct examination,41 IO1 Lasay categorically stated


that:

Prosecution [ Pros. Marredith Carillo-Perez]

Q: So, when the police operative arrived, what


did you do?

A: We secure the area because there was traffic


there at about 2:00 or 3:30 in the afternoon.

Q: Now, what happened next?

A: I marked the shabu that I was able to buy from


him.

xxxx xxxx

40 Art. 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. —
The penalties provided in the next preceding article shall be imposed upon the public
officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to
deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of; twelve (12)
hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; eighteen
(18) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent
and thirty-six (36) hours, for crimes, or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital
penalties, or their equivalent.
41 TSN of IO1 Lasay dated July 15, 2013, p. 5.
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Q: After marking the shabu, what happened
next?

A: After the marking because in that place we


cannot conduct the inventory I called for a
Brgy. Official and then we proceeded
to the barangay hall of Brgy. Burabod.

Q: By the way, do you have nay proof that


marked the sachets at the scene of the
buy-bust?

A: yes, ma'am (Emphasis supplied.)

The foregoing reason hardly qualifies as sufficient


justification for not complying with the requirements of Section
21. It must be stressed that the buy-bust team had already
planned the operation and agreed on each team members' specific
roles. There was no reason why the team was not able to ensure
that the conduct of the marking and inventory would be done
immediately after the seizure or confiscation of the drugs.

In the same vein, the IRR further requires that the


apprehending officer must not simply mention a justifiable
ground, but also clearly state such grounds in his sworn
affidavit.42 However, even in IO1 Lasay's Affidavit, there is no
attempt to justify on record their non-compliance with the
procedural requirements set in Section 21:

“7. x x x The said suspect reached from his left pocket


a black pouch and opened it in front of us and handed
the item placed inside the colored blue improvised
paper container, and upon receiving the item, I
immediately open it and upon seeing that there was a
medium plastic sachet containing white crystalline
substance but suspect said “maray na klase yan, sain
an bayad”' I placed it inside my left pocket of my
shortpants and asked the money to which I handed
the marked money and the same time I inverted my
bull cap to provide the pre-arranged signal. I then

42 See People v. Sarenga, G.R. No. 210677, 23 August 2017.


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informed the subject that I am a PDEA Agent and that
he is under arrest for violation of RA 9165.

8. After which back-up arresting officer agent


Benzon and other operatives strategically deployed
rushed to the scene, introduced themselves as PDEA
and PNP operatives and help in the arrest. I marked
the One (1) heat sealed transparent sachet containing
white crystalline substance suspected to be shabu my
initials ADL- BB 11/25/2011 and the color blue
improvised paper as ADL 11/25/2011 and have it
photograph right there and then Agent Benzon
apprised the subject of his constitutional rights in a
language and manner known and understood by him;

9. Likewise in ensuing lawful search on the


person of Noel Lacsa at Brgy. Hall of Burabod and in
the presence of witnesses, yielded the following:

◦ Two (2) pieces one thousand peso bills


used as buy-bust money pre-marked ADL in
the nipa hut icon with serial number FY886632
and DZ265921

◦ One (1) unit Nokia cellular phone model


S5130 colored black red marked ADL
11/25/2011

◦ One (1) black pouch (one station)


marked as ADL 11/25/2011 containing three
(3) pieces colored white improvised paper
container marked ADL-P 11/25/2011 a1 to
ADL-P 11/25/2011 c1

◦ three (3) heat sealed transparent plastic


sachet containing white crystalline substance
suspected to be shabu marked ADL – P
11/25/2011 a to ADL – P 11/25/2011 c

◦ One hundred twenty-two pesos


personal money

◦ One (1) unit Honda Wave colored blue


bearing plate number 5389 EC marked ADL
11/25/2011

10. I personally took custody and immediately


deliver all the seized suspected drug and non-drug
evidence at the PDEA Regional Crime Laboratory
Office V at Camp Gen. Simeon A. Ola, Legaspi City.
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Laboratory examination which later turned positive
for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride
commonly known as 'shabu';”

Apparently, the buy-bust team opted to conduct the


inventory in the Burabod Barangay Hall since it failed to secure
the presence of the required witnesses in the place of seizure. In
fact, such glaring defect is evident from Agent Benzon's testimony
during his cross-examination,43 thus:

Defense [Atty. Mangampo]

Q: How many minutes passed between the arrest and the


actual searching in the Barangay Hall?

A: From the scene to the Brgy. Hall ten (10) minutes, sir.

Q: Were the witnesses to the inventory already waiting at


the Brgy. Hall or they will hold after your arrival?

A: That they were invited from the.....

Q: So, ten minutes travel from the scene to the barangay


hall plus another number of minutes for the
witnesses to arrive?

A: Yes, sir. (Emphasis supplied.)

Given that there are patent irregularities present at the


point of seizure, which is the “fist link” in the chain, there is no
more practical value to establishing the unbroken chain of
custody to show the integrity and the evidentiary value of the
seized items were properly preserved. In other words, if there is
already non-compliance with Section 21 of RA 9165 and no
justifiable grounds are presented therefor, proving a chain of
custody beginning only with the poseur-buyer is pointless since
the planting of evidence is naturally done at the point of seizure.
Once more, the entire rationale of placing witnesses at the scene
43 TSN dated may 19, 2015 of Agent Benzon, p. 20.
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and conducting an inventory and photographing in their presence
immediately after the seizure of the dangerous drugs is to
guarantee with moral certainty that the items were indeed
recovered from the accused and not planted by the police
officers.44

As a final note, the Court highlights the High Tribunal's


reminder in People v. Mamangon,45 that prosecutors are strongly
reminded that they have the positive duty to prove compliance
with the procedure set forth in Section 21 of RA 9165, as
amended. As such, they must have the initiative to not only
acknowledge but also justify any perceived deviations from the
said procedure during the proceedings before the trial court.
Since compliance with this procedure is determinative of the
integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti and ultimately,
the fate of the liberty of the accused, the fact that any issue
regarding the same was not raised, or even threshed out in the
court/s below, would not preclude the appellate court from fully
examining the records of the case if only to ascertain whether the
procedure had been completely complied with, and if not,
whether justifiable reasons exist to excuse any deviation. If no
such reasons exist, then it is the appellate court's bounden duty to
acquit the accused, and perforce, overturn a conviction.

While, this Court fully supports the State's campaign


against illegal drugs, it cannot turn a blind eye to breaches of the
requirements under the law and the rules. We hold that it is the
core duty of the prosecution to account for and explain any
deviations from the mandatory requirements outlined in Section
21. Unfortunately, the prosecution in this case failed to
sufficiently advance a justifiable reason for the deviation. Thus,
44 See People v. Luna, G.R. No. 219164, March 21, 2018.
45 G.R. No. 229102, January 29, 2018.
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the Constitutional right of the appellant to be presumed innocent
stands.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. Accused-


appellant Noel Lacsa y Guab is hereby ACQUITTED in Criminal
Case No. 8214. The Director of the National Bilibid Prison,
Muntinlupa City, is hereby Ordered to immediately RELEASE
said accused-appellant from custody unless he is otherwise held
therein for any other lawful cause. Report of compliance must be
filed within five (5) days from notice.

SO ORDERED.

ORIGINAL SIGNED
GERALDINE C. FIEL-MACARAIG
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ORIGINAL SIGNED
APOLINARIO D. BRUSELAS, JR.
Associate Justice

ORIGINAL SIGNED
MYRA V. GARCIA-FERNANDEZ
Associate Justice
CA-G.R. CR-HC NO. 09710
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CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Article VIII, Section 13 of the Constitution, it is


hereby certified that the conclusions in the above decision were
reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer
of the opinion of the Court.

ORIGINAL SIGNED
APOLINARIO D. BRUSELAS, JR.
Associate Justice
Chairman, Ninth Division