SC issues rules to follow in anti-drug operations

The Supreme Court (SC) has laid out rules law enforcement agencies should abide in conducting arrests related to illegal drugs. Read more: SC lays out rules for authorities to follow in anti-drug operations. September 29, 2018.

The SC made the move as it acquitted suspected small-time drug trader Romy Lim over drug charges for the failure of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to observe the rule of chain of custody under Republic Act 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

In its 18-page decision dated Sept. 4, the high tribunal granted the appeal of Lim to “reverse and set aside” the Cagayan de Oro City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 Sept. 24, 2013 decision affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) to convict the accused of possession and sale of illegal drugs under Republic Act 9165.

“While the above-quoted provision (chain of custody) has been the rule, it appears that it has not been practiced in most cases elevated before us,” the SC lamented.

“Thus, in order to weed out early from the courts’ already congested docket any orchestrated or poorly built drug-related cases, the following should henceforth be enforced as mandatory policy:

1. In the sworn statements/affidavits, the apprehending/seizing officers must state their compliance with the requirements of Section 21 (1) of R.A. No. 9165, as amended, and its IRR (implementing rules and regulations).

2. In case of non-observance of the provision, the apprehending/seizing officers must state the justification or explanation therefore as well as the steps they have taken in order to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized/ confiscated items.

3. If there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements or affidavits, the investigating fiscal must not immediately file the case before the court. Instead, he or she must refer the case for further preliminary investigation in order to determine the (non) existence of probable cause.

4. If the investigating fiscal filed the case despite such absence, the court may exercise its discretion to either refuse to issue a commitment order (or warrant of arrest) or dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause in accordance with Section 5, Rule 112, Rules of Court.

Section 21(a) of RA 9165 mandates that “the apprehending officer/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.

However, the SC pointed out this provision was not observed when Lim was arrested in the evening of Oct. 19, 2013 and caught with .02 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

“Evident, however, is the absence of an elected public official and representatives of the DOJ and media to witness the physical inventory and photograph of the seized items,” the SC cited.

“In fact, their signatures do not appear in the Inventory Receipt,” it added. Read more: SC lays out rules for authorities to follow in anti-drug operations. September 29, 2018.