September 30, 2023

Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo castigated last week law enforcers, prosecutors, and even the courts for bungling a P1-billion drug case.
In November 2003, six Chinese and a Filipino were entrapped in Valenzuela City resulting in the seizure of shabu worth P1B. Four Chinese offered to bribe the arresting officers with 10 kilos of shabu.
A certain Robert Uy, the Filipino among the accused, was arrested after he drove the car with the 10-kg. shabu bribe. The other drugs were seized the next day in a warehouse in Valenzuela.
A regional trial court has acquitted the four Chinese but sentenced Uy to life imprisonment for trafficking of shabu. Co-accused Willie Gan was also sentenced to 14 years in jail.
The SC said the prosecution failed to establish that Uy possessed the drugs recovered from the warehouse. “Uy could not have had actual possession of the items seized from the warehouse because he was already in custody of the police officers when the search of the warehouse was conducted on Nov. 11, 2003. It was simply impossible for accused-appellant to have had actual possession of said drugs since he was already in custody.”
“Neither was there evidence that Uy had constructive possession over the warehouse and, in turn, its contents. It must be emphasized that the lessee of the warehouse was Willie Gan…Thus, the one who had dominion and control over the warehouse was Willie Gan, as the lessee thereof.”
The police, according to the high court, also failed to strictly follow the chain of custody rule under Section 21 of Republic Act 9165, or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which laid down the procedure for conducting the search and inventory of drugs recovered from a raid.
For one, a different police officer seized the drugs while another one marked it. There was also no inventory receipt and they lacked insulating witnesses or witnesses required to be present during the inventory of confiscated drugs. At the time, three witnesses were required – one from the media, a Department of Justice representative, and an elected public official (reduced to two witnesses in 2014.)
The court said there were no witnesses during Uy’s arrest while there was no DOJ representative during the search in the warehouse the next day.
Also, the turnover of the drugs seized was not properly documented – from the apprehending officer to the investigating officer to the forensic chemist, then to the court.
“This reveals the law enforcement agents’ complete ignorance of the requirements of Sec. 21 of RA 9165. The pieces of evidence submitted in the instant case, such as the photographs taken of the warehouse, demonstrate an utter lack of care in complying with the requirements of the law. Instead of taking a photograph of the items seized, the apprehending officers merely saw fit to take a photograph of the operatives securing the specimens recovered inside the warehouse and the operatives together with the items inside the warehouse. Further, there is nary any allegation that they even attempted to secure the required insulating witnesses for the Nov. 10, 2003 incident,” reads the court decision.
“This ignorance extends to the prosecution because the records are woefully bereft of any attempt on its part to even invoke justifiable circumstances to excuse the failure of the law enforcement agents to even attempt to comply with the mandatory requirements of Sec. 21 of RA 9165. The utter disregard for the law demonstrated by these actors is reprehensible,” it added.
The SC also called out the RTC for the “reprehensible error” in the penalty imposed on Gan, Uy’s companion. It said RA 9165 is clear that the penalty should have been life imprisonment but instead, the RTC has imposed a penalty of between 12 to 14 years on Gan. Because Uy was acquitted, Gan should also have been acquitted.
“Truly, the acquittal in the instant case is ordained by the multiple errors, whether through negligence or misfeasance, committed by the prosecution, the defense, and the trial court,” the SC said.
It is bewildered that the RTC acquitted some co-accused Chinese on the ground that the bribe was not proven as fact while convicting Uy, whose participation could only have arisen because of the bribe. It was Uy who drove the car which transported the 10-kg. shabu bribe.
The 15-0 ruling was dated Feb. 21, 2023 but was only recently released to the public.
In acquitting Uy and Gan, the SC also ordered their immediate release, almost 20 years since their arrest.
Now we know why we are losing the war on drugs.