687 Phil. 593
The prosecution presented two (2) witnesses in the persons of PO1 Alaindelon M. Ignacio, who gave his testimony on 5 January 2005, 8 February 2006 and 2 August 2006; and Forensic Chemist Donna Villa Huelgas, whose testimony was dispensed with on 5 January 2005 upon defense’s admission of the existence of the following: 1) Written Request for Laboratory Examination as Exhibit “A”; 2) The Chemistry Report No. D-1102-04 as Exhibit “B”; 3) 1 ½ white envelope as Exhibit “C”; 4) the existence of two (2) plastic sachets with markings “GSC-1” as Exhibit “C-1”; and 5) another one with markings “GSC-2” as Exhibit “C-2”.
PO1 Ignacio testified that he is a member of the Philippine National Police since 15 October 1999 and was assigned at Intelligence Division, San Pedro Municipal Police Station. As member of the Intelligence Division, he was tasked to conduct surveillance operation and apprehend persons engaged in illegal drug activity. On 7 September 2004, he was on 24-hour duty at PAC base located at United Bayanihan, San Pedro, Laguna. At around 6:00 in the evening of the same day, PO1 Ignacio, SPO3 Samson, SPO4 Balverde, some members of the Laguna Special Operation Team, Members of the Provincial Intelligence and Investigation Division conducted a briefing regarding a drug operation against a certain Gomer Climaco, No. 5 in the drug watch list in San Pedro, Laguna. During the briefing, PO1 Ignacio was tasked to act as the poseur-buyer and SPO4 Almeda as the overall team leader. The buy-bust money was prepared, which consist of P500.00 bill and some boodle money. The team was also armed with a Warrant of Arrest for illegal drugs issued by Judge Paño. After the briefing, the team proceeded to the target area. When they arrived, PO1 Ignacio saw the suspect standing in front of his house. The other members of the team strategically positioned themselves. Since PO1 Ignacio already knew the suspect, PO1 Ignacio just told Gomer that he would buy shabu. Gomer entered his house and took something. When he came out, Gomer showed to PO1 Ignacio the shabu. PO1 Ignacio scratched his head to signal the team that item was shown to him and he would execute the buying of the shabu. After Gomer asked for the money and PO1 Ignacio gave it to him, SPO3 Samson and the rest of the team immediately moved in to effect the arrest of the suspect. Since he was caught in the act, Gomer did not resist anymore. The team likewise showed Gomer his warrant of arrest. PO1 Ignacio saw SPO3 Samson frisk and ask Gomer to empty his pockets. SPO3 Samson was able to recover another plastic sachet, which was inserted between Gomer’s fingers. The plastic sachet, which was the product of the buy-bust, and the one recovered from Gomer were turned over to SPO4 Teofilo Royena, who turned them over to the Office of the Special Operation Group located at Brgy. Tubigan, Biñan, Laguna. The plastic sachet product of the buy-bust was marked TR-B, which means Teofilo Royena and the letter “B” means “Bust.” While the plastic sachet recovered from Gomer was marked TR-R, which means Teofilo Royena and the letter “R” means “Recovered”. PO1 Ignacio identified the accused Gomer Climaco in open court. He likewise identified his sworn statement. During the cross-examination, PO1 Ignacio admitted that he learned of the warrant of arrest on 7 September 2004 only. It was SPO4 Valverde who instructed PO Ignacio to conduct surveillance operation against Gomer, who was engaged in rampant selling of shabu.
The defense presented three (3) witnesses in the persons of the accused himself, Gomer S. Climaco, who testified on 13 May 2008, Michael M. Basihan, who gave his testimony on 7 October 2008, and Cristina Gamboa Climaco, who gave her testimony on 25 November 2008.
Gomer S. Climaco testified that prior to 7 September 2004, he did not know SPO2 Wilfredo Samson and PO1 Alaindelon Ignacio. On 7 September 2004, Gomer, together with his wife and five (5) children, were inside their house. When Gomer was feeding the chicken in front of his yard, four (4) unidentified armed men suddenly arrived and frisked him. When nothing was found in his possession, the men handcuffed and brought him to the police station. At the police station, the men filed a case against him. Gomer denied having sold and delivered shabu to a police poseur-buyer and that he was in possesion of shabu. During the cross-examination, Gomer said that while he was being frisked by the men, Gomer asked the men what was his violation. The men replied that somebody bought shabu from him. Gomer told the men that he did nothing wrong, but the men continued to handcuff him. Gomer was not aware that he was included in the list of top 20 illegal drug pushers. Gomer did not know of any ill motive on the part of the police officer why he would be charged with so grave an offense. He did not file any case against the police officer who arrested him.
Michael M. Basihan testified that Gomer Climaco was his neighbor in Bagong Silang. On 7 September 2004, Michael went to Gomer’s manukan to gather guava fruits. When he arrived there, Gomer was tending to his cocks. While he was gathering guava fruits, Michael saw four (4) unidentified armed men suddenly barge into the premises and arrest Gomer. After he was handcuffed, Gomer was made to board a vehicle where he was brought to Jaka Subdivision. Michael could not remember whether it was morning or evening when Gomer was arrested by unidentified armed men because the incident happened a long time ago.
Cristina Gamboa Climaco testified that she is the wife of Gomer Climaco. She did not know SPO2 Wilfredo Samson and PO1 Alaindelon Ignacio. On 7 September 2004, she was inside their house taking care of her child. At around 3:00 in the afternoon of the same day, Gomer arrived in their house, who just came from Barangay Cuyab. After taking a bath, Gomer went outside of their house. While in front of their house, Gomer called the person taking care of his chickens. Gomer and that person went to the back of the house. Meanwhile, Cristina went inside the house. Although she was inside of the house, Cristina could see Gomer and the person through the window. At around 4:00 in the afternoon, Cristina saw four (4) unidentified armed men approach and ask something from Gomer. After a few minutes, Gomer left the back of the house, while the men were left standing there. Cristina went out the house and saw her husband go toward the direction of St. Reymond. At around 6:00 in the evening, Cirstina went down from their house to ask Michael if he saw Gomer. Michael told Cristina that he saw Gomer loaded into a van by several men. During the cross-examination, Cristina said that she did not know of any reason why SPO2 Samson and PO1 Ignacio would arrest her husband.
WHEREFORE, in Criminal Case No. 4912-SPL, the Court finds the accused, Gomer S. Climaco, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of violation of Sec. 5 of R.A. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00.
In Criminal Case No. 4911-SPL, the Court finds the accused, Gomer S. Climaco, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of violation of Sec. 11 of R.A. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and sentencing him to suffer imprisonment of twelve (12) years and one (1) day to fourteen (14) years and eight (8) months and to pay a fine of three hundred thousand pesos (P300,000.00).
The Branch Clerk of Court is directed to transmit to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the plastic sachets subject matter of these cases, for said agency’s appropriate disposition.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED and the judgment dated January 20, 2009 of the RTC in Criminal Case Nos. 4911-SPL and 4912-SPL finding appellant Gomer S. Climaco guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Sections 5 and 11 of Rep. Act No. 9165 is AFFIRMED.
The dangerous drug itself, the shabu in this case, constitutes the very corpus delicti of the offense and in sustaining a conviction under Republic Act No. 9165, the identity and integrity of the corpus delicti must definitely be shown to have been preserved. This requirement necessarily arises from the illegal drug’s unique characteristic that renders it indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise. Thus, to remove any doubt or uncertainty on the identity and integrity of the seized drug, evidence must definitely show that the illegal drug presented in court is the same illegal drug actually recovered from the accused-appellant; otherwise, the prosecution for possession under Republic Act No. 9165 fails.
“Chain of Custody” means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of movements and custody of seized item shall include the identity and signature of the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when such transfer of custody were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition.
Prosecutions for illegal possession of prohibited drugs necessitates that the elemental act of possession of a prohibited substance be established with moral certainty, together with the fact that the same is not authorized by law. The dangerous drug itself constitutes the very corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to a judgment of conviction. Essential therefore in these cases is that the identity of the prohibited drug be established beyond doubt. Be that as it may, the mere fact of unauthorized possession will not suffice to create in a reasonable mind the moral certainty required to sustain a finding of guilt. More than just the fact of possession, the fact that the substance illegally possessed in the first place is the same substance offered in court as exhibit must also be established with the same unwavering exactitude as that requisite to make a finding of guilt. The chain of custody requirement performs this function in that it ensures that unnecessary doubts concerning the identity of the evidence are removed.
As a method of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. It would include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered in evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same.
While testimony about a perfect chain is not always the standard because it is almost always impossible to obtain, an unbroken chain of custody becomes indispensable and essential when the item of real evidence is not distinctive and is not readily identifiable, or when its condition at the time of testing or trial is critical, or when a witness has failed to observe its uniqueness. The same standard likewise obtains in case the evidence is susceptible to alteration, tampering, contamination and even substitution and exchange. In other words, the exhibit’s level of susceptibility to fungibility, alteration or tampering – without regard to whether the same is advertent or otherwise not – dictates the level of strictness in the application of the chain of custody rule.
Indeed, the likelihood of tampering, loss or mistake with respect to an exhibit is greatest when the exhibit is small and is one that has physical characteristics fungible in nature and similar in form to substances familiar to people in their daily lives. Graham v. State positively acknowledged this danger. In that case where a substance was later analyzed as heroin – was handled by two police officers prior to examination who however did not testify in court on the condition and whereabouts of the exhibit at the time it was in their possession – was excluded from the prosecution evidence, the court pointing out that the white powder seized could have been indeed heroin or it could have been sugar or baking powder. It ruled that unless the state can show by records or testimony, the continuous whereabouts of the exhibit at least between the time it came into the posession of the police officers until it was tested in the laboratory to determine its composition, testimony of the state as to the laboratory’s findings is inadmissible.
A unique characteristic of narcotic substances is that they are not readily identifiable as in fact they are subject to scientific analysis to determine their composition and nature. The Court cannot reluctantly close its eyes to the likelihood or at least the possibility, that at any of the links in the chain of custody over the same there could have been tampering, alteration or substitution of substances from other cases – by accident or otherwise – in which similar evidence was seized or in which similar evidence was submitted for laboratory testing. Hence, in authenticating the same, a standard more stringent than that applied to cases involving objects which are readily identifiable must be applied, a more exacting standard that entails a chain of custody of the item with sufficient completeness if only to render it improbable that the original item has either been exchanged with another or been contaminated or tampered with.
Q: When SPO4 Almeida handed over the items to SPO4 Teofilo Royena, what if any did SPO4 Royena do with the items? A: He placed markings on it, maam. Q: Where were you when he placed the markings? A: I was present, maam. Q: Do you know what markings was made? A: He placed his initials TR which means Teofilo Royena and the letter B which means bust, maam. Q: I’m showing to you a plastic sachet with the markings TR-B, please go over this and tell if this is the same item which you confiscated from the accused? A: Yes, maam. This is the same. PROS. CASANO: Your Honor, the brown envelope which contains the plastic sachet has already been marked as Exhibit “C”, the plastic sachet as Exhibit “C-1” and the markings TR-B as Exhibit “C-2” (Continuing). x x x x Q: Tell us the markings that was placed? A: It’s TR-R, the R means recovered, maam. Q: How sure are you that the items marked by SPO4 Teofilo Royena TR-R was the same item taken by SPO3 Samson from the accused? A: Because there was a difference between the two plastic sachets, the items recovered by SPO3 Samson was a little bit bigger, maam. Q: I’m showing to you a bigger plastic sachet with the markings TR- R, are you referring to this? A: Yes, maam.
CHEMISTRY REPORT NUMBER: D-1102-04
x x x x
A – One (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet, with markings “GSC1”, containing 0.35 gram of white crystalline substance and placed in a staple-sealed transparent plastic bag. (Allegedly bought by the Police Poseur-Buyer)
B – One (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet, with markings “GSC2”, containing 0.14 gram of white crystalline substance and placed in a staple-sealed transparent plastic bag. (Allegedly found from the posession of Glomer Climaco)
The prosecution presented two (2) witnesses in the persons of x x x Forensic Chemist Donna Villa Huelgas, whose testimony was dispensed with on 5 January 2005 upon defense’s admission of the existence of the following: 1) Written Request for Laboratory Examination as Exhibit “A”; 2) The Chemistry Report No. D-1102-04 as Exhibit “B”; 3) 1 ½ white envelope as Exhibit “C”; 4) the existence of two (2) plastic sachets with markings “GSC-1” as Exhibit “C-1”; and 5) another one with markings “GSC-2” as Exhibit “C-2”.
x x x x
The plastic sachet product of the buy-bust was marked TR-B, which means Teofilo Royena and the letter “B” means “Bust.” While the plastic sachet recovered from Gomer was marked TR-R, which means Teofilo Royena and the letter “R” means “Recovered”. (Emphasis supplied)