SC acquits drug suspectBy Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines–The Supreme Court’s first division has acquitted a drug suspect after the prosecution failed to show how the “shabu” allegedly seized from him was transferred from the time the police took it from him until its presentation as evidence in court.
Unless he is detained for other unlawful causes, Alex Watamama is now out of jail after the first division of the high court ordered last July 31 his acquittal “on the ground of reasonable doubt.”
In a six-page decision penned by Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr., the court set aside and reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision dated March 5, 2010 which had upheld a Quezon City regional trial court decision that found Watamama guilty for the illegal sale of 0.8 grams of shabu last September 25, 2005 and had meted him a life sentence as well as ordered him payment of a P500,000 fine.
Watamama was convicted for selling shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) for P200 to PO1 Peggy Lynne Vargas in a buy-bust operation conducted at his home in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City.
He appealed the Quezon RTC and CA decision questioning the policemen’s failure to comply with the procedure for the custody and control of seized prohibited drugs under the law.
The high court’s first division agreed with Watamama, saying that the prosecution had failed to show how the seized shabu “changed hands from the time Police Officer 1 Vargas turned it over to the investigator up to the time they were presented as evidence in court.”
It also said there was no evidence on how another policeman, a certain P02 Ortiz, got the shabu and transferred it to the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory for examination. There was also no evidence to show how the drug was secured from tampering, the court said.
It pointed out that in all prosecutions of violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2000, it was important to prove the existence of a prohibited drug.
“While this Court recognizes substantial adherence to the requirements of R.A. No. 9165 and its implementing rules and regulations, not perfect adherence, is what is demanded of police officers attending to drugs cases, still, such officers must present justifiable reason for their imperfect conduct and show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items had been preserved. Here, however, they failed to meet these conditions,” the court said.
The court said the prosecution should not just rely on the testimony of P01 Vargas that she had turned over the shabu to the investigator who, in turn, prepared the letter for its examination by the Crime Laboratory.
“In this case, the over-reliance on POl Vargas’ testimony and the failure to present the investigator and P02 Ortiz are fatal to the prosecution’s case. Since the failure to establish every link in the chain of custody of the drug compromised its identity and integrity, which is the corpus delicti of the crimes charged against appellant, his acquittal is therefore in order,” the court said.