Join the campaign (Learn More)

Manila Standard : Chain of custody rule violated

News & Interviews
9 November 2021

By Emil Jurado | Manila Standard

"The case must be dismissed outright."

This is a follow-up column on the case against Julian Ongpin, who has been found allegedly in possession of prohibited drugs — cocaine — under Republic Act 9165, as amended by RA 10640, which provides for the so-called chain of custody rule.

This rule is meant to maintain the integrity of evidence in drug cases and make the case foolproof against adulteration or planting of evidence, without which there can only be reasonable doubt. And if there is reasonable doubt in the proof or evidence in a criminal case, the case should be dismissed.

Denis Manalo of the Denis Manalo Law Offices, which is handling the case for the benefit of Julian Ongpin, said that the circumstances under which the drugs were seized showed no justification for not complying with the mandatory guidelines implementing the chain of custody rule.

Chain of custody is defined as the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs at each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipts in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping and to presentation in court for destruction.

Each link in the chain must properly be established by the prosecution. The first link is the seizure and marking. Second is the turnover of illegal drugs seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer. Third is the turnover by the investigating officer to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination. Fourth is the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drugs seized by the forensic chemist to the court.

In Julian’s case, the lawyer noted that the SOCO team, which seized the drugs, conducted the physical inventory and took photographs without the presence of the accused or his representative or counsel, an elected public official, a representative from the National Prosecution Service, or representative from the media.

Their justification for doing it, the lawyer stressed, was that they were not aware that the substance recovered from the room where Julian and his lady companion is, in fact, cocaine, a dangerous drug.

Thus, in asking for the dismissal of the case of drug charges, Manalo pointed out that since the Department of Justice filed the case despite the absence of such justification, therefore the court must exercise its discretion or either refuse to issue a commitment order or warrant of arrest, or just dismiss the case outright for lack of probable cause.

Manalo cited People vs. del Rosario, decided June 22, 2020, wherein the Supreme Court said that lapses in the chain of custody like lack of compliance with Section 21 of the Comprehensive Act on Dangerous Drugs RA 9165 renders acquittal proper. This is because serious uncertainty hangs over the identification of the corpus delicti that the prosecution introduced as evidence. In effect, Manalo said that the prosecution had no evidence given that the circumstances surrounding the handling of the seized drugs cast doubts on their source, identity and integrity.

As a lawyer myself, I think the Regional Trial Court of San Fernando City, La Union should dismiss the case outright.

In raising an alleged violation of the chain of custody rule, Julian Ongpin’s lawyer claimed that during the inventory and markings of the seized drugs, there was only one civilian witness present (the duty officer of the hostel). Julian was not even present as required by law since he was brought to the hospital.

In a motion filed with the San Fernando City RTC, the lawyer cited People vs. Lim where the court said that in order to weed out orchestrated or poorly-built cases, it is mandatory that in their sworn statements and affidavits, the apprehending/ seizing officers must state their compliance with the requirement of Section 21. This says that in case of non-observance of the provisions of the provision, such officers must state the justification or explanation as well as steps taken, in order to observe the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized/confiscated items.

If there is no justification or explanation expressly declared in the sworn statements or affidavits, the investigating fiscal must not immediately file the case in court and instead refer it to preliminary investigation, and that if the investigating fiscal filed sword the absence, then 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.

I repeat, the case must be dismissed outright.

•••

In the wake of surveys that say Bongbong Marcos is leading the presidential surveys, there have been some idiotic and dumb efforts on the part of the usual Marcos haters and the now “pinkos,” no longer “yellows,” to pin down Bongbong on alleged violation of law to pave the way for cancelling his COC or Certificate of Candidacy. He was supposedly found guilty for tax evasion.

But a 1997 Court of Appeals ruling found no proof to pin down Marcos on tax evasion charges. It did cite him for failure to file income tax returns (ITR). On Oct.11, 1997, in a ruling, the CA’s Special 3rd Division headed by then Associate Justice Gloria Paras as division chairman, and concurred with by Associate Justices Lourdes Tayao-Jaguros, the senior member, and Oswaldo Agcaoili, the junior member, it was found and affirmed that Marcos paid income taxes from 1982 to 1986 and was just fined. This is contrary to what retired Senior Justice of the Supreme Court Antonio Carpio said that Bongbong was convicted for undetermined imprisonment which carries a conviction for moral turpitude.

Moral turpitude disqualifies anybody from running for a public office.

Clearly, this is a desperate attempt to disqualify Bongbong.There has been a lot of black propaganda leveled against the former senator. We can expect the attacks to continue.

People should watch out for the possibility of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio declaring herself as BBM’s running mate come Nov. 15. If this happens, “tapos na ang boxing.”

•••

The National Capital Region has been placed under Alert Level 2. But we should not be complacent,

Sure, the daily cases of COVID-19 have declined, but that’s no assurance that we are now free from the virus. We should continue to observe protocol.