SC reminder: Weak drug cases will lead to acquittals
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court means business. Incorrect police procedures in drug cases can lead to acquittals.
The High Court recently acquitted another drug convict, Francisco Señeres Jr of Taguig, who was previously sentenced to life imprisonment.
Señeres may now walk out of the New Bilibid Prison after the Supreme Court 3rd Division acquitted him of drug charges in a decision promulgated November 5.
“He is ordered immediately released from detention, unless he is confined for any other lawful case. Let entry of final judgment be issued immediately,” said the SC in the decision penned by Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, with concurrences from Associate Justices Marvic Leonen and Ramon Paul Hernando.
It was also Peralta who penned the unanimous decision last September wherein the High Court warned the police that failure to follow procedures could result in their cases being thrown out.
This was to avoid frame-ups and the planting of evidence.
No proper witnesses
In the case of Señeres, he and a companion were allegedly sent by a certain Dennis to the Market! Market! mall in September 2011 to sell sachets of shabu. A Taguig police officer disguised himself as a buyer in the buy-bust operation.
After the operation, Police Officer 2 Joseph More asked the officer in charge of the mall’s security division to be present during their inventory of the seized drugs. This was not in compliance with the requirement for witnesses stated in Section 21 of Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Law.
The required witnesses under Section 21 are:
- the accused or a representative
- an elected public official
- a representative from the National Prosecution Service or the media
“There being no justifiable reason in this case for the non-compliance of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, this Court finds it necessary to acquit the appellant for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the Court said.
The Taguig police told the court their officers tried to reach out to the barangay official covering the mall’s jurisdiction but no one turned up.
The Supreme Court took note of arguments from the likes of Senators Vicente "Tito" Sotto III and Grace Poe who said that the requirements may be impractical, and may be used to acquit guilty people, but ultimately the justices said the law should be applied.
“An explanation of the absence of the required witnesses is also not provided nor was there any evidence to prove that the police officers exerted any effort to seek their presence,” said the Supreme Court.
Explaining their decision, the justices once again said that “a stricter adherence to Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is miniscule since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering or alteration.”
The shabu involved in this case was 0.87 gram worth P2,500.
Señeres’ companion, Federico Valencia Jr died in 2014 before the conviction of the lower court was handed out, which was in December 2015. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in November 2016, only to be reversed by the Supreme Court now.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier welcomed the strict guidelines of the Supreme Court, saying that it will prompt the police and the prosecutors to be more mindful of procedures.
Data from both the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice show that drug cases have overtaken Philippine courts, starting with only 7,675 in 2009 to 70,706 cases n 2017 with bouncing checks a far second at 21, 760. – Rappler.com