In June 2013, Mario Manabat was subjected to a buy bust operation in Dipolog City. After an alleged successful buy-bust, he was apprehended. Aside from the packet of illegal drug that he allegedly sold, from his person were also recovered nine packets of illegal drugs. Eventually, he was convicted by the trial court for violations of Section 5 (selling illegal drugs) and Section 11 (illegal possession) of R.A. No. 9165 or the Anti-Dangerous Drugs Act.
Manabat argued that his conviction was not proper because the cases against him were procedurally defective because of the fact that the mandatory witnesses required by Section 21 of RA 9165 were not present at the time of his apprehension. They were only present AFTER his apprehension or during the inventory of the items seized from him.
ISSUE: Whether or not Mario Manabat must be acquitted.
HELD: Yes. The mandatory witnesses (DOJ/Media representative and an elective official) must be present during the inventory which must be IMMEDIATELY conducted after the apprehension of the suspect. It is for this reason that during the apprehension, the three witnesses must already be present. The three required witnesses should already be physically present at the time of apprehension – a requirement that can easily be complied with by the buy-bust team considering that the buy-bust operation is, by its nature, a planned activity.
The presence of the three witnesses must be secured not only during the inventory but more importantly at the time of the warrantless arrest. It is at this point in which the presence of the three witnesses is most needed, as it is their presence at the time of seizure and confiscation that would belie any doubt as to the source, identity, and integrity of the seized drug.