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In July 2014, Mary Jane Cadiente was allegedly subjected to a buy-bust operation in Makati. After the alleged buy-bust operation, people began to gather at the crime scene so the operatives decided to bring her to the barangay hall. But five hours passed and no barangay official appeared and so they had to move to the next barangay (Barangay Pembo) where the barangay captain there witnessed the inventory of the items allegedly seized from Cadiente.
In her defense, Cadiente said that what actually happened was that armed men barged into her house. After that, she, her husband, and their four year old daughter were forcibly taken to the police station where they were detained. After two days, her husband and their daughter were freed on the condition that they should return with P50,000.00 so that Cadiente may be freed.
Cadiente was convicted for selling illegal drugs (Sec. 5, R.A. No. 9165 or the Anti-Dangerous Drugs Act).
ISSUE: Whether or not the conviction must be overturned.
HELD: Yes. In this case, the integrity of the evidence against her is questionable.
Section 21 of RA 9165 requires that the three mandatory witnesses (DOJ representative, media representative, and an elective official) must be present during the inventory which must be IMMEDIATELY done after her arrest. In this case, the presence of the witnesses were not previously secured. In fact, the operatives had to look for an available elective official whom they found in the next barangay and only after more than five hours had already elapsed. The presence of the representatives of the DOJ and the media was not secured as no one from them appeared.
The operatives likewise failed to explain why they failed to obtain their presence. In the absence of the representative from the media and from the DOJ during the physical inventory and the photographing of the seized shabu, the evils of switching, “planting” or contamination of the evidence create serious lingering doubts as to its integrity and evidentiary value.
WHAT ARE THE VALID REASONS TO EXCUSE THE ABSENCE OF ANY OR ALL OF THE MANDATORY WITNESSES?
(1) their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area;
(2) their safety during the inventory and photograph of the seized drugs was threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused or any person/s acting for and in his/her behalf;
(3) the elected official themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended;
(4) earnest efforts to secure the presence of a DOJ or media representative and an elected public official within the period required under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code proved futile through no fault of the arresting officers, who face the threat of being charged with arbitrary detention; or
(5) time constraints and urgency of the anti-drug operations, which often rely on tips of confidential assets, prevented the law enforcers from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses even before the offenders could escape.