SC reminds cops to adhere to rules, procedures in anti-drug operations

THE Supreme Court has reminded law enforcers anew to strictly respect the rules, particularly in their anti-illegal drug operations, to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of every individual.

In a 12-page resolution released to the public on Thursday, the Court’s Second Division pointed out that while police officers enjoy a presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties, an accused also enjoys a presumption of innocence “which can only be overthrown by proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”

Thus, the Court reversed and set aside the decision of the Court of Appeals issued on May 23, 2018, which upheld the ruling of the Regional Trial Court of Manila that found accused-appellant Salahudin Pindaton guilty of selling 3.404 grams of methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu” to a police poseur buyer and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

He was also ordered to pay a fine of P500,000.

The SC acquitted Pindaton of the charges for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and ordered his immediate release from prison unless he is being held for any other lawful cause.

“There is reasonable doubt as to whether the alleged buy-bust operation was actually conducted, and whether it was conducted properly. Moreover, there is a serious doubt as to the integrity of the seized dangerous drugs, assuming there was any drug actually seized from accused-appellant,” the SC noted. One of the elements required for a successful prosecution of a drug case, according to the SC, is that it must be proven that the transaction or sale took place.

The SC said based on its review of the records of the case, there were many inconsistencies on the testimonies given by the prosecution that cast serious doubts that a buy-bust was conducted.

It noted the unexplained huge gap between the value of the illegal drugs allegedly sold by Pindaton to the police poseur-buyer, which was worth P13,612 and the amount of money given by the latter, which was only P500.

“In fact, even assuming that a buy-bust indeed took place, there is, at the very least, reasonable doubt as to the true amount of illegal substance recovered from accused-appellant, for it is highly unbelievable for shabu to be sold at such a low price. In any case, the integrity of the seized items is tainted,” the SC explained.

Furthermore, the SC said there were also irregularities as to how the allegedly recovered drugs were processed.

Aside from the failure of the police officers to affix the proper markings on the seized items, the SC said they also failed to do the same at the prescribed location and in the presence of the required persons as mandated by Section 21, Article II of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

To justify this deviation in procedure, the prosecution said the police officers were trying to avoid causing a commotion and untoward incidents from happening, since some pedicab drivers and relatives of the accused-appellant were allegedly grabbing and trying to free the former.

But the SC ruled: “While on its own this justification may seem valid, the Court cannot ignore the fact that there have been too many irregularities committed by the police officers, which lead us to doubt the integrity of the seized items.”

Pindaton claimed that no buy-bust occurred on October 1, 2015 as he was already detained at the Manila Police District-District Anti-Illegal Drugs (MPD-DAID) the day before.

He said that on September 30, 2015, while walking along Palanca Street, he was apprehended by several police officers and brought to the MPD-DAID office for questioning.

The accused-appellant claimed that he was threatened and mauled, and was forced to admit that he was a drug pusher.  He further claimed that the police officers were extorting money from her sister in exchange for his liberty.

Pindaton also presented the testimonies of several persons before the court to prove that he was a person of good moral character.

“As a final note, the Court wishes to take this opportunity to again remind law enforcement authorities to be more circumspect in carrying out operations and observing procedures meant to curb criminality, especially those involving dangerous drugs. While the end-goal is laudable, equally important is the respect to rules and protocols put in place to safeguard every person’s sacred right to life, liberty, and property,” it added.

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