RTC junks case in Chinese cemetery anti-drug search

The Regional Trial Court (RTC) has dismissed the illegal drugs possession case filed against a Virac man who allegedly yielded shabu in a house inside the Chinese cemetery last year.

Last week, RTC Branch 42 Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada ordered the release from detention of Ariel Sarmiento Lopez after acquitting him of the crime charged for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The March 3, 2022 decision said a combination of circumstances cast doubt on the accused’ constructive possession of the seized dangerous drugs with a total weight of 46.372 grams.

It may be recalled that police operatives seized five sachets of suspected shabu during an early morning raid at a house inside the Chinese cemetery in Capilihan, Virac in the early morning of May 11, 2021.

Armed with a search warrant issued four days earlier by the RTC, personnel of the Regional Police Drug Enforcement Unit – 5 (RPDEU5) Team Catanduanes, the Virac police station, the Catanduanes Provincial Intelligence Unit (PIU) and the1st Provincial Mobile Force Company (PMFC) reportedly found the contraband hidden inside an empty bottle of motor oil.

According to then Virac police chief Maj. Antonio Perez, Lopez, who was 33 at the time, was included in the list of Recalibrated Priority Database on Illegal Drugs and is considered a “high-value individual.”

In her seven-page ruling, Judge Gapas-Agbada noted that the search team led by Lt. Carlo Lita fetched the accused at a house near the chapel before going to the subject house inside the cemetery.

Upon arrival at the cemetery, Lopez knocked on the door, with the occupants – his sister and her husband – told to go out before the police began the search.

A plastic bottle of “Castrol oil” containing a brown wallet and the five sachets of shabu was found, with Lopez placed under arrest and charged for possession of dangerous drugs.

In his defense, the accused denied the charge against him and maintained that the house inside the cemetery was not his but that of his parents when they were still alive.

He told the Court that he no longer resided at the house as he already lived in the house near the chapel where he was fetched by the police that morning.

In dismissing the charge, Judge Gapas-Agbada stated that the prosecution failed to present concrete evidence that the drugs found were under the dominion and control of the accused or that he had the right to exercise dominion and control over the place where it was found.

Noting that the police implemented the warrant four days after it was issued – when the accused was not in the house, the Court cited the testimony of a house occupant as well as Punong Barangay Danilo Villanueva that Ariel Lopez was not residing in the subject house during the implementation of the search warrant.

The prosecution was unable to prove that the house inside the Chinese cemetery was owned by the accused and it failed to rebut the defense that he was not a resident of said house, it stressed.

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