SC acquits accused in Virac buy-bust due to police lapses

A Virac resident sentenced to life imprisonment in 2018 has been freed by the Supreme Court after it found lapses in the way the police handled the drug evidence.

In granting the appeal filed by Christian Paul Tiu Yap, the Third Division of the High Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals dated June 11, 2019 and ordered the immediate release of the accused.

It may be recalled that on Feb, 28, 2014, Yap was arrested by the police for allegedly selling a small sachet of shabu to a police asset, Randy de Leon, near the house of the latter’s grandmother in barangay Palnab del Norte.

The asset had claimed that he received a text message from Yap offering to sell him P500 worth of shabu, with the two men eventually agreeing on P300.

A team from the Virac police station set up the sting, with lawmen hiding inside the house of the police asset’s grandmother.

Yap alighted from a tricycle and went inside the compound where he and the asset met at the terrace of the house. Once the exchange took place, the police officers came out and arrested the suspect as well as the driver of the tricycle.

During the trial, the Regional Trial Court dismissed the charge against the tricycle driver but found Yap guilty, sentencing him to life in prison and to pay a fine of P500,000.

The CA denied his appeal, holding that there was continuity in the chain of custody of the dangerous drugs seized from Yap and the inconsistencies he alleged in the testimonies of police witnesses were too inconsequential.

In his appeal before the Supreme Court, handled by the Balagtas Gupo & Associates Law Firm, Yap questioned, among others, the handling of the drug specimen by the police asset as de Leon did not know whether the drug specimen allegedly seized from Yap remained in his possession during the inventory.

Yap claimed PO1 Carlo Agawa of the Catanduanes Crime Laboratory had testified that the sachet was not signed when he received it and its appearance in court was different from when he first received it.

In its ruling, the Third Division noted that none of the witnesses required under Sec. 21 of Republic Act 9165 were present during Yap’s apprehension as they arrived only after the buy-bust operation was already conducted.

The justices said that while all three witnesses signed the inventory receipt, they were absent at the time that their presence was required the most, which is when Yap was apprehended.

“Further, it was not established that de Leon immediately marked the sachet of shabu he received from Yap,” the SC stated, pointing out that he was not even a police officer.

Neither de Leon not the police officers stored the sachet in an appropriate container, as required by the Court to protect them from tampering.

“What is alarming is that de Leon said that he can no longer recall if the sachet of shabu remained in his hand during the inventory,” the Court emphasized, adding that his uncertainty made it doubtful that the sachet was fully accounted for at all times.

“The foregoing lapses render the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti in this case questionable,” it said. “The Court is not assured that the drug specimen allegedly taken from Yap is the same drug specimen presented in court.”

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