A man who was found guilty of transporting shabu on board a passenger bus from Manila in 2019 has been cleared by the Court of Appeals after it ruled that the evidence seized from him was inadmissible.
Adonis Dante Sales Aguilar, accused of illegal transportation of illegal drugs in violation of Section 5 of Republic Act 9165, was found guilty by the Regional Trial Court Branch 43 in September 2020 and was sentenced to suffer life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.
According to information filed before the RTC, the police received information that Aguilar left Catanduanes on Feb. 18, 2019 to purchase illegal drugs in Metro Manila and was expected to return two days later.
The police immediately set up an operation and on Feb. 20 was informed by a source that Aguilar was already on board the ferry which was expected to dock at San Andres port at 10:30 AM.
Following a final briefing, personnel from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Catanduanes police and the Philippine Coast Guard proceeded to the port where they spotted their quarry as he alighted from the ferry and boarded an Isarog aircon bus.
Five law enforcers along with a K9 dog followed him inside the bus where he was seen arranging a white plastic bag on the right overhead luggage carrier.
But Aguilar noticed the team and immediately sat down at the left side of the bus, opposite the location of the plastic bag.
When the team reached him, the drug-sniffing dog sat down in front of Aguilar, indicating the presence of illegal drugs.
When he denied having any luggage, the PDEA agent invited him to the San Andres police station where a body search turned up a small sachet of shabu in his jacket’s pocket.
Other members of the police team followed the bus until it reached the terminal at Concepcion, Virac and, upon disembarkation of all passengers, the officers boarded the bus and saw the white plastic bag at the right overhead luggage carrier.
Inside the bag were, among others, a folded paper containing one plastic sachet with three medium-sized sachets of suspected shabu.
During the hearing, Aguilar vehemently denied the allegations against him, including ownership of the sacjet of shabu found in his jacket and the other three sachets discovered in the plastic bag left in the bus.
Following the guilty verdict, he filed an appeal with the CA alleging that his arrest was illegal and the evidence recovered from him is inadmissible.
He also claimed that the police failed to establish an unbroken chain of custody of the seized drugs and did not comply with the requirements of Sec. 21 of RA 9165.
In finding the appeal meritorious, the appeals court noted that while there was sufficient cause to search the accused pursuant to a stop-and-frisk search, the police did not search him and instead “invited” him to the police station where the actual search was conducted.
The law enforcers had probable cause to arrest the accused, the CA said, but the search on him at the police station was unlawful and unreasonable, as it was conducted at a venue other than the place of arrest.
It also found the subsequent search on the bus to be unlawful, as it is a distinct and separate incident and is a not a valid search.
Even if the search on the bus is considered as a consented search, the appeals court stressed that the integrity of the seized drugs is still suspect was the white plastic bag was left unattended during the bus’ travel from San Andres port to the Virac terminal.
Pursuant to Art. III, Sec. 3(2) of the 1987 Constitution, any evidence obtained in violation of a person’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding, the CA 10th Division stated in reversing the RTC Branch 43 judgment and setting Aguilar free from incarceration at the New Bilibid Prison.