A local court in Manila has acquitted three drug suspects charged in separate cases, all because their arresting officers either mishandled the evidence or failed to follow procedures.
Judge Caroline Rivera-Colasito of Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 23, in three separate decisions issued on June 10, said gaps in the process for the proper handling of evidence weakened the prosecution.
Acquitted were Charize Cerillo, who was charged with possession and use of illegal drugs; Oscar Lazaro for selling and possession; and Mark Narro also for possession of illegal drugs.
Cerillo was arrested on July 23, 2011, after a guard at Manila City Jail who was frisking the visitors found a plastic sachet of what appeared to be "shabu" in her wallet. JO1 Joy Arga then brought Cerillo to the duty investigator's office.
The court noted that the jail officer failed to state who was present during the confiscation and how the substance was handled from the place of arrest to the investigation unit, where the evidence was turned over unmarked. Meanwhile, no evidence was presented to prove that Cerillo herself was a drug user, it added.
In the second case, Lazaro was arrested in a "buy-bust operation" on Blumentritt Street on Nov. 27, 2009, according to SPO1 Mauro Castro Cruz. In his defence, Lazaro said the police came to his house looking for his nephew, but he was the one who ended up being dragged to the police station. When he couldn't tell his nephew's whereabouts, he was slapped with drugs charges for drug peddling and possession.
According to the judge, evidence must be marked immediately after confiscation in the presence of the accused, a representative from the media, a Department of Justice officer or an elected official-a requirement which the police failed to comply with in Lazaro's case.
Narro was arrested on a Binondo street on Oct. 15, 2011, the day the police conducted surveillance operations in the area. PO2 Michael Carabeo testified that Narro was found carrying a sachet of shabu and that he was later brought to the District Anti-Illegal Drugs Office where the evidence was marked.
The accused, however, maintained that he was just waiting for a friend at a jeepney stop when he was suddenly accosted by the police. He surmised that he was arrested just because he was not wearing a shirt at that time.
The court noted that the supposed evidence obtained from Narro was not marked at the site of arrest and there was no clear proof that it was handed directly to the crime lab chemist for examination.