CA acquits Bicol’s alleged top drug lord
By Jonas Cabiles Soltes
NAGA CITY --- Citing the failure of government operatives to stick to the law in handling drug-related cases, the Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the acquittal of the supposed leader of the drug cartel in Bicol Region.
In an 18-page decision that casts doubt on the integrity of the ongoing fight against illegal drug trade in the Philippines, the appellate court ruled that a Naga City Regional Trial Court erred by not considering several irregularities before convicting Victor Lorenzo “Chinglo” T. Rosales of violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Operatives, the CA said, did not properly mark the illegal drugs seized in the room of Rosales, that there was a “shroud of doubt as to the identity of the drug evidence.”
“Consequently, there is a doubt on whether the found items were the same items that were subsequently marked [as evidence],” the CA added.
NO DOJ Representative
Another irregularity cited by the Court of Appeals in reversing the earlier court ruling was the absence of a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the photographing and inventory of the confiscated items.
The operatives in their joint affidavit failed to secure the attendance of all mandatory witnesses “despite the sufficient span of time according to the CA decision.
“They did not adduce any reason for the DOJ representative’s absence.”
Improperly marked forensic evidence
The third irregularity mentioned by the CA in its ruling was the “improper” marking of the confiscated items by the forensic chemist involved in the prosecution.
The CA said that the plastic sachets of “shabu” or methamphetamine were “merely numbered” and bound together with a tape after being examined in Naga City that it was highly improbable that the forensic chemist was able to identify the drug evidence “upon mere glancing.”
In addition, there were “substantial” breaches, which were the reasons why the integrity and value of the evidence were not properly preserved, the appellate court pointed out in its decision issued last August 15 on case number 13486.
“There is a serious doubt if indeed the items allegedly seized from the accused constructive possession were the one that were offered in court. Thus, an order of acquittal must follow.”
The CA said that the operatives, which included investigators from the National Bureau of Investigation, who searched the residence of Rosales three years ago could have enjoyed presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties.
But the presumption, it said, could not prevail over the Constitutional right of Rosales to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“The regularity of the performance of the officers’ duties during and after the search warrant implementation cannot be presumed when the records do not contain any explanation why the stringent requirements [of the law] were not complied with.”
2019 RTC ruling
In a 29-page decision in 2019, Judge Soliman Santos of Naga City Regional Trial Court, Branch 61, sentenced Rosales to 20 years in prison, ending a case pursued by the government for almost 13 years.
Judge Santos ruled on case number 2006-0480 that the alleged drug lord was guilty beyond reasonable doubt that in addition to imprisonment Rosales was ordered to pay a fine of P400, 000.
During the 2019 trial, the joint operatives who conducted a “clearing operation” and discovered methamphetamine in the attic of Rosales’ residence in Barangay Balatas in Naga City told the lower court that they complied with standard operational procedures.