ANGELES CITY- He was charged with a crime without bail – possession of significant volume of marijuana. Yet, actor Mark Anthony Fernandez was set free in time for the Christmas holidays.
The police’s procedural lapses in his arrest were what acquitted him of charges filed against him last year before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) here.
In a 25-page verdict, RTC Branch 58 Judge Irineo Pangilinan Jr cited mostly provisions of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Circular 1, Series of 2002, mandating the need for a “chain of custody” process to acquit Fernandez, son of actress Alma Moreno and the late actor Rudy Fernandez.
On Oct. 3, 2016, Fernandez was caught by the police at a checkpoint while he was driving a yellow Mustang car without plate number along the MacArthur Highway in Barangay Balibago here.When the cops found a bag with a brick of alleged marjuana next to his car seat, Fernandez sped off but was later intercepted along the highway in Barangay Saguin in the City of San Fernando.
Fernandez was jailed at the crowded district jail here, but later moved to the more spacious provincial jail in the City of San Fernando. The judge did not allow bail, as he faced life imprisonment for allegedly possessing a kilo of marijuana.
The prosecution presented four police witnesses during the court hearings, including arresting officers PO2 Fernando Ladrillo, PO2 Jayson Dimagulangan, Chief Inspector Franciso Guevarra Jr, and Chief Inspector Nelson Mendoza.
In his verdict acquitting Fernandez, Pangilinan noted that “the chain of custody rule” which “performs the function of preserving the integrity and identity of the seized evidence as it ensures that unnecessary doubts respecting the identity of evidence is removed.”
He then cited conflicting testimonies of the prosecution’s police witnesses on events during Fernandez’s arrest.
Pangilinan also said “it is worth noting that the inventory of the seized illegal drugs was not made immediately at the place of commission but only at the police station,” and that “the inventory was not done in the presence of the representatives from media, DOJ and any elected barangay official.”
“Apprehending officers failed to cite reasons for the absence of such representatives,” he noted.
Pangilinan also said that the “chain of custody requires that the marking of the seized items to truly ensure that they are the same items that enter the chain and are eventually the ones offered in evidence should be done in the presence of the apprehended violator immediately upon confiscation (sic)”
“Admittedly the marking was done at the police station, not immediately after the seizure in the presence of the accused. The specimen therefore travelled a long way from Barangay Saguin, City of San Fernando, before it was finally marked at Police Station 6 in Angeles Cty,” he noted.
Pangilinan said that the acquittal of Fernandez was not immediately known to the public as he did not issue his verdict in open court. “I merely issued the verdict to all concerned,” he added. His resolution acquitting Fernandez was dated Dec. 21, 2017.