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[G.R. No. 132926.

July 20, 2001]


ELVIRA AGULLO, petitioner,
vs. SANDIGANBAYAN and PEOPLE OF
THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.
DECISION
BUENA, J.:
Charged with, tried and convicted in Criminal
Case No. 13579 for malversation of public
funds, herein petitioner Elvira Agullo,
erstwhile Disbursing Officer of the then
Ministry of Public Works and Highways
(MPWH), Regional Office No. VIII, Candahug,
Palo, Leyte, now comes before the High
Court to assail the Decision[1] of the
Sandiganbayan promulgated on 16 March
1992, and its Resolution dated 11 March
1998, denying petitioners motion for
reconsideration[2] but reducing the penalty
imposed on petitioner as follows:
WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused
Elvira S. Agullo guilty beyond reasonable
doubt of the crime of Malversation of Public
Funds, defined and penalized under Article
217, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code.
[There being neither mitigating nor
aggravating circumstances, no evidence
having been adduced respecting partial or
full restitution of the amount
malversed,] Considering the absence of
any aggravating circumstances and her
full restitution by salary deduction, the
accused Elvira S. Agullo should be, as she is,
hereby sentenced to the indeterminate
penalty of, from TEN (10) YEARS and ONE (1)
DAY of PRISION MAYOR, as MINIMUM; to
[EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS, EIGHT (8) MONTHS
AND ONE (1) DAY OF RECLUSION
TEMPORAL] SEVENTEEN (17) YEARS,
FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of
RECLUSION TEMPORAL, AS
MAXIMUM, with the accessory penalties of
the law; to pay a fine in the sum of
P26,404.26 without subsidiary imprisonment
in case of insolvency; to suffer the penalty of

Perpetual Special Disqualification and to pay


the costs. (Emphasis ours)
In an information[3] dated 30 September
1988, herein petitioner was charged with the
crime of malversation of public funds,
committed as follows:
That on or about the period October 22,
1985 to July 14, 1986, inclusive or within said
dates in the Municipality of Palo, Province of
Leyte, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction
of the Honorable Court, the above-named
accused, being then the disbursing officer of
then Ministry of Public Works and Highways,
Regional Office No. VIII, Candahug, Palo,
Leyte, charged with the official custody of
public funds thus paid, collected and
received by her in her official capacity, and
by reason of which duties she is accountable
thereof, taking advantage of her official
position, did then and there wilfully,
unlawfully and feloniously take, convert and
misappropriate for her own personal use and
benefit the public funds she had in her
possession in the amount of Twenty Six
Thousand Four Hundred Four Pesos and
26/100 (P26,404.26), belonging to the
government of the Republic of the
Philippines, to the damage and prejudice of
the latter in the aforestated amount.
Contrary to law.
Upon arraignment, herein petitioner Agullo,
assisted by counsel de officio Antonio
Manzano, pleaded not guilty[4] to the charge,
after which the Sandiganbayan conducted a
pre-trial on 11 February 1990 and issued the
following Pre-Trial Order:[5]
When this case was called for pre-trial, the
accused personally and through her counsel
Atty. Antonio Manzano of the CLAO readily
entered into stipulations insofar as
her official position in government as
well as the fact of audit of her
accounts are concerned, including therewith
the admission that, in all respects the Cash
Production Notice and the Examination of her

Cash and Accounts which the government


marked as Exhibit A was faithful reproduction
of the original, and insofar as the contents
thereof are concerned, are correct. The
accused likewise admitted that she had
received a letter of demand, said letter
dated July 14, 1986 marked as exhibit B.
With this the accused stated that
her defense was premised on her having
suffered a stroke on October 22, 1985
as a result of which the amount subject
of the shortage found in her audit had
been lost.
The accused also indicated that not only had
she immediately replied to the letter by
various communications by her or in her
behalf protesting the witholding of various
amounts due her by way of salaries on the
premise that the loss of the amount subject
matter of the Information was not chargeable
to her as a personal liability. The accused has
likewise informed the Court that prior to the
incident on October 22, 1985, she had
been audited on May 27, 1985 and, after
the incident, on December 23, 1985
although she concedes she was also
audited on July 14, 1986.
Considering that all the documents
necessary for the defense of the accused are
still to be organized, Atty. Manzano is given
ten (10) days from today within which to
prepare a proposal for stipulations of facts
and, if that is not possible, at least a
complete outline of his case together with
the marking of the documents he wishes to
present which the prosecution might not
admit as to the substance thereof though the
genuineness of the documents presented
might be conceded.
With the above, the prosecution may now
rest its case and the presentation of the
evidence for the defense may take place on
April 5 and 6, and May 17 and 18, 1990, at
8:00 o clock in the morning and 2:00 o clock
in the afternoon.
The setting for tomorrow is cancelled.

SO ORDERED. (Emphasis ours)


As borne by the records, the charge of
malversation against petitioner germinated
from an audit conducted on 14 July 1986 by
Ignacio Gerez, Auditing Examiner III, as a
result of which a P26,404.26 cash shortage
was discovered on petitioners accountability.
On the same date, Gerez informed petitioner
of said finding of cash shortage and required
the latter, through a letter of demand,[6] to
produce immediately the missing funds.
Further, petitioner was required to submit
within 72 hours from receipt a written
explanation of the cash shortage.
In a letter[7] dated 25 August 1986,
addressed to the Resident Auditor of the
MPWH, petitioner complied with the directive
by explaining that the cash shortage was, in
effect, due to a fortuitous event where the
amount could have been stolen/taken by
somebody on the day she suffered a stroke
on 22 October 1985, near the corner of Juan
Luna Street and Imelda Avenue, Tacloban
City.
In the course of the pre-trial, petitioner
Agullo conceded the fact of audit and
admitted the findings in the Report of Cash
Examination and the facts set forth in the
Letter of Demand. In effect, she admitted the
fact of shortage in the amount stated in the
Information. Notwithstanding, petitioner
Agullo, at all stages of the criminal
indictment, persistently professed her
innocence of the charge and categorically
denied having malversed or converted the
public funds in question for her own personal
use or benefit.[9]
With petitioners admission of the fact of cash
shortage, the prosecution then rested its
case.[10] For its part, the defense, in its bid to
overturn the presumption of malversation
and shatter the prima facie evidence of
conversion, offered the testimony of the
following witnesses: petitioner Elvira Agullo;
Rene Briones Austero, Cashier III of the
Department of Public Works and Highways

(DPWH), Region VIII; and Engracia


Camposano-Camaoy, Barangay Captain of
Hinabuyan, Dagame, Leyte.

Exhibit 7 Letter dated 01 September 1987


of Director Alfredo Torres of DPWH to the
Regional Director COA;

During trial, the defense offered to present


the testimony of witness Austero for the
purpose of proving that an amount equal
to P26,722.05[11] was withheld from the
salary and other compensation of petitioner
Agullo. Further, the defense offered the
testimony of witness Barangay Captain
Camaoy for the purpose of establishing that
the accused suffered a heart attack (stroke)
on October 22, 1985; that on June 30, 1986,
the accused informed her that the accused
lost the money for which she (was being)
subjected to criminal prosecution x x x; and
that between October 22, 1985 and June 30,
1986, there had been no demand upon the
accused to produce the money for which she
was declared short.[12]

Exhibit 8 Letter of Accused dated 26


November 1987;

Additionally, the defense presented the


following documentary evidence,[13] all of
which were admitted by the Sandiganbayan:
Exhibit 1 - Letter dated 25 August 1986 by
accused to the Resident Auditor MPWH,
Regional Office No. 8, Candahug, Palo, Leyte;
Exhibit 2 - Letter dated 22 August 1987 by
accused to Engr. Alfredo P. Torres, Regional
Director;
Exhibit 3- Medical Certificate dated 05
August 1986, issued by Dr. Juan T. Abando,
M.D., St. Pauls Hospital, Tacloban City;
Exhibit 3-A Verified Medical Certificate
dated 19 January 1986, issued by Dr. Juan
Abando, notarized on page 02;
Exhibit 4- Letter dated 26 December 1986
by accused to the Regional Director;
Exhibit 5 Letter dated 19 February 1987 to
the Regional Director by Atty. Eric T. De
Veyra;
Exhibit 6 Letter dated 15 April 1987 by
accused to the Regional Director;

Exhibit 9 Affidavit of accused Elvira Agullo;


Exhibit 10- Affidavit of witness Engracia
Camaoy;
Exhibit 11 Letter-Request dated 04 May
1988 of accused to the Regional Director;
Exhibit 12 Certification by Mauricio
Pacatang;
Exhibit 13 Protest of accused against the
appointment of Sylvia de la Rosa;
Exhibit 14- Letter dated 25 February 1987
to the Manager, Employees Compensation
Department, GSIS, Metro Manila;
Exhibit 15 Initial Approval of the Employees
Compensation Department, GSIS;
Exhibit 16 Hospitalization Claim for
payment of accused;
Exhibit 17 Report of Injury signed and
approved by Pablo P. Burgos, Regional
Engineering Coordinator and Head of Office;
Exhibit 18 Certification issued by PNB
Tacloban, thru its Asst. Manager B.L. Telmo;
Exhibit 19 Memorandum to accused
dated 02 April 1984;
Exhibit 20 Memorandum dated 05 May
1990.
At the witness stand, petitioner Agullo
unrelentingly maintained her innocence and
vehemently denied the accusation against
her. Thus, according to petitioner, in the
morning of 21 October 1985, she reported
for work and prepared an inventory of her
cash accountability[14] as Disbursing
Officer[15] of the MPWH Regional Office,
Candahug, Palo, Leyte. On the same day,

petitioner received around thirteen (13)


checks in the form of cash advances in her
name totaling P26,076.87,[16] which amount
represented salaries of MPWH officials and
employees.
Around 1:30 PM, petitioner, together with
Benjamin Veridiano, driver of MPWH Finance
and Management Division, proceeded to the
Philippine National Bank (PNB) Tacloban City
Branch, on board the MPWH official vehicle,
to encash the aforesaid checks. Upon
encashment of the checks, petitioner then
put the money inside a PNB envelope which
she further placed in her bag. From the PNB,
petitioner-- who boarded the official vehicle
driven by Veridiano for the purpose of
proceeding further to the MPWH Regional
Officefelt dizziness, chest pain and nausea.
As a result of her condition, petitioner Agullo
requested driver Veridiano to drop her off at
petitioners residence located at 109 Juan
Luna Street-- about half a kilometer away
from the PNB.[17]
In the morning of the following day, 22
October 1985, petitioner upon realizing that
it was then the third-week payday of the
month, and burdened with the thought that
she failed to give the salary of the
permanent employees strove to report for
work despite her weak physical
condition. Petitioner Agullo testified that she
left her residence alone and brought with her
the bag containing the money which she
encashed the previous day from the PNB.[18]
Upon leaving the house with the money
inside her bag, she walked the stretch of
Juan Luna Street and was able to reach
almost the corner of Juan Luna and Imelda
Avenue[19] a distance of around 50 meters
away from her residence[20] when she was
stricken with deep chest pain[21] and
experienced dizziness; her vision blurred and
the right part of (her) body (became) heavy
to the point that she could not move
anymore. At this point, she collapsed and
lost consciousness.[22]

In the afternoon of the same day, she found


herself in a hospital bed of St. Pauls Hospital
located about a block away from petitioners
residence. Upon inquiry, she was informed
that a certain Metro Tacloban Aide by the
name of Teresa Lorenzo came to her rescue
when she fainted, assisted in rushing her to
the hospital, and informed her family about
Agullos dire condition and the unfortunate
event that befell her.[23] Petitioner was
confined in St. Pauls Hospital for over a week
from 22 October 1985 to 01 November
1985[24] - under the care of her attending
physician, Dr. Juan Abando, who issued the
corresponding Medical Certificate pregnant
with the following findings:
X X X Hypertension complicated with Cerebro
Vascular Accident (CVA), Rt. Hemiparesis and
Urinary Infection.
Condition started apparently 20 hrs. before
admission as moderate headache and
dizziness, associated with blurring of vision
and nausea. Fifteen hrs. prior to admission,
she felt weakness of her right half of her
body and slurring of speech. Had history of
high blood pressure taken last April 1985.
B/P= 190/120. On admission B/P= was
230/120; PR= 83/min.; RR= 20/min.
Pertinent findings: conscious, coherent,
slurred speech, rt. Hemiplegia.
Diagnosis: = Malignant hypertension.
= CVA with Right Hemiplegia.
= Urinary Tract Infection.
As to petitioners medical history and physical
condition after her stroke, the
Sandiganbayan, in its decision, observed
from the records:
X X X In the past, the accused had likewise
suffered a stroke and had undergone medical
treatment. A medical certificate, marked as
Exhibits 3 and 3-A, attest(s) to the fact that
she had a history of high blood pressure and
had been undergoing treatment for the said

malady. Since her sudden breakdown on


October 22, 1985, the right part of her body
became paralyzed and her speech has been
impaired. She was advised by her doctor to
undergo physical therapy and to take
medicine regularly. She was advised not to
report for work during such time that she
was under recuperation. Only on February 2,
1986 did she start to report for work,
although at irregular intervals, until the date
of the audit, July 14, 1986.
Striking down the defense as incredible and
without basis, the Sandiganbayan rendered
its assailed decision, convicting petitioner
Agullo of the crime of malversation of public
funds, ratiocinating principally that no
evidence has been presented linking
the loss of the government funds with
the alleged sudden heart attack of the
accused (herein petitioner).
We do not agree.
By and large, the pieces of evidence
presented against petitioner in this case do
not fulfill the test of moral certainty and may
not be deemed sufficient to support a
conviction.[25] Records reveal that evidence
for the prosecution consisted solely of
the Report of Cash Examination,[26] dated
14 July 1986, which was presented by the
prosecution to prove the cash shortage in the
amount of P26,404.26, onpetitioner Agullos
accountability as Disbursing Officer of the
then MPWH. Likewise, the prosecution
presented the Letter of Demand[27] dated
14 July 1986 signed by Auditing Examiner III
Ignacio Gerez.
Aside from the aforementioned documents,
the prosecution opted not to present a
single witness to buttress its bid for
conviction and relied merely on the prima
facie evidence of
conversion orpresumption of
malversation under Article 217, paragraph
(4) of the Revised Penal Code, to wit:

ART. 217. Malversation of public funds or


propertyPresumption of malversation
X X X The failure of a public officer to have
duly forthcoming any public funds or
property with which he is chargeable, upon
demand by any duly authorized officer, shall
be prima facie evidence that he has put
such missing funds or property to
personal uses.
Stated otherwise, the evidence for the
prosecution, upon which the Sandiganbayan
riveted its judgment of conviction, was
limited to documents to wit, the Report of
Cash Examination and Letter of Demand. As
could be readily gleaned from the assailed
decision, the verdict adjudging herein
petitioner guilty of the crime of malversation
was anchored solely on the presumption
provided under Article 217, paragraph 4 of
the Revised Penal Code, which prima
facie evidence, in turn, was rooted loosely on
the documentary evidence presented by the
prosecution, to wit; the Report of Cash
Examination and Letter of Demandpieces of
evidence which the defense concededly
admitted, but which, to our mind, do not
suffice to convict the petitioner beyond
reasonable doubt of the crime charged.
Thus, in a string of categorical
pronouncements, this Court has consistently
and emphatically ruled that the presumption
of conversion incarnated in Article 217,
paragraph (4) of the Revised Penal Code is
by its very nature rebuttable. To put it
differently, the presumption under the law is
not conclusive but disputable
by satisfactory evidence to the effect that
the accused did not utilize the public funds
or property for his personal use, gain or
benefit.
Accordingly, if the accused is able to
present adequate evidence that
can nullify any likelihood that he had
put the funds or property to personal
use, then that presumption would be at an
end and the prima facie case is effectively

negated. This Court has repeatedly said that


when the absence of funds is not due to
the personal use thereof by the
accused, the presumption is completely
destroyed; in fact, the presumption is never
deemed to have existed at all.[28]
Applying the foregoing principle, the
prosecution in the instant case upon whose
burden, as in Diaz vs. Sandiganbayan,
[29]
was laden the task of establishing by
proof beyond reasonable doubt that
petitioner had committed the offense
charged, mainly relied on the statutory
presumption aforesaid and failed to
present any substantial piece of
evidence to indicate that petitioner had
used the funds for personal gain.
Worth noting is that the Sandiganbayan, in
its impugned decision, admitted
that conversion or the placing of
malversed government funds to
personal uses has, indeed, not been
proven in the case at bar.
[30]
Perhaps realizing such gaping hole, the
Sandiganbayan nonetheless leaped into the
conclusion, albeit erroneous, that herein
petitioner was just the same guilty of
malversation invoking the prima facie
evidence stated in Article 217, paragraph (4)
of the Revised Penal Code.
On this score, the rule of general application
is that the factual findings of the
Sandiganbayan are conclusive on this
court. However, such rule admits of settled
exceptions, among others: (1) the conclusion
is a finding grounded entirely on speculation,
surmise and conjectures; (2) the inference
made is manifestly mistaken; (3) there is
grave abuse of discretion; (4) the judgment
is based on misapprehension of facts; and
(5) the findings of fact of the Sandiganbayan
are premised on a want of evidence and are
contradicted by evidence on record.[31]
On this matter, the Sandiganbayans
conclusion that there is no evidence to
show that the accused was then carrying the

sum of P26,404.26 in her person when she


allegedly collapsed at Juan Luna Street,
Tacloban City, is to say the least, without
factual basis and not duly supported by
evidence. On the stark contrary, the records
are extant, as petitioner Agullo, in fact,
testified on the witness stand that she had
the money with her when she suffered a
stroke and collapsed on the streets of
Tacloban City on 22 October 1985. Records
likewise reveal that the amount of P327.39,
which is the difference between
P26,404.26[32] and P26,076.87,[33] represents
the salary of Mr. Alcober, Jr., Administrative
Officer of the DPWH in Candahug, who made
a telephone call to petitioner for the latter to
bring the sum of P327.39, together with the
payroll.
In the case before us, the Sandiganbayan
undoubtedly disregarded or overlooked
certain evidence of substance which, to a
large extent, bear considerable weight in the
adjudication of petitioners guilt or the
affirmation of her constitutional right to be
presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
Upon thorough scrutiny of the evidence
adduced by both prosecution and defense,
we hold that petitioner Agullo has
satisfactorily overcome and rebutted by
competent proof, the prima facie evidence of
conversion so as to exonerate her from the
charge of malversation. To this end,
petitioner presented evidence that
satisfactorily prove that not a single centavo
of the missing funds was used for her own
personal benefit or gain.
True enough, the evidence adduced by the
defense reveals sufficient circumstances to
establish the strongest degree of probability
that the public funds subject of the criminal
indictment for malversation was lost during
that fateful day of 22 October 1985, where
petitioner Agullo suffered a stroke on the
streets of Tacloban City as she was then on
her way to the MPWH Regional Office.

In fact, the records though insensate, clearly


reveal that the prosecution admitted that
petitioner suffered a stroke on the streets of
Tacloban on 22 October 1985. As to the
prosecutions allegation that no evidence
exists regarding loss of the public funds, this
postulation is belied by the records as
petitioner herself testified on the stand that
she had the money subject of inquiry when
she collapsed and lost consciousness as a
result of the stroke.
To us, this circumstance coupled with the
other peculiarities attendant in the instant
case and further considering the palpable
failure of the prosecution to adduce other
evidence to clearly establish
conversion suffice to make the mind
uneasy as to Agullos guilt, notwithstanding
the prima facie evidence established by law
against herein petitioner, which by no means
dispenses with the need of proving guilt
beyond reasonable doubt."[34] After all, mere
absence of funds is not sufficient proof of
conversion. Neither is the mere failure of the
accused to turn over the funds at any given
time sufficient to make even a prima
facie case. Conversion must be affirmatively
proved, either by direct evidence or by the
production of facts from which conversion
necessarily follows.[35]
Truly, these serve as strong considerations
that seriously impair the basis upon which is
founded the legal presumption of personal
misappropriation of money or property of
accountable officers who fail to have
forthcoming, such money or property when
so demanded by a duly authorized official.
[36]
Verily, a finding of prima facie evidence of
accountability does not shatter the
presumptive innocence the accused enjoys
because, before prima facie evidence arises,
certain facts [have still to be] proved; the
trial court cannot depend alone on such an
evidence, because precisely, it is merely
prima facie. It must still satisfy that the
accused is guiltybeyond reasonable doubtof

the offense charged. Neither can it rely on


the weak defense the latter may adduce.[37]
Notably, the Sandiganbayan, in convicting
petitioner, obviously relied more on the flaws
and deficiencies in the evidence presented
by the defense, not on the strength and
merit of the prosecutions evidence.[38] This
course of action is impermissible for the
evidence of the prosecution clearly cannot
sustain a conviction in an unprejudiced mind.
[39]

All told, this Court, through the


scholarly ponencia of Mr. Justice Isagani Cruz
in People vs. De Guzman,[40] inked in vivid
prose the premium accorded to the right of
an accused to be presumed innocent until
the contrary is proved, to wit:
The constitutional presumption of innocence
is not an empty platitude meant only to
embellish the Bill of Rights. Its purpose is to
balance the scales in what would otherwise
be an uneven contest between the lone
individual pitted against the People of the
Philippines and all the resources at their
command. Its inexorable mandate is that, for
all the authority and influence of the
prosecution, the accused must be acquitted
and set free if his guilt cannot be proved
beyond the whisper of doubt.
Hence, in light of the satisfactory explanation
proffered by the defense and in view of the
impotency of the prosecutions evidence,
petitioners constitutional right to be
presumed innocent necessarily thrives.
Corollarily, the prima facie evidence of
conversion in the instant case, withers, so to
speak, like a petrified twig wilted in the
scorching heat of the noonday sun.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the
instant petition is granted. ACCORDINGLY,
the decision of respondent Sandiganbayan
dated 16 March 1992 and its Resolution
dated 18 March 1998, are hereby
REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Elvira

Agullo is hereby ACQUITTED on grounds of


reasonable doubt.

charged the brothers Bato with murder


allegedly committed as follows.

MOREOVER, the DPWH is hereby directed to


refund petitioner the sum of Three Hundred
Seventeen Pesos and Seventy Nine Centavos
(P317.79) representing the amount
overdeducted from petitioners salary, cost of
living allowance and other emoluments.

That on or about the 9th day of May, 1988 in


the Municipality of Pastrana, Province of
Leyte, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction
of this Honorable Court, the above-named
accused, conspiring, confederating and
mutually helping each other, with intent to
kill, with treachery and evident
premeditation and taking advantage of
superior strength, did then and there wilfully,
unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault,
stab and wound one Ernesto Flores, Sr. with
deadly weapons locally known as sundang
which the accused had provided themselves
for the purpose, thereby hitting and inflicting
upon said Ernesto Flores, Sr. several wounds
on the different parts of his body which
wounds caused his death.

SO ORDERED.

[G.R. No. 113804. January 16, 1998]


PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiffappellee, vs. SERGIO BATO and
ABRAHAM BATO, accused,
ABRAHAM BATO, accused-appellant.
DECISION
PANGANIBAN, J.:
In the absence of an eyewitness, the guilt of
an accused may be established by
circumstantial evidence. Such evidence,
however, must still pass the test of moral
certainty. When inadequate and
uncorroborated, circumstantial evidence
cannot sustain a conviction. Specifically,
where the states evidence does not
constitute an unbroken chain leading beyond
reasonable doubt to the guilt of the accused,
the constitutional presumption of innocence
prevails and the accused is entitled to an
acquittal.
The Case
This postulate is applied by this Court in
reversing the Decision of the Court of
Appeals[1] finding Sergio and Abraham Bato
guilty of murder and sentencing them
to reclusion perpetua.
In an Information dated July 7, 1989, Leyte
Provincial Prosecutor Joventino P. Isidro

Contrary to law.
On January 15, 1990, the accused were
arraigned in the Waray dialect which they
understood and spoke. Assisted by Counsel
Benjamin Pore, both pleaded not guilty.
[3]
After due trial, the trial court[4] rendered a
decision,[5] the dispositive portion of which
reads:
WHEREFORE, this Court finds each of the
accused Abraham and Sergio, both
surnamed Bato GUILTY beyond reasonable
doubt of the crime of Murder penalized under
Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code. With
the abolition of the capital punishment in
1987 Constitution, the penalty of Murder
should now be Reclusion Temporal in its
maximum period to Reclusion Perpetua. In
the absence of any modifying circumstances,
the penalty imposable is in its medium
period or from EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS, EIGHT
(8) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY TO TWENTY
(20) YEARS.
Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law,
they are each imposed the penalty of TEN
(10) YEARS AND ONE (1) DAY OF Prision
Mayor as minimum to EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS,

EIGHT (8) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY


of Reclusion Temporal as maximum with all
the accessory penalties provided by law, to
indemnify jointly and severally the heirs of
the deceased Ernesto Flores, Sr. in the sum
of P50,000 and to pay the corresponding
costs.[6]
Both accused appealed to the Court of
Appeals. On January 26, 1994, the said Court
promulgated the assailed Decision affirming
their guilt but increasing the penalty
to reclusion perpetua in view of this Courts
rulings in People vs. Benitez, Jr.[7] and People
vs. Muoz[8]. Pursuant to Section 13, Rule 124
of the Rules of Court,[9] the appellate court,
instead of entering judgment, certified the
case to the Supreme Court in this wise:
WHEREFORE, since the crime for which the
appellants were charged, tried and convicted
is Murder, the penalty provided for by law
is reclusion perpetua, within the power of the
Supreme Court to review, revise, reverse,
modify or affirm on appeal or certiorari (sec.
5-(2)-(d), Art. 8, 1987 Const.), this criminal
case is hereby certified to the Supreme
Court.[10]
In a Resolution dated June 29, 1994, this
Court (First Division) informed the parties
that they may file additional briefs.
Conformably, the parties complied with said
Resolution within the extended period
granted them.[11]
On July 28, 1994, during the pendency of the
appeal, Sergio Bato died at the Leyte
Regional Prison due to cardio-respiratory
arrest secondary to acute beri-beri.[12] Death
before a final judgment extinguishes both
the criminal and civil liability (ex delicto) of
an accused.[13] Hence, this Decision pertains
only to the appeal of Abraham Bato.
The Facts Version of the Prosecution
The prosecution presented two witnesses,
namely: Ernesto Flores, Jr.,[14] son of the
victim who was with the latter immediately
prior to the killing; and Dr. Virisimo Opiniano,

[15]

who conducted the autopsy on the victims


body. The prosecutions version of the facts
was summarized by the solicitor general as
follows:
On May 9, 1988 at about three oclock in the
afternoon, Ernesto Flores, Jr. together with
his father Ernesto Flores, Sr., were going
home from Barangay Tingib, Pastrana, Leyte
to San Agustin, Jaro, Leyte. While passing by
Barangay Hibucawan, they were called by
the two appellants, Abraham and Sergio,
both surnamed Bato, to join them in a
drinking spree in the house of Paran Lescabo,
which Ernesto, Sr. accepted. Ernesto, Jr. sat
about two (2) meters away from his father
while the latter joined appellants for two
hours drinking tuba. When his father was
already drunk, appellants tied him (father)
with his hands placed at the back. Later, he
saw appellants bring his father to
somewhere else. Seeing his father being
held, he ran away, as he was afraid he would
also be taken by appellants (tsn, 6-18-90, pp.
3-10).
It was only the following morning that they
found his father already dead at the Binahaan River, five kilometers away from the place
where he last saw him in the previous
afternoon. He immediately reported the
incident to the Barangay Captain of
Barangay Tingib. The latter informed the
police department about the incident. Many
policemen responded and the dead body of
his father was brought to the Municipal
Building of Pastrana, Leyte (tsn, 6-18-0, pp.
10-11).
At the Municipal Building of Pastrana, Leyte,
the Municipal Health Officer, Dr. Virisimo
Opiniano, conducted the autopsy on the
body of the deceased Ernesto Flores, Sr. He
found that the deceased sustained five
hacking and seven stab wounds. The cause
of death is shock, secondary to a hacking
and almost decapitating wound (Exhibit A
and B).[16]
Version of the Defense

On the other hand, appellants raised the


defense of denial. They maintained that their
identification as the alleged perpetrators of
Ernestos murder is merely an afterthought,
necessitated by a death of strong evidence
on the part of the prosecution. They
presented as witness Pfc. Benjamin
Montanejos,[17] who affirmed that the entry
he made in the police blotter[18] did not
mention the accused as suspects to the
crime. He further testified that it was the
barangay captain who reported the incident
to the police, contradicting the claim of
Ernesto Jr. that he did so.[19]
Ruling of the Trial and Appellate Courts
The trial court ruled that the prosecution
witness, Ernesto, Jr., positively identified the
accused who invited him and his father for a
drink. He witnessed how they tied the hands
of Ernesto Sr. before they took him
away. That the police blotter failed to state
the names of the assailants did not negate
appellants participation in the
slaying. Further, the entry was based on the
information relayed not by the witness
himself but by the barangay chairman, who
had not witnessed the incident.[20] The trial
court further appreciated the aggravating
circumstance of treachery.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of
the trial court and further declared that the
totality of the prosecution evidence
constitute[d] more than sufficient
incriminatory and inculpatory circumstances
to reach the conclusion that the appellants
killed the victim. The appellate court
declared:
Ernestos testimony is clear. He pointed to
and positively identified Abraham Bato and
Sergio Bato as the persons who invited his
father to drink with them while he and his
father passed by Barangay Hibucawan. His
father accepted the invitation and[,] with
them for two hours[,] drank tuba at the
house of Lescabo. All the while, Ernesto sat
there about two meters away from his

father. He saw his father drunk, and, under


that condition, also saw Abraham and Sergio
tied [sic] his fathers hand with a rope and
placed [sic] them at the back, then they
brought him away with them, to what
direction, I do not know because I ran as I
was also afraid as they might bring me
also. He learned of his fathers death on the
following day, that they found him at the
Binaha-an River, about 5 kilometers away
from the house of Paran Lescabo. Ernesto
added on cross-examination that after his
father was taken by the duo, he went
homeward, arrived there at about 6:00 p.m.,
told the incident to his mother, then they
slept and that it was only the following
morning when they look for his father; that
he and his mother reported the incident to
the Barangay Captain of Tingib, and together
with the barangay captain, they found his
father dead at the Binaha-an River, and then
they reported the incident to the police
authorities.[21]
Like the trial court, the appellate court found
that Ernesto Jr. positively identified the Bato
brothers as the killers of his father and could
not have been mistaken, as he had known
them long before the commission of the
offense, a fact not rebutted by the defense.
The Court of Appeals further opined that it
was a natural human behavior for Ernesto Jr.
to get frightened and to wait for daybreak
before looking for his father and reporting
the incident to the authorities. The appellate
court noted that it was nighttime when
Ernesto Jr. reached home, and that he did not
know where to look for his father.
Assignment of Errors
In their brief[22] before the Court of Appeals,
appellants assigned the following errors: [23]
I. The lower court erred in finding that there
was positive identification of the accusedappellants.

II. The lower court erred in finding that


accused-appellants employed treachery in
the commission of the offense.
In his additional brief[24] submitted before this
Court, Appellant Abraham Bato further
contends that the appellate tribunal gravely
erred in increasing to reclusion perpetua the
penalty imposed by the trial court
This Courts Ruling
Pursuant to the doctrine that appeals
involving reclusion perpetua are subject to a
review de novo,this Court pored over the
entire records of both lower courts and
concluded, after careful deliberation, that the
appellant is entitled to an acquittal. The
circumstantial evidence adduced by the
prosecution fails to evoke moral certainty
that appellants is guilty.

constitutional precept that the accused is


presumed innocent until the contrary is
proved, a conviction based on circumstantial
evidence must exclude each and every
hypothesis consistent with his innocence.[28]
Prosecutions Main Evidence
Circumstantial
Aside from the doctor who conducted
the post mortem examination on the cadaver
of the deceased, the only other witness for
the prosecution was Ernesto Jr., who testified
mainly as follows:[29]
Q What happened since you said you were at
Tingib at about 3:00 oclock in the afternoon
of May 9, 1988?
A When we passed by Hibucawon, they
called my father for a drink.

Circumstantial Evidence Palpably


Insufficient

Q This Brgy. Hibucawon belongs to what


municipality?

The conviction of Appellant Abraham Bato is


based on circumstantial evidence gleaned
from the sole testimony of the son of the
deceased. True, in the absence of direct
proof, a conviction may be based on
circumstantial evidence,[25] but to warrant
such conviction, the following requisites
must concur: (1) there is more than one
circumstance, (2) the facts from which the
inferences are derived are proven, and (3)
the combination of all the circumstances is
such as to produce a conviction beyond
reasonable doubt.[26]

A Jaro, Leyte.

Hence, it has been held that a judgment of


conviction based on circumstantial evidence
can be upheld only if the circumstances
proven constitute an unbroken chain leading
to one fair and reasonable conclusion that
the defendants are guilty, to the exclusion of
any other conclusion. The circumstances
proved must be concordant with each other,
consistent with the hypothesis that the
accused is guilty and, at the same time,
inconsistent with any hypothesis other than
that of guilt.[27] As a corollary to the

A I only know him as Paran.

PROSECUTOR DAGANDAN:
Q You said that they called your father, who
is this they you referred to?
A Abe Bato and Sergio Bato.
Q Where were Abraham Bato and Sergio
Bato when they called your father?
A They were drinking in the house of Paran.
Q Do you know the real name of this Paran?

Q What is his family name?


A Loscabo.
Q Where is this house of Paran Loscabo
located?
A Barangay Hibucawon, Jaro, Leyte.
Q In what manner was your father called by
Abe Bato and Sergio Bato?

A They called my father to a drink.

A He stayed long.

Q What did your father do?

Q How about you, where did you stay while


your father was drinking?

A He approached Sergio Bato and Abe Bato,


and he drank because he was offered to
drink.

A I was at a certain distance but I did not get


near them.

Q Where were you when your father was


called by Sergio Bato and Abe Bato?

Q At about what time did the drinking spree


last?

A I was near.

A Two (2) hours.

PROSECUTOR DAGANDAN:

Q After two hours, what happened, if any?

Q Where were you when your father was


called, at what distance were you to your
father?

A When my father was already drank, they


tied my father.

A About two (2) meters (from the witness


stand).

Q Who tied your father?


A Abe Bato and Sergio Bato.

Q Did you come to know if there were other


persons present aside from your father and
the two accused?

Q With what object or material was your


father tied?

A Yes, but I do not know them.

Q How was your father tied with the rope?

Q Approximately, how many persons were


present who were gathered?

A They tied him with a rope and both hands


were placed at the back.

A They were many persons.

Q After that, what happened?

Q Approximately, how many?

A They brought my father.

A More than ten (10).

Q Who is this they who brought your father?

Q Since you said you were near your father


when you approached them, what did
Abraham Bato and Sergio Bato got to do with
your father when your father approached
them?

A Abe Bato and Sergio Bato.

A They first offered my father a drink.


Q Whay drink was offered?
A Tuba.
Q Did your father accept the offer?

A Rope.

Q How did you come to know that your


father was brought somewhere?
A I saw them bringing my father.
Q To what directions was your father
brought?
A I do not know because I ran away as I was
afraid.

A Yes, maam

Q Immediately before you ran away, where


was your father.

Q For how long did he stay in that group?

A They were bringing and holding my father.

Q You said you were afraid, why were you


afraid?
A I was afraid because they might bring me
also.
Q Did you come to know what happened to
your father?
A I learned the following day that my father
died because they brought him.
In sum, therefore, the witness established
only the following circumstances surrounding
the crime: (1) that the Bato brothers invited
the victim and his son for a drink; (2) after
two hours of drinking, said brothers suddenly
tied the hands of the older Flores and took
him away; (3) the following day, the body of
the victim, which sustained several hack
and stab wounds, was recovered at the
Binaha-an River, about five kilometers away
from where he was last seen by the witness.
After a careful perusal of the evidence
adduced by the prosecution, we believe that
appellants authorship of the crime was not
established beyond reasonable doubt.
Lapses in the Prosecution Evidence
Ernesto Jr. admitted that there was no enmity
or bad blood between his father and the
accused. He further asserted that there was
no altercation during the drinking
spree. Likewise, he made no statement that
any of the Bato brothers, at the time, carried
any bladed weapon which could have been
used in his fathers murder. Moreover, he did
not see where the appellants brought his
father after they had tied his hands. More
significantly, he failed to testify on how his
father was killed, who killed him, or even
when he was killed. These lacunae in the
prosecution account necessarily spawn
doubts in the mind of a reasonable
person. Because the appellants tied the
victims hands, can it be inferred that they
also intended to kill him, and actually killed
him? Where did the accused take him? What
happened between the time the accused tied

the victim and the following morning when


his lifeless body was found? There is
absolutely no evidence of what transpired
during that interval. The prosecution, in
effect, asked the courts merely to guess or to
surmise that the accused must have killed
the victim during such interregnum. But
conjectures, surmises and suspicions cannot
take the place of evidence, particularly
where as in this case contrary suspicions,
surmises and queries can also be floated and
believed.
It is also noteworthy that Ernesto Jr. did not
attempt to attract the attention of other
people who were nearby at the time, or to
seek their aid. Instead, he ran home and
related the events to his mother. Oddly, he
and his mother reacted not by reporting the
matter to the police, or even just to their
barangay chairman, their council members
or their neighbors. They simply slept the
night away!
Notwithstanding the presence of other who
were nearby when the appellants tied the
hands of the victim, the prosecution failed to
present any other witnesses to corroborate
Ernesto Jr. testimony. As it was, his testimony
was grossly insufficient and sorely in need of
corroboration. It has been held that
circumstantial evidence which has not been
adequately established, much less
corroborated, cannot by itself be the basis of
conviction.[30]
Comparable Cases
In People vs. Roluna, the trial courts
conviction of the appellant for kidnapping
with murder was based merely on the
testimonies of two witnesses -- one of whom
allegedly saw the appellant tie the hands of
the victim before taking him away, and the
other purportedly saw the victim walking
with hands tied and the appellant following
him. Declaring that the said circumstances
were insufficient to convict the appellant,
this Court held that the conviction of
accused-appellant for the serious crime of

kidnapping with murder cannot be allowed to


rest on the vague and nebulous facts
established by the prosecution. x x x [T]he
evidence presented by the prosecution
surrounding the events of that fateful day
are grossly insufficient to establish the
alleged liability of accused-appellant for the
death of Moronia.
In People vs. Argawanon,[32] appellant therein
was charged and convicted with murder by
the trial court. In acquitting the appellant,
the Court explained:
Furthermore, if indeed the two (2) Castro
brothers were watching the cockfight when
the alleged four (4) persons attacked Pat.
Castro, it is quite difficult to comprehend
that, considering that he (witness) was only
six (6) meters away from his brother, nothing
was done to him as he was able to run and
hide. It seems out of the ordinary that the
assailants, allegedly, two (2) of them armed
with .45 caliber pistols would let Jennis
Castro (an eye witness to the killing) loose
and not put him out of the way. It is also
quite unbelievable that despite his said
distance, he (Jennis Castro) was able to
identify the accused-appellant and was able
to hear one of the assailants shout x x x.
In addition to the above extrajudicial
statements of Jennis Castro, the trial court
considered the following circumstantial
evidence in convicting the appellant
Lambujon, to with: his presence at the house
of one of the accused during the raid, the
revolver of Pat. Castro which was allegedly
found in accused-appellants possession
during the raid; positive testimony of Jennis
Castro that the one who fired the second
shot was the one wearing a blue T-shirt. We
do not agree with the trial courts conclusion
that the aforecited evidence are
corroborative of Jennis Castros incriminating
testimony against the accusedappellant. Circumstantial evidence may be
characterized as that evidence which proves
a fact or series of facts from which the facts
in issue may be established by

inference. This Court cannot infer from said


evidence, the identity of the victims assailant
nor the actual participation of the appellant
Lambujon in the crime charged.[33]
In People vs. Ragon[34] there was no actual
witness to the killing of a tricycle driver, but
appellant therein, with two others, was
identified as the last passenger of the victim
before the cadaver was found hours later.
Relying on purely circumstantial evidence,
the trial court convicted the appellant of
murder. On appeal, this Court acquitted him.
Holding that there was no sufficient evidence
to establish his actual participation in the
killing, we concluded:
Circumstantial evidence is akin to a tapestry
made up of strands which create a pattern
when interwoven, and cannot be plucked out
and considered one strand at a time
independently of the others. If the picture
does not point to the accused as the
perpetrator of the crime beyond a
reasonable doubt, conviction based thereon
will not weather judicial scrutiny. A
painstaking review of the records of this case
convinces us that the story pieced together
by the trial court from the evidence of the
prosecution provides no moral certainty of
appellants guilt. x x x.
Presumption of Innocence Not
Overturned
In the instant case, the totality of the
prosecution evidence does not constitute an
unbroken chain leading beyond reasonable
doubt to the guilt of the accused
The Constitution mandates that an accused
shall be presumed innocent until the
contrary is proven beyond reasonable
doubt. Where the State fails to meet the
quantum of proof required to overcome the
constitutional presumption, the accused is
entitled to an acquittal regardless of the
weakness or even the absence of his
defense. By constitutional fiat, the burden of

proof is accordingly vested on the


prosecution.
In acquitting the herein appellant, this Court
is not decreeing that he did not participate in
the killing. It is merely ruling that the state
failed to present sufficient evidence to
overturn the constitutional presumption of
innocence.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED and
the assailed Decision is
hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Appellant
Abraham Bato is ACQUITTED on reasonable
doubt. His RELEASE from confinement is
immediately ORDERED, unless he is being
detained for some other legal cause. The
director of prisons is DIRECTED to inform this
Court, within five days from receipt of this
Decision, of the actual date the appellant is
released. No costs.
SO ORDERED.

G.R. No. 186498


PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee,
- versus - RONALDO DE GUZMAN y
DANZIL, Appellant.
DECISION

NACHURA, J.:
Before this Court is an appeal by Ronaldo de
Guzman y Danzil, accused in Criminal Case
No. V-1118, filed before the Regional Trial
Court (RTC) of Villasis, Pangasinan. He was
charged with Illegal Sale of Dangerous
Drugs, punishable under Republic Act (R.A.)
No. 9165.[1] In a decision[2] dated December
5, 2006, the trial court found De Guzman
guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime
charged. His conviction was affirmed by the
Court of Appeals (CA) in a Decision[3] dated
June 26, 2008.

On June 10, 2003, a confidential informant


reported De Guzmans drug pushing activities
to Alcala, Pangasinans Chief of
Police, Sotero Soriano, Jr. Soriano
immediately formed a team to conduct a
buy-bust operation.[4] After a short briefing,
the team proceeded to De Guzmans house.
Once there, the confidential informant
introduced appellant to Senior Police Officer
(SPO)1 Daniel Llanillo, who was designated
as poseur-buyer. Llanillo tried to buy P200
worth of shabu. He handed two marked P100
bills to De Guzman, and the latter, in turn,
gave him two heat-sealed transparent plastic
sachets containing what was suspected as
shabu. Thereafter, Llanillo gave the
prearranged signal to the rest of the team.
Appellant was arrested and frisked. The team
recovered from De Guzman two packs of
empty transparent sachets, three disposable
lighters, and P3,380.00 in cash, which
included the marked money paid by SPO1
Llanillo. The team then brought De Guzman
to the police station in Alcala, Pangasinan.
At the police station, De Guzman and the
items seized during the buy-bust operation
were turned over to the police investigator,
SPO3 Eduardo Yadao. SPO3 Yadao entered
the incident in the police blotter. He then
placed his initials on the packets of
suspected shabu, which were later submitted
to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime
Laboratory in Urdaneta City. Confirmatory
tests revealed that the substance in the
packets that appellant handed to SPO1
Llanillo was indeed shabu.
At the trial, appellant denied the charges
against him. He claimed that, on the morning
of June 10, 2003, he was on the second floor
of his house watching television when he
was informed by his wife that police officers
were looking for him. He claimed that SPO1
Llanillo informed him about a report that he
(De Guzman) was repacking shabu, which he
denied. Thereafter, the police officers frisked
him and took the P3,000.00 from his pocket.
The police officers also searched the cabinet,

where his television was, and found a lighter.


Then, he was handcuffed and brought to the
police station.
After trial, the RTC rendered a decision,
finding De Guzman guilty beyond reasonable
doubt of violating R.A. No. 9165. He was
sentenced to life imprisonment and to pay a
fine of P500,000.00.[9]
De Guzman appealed his conviction to the
CA, which affirmed the RTC decision in toto.
[10]

De Guzman now comes to this Court on a


Petition for Review. He argues that the
prosecution failed to show that the police
officers complied with the mandatory
procedures under R.A. No. 9165.[11] In
particular, he points to the fact that the
seized items were not marked immediately
after his arrest; that the police officers failed
to make an inventory of the seized items in
his presence or in the presence of his
counsel and of a representative from the
media and from the Department of Justice
(DOJ); and that no photographs were taken of
the seized items and of appellant. Appellant
also claims that the unbroken chain of
custody of the evidence was not
established. Further, appellant contends that
the failure of the police officers to enter the
buy-bust operation in the police blotter
before the said operation, the lack of
coordination with the Philippine Drug
Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the failure
to observe the requirements of R.A. No. 9165
have effectively overturned the presumption
of regularity in the performance of the police
officers duties.
The findings of fact of the trial court are
accorded great respect, even finality when
affirmed by the CA, in the absence of any
clear showing that some facts and
circumstances of weight or substance that
could have affected the result of the case
have been overlooked, misunderstood, or
misapplied.[15]

Although the question of whether the degree


of proof has been met is largely left for the
trial courts to determine, an appeal throws
the whole case open for review.[16]Thus, the
factual findings of the trial court may be
reversed if, by the evidence or the lack of it,
it appears that the trial court erred.[17]
A review of the records of this case reveals
that circumstances warrant a reversal of the
trial courts decision.
The Constitution mandates that an accused
in a criminal case shall be presumed
innocent until the contrary is proven beyond
reasonable doubt. The prosecution is laden
with the burden to overcome such
presumption of innocence by presenting the
quantum of evidence required.
Consequently, courts are required to put the
prosecution evidence through the crucible of
a severe testing, and the constitutional right
to presumption of innocence requires them
to take a more than casual consideration of
every circumstance or doubt favoring the
innocence of the accused.
When the circumstances are capable of two
or more inferences, as in this case, one of
which is consistent with innocence and the
other is compatible with guilt, the
presumption of innocence must prevail, and
the court must acquit.
The duty to prove the guilt of an accused is
reposed in the State. Law enforcers and
public officers have the duty to preserve the
chain of custody over the seized drugs. This
guarantee of the integrity of the evidence to
be used against an accused goes to the very
heart of his fundamental rights.
In a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous
drugs, the following elements must be
proven: (1) that the transaction or sale took
place; (2) that the corpus delicti or the illicit
drug was presented as evidence; and (3) that
the buyer and seller were identified.[21] What
is material is the proof that the transaction
or sale actually took place, coupled with the

presentation in court of the prohibited or


regulated drug. The delivery of the
contraband to the poseur-buyer and the
receipt of the marked money consummate
the buy-bust transaction between the
entrapping officers and the accused. The
presentation in court of the corpus delicti the
body or the substance of the crime
establishes the fact that a crime has actually
been committed.
Contrary to De Guzmans contention, the trial
court correctly found that the buy-bust
transaction took place. The buyer (SPO1
Llanillo) and seller (De Guzman) were both
identified and the circumstances of how the
purported sale of the illegal drugs took place
were clearly demonstrated. Thus, the
prosecution successfully established the first
and third elements of the crime. However,
there is a problem in the prosecutions effort
to establish the integrity of the corpus delicti.
In a prosecution for violation of the
Dangerous Drugs Act, the existence of the
dangerous drug is a condition sine qua
non for conviction. The dangerous drug is the
very corpus delicti of the crime.
The identity of the prohibited drug must be
established with moral certainty. Apart from
showing that the elements of possession or
sale are present, the fact that the substance
illegally possessed and sold in the first place
is the same substance offered in court as
exhibit must likewise be established with the
same degree of certitude as that needed to
sustain a guilty verdict. The corpus
delicti should be identified with unwavering
exactitude.
The chain of custody requirement performs
this function in that it ensures that
unnecessary doubts concerning the identity
of the evidence are removed.[27] Section 21 of
R.A. No. 9165 states:
Section 21. Custody and Disposition of
Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered
Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of

Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and


Essential Chemicals,
Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory
Equipment. The PDEA shall take charge and
have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant
sources of dangerous drugs, controlled
precursors and essential chemicals, as well
as instruments/paraphernalia and/or
laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized
and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in
the following manner:
(1) The apprehending team having initial
custody and control of the drugs shall,
immediately after seizure and confiscation,
physically inventory and photograph the
same in the presence of the accused or the
person/s from whom such items were
confiscated and/or seized, or his/her
representative or counsel, a representative
from the media and the Department of
Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official
who shall be required to sign the copies of
the inventory and be given a copy thereof.
On the other hand, the Implementing Rules
and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No.
9165 provides:
SECTION 21. Custody and Disposition
of Confiscated, Seized and/or
Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant
Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled
Precursors and Essential Chemicals,
Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or
Laboratory Equipment. The PDEA shall
take charge and have custody of all
dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous
drugs, controlled precursors and essential
chemicals, as well as
instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory
equipment so confiscated, seized and/or
surrendered, for proper disposition in the
following manner:
(a) The apprehending officer/team having
initial custody and control of the drugs shall,
immediately after seizure and confiscation,
physically inventory and photograph the
same in the presence of the accused or the

person/s from whom such items were


confiscated and/or seized, or his/her
representative or counsel, a representative
from the media and the Department of
Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official
who shall be required to sign the copies of
the inventory and be given a copy thereof:
Provided, that the physical inventory and
photograph shall be conducted at the place
where the search warrant is served; or at the
nearest police station or at the nearest office
of the apprehending officer/team, whichever
is practicable, in case of warrantless
seizures; Provided, further, that noncompliance with these requirements under
justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity
and the evidentiary value of the seized items
are properly preserved by the apprehending
officer/team, shall not render void and invalid
such seizures of and custody over said items.

The Court finds that the apprehending


officers failed to comply with the guidelines
set under R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR.
SPO1 Llanillo himself admitted that the
marking of the seized items was done in the
police station and not immediately after the
buy-bust operation. He testified:
Q: What did you do after you said you
bought P200.00 worth of shabu?
A: In return, he handed to me two (2) heat
sealed transparent plastic sachet containing
a suspected methamphetamine
hydrochloride (shabu), sir.
Q: After that what did you do next?
A: The team made a frisking on [Ronaldo] de
Guzman to see if there are other things he is
keeping in his body, sir.
Q: And what was the result of your frisking
[Ronaldo] de Guzman?

A: We recovered from him 2 packs of empty


transparent plastic sachets, 3 disposable
lighters, sir.
Q: Aside from those items, what else did you
recover from [Ronaldo] de Guzman?
A: Money, sir, amounting
to P3,380.00 including the marked money.
Q: What did you do with those things that
you were able to confiscate from [Ronaldo]
de Guzman?
A: We brought it to the police station for
investigation and the specimen were (sic)
brought to the crime laboratory for
examination, sir.
It is true that the IRR of R.A. No. 9165
provides that the physical inventory of the
seized items may be done at the nearest
police station, if the same cannot be done at
the place where the items were seized.
However, it must be emphasized that the IRR
also provides that non-compliance with these
requirements under justifiable grounds,
as long as the integrity and the evidentiary
value of the seized items are properly
preserved by the apprehending officer/team,
shall not render void and invalid such
seizures of and custody over said items.
The failure to follow the procedure
mandated under R.A. No. 9165 and its
IRR must be adequately explained. The
justifiable ground for non-compliance must
be proven as a fact. The court cannot
presume what these grounds are or that they
even exist.
Accordingly, non-compliance with the
procedure shall not render void and invalid
the seizure and custody of the drugs only
when: (1) such non-compliance is attended
by justifiable grounds; and (2) the integrity
and the evidentiary value of the seized items
are properly preserved by the apprehending
team. There must be proof that these two
(2) requirements were met before such non-

compliance may be said to fall within the


scope of the proviso.
In this case, it was admitted that it was
SPO3 Yadao, the assigned investigator, who
marked the seized items, and only upon
seeing the items for the first time at the
police station. Moreover, there was
no physical inventory made or photographs
of the seized items taken under the
circumstances required by R.A. No. 9165 and
its IRR. There was also no mention that
representatives from the media and from the
DOJ, and any elected official, were present
during this inventory. The prosecution never
explained the reasons for these lapses. On
cross-examination, SPO1 Llanillo admitted:
Q: Do you know if your team or any member
of your team issued an Inventory receipt of
those confiscated items?
A: I could not remember, sir.
Q: And you have not seen any, right?

Q: Is it not that this is the standard


operating procedure (SOP) as police
investigator that after your receipt of the
specimens or items allegedly confiscated in
the buy-bust operation that you should place
your initials after you signed the same?
A: Unless there is a directive from our Chief
of Police, maam (sic).
Q: So you are telling this Court that it is not
your SOP, you should wait for your Chief of
Police to direct you to place your initials on
the specimens you received in the buy-bust
operation, is that what you mean?
A: Yes, maam (sic).
Q: So you are telling us now that there was
no instruction from your Chief of Police in this
particular case that you will place your
initials on the 2 pieces of P100.00 bill, thats
why you did not put your initials thereof (sic),
is that what you mean?
A: Yes, maam (sic).

A: Yes, sir.
Q: Do you know if there were pictures taken
on (sic) the confiscated items?
A: I dont know, sir.
Q: And you have not seen pictures taken?
A: Yes, sir.[31]
Thus, we find no justifiable ground for such
non-compliance.
Readily apparent in the prosecutions
evidence, likewise, is a gaping hole in the
chain of custody of the seized illegal drugs.
SPO3 Yadao, in his testimony, narrated how
the evidence was handled, thus:
Q: You did not place or put your initials
on the buy-bust money, the 2 pieces
of P100.00 bil (sic) that was used in the
buy-bust operation, you did not (sic)?
A: I did not maam (sic).

Q: Likewise, you did not place your initials on


the transparent plastic sachets, disposable
lighters and the P3,380.00 that were
allegedly confiscated from the accused?
A: I was directed to place my initials before
submitting it to the PNP Crime
Laboratory, Urdaneta City.
Q: So the directive in this particular case is
only limited or focused on the suspected
plastic sachets containing shabu, is that
what you mean?
A: Yes, maam (sic).
Q: But you submitted likewise to the PNP
Crime Laboratory, Urdaneta City, the empty
transparent plastic sachets and disposable
lighters, is it not, Mr. Witness?
A: Yes maam (sic).
Q: For laboratory examination?

A: Yes, maam (sic).


Q: But there was no instruction from your
Chief of Police to place your initials on the
specimens?
A: There was instruction maam (sic).
Q: But you did not place your initials on the
disposable lighters and transparent plastic
sachets?
A: I dont know if I put my initials on the
disposables lighters maam (sic).
Q: You are now certain that you placed your
initials on the suspected shabu but you are
not sure if you placed your initials on the
transparent plastic sachets and the
disposable lighters?
A: Yes, maam (sic).
Q: What time on June 10, 2003 did you
receive the specimens allegedly confiscated
from the accused?
A: On the same date maam.
Q: You earlier said that at around 10:35
a.m. you conducted a buy bust
operation and the specimens were
turned over to you by your Chief of
Police. My question is, what time did
your Chief of Police turn over to you the
specimens that were allegedly
confiscated from the accused?
A: 2:00 p.m. when I recorded the
incident in the police blotter.
Q: My question is, what time did the Chief of
Police turn over to you the alleged specimens
or items?
A: 2:00 p.m. on June 10, 2003 and that was
the time I immediately recorded the incident
in the police blotter.
Q: And you immediately prepared a request
for laboratory examination?
A: Yes, maam (sic).

Q: What time did you finish preparing the


request?
A: I cant remember, maam (sic).
Q: You said that you immediately prepared
it, how long did you prepare that request for
laboratory examination?
A: Until the following day because it was on
the following day that the specimens were
submitted.
Q: What was submitted the following
morning?
A: If I remember it right, it was on June
11, 2003 when we submitted and
received by (sic) the PNP Crime
Laboratory and that was on June 11,
2003.[32]
The length of time that lapsed from the
seizure of the items from De Guzman until
they were given to the investigating officer
for marking is too long to be inconsequential.
The buy-bust operation took place at about
10:30 a.m. From the accounts of SPO1
Llanillo and another member of the buy-bust
team, SPO1 Romeo Manzano, De Guzmans
house was very near the police station and
the team could easily walk to it. Likewise, the
transaction took place rather quickly and
appellant was brought to the police station
immediately thereafter. All told, it should not
have taken 3 1/2 hours, or until 2:00 p.m., for
the seized items to be turned over to the
investigating officer. There was no
explanation why it took the Chief of Police
that long to turn over the seized items.
From the time SPO3 Yadao took custody of
the seized items, it took yet more time
before the same were submitted to the PNP
Crime Laboratory, and without any clear
explanation on who had custody in the
meantime. This vacuum in the chain of
custody of the seized items cannot simply be
brushed aside.

These circumstances cast a strong shadow of


doubt on the identity and integrity of the
evidence presented before the court.
As a method of authenticating evidence, the
chain of custody rule requires that the
admission of an exhibit be preceded by
evidence sufficient to support a finding that
the matter in question is what the proponent
claims it to be. It would include testimony
about every link in the chain, from the
moment the item was picked up to the time
it is offered in evidence, in such a way that
every person who touched the exhibit would
describe how and from whom it was
received, where it was and what happened to
it while in the witness possession, the
condition in which it was received and the
condition in which it was delivered to the
next link in the chain. These witnesses would
then describe the precautions taken to
ensure that there had been no change in the
condition of the item and no opportunity for
someone not in the chain to have possession
of the same. Indeed, it is from the testimony
of every witness who handled the evidence
that a reliable assurance can be derived that
the evidence presented in court and that
seized from the accused are one and the
same.
While testimony about a perfect chain is not
always the standard, because it is almost
always impossible to obtain, an unbroken
chain of custody becomes indispensable and
essential when the item of real evidence is
not distinctive and is not readily identifiable,
or when its condition at the time of testing or
trial is critical, or when a witness has failed
to observe its uniqueness. The same
standard likewise obtains in case the
evidence is susceptible to alteration,
tampering, contamination, and even
substitution and exchange.
A unique characteristic of narcotic
substances is that they are not readily
identifiable as, in fact, they are subject to
scientific analysis to determine their
composition and nature. The Court cannot

simply close its eyes to the likelihood, or at


least to the possibility, that, at any point in
the chain of custody, there could have been
tampering, alteration or substitution of
substances from other cases by accident or
otherwise in which similar evidence was
seized or in which similar evidence was
submitted for laboratory testing. Hence, in
authenticating the same, a standard more
stringent than that applied to cases involving
objects that are readily identifiable must be
applied, a more exacting standard that
entails establishing a chain of custody of the
item with sufficient completeness, if only to
make it improbable that the original item has
either been exchanged with another or been
contaminated or tampered with.
Accordingly, the failure to establish, through
convincing proof, that the integrity of the
seized items has been adequately preserved
through an unbroken chain of custody is
enough to engender reasonable doubt on the
guilt of an accused. Reasonable doubt is that
doubt engendered by an investigation of the
whole proof and an inability after such
investigation to let the mind rest upon the
certainty of guilt. Absolute certainty of guilt
is not demanded by the law to convict a
person charged with a crime, but moral
certainty is required as to every proposition
of proof requisite to constitute the offense.
[38]
A conviction cannot be sustained if there
is a persistent doubt on the identity of the
drug.[39]
Indeed, the prosecutions failure to prove
that the specimen submitted for laboratory
examination was the same one allegedly
seized from appellant is fatal to the
prosecutions case.[40]
Finally, the prosecution cannot find solace in
its invocation of the presumption of
regularity in the apprehending officers
performance of official duty.
The presumption of regularity in the
performance of official duty cannot by itself
overcome the presumption of innocence nor

constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.


[41]
Moreover, the failure to observe the
proper procedure negates the operation of
the presumption of regularity accorded to
police officers. As a general rule, the
testimonies of the police officers who
apprehended the accused are accorded full
faith and credit because of the presumption
that they have performed their duties
regularly. But when the performance of their
duties is tainted with failure to comply with
the procedure and guidelines prescribed, the
presumption is effectively destroyed.[42]
Thus, even if the defense evidence is
weak, the prosecutions whole case still falls.
The evidence for the prosecution must stand
or fall on its own weight and cannot be
allowed to draw strength from the weakness
of the defense.[43]

WHEREFORE, the foregoing premises


considered, appellant RONALDO DE
GUZMAN y DANZIL is
hereby ACQUITTED of the crime charged.
The Director of the Bureau of Prisons is
ordered to cause
the IMMEDIATE RELEASE of appellant from
confinement, unless he is being held for
some other lawful cause, and to REPORT to
this Court compliance herewith within five (5)
days from receipt of this Decision.
SO ORDERED.