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G.R. No.

176735 June 26, 2008


THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
JERRY SANTOS y MACOL and RAMON CATOC y PICAYO, accused-appellants.
DECISION
CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:
Assailed before Us is the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated 29 November 2006 in CA-G.R.
C.R.-HC No. 01291 which affirmed the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City,
Branch 70, in Criminal Cases No. 12193-D and No. 12194-D, finding accused-appellants Jerry
Santos y Macol and Ramon Catoc y Picayo guilty of illegal sale of methamphetamine hydrochloride,
more popularly known as shabu, and finding accused-appellant Ramon Catoc y Picayo guilty of illegal
possession of the said prohibited drug, respectively.
On 10 March 2003, two Informations were filed against appellants Jerry Santos y Macol and Ramon
Catoc y Picayo before the RTC of Pasig City, for violating the provisions of Republic Act No. 9165 or
the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
In Criminal Case No. 12193-D, appellants Santos and Catoc allegedly violated Section 5, Article II of
Republic Act No. 91653 in the following manner:
On or about March 8, 2003, in Pasig City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court,
the accused, conspiring and confederating together and both of them mutually helping
and aiding one another, not being lawfully authorized by law, did then and there willfully,
unlawfully and feloniously sell, deliver and give away to PO3 Carlo Luna, a police poseur
buyer, one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing three (3) centigrams
(0.03 gram) of white crystalline substance, which was found positive to the test for
methylamphethamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, in violation of the said
law.4(Emphasis ours).
On the other hand, in Criminal Case No. 12194-D, appellant Catoc was additionally charged with
violation of Section 11, Article II of the same law,5 committed as follows:
On or about March 8 2003, in Pasig City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the
accused, not being lawfully authorized to possess any dangerous drug, did then and
there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession and under his custody and
control one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing three (3) centigrams
(0.03 gram) of white crystalline substance, which was found positive to the test for
methylamphethamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, in violation of the said
law.6 (Emphasis ours).
During their arraignment on 19 May 2003, appellants Santos and Catoc pleaded not guilty to the
above-mentioned charges.7
On 3 June 2003, the Pre-Trial Conference of the cases was terminated without the prosecution and
the defense agreeing to any stipulation of facts.8
On 5 August 2003, the parties, however, agreed to re-open the Pre-Trial Conference and they
entered into a stipulation of facts as to the testimony to be given by the first prosecution witness,
Forensic Chemist Police Inspector (P/Insp.) Lourdeliza Cejes.9 As contained in the Pre-Trial Order
dated 5 August 2003, the parties stipulated on: (1) the due execution and genuineness of the
Request for Laboratory Examination dated 8 March 2003, and the stamp showing receipt thereof by
the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory; (2) the due execution, genuineness and truth
of the contents of Physical Science Report No. D-405-03E issued by Forensic Chemist P/Insp.
Lourdeliza Cejes, the finding or conclusion appearing on the report, and the signature of the forensic
chemist over her typewritten name appearing therein; and (3) the existence of the plastic sachets, but
not their source or origin, contained in a brown envelope, the contents of which were the subject of
the Request for Laboratory Examination.10
Thereafter, the cases were consolidated and tried jointly.11
The prosecution presented two witnesses: (1) Police Officer (PO)3 Carlo Luna 12 and (2) Senior Police
Officer (SPO)3 Leneal Matias,13 both members of the Station Drug Enforcement Unit (SDEU)14 of the
Pasig City Police Station.
The defense, on the other hand, presented (1) appellant Jerry Santos y Macol 15; (2) appellant Ramon
Catoc y Picayo16; (3) Maria Violeta Catoc,17 sister of appellant Catoc; and (4) Eric Santos,18 brother of
appellant Santos.
The People's version of the facts shows that on 8 March 2003, the SDEU operatives of the Pasig City
Police conducted a buy-bust operation in a residential area along Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue, Brgy.
Rosario, Pasig City, on the basis of reports that a certain alias Monching Labo was selling illegal
drugs in the said locality.19 Accompanied by a confidential informant, the police team composed of
PO3 Carlo Luna, SPO3 Leneal Matias, PO1 Michael Espares and PO1 Michael Familara, proceeded
to the target area at around 1:15 to 1:20 a.m. on the above-mentioned date. PO3 Carlo Luna was to
act as the poseur-buyer, whereas the other members of the team were to serve as his backup. 20
Upon reaching the designated place, PO3 Luna and the informant alighted from their vehicle, while
the rest of the team were left inside.21 The informant then pointed to two persons standing along the
target area, one of whom was Monching Labo, later identified as appellant Ramon Catoc y
Picayo.22 After approaching, the informant introduced PO3 Luna as a shabu customer to one of the
persons, later identified as appellant Jerry Santos y Macol. Appellant Santos then asked PO3 Luna
how much worth of shabu he was buying and asked for the money. PO3 Luna gave appellant Santos
the buy-bust money consisting of a pre-marked P100.00 bill.23 Appellant Santos handed this money
to appellant Catoc, who took out from his pocket a sealed transparent plastic sachet containing a
white crystalline substance,24 which he handed back to appellant Santos. When appellant Santos
gave the plastic sachet to PO3 Luna, the latter nabbed the former and introduced himself as a
policeman.25
At that point, the other members of the team arrived and likewise held and arrested appellant Catoc.
SPO3 Matias then ordered appellant Catoc to empty the contents of his pockets. After having done
so, another plastic sachet containing a similar crystalline substance 26 was recovered from appellant
Catoc, together with the marked P100.00 buy-bust money.27 Immediately thereafter, the policemen
marked the two plastic sachets.28 The sachet handed by appellant Santos to PO3 Luna was marked
with the latter's initials "CEL," his signature, and appellant Santos's initials "JMS." 29 On the other
hand, the sachet recovered from appellant Catoc by SPO3 Matias was marked with the latter's initials
"LTM," his signature and appellant Catoc's initials "RPC."30 The policemen then informed the
appellants of their violations and apprised them of their constitutional rights.31 Afterwards, appellants
Santos and Catoc were brought to the Pasig City Police Station at Pariancillo Park, Pasig City, for
proper investigation.
PO3 Luna submitted the two plastic sachets containing the white crystalline substance to the PNP
Crime Laboratory Service, Eastern Police District in Mandaluyong City for an examination of the
contents thereof.32 The laboratory test results as contained in Chemistry Report No. D-405-
03E33 stated the following:
SPECIMEN SUBMITTED:
Two (2) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets with markings "CEL/JMS 030803 and
RPC/LTM 030803" containing 0.03 gram of white crystalline substance and marked as
A and B respectively.
xxxx
FINDINGS:
Qualitative examination conducted on the above-stated specimens gave [a] POSITIVE
result to the tests for Methylamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug. x x x
CONCLUSION:
Specimens A and B contains (sic) Methylamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous
drug.
As expected, the appellants offered a version of the facts that was diametrically opposed to that of the
prosecution. According to them, there was no buy-bust operation to speak of and that prior to their
arrests, they were literally strangers to each other.
Appellant Jerry Santos y Macol testified that on 8 March 2003, at around 12:00 midnight to 1:00 a.m.,
while he was watching television at their house at 151 Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue, Barangay (Brgy.)
Rosario, Pasig City, and was about to sleep, five male persons in civilian clothing suddenly entered
and handcuffed him.34 Santos claimed that he voluntarily went with the men when they tried to arrest
him because his ailing mother, who was then awakened, was already becoming nervous. 35 Santos
was brought outside and placed in a tricycle, and the entire group left for the police station. There,
Santos was detained and questioned about the marked money, which he said he knew nothing about.
Santos was then charged with the offense of selling illegal drugs in violation of Section 5, Article II of
Republic Act No. 9165.36 It was also at that time in the police station where he first met appellant
Catoc.37
For his part, appellant Ramon Catoc y Picayo narrated that on 8 March 2003, between the hours of
11:00 p.m. and 12:00 midnight, he awoke to a loud sound at the door of their house at 125 Dr. Sixto
Antonio Avenue, Brgy. Rosario, Pasig City.38 When Catoc opened the door, five male persons with
guns entered their house.39 The men frisked Catoc and searched his house. After being likewise
awakened, Catoc's mother asked the men what his son's fault was. They replied that they were
looking for the drugs that Catoc was selling.40 When their search yielded nothing, the men mauled
Catoc. Afterwards, Catoc was placed in a tricycle and the group headed for a gasoline station along
J. E. Manalo Street. There, Catoc was transferred to a parked van; inside the vehicle was appellant
Jerry Santos y Macol, whom the former saw for the first time. 41 The men took the appellants to the
police station in Pariancillo Park where they were again mauled. The policemen who arrested the
appellants produced two plastic sachets of shabuand a P100.00 bill and alleged that the same were
taken from Catoc's possession. The appellants were then charged with violation of Sections 5 and 11,
Article II of Republic Act No. 9165.42
On 4 May 2005, the trial court rendered its decision, the pertinent portion of which states:
The Court is more inclined to give credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses
given the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty accorded to them by law
and jurisprudence vis-à-vis the self-serving disclaimers of the herein accused whose version of
the incident as narrated above hardly inspires belief.
It has been clearly established from the evidence adduced by the State that at around 1:00 in
the morning of March 8, 2003, accused Jerry Santos and Ramon Catoc, in conspiracy with one
another, sold or traded and delivered, to PO3 Carlo Luna, in a buy-bust operation, one
transparent plastic sachet of shabu containing white crystalline substance (Exh. "C-1") in
consideration of the amount of PHP 100.00 (Exh. "D"). x x x
That there was [a] conspiracy between the two accused as alleged in the information in
Criminal Case No. 12193-D, is evident. The transaction was successfully consummated
between the poseur buyer PO3 Luna, on the one hand, and the accused Ramon Catoc,
together with his co-accused, Jerry Santos, on the other, with accused Santos receiving the
marked money from the poseur buyer and thereafter handing the same to his co-accused
Catoc who, thereafter, took out from his right pocket a plastic sachet of shabu which he gave
to Santos, and which the latter in turn handed to PO3 Luna. There can be no other conclusion
that can be drawn from the above concerted actions of both accused, but that they were bound
by a common purpose and community of interest, indicative of conspiracy, in committing the
offense charged against them.
On the same occasion of the buy-bust operation, the police officers were also able to recover
from the possession of accused Ramon Catoc another sachet of shabu weighing 0.03 grams
(Exh. "C-2") which is in violation of Section 11 (Possession of Dangerous Drugs), Article II of
the same law, subject of Criminal Case No. 12194-D, which penalizes the mere possession of
dangerous drugs w/o (sic) being authorized by law.
xxxx
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered, as follows:
In Criminal Case No. 12193-D, both accused, JERRY SANTOS y MACOL and RAMON
CATOC y PICAYO are hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of
Violation of Section 5, Article II, Republic Act [No.] 9165 (illegal sale of shabu) and are hereby
sentenced to LIFE IMPRISONMENT and to solidarily pay a Fine of Five Hundred Thousand
Pesos (PHP500,000.00).
In Criminal Case No. 12194-D, accused RAMON CATOC y PICAYO is hereby
found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of Violation of Section 11, Article II,
Republic Act [No.] 9165 (illegal possession of shabu) and is hereby sentenced to Twelve (12)
Years and One (1) Day to Twenty (20) Yearsand to pay a Fine of Three Hundred Thousand
Pesos (PHP 300,000.00).
Considering the penalty imposed by the Court, [t]he immediate commitment of accused Jerry
Santos and Ramon Catoc to the National Penitentiary, New Bilibid Prisons, Muntinlupa City is
hereby ordered.
Pursuant to Section 20 of Republic Act [No.] 9165, the amount of PHP 100.00 recovered from
accused Ramon Catoc representing the proceeds from the illegal sale of the transparent
plastic sachet of shabu is hereby ordered forfeited in favor of the government.
Again, pursuant to Section 21 of the same law, representatives from the Philippine Drug
Enforcement Agency (PDEA) is (sic) hereby ordered to take charge and have custody over the
sachets of shabu subject of these cases, for proper disposition.43
In an Order dated 21 June 2005, the trial court elevated the entire records of the case to the Court of
Appeals for automatic review in accordance with our ruling in People v. Mateo.44
On 29 November 2006, the Court of Appeals rendered its decision, the dispositive portion of which
reads:
WHEREFORE, the Decision appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED.
In sustaining the trial court, the Court of Appeals ruled that the buy-bust operation conducted by the
SDEU operatives was legitimate and regular.45 Furthermore, the testimonies of the appellants and
their witnesses were said to have contained irreconcilable inconsistencies and that no ill motive for
the alleged frame-up was put forth by the appellants.46
Appellants Santos and Catoc filed a Notice of Appeal assailing the appellate court's decision before
the Supreme Court.47
In a Resolution48 dated 4 June 2007, the Court required the parties to file their respective
supplemental briefs, if they so desired, within 30 days from notice. The parties manifested their
intention not to file their supplemental briefs anymore, as their respective Briefs already encapsulated
all the matters and arguments that support their positions. 49
In pleading for their innocence, appellants assign the following errors:
I.
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANTS OF
VIOLATION OF SECTIONS 5 AND 11, ARTICLE II, OF THE REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165,
WHEN THE LATTER'S GUILT WERE NOT PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.
II.
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING [THAT] THE ACCUSED-APPELLANTS
CONSPIRED IN COMMITTING ILLEGAL SELLING AND ILLEGAL POSSESSION OF
DANGEROUS DRUGS.
Appellants contend that the trial court erred in convicting them, as their guilt was not proven beyond
reasonable doubt, considering that the prosecution failed to prove that a buy-bust operation took
place and that their arrests without warrant were not legally effected. Appellants also maintain that
there was no basis for the trial court's conclusion that a conspiracy existed between them.
The arguments put forth by the appellants fail to persuade.
Fundamental is the principle that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which
involve the credibility of witnesses are accorded respect when no glaring errors; gross
misapprehension of facts; and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered
from such findings. The reason for this is that the trial court is in a better position to decide the
credibility of witnesses, having heard their testimonies and observed their deportment and manner of
testifying during the trial. The rule finds an even more stringent application where said findings are
sustained by the Court of Appeals.50
After a careful evaluation of the entire records of the instant case, we find no error in the trial and the
appellate courts' factual findings and conclusions.
For the successful prosecution of offenses involving the illegal sale of drugs under Section 5, Article II
of Republic Act No. 9165, the following elements must be proven: (1) the identity of the buyer and
seller, object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment
therefor.51 What is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the
transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus
delicti.52
In the present case, all the elements of the crime have been sufficiently established. The prosecution
witnesses PO3 Luna and SPO3 Matias consistently testified that a buy-bust operation did indeed take
place, and the shabusubject of the sale was presented and duly identified in open court. PO3 Luna,
being the poseur-buyer, positively identified appellants Santos and Catoc as the persons who sold
the sachet containing a white crystalline substance,53 which was later confirmed by a chemical
analysis thereof to be shabu.54
The relevant portions of PO3 Luna's testimony that detailed the events leading to the arrests of
appellants are as follows:
Q: Do you remember having been assigned as a poseur buyer on said date, March 8, 2003?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Against whom was supposed to be the task that you are going to perform as a poseur
buyer?
A: Against Monching Labo, sir.
xxxx
Q: What was the basis of this planned operation against Monching Labo?
A: Because we have been receiving reports that this certain Monching Labo has been
selling illegal drugs along Dr. Sixto Avenue in Pasig, sir.
Q: Are you trying to say that March 8 was not the first time that you received information
regarding Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: But it was only March 8 that you decided to conduct a buy-bust operation against
Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Were there preparations made by your office or by you regarding this plan, buy-bust
operation, to be conducted against Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir, we contacted an informant to confirm where Monching Labo sells illegal drugs.
xxxx
Q: What are you going to use in buying?
A: Marked money, sir.
Q: Did you prepare for that also?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Were there other police personnel that were assigned, aside from you, to conduct this
buy-bust operation against Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir, SPO3 Leneal Matias, PO1 Michael Espares and PO1 Michael Familara.
xxxx
Q: What were supposed to be the role of these other police officers that were going to
accompany you particularly, Matias, Espares and Familara?
A: They will act as back-up, sir.
Q: You said you prepared for a buy-money, how much was this?
A: One Hundred (PHP 100.00) Peso bill, sir.
xxxx
Q: Did you proceed, as plan, to the target area?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And where was this, mr. (sic) witness?
A: Along Dr. Sixto Antonio, Brgy. Rosario, Pasig City, sir.
Q: What time did you reach that place?
A: About 1:15 to 1:20, sir.
Q: Of?
A: In the early morning of 1:15 to 1:20 a.m., sir.
Q: What else happened after you reached the place?
A: When we were ten (10) meters away from the designated area, the informant pointed to
us to two persons who were standing along Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue, Rosario, Pasig City, sir.
xxxx
Q: Who are these two persons, if you know?
A: According to the informant, he is Monching Labo, sir.
Q: Meaning, one of them is Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: After one of them has been identified by your informant, what else did you do if any, mr.
(sic) witness?
A: The informant and I approached them, and I was introduced by the informant, sir.
Q: How were you introduced?
A: That I was a customer for shabu, and that I wanted to buy, sir.
Q: To whom did he tell from these two persons that you were interested to buy?
A: I was introduced to Jerry Santos, sir.
Q: In other words, the other person is a certain Jerry Santos?
A: Yes, sir.
xxxx
Q: After you were introduced as [an] interested buyer to said Jerry Santos, what else
happened after that?
A: He asked me how much would I buy, and he asked me for the money. And then, I told
him just PHP100.00, sir.
Q: And when Jerry Santos asked you for the money, did you give him the money?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And after you gave him the money, what happened next?
A: I saw Jerry handed the money to the other person, sir.
Q: When you say other person, this is Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And after Jerry Santos handed the One Hundred (PHP100.00) Peso bill to Monching
Labo, what else happened, if any?
A: Monching Labo took the PHP100.00 bill. After that, he put it inside his pocket, and then,
he got something from his pocket and handed it to Jerry, sir.
Q: And after this something was handed to Jerry Santos, what else happened?
A: Jerry Santos gave to me what was given to him by Monching, sir.
Q: And to your personal knowledge, what is that something that was given by Monching to
Jerry Santos who, Jerry Santos in turn handed to you?
A: That was the shabu I was buying which was contained in a plastic sachet, sir.
Q: When you say contained in a plastic sachet, you mean there is only one (1)?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: After you received this one alleged plastic sachet of shabu from Jerry Santos, what else
did you do, if any?
A: I held Jerry Santos and introduced myself as a police officer, sir.
Q: After that, what happened next, if any?
A: My companions arrived and then, they also held Monching Labo sir.
Q: What else happened after that, mr. (sic) witness?
A: Police Officer Matias ordered Monching Labo to empty the contents of his pocket, sir.
Q: And did Monching Labo comply?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Would you know what Matias discovered after Monching Labo complied with his order to
empty his pocket?
A: Yes, sir, because he also recovered another plastic sachet, sir.
Q: Who recovered?
A: SPO3 Matias, sir.
Q: Which came from the pocket of Monching Labo?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: After this, what did you do or, your team do to the two persons?
A: We brought them to our office at the Headquarters for proper investigation, sir.
Q: How about the two plastic sachets, the first one that was sold and the other one that was
recovered by SPO3 Matias, what was your disposition about it?
A: Right there and then at the place, we already placed the markings on the sachets, sir.
Q: After that, what else did you do with these two sachets?
A: We submitted the same to the laboratory for examination, sir.
Q: Do you remember who delivered it personally?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Who?
A: I did, sir.
Q: Did you come to know later the true identity of Jerry Santos and Monching Labo to whom
you have transaction?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Would Jerry Santos [be] the true name of this Jerry Santos you mentioned earlier?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: How about this Monching Labo, did you come to know what is his true name?
A: Yes, sir. After we have brought him to the police station, that's when we discovered his
real name, sir.
Q: And what is his real name?
A: Ramon Catoc, sir.55
The testimony of SPO3 Matias on the conduct of the buy-bust operation corroborated the above
testimony of PO3 Luna on all material points and was equally clear and categorical.
Also proven from the testimonies of both PO3 Luna and SPO3 Matias is the charge against appellant
Catoc in Criminal Case No. 12194-D for violation of Section 11, Article II, Republic Act No. 9165
(illegal possession of dangerous drugs). It was shown that appellant knowingly carried with him the
plastic sachet of shabu without legal authority at the time he was caught during the buy-bust
operation.
On the other hand, the appellants' contention that no buy-bust operation took place was plainly
anchored on the testimonies of both appellants, who both gave different versions of what transpired
during the time and date in question; of Maria Violeta Catoc, sister of appellant Ramon Catoc; and of
Eric Santos, the brother of appellant Jerry Santos. Both appellants chorused a single line - alibi. They
strongly insisted that they were in their respective houses during the alleged operations.
The singular reliance of the appellants on their alibis to argue their cases was misplaced. As
observed by the trial court, the self-serving disclaimers of the appellants inspired less belief than the
testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, who had in their favor a presumption of regularity accorded
to them by law.56 The respective alibis of appellants and their witnesses also contained irreconcilable
inconsistencies that only weakened their worth.
We uphold the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties. This presumption in
favor of PO3 Luna and SPO3 Matias was not overcome. As testified to by the appellants, they did not
know any of the policemen who arrested them, and it was only during the trial in open court that they
came to know of the identities of the above-mentioned policemen.57 Thus, there was no indication
that the police were impelled by any improper motive in making the arrests.
In appellant Jerry Santos's testimony on the events leading to his arrest, he repeatedly changed his
answer upon being asked why he voluntarily went with the five men who entered his house on the
night in question. In his direct testimony, appellant Santos testified that he went with the men so that
his mother's nervousness would not be further aggravated.58 During his cross-examination, he then
stated that he voluntarily went with the men so as not to awaken his sleeping mother. 59 Upon being
confronted with these statements, Santos then changed his answer again and stated that his mother
was already awake at the time he went with the policemen. 60
More glaring than the above-mentioned inconsistencies, however, are the discrepancies in the
testimonies of appellants Jerry Santos and Ramon Catoc on the manner in which they were taken to
the police station and the circumstances of their first meeting. The very premise of their defense is
that they were total strangers to each other; thus, they could not have been together at the time when
they were arrested, much less were they in conspiracy with each other in the alleged commission of
the crimes charged.
Appellant Jerry Santos testified that after he was brought out of his house, he was placed in a tricycle
and was then taken straight to the police station in Pariancillo Park, Pasig City.61 While in detention,
he allegedly met Ramon Catoc for the first time.62
Appellant Ramon Catoc, on the other hand, gave an entirely contradictory account of the said events.
Catoc narrated in his direct testimony that after the men took him and placed him in a tricycle, he was
taken to a gasoline station along J. E. Manalo Street and was transferred to a parked van. Aboard the
vehicle, he said, was appellant Santos, whom he claimed he saw and came to know for the first
time.63
Even the testimony of defense witness Eric Santos, the brother of appellant Jerry Santos, contained
some noticeable incongruity with the appellants' narration of events. As remarked upon by the Court
of Appeals,64 Eric Santos testified that the arrest of his brother was made at 8:00 p.m. on 8 March
2003.65 The timeline of both the prosecution and the defense, however, puts the occurrence of the
events in question between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. 66
The testimonies of Maria Violeta Catoc, sister of appellant Catoc, and Eric Santos, brother of
appellant Santos, are also suspect. Without clear and convincing evidence, no credence can be
accorded them.
In all of the above instances, no satisfactory explanation was offered by appellants to resolve the
conflicting accounts. No other evidence was likewise offered to buttress these testimonies, thereby
weakening appellants' alibis, as against the candid and straightforward testimonies of the prosecution
witnesses.
As consistently enunciated by this Court, the established doctrine is that, for the defense of alibi to
prosper, the accused must prove not only that he was at some other place at the time of the
commission of the crime, but also that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus
criminis or within its immediate vicinity. The defense of alibi must be established by positive, clear and
satisfactory evidence, the reason being that it is easily manufactured and usually so unreliable that it
can rarely be given credence. This is especially true in case of positive identification of the culprit by
reliable witnesses, which renders their alibis worthless. Positive identification prevails over denials
and alibis.67
What is quite important to note at this point is the fact that the defense failed to point out any single
mistake or inconsistency in the testimonies of either policeman. Consequently, the respective rulings
of the trial court and the Court of Appeals upholding the regularity and the legitimacy of the conduct of
the buy-bust operation in this case are hereby affirmed.
The claim of appellants that their warrantless arrests were illegal also lacks merit. The Court notes
that nowhere in the records did we find any objection by appellants to the irregularity of their arrests
prior to their arraignment. We have held in a number of cases that the illegal arrest of an accused is
not a sufficient cause for setting aside a valid judgment rendered upon a sufficient complaint after a
trial free from error; such arrest does not negate the validity of the conviction of the accused. It is
much too late in the day to complain about the warrantless arrest after a valid information has been
filed, the accused arraigned, trial commenced and completed, and a judgment of conviction rendered
against him.68
Nevertheless, our ruling in People v. Cabugatan 69 provides that:
The rule is settled that an arrest made after an entrapment does not require a warrant
inasmuch as it is considered a valid warrantless arrest pursuant to Rule 113, Section 5(a) of
the Rules of Court, which states:
SEC. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. - A peace officer or a private person may, without
a warrant, arrest a person:
(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually
committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.
As we have already declared the legality of the buy-bust operation that was conducted by the police,
it follows that the subsequent warrantless arrests were likewise legally effected. Furthermore, any
search resulting from the lawful warrantless arrests was also valid, because the appellants committed
a crime in flagrante delicto; that is, the persons arrested committed a crime in the presence of the
arresting officers.70
As for appellants' contention that the trial court erred in finding the existence of a conspiracy, the
same should also fail. Contrary to appellants' assertions,71 the findings of the trial court that they
conspired with each other is limited only to the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs in Criminal
Case No. 12193-D, and does not pertain to the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs in
Criminal Case No. 12194-D.
There is conspiracy when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of
a felony and decide to commit it. The same degree of proof necessary to prove the crime is required
to support a finding of criminal conspiracy. Direct proof, however, is not essential to show
conspiracy.72 It need not be shown that the parties actually came together and agreed in express
terms to enter into and pursue a common design. Proof of concerted action before, during and after
the crime, which demonstrates their unity of design and objective is sufficient.73 As correctly held by
the trial court, the act of appellant Santos in receiving the marked money from PO3 Luna and handing
the same to appellant Catoc, who in turn gave a sachet containing shabu to appellant Santos to give
the policeman, unmistakably revealed a common purpose and a community of interest indicative of a
conspiracy between the appellants.74
In light of the foregoing, we rule that the guilt of appellants Santos and Catoc has been established
beyond reasonable doubt. A determination of the appropriate penalties to be imposed upon them is
now in order.
Under the law, the illegal sale of shabu carries with it the penalty of life imprisonment to death and a
fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00),
regardless of the quantity and purity of the substance involved or shall act as a broker in any such
transaction.75 On the other hand, the illegal possession of less than five (5) grams of said dangerous
drug is penalized with imprisonment of twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years and a
fine ranging from three hundred thousand pesos (P300,000.00) to four hundred thousand pesos
(P400,000.00).76
In accordance with Section 98, Article XIII of Republic Act No. 9165, the provisions of the Revised
Penal Code find limited applicability with respect to the provisions of the said Act. Section 98 reads:
Sec. 98. Limited Applicability of the Revised Penal Code. - Notwithstanding any law, rule or
regulation to the contrary, the provisions of the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3815), as
amended, shall not apply to the provisions of this Act, except in the case of minor offenders.
Where the offender is a minor, the penalty for acts punishable by life imprisonment to death
provided herein shall be reclusion perpetua to death.
Thus, in determining the imposable penalty, Article 63(2) of the Revised Penal Code shall not be
applied. Under this article, in all cases in which the law prescribes a penalty composed of two
indivisible penalties, the lesser penalty shall be applied when there are neither mitigating nor
aggravating circumstances.77 Since Section 98 of the Drugs Law contains the word "shall," the non-
applicability of the Revised Penal Code provisions is mandatory, subject to exception only in case the
offender is a minor.78
In the imposition of the proper penalty, the courts, taking into account the circumstances attendant in
the commission of the offense, are given the discretion to impose either life imprisonment or death,
and the fine as provided for by law. In light, however, of the effectivity of Republic Act No. 9346
entitled, "An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines," the imposition of the
supreme penalty of death has been prohibited. Consequently, the penalty to be meted out to
appellant shall only be life imprisonment and fine.79 Hence, the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine
of P500,000.00 were properly imposed on appellants Jerry Santos y Macol and Ramon Catoc y
Picayo in Criminal Case No. 12193-D for illegal sale of shabu.
Likewise, the conviction of appellant Ramon Catoc y Picayo and the imposition of the penalty of
twelve (12) years and one (1) day to fifteen (15) years imprisonment and the fine of P300,000.00
meted out by the trial court with respect to Criminal Case No. 12194-D for illegal possession
of shabu, are affirmed.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated 29 November 2006 of the Court of Appeals
in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01291, affirming in toto the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig
City, Branch 70, in Criminal Case No. 12193-D and Criminal Case No. 12194-D, is
hereby AFFIRMED. No costs.
G.R. No. 179940 April 23, 2008
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
NORBERTO DEL MONTE y GAPAY @ OBET, accused-appellant.
DECISION
CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:
Assailed before Us is the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 02070 dated 28
May 2007 which affirmed with modification the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of
Malolos, Bulacan, Branch 78, in Criminal Case No. 3437-M-02, finding accused-appellant Norberto
del Monte, a.k.a. Obet, guilty of violation of Section 5,3 Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise
known as "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002."
On 11 December 2002, accused-appellant was charged with Violation of Section 5, Article II of
Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The
accusatory portion of the information reads:
That on or about the 10th day of December 2002, in the municipality of Baliuag, province of
Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named
accused, without authority of law and legal justification, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully
and feloniously sell, trade, deliver, give away, dispatch in transit and transport dangerous drug
consisting of one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet of Methylamphetamine
Hydrochloride weighing 0.290 gram.4
The case was raffled to Branch 78 of the RTC of Malolos, Bulacan and docketed as Criminal Case
No. 3437-M-02.
When arraigned on 20 January 2003, appellant, assisted by counsel de oficio, pleaded "Not Guilty" to
the charge.5On 17 February 2003, the pre-trial conference was concluded.6 Thereafter, trial on the
merits ensued.
The prosecution presented as its lone witness PO1 Gaudencio M. Tolentino, Jr., the poseur-buyer in
the buy-bust operation conducted against appellant, and a member of the Philippine National Police
(PNP) assigned with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Regional Office 3/Special
Enforcement Unit (SEU) stationed at the Field Office, Barangay Tarcan, Baliuag, Bulacan.
The version of the prosecution is as follows:
On 10 December 2002, at around 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, a confidential informant went to the
office of the PDEA SEU in Barangay Tarcan, Baliuag, Bulacan and reported that appellant was
selling shabu. Upon receipt of said information, a briefing on a buy-bust operation against appellant
was conducted. The team was composed of SPO2 Hashim S. Maung, as team leader, PO1
Gaudencio Tolentino, Jr. as the poseur-buyer, and PO1 Antonio Barreras as back-up operative. After
the briefing, the team, together with the confidential informant, proceeded to Poblacion Dike for the
execution of the buy-bust operation.
When the team arrived at appellant’s place, they saw the appellant standing alone in front of the gate.
The informant and PO1 Tolentino approached appellant. The informant introduced PO1 Tolentino to
appellant as his friend, saying "Barkada ko, user." PO1 Tolentino gave appellant P300.00 consisting
of three marked P100 bills.7 The bills were marked with "GT JR," PO1 Tolentino’s initials. Upon
receiving the P300.00, appellant took out a plastic sachet from his pocket and handed it over to PO1
Tolentino. As a pre-arranged signal, PO1 Tolentino lit a cigarette signifying that the sale had been
consummated. PO1 Barreras arrived, arrested appellant and recovered from the latter the marked
money.
The white crystalline substance8 in the plastic sachet which was sold to PO1 Tolentino was forwarded
to PNP Regional Crime Laboratory Office 3, Malolos, Bulacan, for laboratory examination to
determine the presence of the any dangerous drug. The request for laboratory examination was
signed by SPO2 Maung.9 Per Chemistry Report No. D-728-2002,10 the substance bought from
appellant was positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.
The testimony of Nellson Cruz Sta. Maria, Forensic Chemical Officer who examined the substance
bought from appellant, was dispensed after both prosecution and defense stipulated that the witness
will merely testify on the fact that the drugs subject matter of this case was forwarded to their office
for laboratory examination and that laboratory examination was indeed conducted and the result was
positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride.11
For the defense, the appellant took the witness stand, together with his common-law wife, Amelia
Mendoza; and nephew, Alejandro Lim.
From their collective testimonies, the defense version goes like this:
On 10 December 2002, appellant was sleeping in his sister’s house in Poblacion Dike when a
commotion woke him up. His nephew, Alejandro Lim, was shouting because the latter, together with
appellant’s common-law wife, Amelia Mendoza, and a niece, was being punched and kicked by
several police officers. When appellant tried to pacify the policemen and ask them why they were
beating up his common-law wife and other relatives, the policemen arrested him, mauled him,
punched him on the chest, slapped him and hit him with a palo-palo. He sustained swollen face, lips
and tooth. His common-law wife was likewise hit on the chest with the palo-palo.
The policemen then took appellant and his common-law wife to a house located in the middle of a
field where the former demanded P15,000.00 for their liberty. The next day, appellant was brought to
the police station.
Amelia Mendoza identified PO1 Tolentino and PO1 Barreras as the police officers who manhandled
them and who demanded P15,000.00 so that she and appellant could go home. The following day at
6:00 a.m., she said her child and cousin arrived with the P15,000.00. She was released but appellant
was detained. She does not know why the police officers filed this case against appellant. What she
knows is that they were asking money from them.
Alejandro Lim merely corroborated the testimonies of appellant and Amelia Mendoza.
On 8 March 2004, the trial court rendered its decision convicting appellant of Violation of Section 5,
Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, and sentenced him to life imprisonment and to pay a fine
of P5,000,000.00. The dispostive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the foregoing considered, this Court hereby finds accused Norberto del Monte
y Gapay @ Obet GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of Violation of Section 5,
Art. II of R.A. 9165 and sentences him to suffer the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and a
fine of P5,000,000.00. With cost.
The drugs subject matter of this case is hereby ordered forfeited in favor of the government.
The Branch of this Court is directed to turn over the same to the Dangerous Drugs Board
within ten (10) days from receipt hereof for proper disposal thereof. 12
The trial court found the lone testimony of PO1 Gaudencio M. Tolentino, Jr. to be credible and
straightforward. It established the fact that appellant was caught selling shabu during an entrapment
operation conducted on 10 December 2002. Appellant was identified as the person from whom PO1
Tolentino bought P300.00 worth of shabuas confirmed by Chemistry Report No. D-728-2002. On the
other hand, the trial court was not convinced by appellant’s defense of frame-up and denial. Appellant
failed to substantiate his claims that he was merely sleeping and was awakened by the screams of
his relatives who were being mauled by the police officers.
Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal on 10 March 2004.13 With the filing thereof, the trial court directed
the immediate transmittal of the entire records of the case to us.14 However, pursuant to our ruling
in People v. Mateo,15 the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals for appropriate action and
disposition.16
On 28 May 2007, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision but reduced the fine imposed
on appellant to P500,000.00. It disposed of the case as follows:
WHEREFORE, the appeal is DISMISSED and the decision dated March 8, 2004 of the RTC,
Branch 78, Malolos, Bulacan, in Criminal Case No. 3437-M-02, finding accused-appellant
Norberto del Monte guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Violation of Section 5, Article II,
Republic Act No. 9165, and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment
is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the amount of fine imposed upon him is reduced
from P5,000,000.00 to P500,000.00.17
A Notice of Appeal having been timely filed by appellant, the Court of Appeals forwarded the records
of the case to us for further review.18
In our Resolution19 dated 10 December 2007, the parties were notified that they may file their
respective supplemental briefs, if they so desired, within 30 days from notice. Both appellant and
appellee opted not to file a supplemental brief on the ground they had exhaustively argued all the
relevant issues in their respective briefs and the filing of a supplemental brief would only contain a
repetition of the arguments already discussed therein.
Appellant makes a lone assignment of error:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY
OF THE OFFENSE CHARGED DESPITE THE INADMISSIBILITY OF THE EVIDENCE
AGAINST HIM FOR FAILURE OF THE ARRESTING OFFICERS TO COMPLY WITH
SECTION 21 OF R.A. 9165.20
Appellant anchors his appeal on the arresting policemen’s failure to strictly comply with Section 21 of
Republic Act No. 9165. He claims that pictures of him together with the alleged
confiscated shabu were not taken immediately upon his arrest as shown by the testimony of the lone
prosecution witness. He adds that PO1 Tolentino and PO1 Antonio Barreras, the police officers who
had initial custody of the drug allegedly seized and confiscated, did not conduct a physical inventory
of the same in his presence as shown by their joint affidavit of arrest. Their failure to abide by said
section casts doubt on both his arrest and the admissibility of the evidence adduced against him.
At the outset, it must be stated that appellant raised the police officers’ alleged non-compliance with
Section 2121 of Republic Act No. 9165 for the first time on appeal. This, he cannot do. It is too late in
the day for him to do so. In People v. Sta. Maria22 in which the very same issue was raised, we ruled:
The law excuses non-compliance under justifiable grounds. However, whatever justifiable
grounds may excuse the police officers involved in the buy-bust operation in this case from
complying with Section 21 will remain unknown, because appellant did not question during trial
the safekeeping of the items seized from him. Indeed, the police officers’ alleged
violations of Sections 21 and 86 of Republic Act No. 9165 were not raised before the trial
court but were instead raised for the first time on appeal. In no instance did appellant
least intimate at the trial court that there were lapses in the safekeeping of seized items
that affected their integrity and evidentiary value. Objection to evidence cannot be
raised for the first time on appeal; when a party desires the court to reject the evidence
offered, he must so state in the form of objection. Without such objection he cannot
raise the question for the first time on appeal.(Emphases supplied.)
In People v. Pringas,23 we explained that non-compliance with Section 21 will not render an
accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him inadmissible. What is of utmost
importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items as the
same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. In the case at
bar, appellant never questioned the custody and disposition of the drug that was taken from him. In
fact, he stipulated that the drug subject matter of this case was forwarded to PNP Regional Crime
Laboratory Office 3, Malolos, Bulacan for laboratory examination which examination gave positive
result for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug. We thus find the integrity and the
evidentiary value of the drug seized from appellant not to have been compromised.
We would like to add that non-compliance with Section 21 of said law, particularly the making of the
inventory and the photographing of the drugs confiscated and/or seized, will not render the drugs
inadmissible in evidence. Under Section 3 of Rule 128 of the Rules of Court, evidence is admissible
when it is relevant to the issue and is not excluded by the law or these rules. For evidence to be
inadmissible, there should be a law or rule which forbids its reception. If there is no such law or rule,
the evidence must be admitted subject only to the evidentiary weight that will accorded it by the
courts. One example is that provided in Section 31 of Rule 132 of the Rules of Court wherein a party
producing a document as genuine which has been altered and appears to be altered after its
execution, in a part material to the question in dispute, must account for the alteration. His failure to
do so shall make the document inadmissible in evidence. This is clearly provided for in the rules.
We do not find any provision or statement in said law or in any rule that will bring about the non-
admissibility of the confiscated and/or seized drugs due to non-compliance with Section 21 of
Republic Act No. 9165. The issue therefore, if there is non-compliance with said section, is not of
admissibility, but of weight – evidentiary merit or probative value – to be given the evidence. The
weight to be given by the courts on said evidence depends on the circumstances obtaining in each
case.
The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are (1) the identity of the buyer
and the seller, the object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment
therefor.24 What is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the
transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus
delicti.25
All these elements have been shown in the instant case. The prosecution clearly showed that the sale
of the drugs actually happened and that the shabu subject of the sale was brought and identified in
court. The poseur buyer positively identified appellant as the seller of the shabu. Per Chemistry
Report No. D-728-2002 of Forensic Chemical Officer Nellson Cruz Sta. Maria, the substance,
weighing 0.290 gram, which was bought by PO1 Tolentino from appellant in consideration
of P300.00, was examined and found to be methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu).
In the case before us, we find the testimony of the poseur-buyer, together with the dangerous drug
taken from appellant, more than sufficient to prove the crime charged. Considering that this Court has
access only to the cold and impersonal records of the proceedings, it generally relies upon the
assessment of the trial court, which had the distinct advantage of observing the conduct and
demeanor of the witnesses during trial. It is a fundamental rule that findings of the trial courts which
are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross
misapprehension of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered
from such findings. The reason for this is that the trial court is in a better position to decide the
credibility of witnesses having heard their testimonies and observed their deportment and manner of
testifying during the trial.26
The rule finds an even more stringent application where said findings are sustained by the Court of
Appeals.27Finding no compelling reason to depart from the findings of both the trial court and the
Court of Appeals, we affirm their findings.
Appellant denies selling shabu to the poseur-buyer insisting that he was framed, the evidence against
him being "planted," and that the police officers were exacting P15,000.00 from him.
In the case at bar, the evidence clearly shows that appellant was the subject of a buy-bust operation.
Having been caught in flagrante delicto, his identity as seller of the shabu can no longer be doubted.
Against the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, appellant’s plain denial of the offenses
charged, unsubstantiated by any credible and convincing evidence, must simply fail. 28 Frame-up, like
alibi, is generally viewed with caution by this Court, because it is easy to contrive and difficult to
disprove. Moreover, it is a common and standard line of defense in prosecutions of violations of the
Dangerous Drugs Act.29 For this claim to prosper, the defense must adduce clear and convincing
evidence to overcome the presumption that government officials have performed their duties in a
regular and proper manner.30 This, appellant failed to do. The presumption remained unrebutted
because the defense failed to present clear and convincing evidence that the police officers did not
properly perform their duty or that they were inspired by an improper motive.
The presentation of his common-law wife, Amelia Mendoza, and his nephew, Alejandro Lim, to
support his claims fails to sway. We find both witnesses not to be credible. Their testimonies are
suspect and cannot be given credence without clear and convincing evidence. Their claims, as well
as that of appellant, that they were maltreated and suffered injuries remain unsubstantiated. As found
by the trial court:
The accused, on the other hand, in an effort to exculpate himself from liability raised the
defense of frame-up. He alleged that at the time of the alleged buy bust he was merely
sleeping at the house of his sister. That he was awakened by the yells and screams of his
relatives as they were being mauled by the police officers. However, this Court is not
convinced. Accused failed to substantiate these claims of maltreatment even in the face of his
wife’s and nephew’s testimony. No evidence was presented to prove the same other than their
self-serving claims.31
Moreover, we agree with the observation of the Office of the Solicitor General that the witnesses for
the defense cannot even agree on what time the arresting policemen allegedly arrived in their house.
It explained:
To elaborate, appellant testified that it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon of December 10, 2002
when he was roused from his sleep by the policemen who barged into the house of his sister
(TSN, July 7, 2003, p. 2). His common-law wife, however, testified that it was 10-11 o’clock in
the morning when the policemen came to the house (TSN, Oct. 13, 2003, p. 6). On the other
hand, Alejandro Lim testified that he went to sleep at 11 o’clock in the morning and it was 10
o’clock in the morning when the policemen arrived (TSN, Feb.2, 2004, p. 6). He thus tried to
depict an absurd situation that the policemen arrived first before he went to sleep with
appellant.32
Having established beyond reasonable doubt all the elements constituting the illegal sale of drugs, we
are constrained to uphold appellant’s conviction.
The sale of shabu is penalized under Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165. Said section
reads:
SEC. 5. Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation
of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. – The penalty of
life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos
(P500,000.00) to Ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who,
unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another,
distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any dangerous drug, including any and all species of
opium poppy regardless of the quantity and purity involved, or shall act as a broker in any of
such transactions.
Under said law, the sale of any dangerous drug, regardless of its quantity and purity, is punishable by
life imprisonment to death and a fine of P500,000.00 to P10,000,000.00. For selling 0.290 gram
of shabu to PO1 Tolentino, and there being no modifying circumstance alleged in the information, the
trial court, as sustained by the Court of Appeals, correctly imposed the penalty of life imprisonment in
accordance with Article 63(2)33 of the Revised Penal Code.
As regards the fine to be imposed on appellant, the trial court pegged the fine at P5,000,000.00 which
the Court of Appeals reduced to P500,000.00. Both amounts are within the range provided for by law
but the amount imposed by the Court of Appeals, considering the quantity of the drugs involved, is
more appropriate.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED. The Decision of the Court of
Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 02070 dated 28 May 2007, sustaining the conviction of appellant
Norberto Del Monte, a.k.a. Obet, for violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, is
hereby AFFIRMED. No costs.
G.R. No. 175940 February 6, 2008
[Formerly G.R. Nos. 155361-62]
THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee,
vs.
ANSON ONG a.k.a. ALLAN CO, appellant.
DECISION
TINGA, J.:
In dubio pro reo.1
Subject of this automatic review is the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals dated 7 August 2006 which
affirmed the Judgment3 of the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City, Branch 110, convicting appellant
Anson Ong alias Allan Co of illegal sale and possession of shabu.
Two separate Informations were filed before the trial court. In Criminal Case No. 97-0017, appellant
was accused of illegal sale of shabu, thus:
That on or about the 21st day of [April] 1997, in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, and
within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and
confederating together and mutually helping one another without authority of law, did then and
there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver 989.05 grams of Methamphetamine
Hydrochloride (shabu), a regulated drug.
Contrary to law.4
In Criminal Case No. 97-0018, appellant was charged with illegal possession of shabu allegedly
committed as follows:
That on or about the 21st day of April 1997, Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within
the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, Anson Ong alias "Allan
Co," did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession, custody and
control 988.85 grams of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu), a regulated drug without
the corresponding license.
Contrary to law.5
Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty to both charges. A joint trial of the two cases ensued.
The operative facts are narrated by prosecution witnesses who comprised members of the buy-bust
team. Sometime in April 1997, Col. Zoila Lachica (Lachica) was tipped off by a female walk-in
informant that a group, led by a Chinese national, was engaged in drug trafficking in Pasay City.
Upon verification of said information, a meeting took place between Lachica and the informant where
the latter was able to arrange a drug deal with appellant in the vicinity of Heritage Hotel. 6 Lachica
then instructed Investigator Oscar Coballes (Coballes) to prepare the boodle money consisting of
four P500.00 bills and five P100.00 bills placed on top of nine (9) bundles of paper cut to the size of
the peso bills. These bills were then submitted to the PNP Crime Laboratory for ultraviolet powder
dusting.7 Before lunchtime on 21 April 1997, Lachica organized a team and planned the conduct of a
buy-bust operation. The twelve-man team was composed of Lachica, Coballes, Police Supt. Edgar
Danao (Danao), P/Inspector Rolando Montes (Montes), PO3 Manuelito Lagradilla (Lagradilla), SPO2
Wilfredo Saballa (Saballa), SPO3 Pardo, SPO2 Pedro Tan, the confidential informant, and other
civilian agents. Danao acted as the team leader with Montes assisting him. Saballa was designated
as the poseur-buyer and the other members of the team were tasked to secure the area. 8
After lunch, the group proceeded to the parking lot of San Juan de Dios Hospital onboard four (4)
vehicles, including a motorcycle driven by Lagradilla. At about 3:00 p.m., they reached the parking lot
where Danao conducted the final briefing and then deployed his men strategically between the
premises of Heritage Hotel and Copacabana Hotel.9At 4:00 pm, Saballa and the informant went to
Heritage Hotel while the other team members strategically posted themselves within the hotel
premises.10
Fifteen minutes later, Saballa and the informant left Heritage Hotel and proceeded to the adjacent
Copacabana Hotel where he waited at the main entrance of the lobby. Suddenly, a black Honda Civic
car with Plate No. ULN 766 arrived and parked along the driveway near the front entrance. 11 The
informant approached the car while Saballa was left behind holding the black bag containing the
boodle money.12 Upon signal by the informant, Saballa came up to the right front door. Saballa
showed the contents of the bag to the driver of the car, who was later identified as appellant. He then
handed the bag to him.13 Instantaneously, a man approached the car, took the boodle money from
appellant and ran away.14 Coballes ran towards the driver’s side and poked his gun at appellant.
Appellant tried moving the car but Coballes stood in front and blocked it. Appellant was then ordered
to open the door. Coballes saw a red bag containing white crystalline substance inside the car and
took it into custody. 15 Meanwhile, Lagradilla chased the man who took the boodle money around the
parking area of Copacabana Hotel.16 While on the run, Lagradilla saw the man throw the money
inside a passing white Toyota car driven by a certain Chito Cua (Cua). Instead of pursuing the man,
Lagradilla blocked the white Toyota car and arrested Cua.17
Appellant presented an entirely different account of the incident on 21 April 1997. Appellant, who
apparently does not know English and Tagalog was assisted by an interpreter, narrated that he is a
resident of Chuan Chow, People’s Republic of China. Upon the suggestion of Lau Chan, appellant
decided to go to the Philippines to start a clothing business. In the morning of 21 April 1997, appellant
told Lau Chan that he wanted to go to Baclaran. Lau Chan, who himself was planning to go to the
casino at Heritage Hotel, asked appellant to meet up with him. Appellant tried calling Lau Chan on
this cellphone but the latter was not answering. This prompted appellant to go to Heritage Hotel to
look for Lau Chan. At around 4:00 p.m., appellant was walking along Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue
towards the direction of the Light Rail Transit when he noticed a commotion in front of the hotel and
saw some men carrying guns. Fearing for his safety, appellant decided to walk faster but someone
stopped him and poked a gun at him. He was made to board a white car in which he met Cua for the
first time. They were then brought to Camp Crame for questioning. It was Cua who translated the
questions propounded by the police officers to appellant. He was informed by Cua that he was
arrested for failure to show any document regarding his stay in the country. During arraignment
however, he learned that he was being charged of possession and sale of shabu.
Finding the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses credible as against the bare and self-serving
assertions of appellant, the trial court rendered a decision finding appellant guilty as charged. The
dispositive portion of the 11 February 2002 Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court finds the herein accused ONG POK PIW
a.k.a. ANSON ONG a.k.a. ALLAN CO, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of two (2) offenses
for Violations of Section 15 and 16, Article III of Republic Act [No.] 6425, as amended in
relation to Section 20 and 21 of Article IV of said law and hereby imposes on him the penalty of
two (2) RECLUSION PERPETUAS in these cases and a fine in the total amount
of P200,000.00 in these cases without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.
The Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or "shabu" in Criminal Case No. 97-0017 for Violation of
Section 15 of Republic Act [No.] 6425, as amended, weighing 989.05 grams and the
Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or "shabu" in Criminal Case No. 97-0018 weighing 988.85
grams are hereby declared confiscated in favor of the government. The PNP Crime Laboratory
at Camp Crame, Quezon City or its duly authorized representative which has custody and
possession of said regulated drugs are hereby directed to immediately cause the delivery and
transportation thereof to the Dangerous Drugs Board for proper disposition in accordance with
law. The Chief of said office is further directed to inform this Court within 20 days from receipt
hereof of the action taken thereon.
The period during which the herein accused was under detention during the pendency of these
cases shall be credited to him in full provided he agreed to abide by strictly with the rules and
regulations of the City Jail.
SO ORDERED.18
An appeal was directed to this Court. However, in a Resolution19dated 20 February 2006, the case
was transferred to the Court of Appeals in light of our pronouncement in People v. Mateo.20
On 7 August 2006, the Court of Appeals rendered the assailed decision affirming with modification
the trial court’s ruling, to wit:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the judgment rendered by the Regional Trial Court,
Branch 110, Pasay City, in Criminal Case Nos. 97-0017 and 97-0018 is hereby AFFIRMED
with modification. As modified, the fine is increased to Five Hundred Thousand Pesos
(P500,000.00) for each offense or a total of ONE MILLION PESOS (P1,000,000.00).
SO ORDERED.21
In finding appellant guilty, the appellate court strongly relied on the testimonies of the police officers
and dismissed the imputed inconsistencies in their statements as being minor.
At the core of this appeal is the issue of whether the prosecution was able to prove beyond
reasonable doubt the guilt of appellant.
Appellant primarily questions the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. He claims that their
testimonies were tainted with inconsistencies which even the trial court had noted in its decision.
Appellant relies on said observation to support his acquittal based on reasonable doubt. He asserts
that his conviction must rest on the strength of the prosecution’s own evidence and not on the
weakness of the evidence for the defense.
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), in its Brief,22 insists that all the elements of sale and illegal
possession of shabu were duly established by the prosecution. It avers that appellant was caught
in flagrante delicto selling shabuto the poseur-buyer in a legitimate buy-bust operation.23 Moreover,
when the poseur-buyer and Coballes opened the door of appellant’s car, they saw a red bag on the
floor containing white crystalline substances which were later tested and found positive for the
presence of shabu.24 The OSG contends that the opinion of the trial court with respect to the
actuations of the prosecution witnesses on the stand did not affect its judgment of conviction because
the trial court lent full faith and credence to the collective testimonies of the police officers who are
presumed to have performed their duties in accordance with law.25
For the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs to prosper, the following elements must be proved: (1) the
identity of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold
and the payment therefor. What is material is the proof that the transaction actually took place,
coupled with the presentation before the court of the corpus delicti.26
The prosecution seeks to establish the presence of these elements through the testimonies of the
police officers involved in the buy-bust operation. The innocence or culpability of appellant thus
hinges on the issue of credibility. It is an oft-repeated rule that findings of facts of the trial court, as
affirmed by the appellate court, are conclusive on this Court, absent any evidence that both courts
ignored, misconstrued, or misinterpreted cogent facts and circumstances of substance which, if
considered, would warrant a modification or reversal of the outcome of the case. 27 This case falls
under the exception.
In determining the credibility of prosecution witnesses regarding the conduct of buy-bust operation,
the "objective test," as laid down in People v. Doria,28 is utilized. It has been held that it is the duty of
the prosecution to present a complete picture detailing the buy-bust operation—from the initial contact
between the poseur-buyer and the pusher, the offer to purchase, the promise or payment of the
consideration, until the consummation of the sale by the delivery of the illegal subject of sale. The
manner by which the initial contact was made, the offer to purchase the drug, the payment of the buy-
bust money, and the delivery of the illegal drug must be the subject of strict scrutiny by courts to
insure that law-abiding citizens are not unlawfully induced to commit an offense. 29
In People v. Ong30 and Cabugao v. People31 where the "objective test" was also applied, chasmic
deficiencies that similarly marked the prosecution evidence led to the absolution of the accused.
In Ong, also involving Chinese nationals as accused, the prosecution evidence on the buy-bust
operation was outrageously complete as the confidential informant who had sole knowledge of how
the alleged illegal sale of shabu was initiated and how it was carried out was not presented as a
witness.32 In Cabugao, the prosecution witnesses could not agree on the reason that prompted them
to conduct the buy-bust operation. While the first witness testified that the tip came from their
informants, the second witness maintained that no informer was involved in the operation. 33
In the case at bar, the evidence for the prosecution failed to prove all the material details of the buy-
bust operation. The details of the meeting with the informant, the alleged source of the information on
the sale of illegal drugs, appear hazy. Lachica declared that he met the informant for the first time a
week before the buy-bust operation:
Q Do you recall Mr. Witness when that walk-in informant visited your office?
A I cannot recall the exact date but as far as I can remember she visited before the
operation was conducted.
FISCAL
And you are referring to the operation on April 21, 1997?
A Yes, sir.
COURT
How many days prior to the date of operation did that alleged walk-in informant go to
your office?
A I cannot remember the exact date but I think more or less one week before. More or less 1
week.34
But Coballes testified that the informant reports to their office every now and then, thus:
COURT
A moment counsel, this informant, was he an employee of your office or an informant
working for your office?
WITNESS
A He is an informant working from our office.
COURT
When you say informant working in your office, is he receiving salary from your office as
a regular employee or he reports or he goes to your office every now and then?
A He reports in our office every now and then.35
Coballes related that the informant was present during the briefing held before lunch on 21 April
1997:
Q Now when Col. Lachica called you, aside from you and some members of your office, are
there any other persons present?
A Yes sir, our informant.
Q Now how do you know that this person is an informant?
A He was introduced to us by our chief, Col. Lachic[a], sir.36
while Lagradilla denied seeing the informant at the meeting:
COURT
In that briefing, was there a mention of an informant or an asset?
WITNESS
A Col. Lachica mentioned of a certain asset.
COURT
Was that asset present during the briefing at the headquarters?
A Asset was not present[,] sir.37
Despite being the designated poseur-buyer, Saballa testified that he had no knowledge of how
much shabu he was going to buy.
Q How much shabu are you going to purchase?
A One (1) kilo, Your Honor.
Q How much is one kilo worth?
A I am not aware of the price, Your Honor.
Q How much is one kilo worth?
A I do not know the price they have agreed, Your Honor.
Q You are supposed to be the poseur buyer and you do not know how much shabu you are
going to buy?
A I do not know, Your Honor.38
The actual exchange of the bags containing shabu and the boodle money was not clearly
established. The presentation of shabu before the Court could have shed light on the identity of the
object of the sale. Unfortunately, the presentation of the shabu purportedly confiscated from appellant
was dispensed with at the instance of the defense counsel.39
Coballes testified that he saw Saballa hand the boodle money to appellant in exchange for a wrapped
object presumed to be shabu.40 On the contrary, the ultraviolet dusting of the boodle money was
conducted but appellant was found negative for fluorescent powder. 41
As between the prosecution witnesses’ account that it was appellant to whom the boodle money was
passed and who was driving the black Honda Civic car during the alleged buy-bust operation and
appellant’s denial that he owned and drove said car, we are inclined to believe appellant. The
prosecution failed to present the purported driver’s license confiscated from appellant. In fact, they
reasoned that it was missing.42 On the other hand, the defense presented a certification from the
Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Philippine Motor Association stating that appellant’s name
does not exist in the LTO’s file of licensed drivers and has not been issued a Philippine International
Driving Permit43 by the Automobile Association of the Philippines.
Further rendering the prosecution’s version dubious is the escape of another alleged cohort of
appellant. Lagradilla, who was specifically tasked to block or run after any escaping suspect, failed in
this regard. During the alleged buy-bust operation, he was positioned in such a manner that a firewall
was blocking his vantage point.44 Instead of using his motorcycle, he chased the suspect on
foot.45 Moreover, it is quite difficult to imagine how one suspect can easily escape notwithstanding the
presence of at least twelve (12) police operatives in the vicinity.
The witnesses’ hesitation in answering questions on the stand, as aptly observed by the trial
court,46 only compounded their lack of credibility.
Lachica, who was the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division of the NCR-CIDG, cannot seem to
recall the vital parts of the buy-bust operation such as the composition of the buy-bust team, the
strategic location of the team members, the presence of the name of the other accused, Cua,47 and
how much of the boodle money was recovered.48
Moreover, he denied any participation in the conduct of the buy-bust operation:
Q You said you supervised the planning of this operation. Did you not say that?
A No Your Honor[,] what I said is that I gave instruction to Col. Danao and we planned out
the operation and our procedure, the [over-all] team leader will be the one to provide or make
some arrangement[s] pertaining to the police operation.49
However, Coballes insisted that Lachica was present all throughout the operation, thus:
ATTY. ZULUETA
And so, in your testimony February 13, 2000[,] you narrated to the Court that Col.
Lachica led this operation?
A Yes, sir.
Q He was with you on the parking lot to brief you on your operation?
A Yes.
Q And he was with you all throughout the operation?
A He was at the Heritage Hotel. Yes.
Q Mr. Witness[,] you as police officer[,] do you know the penalty for perjury?
A I know that perjury is punishable but I don’t know the penalty.
Q Did you know that Col. Lachica appeared before this Court and testified in this Hon. Court
on July 29, 1999 and he testified that he did not conduct the actual operation but it was Col.
Danao?
A He was with us and Col. Danao at the Heritage Hotel at the time.
Q Will you still maintain that, who is lying now, Col. Lachica or you?
A Col. Lachica and the rest stayed at the Heritage Hotel considering that the buy-bust
operation was at the Heritage Hotel.
Q And yet, Col. Lachica said that as lone Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division he only
gave instruction to Col. Danao. The question is[:] do you still maintain despite that [sic]
testimony that Col. Lachica was present during the operation?
A I do.50
Lachica denied having heard of the name of appellant until he was arrested:
Q Will you tell the Court[,] do you know a certain Anson Ong alias Allan Co?
A During April?
Q Before April?
A No, I don’t remember that I encountered a name Anson Ong but after the operation
conducted by Edgar Danao[,] I read the name of Anson Ong as the arrested person. 51
On the other hand, Montes alleged that the name of appellant was mentioned during the briefing held
in the office:
FISCAL VIBANDOR
Q Mr. Witness, on April 21, 1997, you said that you will conduct a buy-bust operation
against whom?
WITNESS
A Against Anson Ong.
FISCAL VIBANDOR
Q Now, when for the first time did you come to know that you are going to conduct [buy-
bust] operation against Anson Ong?
A During our briefing at the office.
xxx
Q And who were present during that briefing?
A All of us except for Lagradilla because he was sent out to get his motor bike, it was only
Col. Danao, myself, Coballes, Saballa, Tan and [a] civilian asset.52
According to Coballes, he was instructed by Lachica to prepare the boodle money to be submitted to
the PNP Crime Laboratory for powder dusting:
Q You want to impress us Mr. Witness, that a week or before the day that you first met the
informant you were instructed by Colonel Lachica to prepare buy-bust money?
WITNESS
A Yes, sir.53
Lachica’s million-peso estimate of the drug deal is certainly higher than the P250,000.00 amount
stated by Coballes. Ironically, Lachica cannot recall the exact amount or denomination of the boodle
money he himself had provided for the operation:
Q According to you[,] there will be a drug deal. Do you know how much shabu is involved in
this drug deal as arranged by your lady informant?
A I cannot recall the exact amount or quantity but the deal is more than one million. x x x54
Q Who provided the buy bust money for this buy-bust operation?
A I was the one who provided the buy-bust money, the boodle money.
FISCAL
Q How much money did you provide?
A I cannot remember the exact amount because the money used in that operation is boodle
money.
Q And to whom did you give this money that will be used in this [buy-bust] operation?
A I think Agent Coballes.
Q Do you recall in what denomination were these [buy-bust] money given?
A I cannot remember.55
While the presentation of the boodle money, as a general rule, is not indispensable in the prosecution
of a drug case, the material inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and the
non-presentation of the buy-bust money raise reasonable doubts on the occurrence of a buy-bust
operation.56 It is indeed suspicious that vital pieces of evidence, such as the boodle money and the
driver’s license were lost while in the custody of Coballes who unfortunately passed away during trial.
Certainly, the failure to present vital pieces of these evidence cast doubt on the veracity of the buy-
bust operation.
Another baffling point is the dismissal of the criminal case against Cua, the alleged accomplice of
appellant. The prosecution witnesses testified that the boodle money was found in his possession.
This fact was confirmed by the presence of fluorescent powder on Cua’s hands.
The Constitution mandates that an accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proven
beyond reasonable doubt. While appellant’s defense engenders suspicion that he probably
perpetrated the crime charged, it is not sufficient for a conviction that the evidence establishe a strong
suspicion or probability of guilt. It is the burden of the prosecution to overcome the presumption of
innocence by presenting the quantum of evidence required.
In the case at bar, the basis of acquittal is reasonable doubt, the evidence for the prosecution not
being sufficient to sustain and prove the guilt of appellants with moral certainty. By reasonable doubt
is not meant that which of possibility may arise but it is that doubt engendered by an investigation of
the whole proof and an inability, after such an investigation, to let the mind rest easy upon the
certainty of guilt. An acquittal based on reasonable doubt will prosper even though the appellants'
innocence may be doubted, for a criminal conviction rests on the strength of the evidence of the
prosecution and not on the weakness of the evidence of the defense.57 Suffice it to say, a slightest
doubt should be resolved in favor of the accused.58
With the failure of the prosecution to present a complete picture of the buy-bust operation, as
highlighted by the disharmony and incoherence in the testimonies of its witnesses, acquittal becomes
ineluctable.
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 02256
is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Anson Ong a.k.a. "Allan Co" is ACQUITTED of the crime charged
against him on the ground of reasonable doubt. His immediate release from prison is ordered unless
he is being held for some other valid or lawful cause.
The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ORDERED to implement this Decision forthwith and to
INFORM this Court, within five (5) days from receipt hereof, of the date appellant was actually
released from confinement. Costs de oficio.
SO ORDERED.
Quisumbing,Chairperson, Carpio, Carpio-Morales, Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.
G.R. No. 171310 July 9, 2008
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee,
vs.
SANNY CABACABA y GAYOSO, Appellant.
DECISION
QUISUMBING, J.:
This is an appeal from the Decision1 dated December 15, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R.
CR-H.C. No. 00302. The appellate court affirmed the Decision2 dated October 12, 2004 of the
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 103 in Criminal Case No. Q-02-112846 finding
appellant Sanny Cabacaba guilty for violation of Section 5,3 Article II, Republic Act No. 9165, the
Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The antecedent facts in this case are as follows.
On October 18, 2002, according to PO2 Jaime Ocampo’s testimony, his superior formed a team to
conduct a buy-bust operation at No. 138 Ermin Garcia Street, Barangay Rodriguez, Cubao, Quezon
City after an informant had reported that appellant Sanny Cabacaba had been selling drugs at said
address. PO2 Ocampo was designated as poseur buyer, with PO2 Jerry Sanchez and PO1 Glyn
Fallorin as back-up. As poseur buyer, he was given one ₱200 bill with Serial Number D977936 and a
₱100 bill with Serial Number DF747795.4 Both bills were recorded in their pre-operation logbook. He
marked said bills with his initials "JO."5
The police team and the informant left the police station and arrived at Ermin Garcia Street at 7:00
p.m. According to PO2 Ocampo, he and the informant proceeded to a house at 138 Ermin Garcia
Street. They asked the appellant to sell to them shabu worth ₱300. Appellant then handed over two
sachets of shabu to PO2 Ocampo who then gave appellant the marked money. PO2 Ocampo
examined the contents of the two sachets. After determining that they contained shabu, he tapped the
shoulder of appellant. This was a signal to his two companions on the look-out that the sale
of shabu had just been consummated.6
As his men rushed to the place of the transaction, PO2 Ocampo got hold of appellant. The latter was
able to break free from him and run into the house in front of which the sale took place.
The police ran after appellant who was then collared by PO2 Ocampo inside the house. Two persons
sitting on a sofa were searched like appellant. The search on one of them, who was identified as
Elena Blancha, yielded a sachet of shabu. The other male person yielded no contraband. In the body
search conducted on appellant, the police recovered both the ₱200 and ₱100 bills earlier received by
him from PO2 Ocampo. PO2 Ocampo testified that the accused and Elena were live-in partners.
In his defense, appellant testified that on October 18, 2002 at 7:00 p.m. he was attending the birthday
party of the daughter of his neighbor, Elena Blancha. At around 9:30 p.m., five armed men entered
Elena’s house and searched four persons including appellant and Elena. Nothing was found in their
possession. After a while, however, a police officer waived a plastic sachet he said he found on top of
a TV set. The armed persons then brought all four of them to the Araneta Center Police Block 5 in
handcuffs.7
According to appellant, the police asked each of them to give ₱10,000 in exchange for their release.
Afterwards, only appellant was detained. Appellant testified that he believed that his companions had
given the police some cash.
Another witness for the defense, Conrado de Guzman, 8 testified that on October 18, 2002 at around
6:00 p.m., he was walking along an alley of Ermin Garcia Street, when he met four policemen armed
with armalites walking toward him. He stepped aside to give way to them. After two had passed him,
however, the two others returned and grabbed him. Those persons brought him to the house of his
neighbor, Elena Blancha. He saw the police officers searching the house. He also saw four persons
inside that house, including Elena Blancha and the appellant, both of whom were residents of the
house. He did not know the identity of the other two. Later on, a police officer cried, "Ito na ang
hinahanap natin!" All five of them were brought afterwards to the police station where each one of
them was interrogated inside an investigation room. After an hour, according to de Guzman, he was
released.9
On cross-examination, de Guzman stated that the arresting officers told him that arresting bystanders
was part of their operations. De Guzman further testified that he was a neighbor and acquaintance of
the appellant.10
On October 12, 2004, the trial court convicted the appellant. Its decision reads as follows:
After a review of the evidence, the court inclines towards the moral guilt of the accused. Police Officer
Ocampo testified positively and unwaveringly that he purchased P300.00 worth of shabu from the
accused. The accused, whose shoulder was tapped by Police Officer Ocampo as a pre-arranged
signal to his companions, suddenly ran away towards a house when someone shouted, as Police
Officer Ocampo and his companions were rushing in, that "Mga parak yan!"
Against this strong testimonial evidence, the defense evidence is lacking in coherence, naturalness
and consistency.
For example, Sanny said a children’s birthday party was going on at the time of his arrest inside
Elena’s house. If this is true, the court finds it impossible that defense witness Arnel did not see any
child or children attending the party; did not see any birthday balloon that Sanny said festooned the
occasion; and did not see any neighbor of theirs accompanying their kids and partaking of food and
holding a program. Arnel only saw inside Elena’s house two men, whom he does not know, together
with Sanny and Elena. He could not have failed to mention the balloons, the children and the food
and drinks, if indeed there was a party there.
Sanny testified that Elena’s husband was out buying liquor at that time. He said that Elena is his
neighbor. As it turned out, when Arnel testified, Sanny is living-in with Elena in the same house.
Indeed, if Sanny’s defense theory is true, the "husband" of Elena would have testified here. Any
husband would naturally feel great indignation that during a peaceful, festive gathering of children on
the occasion of his 4-year old daughter’s birthday, the police would suddenly barge in, rifle through
everything in the house, arrest his wife, and charge her "falsely" of possession of shabu which carries
a 12 to 20 years’ penalty.
It is in fact surprising that according to Sanny, not a neighbor of Elena went to the party. This is most
unusual because even among squatters, when there is a party, particularly a children’s party, there
will be a lot of women in attendance, accompanying their little kids, acting as helpers in the
preparations, etc.
ACCORDINGLY, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused Sanny Cabacaba y Gayoso
GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of Violation of Section 5 of R.A. 9165 for selling
methylamphetamine hydrochloride weighing 0.04 gram and he is hereby sentenced to suffer a jail
term of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and to pay a fine of P500,000.00.
The drugs involved in this case are ordered transmitted to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency
(PDEA) thru the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) for proper legal disposition.
SO ORDERED.
October 12, 2004.
(SGD.)
JAIME N. SALAZAR, JR.
Judge11
On appeal, the issues presented for determination were:
I.
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT FINDING THAT THE ACCUSED-
APPELLANT WAS ILLEGALLY ARRESTED.
II.
THE LOWER COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY
BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.12
The Court of Appeals held:
UPON THE VIEW WE TAKE OF THIS CASE, THUS, the decision appealed from must be, as it is
hereby AFFIRMED, in toto. With the costs of this instance to be taxed against the accused-appellant.
SO ORDERED.13
On February 20, 2006, in view of the penalty of life imprisonment imposed on appellant, the records
of the case were elevated to this Court for review.14
Both parties manifested that they waived their rights to file supplemental briefs, as their arguments
had been already discussed in their previous briefs.15
Briefly stated, the issues for our resolution now are: (1) Was there a valid arrest on the accused? and
(2) Was the accused’s guilt proven beyond reasonable doubt?
Appellant argues that at the time of his arrest, he had not committed, was not committing, and was
not about to commit any crime. Hence, he contends that none of the circumstances justifying an
arrest without a warrant under Section 516 of Rule 113 of the Rules of Court was present.17
Appellee for its part, points out that time and again, a buy-bust operation has been held as a
legitimate mode of apprehending drug pushers. Although appellant was previously under
surveillance, no search warrant was needed in this case since the buy-bust operation conducted was
an entrapment and not a search.18
We agree with the appellee. This Court has already ruled repeatedly that a buy-bust operation is a
form of entrapment which has repeatedly been accepted to be a valid means of arresting violators of
the Dangerous Drugs Law.19 An arrest made after entrapment does not require a warrant inasmuch
as it is considered a valid warrantless arrest pursuant to Rule 113, Section 5(a), of the Rules of
Court.20
On the second issue, appellant argues that the evidence relied upon by the prosecution falls short of
the quantum of proof required for a conviction. Although the testimony of a police officer should
ordinarily be accorded full faith and credence, still it cannot prevail over the constitutional presumption
of innocence that an accused enjoys.21 Appellee for its part, maintains that the elements of violation
of Section 5, Article II of Rep. Act No. 9165 has been proven.22
Again we cannot agree with the appellant. Important in a prosecution for the illegal sale of prohibited
drugs is proof that the transaction or sale actually took place and the presentation in court of the
corpus delicti,23 which has two elements: (1) proof of the occurrence of a certain event and (2) a
person’s criminal responsibility for the act.24 Here, the prosecution has adequately shown that an
illegal sale of drugs took place between the police and the appellant in a valid entrapment scheme.
The prosecution actually presented during the trial of the case, the illegal substance and the payment
seized from the appellant’s possession.
In a prosecution for violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, usually a case
becomes a contest of credibility between the accused and the police, the witnesses and their
testimonies. Generally this Court relies upon the assessment by the trial court, which had the distinct
advantage of observing the conduct or demeanor of the witnesses while they were testifying. 25 The
factual findings by the trial court are accorded respect, even finality, absent any showing that certain
facts of weight and substance bearing on the elements of the crime have been overlooked,
misapprehended or misapplied.26 We find no justifiable reason to deviate from this rule in the case
before us.27
The reasoning of the decision by the Court of Appeals, penned by Justice Dacudao, deserves full
consideration, as we quote it as follows:
Case law teaches that the defense of frame-up is frowned upon as it can easily be concocted, even
as it is commonly employed by the accused as a standard line of defense in most prosecutions
arising from violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act. Unless there is clear and convincing evidence
that the members of the buy-bust team were inspired by some improper motive, or were not properly
performing their duty, their testimonies with respect to the buy-bust operation deserve full faith and
credit. Without proof of motive to falsely impute such a serious crime against appellant, as in this
case, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty and the findings of the trial court
on the credibility of witnesses shall prevail over his claim of having been framed. This teaching
equally applies to the accused-appellant’s allegation on extortion.
Moreover, in the prosecution of the offense for illegal sale of prohibited drugs, what is essential
is proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court
of the corpus delicti as evidence. It suffices to show that the accused is in possession of an item
or an object identified to be a prohibited or a regulated drug; that such possession is not authorized
by law; and that the accused has freely and consciously possessed the prohibited drug. Possession
of dangerous drugs constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to
convict an accused in the absence of a satisfactory explanation of such possession. Hence, the
burden of evidence is shifted to the accused to explain away the absence of knowledge or animus
possidendi. This, the accused herein, under the circumstances heretofore related, miserably failed to
do.1avvphi1
Nor is it necessary to establish how the accused-appellant and the informant met, or how the police
officer was introduced to the accused-appellant. Drug dealers are known to sell their goods even to
strangers. They ply their wares [wherever] prospective customers are found. They have indeed
become increasingly daring and openly defiant of the law.
Indeed, in this case the police officers were able to prove the factuality of the transaction between
PO2 Ocampo and the accused-appellant, and they were moreover able to present in court the
substance seized from the latter which, after chemical examination, was found to contain
methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. PO2 Ocampo’s testimony was coherent, straightforward
and candid even under intense cross-examination by the defense counsel. It bears the badges of
truth, such that it is extremely difficult for a rational mind not to find it credible.
The constitutional presumption of innocence can be accorded to the accused only in the absence of
evidence to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In the case at bench, that constitutional
presumption cannot be upheld, in the face of the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence for the
prosecution irresistibly pointing to the conclusive culpability of the accused-appellant.28
We are in agreement that the facts of this case, as gleaned from the records, fully support the
decision of the court a quo. Factual findings of the trial court, when adopted and confirmed by the
Court of Appeals, are binding and conclusive and, generally, will not be reviewed on appeal. 29 Thus
we see no valid reason to overturn the findings of the courts below that have undergone meticulous
scrutiny, and we sustain the judgment both of the trial court and the appellate court that appellant is
guilty as charged beyond reasonable doubt, hence his sentence to suffer life imprisonment and to pay
a fine of ₱500,000 must be sustained.
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated December 15, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C.
No. 00302 is AFFIRMED.
SO ORDERED.
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
Associate Justice
WE CONCUR: