Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 143805            April 11, 2002

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
GERARDO GONZALES y MARISTA—ES, accused-appellant.

PUNO, J.:

Accused GERARDO "Gerry" GONZALES y MARISTAÑES is a police officer who was separated from service in 1986 on the ground of absence without leave (AWOL). Apparently, the accused found a more lucrative source of income for, in January 1999, he fell into the trap of police operatives in a buy-bust operation.

For automatic review is the decision of Branch 36 of the Regional Trial Court of Calamba, Laguna, convicting the accused for selling methylamphetamine hydrochloride, more popularly known as shabu, in violation of Section 15, Article III of Republic Act 6425, as amended. The Information1 indicting him reads:

"That on or about January 14, 1999, at Crossing, Municipality of Calamba, Province of Laguna and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused without any authority of law, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver Methamphetamine Hydrochloride otherwise known as "S H A B U," a regulated drug weighing 279.180 grams, in violation of aforesaid law.

CONTRARY TO LAW."

Upon arraignment, the accused pled not guilty. Accordingly, trial ensued.

The prosecution evidence, upon which the trial court anchored its finding of guilt, consisted of the testimonies of two (2) of the operatives involved in the buy-bust operation, PO3 Rey Lucido and PO2 Teodoro Cortez, forensic chemist Lorna Tria and investigator Jolito Culili. Their version of the incident leading to accusedís arrest is as follows:

PO3 REY LUCIDO and PO2 TEODORO CORTEZ were assigned at the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Division (RIID R2) and members of the Special Operations Team at Camp Vicente Lim, Canlubang, Laguna. On January 14, 1999, at about 3:00 p.m., one of their confidential informants reported to team leader P/Insp. Danilo Bugay that he met accused Gerry Gonzales who was a "big time" drug pusher in Calamba, Sta. Rosa, Biñan and the surrounding areas of Laguna.

Acting on the information, P/Insp. Bugay immediately organized a team and planned the conduct of a buy-bust operation to entrap the accused. The seven-man team was composed of P/Insp. Bugay, PO3 Lucido, PO3 Cortez, SPO1 Danilo Satuito, SPO3 Enorio Sanches, SPO3 Rodelo Lareza and the confidential informant. PO3 Lucido was designated as the poseur-buyer while the other members of the team were tasked to secure the perimeter area where the entrapment would be conducted.

At about 4:00 p.m., after the briefing on the buy-bust operation, the confidential informant proceeded to the accusedís house in Criscor Subdivision, Calamba, Laguna, to finalize the drug deal. When he informed the accused that he has a buyer for 300 grams of shabu, the accused agreed to the proposed sale to be made that night in his house. The informant then reported back to the office and confirmed the planned sale.

When the team arrived at the subdivision, they first conducted a surveillance of the area surrounding the accusedís house to identify the places where the team members will position themselves for the entrapment. Thereafter, PO3 Lucido and the informant proceeded to the house of the accused where they saw the accused standing by the door. When they approached him, the accused immediately asked to see the money. PO3 Lucido refused and demanded that the accused show them the shabu first. The accused momentarily disappeared inside his house and returned with an object wrapped in newspaper. When PO3 Lucido opened the wrapper, he saw a heat-sealed plastic bag containing white crystalline substances. Whereupon, he handed to the accused a white plastic bag containing three (3) one thousand peso bills and the boodle money, i.e., a bundle of newspaper cut in the shape of paper money with real money placed on top. With the consummation of the sale, PO3 Lucido scratched his head as a signal to his teammates to arrest the accused. He then introduced himself to the accused as a police officer. He failed to grab the accused as the latter fled inside the house. Shortly, the back-up team arrived and they followed the accused into the house. They successfully talked the accused into coming out of the bedroom so as not to create any trouble and recovered the boodle money from him.1‚wphi1.nÍt

After the arrest, the police operatives brought the accused to their office. They turned over to Chief Investigator JOLITO CULILI the white crystalline substance sold by the accused, the marked genuine money and the boodle money. After Culili marked the seized substance and made a written request for its chemical analysis, he returned the evidence to the arresting officers. Culili also prepared a request for the accused to be subjected to a drug dependency test. The seized substance and the requests were then brought to the crime laboratory.2

LORNA TRIA, a PNP forensic chemist at Camp Vicente Lim, duly examined the substance to determine the presence of prohibited or regulated drugs. PO1 Siquioco received the evidence and letter-request at 11:47 p.m. of January 14, 1999. These were forwarded to Tria for examination at 8:00 a.m. the following day.

Tria measured the net weight of the white crystalline substance which amounted to 279.180 grams. She then conducted three (3) chemical examinations of the substance to test the presence of methylamphetamine hydrochloride. The first examination she conducted was the color test or the Marquiz Test, the second test was the Simonís Test and the last confirmatory test was the Thin Layer Chromagtographic Examination, all of which yielded positive results for the presence of methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. Her examination of the accusedís urine sample also revealed the presence of shabu.3

Expectedly, the accused presented an entirely different version. The accusedís testimony was corroborated by his wife Ma. Lourdes Gonzales and his friend Danilo Jeresano. Their version: On said date and time, Jeresano was in the accusedís house fixing the kitchen sink. While he was outside the house looking for a tool, about six to seven men arrived. He recognized only one of them as Danny Satuito who was waiting near the gate. The men who approached him inquired if he was Gerry Gonzales, the accused. When he replied in the negative, two of the men entered the accusedís house. Whereupon, he called out to the accused and his wife who were in one of the rooms to warn them of the entry of unidentified men in their house.

When the accused and his wife went outside the bedroom to check what the commotion was all about, they found the men searching their house for shabu and a gun. When their search yielded nothing, they brought the accused4 to Camp Vicente Lim. After asking his name and personal circumstances, they proceeded to maul him. The accused claimed he did not know the result of the medical examination and denied that a urine sample was taken from him. He insisted that the men merely forced the head nurse to sign his medical certificate as there was no attending physician that time.

Ma. Lourdes Gonzales, accusedís wife, testified that shortly before midnight of the same day, a man who claimed to be a representative of one Asuncion came to their house and extorted money from her in exchange for the release of the accused. She immediately gave in to the demand and handed the man P10,000.00. The accused, however, was never released from prison as promised.5

It was only on the following day, when the accused was brought to the fiscalís office, that the accused learned he was being charged with a violation of Section 15 of R.A. 6425 for selling shabu.6

After trial, the court a quo found the accused guilty as charged. He was sentenced to the supreme penalty of death and all its accessory penalties and to pay the fine of two (2) million pesos (P2,000,000.00).7

On automatic review by this Court, the appellant assigns the following errors:

I

THE LOWER COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONIES OF PROSECUTION WITNESSES PARTICULARLY THE ALLEGED ARRESTING OFFICERS (PO3 LUCIDO AND PO2 CORTEZ) DESPITE THE FACT THAT THEY ARE NOT ONLY INCONSISTENT BUT THEY ARE IN THEMSELVES UNRELIABLE.

II

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN NOT HOLDING THAT THE TESTIMONIES OF THE SAME PROSECUTION WITNESSES (LUCIDO AND CORTEZ) GRANTING WITHOUT ADMITTING THEM TO BE TRUE, WOULD ONLY EXEMPT ACCUSED-APPELLANT FROM ANY CRIMINAL LIABILITY FOR THEY, WITH THE HELP OF THEIR ALLEGED CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT WHO ACTED AS PRIVATE DETECTIVE, HAD INSTIGATED ACCUSED-APPELLANT TO COMMIT THE CRIME CHARGED.

III

THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE SHABU ALLEGEDLY CONFISCATED WAS INDEED 279.180 GRAMS DESPITE THE UNCERTAINTY OF ITS ACTUAL WEIGHT WHICH SERVED AS THE BASIS FOR THE IMPOSITION OF THE MAXIMUM PENALTY.

IV

THE LOWER COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN RELYING WITH THE RULING LAID DOWN IN THE CASE OF PEOPLE VS. SANTOS IN THE IMPOSITION OF DEATH PENALTY WHEN THE SAME IS NOT APPLICABLE IN THE CASE AT BAR.

We shall discuss the first two issues jointly.

First, the appellant contends that based on the version of the prosecution, it cannot be concluded that an entrapment was conducted. He insists that the police authorities instigated him to commit the crime as he did not seek the informant and offered to sell him shabu. Instead, it was the informant who located him and informed him of a potential buyer. Appellant claims that this action amounts to instigation, not entrapment. Second, appellant contends that the manner by which the alleged buy-bust operation was conducted is highly irregular as there was no lengthy surveillance made by the police authorities to establish a probable cause that he was selling illicit drugs. Moreover, he argues that, instead of conducting a buy-bust operation, the police authorities should have secured a warrant of arrest or search warrant which they could have easily done as they were already certain of the commission of a crime and the identity of the appellant as the malefactor. Third, appellant likewise attacks the credibility of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation, pointing to their contradictory, irreconcilable and inconsistent testimonies, viz: (1) While PO3 Cortez testified that the informant and PO3 Lucido returned to appellantís house to finalize the deal, PO3 Lucido claimed that it was only appellant who proceeded to accusedís house; (2) During the trial, PO3 Cortez declared that he caused the arrest of the appellant, but at the pre-trial conference, he stated that it was Danilo Satuito who made the arrest. In his Joint Affidavit before the Fiscalís Office, he never mentioned the name of Satuito; (3) P/Insp. Jolito Culili testified that he helped the members of the buy-bust team mark the boodle money but the boodle money presented in court did not bear any markings. Appellant insists that these contradictory statements prove that the alleged buy-bust operation was a sham.

We disagree.

Jurisprudence clearly set the essential elements to be established in the prosecution for illegal sale of shabu, viz: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration, and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and payment therefor. In short, the delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummates the buy-bust transaction.8 In the case at bar, the prosecution was able to establish these elements beyond moral certainty.

The appellant cannot successfully claim that he was instigated by the informant to sell shabu. The established rule is that when an accused is charged with the sale of illicit drugs, he cannot set up the following defenses, viz: (1) that facilities for the commission of the crime were intentionally placed in his way, or (2) that the criminal act was done at the solicitation of the decoy or poseur-buyer seeking to expose his criminal act, or (3) that police authorities feigning complicity in the act were present and apparently assisted in its commission. The sale of contraband is a kind of offense habitually committed and the solicitation simply furnishes evidence of the criminalís course of conduct.9 In the case at bar, after the police received a report from their informant about the appellantís criminal activity, a plan of entrapment was made. Thus, the buy-bust operation was set up precisely to test the veracity of the informantís tip and to arrest the malefactor if the report proved to be true. The prosecution evidence positively showed that the appellant agreed to sell 300 grams of shabu to the informantís buyer and was in fact caught red-handed plying his illegal trade. Under the circumstances, the police officers were not only authorized but were under an obligation to arrest the drug pusher even without an arrest warrant as the crime was committed in their presence.10

Neither do we give credit to appellantís contention that the conduct of the buy-bust operation was highly irregular as it was the informant, not the poseur-buyer, who contacted him for the drug deal and there was no lengthy surveillance made before the operation. A prior surveillance, much less a lengthy one, is not necessary especially where the police operatives are accompanied by their informant during the entrapment, as in the case at bar. To be sure, there is no textbook method of conducting buy-bust operations. The Court has left to the discretion of police authorities the selection of effective means to apprehend drug dealers. Thus, we have refused to establish on a priori basis what detailed acts the police authorities might credibly undertake in their entrapment operations.11

Neither did the appellant successfully demolish the credibility of the police authorities. The inconsistencies alluded to by the appellant in the testimonies of the arresting officers are inconsequential and minor to adversely affect their credibility. Time and again, the Court has ruled that the testimonies of witnesses need only corroborate each other on material details surrounding the actual commission of the crime.12 In the case at bar, what is essential is that the prosecution witnesses positively identified the appellant as the one who sold and delivered the shabu to the poseur-buyer. There is nothing on the record that sufficiently casts doubt on the credibility of the police operatives. In fact, the records show that appellant himself admitted that the arresting officers had no ill-motive to frame him up for such a grave crime as no bad blood existed between him and the police officers prior to the buy-bust operation.13

On the third issue, we likewise find no merit in appellantís claim that the arresting officers increased the amount of shabu confiscated from him, if any, to 279.180 grams as evidenced by the fact that the P3,000.00 genuine bills used for the entrapment is insufficient for the huge quantity of shabu he allegedly sold and the police operatives failed to mark the boodle money. For one, it was duly established that the P3,000.00 marked genuine bills were accompanied by boodle money. Hence, it is inaccurate to state that the money given to the appellant in exchange for the shabu was a measly P3,000.00.14 Second, failure to mark the boodle money is not fatal to the cause of the prosecution. Neither law nor jurisprudence requires the presentation of any of the money used in a buy-bust operation,15 much less is it required that the boodle money be marked. The only elements necessary to consummate the crime is proof that the illicit transaction took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence.16 Both were satisfactorily proved in the case at bar.1‚wphi1.nÍt

Going now to the penalty, Section 15, Article III of the Revised Penal Code, in relation to Section 20, Article IV, provides that the sale and delivery of 200 grams or more of shabu shall be penalized by reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos. In the case at bar, it was proved that the quantity of shabu sold by the appellant is 279.180 grams. As the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death consists of two (2) indivisible penalties, the trial court should have applied Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code such that the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua should have been imposed on the appellant, there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstance which attended the commission of the crime. However, we affirm the two million peso fine imposed on him as it is clearly within the range provided by law and there was no showing that it was unreasonable or excessive.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the appealed Decision is AFFIRMED, subject to the SOLE MODIFICATION that the death sentence imposed on appellant GERARDO GONZALES y MARISTAÑES is reduced to reclusion perpetua.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., Bellosillo, Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Rollo, p. 9.

2 November 10, 1999 TSN, pp. 2-15.

3 September 14, 1999 TSN, pp. 2-28.

4 February 24, 2000 TSN, pp. 2-11.

5 March 8, 2000 TSN, pp. 2-15.

6 April 4, 2000 TSN, pp. 2-13.

7 Decision, dated July 6, 2000, penned by Judge Norberto Y. Geraldez, Regional Trial Court, 4th Judicial Region, Branch 36, Calamba, Laguna; Rollo, pp. 21-29.

8 People vs. Uy, 338 SCRA 232 (2000); People vs. Zheng Bai Hui, 338 SCRA 420 (2000).

9 People vs. Zheng Bai Hui, supra, citing People vs. Lua Chu and Uy Se Tieng, 56 Phil. 44 (1931), which quoted 16 C.J.S. 88.

10 People vs. Liquen, 212 SCRA 288 (1992).

11 People vs. Manahan, 238 SCRA 141 (1994); People vs. Lacbanes, 270 SCRA 193 (1997).

12 People vs. Uy, 338 SCRA 232 (2000).

13 April 4, 2000 TSN, pp. 12-13.

14 A gram of shabu costs at least a thousand pesos.

15 People vs. Fabro, 325 SCRA 285 (2000).

16 People vs. Chen Tiz Chang, 325 SCRA 776 (2000).


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