Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 184760 April 23, 2010
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PATERNO LORENZO y CASAS, Defendant-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Assailed in this appeal via Notice of Appeal is the 14 June 2007 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-GR HC No. 02184 which affirmed the 05 October 2005 Decision2 promulgated by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Mateo, Rizal, in Criminal Case Nos. 6991-93, finding accused-appellant Paterno Lorenzo y Casas guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Sections 5 and 11, Article II, of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.3
Accused-appellant was arrested and charged following a buy-bust operation.
On 12 September 2003, two (2) Informations were filed against accused-appellant Paterno Lorenzo y Casas (Lorenzo) charging him with violating Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the accusatory portions thereof reading.
Criminal Case No. 6992
That on or about the 10th day of September 2003 in the Municipality of San Mateo, Province of Rizal, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his possession, direct custody and control a total of 2.04 grams of white crystalline substance contained in two (2) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets which gave positive result to the test for Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.4
Criminal Case No. 6993
That on or about the 10th day of September 2003, in the Municipality of San Mateo, Province of Rizal, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly sell, deliver and give away to another 0.20 gram of white crystalline substance contained in one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet which gave positive result to the test for Metamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.5
The cases were raffled to Branch 76 of the RTC of San Mateo, Rizal and docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 6992-93.
One Conrado Estanislao y Javier (Estanislao) was similarly charged in a different Information, which case was docketed as Criminal Case No. 6991. Estanislao was accused of possessing illegal drugs in violation of the provisions of Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the Information containing the following averments:
Criminal Case No. 6994
That on or about the 10th day of September 2003, in the Municipality of San Mateo, Province of Rizal, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his possession, direct custody and control of 0.05 gram of white crystalline substance contained in one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet which gave positive result to the test for Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.
On arraignment, both accused, with the assistance of counsel, entered ‘NOT GUILTY’ pleas.
The three (3) cases having been consolidated, joint trial on the merits ensued.
The prosecution presented as its lone witness, Police Officer 1 (PO1) Noel P. Pineda, who was a member of the buy-bust team.
The evidence for the prosecution sought to establish that on 9 September 2003, upon a series of reports relayed by a confidential informant that a certain Paterno Lorenzo was peddling shabu in the Barangay Dulongbayan area, the team of PO3 Pineda embarked on a buy-bust operation against said drug peddler. Anticipating the operation, PO3 Pineda prepared two (2) pieces of marked
P100.00 bills to be used as buy-bust money. At around 10:00 o’clock in the evening of the same day, PO3 Pineda, along with SPO1 Arellano and PO3 Tougan, proceeded to Barangay Dulongbayan and secretly met with their confidential informant. According to the confidential informant, he had not seen Lorenzo and raised the possibility that he was not in the area at the time. Assessing the situation, the police officers instructed the confidential informant to continue with his surveillance of the area and to inform them immediately if he comes across Lorenzo.
At around 1:00 o’clock in the morning of 10 September 2003, while PO1 Pineda and his companions were waiting at Gen. Luna Street, the confidential informant reported that Lorenzo was already at the Daangbakal, Dulongbayan I area and was selling prohibited drugs. Riding an unmarked vehicle, the team proceeded to where Lorenzo was. On their arrival, Lorenzo was talking to a man at the corner of Pulong Diablo and Daangbakal. PO3 Tougan stepped out of their vehicle and hid in a place where he was not visible to Lorenzo. PO3 Pineda stayed close to SPO1 Arellano, who was then hiding inside a tricycle near Lorenzo. While this was happening, the confidential informant approached Lorenzo for the transaction. Lorenzo and the confidential informant were approximately four (4) meters away from PO3 Pineda. Because PO3 Pineda knew who Lorenzo was and considering the place was illuminated, PO3 Pineda recognized the suspect. The confidential informant and Lorenzo were talking for about one minute, after which the informant gave the marked money to Lorenzo. After taking the marked money, Lorenzo handed the shabu to the informant. PO3 Pineda and SPO1 Arellano alighted from the tricycle and approached Lorenzo, and introduced themselves as police officers. They arrested Lorenzo.
Upon being arrested, Lorenzo was bodily searched and PO1 Pineda was able to retrieve the marked money and 2 other sachets of shabu from him. Seeing what had happened to Lorenzo, the man he was talking to and later on identified as a certain Estanislao, attempted to escape the police officers and ran, but he was soon accosted by PO3 Tougan. A search of his pockets yielded one (1) sachet of shabu.
After the buy-bust operation, Lorenzo and Estanislao were taken to the police station where the incident was recorded in the police blotter. The plastic sachets containing 2.04 and 0.20 grams of white crystalline substance bought from Lorenzo was sent to the PNP Crime Laboratory for laboratory examination. The results as contained in Chemistry Report no. D-1741-03E showed that the substance sold by Lorenzo was positive for Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu.6
Interposing the twin defenses of denial and frame-up, accused-appellant Lorenzo and Estanislao stood before the witness stand and presented their version of the facts.
Lorenzo was in his mountain bike on the way home to Dulongbayan sometime between 12:00 o’clock in the evening and 1:00 o’clock in the morning of 10 September 2003. Estanislao, who was also with him at the time, was riding in his motor cross style bike and was supposed to buy food at said place after playing ‘tong-its.’
While the two (2) were traversing Daangbakal and Delos Angeles Street, the chain on Estanislao’s bike went loose. During the time Estanislao was repairing his bike, PO3 Tougan, PO3 Pineda, and SPO1 Arellano, who were then on board an owner type jeepney, arrived and arrested Lorenzo and Estanislao. According to the police officers, they were to be brought to the Municipal Hall. The two (2) suspects protested, claiming not having done anything wrong but the police officers continued with the arrest. It was later that they were informed that the arrest was for illegal drugs.
On 5 October 2005, the RTC rendered a Decision convicting Lorenzo for illegal possession and sale of dangerous drugs, but acquitting Estanislao, disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered:
(a) Finding accused Paterno Lorenzo y Casas guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 5, first paragraph, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (Criminal Case No. 6993) or illegal selling of 0.20 gram of methylamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu), a dangerous drug, and is sentenced to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (
(b) Finding accused Paterno Lorenzo y Casas guilty beyond reasonable doubt for Violation of Section 11, second paragraph, No.3, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (Criminal Case No. 6992) or illegal possession of 2.04 gram of methylamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu), a dangerous drug, and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment of Twelve (12) years and one (1) day as minimum to Twelve years and six (months) as maximum and to pay a fine of Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (
(c) Finding accused Conrado Estanislao y Javier, for violation of Section 11, second paragraph, sub paragraph 3, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, NOT GUILTY for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Detained accused Conrado Estanislao y Javier is ordered released from detention at the San Mateo Jail unless detained for some other lawful cause.
The plastic sachets of shabu subject matter of the instant cases are ordered forfeited in favor of the government and the Officer-In-Charge of the Court is hereby ordered to safely deliver or cause the safe delivery of the same to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for proper disposition.7
Weighing the testimonies of the prosecution and defense witnesses, as well as the other evidence presented during trial, the trial court gave more veracity to the prosecution’s version that Lorenzo was caught in flagrante delicto selling illegal drugs to a poseur-buyer during a buy-bust operation. The trial court gave credence to the prosecution’s evidence in accordance with the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions accorded to police officers. According to the trial court, the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the buyer in the buy-bust operation and the seller, object and consideration, including the delivery of the shabu sold by Lorenzo and the payment of the buy-bust money.
Invoking his innocence, Lorenzo appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals, questioning the procedure followed by the police operatives in the seizure and custody of the evidence against him.
On 14 June 2007, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of conviction rendered by the RTC, disposing to wit:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, appeal is hereby dismissed and the assailed October 5, 2005 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of San Mateo Rizal, Branch 76, in Criminal Case Nos. 6991-93, is hereby AFFIRMED.
Pursuant to Section 13 (C), Rule 124 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure, as amended by AM No. 00-5-03-SC dated September 28, 2004, which became effective on October 15, 2004. This judgment of the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court by notice of appeal filed with the Clerk of Court of the Court of Appeals.
Unyielding, Lorenzo appealed before this Court on Notice of Appeal,8 adopting the same arguments raised before the Court of Appeals:
THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF VIOLATION OF SECTIONS 5 AND 11, REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165; AND
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO ACCUSED-APPELLANT’S DEFENSE OF DENIAL.
The presumption of innocence of an accused in a criminal case is a basic constitutional principle, fleshed out by procedural rules which place on the prosecution the burden of proving that an accused is guilty of the offense charged by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Corollary thereto, conviction must rest on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.
In fact, if the prosecution fails to meet the required quantum of evidence, the defense may logically not even present evidence on its behalf. In which case, the presumption of innocence shall prevail and, hence, the accused shall be acquitted. However, once the presumption of innocence is overcome, the defense bears the burden of evidence to show reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused.
Whether the degree of proof has been met is largely left for the trial courts to be determined. Consistent with the rulings of this Court, it is but a fundamental and settled rule that factual findings of the trial court and its calibration of the testimonies of the witnesses and its conclusions anchored on its findings are accorded by the appellate court high respect, if not conclusive effect, more so when affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The exception is when it is established that the trial court ignored, overlooked, misconstrued or misinterpreted cogent facts and circumstances which, if considered, will change the outcome of the case. Considering that what is at stake here is the liberty of accused-appellant, we have carefully reviewed and evaluated the records of the case and find it necessary to reverse the appellate court’s decision convicting accused-appellant.
Essentially, Lorenzo questions his conviction on the basis of reasonable doubt. The defense anchors its claim on the failure of the prosecution to adopt the required procedure under Section 21, Article II, Republic Act No. 9165, on the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized, or surrendered dangerous drugs. According to the defense, this alleged failure to follow proper procedure, i.e. inventory and photographing of the retrieved evidence, raises doubts as to whether the specimen examined by the forensic chemist and presented in court were indeed retrieved from accused-appellant. The defense also faults the police operatives for not having coordinated with the PDEA regarding the buy-bust.
Thus, for resolution by this Court is the sole issue of whether the prosecution discharged its burden of proving Lorenzo’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt for the crime charged.
We rule in the negative. The prosecution’s case fails for failure to establish the identity of the prohibited drug with moral certainty.
In order to successfully prosecute an accused for illegal sale of drugs, the prosecution must be able to prove the following elements: (1) identities of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.9 Material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale had actually taken place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti.10 The term corpus delicti means the actual commission by someone of the particular crime charged.
On the other hand, in illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the elements are: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. Similarly, in this case, the evidence of the corpus delicti must be established beyond doubt.
In both illegal sale and illegal possession of prohibited drugs, conviction cannot be sustained if there is a persistent doubt on the identity of the drug. The identity of the prohibited drug must be established with moral certainty. Apart from showing that the elements of possession or sale are present, the fact that the substance illegally possessed and sold in the first place is the same substance offered in court as exhibit must likewise be established with the same degree of certitude as that needed to sustain a guilty verdict.
While buy-bust operations have been proven to be an effective way to flush out illegal transactions that are otherwise conducted covertly and in secrecy, a buy-bust operation is susceptible to police abuse. Thus, courts have been mandated to be extra vigilant in trying drug cases lest an innocent person is made to suffer the unusually severe penalties for drug offenses.
Taking the aforementioned into consideration, specific procedures relating to the seizure and custody of drugs have been laid down under the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for Republic Act No. 9165 and it is the prosecution’s burden to adduce evidence that these procedures have been complied with in proving the elements of the offense.
The procedure for the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, among others, is provided under Section 21 (a), paragraph 1 of Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, to wit:
(a) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof;
Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9165, which implements said provision, reads:
(a) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof; Provided, further that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officers/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items.
Section 21(a), Article II of the IRR offers some flexibility in complying with the express requirements. Indeed, the evident purpose of the procedure is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt of or innocence of the accused. Thus, the proviso stating that non-compliance with the stipulated procedure, under justifiable grounds, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items, for as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officers.
In People v. Sanchez,11 we clarified that this saving clause applies only where the prosecution recognized the procedural lapses, and thereafter explained the cited justifiable grounds.
Accused-appellant claims that no physical inventory and no photographing of the drugs took place. Non-compliance by the police operatives with the foregoing requirements in the instant case is fatal to the prosecution’s case. Although the prosecution recognized its failure to coordinate with the PDEA because of the urgency of the situation, it ignored the issue of specifically identifying the prohibited drug at the point of confiscation. There is absolutely nothing in the records to show that the inventory and photography requirements, or their credible substitute to prove integrity and evidentiary value, were ever followed.
In People v. Lim,12 this Court held:
xxx any apprehending team having initial custody and control of said drugs and/or paraphernalia, should immediately after seizure and confiscation, have the same physically inventoried and photographed in the presence of the accused, if there be any, and or his representative, who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof. The failure of the agents to comply with such a requirement raises a doubt whether what was submitted for laboratory examination and presented in court was actually recovered from the appellants. It negates the presumption that official duties have been regularly performed by the PAOC-TF agents.
In Bondad, Jr. v. People,13 where the prosecution did not inventory and photograph the confiscated evidence, this Court acquitted therein accused reasoning that failure to comply with the aforesaid requirements of the law compromised the identity of the items seized.
In People v. Ruiz,14 this Court acquitted accused due to the failure of the prosecution to comply with the procedures under Republic Act No. 9165 and its IRR as no physical inventory was ever made, and no photograph of the seized items was taken under the circumstances required.
In People v. Orteza,15 the Court explained the implications of the failure to comply with Paragraph 1, Section 21, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, to wit:
In People v. Laxa, where the buy-bust team failed to mark the confiscated marijuana immediately after the apprehension of the accused, the Court held that the deviation from the standard procedure in anti-narcotics operations produced doubts as to the origins of the marijuana. Consequently, the Court concluded that the prosecution failed to establish the identity of the corpus delicti.1avvphi1
The Court made a similar ruling in People v. Kimura, where the Narcom operatives failed to place markings on the seized marijuana at the time the accused was arrested and to observe the procedure and take custody of the drug.
More recently, in Zarraga v. People, the Court held that the material inconsistencies with regard to when and where the markings on the shabu were made and the lack of inventory on the seized drugs created reasonable doubt as to the identity of the corpus delicti. The Court thus acquitted the accused due to the prosecution's failure to indubitably show the identity of the shabu.
To reiterate, the flexibility offered by the IRR of Republic Act No. 9165 is coupled with the proviso that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items must be preserved.
Thus, in Malillin v. People,16 the Court explained that the "chain of custody" requirement performs this function in that it ensures that unnecessary doubts concerning the identity of the evidence are removed. The chain of evidence is constructed by proper exhibit handling, storage, labeling and recording, and must exist from the time the evidence is found until the time it is offered in evidence.17 Failure to prove that the specimen submitted for laboratory examination was the same one allegedly seized from accused is fatal to the prosecution’s case. There can be no crime of illegal possession or illegal sale of a prohibited drug when nagging doubts persist on whether the item confiscated was the same specimen examined and established to be the prohibited drug.18
PO1 Pineda testified that it was their confidential agent who purchased the shabu from accused-appellant and that he only retrieved it from said informant. He further testified that he marked the retrieved sachet of shabu together with the two other sachets of shabu that were allegedly seized from the accused, but it was not certain when and where the said marking was done nor who had specifically received and had custody of the specimens thereafter.
The Court also observes that the prosecution did not present the poseur-buyer who had personal knowledge of the transaction. The lone prosecution witness was at least four meters away from where accused-appellant and the poseur-buyer were. From this distance, it was impossible for him to hear the conversation between accused-appellant and the poseur-buyer.
The foregoing facts and circumstances create doubt as to whether the sachets of shabu allegedly seized from accused-appellant were the same ones that were released to Camp Crame and submitted for laboratory examination. We therefore find that this failure to establish the evidence’s chain of custody is damaging to the prosecution’s case.19
In sum, the totality of the evidence presented in the instant case failed to support accused-appellant’s conviction for violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II, Republic Act No. 9165, since the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt all the elements of the offense.
Accordingly, the presumption of innocence should prevail.
WHEREFORE, the assailed Court of Appeals Decision dated 14 June 2007 in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 02184, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accused-appellant PATERNO LORENZO y CASAS is hereby ACQUITTED for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He is ordered immediately RELEASED from detention, unless he is confined for any other lawful cause.
Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Director of the Bureau of Corrections, Muntinlupa City for immediate implementation. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is directed to report to this Court within five days from receipt of this Decision the action he has taken. Copies shall also be furnished the Director General, Philippine National Police, and the Director General, Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency, for their information.
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
|ARTURO D. BRION
|MARIANO DEL CASTILLO
ROBERTO A. ABAD
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Chairperson, Second Division
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, it is hereby certified that the conclusions in the above Decision were reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
1 Rollo, pp. 2-18; Penned by Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Josefina Guevara-Salonga and Ramon R. Garcia.
2 CA Rollo, pp. 52-64; Penned by Judge Josephine Fernandez.
3 Section 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.xxx
Section 11. Possession of Dangerous Drugs. - 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 possess any dangerous drug in the following quantities, regardless of the degree of purity thereof:
xxx Otherwise, if the quantity involved is less than the foregoing quantities, the penalties shall be graduated as follows:
(3) 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), if the quantities of dangerous drugs are less than five (5) grams of opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine or cocaine hydrochloride, marijuana resin or marijuana resin oil, methamphetamine hydrochloride or "shabu", or other dangerous drugs such as, but not limited to, MDMA or "ecstasy", PMA, TMA, LSD, GHB, and those similarly designed or newly introduced drugs and their derivatives, without having any therapeutic value or if the quantity possessed is far beyond therapeutic requirements; or less than three hundred (300) grams of marijuana x xx
4 Records, p.1.
6 Exhibit E, Records, p. 95.
7 CA Rollo, pp. 52-64.
8 Rollo, p. 19.
9 People v. Villanueva, G.R. No. 172116, October 30, 2006, 506 SCRA 280.
10 Valdez v. People, G.R. No. 170180, November 23, 2007, 538 SCRA, 629.
11 People v. Sanchez, G.R. No. 175832, October 15, 2008, 569 SCRA 194.
12 People v. Lim, G.R. No. 141699, August 7, 2002, 386 SCRA 581.
13 Bondad, Jr., v. People, G.R. No. 173804, December 10, 2008, 573 SCRA 497.
14 People v. Garcia, G.R. No. 173480, February 25, 2009, 580 SCRA 750.
15 People v. Orteza, G.R. No. 173051, July 31, 2007, 528 SCRA 750.
16 Malillin v. People, G.R. No. 172953, April 30, 2008, 553 SCRA 619.
17 Supra, note 11 at 10.
19 People v. Dismuke, G.R. No. 108453, July 11, 1994, 234 SCRA 51.
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