G.R. No. 151205             June 9, 2004
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee,
MARLOW DE GUZMAN y DELA CRUZ and JESUS VILLANUEVA y CALMA, appellants.
D E C I S I O N
This is an automatic review of the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malabon Branch 72 in Criminal Case No. 24671-MN finding the two accused, Marlow De Guzman y Dela Cruz and Jesus Villanueva y Calma, guilty of violation of Section 15, Article III of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659.
The accused were charged with the crime of drug pushing in an Information that states:
That on or about the 23rd day of March 2001, in the City of Malabon, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating and helping with one another, being a police officer and private person respectively and without authority of law, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver in consideration of the amount of Two pieces of Five Hundred Peso Bill and mixed with bundles of boodle money to a poseur-buyer white crystalline substance contained in two (2) big resealable plastic bags with markings "RSF-1" and "RSF-2" Net Weight of RSF-1 – 1,049.27 grams and Net Weight of RSF -2 – 1,054.86 grams with a total Net Weight of 2,104.13 grams which substances when subjected to chemistry examination gave positive results for EPHEDRINE HYDROCHLORIDE and METHAMPHETAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE for the contents of RSF-1 and EPHEDRINE HYDROCHLORIDE for the contents of RSF-2 otherwise known as "shabu" which are both regulated drugs.
The prosecution relied on the testimony of NBI Agent Charlemagne Veloso who apprehended the accused in a buy-bust operation conducted on March 23, 2001 in Malabon, Metro Manila. Veloso, a member of the Special Task Force Division, testified that on March 22, 2001, an informant reported that he had set a deal with a certain Mr. Chang for the purchase of two kilos of shabu for ₱1,000,000.00. The transaction was set at noontime of March 23, 2001 at Wendy’s Restaurant along Edsa, Caloocan City. A team of NBI personnel consisting of Atty. Reynaldo Esmeralda, Dominador Villanueva, Rommel Vallejo, Eric Isidoro, Rolan Fernandez, Job Gayas and Veloso himself, planned a buy-bust operation against Mr. Chang. Veloso was designated as poseur-buyer and the team prepared the marked money mixed with bundles of boodle money to be used in the operation. In the morning of March 23, 2001, the team proceeded to the agreed meeting place, bringing with them the marked money. The members of the team boarded separate vehicles going to Wendy’s. Veloso and the informant used a private van while the rest of the team rode in two other vehicles. Upon reaching the area, the team coordinated with the local police of Caloocan City. Veloso and the informant entered the restaurant where they met a man who introduced himself as Walter Sy. He was, however, later identified as Marlow De Guzman, a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP), from his official ID which was seized after his apprehension. After some small talk, De Guzman demanded to see the money. Veloso showed him the ₱500.00 bill mixed with boodle money. De Guzman then instructed them to follow his vehicle, a 1978 Mitsubishi Galant with plate number NEB 391, as somebody was waiting at Tugatog, Malabon. The other members of the team followed them discreetly as they proceeded to Tumariz Street, Tugatog, Malabon. De Guzman was met by Jesus Villanueva who was carrying two plastic bags. De Guzman and Villanueva boarded the van and handed Veloso the two plastic bags. Veloso checked the bags and examined their contents. After confirming that they contained white crystalline substance or shabu, he introduced himself as an NBI operative and gave the pre-arranged signal to the other members of the team. Other team members rushed to their vehicle and helped in apprehending the two suspects. Veloso confiscated the driver’s license of Jesus Villanueva. He also kept the marked money inside the vehicle for safety. Upon arrival at the NBI office, team member Rolan Fernandez took custody of the seized substance and delivered them to the Forensic Chemistry Division for laboratory examination. Fernandez marked the plastic bags before turning them over to the Forensic Chemist. After examining the substance, the NBI Chemist issued a certification that the seized items were positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride. After the arrest of the suspects and examination of the contents of the plastic bags, the NBI did the usual booking preparatory to the inquest proceedings. Upon conclusion of the inquest, the prosecution recommended the filing of an information against the two accused.1
Rolan Fernandez, Special Investigator at the NBI, stated that he was part of the buy-bust team and he was present during the operation against the accused on March 23, 2001. After S/I Veloso arrested De Guzman and his companion, the team immediately proceeded to their office and S/I Veloso turned over to him two transparent plastic bags containing white crystalline substance which appeared to be methamphetamine hydrochloride. He then turned over the plastic bags to the Forensic Chemist for investigation.2
NBI Forensic Chemist Ferdinand I. Cruz confirmed that on March 23, 2001, he received from NBI Agent Rolan Fernandez a request for laboratory examination of two plastic bags with markings "RSF 1" and "RSF 2" containing white crystalline substance. He opened the bags in the presence of Fernandez and weighed the same. He then performed a physical and chemical examination of their contents. The chemical examination revealed that the contents of the plastic bag marked as "RSF 1" are positive for ephedrine hydrochloride and methamphetamine hydrochloride and the contents of the plastic bag marked as "RSF 2" are positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride. He said that ephedrine hydrochloride is a regulated drug.3
The defense presented a different version of the story.
Victor Ermita, a resident of Tugatog, Malabon, Metro Manila, testified that on March 23, 2001, around 12:00 noon, he was buying food at Sabel’s Lugawan in Tugatog, Malabon when he saw a man running and shouting for help. Another man who heard the plea stood and said, "I am a policeman! What’s the problem?" Ermita identified the latter as accused Marlow De Guzman. Some NBI personnel approached De Guzman and held him. De Guzman struggled. The NBI personnel pushed him and handcuffed him after he fell. In the meantime, the man being pursued by the NBI continued to run and evaded his pursuers. The NBI personnel then boarded De Guzman and his companion, Jessie, in a van.4
Accused Marlow De Guzman also took the witness stand. He admitted that he was a police officer assigned to the mobile patrol. He stated that on March 23, 2001, around 11:00 in the morning, he and Jesus Villanueva were at the lugawan of Aling Sabel in Acaro, Lascano Street when he saw a man, a certain Andoy, screaming, "Hinahabol ako!" He stood up and approached the pursuers and introduced himself as police officer. But the latter repelled him. De Guzman pretended to draw a gun from his waist but the pursuers pushed him and identified themselves as NBI agents. De Guzman was arrested, boarded on a van and brought to the NBI office. The NBI personnel kept him in a room and interrogated him. They were insisting that the shabu came from him. De Guzman, however, swore that he saw the alleged shabu for the first time at the NBI office and there was only one plastic bag at that time. Then he heard Atty. Esmeralda ask why only one bag of shabu was taken when there should have been at least three. One of the members replied that he could even produce two to three kilos. When De Guzman went out of the room, he saw Villanueva come in. De Guzman heard sounds from the room as if someone was being boxed and hit. Villanueva came out of the room after thirty minutes with bruises. Villanueva told him that they hit his arm and fingers with a hammer and he could hardly move. De Guzman also told the court that he saw the NBI personnel dividing money among themselves, saying, "Eto’ng sa iyo, eto’ng sa iyo." They pocketed the money which they divided. He was an armslength away from them.5
The defense also presented NBI Agent Job Gayas as hostile witness. Agent Gayas, who has been with the NBI for eight years, testified that he was part of the buy-bust operation against the two accused, but he was not with the arresting team. He was riding in his own vehicle together with S/I Fernandez and S/I Villa. They stayed about 100 meters away from the scene of the operation. Hence, he did not actually see the transaction between the suspects and the poseur-buyer. They were only advised over the radio of the on-going operations and its consummation. They moved out of the area as soon as the operation was completed. Agent Gayas also testified on some of the standard operating procedures observed during buy-bust operations. He said that it is a standard operating procedure that the suspects undergo a medical check-up before they are committed to detention. The records of the NBI showed that accused Villanueva did not have a medical certificate. He also said that during buy-bust operations, the NBI normally coordinates with the local police when it conducts an operation. In this case, however, the records do not show that the NBI coordinated with the local police of Malabon, although they did with the local police of Caloocan City.6
The trial court believed the version of the prosecution and found both accused guilty of the charge. It meted accused Jesus Villanueva the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and accused Marlow De Guzman the supreme penalty of death, considering the presence of the aggravating circumstance of his being a police officer. The dispositive portion of the decision states:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered, finding the two accused, namely, Marlow de Guzman y dela Cruz and Jesus Villanueva y Calma guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of drug pushing penalized under Section 15, Art. III, RA 6425, as amended by RA 7659. Considering that accused de Guzman is an admitted policeman or member of the PNP (Exhibit A and Exhibit 2), and considering, further, the fact that the commission by him of the crime of drug pushing was characterized by the use of a motor vehicle, pursuant to Section 24 of the herein mentioned law, accused de Guzman is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of DEATH to be executed in the manner provided for by law and applicable regulations. The herein cited circumstances not being applicable to accused Villanueva, the latter is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of RECLUSION PERPETUA.
The two accused are also ordered to pay a fine of ₱10,000,000.00 each.
The shabu/ephedrine hydrochloride contained in two plastic bags (Exhibit C-5 and C-6) already returned to NBI Forensic Chemist Ferdinand Cruz are hereby forfeited in favor or the government to be disposed under rules governing the same.
Costs against the two accused.
Accused-appellants now assail the decision of the trial court on the following grounds:
1. The trial court gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellants of the crime charged based on the uncorroborated testimony of the poseur-buyer.
2. The trial court gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellants of the crime charged despite the inconsistent, contradictory and impossibility of the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution.
3. The trial court gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellants of the crime charged when the prosecution miserably failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.7
We affirm the decision of the trial court.
In buy-bust operations, the testimony of the police officers who apprehended the accused is usually accorded full faith and credit because of the presumption that they have performed their duties regularly. The presumption is overturned only if there is clear and convincing evidence that they were not properly performing their duty or that they were inspired by improper motive.8 The courts, nonetheless, are advised to take caution in applying the presumption of regularity. It should not by itself prevail over the presumption of innocence and the constitutionally-protected rights of the individual. Thus, we discussed in People vs. Doria9 the "objective" test in buy-bust operations to determine the credibility of the testimony of the police officers involved in the operation:
We therefore stress that the "objective" test in buy-bust operations demands that the details of the purported transaction must be clearly and adequately shown. This must start 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 drug subject of the sale. The manner by which the initial contact was made, whether or not through an informant, the offer to purchase the drug, the payment of the "buy-bust" money, and the delivery of the illegal drug, whether to the informant alone or the police officer, must be the subject of strict scrutiny by courts to insure that law-abiding citizens are not unlawfully induced to commit an offense. Criminals must be caught but not at all cost. At the same time, however, examining the conduct of the police should not disable courts into ignoring the accused’s predisposition to commit the crime. If there is overwhelming evidence of habitual delinquency, recidivism or plain criminal proclivity, then this must also be considered. Courts should look at all factors to determine the predisposition of an accused to commit an offense in so far as they are relevant to determine the validity of the defense of inducement.
We find the testimony of the poseur-buyer, Charlemagne Veloso, clear and credible. He recounted in full detail how the deal was set by the informant, their initial meeting with De Guzman at Wendy’s in Caloocan City, their agreement to purchase two kilos of shabu for ₱1,000,000.00, how they met with Villanueva in Tugatog, Malabon, the actual exchange of the plastic bags containing the substance and the boodle money, and the apprehension of the two accused. They also presented before the court the substance confiscated from the appellants10 and the boodle money used in the operation.11
Moreover, the arguments raised by the appellants in their brief deserve scant consideration.
First, the failure of the arresting officers to confiscate and present in evidence the car allegedly used by the appellants during the transaction does not affect the case of the prosecution. The elements that must be established by the prosecution in a case for illegal sale of dangerous drugs are: (1) that the transaction of sale took place and (2) the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence.12 These were sufficiently proved by the prosecution in the case at bar. The failure of the NBI agents to confiscate and present in evidence the car allegedly used by the appellants is immaterial for it is not an element of the crime and the prosecution has full discretion to determine the pieces of evidence that they will present in court. It is sufficient that they were able to prove the transaction between S/I Veloso and the appellants, and they were able to present in court the substance seized from the appellants which, after chemical examination, were found to contain methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.
Second, appellant’s argument that the testimonies of NBI personnel Ferdinand Cruz and Rolan Fernandez do not support S/I Veloso’s testimony also lacks merit. Ferdinand Cruz was the forensic chemist of NBI. He cannot be expected to testify on the conduct of the buy-bust operation as his only duty was to examine the substance confiscated by the NBI operatives from the suspects to determine its composition and whether it is indeed a prohibited drug. Cruz affirmed that the white crystalline substance contained in the plastic bags taken from the appellants contained methamphetamine hydrochloride and ephedrine hydrochloride. Rolan Fernandez, on the other hand, was a member of the back-up team during the buy-bust operation. He was not with S/I Veloso while the latter was transacting with the suspected drug dealers. He was riding a separate vehicle and stayed 100 meters away from the site of the deal to avoid any suspicion from the drug pushers. Due to the distance and because there was an obstruction in their line of vision, he was not able to see the exchange between S/I Veloso and the appellants. This was also confirmed by S/I Job Gayas who was presented by the defense as hostile witness. Be that as it may, both S/I Fernandez and S/I Gayas testified that the NBI team conducted a buy-bust operation around noontime of March 23, 2001; that they moved from Caloocan City to Tugatog, Malabon where the sale was consummated and where the appellants were apprehended; and that after the operation, S/I Veloso turned over to S/I Fernandez two plastic bags containing white crystalline substance taken from the appellants. Their testimonies do not contradict that of S/I Veloso but in fact complement it.
The other alleged errors imputed by the appellants on the prosecution, such as the failure of S/I Veloso to describe the pre-arranged signal, and the inability of S/I Fernandez to state the number of vehicles used in the operation or to describe the clothing worn by S/I Veloso at the time pertain to minor details which do not significantly affect the guilt of the appellants. Neither does the fact that the plastic bags containing the substance were not sealed when they were turned over to the forensic chemist. Contrary to appellants’ submission, such fact does not necessarily imply that the substance was planted. It has been established that the NBI operatives inspected the contents of the plastic bags before and after the appellants were apprehended. Hence, it is possible that they forgot to seal the plastic bags after checking their contents. Appellants also harp on the fact that De Guzman was carrying his PNP ID at the time of his apprehension. They claim that it is improbable that appellant De Guzman would bring his official ID if it were true that he intended to commit a crime. It suffices to say that such argument is highly speculative.
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the appeal is DISMISSED. The decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malabon Branch 72 in Criminal Case No. 24671-MN is AFFIRMED.13
In accordance with Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by section 25 of Republic Act No. 7659, upon finality of this decision, let the records of these cases be forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of executive clemency.
Davide, Jr., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and Tinga, JJ., concur.
1 TSN, June 21, 2001.
2 TSN, July 26, 2001.
3 TSN, June 28, 2001.
4 TSN, August 3, 2001
5 TSN, August 6 & 9, 2001.
6 TSN, August 13, 2001.
7 Appellants’ Brief, Rollo, pp. 46-47.
8 People vs. Padasin, 397 SCRA 417 (2003); People vs. Eugenio, 395 SCRA 317 (2003).
9 301 SCRA 668 (1999).
10 Exhibits "C-4", "C-5", "C-6".
11 Exhibits "E", "E-1", "E-2", "E-3", "E-4", "E-5", "E-6", Original Records, pp. 59-61.
12 People vs. Hajili, 399 SCRA 188 (2003).
13 Three members of the Court maintain their position that Republic Act No. 7659, insofar as it prescribes the death penalty, is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they submit to the ruling of the Court, by majority vote, that the law is constitutional and the death penalty should be accordingly imposed.
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