G.R. No. 185383, September 25, 2013
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GIOVANNI OCFEMIA Y CHAVEZ, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
That at or about eight thirty o’clock in the morning of February 21, 2003, at Barangay San Rafael, Municipality of Guinobatan, Province of Albay, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, having in his possession, custody and control methamphetamine hydrochloride commonly known as “shabu,” did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell one piece of transparent plastic sachet weighing 0.0953 gram of shabu, a prohibited drug, to a poseur-buyer in consideration of the amount of Five Hundred Pesos (P500.00), without any authority or permit from the concerned government agency to possess and sell the same.3Accused-appellant pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on May 29, 2003.4cralawlibrary
In an Order dated June 6, 2006, the RTC notified the parties that Acting Presiding Judge Volante had already been replaced by Presiding Judge Angeles S. Vasquez (Vasquez) and directed the parties to manifest within five days from notice whether they want the case to still be decided by Judge Volante, otherwise, it would already be decided by Judge Vasquez.17 While the prosecution did not submit such a manifestation, accused-appellant filed his Manifestation18 on July 13, 2006 informing the RTC that he wished for Judge Volante to decide the case.
- A judge transferred, detailed or assigned to another branch shall be considered as Assisting Judge of the branch to which he was previously assigned. However, except as hereinbelow provided, the records of cases formerly assigned to him/her shall remain in his/her former branch.
- The judge who takes over the branch vacated by a transferred/detailed/assigned judge shall, upon assumption of duty and within one (1) week, conduct an inventory of all pending cases in the branch. The inventory shall state the docket number, title and status of each case. The inventory shall be submitted to the Office of the Court Administrator within five (5) working days from completion thereof.
- Should any case be left undecided by the transferred/detailed/assigned judge, the judge conducting the inventory shall cause the issuance to the parties of a notice of transfer/detail/assignment of the judge to which the case had been assigned, with a directive for the plaintiff/s to manifest, within five (5) days from receipt of such notice, whether or not he/she desires that the transferred judge should decide the case. The desire of the plaintiff, who may opt to have the case decided by the new judge, shall be respected. However, should the defendant oppose the manifestation of the plaintiff, the new judge shall resolve the matter in accordance with these Guidelines. Should the plaintiff fail to submit such manifestation within the said 5-day period, the presumption is that he/she desires that the case be decided by the transferred judge.
- The manifestation of the plaintiff that the case should be decided by the transferred judge shall be forwarded to the Office of the Court Administrator which, upon receipt thereof, shall issue the proper directive. A directive requiring the transferred judge to decide the case immediately shall state any of these conditions:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
a) If the new station of the transferred judge is within the province of the judicial region of his/her former station, the case shall be decided in such station by the transferred judge who shall adjust his/her calendar to enable him/her to dispose the undecided case at his/her own expense without sacrificing efficiency in the performance of his/her duties in his/her new station.
b) If the new station of the transferred judge is outside of the province in the judicial region of his/her former station, the records of the undecided case shall be delivered either by personal service or by registered mail, to the transferred judge and at his/her own expense.
In either case, the Office of the Court Administrator shall furnish the parties to the case with a copy of such directive and the transferred judge shall return to his former branch the records of the case with the decision that the new judge shall promulgate in his stead.
- Should a motion for reconsideration of the decision or for new trial be filed by any party, the transferred judge shall resolve the same. However, if a motion for new trial is granted by the transferred judge, the new judge shall preside over the same, resolve the motion, and see to its final disposition. (Emphasis supplied.)
WHEREFORE, the Court having been convinced of the guilt of the accused, Giovanni Ocfemia, beyond reasonable doubt hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00) with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.Accused-appellant appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The accused is likewise ordered to suffer the accessory penalties as provided for by law. The prohibited drug known as Shabu is ordered confiscated in favor of the government and the same is ordered destroyed by the PDEA in accordance with the existing regulation.19
Following an exchange of Briefs by the parties, the Court of Appeals rendered its Decision on May 27, 2008, with the following dispositive portion:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The Honorable Judge who penned the assailed Decision did not observe the guidelines laid down in A.M. No. 04-5-19-SC contained in OCA Circular No. 90-2004, hence, he has of doubtful authority to render and promulgate the same. The result is a denial of due process.
The prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt the “corpus delicti.” It was error on the part of the trial court to convict the accused.
The trial court erred in giving credence to the testimony of Martin Benedict Aldea and Ernesto Zamora, by misapplying the rule that public officers are presumed to have regularly performed their functions.
The court erred in not giving credence to the defense that there was no buy-bust operation that took place in Guinobatan, Albay, on February 21, 2003, but instead, accused was used a[s] poseur-buyer in a buy-bust operation in Iriga City on the same date.
The prosecution[’s] evidence fell short of the required quantum of proof that the guilt of the accused must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.20
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the decision dated August 31, 2006 of the Regional Trial Court of Ligao City, Branch 13 in Criminal Case No. 4594 is hereby AFFIRMED.21Accused-appellant comes before this Court seeking the reversal of his conviction.
Basically, a case once raffled to a branch belongs to that branch unless reraffled or otherwise transferred to another branch in accordance with established procedure. When the Presiding Judge of that branch to which a case has been raffled or assigned is transferred to another station, he leaves behind all the cases he tried with the branch to which they belong. He does not take these cases with him even if he tried them and the same were submitted to him for decision. The judge who takes over this branch inherits all these cases and assumes full responsibility for them. He may decide them as they are his cases, unless any of the parties moves that his case be decided by the judge who substantially heard the evidence and before whom the case was submitted for decision. If a party therefore so desires, he may simply address his request or motion to the incumbent Presiding Judge who shall then endorse the request to the Office of the Court Administrator so that the latter may in turn endorse the matter to the judge who substantially heard the evidence and before whom the case was submitted for decision. This will avoid the “renvoir” of records and the possibility of an irritant between the judges concerned, as one may question the authority of the other to transfer the case to the former. If coursed through the Office of the Court Administrator, the judge who is asked to decide the case is not expected to complain, otherwise, he may be liable for insubordination and his judicial profile may be adversely affected. Upon direction of the Court Administrator, or any of his Deputy Court Administrators acting in his behalf, the judge before whom a particular case was earlier submitted for decision may be compelled to decide the case accordingly.Eventually, the Court observed in the Whereas Clauses of A.M. No. 04-5-19-SC that despite existing administrative circulars and its Resolution in Mabunay, “judges who are promoted or transferred to other stations leave many undecided cases, thereby unfairly creating additional workload for judges who are subsequently appointed thereto[,]” hence, the Court resolved to adopt guidelines under which “cases assigned to judges who have been transferred, detailed or assigned to any branch within or outside the judicial region of the same court or promoted to a higher court shall be managed and decided[.]”
We take this opportunity to remind trial judges that once they act as presiding judges or otherwise designated as acting/assisting judges in branches other than their own, cases substantially heard by them and submitted to them for decision, unless they are promoted to higher positions in the judicial ladder, may be decided by them wherever they may be if so requested by any of the parties and endorsed by the incumbent Presiding Judges through the Office of the Court Administrator. The following procedure may be followed: First, the Judge who takes over the branch must immediately make an inventory of the cases submitted for decision left behind by the previous judge (unless the latter has in the meantime been promoted to a higher court). Second, the succeeding judge must then inform the parties that the previous judge who heard the case, at least substantially, and before whom it was submitted for decision, may be required to decide the case. In this event, and upon request of any of the parties, the succeeding judge may request the Court Administrator to formally endorse the case for decision to the judge before whom it was previously submitted for decision. Third, after the judge who previously heard the case is through with his decision, he should send back the records together with his decision to the branch to which the case properly belongs, by registered mail or by personal delivery, whichever is more feasible, for recording and promulgation, with notice of such fact to the Court Administrator.
Since the primary responsibility over a case belongs to the presiding judge of the branch to which it has been raffled or assigned, he may also decide the case to the exclusion of any other judge provided that all the parties agree in writing that the incumbent presiding judge should decide the same, or unless the judge who substantially heard the case and before whom it was submitted for decision has in the meantime died, retired or for any reason has left the service, or has become disabled, disqualified, or otherwise incapacitated to decide the case.
The Presiding Judge who has been transferred to another station cannot, on his own, take with him to his new station any case submitted for decision without first securing formal authority from the Court Administrator. This is to minimize, if not totally avoid, a situation of "case-grabbing." In the same vein, when the Presiding Judge before whom a case was submitted for decision has already retired from the service, the judge assigned to the branch to take over the case submitted for decision must automatically assume the responsibility of deciding the case. (Emphases supplied.)
[C]ontrary to accused-appellant’s argument, it bears to stress that he was not at all denied of due process. As held by the Supreme Court, due process means giving every contending party the opportunity to be heard and the court to consider every piece of evidence presented in their favor (Co vs. Calimag, 334 SCRA 20, 26 ). When a party has been afforded a chance to present his or her own side, he cannot feign [denial of] due process (Pascual vs. People, G.R. No. 160540, March 22, 2007). As in this case, accused-appellant was sufficiently given the opportunity to be heard, to defend himself and to confront his accusers on the offense hurled against him. Hence, due process was not denied to the accused-appellant by the mere issuance of a judge of a decision based on the records despite the fact that said judge was not the one who conducted the trial [and] receive the evidence of the parties.23Furthermore, the situation wherein the judge rendering the decision in a case was not the same judge who heard the case and received evidence from the parties is not new or unique. In People v. Paling,24 the Court upheld the validity of such a decision, ratiocinating that:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The fact that the trial judge who rendered judgment was not the one who had the occasion to observe the demeanor of the witnesses during trial but merely relied on the records of the case does not render the judgment erroneous, especially where the evidence on record is sufficient to support its conclusion. Citing People v. Competente, this Court held in People v. Alfredo:chanroblesvirtualawlibraryUpon review, the Court concludes that the factual findings of RTC Judge Vasquez, as affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are sufficiently supported by the evidence on record.“The circumstance that the Judge who rendered the judgment was not the one who heard the witnesses, does not detract from the validity of the verdict of conviction. Even a cursory perusal of the Decision would show that it was based on the evidence presented during trial and that it was carefully studied, with testimonies on direct and cross examination as well as questions from the Court carefully passed upon.” (Emphasis in the original.)Further, “it is not unusual for a judge who did not try a case in its entirety to decide it on the basis of the records on hand.” This is because the judge “can rely on the transcripts of stenographic notes and calibrate the testimonies of witnesses in accordance with their conformity to common experience, knowledge and observation of ordinary men. Such reliance does not violate substantive and procedural due process of law.” Considering that, in the instant case, the transcripts of stenographic notes taken during the trial were extant and complete, there was no impediment for the judge to decide the case. (Citations omitted.)
Jurisprudence tells us that the failure to immediately mark seized drugs will not automatically impair the integrity of chain of custody.In this case, the chain of custody of the sachet of shabu sold by accused-appellant could be continuously traced from its receipt by PO2 Aldea, the poseur-buyer, during the buy-bust operation; its transfer to the police laboratory for examination; it being kept in police custody while awaiting trial; and its presentation as evidence before the RTC. PO2 Aldea himself marked the said sachet of shabu with his initials upon arriving at the police station with the arrested accused-appellant. He also personally submitted the same sachet of shabu to the PNP crime laboratory for forensic examination. When he testified before the RTC, PO2 Aldea identified the sachet of shabu and confirmed his initials thereon. P/SUPT Arroyo was the forensic officer who conducted the chemical examination of the contents of the sachet bearing PO2 Aldea’s initials and she confirmed on the witness stand that the said contents tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride. Thus, the integrity and evidentiary value of the sachet of shabu presented in evidence against accused-appellant was properly preserved in substantial compliance with Section 21(1) of Republic Act No. 9165.
The failure to strictly comply with Sec. 21(1), Art. II of RA 9165 does not necessarily render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as these would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.
As we held in People v. Cortez, testimony about a perfect chain is not always the standard because it is almost always impossible to obtain an unbroken chain. Cognizant of this fact, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165 on the handling and disposition of seized dangerous drugs provides as follows:chanroblesvirtualawlibrary“SECTION 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. – The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:chanroblesvirtualawlibraryAccused-appellant broaches the view that SA Isidoro’s failure to mark the confiscated shabu immediately after seizure creates a reasonable doubt as to the drug’s identity. People v. Sanchez, however, explains that RA 9165 does not specify a time frame for “immediate marking,” or where said marking should be done:
(a) The apprehending officer/team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof; Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures; Provided, further, that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items x x x.”“What Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and its implementing rule do not expressly specify is the matter of “marking” of the seized items in warrantless seizures to ensure that the evidence seized upon apprehension is the same evidence subjected to inventory and photography when these activities are undertaken at the police station rather than at the place of arrest. Consistency with the “chain of custody” rule requires that the “marking” of the seized items – to truly ensure that they are the same items that enter the chain and are eventually the ones offered in evidence – should be done (1) in the presence of the apprehended violator (2) immediately upon confiscation.”To be able to create a first link in the chain of custody, then, what is required is that the marking be made in the presence of the accused and upon immediate confiscation. “Immediate confiscation” has no exact definition. Thus, in People v. Gum-Oyen, testimony that included the marking of the seized items at the police station and in the presence of the accused was sufficient in showing compliance with the rules on chain of custody. Marking upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team. (Emphases supplied, citations omitted.)
* Per Special Order No. 1537 (Revised) dated September 6, 2013.cranad
** Per Special Order No. 1545 (Revised) dated September 16, 2013.cranad
1Rollo, pp. 2-29; penned by Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr. with Associate Justices Noel G. Tijam and Ramon M. Bato, Jr., concurring.cranad
2 CA rollo, pp. 28-47; penned by Judge Angeles S. Vasquez.cranad
3 Records, p. 25.cranad
4 Id. at 41-42.cranad
5 TSN, October 2, 2003.cranad
6 TSN, January 30, 2004 and February 4, 2004.cranad
7 TSN, May 5, 2004.cranad
8 Records, p. 181.cranad
9 Id. at 182.cranad
10 Exhibits B-4 and B-5; Left in the custody of the RTC.cranad
11 Records, p. 7.cranad
12 TSN, August 10, 2005 and October 6, 2005.cranad
13 TSN, July 13, 2005.cranad
14 Records, pp. 17-21.cranad
15 TSN, August 10, 2005, p. 18.cranad
16 Records, p. 243.cranad
17 Id. at 248.cranad
18 Id. at 249.cranad
19 CA rollo, p. 47.cranad
20 Id. at 59-60.cranad
21Rollo, p. 28.cranad
22 354 Phil. 698, 704-706 (1998).cranad
23Rollo, p. 17.cranad
24 G.R. No. 185390, March 16, 2011, 645 SCRA 627, 636-637.cranad
25People v. Castro, G.R. No. 194836, June 15, 2011, 652 SCRA 393, 408.cranad
26Imson v. People, G.R. No. 193003, July 13, 2011, 653 SCRA 826, 834.cranad
27 G.R. No. 186380, October 12, 2009, 603 SCRA 510, 518-520.cranad
28People v. Villahermosa, G.R. No. 186465, June 1, 2011, 650 SCRA 256, 275-276.cranad
29People v. Lazaro, Jr., G.R. No. 186418, October 16, 2009, 604 SCRA 250, 269.