G.R. No. 199689, March 12, 2014
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. HERMANOS CONSTANTINO, JR. Y BINAYUG, A.K.A. “JOJIT,” Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO–DE CASTRO, J.:
That on January 20, 2005, in the City of Tuguegarao, Province of Cagayan and within the jurisdiction of the Honorable Court, the above– named accused, without authority of law and without permit to sell, transport, deliver and distribute dangerous drugs, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell, transport, distribute and deliver two (2) heat–sealed transparent plastic sachets containing 0.14 gram of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride commonly known as “shabu”, a dangerous drug to a member of the PNP, Tuguegarao City who acted as a poseur–buyer; that after receiving the two (2) plastic sachets, the poseur– buyer simultaneously handed to the accused the marked money consisting of one (1) piece of FIVE HUNDRED PESO BILL (P500.00) with Serial No. QP278070 and five (5) pieces of ONE HUNDRED PESO BILL with Serial Nos. SM989053, PS724429, XM484584, BB048002, and EK6900025 or a total of P1,000.00 and this led to the apprehension of the accused and the confiscation of the dangerous drug together with the buy–bust money by the said apprehending law enforcers of the Tuguegarao City Police Station who formed the buy bust team in coordination with the PDEA.
1. The Prosecution failed to give a detailed account of the arrangement with the accused for the purchase of the shabu.
The Court’s response: The testimony of PO3 Domingo was detailed enough, corroborated by other witnesses. It is the defense that has failed to show in what crucial detail the prosecution’s account is wanting.
2. The police officers categorically admitted that they did not personally know the accused until they were at the alleged place of transaction.
The Court’s response: Substantive law does not require this; the rules of evidence do not. Did they know he was Jojit? Yes, from the description given the informant. Domingo asked whether he was Jojit. He answered “Yes”.
3. The arresting officers failed to comply with the requirements of Article II, Section 21 of R.A. 9165 that requires that an inventory be taken and that photographs be taken of the items seized.
The Court’s comment: The Police Blotter Entry No. 0270 enumerates the items seized. This, the Court holds to be substantial compliance. Even assuming, without admitting, that not all the requirements may not have been complied with, these omissions do not operate to exclude the evidence nor to cause suppression thereof. They are directory, not mandatory provisions.
4. The chain of custody was not established with certainty.
The Court’s comment: The chain is not difficult to trace, and has been established by evidence, thus:
5. There was no prior coordination with PDEA.
- Exhibit “B”: The police blotter recording that on 20 January 2005 at 2100 hours, mentioning the two sachets of shabu which according to the blotter the accused admitted he handed over to Domingo; Domingo had testified that the markings A–1 NBT and A–2 NBT were placed on the sachets by Investigator Alexander Tamang;
- Exhibit “F”: Dated January 20, 2005, a request to the PNP Crime Lab Services for the examination of “two plastic sachet (sic) with white crystalline substance marked A1 and A2”;
- Exhibit “D”: Chemistry Report No. D–08–2005 completed 21 January 2005 reporting a qualitative examination of the contents of two heat–sealed sachets marked as A1 NBT and A2 NBT and identifying the substance as “Methamphetamine Hydrochloride”.
The Court’s response: None was needed. Exhibit “H” clearly evidences that SPO1 Blaquera was authorized to conduct anti–drug operations. Domingo also answered the question about coordination with PDEA when he testified: “During that time 3 representatives of the Intelligence Operatives were deputized in the PDEA in the persons of Noel Taguiam, Arthur Blaquera and the Chief of Police.”
Hermanos testified in his behalf and his testimony can be reduced to the following story:
All told, it is a story that is meant to endeavor to explain the circumstances around the accused’s arrest and apprehension. For one thing, it is self–serving; for another, we are not told any reason why the police officers should have wanted to apprehend him – a supposedly guiltless man; third, the Court never heard the testimony of his friend with whom he was supposed to have had a joy–ride that night. In sum, his story does not convince this Court.15 (Citations omitted.)
- He went on a joy–ride that night with his friend aboard a motorcycle;
- Tiring, he alighted and started to walk along Reyno Villa Street;
- He was accosted by police officers who, at the time, he did not know to be police officers;
- They took him to the police station and produced the sachets;
- Next day, while on the way to the Crime Lab, they forced him to hold marked bills, although he was cuffed.
WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Violation of Sec. 5, Art. II of R.A. 9165 and sentences him to suffer the penalty ofMaintaining his innocence, Constantino appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that:
LIFE IMPRISONMENT and a fine of P500,000.00.16
1. The trial court gravely erred in giving full credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses despite the patent irregularities in the conduct of the buy–bust operation.
2. The trial court gravely erred in convicting accused–appellant despite the prosecution’s failure to establish that chain of custody of the drug specimens allegedly confiscated from the accused–appellant.
3. The trial court gravely erred in convicting the accused–appellant despite the prosecution’s failure to establish the identity of the prohibited drugs constituting the corpus delicti of the offense.
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Tuguegarao City, Branch 5, dated 15 April 2008, in Criminal Case No. 10516, is AFFIRMED.17
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:
(1) 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. 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:
(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 the 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[.]
Chain of Custody means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of movements and custody of seized item shall include the identity and signature of the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when such transfer of custody were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition.
As a method of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. It would include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered into evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. (Citations omitted.)
Q If that plastic sachets which was sold to you by Hermanos Constantino is shown to you will you be able to identify the same? A Yes, ma’am. Q How were you able to identify the plastic sachets? A There is an initials (sic), ma’am. Q What initials are you referring to? A A–1 initial NBT and A–2 initial NBT. Q Who placed those initials in the plastic sachets? A The Investigator, ma’am. Q And who is the investigator? A Alexander Tamang, ma’am. Q Where did he place those initials? A In the police station after the apprehension, ma’am.24 (Emphasis supplied.)
PROS. NICOLAS: Q During the buy bust operation you stated that the accused handed to the poseur buyer in the person of PO3 Rolando Domingo two plastic sachets containing as you claimed methamphetamine hydrochloride, have you seen these plastic sachets at that time when they handed to PO3 Rolando Domingo? A Yes, sir. Q If these two plastic sachets will be shown to you again today will you be able to tell that these two plastic sachets were the same plastic sachets that were handed by the accused to PO3 Rolando Domingo? A Yes, sir. Q I am showing to you these two plastic sachets kindly tell us if these are the plastic sachets that were handed to PO3 Rolando Domingo? A These are the ones, sir. Q Why do you say that these are the two plastic sachets handed by the accused? A Because I was there and I saw the accused handed the two plastic sachets to PO3 Rolando Domingo, sir. Q Why do you know that these are the same plastic sachets? A These are the ones, sir. Q Mr. Witness, there are markings on these two plastic sachets, do you know whose markings are these? x x x x A It was Noel B. Taguiam, sir. The witness is pointing to the marking NBT partly hidden. COURT: Q Who is Noel B. Taguiam? A A member of the buy bust team also, sir. PROS. NICOLAS: Q You stated this NBT was placed by one Noel B. Taguiam, why do you know that he was the one who placed this? A Because I was present during that time when he placed his initial, sir. Q Do you know when this Noel B. Taguiam placed those initials on those two plastic sachets? A After we conducted the buy bust operation, sir. Q How soon Noel B. Taguiam placed those initials after the conduct of the buy bust operation? A After a few hours, sir. Q Where did he place those initials? A In our office, sir.25 (Emphasis supplied.)
PROS. ISRAEL: Q When you received these two specimens Madam Witness, will you please tell us the physical appearance of these items when you received the same? A They were heat–sealed and with markings “A–1” and “A–2,” your Honor. B And will you please point to us these markings “A–1” and “A–2” when you received these items Madam Witness? A This is the markings “A–1” and “A–2,” Ma’am. INTERPRETER: The witness is pointing to the markings “A–1” and “A–2” with the use of a black pentel pen. PROS. ISRAEL: Q There is another marking in this plastic sachet Madam Witness marked as NBT, what is this marking all about? A That is the marking of SPO3 Nelson B. Tamaray, Ma’am. Q Is he authorized to make the necessary marking which was requested to be examined Madam Witness? A Yes, Ma’am because he is the one who received the specimen from the one who deliver it, Ma’am. Q In this second plastic sachet Madam Witness which you identified earlier, that there is a marking “A–1,” there is another marking NBT, what is this marking all about Madam Witness? A That is the marking of SPO3 Nelson B. Tamaray, Ma’am.27 (Emphases supplied.)
Atty. Aquino Madam Witness, with respect to that marking made which are “A1” and “A–2”, they are not your markings, is it not? A Yes, sir. Q And with respect also to that NBT marked and placed in that exhibit which you have earlier identified, you did not see this duty officer placed his markings thereon, is it not? A Yes sir but I asked him who placed that marking and he said that he was the one who placed the initial NBT, sir.28
Crucial in proving the chain of custody is the marking of the seized dangerous drugs or other related items immediately after they are seized from the accused, for the marking upon seizure is the starting point in the custodial link that succeeding handlers of the evidence will use as reference point. Moreover, the value of marking of the evidence is to separate the marked evidence from the corpus of all other similar or related evidence from the time of seizure from the accused until disposition at the end of criminal proceedings, obviating switching, “planting” or contamination of evidence. A failure to mark at the time of taking of initial custody imperils the integrity of the chain of custody that the law requires. (Citation omitted.)
1 Rollo, pp. 2–16; penned by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario with Associate Justices Hakim S. Abdulwahid and Danton Q. Bueser, concurring.
2 Records, pp. 143–147; penned by Presiding Judge Jezarene C. Aquino.
3 Id. at 1.
4 Id. at 36.
5 TSN, July 25, 2006, pp. 8–9.
6 Id. at 11–16.
7 Id. at 17.
8 Id. at 21–22.
9 Records, p. 54; Exhibit “F.”
10 Id. at 55; Exhibit “F–1.”
11 Id. at 56; Exhibit “D.”
12 Id. at 53; Exhibit “C.”
13 By the time P/SInsp. Madria testified before the RTC on October 7, 2005, she already got married and was using her married name Mayra Matote Madria Tulauan.
14 TSN, September 3, 2007, pp. 5–11.
15 Records, pp. 145–147.
16 Id. at 147.
17Rollo, p. 15.
18People v. Magpayo, G.R. No. 187069, October 20, 2010, 634 SCRA 441, 447.
19 People v. Del Rosario, G.R. No. 188107, December 5, 2012, 687 SCRA 318, 326–327.
20People v. Secreto, G.R. No. 198115, February 27, 2013, 692 SCRA 298, 307.
21 Guidelines of the Custody and Disposition of Seized Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals and Laboratory Equipment.
22 576 Phil. 576, 587 (2008).
23People v. Enriquez, G.R. No. 197550, September 25, 2013.
24 TSN, July 25, 2006, pp. 20–21.
25 TSN, April 2, 2007, pp. 13–14.
26 See note 13.
27 TSN, October 7, 2005, pp. 20–21.
28 Id. at 25–26.
29 G.R. No. 181042, November 26, 2012, 686 SCRA 390, 403.
30People v. Catalan, G.R. No. 189330, November 28, 2012, 686 SCRA 631, 644.
31 People v. Magpayo, supra note 18 at 452–453