G.R. No. 207988, March 11, 2015
THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. BRIAN MERCADO Y SARMIENTO, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is an appeal from the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 04942 affirming the Decision2 in Criminal Case Nos. C-77992 and C-77993 rendered by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 120 of Caloocan City. The RTC Decision found accused-appellant Brian Mercado y Sarmiento (accused-appellant) guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (R.A. No. 9165), otherwise known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”
Crim. Case No. 77992 (For violation of Section 5, R.A. No. 9165)
That on or about the 27th day of July, 2007 in Caloocan City, Metro Manila and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without authority of law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to PO3 RAMON GALVEZ, who posed, as buyer, a plastic sachet containing METHYLAMPHETAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (Shabu) weighing 0.02 gram, a dangerous drug, without corresponding license or prescription therefore, knowing the same to be such.3
Crim. Case No. 77993 (For violation of Section 11, R.A. No. 9165)
That on or about the 27th day of July, 2007 in Caloocan City, Metro Manila and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without being authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession, custody and control Two (2) sachets containing METHYLAMPHETAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (Shabu) weighing 0.02 gram & 0.02 gram, respectively, when subjected for laboratory examination gave positive result to the tests of Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.4
[A]t around 10:00 a.m. on July 27, 2007, acting on a tip from a confidential informant that accused-appellant was selling shabu, the Station Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Unit (SAID-SOU) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) organized a buy-bust operation [with] SPO2 Wilfredo Quillan as team leader, PO3 [Ramon] Galvez as poseur-buyer, and SPO1 [Fernando] Moran, PO2 Eugene Amaro, PO2 Celso Santos and PO3 Jose Martirez as members. After SPO2 Quillan briefed the buy-bust team, a pre-operation report was prepared. PO3 Galvez was provided with two (2) one hundred-peso bills which he marked on the right portion with his initials “RG”. Then, the team and the informant boarded a passenger jeepney and proceeded to Phase 3-D, Camarin, Caloocan City. When the informant pointed to accused-appellant, PO3 Galvez approached him and said, “[p]’re, pa-iskor naman”, offering to buy P200.00 worth of shabu. He then handed the buy-bust money and accused-appellant brought out from his pocket three (3) pieces of plastic sachets, chose one (1) sachet and gave it to PO3 Galvez. As the sale was already consummated, PO3 Galvez introduced himself as a police officer, arrested accused-appellant, and gave the pre-arranged signal to his companions by scratching his nape. When SPO1 Moran rushed in, PO3 Galvez marked the plastic sachet with “BMS/RG” and told SPO1 Moran about the remaining two (2) plastic sachets in accused-appellant’s pocket. SPO1 Moran then frisked him and confiscated the items which he marked as “BMS/FM-1” and “BMS/FM-2”. Thereafter, they brought accused-appellant and the confiscated items to the SAID-SOU office in Samson Road, Caloocan City, and turned them over to the investigator, PO2 [Randulfo] Hipolito, who prepared the corresponding evidence acknowledgment receipt and request for laboratory examination.
Qualitative examination conducted on the confiscated three (3) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance, each weighing 0.02 gram, yielded positive for methylampethamine hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug.6
On July 26, 2007, at around 9:30 to 10:00 in the evening, accused-appellant returned the jeepney he was driving to the garage of Phase 3-B, Camarin, Caloocan City. He was walking home when a jeepney with police officers on board suddenly stopped in front of him. PO3 Galvez asked accused-appellant where he came from. He answered that he just came from driving his jeepney showing the police officers his driver’s license. Accused-appellant was then forced to ride in the jeepney where he saw eight (8) persons in handcuffs. He was brought to the police station and was told to produce ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) in exchange for his liberty, otherwise, a case would be filed against him. Unable to produce the money, accused-appellant faced the present charges.7
Premises considered, this court finds and so holds that:
(1) The accused Brian Mercado y Sarmiento GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and imposes upon him the following:
(a) In Crim. Case No. C-77992, the penalty of Life Imprisonment and a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00); and
(b) In Crim. Case No. C-77993, the penalty of Imprisonment of twelve (12) years and one (1) day to Fourteen (14) years and a fine of Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (P300,000.00).
The drugs subject matter of these cases are hereby confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government to be dealt with in accordance with law.9
It is well-settled that objection to the admissibility of evidence cannot be raised for the first time on appeal; when a party desire the court to reject the evidence offered, he must so state in the form of objection. Thus, as the trial was already concluded, [w]e can no longer turn back to find out the justifiable grounds for the omission of the legal requisites.
In any case, the procedural lapse did not render accused-appellant’s arrest illegal or the evidence adduced inadmissible. If there is non-compliance with Section 21, the issue is not of admissibility, but of weight – evidentiary merit or probative value – to be given the evidence. After a scrutiny of the records, [w]e find the evidence adduced more than sufficient to prove the charges against accused-appellant. Therefore, considering that no circumstance exists to put the trial court’s findings in error, [w]e apply the time-honored precept that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross misapprehension of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings.
FOR THESE REASONS, [w]e DENY the appeal and AFFIRM the assailed February 23, 2011 Decision of the Caloocan City Regional Trial Court, Branch 120.14
From the point of view of jurisprudence, we are not beating any new path by holding that the failure to undertake the required photography and immediate marking of seized items may be excused by the unique circumstances of a case. In People v. Resurreccion, we already stated that “marking upon immediate confiscation” does not exclude the possibility that marking can be at the police station or office of the apprehending team. In the cases of People v. Rusiana, People v. Hernandez, and People v. Gum-Oyen, the apprehending team marked the confiscated items at the police station and not at the place of seizure. Nevertheless, we sustained the conviction because the evidence showed that the integrity and evidentiary value of the items seized had been preserved. To reiterate what we have held in past cases, we are not always looking for the strict step-by-step adherence to the procedural requirements; what is important is to ensure the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as these would determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. We succinctly explained this in People v. Del Monte when we held:We would like to add that non-compliance with Section 21 of said law, particularly the making of the inventory and the photographing of the drugs confiscated and/or seized, will not render the drugs inadmissible in evidence. Under Section 3 of Rule 128 of the Rules of Court, evidence is admissible when it is relevant to the issue and is not excluded by the law or these rules. For evidence to be inadmissible, there should be a law or rule which forbids its reception. If there is no such law or rule, the evidence must be admitted subject only to the evidentiary weight that will [be] accorded it by the courts. x x x
We do not find any provision or statement in said law or in any rule that will bring about the non-admissibility of the confiscated and/or seized drugs due to non-compliance with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165. The issue therefore, if there is non-compliance with said section, is not of admissibility, but of weight — evidentiary merit or probative value — to be given the evidence. The weight to be given by the courts on said evidence depends on the circumstances obtaining in each case.31 (Emphases supplied and citations omitted)
It is well-settled that objection to the admissibility of evidence cannot be raised for the first time on appeal; when a party desires the court to reject the evidence offered, he must so state in the form of objection. Thus, as the trial was already concluded, [w]e can no longer turn back to find out the justifiable grounds for the omission of the legal requisites.
In any case, the procedural lapse did not render accused-appellant’s arrest illegal or the evidence adduced inadmissible. If there is non-compliance with Section 21, the issue is not of admissibility, but of weight – evidentiary merit or probative value – to be given the evidence. After scrutiny of the records, [w]e find the evidence adduced more than sufficient to prove the charges against accused-appellant. Therefore, considering that no circumstance exists to put the trial court’s findings in error, [w]e apply the time-honored precept that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross misapprehensions of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings.33
The following links must be established in the chain of custody in a buy-bust operation: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court. A circumspect study of the evidence movements reveal the integrity and the evidentiary value of the suspected drugs were safeguarded. PO3 Galvez and SPO1 Moran testified that they marked the suspected drugs with “BMS/RG”, “BMS/FM-1” and “BMS/FM-2” in the presence of accused-appellant immediately upon confiscation. Then, they brought accused-appellant and the confiscated items to their office, entrusting custody to investigator PO2 Hipolito. Contrary to accused-appellant’s claim, there is no hiatus in the third and fourth link in the chain of custody. The defense admitted that, upon receipt of the items, PO2 Hipolito prepared the corresponding evidence acknowledgment receipt and request for laboratory examination. The request for laboratory examination, which the prosecution offered as part of its documentary evidence, bears a stamp stating PO2 Hipolito was the one who delivered the marked confiscated items to PNP Crime Laboratory, with forensic chemist PSI Arturo as the receiving officer. PSI Arturo then conducted the examination which yielded positive for methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. When the prosecution presented the marked plastic sachets in court, PO3 Galvez and SPO1 Moran positively identified them as those recovered from accused-appellant in the buy-bust operation. Considering that every link was adequately established by the prosecution, the chain of custody was unbroken.34
1Rollo, pp. 2-15; Penned by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez with Associate Justices Ricardo R. Rosario and Socorro B. Inting concurring.
2 Records, pp. 202-213; Penned by Judge Aurelio R. Ralar, Jr.
3 Id. at 2.
4 Id. at 12.
5 Id. at 22; Certificate of Arraignment dated 13 August 2007.
6Rollo, pp. 3-5.
7 Id. at 5.
8 Records, pp. 202-213.
9 Id. at 212-213.
10 Id. at 208 citing People v. Bandang, et al., G.R. No. 151314, 3 June 2004, 430 SCRA 570, 578-579.
11 Id. at 209-210 citing People v. Bongalon, 425 Phil. 96, 114 (2002); and People v. Wu Tuan Yuan, 466 Phil. 791, 802-803 (2004).
12 Id. at 210-211 citing People v. Bang-ayan, 534 Phil. 70, 82 (2006).
13Rollo, pp. 9-10; CA Decision.
14 Id. at 14.
15 Id. at 12.
16 Id. at 38-39.
17 People v. Lardizabal, G.R. No. 89113, 29 November 1991, 204 SCRA 320, 329.
18People v. Tiu, 469 Phil. 163, 173 (2004); Chan v. Formaran III, et al., 572 Phil. 118, 132-133 (2008).
19People v. Pagkalinawan, 628 Phil. 101, 114 (2010).
20People v. Andres, 656 Phil. 619, 627 (2011) citing People v. Serrano, 634 Phil. 406, 420 (2010).
21People v. Bautista, G.R. No. 177320, 22 February 2012, 666 SCRA 518, 530 citing People v. Naquita, 582 Phil. 422, 445 (2008).
22 In People v. De Leon, 624 Phil. 786, 803 (2010), the High Court expressed that “[a] buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment whereby ways and means are resorted to for the purpose of trapping and capturing the lawbreakers in the execution of their criminal plan. In this jurisdiction, the operation is legal and has been proved to be an effective method of apprehending drug peddlers, provided due regard to constitutional and legal safeguards is undertaken.”
23People v. Quiamanlon, G.R. No. 191198, 26 January 2011, 640 SCRA 697, 706 citing Fuentes v. CA, 335 Phil. 1163, 1164-1165 (1997).
24People v. De Guzman, 564 Phil. 282, 293 (2007).
25People v. Sembrano, G. R. No. 185848, 16 August 2010, 628 SCRA 328, 342 citing People v. Llamado, G. R. No. 185278, 13 March 2009, 581 SCRA 544, 552 and People v. Remerata, G. R. No. 147230, 449 Phil. 813, 822 (2003).
26People v. Soriaga, 660 Phil. 600, 605 (2011) citing People v. Tamayo, 627 Phil. 369 (2010) and People v. De Leon, supra note 22 at 136.
27 Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002 which implements R.A. No. 9165 defines “Chain of Custody” as follows:“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.28Malillin v. People, 576 Phil. 576, 587 (2008).
29People v. Salonga, 617 Phil. 997, 1010 (2009).
30People v. Le, G.R. No. 188976, 29 June 2010, 622 SCRA 571, 583.
31People v. Domado, 635 Phil. 93-94 (2010).
32 Records, pp. 203-204; RTC Decision.
33Rollo, p. 14; CA Decision.
34 Id. at 11-12.
35 Zalameda v. People, 614 Phil. 710, 733 (2009).