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G.R. No. 213919, June 15, 2016 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. VIRGILIO A. QUIM, Appellant.

G.R. No. 213919, June 15, 2016 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. VIRGILIO A. QUIM, Appellant.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 213919, June 15, 2016

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. VIRGILIO A. QUIM, Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This is an appeal from the 24 April 2014 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 01018, affirming with modification the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 13, Cebu City (trial court), in Criminal Case No. CBU-69184, convicting appellant Virgilio A. Quim (appellant) for violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (RA 9165), otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The Facts

The Information against appellant reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
That on the 3rd day of April 2004 at around 9:50 A.M., in Barangay Valladolid Municipality of Carcar, Province of Cebu, Philippines 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 one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic packet of 0.04 gram of white crystalline substance to a poseur buyer in a buy-bust operation for and in consideration of the sum of One Hundred Pesos (P100.00), with Serial Number HC872365, and when subjected for laboratory examination gave positive result for the presence of Methylamphetamine [sic] Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.3cralawred
Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty. The prosecution presented PO2 Jose Yamasaki Repompo (PO2 Repompo) as its lone witness. PO2 Repompo testified that after a report confirmed appellant as selling shabu in Carcar, Cebu, the police officers applied for a search warrant which was granted. A team was then formed to conduct a buy-bust operation. The team was composed of SPO3 Rolando Cayubit (SPO3 Cayubit), SPO1 Roland Navales (SPO1 Navales), SPO1 Meliton Agadier, Jr. (SPO1 Agadier), PO2 Repompo, the civilian asset as a poseur buyer, and other Philippine National Police personnel (PNP). On 3 April 2004, at around 9:15 a.m., the civilian asset who acted as poseur buyer approached appellant who was just outside his house. The police officers who composed the buy-bust team were positioned about 10 to 15 meters from where the transaction occurred. The poseur buyer then handed the P100 marked money to appellant who gave the poseur buyer one packet of shabu. The police team then arrested appellant and they were able to recover from appellant P290, including the P100 marked money. SPO1 Navales marked the shabu specimen with "VAQ-1." Appellant was then brought to the police station. The Chief of Police prepared a letter-request for laboratory examination and PO2 Repompo delivered the shabu specimen to the PNP Crime Laboratory, where the specimen was found positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

The defense presented five witnesses: (1) Darlene Quim, (2) Asuncion Quim, (3) Gerard4 Quim, (4) Evelyn Lapenia, and (5) appellant.

Darlene Quim, the daughter of appellant, testified that on 3 April 2004, her father and brother were fixing a fluorescent lamp outside their house when policemen came and arrested them. One of the policemen poked a gun at her and she shouted for help. The police officers frisked her father and brother but nothing was recovered from them. Sometime later, a barangay official arrived. The police officers entered and searched their house three times.

Asuncion Quim, appellant's wife, testified that in the morning of 3 April 2004, she was inside their house with her daughter. From the sala where she was reading a pocketbook, she could see her husband and their son fixing a fluorescent lamp just outside their house. Police officers suddenly entered their house and one policeman poked a gun at her daughter, who shouted for help. The other police officers searched their bedrooms. Meanwhile, her husband and son were being handcuffed by police officers. When the barangay officials arrived, the police officers searched their bedrooms again. During the search, her husband and son were brought outside the house, while she and her daughter were made to stay in the living room. The police officers who searched the rooms did not recover anything. She later learned at the police station that her husband was charged with possession and sale of illegal drugs.

Gerard Quim, son of appellant, testified that at around 9:00 a.m. on 3 April 2004, he was with his father fixing a fluorescent lamp outside their house. His mother and sister were inside their house. Around 10 policemen arrived, and some went inside their house while the others handcuffed him and his father. When his father asked what was happening, one of the police officers told his father to return the firearm pledged to him by Wilson. Some of the police officers entered the bedrooms but recovered nothing. When the barangay officials arrived, he and his father were frisked by police officers but nothing was recovered from them.

Evelyn Lapenia, a barangay official, testified that on 3 April 2004, she was asked to go to appellant's house. When she arrived at appellant's house, there were several police officers present. Together with two other barangay officials, they accompanied the police officers inside the toilet and bedroom, which was already topsy-turvy. She surmised that the bedroom was already searched even before they arrived, but she did not see anything recovered by the police officers from their search. She was then led outside the house where she saw a table with some items on top. She was made to sign a piece of paper which listed the items laid on the table. The police officers told her these were the things found by the police officers in the rooms searched.

Appellant testified that at around 10:00 a.m. on 3 April 2004, he and his son Gerard were fixing the electric lamp just outside their house. His daughter Darlene was inside the house sitting by the door, while his wife was also inside the house. Appellant noticed that the house of their neighbor, Nerio Marte, was surrounded by policemen. Some police officers proceeded to their house. Two police officers, SPO1 Navales and SPO3 Cayubit, approached him and his son, while the rest of the policemen entered their house. SPO3 Cayubit then showed him a search warrant and asked if he was Virgilio Quim, to which he answered yes. He was about to read the search warrant when he heard his daughter cry out for help. He and his son rushed inside the house and he saw Saki poking a gun at his daughter. When the Judge5 asked appellant about Saki's identity, appellant told the Judge that Saki is PO2 Jose Yamasaki Repompo. Appellant told the Judge that PO2 Repompo was known as Saki in their place. Upon further interrogation by the Judge, appellant testified that a week before the incident, PO2 Repompo, SPO1 Agadier, and SPO1 Navales went to his house to get the firearm which was pledged to him by Wilson. He told them that the firearm was not in his possession. When they attempted to enter his house, he told them that they needed a search warrant.

Continuing his testimony on the alleged incident, appellant said that the police officers searched the rooms twice but nothing was recovered. When the barangay officials arrived, the police officers again searched the rooms but still recovered nothing. The police officers kept asking him to just turn over the firearm which was pledged to him but which was no longer in his possession. He was then handcuffed by the police. Police Officer Avila arrived together with Nerio Marte, who was already handcuffed. Avila then threw a blue plastic bag on the table, which was opened by SPO1 Navales. SPO1 Navales placed the items on the table and listed the items on a piece of paper. SPO1 Navales then asked appellant to sign the paper but appellant refused because the items enumerated were not his.

The Ruling of the Trial Court

On 4 August 2008, the trial court rendered a Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Virgilio A. Quim guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Violation of Sec. 5, Article II, RA 9165 and sentence him to life imprisonment plus a fine in the sum of P400,000.00.

The shabu described in the information and presented in court is hereby ordered confiscated in favor of the government and destroyed.

With costs against the accused.

SO ORDERED.6cralawred
The trial court held that the positive assertion of the prosecution witness prevails over the negative general denial of the defense. The trial court found that the prosecution proved all the elements of the crime charged.

The Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On appeal, appellant contended that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision but increased the fine imposed from P400,000 to P500,000. The Court of Appeals held that the prosecution had sufficiently established all the elements constituting the sale of shabu by appellant: the identity of appellant and the shabu, his act of selling shabu in exchange for P100 buy-bust money and the actual delivery thereof to the poseur buyer.

Hence, this appeal.

The Issue

The issue is whether appellant is guilty of sale of methamphetamine hydrochloride under Section 5, Article II of RA 9165.

The Court's Ruling

We find the appeal meritorious.

Appellant was convicted based on the sole testimony of PO2 Repompo. PO2 Repompo testified that he was 10 to 15 meters away from the alleged transaction:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
ATTY. LIGTAS
Q
You testified before that when you reached the area of the accused you hid yourself a distance at around ten (10) to fifteen (15) meters away, do you recall that in your direct testimony?
A
Yes ma'am.
Q
How did you conceal yourself?
A
We were stooping down in that banana plantation.
Q
And you were ten (10) to fifteen (15) meters away, is that correct? You will confirm that, from the accused and informant?
A
Yes, ma'am.
Q
And from that distance you, of course, could not hear what was being spoken between the accused and your informant?
A
No ma'am.
Q
By the way, you were hiding behind some banana tress [sic]?
A
Yes ma'am.
Q
And there were [a] number of these banana trees?
A
Yes ma'am.
Q
And the banana [trees] were so planted that they were not in a line?
A
I could not recall. It was planted but there were so many banana plants in the place.
Q
You claimed Mr. Witness that you saw the accused handed over [a] deck of shabu to the informant or poseur buyer, is it not right?
A
Yes, after the poseur buyer handed the P100.00 bill and the accused handed the one deck of shabu to the poseur-buyer.
Q
Is it the one you have identified?
A
Yes ma'am.
Q
As the one allegedly handed by the accused to the poseur buyer?
A
Yes ma'am.
Q
Could you please tell the Honorable Court on estimate of the size of this deck of shabu, this plastic packet?
A
Small plastic packet.
Q
Would you agree with me Mr. Witness that this small pack could be hidden between two fingers of the person's hand?
A
Maybe.
Q
Would you try to hold it between two fingers and see if it can be concealed by your two fingers?
INTERPRETER
The witness is holding the said sample, Your Honor, and based on the way he hold[s] it, only part or half of the plastic packet is hidden.7
Appellant in this case is accused of selling 0.04 gram of shabu contained in a plastic sachet. PO2 Repompo, who was hiding behind the banana trees approximately 10 to 15 meters away, would indeed find it hard to have a clear view of the alleged transaction, much less see the small plastic sachet containing the 0.04 gram of shabu allegedly being passed from appellant to the poseur buyer. Since appellant denied selling the shabu or that the drug transaction happened, the prosecution should have presented the poseur buyer to rebut appellant's testimony instead of just relying on the lone testimony of PO2 Repompo, who admitted that he observed the alleged transaction from a distance of 10 to 15 meters.8 Neither did the prosecution present the other members of the buy-bust team as witnesses to corroborate the testimony of PO2 Repompo.

Even if PO2 Repompo did see clearly the alleged transaction, still the substantial gaps in the chain of custody of the seized illegal drug raise doubts on the authenticity of the evidence presented in court.

In drug-related prosecutions, the State should not only establish all the elements of the sale and possession of shabu under RA 9165, but also prove the corpus delicti, the body of the crime, to discharge its overall duty of proving the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.9 The illegal drug itself constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital for the conviction of the accused.10ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II of RA 9165 states the initial stage in the custody and disposition of the confiscated illegal drugs:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
(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;
The Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165 provide the guidelines in the custody and disposition of the confiscated illegal drugs, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
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:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
(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 xcralawred
To ensure that the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized drug are preserved, the chain of custody rule requires the prosecution to be able to account for each link in the chain of custody of the dangerous drug, from the moment it was seized from the accused up to the time it was presented in court.11 Testimony must be presented on every link in the chain of custody, from the moment the dangerous drug was seized up to the time it is offered in evidence.12ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary

In this case, there was a gap in the chain of custody of the seized drug at the very beginning. The prosecution's lone witness, PO2 Repompo omitted to testify to whom the poseur buyer handed the shabu which was allegedly bought from appellant during the buy-bust operation. In his testimony, PO2 Repompo stated that after they frisked appellant, SPO1 Agadier recovered P290 including the marked money which they turned over to the team recorder SPO1 Navales.13 During the continuation of his testimony, PO2 Repompo stated that SPO1 Agadier turned over the sachet of shabu and the P290 to SPO1 Navales.14 It was not clear whether the sachet of shabu was the one bought by the poseur buyer from appellant. Even if such item did refer to the alleged shabu bought from appellant, still no mention was made on how SPO1 Agadier came to possess it. After testifying about the poseur buyer buying the shabu from appellant, PO2 Repompo no longer mentioned the succeeding actions of the poseur buyer, particularly to whom the poseur buyer gave the shabu for custody. The only conclusion from this omission is that PO2 Repompo did not witness the subsequent acts of the poseur buyer, especially with regard to the custody of the shabu. The pertinent portions of PO2 Repompo's testimony read:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
FISCAL BALANSAG
Q
Is your poseur buyer a policeman?
A
civilian asset.
Q
Did you see the poseur buyer and Virgilio Quim met [sic] in a certain place, Mr. Witness?
A
Yes.
Q
From where?
A
Near the gate of the house of Virgilio Quim.
Q
Have you observed what your poseur buyer and Virgilio Quim do[sic] at that time?
A
Our poseur buyer handed a 100-peso bill and in return, Virgilio Quim handed a one deck of shabu.
Q
How far were you from the place where your poseur buyer and Virgilio Awa Quim met?
A
10 to 15 meters.
Q
You mentioned about the buy-bust money. Can you give us the serial number of the buy bust money?
A
The serial number of the buy bust money is HC[8]72365.
Q
After you saw your poseur buyer handed [sic] the 100-peso bill to Virgilio Quim and Virgilio Quim in return, gave [sic] the 1 pack of shabu. What happened next?
A
After that we rushed up towards the subject and Virgilio Quim noticed that I and Agadier were approaching. So he ran towards his house and I and Agadier followed him and informed him of his constitutional rights and put him under arrest.
Q
Did you say anything to the accused Virgilio?
A
We informed him that we arrested him for selling shabu.
Q
Aside from informing him that he is selling shabu, what else did you tell to the accused?
A
We also informed him that we were armed with a search warrant.
Q
Did you frisk him, Mr. Witness?
A
Not yet.
Q
When did you frisk the accused?
A
When the search started.
Q
What did you confiscate from the accused?
A
Nothing.
COURT
Q
How about Agadier?
A
SPO1 Agadier recovered from his possession P290.00 including, the buy-bust money.
Q
After Agadier recovered the money P290.00 including the marked money, what else did you do?
A
We turned it over to the team recorder.
COURT
You start from there.
COURT
Q
Who was your team recorder?
A
SPO1 Navales.
FISCAL BALANSAG
That would be all, Your Honor.15
During the continuation of the hearing, PO2 Repompo further testified:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
PROSECUTOR BALANSAG
Q
After SPO1 Mel[i]ton Agadier confiscated from the accused the P290.00 which included the buy-bust money what happened then?
A
We turned it over to our team recorder SPO1 Roland Navales.
Q
What did you turn over to SPO1 Roland Navales?
A
The one sachet of shabu and the P290.00 including the buy bust money were turned over by SPO1 Agadier to SPO1 Navales.
Q
After turning over the one sachet of shabu and the P290.00 which includes the buy-bust money, what happened then?
A
After our team leader SPO3 Cayubit informed the search warrant to Virgilio Quim.16
Clearly, there is a gap between the time the poseur buyer allegedly received the sachet of shabu from appellant and when SPO1 Agadier came into possession of the shabu which he handed over to SPO1 Navales. Unfortunately, the prosecution did not present SPO1 Agadier or the poseur buyer to testify on this matter.

Another breach in the chain of custody was the marking of the sachet of shabu by SPO1 Navales which was not done in the presence of appellant. During his testimony, PO2 Repompo stated that he was present when SPO1 Navales marked the sachet of shabu at the place where they made the search.17 No mention was made of the whereabouts of appellant when the marking on the sachet of shabu was made, which leads to the conclusion that appellant was not present when the marking was made. The seized drugs must be marked immediately upon confiscation and in the presence of the apprehended violator to ensure that the seized items are the ones eventually offered in evidence.18 It is imperative that the marking of the seized illegal drugs be done in the presence of the accused.19 In this case, it was not shown that appellant was present during the marking of the shabu.

Another lapse committed by the prosecution is the non-presentation of SPO1 Navales who brought the shabu from the place where the search occurred to the police station. Only the prosecution's lone witness, PO2 Repompo testified that SPO1 Navales brought the shabu to the police station.20 No other details were provided by PO2 Repompo other than stating that it was SPO1 Navales who brought the shabu to the police station. Thus, it was not clear whether PO2 Repompo saw SPO1 Navales in possession of the shabu from the time SPO1 Navales marked the shabu up to the time the shabu was brought to the police station. This constitutes another broken link in the chain of custody of the seized drug. In Mallillin v. People,21 the Court held:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
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.22cralawred
The prosecution's failure to establish every link in the chain of custody of the illegal drug gravely compromised its identity and evidentiary value. The lack of conclusive identification of the illegal drug which is the corpus delicti of the offense charged against appellant warrants his acquittal.

WHEREFORE, we GRANT the appeal and ACQUIT appellant Virgilio A. Quim based on reasonable doubt. We ORDER his immediate release from detention, unless he is detained for any other lawful cause.

SO ORDERED.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Mendoza, and Leonen, JJ., concur.
Brion, and Del Castillo, JJ., on official leave.

Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 4-23. Penned by Associate Justice Renato C. Francisco, with Associate Justices Gabriel T. Ingles and Marilyn B. Lagura-Yap concurring.

2 CA rollo, pp. 32-36. Penned by Presiding Judge Meinrado P. Paredes.

3 Records, p. 1.

4 Also spelled as "Gerald" in some parts of the Records.

5 Presiding Judge Meinrado P. Paredes.

6 CA rollo, p. 36.

7 TSN, 28 November 2007, pp. 9-11.

8 In People v. Ale [229 Phil. 81 (1986)], the Court held that the presence and identity of the poseur buyer is vital to the case as his very existence is disputed by the accused. The Court found it incredible to believe that the police officers who testified in court could clearly see the alleged illegal transaction from a distance of 10 to 15 meters.

9People v. Guzon, 719 Phil. 441 (2013); People v. Coreche, 612 Phil. 1238 (2009).

10People v. Enumerable, G.R. No. 207993, 21 January 2015, 747 SCRA 495.

11People v. Sorin, G.R. No. 212635, 25 March 2015, 754 SCRA 594, 603, citing People v. Viterbo, G.R. No. 203434, 23 July 2014, 730 SCRA 672.

12People v. Watanama, 692 Phil. 102 (2012).

13 TSN, 3 October 2007, pp. 8-9.

14 TSN, 7 November 2007, p. 5.

15 TSN, 3 October 2007, pp. 7-9.

16 TSN, 7 November 2007, pp. 5-6.

17 TSN, 7 November 2007, pp. 7-8.

18Fajardo v. People, 691 Phil. 752 (2012).

19People v. Dahil, G.R. No. 212196, 12 January 2015, 745 SCRA 221.

20 TSN, 7 November 2007, p. 9.

21 576 Phil. 576 (2008).

22 Id. at 587.
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