G.R. No. 241950, April 10, 2019
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. ARCADIO MALABANAN Y PERALTA AND NORMAN QUITA Y QUIBIDO, ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.
D E C I S I O N
REYES, J. JR., J.:
This is an appeal from the March 26, 2018 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 08851, which affirmed the November 4, 2016 Judgment2 of the Regional Trial Court, Calamba City, Branch 37 (RTC) in Criminal Case No. 22175-2014-C, finding accused-appellants Arcadio Malabanan y Peralta (Malabanan) and Norman Quita y Quibido (Quita) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
That on or about 12:30 a.m. of 25 February 2014[,] at Brgy. Pansol, Calamba City[,] and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating with one another[,] without authority of law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to a poseur-buyer a quantity of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, otherwise known as "shabu," a dangerous drug, having a total weighing [sic] of 0.17 grams[,] in violation of the aforementioned law.During their arraignment on May 8, 2014, accused-appellants and Heredia pleaded "Not Guilty."4 Heredia died while the case before the RTC was on-going.5
CONTRARY TO LAW.3
IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the Court finds the accused, ARCADIO MALABANAN y PERALTA & NORMAN QUITA y QUIBIDO GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT of violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act 9165. The accused are hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and TO PAY A FINE OF FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND (P500,000.00) PESOS.Aggrieved, accused-appellants appealed before the CA.
The Branch Clerk of Court is hereby ordered to turn-over the methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) subject of this case to PDEA for proper disposition and destruction.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED.Hence, this appeal, raising:
Accordingly, the appealed Judgment dated 04 November 2016 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 37, Calamba City, in Criminal Case No. 22175-2014-C, finding both appellants Arcadio Malabanan y Peralta and Norman Quita y Quibido guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.
WHETHER ACCUSED-APPELLANTS ARE GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF VIOLATING SECTION 5, ARTICLE II OF R.A. NO. 9165
Sale or possession of a dangerous drug can never be proven without seizure and identification of the prohibited drug. In People v. Magat, we held that the existence of dangerous drugs is a condition sine qua non for conviction for the illegal sale and possession of dangerous drugs, it being the very corpus delicti of the crime. In prosecutions involving narcotics, the narcotic substance itself constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to sustain a judgment of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Of paramount importance therefore in these cases is that the identity of the dangerous drug be likewise established beyond reasonable doubt.18 (Emphases supplied; citations omitted)The necessity of preserving and maintaining the integrity and identity of the items recovered from an accused in drug cases is brought about by the very essence and characteristics of illegal narcotics. Illegal drugs by its nature are not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration, or substitution either by accident or otherwise.19 Thus, it is imperative that the prosecution remove all doubts as to the identity and integrity of the drugs as any aspersions thereto, engenders a belief that what may have been presented in court were not the same drugs recovered from the accused, or worse, if drugs had been really seized from the suspect.
SEC. 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:On the other hand, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No. 9165 supply additional details to the procedures under Section 21 as well as a saving clause in case of substantial compliance, viz:(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;
SEC. 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:In sum, the law requires that the seized drugs must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure and that the same must be conducted in the presence of the accused and three other witnesses, namely: (a) a representative from the media; (b) representative from the DOJ; and (c) an elected public official. In People v. Barte,22 the Court recognized the necessity of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 to curtail abuses in the conduct of anti-drug operations, to wit:(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[.]
It is a matter of judicial notice that buy-bust operations are "susceptible to police abuse, the most notorious of which is its use as a tool for extortion." The high possibility of abuse was precisely the reason why the procedural safeguards embodied in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 have been put up as a means to minimize, if not eradicate such abuse. The procedural safeguards not only protect the innocent from abuse and violation of their rights but also guide the law enforcers on ensuring the integrity of the evidence to be presented in court.23 (Emphasis supplied; citation omitted)The procedure outlined in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 fortifies the first two links in the chain of custody with the goal of making them foolproof against adulteration and planting of evidence.24 Particularly, the Court in People v. Mendoza,25 emphasized the importance of the presence of the required witnesses in the conduct of the marking and inventory of the seized drugs, to wit:
The consequences of the failure of the arresting lawmen to comply with the requirements of Section 21 (1), supra, were dire as far as the Prosecution was concerned. Without the insulating presence of the representative from the media or the Department of Justice, or any elected public official during the seizure and marking of the sachets of shabu, the evils of switching, "planting" or contamination of the evidence that had tainted the buy-busts conducted under the regime of RA No. 6425 (Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) again reared their ugly heads as to negate the integrity and credibility of the seizure and confiscation of the sachets of shabu that were evidence herein of the corpus delicti, and thus adversely affected the trustworthiness of the incrimination of the accused. Indeed, the insulating presence of such witnesses would have preserved an unbroken chain of custody.26The procedure set forth under Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 serves a two-fold purpose. First, it protects individuals from unscrupulous members of the police force who are out to brandish the law on the innocent for personal gain or otherwise. Second, a faithful compliance of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 benefits the police and the entire justice system as it assures the public that the accused was convicted on the strength of uncompromised and unquestionable evidence. It dispels any thought that the case against the accused was merely fabricated by the authorities.
x x x. In other words, the failure of the apprehending team to strictly comply with the procedure laid out in Section 21, Article II of RA 9165 and its IRR does not ipso facto render the seizure and custody over the items as void and invalid, provided that the prosecution satisfactorily proves that: (a) there is justifiable ground for non-compliance; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. In People v. Almorfe, the Court explained that for the above-saving clause to apply, the prosecution must explain the reasons behind the procedural lapses, and that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized evidence had nonetheless been preserved. Also, in People v. De Guzman, it was emphasized that the justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact, because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist. (Citations omitted)In other words, it is not enough for the prosecution to claim that deviation from the statutory procedure was warranted on account of the preservation of the integrity and identity of the drugs seized. It must be sufficiently established that justifiable grounds existed to warrant non-compliance because the courts cannot presume that the departure from the prescribed rule was acceptable. In fact, in People v. Año,28 the Court stressed that the prosecution has the positive duty to acknowledge divergence from the mandated procedure and provide a sufficient justification, viz.:
As a final note, the Court finds it fitting to echo its recurring pronouncement in recent jurisprudence on the subject matter:In addition, it must also be shown that earnest efforts had been undertaken to secure the attendance of these witnesses. In People v. Arciaga,29 the Court had explained that there must be serious attempts to obtain the presence of witnesses in buy-bust operations considering that police officers are ordinarily given time to prepare for them, to wit:The Court strongly supports the campaign of the government against drug addiction and commends the efforts of our law enforcement officers against those who would inflict this malediction upon our people, especially the susceptible youth. But as demanding as this campaign may be, it cannot be more so than the compulsions of the Bill of Rights for the protection of liberty of every individual in the realm, including the basest of criminals. The Constitution covers with the mantle of its protection the innocent and the guilty alike against any manner of high-handedness from the authorities, however praiseworthy their intentions.In this light, prosecutors are strongly reminded that they have the positive duty to prove compliance with the procedure set forth in Section 21 of RA 9165, as amended. As such, they must have the initiative to not only acknowledge but also justify any perceived deviations from the said procedure during the proceedings before the trial court. Since compliance with this procedure is determinative of the integrity and evidentiary value of the corpus delicti and ultimately, the fate of the liberty of the accused, the fact that any issue regarding the same was not raised, or even threshed out in the court/s below, would not preclude the appellate court, including this Court, from fully examining the records of the case if only to ascertain whether the procedure had been completely complied with, and if not, whether justifiable reasons exist to excuse any deviation. If no such reasons exist, then it is the appellate court's bounden duty to acquit the accused, and perforce, overturn a conviction.
Those who are supposed to enforce the law are not justified in disregarding the right of the individual in the name of order. Order is too high a price for the loss of liberty, x x x.
Anent the required witnesses rule, non-compliance may be permitted if the prosecution proves that the apprehending officers exerted genuine and sufficient efforts to secure the presence of such witnesses, albeit they eventually failed to appear. While the earnestness of these efforts must be examined on a case-to-case basis, the overarching objective is for the Court to be convinced that the failure to comply was reasonable under the given circumstances. Thus, mere statements of unavailability, absent actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses, are unacceptable as justified grounds for non-compliance. These considerations arise from the fact that police officers are ordinarily given sufficient time — beginning from the moment they have received the information about the activities of the accused until the time of his arrest — to prepare for a buy-bust operation and consequently, make the necessary arrangements beforehand, knowing fully well that they would have to strictly comply with the chain of custody rule. (Emphasis supplied; citations omitted)In the case at bench, it is undisputed that no representatives from the media and the DOJ were present during the inventory of the drugs. While it is true that eventually, a representative from the DOJ went to the police station, it was only when the police officers called for representatives from the DOJ and the media after the inventory had been performed. The belated appearance of the representative from the DOJ defeated the purpose of the witness requirement as the inventory had been completed.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob, with Associate Justices Celia C. Librea-Leagogo and Samuel H. Gaerlan, concurring; rollo, pp. 2-20.
2 Penned by Presiding Judge Caesar C. Buenagua; CA rollo, pp. 49-62.
3Rollo, p. 3.
4 CA rollo, p. 49.
5 Id. at 62.
6Rollo, pp. 4.
8 Id. at 4-5.
9 Id. at 5.
10 Id. at 6-7.
11 Id. at 7.
12 CA rollo, p. 62.
13Rollo, pp. 18-19.
14People v. Lumaya, G.R. No. 231983, March 7, 2018.
15People v. Barba, 611 Phil. 330, 337 (2009).
17 627 Phil. 174 (2010).
18 Id. at 188.
19People v. Climaco, 687 Phil. 593, 604 (2012).
20Belmonte v. People, 811 Phil. 844, 856 (2017).
21People v. Balubal, G.R. No. 234033, July 30, 2018.
22 806 Phil. 533 (2017).
23 Id. at 541-542.
24People v. Que, G.R. No. 212994, January 31, 2018.
25 736 Phil. 749 (2014).
26 Id. at 764.
27 G.R. No. 237204, October 1, 2018.
28 G.R. No. 230070, March 14, 2018.
29 G.R. No. 239471, January 14, 2019.
30 CA rollo, p. 41.
31People v. Paming, G.R. No. 241091, January 14, 2019.