Accused-appellant Belen Mariacos was charged in an Information, dated November 7, 2005 of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act [No.] 9165, allegedly committed as follows:"That on or about the 27th day of October, 2005, in the Municipality of San Gabriel, Province of La Union, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously transport, deliver 7,030.3, (sic) grams of dried marijuana fruiting tops without the necessary permit or authority from the proper government agency or office.
CONTRARY TO LAW."
When arraigned on December 13, 2005, accused-appellant pleaded not guilty. During the pre-trial, the following were stipulated upon:
"1. Accused admits that she is the same person identified in the information as Belen Mariacos;
2. That accused is a resident of Brgy. Lunoy, San Gabriel, La Union;
3. That at the time of the arrest of the accused, accused had just alighted from a passenger jeepney;
4. That the marijuana allegedly taken from the possession of the accused contained in two (2) bags were submitted for examination to the Crime Lab;
5. That per Chemistry Report No. D-109-2005, the alleged drug submitted for examination gave positive result for the presence of marijuana;
6. That the drugs allegedly obtained from the accused contained (sic) and submitted for examination weighed 7,030.3 grams;
7. The Prosecutor admits the existence of a counter-affidavit executed by the accused; and
8. The existence of the affidavits executed by the witnesses of the accused family (sic): Lyn Punasen, Mercedes Tila and Magdalena Carino."
During the trial, the prosecution established the following evidence:
On October 26, 2005, in the evening, the San Gabriel Police Station of San Gabriel, La Union, conducted a checkpoint near the police station at the poblacion to intercept a suspected transportation of marijuana from Barangay Balbalayang, San Gabriel, La Union. The group at the checkpoint was composed of PO2 Lunes B. Pallayoc ("PO2 Pallayoc"), the Chief of Police, and other policemen. When the checkpoint did not yield any suspect or marijuana, the Chief of Police instructed PO2 Pallayoc to proceed to Barangay Balbalayang to conduct surveillance operation (sic).
At dawn on October 27, 2005, in Barangay Balbalayang, PO2 Pallayoc met with a secret agent of the Barangay Intelligence Network who informed him that a baggage of marijuana had been loaded on a passenger jeepney that was about to leave for the poblacion. The agent mentioned three (3) bags and one (1) blue plastic bag. Further, the agent described a backpack bag with an "O.K." marking. PO2 Pallayoc then boarded the said jeepney and positioned himself on top thereof. While the vehicle was in motion, he found the black backpack with an "O.K." marking and peeked inside its contents. PO2 Pallayoc found bricks of marijuana wrapped in newspapers. He then asked the other passengers on top of the jeepney about the owner of the bag, but no one knew.
When the jeepney reached the poblacion, PO2 Pallayoc alighted together with the other passengers. Unfortunately, he did not notice who took the black backpack from atop the jeepney. He only realized a few moments later that the said bag and three (3) other bags, including a blue plastic bag, were already being carried away by two (2) women. He caught up with the women and introduced himself as a policeman. He told them that they were under arrest, but one of the women got away.
PO2 Pallayoc brought the woman, who was later identified as herein accused-appellant Belen Mariacos, and the bags to the police station. At the police station, the investigators contacted the Mayor of San Gabriel to witness the opening of the bags. When the Mayor arrived about fifteen (15) minutes later, the bags were opened and three (3) bricks of marijuana wrapped in newspaper, two (2) round bundles of marijuana, and two (2) bricks of marijuana fruiting tops, all wrapped in a newspaper, were recovered.
Thereafter, the investigators marked, inventoried and forwarded the confiscated marijuana to the crime laboratory for examination. The laboratory examination showed that the stuff found in the bags all tested positive for marijuana, a dangerous drug.
When it was accused-appellant's turn to present evidence, she testified that:
On October 27, 2005, at around 7:00 in the morning, accused-appellant, together with Lani Herbacio, was inside a passenger jeepney bound for the poblacion. While the jeepney was still at the terminal waiting for passengers, one Bennie Lao-ang ("Lao-ang"), her neighbor, requested her to carry a few bags which had been loaded on top of the jeepney. At first, accused-appellant refused, but she was persuaded later when she was told that she would only be carrying the bags. When they reached the poblacion, Lao-ang handed accused-appellant and her companion, Lani Herbacio, the bags, and then Lao-ang suddenly ran away. A few moments later, PO2 Pallayoc was upon them, arresting them. Without explanation, they were brought to the police station. When they were at the police station, Lani Herbacio disappeared. It was also at the police station that accused-appellant discovered the true contents of the bags which she was asked to carry. She maintained that she was not the owner of the bags and that she did not know what were contained in the bags. At the police station (sic) she executed a Counter-Affidavit.3
WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused Belen Mariacos GUILTY as charged and sentences here (sic) to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00.
The 7,030.3 grams of marijuana are ordered confiscated and turned over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for destruction in the presence of the Court personnel and media.
It must be stressed that PO2 Pallayoc had earlier ascertained the contents of the bags when he was aboard the jeep. He saw the bricks of marijuana wrapped in newspaper. That said marijuana was on board the jeepney to be delivered to a specified destination was already unlawful. PO2 Pallayoc needed only to see for himself to whom those bags belonged. So, when he saw accused-appellant carrying the bags, PO2 Pallayoc was within his lawful duty to make a warrantless arrest of accused-appellant.
x x x x
Firstly, this Court opines that the invocation of Section 2, Article III of the Constitution is misplaced. At the time, when PO2 Pallayoc looked into the contents of the suspicious bags, there was no identified owner. He asked the other passengers atop the jeepney but no one knew who owned the bags. Thus, there could be no violation of the right when no one was entitled thereto at that time.
Secondly, the facts of the case show the urgency of the situation. The local police has been trying to intercept the transport of the illegal drugs for more than a day, to no avail. Thus, when PO2 Pallayoc was tipped by the secret agent of the Barangay Intelligence Network, PO2 Pallayoc had no other recourse than to verify as promptly as possible the tip and check the contents of the bags.
Thirdly, x x x the search was conducted in a moving vehicle. Time and again, a search of a moving vehicle has been justified on the ground that the mobility of motor vehicles makes it possible for the vehicle to move out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought. Thus, under the facts, PO2 Pallayoc could not be expected to secure a search warrant in order to check the contents of the bags which were loaded on top of the moving jeepney. Otherwise, a search warrant would have been of no use because the motor vehicle had already left the locality.13
Section 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
1. Warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest recognized under Section 12 [now Section 13], Rule 126 of the Rules of Court and by prevailing jurisprudence;
2. Seizure of evidence in "plain view," the elements of which are:(a) a prior valid intrusion based on the valid warrantless arrest in which the police are legally present in the pursuit of their official duties;
(b) the evidence was inadvertently discovered by the police who had the right to be where they are;
(c) the evidence must be immediately apparent[;] and;
(d) "plain view" justified mere seizure of evidence without further search.
3. Search of a moving vehicle. Highly regulated by the government, the vehicle's inherent mobility reduces expectation of privacy especially when its transit in public thoroughfares furnishes a highly reasonable suspicion amounting to probable cause that the occupant committed a criminal activity;
4. Consented warrantless search;
5. Customs search;
6. Stop and Frisk;and
7. Exigent and Emergency Circumstances.14
The constitutional proscription against warrantless searches and seizures admits of certain exceptions. Aside from a search incident to a lawful arrest, a warrantless search had been upheld in cases of a moving vehicle, and the seizure of evidence in plain view.
With regard to the search of moving vehicles, this had been justified on the ground that the mobility of motor vehicles makes it possible for the vehicle to be searched to move out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.
This in no way, however, gives the police officers unlimited discretion to conduct warrantless searches of automobiles in the absence of probable cause. When a vehicle is stopped and subjected to an extensive search, such a warrantless search has been held to be valid only as long as the officers conducting the search have reasonable or probable cause to believe before the search that they will find the instrumentality or evidence pertaining to a crime, in the vehicle to be searched.
SEC. 13. Search incident to lawful arrest.--A person lawfully arrested may be searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in the commission of an offense without a search warrant.23
SEC. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful.--A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;
(b) When an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and
(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.
In cases falling under paragraphs (a) and (b) above, the person arrested without a warrant shall be forthwith delivered to the nearest police station or jail and shall be proceeded against in accordance with section 7 of Rule 112.24
SEC. 5 Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. - The penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to Ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any dangerous drug, including any and all species of opium poppy regardless of the quantity and purity involved, or shall act as a broker in any of such transactions.
The penalty of imprisonment ranging from twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years and a fine ranging from One hundred thousand pesos (P100,000.00) to Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any controlled precursor and essential chemical, or shall act as a broker in such transactions.
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.
* Additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza per Raffle dated February 22, 2010.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Ramon M. Bato, Jr., with Associate Justices Martin S. Villarama, Jr. (now a member of this Court) and Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, concurring; rollo, pp. 2-13.
2 CA rollo, pp. 13-29.
3 Rollo, pp. 2-5.
4 CA rollo, p. 29.
5 Id. at 45.
6 Id. at 48.
7 Id. at 50.
8 Id. at 108.
9 Id. at 112.
10 Id. at 113.
11 Id. at 114-115.
12 Rollo, p. 13.
13 Id. at 8-9.
14 People v. Aruta, 351 Phil. 868, 879-880 (1998). (Citations omitted.)
15 Asuncion v. Court of Appeals, 362 Phil. 118, 126 (1999), citing Mustang Lumber, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 257 SCRA 430 (1996); and People v. Lo Ho Wing, 193 SCRA 122 (1991).
16 G.R. No. 86218, September 18, 1992, 214 SCRA 63, 68-69. (Citations omitted.)
17 People v. Aruta, supra note 14, at 880.
18 Except when the prohibited items are in plain view.
19 People v. Aruta, supra note 14, at 880, citing People v. Encinada, 345 Phil. 301 (1997).
20 People v. Doria, 361 Phil. 595, 632 (1999).
21 People v. Lo Ho Wing, supra note 15, at 128-129, citing Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153 (1925); People v. Del Mundo, 418 Phil. 740 (2001).
22 Salvador v. People, 502 Phil. 60, 72 (2005).
23 Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, Rule 126.
24 Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, Rule 113.
25 People v. Nuevas, G.R. No. 170233, February 22, 2007, 516 SCRA 463, citing People v. Tudtud, 458 Phil. 752 (2003).
26 People v. Del Mundo, supra note 21, at 751. (Citations omitted.)
27 Id., citing People v. Sy Bing Yok, 309 SCRA 28, 38 (1999).
28 People v. Beriarmente, 418 Phil. 229, 239 (2001).
29 People v. Doria, supra note 20, at 618. (Citations omitted.)
30 People v. Peñaflorida, G.R. No. 175604, April 10, 2008, 551 SCRA 111, 125.
31 People v. Jones, 343 Phil. 865, 877 (1997).
32 People v. Correa, G.R. No. 119246, January 30, 1998, 285 SCRA 679, 700.
33 Section 3 (j) of Rule 131 of the Revised Rules of Court states:
Sec. 3. Disputable presumptions.--The following presumptions are satisfactory if uncontradicted, but may be contradicted and overcome by other evidence:
x x x x
(j) That a person found in possession of a thing taken in the doing of a recent wrongful act is the taker and the doer of the whole act; otherwise, that things which a person possesses, or exercises acts of ownership over, are owned by him.
34 See People v. Del Mundo, supra note 21.
35 People v. Kimura, 471 Phil. 895, 909 (2004), citing People v. Mendiola, 235 SCRA 116, 120 (1994).
36 CA rollo, p. 16.
37 People v. Concepcion, G.R. No. 178876, June 27, 2008, 556 SCRA 421, 436-437, citing People v. Del Monte, 552 SCRA 627 (2008).
38 See People v. Pringas, G.R. No. 175928, August 31, 2007, 531 SCRA 828; People v. Sta. Maria, G.R. No. 171019, February 23, 2007, 516 SCRA 621, 633.
39 People v. Santiago, G.R. No. 175326, November 28, 2007, 539 SCRA 198, 223.