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
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.3cralawredUpon 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
The Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165 provide the guidelines in the custody and disposition of the confiscated illegal drugs, thus: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;
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:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryTo 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(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
During the continuation of the hearing, PO2 Repompo further testified: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 HC72365. 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
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.
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
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.22cralawredThe 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.
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.