G.R. No. 237209, April 10, 2019
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. MOHAMAD DAMPAK Y DISALO @ "LANDO" AND JAMIL DAMPAK Y MIMBALAWAG @ "JAMIL," ACCUSED. CATHERINE ROMOROSA Y OSTOY @ "LYN," ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
D E C I S I O N
At bench is an appeal1 assailing the Decision2 dated September 25, 2017 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 08319, affirming the conviction of herein appellant Catherine O. Romorosa for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, punished under Section 53 , Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165.
On February 20, 2010, the appellant, along with a certain Mohamad D. Dampak (Mohamad) and one Jamil M. Dampak (Jamil), were arrested in Muntinlupa City during a buy-bust operation conducted by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). The arrests led to the filing of five (5) criminal cases before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Muntinlupa City, to wit:
That on or about February 20, 2010, in Muntinlupa City, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, [Romorosa] without having been authorized by law, did then and there, knowingly, willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously sell, trade, deliver, give away to another and distribute 1.0646 grams and 0.9822 gram quantity of white crystalline substance of Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.
The above cases were consolidated before Branch 203 of the Muntinlupa City RTC.4
During arraignment, the appellant, Mohamad and Jamil all pleaded not guilty to the respective charges against them. Pre-trial followed and was terminated on May 26, 2011. Trial thereafter ensued.
The prosecution presented the testimonies of Special Investigator Rolan Fernandez (SI Fernandez) and Senior Forensic Chemist Edwin C. Purificando (SFC Purificando) of the NBI. SI Fernandez was the poseur-buyer in the buy-bust operation that resulted in the arrest of the appellant, Mohamad and Jamil. SFC Purificando, on the other hand, was the chemist who tested the sachets of white crystalline substance confiscated during such operation and who confirmed them positive for shabu.
Taken together, the testimonies of SI Fernandez and SFC Purificando tell the following story:
After the prosecution filed its Formal Offer of Evidence and rested its case, Mohamad and Jamil filed, without leave of court, a Demurrer to the prosecution's evidence.19
On September 1, 2014, the RTC issued an Order granting Mohamad and Jamil's demurrer with respect to Criminal Case Nos. 10-113 and 10-114 for illegal sale of shabu, but denying the same with respect to Criminal Case Nos. 10-111 and 10-112 for illegal possession of shabu.20 Since they filed their demurrer without leave of court, however, Mohamad and Jamil were deemed to have waived their right to present their evidence in Criminal Case Nos. 10-111 and 10-112.21 Consequently, trial continued only as regards Criminal Case No. 10-115 — the case for illegal sale of shabu against the appellant.
The appellant testified on her behalf. In substance, the appellant denied being caught, in flagrante, of selling shabu and claimed that she was merely a victim of a police frame-up. She professed the following version of events:22
On March 14, 2016, the RTC rendered a Joint Decision23 in Criminal Case Nos. 10-111, 10-112 and 10-115. Therein, the trial court found both Mohamad and Jamil guilty of illegal possession of shabu, and also found the appellant guilty of illegal sale of shabu. In arriving at such findings, the RTC gave full faith and credence to the version of the prosecution as established by the testimonies of SI Fernandez and SFC Purificando. The dispositive portion of the RTC Decision accordingly reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds:
(a) accused Catherine Romorosa y Ostoy @ "Lyn GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 in Criminal Case No. 10-115, and hereby sentences her to life imprisonment and a fine of P500,000.00; and
(b) accused Mohamad Dampak y Disalo @ Lando and Jamil Dampak y Mimbalawag @ "Jamil" GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 in Criminal Cases Nos. 10-111 and 10-112, and hereby sentences them to imprisonment of Twelve (12) years and one (1) day to fourteen (14) years and a fine of P300,000.00 each.
x x x x
The appellant appealed her conviction to the CA. On September 25, 2017, the CA rendered a Decision affirming the conviction of the appellant in toto. Hence, this appeal.
In this appeal, the appellant claims that the RTC and the CA erred in giving full faith and credence to the version of the prosecution. She particularly questions the credibility of SI Fernandez, whom she says gave an inconsistent account as to how the alleged deal for the purchase of shabu was actually brokered. The appellant points out that in SI Fernandez's testimony, he mentioned that it was the CI who was able to "transact a drug deal" worth P12,000.00 with Omar.25 However, in the Joint Affidavit of Arrest26 co-signed by SI Fernandez after the alleged buy-bust operation, it was categorically stated that it was SI Fernandez himself who was able to "close a deal" for the purchase of shabu worth P12,000.00.27
The appellant believes that the above inconsistency is detrimental to the credibility of the prosecution story that the NBI really undertook a genuine buy-bust operation; it proving that SI Fernandez cannot be relied upon as a credible witness. Consequently, she urges the Court to take a second look at her version of events and to consider the same to be the truth of what happened in this case.
At any rate, the appellant argues that her acquittal may still be justified in light of the prosecution's failure to prove the corpus delicti of the offense charged against her. The appellant claims that the identity of the shabu that was presented by the prosecution in that regard is suspect for the same was never forwarded to the evidence custodian of the NBI. She highlights the fact that such shabu, prior to its presentation in court, was only kept by SFC Purificando in his steel cabinet.
The appellant argues that the failure of SFC Purificando to turn-over the shabu he examined to the evidence custodian is a violation of the "standard procedure" of the NBI and, as such, renders doubtful the very integrity of the shabu presented by the prosecution in court.28
We dismiss the appeal.
The RTC and the CA did not err in giving full faith and credence to the version of the prosecution
We find no error on the part of the RTC and the CA in upholding the prosecution's version of events. SI Fernandez's account of how the shabu deal was forged did not suffer from any inconsistency.
The details of how the shabu deal with Omar came about was revealed by SI Fernandez in his testimony. Therein, SI Fernandez stated, quite clearly, that it was the CI who originally contacted Omar and arranged for the purchase of shabu, to wit:
PROS. ROMAQUIN, JR.:
Q So after your Authority to Investigate or after you have been granted Authority to Investigate, what did you do? A So, on February 19, 2010, sir, again, the same [CI] came to our office and informed me that he was able to transact a drug deal with alias Omar for the purchase of methamphetamine hydrochloride worth twelve thousand pesos (P12,000.00) and it will be delivered at Alabang, Muntinlupa City.29
SI Fernandez's narration further discloses that it was only after such arrangement has been made and then relayed to him that the NBI decided to organize the buy-bust operation which would eventually result in the arrest of the appellant.
Contrary to the appellant's claim, the foregoing narration is not inconsistent with the Joint Affidavit of Arrest30 co-executed by SI Fernandez. True, the Joint Affidavit of Arrest contained a statement that SI Fernandez "close[d] the deal" for the purchase of shabu — but a closer look at the context in which such statement is made would show that there is really no inconsistency between it and the testimony of SI Fernandez, thus:
7. The undersigned positioned themselves strategically around the target area. SI FERNANDEZ, who acted as poseur-buyer was accompanied by an asset inside the house located at Grabador St., Purok 7-C, Alabang, Muntinlupa City. After a brief transaction, SI FERNANDEZ was able to close a deal for the purchase of shabu for Php12,000.00 from a female subject, who was later identified as [the appellant], a known affiliate of [Omar].31
As can be seen, the affidavit referenced to SI Fernandez as being able to "close a deal" for the purchase of shabu during the conduct of the buy-bust operation itself. This implies that the affidavit's use of the phrase "close a deal" was not to connote that it was SI Fernandez who contacted Omar and made prior arrangements for the sale of shabu in Alabang. Rather, the phrase was used in the sense that it was only SI Fernandez who was able to consummate the sale of shabu which had been pre-arranged by the CI. This is practically what SI Fernandez was trying to explain when he was confronted with this apparent inconsistency during his cross-examination:
ATTY. MOLDEZ: Q In the Joint Affidavit of Arrest that you have read, it was you who close [d] the deal, am I correct? A Yes, ma'am. Q And in your direct examination that I've read, it was the [CI] who was able to close the deal, yes or no? A Prior to the operation... Q Just yes or no. Mr. Witness. Yes or no? A Pardon, ma'am. Q If I may read again your Honor, please: "So after your Authority to Investigate or after you have been granted Authority to Investigate, what did you do?" Your answer was, "So on February 19, 2010, sir, again the same [CI] came to our office and informed me that he was able to transact a drug deal with alias Omar for the purchase of methamphetamine hydrochloride worth P12,000.00 and it will be delivered at Alabang, Muntinlupa City." [S]o in this particular answer of yours, it was the [CI] who was able to close a deal of P12,000.00? x x x x A Excuse me, I'm sorry ma'am, because the answer is to close a deal meaning it's open. During the buy-bust operation, ma'am, hindi naman lahat close yan e. Pag sinabi ng informant sa amin na nakapag-transact siya ibig sabihin ma'am, hindi pa close yan so ibig sabihin kami pa rin ang mag-aano dyan, mag co-comfirm sa subject namin.32
Verily, the claimed contradiction in SI Fernandez's account is more imagined than real.
With the credibility of SI Fernandez intact, the appellant is, thus, left with only her denial to fend off the serious accusations against her. Such denial, by itself, however, cannot overcome the weight traditionally accorded to affirmative testimonies of law enforcement officers with unsullied credibility.33 We find that the RTC and the CA are, therefore, correct in giving full faith and credit to the open court narration of SI Fernandez and, ultimately, to the version of the prosecution.
Corpus delicti of the offense proven beyond reasonable doubt
We also find that the corpus delicti of the offense charged against the appellant was adequately proven in this case. A review of the evidence on record would reveal that the prosecution was able to establish an unbroken chain of custody over the shabu that it claims was sold by the appellant.
In People v. Kamad,34 We enumerated the essential links that must be proven by the prosecution in order to establish an unbroken chain of custody over the drugs seized in a buy-bust situation:
x x x: 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 by the forensic chemist to the court.35
In the case at bench, it is apparent that the narrations of SI Fernandez and SFC Purificando, as supplemented by the prosecution's other evidence, were able to cover all the essential links identified in Kamad. We may recall:
At the NBI Office, SI Fernandez immediately marked the two sachets sold to him by the appellant with "COR-1a CID-NBI 2-20-2010" and "COR-1b CID-NBI 2-20-2010."38
SI Fernandez clarified that, prior to the conduct of inventory and photograph-taking, the NBI also contacted barangay officials as well as the DOJ for them to send representatives to witness such inventory and photograph-taking.41 However, after some time waiting, none came.42 Hence, in view of the time limit for inquest proceedings, he and SI Regalario were constrained to commence with the inventory and photograph-taking without the presence of an elected official and a representative from the DOJ.43
Contrary to appellant's assertion, the failure of SFC Purificando to turn-over the shabu he examined to an "evidence custodian," prior to submitting the, same to the court, did not render doubtful the integrity of the shabu so submitted. We find that such failure did not create a gap in the chain of custody of the shabu retrieved from the appellant:
First. The act of SFC Purificando in taking custody of the specimen he examined and submitting the same to the court himself did not, strictly speaking, violate any mandatory provision of law pertaining to the custody of illegal drugs seized in an entrapment operation. Indeed, Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 — the leading law governing the custody and disposition of confiscated drugs and contrabands — actually prescribed no particular intermediary between the forensic chemist who examined the specimens seized from the buy-bust operation and the court to whom such specimens must be submitted. The provision also did not specifically prohibit the forensic chemist from acting as the safekeeper of the specimens he examined pending their transmission to the court.
Second. From the perspective of case law, on the other hand, it would seem that — for the purpose of establishing the chain of custody over an illegal drug — a direct submission of such drug from the forensic chemist to the court may be allowed. If we may remember, in the Kamad case cited above, the submission of the seized illegal drug by the forensic chemist to the court was recognized as the last link needed to complete an unbroken chain of custody over such drug:
We applied this ruling in People v. Garcia, People v. Gum-Oyen, People v. Denoman and People v. Coreche where we recognized the following links that must be established in the chain of custody in a buy-bust situation: 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.47
The foregoing pronouncement in Kamad, in turn, went on to be reiterated in a number of subsequent cases, including People v. Marcelino, Jr.,48Ampatuan v. People,49People v. Mendoza,50People v. Arriola,51People v. Almodiel,52People v. Llanita53 and People v. Langcua,54 to name a few.
Third. Since neither law nor jurisprudence specifically condemns a direct submission of drug evidence by the forensic chemist to the court, We cannot ipso facto make the conclusion that the shabu submitted by SFC Purificando is no longer reliable solely on the ground that he by-passed the evidence custodian of the NBI. This holds true even though such action by SFC Purificando may have constituted a deviation from a "standard practice" of the NBI. Again, there is simply no law or jurisprudence that renders a drug evidence inadmissible just because it was not forwarded to an "evidence custodian'' and was instead submitted directly to the court by the forensic chemist.
Fourth. The integrity of the illegal drug presented to the court, to Our mind, has less to do with the title of the law enforcement officer that made the submission than it does with evidence of how such officer, in truth, performed his duty as safekeeper of the drug in question. And, in this case, there is actual ample evidence to show that SFC Purificando had taken proper precautions to ensure that the shabu it examined was protected from any possibility of contamination or substitution while in his custody. The testimony of SFC Purificando, in this regard, is compelling:
DIRECT EXAMINATION [OF SFC PURIFICANDO] BY PROS. ROMAQUIN, JR:
x x x x
Q So aside from the fact that you acted as the Forensic Chemist, you were the one who also acted as the Evidence Custodian? A Yes. x x x x Q So after you conducted the examination, where did you place the substance? A At the NBI office, we are being furnished our individual steel cabinet wherein we are only the one in-charge of the key and it's there that I placed the evidence regarding this case. Q And can you please tell this Honorable Court the security features of that steel cabinet? A It is a steel cabinet like the one over there, the green-colored cabinet, (witness pointing to the steel cabinet inside the Courtroom) inside my office. Q How about the lock? A The lock is very doubled and the key is in my possession. Q So apart from you, is there any other person who has the key to that lock? A No one else, sir. Q And where is this steel cabinet situated? A Right inside my office, at the back of my office table, sir. Q So can you tell the Honorable Court or describe to the Honorable Court the safety features of your office? A It is a closed-room office, typical, with a lock. Q And who has access to that room? A Only members of my section and me. Q But with regard to that cabinet, who has access? A I am the only one in-charge. Q Now at the time when you retrieved, by the way[,] can you please tell the Honorable Court who delivered the substance to the Honorable Court? A I was the one last time, during the hearing of this Honorable Court last August 9, 2011. Q Anyways, at the time when you retrieved the substance, can you please tell the Honorable Court or describe to the Honorable Court the security seals and markings that you placed? A The security seal has the same appearance when I turned over the same to the Honorable Court. Q In short, the seals are all intact? A Yes, sir. Q How about the markings? A All the evidence bears my markings. Q So can you give the Honorable Court an assurance that the substance was never changed, altered or adulterated while under your custody until the time you turned over the same to the Honorable Court? A Yes, sir.55
In view of the foregoing, We are satisfied that the corpus delicti of the offense charged against the appellant was proven beyond reasonable doubt.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DISMISSED. The Decision dated September 25, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 08319 is hereby AFFIRMED.
Leonen, A. Reyes, Jr., Hernando, and Carandang,* JJ., concur.
* Designated Additional Member per Special Order No. 2624 dated November 28, 2018.
1 By way of a notice of appeal pursuant to Section 13(c) of Rule 124 of the Rules of Court.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Pablito A. Perez for the Fourteenth (14th ) Division of the CA, with Associate Justices Ricardo R. Rosario and Ramon A. Cruz concurring, rollo, pp. 2-23.
3 Known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Section 5 of R.A. No. 9165 provides:
Section 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 act as a broker in any of such transactions.
x x x
4 Records, pp. 48-49.
5 TSN, February 7, 2012, pp. 7-10.
6Id. at 10.
7 Namely, Supervising Agent Gregorio Zuñiga, Jr., SI Alan Glen Acal, SI Don Emmanuel R. Regalario and SI Jimmy De Leon. See Joint Affidavit of Arrest; records pp. 12-14.
8 TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 10-14.
9Id. at 14.
10Id. at 20-21.
11Id. at 21-22.
12 Aside from the appellant, Mohamad and Jamil, the buy-bust team also apprehended two fourteen-year-old minors present within the compound during the operation. (Records, p. 13) One of them was found to be in possession of two (2) white crystalline substance. (Id.) Later, upon being interviewed by the buy-bust team, the two minors admitted to working as couriers or spotters of Omar (TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 35).
13 TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 31.
15Id. at 32.
16Id. at 35.
17 TSN, June 18, 2013, pp. 39-40
18Id. at 40.
19Rollo, p. 4.
21 Rules of Court, Rule 119, Sec. 23.
22See TSN, February 25, 2015; TSN, August 26, 2015.
23 Penned by Presiding Judge Myra B. Quiambao; CA rollo, pp. 64-84.
24Id. at 83.
25 TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 10.
26 Records, pp. 12-14.
27Id. at 12.
28 CA rollo, p. 54.
29 TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 10. (Emphasis supplied).
30 Records, pp. 12-14.
31Id. at 12. (Emphasis supplied).
32 TSN, June 18, 2018, pp. 24-25. (Emphasis supplied).
33People v. Balaquit, 741 Phil. 343, 353 (2014).
34 624 Phil. 289 (2010).
35Id. at 304, citing People v. Garcia, 599 Phil. 416 (2009); People v. Gum-Oyen, 603 Phil 665 (2009); People v. Denoman, 612 Phil. 1165 (2014); People v. Coreche, 612 Phil. 665 (2009).
36 TSN, February 7, 2012, p. 31.
37Id. at 35.
38Id. at 25-26, 35.
39Id. at 32-34.
40 TSN, February 8, 2013, pp. 6-11.
41 TSN, June 18, 2013, pp. 39-40.
42Id. at 40.
43Id. at 35.
44 Records, p. 37. See also TSN, August 9, 2011, pp. 4-6.
45 Records, p. 34.
46 TSN, September 30, 2011, pp. 4-11.
47People v. Kamad, supra note 34, at 304. (Citations omitted; emphasis supplied).
48 667 Phil. 495 (2011).
49 667 Phil. 747 (2011).
50 672 Phil. 264 (2011).
51 681 Phil. 578 (2012).
52 694 Phil. 449 (2012).
53 696 Phil. 167 (2012).
54 703 Phil. 115 (2013).
55 TSN, September 30, 2011, pp. 5-7.