G.R. No. 238517, November 27, 2019
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, v. LUNG WAI TANG, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
D E C I S I O N
Our country has graciously opened its doors to foreigners seeking sojourn, or even permanent homes herein. But instead of returning the respect accorded to them, some take advantage of this hospitality, and engage in the widespread, large-scale infusion and proliferation of dangerous drugs, trammelling our intensified anti-drug campaign. And this We must not tolerate.
The undersigned Prosecution Attorney of the Department of Justice hereby accuses TAI ON CHEUNG, LUNG WAI TANG and SEK HUNG [email protected] PATRICK WONG GOH of the crime of violation of Sec. 16, Art. III of Republic Act. No. 6425, as amended, committed as follows:Upon arraignment, accused-appellant pleaded "not guilty."6 After termination of pre-trial, trial on the merits ensued.That on or about 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon of July 18, 2000 in Unit 310, SJB Condominium, Nr. 130-B Panay Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, confederating, conspiring and helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and knowingly have in their possession approximately Seven Thousand Nine Hundred Eighteen and 0.90 gms. (7918.90 grams) of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride otherwise known as "shabu", a regulated drug without any lawful authority to possess the same.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
It appearing to the satisfaction of the undersigned after examining under oath searching question on SP03 Edgar Groyon and P/Insp. Roger E. Fuentes that Cheung, Tai On @ Jimmy Cheng, Tang Lung Wai @ Wai, Michael Cheng @ Joseph Yeung and Wong, Patrick Y Goh have in their possession or control in the premises on No. 310, SJB Condominium, Nr. 130-B, Panay Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, the following:The PNP served the search warrant at Unit 310 of SJB Condominium. During the operation, the police operatives were accompanied by the condominium's building engineer and chief security guard. Tai On Cheung and Sek Hung Go were with accused-appellant Lung Wai Tang inside Unit 310 when he opened the door.15 The police operatives searched the premises and when they lifted the bed, they found a total of eight (8) self-sealing transparent plastic bags containing white crystalline substance suspected to be shabu. The police operatives marked and prepared an inventory of the seized items. The arresting officer, building engineer, chief security guard, and the three (3) suspects placed their respective markings on the seized evidence. The police officers then issued a Certificate of Good Conduct Search.Undetermined amount of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabuYOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED to make an immediate search at any time of the day and night of the place but limited only to the premises herein described and forthwith seize and take possession of the above-mentioned articles and bring the same to the undersigned to be dealt with as the law directs, together with detailed inventory of articles seized within ten (10) days from service thereof.14
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused TAI ON CHEUNG and LUNG WAI TANG GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 16[,] [Article] III of R.A. 6425 as amended by R.A. 7659 or possessing approximately Seven Thousand Nine Hundred Eighteen and 0.90 grams (7918.90 grams) of shabu, and each is therefore sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and pay a fine of Php500,000.00; and accused SEK HUNG GOH NOT GUILTY of the same charge considering that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Accused SEK HUNG GOH being a detained person at Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City, the Jail Warden of Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City is hereby ordered to release him from detention thereat, unless he is detained for some other lawful cause.
The representative sample of the subject shabu which is in the custody of the PDEA is ordered disposed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.20
WHEREFORE, the appeal filed by TAI ON CHEUNG is hereby DISMISSED on account of his death pursuant to Article 89, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code.Hence, this appeal.22
The appeal of LUNG WAI TANG is likewise DISMISSED for lack of merit. The Decision dated October 26, 2011 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 95, in Criminal Case No. Q-00-93938 finding LUNG WAI TANG guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged is hereby AFFIRMED.
Further, accused-appellant insisted in his supplemental brief that: (a) his travel records indicated he was not in the country from 01 to 12 June 2000 when the alleged surveillance operations were conducted; (b) accused appellant did not have constructive possession of the drugs; (c) the identity of accused-appellant was not clearly established; (d) the lower court cannot convict accused-appellant and acquit co-accused Sek Hung Goh under the same set of facts and reasonings; and (e) the time-stamped video footage showed the police officers were already inside Unit 31 0 conducting the search at 3:42:22 p.m. while the photograph showed the team was still knocking outside the door at 3:45:54 p.m.24
The trial court committed reversible error in convicting accused-appellant LUNG WAI TANG ruling that he was said to have constructive possession of shabu when the same was found in Unit 310 SJB Condominium, and the police enforcers who testified stated that accused-appellant LUNG WAI is a tenant/lessee of the said unit without showing any documentary proof or testimony by component individual to prove that accused appellant was indeed a lessee/tenant of the said unit.II.
The trial court committed reversible error in convicting accused-appellant despite a clear and blatant violation of his constitutional right to due process by admitting as evidence the signature affixed by accused appellant on the bags of shabu against his will and without the assistance of counsel, considering that accused-appellant is a Chinese national who do not speak filipino or english language at that time.
The trial court committed reversible error in convicting accused-appellant despite the glaring fact that the chain of custody in the [sic] handling the evidence was broken.
The trial court committed reversible error in convicting accused-appellant by erroneously applying the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty on the part of the arresting officers.23
Transnational organized crime syndicates engaged in large scale distribution of dangerous drugs have inflitrated the country
The elements of illegal possession of dangerous drugs were duly established
The defense of denial and frame-up are invariably weak
The sheer volume of the seized drugs consisting of 7,918.90 grams or almost eight (8) kilograms renders the defense of frame-up difficult to believe; the large quantity of drugs seized reduces, if not eradicates, the possibility of planting or tampering of evidence
The evidence on record clearly established that appellants were in possession of the bags containing the regulated drugs without the requisite authority. As mentioned previously, on the date of appellants' arrest, the apprehending officers were conducting a surveillance of the coast of Ambil Island in the Municipality of Looc, Occidental Mindoro, upon being informed by the Municipality's Barangay Captain that a suspicious-looking boat was within the vicinity. Not long after, they spotted two (2) boats anchored side by side, the persons on which were transferring cargo from one to the other. Interestingly, as they moved closer to the area, one of the boats hurriedly sped away. Upon reaching the other boat, the police officers found the appellants with several transparent plastic bags containing what appeared to be shabu which were plainly exposed to the view of the officers. Clearly, appellants were found to be in possession of the subject regulated drugs.Strict adherence to the procedural safeguards is required where the quantity of illegal drugs seized is small, since it is highly susceptible to planting, tampering, or alteration of evidence.39 On the other hand, large amounts of seized drugs are not as easily planted, tampered, or manipulated. Here, the considerable quantity of shabu consisting of almost eight (8) kilograms provides strong probative value favoring the prosecution's version of events.
Moreover, this Court is not legally prepared to accept the version of the appellants that they had nothing to do with the incident and that they were being framed up as the drugs seized from them were merely planted by the apprehending officers. At the outset, this Court observes that appellants did not provide any explanation as to how the apprehending officers were actually able to plant forty-five (45) bags of regulated drugs weighing about one ( 1) kilo each in the speed boat of appellants in the middle of the ocean without their knowledge. Also, as the trial court noted, they did not even give any explanation as to the purpose of their presence in the coast of Ambil, Looc, Occidental Mindoro. More importantly, aside from saying that the confiscated bags of regulated drugs were merely implanted in their speed boat, they did not provide the court with sufficient evidence to substantiate their claim. xxx
This Court has consistently noted that denial or frame up is a standard defense ploy in most prosecutions for violations of the Dangerous Drugs Law. This defense has been invariably viewed with disfavor for it can easily be concocted. In order to prosper, the defense of denial and frame-up must be proved with strong and convincing evidence. Without proof of any intent on the part of the police officers to falsely impute to appellants the commission of a crime, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty and the principle that the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to great respect, deserve to prevail over the bare denials and self-serving claims of frame up by appellants.
In determining whether the amount of seized drugs is large or small, courts may be guided by the threshold quantities set under the Plea Bargaining Framework in drugs cases (A.M. 18-03-16-SC)
The old drugs law, or RA 6425 (The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972) and its implementing rules, are applicable
Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 3, Series of 1979Both the CA and the RTC aptly found the chain of custody in handling the evidence unbroken. The arresting officer marked, photographed, and inventoried the seized shabu at the place of implementation of the search warrant in the presence of accused-appellant. It was then turned over to the evidence custodian for safekeeping at the police station. Thereafter, it was delivered to the PNP Crime Laboratory for qualitative examination and tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. The same specimen was presented to the court and duly identified by prosecution witnesses through the markings they placed thereon. As such, the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items were preserved.46
Subject: Amendment of Board Resolution No. 7, series of 1974, prescribing the procedure in the custody of seized prohibited and regulated drugs, instruments, apparatuses, and articles specially designed for the use thereof.
[xxx xxx xxx]
SECTION 1. All prohibited and regulated drugs, instruments, apparatuses and articles specially designed for the use thereof when unlawfully used or found in the possession of any person not authorized to have control and disposition of the same, or when found secreted or abandoned, shall be seized or confiscated by any national, provincial or local law enforcement agency. Any apprehending team having initial custody and control of said drugs and/or paraphernalia, should immediately after seizure and confiscation, have the same physically inventoried and photographed in the presence of the accused, if there be any, and/or his representative, who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof. Thereafter, the seized drugs and paraphernalia shall be immediately brought to a properly equipped government laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination.
The apprehending team shall: (a) within forty-eight (48) hours from the seizure inform the Dangerous Drugs Board by telegram of said seizure, the nature and quantity thereof, and who has present custody of the same, and (b) submit to the Board a copy of the mission investigation report within fifteen (15) days from completion of the investigation.
The country's wage of war against transnational organized drug syndicates operating in the country must not be thwarted; large scale illegal possession by members of these crime groups must not be countenanced
It is lamentable that while our dockets are clogged with prosecutions under Republic Act No. 9165 involving small-time drug users and retailers, we are seriously short of prosecutions involving the proverbial "big fish." We are swamped with cases involving small fry who have been arrested for miniscule amounts. While they are certainly a bane to our society, small retailers are but low-lying fruits in an exceedingly vast network of drug cartels. Both law enforcers and prosecutors should realize that the more effective and efficient strategy is to focus resources more on the source and true leadership of these nefarious organizations. Otherwise, all these executive and judicial resources expended to attempt to convict an accused for 0.05 gram of shabu under doubtful custodial arrangements will hardly make a dent in the overall picture. It might in fact be distracting our law enforcers from their more challenging task: to uproot the causes of this drug menace. We stand ready to assess cases involving greater amounts of drugs and the leadership of these cartels.48Indeed, transnational organized crime syndicates engaged in large scale distribution of dangerous drugs in the country are destroying the very mind and soul of the Filipino nation. This Court will not hesitate to apply the full force of the law against them, more so foreign nationals benefitting from our kindness and hospitality. Law enforcement officials who risk their lives in protecting the Filipino nation by going against these syndicates should not only be commended, but should be encouraged.
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Very truly yours,
(SGD) MISAEL DOMINGO C. BATTUNG III
Division Clerk of Court
* Designated as Additional Member of the Third Division per Special Order No. 2728.
1Rollo, pp. 35-36.
2Id. at 2-34; penned by Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan Manahan and concurred in by Associate Justices Mario V. Lopez (now a Member of this Court) and Elihu A. Ybañez of the Special Sixth (6th) Division, Court of Appeals, Manila.
3 CA rollo, pp. 129-156; penned by then Judge Henri Jean-Paul B. Inting (now a Member of the Court).
4 Otherwise known as "The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972," as amended by RA 7659 otherwise known as "An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes, Amending for that Purpose the Revised Penal Laws, as amended, other Special Penal Laws, and for Other Purposes."
5 Records, Volume I, pp. 1-2.
6Id. at Vol. I, p. 159.
7 Records, Vol. I, p. 24.
8Rollo, p. 11.
9Id. at 8.
10Id. at 8-9.
11 Records, Exhibits for the Prosecution, p. 8.
12Rollo, p. 9.
13 Records, Exhibits for the Prosecution, p. 7.
14 Records, Vol. I, p. 28.
15 The Records interchangeably referred to accused-appellant as "Lung Wai Tang," "Lung Wai Tai," "Lung Way Tang," or a combination thereof.
16Rollo, p. 10.
17Id. at 16.
18Id. at 17.
20 CA rollo, p. 156.
21Rollo, pp. 33-34.
22Id. at 35.
23 CA rollo, pp. 77-78.
24Rollo, p. 50.
25Asia's meth trade is worth an estimated $61 B as region becomes a 'playground' for drug gangs, written by Berlinger, Joshua, 18 July 2019 <https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/18/asia/asia-methamphetamineintl-hnk/index.html> (visited 11 November 2019).
26 Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) (2019), <https://www.unodc.org/documents/southeastasiaandpacific/Publications/2019/SEA_TOCTA_2019_web.pdf> (visited 11 November 2019).
28 Records, Vol. I, p. 25.
29Id. at 22.
30 TSN , 27 May 2002, pp. 5-6.
31People v. Serrano, G.R. No. 179038, 06 May 2010, 620 SCRA 315, 344, citing People v. Pringas, G.R. No. 175928, 31 August 2007, 531 SCRA 828, 846.
32Rollo, pp. 26-27. See also Records, Volume III, pp. 1616-1617.
33Id. at 27.
34People v. Bala, G.R. No. 203048, 13 August 2014, 733 SCRA 50, 65.
35People v. Chi Chan Liu, G.R. No. 189272, 21 January 2015, 746 SCRA 476, 498.
36 Records, Exhibits for the Prosecution, p. 21.
37Rollo, p. 72.
38Supra at note 35.
39People v. Bayang, G.R. No. 234038, 13 March 2019.
40 G.R. No. 226679, 15 August 2017, 837 SCRA 160, 171.
42 A.M. No. 18-03-16-SC.
43People v. Noah, G.R. No. 228880, 06 March 2019.
44 Otherwise known as "An Act Instituting the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, Repealing Republic Act No. 6425, Otherwise Known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, as Amended, Providing Funds Therefor, and Other Purposes."
45 G.R. No. 184952, 11 October 2010, 632 SCRA 551, 573.
46Rollo, p. 31.
47 G.R. No. 207992, 11 August 2014, 732 SCRA 554, 557.