Appellant Eliza D. Bagus was charged in an Information, 1 dated December 17, 1990, for violating Section 4 of Republic Act 6425. When arraigned, appellant entered a plea of "Not Guilty." Trial, thereafter, ensued. On September 7, 1992, the trial court 2 found the appellant guilty as charged and sentenced her "to suffer life imprisonment, to pay a fine of P20,000.00 and to pay the costs." 3 Aggrieved, appellant interposed the instant appeal maintaining her innocence and arguing that the evidence against her "is doubtful." 4
The facts of the case as narrated by the Office of the Solicitor General are as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"The evidence for the prosecution shows that on December 12, 1990, about 9:00 a.m., at the Bagong Silang Police Sub-Station, Kalookan City, Lt. Norberto Surara conducted a "briefing" wherein a team composed of P/Cpl. Perfecto Sobejana, Pat. Alfredo Antonio and P/Aide Bonifacio Lapuz, who was designated as the poseur-buyer, was formed in order to conduct a buy-bust operation against Rodel San Pedro and Danilo Gatchalian (TSN, January 24, 1992, pp. 16-17). On the same day, at 5:00 p.m., said team of police officers went to Barrio San Lorenzo, Tala, Kalookan City, and saw Danilo Gatchalian, who was smoking and acting suspiciously (TSN, January 24, 1993, p. 8; TSN, August 14, 1991, p. 9). Pat. Antonio asked Gatchalian "to bring out everything inside his pocket" and he (Gatchalian) brought out five (5) tea bags of marijuana from the pocket of his pants (TSN, August 14, 1991, p. 9). The size of each tea bag of marijuana was one inch by one inch (TSN, October 16, 1991, p. 16). Gatchalian was arrested by the police officers and he informed them that he had purchased the five (5) tea bags of marijuana from Rodel San Pedro (TSN, August 14, 1991, p. 10). The police officers agreed to pursue their plan to conduct a buy-bust operation against San Pedro (TSN, October 16, 1991, p. 7). Hence, they proceeded to the house of San Pedro at Barrio San Roque, Tala, Kalookan City, where, from a distance, Gatchalian pointed appellant to them. Appellant is the wife of San Pedro and was then standing near the aforesaid house (TSN, October 16, 1991, p. 8; TSN, January 14, 1992, p. 10). Since San Pedro could not be seen by the police officers, they agreed to conduct the buy-bust operation against appellant (TSN, October 16, 1991, pp. 9-10). While the (sic) P/Cpl. Sobejana, Pat Antonio and Gatchalian hid in strategic places, P/Aide Lapuz approached appellant and told her that he was a friend of her husband and would like to buy two (2) tea bags of marijuana (TSN, October 16, 1991, p. 9; TSN October 30, 1991 p. 7; TSN, January 24, 1992, p. 10). P/Aide Lapuz handed the marked P20.00 bill to appellant, who went inside the house and gave Lapuz two (2) tea bags of marijuana in return (TSN, January 24, 1991, p. 10). When P/Aide Lapuz, by raising his hand, signalled to P/Cpl. Sobejana and Pat. Antonio that the sale of marijuana had been consummated, appellant ran out of the house and tried to escape, but Lapuz overtook and arrested her (TSN, October 16, 1991, p. 11). Appellant confessed that her husband was the drug pusher and pointed to the police officers the sixty-five tea bags of marijuana hidden under the dog’s cage inside the house (TSN, October 16, 1991, pp. 12-13; TSN, January 24, 1992, p. 13). Thereafter, the police officers brought appellant to their headquarters at Bagong Silang Police Sub-Station, Kalookan City (TSN, August 14, 1991, p. 15)chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary
"The seventy-two (72) tea bags of marijuana (five (5) were taken from Danilo Gatchalian and sixty-seven (67) from appellant), each of which had the same size of one inch by one inch, were sent to the National Bureau of Investigation for laboratory examination, which showed that they were positive for marijuana (TSN, July 17, 1991, p. 5).
"In her defense, appellant presented herself, Alfredo Santos and Fernando Bagus, Jr. as witnesses.
"Appellant’s main defense is denial. She denied that a buy-bust operation was conducted by the police officers against her on December 12, 1990 (TSN, April 24, 1992, p. 7). She gave a different version of the incident. She testified that on December 12, 1990, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., two (2) security guards of Daily Security Forces, who were Resty delos Santos and Rodel Gingco, and an unidentified man, who was handcuffed, arrived at her house at Barrio San Roque, Tala, Kalookan City (TSN, April 24, 1992, pp. 7-8). Resty delos Santos, Rodel Gingco and the handcuffed man were looking for appellant’s husband, Rodel San Pedro (TSN, April 24, 1992, p. 8). Not finding Rodel San Pedro in his house, they (Santo, Gingco and the handcuffed man) brought appellant to the Bagong Silang Police Station for investigation, where he was detained for three (3) days (TSN, April 24, 1992, pp. 9-10). She did not know why the law enforcers testified against her (TSN, April 24, 1992, p. 12). 5
" [Defense] Witness, Alfredo Santos, testified that on or about December 12, 1990, between 5:00 to 6:00 p.m., three (3) male persons, one of them was in handcuffs, arrived at the house of his neighbor, the appellant herein. He knows the two (2) persons as security guards of the Daily Security Force (Tala Security Force) but not the one in handcuffs. At the time of their arrival, he was picking camote tops at the yard of the appellant and he was around three (3) meters away from the latter.
"The security guards were looking for Rodel San Pedro, live-in partner of appellant but they were informed by the latter that he (R. San Pedro) was out; One of the security guards entered the house of appellant and later came out saying that said Rodel San Pedro was not there.
"Pointblank, witness declared that he did not witness any buy busting that take place during the time. Neither did he see any plastic bag of marijuana taken within the premises nor in chicken cage, nor dog house, by the security guards.
"Further testifying, witness stated that he knows, as neighbor of appellant, that the latter has no dog house or chicken cage or any dog or chicken. Likewise, there are no tree/s around the place of the appellant and from the time the two (2) security guards and the person in handcuffs arrived and up to the time they left together with the appellant, he was at the yard of the latter.
"On cross-examination, same witness testified, that —
"He knows appellant about three (3) years, since the time that she became his neighbor; his family relationship with appellant’s is harmonious, as what he knows, appellant was invited by the two (2) security guards of the Tala Security Force at the Tala Headquarters; and that, he did not have a chance to see appellant at the office of the security personnel." 6
The appeal is impressed with merit.
The Court generally respects the trial court’s finding on the credibility of the witnesses, but where certain facts of substance and value are overlooked which if considered would affect the result of the case then such finding is not conclusive to us 7 , as in this present appeal.
In the case at bench, there were three (3) alleged eyewitnesses, viz: P/Cpl. Sobejana, Pat. Antonio, and poseur-buyer Lapuz. While these witnesses planned and conducted, as a group, the supposed entrapment of herein appellant the Court is disturbed on the material differences of their accounts. Hereunder are the substantial parts of the testimony of P/Cpl. Sobejana contrasted with the testimony of Pat. Antonio, thus:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
P/Cpl. Sobejana Pat. Antonio
1. On the source of the information on the alleged drug deal.
Q: Tell us, Mr. Witness? Q: While thereat, do you remember
if your office received a call from
an informer that a drug deal will take
place at Tala?
A: While we were at the said police A: We received the information
station, a civilian informer came from a certain person from Tala,
to us and informed that there is a sir.
tip that a marijuana deal will take
place at Tala.
Q: Caloocan City? Q: Who received that call from that
A: Yes, your Honor. A: Lt. Surara, sir.
Q: And was that a telephone call? Q: Was that through telephone
A: No, your Honor. We do not have A: Yes, sir. (TSN, Aug. 14, 1991,
a telephone. (TSN, Oct. 16, 1991, p. 4.)
2. On the type of vehicle used in going to the target place.
Q: What did you do, Mr. Witness, Q: How did you proceed to the place
after you informed him of that of operation at Barrio San
alleged drug deal that will take Lazaro, Tala, Caloocan City?
place in Tala, Caloocan City?
A: Yours truly, together with Pat. A: We were on board the mobile of
Antonio and P/A Bonifacio Lapuz Bagong Silang Police Sub-
were dispatched at Tala, Caloocan Station, sir.
Q: Did you proceed there with a Q: There were three of you inside
vehicle or what? that mobile car?
A Yes, your Honor. We boarded on A: Yes, sir. (Id., p. 8.)
my owner-type jeep. (Id., p. 5.)
3. On the source of the tea bags taken from Mr. Gatchalian.
Q: What was revealed to you by Mr. Q: Did that person Danilo
Gatchalian? Gatchalian inform the name of
A: That the confiscated tea-bags of A: Yes, sir.
marijuana were sold by Elisa
Q: So to that effect you went to the Q: And who was that person, the
residence of Elisa Bagus, is that source of those teabags of
what you mean? marijuana?
A: After making a plan for the A: What I know, it was a certain
operation, we proceeded to the Rodel San Pedro, sir. (Id., p. 10)
place or to the residence of Elisa
Bagus, sir. (TSN, Oct. 30, 1991,
4. On where the additional teabags of marijuana were found.
WITNESS (A) After trembling, Q: Did she tell you the source of
she confessed that her live-in the marijuana which was handed
partner is the pusher and pointed to Police Aide Lapuz?
to us under the shack under the A: She pointed where the marijuana
dog’s cage where we could find was hidden, sir.
the marijuana stuff.
Q: When she pointed the place, how Q: And did you find the other
far were you from her? marijuana?
A: We were very close. A: It was retrieved, sir, because
she pointed it.
Q: So she pointed to the dog’s cage Q: Whereat?
where you could find those teabags?
A: Yes, sir. (TSN, Oct. 16, 1991, A: Under the chicken coop which is
p. 12) inside the house, sir. (Id., p. 14)
5. On the source and denomination of the buy-bust money.
Q: What was the money or what Q: How about the money that will be
denomination was that money? used by the poseur-buyer, what
A: It was a P20.00 bill. was done to it?
A: There was money delivered, sir.,
Q: How could you identify that? one P20 bill and one P10 bill.
A: If presented I could identify it.
Q: To whom did Lt. Surara give
Q: Mr. Witness, who provided that those two money bills?
P20.00 as the money that would A: To Police Aide Bonifacio Lapuz,
be used in that buy-bust operation sir. (Id., p. 7)
A: It was the money of Police
Aide Lapuz, sir. (Id., p. 7)
6. On what the appellant was doing in the subject area.
Q: By the way, when you first saw Q: Did you see this Elisa Bagus,
Elisa Bagus, exactly where was after learning that Rodel San
she? Pedro was not there, and how
A: She also identified their did you see Elisa Bagus?
shanty/house, sir. A: She was beside their house, sir.
(Id., p. 11)
Q: What was she doing then?
A: She was carrying her baby.
(Id., p. 9)
7. On the conduct of the alleged buy bust operation.
Q: How far were you then when you Q: How far were you from Elisa
saw Elisa Bagus handing Bagus and Police Aide Lapuz?
something to Lapuz and Lapuz
handing something or the money A: About five meters, sir.
A: About 7 to 8 meters. Q: And you saw how the sale was
x x x being transacted?
FISCAL SISON(Q) Which came first, A: Yes, sir.
Mr. Witness — the handing of the
buy-bust money or the thing Q: Tell us how they transacted?
handed over by Elisa Bagus?
A: I saw them handing each other
A: With that distance as I said the money and the marijuana,
earlier, we saw that P/Aide Lapuz sir.
handed the P20.00 bill to Elisa
Bagus and then she (sic) [should Q: You said you saw them handing
be "he" ] came out and he signalled to each other money and
(sic) that he has the teabags, so marijuana. Which was the first
we proceeded immediately to the person handing that thing to the
shanty together with Danilo other?
x x x A: It was Police Aide Lapuz who
received the marijuana first, sir.
FISCAL SISON (Q) Tell us which
came first . . .? Q: You mean the buy-bust money
was not given first?
A: I said the handing of the money
came first. A: It was simultaneously, sir.
Q: And then? Q: After handing the buy-bust
A: And then Lapuz signalled (sic) us money and the marijuana, what
when he came out from the house happened next?
of Elisa Bagus showing to us that
he already bought the stuff . A: Cpl. Sobejana approached them
because it was already positive
FISCAL SISON (Q) So actually where that there was a sale of
did that handing of the buy-bust marijuana, sir.
money and the handing over of the
teabag take place? Q: How about you, what did you do?
WITNESS (A) It was within the A: I also approached them, sir.
premises of Elisa Bagus. (Id., p. 13)
Q: Outside her shanty?
A: Inside because P/A Lapuz went
inside the house. (Id., pp. 9-11)
8. On what the appellant did after the sale of marijuana.
Q: So what happened to Elisa Bagus? Q: So, what did you do with the
A: So Elisa tried to escape but we accused then, after both of you
were able to pursue her together and Cpl. Sobejana approached
with her baby. the two, I am referring to Lapuz
and Elisa Bagus?
Q: How did she try to escape, tell us?
A: She tried to run.
A: We talked to Elisa Bagus since
Q: Outside the house? we had already caught her in
A: Yes, sir. possession of marijuana, and
asked her who was the source of
Q: Who was able to catch her then? the marijuana, sir. (Id., p. 14)
A: It was P/A Lapuz. (Id., p. 11)
The obvious contradictions between the testimonies of P/Cpl. Sobejana and Pat. Antonio are accentuated by the testimony of the assigned poseur-buyer, Lapuz. Thus, while the two policemen are united in stating that there were only three persons in the group tasked to conduct the "buy-bust" operation, Lapuz insists otherwise, hence:chanrobles virtual lawlibrary
"Q: So there were 3 of you in the group by Lt. Surara?
A: We were many, sir.
Q: How many of you all in all?
A: Five or six members. I do not know the names of the other members, sir." (TSN, January 24, 1992, p. 6)
A marked disagreement among the witnesses on the source of the "buy-bust" money also exists. P/Cpl. Sobejana asserts that the money came from Lapuz, while Pat. Antonio’s testimony impliedly points to Lt. Surara as the one who doled-out the peso bills. Lapuz, for his part, had this to say:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Q: Who provided the P20.00 you used to buy 2 tea-bags of marijuana from San Pedro’s wife?
A: Cpl. Sobejana, sir." (TSN January 24, 1992, p. 10)
Moreover, it appears to be the standard operating procedure in "buy-bust" operations that the marked money bills are normally photocopied before their use. In the case at bench the authorities deviated from this procedure for no cogent reason. Thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Q: The photocopy of the alleged buy-bust money was done after it was utilized as buy-bust?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: After it was utilized for the buy-bust on the 11th day?
A: No sir. It was used during the buy-bust operation, sir.
Q: Then after that you photocopied the same?
A: Yes, sir." (PO3 Gilbert Dioso, TSN, October 30, 1991, p. 24).
Anent the manner on the purported "buy-bust" operation, Lapuz narrates a different tale. Thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Q: Were you able to see the wife of Rodel San Pedro?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Where exactly did you see her, Mr. Witness?
A: Beside the house, sir.
Q: Tell us the Address of her house?
A: San Roque, Tala, Kalookan City, sir.
Q: And what was the wife doing at that time you saw her beside their house?
A: She was just standing, sir, beside the house.
x x x
Q: What did you do next when Danilo Gatchalian pointed to the wife of San Pedro from whom he got those 5 tea-bags of marijuana?
A: Cpl. Sobejana ordered me to buy marijuana from her, sir.
Q: Were you able to buy marijuana from the wife of San Pedro?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Tell us how were you able to buy marijuana from San Pedro’s wife?
A: I introduced myself to her as a friend of her husband, Rodel San Pedro and that I need two tea-bags of marijuana.
Q: And then?
A: She gave me the 2 tea-bags of marijuana and then I paid P20.00 for it, sir.
x x x
Q: When you received from her already those 2 tea-bags of marijuana, what did you do next?
A: I grabbed her and then my companions responded, sir.
Q: What happened to the P20.00 which you used to buy those tea-bags of marijuana?
A: It was taken from her by Cpl. Sobejana, sir. (TSN, January 24, 1992, p. 10)
The testimonies of P/Cpl. Sobejana, Pat. Antonio and poseur-buyer Lapuz, alleged eyewitnesses, leave much to be desired. They are fraught with irreconcilable contradictions and substantial inconsistencies which thereby cast serious doubt over the veracity of the charge against herein appellant. Indeed, the Court is baffled how P/Cpl. Sobejana and Pat. Antonio who were situated outside the house at a distance of five (5) to eight (8) meters can see and clearly observe the supposed transaction or sale of marijuana inside appellant’s residence. Worse, such scenario was incompatible with the narrative of poseur-buyer Lapuz who indicated that the sale took place not inside but outside the house. The exclusion in the information, with no tenable reason, of the sixty five (65) tea bags supposedly taken from the custody of the appellant adds suspicion on the authenticity of the prosecution’s case. The credibility of the poseur-buyer also appears unreliable as shown by the following passage in his testimony, thus:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
x x x
Q: But you remember that you executed a Joint Affidavit of Apprehension in connection with this case?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And if that will be shown to you, will you be able to identify the same?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Will you please look in this Joint Affidavit of Apprehension if this was the same which you have said you executed in connection with this case? (Public Prosecutor showing to the witness Exhibit "H").chanrobles.com : virtual law library
A: Yes, sir. This is the one.
Q: I noticed that you have not signed that Joint Affidavit of Apprehension. Tell us why you failed to sign that Joint Affidavit of Apprehension?
A: Because when this case was inquested, I went to the comfort room but I was with them when Elisa Bagus was brought before the Inquest Fiscal, sir.
Q: Do you still affirm the contents of this Joint Affidavit of Apprehension?
A: Yes, sir.
Q; Please sign it, Mr. Witness?
A: Yes, sir (witness is affixing his signature above his typewritten name P/Aide Bonifacio Lapuz).
FISCAL SISON:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
May I request that the signature of the witness be marked as Exhibit I-2", your Honor.
ATTY. SACLAYAN:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
For the record, your Honor, as an observation, the witness signed the affidavit without reading the same. (TSN, January 24, 1992, p. 11)
x x x
In the face of the prosecution’s distressing evidence, appellant’s denial assumes significance. Appellant’s averment that "the prosecution" is in a hurry "to beat the deadline of (sic) the filing of the case and avoid the possible offense of arbitrary detention" 8 and that perhaps her incarceration is a ploy to entice and force her husband to surrender to the police is far credible than the conjured tale of the apprehending officers and alleged poseur-buyer. We find that appellant’s assertion was corroborated not only by the testimony of a disinterested witness, 9 but also by the testimony of PO3 Dioso, a police investigator and an additional prosecution witness. Thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"WITNESS:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
PO3 GILBERT DIOSO, 31 years old, married, presently assigned at Station Investigation Division, Urduja PNP Station, Camarin Road, Kalookan City.
x x x
Q: When was she inquested for the alleged offense of Republic Act 6425?
A: That was on the 16th of December, sir.
Q: Do you mean to say Mr. Witness that Miss Elisa Bagus was in your office from 2:30 to 3:30 on the 11th of December 1990 up to the 15th of December 1990?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: May I know the reason, Mr. Witness, why Miss Bagus was held in custody of the sub-station for that period of time?
A: The reason is that my colleague then was still conducting a follow-up operation for the possible arrest of the live-in partner of Elisa Bagus, sir, and we were also waiting for the result of the laboratory test conducted by the NBI, sir.
Q: So you were waiting for the result of the laboratory test. Is it not a fact that, according to the records, Mr. Witness that these marijuana were delivered to the laboratory of the NBI on 5:55 or 5:59 of December 15, 1990?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And that is the time when you waited?
A: As I have said earlier, we were conducting a follow-up investigation against the live-in partner of Elisa Bagus?
Q: You want to impress the Honorable Court that there is a necessity for you to wait for the other suspects before you deliver her to the proper Courts without violating her constitutional rights?
A: Because the suspect Elisa Bagus agreed to point to the arresting officer the whereabouts of her live-in partner that is why we were not able to file case against her as already set.
Q: Did you reduce that into writing in order to protect your sub-station?
A: No, sir. (PO3 Gilbert Dioso, TSN, October 30, 1991, pp. 3, 23-24).
It is our considered view that appellant’s denial merits credence and has to be accorded weight than the prosecution’s disputable accusation.
Prescinding from the foregoing observations, the Court feels that the guilt of the appellant was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Mere suspicion of guilt should not sway judgment. Every evidence favoring the accused must be duly considered. 10 In People v. Sadie 11 and Perez v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, 12 this Court reiterated the ancient principle that "no one shall be found guilty of crime except upon proof beyond reasonable doubt." We note that the presumption of innocence in favor of the appellant was not successfully rebutted, hence her acquittal is inevitable. In closing, the Court takes this opportunity to reiterate its admonition in People v. Cruz 13 on the trial of drug cases especially on buy-bust operations, thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Trial courts are admonished to always require precise and convincing testimony in cases involving buy-bust operations. . . . Except for influential persons or those who can afford the best lawyers, it is well nigh impossible to refute a charge that drugs were ‘planted’ and not ‘possessed’ or ‘pushed’. The complaints of mulcting activities by unscrupulous policemen, especially by those who are assigned to traffic duties or some other chores but who somehow stumble on possession of prohibited drugs by teenagers or provincianos, are legion. It is for this reason that trial courts should be more wary and careful in assessing conflicting, ambiguous, or non-relevant testimony. More important than apprehending and convicting criminals is faithful adherence to due process, the need to accord to every accused the protections guaranteed to him or her by the Constitution."cralaw virtua1aw library
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Appellant ELISA BAGUS Y DACAYAN is hereby ACQUITTED on reasonable doubt. Her IMMEDIATE RELEASE IS ORDERED, unless there is other valid ground for her continued incarceration.chanrobles.com : virtual lawlibrary
, Davide, Jr., Melo and Panganiban, JJ.
1. The information reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"The undersigned Assistant City Prosecutor accuses ELISA BAGUS Y DACAYAN and JOHN DOE (true name, real identity and present whereabout of the last named accused still unknown), of the crime of ‘VIO. OF SEC. 4, RA 6425’ committed as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"That on or about the 12th day of December 1990 in Kalookan City, MM, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without having been authorized by law, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to one P/A BONIFACIO LAPUZ, two (2) tea bags of Marijuana worth P20.00, knowing the same to be a prohibited drug under the provisions of the above-cited law.
"Contrary to law." (Records, p. 1)
2. Regional Trial Court, Branch 124, National Capital Judicial Region, Caloocan City, Presided by Hon. Rene Victoriano.
3. RTC Decision, p. 7; Rollo, p. 44.
4. Brief for the Appellant, p. 7; Rollo, p. 35.
5. Brief for the Appellee, pp. 4-8.
6. Brief for the Appellant, pp. 3-4; Rollo, 31-32.
7. People v. Flores, 165 SCRA 71, citing U.S. v. Estrada, 24 Phil. 401, People v. De Orero, 51 Phil. 201; People v. Caboverde, G.R. No. 66646, April 15, 1988, and People v. Capulong, G.R. No. 65674, April 15, 1988.
8. Brief for the Appellant, p. 6; Rollo, p. 34.
9. Alfredo Santos, See TSN, April 10, 1992, pp. 1-10.
10. People v. Caboverde, 160 SCRA 550, 559.
11. 149 SCRA 240, 244.
12. 180 SCRA 9.
13. 215 SCRA 339, 348.