Appellants William Tiu y Liu and Edgardo De Paz y DANIO were charged before the Regional Trial Court of Marikina City 1 with violating Section 15, Article III of Republic Act 6425, as amended by Republic Act 7659, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. Both were found guilty of the offense charged and sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and solidarily to pay the mandatory conjunctive penalty of a fine of P1,000,000. 2 The convictions are now up for review before the Court.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The Prosecution’s Version of the Facts
The testimonies of prosecution witnesses PO3 Benedicto R. Tupil, 3 P/Insp. Julieto Culili, 4 P/Insp. Julius Mana 5 and P/Insp. Isidro Carino, 6 are as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
On June 26, 1998, at about 2:30 p.m., police officers Tupil, Culili and Mana were on alert duty at the Philippine National Police Narcotics Group, Special Operations Division (SOD) situated in Camp Crame, Quezon City when a confidential informant (CI) walked in and reported that he had knowledge of two persons, going by the names "William" and "Edgar," who were engaged in the selling and/or delivering of large volumes of shabu in Metro Manila. The CI disclosed that Edgar promised him a commission if he can find a good buyer for their available stocks of shabu.
After interrogating the CI and evaluating the information given, Mana instructed the CI to contact Edgar and to arrange the purchase of 2 kilos of shabu. At about 7:30 p.m., the CI returned, claiming that he closed a deal with Edgar for the purchase of 2 kilos of shabu for P1,000,000. The exchange would take place between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., the next day, at the 7-11 convenience store parking area located in Bayan-Bayan Ave., Concepcion, Marikina City.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
A team was immediately formed comprising of Tupil, to act as the poseur-buyer, Culili and a certain P/Insp. Carlito Dimalanta, to give backup support, and six other police officers, to provide the perimeter security. The buy-bust money was also prepared using six pieces of marked P1,000 bills that were placed on top of ten bundles of "boodle" money 7 and contained inside a paper bag. Thereafter, the police officers proceeded to the target area. In route, they dropped by the Eastern Police District Station to coordinate the buy-bust operation to avoid a misencounter with the local police.
The police officers arrived in the target area at around 3:30 a.m. Tupil and the CI parked their vehicle in the parking lot of 7-11, while Culili and Dimalanta took positions in front of a Meralco building some 10 to 15 meters away. The rest of the team stayed at a nearby gasoline station, about 20 meters away from 7-11.
At around 6:30 a.m., a metallic green Toyota Corolla XL, with license plate UHE 156, arrived carrying on board the two appellants. De Paz first approached Tupil and the CI. The CI immediately introduced Tupil to De Paz by saying "Siya iyong interasadong bumili ng shabu." De Paz, in turn, requested to see the money, whereupon Tupil went to the car to retrieve the paper bag. Tupil then took out a bundle of boodle money and flashed it in front of De Paz. Satisfied, De Paz left to fetch Tiu who was, during all this time, waiting inside the Toyota Corolla. When De Paz returned with Tiu, the latter was carrying a black shoulder bag. Tiu handed the black bag over to Tupil saying "Pare, ito iyong order nyo na bato. Dalawang kilo yan." After receiving the black bag, Tupil handed over to De Paz the paper bag containing the boodle money. As he was doing so, Tupil executed the prearranged signal by removing the cap he was wearing. Thereafter, Tupil identified himself as a police officer and grabbed Tiu. De Paz managed to run away at first, but was immediately caught by Dimalanta and Culili.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The Appellants’ Version of the Facts
Appellants claim that the buy-bust operation never took place. Instead, they depicted an elaborate frame-up perpetrated by the police. Gathered from the testimonies of appellants 8 and witnesses Lorna Perez, 9 Nerio Cercado, 10 Eduardo Balamiento, 11 Tessie Lesiguez, 12 Carmelita Villanueva, 13 and Erna Boadilla, 14 the whole incident transpired as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
On June 26, 1998, Lorna Perez, the common-law wife of Tiu, was in route to Manila on board Tiu’s Mitsubishi Lancer GRS, with license plate WLT 111, driven by Nerio Cercado. She had just left Olongapo City, where she had a medical check-up. Somewhere in Sta. Cruz, Pampanga, their vehicle was stopped by armed men who introduced themselves as narcotics policemen stationed in Olongapo City. The policemen accused them of riding in a "hot" car and told them that they must be brought to Camp Crame. Because the men were armed, Perez and Cercado had no choice but to go to Camp Crame.
Upon arrival in Camp Crame at about 8:00 p.m., Perez and Cercado were interrogated by Dimalanta, Culili, Tupil and Mana regarding the whereabouts of Tiu. Both replied that Tiu resides in Marikina and that he may already be home. The police officers then proceeded to Tiu’s house with Perez and Cercado. After seeing that Tiu was not yet home, the police officers decided to wait for him.
Tiu arrived at around 5:30 a.m. the following day, accompanied by De Paz. He just came from an all-night card game in the house of De Paz’s brother. As they entered the gate, the police officers immediately drew their weapons and ordered them to lie on the ground. One police officer told Tiu that their superior, Director Acop, is very mad at him because of false rumors Tiu was allegedly spreading against Director Acop in Olongapo City. Tiu, De Paz, Perez and Cercado were thereafter brought to Camp Crame.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Later, at around 10:00 a.m., the police brought Tiu and Perez back to Marikina because the police wanted Tiu to get in touch with a certain Paul Chua. When he was unable to contact Paul Chua, they were taken back to Camp Crame. The following day, around 8:00 p.m., Director Acop arrived. Upon seeing Tiu, Director Acop took off his shoes and used them to hit Tiu. Director Acop also punched and kicked Tiu, telling him "Putang ina mo William, kung anu-ano ang pinagsasabi mo sa Olongapo. Siniraan mo ako at pinag taguan mo pa kami."cralaw virtua1aw library
Subsequently, the police officers offered to release Perez, Cercado and the Mitsubishi Lancer for P270,000. Tiu managed to raise the money and it was brought in by Perez’s father early the next morning on June 28, 1998. Thus, Perez and Cercado were set free and the vehicle released. However, Tiu and De Paz were brought before the Marikina Prosecutors Office for inquest proceedings.
Appellants filed separate briefs. In Tiu’s brief, the following alleged errors were assigned:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
THE TRIAL COURT GROSSLY MISAPPRECIATED THE FACTS AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING UNDUE WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE SAME INDICATES IMPROBABILITIES.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT ENGAGES IN GIVING UNDUE WEIGHT TO THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION DESPITE THE EXISTENCE OF CLEAR, POSITIVE AND CREDIBLE EVIDENCE EFFECTIVELY CONTROVERTING THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT ON THE GROUND OF REASONABLE DOUBT.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
De Paz, in his brief, assigns the following errors for consideration:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONIES OF THE POLICE OFFICERS WHO CONDUCTED THE ALLEGED BUY-BUST OPERATION WHICH LED TO THE CAPTURE OF WILLIAM TIU AND EDGARDO DE PAZ.
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THAT WILLIAM TIU AND EDGARDO DE PAZ WERE CAUGHT IN FLAGRANTE DELICTO IN AN ALLEGED BUY-BUST OPERATION BY A TEAM HEADED BY P/CHIEF INSPECTOR JULIUS CESAR V. MANA AT THE SEVEN-ELEVEN (7-11) CONVENIENCE STORE LOCATED AT BAYAN-BAYANAN AVENUE, CONCEPCION MARIKINA CITY AT AROUND 6:20 IN THE MORNING OF JUNE 27, 1998 DESPITE THE OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE FOR THE DEFENSE THAT THERE WAS NO BUY-BUST OPERATION IN THE AFORESAID DATE AND PLACE AND THAT WILLIAM TIU AND EDGARDO DE PAZ WERE ARRESTED IN TIU’S RESIDENCE AT 72 ISRAEL STREET, GREEN HEIGHTS NANGKA, MARIKINA CITY.
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT EDGARDO DE PAZ HAS BEEN PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Simply put, both appellants are asking the Court to rule that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court understands the importance of buy-bust operations as an effective method, sanctioned by law, of apprehending drug peddlers. 15 At the same time, it is aware that it is susceptible to mistake, harassment, extortion and abuse. 16 As the Court declared in People v. Ale: 17
. . . [W]e cannot close our eyes to the many reports of evidence being planted on unwary persons either for extorting money or exacting personal vengeance. By the very nature of anti-narcotics operations, the need for entrapment procedures, the use of shady characters as informants, the ease with which sticks of marijuana or grams of heroin can be planted in pockets or hands of unsuspecting provincial hicks, and the secrecy that inevitably shrouds all drug deals, the possibility of abuse is great.
For this reason, the Court must be extra vigilant in trying drug cases. 18
The elements necessary successfully to prosecute an accused for the illegal sale of shabu are: 1) Identities of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and 2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. 19 To prove that these elements were present in the case at bar, the prosecution relies on the testimony of the poseur-buyer, Tupil. The four other witnesses who testified for the prosecution were incompetent to testify on these facts. Culili, who witnessed the incident from some 15 meters away, was only able to testify on the movements of appellants, Tupil and the CI, but could not precisely testify as to the fact of the sale. Mana, on the other hand, testified on the preparations conducted prior to the buy-bust operation, while Cariño merely reported that the drug samples given to him for testing were positive for shabu. In short, the prosecution’s case crucially depends on the strength of the testimony of Tupil.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
While the Court concedes that a single, trustworthy and credible witness could be sufficient to convict an accused, 20 it does not hold true in this case. Tupil’s credibility has been seriously eroded by the fact that, in another drug-related criminal case, he was found to have framed-up the accused therein for illegal sale of shabu. The decision in that case, 21 rendered by the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City and presented by appellants as part of their evidence, 22 speaks volumes of the character of Tupil and his co-narcotics agents. The pertinent portion of the Pasay City trial court’s decision is quoted therein, as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
The prosecution avers that, when the accused arrived, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, on March 15, 1998, in the parking lot of the Heritage Hotel, he and the informant had a brief conversation and that, thereafter, the informant and the accused proceeded to the car of Savellano, in the parking lot, boarded the car and, once inside the car, the sale transaction was forged with the Accused turning over the shabu to Bungay and the latter showing the "buy-money" to the Accused. However, the VHS videotape taken, with the cameras at the entrance door of the hotel, inscrutably shows that, as the Accused waited in the driveway of the hotel, he was forcibly taken by armed male persons and forcibly boarded in a car which then sped off towards the direction of Makati City. This is graphically shown in the VHS video shown to the Court, in the presence of the Accused and the Prosecutor. There was no transaction forged by the Accused and the informant and Bungay at all. The Accused was brazenly abducted from the driveway of the hotel and brought to Camp Crame, Quezon City . . .
Eventually, the accused therein, Philip Sy, was acquitted and criminal charges were brought by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group against Tupil and the other policemen involved in the frame-up. When cross-examined by the defense, Tupil readily admitted having taken part in the "phony" buy-bust operation against Philip Sy and that he even testified therein as a prosecution witness. It having been indubitably shown that Tupil has had a history of framing-up suspects, not to mention his having given false testimony, the Court cannot give credence to his testimony in this case.
The Court also notes from the decision of the Pasay City trial court that prosecution witnesses Culili and Mana were also part of the plot to frame-up Philip Sy. Their credibility are, consequently, similarly questionable.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
While the defense of frame-up can be easily fabricated, this claim assumes importance when it is shown that the apprehending officers, who were also the prosecution’s witnesses, have a penchant for framing innocent people or, in our colorful vernacular, committing "HULIDAP." 23 Under the circumstances, a cloud of doubt, arising from the lack of credibility of the prosecution witnesses, attends the finding of guilt against appellants.
Moreover, to corroborate their claim that no buy-bust operation occurred, appellants were able to present disinterested witnesses who had no personal or business relationship with them:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Tessie Lesiguiez is a balut and cigarette vendor who sells her wares just beside the 7-11 convenient store, where the alleged buy-bust operation occurred. She testified that she was at her post from the evening of June 26, 1998 until 7:30 a.m. of June 27, 1998 and that, during the entire time, she did not witness any buy-bust operation.
Carmelita Villanueva is another vendor who has a stall beside 7-11. She testified that she tended her stall selling viands between 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. of June 27, 1998 and that she does not recall any unusual incident that happened at that time.
Erna Boadilla is a next-door neighbor of Tiu. She testified that she is usually awake by 5:00 a.m. to prepare breakfast for her husband. She said that in the morning of June 27, 1998, she heard their dogs barking, prompting her to peep through their window. From her vantage point, she saw 5 or 6 armed men accosting Tiu who was, thereafter, boarded inside a car.
In criminal cases, it is incumbent upon the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. 24 The Court finds that the guilt of appellants herein has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt, as measured by the required moral certainty for conviction. While there has been no strong proof that appellants were indeed framed-up, in criminal cases the overriding consideration is not whether the Court doubts the innocence of the accused but whether it entertains a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. 25 Considering the shady credibility of the prosecution witnesses, and the evidence presented by appellants, the constitutional presumption of innocence has not been overcome.
WHEREFORE, decision of the Regional Trial Court of Marikina City, Branch 272, in Criminal Case No. 98-593-D-MK, is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and appellants are ACQUITTED of the crime charged. Costs de oficio.
SO ORDERED.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Vitug and Carpio, JJ.
, on official leave.
1. Branch 272, Criminal Case No. 98-593-D-MK.
2. Rollo, p. 60.
3. TSN, October 12, 1998.
4. TSN, February 23, 1999.
5. TSN, April 12, 1999.
6. TSN, November 11, 1998.
7. Wad of paper cut out in the shape of monetary bills.
8. TSN, May 24, 1999; TSN, August 2, 1999.
9. TSN, February 8, 1999.
10. TSN, February 9, 1999.
11. TSN, April 19, 1999.
14. TSN, August 2, 1999.
15. People v. Saludes, Et Al., G.R. No. 144157, June 10, 2003.
16. People v. Lati, 184 SCRA 336 (1993).
17. 145 SCRA 50 (1986).
18. People v. Pagaura, 267 SCRA 17 (1997).
19. People v. Zheng Bai Hui, 338 SCRA 420 (2000).
20. People v. Quetua, 222 SCRA 357 (1993).
21. Criminal Case No. 98-0292; Decision dated September 18, 1998.
22. Annex "2" of Exhibit "5," Records, Vol. I, pp. 381-389.
23. A term for "Arrest-Hold-up."cralaw virtua1aw library
24. People v. Tantiado, 213 SCRA 365 (1992).
25. People v. Villagonzalo, 238 SCRA 215 (1994).