January 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 205472, January 25, 2016 - AMADO I. SARAUM, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
G.R. No. 205472, January 25, 2016
AMADO I. SARAUM,1Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
This petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court (Rules) seeks to reverse the Decision2 dated September 8, 2011 and Resolution3 dated December 19, 2012 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB CR No. 01199, which affirmed the judgment of conviction against petitioner Amado I. Saraum (Saraum) rendered by the Regional Trial Court (ATC), Branch 57, Cebu City, in Criminal Case No. CBU-77737.
Saraum was charged with violation of Section 12, Article II (Possession of Paraphernalia for Dangerous Drugs) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The accusatory portion of the Information reads:
That on or about the 17th day of August, 2006, at about 12:45 A.M., in the City of Cebu, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with deliberate intent, and without being authorized by law, did then and there have in his possession the following:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryIn his arraignment, Saraum, with the assistance of a counsel, pleaded not guilty to the offense charged.5 Trial ensued. Meantime, Saraum was released on bail.61 = One (1) lighter
2 = One (1) rolled tissue paper
3 = One (1) aluminum tin foil
which are instruments and/or equipments (sic) fit or intended for smoking, consuming, administering, ingesting, or introducing, any dangerous drug into the body.
CONTRARY TO LAW.4ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
PO3 Jeffrey Larrobis and PO1 Romeo Jumalon testified for the prosecution while the defense presented no witness other than Saraum.
According to the prosecution, on August 17, 2006, a telephone call was received by PO3 Larrobis regarding the illegal drug activities in Sitio Camansi, Barangay Lorega, Cebu City. A buy-bust team was then formed composed of PO3 Larrobis, PO1 Jumalon, PO2 Nathaniel Sta. Ana, PO1 Roy Cabahug, and PO1 Julius Aniņon against a certain "Pata." PO2 Sta. Ana was designated as the poseur-buyer accompanied by the informant, PO1 Jumalon as the back-up of PO2 Sta. Ana, and the rest of the team as the perimeter security. PO1 Aniņon coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) regarding the operation. After preparing all the necessary documents, such as the pre-operation report and submitting the same to the PDEA, the team proceeded to the subject area.
During the operation, "Pata" eluded arrest as he tried to run towards his shanty. Inside the house, which was divided with a curtain as partition, the buy-bust team also saw Saraum and Peter Espcranza, who were holding drug paraphernalia apparently in preparation to have a "shabu" pot session. They recovered from Saraum's possession a lighter, rolled tissue paper, and aluminum tin foil (tooter). PO3 Larrobis confiscated the items, placed them in the plastic pack of misua wrapper, and made initial markings ("A" for Saraum and "P" for Esperanza). At the police station, PO3 Larrobis marked as "AIS-08-17-2006" the paraphernalia recovered from Saraum. After the case was filed, the subject items were turned over to the property custodian of the Office of City Prosecutor.
By way of defense, Saraum denied the commission of the alleged offense. He testified that on the date and time in question, he was passing by Lorega Cemetery on his way to the house of his parents-in-law when he was held by men with firearms. They were already with "Antik" and "Pata," both of whom were his neighbors. Believing that he had not committed anything illegal, he resisted the arrest. He learned of the criminal charge only when he was brought to the court.
On May 5, 2009, the RTC rendered its Decision,7 the dispositive portion of which states:
WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of violation of Section 12, Article II of R.A. 9165 and he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of six (6) months and one (1) day to two (2) years and to pay a fine of Php20,000.00 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.On appeal, the CA sustained the judgment of conviction; hence, this petition.
The drug paraphernalias (sic) are ordered forfeited in favor of the government.
Considering that Saraum failed to show any arbitrariness, palpable error, or capriciousness on the findings of fact of the trial and appellate courts, such findings deserve great weight and are deemed conclusive and binding.9 Besides, a review of the records reveals that the CA did not err in affirming his conviction.
The elements of illegal possession of equipment, instrument, apparatus and other paraphernalia for dangerous drugs under Section 12, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 are: (1) possession or control by the accused of any equipment, apparatus or other paraphernalia fit or intended for smoking, consuming, administering, injecting, ingesting, or introducing any dangerous drug into the body; and (2) such possession is not authorized by law.10 In this case, the prosecution has convincingly established that Saraum was in possession of drug paraphernalia, particularly aluminum tin foil, rolled tissue paper, and lighter, all of which were offered and admitted in evidence.
Saraum was arrested during the commission of a crime, which instance does not require a warrant in accordance with Section 5 (a), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.11 In arrest in flagrante delicto, the accused is apprehended at the very moment he is committing or attempting to commit or has just committed an offense in the presence of the arresting officer. To constitute a valid in flagrante delicto arrest, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.12
Here, the Court is unconvinced with Saraum's statement that he was not committing a crime at the time of his arrest. PO3 Larrobis described in detail how they were able to apprehend him, who was then holding a disposable lighter in his right hand and a tin foil and a rolled tissue paper in his left hand,13 while they were in the course of arresting somebody. The case is clearly one of hot pursuit of "Pate," who, in eluding arrest, entered the shanty where Saraum and Esperanza were incidentally caught in possession of the illegal items. Saraum did not proffer any satisfactory explanation with regard to his presence at the vicinity of the buy-bust operation and his possession of the seized items that he claims to have "countless, lawful uses." On the contrary, the prosecution witnesses have adequately explained the respective uses of the items to prove that they were indeed drug paraphernalia.14 There is, thus, no necessity to make a laboratory examination and finding as to the presence or absence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or any illegal substances on said items since possession itself is the punishable act.
The valid warrantless arrest gave the officers the right to search the shanty for objects relating to the crime and seize the drug paraphernalia they found. In the course of their lawful intrusion, they inadvertently saw the various drug paraphernalia. As these items were plainly visible, the police officers were justified in seizing them. Considering that Saraum's arrest was legal, the search and seizure that resulted from it were likewise lawful. The various drug paraphernalia that the police officers found and seized in the shanty are, therefore, admissible in evidence for having proceeded from a valid search and seizure. Since the confiscated drug paraphernalia are the very corpus delicti of the crime charged, the Court has no choice but to sustain the judgment of conviction.
Even if We consider the arrest as invalid, Saraum is deemed to have waived any objection thereto when he did not raise the issue before entering his plea. "The established rule is that an accused may be estopped from assailing the legality of his arrest if he failed to move for the quashing of the Information against him before his arraignment. Any objection involving the arrest or the procedure in the court's acquisition of jurisdiction over the person of an accused must be made before he enters his plea; otherwise the objection is deemed waived."15 In this case, counsel for Saraum manifested its objection to the admission of the seized drug paraphernalia, invoking illegal arrest and search, only during the formal offer of evidence by the prosecution.16
In ascertaining the identity of the illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia presented in court as the ones actually seized from the accused, the prosecution must show that: (a) the prescribed procedure under Section 21(1), Article II of R.A. No. 9165 has been complied with or falls within the saving clause provided in Section 21 (a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No. 9165;17and (b) there was an unbroken link (not perfect link) in the chain of custody with respect to the confiscated items.18
Although Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165 mandates that the apprehending team must immediately conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph them, non-compliance therewith is not fatal as long as there is a justifiable ground and as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the confiscated/seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending team.19 While nowhere in the prosecution evidence show the "justifiable ground" which may excuse the police operatives involved in the buy-bust operation from making the physical inventory and taking a photograph of the drug paraphernalia confiscated and/or seized, such omission shall not render Saraum's arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him as inadmissible in evidence. Said "justifiable ground" will remain unknown in the light of the apparent failure of Saraum to specifically challenge the custody and safekeeping or the issue of disposition and preservation of the subject drug paraphernalia before the trial court. He cannot be allowed too late in the day to question the police officers' alleged non-compliance with Section 21 for the first time on appeal.20
The chain of custody rule requires the identification of the persons who handled the confiscated items for the purpose of duly monitoring the authorized movements of the illegal drugs and/or drug paraphernalia from the time they were seized from the accused until the time they arc presented in court.21 Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002, implementing R.A. No. 9165, defines chain of custody as follows:
Chain of Custody means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of movements and custody of seized item shall include the identity and signature of the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when such transfer of custody were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition.In Mallillin v. People,22 the Court discussed how the chain of custody of seized items should be established, thus:
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 lo 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.23ChanRoblesVirtualawlibraryWhile the procedure on the chain of custody should be perfect and unbroken, in reality, it is almost always impossible to obtain an unbroken chain.24 Thus, failure to strictly comply with Section 21(1), Article II of R.A. No. 9165 does not necessarily render an accused person's arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible.25
x x x Under Section 3 of Rule 128 of the Rules of Court, evidence is admissible when it is relevant to the issue and is not excluded by the law or these rules. For evidence to be inadmissible, there should be a law or rule which forbids its reception. If there is no such law or rule, the evidence must be admitted subject only to the evidentiary weight that will be accorded it by the courts. x x xThe most important factor is the preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items.27 In this case, the prosecution was able to demonstrate that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated drug paraphernalia had not been compromised because it established the crucial link in the chain of custody of the seized items from the time they were first discovered until they were brought to the court for examination. Even though the prosecution failed to submit in evidence the physical inventory and photograph of the drug paraphernalia, this will not render Saraum's arrest illegal or the items seized from him inadmissible. There is substantial compliance by the police as to the required procedure on the custody and control of the confiscated items. The succession of events established by evidence and the overall handling of the seized items by specified individuals all show that the evidence seized were the same evidence subsequently identified and testified to in open court.
We do not find any provision or statement in said law or in any rule that will bring about the non-admissibility of the confiscated and/or seized drugs due to non-compliance with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165. The issue therefore, if there is non-compliance with said section, is not of admissibility, but of weight - evidentiary merit or probative value to be given the evidence. The weight to be given by the courts on said evidence depends on the circumstances obtaining in each case.26ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Certainly, the testimonies of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation arc generally accorded full faith and credit in view of the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties and especially so in the absence of ill-motive that could be attributed to them.28 The defense failed to show any odious intent on the part of the police officers to impute such a serious crime that would put in jeopardy the life and liberty of an innocent person.29 Saraum's mere denial cannot prevail over the positive and categorical identification and declarations of the police officers. The defense of denial, frame-up or extortion, like alibi, has been invariably viewed by the courts with disfavor for it can easily be concocted and is a common and standard defense ploy in most cases involving violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act.30 As evidence that is both negative and self-serving, this defense cannot attain more credibility than the testimonies of prosecution witnesses who testily clearly, providing thereby positive evidence on the various aspects of the crime committed.31 To merit consideration, it has to be substantiated by strong, clear and convincing evidence, which Saraum failed to do for presenting no corroborative evidence.32
Settled is the rule that, unless some facts or circumstances of weight and influence have been overlooked or the significance of which has been misinterpreted, the findings and conclusion of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to great respect and will not be disturbed because it has the advantage of hearing the witnesses and observing their deportment and manner of testifying.33 The rule finds an even more stringent application where said findings are sustained by the CA as in this case.34 In this case, the quantum of evidence necessary to prove Saraum's guilt beyond reasonable doubt had been sufficiently met since the prosecution stood on its own strength and did not rely on the weakness of the defense. The prosecution was able to overcome the constitutional right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated September 8, 2011 and Resolution dated December 19, 2012 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB CR No. 01 199, which sustained the judgment of conviction rendered by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 57, Cebu City, in Criminal Case No. CBU-77737, is AFFIRMED.
Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Del Castillo,*Perez, and Reyes, JJ., concur.
* Designated Additional Member in lieu of Associate Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, per Raffle dated October 13, 2014.
1Rollo, pp. 73-74, 84.
2 Penned by Associate Justice Eduardo B. Peralta, Jr., with Associate Justices Pampio A. Abarintos and Gabriel T. Ingles concurring, rollo, pp. 53-59.
3Rollo, pp. 67-68.
4 Records, p. 1.
5Id. at 22.
6Id. at 19.
7Rollo, pp. 34-36.
8Id. at 35-36.
9 See People v. Bontuyan, G.R. No. 206912, September 10, 2014, 735 SCRA 49, 59-60.
10People v. Mariano, 698 Phil. 772, 785 (2012), as cited in Avila v. People, G.R. No. 195934, November 27, 2013 (Third Division Resolution) and People v. Saulo, G.R. No. 201450, April 7, 2014 (First Division Resolution).
11 Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. - A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;12Ambre v. People, 692 Phil. 681, 694 (2012) and Zalameda v. People, 614 Phil. 710, 729 (2009).
b) When an offense has just been committed, and lie has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and
c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.
13 TSN, July 9, 2008, pp. 15-16.
14Id. at 9; TSN, February 27, 2008, pp. 17-18, 20-23.
15Zalameda v. People, supra note 12, at 729.
16 TSN, July 9, 2008, p. 22.
17 The requirements are imposed by Section 21, paragraph 1, Article 11 of Republic Act No. 9165, whose pertinent portion reads as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
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:(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;To implement the requirements of Republic Act No. 9165, Section 21 (a). Article II of the IRR relevantly states:
x x x xx x x x18People v. Alivio, et al., 664 Phil. 565, 576-577 (2011).
(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 the 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 x (See People v. Bartolame, G.R. No. 191726, February 6, 2013, 690 SCRA 159, 175-176).
19People v. Campomanes, et al., 641 Phil. 610, 622 (2010).
20Id. at 623.
21People v. Alivio, et al., supra note 18, at 577-578.
22 576 Phil. 576 (2008).
23Mallillin v. People, supra at 587.
24Ambre v. People, supra note 12, at 695.
25Zalameda v. People, supra note 12, at 741.
26Id. at 741-742.
27Id. at 741; and Ambre v. People, supra note 12, at 695.
28 See People v. Posada, et al., 684 Phil. 20, 34 (2012).
29 See People v. Bontuyan, supra note 9, at 64.
30People v. Mariano, supra note 10, at 785; Ambre v. People, supra note 12, at 697; People v. Villahermosa, 665 Phil. 399, 418 (2011); and Zalameda v. People, supra note 12, at 733.
31Zalameda v. People, supra note 12, at 733.
32Id.; People v. Mariano, supra note 10; People v. Villahermosa, supra note 30; and People v. Saulo, supra note 10.
33People v. Villahermosa, supra note 30, at 420; People v. Campomanes, et al., supra note 19, at 621; and People v. Canaya, G.R. No. 212173, February 25, 2015 (Third Division Resolution).
34People v. Villahermosa, supra note 30, at 420.