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FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 104708 August 30, 1994

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RANIEL MARTINEZ Y OCAMPO, Accused-Appellant.

The Solicitor General for plaintiff-appellee.chanrobles virtual law library

Trinidad, Reverente, Makalintal and Cabrera Law Office for accused-appellant.

BELLOSILLO, J.:

RANIEL MARTINEZ Y OCAMPO appeals from the Decision 1of the court a quo declaring him guilty of unauthorized sale of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, a derivative of a regulated drug (amphetamine), in violation of Sec. 15, Art. III, of R.A. 6425.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

The evidence for the prosecution: On 14 December 1989, in response to complaints by residents of Palanan Makati, that a certain Raniel Martinez was engaged in the rampant selling of shabu in the area, Capt. Reynaldo H. Jaylo, Chief of the Narcotics Section, Investigation Division, Western Police District, organized a buy-bust team composed of Pfc. Antonio Habalo, Jr., as poseur-buyer, and Pfc. Marlon Masangya and Pfc. Paterno Banawel, as backup, to catch Martinez red-handed.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

Accompanied by a confidential informant, the team proceeded to an alley along Julio de la Cruz St. in Palanan, Makati where Raniel Martinez was reportedly selling his prohibited wares. Pfc. Masangya and Pfc. Banawel positioned themselves some ten (10) meters away from where Martinez stood while Pfc. Habalo, Jr., and the confidential informant approached the suspect. The informant introduced Pfc. Habalo, Jr., as someone interested in buying shabu. In response, however, the suspect pulled the informant to one side and whispered to the latter, "Mukhang pulis yata 'yan." The informant answered "Hindi, bagong user lang." Apparently assured, Martinez faced Pfc. Habalo, Jr., and asked the latter if he was really serious in buying drugs. Habalo responded by handing the marked P100-bill 2to Martinez who accepted it. In exchange, Martinez pulled out an aluminum foil from his pocket and gave it to Habalo who thereupon revealed his true identity. Raniel Martinez put up a futile struggle to escape but was subdued with the help of Pfc. Banawel. Besides the marked money, six (6) more aluminum foils were recovered from Martinez 3which, together with the one sold to Pfc. Habalo, Jr., 4yielded positive results for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu upon examination by the Forensic Chemistry Section of the National Bureau of Investigation. 5chanrobles virtual law library

On his part, the accused denied selling shabu to the poseur-buyer and claimed he was framed-up by the police to avenge the death of a civilian NARCOM agent whom accused and his brother Danny were suspected of killing. Martinez contended that he was resting in his room in their house at No. 4012 Julio de la Cruz St., in Palanan, Makati, at about six o'clock in the evening of 14 December 1989 when he heard the sound of the front door being "destroyed." Some twelve (12) policemen barged into the room, aimed their guns at him, and ordered him to go downstairs where he was then mauled in front of this parents. His mother's pleas for the police to stop were unheeded. Finally, he was forced to board a police vehicle and brought to the WPD Police Station where he was detained. To lend support to his story, accused-appellant's parents, Edgardo and Priscilla Martinez, testified that their son was indeed at home when the police barged in, not selling drugs in some alley as the arresting team claimed.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

The Court a quo rejected the defense and labeled the contradictions in the testimonies of the defense witnesses as veritable badges of perjury. 6chanrobles virtual law library

Martinez claimed that the intruders, numbering about twelve, 7barged into their house by destroying the front door, all in five minutes; 8that they entered his room saying, "Ikaw si Brando, ikaw ang pumatay sa NARCOM agent;" and, that he was beaten up in front of his parents whose pleas for the police to stop were ignored. 9chanrobles virtual law library

However, according to appellant's father, Edgardo Martinez (who claimed to be resting in the sala when the incident occurred), only four persons (three policemen and a photographer) 10entered the house by merely opening the front door which was unlocked, 11and that they brought with them a big box containing a weighing scale and aluminum foils which they passed off as those of his son. 12Moreover, he denied hearing the intruders accuse his son of killing a NARCOM agent. 13chanrobles virtual law library

Presented to corroborate the version of appellant and his father, Priscilla Martinez (appellant's mother) actually made matters worse for the defense when she denied her husband's presence at the time of the intrusion (which, according to her, happened between eight and nine in the evening) claiming that the latter was at the market when the police barged in and not resting in the sala as he claimed, and that he came in only when the policemen were already in their son's room. 14More significantly, she denied seeing them beat up her son. 15chanrobles virtual law library

Ester Halang and Gerardo Santos tried to corroborate the story of the accused. However, we agree with the court a quo that their rather belated appearance casts serious doubt on their credibility.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

The incident occurred on 14 December 1989. However, while claiming to have witnessed the atrocity committed by the police, Halang and Santos never came forward with their account until they were suddenly presented as the last witnesses for the defense on 7 June and 16 August 1991, respectively, or almost two years after the alleged incident. It is curious to note that Gerardo Santos did not even know that he would testify until two days before his scheduled appearance on 16 August 1991. 16Although delay in the appearance of witnesses is normally not counted against their credibility, we have so held only in cases where the witnesses have reason to entertain fears of getting involved in the case and of provoking reprisals from the accused. 17However, in the case at bench, Ester Halang and Gerardo Santos did not even pretend to dread the consequences of appearing in court. In fact, the only reason Santos could offer for the delay was that he was too busy. 18To this, we can only say that we find it difficult to believe that a witness would dally in coming forward with the truth on the shallow pretext that he was too busy considering the seriousness of the charge and the witness' proximity to the supposed victim, being the latter's next-door neighbor. 19As it is, the delay only succeeded in similarly engendering doubt in our minds as to the veracity of the testimonies offered. Hence, the court a quo was correct when it gave scant attention to the testimonies of Halang and Santos. Besides, the trial judge is considered the best arbiter of credibility in the absence of any reason for us not to rely on his assessment.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

Appellant contends that the trial court erred when it focused unnecessarily on the discrepancies in the testimonies of the defense witnesses which he would have us disregard for being of minor consequence. 20But, we cannot. For although it may seem trivial to accused-appellant, the overall effect of the inconsistencies in the testimonies was to shatter the credibility of the defense. While the yardstick to determine whether an accused is really guilty or not is the strength of the evidence presented by the prosecution, it is still of unquestionable advantage for the defense if it can prod the trial judge into at least considering the possibility that it might be telling the truth. For no matter how strong the evidence for the prosecution is, as long as a reasonable doubt enters the mind of the trial judge as to the guilt of the accused brought about by a credible defense, the judge is duty bound to declare an acquittal. In the case at bench, the defense failed to even project a credible version and, in the process, only served to magnify the credibility of the prosecution. For unlike the witnesses for the defense, those of the prosecution consisting of the arresting team of Pfc. Habalo, Jr., Pfc. Masangya and Pfc. Banawel, and NBI Forensic Chemist Nicanor Cruz, all testified in a clear and direct manner on the actual occurrence of the sale in an alley along Julio de la Cruz St., in Makati and that the substance delivered was undeniably shabu. For which reason, we affirm.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

However, in view of the amendments introduced by R.A. No. 7659 21on certain sections of the Dangerous Drugs Act, a complete modification of the penalty imposed upon accused-appellant by the trial court 22is called for.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

As it now stands, a violation of Sec. 15, R.A. No. 6425 23is penalized, in addition to an increased fine ranging from P500,000.00 to P10,000,000.00 with reclusion perpetua to death if the shabu involved is 200 grams or more; otherwise, where the quantity unlawfully sold, delivered or distributed is less, only a reduced penalty ranging from prision correccional to reclusion temporal 24shall be imposed, minus the fine.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

In this case, the amount of shabu confiscated per report of the Forensic Chemistry Section of the NBI is less than a gram or only 0.8020. 25Hence, under Sec. 15 of R.A. 6425, in relation to Sec. 20 thereof, as amended, the reduced penalty of prision correccional to reclusion temporal should be imposed considering that it is favorable to the accused. 26chanrobles virtual law library

In People v. Simon, 27the Court categorically declared that the component penalties of prision correccional, prision mayor and reclusion temporal shall each be "considered as a principal imposable penalty . . . of the total complex penalty . . . to be imposed separately as determined by the quantity of the drug involved . . ." and that the modifying circumstances shall be "used to fix the proper period of that component penalty." Thus, the Court directed that the quantities (of the different drugs) enumerated in Sec. 20 of R.A. No. 6425, as amended, be "divided into three, with the resulting quotient, and double or treble the same, to be respectively used as bases for allocating the penalty proportionately among the three . . . periods according to the severity thereof."chanrobles virtual law library

Under the foregoing directive, since the amount of shabu involved in the instant case is only 0.8020 gram, the proper imposable component penalty is prision correccional to be applied in its medium period, in the absence of any mitigating or aggravating circumstance. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, 28the maximum shall be taken from the medium period of prision correccional, which is two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day, to four (4) years and two (2) months, while the minimum shall be taken from the penalty next lower in degree, which is arresto mayor, the range of which is one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from finding accused-appellant RANIEL MARTINEZ Y OCAMPO guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Sec. 15, Art. III, of R.A. No. 6425 is AFFIRMED, with the modification that he is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate prison term of six (6) months of arresto mayor maximum as minimum, to four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional medium as maximum. Costs against accused-appellant.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., Quiason and Kapunan, JJ., concur.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

Cruz, J., is on leave.


Endnotes:


1 Penned by Judge Manuel M. Cosico, Regional Trial Court of Makati, Br. 136, dated 20 November 1991; Rollo, pp. 19-24; Original Records, pp. 288-294.chanrobles virtual law library

2 Exh. "H," Original Records, p. 126.chanrobles virtual law library

3 Exhs. "G-1" to "G-4," "G-6" and "G-7."

4 Exh. "G-5."

5 Exh. "F," Original Records, p. 125.chanrobles virtual law library

6 See Decision, pp. 5-7; Original Records, pp. 292-294.chanrobles virtual law library

7 TSN, 29 January 1991, pp. 27-28.chanrobles virtual law library

8 Id., pp. 27-28.chanrobles virtual law library

9 Id., pp. 13-14.chanrobles virtual law library

10 TSN, 22 February 1991, p. 3.chanrobles virtual law library

11 Id., pp. 3, 14.chanrobles virtual law library

12 Id., pp. 7-8.chanrobles virtual law library

13 Id., p. 14.chanrobles virtual law library

14 TSN, 16 April 1991, pp. 4, 6-7.chanrobles virtual law library

15 Id., p. 7.chanrobles virtual law library

16 TSN, 16 August 1991, p. 6.chanrobles virtual law library

17 People v. Competente, G.R. No. 96697, 26 March 1992, 207 SCRA 591, 596; People v. Aguiluz, G.R. No. 91662, 11 March 1992, 207 SCRA 187, 195; People v. Pacia, G.R. No. 69543, 14 June 1990, 186 SCRA 529, 534; People v. Punzalan, G.R. No. 54562, 6 August 1987, 153 SCRA 1, 12; People v. Medrano, G.R. No. 55831, 31 May 1982, 114 SCRA 335, 340; People v. Delfin, Nos.
L-15230 and 15979-81, 31 July 1961, 2 SCRA 911, 918-919; People v. Villamin, 64 Phil. 880, 885 (1937).chanrobles virtual law library

18 TSN, 16 August 1991, p. 6.chanrobles virtual law library

19 Id., p. 5.chanrobles virtual law library

20 Brief for Appellant, p. 9; Rollo, p. 48.chanrobles virtual law library

21 An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes, Amending for that Purpose the Revised Penal Code, as Amended, Other Special Penal Laws, and for Other Purposes.chanrobles virtual law library

22 . . . the Court finds the accused, Raniel Martinez Y Ocampo, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged in the information, and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, and to pay a fine of twenty thousand pesos [P20,000.00] (Decision dated 20 November 1991, p. 7; Rollo, p. 24).chanrobles virtual law library

23 As amended by Sec. 14, R.A. No. 7659.chanrobles virtual law library

24 As amended by Sec. 17 R. A. No. 7659, the second paragraph of Sec. 20, R. A. No. 6425 reads as follows:

Otherwise, if the quantity involved is less than the foregoing quantities, the penalty shall range from prision correccional to reclusion perpetua depending upon the quantity (Emphasis ours).

To correct the overlapping error which consists in the imposition of reclusion perpetua both as the maximum of the penalty where the amount of drugs involved is less than the quantities specified and as the minimum where the quantity involved is equal to or more than the amounts specified, the Court in People v. Simon categorically stated:

. . . we hereby hold that the penalty to be imposed where the quantity of the drugs involved is less than the quantities stated in the first paragraph shall range from prision correccional to reclusion temporal, and not reclusion perpetua (emphasis ours).

25 Exh. "F," Original Records, p. 125.chanrobles virtual law library

26 Sec. 22, The Revised Penal Code.chanrobles virtual law library

27 G.R. No. 93028, 29 July 1994.chanrobles virtual law library

28 Using the first part of Sec. 1 of the Indeterminate Sentence Law as explained in the majority opinion in People v. Simon.




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