PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RUBEN MONTILLA y GATDULA, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Accused-Appellant Ruben Montilla y Gatdula, alias "Joy," was charged on August 22, 1994 for violating Section 4, Article II of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 90, of Dasmarias, Cavite in an information which alleges:
That on or about the 20th day of June 1994, at Barangay Salitran, Municipality of Dasmarias, Province of Cavite, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, not being authorized by law, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, administer, transport, and deliver twenty-eight (28) kilos of dried marijuana leaves, which are considered prohibited drugs, in violation of the provisions of R.A. 6425 thereby causing damage and prejudice to the public interest.1cräläwvirtualibräry
arraignment conducted on September 14, 1994 elicited a plea of not guilty from
appellant who was assisted therein by his counsel de parte.2 Trial was held on scheduled dates
thereafter, which culminated in a verdict of guilty in a decision of the trial
court dated June 8, 1995 and which imposed the extreme penalty of death on
He was further ordered to
pay a fine in the amount of
It appears from the evidence of the prosecution that appellant was apprehended at around 4:00 A.M. of June 20, 1994 near a waiting shed located at Barangay Salitran, Dasmarias, Cavite by SPO1 Concordio Talingting and SPO1 Armando Clarin, both members of the Cavite Philippine National Police Command based in Dasmarias. Appellant, according to the two officers, was caught transporting 28 marijuana bricks contained in a traveling bag and a carton box, which marijuana bricks had a total weight of 28 kilos.
These two officers later asserted in court that they were aided by an informer in the arrest of appellant. That informer, according to Talingting and Clarin, had informed them the day before, or on June 19, 1994 at about 2:00 P.M., that a drug courier, whom said informer could recognize, would be arriving somewhere in Barangay Salitran, Dasmarias from Baguio City with an undetermined amount of marijuana. It was the same informer who pinpointed to the arresting officers the appellant when the latter alighted from a passenger jeepney on the aforestated day, hour, and place.4cräläwvirtualibräry
Upon the other hand, appellant disavowed ownership of the prohibited drugs. He claimed during the trial that while he indeed came all the way from Baguio City, he traveled to Dasmarias, Cavite with only some pocket money and without any luggage. His sole purpose in going there was to look up his cousin who had earlier offered a prospective job at a garment factory in said locality, after which he would return to Baguio City. He never got around to doing so as he was accosted by SPO1 Talingting and SPO1 Clarin at Barangay Salitran.
averred that when he was interrogated at a house in Dasmarias, Cavite, he was
never informed of his constitutional rights and was in fact even robbed of the
In the present appellate review, appellant disputes the trial court's finding that he was legally caught in flagrante transporting the prohibited drugs. This Court, after an objective and exhaustive review of the evidence on record, discerns no reversible error in the factual findings of the trial court. It finds unassailable the reliance of the lower court on the positive testimonies of the police officers to whom no ill motives can be attributed, and its rejection of appellant's fragile defense of denial which is evidently self-serving in nature.
1. Firstly, appellant asserts that the court a quo grossly erred in convicting him on the basis of insufficient evidence as no proof was proffered showing that he wilfully, unlawfully, and feloniously administered, transported, and delivered 28 kilos of dried marijuana leaves, since the police officers "testified only on the alleged transporting of Marijuana from Baguio City to Cavite."
Further, the failure of the prosecution to present in court the civilian informant is supposedly corrosive of the People's cause since, aside from impinging upon appellant's fundamental right to confront the witnesses against him, that informant was a vital personality in the operation who would have contradicted the hearsay and conflicting testimonies of the arresting officers on how appellant was collared by them.
The pertinent provision of the penal law here involved, in Section 4 of Article II thereof, as amended, is as follows:
SEC. 4. Sale, Administration, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Prohibited Drugs. - The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos shall be imposed upon any person who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, administer, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any prohibited drug, or shall act as a broker in any of such transactions.
Notwithstanding the provision of Section 20 of this Act to the contrary, if the victim of the offense is a minor, or should a prohibited drug involved in any offense under this Section be the proximate cause of the death of a victim thereof, the maximum penalty herein provided shall be imposed.
Now, the offense ascribed to appellant is a violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act, some of the various modes of commission6 being the sale, administration, delivery, distribution, and transportation of prohibited drugs as set forth in the epigraph of Section 4, Article II of said law. The text of Section 4 expands and extends its punitive scope to other acts besides those mentioned in its headnote by including these who shall sell, administer, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any prohibited drug, or shall act as a broker in any of such transactions." Section 4 could thus be violated by the commission of any of the acts specified therein, or a combination thereof, such as selling, administering, delivering, giving away, distributing, dispatching in transit or transporting, and the like.
As already stated, appellant was charged with a violation of Section 4, the transgressive acts alleged therein and attributed to appellant being that he administered, delivered, and transported marijuana. The governing rule with respect to an offense which may be committed in any of the different modes provided by law is that an indictment would suffice if the offense is alleged to have been committed in one, two or more modes specified therein. This is so as allegations in the information of the various ways of committing the offense should be considered as a description of only one offense and the information cannot be dismissed on the ground of multifariousness.7 In appellant's case, the prosecution adduced evidence clearly establishing that he transported marijuana from Baguio City to Cavite. By that act alone of transporting the illicit drugs, appellant had already run afoul of that particular section of the statute, hence, appellant's asseverations must fail.
The Court also disagrees with the contention of appellant that the civilian informer should have been produced in court considering that his testimony was "vital" and his presence in court was essential in order to give effect to or recognition of appellant's constitutional right to confront the witnesses arrayed by the State against him. These assertions are, however, much too strained. Far from compromising the primacy of appellant's right to confrontation, the non-presentation of the informer in this instance was justified and cannot be faulted as error.
For one, the testimony of said informer would have been, at best, merely corroborative of the declarations of SPO1 Talingting and SPO1 Clarin before the trial court, which testimonies are not hearsay as both testified upon matters in which they had personally taken part. As such, the testimony of the informer could be dispensed with by the prosecution,8 more so where what he would have corroborated are the narrations of law enforcers on whose performance of duties regularity is the prevailing legal presumption. Besides, informants are generally not presented in court because of the need to hide their identities and preserve their invaluable services to the police.9 Moreover, it is up to the prosecution whom to present in court as its witnesses, and not for the defense to dictate that course.10 Finally, appellant could very well have resorted to the coercive process of subpoena to compel that eyewitness to appear before the court below,11 but which remedy was not availed of by him.
2. Appellant contends that the marijuana bricks were confiscated in the course of an unlawful warrantless search and seizure. He calls the attention of the Court to the fact that as early as 2:00 P.M. of the preceding day, June 19, 1994, the police authorities had already been apprised by their so-called informer of appellant's impending arrival from Baguio City, hence those law enforcers had the opportunity to procure the requisite warrant. Their misfeasance should therefore invalidate the search for and seizure of the marijuana, as well as the arrest of appellant on the following dawn. Once again, the Court is not persuaded.
Section 2, Article III of the Constitution lays down the general rule that a search and seizure must be carried out through or on the strength of a judicial warrant, absent which such search and seizure becomes "unreasonable" within the meaning of said constitutional provision.12 Evidence secured on the occasion of such an unreasonable search and seizure is tainted and should be excluded for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree. In the language of the fundamental law, it shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding. This exclusionary rule is not, however, an absolute and rigid proscription. Thus, (1) customs searches;13 (2) searches of moving vehicles,14 (3) seizure of evidence in plain view;15 (4) consented searches;16 (5) searches incidental to a lawful arrest;17 and (6) "stop and frisk" measures18 have been invariably recognized as the traditional exceptions.
In appellant's case, it should be noted that the information relayed by the civilian informant to the law enforcers was that there would be delivery of marijuana at Barangay Salitran by a courier coming from Baguio City in the "early morning" of June 20, 1994. Even assuming that the policemen were not pressed for time, this would be beside the point for, under these circumstances, the information relayed was too sketchy and not detailed enough for the obtention of the corresponding arrest or search warrant. While there is an indication that the informant knew the courier, the records do not reveal that he knew him by name.
While it is not required that the authorities should know the exact name of the subject of the warrant applied for, there is the additional problem that the informant did not know to whom the drugs would be delivered and at which particular part of the barangay there would be such delivery. Neither did this asset know the precise time of the suspect's arrival, or his means of transportation, the container or contrivance wherein the drugs were concealed and whether the same were arriving together with, or were being brought by someone separately from, the courier.
On such bare information, the police authorities could not have properly applied for a warrant, assuming that they could readily have access to a judge or a court that was still open by the time they could make preparations for applying therefor, and on which there is no evidence presented by the defense. In determining the opportunity for obtaining warrants, not only the intervening time is controlling but all the coincident and ambient circumstances should be considered, especially in rural areas. In fact, the police had to form a surveillance team and to lay down a dragnet at the possible entry points to Barangay Salitran at midnight of that day notwithstanding the tip regarding the "early morning" arrival of the courier. Their leader, SPO2 Cali, had to reconnoiter inside and around the barangay as backup, unsure as they were of the time when and the place in Barangay Salitran, where their suspect would show up, and how he would do so.
On the other hand, that they nonetheless believed the informant is not surprising for, as both SPO1 Clarin and SPO1 Talingting recalled, he had proved to be a reliable source in past operations. Moreover, experience shows that although information gathered and passed on by these assets to law enforcers are vague and piecemeal, and not as neatly and completely packaged as one would expect from a professional spymaster, such tip-offs are sometimes successful as it proved to be in the apprehension of appellant. If the courts of justice are to be of understanding assistance to our law enforcement agencies, it is necessary to adopt a realistic appreciation of the physical and tactical problems of the latter, instead of critically viewing them from the placid and clinical environment of judicial chambers.
3. On the defense argument that the warrantless search conducted on appellant invalidates the evidence obtained from him, still the search on his belongings and the consequent confiscation of the illegal drugs as a result thereof was justified as a search incidental to a lawful arrest under Section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court. Under that provision, a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.
A legitimate warrantless arrest, as above contemplated, necessarily cloaks the arresting police officer with authority to validly search and seize from the offender (1) dangerous weapons, and (2) those that may be used as proof of the commission of an offense.19 On the other hand, the apprehending officer must have been spurred by probable cause in effecting an arrest which could be classified as one in cadence with the instances of permissible arrests set out in Section 5(a).20 These instances have been applied to arrests carried out on persons caught in flagrante delicto. The conventional view is that probable cause, while largely a relative term the determination of which must be resolved according to the facts of each case, is understood as having reference to such facts and circumstances which could lead a reasonable, discreet, and prudent man to believe and conclude as to the commission of an offense, and that the objects sought in connection with the offense are in the place sought to be searched.21cräläwvirtualibräry
Parenthetically, if we may digress, it is time to observe that the evidentiary measure for the propriety of filing criminal charges and, correlatively, for effecting a warrantless arrest, has been reduced and liberalized. In the past, our statutory rules and jurisprudence required prima facie evidence, which was of a higher degree or quantum,22 and was even used with dubiety as equivalent to "probable cause." Yet, even in the American jurisdiction from which we derived the term and its concept, probable cause is understood to merely mean a reasonable ground for belief in the existence of facts warranting the proceedings complained of,23 or an apparent state of facts found to exist upon reasonable inquiry which would induce a reasonably intelligent and prudent man to believe that the accused person had committed the crime.24cräläwvirtualibräry
Felicitously, those problems and confusing concepts were clarified and set aright, at least on the issue under discussion, by the 1985 amendment of the Rules of Court which provides in Rule 112 thereof that the quantum of evidence required in preliminary investigation is such evidence as suffices to "engender a well founded belief" as to the fact of the commission of a crime and the respondent's probable guilt thereof.25 It has the same meaning as the related phraseology used in other parts of the same Rule, that is, that the investigating fiscal "finds cause to hold the respondent for trial," or where "a probable cause exists."26 It should, therefore, be in that sense, wherein the right to effect a warrantless arrest should be considered as legally authorized.
In the case at bar, as soon as appellant had alighted from the passenger jeepney the informer at once indicated to the officers that their suspect was at hand by pointing to him from the waiting shed. SPO1 Clarin recounted that the informer told them that the marijuana was likely hidden inside the traveling bag and carton box which appellant was carrying at the time. The officers thus realized that he was their man even if he was simply carrying a seemingly innocent looking pair of luggage for personal effects. Accordingly, they approached appellant, introduced themselves as policemen, and requested him to open and show them the contents of the traveling bag, which appellant voluntarily and readily did. Upon cursory inspection by SPO1 Clarin, the bag yielded the prohibited drugs, so, without bothering to further search the box, they brought appellant and his luggage to their headquarters for questioning.
Appellant insists that the mere fact of seeing a person carrying a traveling bag and a carton box should not elicit the slightest suspicion of the commission of any crime since that is normal. But, precisely, it is in the ordinary nature of things that drugs being illegally transported are necessarily hidden in containers and concealed from view. Thus, the officers could reasonably assume, and not merely on a hollow suspicion since the informant was by their side and had so informed them, that the drugs were in appellant's luggage. It would obviously have been irresponsible, if not downright absurd under the circumstances, to require the constable to adopt a "wait and see" attitude at the risk of eventually losing the quarry.
Here, there were sufficient facts antecedent to the search and seizure that, at the point prior to the search, were already constitutive of probable cause, and which by themselves could properly create in the minds of the officers a well-grounded and reasonable belief that appellant was in the act of violating the law. The search yielded affirmance both of that probable cause and the actuality that appellant was then actually committing a crime by illegally transporting prohibited drugs. With these attendant facts, it is ineluctable that appellant was caught in flagrante delicto, hence his arrest and the search of his belongings without the requisite warrant were both justified.
Furthermore, that appellant also consented to the search is borne out by the evidence. To repeat, when the officers approached appellant and introduced themselves as policemen, they asked him about the contents of his luggage, and after he replied that they contained personal effects, the officers asked him to open the traveling bag. Appellant readily acceded, presumably or in all likelihood resigned to the fact that the law had caught up with his criminal activities. When an individual voluntarily submits to a search or consents to have the same conducted upon his person or premises, he is precluded from later complaining thereof.
After all, the right to be secure from unreasonable search may, like other rights, be waived either expressly or impliedly.27 Thus, while it has been held that the silence of the accused during a warrantless search should not be taken to mean consent to the search but as a demonstration of that person's regard for the supremacy of the law,28 the case of herein appellant is evidently different for, here, he spontaneously performed affirmative acts of volition by himself opening the bag without being forced or intimidated to do so, which acts should properly be construed as a clear waiver of his right.29cräläwvirtualibräry
4. Appellant likewise harps on the alleged failure of the prosecution to "legally, properly and adequately establish that the 28 bricks of marijuana allegedly confiscated from (him) were the same marijuana examined by the forensic chemist and presented in court." Indeed, the arresting officers did not identify in court the marijuana bricks seized from appellant since, in fact they did not have to do so. It should be noted that the prosecution presented in the court below and formally offered in evidence those 28 bricks of marijuana together with the traveling bag and the carton box in which the same were contained. The articles were properly marked as confiscated evidence and proper safeguards were taken to ensure that the marijuana turned over to the chemist for examination, and which subsequently proved positive as such, were the same drugs taken from appellant. The trial court, therefore, correctly admitted them in evidence, satisfied that the articles were indubitably no other than those taken from appellant.
Complementarily, the corpus delicti was firmly established by SPO1 Clarin and SPO1 Talingting who categorically related that when they had ascertained that the contents of the traveling bag of appellant appeared to be marijuana, they forthwith asked him where he had come from, and the latter readily answered "Baguio City," thus confirming the veracity of the report of the informer. No other conclusion can therefore be derived than that appellant had transported the illicit drugs all the way to Cavite from Baguio City. Coupled with the presentation in court of the subject matter of the crime, the marijuana bricks which had tested positive as being indian hemp, the guilt of appellant for transporting the prohibited drugs in violation of the law is beyond doubt.
Appellant questions the interrogation conducted by the police authorities, claiming that he was not allowed to communicate with anybody, and that he was not duly informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. Indeed, appellant has a point. The police authorities here could possibly have violated the provision of Republic Act No. 743830 which defines certain rights of persons arrested, detained, or under custodial investigation, as well as the duties of the arresting, detaining, and investigating officers, and providing corresponding penalties for violations thereof.
Assuming the existence of such irregularities, however, the proceedings in the lower court will not necessarily be struck down. Firstly, appellant never admitted or confessed anything during his custodial investigation. Thus, no incriminatory evidence in the nature of a compelled or involuntary confession or admission was elicited from him which would otherwise have been inadmissible in evidence. Secondly and more importantly, the guilt of appellant was clearly established by other evidence adduced by the prosecution, particularly the testimonies of the arresting officers together with the documentary and object evidence which were formally offered and admitted in evidence in the court below.
5. The reversible error of the trial court lies in its imposition of the penalty of death on appellant. As amended by Republic Act No. 7659, Section 20, Article IV of the Dangerous Drugs Act now provides inter alia that the penalty in Section 4 of Article II shall be applied if the dangerous drugs involved is, in the case of indian hemp or marijuana, 750 grams or more. In said Section 4, the transporting of prohibited drugs carries with it the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos. Thus, the law prescribes a penalty composed of two indivisible penalties, reclusion perpetua and death. In the present case, Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code consequently provides the rules to be observed in the application of said penalties.
As found by the trial court, there were neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending appellant's violation of the law, hence the second paragraph of Article 63 must necessarily apply, in which case the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua is the proper imposable penalty. Contrary to the pronouncement of the court a quo, it was never intended by the legislature that where the quantity of the dangerous drugs involved exceeds those stated in Section 20, the maximum penalty of death shall be imposed. Nowhere in the amendatory law is there a provision from which such a conclusion may be gleaned or deduced. On the contrary, this Court has already concluded that Republic Act No. 7659 did not amend Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code,31 the rules wherein were observed although the cocaine subject of that case was also in excess of the quantity provided in Section 20.
It is worth mentioning at this juncture that the law itself provides a specific penalty where the violation thereof is in its aggravated form as laid down in the second paragraph of Section 4 whereby, regardless of Section 20 of Article IV, if the victim is a minor, or should a prohibited drug involved in any offense in said section be the proximate cause of the death of a victim thereof, the maximum penalty shall be imposed.32 While the minority or the death of the victim will increase the liability of the offender, these two facts do not constitute generic aggravating circumstances, as the law simply provides for the imposition of the single indivisible penalty of death if the offense is attended by either of such factual features. In that situation, obviously the rules on the graduation of penalties in Article 63 cannot apply. In herein appellant's case, there was neither a minor victim nor a consequent death of any victim. Hence, the basic rules in Article 63 of the Code govern.
WHEREFORE, the judgment of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 90, of Dasmarias, Cavite in Criminal Case No. 3401-94 is hereby MODIFIED in the sense that accused-appellant Ruben Montilla y Gatdula shall suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. In all other respects, the judgment of the trial court is hereby AFFIRMED, with costs against accused-appellant.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, and Martinez, JJ, concur.
Melo, and Puno, JJ., join Panganiban J., separate opinion.
Vitug, J., concur but reserve his vote on the discussion on the warrantless search of appellant as his incidental to a lawful arrest.
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