G. R. No. 146470 - November 22, 2002
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee,
MILA RAZUL y BASHIED, ROMA RAZUL y BASHIED and BAIRONA BANGKE y SARIP, accused,
D E C I S I O N
Arrest and prosecution in cases of illegal sale of prohibited drugs would be unduly impeded, unless evidence validly obtained during buy-bust operations conducted by police officers is admitted. Many times, the only way to expose and prosecute crimes involving prohibited drugs is through such operations. While this Court is ever vigilant in protecting and upholding the constitutional rights of the accused, it is also keenly aware of the need to rid society of this drug plague. Thus, after all the elements of a legitimate buy-bust operation have been duly proven by the prosecution, the Court will not hesitate to affirm a conviction. That is, unless the appellants can prove by competent and credible evidence that the operation was a sham or that their constitutional rights were violated or ignored.
Mila Razul and Roma Razul appeal the December 14, 2000 Decision1 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City (Branch 103) in Criminal Case No. Q-98-80043. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads as follows:
"ACCORDINGLY, the court finds accused MILA RAZUL y Bashied and ROMA (or RONA) RAZUL y Bashied GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt as co-conspirators in the illegal selling or delivery of 212.15 grams of shabu in violation of Section 15, RA 6425, as amended, and they are hereby each sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA and to pay a fine of Ten Million Pesos."2
In the original Information3 dated December 8, 1998, appellants were charged, together with Bairona Bangke y Sarip, with violation of Section 15 of Article III in relation to Section 2 (e), (f), (m) and (o) of Article I of RA 6425 as amended by RA 7659. However, the charge against Bangke was later withdrawn and a new Information4 dated April 15, 1999, was filed against her for violation of Section 16 of RA 6425. The charge, to which she pleaded guilty with the assistance of counsel de parte,5 involved illegal possession of 5.29 grams of shabu.
Mila Razul and Roma Razul were indicted anew in an Information6 dated April 15, 1999, charging them as follows:
"That on or about the 6th day of December, 1998 in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused, conspiring and confederating with and mutually helping one another not having been authorized by law to sell, dispense, deliver, transport or distribute any regulated drug, did then and there willfully and unlawfully sell or offer for sale 212.15 (Two Hundred Twelve point Fifteen) Grams of white crystalline substance containing Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride which is a regulated drug."7
During the arraignment of appellants on November 26, 1999, after the Information had been read and explained to them in Tagalog, a dialect that they fully understood,8 they pleaded not guilty.9 After pretrial and trial on the merits, they were found guilty of violating Section 15 of RA 6425.
Version of the Prosecution
In its Brief,10 the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) presents the prosecution's version of the facts as follows:
"On December 6, 1998, SPO2 Wilfredo Red, SPO2 Brigido Juan, SPO1 Levy Sevilla, SPO1 Edgardo Buluran, Inspector Levy Sevilla and an informant named 'Akong' underwent a briefing headed by Inspector 'Ratuita' at the Central Police District, Station I, Mapua Street, La Loma, Quezon City in connection with drug bust operation against three suspected Muslims. SPO2 Wilfredo Red prepared the buy bust money consisting of two bundles of bond paper wrapped with pieces of one thousand peso bills, placed inside a 'boodle bag'.
"About 11:30 in the morning of December 6, 1998, SPO2 Wilfredo Red rode with the informant in a Black Toyota Celica with Plate No. DFA 444, while the rest of the composite team rode in a Ford Fierra back-up vehicle, heading to the corner of Quirino Highway and Baesa Road, Quezon City. SPO2 Red posed as poseur buyer and waited for the accused in front of a gasoline station along Quirino Highway.
"About 1:15 in the afternoon, SPO2 Red saw a taxicab coming from the direction of Balintawak towards Novaliches, which stopped in front of the gas station. Three (3) persons alighted from the cab. The informant 'Akong' briefly introduced SPO2 Red to appellant Mila B. Razul. Thereupon, the informant told appellant Mila B. Razul, 'ito yong buyer natin ng stuff'. SPO2 Red asked for
"During the occasion, Bairona S. Bangke, a companion of appellant took out from the pocket of her pants a small sachet of the 'white substance' and handed it to SPO2 Red as a 'give away' item. The latter proceeded in raising his hand as a pre-arranged signal, prompting the back-up team to proceed with the arrest and apprehension of appellants and Bairona S. Bangke.
"On December 7, 1998, a chemistry examination was made on the confiscated substance which was found with 'positive results to the test for Methylamphetamine hydrocloride' in the aggregrate weight of 207.15 grams."11 (Citations omitted)
Version of the Defense
On the other hand, appellants deny the allegations of the police officers. Their statement of facts, as contained in their 10-page "Appeal Brief,"12 is reproduced as follows:
"In their defense, appellants denied the allegations of the police officers. They alleged that they accompanied Bairona Ban[g]ke in going to Baesa road to find the latter's customer, a certain Ernie and his wife Cecile. While traveling on board a taxi, Bairona spotted Ernie at the gasoline station. Bairona stopped the taxi and alighted. She talked to Ernie and moment[s] later, Bairona asked appellant to transfer to the car of Ernie, as they would proceed to the house of Ernie. While on their way to the house of Ernie, an army type jeep blocked their way. The passengers of the jeep immediately alighted and poked their guns at the appellants. The two armed men boarded the car and one of them took the driver seat, while Ernie sat between the two armed men. When the car started running, the two armed men talked to Ernie as if they knew with [sic] each other. Thereafter, they allowed Ernie to alight. These two armed men were identified later as SPO1 Red and SPO1 Buluran. SPO1 Red poked his gun at the trio and told them that they are pushers and it's nice to rape Muslims. When SPO1 Red continuously poking and swaying his gun, Rona held the arm of SPO1 Red and the gun suddenly fired that hit the foot of Mila. Thereafter, SPO1 Buluran who was then driving, stopped the car and stabbed Rona several times but hit her 4 times only in her stomach. Fortunately, a police mobile car arrived and stopped beside the car on which the appellants were on board as the appellants were screaming for help. When the occupants of the mobile car were about to respond, SPO1 Red and SPO1 Buluran shouted that they [were] also policemen. As the occupants of the mobile car approached and saw Mila and Rona both injured and bleeding, they immediately boarded the two into their mobile car and brought them to East Avenue Medical Center for treatment. After [m]edical treatment, appellants were brought to the police station where they were surprised to know that they are being charged of violation of Sec. 15 of RA 6425."13
Trial Court's Ruling
The RTC ruled that the prosecution evidence proved the guilt of appellants beyond reasonable doubt. It gave superior weight to the testimonies of the arresting police officers and the poseur-buyer, because these were consistent, sincere and could not have simply been rehearsed or scripted.14 Furthermore, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions was unrebutted by the defense.15 On the other hand, appellants presented no evidence showing any motive or reason for the police officers to testify falsely against them.16
Hence, this appeal.17
Appellants raise the following alleged errors for this Court's consideration:
The Court's Ruling
The appeal is unmeritorious.
Credibility of Buy-bust Testimonies
Appellants attack the credibility of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation. They argue that the conflicting testimonies of the police show that the operation was merely a sham.
Specifically, they call attention to the officers' statements regarding the place where the three female suspects (two of whom are herein appellants) alighted from a taxi.19 Furthermore, even the back-up policemen allegedly gave contradictory statements on whether or not their vehicle broke down en route to the place where the transaction was to occur.20 These contradictions supposedly destroy the credibility of the witnesses.
We disagree. Jurisprudence clearly sets the essential elements to be established in the prosecution of illegal sale of shabu as follows: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.21 What is material is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti as evidence.22 The delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummate the buy-bust transaction.23 In the case before us, the prosecution was able to establish these elements beyond moral certainty.
SPO2 Wilfredo Red of Central Police District Station I positively identified Mila and Roma Razul as the persons who had sold shabu, and who had dealt with him and the other police officers during their lawful buy-bust operation. SPO2 Red, who had acted as poseur-buyer, unequivocally testified thus:
The clear, positive and straightforward testimony of SPO2 Red, replete with details and consistent even on cross-examination, sufficiently supports the RTC's conclusion that a lawful buy bust operation was conducted.
The trial court observed:
Time and time again, the Court has ruled that the witnesses' testimonies need only to corroborate one another on material details surrounding the actual commission of the crime.28 The alleged inconsistencies and/or flaws pointed out by appellants are insufficient to overturn the judgment of conviction against them, since those testimonies are consistent on material points.
The crux of this case is the illegal sale of shabu by appellants. Questions as to the exact location where they alighted from a taxi or where the back-up vehicle broke down are not in any way related to the buy-bust operation itself. Inconsistencies with regard to those matters do not impair the credibility of the witnesses. To secure a reversal of the appealed judgment, such inconsistencies should pertain to that crucial moment when appellants were caught selling shabu, not to peripheral matters.29
To be sure, the discrepant statements alluded to by appellants are too minor to adversely affect the credibility of the witnesses. Those discrepancies do not detract from the established fact of illegal sale of shabu by appellants. As we have previously held, inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses referring to minor details, and not in actuality touching upon the central fact of the crime, do not impair their credibility.30
Equally important is the settled principle that, in passing upon the credibility of witnesses, appellate courts will generally not interfere with the judgment of trial courts. That is, unless there appear on the records some facts or circumstances of weight and influence, which the trial court has overlooked or the significance of which it has misapprehended or misinterpreted.31 This attitude of appellate courts arises from the fact that the lower courts are in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.32
In the case before us, we find no cogent reason to disturb the trial court's assessment of the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. This Court, not being a trier of facts, will rely in good part on the RTC's assessment of the evidence, particularly of the declarations of the witnesses presented to the court a quo.33
Furthermore, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties has not been controverted by appellants; hence, this Court is bound to uphold it.34 They utterly failed to prove that in testifying against them, these witnesses were motivated by reasons other than the duty to curb the sale of prohibited drugs. There is no proof of any ill motive or odious intent on the part of the police authorities to impute falsely such a serious crime to herein appellants. Thus, the Court will not allow the former's testimony to be overcome by self-serving defenses.35 Illuminating this point is the trial court's disquisition, which we reproduce hereunder:
"x x x Her story about two men who abducted three Muslim women, who are complete strangers to those men and vice-versa, in broad daylight and in a busy street corner and that another man pushed her back inside the car when she attempted to alight therefrom is a classic novel derived straight from a comic magazine. It is hardly believable or realistic and the said witness appears to be coached in her narration. Besides, Rona failed to give in her direct examination in court the identity of these two men. She also failed to mention whether these two men were subsequently investigated, detained and prosecuted for forcible abduction or attempted rape, police brutality or whatsoever upon a complaint filed by her, her sister Mila or even by Bairona Bangke. In fact, Bairona already pleaded guilty in this case for illegal drug possession as aforementioned. The bulk of the shabu involved, however, is the subject of the drug pushing charge against Rona and Mila Razul;
"Lastly, the defense has not presented any evidence to show any motive or reason why three police officers would falsely testify against the accused who are all young women and belonging to the Islam faith. The allegations by the said officers are very serious considering the large quantity (more than 200 grams) of shabu involved in this case and if the same have been proven to be false, they could face summary dismissal from the police service, suffer social humiliation and even a criminal indictment. However, no piece of credible defense evidence has been presented that could convince this court to believe that the said police officers acted in pursuit of an intent less noble than that of answering to a call of official police duty. The fact that, despite being wounded by gunfire resulting from a scuffle with the accuse[d], neither Police Officer Red nor his companion, did anything harmful to the suspects shows that said police officers, rather than performing a criminal act of kidnapping the said suspects as said lady suspects alleged, were purely following the official call of duty. Besides, the defense has not proffered any evidence as to why anyone would bother to kidnap the accused."36
Neither do we find any basis in the argument of appellants that the testimonies of the police officers were illogical. The former argue that the buy-bust operation was conducted in a public place, and so a "commotion should have taken place right there and then."37 Further, the trial court debunked the testimony of the defense witness, who had "merely told the court that she noticed nothing unusual that happened on December 6, 1998 at her place of business and that she also did not hear from the people there about an unusual happening that took place at the time."38
We do not see how such a generic and all-embracing statement can overcome the positive and credible statements of the police officers, who actually conducted the buy-bust operation. Elementary is the rule that an affirmative testimony is far stronger than a negative one, especially so when it comes from the mouth of a credible witness.39 More important, if the positive identification made by police officers weigh far greater than the denial of appellants,40 the mere statement of a bystander that she noticed nothing unusual cannot be given much weight.
Similarly unpersuasive is appellants' argument that no pusher would choose a busy place as a venue for the illicit trade of shabu. This Court has consistently ruled that it is not uncommon for drug dealers or pushers to sell their commodities to total strangers at any time and at any place.41 In any event, the law does not prescribe as an element of the crime that the vendor and the vendee be familiar with each other, or that the transaction be consummated at a particular time and place.42 The law simply penalizes the actual sale of shabu. The illegal drug trade has in fact become more brazen because the lure of easy profit can easily outweigh the risk of arrest and prosecution.43
Appellants also argue that if the prosecution is to be believed, then the amount of shabu seized during the buy-bust operation is incongruous with that which had been agreed upon. If the transaction was supposed to involve only 200 grams of shabu for the amount of P200,000 then the seizure of more than 200 grams would have meant that appellants were shortchanging themselves.
We can only speculate why the actual delivery amounted to more than 200 grams, if appellants had promised 200 grams only. However, this discrepancy has become irrelevant, because the transaction had already occurred with the sale of the shabu which turned out to be 207.1544 grams. What is clear is that the Joint Affidavit45 of the police officers stated that the white crystalline substance contained in four (4) plastic bags was worth P200,000. This was the same statement given by SPO2 Red during his oral testimony.46 There was no insistence that the agreement pertained strictly to 200 grams of shabu. It was the amount in pesos that was repeatedly indicated.
Finally, appellants argue that it was illogical for SPO2 Red to receive the shabu from Mila Razul, but to pay Roma Razul. This apparent improbability may be explained by the fact that, as the poseur-buyer, he was dealing with appellants collectively. It did not matter who gave the shabu and who received the payment therefor. In fact, such a scenario only proves that appellants were acting in conspiracy in the sale of shabu. They were both fully aware of the transaction and knowingly participated therein.
It is an established rule that direct proof is not essential to establish conspiracy. It may be inferred from the acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime -- acts that indubitably point to or indicate a joint purpose, a concert of action and a community of interest.47 Indeed, the act of one conspirator is the act of all the others.48
Proof of Guilt Beyond Reasonable Doubt
Having established that a legitimate buy-bust operation occurred in the case at bar, there can now be no question as to the guilt of appellants. Such operation has been considered as an effective mode of apprehending drug pushers.49 If carried out with due regard to constitutional and legal safeguards, it deserves judicial sanction.50 The delivery of the contraband to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummate a buy-bust transaction between entrapping officers and the accused.51 That the operation happened in this manner in the present case was indubitably proven by the prosecution.
Bare denials cannot prevail over the prosecution witnesses' positive identification of appellants as the persons who were in possession of the shabu, who delivered it to the poseur-buyer and who received payment for it.52 The records clearly show that they were entrapped through a buy-bust operation. Their denial cannot prevail over the positive testimony of the police officers who had no reason or ill motive to testify falsely against them. As earlier adverted to, the officers' testimonies were consistent, unequivocal and replete with details of the transaction with appellants and, therefore, merit our full faith and credence.
Besides, it is simply preposterous to accept the reasoning of appellants that "the filing of the instant case x x x is an afterthought of the violent incident inside a Celica car between them and SPO1 Red and SPO1 Buluran. By reason of said violent incident where he was likewise injured, SPO1 Red has an ax to grind against Mila and Rona Razul. This is precisely why Bairona Banke was not included in the instant heinous crime case. It is because Bairona Banke did not [participate in] the commotion inside the car."53
Such argument, however, validates even more the police officers' version of the incident that, indeed, a buy-bust operation that led to the arrest of appellants was conducted on that particular day. At any rate, their guilt will not depend on whether Banke was similarly charged with the same offense. What is important is that the evidence against them sufficiently established their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Appellants also proffer the argument that the prosecution should have sought a qualitative test of the entire substance seized to ascertain the net weight of its methelamphetamine hydrochloride content, as the presumption is that there is no 100 percent shabu in the country.54 They raise the probability that the substance sold could contain additives or adulterants. Thus, the actual weight of the pure shabu could be less than the entire substance actually seized.
That only samples from the captured substance were examined by the chemist does not weaken the prosecution case. A sample taken from one of the packages is logically presumed to be representative of the entire contents of the packages, unless appellants prove otherwise.55 Therefore, a positive result for the presence of drugs indicates that there were 207.15 grams of drugs in the packages from which the sample was taken. A generic, unsubstantiated claim that there is no 100 percent shabu in the Philippines will not suffice to overcome the presumption that the sample tested is representative of the whole substance seized.
Finally, appellants maintain that the non-presentation of the forensic chemist who examined the shabu confiscated from appellants is fatal to the case of the prosecution. They allege that because the chemist was not presented in court, then the shabu seized and the physical science laboratory report were never identified.
Again we disagree. Aside from proving the fact of the sale, the prosecution also successfully established, through the testimonies of SPO2 Red and SPO1 Buluran, the identity of the packages taken from appellants. In addition, SPO2 Red traced the chain of custody of the packages after he had properly initialed them. Thereafter, a request for a laboratory exam56 was prepared and signed by PO2 Christopher M. Ronquillo and P/Insp Abelardo P. Aquino.
This examination yielded Physical Science Report No. D-1044-98,57 which was signed by examining Forensic Analyst Alexis A. Guinanao and approved by Forensic Chemist Marilyn D. Dequito, chief of the Physical Science Branch of the PNP Crime Laboratory. These documents, together with the four (4) sachets of shabu which is the subject of the sale, were all admitted by both the prosecution and the defense in their stipulation of facts.58 In view of their stipulation, both parties likewise agreed that the testimony of the forensic chemist would be dispensed with.59
A stipulation of facts in criminal cases is sanctioned by law.60 It is done in further pursuit of the objective of expediting trial by dispensing with the presentation of evidence on matters that the accused is willing to admit.61 Further, stipulations are recognized as declarations constituting judicial admissions; hence, binding upon the parties.
By virtue of such stipulation of facts, the prosecution dispensed with the introduction of additional evidence, and the defense waived the right to contest or dispute the veracity of the statements contained in the exhibits.62 In fact, the stipulation of facts contained in the trial court's Pre-trial Order63 was signed by appellants and their counsel, thus satisfying the requirements of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which we quote:
"Sec. 2. Pre-trial agreement - All agreements or admissions made or entered during the pre-trial conference shall be reduced in writing and signed by the accused and counsel, otherwise, they cannot be used against the accused. The agreements covering the matters referred to in section 1 of this Rule shall be approved by the court."64
In addition to the foregoing, appellants never raised in issue before the trial court the non-presentation of Forensic Analyst Guinanao. Without having objected to the evidence, they cannot now raise the question for the first time on appeal.65 It must also be stressed that as a PNP forensic analyst, Guinanao is a public officer, and his report carries the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions.66 Besides, entries in official records made in the performance of official duty, as in the case of his reports, are prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated.67
As to penalty, any person who -- unless authorized by law -- sells shabu or methylamphetamine hydrochloride, a regulated drug, shall be punished with reclusion perpetua to death; and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos68 if two hundred (200) or more grams thereof are sold.69 Since there were neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending the sale by appellants of 207.15 grams of shabu, the RTC correctly imposed on them the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua.70 However, the P10,000,000 fine imposed on them should be reduced to the reasonable amount of P500,000 each.71
WHEREFORE, the assailed RTC Decision is AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATIONS that the actual weight of the prohibited drug is 207.15 grams, not 212.15, and the fine is reduced to P500,000 for each appellant. Costs against appellants.
Puno, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
Search for www.chanrobles.com
|Copyright © ChanRoblesPublishing Company| Disclaimer | E-mailRestrictions|
ChanRobles™Virtual Law Library ™ | chanrobles.com™