People v. Ocfemia (G.R. No. 185383; September 25, 2013)

CASE DIGEST: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. GIOVANNI OCFEMIA y CHAVEZ. (G.R. No. 185383; September 25, 2013)

FACTS: Based on a tip from a confidential informant, a buy bust operation was conducted against accused-appellant in San Rafael, Guinobatan, Alaby. PO2 Aldea was designated to act as the poseur-buyer handed the five marked P100.00 bills to accused-appellant. Accused-appellant went inside his house and came back a few minutes later to hand a heat-sealed small plastic sachet of shabu to PO2 Aldea.

After examining the purchased item, PO2 Aldea took off his cap from his head, the pre-arranged signal for the rest of the team that the transaction had been consummated. PO3 Zamora and the other team members rushed to the scene, apprised accused-appellant of his constitutional rights, and apprehended accused-appellant. Incidental to accused-appellants lawful arrest, PO3 Zamora bodily frisked accused-appellant and was able to retrieve only two of the five markedP100.00 bills from accused-appellants possession. Thereafter, accused-appellant was brought to the police station.

At the police station, PO2 Aldea marked with his initials the sachet of shabu sold to him by accused-appellant. PO2 Aldea then submitted the said sachet of shabu to their crime laboratory which yielded positive result for methamphetamine hydrochloride.

The defense presented the testimonies of accused-appellantand his spouse, Daisy Ocfemia and the transcript of the preliminary examination conducted by Judge Antonio C. Bagagn of the MTC of Guinobatan, Albay.

When accused-appellant took the witness stand, he denied the charge against him and claimed that he was framed-up by the police.

Accused-appellant averred that he was an "asset" of the police, having once joined the police in an entrapment operation in Legaspi City. On February 21, 2003, he joined the police in another buy-bust operation. At around 7:00 in the morning of the said date, PS/INSP Vargas, Senior Police Officer SPO4 Fernando Cardona, and PO3 Zamora dropped by accused-appellants house to ask accused-appellant to accompany them to Iriga City. Accused-appellant assented to the police officers request and on their way to Iriga City, the police officers briefed accused-appellant about the operation. The police officers told accused-appellant that the suspect was a certain Danny Contreras and that accused-appellant would act as the poseur-buyer.

Accused-appellant went on to narrate that upon meeting Contreras at the latters residence at around noontime, he handed P1,000.00 to Contreras. Contreras, in turn, instructed accused-appellant to wait in front of the Park View Hotel, which was about 10 meters from where PS/INSP Vargas, SPO4 Cardona, and PO3 Zamora positioned themselves. Moments later, Contreras met accused-appellant in front of the said hotel and handed to accused-appellant the shabu. At this point, the police officers arrested Contreras and brought him to Camp General Simeon Ola. Accused-appellant then turned over the shabu to SPO4 Cardona.

Accused-appellant related further that at Camp General Simeon Ola, urine samples were taken from him and Contreras. Thereafter, accused-appellant was escorted by PO3 Zamora to the PDEA to talk to PO2 Aldea. PO2 Aldea disclosed to accused-appellant that accused-appellant would be charged with illegal sale of shabu; that PO2 Aldea would claim to be the poseur-buyer at the purported buy-bust operation against accused-appellant; and that PO2 Aldea would testify against accused-appellant. When accused-appellant protested, PO2 Aldea simply replied that it was an order from the latters superior which could not be refused. Subsequently, accused-appellant was brought to Judge Bagagns office in Guinobatan, Albay.

According to accused-appellant, Judge Bagagn conversed first with PS/INSP Vargas, SPO4 Cardona, and PO3 Zamora. When Judge Bagagn talked to accused-appellant, the Judge said that he had already signed a document and there was nothing more he could do. Thereafter, accused-appellant was requested to immediately leave Judge Bagagns office, giving him no opportunity to ask what document the Judge had signed. SPO4 Cardona approached accused-appellant, asking the latter to please understand ("Pare, pasensiya na.") for he "did not want this to happen, it was them,"referring to the other police officers.

The prosecution presented Judge Bagagn, already retired by that time, as rebuttal witness. Judge Bagagn confirmed on the witness stand that in the evening of February 21, 2003, he conducted the preliminary investigation in accused-appellants case and that based on the evidence presented before him, he found probable cause to indict accused-appellant. Judge Bagagn also recalled that after the preliminary investigation, accused-appellant confided that he was a police asset and that he was just being framed-up. Judge Bagagn, however, brushed aside accused-appellants claim believing that the same was already a matter of defense best threshed out during the trial.

The RTC and the CA convicted the accused-appellant for violation of R.A. No. 9165.

ISSUE: Did the prosecution establish proof beyond reasonable to doubt to convict the accused?HELD: Accused-appellant broaches the view that SA Isidoro's failure to mark the confiscated shabu immediately after seizure creates a reasonable doubt as to the drugs identity. People v. Sanchez, however, explains that RA 9165 does not specify a time frame for "immediate marking," or where said marking should be done.

"What Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and its implementing rule do not expressly specify is the matter of "marking" of the seized items in warrantless seizures to ensure that the evidence seized upon apprehension is the same evidence subjected to inventory and photography when these activities are undertaken at the police station rather than at the place of arrest. Consistency with the "chain of custody" rule requires that the "marking" of the seized items to truly ensure that they are the same items that enter the chain and are eventually the ones offered in evidence should be done (1) in the presence of the apprehended violator (2) immediately upon confiscation."

To be able to create a first link in the chain of custody, then, what is required is that the marking be made in the presence of the accused and upon immediate confiscation. "Immediate confiscation" has no exact definition. Thus, in People v. Gum-Oyen, testimony that included the marking of the seized items at the police station and in the presence of the accused was sufficient in showing compliance with the rules on chain of custody. Marking upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team.

In this case, the chain of custody of the sachet of shabu sold by accused-appellant could be continuously traced from its receipt by PO2 Aldea, the poseur-buyer, during the buy-bust operation; its transfer to the police laboratory for examination; it being kept in police custody while awaiting trial; and its presentation as evidence before the RTC. PO2 Aldea himself marked the said sachet of shabu with his initials upon arriving at the police station with the arrested accused-appellant. He also personally submitted the same sachet of shabu to the PNP crime laboratory for forensic examination. When he testified before the RTC, PO2 Aldea identified the sachet of Shabu and confirmed his initials thereon. P/SUPT Arroyo was the forensic officer who conducted the chemical examination of the contents of the sachet bearing PO2 Aldeas initials and she confirmed on the wit stand that the said contents tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride. Thus, the integrity and evidentiary value of the sachet of shabu presented in evidence against accused-appellant was properly preserved in substantial compliance with Section 21(1) of Republic Act No.9165.

Accused-appellants defense of frame-up cannot prevail over the prosecution witnesses positive testimonies on the conduct of a legitimate buy-bust operation against accused-appellant, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti. The testimonies of police officers, who caught accused-appellant in flagrante delicto, are usually credited with more weight and credence, in the absence of evidence that they have been inspired by an improper or ill motive, as compared to the accused's defenses of denial and frame-up, which have been invariably viewed with disfavor for the same can easily be concocted. In order to prosper, the defenses of denial and frame-up must be proved with strong and convincing evidence,which accused-appellant failed to produce in this case.

As aptly pointed out by both the RTC and the Court of Appeals, accused-appellant could have bolstered his defenses by presenting witnesses who could attest that he was, in fact, a "confidential informant" or an "asset" of the police, or who could corroborate the existence of Danny Contreras. Accused-appellant's assertion that all evidence to exculpate him is in the custody of the police is only too convenient and fails to convince the Court to waive away the requisite burden of evidence. There is absolute lack of reason or motive for the police, and even Judge Bagagfian, to turn against accused-appellant, an alleged police informant/asset, and launch a concerted and elaborate plan to put accused-appellant in jail. DENIED.

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