Accused may REBUT presumption of liability under fisheries law

We now review the evidence to determine whether petitioners have successfully rebutted this presumption. The facts show that on November 13, 1992, after the Information was filed in court and petitioners granted bail, petitioners moved that the fish specimens taken from the F/B Robinson be reexamined. The trial court granted the motion. As prayed for, a member of the PNP Maritime Command of Puerto Princesa, in the presence of authorized representatives of the F/B Robinson, the NBI and the local Fisheries Office, took at random five (5) live lapu-lapu from the fish cage of the boat. The specimens were packed in the usual manner of transporting live fish, taken aboard a commercial flight and delivered by the same representatives to the NBI Head Office in Manila for chemical analysis. On November 23, 1992, Salud Rosales, another forensic chemist of the NBI in Manila conducted three (3) tests on the specimens and found the fish negative for the presence of sodium cyanide, thus :"Gross weight of specimen = 3.849 kg. Examinations made on the above-mentioned specimens gave NEGATIVE RESULTS to the tests for the presence of SODIUM CYANIDE." The Information charged petitioners with illegal fishing "with the use of obnoxious or poisonous substance (sodium cyanide), of more or less one (1) ton of assorted live fishes." There was more or less one ton of fishes in the F/B Robinson's fish cage. It was from this cage that the four dead specimens examined on October 7, 1992 and the five live specimens examined on November 23, 1992 were taken. Though all the specimens came from the same source allegedly tainted with sodium cyanide, the two tests resulted in conflicting findings. We note that after its apprehension, the F/B Robinson never left the custody of the PNP Maritime Command. The fishing boat was anchored near the city harbor and was guarded by members of the Maritime Command. It was later turned over to the custody of the Philippine Coast Guard Commander of Puerto Princesa City. The prosecution failed to explain the contradictory findings on the fish samples and this omission raises a reasonable doubt that the one ton of fishes in the cage were caught with the use of sodium cyanide. The absence of cyanide in the second set of fish specimens supports petitioners' claim that they did not use the poison in fishing. According to them, they caught the fishes by the ordinary and legal way, i.e. by hook and line of board their sampans. This claim is buttressed by the prosecution evidence itself. The apprehending officers saw petitioners fishing by hook and line when they came upon them in the waters of Barangay San Rafael. [G.R. No. 119619. December 13, 1996]