PDEA participation in drug buy-bust NOT important

CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 188564, August 16, 2017]. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. MARICEL PUNZALAN Y MENDOZA, ACCUSED-APPELLANT. People v. Punzalan (G.R. No. 188564. August 16, 2017)

The accused appeals the decision promulgated by the Court of Appeals (CA) affirming the Regional Trial Court (RTC). Both courts found her guilty of violating Section 5 and Section 11 of Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002).

Two informations separately charging the accused with illegal sale of dangerous drugs in violation of Section 5 and illegal possession of dangerous drugs.
That around 8:00 in the evening of 4 July 2003, PO1 Rommel Bautista, together with PO1 Oliver Corpuz, PO1 Rachel Vito, their asset and others, conducted a buy-bust operation at Ricarte Street, San Antonio, San Pedro, Laguna, where the house of accused Maricel Punzalan (Maricel), the subject of the buy bust operation was located. Boarded on [sic] a van, they proceeded to the said place. Upon reaching Ricarte Street, PO1 Rommel Bautista together with their asset proceeded at the house of Maricel. Maricel came out of the house after having been called by their asset twice. Maricel handed one small plastic sachet to PO1 Rommel Bautista who acted as the poseur buyer, in exchange of the P100.00 bill marked money. After Maricel handed the stuff, PO1 Rommel Baustista held the hand of Maricel and introduced himself as a police officer. PO1 Rommel Bautista was able to recover another small plastic from Maricel when she emptied her pockets. Maricel was then arrested and brought to the San Pedro Police Station together with the recovered stuff. The recovered items were marked as "MMP-S" for the stuff product of the buy bust operation and "MMP-P" for the recovered stuff from the. pocket of Maricel.
On her part, the accused cried frame-up. She asserted that she was taking a bath inside the bathroom of her house when the police officers just came barging in, and ordered her to come out of the bathroom; that as soon as she opened the bathroom door, the policemen pulled her out; that the officers went inside the bathroom and searched her wet clothing; that one of them then presented to her a plastic sachet and a P100.00 bill saying that said items were hers; that she denied owning the plastic sachet and the P100.00; that she explained that it was physically impossible for her to keep the objects if she was only in her underwear; and that the police officers, ignoring her denial, brought her with them to the San Pedro Municipal Jail and detained her there.

The CA affirmed the RTC.

In the appellant's brief submitted to the CA, the accused contended that the RTC wrongfully based her convictions on the inconsistent and incredible testimony of the poseur-buyer, PO1 Rommel Bautista; that PO1 Bautista's testimony cast doubt on the identity of the dangerous drugs seized from her because PO1 Bautista was not able to thereby properly describe the same; that the Prosecution also failed to present as evidence the marked money used to purchase the shabu; and that the evidence presented by the Prosecution was inadmissible because the buy-bust operation that led to her arrest was not authorized by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.ISSUE: Are the non-presentation of marked money and the non-participation of the PDEA in her arrest reasons to reverse her conviction?

HELD: The appeal lacks merit. WHEREFORE, the Supreme Court AFFIRMED the decision of the Court of Appeals.

There is no reason to depart from the factual findings of the CA. It has been repeatedly held that the trial court's factual findings, especially when affirmed by the CA, are generally binding and conclusive upon the Court unless such findings were tainted by palpable error, capriciousness and arbitrariness. There is no error, capriciousness and arbitrariness in the CA's evaluation of the records of this case. Indeed, the CA explained the legal bases for upholding the RTC's factual findings.

The non-presentation of the marked money as evidence did not negate the factual findings against the accused. The CA correctly ruled that the failure to present the marked money was not indispensable in successfully prosecuting drug-related offenses. For one, the non-presentation did not necessarily disprove the sale of the dangerous drugs. At best, the marked money only corroborated the guilt of the accused.

Moreover, the lack of coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) did not invalidate the buy-bust operation that led to the arrest of the accused. The law is silent as to the consequences of failure on the part of the law enforcers to transfer drug-related cases to the PDEA, in the same way that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 9165 is also silent on the matter. But by no stretch of imagination could this silence be interpreted as a legislative intent to make an arrest without the participation of PDEA illegal nor evidence obtained pursuant to such an arrest inadmissible.

[1] People v. Quiamanlon, G.R. No. 191198, January 26, 2011, 640 SCRA 697, 706.
[2] People v. Rebotazo, G.R. No. 192913, June 13, 2013, 698 SCRA 452, 467.
[3] G.R. No. 171019, February 23, 2007, 516 SCRA 621.