People v. Kunii (G.R. No. 230556, November 20, 2017)


CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 230556, November 20, 2017]. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. MAKOTO KUNII Y REGATILLO.

At about 6:00 P.M. of July 15, 2011, a male confidential informant (CI) alias Macmac reported to Gaudia at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)Regional Office No. 02, Tuguegrao City, that a certain Makoto was involved in the illegal activity of dangerous drugs in Tuguegarao City. Gaudia relayed the report to the PDEA Regional Director Azurin. Upon the directive of Azurin, Gaudia formed a team to conduct a buy bust against Makoto. It was composed of IO1 Mark Anthony Ventura, IO1 Mary Jane Gaayon, IO1 Cabanilla and Gaudia himself. Gaudia conducted a briefing wherein he designated Ventura as the poseur buyer, Gaayon as [the] immediate back-up of Ventura and Cabanilla as investigator. Gaudia then gave Ventura one (1) piece P500.00 with Serial No. DE IO1048 as buy bust money.

During the briefing, [Gaudia] instructed the CI to contact Makoto for a drug sale transaction. The CI did as he was instructed using a cellphone and because it was in speaker mode, Ventura overheard the person at the other end of the line tell telling said CI to meet him along Apple Extension Airport, Pengu-Ruyu. The CI and Ventura boarded a motorcycle to the target site and the rest of the team followed them on board their service vehicle. When the CI and Ventura reached Apple Extension Airport, a man alighted from a motorcycle and the CI told Ventura he was Makoto. The CI and Ventura approached the male person. The CI introduced Ventura to Makoto as his friend who wanted to buy shabu.

Makoto asked Ventura for the payment and the latter handed to the former the one (1) piece P500.00 peso bill. Makoto then gave Ventura one (1) piece heat- sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance suspected to be shabu. Ventura immediately executed the pre-arranged signal to signify that the sale transaction was already consummated, by lighting a cigarette. Gaayon and the rest of the team rushed to the aid of Ventura and arrested Makoto. Gaayon was able to recover from Makoto the one (1) piece P500.00 peso bill as buy bust money and Nokia cellphone.

Since Gaayon was a female, it was Ventura who searched Makoto and recovered from the latter's pocket marijuana leaves with fruiting tops and seeds wrapped with a magazine. The motorcycle used by Makoto was also seized. Ventura informed Makoto of his offenses while Gaudia gave him his constitutional rights to get his own lawyer and if he cannot afford it, the court may appoint one and to remain silent. Thereafter, the PDEA team returned to their office with Makoto for inventory, markings and taking of photographs of seized items.

From the buy bust site to PDEA Office, the team boarded their service vehicle wherein Ventura was in custody of the buy bust stuff and recovered marijuana and seated together with Makoto and Gaayon. Reaching the PDEA Regional Office No. 02, the buy bust team conducted the inventory in the presence of Makoto, Ferdinand Gangan representing the DOJ, barangay captain and media representative. Ventura placed a masking tape in the heat sealed transparent plastic sachet on which he affixed his marking consisting of his initial [MMV], to stand for Mark [M.] Anthony Ventura, 07-15-2011 as date of arrest, and his signature and further placed a masking tape over the magazine containing the marijuana over which he also affixed his markings. Gaayon affixed her marking in the Nokia cellphone consisting of EXH D, initial MRG, meaning Maryjane R. Gaayon, 07-15-2011 and her signature, which was documented by the Inventory of Seized Properties/Items involving the buy bust money, cellphone and motorcycle as well as the pictures of the proceedings. Gangan was called upon to witness the inventory of seized properties/items confiscated during the buy bust and upon comparison of the items in the Inventories of Seized Properties /Items with those presented to him, he signed the same Inventory sheets.

Gaudia prepared the letter request to the PNP Crime Laboratory for the laboratory examination of the seized items consisting of the plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance and marijuana. Ventura personally turned over the buy bust stuff and recovered marijuana to the crime laboratory.

At the crime laboratory, PSI James Bad-e conducted the qualitative examination on those items, the white crystalline substance in the evening and the marijuana the following morning. The white crystalline substance tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride and the marijuana, positive for the presence of marijuana, both dangerous drugs, per Chemistry Report No. D-56-2011 he issued.

After conducting his examination, Bad-e sealed the items and placed masking tapes wherein he affixed his markings D[O]-56-2011, which is the case number assigned to it, JPB, to stand for James P. Bad-e, and date. In court, Ventura identified the accused as the Makoto involved in the buy [bust] operation and the methamphetamine hydrochloride, marijuana and buy bust money to be those involved in the operation; Gaayon identified also the accused, the Nokia cellphone and the buy bust money as those she seized from the accused; and, Bad-e identified the specimens in court to be those he examined.

ISSUES: Was the crime established by evidence? Was the rule on chain of custody followed?

HELD: The petition has no merit. Yes, the crime was established by evidence and, yes, the rule on chain of custody was followed.The well-settled rule is that findings and conclusion of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to great respect because the trial courts have the advantage of observing the demeanor of witnesses as they testify, especially if sustained by the CA.

For the successful prosecution of offenses involving the illegal sale rugs under Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the following elements must be proven: (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 its payment. What is material to the prosecution of the illegal sale of dangerous drugs is proof that the illicit transaction took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence.

In the present case, there is no doubt that the prosecution successfully established all the elements of illegal sale of drugs. IO1 Ventura, the poseur-buyer, categorically testified on the buy-bust operation from the time he was introduced by the CI to appellant as the buyer of the shabu, to the time: the appellant handed to him the plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance for a consideration of P500.00 until he was apprehended by the police officers

IO1 Ventura testified that, upon receipt of the report from the CI about the illegal drug activities of appellant, SI2 Gaudia formed a team to conduct a buy-bust operation and he was assigned to act as poseur-buyer. After the briefing, the CI and IO1 Ventura rode a motorcycle to the target area and the rest of the buy-bust team followed. When appellant arrived, the CI introduced him to the former as the person interested to buy shabu. Appellant asked for the payment of the shabu and after the marked money was handed to him, appellant gave IO1 Ventura a plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance. Appellant was then arrested and was bodily searched where marijuana leaves with fruiting tops and seeds wrapped in a magazine were found in his possession.

During the trial, IO1 Ventura positively identified appellant as the seller of the confiscated shabu and possessor of the recovered marijuana leaves with fruiting tops. IO1 Ventura also identified the plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance marked as EXH "A" MMV 7-15-2011 as the object sold to him and the marijuana leaves with fruiting tops and seeds wrapped in a magazine with marking EXH "B" MMV 7-15-2011 as the item recovered from appellant during the body search. IO1 Ventura further identified the recovered buy-bust money consisting of one (I) P500.00 with serial number DEIO1048.

The plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance and marijuana leaves with fruiting tops and seeds wrapped in a magazine were brought to the PNP Crime Laboratory for physical, chemical and confirmatory tests. Based on the Chemistry Report, the plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance was examined and determined to be methamphetamine hydrochloride. Meanwhile, marijuana leaves with fruiting tops and seeds gave positive result to the tests for the presence of marijuana.

The Court finds no compelling reason to reverse the findings of the trial and the CA. The testimonies of the police officers should be given full faith and credence vis-a-vis the principle on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty. "[I]n the absence of proof of motive to falsely impute such a serious crime against the appellant, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty, as well as the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses, shall prevail over appellant's self-serving and uncorroborated denial."
As regards the issue of non-compliance with Section 21 (a) of R.A. No 9165, the Court finds the same unfounded.

Undeniably, the implementing rules of RA 9165 offer some flexibility, when a proviso was added that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items. What is important is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the appellant.

In the present case, the Court agrees with the RTC and the CA that the chain of custody was unbroken, thus, ensuring the integrity of the corpus delicti. 

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