G.R. No. 208968. Jan 15, 2014

[ G.R. No. 208968, January 15, 2014 ]

Before us is a petition for review on certiorari,[1] filed by petitioner Alex Legarda, assailing the May 17, 2013 decision[2] and the August 14, 2013 resolution[3] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-GR CR. No. 33467.

On September 20, 2004, P/Chief Insp. Joselito Pajarillaga ordered SPO3 Arturo dela Cruz, PO3 Rodrigo Pagsolingan, PO3 Rodrigo Antonio, and PO1 Ronald Mateo to conduct a surveillance on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues in Caloocan City due to the reported proliferation of illegal drugs in these areas.

The police officers went to the target areas in civilian clothes, on board an owner-type jeep. When they arrived on 2nd Avenue, PO3 Pagsolingan and PO3 Antonio alighted from the vehicle, and monitored the area on foot. While walking along the streets of 2nd Avenue, PO3 Pagsolingan noticed the petitioner standing at a corner of an alley and examining small plastic sachets containing white crystals or granules. PO3 Pagsolingan approached the petitioner, held his arms, and introduced himself as a police officer. The petitioner struggled and tried to run, but was unable to free himself from PO3 Pagsolingan's grasp. PO3 Pagsolingan then recovered 21 pieces of small plastic sachets containing white crystalline substances from the petitioner. PO3 Antonio handcuffed the petitioner when he arrived, and then informed him of his constitutional rights.

The prosecution charged the petitioner with illegal possession of dangerous drugs under Section 11, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165 before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 127, Caloocan City. In its decision[4] dated June 24, 2010, the RTC convicted the petitioner of the crime charged, and sentenced him to suffer the indeterminate penalty of twelve (12) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and eight (8) months, as maximum. It also ordered him to pay a P300,000.00 fine.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC decision in toto. The CA held that the petitioner was caught in flagrante delicto since he was committing a crime in the presence or within the view of the police officers. It added that the petitioner was already estopped from assailing the legality of his arrest since he did not move to quash the information against him before arraignment.The CA farther ruled that the prosecution was able to establish an unbroken chain of custody over the seized drugs as shown by the following circumstances: the police marked the sachets before forwarding them to the crime laboratory; the Philippine National Police (PNP) forensic chemist examined the submitted specimen and found it positive for the presence of shabu; and PO3 Pagsolingan identified these marked sachets in court to be the same sachets that he recovered from the petitioner. The CA added that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated drugs had been properly preserved.

The petitioner moved to reconsider this decision, but the CA denied his motion in its resolution of August 14, 2013.

The Petition for Review on Certiorari:

In the present petition, the petitioner claimed that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were not credible. He also argued that his arrest was illegal, and that the items recovered from him during his arrest were inadmissible in evidence. The petitioner further maintained that the police officers marked the sachets only at the police station, and that they did not photograph and inventory these items in the presence of the DOJ representatives, the elected officials, and the media.

Our Ruling

We DENY the petition.

Credibility of witnesses

The factual findings of the trial court, its assessment of the credibility of witnesses and the probative weight of their testimonies and the conclusions based on these factual findings are to be given the highest respect. As a rule, the Court will not weigh anew the evidence already passed on by the trial court and affirmed by the CA. Though the rule is subject to exceptions, no such exceptional grounds obtain in this case. Notably, the petitioner did not impute any ill or improper motive on the part of the police officers to falsely testify against him.

Validity of the petitioner's
warrantless arrest and admissibility
of the seized items

In order to constitute a valid in flagrante delicto arrest, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.

In the present case, PO3 Pagsolingan noticed from a distance of seven (7) meters the petitioner standing at a corner of an alley and examining small plastic sachets containing what seemed to be white crystals or granules. Considering that the police officers were deployed on 2nd, 3rd and 4th Avenues in Caloocan City, specifically to monitor illegal drug activities in these areas and on account of his experience as a member of the Caloocan City Station Anti-Illegal Drugs-Special Operations Unit, PO3 Pagsolingan had probable cause to suspect that the petitioner had in his possession illegal drugs. It also bears noting that the petitioner struggled and tried to run when PO3 Pagsolingan held his arm and introduced himself as a policeman. Under these circumstances, the arrest of the petitioner was valid, and the 21 plastic sachets seized as an incident to this lawful arrest were admissible in evidence. At any rate, the petitioner is deemed to have waived his objections to his arrest for not raising the issue before entering his plea.

In People v. Ng Yik Bun,[5] we held that when a police officer sees the offense, although at a distance, and proceeds at once to the scene, he may effect an arrest without a warrant as the offense is deemed committed in his presence or within his view.

Elements of illegal possession of
shabu proven

For a successful prosecution of illegal possession of regulated or prohibited drugs under Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the prosecution must establish the following elements: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug. All these elements had been established in the present case. The petitioner was found to have in his possession 21 plastic sachets containing white crystalline substances after being caught in flagrante delicto. These plastic sachets tested positive for the presence of shabu, a prohibited drug. The petitioner also failed to show that he had legal authority to possess the drug. It is settled that the mere possession of a regulated drug per se constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to convict an accused, absent a satisfactory explanation of such possession.

Substantial compliance by the police
with the procedure in the custody and
handling of seized drugs vis-a-vis the
chain of custody requirement

The presented evidence showed that the police did not mark the seized sachets at the place where the petitioner was arrested, but did so only at the police station. Nonetheless, the Court held in People v. Resurreccion[6] that "marking" upon immediate confiscation contemplates even marking at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team.

In any event, the record shows that there was an unbroken chain of custody over the seized items. To recall, PO3 Pagsolingan handed the 21 plastic sachets to SPO1 Rommel Ybañez when he arrived at the police station. SPO1 Ybañez, for his part, marked the sachets with "ALD-1" to "ALD-21" and then prepared an evidence acknowledgment receipt and a request for laboratory examination. He then forwarded the marked sachets to the Northern Police District Crime Laboratory. P/Insp. Erickson Calabocal, the PNP Forensic Chemist, examined the submitted specimen, marked as "ALD-1" to "ALD-21," and found it positive for the presence of shabu. Notably, PO3 Pagsolingan identified in court the sachets marked as "ALD-1" to "ALD-21" to be the same items he recovered from the petitioner. From this sequence of events, we agree with the court a quo that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items had been properly preserved.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we DENY the petition for failure to sufficiently show any reversible error in the assailed judgment to warrant the exercise of the Court's discretionary appellate jurisdiction.


[1] Rollo, pp. 11-33.[2] Id. at 39-50; penned by Associate Justice Sesinando E. Villon, and concurred in by Associate Justices Florito S. Macalino and Pedro B. Corales.
[3] Id. at 58.
[4] Id. at 86-99; penned by Presiding Judge Victoriano B. Cabanos.
[5] G.R. No. 180452, January 10, 2011, 639 SCRA 88.
[6] G.R. No. 186380, October 12, 2009, 603 SCRA 510.

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