G.R. No. 232298. Jan 8, 2018

THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 232298, January 08, 2018 ] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES VS. ELCID DACIR Y DACO.

Before the Court is an appeal from the Decision[1] dated February 28, 2017 rendered by the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 08124, which affirmed the Judgment[2] dated October 21, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City, Branch 164 in Criminal Case Nos. 19749-D and 19750-D, finding accused-appellant Elcid Dacir;/ Daco guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Sections 5 and 11, respectively, of Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 (RA 9165), otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The Facts

In two (2) Informations both dated November 24, 2014, accused-appellant was charged with the crimes of violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of RA 9165, the accusatory portions of which read:
Criminal Case No. 19749-D
On or about November 23, 2014, in Pasig City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused, not being lawfully authorized by law, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell, deliver and give away to PO1 Randy Sanoy y Sindayen, a member of the Philippine National Police, who acted as a police poseur buyer, one (1) heat sealed transparent plastic sachet containing 0.05 gram of white crystalline substance, which was found positive to the test for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, in violation of the said law.

Contrary to law.[3]

Criminal Case No. 19749-D

On or about November 23, 2014, in Pasig City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused, not being lawfully authorized to possess any dangerous drug, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in his possession and under his custody and control six (6) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets each containing 0.05 gram or with a total weight of 0.30 grams of white crystalline substance, which were found positive to the test for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, in violation of the said law.

Contrary to law.[4]
During arraignment, accused-appellant, assisted by his counsel de oficio, entered a plea of not guilty to both charges. The mandatory pre-trial conference in both cases was terminated on December 10, 2014 and joint trial on the merits ensued thereafter.[5]

Version of the Prosecution

The prosecution presented three (3) witnesses, namely: 1) Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Rhea Fe DC. Alviar, the Forensic Chemist; 2) PO1 Randy S. Sanoy, the poseur-buyer; and 3) PO3 Nelson G. Cruz, the police investigator. The testimonies of PCI Alviar and PO3 Cruz were, however, dispensed with in view of the stipulation of facts entered into by the public prosecutor and the defense counsel.[6]Based on the evidence and testimony presented, the prosecution attempted to establish the following, as summarized by the appellate court in the assailed decision, thus:
At around 11:00 in the morning of November 23, 2014, a male walk-in confidential informant (CI) went to the office of Station Anti-Illegal Drug Special Operation Task Group (SAID SOTG) of Pasig City and informed PO1 Randy S. Sanoy and his co-operatives that a certain Elcid is engaged in selling illegal drugs at Barangay Sta. Lucia, Pasig City. PCI Renato Castillo immediately conducted a briefing and ordered a buy-bust operation against Elcid. A nine-man team was created where PO1 Sanoy was designated as the poseur-buyer, PO3 Allan Caponga as team leader and PO1 Jonathan Bueno as immediate back-up. The team prepared the pre-operation report and coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). PCI Castillo gave PO1 Sanoy a P200.00 bill as buy-bust money which the latter marked with his initials, RSS.

At around 1:30 in the afternoon, the buy-bust team proceeded to Elcid's house at No.2 Marietta Romeo Village, Barangay Sta. Lucia, Pasig City. Upon arriving at the village, poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy and the CI asked a bystander about the whereabouts of Elcid. The bystander informed them that Elcid went to Bagong Anyo Street, Barangay Sta. Lucia, Pasig City. Poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy, the CI and the rest of the buy-bust team then proceeded to Bagong Anyo Street. Thereat, the poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy and the CI saw a man standing along the street whom the CI recognized as Elcid. They approached Elcid who was later identified as accused-appellant Elcid Dacir y Daco. The CI asked appellant if they could purchase shabu from him. Appellant, in returned (sic), inquired how much they would purchase. Poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy answered that he would buy halagang dos and simultaneously handed to appellant the P200.00 bill. Appellant put the P200.00 bill inside his right pocket and brought out, from the same pocket, one (1) plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance suspected to be shabu. Upon receipt of the plastic sachet, poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy placed it inside his right pocket and scratched his head, the pre-arranged signal that the sale had already been consummated.

While the back-up operatives were approaching, poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy introduced himself as a police officer and arrested appellant. He also frisked appellant from whom a .38 caliber revolver, the P200.00 buy-bust money and six (6) more sachets of suspected shabu were recovered. Poseur-buyer Sanoy placed the six (6) sachets of shabu inside his left pocket. He then marked the plastic sachet bought from appellant with his initials, the first name of appellant and the date, as follows: 1RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014. He also marked the six (6) other sachets found in the latter's possession with the following: 2RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014; 3RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014; 4RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014; 5RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014; 6RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014; and 7RSS/ELCID-11-23-2014. The marking was done in front of appellant. Because there were already numerous onlookers at the buy-bust site, appellant was brought to the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia where he was presented to kagawad Enrique Mission.

At the barangay hall, an inventory of the items was conducted in the presence of kagawad Mission and appellant. The Inventory of Seized Evidence dated November 23, 2014 was signed by poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy as well as kagawad Mission and appellant. Another member of the buy-bust team, PO1 Rodrigo Nidoy, Jr. took photos of the confiscated items as well as of kagawad Mission and appellant while they were signing the inventory. The inventory, however, was not signed by representatives from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ). Poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy explained that in previous instances, they invited the media and the DOJ representatives but they never came to witness the inventory taking. This time, the police officers no longer invited them.

Thereafter, appellant was brought to the SAID-SOTG, Pasig City. The items confiscated from appellant were presented to PO3 Nelson Cruz, the investigating officer, who prepared the Chain of Custody Form, Request for Laboratory Examination, and Request for Drug Test. After the preparation of the documents, PO3 Cruz submitted the seven (7) sachets of suspected shabu and the Request for Laboratory Examination to the Eastern Police District (EPD) Crime Laboratory in Mandaluyong City. At the crime laboratory, the sachets of suspected shabu were received by PO1 Lacar who, in turn, turned it over to Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Rhea Fe Alviar, a forensic chemist who is also the chief of the Physical Science Section of the Crime Laboratory. PCI Alviar then conducted the necessary physical, chemical and confirmatory tests on the specimens to determine the presence of dangerous drug. It was also PCI Alviar who turned over the custody of the subject sachets to the court a quo.[7]
As stipulated by the prosecution and the defense counsel and based on the Initial Laboratory Report dated November 23, 2014, it appears that the forensic chemist found that the specimens submitted to her for examination had a positive result for the presence of methamphetamme hydrochloride, a dangerous drug.[8]

Version of the Defense

For the defense, accused-appellant was presented as the sole witness, whose testimony was summarized by the CA as follows:
Appellant raised the defense of denial. He testified that on November 23, 2014, at around 2:00 p.m., he arrived at the house of Arjan, his childhood friend, to watch the fight of Manny Pacquiao on television. Arjan, however, was not in the house but his mother let appellant inside. While watching the boxing bout, appellant heard a banging sound but he ignored the same. He then heard someone shouting "Sino si Elcid, sino si Elcid". The person shouting outside then barged inside the house, pinned appellant down and asked if he was Elcid. Appellant learned later that the person who pinned him down was PO1 Randy Sanoy. While struggling, appellant asked PO1 Sanoy why he was looking for him. Instead of answering, PO1 Sanoy told him not to make a sound and not to resist. PO1 Sanoy then twisted appellant's arm and poked a gun at him. He also hit appellant's side with a gun and handcuffed him. PO1 Bueno, the companion of POl Sanoy, hit appellant on his nape and told him not to resist anymore. The police officers forced appellant out of the house and boarded him inside a vehicle. Before they could leave, someone told POl Sanoy and POl Bueno to go to the house of a certain Pentong. Appellant was then ordered to alight from the vehicle and he, together with the police officers, went to the house of Pentong. However, Pentong was not in his house. Appellant was then boarded in a motorcycle and was brought to the police station. Thereat, appellant was ordered to remove his clothes. Nothing was confiscated from him except for his bracelet, ring and the coins inside his pocket. Appellant was brought to the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia where he was presented to barangay kagawad Mis[s]ion, who happened to be his father's friend. PO1 Sanoy brought out some sachets of shabu which the police officer alleged to have been confiscated from appellant.

On cross-examination, appellant said that while he did not read the Inventory of Seized Evidence before signing the same, he failed to inform kagawad Mission that he did not inform the official that the sachets of shabu were merely planted. He did not do so because he was frightened. He also did not have the time to undergo medical check-up after he was hit with a gun by PO1 Sanoy.[9]
Ruling of the RTC

In a Judgment dated October 21, 2015, the trial court found accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of illegal sale and illegal possession of shabu, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, accused ELCID DACIR Y DACO Marasigan is hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offenses of illegal sale of 0.05 gram of methamphetamine hydrochloride and possession of 0.30 gram thereof and sentences him as follows:
  1. For Criminal Case No. 19749-D [violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165] - life imprisonment and to pay a fine of five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00); and
  2. For Criminal Case No. 19750-D [violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165] - imprisonment ranging from twelve years and one day to fifteen years (applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law) and to pay a fine of three hundred thousand pesos (P300,000.00).
The Branch Clerk of this Court is directed to forward the sachets of shabu (Exhibits "P" to "V") to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for destruction.

SO ORDERED.
The trial court ruled that all elements of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs were present in this case. It found credibility in the testimony of prosecution witness POl Sanoy, who acted as the poseur-buyer in the buy-bust operation and who explicitly described how the sale transaction occurred between him and accused-appellant. Similarly, the trial court also found that the prosecution was able to establish all elements for the illegal possession of dangerous drugs charge.[10]

It further ruled that the prosecution was able to demonstrate that the integrity and evidentiary value of the evidence seized had been preserved; thus, there was no break in the chain of custody of the seized drugs. Moreover, the trial court declared that the presumption that the integrity of the evidence has been preserved will remain unless there was a showing of bad faith, ill will, or tampering of evidence, which was not shown or overcome by accused-appellant.[11]

The trial court found no merit in accused-appellant's defense of denial, especially since there was no improper motive ascribed by accused-appellant to the arresting officers.[12]

Accused-appellant elevated the case on appeal to the CA.

Ruling of the CA

In the assailed Decision, the CA affirmed the findings of the trial court, to wit:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is hereby DENIED. The Decision dated October 21, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 164, Pasig City is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.
The CA agreed with the trial court that the prosecution sufficiently proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of accused-appellant of the crimes of illegal sale and possession of dangerous drugs.[13]

It concluded that the testimony of POl Sanoy, both on direct and cross-examinations, were intelligible, candid and unwavering. It also noted that accused-appellant neither imputed any ill-motive against the police officer to testify falsely against him nor was there any accusation that the police officer or any of the police operatives attempted to extort money from him. Thus, absent any persuasive evidence why the police officers would testify falsely, it is only logical that their testimonies are worthy of full faith and credence. These testimonies were also reinforced by the documentary evidence on record consisting of the laboratory report on the confiscated drugs.[14]

The CA gave no merit to accused-appellant's contention that he should be acquitted because his arrest was illegal in the absence of a warrant of arrest and that the confiscated shabu are inadmissible in evidence for being the fruit of a poisonous tree. It ruled that accused-appellant was caught in flagrante delicto of selling illegal drugs to poseur-buyer PO1 Sanoy in a buy-bust operation. Thus, a valid warrantless arrest was made pursuant to Section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure. Moreover, accused-appellant was found to be estopped from assailing the validity of his arrest when he failed to move for the quashal of the informations filed against him before his arraignment.[15]

The appellate court also sustained the findings of the trial court that the prosecution was able to establish that the chain of custody of the seized drugs was not broken. Aside from this, the CA affirmed the penalty imposed by the trial court.[16] Hence, this appeal.

The Issue

The issue in this case is whether the CA erred in affirming the accused-appellant's conviction.

The Court's Ruling

There is no merit in the appeal.

Accused-appellant raised three points in his appeal. First, he argued that his warrantless arrest was illegal. Second, he claimed that the arresting officers did not comply with Section 21 of RA 9165. Lastly, he asserted that the chain of custody of the confiscated shabu was broken.

At the outset, it bears stressing that all the issues raised by accused-appellant had been squarely and thoroughly addressed by the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court. It is settled that great weight is accorded to the factual findings of the trial court, especially when they are affirmed by the appellate court. This can only be discarded or disturbed when it appears in the record that the trial court had overlooked, ignored or disregarded some fact or circumstance of weight or significance which, if considered, would have altered the result.[17]

A review of the assailed Decision shows that the appellate court committed no error in affirming the conviction of accused-appellant.

As found by the trial court, the prosecution satisfactorily established the elements of violation of Section 5, Article II of RA 9165, as amended, which are: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. It is material to prove that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicitdrug in evidence.[18] Where there is a buy-bust operation, the crime is consummated when the police officer makes an offer to buy that is accepted by the accused, and there is an ensuing exchange between them involving the delivery of the dangerous drugs to the police officer.[19]

In the present case, We agree with the CA that the prosecution witness and documentary evidence clearly established accused-appellant had received the P200 marked money from PO1 Sanoy in exchange for one plastic sachet containing a white crystalline substance. Upon receiving the plastic sachet, PO1 Sanoy kept the plastic sachet in his pocket, signaled the rest of the buy-bust team that the sale was consummated, and immediately placed accused-appellant under arrest while the rest of the team was approaching them. Accused-appellant's identity was positively identified as the seller of the dangerous drugs. Thus, the trial court correctly ruled that the elements of the crime of sale of illegal drugs were established by the prosecution.

After a careful evaluation of the evidence in its totality, We find no merit in accused-appellant's argument that he was a victim of a warrantless arrest since the prosecution successfully established that he was arrested in flagrante delicto.

It must be emphasized that the buy-bust operation was triggered by a "tip" from a confidential informant that accused-appellant was engaged in the sale of illegal drugs. Under the circumstances, the police did not have enough time to secure a warrant, considering that it occurred on a Sunday. There was no opportunity for the police to delay the conduct of the buy-bust operation, lest have accused-appellant's whereabouts become unknown. When the buy-bust operation proceeded, it was confirmed that accused-appellant was indeed illegally selling prohibited drugs. When an accused is caught in flagrante delicto, the police officers are not only authorized but are duty-bound to arrest him even without a warrant.[20]

The authority of police to arrest persons caught inflagrante delicto for the sale of illegal drugs during a buy-bust operation was upheld by this Court in People v. Usman,[21] to wit:
To begin with, we hold that accused-appellant can no longer question the legality of his arrest. In People v. Vasquez, we reiterated the rule that any objection, defect or irregularity attending an arrest must be made before the accused enters his plea on arraignment, and having failed to move for the quashal of the Information before arraignment, accused-appellant is now estopped from questioning the legality of his arrest. Moreover, any irregularity was cured upon his voluntary submission to the RTC's jurisdiction.

In the same vein, the claim of accused-appellant that he was not ' apprised of the rights of a person taken into custody under R. A. No. 7438, which claim was raised only during appeal and not before he was arraigned, is deemed waived.

Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the accused-appellant was caught in flagrante delicto of selling illegal drugs to an undercover police officer in a buy-bust operation. His arrest, thus, falls within the ambit of Section 5 (a), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure when an arrest made without warrant is deemed lawful.

In People v. Loks, we acknowledged that a buy-bust operation is a legally effective and proven procedure, sanctioned by law, for apprehending drug peddlers and distributors. Since accused-appellant was caught by the buy-bust team in flagrante delicto, his immediate arrest was also validly made. The accused was caught in the act and had to be apprehended on the spot.

Accused-appellant's arrest being valid, we also hold that the subsequent warrantless seizure of the illegal drugs from his person is equally valid. The legitimate warrantless arrest also cloaks the arresting police officer with the authority to validly search and seize from the offender those that may be used to prove the commission of the offense.[22]
Anent the non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of RA 9165, particularly on the failure to conduct the inventory at the place of the arrest and the lack of representatives from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), We rule that said non-compliance is not fatal to the prosecution's case.

Both RA 9165 and its IRR state that the non-compliance with the procedures thereby delineated and set would not necessarily invalidate the seizure and custody of the dangerous drugs provided there were justifiable grounds for the non-compliance, and provided that the integrity of the evidence of the corpus delicti was preserved. But the non-compliance with the procedures, to be excusable, must have to be justified by the State's agents themselves.[23]

In the present case, PO1 Sanoy was able to satisfactorily explain the reason for their failure to conduct the inventory and photograph taking of the confiscated illegal drugs at the site of accused-appellant's arrest. Based on PO1 Sanoy's testimony, the buy-bust team decided to conduct the inventory and photograph taking of the seized illegal drugs at the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia since there were already numerous onlookers at the buy-bust site and there was a need to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated items. It was at the Sta. Lucia barangay hall that the police inventoried and photographed the seized items.

As for the lack of representatives from the media and the DOJ, PO1 Sanoy explained that they did not coordinate for the same since the media and the DOJ had historically failed to arrive during their previous buy-bust operations. While this reason appears to be unacceptable, it is not sufficient to dismiss the case against accused-appellant. It must be noted that accused-appellant was presented to Kagawad Mission upon arrival at the barangay hall of Sta. Lucia and the inventory was conducted before them. As admitted by accused-appellant, he never denied that the drugs were seized from him and he even signed the Inventory of Seized Drugs. That accused-appellant even declared that Kagawad Mission was his father's friend and he still failed to proclaim his innocence runs contrary to accused-appellant's position.

Thus, We find that the non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 does not necessarily render the arrest of accused-appellant illegal or the items seized and confiscated from him inadmissible in evidence. Although ideally the prosecution should offer a perfect chain of custody in the handling of evidence, substantial compliance with the legal requirements on the handling of the seized item is sufficient. Simply put, mere lapses in procedures need not invalidate a seizure if the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items can be shown to have been properly preserved and safeguarded.[24]

Contrary to accused-appellant's claim that the chain of custody of the confiscated drugs had been broken, We find that the prosecution was able to preserve the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items. The prosecution was able to present through PO1 Sanoy's testimony the whereabouts of the dangerous drugs from the time these were seized from the accused-appellant by the arresting officers, turned over to the investigating officer, forwarded to the laboratory for determination of their composition, and up to the time these are offered in evidence. With this uncontroverted evidence, the chain of custody remained unbroken.

Moreover, the integrity of the evidence is presumed to be preserved unless there is a showing of bad faith, ill will, or proof that the evidence has been tampered with. However, the burden of showing that the evidence was tampered or meddled with to overcome a presumption that there was regularity in the handling of exhibits by public officers lies on accused-appellant.[25] Accused-appellant failed to even allege that the evidence submitted by the prosecution had been tampered with. The evidence showing the transfer of the seized drug from the apprehending officer to the crime laboratory is clear and unambiguous. Thus, We agree with the CA that the integrity of the item seized has been preserved.

Finally, We uphold the penalties imposed by the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, since they are in accordance with Sections 5 and 11, Article II ofRA 9165.

IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED for failure to sufficiently show that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error as to warrant the exercise of the Court's appellate jurisdiction. The Decision dated February 28, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 08124 which affirmed the Judgment dated October 21, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 164 in Criminal Case Nos. 19749-D and 19750-D is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-20. Penned by Associate Justice Ramon R. Garcia and concurred in by Associate Justices Leoncia R. Dimagiba and Jhosep Y. Lopez.

[2] CA rollo, pp. 14-23. Rendered by Presiding Judge Jennifer Albano Pilar.

[3] Id. at 9.

[4] Id. at 11.

[5] Id. at 15.

[6] Id. at 15.

[7] Rollo, pp. 4-6.

[8] Id. at 6-7.

[9] Id. at 7-8.

[10] CA rollo, pp. 20-21.

[11] Id. at 21-22.

[12] Id. at 22.

[13] Rollo, p. 11.

[14] Id. at 14-15.

[15] Id. at 14-15.

[16] Id. at 19.

[17] People of the Philippines v. Luis Antonio Garchitorena, G.R. No. 184172, May 8, 2009, citing Tommy Ferrer v. People of the Philippines and Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 143487, February 22, 2006, 483 SCRA31,50.

[18] People of the Philippines v. Manolilo Opiana y Tanael, G.R. No. 200797, January 12, 2015, citing People of the Philippines v. Philip Dilao y Castro, G.R. No. 170359, July 27, 2007.

[19] People of the Philippines v. Erlinda Mali y Quimmo a.k.a. "Linda", G.R. No. 206738, December 11,2013.

[20] People of the Philippines v. Jeric Paviay Paliza @ "Jeric" and Juan Duendiay Delos Reyes @ "June", G.R. No. 202687, January 14, 2015.

[21] G.R. No. 201100, February 4, 2015.

[22] People of the Philippines v. Mhods Usman y Gogo, G.R. No. 201100, February 4, 2015.

[23] People of the Philippines v. Alberto Gonzales y Santos, also known as Tokyo, G.R. No. 182417, April 3, 2013.

[24] People of the Philippines v. Rustico Ygot y Repuela, G.R. No. 210715, July 18,2016.

[25] People of the Philippines v. Manuel Resurrection, G.R. No. 186380, October 12, 2009.

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