Illegal sale of dangerous drugs thru police asset as poseur buyer

THIRD DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 200875, January 15, 2014 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. ALWIN A. LOPEZ AND CHERRY QUE L. PANILAGAO.

The Assistant City Prosecutor of Cebu charged the accused Alwin A. Lopez and Cherry Que L. Panilagao before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cebu in Criminal Case CBU-64295 with selling dangerous drugs in violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act 9165.[1]

According to the prosecution witnesses, at about 10:00 p.m. on November 5, 2002 a team of policemen from the Provincial Anti-Crime Group of Cebu, composed of PO3 Carlo Canseko, PO2 Reuel de Egurrola, and PO3 Joselito Englis conducted a buy-bust operation against accused Panilagao and her live-in partner Jigger Labitad at Sitio Molave, Tabunok, Talisay City. A civilian asset known as "Dan" was to act as poseur buyer; they gave him a P100.00 bill that was marked as "BB."

Upon reaching the target area, the police officers positioned themselves at about 15 to 20 meters away from where the expected purchase was to take place. As the poseur buyer approached, accused Lopez met him. After a few seconds of talk, Lopez walked towards accused Panilagao who stood some distance. The latter handed something to Lopez who in turn turned over the thing to the poseur buyer.

At this point, the police officers swooped down upon scene and arrested Lopez. Panilagao was able to run through the alleys and escape but was eventually apprehended three months later on February 5, 2003.

The police team confiscated the marked money from accused Lopez. For his part, the poseur buyer handed over to PO2 Egurrola a tin foil and a silver packet then believed to contain dangerous drugs. These were immediately turned over to the investigator at the police station in Sudlon, Cebu City. The silver packet was subsequently marked with Lopez's initials "AAL" and sent to the Regional Crime Laboratory. Upon examination, its content was determined to be methylamphetamine hydrochloride.[2]In her defense, accused Panilagao alleged that she was at home preparing puso (hanging rice) at about 10:00 p.m. on November 5, 2002 when her uncle, accused Lopez, told her that somebody was looking for her live-in partner, Jigger Labitad. Panilagao left her home and proceeded to the house of Jigger's parents to tell him that somebody was looking for him. She did not know that by then the police had already arrested accused Lopez at her house. Panilagao denies that she engaged in the sale of shabu.

On March 4, 2005 the RTC found the accused Lopez and Panilagao guilty of the crime charged and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00. On March 17, 2011 the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB-CR HC 00395 affirmed in toto the RTC's ruling.

The defense claims that the RTC and the CA erred in finding that accused Lopez and Panilagao sold shabu to a police asset who served as poseur buyer. In every case of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must prove (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.[3]

Here PO3 Canceko and PO3 Englis testified that their civilian asset bought shabu from accused Lopez and Panilagao. The asset paid P100.00 and Lopez handed over to him the silver packet that Panilagao passed to Lopez. The marked money that the police seized from Lopez and the packet of substance the asset got from him, later determined through laboratory test to be shabu, were adduced in evidence.

The defense contends that the accused are entitled to acquittal for the prosecution's failure to present the poseur buyer to testify on the transaction with him. But, the Court has consistently held that the non-presentation of the poseur buyer is fatal only if no other eyewitness testified on the illicit transaction. Here, PO3 Canceko, PO2 Egurrola, and PO3 Englis provided ample evidence of that transaction. Besides, the accused presented no evidence that would tend to show some ill motive or irregularity on the part of these officers. The presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties stands.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS in toto the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB-CR HC 00395 dated March 17, 2011 that found the accused Alwin A. Lopez and Cherry Que L. Panilagao GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Entitled COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002.
[2] Records, p. 5.
[3] People v. Pascua, G.R. No. 194580, August 31, 2011, 656 SCRA 629, 636.
[4] People v. Ambrosio, 471 Phil. 241, 261 (2004).

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