Preservation of integrity, evidentiary value of seized illegal drugs

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 204022, January 15, 2014 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VERSUS MARY GRACE SALGUERO Y DEL ROSARIO, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

Before us is an appeal from the April 13, 2012 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA), which affirmed the Joint Decision[2] of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 127, of Caloocan City, convicting appellant Mary Grace Salguero y Del Rosario for violation of Sections 5 and 11, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165.[3]

The prosecution witnesses established that on September 4, 2007, a civilian informant reported to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) that appellant was selling illegal drugs in Ruby Ville Subdivision, Baesa, Caloocan City. Acting on the report, a buy-bust team was formed with PO3 Felino A. Sumaoang as the designated poseur-buyer. The team proceeded to the target area and upon reaching the place, the informant introduced PO3 Sumaoang to appellant as a buyer of shabu. PO3 Sumaoang told appellant that he wanted to buy P1,000 worth of shabu. When appellant asked for the payment, PO3 Sumaoang gave appellant the marked money. In turn, appellant took one heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance from her black synthetic bag and gave it to PO3 Sumaoang. PO3 Sumaoang then grabbed appellant's hand which was the pre-arranged signal that the sale had been consummated. The other team members assisted in arresting appellant. PO3 Sumaoang recovered the buy- bust money and the black synthetic bag from appellant. He inspected the bag and discovered two heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance also suspected to be shabu.[4]

The seized items were brought to the Barangay Hall of Pinyahan, Quezon City where PO3 Sumaoang marked the plastic sachet subject of the sale as "A 9/4/07 FAS" and the other plastic sachets with "B 09/04/07 FAS" and "B-1 09/04/07 FAS." He also prepared an inventory of the items in the presence of Barangay Kagawad Melinda Z. Gaffud, Gerry Abaya from the PDEA Press Corps and appellant. They brought appellant to the Metro Manila Regional Office-PDEA Office in Quezon City. Thereafter, PO3 Sumaoang delivered the items to the crime laboratory which received them on the same day. Forensic Chemist Marjorie U. Villanueva, who did the laboratory tests, confirmed that the specimens were positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly known as shabu.[5] The plastic sachet marked as "A 9/4/07 FAS" contained 0.1693 gram of shabu while the plastic sachets marked as "B 09/04/07 FAS" and "B-1 09/04/07 FAS" respectively contained 5.2701 grams and 5.7492 grams of shabu.In the face of the prosecution evidence, appellant advanced the defense of denial. She narrated that on September 4, 2007, she was at her residence in Ruby Ville Subdivision, Caloocan City when Nathy Reta arrived looking for her daughter, Lovely Reta, who allegedly eloped with appellant's brother, Darius. Appellant told Nathy that Darius and Lovely were not there. Suddenly, six-persons, who introduced themselves as policemen, arrived looking for Lovely and Darius. When appellant replied that the two were not there, the policemen handcuffed her and brought her to the PDEA office in Pinyahan, Quezon City. Appellant later learned that she was charged with illegal sale and possession of dangerous drugs.[6]

The RTC found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of illegal possession and illegal sale of shabu. She was sentenced to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000 for the illegal sale of shabu and sentenced to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P400,000 for the crime of illegal possession of shabu. The RTC gave credence to the testimonies of poseur-buyer PO3 Sumaoang and back-up operative PO3 Rolando A. Mediana. The RTC found that the prosecution was also able to establish the identity of the buyer and the seller; the object and consideration for the sale; and the delivery of the dangerous drug to the poseur-buyer. Likewise, the elements of illegal possession of dangerous drugs were all proven to be present.

The CA, as aforesaid, affirmed the RTC Decision. It found that PO3 Sumaoang and PO3 Mediana positively identified appellant as the person who sold the sachet of shabu and from whom they recovered two more plastic sachets of shabu. Moreover, the CA stressed that the chain of custody of the seized drugs was unbroken and the integrity and evidentiary value thereof were properly preserved.

Aggrieved, appellant now comes to this Court essentially arguing that her guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Appellant insists that the police officers failed to comply with the requisites of Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 relative to the seizure and custody of dangerous drugs.

Jurisprudence teems with pronouncements that failure to comply strictly with Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 does not necessarily render an accused's arrest illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as these would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.[7]

In the present case, the records reveal that PO3 Sumaoang marked the plastic sachet of shabu that appellant sold to him. He also marked the other plastic sachets of shabu recovered from appellant's possession. PO3 Sumaoang then prepared an inventory of the seized items in the presence of appellant, Barangay Kagawad Melinda Gaffud, and Gerry Abaya from the PDEA Press Corps. The inventory was duly signed by appellant himself. Thereafter, PO3 Sumaoang delivered the specimens to the crime laboratory for examination. They were received by Forensic Chemist Villanueva at 10:35 p.m. of the same day as shown by the stamped receipt on the letter-request. In her testimony, Forensic Chemist Villanueva identified the same three sachets of shabu seized from appellant, including the black synthetic bag, which were all contained in a transparent "ziploc" plastic bag prepared and marked by her. After reviewing the case, we agree with the RTC and the CA that the chain of custody of the seized drugs was unbroken and that their integrity and evidentiary value were properly preserved.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DISMISSED. The April 13, 2012 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR.- H.C. No. 04289 is AFFIRMED.

The Office of the Solicitor General's Manifestation in Lieu of Supplemental Brief stating that all the relevant issues/arguments have been adequately adduced in its Brief for the Appellee dated January 10, 2012 and praying that it be excused from filing a supplemental brief in this case, is NOTED.

With costs against the accused-appellant.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-25. Penned by Associate Justice Ramon R. Garcia with Associate Justices Amelita G. Tolentino and Samuel H. Gaerlan concurring. The assailed decision was rendered in CA-G.R. CR. H.C. No. 04289.
[2] CA rollo, pp. 24-38. Penned by Presiding Judge Victoriano B. Cabanos.
[3] The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
[4] TSN, April 15, 2008, pp. 5-11; TSN, August 4, 2008. pp. 6-25; TSN, October 28, 2008, pp. 6-25; TSN, March 9, 2009, pp. 4-22.
[5] TSN, February 18, 2008, pp. 4-8; id. at 26-38; id. at 25-30; id. at 22-30.
[6] TSN, June 23, 2009, pp. 3-14.
[7] People v. Cardenas, G.R. No. 190342, March 21, 2012, 668 SCRA 827, 837.

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