G.R. No. 190183, April 07, 2014

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 190183, April 07, 2014 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. JERRY DE LA CRUZ Y MADUMBA.

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that the Court, First Division, issued a Resolution dated April 7, 2014, which reads as follows:

"G.R. No. 190183 (People of the Philippines v. Jerry de la Cruz y Madumba).- We resolve the appeal, filed by accused-appellant Jerry de la Cruz y Madumba (appellant) from the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision[1] dated 30 July 2009 issued by its Eleventh Division in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 03267.

THE FACTS

Accused-appellant Jerry dela Cruz was charged with violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165 in the Information[2] which reads:

That in or about 2:30 in the afternoon of [02 August 2003], in the City of Tuguegarao, Province of Cagayan, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said Accused without any authority of law to sell, administer, deliver, distribute, transport or give away any prohibited drugs, did then and there, willingly, unlawfully and feloniously sell, deliver and transport approximately one (1) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet containing 2.06 grams of white crystalline substance, prohibited by law. As, in fact, said accused was caught [in] the act of selling the prohibited drug by the police authorities, for and in consideration of the sum of P8,000.00.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

When arraigned on 23 July 2004, accused-appellant pleaded not guilty.[3]

Version of the Prosecution

A narration of the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution, Senior Police Officer 1 (SPO1) Jerry Ramirez and SPO1 Arthur Blaquera is quoted as follows:

Prior to August 2, 2003, a certain Edna Tabao was arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) of Tuguegarao City for violation of R.A. No. 9165, and when subjected to custodial investigation, she revealed that the source of the dangerous drugs confiscated from her was appellant Jerry de la Cruz. Tabao was then asked to arrange for the purchase of methamphetamine hydrochloride, otherwise known as shabu, with appellant through an exchange of text messages. After the buy-bust sale was set up, a team of policemen was formed which [is] composed of SPO1 Jerry Ramirez as poseur-buyer and SPO1 Arthur Blaquera, PO1 Dennis Mabborang, and Tuguegarao City Chief of Police P/Superintendent Joseph PeƱaflor as back-ups. The poseur-buyer was provided with three (3) marked P100.00 bills as buy-bust money. The serial numbers of the marked bills were recorded in the police blotter.

On August 2, 2003, the team proceeded to the Victory Liner Bus Station, the place where appellant was supposedly conducting his drug-selling activities. SPO1 Ramirez went directly to the rest house of appellant located at the Victory Liner compound and knocked on the door. Appellant opened the door and SPO1 Ramirez told him that he was there to buy shabu. Appellant went back inside the house and after a short while, returned with a transparent plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance and gave it to SPO1 Ramirez, who in turn, handed him the amount of P300 earlier prepared as buy-bust money. Thereafter, SPO1 Ramirez made the pre-arranged signal to the rest of the members of the team, who immediately arrested the appellant. SPO1 Blaquera confiscated from appellant the three (3) 100-peso bills used as buy-bust money. Appellant was then brought to the Tuguegarao City PNP station for investigation. SPO1 Blaquera had custody of the sachet containing white crystalline substance obtained from appellant during the buy-bust operation. Said sachet of suspected shabu was likewise brought to the police station and indorsed to the investigator who placed markings on the sachet in the presence of SPO1 Blaquera. Subsequently, the transparent plastic sachet was forwarded to the PNP RO2 Crime Laboratory for forensic examination.[4]

SPI Mayra M. Madria-Tulauan also testified thus: (1) the Chief of Police of Tuguegarao City referred the specimen to the Philippine National Police Regional Office No. 2 (PNPR02) Crime Laboratory through a letter dated 02 August 2002. The letter and the specimen were received by the non-commissioned officer on duty of the PNP Crime Laboratory, who then submitted them to SPO3 Vicente Laguitao, the evidence custodian; (2) SPO3 Laguitao turned over the letter and specimen to her for forensic examination, which showed that the specimen contained Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, a prohibited drug; and (3) she then prepared Regional Crime Laboratory Chemistry Report No. D-166-2003, which was submitted as documentary evidence by the prosecution.[5]

Version of the Defense

Accused-appellant testified to the following circumstances:

That at about 2:30 p.m. on [02 August 2003], one Edna Tabao went inside his quarters and told him that she will send money, "padala", to Manila in the amount of P8,000.00. He agreed and saw [P100 bills] from Tabao. He had known Edna Tabao for less than two years because she was the manicurist in the Victory Liner Terminal. He asked Tabao to whom the money will be given to which she replied that she will just send him the name in a text message. Tabao hurriedly left his quarters after handing him the money. Within five minutes after Tabao left, three policemen in uniform suddenly arrived in his quarters, grabbed the money that Tabao gave him and told him that they were marked money. The police officers ordered him to bring out the shabu but he told them he did not have any. Without a search warrant, the law enforcers searched his room and even removed the cases of his pillows but found no shabu in his possession. The policemen punched him in the chest and thereafter, a person standing outside his quarters in civilian clothes came in, showed him a stuff of shabu, and told him to admit that it was his. The policemen brought him to the Tuguegarao City Police Station, where he was asked to give his name and other personal circumstances. He did not know SPO1 Jerry Ramirez, PO1 Dennis Mabborang and SPO1 Arthur Blaquera prior to his arrest and only came to know them while in the police station. He vehemently denied the allegation in the Information that he was caught in the act of selling approximately 2.06 grams of shabu by the policemen in consideration of the sum of P8,000.00.[6]

Police Inspector Paulino Talosig also testified for the defense as follows: (1) he was assigned as Chief Investigator of Tuguegarao City on 02 August 2003; (2) he made an entry in the Police Blotter relative to the buy-bust operation conducted against appellant; and (3) the three P100 bills marked money bearing serial numbers AP669568, CB635046 and FH239395 were recovered from appellant during the buy-bust operation, were later turned over to and received by him.[7]

THE RULING OF THE RTC

On 25 March 2008, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tuguegarao City, Branch 03, rendered Judgment[8]. The RTC held accused-appellant Jerry de la Cruz guilty of illegally selling 2.06 grams of shabu to SPO1 Gerry Ramirez, who had acted as the poseur-buyer during the buy-bust operation conducted on 02 August 2003 by the police officers of Tuguegarao City.

THE RULING OF THE CA

Accused-appellant filed an appeal with the CA, which in turn denied the appeal and affirmed the decision of the RTC.

THIS COURT'S RULING

This Court affirms accused-appellant's conviction.

In every prosecution for the illegal sale of shabu, the following elements must be proved: (1) identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.[9]

Accused-appellant insists in his Brief[10] that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Specifically, he states that the prosecution failed to prove the elements of the offense charged -- particularly the identity of the buyer, the consideration for the sale, and the payment thereof.[11] He contends that the testimonies of SPO1 Jerry Ramirez and SPO1 Arthur Blaquera are inconsistent because, in his Affidavit and testimony before the lower court, SPO1 Ramirez claimed that he was the poseur-buyer, while in the Joint Affidavit of PO1 Mabborang and SPO1 Blaquera, they stated that "one of us acted as the poseur-buyer."[12] This contradiction, according to appellant, indicates that the prosecution has failed to prove the identity of the buyer.

To properly review this appeal, we scrutinized the records relied upon by both the RTC and the CA.

Paragraph 4 of the SPO1 Ramirez's Affidavit[13] reads:

That I acted as a poseur-buyer using three P100 bills with serial numbers AP669568, CB635046, and FH 239395 x x x .

The testimony of SPO1 Ramirez proceeded as follows:

Q: And what happened after the accused went out?
A: I said I will buy shabu, sir.
Q: After telling the accused that you are going to buy shabu, what happened next?
A: The accused went back inside the house when I told him I am going to buy shabu, sir.
Q: What happened next when he went back inside the house?
A: When he returned he handed to me the shabu, sir.[14]
x x x x
Q: When he handed to you the shabu, what did you do?
A: I handed the money in the amount of three hundred (P300), sir.[15]

Meanwhile, the Joint Affidavit[16] of SPO1 Blaquera and PO1 Maborrang states that "one of us acted as poseur-buyer using a marked money for buying the prohibited drugs"; and that "we are able to nabbed Jerry dela Cruz y Madumba, 43 years old, married, driver, and a resident of Batal, Santiago City, who was caught in the act of handing a small heat-sealed sachet of suspected shabu to the poseur-buyer." (emphasis provided)

SPO1 Blaquera testified as follows:

Q:
You never had any participation in the negotiation of the alleged buy of the shabu?
A:
No, sir.
Q:
And your only participation is with regards to the alleged confiscation of the shabu in the possession of the accused, is that right?
A:
Yes, sir.
Q:
Including the confiscation of the alleged buy-bust money in the possession of the accused, is that right?
A:
Yes, sir.[17]

Thus records are clear that the poseur-buyer was SPO1 Ramirez. The statement "one of us acted as the poseur-buyer" in the Joint Affidavit only serves to emphasize that SPO1 Blaquera, with PO1 Maborrang, was just part of the buy-bust team which also indicated SPO1 Ramirez as the poseur-buyer and SPO1 Blaquera as the confiscating police officer. In light of the foregoing, we agree with the CA in holding that "accused-appellant's allegation of inconsistency deserves scant consideration for lack of factual basis."[18] Appellant likewise argues that the prosecution failed to establish the consideration for the sale and the alleged payment thereof. He points out that the Information alleged that the consideration for the sale of shabu was P8,000, but the prosecution presented only three P100 bills.

However, records reveal that the consideration for the sale was in the amount of P300 which the poseur-buyer, SPO1 Ramirez, paid to accused-appellant. Also presented during the trial were the three marked P100 bills with serial numbers AP669568, CB635046, and FH239395.[19] We thus reiterate the lower court's ruling affirmed by the CA, that "neither the law nor jurisprudence requires the presentation of any of the money used in a buy-bust operation, for the only elements necessary to consummate the crime is proof that the illicit transaction took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the illicit drug as evidence."[20]

Finally, accused-appellant maintains that the police failed to perform their official functions regularly especially in the matter of complying with the requirements of Section 2 of Regulation No. 01 issued by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) on 22 June 2002[21] and with Section 21(1) of R.A. 9165.[22] Specifically, accused-appellant argues that the transfer of the object evidence from the scene of the crime to the police station left the object unprotected and susceptible to tampering. He further argues that even if SPO1 Blaquera testified that the latter was present when the seized items were marked, the investigator who marked them was never made to testify on the markings.[23]

The proper observance of the chain of custody of the illegal drug was already fully ventilated in the trial court with all the crucial links accounted for: from the confiscation of the shabu by SPO1 Blaquera; to its delivery to the police station investigator who duly marked the sachet in the presence of SPO1 Blaquera; to the forwarding of the marked sachet to the PNPR02 Crime Laboratory for forensic examination; until the presentation of the results to the court by SPI Mayra M. Madria-Tulauan.[24]

Furthermore, noncompliance with Section 21 of R.A. 9165 is not fatal and hence, will not render the arrest of the accused illegal or the items seized or confiscated from him inadmissible.[25] What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items which, as the records reveal, were properly preserved in this case.[26] It is true that the shabu confiscated was indorsed to and marked by an investigator who was not part of the buy-bust team. As the trial court and the CA have noted in the Pre-Trial Order of the lower court dated 3 September 2004, among those stipulated is Regional Crime Laboratory Chemistry Report No. D-166-2003.[27] This admission precludes accused-appellant from assailing the existence and authenticity of the result of the analysis of the seized item.

Finally, accused-appellant alleges that he is a victim of a frame-up. The CA found this allegation to be self-serving, and we similarly find it to be so. This defense has been invariably viewed by this Court with disfavor, for it can be easily concocted but difficult to prove. The allegation of frame-up is in fact a common and standard line of defense in most prosecutions arising from violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act.[28] In the absence of any proof of intent on the part of the police officers to falsely impute to appellant the commission of such a grave crime, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty stands.[29] In this case, the police officers were not shown to be motivated by any reason other than the performance of their official duty. Accused-appellant himself also admitted that he neither knew them nor had any history with them.[30]

With respect to the penalty imposed, this Court holds that the CA did not err in imposing the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P500,000.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED, and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 03267 is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED."

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) EDGAR O. ARICHETA
Division Clerk of Court


[1] Rollo, pp. 2-16; Penned by CA Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa and concurred in by the then Chairperson of the CA 11th Division Mariano C. del Castillo (now a member of this Court) and Associate Justice Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla.

[2] Rollo, p. 3; records, p. 1.

[3] CA rollo, p. 10.

[4] Rollo, pp.3- 4; CA rollo, pp. 11-12.

[5] Id. at 4-5.

[6] Rollo, pp. 5-6; CA rollo, pp. 13-14.

[7] Id. at 6.

[8] CA rollo, pp. 9-19; Penned by RTC Judge Marivic A. Cacatian-Beltran.

[9] People v. Soriano, 549 Phil. 250, 256 (2007).

[10] CA rollo, pp. 25-43.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Records, pp. 24-28.

[14] TSN, 23 August 2005, pp. 10-11.

[15] Id.

[16] Records, pp. 21-23.

[17] TSN, 19 September 2005, pp. 6-7.

[18] Rollo, p. 12.

[19] Records, pp. 17-20.

[20] rollo, p. 13; CA rollo, p. 53; People v. Astudillo, 440 Phil. 203, 224 (2002).

[21] The law requires the apprehending team having initial custody or control of dangerous drugs to immediately conduct physical inventory and photograph the confiscated items in the presence of the person from whom they were confiscated and/or seized or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media, a representative from the Department of Justice, and any elected public official.

[22] SECTION 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. - The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:

(1) The apprehending team having initial custody or control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given copy thereof.

[23] CA rollo, pp. 39-40.

[24] Id. at 53-54.

[25] People v. Pagaduan, G.R. No. 179029, 09 August 2010, 627 SCRA 308.

[26] People v. Del Monte, 575 Phil. 576 (2008).

[27] Rollo, p. 14; CA rollo, p. 18; records, p. 144.

[28] Espano v. CA, 351 Phil. 798, 805 (1998).

[29] Rules of Court, Sec. 3 (m), Rule 131; People v. Fernandez, G.R. No. 86495, 13 May 1992, 209 SCRA 1 (1998); People v. Simon, G.R. No. 56925, 21 May 1992, 209 SCRA 148.

[30] Rollo, p. 5; CA rollo, p. 14.

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