Criminal Law

PEOPLE vs. AMANSEC G.R. No. 186131 December 14, 2011 R. A. No. 9165, Dangerous Drugs, buy-bust operation, Chain of Custody, Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, Sale of Illegal Drugs, Non-Presentation of the Informant, Absence of Surveillance, Defense of Frame up and Denial

FACTS:

OIC Police Inspector Villanueva together with PO1 Mabutol, Jr., PO2 Pascua, and PO1 Valencia, formed a team for a buy-bust operation against Benjamin Amansec with the help of an informant. The informant then introduced Mabutol to Amansec as a drug addict. Mabutol had just told Amansec that he was going to purchase one hundred pesos worth of shabu when another buyer, later identified as Jerome Pintis, came up to Amansec to also buy shabu. Amansec then showed both Pintis and Mabutol three plastic sachets containing crystalline substance. Pintis gave a one hundred peso bill to Amansec and picked one of the three plastic sachets.

After Pintis left, Amansec continued his transaction with Mabutol, and gave Mabutol another of the remaining two plastic sachets after receiving the buy-bust money. Valencia immediately arrested Pintis and recovered from the latter one plastic sachet. Pascua thereafter frisked Amansec and retrieved the buy-bust money and another plastic sachet. The team also marked with their initials the plastic sachets that they had recovered and turned them over to their Investigator. They later brought the plastic sachets to the Crime Laboratory to have their contents examined and the result showed positive for the presence of shabu.

Amansec was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165.

In convicting Amansec of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, the RTC held that the prosecution was able to establish and satisfy the elements in the sale of illegal drugs.

However, the RTC acquitted Amansec of the illegal possession of dangerous drugs charge.

ISSUE:

1. Whether or not the lower court was correct in finding the accused guilty of SALE of ILLEGAL DRUGS despite the non-presentation of the informant and absence of surveillance.

2. Whether or not the chain of custody of evidence was established.

3. Rule on the accused’s defense of denial and frame-up.

4. Whether the elements of the sale of dangerous drugs were established in the present case.

 

RULING:

1.
Amansec was charged and convicted for selling methylamphetamine hydrochloride, more popularly known as shabu, in violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which provides:

Section 5. Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. – The penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos (? 500,000.00) to Ten million pesos (? 10,000,000.00) shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, trade, administer, dispense, deliver, give away to another, distribute, dispatch in transit or transport any dangerous drug, including any and all species of opium poppy regardless of the quantity and purity involved, or shall act as a broker in any of such transactions.

Non-presentation of an Informant

This Court, has time and again, held that “the presentation of an informant in an illegal drugs case is not essential for the conviction nor is it indispensable for a successful prosecution because his testimony would be merely corroborative and cumulative.” If Amansec felt that the prosecution did not present the informant because he would testify against it, then Amansec himself should have called him to the stand to testify for the defense. The informant’s testimony is not needed if the sale of the illegal drug has been adequately proven by the prosecution. In People v. Ho Chua, we said:

The presentation of an informant is not a requisite in the prosecution of drug cases. In People v. Nicolas, the Court ruled that “police authorities rarely, if ever, remove the cloak of confidentiality with which they surround their poseur-buyers and informers since their usefulness will be over the moment they are presented in court. Moreover, drug dealers do not look kindly upon squealers and informants. It is understandable why, as much as permitted, their identities are kept secret.” In any event, the testimony of the informant would be merely corroborative.

No prior surveillance conducted

This issue in the prosecution of illegal drugs cases, again, has long been settled by this Court. We have been consistent in our ruling that prior surveillance is not required for a valid buy-bust operation, especially if the buy-bust team is accompanied to the target area by their informant. In People v. Eugenio, we held:

There is no requirement that prior surveillance should be conducted before a buy-bust operation can be undertaken especially when, as in this case, the policemen are accompanied to the scene by their civilian informant. Prior surveillance is not a prerequisite for the validity of an entrapment or a buy-bust operation, there being no fixed or textbook method for conducting one. We have held that when time is of [the] essence, the police may dispense with the need for prior surveillance.

2. Inventory and Chain of Custody of Evidence

Amansec asserts that his conviction was incorrect because the evidence against him was obtained in violation of the procedure outlined in Republic Act No. 9165. He claims that Section 21 of the aforesaid act was violated when the police officers who arrested him did not take his picture with the shabu they confiscated from him, and when they made no physical inventory of the shabu in his presence, or in the presence of his representative, the media, the department of justice, or any elected public official. Amansec avers that his presumption of innocence prevails over the presumption that the police officers performed their duty in a regular manner.

 

Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, provide as follows:

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 and 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 a copy thereof;

(2) Within twenty-four (24) hours upon confiscation/seizure of dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment, the same shall be submitted to the PDEA Forensic Laboratory for a qualitative and quantitative examination;

(3) A certification of the forensic laboratory examination results, which shall be done under oath by the forensic laboratory examiner, shall be issued within twenty-four (24) hours after the receipt of the subject item/s: Provided, That when the volume of the dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals does not allow the completion of testing within the time frame, a partial laboratory examination report shall be provisionally issued stating therein the quantities of dangerous drugs still to be examined by the forensic laboratory: Provided, however, That a final certification shall be issued on the completed forensic laboratory examination on the same within the next twenty-four (24) hours;

(4) After the filing of the criminal case, the Court shall, within seventy-two (72) hours, conduct an ocular inspection of the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals, including the instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment, and through the PDEA shall within twenty-four (24) hours thereafter proceed with the destruction or burning of 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 DOJ, civil society groups and any elected public official. The Board shall draw up the guidelines on the manner of proper disposition and destruction of such item/s which shall be borne by the offender: Provided, That those item/s of lawful commerce, as determined by the Board, shall be donated, used or recycled for legitimate purposes: Provided, further, That a representative sample, duly weighed and recorded is retained;

(5) The Board shall then issue a sworn certification as to the fact of destruction or burning of the subject item/s which, together with the representative sample/s in the custody of the PDEA, shall be submitted to the court having jurisdiction over the case. In all instances, the representative sample/s shall be kept to a minimum quantity as determined by the Board;

(6) The alleged offender or his/her representative or counsel shall be allowed to personally observe all of the above proceedings and his/her presence shall not constitute an admission of guilt. In case the said offender or accused refuses or fails to appoint a representative after due notice in writing to the accused or his/her counsel within seventy-two (72) hours before the actual burning or destruction of the evidence in question, the Secretary of Justice shall appoint a member of the public attorney’s office to represent the former;

(7) After the promulgation and judgment in the criminal case wherein the representative sample/s was presented as evidence in court, the trial prosecutor shall inform the Board of the final termination of the case and, in turn, shall request the court for leave to turn over the said representative sample/s to the PDEA for proper disposition and destruction within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt of the same; and

(8) Transitory Provision: a) Within twenty-four (24) hours from the effectivity of this Act, dangerous drugs defined herein which are presently in possession of law enforcement agencies shall, with leave of court, be burned or destroyed, in the presence of representatives of the Court, DOJ, Department of Health (DOH) and the accused/and or his/her counsel, and, b) Pending the organization of the PDEA, the custody, disposition, and burning or destruction of seized/surrendered dangerous drugs provided under this Section shall be implemented by the DOH.

Ideally, the procedure on the chain of custody should be perfect and unbroken. However “a testimony about a perfect chain is not always the standard as it is almost always impossible to obtain an unbroken chain.” Thus, even though the prosecution failed to submit in evidence the physical inventory and photograph of the seized drugs as required under Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165, this will not render Amansec’s arrest illegal or the items seized from him as inadmissible in evidence. This Court has consistently held that “what is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, because the same will be utilized in ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused.”

The prosecution was able to demonstrate that the integrity and evidentiary value of the evidence seized had been preserved. Both the prosecution witnesses were categorical and consistent that Amansec offered three plastic sachets containing shabu to Mabutol and Pintis. These were later recovered from Amansec, Pintis, and Mabutol himself. As soon as the police officers, together with Amansec and Pintis, reached the Police Station, the seized sachets were marked with the initials of the police officers, with each officer marking the sachet he personally retrieved from the suspects. This was done before the specimens were turned over to the station investigator for the preparation of the request for laboratory examination. Thereafter, the specimens were forwarded to the crime lab by the police officers themselves. The Chemistry Report prepared by the forensic chemist listed the same specimens, which bore the initials of the police officers, and which were later identified by Mabutol and Pascua in open court as the plastic sachets they marked with their initials.

Besides, the presumption that the integrity of the evidence has been preserved will remain unless it can be shown that there was bad faith, ill will, or tampering of the evidence. Amansec bears the burden of showing the foregoing to overcome the presumption that the police officers handled the seized drugs with regularity, and that they properly discharged their duties. This, Amansec failed to do.

Furthermore, there is nothing in RA No. 9165 or in its implementing rules, which requires each and everyone who came into contact with the seized drugs to testify in court. “As long as the chain of custody of the seized drug was clearly established to have not been broken and the prosecution did not fail to identify properly the drugs seized, it is not indispensable that each and every person who came into possession of the drugs should take the witness stand.”

Denial and Frame-up

The defenses of denial and frame-up have been invariably viewed by this Court with disfavor for it can easily be concocted and is a common and standard defense ploy in prosecutions for violation of Dangerous Drugs Act. In order to prosper, the defenses of denial and frame-up must be proved with strong and convincing evidence. In the cases before us, appellant failed to present sufficient evidence in support of his claims. Aside from his self-serving assertions, no plausible proof was presented to bolster his allegations.

Equally important is the fact that Amansec has not ascribed any improper motive on the part of the police officers as to why they would hand-pick him, and falsely incriminate him in such a serious crime. No evidence has been offered to show that Mabutol and Pascua, were motivated by reasons other than their duty to curb the sale of prohibited drugs. Amansec himself admitted that he only came to know his arresting officers after his arrest. He also testified that he knew of no grudge that they might have against him. Hence, until Amansec can show clear and convincing evidence that the members of the entrapment operation team were stirred by illicit motive or failed to properly perform their duties, their testimonies deserve full faith and credit.

3. Elements of illegal sale of dangerous drugs established

The successful prosecution of the sale of dangerous drugs case depends on the satisfaction of the following elements:

(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.

To elucidate on the foregoing elements, this Court has said that “in prosecutions for illegal sale of shabu, what is material is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti as evidence.”

It is evident in the case at bar that the prosecution was able to establish the said elements.

Amansec was positively identified by the prosecution witnesses, as the person who sold to the poseur-buyer a heat-sealed plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance. He had been caught red-handed in the entrapment operation conducted by the police. Such positive identification must prevail over Amansec’s uncorroborated and weak defense of denial, and unsubstantiated defense of frame-up.

The corpus delicti of the crime was also established with certainty and conclusiveness. Amansec gave one of the two remaining plastic sachets to Mabutol after receiving the 100.00 buy-bust money.
In People v. Legaspi, we said:

The delivery of the contraband to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummated the buy-bust transaction between the entrapping officers and Legaspi.

 

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