Assailed before the Court is the Decision of the Court of Appeals which affirmed with modification the Decision of the RTC of Malolos, Bulacan, finding accused-appellant Norberto del Monte, a.k.a. Obet, guilty of violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”
Appellant anchors his appeal on the arresting policemen’s failure to strictly comply with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165. He claims that pictures of him together with the alleged confiscated “shabu” were not taken immediately upon his arrest as shown by the testimony of the lone prosecution witness. He adds that PO1 Tolentino and PO1 Antonio Barreras, the police officers who had initial custody of the drug allegedly seized and confiscated, did not conduct a physical inventory of the same in his presence as shown by their joint affidavit of arrest. Their failure to abide by said section casts doubt on both his arrest and the admissibility of the evidence adduced against him.
Will non-compliance with Section 21 render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him inadmissible?
The SC ruled that non-compliance with Section 21 of said law, particularly the making of the inventory and the photographing of the drugs confiscated and/or seized, will not render the drugs inadmissible in evidence. Under Section 3 of Rule 128 of the Rules of Court, evidence is admissible when it is relevant to the issue and is not excluded by the law or these rules. For evidence to be inadmissible, there should be a law or rule which forbids its reception. If there is no such law or rule, the evidence must be admitted subject only to the evidentiary weight that will accorded it by the courts.
One example is that provided in Section 31 of Rule 132 of the Rules of Court wherein a party producing a document as genuine which has been altered and appears to be altered after its execution, in a part material to the question in dispute, must account for the alteration. His failure to do so shall make the document inadmissible in evidence. This is clearly provided for in the rules.
We do not find any provision or statement in said law or in any rule that will bring about the non-admissibility of the confiscated and/or seized drugs due to non-compliance with Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165. The issue therefore, if there is non-compliance with said section, is not of admissibility, but of weight – evidentiary merit or probative value – to be given the evidence. The weight to be given by the courts on said evidence depends on the circumstances obtaining in each case.
The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti.
All these elements have been shown in the instant case. The prosecution clearly showed that the sale of the drugs actually happened and that the shabu subject of the sale was brought and identified in court. The poseur buyer positively identified appellant as the seller of the shabu. Per Chemistry Report No. D-728-2002 of Forensic Chemical Officer Nellson Cruz Sta. Maria, the substance, weighing 0.290 gram, which was bought by PO1 Tolentino from appellant in consideration of P300.00, was examined and found to be methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu).
In the case before us, we find the testimony of the poseur-buyer, together with the dangerous drug taken from appellant, more than sufficient to prove the crime charged. Considering that this Court has access only to the cold and impersonal records of the proceedings, it generally relies upon the assessment of the trial court, which had the distinct advantage of observing the conduct and demeanor of the witnesses during trial. It is a fundamental rule that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross misapprehension of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings. The reason for this is that the trial court is in a better position to decide the credibility of witnesses having heard their testimonies and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.
Having established beyond reasonable doubt all the elements constituting the illegal sale of drugs, the Court upholds appellant’s conviction.
The sale of shabu is penalized under Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165. Said section reads:
SEC. 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 (P500,000.00) to Ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00) 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.
The Decision of the Court of Appeals, sustaining the conviction of appellant Norberto Del Monte, a.k.a. Obet, for violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, was AFFIRMED by the SC.