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351 Phil. 798


[ G.R. No. 120431, April 01, 1998 ]




This is a petition for review of the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 13976 dated January 16, 1995,[1] which affirmed in toto the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 1, convicting petitioner Rodolfo Espano for violation of Article II, Section 8 of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act.

Petitioner was charged under the following information:

“That on or about July 14, 1991, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused, not being authorized by law to possess or use any prohibited drug, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his possession and under his custody and control twelve (12) plastic cellophane (bags) containing crushed flowering tops, marijuana weighing 5.5 grams which is a prohibited drug.
Contrary to law.”[2]

The evidence for the prosecution, based on the testimony of Pat. Romeo Pagilagan, shows that on July 14, 1991, at about 12:30 a.m., he and other police officers, namely, Pat. Wilfredo Aquino, Simplicio Rivera, and Erlindo Lumboy of the Western Police District (WPD), Narcotics Division went to Zamora and Pandacan Streets, Manila to confirm reports of drug pushing in the area. They saw petitioner selling “something” to another person. After the alleged buyer left, they approached petitioner, identified themselves as policemen, and frisked him. The search yielded two plastic cellophane tea bags of marijuana. When asked if he had more marijuana, he replied that there was more in his house. The policemen went to his residence where they found ten more cellophane tea bags of marijuana. Petitioner was brought to the police headquarters where he was charged with possession of prohibited drugs. On July 24, 1991, petitioner posted bail[3] and the trial court issued his order of release on July 29, 1991.[4]

Annabelle Alip, forensic chemist of the WPD Criminal Investigation Laboratory Section, testified that the articles sent to her by Pat. Wilfredo Aquino regarding the apprehension of a certain Rodolfo Espano for examination tested positive for marijuana, with a total weight of 5.5 grams.

By way of defense, petitioner testified that on said evening, he was sleeping in his house and was awakened only when the policemen handcuffed him. He alleged that the policemen were looking for his brother-in-law Lauro, and when they could not find the latter, he was instead brought to the police station for investigation and later indicted for possession of prohibited drugs. His wife Myrna corroborated his story.

The trial court rejected petitioner’s defense as a “mere afterthought” and found the version of the prosecution “more credible and trustworthy.”

Thus, on August 14, 1992, the trial court rendered a decision, convicting petitioner of the crime charged, the dispositive portion of which reads:

“WHEREFORE there being proof beyond reasonable doubt, the court finds the accused Rodolfo Espano y Valeria guilty of the crime of violation of Section 8, Article II, in relation to Section 2 (e-L) (I) of Republic Act No. 6425 as amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 179, and pursuant to law hereby sentences him to suffer imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years and to pay a fine of P6,000.00 with subsidiary imprisonment in case of default plus costs.
The marijuana is declared forfeited in favor of government and shall be turned over to the Dangerous Drugs Board without delay.

Petitioner appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court, however, affirmed the decision of the trial court in toto.

Hence, this petition.

Petitioner contends that the trial and appellate courts erred in convicting him on the basis of the following: (a) the pieces of evidence seized were inadmissible; (b) the superiority of his constitutional right to be presumed innocent over the doctrine of presumption of regularity; (c) he was denied the constitutional right of confrontation and to compulsory process; and (d) his conviction was based on evidence which was irrelevant and not properly identified.

After a careful examination of the records of the case, this Court finds no compelling reason sufficient to reverse the decisions of the trial and appellate courts.

First, it is a well settled doctrine that findings of trial courts on the credibility of witnesses deserve a high degree of respect. Having observed the deportment of witnesses during the trial, the trial judge is in a better position to determine the issue of credibility and, thus, his findings will not be disturbed during appeal in the absence of any clear showing that he had overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which could have altered the conviction of the appellants.[6]

In this case, the findings of the trial court that the prosecution witnesses were more credible than those of the defense must stand. Petitioner failed to show that Pat. Pagilagan, in testifying against him, was motivated by reasons other than his duty to curb drug abuse and had any intent to falsely impute to him such a serious crime as possession of prohibited drugs. In the absence of such ill motive, the presumption of regularity in the performance of his official duty must prevail.

In People v. Velasco,[7] this Court reiterated the doctrine of presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty which provides:

“x x x. Appellant failed to establish that Pat. Godoy and the other members of the buy-bust team are policemen engaged in mulcting or other unscrupulous activities who were motivated either by the desire to extort money or exact personal vengeance, or by sheer whim and caprice, when they entrapped her. And in the absence of proof of any intent on the part of the police authorities to falsely impute such a serious crime against appellant, as in this case, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty, . . ., must prevail over the self-serving and uncorroborated claim of appellant that she had been framed.”[8]

Furthermore, the defense set up by petitioner does not deserve any consideration. He simply contended that he was in his house sleeping at the time of the incident. This Court has consistently held that alibi is the weakest of all defenses; and for it to prosper, the accused has the burden of proving that he was not at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission and that it was physically impossible for him to be there. Moreover, the “claim of a ‘frame-up’, like alibi, is a defense that has been invariably viewed by the Court with disfavor for it can just as easily be concocted but difficult to prove, and is a common and standard line of defense in most prosecutions arising from violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act.”[9] No clear and convincing evidence was presented by petitioner to prove his defense of alibi.

Second, petitioner contends that the prosecution’s failure to present the alleged informant in court cast a reasonable doubt which warrants his acquittal. This is again without merit, since failure of the prosecution to produce the informant in court is of no moment especially when he is not even the best witness to establish the fact that a buy-bust operation had indeed been conducted. In this case, Pat. Pagilagan, one of the policemen who apprehended petitioner, testified on the actual incident of July 14, 1991, and identified him as the one they caught in possession of prohibited drugs. Thus,

“We find that the prosecution had satisfactorily proved its case against appellants. There is no compelling reason for us to overturn the finding of the trial court that the testimony of Sgt. Gamboa, the lone witness for the prosecution, was straightforward, spontaneous and convincing. The testimony of a sole witness, if credible and positive and satisfies the court beyond reasonable doubt, is sufficient to convict.”[10]

Thus on the basis of Pat. Pagilagan’s testimony, the prosecution was able to prove that petitioner indeed committed the crime charged; consequently, the finding of conviction was proper.

Lastly, the issue on the admissibility of the marijuana seized should likewise be ruled upon. Rule 113 Section 5(a) of the Rules of Court provides:

“A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

a.            when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;

   x x x     x x x     x x x.”

Petitioner’s arrest falls squarely under the aforecited rule. He was caught in flagranti as a result of a buy-bust operation conducted by police officers on the basis of information received regarding the illegal trade of drugs within the area of Zamora and Pandacan Streets, Manila. The police officer saw petitioner handing over something to an alleged buyer. After the buyer left, they searched him and discovered two cellophanes of marijuana. His arrest was, therefore, lawful and the two cellophane bags of marijuana seized were admissible in evidence, being the fruits of the crime.

As for the ten cellophane bags of marijuana found at petitioner’s residence, however, the same are inadmissible in evidence.

The 1987 Constitution guarantees freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures under Article III, Section 2 which provides:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.”

An exception to the said rule is a warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest for dangerous weapons or anything which may be used as proof of the commission of an offense.[11] It may extend beyond the person of the one arrested to include the premises or surroundings under his immediate control. In this case, the ten cellophane bags of marijuana seized at petitioner’s house after his arrest at Pandacan and Zamora Streets do not fall under the said exceptions.

In the case of People v. Lua,[12] this Court held:

“As regards the brick of marijuana found inside the appellant’s house, the trial court correctly ignored it apparently in view of its inadmissibility. While initially the arrest as well as the body search was lawful, the warrantless search made inside the appellant’s house became unlawful since the police operatives were not armed with a search warrant. Such search cannot fall under “search made incidental to a lawful arrest,” the same being limited to body search and to that point within reach or control of the person arrested, or that which may furnish him with the means of committing violence or of escaping. In the case at bar, appellant was admittedly outside his house when he was arrested. Hence, it can hardly be said that the inner portion of his house was within his reach or control.”

The articles seized from petitioner during his arrest were valid under the doctrine of search made incidental to a lawful arrest. The warrantless search made in his house, however, which yielded ten cellophane bags of marijuana became unlawful since the police officers were not armed with a search warrant at the time. Moreover, it was beyond the reach and control of petitioner.

In sum, this Court finds petitioner Rodolfo Espano guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Article II, Section 8, in relation to Section 2 (e-L) (I) of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended. Under the said provision, the penalty imposed is six years and one day to twelve years and a fine ranging from six thousand to twelve thousand pesos. With the passage of Republic Act No. 7659, which took effect on December 31, 1993, the imposable penalty shall now depend on the quantity of drugs recovered. Under the provisions of Republic Act No. 7629, Section 20, and as interpreted in People v. Simon[13] and People v. Lara,[14] if the quantity of marijuana involved is less than 750 grams, the imposable penalty ranges from prision correccional to reclusion temporal. Taking into consideration that petitioner is not a habitual delinquent, the amendatory provision is favorable to him and the quantity of marijuana involved is less than 750 grams, the penalty imposed under Republic Act No. 7659 should be applied. There being no mitigating nor aggravating circumstances, the imposable penalty shall be prision correccional in its medium period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the maximum penalty shall be taken from the medium period of prision correccional, which is two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and two (2) months, while the minimum shall be taken from the penalty next lower in degree, which is one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months of arresto mayor.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby DENIED. The decision of the Court of Appeals in C.A.-G.R. CR No. 13976 dated January 16, 1995 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that petitioner Rodolfo Espano is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of TWO (2) months and ONE (1) day of arresto mayor, as minimum to TWO (2) years, FOUR (4) months and ONE (1) day of prision correccional, as maximum.


Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Kapunan, and Purisima, JJ., concur.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Ramon Mabutas, Jr.; De Pano and Luna, JJ., concurring.

[2] Records, p. 1.

[3] Ibid.,p. 7.

[4] Id.,p. 16.

[5] Id., pp. 79-81.

[6] People v. Atad, 266 SCRA 262, (1997).

[7] 252 SCRA 135 (1996).

[8] Citing People v. Ponsica, 230 SCRA 87 (1994).

[9] Velasco, supra., citing People v. Angeles, 218 SCRA 352 (1993); People v. Gireng, 241 SCRA 11 (1995); People v. de los Reyes, 229 SCRA 439 (1994).

[10] Ibid., citing People v. Javier, 170 SCRA 763 (1989).

[11] Rule 126, Section 12 of the Rules of Court.

[12] 256 SCRA 539 (1996).

[13] 234 SCRA 555 (1994).

[14] 236 SCRA 291 (1994).

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