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457 Phil. 443


[ G.R. No. 144312, September 03, 2003 ]




This is an appeal from the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 18, in Criminal Case No. 98-169593, finding the accused CHUA TAN LEE guilty of unlawfully selling 966.50 grams of shabu in a buy-bust operation conducted by the PNP Narcotics Group on November 12, 1998.

Accused was charged under the following Information:
That on or about 4:00 in the afternoon of November 12, 1998, in the City of Manila and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without having been authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously distribute, sell and deliver to a buyer about Nine Hundred Sixty-Six and 50/100 (966.50) grams of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, otherwise known as "Shabu" a regulated drug.

The prosecution established that in the morning of November 12, 1998, a confidential informant arrived at the PNP Narcotics Group, Intelligence Division, in Camp Crame and reported to Chief Inspector Leonardo Suan about the illegal drug activities of accused CHUA TAN LEE, alias William Chua.  After evaluating the report, Suan formed a buy-bust team composed of himself, SPO1 Romeo Velasquez, SPO1 Pongyan, Delos Santos and SPO3 Posero.  Velasquez was to act as the poseur-buyer and the others as back-up members.  The informant called up the accused and set-up a drug deal for the purchase of one (1) kilo of shabu worth P1.5M at the Harrison Plaza parking area in Malate, Manila, at 4:00 that afternoon.  Velasquez prepared the P1.5M boodle money to be used in the buy-bust operation.  It consisted of 15 bundles of newspaper pieces, cut into the size of paper money, each bundle representing P100,000.00.  Suan gave him two (2) pieces of P1,000 bill which he put on top and at the bottom of the boodle.  The boodle money was placed inside a paper bag.

The buy-bust team then proceeded to the designated parking area.  Velasquez and the informant rode in a car while the other members of the buy-bust team used another car.  When they arrived at the parking area, the two (2) cars parked opposite each other, about five (5) meters away.  They all stayed inside their cars and waited for the arrival of the accused.

After about half an hour, the informant spotted the car of the accused, a red Toyota Corolla GLI with centennial plate no. 123, which parked about three (3) cars away from them. Velasquez and the informant approached the accused's car and the informant knocked on the glass window. When the accused alighted, the informant introduced Velasquez to the accused, thus: "Boy, ito si Chua Tan Lee na bibilhan natin ng bato." When Velasquez asked him about the shabu, accused took a white cloth bag from his car and showed it to Velasquez. When Velasquez asked if the shabu was of good quality, the accused assured him of its good quality and handed the bag containing the shabu to Velasquez.  The accused then demanded payment.  Velasquez handed to him the paper bag containing the boodle money and immediately scratched his nose as a signal to his back-up team that the deal was consummated.

After the accused received the money and when he was about to count it, Velasquez immediately introduced himself as a police officer and arrested the accused.  The back-up team arrived.  SPO1 Pongyan recovered the boodle money from the accused and the team brought the accused to Camp Crame.

At the station, Velasquez and Pongyan wrote their initials on the plastic bag containing the confiscated shabu and turned it over to investigator SPO3 Pio Titong who also made his markings thereon.  Titong then conducted an investigation of the accused but the latter refused to cooperate in the investigation.  He did not continue with the investigation and prepared the booking sheet and arrest report of the accused.  He then prepared the request to the PNP Crime Laboratory for chemical analysis of the substance confiscated from the accused and placed his initials on the bag containing the substance. He also prepared a request for the physical examination and drug dependency test of the accused.  As to the boodle money and the two (2) genuine P1,000 bills, Titong and Suan put them in their safekeeping cabinet.  When the chemical analysis of the substance by the PNP forensic analyst revealed tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride, Titong referred the case to the inquest prosecutor for investigation.[2]

The defense sought to establish their theory of hulidap through the testimonies of the accused, Kin Yu and Mauricio Sy Lim.  They alleged that on November 3, 1998, KIN YU, the girlfriend of the accused and a Hong Kong (HK) national, arrived in Manila to buy dried mango and other fruits for sale in HongKong.  She withdrew a total of P400,000 from her bank in Manila for her planned trading business.

On November 12, 1998, at about 1:00 p.m., Kin Yu and the accused went to Tutuban, Manila, to buy dried mangoes. However, she failed to make any purchase as the price of mangoes was too exorbitant.  Hence, Kin Yu suggested that they proceed to Pizza Hut to buy some pizza which they could eat on their way home.

When they reached Pizza Hut in Harrison Plaza, Kin Yu alighted from the car to place her order while the accused tried to find a parking space.  However, after Kin Yu left, a group of men suddenly surrounded accused's car.  One of the men opened accused's side of the door.  When the accused inquired what they wanted from him, he did not get a reply. Instead, the men introduced themselves as police officers and immediately handcuffed and blindfolded him. They pushed him to the backseat and two men joined him on either side.  The car then sped away.  The police officers then mauled him inside the car.

When the car stopped, the policemen removed his blindfold.  Accused learned that he was brought to Camp Crame.  The policemen then demanded a million pesos from him.  The accused replied that he had no money and asked that he be allowed to use the phone.  As the officers wanted him to produce the money, they allowed him to call up his uncle MAURICIO SY LIM.[3]

In the meantime, after Kin Yu placed an order for pizza, she realized that she left her wallet in accused's car.  She immediately left the restaurant to look for the accused but she saw his car speeding away.  She waited for the accused to return but he did not. When Kin Yu asked some of the vendors in the area about the accused's red car, they reported to her that after she alighted, four (4) men boarded the car.  Upon learning this, she called up accused's uncle, Mauricio Sy Lim, who immediately fetched her up at Pizza Hut.  She related to Mauricio what happened and they decided to report the incident to the police authorities in Manila.

They arrived at the police station at about 8:00 p.m. and reported that the accused and his car were missing.  Kin Yu also reported that she left in the accused's car money in the amount of P340,000.00 for her trading business, her wallet containing HK$3,000.00,  mobile phone, plane ticket for her return flight the next day, phone cards, sunglasses, bag, bankbook and wristwatch.[4] After reporting the incident, they returned to Mauricio's house to await any call from the accused or his kidnappers. Mauricio prepared a tape recorder to properly record and study any communication he might receive about the kidnapping.

At about 1:30 a.m. the next day, Mauricio received a telephone call from the accused.  Talking in Chinese, the accused related to him how he was forcibly taken and detained in Camp Crame by the police officers and that all his personal effects and money were confiscated.[5] Accused also informed Mauricio that the police officers were demanding a million pesos from him.  Mauricio advised him not to yield to their demand as he had no reason to give them anything.[6] Thereafter, an Information for illegal possession of regulated drugs was filed against him.

After the trial, the court found the accused guilty as charged and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, thus:
WHEREFORE, the accused Chua Tan Lee is hereby convicted of the crime of Violation of Section 15, Article III of R.A. 6425, as amended by R.A. 7659, without any aggravating and/or mitigating circumstances, and sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all the accessory penalties provided by law and to pay the costs.

The 966.50 grams of shabby is forfeited in favor of the government and is ordered turned over to the Dangerous Drugs Board for proper disposition.

Before this Court, appellant insists that there was no buy-bust operation conducted against him and the incident was a classic case of "hulidap." He claims that the prosecution evidence is full of inconsistencies as:  first, there were errors in the preparation of the documents relative to his arrest.  Specifically, he capitalizes on the alleged discrepancies in the date of the buy-bust operation, viz: the Booking Sheet placed his arrest on November 15, 1998, while the Request for Laboratory Examination of the confiscated shabu stated that the arrest was made on November 13, 1998, instead of November 12, 1998; second, as to the plastic bag containing the shabu, appellant points out that in the Request for Laboratory Examination of the confiscated shabu, it was described as contained in a heat-sealed plastic bag instead of a self-sealing bag as presented in court;  third, the prosecution evidence failed to establish whether the selling price of the shabu was P600,000 or P1M; and fourth, two (2) newspaper cut-outs included in the boodle money were dated January 30, 1999 when the alleged buy-bust operation occurred in November 1998.

We find no merit in appellant's contentions. In a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, what is material is proof that the accused peddled illicit drugs, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti.[8] The testimonies of the buy-bust team established that an operation was legitimately and successfully carried out on November 12, 1998 to entrap appellant.  The positive identification of appellant by poseur-buyer SPO1 Romeo Velasquez as the one who peddled the shabu unequivocally established the illicit sale as he is the best witness to the transaction.  Moreover, his testimony was corroborated in every material detail by the other operatives who participated in the buy-bust operation.

The Court is not unaware that in drug-related cases, frame-up and "hulidap" are the common and standard line of defenses.[9] In the case at bar, we find that the discrepancies cited by the appellant in support of his acquittal are immaterial and insufficient to reverse his conviction.  It is settled that the exact date when the crime was committed need not be proved unless it is an essential element of the crime.  Nonetheless, in this case, prosecution witnesses and anti-narcotics operatives Velasquez, Pongyan and Titong narrated in detail the events leading to the arrest of the appellant pursuant to a legitimate buy-bust operation.  The wrong date of arrest appearing in the Booking Sheet/Arrest Report was sufficiently clarified at the trial as it appears to be a mere clerical error committed by the person who typed the report and operated the computer.[10]   Lastly, there can be no doubt as to the date of the incident as even the defense theory of hulidap, as testified to by the appellant, his uncle and girlfriend, placed the incident on November 12, 1998.

Neither is the exact description of the plastic bag containing the confiscated shabu indispensable for appellant's conviction.  SPO3 Titong explained at the trial that in the request for chemical analysis, the shabu was mistakenly described as contained in a heat-sealed plastic bag. However, when he submitted it to the PNP Crime Laboratory, his attention was called to the fact that the plastic bag is the self-sealing type. Hence, upon the instruction of PNP forensic chemist Sotelo, he corrected the typewritten description and changed it to a self-sealing plastic bag before he left it for examination.[11] Anent the contract price, the records disclose that the amount of P600,000 appearing on the Arrest Report/Booking Sheet was the value of the shabu confiscated from the appellant as estimated by SPO3 Titong, while the sum of P1.5M was the specific selling price for the drug as agreed upon between the appellant and the narcotics informant.[12]

Neither was the presence of two (2) newspaper cut-outs, dated January 30, 1999, in the boodle money fatal to the prosecution's case.  SPO3 Titong clarified that the boodle money SPO1 Velasquez presented in court was not the boodle money used in the November 12, 1998 buy-bust operation.  In fine, SPO3 Titong erred in handing the correct boodle money as the cabinet where they keep safe all the boodle money they use in their buy-bust operations for presentation in court were lumped together.

Noticeably, while appellant insists that he was not arrested pursuant to a valid buy-bust operation, that some men merely accosted him while he was parking his car on that fateful day, and that these men tried to extort a million pesos from him and detained him for several hours, nowhere in the records do we find that the appellant identified by name or described the features of any of his captors.  We find this highly irregular considering that two (2) of the men who allegedly accosted him -- officers Velasquez and Pongyan - appeared and testified in open court and could have been easily identified by the appellant.

Be that as it may, there is a need to modify the penalty imposed by the trial court.  The appellant was charged and convicted for the sale of a regulated drug under Section 15, Article III of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659.  For said offense, the law provides for the imposition of the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00).  However, the trial court imposed only the penalty of reclusion perpetua and omitted to adjudge payment of the fine.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the impugned Decision of the trial court in Criminal Case No. 98-169593 convicting appellant CHUA TAN LEE for violation of Section 15, Article III of R.A. No. 6425, as amended, is AFFIRMED, subject to the modification that in addition to the penalty of reclusion perpetua imposed by the trial court, the penalty of fine in the amount of five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) is likewise imposed on the appellant.


Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo at 7.

[2] May 27, 1999 TSN, SPO1 Romeo Velasquez, pp. 3-45;  July 22 & 28, 1999, SPO1 Robert Pongyan, pp. 4-28 & 2-12, respectively;  May 6, 1999 TSN, Ophelia Sotelo, pp. 5-33.

[3] February 10, 2000 TSN, Chua Tan Lee, pp. 2-17.

[4] February 1, 2000 TSN, Kin Yu, pp. 3-34.

[5] October 21, 1999 TSN, Mauricio Sy Lim, pp. 13-29.

[6] February 10, 2000 TSN, Chua Tan Lee, pp. 2-21.

[7] Penned by RTC Judge Perfecto A. S. Laguio, Jr., National Capital Judicial Region, Manila, Branch 18, Rollo at 21-24.

[8] People v. Julian-Fernandez, 372 SCRA 608 (2001); People v. So, 370 SCRA 252 (2001).

[9] People v. Gonzales, 365 SCRA 17 (2001); People v. Chua, 363 SCRA 562 (2001).

[10] August 12, 1999 TSN, SPO3 Titong, p. 23.

[11] May 6, 1999 TSN, Ophelia Cruz Sotelo, pp. 29-30;  October 14, 1999 TSN, SPO3 Pio Titong, pp. 49-50.

[12] October 15, 1999 TSN, SPO3 Titong, pp. 26-28.

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