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439 Phil. 561

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 143032, October 14, 2002 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. SEGUNDINO VALENCIA Y BLANCA, JOHNNY TADENA Y TORDA, AND DOMINGO DEROY, JR. Y SAROCAM, ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

Accused-appellants Segundino Valencia y Blanca, Johnny Tadena y Torda and Domingo Deroy, Jr. y Sarocam were charged and convicted by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City for violation of Section 15 of Republic Act (R.A.) 6425, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act, for unlawfully selling or offering to sell 634.0 grams of Psuedophedrine Hydrochloride which is a regulated drug. The trial court sentenced each of the accused to the supreme penalty of death and to pay a fine of P500,000.00. Hence, the case is now before us on automatic review.

It appears from the prosecution evidence that on September 22, 1998, a confidential informant of the PNP Narcotics Group confided to the group that he was able to negotiate the purchase of one kilo of drugs from a certain Junior and Johnny. The information was passed to the operatives’ team leader, Insp. Ramon Arsenal and then to their commanding officer, Supt. Arturo Castillo. Supt. Castillo immediately formed a buy-bust operation team composed of P/Insp. Arsenal, P/Insp. Beasa, SPO2 Estrada and SPO1 Facto. SPO1 Larry Facto was designated as the poseur buyer. He was to buy the one kilo of drugs for the agreed price of P800,000.00. SPO1 Facto was given ten P100.00 bills which he used in preparing the boodle money.[1]

  The team proceeded to the corner of Baler and Miller Streets in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City. SPO1 Facto and the informant waited at the corner of Baler and Miller Streets, while the other members of the team stayed about ten meters away. At about 10:50 in the evening, a white Mitsubishi Lancer with plate no. UET 384 arrived. The driver, Johnny Tadena, called the informant. The informant, together with SPO1 Facto, approached him. SPO1 Facto was introduced by the informant to Johnny Tadena as the buyer. SPO1 Facto asked Tadena where the stuff was. The latter replied, “It’s here.” He told him not to worry because their boss, a certain Dodong (Segundino Valencia), was present. SPO1 Facto saw three persons inside the car. Valencia was seated beside the driver while their other companion, Domingo Deroy, was at the backseat. Tadena then asked SPO1 Facto about the money and the latter showed him a plastic bag containing the money. When SPO1 Facto asked Tadena to show him the stuff, Valencia ordered Deroy to hand him the bag containing the drugs. Deroy did as instructed. Valencia then handed the stuff to SPO1 Facto in exchange for the money. SPO1 Facto examined the content of the bag and when he saw the white substance inside, he scratched his head to signal his companions that the transaction had been consummated. SPO1 Facto then introduced himself as a police officer and grabbed the car key from the ignition switch. SPO1 Facto arrested Johnny Tadena while his companions seized the other accused. The three accused were brought to Camp Crame for investigation.[2]  The substance was submitted for examination at the PNP Crime Laboratory. It tested positive for psuedo-ephedrine, a regulated drug.[3]

The defense, on the other hand, alleged that in the evening of September 22, 1998, Johnny Tadena went to see Segundino Valencia in Caloocan City to ask him if he knew anyone who would be interested in buying a 1995 Mitsubishi Lancer. Valencia was allegedly engaged in the business of buying and selling used cars. On the way home, Valencia rode with Tadena to go to Bago Bantay, Quezon City. As they were crossing an intersection along Iligan Street, an Isuzu van suddenly blocked their way. The passengers of the van who appeared to be police officers approached them. They took Valencia’s gun which he bought from a police asset. The police brought Valencia and Tadena to Camp Crame. Tadena was placed in a jail cell while Valencia was brought before Col. Castillo. Col. Castillo showed Valencia a plastic bag and said that he would use it as evidence against him. Valencia claimed that the police mauled him and extorted from him the amount of P20,000.00. They also took his necklace worth P5,000.00 and his wallet containing P1,200.00.[4]  Meanwhile, Domingo Deroy claimed that in the evening of September 22, 1998, he was picked up by the police without any reason at the house of Valencia’s parents.[5]

On September 24, 1998, Assistant City Prosecutor Danilo B. Vargas filed the following information against the accused: 

“That on or about the 22nd day of September 1998 in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused, conspiring, confederating with and mutually helping one another, not having been authorized by law to sell, dispense, deliver, transport or distribute any regulated drug, did then and there wilfully and unlawfully sell or offer for sale 634.0 grams of white crystalline substance containing Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride which is a regulated drug. 

CONTRARY TO LAW.”[6]

Giving more weight to the testimony of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation, the trial court convicted the accused of the crime charged. It held that the denial and alibi of the accused were not sufficient to overturn the prosecution evidence which established the guilt of the accused.[7]  The dispositive portion of the decision read: 

“WHEREFORE, finding that the prosecution was able to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the Court hereby sentences each of them (1) to suffer the penalty of Death; (2) to pay a fine of P500,000.00; and (3) to pay the costs. 

SO ORDERED.”[8]

In this appeal, accused-appellants raise the following errors:

“1. The court a quo gravely erred in finding that the guilt of the accused-appellants for the crime charged has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. 

2. The court a quo gravely erred in giving weight and credence to the improbable testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution. 

3. The court a quo gravely erred in finding that there was conspiracy in the case at bar.”[9]

The appeal is without merit.

Accused-appellants were caught in flagrante delicto in a buy-bust operation. A buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment whereby ways and means are resorted to for the purpose of trapping and capturing the lawbreakers in the execution of their criminal plan. Unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the members of the buy-bust team were inspired by any improper motive or were not properly performing their duty, their testimony on the operation deserves full faith and credit. When the police officers involved in the buy-bust operation have no motive to falsely testify against the accused, the courts shall uphold the presumption that they have performed their duties regularly.[10] The trial court in this case correctly upheld the testimony of the prosecution witnesses, the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation. It did not err in applying the presumption of regularity in the performance of duty by law enforcement agents. We laid down in the case of People vs. Doria[11] the test in determining the credibility of the testimony of police officers regarding the conduct of buy-bust operations. The Court said: 

“It is thus imperative that the presumption, juris tantum, of regularity in the performance of official duty by law enforcement agents raised by the Solicitor General be applied with studied restraint. The presumption should not by itself prevail over the presumption of innocence and the constitutionally-protected rights of the individual. It is the duty of courts to preserve the purity of their own temple from the prostitution of the criminal law through lawless enforcement. Courts should not allow themselves to be used as an instrument of abuse and injustice lest an innocent person be made to suffer the unusually severe penalties for drug offenses. 

We therefore stress that the ‘objective’ test in buy-bust operations demands that the details of the purported transaction must be clearly and adequately shown. This must start from the initial contact between the poseur-buyer and the pusher, the offer to purchase, the promise or payment of the consideration until the consummation of the sale by the delivery of the illegal drug subject of the sale. The manner by which the initial contact was made, whether or not through an informant, the offer to purchase the drug, the payment of the ‘buy-bust’ money, and the delivery of the illegal drug, whether to the informant alone or the police officer, must be the subject of strict scrutiny by courts to insure that law-abiding citizens are not unlawfully induced to commit an offense. Criminals must be caught but not at all cost. At the same time, however, examining the conduct of the police should not disable courts into ignoring the accused’s predisposition to commit the crime. If there is overwhelming evidence of habitual delinquency, recidivism or plain criminal proclivity, then this must also be considered. Courts should look at all factors to determine the predisposition of an accused to commit an offense in so far as they are relevant to determine the validity of the defense of inducement.”[12]

In the case at bar, SPO1 Facto, the poseur-buyer, gave the complete details of how the transaction was conducted from beginning to end -- the negotiation between the confidential agent and the drug dealers, the preparation made by the buy-bust team before conducting the operation, when the informant introduced him as the supposed buyer to the drug dealers, the exchange of the stuff and the payment between the pushers and the poseur buyer, and the arrest of said drug dealers. SPO1 Facto positively identified accused-appellants as the drug dealers. His testimony went as follows: 

“xxx xxx xxx

Q:
Can you recall, Mr. Witness, if you reported for duty on September 22, 1998?
A:
Yes, ma’am.
 
Q:
What time did you report?
A:
Nine o’clock in the morning, ma’am.
 
Q:
Now, while you were on duty was there any specific assignment given to you by your chief?
A:
Yes, sir.
 
Q:
What was that assignment?
A:
To conduct surveillance against drug traffic in Quezon City.
 
Q:
Was there any specific person whom you were supposed to conduct surveillance on December 22 ... September 22, 1998?
A:
Yes, ma’am. The group of a certain Johnny alias Paniki group.
 
Q:
And who ordered you or instructed you to conduct the surveillance?
A:
Our team leader, Police Inspector Ramon Arsenal.
 
Q:
Now, how did you know the group of Paniqui would be the subject of surveillance?
A:
Through our confidential agent, ma’am.
 
Q:
Were you able to talk to this confidential agent?
A:
Yes, ma’am.
 
Q:
And what is the gender of this confidential agent?
A:
A male, ma’am.
 
Q:
What did he tell you, if any?
A:
He told me that he was able to negotiate the one kilo drug deal to a certain Junior and Johnny, ma’am.
 
Q:
And upon receiving this information, what did you do?
A:
We informed our team leader, Police Inspector Ramon Arsenal the information of our confidential agent, ma’am.
 
Q:
And what happened after giving that information to your team leader?
A:
Our team leader Ramon Arsenal told our CO Col. Castillo about that drug transaction.
 
Q:
What happened next, if any?
A:
Inspector Arsenal formed a team to conduct buy bust operation.
 
Q:
Was there any briefing?
A:
There was a briefing in our office, ma’am.
 
Q:
What was taken up in that briefing?
A:
In the briefing, I would pose as poseur buyer.
 
Q:
And how much were you supposed to buy?
A:
Eight Hundred Thousand Pesos per kilo, ma’am.
 
Q:
So, what else were taken up during the briefing?
A:
Inspector Arsenal furnished me ten (10) pieces of One Hundred Peso-bill. Then I prepared the three bundles with numbers inside and make it appear, parang tingnan mo P800,000.00, parang may boodle sa loob.
 
Q:
After that ... By the way who are the members of the team?
A:
P/Insp. Arsenal, P/Insp. Beasa, SPO2 Estrada, myself and others.
 
Q:
You mentioned of a confidential informant, was he present during that briefing?
A:
Yes, ma’am.
 
Q:
And after preparing the boodle money and 10 pieces of P100-bill, what else happened?
A:
After I prepared the boodle on the night, we proceeded to the area.
 
Q:
Where is this area?
A:
Corner Baler and Miller Streets, San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City.
 
Q:
Were you able to reach the area?
A:
Yes, sir.
 
Q:
What happened next if any?
A:
Around 10:30 p.m., 22 September 1998, minutes later, around 10:50, pm., there was an automobile, Mitsubishi Lancer color white UET 384 arrived at the corner of Baler-Miller Streets.
 
Q:
Where were you at that time when that Mitsubishi Lancer arrived?
A:
I was at the corner of Baler and Miller Street.
 
Q:
Who were with you at that time?
A:
Our confidential agent.
 
Q:
How about the other members of the team where were they?
A:
They were away from us at least 3 meters ... 10 meters, away from us.
 
Q:
Ten meters away from you?
A:
Yes, sir.
 
Q:
When this Mitsubishi Lancer arrived, what happened next?
A:
The driver called for me and our CI, together with the CI.
 
Q:
And then what happened?
A:
The CI introduced me as buyer.
 
Q:
And then what happened after the CI introduced you to the occupants or to the driver, what happened next?
A:
After I was introduced as the buyer, I asked the driver where the stuff was. The driver said, ‘It’s here’ and he also admonished me not to worry because their boss is there, a certain Dodong, seated in front, in the front seat beside the driver.
 
Q:
How many occupants were there in that Mitsubishi Lancer?
A:
Three persons, ma’am.
 
Q:
And where was the other one?
A:
One at the back seat, ma’am.
 
Q:
And when the driver told you that his boss was there, a certain Dodong, what happened next?
A:
He asked me where was the money, and I said, ‘It’s here’, and while I was holding the money which was placed inside a plastic wrap.
 
Q:
What happened next?
A:
I told him to show me the stuff first because the money was with me.
 
Q:
And what happened?
A:
The man seated in the front seat called the man at the back and said ‘Dalhin mo dito, bigay mo dito.’ The person at the back seat handed the green bag to the person seated in the front seat.
 
Q:
And then what happened?
A:
And then he handed it to me sabay kaliwaan.
 
Q:
Who handed to you the stuff?
A:
The man beside the driver.
 
Q:
And when it was handed to you, what did you do?
A:
I gave the money, kaliwaan na. And then I quickly looked at the stuff and I saw that there was white substance inside so right away I made the pre-arranged signal.
 
Q:
What was that pre-arranged signal?
A:
I scratched my head which means the deal was, the drug deal was positive.
 
Q:
And when you scratched your head what did you do?
A:
I introduced myself to the suspect as a police officer. And I grabbed the key of the vehicle.
 
Q:
Where was the key at that time?
A:
It was a(t) the ignition switch.
 
Q:
And then what did you do?
A:
I said, ‘Arestado kayo’ and arrested the driver.
 
Q:
By the way, Mr. Witness, where were you at the time, while you were talking with the driver?
A:
Beside the driver.
 
Q:
There (sic) were still inside that car?
A:
Yes, sir.
 
Q:
And when you told the driver, ‘you are arrested,’ what else happened?
A:
I got the key.
 
Q:
And then, after that?
A:
I said, ‘Arestado kayo.’
 
Q:
After that what happened?
A:
My companions alighted from the Tamaraw FX and arrested his other companions.
 
Q:
And then what happened?
A:
After that we brought them to Camp Crame, ma’am, for investigation.
 
Q:
If you will be able to see this driver again of that vehicle with whom you had that transaction, will you be able to identify him?
A:
Yes, ma’am.
 
Q:
If he is inside the courtroom will you please point him to us?
A:
That one is Johnny Tadena (the person pointed to by the witness by tapping his shoulder when asked to identify himself gave his name as Johnny Tadena).
 
Q:
How about that man who handed to you that green bag containing the white substance?
A:
(Witness pointing to a man seated inside the courtroom who when asked to identify himself gave his name as Segundino Valencia).
 
Q:
How about the man seated at the back of the car who handed the green bag to Mr. Segundino Valencia?
A:
(Witness pointing to a man who when asked to identify himself gave his name as Domingo Deroy)
 
 
xxx xxx xxx.”

SPO1 Facto’s testimony withstood the rigorous cross-examination by the defense counsel and was corroborated by SPO2 Estrada, also a member of the buy-bust team.[13] 

Accused-appellants contend that it is incredible that the alleged vendors of the drugs would readily do business with the alleged poseur-buyer whom they met only on September 22, 1998, considering that the transaction involved the huge amount of P800,000.00. We are not impressed. It has been shown that the appellants have previously negotiated with the confidential agent. Prior to September 22, they have already closed the deal for the purchase of drugs for the price of P800,000.00. Hence, it is not as if the appellants were dealing with strangers. They knew the informant. When they met with the poseur-buyer, the latter was accompanied by the informant who introduced them to each other. Nonetheless, the Court has observed that drug pushers sell their prohibited articles to any customer, be he a stranger or not, in private as well as in public places, whether daytime or nighttime. Indeed, drug pushers have become increasingly daring, dangerous and openly defiant of the law. Hence, it is immaterial whether the vendor and the vendee are familiar with each other. It is only necessary to prove the fact of agreement and the acts constituting sale and delivery of the prohibited drugs.[14] These facts have been sufficiently proved in this case.

Accused-appellants also argue that the prosecution has not shown by clear and convincing evidence whether the sale was voluntary or whether this was a case of instigation. The argument deserves scant consideration. A buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment which in recent years has been accepted as a valid means of arresting violators of the Dangerous Drugs Law. It is commonly employed by police officers as an effective way of apprehending law offenders in the act of committing a crime. In a buy-bust operation, the idea to commit a crime originates from the offender, without anybody inducing or prodding him to commit the offense. Its opposite is instigation or inducement, wherein the police or its agent lures the accused into committing the offense in order to prosecute him. Instigation is deemed contrary to public policy and considered an absolutory cause.[15] In this case, accused-appellants, apparently, have, for some time, been engaged in drug dealing. They were in fact the subject of a surveillance conducted by the operatives of the PNP Narcotics Group. The police engaged the services of a confidential informant to lead them to transact with them. The confidential agent facilitated the meeting of accused-appellants and the poseur buyer. Hence, it was not the police nor the confidential agent who induced accused-appellants to commit a violation of the Dangerous Drugs Law. They were already violating the law and the police only used the buy-bust operation to apprehend them in the act of unlawfully selling drugs. This is certainly a legitimate entrapment operation and not instigation.

Finally, accused-appellants alleged that the prosecution failed to prove the existence of a conspiracy among the three accused, as it did not show a common plan or design among them. Again, we find otherwise. There is conspiracy when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it.[16] The existence of a conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence because it may be inferred from the parties’ conduct indicating a common understanding among themselves with respect to the commission of the crime. Neither is it necessary to show that two or more persons met together and entered into an explicit agreement setting out the details of an unlawful scheme or object to be carried out. It may be deduced from the mode or manner in which the crime was perpetrated or from the acts of the accused showing a joint or common purpose and design, concerted action and community of interest.[17] The existence of a conspiracy among the three accused is very much apparent from the narration of SPO1 Facto about how the transaction went. Upon the arrival of the Mitsubishi Lancer bearing plate no. UET 384 at the corner of Baler and Miller Streets, the driver, Tadena, called the informant and SPO1 Facto, the supposed buyer. Tadena asked SPO1 Facto about the money. When SPO1 Facto asked for the stuff, Valencia, who was occupying the front passenger seat, ordered Deroy, who was seated at the back of the car, to hand him the bag containing the drugs. Valencia gave the bag to SPO1 Facto as the latter handed him the money. This demonstrates the concerted effort of the three accused in drug dealing. Conspiracy among them is obviously present in this case.

As regards the penalty, the Court agrees with the conclusions of the trial court, thus: 

“Section 20, Article IV of R.A. 6425, as amended, provides that ‘The penalties for offense under x x x Sections 14, 14-A, 15, and 16 of Art. III of this Act shall be applied if the dangerous drugs involved is in any of the following quantities: 8. In the case of other dangerous drugs, the quantity which is far beyond therapeutic requirements, as determined and promulgated by the DDB, after consultations/hearings conducted for the purpose.’ In Section 15, the penalty is ‘reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos.’ The crime is aggravated when committed by any person or persons belonging to an organized or syndicated crime group (Section 30, R.A. 7659; and People vs. Esparas, G.R. No. 120034, July 10, 1998). In such a case, the death penalty shall be imposed. An organized or syndicated crime group has been defined as a group of two or more persons collaborating, confederating or mutually helping one another for purposes of gain in the commission of any crime.’ (Section 30, R.A. No. 7659; and People vs. Esparas, G.R. No. 120034, July 10, 1998)”

IN VIEW WHEREOF, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City in Criminal Case No. Q98-78878 is AFFIRMED.[18] 

In accordance with Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7659, upon finality of this decision, let the records of these cases be forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of executive clemency. SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.
Bellosillo, Mendoza, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, and Austria-Martinez, JJ., on official leave.  
 


[1] TSN, December 10, 1998, pp. 2-4.

[2] TSN, December 10, 1998, pp. 5-8; December 15, 1998, pp. 2-3. 

[3] Original Records, p. 14; TSN, January 21, 1999, pp. 2-6. 

[4] TSN, June 3, 1999, pp. 2-7; June 24, 1999, pp. 2-5. 

[5] TSN, August 2, 1999, pp. 2-5. 

[6] Original Records, pp. 1-2. 

[7] Decision dated March 23, 2000, Rollo, pp. 20-28. 

[8] Rollo, p. 28. 

[9] Id., pp. 48-49. 

[10] People vs. Medenilla, 355 SCRA 172 (2001); People vs. Lee, 354 SCRA 745 (2001); People vs. Mustapa, 352 SCRA 252 (2001). 

[11] 301 SCRA 668 (1999). 

[12] Id., pp. 698-699. 

[13] TSN, February 11, 1999, pp. 2-5. 

[14] People vs. Requiz, 318 SCRA 635 (1999); People vs. Cheng Ho Chua, 305 SCRA 28(1999). 

[15] People vs. Boco, 309 SCRA 42 (1999). 

[16] Article 8, Revised Penal Code. 

[17] People vs. San Andres, 326 SCRA 223 (2000); People vs. Alagon, 325 SCRA 297 (2000); People vs. Blanco, 324 SCRA 280 (2000). 

[18] Three members of the Court maintain their position that Republic Act No. 7659, insofar as it prescribes the death penalty, is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they submit to the ruling of the Court, by majority vote, that the law is constitutional and the death penalty should be accordingly imposed.

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