683 Phil. 668

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 188103, March 07, 2012 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. JEROME PALER, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

The prosecution charged Jerome Paler (appellant Paler) before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 10th Judicial Region, Branch 12, Oroquieta City, with violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 under the Information which states:

That on or about the 22nd day of June 2004, at 6:00 o’clock in the afternoon, in Barrientos Street, Barangay Layawan, Oroquieta City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, without being authorized by law, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell, deliver and give away to a poseur-buyer one (1) sachet of shabu in consideration of a marked 100-peso bill with serial number HW 257588 which was actually handed to and received by the said accused, and on the occasion of such buy-bust operation confiscated further from the possession of the accused another three (3) sachets of shabu placed in an empty pack of Winston cigarette which buy-bust operation resulted to the confiscation of a total of four (4) sachets of shabu all weighing 0.0565 gram.[1] (Emphasis supplied)
The Facts

It was 22 June 2004, around 6:00 o’clock in the evening.  Appellant Paler was standing and conversing with a man in front of Golden Heart Videoke Bar in Layawan, Oroquieta City.  Inside a car, parked about 12 meters away, seven (7) policemen in civilian clothes from the Provincial Anti-Crime Team (PACT), Misamis Occidental, were intently observing the movements of their informant who was the one conversing with the appellant.[2]

Minutes passed. The police informant brought out a P100.00 bill from his left pocket and handed it to the appellant who took a sachet of white substance from a cigarette pack in exchange for the money.[3]  Then, the police asset ceremoniously scratched his head,[4] long enough for the policemen to notice it.  In seconds, the police emerged from the car, raced to the appellant and surrounded him.  It was a buy-bust operation.

Commotion followed. PO3 Rico Balbutin (PO3 Balbutin) met the police informant who acted as poseur-buyer – retrieving the sachet of white crystalline substance; PO3 Balbultin then ran to the appellant to bodily search him.  He recovered the marked P100.00 bill tacked in the appellant’s pocket and three (3) other sachets of suspected shabu hidden in the empty pack of Winston cigarettes.[5]  Meanwhile, a certain PO2 Ramirez handcuffed the appellant, explained why he was being arrested and informed him of his constitutional rights.

PO3 Balbutin handed the confiscated items to PO1 Clint Jill Gula (PO1 Gula), the PACT’s evidence custodian, who brought them along with the appellant to the PACT’s headquarters in Lower Lamak, Oroquieta City.[6] There, PO1 Gula marked the confiscated items with “BB1” to signify the sachet sold to the poseur-buyer; “JP2,” “JP3,” and “JP4,” to signify the three sachets hidden in the empty pack of Winston cigarette.  The team also entered the incident in the PACT’s log book.[7]

At around 8:45 o’clock in the evening, after PO1 Gula prepared the request for the appellant’s urine test, the team proceeded to the provincial crime laboratory to subject the appellant to drug testing.  Thereafter, the appellant was turned over to the Oroquieta City Police where he spent his first night in jail.

On 23 June 2004, at around 8:30 o’clock in the morning, in the presence of the representatives from the Department of Justice, media, and a public official,[8] PO1 Gula, retrieved the confiscated items already marked the previous night and made the inventory; a photographer also took pictures of them.  The inventory report stated:

Pursuant to Section 21 of RA 9165, a physical [inventory] and photographing of the items described below that were confiscated from the possession and control of one Jerome Paler y Lanit, 34 years old, married and resident of Barrientos Street, Barangay layawan, Oroquieta City during the buy bust operation conducted on or about 221800H June 2004 at the aforementioned place by elements of this office, to wit:

1.)
One (1) deck of shabu with marking “BB1” which was bought during the buy bust operation.
2.)
Three (3) decks of suspected shabu with markings “JP2 to JP4” placed in an empty pack of Winston cigarette which were confiscated from his possession and control of said suspect.
3.)
One (1) piece of one hundred peso bill with serial number HW257588 as marked money which was confiscated from his (Jerome) possession and control.

The said physical inventory and photographing were conducted at this office on or about 220830H June 2004 in the presence of the suspect/offender, from the media, from the Department of Justice and elected Public Official of said place.[9] (Emphasis supplied)

All of the witnesses signed the inventory report which was done in the presence of the appellant who was furnished with a copy thereof.

The appellant pleaded not guilty when arraigned. This is his version:

The appellant’s Golden Heart Videoke Bar was to re-open on 22 June 2004.  At around 6:00 o’clock in the evening, while he and his live-in partner, Debbie Amil, were standing in front of the bar, waiting for customers to arrive, police officers PO3 Balbutin, Julito Candawan, Eilrred Ramirez and Allan Alvarico (Alvarico) alighted from a Tamaraw FX which was parked in front of the bar thirty minutes earlier.[10] The policemen approached and invited him and Debbie Amil to the PACT’s headquarters to verify the report that Debbi Amil has a pending warrant of arrest.  He heeded the invitation, trusting the police officers whom he personally knew and even considered as his friends.  At the headquarters, however, PO3 Balbutin searched the appellant and even undressed him, finding in his possession his cashless wallet and an empty pack of Winston cigarettes.  The police took his wallet,[11] while he kept holding the empty pack of cigarettes.

The appellant and PO3 Balbutin proceeded to the latter’s office, also at the headquarters, while Alvarico tailed them.  The appellant sat in front of PO3 Balbutin’s table, who put the pack of Winston cigarette on the table (now with three sticks of cigarette) while Alvarico stood beside him.  The two police officers asked him about Debbie Amil’s warrant of arrest and informed him that he was to undergo drug testing.  At that time, he claimed to have already stopped using drugs after completing in the previous year his rehabilitation from drug use.

Before proceeding to the crime laboratory, PO3 Balbutin asked for the pack of Winston which the appellant was carrying; PO3 Balbutin pulled out from the pack of Winston three (3) sachets of shabu to the surprise of the appellant.  He denied any knowledge about the shabu and claimed the sachets were planted.

The appellant’s urine sample tested positive for drug use, and the chemistry report revealed that all the sachets of white crystalline substance confiscated from the appellant were Methamphetamine Hydrocloride or shabu.

The RTC found the appellant guilty of violation of Section 5 of Republic Act No. 9165, a decision which the Court of Appeals affirmed in toto. Thus:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed June 7, 2006 Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 10th Judicial Region, Branch 12, Oroquieta City, in Criminal Case No. 1672, entitled “People of the Philippines v. Jerome L. Paler of Barrientos St., Layawan, Oroquieta City,” is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.[12]

Hence, this appeal on the following grounds:

  1. In giving full weight and credence to the unbelievable testimonies of the prosecution witnesses; and

  2. In convicting the appellant of the crime charged despite failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.[13]

The appellant contends that the prosecution’s case against the accused-appellant is weak because the evidence does not measure up to the required quantum of proof to convict in criminal cases.[14]

The Court’s Ruling

We affirm the Decision of the Court of Appeals.

The appellant was convicted for violation of Section 5 of Republic Act No. 9165, which reads:

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 (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 such transaction.

The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are (1) the identities 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.[15] The delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummate the buy-bust transaction.  The testimonial and the documentary pieces of evidence adduced by the prosecution in support of its case against the appellant establish the presence of these elements.

First, the identity of the seller was duly established. The police officers, PO3 Balbutin and PO1 Gula, positively identified appellant Paler as the same person from whom their asset purchased the sachet of shabu.  PO3 Balbutin and PO1 Gula were both present at the entrapment and they witnessed the transaction between the poseur-buyer and the appellant.

Second, the police officers saw the appellant handing the sachet to the poseur-buyer in exchange of the P100.00 peso bill that the appellant earlier received from the poseur-buyer.  Not only did the police retrieve the shabu which was the object of the illegal sale, they also recovered three more sachets of shabu from the same empty pack of Winston cigarette, a fact which bolsters the prosecution’s claim that the appellant indeed sold shabu to the poseur-buyer.

To cast doubt as to the identity and integrity of the shabu, the appellant claims that the police officers failed to account for the chain of custody of the seized item alleged to be shabu.

Contrary to the appellant’s defense, there is no break in the chain of custody of the seized item found to be shabu from the time the police asset turned it over to PO3 Balbutin, to the time it was turned over to PO1 Gula, the PACT’s evidence custodian, up to its presentation to and photographing before the media, Department of Justice, public official, and up to the time that the shabu was brought to the forensic chemist at the PNP Crime Laboratory for laboratory examination.

The procedure for the custody and disposition of confiscated, seized, and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, among others, is provided under Section 21, paragraph 1 of Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, as follows:

Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 reads:

(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. (Emphasis supplied)

Section 21(a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 9165, reads:

(a)  The apprehending officer/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: Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures; Provided, further, that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items. (Emphasis supplied)

The testimony of PO3 Balbutin outlines the chain of custody of the confiscated items, i.e., sachet of shabu:[16]

Q:
And what if anything did you find on the body of Jerome Paler as a result of the search you made?
A:
I recovered the P100.00 bill marked money and one (1) empty Winston cigarette pack containing three (3) sachets of shabu.
Q:
At that time, were you already sure that was shabu?
A:
We just suspected that was a dangerous drug or shabu.
Q:
You said, you recovered from the possession of the accused the marked money, how was that marked money related which you recovered from the possession of the accused during the search to the marked money which you gave to your poseur buyer purposely to buy shabu in the entrapment operation?
A:
That was the same marked money sir.
Q:
And what did you do with the marked money and the empty pack of Winston cigarette containing three (3) sachets of shabu?
A:
I immediately confiscated it.
x x x x
Q:
And in going to the PACT Office, who among the members of the team was in custody of the items confiscated?
A:
It is in the custody of PO1 Gula who is our evidence custodian.
Q:
At the PACT Office, what if anything you did therein in relation to the incident?
A:
The incident was being reflected in the log book.
Q:
Who recorded it?
A:
Me.
Q:
Do you have your log book with you now?
A:
Yes sir.
x x x x
Q:
I have here an empty pack of winston cigarette, will you please examine this and inform this Honorable Court what relation has this empty pack of winston cigarette in relation to the empty pack of winston cigarette which you recovered from the possession of the accused, Jerome Paler during the incident?
A:
The same pack sir.
x x x x
Q:
I noticed that in these sachets of shabu there are markings BB1, JP2, JP3 and JP4, who wrote these markings?
A:
PO1 Gula sir.
Court
Q:
Why do you know that it was he who marked it?
A:
It is his customary duty, your honor that whatever evidence confiscated the evidence custodian will mark it.
Q:
And what if anything did PO1 Gula do at the PACT office?
A:
He made a request for urine test for the two arrested persons.
Q:
What else?
A:
He likewise put markings on the evidence confiscated sir.
Q:
After the investigation, entering the incident in the PACT blotter, where did you bring Jerome Paler?
A:
We brought him to the Provincial Crime Laboratory for drug testing.
x x x x
Q:
And from the Misamis Occidental Provincial Crime Laboratory Office, where did PO1 Gula and other members of the PACT together with Jerome Paler and Debbie Amil go?
A:
They went back to PACT Office.
Q:
From the PACT Office, where did they go?
A:
From the PACT Office, we proceeded to Oroquieta City Police Station in order to turn over them.
Q:
On the following day, that was June 23, 2004, what if anything did PO1 Gula prepare at the PACT Office?
A:
He prepared an inventory of the items confiscated and likewise the other members of the team contacted the supposed witness for the inventory.
Court:
Will the defense counsel admit the existence of the inventory?
A:
We already admitted the existence of the inventory, your Honor. I think it was stated in the pre-trial order, your honor. Only the existence, your honor.
x x x x
Q:
And when the representatives of the different sectors arrived at your office, the PACT Office, what did they do there?
A:
PO1 Gula withdrew the evidence confiscated and placed it on the table and in the presence of the witness, the items confiscated were being inventoried.
x x x x
Q:
Did the representatives and you sign the inventory of the items confiscated?
A:
Yes sir.
Q:
After the signing of the inventory of the items confiscated, what followed next at your office?
A:
x x x [T]the photographer took a picture.

Plainly, the prosecution established the crucial links in the chain of custody of the sold and seized sachet of shabu, from the time it was first seized from the appellant, until it was brought for examination and presented in court.  The identity, quantity and quality of the illegal drugs remained untarnished and preserved; hence, the integrity of the drugs seized remained intact.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, this Court AFFIRMS the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Chairperson), Brion, Sereno, and Reyes, JJ., concur.



[1] CA rollo, p. 8.

[2] Rollo, pp. 4-5.

[3] Testimony of PO3 Rico B. Balbutin.  TSN, 28 October 2004, pp. 8-9.

[4] Id. at 10.

[5] Id. at 11.

[6] Rollo, p. 8.

[7] The PACT’s log book, page 31-32, entry number 0101 contains the circumstances of the arrest of the appellant and was marked as exhibit G-1 until G-2.  TSN, 28 October 2004, p. 13.

[8] Jose Adlaon represented the Department of Justice; Ernesto Quiros represented the media; Lydon Mutia, the public official; and, Carmelita Calamba was the photographer.  TSN, 28 October 2004, p. 18.

[9] Records, p. 6.

[10] Testimony of the accused-appellant. TSN, 4 August 2005, p. 4.

[11] Id. at 6.

[12] CA rollo, p. 22.

[13] Id. at 95.

[14] Id. at 34.

[15] People v. Naquita, G.R. No. 180511, 28 July 2008, 560 SCRA 430, 449.

[16] TSN, 28 October 2004, pp. 10-17.



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