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357 Phil. 439


[ G.R. No. 126049, September 25, 1998 ]




In an information filed on July 15, 1993 with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17, of Davao City, and docketed therein as Criminal Case No. 30,581-93, accused-appellant was charged with a violation of Section 4, Article II of Republic Act No. 6425, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act,, as. amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 179, allegedly committed as follows:
That on or about July 12, 1993, in the City of Davao, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-mentioned accused, willfully,unlawfully and feloniously, and without having been authorized by law, sold an empty pack of cigarette(s) containing twenty two (22) pieces (of) marijuana cigarettes/rolls which are prohibited drugs[1] (Corrections in parentheses ours).
On August 11, 1993, appellant was duly arraigned and he entered a plea of not guilty .[2] Thereafter, trial on the merits commenced and was conducted until the case was submitted for decision on February 1, 1994. On February 7, 1994, the court a quo rendered its decision finding appellant guilty as charged, with the decretal portion reading as follows:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing consideration, finding the evidence of the prosecution sufficient to prove the guilt of accused, RAMON MAGNO y VISTAL, beyond reasonable doubt, of the crime of selling marijuana cigarettes as defined and penalized in accordance with Section 4, Art. 2 of the Republic Act 6425, as amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 179, thereby imposes upon him the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT as well as the imposition of FINE in the amount of P20,000.00, with costs against him.

The 21 remaining sticks of marijuana cigarettes not submitted for examination, are ordered forfeited in favor of the government for its disposition and destruction, in accordance to (sic) law as may be ordered by this court.[3]
The factual antecedents of this case, as summarized by the trial court in its decision and sustained by the evidence on record, are as follows:
The evidence of the prosecution will show, on record, sometime on July 12, 1993, while SPOI Manuel Agdalipe and SP03 Felix Arboleda, both-member(s) of the PNP Sta. Ana Patrol Station, their station commander, received a report from an informer, that a certain Ramon Magno, was selling marijuana at his residence at Agdao, Davao City.

Immediately upon receipt of said confidential information, their station commander, Capt. Ainin, organized a team to conduct a buy-bust operation, composed of SPOI Agdalipe and SP03 Arboleda.

Upon instruction of their station commander SPO1 Agdalipe prepared a P 50.00 bill, marked money, Exh. "A", for the prosecution, duly signed by SPO1 Agdalipe, indicating its identifying mark. Thereafter they proceeded to Villamor Street at Agdao, Davao City, where they met their informer, known to them only through his clothes, shoes and pants as relayed to them by their station commander. At that time, they were wearing civilian clothes. When they reached the house of accused, Ramon Magno, they called him and when he answered, they told him, they wanted to buy marijuana.

They were told to get inside. SPOI Agdalipe and SP03 Arboleda went up to the second floor of the house and there Agdalipe offered P50.00 bill marked money gave it to the accused, who in turn handed to him an empty cigarette pack containing 22 marijuana sticks, marked Exhs. "B" up to "B-1" to "B-21, for the prosecution.

After accused received the marked money in exchange (for) the 22 sticks of marijuana, SPOI Agdalipe and SP03 Arboleda immediately arrested the accused and brought him to their police station, for proper disposition.

Already in their office, the marked money, Exh. "A", P 50.00 bill and 22 sticks of marijuana Exhs. "B," "B-1" to "B-2l," were turned over to SP02 Rajail S. Adin police station exhibit custodian; said items were also indorsed to him by SP03 Joel Barason, desk officer SP02 Rajail Adin, out of the 22 sticks of marijuana one stick of it, was indorsed by him to SP03 Flaviano Arellano, Police investigator, who acknowledged the endorsement to him of the body of accused and the items confiscated duly recorded in the police blotter, marked Exhibit "D" and submarkings, for the prosecution.

The specimen of the confiscated marijuana stick was forwarded to the PNP Crime Laboratory for examination marked Exh. "E", for the prosecution and submarkings, duly received by said office with the result of the examination, marked Exh. F and F- 1 for the prosecution.

Finally after examination of the specimen of the sticks of marijuana by the PNP Crime Laboratory, conducted by Lt. Salome Jose, Forensic Analyst, the findings showed, said specimen was positive of marijuana, marked Exh. "F-1" for the prosecution.

After the presentation of the above evidence prosecution's case was rested and on record, prosecution submitted its formal offer of exhibits from Exh. "A" to "G" and their corresponding submarkings, with comment on the exhibits of the prosecution, submitted on record by accused, through counsel; through the order of this court, dated December 13, 1993, all exhibits of the prosecution, were admitted in evidence.

Reception of accused's evidence was set on December 21, 1995, but reset to January 3, 1994.

On said date accused, Ramon Magno, took the witness stand and denied categorically the charge against him.

He testified,.on July 12, 1993, at around 1:30 in the afternoon he was in his house located at Torres-Villamor Street, Agdao, Davao City, at the second floor of his house, resting in their sala, when he heard a knock at the door.

Before opening the door, he peeped and there he saw policemen whom he recognized because previously he was a member of the "alsa masa"; he is familiar with the members of the police force. He opened the door and allowed them to come inside. Only one of them got inside, the other one, stayed downstairs. It was SPO1 Manuel Agdalipe, who went up and invited him to come with them to the police station because there is a problem. He consented without hesitation to their invitation.' At the Sta. Ana Police Station, he was confronted with 22 sticks of marijuana, allegedly owned by him. He denied all about it, including the marked money in the amount of P 50.00 as not his.

He denied the 22 sticks of marijuana were taken in his possession as a result of a buy-bust operation conducted by SPO1 Manuel Agdalipe and also about the arrest of a certain Tammy Subial, not his errand man, as the police wanted him, to admit.

Without getting any admission from him about the 22 sticks of marijuana, he was put inside the detention cell. When he asked the policeman why he was falsely charged, they told him, they were merely doing their duty. (T.S.N. pp. 3-5, hearing on January 3, 1994).[4]
Taking vigorous exception to the judgment, of conviction, appellant interposed the present appeal, arguing that the lower court erred in convicting him of the crime charged in the information despite the failure of the prosecution to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

We find his protestations unavailing. The prosecution was able to prove beyond a scintilla of doubt that appellant had sold and delivered a prohibited drug. SPO1 Agdalipe, the poseur-buyer, narrated in court how the sale took place, thus:
x x x
Q -
With that marked money and with that informer, what did you do?
We proceeded to the area of Ramon Magno and approached him to buy marijuana.
Who particularly approached Magno?
Now, please tell us, what was your attire at that time?
Civilian attire.
Particularly what?
Long pants and T-shirt.
Who was your companion in approaching Magno?
What was the role of Arboleda?
What was he wearing at that time?
A -
Civilian attire.
Were you able to finally see in person the person of Ramon Magno?
Yes, sir.
Now, when you saw him in person what did you tell him?
I ask(ed) him to buy marijuana and in return he gave cigarette packs when inside of that are the 22 sticks of marijuana.
You said you have met the accused, at this point, if he is in court now, would you be able to identify him?
Ramon Magno. (Witness pointing to Ramon Magno the accused).
Were you able to buy the item?
Very leading.
Q -
You said you offered to buy marijuana?
A -
Yes, sir.
What happened to your offer?
He gave me marijuana and I gave him the P 50.00 and in return he gave me an empty cigarette pack with 22 marijuana sticks.
I would like to show you cigarette rolls, please identify?
These are the marijuana confiscated from the possession of Ramon Magno.
Q -
How did you know that these are the same marijuana cigarette rolls which you confiscated from that operation?
A -
Because these marijuana before turn over to our desk officer, P03 Arboleda put sign as V.T., V.T. means Villamor Torres.[5]
It has been repeatedly held that the commission of the offense of illegal sale of prohibited drugs requires merely the consummation of the selling transaction which happens the moment the buyer receives the drug from the seller.[6]

Appellant, in his attempt to discredit the prosecution's evidence, argues that there is a glaring inconsistency in the testimonies of SPO1 Manuel Agdalipe and SP03 Felix Arboleda, Appellant alleged that SPO1 Agdalipe testified that he first called the name of appellant before going to the second floor where appellant was, while SP03 Arboleda testified that appellant was at the first floor and they no longer called him because they met appellant outside his house.

The alleged inconsistency is too minor and trivial as to impair the essential integrity of the prosecution's evidence as a whole or to affect the veracity or weight of the witness' testimony. It pertains only to a collateral matter which does not have anything to do with the essential elements of the offense with which appellant is charged. It is a settled rule that discrepancies and inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses referring to minor details, and not in actuality touching upon the central fact of the crime, do not impair their credibility.[7]

There was likewise no evidence of any ill motive that would have impelled these officers to accuse appellant of the crime. In the absence of any controverting evidence, the testimonies of these officers are given full faith and credence as they are presumed to be in the regular performance of their official duties.[8]

The issue of credibility on appeal is unavailing. The task of assigning values to declarations on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge who, unlike an appellate magistrate, can weigh such testimonies in light of the declarant's demeanor, conduct and attitude at the trial and is thereby placed in a more competent position to discriminate between the true and the false.[9]

The rule is settled that the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to the highest degree of respect and will not be disturbed on appeal absent any clear showing that it overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight or substance which could have affected the result of the case.[10] In the instant case, we find no exceptive circumstances to justify a deviation from the rule.

However, we agree with the recommendation of the Solicitor General that appellant should be held liable for the illegal sale of only one stick of marijuana. The record shows that only one out of the 22 sticks was submitted to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory for forensic examination and was found positive to be marijuana. The trial court's holding that "(t)here is no need to submit the entire 22 sticks of marijuana, one of them suffice(s) for the purpose of examination as to its marijuana contents"[11] is misplaced.

True, a chemical analysis is not an indispensable requisite to establish whether a certain substance offered in evidence is a prohibited drug or not. The reason for this is that the ability to recognize these drugs can be acquired without a knowledge of chemistry, to such an extent that the testimony of a witness on the point may be entitled to great weight.[12] Nevertheless, in the absence of forensic examination, the prosecution must prove by other competent evidence that the object seized from the accused was indeed marijuana. The identity of the marijuana, which constitutes the corpus delicti, must be established with certainty and conclusiveness.[13]

In this case, the mere conclusion of SP03 Flaviano Arellano that all the 22 sticks were marijuana is incompetent, hence inadmissible in evidence. There was no showing that the said officer underwent any special training for the purpose.[14] His inability to recognize a prohibited drug was clearly shown in his testimony, to wit:
You are SP03 Arellano, you were the one who submitted one stick or one roll of marijuana to the PNP Crime Laboratory?
A -
Yes, sir.
Why did you not include other rolls, the 21 other rolls?
Because we were just inform(ed) by the crime laboratory personnel that part of this is in our custody. They also okey of our suggestion.(sic)
Q -
But the point that these are all 22 rolls, separately 22 rolls?
A -
Yes, your Honor.
Q -
Why did you only check one when the 22 should be tested also and examine(d) by the laboratory?
A -
According to them, it does not mean that the whole amount of marijuana should be brought to laboratory, but only part of it, for purposes of examination to determine that (it) is marijuana?
Q -
You did not present to them the 21 others?
A -
I did not but I inform(ed) the chemist.
Q -
You presume that the 21 other separate rolls also containing (sic) marijuana?
I could not say that because I am not an expert.
When you brought. them for examination, the 21 are also marijuana?
I presumed.[15]
Conviction for drug-pushing requires that the drug subject of the sale be positively and categorically identified in open court.[16] Absent the corpus delicti and its examination as proof of its being a prohibited merchandise, the conviction of appellant has no leg to stand on. [17]

With the foregoing facts duly established, herein appellant must be and is hereby held liable only for the sale of a single stick of marijuana.

The penalties imposed by the trial court must accordingly be modified. The provision on penalties under Republic Act No. 6425 was amended by Section 20 and other related provisions of Republic Act No. 7659, effective December 31, 1993.[18] Considering that the application of the new law is favorable to herein appellant, the same must be given retroactive effect.[19]

In the case at bar, the precise weight of the single stick of marijuana cigarette cannot be determined from the records. However, it can safely be inferred that such weight is below 250 grams. Consequently, pursuant to Sections 4 and 20 of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, and in relation to the directive in Simon, if the marijuana involved is below 250 grams, the penalty to be imposed shall be prision correccional. There being no mitigating or aggravating.circumstance, the proper imposable penalty is prision correccional in its medium period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the maximum shall be taken from the medium period of prison 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 arresto mayor, the range of which is one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months,[20] in any of its periods.

WHEREFORE, the decision appealed from finding accused appellant Ramon Magno y Vistal guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 4, Article II of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended, is hereby AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that he is sentenced to suffer an indeterminate prison term of six (6) months of arresto mayor in its maximum period, as the minimum, to four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional in its medium period, as the maximum.

It appearing that accused-appellant has been detained since July 29, 1993,[21] or much beyond the maximum range of his indeterminate sentence, his immediate release from custody is hereby ordered, unless he is being held for some other lawful cause.


Melo, Puno and Martinez, JJ., concur.
Mendoza, J., on leave.

[1] Original Record, 4.

[2] Ibid., 13-14.

[3] Rollo, 57; per Judge Renato A. Fuentes.

[4] lbid., 48-50.

[5] TSN, October 8, 1993, 4-7.

[6] People vs. Simon, G.R. No. 93028, July 29, l994, 234 SCRA 555, citing People vs. Rumeral, G.R. No. 86320, August 5, 1991, 200 SCRA 194 and People vs. Sibug, G.R. No. 108520, January 24, 1994, 229 SCRA 489.

[7] People vs. Barrera, G.R. No. 99867, September 19, 1996, 262 SCRA 63.

[8] See People vs. Ponsica, G.R. No. 108176, February 14, 1994, 230 SCRA 87.

[9] People vs. Pareja, et al., G.R. No. 88043, December 9, 1996, 265 SCRA 429.

[10] People vs. Pulusan, et al., G.R. No. 110037, May 21, 1998.

[11] Decision, 6; Rollo, 53.

[12] People vs. Enrique, Jr., G.R. No. 90738, December 9, 1991, 204 SCRA 674.

[13] See People vs. Pacleb, G.R. No. 90602 January 18, 1993, 217 SCRA 92; People vs. Flores, G.R. No. 80914, April 6, 1995, 243 SCRA 374.

[14] See People vs. Enrique, Jr., supra, Fn. 12; People vs. Rigodon, et al., G.R. No. 111888, November 8, 1994, 238 SCRA 27.

[15] TSN, September10, 1993, 16, 17.

[16] People vs. Quintero, G,R. Nos, 80315-16, November 16, 1994, 238 SCRA 173.

[17] People vs. Rigodon, et al., supra, Fn. 14.

[18] People vs. Simon, supra, Fn. 6.

[19] People vs. Zervoulakos, G.R. No. 103975, February 23, 1995, 241 SCRA 625.

[20] People vs. Gireng, G.R. No. 97949, February 1, 1995, 241 SCRA 11.

[21] Original Record, 9.

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