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459 Phil. 187


[ G.R. No. 145337, October 02, 2003 ]




This is an appeal from the decision dated September 20, 2000 of the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 143, in Criminal Case No. 99-2200, convicting Lee Hoi Ming a.k.a "Joey Ong" and "Pic", of violation of Section 15, Article III of Republic Act No. 6425 (The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972), as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay a fine of P10,000,000.00.

Appellant Lee Hoi Ming was charged in an information which reads:
That on or about September 26, 1999 in Makati City and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, a Chinese national, not having been authorized by law to sell, dispose or distribute any regulated drug did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally sell, dispose or distribute to a poseur buyer of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force a white plastic bag with Chinese characters and markings "JUSCO" containing two (2) self-sealing transparent plastic bags with white crystalline substance one of which weighs approximately one (1) kilogram and the other, five hundred (500) grams and which when subjected to laboratory examinations tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride otherwise known as "Shabu", a regulated drug.

On arraignment, appellant pleaded "not guilty." Trial on the merits then ensued.

The facts, as established by the prosecution, are as follows:

In the afternoon of September 24, 1999, SPO4 Rolando M. Sayson of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), together with a confidential informant, was assigned by Police Supt. John D. Lopez to meet appellant Lee Hoi Ming a.k.a. Joey Ong, a suspected supplier of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. Thus, on September 25, 1999, SPO4 Sayson proceeded to Room 202 of Regine's Hotel, located along Kalayaan Avenue in Makati City, where the confidential informant introduced him to appellant as a prospective buyer of shabu. Appellant informed them that one and a half kilos (1½ kg.) of shabu was available that day. When asked if they could check the shabu, appellant asked them to wait. He left and when he came back, he told them to return the following day at 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. After negotiations, appellant and SPO4 Sayson came to an agreement that the price of the shabu shall be P450,000.00 per kilo, or P675,000.00 for 1½ kilos.

The following day, the team composed of SPO4 Sayson as the poseur buyer, Police Chief Inspector Albert Ignatius D. Ferro as the arresting officer, Police Chief Inspector Eduardo P. Acierto and the rest of the team as back-up, proceeded to Regine's Hotel. The plan was for SPO4 Sayson to consummate the sale by handing over fourteen (14) marked P500 bills placed on the top and bottom of seven bundles of boodle money. Upon consummation of the sale, SPO4 Sayson would call up Ferro on his cellular phone and ask, "nandyan ba si boss?"

At about 3:15 in the afternoon of September 26, 1999, SPO4 Sayson went to Room 202 of Regine's Hotel where he informed appellant that he already had the money with him. Appellant then left the room to get the shabu. After a while, SPO4 Sayson received a call from appellant instructing him to go to the lobby of the hotel. As instructed, SPO4 Sayson left the room but when he approached the elevator, he saw appellant stepping out. The latter asked him where the money was, and he handed over the red paper bag while appellant simultaneously gave him the shabu.

Appellant looked into the bag and, upon seeing that it contained boodle money, immediately fled towards the service door even before SPO4 Sayson could give the pre-arranged signal. SPO4 Sayson was able to grab the bag containing the boodle money and gave chase. In the course of the pursuit, SPO4 Sayson was able to give the thumbs up sign to his companions to indicate the consummation of the sale. Appellant was eventually arrested at the nearby Primetown Century International Hotel (Primetown Hotel) and brought to Camp Crame where he was subsequently charged.

In his defense, appellant claimed he was arrested by virtue of a warrant of arrest issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court for a certain "Joey Ong". He asserted he was not "Joey Ong" and he has never used said name; neither was he known or called by that name.

Incidentally, appellant, who is a Hongkong national holding a British passport, was found to have had a string of cases in Hongkong, four (4) of which were drug-related.

The trial court gave credence to the prosecution's evidence and rendered a decision[2] the dispositive portion of which reads:
All the foregoing considered, the court finds accused Lee Hoi Ming guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the offense charged.

The offense the accused is charged with is punishable by imprisonment of reclusion perpetua to death, the amount of shabu being over two hundred grams (200 gm.). There being no mitigating and/or aggravating circumstances, the court imposes upon accused the penalty of reclusion perpetua and a fine of ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00).

Let the regulated drug subject matter of this case be disposed of in the manner provided by law.
Aggrieved, appellant is now before us on the following submissions:
  1. The trial court erred in finding that elements of the PAOCTF conducted a legitimate "buy-bust" operation or entrapment of accused-appellant, Lee Hoi Ming;

  2. The trial court erred in finding the accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged (Violation of Section 15, Article III of Republic Act 6425, as amended);

  3. The trial court erred in disregarding and even countenancing the use by PAOCTF arrest-officers of a warrant of arrest issued by Honorable Jaime N. Salazar Jr., against another person, a certain "Joey Ong" in Crim. Case No. Q-99-82067, Regional Trial Court, Branch 103, Quezon City for violation of Section 15, Art. III, R.A. No. 6425, as amended, i.e. in illegally arresting accused-appellant in the afternoon of September 26, 1999 at the Primetown Century International Hotel;

  4. The trial court erred in disbelieving the defense posture that accused-appellant is a victim of PAOCTF's grave abuse of power and/or authority in effecting his unlawful warrantless arrest on September 26, 1999 and his serious illegal detention for more than twenty (20) hours before charging him in court for allegedly selling methamphetamine hydrochloride or so-called shabu to alleged poseur-buyer, SPO4 Rolando M. Sayson;

  5. The trial court erred in admitting as evidence the alleged 1.5 kilos of shabu supposedly seized from accused-appellant without a valid warrant of arrest and/or search warrant;

  6. The trial court erred in considering totally inadmissible pieces of prosecution evidence in convicting accused-appellant, e.g., the faxed copy or facsimile transmission sheet of alleged "derogatory records" from the Hong Kong Police, the [results] of four (4) alleged "test buys" by PAOCTF agents on four (4) separate occasions, the receipt of property seized, statement of Hong Kong Police Officer, Ronald William Abbot and the criminal record summary of a Lee Hoi Ming in Hong Kong;

  7. The trial court erred in considering the denial of the habeas corpus case filed by the wife of accused-appellant Yolita Lee y Catriz before the Supreme Court as Spec. Proc. No. 140060 (but given a new docket number assigned for hearing to Regional Trial Court, Branch 77, Quezon City, i.e. as Spec. Proc. No. Q-99-390720), as having upheld the legitimacy of accused-appellant's detention;

  8. The trial court erred in considering that accused-appellant and "Joey Ong" whose cartographic sketch was attached to the warrant of arrest used against the former (Lee Hoi Ming) are one and the same person; and

  9. The trial court erred in not acquitting the accused-appellant.[3]
The basic issue to be resolved hinges on whether there was a legitimate "buy-bust" operation. Stated differently, the issue is whether the prosecution was able to prove the elements of an illegal sale of prohibited or regulated drugs which are: (1) the identity of the buyer and seller, object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefore.[4]

We agree with the trial court when it found that the above elements were satisfactorily proven by the prosecution:
All the elements necessary for conviction of the charge are present. There was testimony given by the poseur-buyer. This was corroborated by testimony given by the arresting officer, Ferro. The testimony of forensic chemist Fadriquela established that what was sold to Sayson during the buy-bust operation was shabu. Said substance when weighed amounted to one point five kilograms (1.5 kg.). And finally, there was the positive identification of the accused by the prosecution witnesses Sayson and Ferro.

There is no doubt in the mind of the court, that accused was caught in flagrante delicto. The prosecution's evidence in this regard is substantial and convincing. Sayson categorically identified accused as the person who sold to him one point five kilograms (1.5 kg.) of shabu for P675,000.00 pesos.[5]
Appellant's argument that the warrant of arrest was in the name of a certain Joey Ong is rather specious. First, there is no showing that he is not Joey Ong, inasmuch as this name was never asserted to be that of another person. Second, appellant was not arrested on the basis of the warrant of arrest but on the basis of the buy-bust operation at Regine's Hotel. He was caught in flagrante delicto as a result of a legitimate buy-bust operation by police officers whose duty it was to apprehend drug offenders.

It is a settled rule in cases involving violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act that credence is given to prosecution witnesses who are police officers for they are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there is evidence to the contrary.[6]

Appellant also alleged that he was not the person depicted in the cartographic sketch. To be sure, a cartographic sketch, unlike a photograph, is only intended to give the law enforcers a general idea of the likeness of a suspect and is never expected to exactly resemble his actual facial appearance. Even the description of the suspect given in the cartographic sketch may not be unerringly exact.

In cases involving violations of the Dangerous Drugs Law, appellate courts rely upon the trial court in assessing the credibility of witnesses, inasmuch as it has the unique opportunity, denied to the appellate courts, to observe the witnesses and to note their demeanor, conduct, and attitude under direct and cross-examination. Hence, its factual findings are accorded great respect, even finality, absent any showing that certain facts of weight and substance bearing on the elements of the crime have been overlooked, misapprehended, or misapplied.[7]

In the case at bar, we find that the trial court did not overlook, misapprehend, or misapply any fact of value for us to overturn the findings of the trial court.

In fine, a buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment that is resorted to for trapping and capturing felons in the execution of their criminal plan. The operation is sanctioned by law and has consistently proved to be an effective method of apprehending drug peddlers. 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 testimonies with respect to the operation deserve full faith and credit.[8] Without proof of motive to falsely impute such a serious crime against appellant, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty and the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses shall prevail.

In this case, no motive was imputed by appellant as to why the police officers would frame him up. In fact, the PAOCTF officers did not know appellant prior to the buy-bust operation. Neither did appellant know the officers prior to his arrest. Proof of this is the fact that they only knew him as Joey Ong, a supplier of shabu. They did not know that Joey Ong is in reality Lee Hoi Ming, a Hong Kong national with a British passport.

His claim that he was not Joey Ong is weak vis-à-vis the prosecution's positive testimonies. Quite simply, appellant's denial cannot prevail over the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. We are not unaware of the reality that, in some instances, law enforcers resort to the practice of planting evidence to extract information or even to harass civilians. However, like alibi, we view the defense of frame up with disfavor as it can easily be concocted and is commonly used as a standard line of defense in most prosecutions arising from violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act. We realize the disastrous consequences on the enforcement of law and order, not to mention the well-being of society, if the courts, solely on the basis of the policemen's alleged rotten reputation, accept in every instance this form of defense which can be so easily fabricated. It is precisely for this reason that the legal presumption that official duty has been regularly performed exists.[9]

Section 15 of the Dangerous Drugs Act, as last amended, prescribes the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos where the shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride sold weighs 200 grams or more.[10]

As early as in our decision in People v. Simon,[11] we have recognized the suppletory application of the rules on penalties in the Revised Penal Code to the Dangerous Drugs Act after the amendment of the latter by Republic Act No. 7659 on December 31, 1993. Applying the rule in the Code governing the application of a penalty composed of two indivisible penalties, the lesser of the two penalties prescribed by the Dangerous Drugs Act, i.e., reclusion perpetua, should be imposed on appellant since there was no aggravating circumstance attendant in the crime of illegal sale of shabu. With respect to the pecuniary penalty, the courts may determine the amount of fine within the range provided by law, subject to the rule on increasing or reducing the same by degrees as provided by the Code.[12] In this regard, we find no error in the amount fixed by the trial court.

WHEREFORE, all the foregoing considered, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 143, dated September 20, 2000 in Criminal Case No. 99-2200, finding appellant Lee Hoi Ming a.k.a. Joey Ong, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of violation of Article III, Sec. 15 of Republic Act 6425, as amended, sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and ordering him to pay a fine of P10,000,000.00, is AFFIRMED.

Costs de oficio.


Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Vitug, Carpio, and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

[1] Records, pp. 1-2.

[2] Penned by Judge Salvador S. Abad Santos of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 143.

[3] Appellant's Brief, Rollo, pp. 138-142.

[4] People v. Almendras, G.R. No. 145915, 24 April 2003.

[5] Decision, Records, pp. 237-238.

[6] People v. Saludes, G.R. No. 144157, 10 June 2003.

[7] People v. Almendras, supra.

[8] People v. Saludes, supra.

[9] People v. Saludes, supra.

[10] People v. Medina, 354 Phil. 447, 462-463 (1998).

[11] G.R. No. 93028, 29 July 1994, 234 SCRA 555.

[12] People v. Medina, supra.

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