Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 242692 | July 13, 2020
People of the Philippines, Plaintiff-appellee,
David James Pis-an y Diputado, Accused-appellant.
D E C I S I O N
REYES, J. JR., J.:
Assailed in this ordinary appeal is the March 28, 2018 Decision of the Court of Appeals-Cebu City (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 02422 affirming the September 12, 2016 Judgment of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Branch 30 in Criminal Case No. 2015-22801, finding accused-appellant David James Pis-an y Diputado (Pisan) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 11 (illegal possession), Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, otherwise known as the “Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.”
On February 16, 2015, Pis-an was placed under surveillance after the police received a tip from a confidential informant that the former was involved in drug dealing. The police then conducted a test-buy operation and was able to recover from Pis-an one transparent plastic sachet which yielded positive results for shabu per Chemistry Report No. 063-15 dated February 16, 2015, issued by Police Chief Inspector Josephine Suico Llena (PCInsp. Llena).
Thus, on February 18, 2015, Police Officer 3 Derek T. Alcoran (PO3 Alcoran) applied for a search warrant before the RTC of Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. That same day, Search Warrant (SW) No. 10-2015 6 was issued by Executive Judge Gerardo A. Paguio, Jr., authorizing the search of Pis-an’s residence located in Barangay (Brgy.) Camanjac, Dumaguete City.
On February 25, 2015, a team headed by PO2 Eugene A. Calumba (PO2 Calumba) and PO2 Dexter S. Banua (PO2 Banua) discussed their individual assignments and plan of action. After receiving the coordination control number from the local Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the team marched to implement SW No. 10-2015. Upon reaching the house of Pis-an, the police officers, along with Brgy. Kagawad Raul Dicen (Brgy. Kagawad Dicen), enforced the warrant and seized the following:
- One (1) red com purse containing 14 pieces of heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets each containing white crystal line substance;
- Four (4) pieces of disposable lighters;
- Two (2) pieces of plastic straws;
- Two (2) pieces of metal clips;
- Three (3) pieces of assorted needles;
- Three (3) pairs of scissors;
- Seven (7) pieces of tin foil;
- Two (2) pieces of improvised tooters; and
- A total of P3,050 in various denominations.
All the items were carried out to the porch of the house where PO2 Calumba marked them while PO2 Banua took photos. Afterwards, an inventory was made in the presence of Pis-an and Brgy. Kagawad Dicen; together with media practitioner Juancho Gallarde (Gallarde) and Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Anthony Chilius Benlot (Benlot), who had both arrived by then. Thereafter, Pis-an and the seized items were brought to the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB) satellite office where a Memorandum Request for Laboratory Examination and Drug Test and a Return of Search Warrant were prepared and signed by PO2 Calumba.
That afternoon, at the crime laboratory, PCInsp. Llena received the confiscated items from PO2 Calumba and proceeded to conduct confirmatory tests thereon. In her Chemistry Report No. D-079-15, PCInsp. Llena stated that the 14 pieces of transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance have a total aggregate weight of 9.38 grams and all tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. PCInsp. Llena also examined the urine sample taken from Pis-an and, as inscribed in her Chemistry Report No. DT-068-15, the same also tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine.
Consequently, Pis-an was charged under an Amended Information dated March 10, 2015, viz.:
That on or about the 25th day of February, 2015 in the City of Dumaguete, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused DAVID JAMES PIS-AN y DIPUTADO, without authority of law and legal justification, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously possess or have under his custody and control fourteen  pieces transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance weighing 3.25 grams, 4.13 gram[s], 0.28 gram, 0.24 gram, 0.26 gram, 0.23 gram, 0.16 gram, 0.11 gram, 0.15 gram, 0.18 gram, 0.13 gram, 0.07 gram, 0.13 gram, 0.06 gram, with a total aggregate weight of 9.38 grams which substances after examination conducted on specimen were found positive to the test of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, also known as [shabu], a dangerous drug, in violation of [R.A.] No. 9165.
That the accused was found positive for Methamphetamine, a dangerous drug, as reflected in Chemistry Report No. DT-068-15.
Contrary to Section 11 Article II of [R.A.] No. 9165. (Underscoring supplied)
Arraigned thereon, Pis-an entered a “not guilty” plea whereupon trial on the merits ensued.
During trial, Pis-an denied the charge against him and testified that (i) on February 25, 2015, at around 5:00 a.m., police officers barged through their gates and demanded to search the place; and (ii) he asked to see the search warrant but PO2 Calumba replied that there was no need to show the same as it was already signed by higher authorities. Pis-an contended that he was not able to witness the search as he was made to stay on the porch of the house.
The RTC Ruling
The RTC rendered its Judgment dated September 12, 2016, convicting Pis-an of the crime charged, the fallo of which reads:
WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing, the Court hereby finds the accused [Pis-an] GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of illegal possession of 9.38 grams of shabu in violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 and is hereby sentenced to suffer a penalty of twenty (20) years and one (1) day to life imprisonment and to pay a fine of Four Hundred Thousand Pesos ([P]400,000.00).
The fourteen (14) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets with markings “DJP-SW1 02/25/15” to “DJP-SW14 02/25/15”, respectively, and containing a total aggregate weight of 9.38 grams of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu are hereby confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government and to be disposed of in accordance with law.
In the service of sentence, the accused [Pis-an] shall be credited with the full time during which he has undergone preventive imprisonment, provided he agrees voluntarily in writing to abide by the same disciplinary rules imposed upon convicted prisoners.
Aggrieved, Pis-an elevated his conviction before the CA.
The CA Ruling
In its March 28, 2018 Decision, the CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC. In doing so, the CA held that the prosecution was able to prove all the elements required to secure Pis-an’s conviction. Moreover, the CA observed that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized drugs were properly preserved as each link in the chain of custody rule was duly established by the prosecution. Further, the CA opined that Pis-an’s allegation that no search warrant was shown to him was belied by the fact that his signature appears thereon.
Thus, the dispositive portion of the decision states:
WHEREFORE, the Judgment dated September 12, 2016, issued by the [RTC], Branch 30, Dumaguete City in Criminal Case No. 2015-22801 convicting accused-appellant [Pis-an] of Violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act is hereby AFFIRMED.
With costs against [Pis-an].
Hence, this appeal.
The Court required both parties to file their respective supplementary briefs; however, they opted not to file the same.
Here, as in all criminal cases, the primordial issue is whether the guilt of the accused has been established beyond reasonable doubt.
The appeal, after a judicious review, fails.
For the charge of illegal possession of a dangerous drug to prosper, it must be proven that (1) the accused was in possession of an item or an object identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug, (2) such possession is not authorized by law, and (3) the accused was freely and consciously aware of being in possession of the drug.
In the case at bench, the courts a quo correctly held that all the aforementioned elements are present here, since: (i) by virtue of SW No. 10- 2015, a valid search warrant, the police officers recovered, among others, 14 heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance which later tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu; (ii) such possession is not authorized by law as Pis-an himself admitted during the pre-trial; and (iii) the prohibited drugs were uncovered from Pis-an’s house which was a prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi. Verily, the factual findings of the CA affirming those of the RTC are binding upon this Court absent any showing that such findings are tainted with arbitrariness, capriciousness or palpable error.
In addition, the Court agrees that the police officers duly complied with the chain of custody rule under Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.
The Court, in Aranas y Dimaala v. People, declared that:
[T]o establish the identity of the dangerous drug with moral certainty, the prosecution must be able to account for each link of the chain of custody from the moment the drugs are seized up to their presentation in court as evidence of the crime. As part of the chain of custody procedure, the law requires, inter alia, that the marking, physical inventory, and photography of the seized items be conducted immediately after seizure and confiscation of the same. The law further requires that the said inventory and photography be done in the presence of the accused or the person from whom the items were seized, or his representative or counsel, as well as certain required witnesses, namely: (a) if prior to the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, a representative from the media AND the DOJ, and any elected public official; or (b) if after the amendment of RA 9165 by RA 10640, an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service OR the media. The law requires the presence of these witnesses primarily “to ensure the establishment of the chain of custody and remove any suspicion of switching, planting, or contamination of evidence.” (Citations omitted)
Records reveal that right after Pis-an was arrested, the police officers immediately took custody of the seized items and marked them right there and then. They also conducted the requisite inventory and photography in the presence of all three (3) insulating witnesses as required by R.A. No. 9165 prior to its amendment, namely: Brgy. Kagawan Dicen; media practitioner Gallarde; and DOJ representative Benlot. Thereafter, PO2 Calumba delivered the confiscated drugs to PCInsp. Llena for laboratory examination. Later, confirmatory tests on all 14 heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets would yield a positive finding for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or more commonly known as shabu. Clearly, therefore, the chain of custody over the seized drugs remained unbroken as the recovery and proper handling of the corpus delicti were sufficiently shown.
Undeniably, Pis-an was caught in possession of 9.38 grams of shabu and the illegal possession of such quantity of dangerous drugs is punishable under Section 11, paragraph 2 (2), Article II of R.A. No. 9165, as follows:
(2) Imprisonment of twenty (20) years and one (1) day to life imprisonment and a fine ranging from Four hundred thousand pesos (P400,000.00) to Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00), if the quantities of dangerous drugs are five (5) grams or more but less than ten (10) grams of x x x methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu“[.]
However, as succinctly pointed out by Justice Mario V. Lopez in his Reflections, the maximum penalty of life imprisonment may only be imposed when the crime of illegal possession was committed in the presence of two or more persons or in a social gathering pursuant to Section 13 of R.A. No, 9165. Here, since it was not shown Pis-an was caught possessing the dangerous drugs during a party, or at a social gathering or meeting, or in the proximate company of at least two persons, the maximum imposable penalty should be below life imprisonment which is currently pegged 40 years and 1 day.
In view of the foregoing, we modify the penalty imposed by the RTC, as affirmed by the CA. Since Pis-an was found to have been in illegal possession of 9.38 grams of shabu, he is meted the penalty of imprisonment ranging from 20 years and one day, as minimum, to 30 years, as maximum.
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated March 28, 2018 of the Court of Appeals-Cebu City in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 02422 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Accused-appellant David James Pis-an y Diputado is sentenced to suffer the penalty of twenty (20) years and one (1) day, as minimum, to thirty (30) years, as maximum, and to pay a fine of P400,000.00.
Peralta, C.J., (Chairperson), Lazaro-Javier, and Lopez, JJ., concur.
Caguioa, (Working Chairperson), J., please see concurring opinion.
 See Notice of Appeal dated May 7, 2018; CA rollo, p. 128.
 Penned by Associate Justice Marilyn B. Lagura-Yap, with Associate Justices Gabriel T. Ingles and Gabriel T. Robeniol, concurring; id. at 102-114.
 Penned by Judge Rafael Crescencio O. Tan, Jr.; records, pp. 146-151.
 Records (Exhibits), p. 17.
 Id. at 13.
 Id. at 19.
 The initials used by PO2 Calumba were “DJP,” which stands for David James Pis-an; “SW”, which stands for search warrant, while the numbers immediately following differentiate one item from the other; and the series of numbers refer to the date of the search operation. “DJP-SW1 02/25/15 to DJPSW14 02/25/15” for the 14 heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets, respectively; “DJP-SW15 02/25/15” for the red coin purse; “DJP-SW16 02/25/15” collectively for the four (4) pieces of disposable lighters; “DJP-SW17 02/25/15” collectively for the two (2) pieces of plastic straws; “DJP-SW18 02/25/15” collectivel y for the two (2) pieces of metal clips; “DJP-SW19 02/25/15” collectively for the three (3) pieces of assorted need les; “DJP-SW20 02/25/15” collectively for the three (3) pairs of scissors; “DJPSW21 02/25/15” collectively for seven (7) pieces of assorted tin foils; “DJP-SW22 02/25/15” collectively for the two (2) improvised tooters.
 See Inventory of Property/ies Seized; records (exhibits), p. 4.
 Id. at 1.
 Id. at 20.
 Id. at 2.
 Id. at 12.
 Records, pp. 52-53.
 See Certificate of Arraignment; id at 57.
 TSN, August 22, 2016, p. 3.
 Id. at 4-5.
 Id. at 6.
 Rollo, p. 24.
 People v. Rivera, 90 Phil. 770, 778 (2016).
 See Pre-Trial Order; records, p. 87.
 Valleno v. People, 701 Phil. 313, 321 (2013).
 SEC. 21 . Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controll ed Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. — The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized a nd/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:
(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[.]
 SEC. 21. x x x
(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; x x x 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[.]
 G.R. No. 24231 5, July 3, 2019.
 SEC. 13. Possession of Dangerous Drugs During Parties, Social Gatherings or Meetings. – Any person found possessing any dangerous drug during a party, or at a social gathering or meeting, or in the proximate com pany of at least two (2) persons, shall suffer the maximum penalties provided for in Section II of this Act, regard less of the quantity and purity of such dangerous drugs.
 People v. Obias, Jr., y Arroyo, G.R. No. 222187, March 25, 2019.
I concur with the ponencia that the accused-appellant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violating Section 11, Article II of Republic Act (RA) No. 9165 (Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs).
I write this concurring opinion to stress that, as exemplified in this case, the mandatory requirements of Section 21, Article II of RA No. 9165 are not unreasonable and are in fact, not difficult to follow.
In cases involving dangerous drugs, the State bears not only the burden of proving the elements of the offense under RA No. 9165, but also of proving the corpus delicti or the body of the crime. In drug cases, the dangerous drug itself is the very corpus delicti of the violation of the law. While it is true that a buy-bust operation is a legally effective and proven procedure, sanctioned by law, for apprehending drug peddlers and distributors, the law nevertheless also requires strict compliance with procedures laid down by it to ensure that rights are safeguarded.
In this connection, Section 21, Article II of RA No. 9165, lays down the procedure that police operatives must follow to maintain the integrity of the confiscated drugs used as evidence. The provision requires that: (1) the seized items must be inventoried and photographed immediately after seizure or confiscation; (2) the physical inventory and photographing must be done in the presence of (a) the accused or his/her representative or counsel, (b) an elected public official, (c) a representative from the media, and (d) a representative from the Department of Justice (DOJ), all of whom shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.
Further, in order to preserve the evidentiary value and integrity of the corpus delicti, the prosecution must establish an unbroken chain of custody. The four (4) links that should be established in the chain of custody of the confiscated item are as follows: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the seized illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the same illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked seized illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court.
These mandatory and strict requirements of the law are set in place as safeguards against the possible tampering, alteration or substitution of the seized drugs and to prevent other possible abuses by police officers because with “the very nature of anti-narcotics operations, the need for entrapment procedures, the use of shady characters as informants, the ease with which sticks of marijuana or grams of heroin can be planted in pockets of, or hands of unsuspecting provincial hicks, and the secrecy that inevitably shrouds all drug deals, the possibility of abuse is great.”
In this case, the prosecution was able to prove all the links in the chain of custody. The police officers were likewise able to strictly comply with the requirements laid down in Section 21. The police officers immediately conducted the physical inventory, marking, and photography of the seized items in the presence of the accused-appellant, a representative from the media, a representative of the DOJ, and a barangay official at the place where the accused-appellant was arrested. Thereafter, PO2 Eugene A. Calumba delivered the confiscated drugs to PCInsp. Josephine Suico Llena for laboratory examination. Later, confirmatory tests on all 14 heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets would yielded a positive finding for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or more commonly known as shabu.
As sufficiently shown above, the police officers were able to meticulously and competently follow the procedure laid out in Section 21 – from the arrest of the accused-appellant and the seizure, marking, photography, and inventory of the seized illegal drugs in the presence of the three (3) mandatory witnesses, to the turnover of the illegal drugs seized to the investigator and then to the forensic chemist, until its final turnover to the Court.
On a final note, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that this case shows the reasonableness and practicality of the mandatory provisions of RA No. 9165 and thus defeats the usual flimsy excuses of police officers for non-compliance with the strict requirements of the law. The buy-bust conducted here is an exemplar of how the law can be easily followed and more impOiiantly, it shows that if police officers diligently perform their duties and obligations and remain conscientious and steadfast in their adherence to the rule of law, justice will be rightfully served.
Based on these premises, I vote to AFFIRM the conviction of the accused-appellant.
 People v. Guzon, 719 Phil. 441, 451 (2013).
 People v. Mantalaba, 669 Phil. 461, 471 (2011).
 The said section reads as follows:
SEC. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essenlial Chemicals. Instrumems/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. – The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemical, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:
(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after sizure 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.
 People v. Holgado, 741 Phil. 78, 94-95 (2014), citing People v. Nandi, 639 Phil. 134, 144-145 (2010).
 People v. Santos, Jr., 562 Phil. 458, 471 (2007), citing People v. Tan, 401 Phil. 259, 273 (2000).
 Ponencia, p. 6.
 Id. at 6-7.