- versus -
PEOPLE OF THE
G.R. No. 177191
May 30, 2011
Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking the reversal of the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision dated December 21, 2006, which affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasay City, dated July 8, 2004, finding petitioner Michael San Juan y Cruz (petitioner), together with Rolando Pineda y Robledo (Pineda), Cynthia Coderes y Habla (Coderes), guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165.
Petitioner, together with Pineda and Coderes (accused), was charged with the crime of Transporting Illegal Drugs in an Information dated December 16, 2003, which reads:
That on or about the 15th day of December 2003, in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping one another, without authority of law, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously transport a total of 978.7 grams of Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu) a dangerous drug[s].
Contrary to law.
When arraigned on February 17, 2004, the three accused entered separate pleas of not guilty to the offense charged. During the pre-trial, the three accused did not enter into any stipulation or admission of facts with the prosecution. Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued. In the course of the trial, two varying versions arose.
Version of the Prosecution
On December 15, 2003, at about 10:00 a.m., elements of the Intelligence Unit of the Pasay City Police, namely: Police Inspector Grant Golod (P/Insp. Golod), Police Officer (PO)3 Zoilo Manalo (PO3 Manalo), and PO2 Roberto Jovenir (PO2 Jovenir), together with Senior Police Officer (SPO)2 Sorio Aure (SPO2 Aure), PO2 Froilan Dayawon (PO2 Dayawon), PO2 Carlito Bintulan, and PO1 Angel dela Cruz, who were all in civilian attire, conducted surveillance, monitoring, and intelligence gathering to arrest violators of the law along Senator Gil Puyat (formerly Buendia) Avenue in Pasay City due to numerous reports of rampant snatching, robbery, and holdup in the area. P/Insp. Golod and PO3 Manalo boarded a vehicle driven by PO2 Jovenir, while SPO2 Aure and the rest of the officers occupied another.
While cruising along
SPO2 Aure and PO2 Dayawon approached the driver side of the car, whereas PO3 Manalo and PO2 Jovenir approached the passenger side thereof. SPO2 Aure knocked on the cars window. When the driver, later identified as petitioner, opened the cars windows, SPO2 Aure asked for the Official Receipt (OR) and the Certificate of Registration (CR) of the car but none was produced. SPO2 Aure was about to accost petitioner, when a commotion ensued at the passenger side of the car because PO2 Jovenir noticed that the passenger, later identified as Pineda, was trying to hide a plastic bag under his seat, the contents of which accidentally came out (lumawit). PO2 Jovenir opened the door, held Pineda's right hand and asked him, Ano yan? The contents were discovered to be plastic containers containing white crystalline substance which the police officers suspected to be shabu so much so that PO2 Jovenir uttered, Pare, may dala to, shabu, positive. At this juncture, Pineda said, Sir, baka pwede nating ayusin ito.
SPO2 Aure instructed petitioner to alight. When he was
frisked, SPO2 Aure recovered two small plastic sachets containing white
crystalline substance. SPO2 Aure turned over these sachets to PO2 Jovenir. At
the back seat of the car was another passenger who was later identified as
Coderes. Upon questioning, Coderes replied that the owner of the shabu was a
certain Mike who was waiting for the accused at her condominium unit at Unit
1225, 12th Floor of the Cityland Condominium on
Immediately thereafter, the police officers, with the accused, went to Cityland Condominium for a follow-up operation. Upon arrival, P/Insp. Golod coordinated with the Security Officer of the said condominium, while SPO2 Aure, PO3 Manalo, and PO2 Jovenir were led by Coderes to Unit 1225. SPO2 Aure, PO3 Manalo, PO2 Jovenir allowed Coderes to walk ahead of them. Upon reaching Unit 1225, Coderes pretended to knock on the door but the police officers did not notice that she had a key with her. Coderes immediately opened the door, went inside the unit and locked herself in. The police officers forcibly opened the door by kicking it and rearrested Coderes. They then searched the unit for Mike, but they discovered that Coderes was the only one inside. From Cityland Condominium, the police officers brought all the accused to the Pasay City Police Headquarters for investigation.
Subsequently, upon examination, the two plastic containers and the two plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance were positively identified as shabu. The supposed testimony of Engineer Richard Allan B. Mangalip, Forensic Chemical Officer, before the RTC, was the subject of stipulation by the parties.
Version of the Defense
Pineda and Coderes denied that they were arrested while on
board the car and that they possessed the illegal drugs. They claimed that, on
December 15, 2003, between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m., they were inside Unit 1225 and
were preparing to go out shopping; that somebody knocked on the door; and Pineda
asked who that person was, but there was no reply; that the door was forcibly
opened and armed men gained entry and ordered them to lie down on the bed face
down; that the men searched the unit and took their personal belongings and
money; that they later recognized the said armed men as Pasay City police
officers; that they presented no warrant
of arrest and/or search warrant; that they were brought to separate rooms in
Sinta Court Motel (Sinta Motel) at the corner of F.B. Harrison and EDSA
Extension in Pasay City; that the police officers demanded money from them in
the amount of
P500,000.00 in exchange for their release; and that they were brought to the Criminal
Investigation Division (CID) of the Pasay City Police Headquarters at around 7:00
or 8:00 p.m. On that day, Coderes only saw petitioner at
On June 2, 2004, petitioner testified that he knew Pineda because he is the godfather of one of Pinedas children; that he also knew Coderes because she is the live-in partner of Pineda; that around 10:00 a.m. on December 15, 2003, he was at the lobby of the Cityland Condominium and was waiting for an elevator in order to see Pineda and Coderes; that upon riding the elevator, three (3) male persons joined him who were all in civilian attire and whom he later came to know to be Pasay City police officers, namely: PO2 Jovenir and P/Insp. Golod and another one whom he failed to identify; that one of them pressed the number four (4) button of the elevator; and that at the time, petitioner was calling Pineda through his cellular phone, but, there was no signal.
Petitioner also related that P/Insp. Golod suddenly held
petitioner's hand which was holding the cellular phone, and PO2 Jovenir punched
him in the stomach and was told to peacefully go with them so that he would not
be hurt; that they did not introduce themselves to him; that the elevator
opened on the fourth floor, and the person who pressed the number four (4)
button went out and the elevator went down; that when the elevator reached the
ground floor, P/Insp. Golod pulled him towards the lobby, while PO2 Jovenir
remained by the door of the elevator; that there was another man who held him
and he was pulled out of the Cityland Condominium; that he was brought to a
parked white car, handcuffed at his back, and made to board the backseat of the
said white car with his face down, and thereafter the car left; that he did not
know what kind of car it was because he was ordered to bow down and not to look
out, and they were always holding his head; that he was with P/Insp. Golod and
the other policemen inside the white car; that he was brought to Sinta Motel; that
he was brought inside a room, and frisked, and the police officers took from
him his watch, his wallet and the money inside his wallet, the car key, and the
parking ticket; that he was asked if he knew Pineda and Coderes to which he
assented; that when he was asked who was the owner of the car key, he said that
the car did not belong to him as it was just being offered for sale; that in
going to the Cityland Condominium, he used the car; that when he was brought
out of the Cityland Condominium, the car was left at the parking area of the
Cityland Condominium; that, as a car sales agent, he made sure that the OR, CR,
and plate number of the car were complete; that the car had a rear plate
number; that P/Insp. Golod demanded that petitioner pay
exchange for his release; that he stayed at the Sinta Motel for five (5) hours
before he was brought to the CID; that he stayed at the CID for two (2) hours
and he was made to sit on a chair; that after two (2) hours he was brought
inside a room of the same building where he stayed until the following day; that
on the following day, the accused were brought to Fort Bonifacio for drug
testing; and that they were brought back to the CID and, in the afternoon,
petitioner was brought to the Pasay City Jail. While inside the CID, petitioner
saw the car parked at the back of the
The RTC's Ruling
The RTC gave greater weight to the evidence presented by the prosecution, and found the testimonies of the arresting officers more credible and worthy of belief. Thus, in its decision dated July 8, 2004, the RTC convicted petitioner, Pineda, and Coderes of the crime charged, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing premises and considerations, this Court hereby renders judgment finding the three accused Rolando Pineda y Robledo, Cynthia Coderes y Habla and Michael San Juan y Cruz all GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 and they are hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Life Imprisonment and to pay a fine of Php 500,000.00 each, plus costs.
The 978.7 grams of Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu) involved in this case is hereby declared forfeited in favor of the Government and ordered to be turned-over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency for its appropriate disposition in accordance with the provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law.
Aggrieved, the accused, through their respective counsels, appealed their case.
The CA's Ruling
On December 21, 2006, the CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC. The CA opined that the inconsistencies pointed out by the defense were unimportant matters which do not delve into the material elements of the crime. The CA also relied on the presumption that the aforementioned police officers regularly performed their official functions. Thus, the CA disposed of the case in this wise:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated July 8, 2004 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 116 of Pasay City convicting accused-appellants Rolando R. Pineda, Cynthia H. Coderes and Michael C. San Juan of violation of Section 5, Rule II of Republic Act No. 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 in Criminal Case No. 03-2804CFM is hereby AFFIRMED.
Of the three accused, only petitioner sought recourse with this Court through this Petition based on the following grounds:
1. THE HONORABLE APPELLATE COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN ADMITTING AND CONSIDERING THE PROSECUTION'S EVIDENCE DESPITE THE GLARING VIOLATIONS OF PETITIONER'S CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND R.A. 9165 MAKING SUCH EVIDENCE INADMISSIBLE.
2. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF CONVICTION OF THE TRIAL COURT DESPITE THE ADMITTED CONFLICTING AND INCONSISTENT TESTIMONIES OF ALL THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES WHICH CLEARLY PUTS THE CONVICTION IN DOUBT.
3. THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE TRIAL COURT DESPITE THE LATTER'S CLEAR VIOLATION OF ESTABLISHED PROCEDURAL RULES AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS ON DUE PROCESS BY NOT ALLOWING PETITIONER TO PRESENT A MATERIAL WITNESS.
Petitioner avers that the police officers initially apprehended the accused for a mere traffic violation; hence, there was no justifiable reason for them to search the car in the absence of any search warrant and/or the fact that the accused were not caught in flagrante delicto. The police officers also failed to appraise the accused of their rights. Petitioner points out that the follow-up operation conducted in Unit 1225 was unlawful as the police officers were not armed with any search warrant, and they simply relied on the alleged information given by Coderes. In view of the numerous, conflicting, and material inconsistencies in the respective testimonies of PO2 Jovenir, SPO2 Aure and P/Insp. Golod, petitioner submits that such would lend credence to the unanimous claim of all the accused that they were arrested in Cityland Condominium in Makati City and not on board the car parked in Pasay City. Moreover, petitioner, invoking R.A. No. 9165, asseverates that the police officers did not follow the procedure prescribed by law. He questions the identity of the illegal drugs alleged to have been seized from the accused and those presented before the RTC because instead of proceeding immediately to the Pasay City Police Headquarters, the police officers went to the Cityland Condominium, making planting of evidence highly probable. The police officers also failed to make any inventory of the alleged prohibited drugs in clear violation of the law.
On the other hand,
respondent People of the
The instant Petition is impressed with merit.
It is the unique nature of an appeal in a criminal case that the appeal throws the whole case open for review and it is the duty of the appellate court to correct, cite, and appreciate errors in the appealed judgment whether they are assigned or unassigned. We find the Petition meritorious on the basis of such review.
Petitioner was charged with and convicted of violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165. Said provision of law reads, as follows:
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 transactions.
Petitioner was charged specifically with the transport of methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. However, upon review of the facts of the case, no such transport was proven to have taken place.
The RTC found that petitioner and accused were seen in a parked Toyota Corolla car, which had no rear license plate, by a team from the Pasay City Police Force. When the police approached the driver and asked for the vehicles papers, none were presented, prompting the police to ask the vehicles occupants to disembark for verification purposes. The driver, petitioner, did so, while the man on the passenger side, Pineda, was seen attempting to hide a paper bag under his seat. The paper bag dropped on the floor, partially revealing its contents, namely, one of two plastic containers with a white crystalline substance inside. This prompted the police to search petitioner as well, and they recovered two small plastic sachets containing a white crystalline substance from him. An examination of the substance by the Southern Police District Crime Laboratory revealed the contents to be positive for shabu.
From the foregoing facts, it is clear that a conviction for transportation of dangerous drugs cannot stand.
Transport as used under the Dangerous Drugs Act is defined to mean: to carry or convey from one place to another. The essential element of the charge is the movement of the dangerous drug from one place to another. In the present case, although petitioner and his co-accused were arrested inside a car, the car was not in transit when they were accosted. From the facts found by the RTC, that car was parked and stationary. The prosecution failed to show that any distance was travelled by petitioner with the drugs in his possession. The conclusion that petitioner transported the drugs merely because he was in a motor vehicle when he was accosted with the drugs has no basis and is mere speculation. The rule is clear that the guilt of the accused must be proved with moral certainty. All doubts should be resolved in favor of the accused. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove the element of transport of dangerous drugs, namely, that transportation had taken place, or that the accused had moved the drugs some distance.
Well-settled is the rule that findings of fact of the trial court are given great respect. But when there is a misappreciation of facts as to compel a contrary conclusion, the Court will not hesitate to reverse the factual findings of the trial court. In such a case, the scales of justice must tilt in favor of an accused, considering that he stands to lose his liberty by virtue of his conviction. The Court must be satisfied that the factual findings and conclusions of the trial court leading to an accuseds conviction has satisfied the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Having charged that petitioner acted in conspiracy with Pineda and Coderes, it was incumbent upon the prosecution to prove that all the accused had come to an agreement concerning the transport of shabu and had decided to execute the agreement.
In this regard, our ruling in Bahilidad v. People is instructive:
There is conspiracy when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. Conspiracy is not presumed. Like the physical acts constituting the crime itself, the elements of conspiracy must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. While conspiracy need not be established by direct evidence, for it may be inferred from the conduct of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime, all taken together, however, the evidence must be strong enough to show the community of criminal design. For conspiracy to exist, it is essential that there must be a conscious design to commit an offense. Conspiracy is the product of intentionality on the part of the cohorts.
It is necessary that a conspirator should have performed some overt act as a direct or indirect contribution to the execution of the crime committed. The overt act may consist of active participation in the actual commission of the crime itself, or it may consist of moral assistance to his co-conspirators by being present at the commission of the crime or by exerting moral ascendancy over the other co-conspirators. Hence, the mere presence of an accused at the discussion of a conspiracy, even approval of it, without any active participation in the same, is not enough for purposes of conviction.
In this case, the prosecution, other than its bare assertions that petitioner and accused conspired in transporting the shabu, failed to establish that there was indeed a conscious criminal design existing between and among petitioner and accused to commit the said offense. True, petitioner was in the drivers seat of the parked car on that fateful day of December 15, 2003, but it could not be deduced that he was even aware that Pineda had with him two plastic containers containing shabu, nor did he accord any form of assistance to Pineda. According to PO2 Jovenir, these plastic containers were placed inside a bag and Pineda tried to conceal these under his seat. These facts, standing alone, cannot give rise to a presumption of conspiracy. Certainly, conspiracy must be proven through clear and convincing evidence. Indeed, it is possible that petitioner was telling the truth when he said that he merely met with accused in order to offer the car for sale, as that was his part-time business.
It bears stressing that conspiracy requires the same degree of proof required to establish the crime proof beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, mere presence at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission without proof of cooperation or agreement to cooperate is not enough to constitute one a party to a conspiracy. In fine, the prosecution failed to discharge its burden to prove and establish conspiracy. Necessarily, petitioner should be held accountable only for his alleged respective participation in the commission of the offense.
However, we find that the prosecution also failed to adequately prove petitioners participation in the offense charged with moral certainty.
Crucial are the following facts. SPO2 Aure allegedly found the two sachets in the possession of petitioner. However, it should be noted that SPO2 Aure did not mark the sachets himself. Instead, he turned over these sachets to PO2 Jovenir.
Thus, on Direct Examination, PO2 Jovenir testified:
Q - Contained in this bag are also two (2) small transparent plastic sachets with granules and with markings RJ-4 and RJ-5 and the date. These two (2), why is it that the same are included in that bag?
A - SPO2 Aure confiscated those two (2) small transparent plastic sachets from the possession of [petitioner], sir.
Q - The driver?
A - Yes, sir.
Q - How do you know that these are the two (2) plastic sachets that were confiscated by SPO2 Aure from [petitioner]?
A - Sir, I also put markings RJ-4 and RJ-5 on those plastic sachets.
Q - Why do you say that these were the two (2) plastic sachets that were confiscated by SPO2 Aure from the driver [petitioner]?
A - Because SPO2 Aure handed to me those plastic sachets and according to him, he confiscated those two (2) plastic sachets in front of [petitioner], sir.
Q - When was the handing made?
A - Right at the scene, sir.
The answers elicited from PO2 Jovenir raise numerous questions and ultimately cast doubts on the identity, integrity, and evidentiary value of the two sachets containing illegal drugs allegedly seized from petitioner. The prosecution, in its quest to establish its claim that these two sachets were actually recovered from petitioner, even had to propound similar questions to PO2 Jovenir twice only to reveal that the latter merely relied on SPO2 Aures claim. PO2 Jovenir did not actually witness that SPO2 Aure seized these two sachets from petitioner. Neither was it established that the two sachets were actually marked in the presence of petitioner by SPO2 Aure himself.
Apropos is our ruling in People v. Coreche:
Crucial in proving chain of custody is the marking of the seized drugs or other related items immediately after they are seized from the accused. Marking after seizure is the starting point in the custodial link, thus it is vital that the seized contraband are immediately marked because succeeding handlers of the specimens will use the markings as reference. The marking of the evidence serves to separate the marked evidence from the corpus of all other similar or related evidence from the time they are seized from the accused until they are disposed of at the end of criminal proceedings, obviating switching, planting, or contamination of evidence.
Long before Congress passed RA 9165, this Court has consistently held that failure of the authorities to immediately mark the seized drugs raises reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the corpus delicti and suffices to rebut the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties, the doctrinal fallback of every drug-related prosecution. Thus, in People v. Laxa and People v. Casimiro, we held that the failure to mark the drugs immediately after they were seized from the accused casts doubt on the prosecution evidence, warranting acquittal on reasonable doubt. These rulings are refinements of our holdings in People v. Mapa and People v. Dismuke that doubts on the authenticity of the drug specimen occasioned by the prosecution's failure to prove that the evidence submitted for chemical analysis is the same as the one seized from the accused suffice to warrant acquittal on reasonable doubt.
WHEREFORE, the Court MODIFIES the Decision dated December 21, 2006 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 00180, and ACQUITS petitioner Michael San Juan y Cruz on reasonable doubt. He is ordered immediately RELEASED from detention unless he is confined for another lawful cause.
Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Director, Bureau
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
ROBERTO A. ABAD
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Chairperson, Second Division
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
 Rollo, pp. 29-48.
 Penned by Associate Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico, with Associate Justices Edgardo F. Sundiam and Celia C. Librea-Leagogo, concurring; id. at 51-68.
 Sec. 5.
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 of such
 AN ACT INSTITUTING THE COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002, REPEALING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6425, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. Also known as the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002." Approved on June 7, 2002.
 Records, p. 2.
 TSN, March 3, 2004, pp. 7-11.
 TSN, March 11, 2004, pp. 9-14.
 TSN, March 3, 2004, pp. 16-17.
 TSN, March 11, 2004, p. 37.
 TSN, March 3, 2004, p. 17.
 TSN, March 11, 2004, pp. 15-21.
 Records, p. 12.
 TSN, March 11, 2004, pp. 59-65.
 TSN, April 14, 2004, pp. 11-43. Please also see TSN, May 6, 2004, pp. 3-22.
 TSN, May 6, 2004, p. 19.
 TSN, June 22, 2004, pp. 7-11.
 Supra note 3, at 89-90.
 Records, pp. 237-238, 241-242.
 Supra note 2, at 67.
 CA rollo, pp. 247-266.
 Rollo, p. 35.
 Reply; id. at 911-916.
 Comment; id. at 899-907.
 People v. Balagat, G.R. No. 177163, April 24, 2009, 586 SCRA 640, 644-645.
 Emphasis supplied.
 People v. Del Mundo, G.R. No. 138929, October 2, 2001, 366 SCRA 471, 485.
 Bahilidad v. People, G.R. No. 185195, March 17, 2010, 615 SCRA 597, 604.
 People v. Lago, 411 Phil. 52, 59 (2001).
 Supra note 35.
 Supra note 12.
 TSN, June 2, 2004, pp. 4, 9.
 People v. De Chavez, G.R. No. 188105, April 23, 2010, 619 SCRA 464, 476-477.
 Garcia v. Court of Appeals, 420 Phil. 25, 36 (2001).
 TSN, March 11, 2004, p. 15.
 TSN, March 9, 2004, pp. 6-7. (Emphasis supplied.)
 G.R. No. 182528, August 14, 2009, 596 SCRA 350.