SECOND DIVISION

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, G.R. No. 191061

Appellee,

Present:

CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

- versus -                          NACHURA,

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

ROSELLE SANTIAGO y PABALINAS,

Appellant.                      Promulgated:

February 9, 2011

x ----------------------------- x

DECISION

 

ABAD, J.:

The Facts and the Case

The public prosecutor of Makati charged the accused Roselle Santiago y Pabalinas alias Tisay (Roselle) with violation of Section 5 of Republic Act (R.A.) 9165[1] before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati City in Criminal Case 05-792.  Roselle was also charged with violation of Section 15 of the same law in Criminal Case 05-1101.[2]

Initially, Roselle pleaded not guilty in Criminal Case 05-1101 (violation of Section 15) but she later changed her plea to guilty[3] and was so found by the court.  The latter, however, deferred her sentencing until the termination of the case for violation of Section 5.

The parties stipulated at the pre-trial (1) that PO3 Leo Gabang investigated the case; (2) that, although the latter prepared the investigation report, he had no personal knowledge of what happened; (3) that the police made a request, through P/Supt. Marietto Mendoza, for laboratory examination; (4) that P/Insp. Richard Allan Mangalip, a forensic chemist of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory, examined the submitted specimen, not knowing from whom the same was taken; (5) that the PNP Crime Laboratory Office issued Physical Science Report D-090-05S; and (6) that the forensic chemist was qualified.  With these stipulations, the prosecution dispensed with Mangalip’s testimony.[4]

PO1 Voltaire Esguerra (Esguerra) testified that on April 4, 2005, they received information that Roselle was selling illegal drugs at her house at Pipit Extension, Barangay Rizal, Makati City.  Esguerra conducted a test buy and received from her one heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet that presumably contained shabu.  When he returned to his office, Esguerra marked the sachet with “@ Tisay” then sent it to the laboratory for testing.[5] Before receiving the results of the test buy, an asset told the police that Roselle was going to leave her house, prompting Esguerra’s team to conduct a buy-bust operation.

Esguerra met Roselle again and told her that it was he who bought shabu from her earlier that day.  She thus let him enter the front yard of her house where he told her that he wanted to buy another pack for P300.00.  Roselle took his marked money and entered the house.  While waiting and looking in, Esguerra spotted two women[6] inside using shabu with the asset by their side, apparently waiting for his turn.  Subsequently, Roselle returned with one heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet presumably containing shabu.  Upon receipt of the sachet, Esguerra signaled his team.  They arrested Roselle and appraised her of her rights.  Esguerra immediately marked the sachet with “RPS”.

After returning to the station, he turned over Roselle and the seized sachet to the investigator.  When the contents of the first and second sachets (with “@ Tisay” and “RPS” markings) were examined, these were confirmed to be Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu).  A confirmatory test also found Roselle positive for the use of shabu.

For her defense, Roselle denies that she sold shabu to Esguerra.  She claims that the case was a product of a mistaken identity, as she was not known as Tisay in the area but Roselle.  She narrated how she was forcibly taken from her house and into custody.

In its decision dated June 11, 2008, the RTC found Roselle guilty of violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. 9165, and sentenced her to life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P500,000.00.  The RTC also sentenced her to undergo rehabilitation for not less than six months at a government drug rehabilitation center subject to the provisions of R.A. 9165 for her violation of Section 15, Article II of R.A. 9165.

Roselle appealed from both judgments to the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC 03451 but the latter court affirmed the two convictions.  She looks for her acquittal from this Court.

The Issues Presented to the Court

The issues presented to the Court are (1) whether or not the police conducted a valid arrest in Roselle’s case; and (2) whether or not the CA erred in affirming the RTC’s finding that the prosecution evidence established her guilt of the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt.

The Court’s Ruling

One. Roselle claims that the police did not make a valid arrest in her case since they arrested her without proper warrant and did not apprise her of the rights of a person taken into custody as the Constitution and R.A. 7438 provide.[7] But Roselle raised this issue only during appeal, not before she was arraigned.  For this reason, she should be deemed to have waived any question as to the legality of her arrest.[8]

Two. Although the prosecution established through Esguerra the acts constituting the crime[9] charged in the drug-pushing case (Section 5), it failed to provide proper identity of the allegedly prohibited substance that the police seized from Roselle.

Esguerra testified that he seized a heat-sealed sachet of white substance from Roselle and marked the sachet with “RPS” right in her presence.  He claimed that he then immediately submitted the specimen to the police crime laboratory for examination.  But the request for laboratory exam reveals that it was not Esguerra who delivered the specimen to the crime laboratory.[10] It appears that Esguerra gave it to a certain SPO3 Puno who in turn forwarded it to a certain PO2 Santos.  No testimony covers the movement of the specimen among these other persons.  Consequently, the prosecution was unable to establish the chain of custody of the seized item and its preservation from possible tampering.

Since the seized substance was heat-sealed in plastic sachet and properly marked by the officer who seized the same, it would have also been sufficient, despite intervening changes in its custody and possession, if the prosecution had presented the forensic chemist to attest to the fact a) that the sachet of substance was handed to him for examination in the same condition that Esguerra last held it: still heat-sealed, marked, and not tampered with; b) that he (the chemist) opened the sachet and examined its content; c) that he afterwards resealed the sachet and what is left of its content and placed his own marking on the cover; and d) that the specimen remained in the same condition when it is being presented in court.  In this way, the court would have been assured of the integrity of the specimen as presented before it.  If the finding of the chemist is challenged, there may be opportunity for the court to require a retest so long as sufficient remnants of the same are left.

What is more, the prosecution failed to account for the whereabouts of the seized specimen after the crime laboratory conducted its tests.  This omission is fatal since the chain of custody should be established from the time the seized drugs were confiscated and eventually marked until the same is presented during trial.[11]

Taking into account the above reasons, the Court finds it difficult to sustain the conviction of Roselle for violation of Section 5.  The presumption of her innocence of the charge must prevail.

As for the other offense, her and " to account the whereabouts of both specimens (those marked with @f those identified as members of the buy bust team. laboviolation of Section 15 (Use of Illegal Drugs), it is curious that the CA still entertained her appeal from it despite the fact that she pleaded guilty to the charge and did not ask the trial court to allow her to change her plea.  At any rate, since she had been under detention at the Correctional Institute for Women since 2005 and presumably deprived of the use of illegal substance during her entire stay there, she should be deemed to have served the mandatory rehabilitation period that the RTC imposed on her.

WHEREFORE, for failure of the prosecution to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt of the alleged violation of Section 5 of R.A. 9165, the Court REVERSES the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC 03451 dated October 30, 2009 and ACQUITS the accused Roselle Santiago y Pabalinas of the charge against her for that crime.

The Court DIRECTS the warden of the Correctional Institute for Women to release the accused from custody immediately upon receipt of this decision unless she is validly detained for some other reason.

SO ORDERED.

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA     DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice                                  Associate Justice

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

ATTESTATION

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 Court’s Division.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Second Division

CERTIFICATION

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 Court’s Division.

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice



[1] Also known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

[2] Criminal Cases 05-792 and 05-1101 were tried jointly with Criminal Case 05-793 entitled “People v. Marilou Sapico y Pili and Betsyrose Cabase y Saguirre” for violation of Section 12 of R.A. 9165 and Criminal Cases 05-1102 to 05-1103 entitled “People v. Marilou Sapico y Pili” and “People v. Betsyrose Cabase y Saguirre”, respectively for violation of Section 15 of the same law.

[3] Records, Vol. I, pp. 54-57.

[4] Pre-trial Order dated June 28, 2005, id. at 43-46.

[5] See Request for Laboratory Experiment, id. at 223.

[6] Later identified as Marilou Sapico and Betsyrose Cabase.

[7] An Act Defining Certain Rights of Persons Arrested, Detained or Under Custodial Investigation as well as the Duties of the Arresting, Detaining and Investigating Officers, and providing Penalties for violations thereof.

[8] Rebellion v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 175700, July 5, 2010.

[9] (1) The identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.  See People v. Pagaduan, G.R. No. 179029, August 12, 2010.

[10] Request for Laboratory Examination, records, Vol. I, p. 226.

[11] People v. Cervantes, G.R. No. 181494, March 17, 2009, 581 SCRA 762, 777.