Requirements for the successful prosecution of the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs

The first paragraph of Sec. 5 of RA 9165 punishes the act of selling dangerous drugs.  It provides:

Section 5. Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals.¾The penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from Five hundred thousand pesos (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 transactions. (Emphasis supplied.)

          While Sec. 15, RA 9165 states:

Section 15. Use of Dangerous Drugs.¾A person apprehended or arrested, who is found to be positive for use of any dangerous drug, after a confirmatory test, shall be imposed a penalty of a minimum of six (6) months rehabilitation in a government center for the first offense, subject to the provisions of Article VIII of this Act. If apprehended using any dangerous drug for the second time, he/she shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years and a fine ranging from Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) to Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00): Provided, That this Section shall not be applicable where the person tested is also found to have in his/her possession such quantity of any dangerous drug provided for under Section 11 of this Act, in which case the provisions stated therein shall apply. (Emphasis supplied.)

          People v. Macatingag[11] prescribed the requirements for the successful prosecution of the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, as follows.

          The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.  What is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti.

          The pieces of evidence found in the records amply demonstrate that all the elements of the crimes charged were satisfied.  The lower courts gave credence to the prosecution witnesses’ testimonies, which established the guilt of accused-appellant for the crimes charged beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies––particularly those of the police officers involved, which both the RTC and the CA found credible––are now beyond question.  As the Court ruled in Aparis v. People:[12]

As to the question of credibility of the police officers who served as principal witnesses for the prosecution, settled is the rule that prosecutions involving illegal drugs depend largely on the credibility of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation. It is a fundamental rule that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors; gross misapprehension of facts; or speculative, arbitrary, and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings. The reason for this is that the trial court is in a better position to decide the credibility of witnesses, having heard their testimonies and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. The rule finds an even more stringent application where said findings are sustained by the Court of Appeals, as in the present case.

          Moreover, accused-appellant’s defense of denial, without substantial evidence to support it, cannot overcome the presumption of regularity of the police officers’ performance of official functions. Thus, the Court ruled in People v. Llamado:[13]

In cases involving violations of Dangerous Drugs Act, credence should be given to the narration of the incident by the prosecution witnesses especially when they are police officers who are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there be evidence to the contrary.  Moreover, in the absence of proof of motive to falsely impute such a serious crime against the appellant, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty, as well as the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses, shall prevail over appellant’s self-serving and uncorroborated denial. (Emphasis supplied.)

Contrary to accused-appellant’s challenge to the validity of the buy-bust operation, the Court categorically stated in Quinicot v. People that a prior surveillance or test buy is not required for a valid buy-bust operation, as long as the operatives are accompanied by their informant, thus:

           Settled is the rule that the absence of a prior surveillance or test buy does not affect the legality of the buy-bust operation. There is no textbook method of conducting buy-bust operations. The Court has left to the discretion of police authorities the selection of effective means to apprehend drug dealers. A prior surveillance, much less a lengthy one, is not necessary, especially where the police operatives are accompanied by their informant during the entrapment. Flexibility is a trait of good police work. We have held that when time is of the essence, the police may dispense with the need for prior surveillance. In the instant case, having been accompanied by the informant to the person who was peddling the dangerous drugs, the policemen need not have conducted any prior surveillance before they undertook the buy-bust operation.[14] (Emphasis supplied.)

Furthermore, accused-appellant’s contention that the buy-bust team should have procured a search warrant for the validity of the buy-bust operation is misplaced. The Court had the occasion to address this issue in People v. Doria:[15]

We also hold that the warrantless arrest of accused-appellant Doria is not unlawful. Warrantless arrests are allowed in three instances as provided by Section 5 of Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, to wit:

“Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful.¾A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;

(b) When an offense has in fact just been committed, and he has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it; and

(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.”

Under Section 5 (a), as above-quoted, a person may be arrested without a warrant if he “has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.” Appellant Doria was caught in the act of committing an offense. When an accused is apprehended in flagrante delicto as a result of a buy-bust operation, the police are not only authorized but duty-bound to arrest him even without a warrant.

          The Court reiterated such ruling in People v. Agulay:[16]

Accused-appellant contends his arrest was illegal, making the sachets of shabu allegedly recovered from him inadmissible in evidence.  Accused-appellant’s claim is devoid of merit for it is a well-established rule that an arrest made after an entrapment operation does not require a warrant inasmuch as it is considered a valid “warrantless arrest,” in line with the provisions of Rule 113, Section 5(a) of the Revised Rules of Court, to wit:

Section 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful.¾A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.

A buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment which in recent years has been accepted as a valid and effective mode of apprehending drug pushers.  In a buy-bust operation, the idea to commit a crime originates from the offender, without anybody inducing or prodding him to commit the offense. If carried out with due regard for constitutional and legal safeguards, a buy-bust operation deserves judicial sanction.

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
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