Validity of buy-bust operation upheld; presumption of regularity in the performance of public duties - G.R. No. 186392

G.R. No. 186392

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In the recent case of People v. Tion, [24] this Court had the opportunity to discuss the weight given to testimonies of members of buy-bust teams in drug-related cases:

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 on the buy-bust operation deserve full faith and credit. Settled is the rule that in cases involving violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 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 suggesting ill motive on the part of the police officers or deviation from the regular performance of their duties. x x x.[25]

Similarly, in another case, “[w]e have invariably viewed with disfavor the defenses of denial and frame-up for such defenses can easily be fabricated and are common ploy in prosecutions for the illegal sale and possession of dangerous drugs. In order to prosper, such defenses must be proved with strong and convincing evidence.”[26]

In the case at bar, accused-appellant failed to prove his allegation of denial and frame-up by strong and convincing evidence. He, in fact, presented no evidence to prove the same, and instead relied on the alleged irregularity in the buy-bust operation brought about by the inexact name mentioned in the Pre-operation Report from the Makati Police Station and the Certificate of Coordination from the PDEA. On this matter, the accused-appellant argued that the buy-bust operation was illegal as it was made without a close coordination with PDEA. The accused-appellant was apparently referring to Section 86 of Republic Act No. 9165, which provides:

Section 86. Transfer, Absorption, and Integration of All Operating Units on Illegal Drugs into the PDEA and Transitory Provisions. — The Narcotics Group of the PNP, the Narcotics Division of the NBI and the Customs Narcotics Interdiction Unit are hereby abolished; however they shall continue with the performance of their task as detail service with the PDEA, subject to screening, until such time that the organizational structure of the Agency is fully operational and the number of graduates of the PDEA Academy is sufficient to do the task themselves: Provided, That such personnel who are affected shall have the option of either being integrated into the PDEA or remain with their original mother agencies and shall, thereafter, be immediately reassigned to other units therein by the head of such agencies. Such personnel who are transferred, absorbed and integrated in the PDEA shall be extended appointments to positions similar in rank, salary, and other emoluments and privileges granted to their respective positions in their original mother agencies.

The transfer, absorption and integration of the different offices and units provided for in this Section shall take effect within eighteen (18) months from the effectivity of this Act: Provided, That personnel absorbed and on detail service shall be given until five (5) years to finally decide to join the PDEA.

Nothing in this Act shall mean a diminution of the investigative powers of the NBI and the PNP on all other crimes as provided for in their respective organic laws: Provided, however, That when the investigation being conducted by the NBI, PNP or any ad hoc anti-drug task force is found to be a violation of any of the provisions of this Act, the PDEA shall be the lead agency. The NBI, PNP or any of the task force shall immediately transfer the same to the PDEA: Provided, further, That the NBI, PNP and the Bureau of Customs shall maintain close coordination with the PDEA on all drug related matters. (Emphasis supplied.)

As this Court held in People v. Berdadero,[27] the foregoing provision, as well as the Internal Rules and Regulations implementing the same, “is silent as to the consequences of the failure on the part of the law enforcers to seek the authority of the PDEA prior to conducting a buy-bust operation x x x. [T]his silence cannot be interpreted as a legislative intent to make an arrest without the participation of PDEA illegal or evidence obtained pursuant to such an arrest inadmissible.”[28] In the case at bar, even if we assume for the sake of argument that Narciso Sabadlab and accused-appellant Marcos Sabadlab y Narciso alias Bong Pango could have been different persons, the established fact remains that it was accused-appellant who was caught in flagrante delicto by the buy-bust team. Following the aforementioned jurisprudence, even the lack of participation of PDEA would not make accused-appellant’s arrest illegal or the evidence obtained pursuant thereto inadmissible.

Neither is prior surveillance a necessity for the validity of the buy-bust operation. Thus, in People v. Padua,[29] this Court held:

A prior surveillance is not a prerequisite for the validity of an entrapment or buy-bust operation, the conduct of which has no rigid or textbook method. Flexibility is a trait of good police work. However the police carry out its entrapment operations, for as long as the rights of the accused have not been violated in the process, the courts will not pass on the wisdom thereof. The police officers may decide that time is of the essence and dispense with the need for prior surveillance.[30]

As regards accused-appellant’s allegation that he would not knowingly expose his son to peril by having him around while he is engaged in his drug peddling activity, suffice it to say that accused-appellant’s testimony as to his own good moral character was self-serving and cannot be given credence.

In People v. Doria,[31] this Court laid down the objective test in evaluating buy-bust operations:

We therefore stress that the “objective” test in buy-bust operations demands that the details of the purported transaction must be clearly and adequately shown. This must start from the initial contact between the poseur-buyer and the pusher, the offer to purchase, the promise or payment of the consideration until the consummation of the sale by the delivery of the illegal drug subject of the sale. The manner by which the initial contact was made, whether or not through an informant, the offer to purchase the drug, the payment of the “buy-bust” money, and the delivery of the illegal drug, whether to the informant alone or the police officer, must be the subject of strict scrutiny by courts to insure that law-abiding citizens are not unlawfully induced to commit an offense. Criminals must be caught but not at all cost. At the same time, however, examining the conduct of the police should not disable courts into ignoring the accused's predisposition to commit the crime. If there is overwhelming evidence of habitual delinquency, recidivism or plain criminal proclivity, then this must also be considered. Courts should look at all factors to determine the predisposition of an accused to commit an offense in so far as they are relevant to determine the validity of the defense of inducement.[32]

The testimony of PO3 Lowaton showed the complete details of the transaction: the initial contact between him and accused-appellant,[33] the offer to purchase shabu,[34] the delivery of the dangerous drug and payment with the marked money,[35] and the eventual arrest of accused-appellant.[36] We carefully examined said testimony and found ourselves in agreement with the Court of Appeals that the same was straightforward and clearly established the elements of the crime of illegal sale of drugs, namely: “(1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and payment therefor.”[37] Likewise, the testimony of PO3 Lowaton[38] and MADAC Castillo[39] as regards the sachet seized from accused-appellant also sufficiently established the elements of the crime of illegal possession of illegal drugs, which are: “(1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug.”[40]

It is furthermore a fundamental rule that “the determination by the trial court of the credibility of witnesses, when affirmed by the appellate court, is accorded full weight and credit as well as great respect, if not conclusive effect.”[41] The trial court, which had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of PO3 Lowaton and MADAC Castillo, on one hand, and accused-appellant, on the other, was in a better position than this Court to determine which of them is telling the truth.

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