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PEOPLE V. VAZQUEZ (714 SCRA)
The case at bar is an appeal from the Decision dated May 31, 2011 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR.-H.C. No. 04201. Said decision affirmed with modification the Joint Decision dated August 6, 2009 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 41, in Criminal Case Nos. 98-164174 and 98-164175, which convicted the appellant Donald Vasquez y Sandigan of the crimes of illegal sale and illegal possession of regulated drugs under Sections 15 and 16 Article III of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended, otherwise known as the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972.
P/Insp. Fajardo testified that in the morning of April 1, 1998, a confidential informant went to their office and reported that a certain Donald Vasquez was engaged in illegal drug activity. This alias Don supposedly claimed that he was an employee of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
According to the informant, alias Don promised him a good commission if he (the informant) would present a potential buyer of drugs. P/Insp. Fajardo relayed the information to Police Superintendent (P/Supt.) Pepito Domantay, the commanding officer of their office. P/Insp. Fajardo was then instructed to form a team and conduct a possible buy-bust against alias Don. With the help of the informant, she was able to set up a meeting with alias Don. The informant introduced P/Insp. Fajardo to alias Don as the buyer of shabu. She asked alias Don if he was indeed an employee of the NBI and he replied in the affirmative. They agreed to close the deal wherein she would buy 250 grams of shabu for ₱250,000.00. They also agreed to meet the following day at Cindy’s Restaurant around 10:00 to 11:00 p.m.
In the evening of April 2, 1998, P/Insp. Fajardo and her team went back to Cindy’s Restaurant. Alias Don was already waiting for her outside the establishment when she arrived. He asked for the money and she replied that she had the money with her. She brought five genuine ₱500.00 bills, which were inserted on top of five bundles of play money to make it appear that she had ₱250,000.00 with her. After she showed the money to alias Don, he suggested that they go to a more secure place. They agreed for the sale to take place at around 1:30 to 2:00 a.m. on April 3, 1998 in front of alias Don’s apartment at 765 Valdez St., Sampaloc, Manila. They agreed that the pre-arranged signal was for P/Insp. Fajardo to scratch her hair, which would signify that the deal had been consummated and the rest of the team would rush up to the scene.
When the team arrived at the target area around 1:15 a.m. on April 3, 1998, the two vehicles they used were parked along the corner of the street. P/Insp. Fajardo and the informant walked towards the apartment of alias Don and stood in front of the apartment gate. Around 1:45 a.m., alias Don came out of the apartment with a male companion. Alias Don demanded to see the money, but P/Insp. Fajardo told him that she wanted to see the drugs first. Alias Don gave her the big brown envelope he was carrying and she checked the contents thereof. Inside she found a plastic sachet, about 10x8 inches in size, which contained white crystalline substance. After checking the contents of the envelope, she assumed that the same was indeed shabu. She then gave the buy-bust money to alias Don and scratched her hair to signal the rest of the team to rush to the scene. P/Insp. Fajardo identified herself as a narcotics agent. The two suspects tried to flee but PO2 Trambulo was able to stop them from doing so. P/Insp. Fajardo took custody of the shabu. When she asked alias Don if the latter had authority to possess or sell shabu, he replied in the negative. P/Insp. Fajardo put her initials "JSF" on the genuine ₱500.00 bills below the name of Benigno Aquino. After the arrest of the two suspects, the buy-bust team brought them to the police station. The suspects’ rights were read to them and they were subsequently booked.
On August 6, 2009, the RTC convicted the appellant of the crimes charged. The RTC gave more credence to the prosecution’s evidence given that the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty on the part of the police officers was not overcome. The trial court held that the appellant did not present any evidence that would show that the police officers in this case were impelled by an evil motive to charge him of very serious crimes and falsely testify against him. Also, the trial court noted that the volume of the shabu involved in this case was considerable, i.e., 247.98 grams and 4.03 grams for illegal sale and illegal possession, respectively. To the mind of the trial court, such fact helped to dispel the possibility that the drug specimens seized were merely planted by the police officers.
The appellant appealed his case to this Court to once again impugn his conviction on two grounds: (1) the purported illegality of the search and the ensuing arrest done by the police officers and (2) his supposed authority to possess the illegal drugs seized from him.51 He argues that the police officers did not have a search warrant or a warrant of arrest at the time he was arrested. This occurred despite the fact that the police officers allegedly had ample time to secure a warrant of arrest against him. Inasmuch as his arrest was illegal, the appellant avers that the evidence obtained as a result thereof was inadmissible in court. As the corpus delicti of the crime was rendered inadmissible, the appellant posits that his guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. Appellant further insists that he was able to prove that he was authorized to keep the drug specimens in his custody, given that he was an employee of the NBI Forensic Chemistry Laboratory who was tasked with the duty to bring drug specimens in court.
Whether or not the appellant may assail the validity of the arrest
No. At the outset, the Court ruled that the appellant can no longer assail the validity of his arrest. The Court reiterated its decision in People v. Tampis that "[a]ny objection, defect or irregularity attending an arrest must be made before the accused enters his plea on arraignment. Having failed to move for the quashing of the information against them before their arraignment, appellants are now estopped from questioning the legality of their arrest. Any irregularity was cured upon their voluntary submission to the trial court’s jurisdiction."
Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the appellant was caught in flagrante delicto of selling illegal drugs to an undercover police officer in a buy-bust operation. His arrest, thus, falls within the ambit of Section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure when an arrest made without warrant is deemed lawful. Having established the validity of the warrantless arrest in this case, the Court holds that the warrantless seizure of the illegal drugs from the appellant is likewise valid. The SC held in People v. Cabugatan that:
This interdiction against warrantless searches and seizures, however, is not absolute and such warrantless searches and seizures have long been deemed permissible by jurisprudence in instances of (1) search of moving vehicles, (2) seizure in plain view, (3) customs searches, (4) waiver or consented searches, (5) stop and frisk situations (Terry search), and search incidental to a lawful arrest. The last includes a valid warrantless arrest, for, while as a rule, an arrest is considered legitimate [if] effected with a valid warrant of arrest, the Rules of Court recognize permissible warrantless arrest, to wit: (1) arrest in flagrante delicto, (2) arrest effected in hot pursuit, and (3) arrest of escaped prisoners.
Thus, the appellant cannot seek exculpation by invoking belatedly the invalidity of his arrest and the subsequent search upon his person