PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. DANTE CASILANG Y RINO AND SILVERIO VERGARA Y CORTEZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.

THIRD DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 242159, February 05, 2020 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. DANTE CASILANG Y RINO AND SILVERIO VERGARA Y CORTEZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.

DECISION

GESMUNDO, J.:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by proof beyond reasonable doubt.[1] When moral certainty as to culpability hangs in the balance, acquittal on reasonable doubt inevitably becomes a matter of right.[2]

On appeal is the Decision[3] dated April 30, 2018 issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 07852, which affirmed the Decision[4] dated August 18, 2015 rendered by the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan City, Branch 42 (RTC) in Criminal Case No. 2012-0003-D finding Dante Casilang y Rino (Casilang) and Silverio Vergara y Cortez (Vergara; collectively, accused-appellants) guilty of violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The Antecedents

In the Information[5] dated January 6, 2012, accused-appellants were charged with violation of Article II, Section 5 of R.A. No. 9165, allegedly committed as follows:

That on or about the 5th day of January 2012, in the City of Dagupan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, DANTE CASILANG Y RINO AND SILVERIO VERGARA Y CORTEZ, confederating together, acting jointly and helping each other, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and criminally, sell and deliver to a customer Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (Shabu) contained in one (1) heat sealed plastic sachet, weighing more or less 0.1 gram in exchange for P500.00, without authority to do so.

Contrary to Article II, Section 5, R.A. 9165.[6]

Accused-appellants were arraigned on May 23, 2012 and pleaded not guilty to the charge.[7]

Version of Prosecution

The prosecution presented three (3) witnesses, namely: (1) Police Officer 2 Jayson M. Cadawan (PO2 Cadawan), poseur-buyer; (2) Senior Police Officer 1 Julius Coroña (SPO1 Coroña), the backup and arresting police officer; and (3) Police Senior Inspector Myrna Malojo-Todeño (PSI Malojo-Todeño), the Forensic Chemist of the Pangasinan Provincial Crime Laboratory Office (crime laboratory) who examined the seized illegal drugs. Through their combined testimonies, the prosecution sought to establish the following facts:

On January 5, 2012, Police Chief Superintendent Froiland Valdez instructed some police officers assigned at the Provincial Intelligence Branch (PIB), Lingayen, Pangasinan Police Provincial Office, to conduct a buy-bust operation targeting accused-appellants who the PIB had been monitoring since receiving information of their drug dealing from a confidential informant.[8]

A buy-bust team was formed, consisting of PO2 Cadawan, Police Inspector Romel Centeno (PI Centeno), and SPO1 Coroña. PO2 Cadawan prepared the P500-bill marked money. The team then proceeded to Police Community Precinct No. 6 (PCP 6) at Bonuan-Tondaligan to document the operation, before embarking on their mission near Leisure Coast, Bonuan­Binloc where accused-appellants were usually seen. At around 1:45 p.m., accused-appellants arrived and settled near a waiting shed. PO2 Cadawan approached accused-appellant Vergara and asked if he had P500.00 worth of shabu. In response, Vergara asked his companion, accused-appellant Casilang, to hand him the item which Vergara in turn handed to PO2 Cadawan. After giving the marked money as payment, PO2 Cadawan touched his head to signal the consummation of the sale. SPO1 Coroña approached the group and he and PO2 Cadawan introduced themselves as police officers. They then arrested accused-appellants for selling illegal drugs. PO2 Cadawan marked the seized item with his initials (“JMC”) and the current date (“1-5-12”) and placed it in an envelope. The police officers informed accused-appellants of their constitutional rights and brought them to PCP 6 to record the transaction in the blotter.[9]

At PCP 6, an inventory of the seized item was made in the presence of Barangay Kagawad Segundino Ayson (Barangay Kagawad Ayson), and the evidence was photographed together with accused-appellants. Afterwards, PO2 Cadawan returned the seized item inside the envelope and he, PI Centeno and SPO1 Coroña brought accused-appellants to the Provincial Intelligence Office. Upon arrival thereat, PI Centeno prepared the request for medico-legal and crime laboratory examinations. PO2 Cadawan brought the request and seized item to the crime laboratory, where he personally handed the seized item to Forensic Chemist PSI Malojo-Todeño. Laboratory examination later revealed that the seized item tested positive for shabu.[10]

Version of the Defense

Accused-appellants both testified and interposed the defense of denial.

Casilang testified that he was a tricycle driver plying his route on January 5, 2012. Along the way, he was flagged down by Vergara, who proposed that they drive around (“have a joyride”) as he had nothing to do that day. When they were near Leisure Coast, police officers flagged them down, asked them to alight and frisked them. Although if the police officers did not recover anything from them, they were nonetheless brought to the police station and led to a room where they saw a table with money, and an item they were not familiar with, on top of it. They were then photographed.[11]

For his part, Vergara testified that he was in Salay, Mangaldan on January 5, 2012 between 12:30 to 1:00 p.m., when he flagged down Casilang who was then transporting two passengers to Tondaligan Beach. He boarded the tricycle to have a joy ride. After the passengers alighted, accused-appellants decided to go home. As they neared the Leisure Coast Resort, a person flagged them down. Believing that this person and his companions were passengers, accused-appellants stopped. The persons turned out to be armed. They instructed accused-appellants to alight from the tricycle and searched them, but did not find anything. Still, they were made to board a van and brought to the police station. They were not informed of their constitutional rights.[12]

The RTC Ruling

On August 18, 2015, the RTC rendered a Decision finding accused­appellants guilty as charged. It found the prosecution to have clearly established the passing of the plastic sachet with white crystalline substance from Casilang to Vergara, who in turn handed the same to PO2 Cadawan in exchange for P500.00. Thus, the police officers were justified in arresting accused-appellants without a warrant and in seizing the plastic sachet. Moreover, the white crystalline substance in the plastic sachet was later on confirmed to be methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, per the Chemistry Report issued by the PNP Crime Laboratory through Forensic Chemist PSI Malojo-Toñedo. SPO1 Coroña also identified in court the recovered P500-bill buy-bust money with serial number FJ848102.[13]

The RTC held that the defenses of denial and frame up interposed by accused-appellants are viewed with disfavor as they can easily be concocted. They should not benefit accused-appellants unless the evidence of frame up is clear and convincing. Here, aside from their self-serving allegations, accused-appellants adduced no evidence to strengthen their claim. Hence, their defenses are highly unacceptable. There is also no proof of any intent on the part of the police officers to falsely impute the commission of a crime on accused-appellants. Consequently, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty prevails.[14] The dispositive portion of the RTC Decision states:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the [C]ourt finds the accused DANTE CASILANG and SILVERIO VERGARA GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Violation of Section 5 of Art. II of [R.A. No.] 9165 and are hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and to [each pay] the fine of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00).

SO ORDERED.[15] (emphases in the original)

The CA Ruling

The CA affirmed the RTC Decision. It held that the buy-bust operation conducted on January 5, 2012 is valid when scrutinized using the “objective test,” which demands that details of the purported transaction must be clearly and adequately shown. Here, PO2 Cadawan’s testimony, which was corroborated by that of SPO1 Coroña, duly established the details of the buy-bust operation which resulted in the lawful arrest of accused­appellants.[16]

Moreover, the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt the existence of all the elements of the crime of illegal sale of shabu, namely: the identity of the buyer and seller, object and consideration, the delivery of the thing sold, and the payment therefor. The prosecution’s evidence established the identity of PO2 Cadawan as poseur-buyer, accused­appellants as the sellers, the object of the sale which is shabu, and the consideration of P500.00. The delivery of the illegal drug in exchange for P500.00 consummated the sale transaction.[17]

The CA also held that even if the police officers did not strictly comply with the requirements of Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 due to the absence of a DOJ or media representative, the prosecution was able explain that the police officers tried, but found no available media or DOJ representatives at the time. The presence of an elective official in the person of Barangay Kagawad Ayson during the inventory and taking of photographs of the confiscated items is deemed substantial compliance with the requirements of the law. Moreover, even if the police officers did not strictly comply with the requirements of the said provision, such fact did not affect the evidentiary weight of the illegal drugs seized from accused­appellants because the chain of custody of the evidence was shown to be unbroken under the circumstances of the case.[18]

Finally, the CA held that accused-appellants’ defense of denial or frame up must fail in the face of credible and positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses which are duly supported by documentary and object evidence.[19] The CA disposed of the case as follows:

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED. The Decision dated 18 August 2015 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 42, Dagupan City, in Criminal Case No. 2012-0003-D, finding accused-appellants Dante Casilang y Rino and Silverio Vergara y Cortez guilty of Violation of Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165 is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.[20] (emphases in the original)

Hence, this appeal.

In its Resolution[21] dated December 3, 2018, the Court required the parties to submit their respective Supplemental Briefs, if they so desired. Subsequently, the parties respectively manifested that they are no longer filing such briefs.[22]

The Issues

Accused-appellants maintain their innocence and seek the final resolution of the following issues:

I.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVE[LY] ERRED IN GIVING FULL CREDENCE TO THE PROSECUTION’S VERSION DESPITE THE PATENT IRREGULARITIES IN THE CONDUCT OF THE BUY-BUST OPERATION.

II.

THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APELLANTS OF THE CRIME CHARGED DESPITE THE PROSECUTION’S FAILURE TO ESTABLISH THE IDENTITY AND INTEGRITY OF THE ALLEGED CONFISCATED DRUG CONSTITUTING THE CORPUS DELICTI OF THE CRIME.[23]

The Court’s Ruling

Accused-appellants argue that the police officers failed to comply with the mandatory procedures in the handling and disposition of the seized illegal drug as provided under paragraph 1, Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, since no representatives from the media and the DOJ were present during the conduct of the inventory. While the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of R.A. No. 9165 allow a degree of latitude with respect to compliance with its requirements, the same must be based on justifiable grounds.[24] Here, the apprehending officers did not tender any explanation or justification for noncompliance with the required procedure. It was thus grave error for the RTC to rule that the shabu transmitted by PO2 Cadawan to the crime laboratory was the very same one allegedly sold to him by accused-appellants. The arresting officers’ deliberate disregard of the legal safeguards under R.A. No. 9165 produced serious doubts on the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti.[25] Moreover, while the Court has held that procedural lapses in the conduct of the buy-bust operation are not ipso facto fatal to the prosecution’s cause as long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items have been preserved, still, the courts must thoroughly evaluate and differentiate those errors that constitute a simple procedural lapse from those that amount to a gross, systematic, or deliberate disregard of the safeguards drawn by the law. The presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions was negated by the buy-bust team’s failure to comply with Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165. In view of all these, accused­appellants insist that the Court resolve the case in their favor.[26]

The appeal is meritorious.

The trial court’s evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies is entitled to great respect and will not be disturbed on appeal. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. The Court has reviewed the trial court’s factual findings when there is a showing that the trial judge overlooked, misunderstood, or misapplied some fact or circumstance of weight and substance that would have affected the case.[27] Such is the case here, where circumstances exist that raise serious doubts on accused­appellants’ culpability of the crime charged.

In actions involving the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must establish the following elements: (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment. It is equally essential for a conviction that the drug subject of the sale be presented in court and its identity established with moral certainty through an unbroken chain of custody over it. The prosecution must be able to account for each link in the chain of custody over the dangerous drug from the moment of seizure up to its presentation in court as evidence of the corpus delicti.[28]

Reasonable doubt on the actual
sale of illegal drugs exists

In this case, despite the prosecution’s evidence showing that a buy­bust operation was conducted, there exists reasonable doubt that the sale of illegal drugs actually took place.

PO2 Cadawan testified that police officers conducted surveillance prior to the buy-bust operation. However, he did not describe the particular acts being committed by accused-appellants at the time which led him and the other police officers to conclude that the latter were involved in a crime. Thus:

Q. You mentioned about [two] personalities, who are these two personalities?
A. Dante Casilang and Silverio Vergara, ma’am.

Q. Where were you supposed to conduct this operation?
A. Particularly at Bonuan-Binloc, Dagupan City, ma’am.

Q. You mentioned a while ago that these two personalities have been monitored by your office, who told you this, Mr. Witness?
A. Series of information have been given by confidential informant to our office, ma’am.

Q. You said that you already monitored these two accused, how did you monitor them about their drug dealings?
A. We usually see these personalities at Bonuan-Binloc, ma’am.

Q. You said you usually see them, how often do you see them in Bonuan-Binloc?
A. Twice a week, ma’am.

Q. Why do you go at Bonuan-Binloc?
A. To perform our duties and obligations as intelligence officer in conducting and monitoring illegal activities, ma’am.[29]

Aside from the fact that there was no record of the surveillance,[30] PO2 Cadawan palpably failed to identify the activities to which the “series of information” allegedly provided by a confidential informant pertained. His testimony lacks the bare essentials to justify the conduct of a buy-bust operation. In fact, if the prosecutor did not use the term “drug dealings” in one of his questions, there would have been no indication whatsoever of the crime that accused-appellants were supposed to be committing. As part of the surveillance team, PO2 Cadawan could not have neglected to describe the illegal activities that he witnessed—if indeed he witnessed any. It is considerably uncharacteristic of a police officer who had monitored a crime to omit basic information on what he had perceived, particularly when testifying in court where such information is most crucial.

Moreover, in their Joint Affidavit of Arrest,[31] PO2 Cadawan and SPO1 Coroña described accused-appellants as “long[-]monitored drug personalities” who hailed from Mangaldan, but operated within the area of Bonuan-Binloc, Dagupan City in Pangasinan. The police officers narrated that on the day of the scheduled buy-bust operation, they “stationed [themselves] strategically at an area near the waiting shed where [they] usually [saw] the two drug personalities waiting for their customers.” These statements convey that accused-appellants were confirmed by surveillance to have been habitually engaged in the sale of illegal drugs. However, if this were true, then it is curious why only one (1) sachet of shabu was recovered from accused-appellants during the buy-bust operation.

The prosecution would have the courts believe that accused-appellants travelled from their hometown in Mangaldan to sell their illegal merchandise in Bonuan, which is a good 10.7-kilometer distance or a 20-minute car ride away,[32] to sell only one (1) sachet of shabu worth P500.00 and weighing only 0.17 gram to the first customer who will approach them. While it may be asserted that this fact alone is not beyond ordinary human experience, it gains significance in light of PO2 Cadawan’s palpable omission to testify on the illegal activities committed by accused-appellants and their modus operandi, as supposedly ascertained by undocumented surveillance operations. The facts, taken together, raise doubt on whether accused­appellants were indeed drug pushers, and whether they actually sold illegal drugs in the purported buy-bust operation.

The prosecution is not entitled
to the saving mechanism of
Section 21 of the IRR of R.A.
No. 9165

Even granting that the buy-bust was a legitimate police operation, the Court also finds that the prosecution failed to show justifiable grounds for noncompliance with Section 21(a) of the IRR of R.A. No. 9165, and that there is a substantial gap in the chain of custody of the seized item that puts into question its integrity and evidentiary value.

The statutory requirements to establish chain of custody are reflected in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 which provides, among others, that “the apprehending team shall immediately after seizure and confiscation physically inventory and photograph the seized item in the presence of the accused or the person from whom such items were seized, or his representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.”[33] The Court had explained that the presence of the latter three witnesses serves to guard against switching, “planting” or contamination of the evidence.[34]

However, as it is a fact that field conditions vary and strict compliance with the rule may not always be possible, Section 21 of the IRR of R.A. No. 9165 provides a saving clause. It states that noncompliance with the requirements of Section 21 will not automatically render void and invalid the seizure and custody over the seized items, so long as: 1) there are justifiable grounds therefor, and 2) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly peserved by the apprehending officer or team. Failure to show these two conditions renders void and invalid the seizure of and custody of the seized illegal drugs.[35]

Here, the inventory and taking of photographs of the seized illegal drug were witnessed by accused-appellants and Barangay Kagawad Ayson. However, there were no representatives from the media and the DOJ present at the time. Since this is a deviation from the requirements of Section 21, it is incumbent upon the prosecution to provide justifiable reasons in order for the saving clause to apply.[36] Unfortunately, the prosecution failed to recognize its procedural lapse and provided no such explanation whatsoever other than that the police officers “cannot avail” of the presence of the required witnesses. On this point, PO2 Cadawan testified as follows:

Q. I am showing to you a Receipt/Inventory of Seized/Confiscated Items, what is the relation of this document with the confiscation receipt that you mentioned?
A. I was the one who personally prepared this, ma’am.

Q. At the left lower portion of this document is a signature above the printed name Segundino Ayson, Jr. the Barangay Kagawad, Bonuan-Gueset, whose signature is this?
A. It’s Kagawad Ayson, (sic) sir.

Q. Why do you say so?
A. I was present and my fellow PO Coroña was also present at that time when he signed that document, ma’am.

Q. I do not see any representative from the Media as well as any representative of the DOJ in this Inventory Receipt, why is that so?
A. Because we cannot avail of any member of the Media and any representative from the City Prosecutor’s Office, ma’am.[37]
they had reasonable time to do so from the moment they received information about the activities of accused-appellants until the time of arrest. In People v. De Guzman,[38] We held that the justifiable grounds for noncompliance with Section 21 must be proven as a fact because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist. Moreover, in People v. Umipang,[39] We emphasized that it is the prosecution which has the positive duty to establish that earnest efforts were employed in contacting the representatives enumerated under Section 21(1) of R.A. No. 9165.[40] A sheer statement that representatives were unavailable without so much as an explanation on whether serious attempts were employed to look for other representatives given the circumstances, is to be regarded as a flimsy excuse.[41] Consequently, for failure of the prosecution to provide justifiable grounds to excuse the absence of the representatives from the media and the DOJ, the Court is constrained to conclude that the integrity and evidentiary value of the item purportedly seized from accused-appellants have been compromised.[42]

Unfortunately, not only did the prosecution fail to provide justifiable reasons for the absence of the required witnesses during the inventory and taking of photographs of the evidence, it also failed to show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item were properly preserved.

In People v. Plaza,[43] We restated the links that the prosecution must prove to establish chain of custody: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court.

In this case, PO2 Cadawan testified that he marked the seized item with the date and his initials at the site of the buy-bust operation.[44] Hence, the first link was adequately demonstrated.

With respect to the second and third links, there is no evidence of the presence of an investigator in the case. In People v. Dahil (Dahil),[45] We held that as regards the second link, the usual procedure is that the police officer who seizes the suspected illegal drug turns it over to a supervising officer who will then send it to the police crime laboratory for testing. This is a necessary step in the chain of custody as it will be the investigating officer who shall conduct the proper investigation and prepare the necessary documents for the developing criminal case.[46]

In this case, records bear that it was PO2 Cadawan who took charge of the seized item from the time of seizure until its delivery to the crime laboratory for examination. After accused-appellants were arrested and inventory and taking of photographs were conducted at the police community precinct, PO2 Cadawan placed the seized item in an envelope and brought it to the Provincial Intelligence Office. There, PI Centeno prepared the request for crime laboratory examination. PO2 Cadawan brought the request and the seized item to the crime laboratory and endorsed the seized item to PSI Malojo-Todeño.[47]

To be able to faithfully comply with the chain of custody rule laid down in Dahil, PO2 Cadawan, as apprehending officer, should have endorsed the seized item to the investigating officer, who shall then turn it over to the crime laboratory. As it happened, the police officers followed a different procedure. Nonetheless, We hold that there was substantial compliance with the chain of custody procedure with respect to the second and third links. The prosecution was able to record the movement of the seized item at each stage, from the time of seizure to its receipt by the forensic laboratory. The identities of the persons who held the seized item in custody were established, as well as the date and time when transfer of custody was made.

It is a different matter, however, with respect to the fourth link, which involves the submission of the seized illegal drug by the forensic chemist to the court.

Here, PSI Malojo-Todeño, the Forensic Chemist, testified that she personally received the seized item from PO2 Cadawan.[48] Thereafter, she conducted a qualitative examination on the specimen and indicated her findings in two reports, the Initial and the Final (or Chemistry) Report.[49] After examination, she sealed the improvised envelope containing the illegal drug, marked it with her initials and the current date, and turned it over to the evidence custodian, PO2 Manuel,[50] for safekeeping. PO2 Manuel purportedly kept the illegal drug in the evidence room until PSI Malojo­Todeño retrieved it from him on the day she was to testify in court.[51]

The prosecution would have completed its proof of compliance with the chain of custody procedure through the convincing and straightforward testimony of PSI Malojo-Todeño, were it not for the fact that her statement with regard to the safekeeping of the illegal drug by PO2 Manuel remained unsubstantiated. Other than PSI Malojo-Todeño’s bare allegations, the prosecution failed to present clear and convincing proof that PO2 Manuel took responsibility over the illegal drug.

As a method of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission of the exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. It would thus include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was seized to the time it is offered in court as evidence, such that every person who handled the same would admit how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. The same witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. It is from the testimony of every witness who handled the evidence from which a reliable assurance can be derived that the evidence presented in court is one and the same as that seized from the accused.[52]

The prosecution’s failure to present evidence showing the manner in which the illegal drug subject of this case was handled, stored and safeguarded by PO2 Manuel pending its presentation in court is fatal to its case. In People v. Obmiranis,[53] We acquitted the appellant due to the failure of the key persons who handled the dangerous drug to testify on the whereabouts of the exhibit before it was offered as evidence in court. This failure casts doubt on the identity of the corpus delicti and negates the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions.[54]

In sum, the prosecution is not entitled to the saving mechanism of Section 21 of the IRR of R.A. No. 9165. Not only did it fail to provide any justifiable reason for the absence of the required witnesses during the inventory and taking of photographs of the illegal drug, it also miserably failed to prove that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item were preserved. The fourth link required to establish the proper chain of custody was thus breached with irregularity.

Given the substantive flaws and procedural lapses, serious uncertainty hangs over the identity of the seized illegal drug that the prosecution presented as evidence before the Court. In effect, the prosecution failed to fully prove the elements of the crime charged, creating a reasonable doubt on the criminal liability of accused-appellants.[55]

WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The April 30, 2018 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 07852 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accused-appellants Dante Casilang y Rino and Silverio Vergara y Cortez are ACQUITTED of the crime charged against them and ORDERED immediately released from custody, unless they are being held for some other lawful cause.

The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ORDERED to implement this Decision and inform the Court within five (5) days from its receipt the date of the actual release from confinement of accused­appellants.

SO ORDERED.

Leonen, (Chairperson), Carandang, Zalameda, and Gaerlan, JJ., concur.

June 11, 2020

NOTICE OF JUDGMENT

Sirs/Mesdames:

Please take notice that on February 5, 2020 a Decision, copy attached hereto, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on June 11, 2020 at 2:13 p.m.

Very truly yours,

(SGD.) MISAEL DOMINGO C. BATTUNG III
Division Clerk of Court

ORDER OF RELEASE

TO: The Director
BUREAU OF CORRECTIONS
1770 Muntinlupa City

 Thru:   The Superintendent
     New Bilibid Prison North
     BUREAU OF CORRECTIONS
     1770 Muntinlupa City

GREETINGS:

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court on February 5, 2020 promulgated a Decision in the above-entitled case, the dispositive portion of which reads:

“WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The April 30, 2018 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 07852 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accused­appellants Dante Casilang y Rino and Silverio Vergara y Cortez are ACQUITTED of the crime charged against them and ORDERED immediately released from custody, unless they are being held for some other lawful cause.

The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ORDERED to implement this Decision and inform the Court within five (5) days from its receipt the date of the actual release from confinement of accused-appellants.

SO ORDERED.”

NOW, THEREFORE, You are hereby ordered to immediately release DANTE CASILANG y RINO and SILVERIO VERGARA y CORTEZ unless there are other lawful causes for which they should be further detained, and to return this Order with the certificate of your proceedings within five (5) days from notice hereof.

GIVEN by the Honorable MARVIC MARIO VICTOR F. LEONEN, Chairperson of the Third Division of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, this 5th day of February 2020.

Very truly yours,

(SGD.) MISAEL DOMINGO C. BATTUNG III
Division Clerk of Court

[1] See People v. Wagas, 717 Phil. 224, 227 (2013).
[2] People v. Obmiranis, 594 Phil. 561, 579 (2008).
[3] Rollo, pp. 2-17; penned by Associate Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh with Associate Justices Sesinando E. Villon and Edwin D. Sorongon, concurring.
[4] CA rollo, pp. 14-22; penned by Presiding Judge A. Florentino R. Dumlao, Jr.
[5] Id. at 12.
[6] Records, p. 1.
[7] Id. at 49.
[8] Rollo, pp. 3-4.
[9] Id. at 4-5.
[10] Id. at 5.
[11] TSN, September 9, 2014, pp. 3-6.
[12] TSN, November 26, 2014, pp. 3-6.
[13] CA rollo, p. 21.
[14] Id. at 21-22.
[15] Id. at 22.
[16] Rollo, pp. 8-9.
[17] Id. at 9-11.
[18] Id. at 13-15.
[19] Id. at 15.
[20] Id. at 16.
[21] Id. at 25-26.
[22] Id. at 27-29; 37-39.
[23] CA rollo, p. 65.
[24] Id. at 70.
[25] Id. at 72-73.
[26] Id. at 73-74.
[27] People v. Maraorao, 688 Phil. 458, 464-465 (2012).
[28] People v. Año, G.R. No. 230070, March 14, 2018, 859 SCRA 380, 388-389.
[29] TSN, March 20, 2013, pp. 3-4.
[30] PO2 Cadawan testified on cross examination (TSN, May 10, 2013, p. 2):

Q. Did you make a document [of] your surveillance before the buy bust operation?
A. No, madam.

[31] Records, pp. 3-5.
[32] https://www.google.com/search?q=distance+from+mangaldan+to+bonuan+pangasinan&rlz=1C1GCEU_enPH874PH874&oq=distance+from+mangaldan+to+bonuan+pangasinan&aqs=chrome..69i57.9807jlj7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
[33] It bears emphasis that R.A. No. 10640, which took effect on July 23, 2014, amended Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 by requiring only two (2) witnesses to be present during the conduct of the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized items, namely: (a) an elected public official; and (b) either a representative from the National Prosecution Service or the media. As the crime in this case was committed on January 5, 2012, the original version of Section 21 is applicable.
[34] People v. Sood, G.R. No. 227394, June 6, 2018, 865 SCRA 368, 389.
[35] Id. at 390.
[36] See People v. Almorfe, 631 Phil. 51, 60 (2010).
[37] TSN, March 20, 2013, p. 11.
[38] 630 Phil. 637 (2010).
[39] 686 Phil. 1024 (2012).
[40] Id. at 1052-1053.
[41] People v. Crispo, G.R. No. 230065, March 14, 2018, 859 SCRA 356, 376.
[42] Id. at 377.
[43] G.R. No. 235467, August 20, 2018.
[44] TSN, March 20, 2013, pp. 6-7.
[45] 750 Phil. 212 (2015).
[46] Id. at 235.
[47] TSN, March 20, 2013, pp. 7-9.
[48] TSN, January 9, 2013, p. 8.
[49] Id. at 4.
[50] No first name in the rollo, CA rollo or records.
[51] TSN, January 9, 2013, pp. 6-7.
[52] People v. Obmiranis, supra note 2, at 570-571.
[53] Id.
[54] Id. at 577.
[55] See People v. Dela Rosa, 822 Phil. 885, 910 (2017).