Title
People v. Che Chun Ting
Case
G.R. Nos. 130568-69
Ponente
BELLOSILLO, J :
Decision Date
2000-03-21

EN BANC

G.R. Nos. 130568-69. March 21, 2000.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. CHE CHUN TING alias "DICK", accused-appellant.

The Solicitor General for plaintiff-appellee.

Teddy C. Macapagal for accused-appellant.

SYNOPSIS

Accused-appellant CHE CHUN TING, a Hongkong national, was caught in flagrante delicto as a result of the entrapment conducted by the NARCOM operatives on the basis of the information provided by Mabel Cheung Mei Po regarding accused-appellant's illegal trade. NARCOM agents P/lnsp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla saw him handing over a bag of white crystalline substance to Mabel Cheung Mei Po, which, upon forensic examination, was found positive for methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. AaCEDS

On 22 August 1997, the trial court found accused-appellant guilty of delivering, distributing and dispatching in transit 999.43 grams of shabu (Criminal Case No. 96-8932) and, having in his custody, possession and control 5,578.68 grams of the same regulated drug (Criminal Case No. 96-8933). He was meted two (2) death sentences, one for violation of Sec. 15 and the other for violation of Sec. 16, both of Art. III, of

The inadmissibility of the 5,578.68 grams of shabu in evidence does not totally exonerate accused-appellant. The illegal search in Unit 122 was preceded by a valid arrest. His arrest was lawful and the seized bag of shabu weighing 999.43 grams was admissible in evidence, being the fruit of the crime.

The testimony of the police informant in an illegal drug case is not essential for the conviction of the accused since that testimony would merely be corroborative and cumulative. In the instant case, the Court found the narration of events by the police officers positive, credible and entirely in accord with human experience. It has not been shown that they had an improper motive for testifying as they did.

There is no law or rule of evidence requiring the forensic chemist to test the entire quantity of seized drugs to determine whether the whole lot is really prohibited or regulated drugs as suspected. A sample taken from a package may be logically presumed to be representative of the whole contents of the package. Hence, the Court is satisfied that the prosecution has established the guilt of the accused-appellant in Criminal Case No. 96-8932. However, it reduced the penalty to reclusion perpetua since there were neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending appellant's violation of the law. On the other hand, the Court acquitted appellant in Criminal Case No. 96-8933 since his constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, rendering the evidence against him inadmissible.

SYLLABUS

1. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW; BILL OF RIGHTS; RIGHT AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES; ANY EVIDENCE OBTAINED IN VIOLATION THEREOF, INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE; EXCEPTIONS. The CaTSEA

2. ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; ID.; WARRANTLESS SEARCH; TO BE VALID, IT MUST BE LIMITED TO AND CIRCUMSCRIBED BY SUBJECT, TIME AND PLACE OF ARREST. The lawful arrest being the sole justification for the validity of the warrantless search under the exception, the same must be limited to and circumscribed by the subject, time and place of the arrest. As to subject, the warrantless search is sanctioned only with respect to the person of the suspect, and things that may be seized from him are limited to "dangerous weapons" or "anything which may be used as proof of the commission of the offense." With respect to the time and place of the warrantless search, it must be contemporaneous with the lawful arrest. Stated otherwise, to be valid, the search must have been conducted at about the time of the arrest or immediately thereafter and only at the place where the suspect was arrested, or the premises or surroundings under his immediate control. It must be stressed that the purposes of the exception are only to protect the arresting officer against physical harm from the person being arrested who might be armed with a concealed weapon, and also to prevent the person arrested from destroying the evidence within his reach. The exception therefore should not be strained beyond what is needed in order to serve its purposes, as what the Solicitor General would want us to do.

3. ID.; ID.; ID.; VIOLATED IN CASE AT BAR. The accused was admittedly outside Unit 122 and in the act of delivering to Mabel Cheung Mei Po a bag of shabu when he was arrested by the NARCOM operatives. Moreover, it is borne by the records that Unit 122 was not even his residence but that of his girlfriend Nimfa Ortiz, and that he was merely a sojourner therein. Hence, it can hardly be said that the inner portion of the house constituted a permissible area within his reach or immediate control, to justify a warrantless search therein. We therefore hold that the search in Unit 122 and the seizure therein of some 5,578.68 grams of shabu do not fall within the exception, hence, were illegal for being violative of one's basic constitutional right and guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

4. ID.; ID.; ID.; THINGS SEIZED ON OCCASION OF ILLEGAL SEARCH ARE INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE; OBJECTS AND PROPERTIES POSSESSION OF WHICH IS PROHIBITED BY LAW CANNOT BE RETURNED TO THEIR OWNERS NOTWITHSTANDING ILLEGALITY OF SEIZURE. As a consequence of the illegal search, the things seized on the occasion thereof are inadmissible in evidence under the exclusionary rule. They are regarded as having been obtained from a polluted source, the "fruit of a poisonous tree." However, objects and properties the possession of which is prohibited by law cannot be returned to their owners notwithstanding the illegality of their seizure. Thus, the shabu seized by the NARCOM operatives which cannot legally be possessed by the accused under the law, can and must be retained by the government to be disposed of in accordance with law.

5. REMEDIAL LAW; EVIDENCE; ADMISSIBILITY: INADMISSIBILITY OF 5,578.68 GRAMS OF SHABU DOES NOT TOTALLY EXONERATE ACCUSED; CASE AT BAR. The inadmissibility of the 5,578.68 grams of shabu in evidence does not totally exonerate the accused. The illegal search in Unit 122 was preceded by a valid arrest. The accused was caught in flagrante delicto as a result of an entrapment conducted by NARCOM operatives on the basis of the information provided by Mabel Cheung Mei Po regarding the accused' illegal trade. NARCOM agents P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla saw him handing over a bag of white crystalline substance to Mabel Cheung Mei Po. His arrest was lawful and the seized bag of shabu weighing 999.43 grams was admissible in evidence, being the fruit of the crime.

6. ID.; ID.; CREDIBILITY OF WITNESSES; FINDINGS OF TRIAL COURT WITH RESPECT THERETO GIVEN WEIGHT AND AT TIMES EVEN FINALITY BY APPELLATE COURTS; TESTIMONY OF POLICE INFORMANT IN ILLEGAL DRUG CASE NOT ESSENTIAL FOR CONVICTION OF ACCUSED. As we have consistently stressed in the majority of appeals in criminal cases, appellate courts give weight, and at times even finality, to the findings of the trial judge who is in a better position to determine the credibility of witnesses, as he can observe firsthand their demeanor and deportment while testifying. Appellate courts have none of the judge's advantageous position; they rely merely on the cold records of the case and on the judge's discretion. As mentioned earlier, Mabel Cheung Mei Po turned hostile witness in the course of the trial. The defense capitalized on such fact and hammered the prosecution on this point, arguing that Mabel's testimony during her cross-examination virtually belied the prosecution's factual theory of the case and cast doubt on the testimony of the NARCOM agents. But we are not persuaded. Mabel Cheung Mei Po turned hostile witness understandably because of her adverse interest in the case. She was separately charged for violation of Sec. 15, Art. III,

7. ID.; ID.; ID.; LACK OF IMPROPER MOTIVE TO TESTIFY FALSELY AGAINST ACCUSED; NO REASON TO DENIGRATE DECLARATION OF LAW ENFORCERS; CASE AT BAR. The attempt of the accused to downgrade the testimonies of the NARCOM agents is bereft of substantial basis since it has not been shown that they had an improper motive for testifying as they did. It would not be amiss to point out that NARCOM agents are not just ordinary witnesses but are law enforcers. As compared to the baseless disclaimers of the witnesses for the defense, the narration of the incident of the police officers is far more worthy of belief coming as it does from law enforcers who are presumed to have regularly performed their duty in the absence of proof to the contrary. From the evidence at hand, we find no reason to denigrate their declarations.

8. ID.; ID.; ID.; TESTIMONY OF POLICE OFFICERS GIVEN CREDENCE. There is no doubt from the records that the accused was caught in flagrante delicto, i.e., in the act of delivering shabu. The evidence for the prosecution is both substantial and convincing. At its core is the testimony of P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla who categorically pointed to the accused as the person who handed to Mabel a plastic bag of white crystalline substance which, upon forensic examination, was found positive for methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu. As can be gleaned from the assailed decision of the trial court, the narration of events by the police officers is positive, credible and entirely in accord with human experience. It bears all the earmarks of truth that it is extremely difficult for a rational mind not to give credence to it. They testified in a clear, precise and straightforward manner, and even the rigid cross-examination by the defense could not dent the essence of their testimonies.

9. ID.; ID.; CHEMICAL ANALYSIS NOT INDISPENSABLE PREREQUISITE TO ESTABLISH WHETHER CERTAIN SUBSTANCE OFFERED IN EVIDENCE IS A PROHIBITED DRUG; DEGREE OF FAMILIARITY OF A WITNESS WITH PROHIBITED DRUGS ONLY AFFECTS WEIGHT AND NOT COMPETENCY OF TESTIMONY. Primarily, there is no law or rule of evidence requiring the forensic chemist to test the entire quantity of seized drugs to determine whether the whole lot is really prohibited or regulated drugs as suspected. On the contrary, it has always been the standard procedure in the PNP Crime Laboratory to test only samples of the drugs submitted for laboratory examination. A sample taken from a package may be logically presumed to be representative of the whole contents of the package. Moreover, we held in one case that chemical analysis is not an indispensable prerequisite to establish whether a certain substance offered in evidence is a prohibited drug. The ability to recognize these drugs can be acquired without any knowledge of chemistry to such an extent that the testimony of a witness on the point may be entitled to great weight. Such technical knowledge is not required, and the degree of familiarity of a witness with such drugs only affects the weight and not the competency of his testimony. At any rate, it was up to the defense to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the findings of the forensic chemist were erroneous. In the absence of such evidence, the positive results of the tests conducted by the chemist should be accepted as conclusive. After all, she has in her favor the presumption that she regularly performed her official duty, which was to carry out those tests in accordance with the accepted standard procedure.

10. CRIMINAL LAW; THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED; PENALTY. This Court is satisfied that the prosecution has established the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt in Crim. Case No. 96-8932. Accordingly, he must suffer for his serious crime of poisoning the health and future of this nation. However, we refrain from imposing the capital punishment. As amended by The now provides in part that the penalty in Sec. 15, Art. III, shall be applied if the dangerous drug involved is, in the case of shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride 200 grams or more and the delivery or distribution of regulated drugs without proper authority is penalized with reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from P500,000.00 to P10,000,000.00. Thus the law prescribes two (2) indivisible penalties, reclusion perpetua and death. Pursuant to Art. 63 of , since there were neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending accused's violation of the law, the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua is the proper imposable penalty. The legislature never intended that where the quantity of the dangerous drugs involved exceeds those stated in Sec. 20, the maximum penalty of death shall automatically be imposed. Nowhere in the amendatory law is there a provision from which such a conclusion may be drawn. On the contrary, this Court has already concluded in that , and the rules therein were observed although the cocaine subject of that case was also in excess of the quality provided in Sec. 20. DScTaC

D E C I S I O N

BELLOSILLO, J p:

CHE CHUN TING alias "DICK," a Hong Kong national, was found guilty by the trial court on 22 August 1997 of delivering, distributing and dispatching in transit 999.43 grams of shabu; and, having in his custody, possession and control 5,578.68 grams of the same regulated drug. He was meted two (2) death sentences, one for violation of Sec. 15 and the other for violation of Sec. 16, both of Art. III, of The). He was likewise ordered to pay a fine of P1,000,000.00 in the first case, and P12,000,000.00 in the second. He is now before us on automatic review. cdll

The antecedent facts: Following a series of buy-bust operations, the elements of the Special Operation Unit, Narcotics Command, apprehended a suspected drug courier, Mabel Cheung Mei Po, after she delivered a transparent plastic bag containing a white crystalline substance to an informant, in full view of NARCOM agents. When questioned, Mabel Cheung Mei Po cooperated with the government agents and revealed the name of accused Che Chun Ting as the source of the drugs.

On 27 June 1996 the Narcotics Command deployed a team of agents for the entrapment and arrest of Che Chun Ting. The team was composed of Major Marcelo Garbo, a certain Captain Campos, P/Insp. Raymond Santiago, SPO3 Renato Campanilla, and a civilian interpreter. The members of the NARCOM team were in two (2) vehicles: a Nissan Sentra Super Saloon driven by Mabel with P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla as passengers; and the other vehicle, with Major Garbo, Captain Campos and the civilian interpreter on board. At around 7 o'clock in the morning they proceeded to the Roxas Seafront Garden in Pasay City where Che Chun Ting was and had the place under surveillance. Later, they moved to the McDonald's parking lot where the civilian interpreter transferred to the Nissan car. Mabel then called Che Chun Ting through her cellular phone and spoke to him in Chinese. According to the interpreter, who translated to the NARCOM agents the conversation between Mabel and Che Chun Ting, Mabel ordered one (1) kilo of shabu.

At around 10:30 o'clock in the morning of the same day, Mabel received a call from the accused that he was ready to deliver the stuff. She immediately relayed the message to the NARCOM agents. After receiving the go-signal from Major Garbo, P/Insp. Santiago, SPO3 Campanilla and Mabel proceeded to the Roxas Seafront Garden. The other vehicle followed but trailed behind within reasonable distance to serve as a blocking force. LexLib

Upon arriving at the Roxas Seafront Garden, Mabel honked twice and went to Unit 122. The two (2) NARCOM agents, who waited inside the car parked two (2) meters away, saw the door of the unit open as a man went out to hand Mabel a transparent plastic bag containing a white crystalline substance. The NARCOM agents immediately alighted and arrested the surprised man who was positively identified by Mabel as Che Chun Ting. Then the agents radioed their superiors in the other car and coordinated with the security guard on duty at the Roxas Seafront Garden to make a search of Unit 122. During the search SPO3 Campanilla seized a black bag with several plastic bags containing a white crystalline substance in an open cabinet at the second floor. The bag was examined in the presence of Major Garbo, the accused himself, and his girlfriend Nimfa Ortiz. The accused together with the evidence was then brought to Camp Crame where Forensic Chemist P/Sr. Inspector Julita T. de Villa after conducting laboratory tests found the white crystalline substance to be positive for methylamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.

The defense has a different version. Nimfa Ortiz narrated that she sent her brother Noli Ortiz to meet Mabel Cheung Mei Po in front of the Allied Bank at the EDSA Extension to help the latter find a lawyer and at the same time get the laser disc she lent to Mabel. Noli testified that when he got inside the car of Mabel a policeman sitting at the back of the car suddenly hit him on the head. The car then proceeded to McDonald's at Roxas Boulevard near the Roxas Seafront Garden where he was moved to another car, a green Nissan Sentra, with Major Garbo, Captain Lukban and a certain Palma (perceived to be the civilian interpreter) on board. Mabel stayed behind at McDonald's until she was brought back to Camp Crame.

Noli Ortiz, Major Garbo, Captain Lukban and Palma went to the Roxas Seafront Garden where they parked the car five (5) to seven (7) meters away from Unit 122. Noli rang the doorbell of the unit. When Nimfa opened the door, two (2) NARCOM officers suddenly forced their way inside and searched the premises. Noli denied having seen any black bag seized by SPO3 Campanilla; instead, what he saw was his sister's video camera being carted away by the NARCOM agents. He further testified that when his sister was made to sign a certification on the conduct of the search on Unit 122 she was frightened and crying. He claimed that accused Che Chun Ting was then asleep at the second floor of the unit.

The defense presented documents showing that the owner of Unit 122 was Nimfa Ortiz and not accused Che Chun Ting who lived at 1001 Domingo Poblete St., BF Homes, Para aque. This information, according to the defense, was vital for purposes of ascertaining the legality of the search on Unit 122 as well as the seizure therein of a black bag containing several plastic bags of shabu. Finally, the defense assailed the lower court for relying on the testimony of Mabel who turned hostile witness in the course of the trial.

Accused Che Chun Ting now contends that the trial court erred: (a) in convicting him on the basis of the shabu seized inside Unit 122, which was constitutionally inadmissible as evidence since it was seized without a search warrant; (b) in failing to recognize that the testimony of Mabel Cheung Mei Po, who turned hostile witness in the course of the trial, has discredited the prosecution case and cast doubt on the testimonies of P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla; and, (c) in assuming that the entire white crystalline substance seized is positive for methylamphetamine hydrochloride. cdtai

We resolve. The

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose, shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

It further mandates that any evidence obtained in violation thereof shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.

The right is not absolute and admits of certain well-recognized exceptions. For instance, a person lawfully arrested may be searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may be used as proof of the commission of the offense, without a search warrant. The search may extend beyond the person of the one arrested to include the permissible area or surroundings within his immediate control.

The issue is whether this case falls within the exception.

The accused was admittedly outside unit 122 and in the act of delivering to Mabel Cheung Mei Po a bag of shabu when he was arrested by the NARCOM operatives. Moreover, it is borne by the records that Unit 122 was not even his residence but that of his girlfriend Nimfa Ortiz, and that he was merely a sojourner therein. Hence, it can hardly be said that the inner portion of the house constituted a permissible area within his reach or immediate control, to justify a warrantless search therein.

The lawful arrest being the sole justification for the validity of the warrantless search under the exception, the same must be limited to and circumscribed by the subject, time and place of the arrest. As to subject, the warrantless search is sanctioned only with respect to the person of the suspect, and things that may be seized from him are limited to "dangerous weapons" or "anything which may be used as proof of the commission of the offense." With respect to the time and place of the warrantless search, it must be contemporaneous with the lawful arrest. Stated otherwise, to be valid, the search must have been conducted at about the time of the arrest or immediately thereafter and only at the place where the suspect was arrested, or the premises or surroundings under his immediate control.

It must be stressed that the purposes of the exception are only to protect the arresting officer against physical harm from the person being arrested who might be armed with a concealed weapon, and also to prevent the person arrested from destroying the evidence within his reach. The exception therefore should not be strained beyond what is needed in order to serve its purposes, as what the Solicitor General would want us to do. prcd

We therefore hold that the search in Unit 122 and the seizure therein of some 5,578.68 grams of shabu do not fall within the exception, hence, were illegal for being violative of one's basic constitutional right and guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

As a consequence of the illegal search, the things seized on the occasion thereof are inadmissible in evidence under the exclusionary rule. They are regarded as having been obtained from a polluted source, the "fruit of a poisonous tree." However, objects and properties the possession of which is prohibited by law cannot be returned to their owners notwithstanding the illegality of their seizure. Thus, the shabu seized by the NARCOM operatives which cannot legally be possessed by the accused under the law, can and must be retained by the government to be disposed of in accordance with law.

Be that as it may, the inadmissibility of the 5,578.68 grams of shabu in evidence does not totally exonerate the accused. The illegal search in Unit 122 was preceded by a valid arrest. The accused was caught in flagrante delicto as a result of an entrapment conducted by NARCOM operatives on the basis of the information provided by Mabel Cheung Mei Po regarding the accused's illegal trade. NARCOM agents P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla saw him handing over a bag of white crystalline substance to Mabel Cheung Mei Po. His arrest was lawful and the seized bag of shabu weighing 999.43 grams was admissible in evidence, being the fruit of the crime.

The second assigned error hinges on the credibility of witnesses. As we have consistently stressed in the majority of appeals in criminal cases, appellate courts give weight, and at times even finality, to the findings of the trial judge who is in a better position to determine the credibility of witnesses, as he can observe firsthand their demeanor and deportment while testifying. Appellate courts have none of the judge's advantageous position; they rely merely on the cold records of the case and on the judge's discretion.

As mentioned earlier, Mabel Cheung Mei Po turned hostile witness in the course of the trial. The defense capitalized on such fact and hammered the prosecution on this point, arguing that Mabel's testimony during her cross-examination virtually belied the prosecution's factual theory of the case and cast doubt on the testimony of the NARCOM agents.

But we are not persuaded. Mabel Cheung Mei Po turned hostile witness understandably because of her adverse interest in the case. She was separately charged for violation of Sec. 15, Art. III, although she was subsequently acquitted by the trial court on reasonable doubt. It is therefore to be expected that she would be extremely cautious in giving her testimony as it might incriminate her. At any rate, the testimony of the police informant in an illegal drug case is not essential for the conviction of the accused since that testimony would merely be corroborative and cumulative. Hence, even if we concede that Mabel Cheung Mei Po's testimony was discredited on account of the dismissal of the criminal case against her, the prosecution could still rely on the testimonies of the arresting officers and secure a conviction on the basis thereof.

Further, the attempt of the accused to downgrade the testimonies of the NARCOM agents is bereft of substantial basis since it has not been shown that they had an improper motive for testifying as they did. It would not be amiss to point out that NARCOM agents are not just ordinary witnesses but are law enforcers. As compared to the baseless disclaimers of the witnesses for the defense, the narration of the incident of the police officers is far more worthy of belief coming as it does from law enforcers who are presumed to have regularly performed their duty in the absence of proof to the contrary. From the evidence at hand, we find no reason to denigrate their declarations.

Indeed, there is no doubt from the records that the accused was caught in flagrante delicto, i.e., in the act of delivering shabu. The evidence for the prosecution is both substantial and convincing. At its core is the testimony of P/Insp. Santiago and SPO3 Campanilla who categorically pointed to the accused as the person who handed to Mabel a plastic bag of white crystalline substance which, upon forensic examination, was found positive for methylamphetamine hydrochlorideor shabu. As can be gleaned from the assailed decision of the trial court, the narration of events by the police officers is positive, credible and entirely in accord with human experience. It bears all the earmarks of truth that it is extremely difficult for a rational mind not to give credence to it. They testified in a clear, precise and straightforward manner, and even the rigid cross-examination by the defense could not dent the essence of their testimonies. cdrep

As regards the third assigned error, the accused questions the accuracy of the laboratory tests conducted by the forensic chemist on the seized articles. He contends that the PNP Crime Laboratory should have subjected the entire 999.43 grams and 5,578.66 grams of white crystalline substance taken from him, to laboratory examination and not merely representative samples thereof in milligrams.

The argument is untenable. Primarily, there is no law or rule of evidence requiring the forensic chemist to test the entire quantity of seized drugs to determine whether the whole lot is really prohibited or regulated drugs as suspected. On the contrary, it has always been the standard procedure in the PNP Crime Laboratory to test only samples of the drugs submitted for laboratory examination. A sample taken from a package may be logically presumed to be representative of the whole contents of the package.

Moreover, we held in one case that chemical analysis is not an indispensable prerequisite to establish whether a certain substance offered in evidence is a prohibited drug. The ability to recognize these drugs can be acquired without any knowledge of chemistry to such an extent that the testimony of a witness on the point may be entitled to great weight. Such technical knowledge is not required, and the degree of familiarity of a witness with such drugs only affects the weight and not the competency of his testimony.

At any rate, it was up to the defense to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the findings of the forensic chemist were erroneous. In the absence of such evidence, the positive results of the tests conducted by the chemist should be accepted as conclusive. After all, she has in her favor the presumption that she regularly performed her official duty, which was to carry out those tests in accordance with the accepted standard procedure.

All told, this Court is satisfied that the prosecution has established the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt in Crim. Case No. 96-8932. Accordingly, he must suffer for his serious crime of poisoning the health and future of this nation. However, we refrain from imposing the capital punishment. As amended by The now provides in part that the penalty in Sec. 15, Art. III, shall be applied if the dangerous drug involved is, in the case of shabu or methylamphetamine hydrochloride 200 grams or more and the delivery or distribution of regulated drugs without proper authority is penalized with reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from P500,000.00 to P10,000,000.00. Thus the law prescribes two (2) indivisible penalties, reclusion perpetua and death. Pursuant to Art. 63 of , since there were neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending accused's violation of the law, the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua is the proper imposable penalty. llcd

The legislature never intended that where the quantity of the dangerous drugs involved exceeds those stated in Sec. 20, the maximum penalty of death shall automatically be imposed. Nowhere in the amendatory law is there a provision from which such a conclusion may be drawn. On the contrary, this Court has already concluded in that , and the rules therein were observed although the cocaine subject of that case was also in excess of the quantity provided in Sec. 20.

With respect to Crim. Case No. 96-8933, since the constitutional right of the accused against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, which rendered the evidence against him inadmissible, he is acquitted of the offense charged.

Finally, we take this opportunity to remonstrate the law enforcement agencies regarding respect for the constitutional rights of persons suspected of committing crimes. As the phalanx of our united efforts to stem the surging tide of drug-trafficking in this country, the police force is not only expected to be well-trained and well-equipped in the detection and apprehension of drug pushers, but more importantly, it must also be aware that arrests, searches and seizures should at all times and in all instances be done within the context of the. While we encourage an active and vigorous law enforcement, we nevertheless defer to and uphold the sacredness of constitutional rights. In the instant case, while the penalty of reclusion perpetua imposed by this Court on the accused may be sufficient to put him away for good, it is nonetheless lamentable that he will walk away unpunished in the other case of possession of more than 5,000 grams of illegal narcotics on account of a blunder which could have easily been avoided had the NARCOM officers faithfully adhered to the requirements of the

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the trial court in Crim. Case No. 96-8932 convicting accused CHE CHUN TING alias "DICK" for violation of Sec. 15, Art. III, of The, as amended) is AFFIRMED, subject to the modification that the penalty imposed by the trial court is reduced to reclusion perpetua. The accused is ordered to pay a fine in the increased amount of P2,000,000.00, and the costs.

In Crim. Case No. 96-8933, accused CHE CHUN TING alias "DICK" is ACQUITTED for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt the evidence against him being inadmissible.

The 999.43 grams and 5,578.68 grams of shabu, subject of Crim. Case Nos. 96-8932 and 96-8933 are FORFEITED in favor of the government to be turned over immediately to the Dangerous Drugs Board and the National Bureau of Investigation for proper disposition.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1. Crim. Case No. 96-8932.

2. Crim. Case No. 96-8933.

3. Sec. 15. Sale, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Transportation and Distribution of Regulated Drugs. The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos shall be imposed upon any person who, unless authorized by law, shall sell, dispense, deliver, transport or distribute any regulated drug. . . .

Sec. 16. Possession or Use of Regulated Drugs. The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos shall be imposed upon any person who shall possess or use any regulated drug without the corresponding license or prescription. . . . (Note: Sec. 20, Art. IV, shabu or methylamphetamine hydrochloride).

4. Decision penned by Judge Lilia C. Lopez, RTC-Br. 109, Pasay City.

5. Identified by defense witnesses as a certain Captain Lukban.

6. Seven (7) self-sealing transparent plastic bags marked as Exhs. "A-1" through "G-1," thus: Exh. "A-1" - 999.43 grams (handed by the accused to Mabel); Exh. "B-1" - 753.18 grams; Exh. "C-1" - 977.68 grams; Exh. "D-1" - 164.28 grams; Exh. "E-1" - 933.18 grams; Exh. "F-1" - 974.58 grams; and Exh. "G-1" - 973.78 grams; see RTC Records p. 16.

7. The court a quo ordered the City Prosecutor's Office and/or Chief State Prosecutor of the Department of Justice to conduct a preliminary investigation for purposes of determining the complicity of Nimfa Ortiz, owner of Unit 122, in the crime, having in her possession and control the 5,578.68 grams of shabu found in her unit.

8. Sec. 12, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court provides that a witness may be considered as unwilling or hostile only if so declared by the court upon adequate showing of his adverse interest, unjustified reluctance to testify, or his having misled the party into calling him into the witness stand.

9. Sec. 2, Art. III,

10. Sec. 3 (2), Art. III; id.

11. Sec. 12, Rule 126 of the

12. , G.R. No. 106213, 23 September 1994, 236 SCRA 689, citing , G.R. No. 92928, 21 January 1992, 205 SCRA 235 and , G.R. No. 97952, 6 August 1992, 212 SCRA 288.

13. See , G.R. No. 120431, 1 April 1998, 288 SCRA 558.

14. See Separate Concurring and Dissenting Opinion of Justice Cuevas in , G.R. No. 69803, 8 October 1985, 139 SCRA 152.

15. Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Vol. 1, 1st Ed., 1987, p. 105.

16. People v. Mabel Cheung Mei Po, Crim. Case No. 96-1217.

17. 23 December 1996 Order penned by Judge Dennis M. Villa-Ignacio, RTC-Br. 143, Makati City.

18. , G.R. No. 98060, 27 January 1997, 266 SCRA 607; , G.R. No. 125510, 21 July 1997, 275 SCRA 804.

19. See , G.R. No. 97930, 27 May 1992, 209 SCRA 339.

20. , G.R. Nos. 118736-37, 23 July 1997, 276 SCRA 24.

21. , G.R. No. 104494, 10 September 1993, 226 SCRA 299.

22. , G.R. No. 71838, 26 February 1990, 182 SCRA 581.

23. G.R. Nos. 118772-73, 7 February 1997, 267 SCRA 785.

24. See , G.R. No. 123872, 30 January 1998, 285 SCRA 703.