JESUS EDANGALINO Y DIONISIO, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 235110, January 08, 2020 ]

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, C.J.:

Assailed in this petition for review on certiorari[1] is the Decision[2] dated March 28, 2017 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 37912 which affirmed in toto the Decision[3] dated May 4, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 263, Marikina City, finding petitioner Jesus Edangalino y Dionisio guilty of violation of Section 11, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Also assailed is the Resolution[4] dated October 11, 2017 of the CA which denied reconsideration thereof.

In an Information[5] dated September 12, 2011, petitioner was charged with violation of Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the accusatory portion of which reads:

That on or about the 8th day of September 2011, in the City of Marikina, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without being authorized by law to possess or otherwise use any dangerous drugs, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his possession, direct custody and control 0.02 [gram] of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride (shabu), a dangerous drug, in violation of the above-cited law.[6]

During his arraignment on September 29, 2011, petitioner, duly assisted by his counsel de oficio, pleaded not guilty to the charge.[7] Pre-trial and trial thereafter ensued.

The facts of the case as stated by the CA, thus:

Version of the Prosecution:

The antecedent facts as narrated by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) are as follows:

On September 7,2011, around 11:00 in the evening, an informant arrived at the office of the District Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operation Task Group (DAID-SOTG) of the Eastern Police District located at Meralco Avenue, Pasig City, and reported that a certain "Amboy" of Barangay Malanday, Marikina City was engaged in illegal drug trade activities. Acting on the said report, P/Supt. Elmer R. Cereno (P/Supt. Cereno) immediately informed (sic) a team to conduct a buy-bust operation against "Amboy". The members of the team were subsequently briefed of the plan for the operation, and PO1 Rey Lambino (PO1 Lambino) was assigned as the poseur-buyer while PO1 Yon Enguio (PO1 Enguio) was tasked to be a back-up officer together with the members of the team. A five hundred-peso (Php500.00) bill with its serial number RJ697456 was also marked with "RL" at its upper right corner to serve as the buy-bust money. It was likewise agreed during the briefing that PO1 Lambino will ring the phone of PO1 Enguio to signify that the sale is consummated and he needs assistance to effect the arrest of "Amboy".

Around 11:45 in the evening, armed with a coordination form from Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) with MMRO Control # 0911-00072, the buy-bust team proceeded to Barangay Malanday, Marikina City where their informant agreed to meet them.

Around 1:40 in the morning of the following day, September 8, 2011, the team together with the informant proceeded to Jocson Street, Barangay Malanday, Marikina City. Thereat, PO1 Lambino and the informant looked for "Amboy" while the rest of the team positioned themselves strategically where they can oversee the transaction and immediately respond.

A few minutes later, PO1 Lambino and the informant saw "Amboy" standing along an alley. When they approached him, the informant introduced PO1 Lambino to "Amboy" as the one who wants to buy shabu. "Amboy" immediately brought one (1) piece of plastic sachet of suspected shabu and said that the same was worth P300.00. Before PO1 Lambino can even respond to "Amboy", someone shouted in background "May mga pulis." Upon hearing the same, "Amboy" attempted to run and flee the area but he was successfully restrained by PO1 Lambino. PO1 Lambino then introduced himself as a police officer, and confiscated from him one (1) plastic sachet of suspected shabu which should have been the subject of the sale between them if not for the interruption. PO1 Lambino then informed "Amboy", later on identified as the appellant, of his violation as well as his constitutional rights while under arrest. While at the place of the arrest and in front of the appellant, the plastic sachet of suspected shabu seized from the appellant was immediately marked by PO1 Lambino with "RL/Amboy 09-08-2011," photographed and inventoried. The certificate of inventory was then signed by the appellant.

The appellant and the seized item were then brought to DAID-SOTG office at the Eastern Police District in Meralco Avenue, Pasig City for investigation. After a request for laboratory examination of the seized specimen was prepared, the seized item was then brought by PO1 Lambino to the EPD Crime Laboratory where the same was received by PCI Cejes. The results of the laboratory examination conducted by PCI Cejes revealed that the contents of the plastic sachet confiscated from the appellant are positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug. The same plastic sachet of shabu was presented during trial and was identified to be the same item seized from the appellant during the operation on September 7-8, 2011.

Version of the Defense:

For its part, the defense [proffered] the sole testimony of the appellant to refute the foregoing accusations and aver a different version of the story.

According to the appellant, he met and brought a certain "Melvin" to his house on 07 September 2011. While inside his house, Melvin asked him if he knew someone selling drugs in the area so he accompanied him to the house of his neighbor, Cedie. At Cedie's house, Melvin immediately consumed the shabu that he bought and left at 11:00 o'clock (sic) in the evening.

Thirty (30) minutes later, Melvin returned and asked to be accompanied again to Cedie's house which appellant acceded. Melvin purchased shabu again, used half of it and kept the other half. Sensing Melvin's uneasiness, appellant asked him if he intended to contact his police companions to arrest their target. Melvin then went inside the comfort room to contact the police. Thereafter, he sat by the door and opened it when the police arrived. The policemen searched the house for illegal drugs but were unable to find any. Appellant and three (3) others were thereafter arrested.[8] (Citations omitted)

On May 4, 2015, the RTC rendered its Decision[9] finding petitioner guilty of violating Section 11, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, above premises considered, the court finds accused JESUS EDANGALINO y DIONISIO GUILTY of the offense charged against him.

The accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of TWELVE (12) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY to TWENTY (20) YEARS in accordance with par. (3) of Sec. 11 of R. A. No. 9165.

He is also ordered to pay the fine in the amount of Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (P300,000.00).

SO ORDERED.[10]

The RTC found that while the police failed to strictly follow the requirements of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165, what is important is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, because the same will be utilized in ascertaining the guilt or the innocence of the accused. Police Officer 1 (PO1) Rey Lambino categorically stated that he recovered from petitioner the illegal drugs presented in court; thus, the presumption that the integrity of the evidence has been preserved subsists unless it can be shown that there was bad faith, ill will or tampering with evidence which obligation rests on the accused. The RTC did not give weight to petitioner's denial for being inherently weak and it relied on the presumption of regularity in the official function of the police operatives.

On March 28, 2017, the CA rendered its assailed Decision,[11] the decretal portion of which reads:

FOR THESE REASONS, the appealed Decision dated 04 May 2015 rendered by Branch 263 of the Regional Trial Court, Marikina City convicting appellant for violation of Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, otherwise known as The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, in Criminal Case No. 2011-3935-D-MK is AFFIRMED in toto.[12]

The CA found that all the elements for the prosecution of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, i.e., (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified as a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possesses the said drug, had been established. It gave credence to the testimony of the prosecution witness who is a police officer, thus presumed to have performed his duty in a regular manner. It ruled that there was no confusion surrounding the corpus delicti in this case since the illegal drug confiscated from petitioner, taken to the police headquarters, subjected to laboratory examination, introduced in evidence and identified in court, was the same illegal drug seized from petitioner during the buy-bust operation. It found petitioner's denial unsubstantiated by any convincing evidence and it cannot prevail against the positive testimony of PO1 Lambino. The CA ruled that non-compliance with the procedural requirements under Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) is not a serious flaw that can render void the seizures and custody of drugs in a buy-bust operation.

Petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied in a Resolution[13] dated October 11, 2017.

Petitioner files the instant petition for review on certiorari on the lone issue of:

WHETHER THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE PETITIONER'S CONVICTION FOR VIOLATION OF SECTION 11, ARTICLE II OF REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9165, DESPITE THE SERIOUS IRREGULARITIES IN THE CONDUCT OF THE POLICE OPERATION AND THE PROSECUTION'S FAILURE TO ESTABLISH THE IDENTITY AND INTEGRITY OF THE ALLEGED CONFISCATED DRUGS CONSTITUTING THE CORPUS DELICTI OF THE CRIME CHARGED.[14]

Petitioner claims, among others, that the records failed to show that the police officers complied with the mandatory procedures provided under paragraph 1, Section 21, Article II of R.A. No. 9165; that the prosecution failed to establish the presence of the indispensable witnesses during the conduct of the inventory and the photographing of the seized item; that there was no justifiable ground presented on why the presence of these persons was not secured; and that it was only the CA that acknowledged the supposed preservation of the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item that, to its opinion, justified non-compliance.

We find the petition meritorious.

To begin with, prosecution for illegal possession of prohibited drugs necessitates that the elemental act of possession of a prohibited substance be established with moral certainty, together with the fact that the same is not authorized by law. The dangerous drug itself constitutes the very corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to a judgment of conviction.[15] Therefore, it is essential that the identity of the prohibited drug be established beyond doubt. This requirement necessarily arises from the unique characteristic of the illegal drugs that renders them indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise. Thus, to remove any doubt or uncertainty on the identity and integrity of the seized drug, evidence must definitely show that the illegal drug presented in court is the same illegal drug actually recovered from the accused; otherwise, the prosecution for possession under R.A. No. 9165 fails.[16]

Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 provides for the procedural safeguards in the handling of seized drugs by the apprehending officer/team, to wit:

(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her 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[.]

And Section 21 (a) of the IRR of R.A. No. 9165 provides:

(a) The apprehending officer/team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her 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: Provided, that the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures; Provided, further, that non-compliance with these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items[.]

R.A. No. 10640[17] amended Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and incorporated the saving clause contained in the IRR, and requires that the conduct of the physical inventory and taking of photograph of the seized items be done in the presence of (1) the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel; (2) an elected public official; and (3) a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media.

Since the alleged crime was committed in 2011, the old provisions of Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and its IRR are applicable which provide that after seizure and confiscation of the drugs, the apprehending team is required to immediately conduct a physically inventory and photograph the seized items in the presence of (1) the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel; (2) a representative from the media and (3) from the Department of Justice (DOJ); and (4) any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof. It is assumed that the presence of these persons will guarantee "against planting of evidence and frame-up, [i.e., they are] necessary to insulate the apprehension and incrimination proceedings from any taint of illegitimacy or irregularity."[18]

A review of the records shows that there were no representatives from the media and the DOJ, and an elected public official when the marking, physical inventory and photographing of the seized item were done. PO1 Lambino admitted the absence of the required witnesses in his cross-examination, as follows:

Q: When this operation happened, how long have you been a police officer assigned in Anti-Illegal Drugs?
A: A: Almost six months, sir.

Q: During that time you would agree with me that you are familiar with the provisions of Republic Act 9165?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: You are familiar with Section 21 of that RA 9165, correct?
A: Not really, sir.

Q: Not really?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Are you saying that you are implementing a law which you are not familiar with?
A: No, sir.

Q: So what does Section 21 states (sic)?
A: I did (sic) not familiar in (sic) Section 21 but I know the other sections of RA 9165, sir.

Q: Because you do not know what is stated in Section 21 of RA 9165, you did not ask any barangay official to witness the preparation of the inventory?
A: Sir, we make (sic) an effort.

Q: Please answer yes or no[.]
A: Yes, sir.

Q: You also did not ask any media representative or representative from the DOJ to witness that inventory?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: No one was also present when you were taking a photograph of the accused and the specimen that you confiscated?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Where did you mark the evidence?
A: At the place of arrest, sir.

Q: At the place of arrest?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: You also mentioned that you took the photograph of the accused as well as the specimen at the place of arrest, is that right?
A: The photograph of the accused at the office but the evidence our (sic) recovered to (sic) the suspect at the place of arrest, sir.

Q: The marking?
A: Marking and taking of the photographs of the evidence recovered, sir.

Q: How about the photograph of the accused?
A: At the office, sir.

Q: At the office?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: Why is it that you did not take the photograph of the accused at the area?
A: We don't have the white board, sir.

Q: When you were marking the evidence that you allegedly confiscated there were no representative from media, barangay and DOJ, right?
A: Yes, sir.[19]

While the failure of the apprehending team to strictly comply with the procedure laid down in Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 and the IRR does not ipso facto render the seizure and custody over the items as void and invalid, the prosecution must satisfactorily prove that (a) there is justifiable ground for non-compliance; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. The justifiable ground for non-compliance must be proven as a fact, because the Court cannot presume what these grounds are or that they even exist.[20] Here, PO1 Lambino's testimony failed to establish any plausible explanation or justification on why the presence of the representatives from the media and the DOJ, and the elective official was not secured, to wit:

Q: Mr. Witness, why is it that you were not able to have barangay official signed (sic) the inventory of evidence?
A: Because sometimes, sir...

Q: No, that time, at the time when you had the marking why was there no barangay official?
A: At that time sir, we make (sic) effort to coordinate at the barangay but there [was] no available barangay official.

Q: What about the member of the media, why was there no member of media?

COURT:

Was Edwin Moreno not around during that time?

A: He [was] around, sir.

COURT:

He [was] around.

PROSECUTOR ABUAY, JR.:

Q: Why did he not sign the certificate?

COURT:

Answer.

WITNESS:

A: He did not sign, sir.

PROSECUTOR ABUAY, JR.:
Q: Why?
A: Our Chief, DAID, did not sign any...

COURT:

Si Edwin Moreno, sabi mo kasi [kanina] andun siya, ang tanong ni fiscal bakit hindi mo pinapirma?

A: Edwin Moreno?

COURT:

Oo, sabi mo [kanina], he [was] around.

PROSECUTOR ABUAY, JR.:

Why was (sic) no media (sic) signed?

A: There [was] no media around and also barangay official.[21]

In People v. Reyes,[22] this Court enumerated certain instances where the absence of the required witnesses may be justified, thus:

It must be emphasized that the prosecution must be able to prove a justifiable ground in omitting certain requirements provided in Sec. 21 such as, but not limited to the following: (1) media representatives are not available at that time or that the police operatives had no time to alert the media due to the immediacy of the operation they were about to undertake, especially if it is done in more remote areas; (2) the police operatives, with the same reason, failed to find an available representative of the National Prosecution Service; (3) the police officers, due to time constraints brought about by the urgency of the operation to be undertaken and in order to comply with the provisions of Article 125[23] of the Revised Penal Code in the timely delivery of prisoners, were not able to comply with all the requisites set forth in Section 21 of R.A. 9165.

And in People of the Philippines v. Vicente Sipin y De Castro,[24] we held:

The prosecution never alleged and proved that the presence of the required witnesses was not obtained for any of the following reasons, such as: (1) their attendance was impossible because the place of arrest was a remote area; (2) their safety during the inventory and photograph of the seized drugs was threatened by an immediate retaliatory action of the accused or any person/s acting for and in his/her behalf; (3) the elected official[s] themselves were involved in the punishable acts sought to be apprehended; (4) earnest efforts to secure the presence of a DOJ or media representative and an elected public official within the period required under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code prove futile through no fault of the arresting officers, who face the threat of being charged with arbitrary detention; or (5) time constraints and urgency of the anti-drug operations, which often rely on tips of confidential assets, prevented the law enforcers from obtaining the presence of the required witnesses even before the offenders could escape.

The prosecution's failure to offer any justifiable reason for its non-compliance with Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165 resulted in a substantial gap in the chain of custody of the seized item from petitioner which placed the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized item in question. Therefore, we find petitioner's acquittal of the crime charged in order.

We find no basis on the RTC's and the CA's findings that the police officer regularly performed his official duty. Judicial reliance on the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty despite the lapses in the procedures undertaken by the agents of the law is fundamentally flawed because the lapses themselves are affirmative proofs of irregularity.[25] The presumption of regularity in the performance of duty cannot overcome the stronger presumption of innocence in favor of the accused. Otherwise, a mere rule of evidence will defeat the constitutionally enshrined right to be presumed innocent.[26]

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the petition for review on certiorari is GRANTED. The Decision dated March 28, 2017 and the Resolution dated October 11, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 37912 are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner Jesus Edangalino y Dionisio is accordingly ACQUITTED for failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ORDERED to immediately cause the release of petitioner from detention, unless he is being held for some other lawful cause, and to inform this Court his action hereon within five (5) days from receipt of this Decision.

SO ORDERED.

Caguioa, J. Reyes, Jr., and Lazaro-Javier, JJ., concur.
Lopez, J., on wellness leave.

[1] Rollo, pp. 11-28.
[2] Id. at 32-44. Penned by Associate Justice Elihu A. Ybañez, and concurred in by Associate Justices Magdangal M. De Leon and Carmelita Salandanan Manahan.
[3] Id. at 68-75. Penned by Presiding Judge Armando C. Velasco.
[4] Id. at 46-47.
[5] Records, pp. 1-2.
[6] Id. at 1.
[7] Id. at 25.
[8] Rollo, pp. 34-36.
[9] Supra note 3.
[10] Id. at 74-75.
[11] Supra note 2.
[12] Id. at 43.
[13] Supra note 4.
[14] Rollo, p. 17.
[15] Carino, et al. v. People, 600 Phil. 433, 444 (2009).
[16] People of the Philippines v. Rogelio Yagao y Llaban, G.R. No. 216725, February 18, 2019.
[17] Took effect on July 23, 2014.

Section 1 of Republic Act No. 10640 provides:

Section 1. x x x.

"SEC. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs, Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals, Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. - The PDEA shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated, seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:

"(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, conduct a physical inventory of the seized items and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, with an elected public official and a representative of the National Prosecution Service or the media who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof: Provided, That the physical inventory and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of warrantless seizures: Provided, finally, That noncompliance of these requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures and custody over said items."

[18] People of the Philippines v. Robert D. Duran, G.R. No. 233251, March 13, 2019.
[19] TSN, February 27, 2013, pp. 12-15.
[20] People v. De Guzman y Danzil, 630 Phil. 637, 649 (2010).
[21] TSN, February 27, 2013, pp. 21-23.
[22] G.R. No. 219953, April 23, 2018, 862 SCRA 352, 367-368.
[23] Article 125. Delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities. - The penalties provided in the next preceding article shall be imposed upon the public officer or employee who shall detain any person for some legal ground and shall fail to deliver such person to the proper judicial authorities within the period of twelve (12) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by light penalties, or their equivalent; eighteen (18) hours, for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties, or their equivalent and thirty-six (36) hours, for crimes, or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties, or their equivalent. In every case, the person detained shall be informed of the cause of his detention and shall be allowed upon his request, to communicate and confer at any time with his attorney or counsel. (As amended by E.O. Nos. 59 and 272, Nov. 7, 1986 and July 25, 1987, respectively).
[24] G.R. No. 224290, June 11, 2018.
[25] People of the Philippines v. Gerald Arvin Elinto Ramirez and Belinda Galienba Lachica, G.R. No. 225690, January 17, 2018.
[26] People of the Philippines v. Dave Claudel y Lucas, G.R. No. 219852, April 3, 2019.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. JOSEPH SOLAMILLO AMAGO AND CERILO BOLONGAITA VENDIOLA, JR., ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 227739, January 15, 2020 ]

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, C.J.:

On appeal is the May 31, 2016 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC. No. 01953 which affirmed the September 17, 2014 Judgment[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 7th Judicial Region, Branch 30, Dumaguete City, in Criminal Case No. 2013-21877, finding accused-appellants Joseph Solamilio Amago and Cerilo Bolongaita Vendiola, Jr. guilty of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

In an Amended Information[3] dated September 25, 2013, accused-appellants were charged with illegal transportation of dangerous drugs, specifically, violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, committed as follows:

That on or about the 5th day of September, 2013 in the City of Dumaguete, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, JOSEPH SOLAMILLO AMAGO and CERILO BOLONGAITA VENDIOLA, JR. conspiring, confederating and mutually aiding each other, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly deliver or transport six [6] pieces elongated heat-sealed transparent plastic sachet/s containing white crystalline substance weighing 0.05 gram/s, 0.06 gram/s, 0.05 gram/s, 0.06 gram/s, 0.02 gram/s and 0.07 gram/s, respectively, or with a total aggregate weight of 0.31 [gram], more or less, without any lawful authority or permission to deliver or transport the same and which substances after examination conducted on specimen was found positive to the test of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride, also known as shabu, a dangerous drug, in violation of Republic Act No. 9165.

That the accused JOSEPH SOLAMILLO AMAGO was found positive for Methamphetamine, a dangerous drug, as reflected in Chemistry Report No. DT-105-13.

That the accused CERILO BOLONGAITA VENDIOLA, JR., was found positive for Methamphetamine, a dangerous drug, as reflected in Chemistry Report No. DT-106-13.

Contrary to Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165.[4]

In their arraignment, accused-appellants pleaded not guilty[5] and the trial of the case subsequently ensued.

The prosecution presented Police Chief Inspector (PCI) Josephine Llena, Police Officer 3 (PO3) Edilmar Manaban, Police Officer 2 (PO2) Rico Larena, Police Auxiliary Unit (PAU) member Emilio Silva Pinero, Police Senior Inspector (PSI) Don Richmon Conag, PO2 Placido Xandro Paclauna, Police Officer 1 (PO1) Ranie Cuevas Lee, Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Anthony Chilius Benlot, Barangay Banilad Kagawads Ceasar A. Parong and Alfredo M. Omoyon, and media representatives Juancho Gallarde and Anthony Maginsay as its witnesses. Meanwhile, the defense presented accused-appellants as its witnesses.

Version of the Prosecution

On September 5, 2013, at around 8:00 a.m., PO2 Larena was on duty at the Dumaguete City Police Station, together with Pi?ero, a civilian contractual employee of the City of Dumaguete detailed with the PAU, a program for the city to augment the police force. They were ordered by PSI Conag to join in the conduct of a police checkpoint along the South National Highway, at the crossing of Sta. Monica Road, Barangay Banilad, Dumaguete City, as a security measure to strengthen precautions against any possible terror plans by any threat group or indivMual law violator. PO2 Larena and Pi?ero went to the said area at around 8:30 a.m. of the same day. They positioned themselves at about one hundred (100) meters away from the checkpoint sign for northbound vehicles to pass through them before reaching the actual checkpoint stand sign.[6]

At around 9:45 a.m. of the same day, PO2 Larena and Piñero noticed two (2) persons onboard a blue and black Honda Wave 125 motorcycle, bearing LTO plate number 2352 IR, pass by their location. Before reaching the checkpoint sign, the driver of the motorcycle appeared to be rattled and he abruptly executed a U-turn and went back towards the direction of PO2 Larena and Pi?ero. The action of the two (2) persons led PO2 Larena and Pi?ero to believe that they have committed traffic violations or were transporting/delivering something illegal. PO2 Larena was prompted to walk in the middle of the road and Pi?ero to drive his motorcycle to block the two (2) motorists. Before the two (2) motorists could reach PO2 Larena and Pi?ero, the driver intentionally slumped down his motorcycle and, in doing so, his t-shirt was lifted, enabling PO2 Larena to see in plain view the handle of a handgun that was tucked in his waistband. PO2 Larena and Pi?ero cautiously went over to the driver and his companion. PO2 Larena asked the driver for the necessary license and permit to carry the said firearm. However, the driver could not produce the necessary papers, leading to his arrest for illegal possession of firearm by PO2 Larena; he was simultaneously apprised of his constitutional rights in the Visayan dialect. Subsequently, the driver was identified as Amago. Meanwhile, at the same instance that the motorcycle was slumped down, Pi?ero saw a folding knife protrude from the left pocket of the passenger. As he informed PO2 Larena of what he saw, they confiscated the knife from the passenger.[7]

As PO2 Larena confiscated from Amago the loaded handgun which was a caliber .45 pistol colt with serial number 566124, he bodily searched Amago and was able to recover and seize another load of magazine, a black-colored holster, a cellular phone, and money amounting to five hundred sixty pesos (P560.00). The utility box of the motorcycle was also searched by PO2 Larena to check if there were other illegal firearms concealed inside. Eventually it was found out that the utility box contained one (1) peppermint gum container with six (6) elongated heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets containing white crystalline granules. From his training and experience, PO2 Larena was able to conclude that the sachets contained "shabu." This led to the rearrest of Amago for illegal possession of "shabu" and was again apprised of his constitutional rights in Visayan dialect.[8]

At the crime scene, PO2 Larena marked the six (6) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets with "JSA-P1-9-5-13" to "JSA-P6-9-5-13" then signed the same. JSA stood for Joseph Solamillo Amago, P stood for the crime of possession, and numbers 9-5-13 referred to the date of the incident. The other items that were recovered from Amago were also marked at the crime scene. Subsequent to the marking of the items recovered from Amago, PO2 Larena arrested the passenger for illegal possession of bladed weapon and was apprised of his constitutional rights, also in the Visayan dialect. Incident to his arrest, the passenger was bodily searched, which resulted in the recovery and seizure of one (1) improvised tooter and one (1) folder strip of aluminum foil suspected to be used for illegal drugs. The passenger was later identified as Vendiola. At the crime scene, PO2 Larena marked the three (3) items confiscated from Vendiola, as follows: "CBVJ-P1-9-5-13" for the improvised tooter; "CBVJ-P2-9-5-13" for the folding knife; and "CBVJ-P3-9-5-13" for the aluminum foil.[9] The same method was used in marking the items seized from Vendiola.

After marking the items confiscated from accused-appellants, PO2 Larena conducted an inventory of the seized items in their presence, together with Barangay Banilad Kagawad Felomino Flores, Jr., Omoyon, Parong, Maginsay,and Gallarde, who signed the two (2) receipts/inventories prepared by PO2 Paclauna, who was ordered to proceed to the crime scene. PO2 Larena as seizing officer and PO1 Lee, the assigned photographer, signed both receipts/inventories during the conduct of the inventory. PO2 Larena and Pinero then brought the seized and confiscated items, together with accused-appellants, to the Dumaguete City Police Station for the continuation of the inventory, as well as the standard booking procedure. The inventory was continued at the City Anti-Illegal Drugs Operations Task Group office inside the police station as the DOJ representative, Benlot, arrived and signed both receipts/inventories upon verification that the items listed tallied with the items he saw on the table. When the inventory was finished, PO2 Larena placed the six (6) transparent plastic sachets, containing suspected "shabu," inside a brown envelope and sealed it with a masking tape and affixed his signature thereon. PO2 Larena then prepared a Memorandum Request for Laboratory Examination and Drug Test for Amago and a Memorandum Request for Drug Test for Vendiola, addressed to the Provincial Chief of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory Office in Dumaguete City and signed by PSI Benedick Poblete.[10]

It was PO3 Manaban from the crime laboratory who received the tape-sealed envelope containing six (6) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets with markings "JSA-P1-9-5-13" to "JSA-P6-9-5-13," indicated in the Memorandum Request, at 2:15 p.m. Upon checking if the contents tallied with the Memorandum Request, PO3 Manaban resealed the envelope and kept the items inside his locker to which he has the only access to. Afterwards, PO3 Manaban took separate urine samples from accused-appellants and kept the same in the refrigerator in the laboratory. At 6:05 a.m. of September 6, 2013, PO3 Manaban submitted Jo a forensic chemist of the crime laboratory, PCI Llena, the tape-sealed envelope containing the seized items. Upon receipt, PCI Llena made her own markings on the specimens, and weighed them that resulted with an aggregate weight of 0.31 gram. The conduct of a qualitative examination on the seized items yielded a positive result for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride. Her findings and conclusions were indicated in her Chemistry Report No. D-156-13. Urine samples were taken from accused-appellants, and the screening and confirmatory tests conducted gave a positive result for the presence of Methamphetamine. The results were indicated in Chemistry Report No. DT-105-13 and Chemistry Report No. DT-106-13. The pieces of evidence were then kept in the evidence vault of the crime laboratory, accessed only by PCI Llena, prior to the submission to the court for trial.[11]

Version of the Defense

The defense presented accused-appellants as its witnesses, and the following facts were established in their combined testimonies.

Amago is married, worked as a bamboo furniture maker, and a resident of Barangay Lutao, Bacong, Negros Oriental. On the other hand, Vendiola is married, worked as an ambulance driver, and is a resident of West Poblacion, Bacong, Negros Oriental. Accused-appellants are longtime friends and neighbors as they are residents of adjacent barangays.[12]

At about 7:00 a.m. of September 5, 2013, Amago was at his house tending to his cow and at past 8:00 a.m., he decided to go to Dumaguete City to collect his receivables from his customers on Sta. Rosa Street, Dumaguete City who previously bought bamboo furniture on installment basis. Meanwhile, also at around 8:00 a.m., Vendiola just finished his duty as an ambulance driver of Bacong Municipal Health Office. As he was off duty, Vendiola immediately went to a privately-owned auto repair shop because the ambulance he was using needed an oil change. The shop mechanic then told him that he needed an oil filter to be procured by him at Diesel Auto Parts in Tabuc-tubig, Dumaguete City.[13]

During that time, Amago was traversing the South National Highway onboard a borrowed motorcycle allegedly owned by Roger Pamen. Vendiola saw Amago and asked where Amago was headed. Amago replied that he was on his way to Dumaguete City and Vendiola asked for a ride since he was also headed to Dumaguete City to buy the said oil filter. Upon reaching Dumaguete City, Amago saw a checkpoint sign somewhere near Sta. Monica Road, Banilad, Dumaguete City. He slowed down and eventually stopped before reaching the checkpoint knowing that the registration of the borrowed motorcycle had already expired. While both accused-appellants were parked on the shoulder of the road, they were approached by a male person in civilian clothes who introduced himself as a police officer and later identified by Amago as PO2 Paclauna. Right after, Amago was asked to show his driver's license and registration. He told PO2 Paclauna that the motorcycle he was driving had an expired registration and that it was borrowed. Eventually, PO2 Paclauna informed Amago that he would impound the motorcycle.[14]

Thereafter, Vendiola disembarked from the motorcycle while Amago remained seated there. PO1 Lee approached Vendiola and the two spoke with each other; Amago did not hear the conversation. PO1 Lee then approached and informed PO2 Paclauna that Amago still had not returned the three thousand pesos (P3,000.00) that PO1 Lee gave him for the bamboo intended for the fence of his house. PO2 Paclauna responded and told PO1 Lee, "butangan nato ni" which means that they would plant evidence against Amago. Right after, PO2 Paclauna kicked the motorcycle while Amago was still seated thereon that resulted in Amago falling from the motorcycle. Vendiola tried to approach Amago but he was told by PO1 Lee to go away. PO1 Lee then dragged Vendiola towards a Tamaraw FX which was parked about fifty (50) meters away from where Amago fell. Afterwards, PO1 Lee bodily searched Vendiola and recovered from him a request slip from the shop mechanic, a folding knife, and twenty-five pesos (P25.00); afterwards, Vendiola was made to board the Tamaraw FX.[15]

On the other hand, Amago was handcuffed by PO2 Paclauna, together with another police officer in civilian clothes, and was dragged towards the grassy portion near an acacia tree in the same direction where the Tamaraw FX was parked. Later on, a table taken from the Tamaraw FX was set up on a grassy area. The items recovered and seized from Amago were placed on the table. It was then when Amago was told that the six (6) sachets, containing suspected "shabu," came from the utility box of the borrowed motorcycle he was driving.[16]

When Amago was detained, it was the only time when he found out that he was charged with possession of illegal drugs. Surprisingly, when Amago was preparing his counter-affidavit, he was informed that he was already being charged with violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165. Amago denied the crimes charged against him and claimed that he had no knowledge of the drugs that were allegedly taken from the motorcycle he was driving.[17]

Vendiola, on the other hand, did not know that he was already arrested when he was made to board the Tamaraw FX. He also denied ownership of the drug paraphernalia allegedly recovered from him. He was surprised by the fact that he was being chafed with violation of Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 as there were no illegal drugs confiscated from him. Lastly, he denied knowing PO2 Larena and Pinero prior to the incident nor does he have any grudge with either of the two.[18]

RTC Ruling

After trial, the RTC handed a guilty verdict on accused-appellants for violation of Article II, Section 5 of R.A. No. 9165 for the sale, trade, delivery, administration, dispensation, distribution and transportation of shabu. The dispositive portion of the September 17, 2014 Judgment[19] states:

WHEREFORE, in the light of the foregoing, the two (2) accused JOSEPH SOLAMILLO AMAGO and CERILO BOLONGAITA VENDIOLA, JR. are hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of illegal transport of 0.31 gram of shabu in violation of Section 5, Article II of RA 9165 and are hereby sentenced each to suffer a penalty of life imprisonment and each to pay a fine of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00).

The six (6) heat-sealed transparent plastic sachets with markings "JSA-P1-9-5-13" to "JSA-P6-9-5-13" and containing 0.05 gram, 0.06 gram, 0.05 gram, 0.06 gram, 0.02 gram and 0.07 gram, respectively, or with a total aggregate weight of 0.31 gram of shabu are hereby confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government and to be disposed of in accordance with law.

In the service of sentence, the accused JOSEPH SOLAMILLO AMAGO and CERILO BOLONGAITA VENDIOLA, JR. shall be credited with the full time during which they have undergone preventive imprisonment, provided they agree voluntarily in writing to abide by the same disciplinary rules imposed upon convicted prisoners.

SO ORDERED.[20]

CA Ruling

Accused-appellants, on appeal, assigned before the CA the following issues:

[I.]

THE HONORABLE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING AS EVIDENCE THE SEIZED ITEM BEING THE FRUIT OF A POISONOUS TREE.

[II.]

THE HONORABLE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANTS DESPITE THE FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO PROVE THE ELEMENTS OF THE CRIME CHARGED.

[III.]

THE HONORABLE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THE EXISTENCE OF CONSPIRACY IN THE INSTANT CASE.[21]

On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC Judgment. It was convinced that the trial court was correct in admitting the seized items as evidence as the warrantless search was incidental to a lawful arrest. The CA was in the position that the fact that there is actual conveyance suffices to support a finding that the act of transporting is committed and it is immaterial whether the place of destination is reached. On the issue of conspiracy, taking into consideration all the circumstances, the CA inevitably led to conclude that there was a concerted action between accused-appellants before and during the time when the offense was carried out, which ably demonstrated their unity of design and objective to transport the dangerous drugs. Lastly, according to the CA, there was no reason to detract from the trial court's pronouncement, the same being supported by the records; thus, accused-appellants' defense of denial deserves scant consideration as it is viewed with disfavor.

Before us, the People manifested that it would no longer file a supplemental brief in view of the adequate discussion of the relevant issues and arguments in its Brief for the Appellee.[22] On the other hand, accused-appellants submitted a Supplemental Brief.[23] Essentially, they maintain their main arguments in the CA that the dangerous drugs allegedly seized from them were inadmissible in evidence for being the fruit of a poisonous tree, the elements of the crime charged were not sufficiently established, and the conspiracy in the commission of the crime was not proven.

Our Ruling

We find the appeal bereft of merit.

On the first assignment of error, the record shows that there have been valid in flagrante delicto arrests. Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides the occasions on which a person may be arrested without a warrant, to wit:

Section 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. ? A 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 just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and

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

As per the established facts during the trial, the instant case falls within paragraph (a). For a warrantless arrest of an accused caught in flagrante delicto to be valid, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.[24]

It is apparent that Amago's act of making an abrupt U-turn, instead of stopping at the checkpoint sign, made a reasonable belief for the police officers to suspect that accused-appellants might have committed some traffic violations or delivering something illegal. The police officers stopped them and, in the course, Amago intentionally slumped down the motorcycle he was riding causing his t-shirt to be lifted, thereby exposing the handle of a handgun that was tucked in his waistband. At the same time, Pi?ero saw a folding knife protruding from the left pocket of Vendiola who had fallen from the motorcycle. Due to the failure of Amago to produce any license to carry the firearm and for the illegal possession of a bladed weapon by Vendiola, they were arrested.

Meanwhile, regarding the admissibility of the confiscated items, they fall within the exception of warrantless search. The search conducted inside the utility box of the motorcycle was legal. A search incident to a lawful arrest under Section 13, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court states:

SEC. 13. Search incident to lawful arrest. ? A person lawfully arrested may be searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in the commission of an offense without a search warrant.

In the instant case, tire shabu was found in a peppermint gum container inside the utility box of accused-appellants' motorcycle that was within their immediate control. Therefore, it is within the permissible area that the apprehending officers could validly execute a warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest.

In People v. Uyboco,[25] this Court declared that:

In lawful arrests, it becomes both the duty and the right of the apprehending officers to conduct a warrantless search not only on the person of the suspect, but also in the permissible area within the latter's reach. Otherwise stated, a valid arrest allows the seizure of evidence or dangerous weapons either on the person of the one arrested or within the area of his immediate control. The phrase "within the area of his immediate control" means the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.[26]

It is worth mentioning that in the present case, there was a strict compliance with the chain of custody rule under Section 21 (1) of R.A. No. 9165 which specifies that:

The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice, and any elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy thereof.

In the instant case, the prosecution presented PO1 Lee, Benlot, Parong, Omoyon, Gallarde and Maginsay as witnesses who were all present during the inventory. All the persons mentioned above were required witnesses mandated by Section 21 of R.A. No. 9165. In fact, the handling of evidence in the crime laboratory was specifically proven by the prosecution to have been preserved with integrity. Hence, there is no room for doubt and there are no other reasons for the seized items not to be admitted as evidence in this case.

On the second issue, under Section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 or illegal delivery or transportation of prohibited drugs, the provision reads:

Section 5. Sale, Trading, Administration, Dispensation, Delivery, Distribution and Transportation of Dangerous Drugs and/or Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals. ? The 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.

Accused-appellants contend that the prosecution failed to prove the fact of delivery or transport of the seized illegal drugs by them to another person or entity. They are in the position that the act of passing on the dangerous drugs from one to the other must be established. The mere presence of dangerous drugs inside the motorcycle should not be construed to mean that such items were intended for delivery.

This Court does not agree.

"Transport" as used under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 means "to carry or convey x x x from one place to another." The essential element of the charge is the movement of the dangerous drug from one place to another.[27]

There is no definitive moment when an accused "transports" a prohibited drug. When the circumstances establish the purpose of an accused to transport and the fact of transportation itself, there should be no question as to the perpetration of the criminal act. The fact that there is actual conveyance suffices to support a finding that the act of transporting was committed.[28]

In the instant case, records established that accused-appellants were found in possession of six (6) sachets containing shabu. It cannot be denied that they used a motor vehicle to transport the said illegal drugs from one place to another. As stated earlier, transportation means to carry or convey from one place to another, the fact alone that the accused-appellants were found in possession of the illegal drugs while traversing the South National Highway is sufficient to justify their conviction.

Accused-appellants argued that the prosecution failed to prove the fact of delivery or transport of the seized illegal drugs to another person or entity. They are in the position that the act of passing on the dangerous drugs from one to the other must be established and the mere presence of a dangerous drug inside the vehicle could not be construed to mean that such item is intended for delivery.

We do not agree.

The case of People v. Del Mundo[29] provides that:

The very act of transporting a prohibited drug, like in the instant case, is a malum prohibitum since it is punished as an offense under a special law. The mere commission of the act constitutes the offense and is sufficient to validly charge and convict an individual committing the act, regardless of criminal intent.

Since the crime is malum prohibitum, it is inconsequential to prove that the illegal drugs were delivered or transported to another person. The only thing that had to be proven was the movement of the illegal drugs from one place to another. The records show that the prosecution has successfully proven such fact. The testimony of PO2 Larena sufficiently provided the following details in his direct testimony:

Q: Mister Witness, basing the direction of the Dumaguete City, which side of the road were you located?
A: Right side ma'am.

Q: When you were near the crossing of San Jose, what happened?
A: We noticed two (2) persons riding in tandem going to the North direction.

x x x x

Q: What were used by the two (2) persons?
A: Motorcycle color blue and black ma'am.

Q: When you noticed the two (2) persons, what happened next?
A: They passed to where we stood up going towards the North direction ma'am and before they reached the next stand sign ma'am, they made a U-turn ma'am.

Q: Were you able to see them from the position where you were positioned?
A: Yes ma'am.

Q: When you noticed them making a U-turn, what happened next?
A: So I and my buddy went immediately to the middle of the road to block the said motorist ma'am.[30]

The evidence on record established beyond reasonable doubt that accused-appellants were in possession of the illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. The items were found inside the vehicle they were using at the time they were apprehended. In fact, accused-appellants tried to evade arrest by making an abrupt U-turn before reaching the checkpoint. They were also in possession of an illegal firearm and a bladed weapon. It is worthy to note that they both tested positive for the use of illegal drugs. Taking into consideration all the circumstances of the present case, there is no doubt that accused-appellants were transporting illegal drugs. Their bare, unsubstantiated, unpersuasive and uncorroborated denials will not suffice to absolve them from any liability.

The Court stressed in People v. Maongco, et al.[31] that:

Moreover, accused-appellants' uncorroborated defenses of denial and claims of frame-up cannot prevail over the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti. The testimonies of police officers who caught the accused-appellants in flagrante delicto are usually credited with more weight and credence, in the absence of evidence that they have been inspired by an improper or ill motive, than the defenses of denial and frame-up of an accused which have been invariably viewed with disfavor for it can easily be concocted. In order to prosper, the defenses of denial and frame-up must be proved with strong and convincing evidence, which accused-appellants failed to present in this case.[32] (Citation omitted)

The last issue presented by the accused-appellants is their position that the conspiracy in the commission of the crime was not proven. They argued that in the instant case, the prosecution failed to establish that both of them assented to the same act of delivering or transporting the six (6) sachets of shabu.

We are not persuaded.

In People v. Lababo,[33] citing Bahilidad v. People,[34] the Court summarized the basic principles in determining whether conspiracy exists or not. Thus:

There is conspiracy when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. Conspiracy is not presumed. Like the physical acts constituting the crime itself, the elements of conspiracy must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. While conspiracy need not be established by direct evidence, for it may be inferred from the conduct of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime, all taken together, however, the evidence must be strong enough to show the community of criminal design. For conspiracy to exist, it is essential that there must be a conscious design to commit an offense. Conspiracy is the product of intentionality on the part of the cohorts.

It is necessary that a conspirator should have performed some overt act as a direct or indirect contribution to the execution of the crime committed. The overt act may consist of active participation in the actual commission of the crime itself, or it may consist of moral assistance to his [co-conspirators] by being present at the commission of the crime or by exerting moral ascendancy over the other [co-conspirators]. Hence, the mere presence of an accused at the discussion of a conspiracy, even approval of it, without any active participation in the same, is not enough for purposes of conviction.[35]

Conspiracy is said to exist where two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. It can be proven by evidence of a chain of circumstances and may be inferred from the acts of the accused before, during, and after the commission of the crime which indubitably point to and are indicative of a joint purpose, concert of action and community of interest.[36] The CA correctly ruled that conspiracy existed based from the totality of the circumstances of the instant case. The CA held that:

Based on the evidence on record, We do not entertain any doubt that conspiracy had animated the perpetrators in delivering or transporting the seized illegal drugs: Amago conspired with Vendiola in a common desire to transport the dangerous drugs using the motorcycle. Both were positively identified to have been respectively carrying a firearm, a folding knife, an improvised tooter and a folded strip of aluminum foil. As they approached the checkpoint sign, accused-appellants appeared rattled and hastily executed a u-turn, which clearly manifest that they were committing some offense. They were then apprehended for illegal possession of firearm and illegal possession of a bladed weapon. The arrest further resulted to the confiscation of the illegal drugs in the u-box of the motorcycle. It is worth noting as well that both the accused-appellants tested positive for methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu.[37]

The evidence shows that the chain of circumstances necessarily leads to the conclusion that there was concerted action between accused-appellants, with the objective of transporting illegal drugs.

Based on the foregoing, we sustain accused-appellants' conviction.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the September 17, 2014 Judgment[38] of the Regional Trial Court in Criminal Case No. 2013-21877, finding Joseph Solamillo Amago and Cerilo Bolongaita Vendiola, Jr. guilty of violating Section 5, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, and the May 31, 2016 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC. No. 01953, which affirmed the September 17, 2014 Judgment of the RTC, are AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Caguioa, J. Reyes, Jr., Lazaro-Javier, and Lopez, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 4-34. Penned by Associate Justice Geraldine C. Fiel-Macaraig, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Edgardo L. Delos Santos and Edward B. Contreras.
[2] Records, pp. 217-223.
[3] Id. at 83-84.
[4] Id.
[5] Id. at 101.
[6] CA rollo, pp. 99-100.
[7] Id. at 100-101.
[8] Id. at 101-102.
[9] Id. at 40.
[10] Id. at 41.
[11] Id. at 41-42.
[12] Id. at 42-43.
[13] Id. at 43.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id. at 43-44.
[17] Id. at 44.
[18] Id.
[19] Records, pp. 217-223.
[20] Id. at 222-a.
[21] CA rollo, pp. 29-33.
[22] Id. at 66-87.
[23] Rollo, pp. 57-65.
[24] Zalameda v. People, Phil. 710, 729 (2009).
[25] 655 Phil. 143 (2011).
[26] Id. at 172.
[27] People v. Dimaano, 780 Phil. 586, 603 (2016).
[28] People v. Asislo, 778 Phil. 509, 523 (2016).
[29] 418 Phil. 740, 755 (2001).
[30] TSN, PO2 Larena, June 18, 2014, p. 4.
[31] 720 Phil. 488 (2013).
[32] Id. at 509-510.
[33] G.R. No. 234651, June 6, 2018, 865 SCRA 609, 628.
[34] 629 Phil. 567, 575 (2010).
[35] Id. at 628.
[36] People v. Peralta, 435 Phil. 743, 764 (2002).
[37] Rollo, pp. 29-30.
[38] Records, pp. 217-223.

RE: INCIDENT REPORT ON THE ALLEGED IMPROPER CONDUCT OF ALLAN CHRISTER C. CASTILLO, DRIVER I, MOTORPOOL SECTION, PROPERTY DIVISION, OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES.

FIRST DIVISION
[ A.M. No. 2019-08-SC, January 15, 2020 ]

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, C.J.:

Before Us is an administrative complaint for simple misconduct against Allan Christer C. Castillo, Driver I of the Motorpool Section, Property Division, Office of Administrative Services.

In the afternoon of June 14, 2019, while the Supreme Court is celebrating its anniversary, a personnel of the Security Division reported that in the vicinity of the Supreme Court gate at the corner of Padre Faura Street and Taft Avenue, Castillo slapped Andrew Alojacin, a 16-year-old he per and nephew of Emelinda V. Taotao, a concessionaire selling food at stall space number 85.[1]

Per on-site investigation conducted by the Security Division, Ms. Taotao alleged that Castillo, who appeared to be under the influence of liquor, was ordering a sausage when he seemingly got annoyed at her nephew's laughter while the latter was having a happy conversation with another person. Castillo then slapped her nephew and threatened them with the words "Kahit magsumbong pa kayo sa taas," while gesturing towards the upper side of the Supreme Court Centennial Building.[2]

On the other hand, in the July 1,2019 explanation letter[3] of Mr. Castillo, he stated tht he was looking at items at the stalls in the area when he noticed two (2) women laughing at him. Moments later, one of them called Mr. Alojacin, who drew close to him and placed his face next to his while simultaneously bursting into laughter. The latter then called the attention of another boy and shouted "Huy, kamukha mo oh!" while continuing to laugh.

He said that while he was insulted by these antics, he did not strike Mr. Alojacin. He only rebuffed him saying "hindi kita kabiruan ha?" while pointing his right index finger at him, and coincidentally touching the latter's forehead while doing so.[4]

The said incident was recorded by a Supreme Court CCTV camera monitoring the area at the time.

As shown by the CCTV recording, occupants of stall 85 did not engage in any kind of banter or horseplay as claimed by the respondent, but were merely selling their wares. Instead, it was respondent who was the aggressor, contrary to his explanation letter[5] dated July 1, 2019.

It can be clearly seen on the CCTV recording that respondent, who was carrying a pizza box and wearing- a ball cap turned backwards with his face clearly visible, casually walked from the right side of the screen and exited the gate to Padre Faura Street. Seconds later, he returned and walked straight to stall 85 and confronted a youth in a red shirt working therein. He then argued with one of the women manning the stall and suddenly threw a right hook punch at the youth, who flinched and gripped the frame of the tent stall. Respondent was pacified by the responding Security Division personnel and eventually left the area.

Being an employee of the Supreme Court, a high degree of comportment and decorum is expected from the respondent. His acts, whether part of his official duties or in his private capacity, reflect upon the Court as an institution.

It also bears stressing that even if the act was committed after office hours and was not in any way connected with his official duties, respondent must still be held accountable. In Bonono, Jr. v. Sunit,[6] We aid that "employees of the Judiciary should be very circumspect on how they conduct themselves inside and outside the office. It matters not that his acts were not work-related."

The acts of the respondent of lashing out and striking Mr. Alojacin constitute the administrative offense of Conduct Unbecoming of a Court Employee amounting to Simple Misconduct, as defined in the case of De Los Santos v. Vasquez[7] as any scandalous behavior or act that may erode the people's esteem for the Judiciary.

The administrative liability of court personnel - who are not judges or justices of the lower courts - shall be governed by the Code of Co duct for Court Personnel, which incorporates, among others, the civil service laws and rules.

Under the 2017 Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service,[8] simple Misconduct may be penalized by one (1) month and one (1) d y to six (6) months suspension for the first offense.

Records show that respondent has an unblemished record for more than four (4) years since he commenced working for the Judiciary on February 25, 2015, and has received very satisfactory ratings in his work performance.

However, We do not agree with the Office of the Administrative Services that respondent had shown great remorse concerning the matter simply because he tried to concoct a different story in order to evade liability.

The CCTV recording belies the narration of the respondent in his explanation letter dated July 1, 2019. Respondent does not even admit his wrongdoings. Thus, there is no circumstance to be considered to mitigate the penalty to be meted out against the respondent.

This Court has often emphasized that court employees shall adhere to the exacting standards of morality and decency in order to preserve the Judiciary's good name and standing as a true temple of justice.[9] Respondent indeed fell short of this exacting standard. He had shown lack of decorum, propriety, and respect in his dealings with other people. His actuations also debased the public's regard for the very institution for which he works, warranting administrative sanction. Any conduct that would be a bane to the public trust and confidence reposed in the Judiciary cannot be countenanced.[10]

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Allan Christer C. Castillo, Driver I of the Motorpool Section, Property Division, Office of Administrative Services, GUILTY of Conduct Unbecoming of a Court Employee amounting to Simple Misconduct. He is hereby suspended without pay for a period of one (1) month and (1) day, with a stem warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

This Decision takes effect immediately.

SO ORDERED.


Caguioa, J. Reyes, Jr., Lazaro-Javier, and Lopez, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, p. 1.
[2] Id. at 1-2.
[3] Id. at 5.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] 708 Phil. 1, 6 (2013).
[7] A.M. No. P-18-3792, February 20, 2018.
[8] Resolution No. 1701077, July 3, 2017.
[9] Judge Reyes v. Vidor, 441 Phil. 526, 530 (2002).
[10] In Re: Complaint for Failure to Pay Just Debts against Esther T. Andres, 493 Phil. 1, 12 (2005).

VALENTIN C. MIRANDA, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. MACARIO D. CARPIO, RESPONDENT.

FIRST DIVISION
[ A.C. No. 6281, January 15, 2020 ]

R E S O L U T I O N

PERALTA, C.J.:

For the consideration of the Court is the Report and Recommendation[1] dated June 20, 2019 of the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC), which was submitted pursuant to this Court's Resolution[2] dated December 3, 2014.

On September 26, 2011, the Court issued a Decision[3] which suspended respondent from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, and ordered him to return to complainant the owner's duplicate of OCT No. 0-94 immediately upon receipt of the said Decision. Respondent was warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

In a Resolution[4] dated July 28, 2014, the Court required the respondent to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for failure to comply with the lawful order of the Court; and to comply with the said Order by returning to the complainant the owner's duplicate of OCT No. 0-94. Furthermore, the Court required respondent to file his sworn statement with motion to lift order of suspension with certification to that effect, from the IBP Local Chapter where he is affiliated, and from the Office of the Executive Judge of the courts where he practices his legal profession, to affirm that he has fully served his six (6) months suspension from October 12, 2011 to April 12, 2012, all within ten (10) days from notice.

In a letter[5] dated August 21, 2014, respondent attached a copy of his last letter[6] dated May 25, 2014 to the Court, stating that he was always ready to return the owner's duplicate of OCT No. 0-94. He stated, however, that it was complainant who failed to claim the said title from respondent. He reasoned that he cannot release: the said title to anyone but only to the complainant in the interest of security. He also asserted his advance age as reason to his inability to personally deliver the said title.

In his Explanation/Compliance/Motion to Lift Order of Suspension[7] dated October 28, 2014, respondent also argued that he cannot return the owner's duplicate of OCT No. 0-94 since it was not complainant who gave it to him. He stressed that he received the said copy as proof of his success in handling LRC Case No. M-226 as complainant's counsel. In the same motion, respondent reiterated complainant's failure to personally claim the said copy of the OCT from him.

Further, respondent argued that he was only forced to accept a case without first having his suspension lifted by the Court because of financial necessity, and that he firmly believed that his suspension was automatically lifted.

The OBC recommended that the respondent's motion to lift order of suspension be denied, and to impose a more severe penalty due to the continuing failure of respondent to comply with the Court's Decision dated September 26, 2011.

After a careful review of the records of the case, We resolve to adopt the recommendation of the OBC.

Respondent's contentions that (1) it was complainant who failed to personally claim the owner's duplicate of OCT No. 0-94 from him; and (2) he should not be made to return the said copy of the OCT because he secured the same from the court and not from the complainant, are absurd, and shall not be given any weight or consideration.

As a matter of fact, respondent's actuations are violative of the oath he took before admission to the practice of law, which provides:

I, do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines; I will support its Constitution and obey laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court; I will not wittingly nor willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, or give aid nor consent to the same; I will delay no man for money or malice, and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and discretion, with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients; and I impose upon myself these voluntary obligations without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So help me God.[8]

As an officer of the court, it is a lawyer's duty to uphold the dignity and authority of the Court. The highest form of respect for judicial authority is shown by a lawyer's obedience to court orders and processes.[9]

Respondent cannot escape the fact that he disobeyed the order of the Court by reasoning that it was complainant's fault for not personally claiming the copy of the said OCT from him. The order of the Court was clearly directed at him, and for him alone, to comply. He cannot simply pass this obligation to the complainant.

We do not give any credence to respondent's contention that his failure to return the said copy is also due to his advance age and sickly condition. It may be noted that respondent maintains a law office, which is more than capable to effect the delivery of the said document to the complainant, either personally or through mail.

Also, respondent's arguments that he was only forced to accept a case without first having his suspension lifted by the Court because of financial necessity, and that he firmly believed that his suspension was automatically lifted, are untenable.

In Paras v. Paras,[10] We held respondent administratively liable when he accepted new clients and cases and worked on an amicable settlement for his client with the Department of Agrarian Reform even before the Court lifted his suspension order.

Financial necessity is not' a valid excuse to disregard the order of suspension as meted against respondent. Jurisprudence is replete with cases where the Court held that "the lifting of a lawyer's suspension is not automatic upon the end of the period stated in the Court's decision, and an order from the Court lifting the suspension at the end of the period is necessary in order to enable him to resume the practice of his profession."[11]

WHEREFORE, respondent's motion to lift the order of suspension is hereby DENIED. Atty. MACARIO D. CARPIO is further SUSPENDED from the practice of law for another six (6) months, effective upon receipt of this Resolution.

Likewise, Atty. Carpio is DIRECTED to RETURN the owner's duplicate copy of the OCT No. 0-94 to the complainant. He is again hereby warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Resolution be made part of the records of respondent in the Office of the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court of the Philippines, and be furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and be circulated to all courts.

SO ORDERED.

Caguioa, J. Reyes, Jr., Lazaro-Javier, and Lopez, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 537-539.
[2] Id. at 535-536.
[3] Id. at 438-447.
[4] Id. at 453.
[5] Id. at 478.
[6] Id. at 479-480.
[7] Id. at 489-534.
[8] Emphasis supplied.
[9] Santeco v. Atty. Avance, 659 Phil. 48, 51 (2011).
[10] 807 Phil. 153 (2017).
[11] Maniago v. Atty. De Dios, 631 Phil. 139, 144 (2010), citing A.C. No. 3066, entitled J.K. Mercado and Sons Agricultural Enterprises, Inc. v. De Vera and A.C. No. 4438, entitled Atty. De Vera v. Atty. Meryvn G. Encanto, et al., 375 Phil. 766 (1999); Memorandum dated November 4, 2008 addressed to Justice Consuela Ynares-Santiago, Chairperson, Third Division.

Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010

Republic Act No. 9994
February 15, 2010

REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES
CONGRESS OF THE PHILIPPINES
METRO MANILA

Fourteenth Congress
Third Regular Session

Begun and held in Metro Manila, on Monday, the twenty-seventh day of July, two thousand nine.

REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9994

AN ACT GRANTING ADDITIONAL BENEFITS AND PRIVILEGES TO SENIOR CITIZENS, FURTHER AMENDING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7432, AS AMENDED, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “AN ACT TO MAXIMIZE THE CONTRIBUTION OF SENIOR CITIZENS TO NATION BUILDING, GRANT BENEFITS AND SPECIAL PRIVILEGES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines in Congress assembled:

Section 1. Title. – This Act Shall be known as the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010.”

Sec. 2. Section 1 of Republic Act No. 7432, as amended by Republic Act No. 9257, otherwise known as the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003”, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“SECTION 1. Declaration of Policies and Objectives. – As provided in the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, it is the declared policy of the State to promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living and an improved quality of life. In the Declaration of Principles and State Policies in Article II, Sections 10 and 11, it is further declared that the State shall provide social justice in all phases of national development and that the State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.

“Article XIII, Section 11 of the Constitution provides that the State shall adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development which shall endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost. There shall be priority for the needs of the underprivileged, sick, elderly, disabled, women and children. Article XV, Section 4 of the Constitution Further declares that it is the duty of the family to take care of its elderly members while the State may design programs of social security for them.

“Consistent with these constitutional principles, this Act shall serve the following objectives:

“(a) To recognize the rights of senior citizens to take their proper place in society and make it a concern of the family, community, and government;

“(b) To give full support to the improvement of the total well-being of the elderly and their full participation in society, considering that senior citizens are integral part of Philippine society;

“(c) To motivate and encourage the senior citizens to contribute to nation building;

“(d) To encourage their families and the communities they live with to reaffirm the valued Filipino tradition of caring for the senior citizens;

“(e) To provide a comprehensive health care and rehabilitation system for disabled senior citizens to foster their capacity to attain a more meaningful and productive ageing; and

“(f) To recognize the important role of the private sector in the improvement of the welfare of senior citizens and to actively seek their partnership.

“In accordance with these objectives, this Act shall:

“(1) establish mechanisms whereby the contributions of the senior citizens are maximized;

“(2) adopt measures whereby our senior citizens are assisted and appreciated by the community as a whole;

“(3) establish a program beneficial to the senior citizens, their families and the rest of the community they serve: and

“(4) establish community-based health and rehabilitation programs for senior citizens in every political unit of society.”

Sec. 3. Section 2 of Republic Act No. 7432, as amended by Republic Act No. 9257, otherwise known as the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

SEC. 2. Definition of terms. – For purposes of this Act, these terms are defined as follows:

“(a) Senior citizen or elderly refers to any resident citizen of the Philippines at least sixty (60) years old;

“(b) Geriatrics refer to the branch of medical science devoted to the study of the biological and physical changes and the diseases of old age;

“(c) Lodging establishment refers to a building, edifice, structure, apartment or house including tourist inn, apartelle, motorist hotel, and pension house engaged in catering, leasing or providing facilities to transients, tourists or travelers;

“(d) Medical Services refer to hospital services, professional services of physicians and other health care professionals and diagnostics and laboratory tests that the necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or injury;

“(e) Dental services to oral examination, cleaning, permanent and temporary filling, extractions and gum treatments, restoration, replacement or repositioning of teeth, or alteration of the alveolar or periodontium process of the maxilla and the mandible that are necessary for the diagnosis or treatment of an illness or injury;

“(f) Nearest surviving relative refers to the legal spouse who survives the deceased senior citizen: Provided, That where no spouse survives the decedent, this shall be limited to relatives in the following order of degree of kinship: children, parents, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles and aunts;

“(g) Home health care service refers to health or supportive care provided to the senior citizen patient at home by licensed health care professionals to include, but not limited to, physicians, nurses, midwives, physical therapist and caregivers; and

“(h) Indigent senior citizen, refers to any elderly who is frail, sickly or with disability, and without pension or permanent source of income, compensation or financial assistance from his/her relatives to support his/her basic needs, as determined by the Department of Social Welfare and development (DSWD) in consultation with the National Coordinating and Monitoring Board.”

Sec. 4 Section 4 of Republic Act No. 7432, as amended by Republic Act No. 9257, otherwise known as the “Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003”, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“SEC. 4. Privileges for the Senior Citizens. –

The senior citizens shall be entitled to the following:

“(a) the grant of twenty percent (20%) discount and exemption from the value -added tax (VAT), if applicable, on the sale of the following goods and services from all establishments, for the exclusive use and enjoyment or availment of the senior citizen

“(1) on the purchase of medicines, including the purchase of influenza and pnuemococcal vaccines, and such other essential medical supplies, accessories and equipment to be determined by the Department of Health (DOH).

“The DOH shall establish guidelines and mechanism of compulsory rebates in the sharing of burden of discounts among retailers, manufacturers and distributors, taking into consideration their respective margins;

“(2) on the professional fees of attending physician/s in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics and home health care services;

“(3) on the professional fees of licensed professional health providing home health care services as endorsed by private hospitals or employed through home health care employment agencies;

“(4) on medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinics, and home health care services, in accordance with the rules and regulations to be issued by the DOH, in coordination with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth);

“(5) in actual fare for land transportation travel in public utility buses (PUBs), public utility jeepneys (PUJs), taxis, Asian utility vehicles (AUVs), shuttle services and public railways, including Light Rail Transit (LRT), Mass Rail Transit (MRT), and Philippine National Railways (PNR);

“(6) in actual transportation fare for domestic air transport services and sea shipping vessels and the like, based on the actual fare and advanced booking;

“(7) on the utilization of services in hotels and similar lodging establishments, restaurants and recreation centers;

“(8) on admission fees charged by theaters, cinema houses and concert halls, circuses, leisure and amusement; and

“(9) on funeral and burial services for the death of senior citizens;

“(b) exemption from the payment of individual income taxes of senior citizens who are considered to be minimum wage earners in accordance with Republic Act No. 9504;

“(c) the grant of a minimum of five percent (5%) discount relative to the monthly utilization of water and electricity supplied by the public utilities: Provided, That the individual meters for the foregoing utilities are registered in the name of the senior citizen residing therein: Provided, further, That the monthly consumption does not exceed one hundred kilowatt hours (100 kWh) of electricity and thirty cubic meters (30 m3) of water: Provided, furthermore, That the privilege is granted per household regardless of the number of senior citizens residing therein;

“(d) exemption from training fees for socioeconomic programs;

“(e) free medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees such as, but not limited to, x-rays, computerized tomography scans and blood tests, in all government facilities, subject to the guidelines to be issued by the DOH in coordination with the PhilHealth;

“(f) the DOH shall administer free vaccination against the influenza virus and pneumococcal disease for indigent senior citizen patients;

“(g) educational assistance to senior citizens to pursue pot secondary, tertiary, post tertiary, vocational and technical education, as well as short-term courses for retooling in both public and private schools through provision of scholarships, grants, financial aids, subsides and other incentives to qualified senior citizens, including support for books, learning materials, and uniform allowances, to the extent feasible: Provided, That senior citizens shall meet minimum admission requirements;

“(h) to the extent practicable and feasible, the continuance of the same benefits and privileges given by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS) and the PAG-IBIG, as the case may be, as are enjoyed by those in actual service;

“(i) retirement benefits of retirees from both the government and the private sector shall be regularly reviewed to ensure their continuing responsiveness and sustainability, and to the extent practicable and feasible, shall be upgraded to be at par with the current scale enjoyed by those in actual service;

“(j) to the extent possible, the government may grant special discounts in special programs for senior citizens on purchase of basic commodities, subject to the guidelines to be issued for the purpose by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA);

“(k) provision of express lanes for senior citizens in all commercial and government establishments; in the absence thereof, priority shall be given to them; and

“(l) death benefit assistance of a minimum of Two thousand pesos (Php2, 000.00) shall be given to the nearest surviving relative of a deceased senior citizen which amount shall be subject to adjustments due to inflation in accordance with the guidelines to be issued by the DSWD.cralaw

“In the availment of the privileges mentioned above, the senior citizen, or his/her duly authorized representative, may submit as proof of his/her entitled thereto any of the following:

“(1) an identification card issued by the Office of the Senior Citizen Affairs (OSCA) of the place where the senior citizen resides: Provided, That the identification card issued by the particular OSCA shall be honored nationwide;

“(2) the passport of the senior citizen concerned; and

“(3) other documents that establish that the senior citizen is a citizen of the Republic and is at least sixty (60) years of age as further provided in the implementing rules and regulations.

“In the purchase of goods and services which are on promotional discount, the senior citizen can avail of the promotional discount or the discount provided herein, whichever is higher.cralaw

“The establishment may claim the discounts granted under subsections (a) and (c) of this section as tax deduction based on the cost of the goods sold or services rendered: Provided, That the cost of the discount shall be allowed as deduction from gross income for the same taxable year that the discount is granted: Provided, further, That the total amount of the claimed tax deduction net of VAT, if applicable, shall be included in their gross sales receipts for tax purposes and shall be subject to proper documentation and to the provisions of the National Internal Revenue Code (NICR), as amended.”

Sec. 5. Section 5 of the same Act, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“SEC. 5. Government Assistance. – The government shall provide the following:

“(a) Employment

“Senior citizens who have the capacity and desire to work, or be re-employed, shall be provided information and matching services to enable them to be productive members of society. Terms of employment shall conform with the provisions of the Labor Code, as amended, and other laws, rules and regulations.

“Private entities that will employ senior citizens as employees, upon the effectivity of this Act, shall be entitled to an additional deduction from their gross income, equivalent to fifteen percent (15%) of the total amount paid as salaries and wages to senior citizens, subject to the provision of Section 34 of the NIRC, as amended: Provided, however, That such employment shall continue for a period of at least six (6) months: Provided, further, That the annual income of the senior citizen does not exceed the latest poverty threshold as determined by the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) for that year.

“The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in coordination with other government agencies such as, but not limited to, the Technology and Livelihood Resource Center (TLRC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), shall assess, design and implement training programs that will provide skills and welfare or livelihood support for senior citizens.

“(b) Education

“The Department of Education (DepED), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), in consultation with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) for senior citizens, shall institute programs that will ensure access to formal and nonformal education.

“(c) Health

“The DOH, in coordination with local government units (LGUs), NGOs and POs for senior citizens, shall institute a national health program and shall provide an integrated health service for senior citizens. It shall train community-based health workers among senior citizens and health personnel to specialize in the geriatric care and health problems of senior citizens.

“The national health program for senior citizens shall, among others, be harmonized with the National Prevention of Blindness Program of the DOH.

“Throughout the country, there shall be established a “senior citizens’ ward” in every government hospital. This geriatric ward shall be for the exclusive use of senior citizens who are in need of hospital confinement by reason of their health conditions. However, when urgency of public necessity purposes so require, such geriatric ward may be used for emergency purposes, after which, such “senior citizens’ ward” shall be reverted to its nature as geriatric ward.

“(d) Social Services

“At least fifty percent (50%) discount shall be granted on the consumption of electricity, water, and telephone by the senior citizens center and residential care/group homes that are government-run or non-stock, non-profit domestic corporation organized and operated primarily for the purpose of promoting the well-being of abandoned, neglected, unattached, or homeless senior citizens, subject to the guidelines formulated by the DSWD.

“(1) “self and social enhancement services” which provide senior citizens opportunities for socializing, organizing, creative expression, and self-improvement;

“(2) “after care and follow-up services” for citizens who are discharged from the homes or institutions for the aged, especially those who have problems of reintegration with family and community, wherein both the senior citizens and their families are provided with counseling;

“(3) “neighborhood support services” wherein the community or family members provide caregiving services to their frail, sick, or bedridden senior citizens; and

“(4) “substitute family care ” in the form of residential care or group homes for the abandoned, neglected, unattached or homeless senior citizens and those incapable of self-care.

“(e) Housing

“The national government shall include in its national shelter program the special housing needs of senior citizens, such as establishment of housing units for the elderly.

“(f) Access to Public Transport

“The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) shall develop a program to assist senior citizens to fully gain access to public transport facilities.

“(g) Incentive for Foster Care

“The government shall provide incentives to individuals or nongovernmental institution caring for or establishing homes, residential communities or retirement villages solely for, senior citizens, as follows:

“(1) realty tax holiday for the first five (5) years starting from the first year of operation; and

“(2) priority in the construction or maintenance of provincial or municipal roads leading to the aforesaid home, residential community or retirement village.

“(h) Additional Government Assistance

“(1) Social Pension

“Indigent senior citizens shall be entitled to a monthly stipend amounting to Five hundred pesos (Php500.00) to augment the daily subsistence and other medical needs of senior citizens, subject to a review every two (2) years by Congress, in consultation with the DSWD.

“(2) Mandatory PhilHealth Coverage

“All indigent senior citizens shall be covered by the national health insurance program of PhilHealth. The LGUs where the indigent senior citizens resides shall allocate the necessary funds to ensure the enrollment of their indigent senior citizens in accordance with the pertinent laws and regulations.

“(3) Social Safety Nets

“Social safety assistance intended to cushion the effects of economics shocks, disasters and calamities shall be available for senior citizens. The social safety assistance which shall include, but not limited to, food, medicines, and financial assistance for domicile repair, shall be sourced from the disaster/calamity funds of LGUs where the senior citizens reside, subject to the guidelines to be issued by the DSWD.”

Sec. 6. Section 6 of the same Act, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

SEC. 6. The Office for Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA). – There shall be established in all cities and municipalities an OSCA to be headed by a senior citizen who shall be appointed by the mayor for a term of three (3) years without reappointment but without prejudice to an extension if exigency so requires. Said appointee shall be chosen from a list of three (3) nominees as recommended by a general assembly of senior citizens organizations in the city or municipality.

“The head of the OSCA shall be appointed to serve the interest of senior citizens and shall not be removed or replaced except for reasons of death permanent disability or ineffective performance of his duties to the detriment of fellow senior citizens.

“The head of the OSCA shall be entitled to receive an honorarium of an amount at least equivalent to Salary Grade 10 to be approved by the LGU concerned.

“The head of the OSCA shall be assisted by the City Social Welfare and Development officer or by the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer, in coordination with the Social Welfare and Development Office.

“The Office of the Mayor shall exercise supervision over the OSCA relative to their plans, activities and programs for senior citizens. The OSCA shall work together and establish linkages with accredited NGOs Pos and the barangays in their respective areas.

“The OSCA shall have the following functions:

“(a) To plan, implement and monitor yearly work programs in pursuance of the objectives of this Act;

“(b) To draw up a list of available and required services which can be provided by the senior citizens;

“(c) To maintain and regularly update on a quarterly basis the list of senior citizens and to issue national individual identification cards, free of charge, which shall be valid anywhere in the country;

“(d) To serve as a general information and liaison center for senior citizens;

“(e) To monitor compliance of the provisions of this Act particularly the grant of special discounts and privileges to senior citizens;

“(f) To report to the mayor, any individual, establishments, business entity, institutions or agency found violating any provision of this Act; and

“(g) To assist the senior citizens in filing complaints or charges against any individual, establishments, business entity, institution, or agency refusing to comply with the privileges under this Act before the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, the regional or the municipal trial court, the municipal trial court in cities, or the municipal circuit trial court.”

Sec. 7. Section 10 of the same Act, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“SEC. 10. Penalties. – Any person who refuses to honor the senior citizen card issued by the government or violates any provision of this Act shall suffer the following penalties:

“(a) For the first violation, imprisonment of not less than two (2) years but not more than six (6) years and a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (Php50,000.00) but not exceeding One hundred thousand pesos (Php100,000.00);

“(b) For any subsequent violation, imprisonment of not less than two (2) years but not more than six (6) years and a fine of not less than One Hundred thousand pesos (Php100,000.00) but not exceeding Two hundred thousand pesos (Php200,000.00); and

“(c) Any person who abuses the privileges granted herein shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than six (6) months and a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (Php50,000.00) but not more than One hundred thousand pesos (Php100,000.00).

“If the offender is a corporation, partnership, organization or any similar entity, the officials thereof directly involved such as the president, general manager, managing partner, or such other officer charged with the management of the business affairs shall be liable therefor.

“If the offender is an alien or a foreigner, he/she shall be deported immediately after service of sentence.

“Upon filing of an appropriate complaint, and after due notice and hearing, the proper authorities may also cause the cancellation or revocation of the business permit, permit to operate, franchise and other similar privileges granted to any person, establishment or business entity that fails to abide by the provisions of this Act.”

Sec. 8. Section 11 of the same Act, as amended, is hereby further amended to read as follows:

“SEC. 11. Monitoring and Coordinating Mechanism. – A National Coordinating and Monitoring Board shall be established which shall be composed of the following:

“(a) Chairperson – the Secretary of the DSWD or an authorized representative;

“(b) Vice Chairperson – the Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) or an authorized representative; and

“(c) Members:

“(1) the Secretary of the DOJ or an authorized representative;

“(2) the Secretary of the DOH or an authorized representative;

“(3) the Secretary of the DTI or an authorized representative; and

(4) representatives from five (5) NGOs for senior citizens which are duly accredited by the DSWD and have service primarily for senior citizens. Representatives of NGOs shall serve a period of three (3) years.

“The Board may call on other government agencies, NGOs and Pos to serve as resource persons as the need arises. Resource person have no right to vote in the National Coordinating and Monitoring Board.”

Sec. 9. Implementing Rules and Regulations. – Within sixty (60) days from the effectivity of this Act, the Secretary of the DSWD shall formulate and adopt amendments to the existing rules and regulations implementing Republic Act No. 7432, as amended by Republic Act No. 9257, to carry out the objectives of this Act, in consultation with the Department of Finance, the Department of Tourism, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), the DOLE, the DOJ, the DILG, the DTI, the DOH, the DOTC, the NEDA, the DepED, the TESDA, the CHED, and five (5) NGOs or POs for the senior citizens duly accredited by the DSWD. The guidelines pursuant to Section 4(a)(i) shall be established by the DOH within sixty (60) days upon the effectivity of this Act.

Sec. 10. Appropriations. – The Necessary appropriations for the operation and maintenance of the OSCA shall be appropriated and approved by the LGUs concerned. For national government agencies, the requirements to implement the provisions of this Act shall be included in their respective budgets: Provided, That the funds to be used for the national health program and for the vaccination of senior citizens in the first year of the DOH and thereafter, as a line item under the under the DOH budget in the subsequent General Appropriations Act (GAA): Provided, further, That the monthly social pension for indigent senior citizens in the first year of implementation shall be added to the regular appropriations of the DSWD budget in the subsequent GAA.

Sec. 11. Repealing Clause. – All law, executive orders, rules and regulations or any part hereof inconsistent herewith are deemed repealed or modified accordingly.

Sec. 12. Separability Clause. – If any part or provision of this Act shall be declared unconstitutional and invalid, such declaration shall not invalidate other parts thereof which shall remain in full force and effect.

Sec. 13. Effectivity. – This Act shall take effect fifteen (15) days its complete publication n the Official Gazette or in at least two (2) newspapers of general circulation, whichever comes earlier.

Approved

(SGD.) PROSPERO C. NOGRALES
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

(SGD.) JUAN PONCE ENRILE
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE

This Act which is a consolidation of Senate Bill No. 3561 and House Bill No. 6390 was finally passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on January 27, 2010.

(SGD.) MARILYN B. BARUA-YAP
SECRETARY GENERAL
HOUSE OF REPRESENATIVES

(SGD.) EMMA LIRIO-REYES
SECRETARY OF SENATE


Approved: FEB 15, 2010

(SGD.) GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO
PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES