G.R. NO. 162052 January 13, 2005
ALVIN JOSE, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
This is a Petition for Review on Certiorari of the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 22289 affirming with modification the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court of Calamba, Laguna, Branch 36, convicting the accused therein of violation of Section 21(b), Article IV in relation to Section 29, Article IV of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended.
The records show that Alvin Jose and Sonny Zarraga were charged with the said crime in an Information, the accusatory portion of which reads:
That on or about November 14, 1995, in the municipality of Calamba, Province of Laguna, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, not being licensed or authorized by law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously sell and deliver to other person METHAMPHETAMINE HYDROCHLORIDE (or shabu) weighing 98.40 grams, a regulated drug, and in violation of the aforestated law.
CONTRARY TO LAW.3
The accused, assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
As culled by the trial court, the evidence of the prosecution established the following:
‘[O]n November 14, 1995, P/Supt. Joseph R. Castro of the Fourth Regional Narcotics Unit received an information from an unnamed informant. Said unnamed informant was introduced to him by former Narcom P/Senior Inspector Recomono. The information was that a big time group of drug pushers from Greenhills will deliver 100 grams of shabu at Chowking Restaurant located at Brgy. Real, Calamba, Laguna.
Acting on such report, SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra was assigned to act as the poseur-buyer. SPO2 William Manglo and SPO2 Wilfredo Luna were the other members of the team. SPO1 Guevarra was provided with marked money consisting of a
P1,000.00 bill on top of a bundle of make-believe “money bills” supposedly amounting to P100,000.00. P/Supt. Joseph R. Castro, SPO2 William Manglo and Wilfredo Luna went to the place on a Mitsubishi Lancer while SPO1 Guevarra and the informant boarded an L-300 van. They arrived at the Chowking Restaurant at about 11:00 in the morning. They positioned their cars at the parking area where they had a commanding view of people going in and out (TSN, October 3, 1996, pp. 2-8 and TSN, July 11, 1996, pp. 4-7).
It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon when a Toyota Corolla with Plate No. UBV-389 arrived. Sonny Zarraga was the driver with Alvin Jose. The unnamed informant approached and talked to Sonny Zarraga. Then, the informant called SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra and informed the latter that Sonny Zarraga had with him 100 grams of shabu. SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra offered to buy the shabu. Sonny Zarraga asked SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra if he had the money to buy 100 grams of shabu. Guevarra responded in the affirmative. He showed the aforecited bundle of “money bills.” Sonny Zarraga then asked Alvin Jose to bring out the shabu and handover (sic) to Bonifacio Guevarra. SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra, in turn, handed the bundle of “money bills.”
Guevarra scratched his head, the pre-arranged signal to signify that the transaction was consummated (TSN, July 30, 1996, pp. 3-8). Immediately thereafter, William Manglo and Wilfredo Luna approached and introduced themselves as Narcom Operatives. They arrested Sonny Zarraga and Alvin Jose. The buy-bust bundle of “money bills” and the shabu were recovered. The two were brought to Camp Vicente Lim for investigation. Edgar Groyon conducted the investigation. The shabu was brought to the PNP Crime Laboratory for examination (TSN, July 30, 1996, pp. 9-10 and TSN, October 3, 1996, pp. 9-13). P/Senior Inspector Mary Jean Geronimo examined the shabu. She reported and testified that the specimen, indeed, was a second or low grade methamphetamine hydrochloride (TSN, July 30, 1996, pp. 31-36).4
On the other hand, the accused therein were able to establish the following facts:
Sonny Zarraga and Alvin Jose claimed that, on November 13, 1995, they were at SM Mega Mall (sic), Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, to change money. Suddenly, a person with a hand bag appeared and ordered them to handcuff themselves. They were later able to identify three of these people as Police Supt. Joseph Roxas Castro, SPO3 Noel Seno and a certain Corpuz. They were all in civilian clothes.
They proceeded to where Sonny Zarraga’s car was parked. Sonny Zarraga was forced to board another car while another person drove Sonny Zarraga’s car with Alvin Jose as passenger. They drove towards Greenhills. They were eventually blindfolded. On the way to Greenhills, one of the men opened the gloves compartment of Sonny Zarraga’s car. One of the men saw a substance inside the said compartment. He tasted it. Said person asked Sonny Zarraga if he could come up with
P1.5 Million peso (sic). Col. Castro even showed the picture of Sonny Zarraga’s mother-in-law who was supposed to be a rich drug pusher.
They ended up inside a room with a lavatory. While inside the said room, Sonny Zarraga’s cellular phone rung. It was a call from Sonny Zarraga’s wife. Col. Castro talked to Pinky Zarraga and asked her if she could pay
P1.5 Million as ransom for the release of Sonny Zarraga. Sonny Zarraga instead offered to withdraw money from the bank in the amount of P75,000.00. The agreement was that in the bank, Pinky Zarraga would withdraw the money and deliver it to Col. Castro in exchange for Sonny Zarraga’s release. The agreement did not materialize. Col. Castro and Pinky Zarraga met inside the bank but Pinky Zarraga refused to withdraw the money as Sonny Zarraga was nowhere to be seen. There was a commotion inside the bank which prompted the bank manager to call the police.
Col. Castro left the bank in a hurry, passed by for Alvin Jose who was left at the room and brought them to Camp Vicente Lim. There, they were investigated.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
The defense claimed that SPO3 Noel Seno got Sonny Zarraga’s jewelry,
P85,000.00 in cash and Sonny Zarraga’s car spare tire, jack and accessories. Noel Seno was even able to withdraw the P2,000.00 using Sonny Zarraga’s ATM card.5
On June 10, 1998, the trial court rendered judgment convicting both accused of the crime charged and sentencing each of them to an indeterminate penalty. The fallo of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, this Court finds both the accused Sonny Zarraga and Alvin Jose guilty beyond reasonable doubt, for violation of R.A. 6425, as amended, and is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of, after applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, six (6) years and one (1) day to ten (10) years.
Both accused are hereby ordered to pay the fine of
P2 million each and to pay the cost of suit.
In the service of sentence, the preventive imprisonment undergone both by the accused shall be credited in their favor.
Atty. Christopher R. Serrano, Branch Clerk of Court, is hereby ordered to deliver and surrender the confiscated Methamphetamine Hydrochloride to the Dangerous Drugs Board.
On appeal to the CA, the accused-appellants averred that the trial court erred as follows:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING FULL CREDENCE TO THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION.
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT CONSIDERING THAT THE MERE PRESENTATION OF THE SHABU IN COURT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO FIND, WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY, THAT THE APPELLANTS COMMITTED THE CRIME OF SELLING PROHIBITED DRUGS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THE IDENTITY OF THE DRUG WAS NOT PARTICULARLY SET OUT IN THE TESTIMONY OF THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES.
EVEN GRANTING THAT THE TRIAL COURT CORRECTLY FOUND THE APPELLANTS GUILTY OF THE CRIME CHARGED AGAINST THEM:
(a) THE TRIAL COURT DID NOT IMPOSE THE PROPER PENALTY AGAINST THEM.
(b) EACH OF THE APPELLANTS CANNOT BE MADE TO PAY A FINE IN THE AMOUNT OF
P2 MILLION PESOS (SIC) AND THE COST OF THE SUIT.7
The CA rendered judgment affirming the decision appealed from with modification. The appellate court reduced the penalty imposed on appellant Alvin Jose, on its finding that he was only thirteen (13) years old when he committed the crime; hence, he was entitled to the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority and to a reduction of the penalty by two degrees. The appellant filed a motion for reconsideration, alleging that since the Information failed to allege that he acted with discernment when the crime was committed and that the prosecution failed to prove the same, he should be acquitted. The appellate court denied the motion.
Appellant Jose, now the petitioner, filed his Petition for Review on Certiorari, alleging that –
THE COURT OF APPEALS GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING PETITIONER DESPITE (1) THE FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO PROVE BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT THAT PETITIONER, WHO WAS ONLY 13 YEARS OLD WHEN THE CRIME WAS ALLEGEDLY COMMITTED BY HIM IN CONSPIRACY WITH CO-ACCUSED SONNY ZARRAGA, ACTED WITH DISCERNMENT, AND (2) THE ABSENCE OF A DECLARATION BY THE TRIAL COURT THAT PETITIONER SO ACTED WITH DISCERNMENT, PURSUANT TO THE APPLICABLE PROVISIONS OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE AND THE ESTABLISHED JURISPRUDENCE.8
The petitioner asserts that, under paragraph 3, Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code, a minor over nine (9) and under fifteen (15) years of age at the time of the commission of the crime is exempt from criminal liability unless he acted with discernment, in which case he shall be proceeded against in accordance with Article 192 of Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 603, as amended by P.D. No. 1179, as provided for in Article 68 of the Revised Penal Code. He avers that the prosecution was burdened to allege in the Information and prove beyond reasonable doubt that he acted with discernment, but that the prosecution failed to do so. The petitioner insists that the court is mandated to make a finding that he acted with discernment under paragraph 1, Article 68 of the Revised Penal Code and since the CA made no such finding, he is entitled to an acquittal.
For its part, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asserts that the allegation in the Information that the petitioner and his co-accused conspired and confederated to sell the shabu subject of the Information sufficiently avers that the petitioner acted with discernment; hence, there was no need for the public prosecutor to allege specifically in the Information that the petitioner so acted. It contends that it is not necessary for the trial and appellate courts to make an express finding that the petitioner acted with discernment. It is enough that the very acts of the petitioner show that he acted knowingly and was sufficiently possessed with judgment to know that the acts he committed were wrong.
The petition is meritorious.
Under Article 12(3) of the Revised Penal Code, a minor over nine years of age and under fifteen is exempt from criminal liability if charged with a felony. The law applies even if such minor is charged with a crime defined and penalized by a special penal law. In such case, it is the burden of the minor to prove his age in order for him to be exempt from criminal liability. The reason for the exemption is that a minor of such age is presumed lacking the mental element of a crime – the capacity to know what is wrong as distinguished from what is right or to determine the morality of human acts; wrong in the sense in which the term is used in moral wrong.9 However, such presumption is rebuttable.10 For a minor at such an age to be criminally liable, the prosecution is burdened11 to prove beyond reasonable doubt, by direct or circumstantial evidence, that he acted with discernment, meaning that he knew what he was doing and that it was wrong.12 Such circumstantial evidence may include the utterances of the minor; his overt acts before, during and after the commission of the crime relative thereto; the nature of the weapon used in the commission of the crime; his attempt to silence a witness; his disposal of evidence or his hiding the corpus delicti.
In the present case, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the petitioner, who was thirteen (13) years of age when the crime charged was committed, acted with discernment relative to the sale of shabu to the poseur-buyer. The only evidence of the prosecution against the petitioner is that he was in a car with his cousin, co-accused Sonny Zarraga, when the latter inquired from the poseur-buyer, SPO1 Bonifacio Guevarra, if he could afford to buy shabu. SPO1 Guevarra replied in the affirmative, after which the accused Zarraga called the petitioner to bring out and hand over the shabu wrapped in plastic and white soft paper. The petitioner handed over the plastic containing the shabu to accused Zarraga, who handed the same to the poseur-buyer:
Q Whom did you approach to buy the shabu?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A The two of them, Sir.
Q While the two of them was (sic) sitting inside the car, what did you tell them?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A They asked me if I can afford to buy the 100 grams, Sir.
Q And what was your response?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I answer in (sic) affirmative, Sir.
Q And what happened next?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A After that I showed my money, Sir.
Q Now, tell us when you said they reply (sic) in the affirmative specifically’. I withdraw that.
Q When you said they asked you whether you can afford to buy 100 grams tell us who asked you that question?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Sonny Zarraga, Sir.
Q And after you answer (sic) in the affirmative, what was his response?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A He let his companion to (sic) bring out the shabu, Sir.
Q Did his companion bring out the shabu?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q What happened to the shabu?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Alvin Jose handed the shabu to his companion Sonny Zarraga.
Q After that, what did Sonny Zarraga do with the shabu?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A He handed it to me, Sir.
Q After this shabu was handed to you, what happened next?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A After examining the shabu, I put it in my pocket and then I handed to him the money, Sir.
Q When you say money, which money are you referring to?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
P1,000.00 bill with the bundle of boodle money, Sir.
Q Now, after you handed the money to the accused, what happened next?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I made signs to my companions, Sir.
Q What signs did you give?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I acted upon our agreement by scratching my head, Sir.
Q And how did your companions respond to your signal?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A After scratching my head, my companions approached us and arrested them.
Q Now, tell us, do you know, in particular, who arrested Sonny Zarraga?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q Tell us.
A SPO1 William Manglo and PO3 Wilfredo Luna, Sir.
Q Can you describe to us the manner by which Sonny Zarraga was arrested by these police officers?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q Please tell us.
A They introduced themselves as NARCOM operatives, Sir.
Q And after that, what happened?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A They recovered the money from Sonny Zarraga, Sir.13
Q What happened to the shabu which was handed to you by the accused?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A It was brought by our office to the crime laboratory, Sir.
Q Who made the request for its examination?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A SPO3 Edgar Groyon, Sir.
Q Earlier, you said that the shabu was handed to you. What did you do with the shabu?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A While we were at the area, I handed it to SPO1 William Manglo, Sir.
Q Tell us, when this shabu was handed to you by the accused, in what container was it contained?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A When it was handed to me by Sonny Zarraga it was wrapped in a plastic and white soft paper, Sir.14
It was accused Zarraga who drove the car and transacted with the poseur-buyer relative to the sale of shabu. It was also accused Zarraga who received the buy-money from the poseur-buyer. Aside from bringing out and handing over the plastic bag to accused Zarraga, the petitioner merely sat inside the car and had no other participation whatsoever in the transaction between the accused Zarraga and the poseur-buyer. There is no evidence that the petitioner knew what was inside the plastic and soft white paper before and at the time he handed over the same to his cousin. Indeed, the poseur-buyer did not bother to ask the petitioner his age because he knew that pushers used young boys in their transactions for illegal drugs. We quote the testimony of the poseur-buyer:
Q Did you try to find out if they were friends of your informant?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q Did you find out also the age of this Mr. Alvin Yamson?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I don’t know the exact age, what I know is that he is a minor, Sir.
Q Eventually, you find (sic) out how old he is (sic)?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I don’t know, Sir.
Q Mr. Guevarra, may I remind you that, in your affidavit, you stated the age of the boy?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A I cannot recall anymore, Sir.
Q Were you not surprised from just looking at the boy at his age, were you not surprised that a young boy like that would be in a group selling drugs?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
It calls for an opinion, Your Honor.
May I ask, Your Honor, if he did not further interrogate why or how this very young boy (sic) selling 100 grams of shabu.
The witness may answer.
A No more, Sir, because I know that young boys are being used by pushers.15
Even on cross-examination, the public prosecutor failed to elicit from the petitioner facts and circumstances showing his capacity to discern right from wrong. We quote the questions of the public prosecutor on cross-examination and the petitioner’s answers thereto:
Cross, Your Honor. May I proceed.
Q Mr. Witness, you started your narration that it started on November 13, 1995 and did I hear it right that you went to Manuela at 5 o’clock in the afternoon?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q Now, when you went to Manuela, you came from Filinvest, Quezon City? You left Filinvest, Quezon City, at 12 o’clock?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q What time did you leave?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A After lunch, Sir.
Q Now, on the second day which you claimed that you were in the custody of the police, you said that at one occasion on that day, you have (sic) a chance to be with your cousin in a [L]ancer car and it was inside that [L]ancer car when your cousin saw his own cellular phone on one of the seats of the car, is that correct?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q Did your cousin tell you that that was his first opportunity to make a call to anybody since the day that you were arrested?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A He did not say anything, he just get (sic) the cellular phone.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Q Did you come to know the reason how that cellular phone appeared inside that [L]ancer car?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q Now, going back to the first day of your arrest. You said that you were accosted by a male person at the workshop and then you went out of Megamall and when you went outside, this man saw the key of the car dangling at the waist. At whose waist?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A From my cousin.
Q And at that time, that person did not have any knowledge where your car was?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q And your cousin told him that your car was parked at the third level parking area of SM Megamall, is that correct?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q And at that time, that man did not make any radio call to anybody?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q Until the time that you reached the third level parking of Megamall, he had not made any call?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q And yet when you reach (sic) the third level parking of the Megamall, you claimed that there was already this group which met you?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q And this group were the policemen who are the companions of the male person who arrested you?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
Q Do you know the reason why they were there at that time?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
Q These people do not know your car?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A No, Sir.
No further question, Your Honor.
No re-direct, Your Honor.
Q Mr. Witness, earlier you stated that you are not a drug user nor have you seen any shabu. In support of your claim, are you willing to submit yourself to an examination?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Your Honor.
Q Are you willing to submit a sample of your urine to this Court?chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
A Yes, Sir.
The witness is discharged.16
The claim of the OSG that the prosecution was able to prove that the petitioner conspired with his co-accused to sell shabu to the poseur-buyer, and thereby proved the capacity of the petitioner to discern right from wrong, is untenable. Conspiracy is defined as an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime and decide to commit it. Conspiracy presupposes capacity of the parties to such conspiracy to discern what is right from what is wrong. Since the prosecution failed to prove that the petitioner acted with discernment, it cannot thereby be concluded that he conspired with his co-accused. Indeed, in People v. Estepano, 17 we held that:
Clearly, the prosecution did not endeavor to establish Rene’s mental capacity to fully appreciate the consequences of his unlawful act. Moreover, its cross-examination of Rene did not, in any way, attempt to show his discernment. He was merely asked about what he knew of the incident that transpired on 16 April 1991 and whether he participated therein. Accordingly, even if he was, indeed, a co-conspirator, he would still be exempt from criminal liability as the prosecution failed to rebut the presumption of non-discernment on his part by virtue of his age. The cross-examination of Rene could have provided the prosecution a good occasion to extract from him positive indicators of his capacity to discern. But, in this regard, the government miserably squandered the opportunity to incriminate him.18 ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 22289 which affirmed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Calamba, Laguna, Branch 36, is SET ASIDE. The petitioner is ACQUITTED of the crime charged for insufficiency of evidence.19
Puno, (Chairman), Austria-Martinez, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr., with Associate Justices Bernardo P. Abesamis (retired) and Edgardo F. Sundiam, concurring.
2 Penned by Judge Norberto Y. Geraldez.
3 Rollo, p. 22.
4 Id. at 83-84.
5 Id. at 84-85.
6 Id. at 88.
7 Id. at 24-25.
8 Id. at 8.
9 Wharton Criminal Law, Vol. I, p. 74.
11 Godfrey v. State, 31 Ala. 323 (1858).
12 Adams v. State, 262 A.2d 60 (1970).
13 TSN, 30 July 1996, pp. 7-9.
14 Id. at 10.
15 Id. at 29.
16 TSN, 23 September 1997, pp. 27-29.
17 307 SCRA 701 (1999).
18 Id. at 712.
19 There is no showing in the Rollo whether the petitioner posted bail or is detained.