Archive for January, 2011


LEGAL NOTE 0015:  WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS TO PROVE IN THE PROSECUTION FOR ILLEGAL SALE OF PROHIBITED DRUG? WHAT IS MEANT BY CHAIN OF CUSTODY?

 

WHAT ELEMENTS MUST BE PROVEN IN A PROSECUTION FOR ILLEGAL SALE OF PROHIBITED DRUG.

The following must be proven under Section 5 of R.A. No. 9165:

(1)   the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration;

(2)   the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.

All these require evidence that the sale transaction transpired, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti, i.e., the body or substance of the crime that establishes that a crime has actually been committed, as shown by presenting the object of the illegal transaction.[1][13]

 

WHAT IS THE PROCEDURE FOR SEIZURE AND CUSTODY OF ILLEGAL DRUG?

Section 21, paragraph 1, Article II of R.A. No. 9165 provides such procedure:

(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[.] (Emphasis supplied.)

 

WHAT IS RATIONALE FOR STRICT OBSERVANCE OF THIS PROCEDURE:

The illegal drug’s unique characteristic rendering it indistinct, not readily identifiable and easily open to tampering, alteration or substitution either by accident or otherwise.

 

IS NON-COMPLIANCE BY THE AUTHORITIES OF AFORESAID SECTION 21 FATAL.

People v. Pringas[2][16] teaches that non-compliance by the apprehending/buy-bust team with Section 21 is not necessarily fatal.  Its non-compliance will not automatically render an accused’s arrest illegal or the items seized/confiscated from him inadmissible.

What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused.[3][17] 

As provided in Section 21, Article II of the Implementing Rules of R.A. No. 9165:

SECTION 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:

          (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 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[.] 

          x x x x  (Emphasis and underscoring supplied.)

 

WHY IS THE RATIONALE FOR THE ABOVE?

Strict compliance with the requirements of Section 21 may not always be possible under field conditions; the police operates under varied conditions, and cannot at all times attend to all the niceties of the procedures in the handling of confiscated evidence.[4][18]

 

TO BE COVERED BY THE SAVING CLAUSE, WHAT MUST BE PROSECUTION DO?

Even so, for the saving clause to apply, it is important that the prosecution should explain the reasons behind the procedural lapses and that the integrity and evidentiary value of the evidence seized had been preserved.[5][19]

It must be shown that the illegal drug presented in court is the very same specimen seized from the accused. This function is performed by the “chain of custody” requirement to erase all doubts as to the identity of the seized drugs by establishing its movement from the accused, to the police, to the forensic chemist and finally to the court.[6][20] 

 

WHAT IS MEANT BY CHAIN OF CUSTODY?

Section 1(b) of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation No. 1, Series of 2002 defines “chain of custody” as follows:

“Chain of Custody” means the duly recorded authorized movements and custody of seized drugs or controlled chemicals or plant sources of dangerous           drugs or laboratory equipment of each stage, from the time of seizure/confiscation to receipt in the forensic laboratory to safekeeping to presentation in court for destruction. Such record of movements and custody of seized item shall include the identity and signature  of the person who held temporary custody of the seized item, the date and time when such transfer of custody were made in the course of safekeeping and use in court as evidence, and the final disposition[.][7][21]

Every link must be accounted for.

 

SOURCE: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES VS. JAY LORENA Y LABAG (G.R. NO. 184954, 10 JANUARY 2011, VILLARAMA, JR., J.) SUBJECTS: PROSECUTION OF ILLEGAL SALE OF PROHIBITED DRUGS; CHAIN OF CUSTODY OF PROHIBITED DRUGS. (BRIEF TITLE: PEOPLE VS. LORENA)


[1][13] People v. Pagaduan, G.R. No. 179029, August 9, 2010, p. 7, citing People v. Garcia, G.R. No. 173480, February 25, 2009, 580 SCRA 259, 266.

[2][16] G.R. No. 175928, August 31, 2007, 531 SCRA 828.

[3][17] Id. at 842-843.

[4][18] People v. Pagaduan, supra note 13 at 10-11.

[5][19] People v. Almorfe, G.R. No. 181831, March 29, 2010, 617 SCRA 52, 60, citing People v. Sanchez, G.R. No. 175832, October 15, 2008, 569 SCRA 194, 212.

[6][20] People v. Almorfe, id. at 60-61, citing Malillin v. People, G.R. No. 172953, April 30, 2008, 553 SCRA 619.

[7][21] See People v. Denoman, G.R. No. 171732, August 14, 2000, 596 SCRA 257, 271.

CASE NO.2011-0024: REPUBLIC OF THE PHILIPPINES, REPRESENTED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRARIAN REFORM, THROUGH THE HON. SECRETARY NASSER C. PANGANDAMAN VS.  SALVADOR N. LOPEZ AGRI-BUSINESS CORP., REPRESENTED BY SALVADOR N. LOPEZ, JR., PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER (G.R. NO. 178895, 10 JANUARY 2011, SERENO, J.) SUBJECT: EXEMPTION OF GRAZING LAND UNDER THE CARL. LOPEZ LAND EXEMPT. LIMOT LAND COVERED. (BRIEF TITLE: REPUBLIC VS. LOPEZ).

x- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -x

D E C I S I O N

 


SERENO, J.:

Before us are two Rule 45 Petitions[1][1] filed separately by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), through the Office of the Solicitor General, and by the Salvador N. Lopez Agri-Business Corp. (SNLABC). Each Petition partially assails the Court of Appeals Decision dated 30 June 2006[2][2] with respect to the application for exemption of four parcels of land – located in Mati, Davao Oriental and owned by SNLABC – from Republic Act No. 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).

          There is little dispute as to the facts of the case, as succinctly discussed by the Court of Appeals and adopted herein by the Court, to wit:

Subject of this petition are four (4) parcels of land with an aggregate area of 160.1161 hectares registered in the name of Salvador N. Lopez Agri-Business Corporation. Said parcels of land are hereinafter described as follows:

Title No. Area Location
TCT No. T-12635 (Lot 1454-A & 1296) 49.5706 has. Bo. Limot, Mati, Davao Oriental
TCT No. T-12637 (Lot 1298) 42.6822 has. Bo. Don Enrique Lopez, Mati, Dvo. Or.
TCT No. T-12639 (Lot 1293-B) 67.8633 has. Bo. Don Enrique Lopez, Mati, Dvo. Or.

 

On August 2, 1991, Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) Socorro C. Salga issued a Notice of Coverage to petitioner with regards (sic) to the aforementioned landholdings which were subsequently placed under Compulsory Acquisition pursuant to R.A. 6657 (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law).

On December 10, 1992, petitioner filed with the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO), Davao Oriental, an Application for Exemption of the lots covered by TCT No. T-12637 and T-12639 from CARP coverage. It alleged that pursuant to the case of Luz Farms v. DAR Secretary said parcels of land are exempted from coverage as the said parcels of land with a total area of 110.5455 hectares are used for grazing and habitat of petitioner’s 105 heads of cattle, 5 carabaos, 11 horses, 9 heads of goats and 18 heads of swine, prior to the effectivity of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).

On December 13, 1992 and March 1, 1993, the MARO conducted an onsite investigation on the two parcels of land confirming the presence of the livestock as enumerated. The Investigation Report dated March 9, 1993 stated:

That there are at least 2[5] to 30 heads of cows that farrow every year and if the trend of farrowing persist (sic), then the cattle shall become overcrowded and will result to scarcity of grasses for the cattle to graze;

That during the week cycle, the herds are being moved to the different adjacent lots owned by the corporation. It even reached Lot 1454-A and Lot 1296. Thereafter, the herds are returned to their respective night chute corrals which are constructed under Lot 1293-B and Lot 1298.

x x x

That the age of coconut trees planted in the area are already 40 to 50 years and have been affected by the recent drought that hit the locality.

That the presence of livestocks (sic) have already existed in the area prior to the Supreme Court decision on LUZ FARMS vs. Secretary of Agrarian Reform. We were surprised however, why the management of the corporation did not apply for Commercial Farm Deferment (CFD) before, when the two years reglamentary (sic) period which the landowner was given the chance to file their application pursuant to R.A. 6657, implementing Administrative Order No. 16, Series of 1989;

However, with regards to what venture comes (sic) first, coconut or livestocks (sic), majority of the farmworkers including the overseer affirmed that the coconut trees and livestocks (sic) were (sic) simultaneously and all of these were inherited by his (applicant) parent. In addition, the financial statement showed 80% of its annual income is derived from the livestocks (sic) and only 20% from the coconut industry.

Cognitive thereto, we are favorably recommending for the exemption from the coverage of CARP based on LUZ FARMS as enunciated by the Supreme Court the herein Lot No. 1293-B Psd-65835 under TCT No. T-12639 except Lot No. 1298, Cad. 286 of TCT No. T-12637 which is already covered under the Compulsory Acquisition (CA) Scheme and had already been valued by the Land Valuation Office, Land Bank of the Philippines.

On June 24, 1993, TCT No. T-12635 covering Lots 1454-A & 1296 was cancelled and a new one issued in the name of the Republic of the Philippines under RP T-16356. On February 7, 1994, petitioner through its President, Salvador N. Lopez, Jr., executed a letter-affidavit addressed to the respondent-Secretary requesting for the exclusion from CARP coverage of Lots 1454-A and 1296 on the ground that they needed the additional area for its livestock business. On March 28, 1995, petitioner filed before the DAR Regional Director of Davao City an application for the exemption from CARP coverage of Lots 1454-A and 1296 stating that it has been operating grazing lands even prior to June 15, 1988 and that the said two (2) lots form an integral part of its grazing land.

The DAR Regional Director, after inspecting the properties, issued an Order dated March 5, 1997 denying the application for exemption of Lots 1454-A and 1296 on the ground that it was not clearly shown that the same were actually, directly and exclusively used for livestock raising since in its application, petitioner itself admitted that it needs the lots for additional grazing area. The application for exemption, however of the other two (2) parcels of land was approved.

On its partial motion for reconsideration, petitioner argued that Lots 1454-A & 1296 were taken beyond the operation of the CARP pursuant to its reclassification to a Pollutive Industrial District (Heavy Industry) per Resolution No. 39 of the Sangguniang Bayan of Mati, Davao Oriental, enacted on April 7, 1992. The DAR Regional Director denied the Motion through an Order dated September 4, 1997, ratiocinating that the reclassification does not affect agricultural lands already issued a Notice of Coverage as provided in Memorandum Circular No. 54-93: Prescribing the Guidelines Governing Section 20 of R.A. 7160.

Undaunted, petitioner appealed the Regional Director’s Orders to respondent DAR. On June 10, 1998, the latter issued its assailed Order affirming the Regional Director’s ruling on Lots 1454-A & 1296 and further declared Lots 1298 and 1293-B as covered by the CARP. Respondent ruled in this wise considering the documentary evidence presented by petitioner such as the Business Permit to engage in livestock, the certification of ownership of large cattle and the Corporate Income Tax Returns, which were issued during the effectivity of the Agrarian Reform Law thereby debunking petitioner’s claim that it has been engaged in livestock farming since the 1960s. Respondent further ruled that the incorporation by the Lopez family on February 12, 1988 or four (4) months before the effectivity of R.A. 6657 was an attempt to evade the noble purposes of the said law.

On October 17, 2002, petitioner’s Motion for Reconsideration was denied by respondent prompting the former to file the instant petition.[3][3]

          In the assailed Decision dated 30 June 2006,[4][4] the Court of Appeals partially granted the SNLABC Petition and excluded the two (2) parcels of land (Transfer Certificate of Title [TCT] Nos. T-12637 and T-12639) located in Barrio Don Enrique Lopez (the “Lopez lands”) from coverage of the CARL.
However, it upheld the Decisions of the Regional Director[5][5] and the DAR[6][6] Secretary denying the application for exemption with respect to Lots 1454-A and 1296 (previously under TCT No. T-12635) in Barrio Limot (the “Limot lands”). These lots were already covered by a new title under the name of the Republic of the Philippines (RP T-16356).

          The DAR and SNLABC separately sought a partial reconsideration of the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals, but their motions for reconsideration were subsequently denied in the Court of Appeals Resolution dated 08 June 2007.[7][7] 

          The DAR and SNLABC elevated the matter to this Court by filing separate Rule 45 Petitions (docketed as G.R. No. 178895[8][8] and 179071,[9][9] respectively), which were subsequently ordered consolidated by the Court.

          The main issue for resolution by the Court is whether the Lopez and Limot lands of SNLABC can be considered grazing lands for its livestock business and are thus exempted from the coverage of the CARL under the Court’s ruling in Luz Farms v. DAR.[10][10] The DAR questions the disposition of the Court of Appeals, insofar as the latter allowed the exemption of the Lopez lands, while SNLABC assails the inclusion of the Limot lands within the coverage of the CARL.

          The Court finds no reversible error in the Decision of the Court of Appeals and dismisses the Petitions of DAR and SNLABC.

Preliminarily, in a petition for review on certiorari filed under Rule 45, the issues that can be raised are, as a general rule, limited to questions of law.[11][11] However, as pointed out by both the DAR and SNLABC, there are several recognized exceptions wherein the Court has found it appropriate to re-examine the evidence presented.[12][12] In this case, the factual findings of the DAR Regional Director, the DAR Secretary and the CA are contrary to one another with respect to the following issue: whether the Lopez lands were actually, directly and exclusively used for SNLABC’s livestock business; and whether there was intent to evade coverage from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) based on the documentary evidence. On the other hand, SNLABC argues that these authorities misapprehended and overlooked certain relevant and undisputed facts as regards the inclusion of the Limot lands under the CARL. These circumstances fall within the recognized exceptions and, thus, the Court is persuaded to review the facts and evidence on record in the disposition of these present Petitions.

The Lopez lands of SNLABC are actually and directly being used for livestock and are thus exempted from the coverage of the CARL.

 

Briefly stated, the DAR questions the object or autoptic evidence relied upon by the DAR Regional Director in concluding that the Lopez lands were actually, directly and exclusively being used for SNLABC’s livestock business prior to the enactment of the CARL.

          In Luz Farms v. Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform,[13][13]the Court declared unconstitutional the CARL provisions[14][14]that included lands devoted to livestock under the coverage of the CARP. The transcripts of the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 on the meaning of the word “agricultural” showed that it was never the intention of the framers of the Constitution to include the livestock and poultry industry in the coverage of the constitutionally mandated agrarian reform program of the government.[15][15] Thus, lands devoted to the raising of livestock, poultry and swine have been classified as industrial, not agricultural, and thus exempt from agrarian reform.[16][16]

          Under the rules then prevailing, it was the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) who was primarily responsible for investigating the legal status, type and areas of the land sought to be excluded;[17][17] and for ascertaining whether the area subject of the application for exemption had been devoted to livestock-raising as of 15 June 1988.[18][18] The MARO’s authority to investigate has subsequently been replicated in the current DAR guidelines regarding lands that are actually, directly and exclusively used for livestock raising.[19][19] As the primary official in charge of investigating the land sought to be exempted as livestock land, the MARO’s findings on the use and nature of the land, if supported by substantial evidence on record, are to be accorded greater weight, if not finality.

Verily, factual findings of administrative officials and agencies that have acquired expertise in the performance of their official duties and the exercise of their primary jurisdiction are generally accorded not only respect but, at times, even finality if such findings are supported by substantial evidence.[20][20] The Court generally accords great respect, if not finality, to factual findings of administrative agencies because of their special knowledge and expertise over matters falling under their jurisdiction.[21][21]

In the instant case, the MARO in its ocular inspection[22][22] found on the Lopez lands several heads of cattle, carabaos, horses, goats and pigs, some of which were covered by several certificates of ownership. There were likewise structures on the Lopez lands used for its livestock business, structures consisting of two chutes where the livestock were kept during nighttime. The existence of the cattle prior to the enactment of the CARL was positively affirmed by the farm workers and the overseer who were interviewed by the MARO. Considering these factual findings and the fact that the lands were in fact being used for SNLABC’s livestock business even prior to 15 June 1988, the DAR Regional Director ordered the exemption of the Lopez lands from CARP coverage. The Court gives great probative value to the actual, on-site investigation made by the MARO as affirmed by the DAR Regional Director. The Court finds that the Lopez lands were in fact actually, directly and exclusively being used as industrial lands for livestock-raising.

Simply because the on-site investigation was belatedly conducted three or four years after the effectivity of the CARL does not perforce make it unworthy of belief or unfit to be offered as substantial evidence in this case. Contrary to DAR’s claims, the lack of information as regards the initial breeders and the specific date when the cattle were first introduced in the MARO’s Report does not conclusively demonstrate that there was no livestock-raising on the Lopez lands prior to the CARL. Although information as to these facts are significant, their non-appearance in the reports does not leave the MARO without any other means to ascertain the duration of livestock-raising on the Lopez lands, such as interviews with farm workers, the presence of livestock infrastructure, and evidence of sales of cattle – all of which should have formed part of the MARO’s Investigation Report.

Hence, the Court looks with favor on the expertise of the MARO in determining whether livestock-raising on the Lopez lands has only been recently conducted or has been a going concern for several years already. Absent any clear showing of grave abuse of discretion or bias, the findings of the MARO – as affirmed by the DAR Regional Director – are to be accorded great probative value, owing to the presumption of regularity in the performance of his official duties.[23][23]

          The DAR, however, insisted in its Petition[24][24] on giving greater weight to the inconsistencies appearing in the documentary evidence presented, and noted by the DAR Secretary, in order to defeat SNLABC’s claim of exemption over the Lopez lands. The Court is not so persuaded.

          In the Petition, the DAR argued that that the tax declarations covering the Lopez lands characterized them as agricultural lands and, thus, detracted from the claim that they were used for livestock purposes. The Court has since held that “there is no law or jurisprudence that holds that the land classification embodied in the tax declarations is conclusive and final nor would proscribe any further inquiry”; hence, “tax declarations are clearly not the sole basis of the classification of a land.”[25][25] Applying the foregoing principles, the tax declarations of the Lopez lands as agricultural lands are not conclusive or final, so as to prevent their exclusion from CARP coverage as lands devoted to livestock-raising. Indeed, the MARO’s on-site inspection and actual investigation showing that the Lopez lands were being used for livestock-grazing are more convincing in the determination of the nature of those lands.

          Neither can the DAR in the instant case assail the timing of the incorporation of SNLABC and the latter’s operation shortly before the enactment of the CARL.  That persons  employ tactics to precipitously convert their lands from agricultural use to industrial livestock is not unheard of; they even exploit the creation of a new corporate vehicle to operate the livestock business to substantiate the deceitful conversion in the hopes of evading CARP coverage. Exemption from CARP, however, is directly a function of the land’s usage, and not of the identity of the entity operating it. Otherwise stated, lands actually, directly and exclusively used for livestock are exempt from CARP coverage, regardless of the change of owner.[26][26] In the instant case, whether SNLABC was incorporated prior to the CARL is immaterial, since the Lopez lands were already being used for livestock-grazing purposes prior to the enactment of the CARL, as found by the MARO. Although the managing entity had been changed, the business interest of raising livestock on the Lopez lands still remained without any indication that it was initiated after the effectivity of the CARL.

          As stated by SNLABC, the Lopez lands were the legacy of Don Salvador Lopez, Sr. The ownership of these lands was passed from Don Salvador Lopez, Sr., to Salvador N. Lopez, Jr., and subsequently to the latter’s children before being registered under the name of SNLABC. Significantly, SNLABC was incorporated by the same members of the Lopez family, which had previously owned the lands and managed the livestock business.[27][27] In all these past years, despite the change in ownership, the Lopez lands have been used for purposes of grazing and pasturing cattle, horses, carabaos and goats. Simply put, SNLABC was chosen as the entity to take over the reins of the livestock business of the Lopez family. Absent any other compelling evidence, the inopportune timing of the incorporation of the SNLABC prior to the enactment of the CARL was not by itself a categorical manifestation of an intent to avoid CARP coverage.

          Furthermore, the presence of coconut trees, although an indicia that the lands may be agricultural, must be placed within the context of how they figure in the actual, direct and exclusive use of the subject lands. The DAR failed to demonstrate that the Lopez lands were actually and primarily agricultural lands planted with coconut trees. This is in fact contradicted by the findings of its own official, the MARO. Indeed, the DAR did not adduce any proof to show that the coconut trees on the Lopez lands were used for agricultural business, as required by the Court in DAR v. Uy,[28][28] wherein we ruled thus:

It is not uncommon for an enormous landholding to be intermittently planted with trees, and this would not necessarily detract it from the purpose of livestock farming and be immediately considered as an agricultural land. It would be surprising if there were no trees on the land.  Also, petitioner did not adduce any proof to show that the coconut trees were planted by respondent and used for agricultural business or were already existing when the land was purchased in 1979. In the present case, the area planted with coconut trees bears an insignificant value to the area used for the cattle and other livestock-raising, including the infrastructure needed for the business. There can be no presumption, other than that the “coconut area” is indeed used for shade and to augment the supply of fodder during the warm months; any other use would be only be incidental to livestock farming. The substantial quantity of livestock heads could only mean that respondent is engaged in farming for this purpose. The single conclusion gathered here is that the land is entirely devoted to livestock farming and exempted from the CARP.

          On the assumption that five thousand five hundred forty-eight (5,548) coconut trees were existing on the Lopez land (TCT No. T-12637), the DAR did not refute the findings of the MARO that these coconut trees were merely incidental. Given the number of livestock heads of SNLABC, it is not surprising that the areas planted with coconut trees on the Lopez lands where forage grass grew were being used as grazing areas for the livestock. It was never sufficiently adduced that SNLABC was primarily engaged in agricultural business on the Lopez lands, specifically, coconut-harvesting. Indeed, the substantial quantity of SNLABC’s livestock amounting to a little over one hundred forty (140) livestock heads, if measured against the combined 110.5455 hectares of land and applying the DAR-formulated ratio, leads to no other conclusion than that the Lopez lands were exclusively devoted to livestock farming.[29][29]

          In any case, the inconsistencies appearing in the documentation presented (albeit sufficiently explained) pale in comparison to the positive assertion made by the MARO in its on-site, actual investigation – that the Lopez lands were being used actually, directly and exclusively for its livestock-raising business. The Court affirms the findings of the DAR Regional Director and the Court of Appeals that the Lopez lands were actually, directly and exclusively being used for SNLABC’s livestock business and, thus, are exempt from CARP coverage.

The Limot lands of SNLABC are not actually and directly being used for livestock and should thus be covered by the CARL.

          In contrast, the Limot lands were found to be agricultural lands devoted to coconut trees and rubber and are thus not subject to exemption from CARP coverage.

          In the Report dated 06 April 1994, the team that conducted the inspection found that the entire Limot lands were devoted to coconuts (41.5706 hectares) and rubber (8.000 hectares) and recommended the denial of the application for exemption.[30][30] Verily, the Limot lands were actually, directly and exclusively used for agricultural activities, a fact that necessarily makes them subject to the CARP. These findings of the inspection team were given credence by the DAR Regional Director who denied the application, and were even subsequently affirmed by the DAR Secretary and the Court of Appeals.

          SNLABC argues that the Court of Appeals misapprehended the factual circumstances and overlooked certain relevant facts, which deserve a second look. SNLABC’s arguments fail to convince the Court to reverse the rulings of the Court of Appeals.

          In the 07 February 1994 Letter-Affidavit addressed to the DAR Secretary, SNLABC requested the exemption of the Limot lands on the ground that the corporation needed the additional area for its livestock business. As pointed out by the DAR Regional Director, this Letter-Affidavit is a clear indication that the Limot lands were not directly, actually and exclusively used for livestock raising. SNLABC casually dismisses the clear import of their Letter-Affidavit as a “poor choice of words.” Unfortunately, the semantics of the declarations of SNLABC in its application for exemption are corroborated by the other attendant factual circumstances and indicate its treatment of the subject properties as non-livestock.

Verily, the MARO itself, in the Investigation Report cited by no less than SNLABC, found that the livestock were only moved to the Limot lands sporadically and were not permanently designated there. The DAR Secretary even described SNLABC’s use of the area as a “seasonal extension of the applicant’s ‘grazing lands’ during the summer.” Therefore, the Limot lands cannot be claimed to have been actually, directly and exclusively used for SNLABC’s livestock business, especially since these were only intermittently and secondarily used as grazing areas. The said lands are more suitable — and are in fact actually, directly and exclusively being used — for agricultural purposes.

SNLABC’s treatment of the land for non-livestock purposes is highlighted by its undue delay in filing the application for exemption of the Limot lands. SNLABC filed the application only on 07 February 1994, or three years after the Notice of Coverage was issued; two years after it filed the first application for the Lopez lands; and a year after the titles to the Limot lands were transferred to the Republic. The SNLABC slept on its rights and delayed asking for exemption of the Limot lands. The lands were undoubtedly being used for agricultural purposes, not for its livestock business; thus, these lands are subject to CARP coverage. Had SNLABC indeed utilized the Limot lands in conjunction with the livestock business it was conducting on the adjacent Lopez lands, there was nothing that would have prevented it from simultaneously applying for a total exemption of all the lands necessary for its livestock.

The defense of SNLABC that it wanted to “save” first the Lopez lands where the corrals and chutes were located, before acting to save the other properties does not help its cause. The piecemeal application for exemption of SNLABC speaks of the value or importance of the Lopez lands, compared with the Limot lands, with respect to its livestock business. If the Lopez and the Limot lands were equally significant to its operations and were actually being used for its livestock business, it would have been more reasonable for it to apply for exemption for the entire lands. Indeed, the belated filing of the application for exemption was a mere afterthought on the part of SNLABC, which wanted to increase the area of its landholdings to be exempted from CARP on the ground that these were being used for its livestock business.

In any case, SNLABC admits that the title to the Limot lands has already been transferred to the Republic and subsequently awarded to SNLABC’s farm workers.[31][31] This fact only demonstrates that the land is indeed being used for agricultural activities and not for livestock grazing.

The confluence of these factual circumstances leads to the logical conclusion that the Limot lands were not being used for livestock grazing and, thus, do not qualify for exemption from CARP coverage. SNLABC’s belated filing of the application for exemption of the Limot lands was a ruse to increase its retention of its landholdings and an attempt to “save” these from compulsory acquisition.

            WHEREFORE, the Petitions of the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Salvador N. Lopez Agri-Business Corp. are DISMISSED, and the rulings of the Court of Appeals and the DAR Regional Director are hereby AFFIRMED.

          SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

         

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRIONAssociate Justice LUCAS P. BERSAMINAssociate Justice
   

 

                                            

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

ATTESTATION

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the Opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                               CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                                                 Associate Justice

                                                         Chairperson, Third Division

CERTIFICATION

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                               RENATO C. CORONA

                                                         Chief Justice

                                                         

 


 


[1][1]  Department of Agrarian Reform’s Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 14 August 2007, rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 9-80; Salvador N. Lopez Agri-Business Corporation’s Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 04 September 2007, rollo (G.R. No. 179071), pp. 10-72.

[2][2]  Rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 44-56; rollo (G.R. No. 179071), pp. 31-43.

[3][3] Court of Appeals Decision dated 30 June 2006, pp. 2-6; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 45-49; Rollo (G.R. No. 179071), pp. 32-36.

[4][4] Supra. Note 2.

[5][5] DAR Regional Director’s Order dated 05 March 1997. (Annex “C” of DAR’s Petition; rollo [G.R. No. 178895], pp. 59-62; and Annex “F” of SNLABC’s Petition); rollo [G.R. No. 179071], pp. 69-72.)

[6][6] DAR Secretary’s Order dated 10 June 1998 (Annex “C” of DAR’s Petition; rollo [G.R. No. 178895], pp. 63-80)

[7][7] Court of Appeals Resolution 08 June 2007; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 57-58, and rollo (G.R. No. 179071), pp. 45-46.

[8][8] DAR’s Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 14 August 2007; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 9-80.

[9][9] SNLABC’s Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 04 September 2007; rollo (G.R. No. 179071), pp. 10-72.

[10][10] The Court ruled that lands devoted to livestock and poultry-raising are not included in the definition of agricultural land; and declared as unconstitutional certain provisions of the CARL insofar as they included livestock farms in the coverage of agrarian reform. (Luz Farms v. DAR, G.R. No. 86889, 04 December 1990, 192 SCRA 51; DAR v. Sutton, G.R. No. 162070, 19 October 2005, 473 SCRA 392; DAR v. Berenguer, G.R. No. 154094, 09 March 2010)

[11][11] Rules of Court, Rule 45, Section 1; New Rural Bank of Guimba (N.E.), Inc. v. Abad, G.R. No. 161818, 20 August 2008, 562 SCRA 503.

[12][12] “The rule in our jurisdiction is that only questions of law may be entertained by this Court in a petition for review on certiorari. This rule, however, is not ironclad and admits certain exceptions, such as when (1) the conclusion is grounded on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (2) the inference is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (3) there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) there is no citation of specific evidence on which the factual findings are based; (7) the findings of absence of facts are contradicted by the presence of evidence on record; (8) the findings of the CA are contrary to those of the trial court; (9) the CA manifestly overlooked certain relevant and undisputed facts that, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; (10) the findings of the CA are beyond the issues of the case; and (11) such findings are contrary to the  admissions of both parties.” (Emphasis supplied; Malayan Insurance Co., v. Jardine Davies Transport Services, Inc., G.R. No. 181300, 18 September 2009, 600 SCRA 706, citing International Container Services, Inc. v. FGU Insurance Corporation, G.R. No. 161539, 27 June 2008, 556 SCRA 194, 199)

[13][13] Luz Farms v. Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, G.R. No. 86889, 04 December 1990, 192 SCRA 51.

[14][14] CARL, Sections 3(b), 11, 13 and 32.

[15][15] Luz Farms v. Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, supra.

[16][16] DAR v. Sutton, G.R. No. 162070, 19 October 2005, 473 SCRA 392.

[17][17] DAR Administrative Order No. 9-1993, Rule IV (A) (2).

[18][18] DAR Administrative Order No. 9-1993, Rule IV (A) (3).

[19][19] “The Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO), together with a representative of the DAR Provincial Office (DARPO), shall conduct an inventory and ocular inspection of all agricultural lands with livestock raising activities.” (DAR Administrative Order No. 07-08 dated 03 September 2008)

[20][20] Taguinod v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 154654, 14 September 2007, 533 SCRA 403.

[21][21] A.Z. Arnaiz Realty, Inc., v. Office of the President, G.R. No. 170623, 09 July 2010.

[22][22] Investigation Report dated 09 March 1993. (Annex “E” of SNLABC’s Petition for Review on Certiorari; rollo [G.R. No. 179071], pp. 67-68)

[23][23] Rules of Court, Rule 131, Sec. 3(m).

[24][24] DAR’s Petition for Review on Certiorari dated 04 September 2007, pp. 26-29 (Rollo [G.R. No. 178895], pp. 34-37).

[25][25] Republic v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 139592, 05 October 2000, 342 SCRA 189.

[26][26] “Lands devoted to raising of livestock, poultry and swine have been classified as industrial, not agricultural, lands and thus exempt from agrarian reform. Petitioner DAR argues that, in issuing the impugned A.O., it was seeking to address the reports it has received that some unscrupulous landowners have been converting their agricultural lands to livestock farms to avoid their coverage by the agrarian reform. Again, we find neither merit nor logic in this contention. The undesirable scenario which petitioner seeks to prevent with the issuance of the A.O. clearly does not apply in this case. Respondents’ family acquired their landholdings as early as 1948. They have long been in the business of breeding cattle in Masbate which is popularly known as the cattle-breeding capital of the Philippines. Petitioner DAR does not dispute this fact. Indeed, there is no evidence on record that respondents have just recently engaged in or converted to the business of breeding cattle after the enactment of the CARL that may lead one to suspect that respondents intended to evade its coverage. It must be stressed that what the CARL prohibits is the conversion of agricultural lands for non-agricultural purposes after the effectivity of the CARL. There has been no change of business interest in the case of respondents.” (DAR v. Sutton, supra note 10; emphasis supplied.)

[27][27] Memorandum dated 03 June 2009, pp. 5-6; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), pp. 155-156.

[28][28] G.R. No. 169277, 09 February 2007, 515 SCRA 376.

[29][29] Under DAR Administrative Order No. 09-1993, for land to be excluded from the coverage of the CARL because it is devoted to livestock, there must be established a proportion of a minimum ratio of one head of cattle to one hectare of land, and one head of cattle to 1.7815 hectares of infrastructure as of 15 June 1998, the date of the effectivity of the CARL. (DAR v. Berenguer, G.R. No. 154904, 09 March 2010)

[30][30] Order dated 05 March 1997 at 3; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), p. 61; rollo (G.R. No. 179071), p. 71.

[31][31] SNLABC’s Petition for Review on Certiorari, p. 6, para. 12; rollo (G.R. No. 179071), p. 15, and SNLABC’s Memorandum dated 03 June 2009, p. 8; rollo (G.R. No. 178895), p. 158.

CASE NO. 2011-0023: PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES VS. KHADDAFY JANJALANI, GAMAL B. BAHARAN A.K.A. TAPAY, ANGELO TRINIDAD A.K.A. ABU KHALIL, GAPPAL BANNAH ASALI A.K.A. MAIDAN OR NEGRO, JAINAL SALI A.K.A. ABU SOLAIMAN, ROHMAT ABDURROHIM A.K.A. JACKIE OR ZAKY, AND OTHER JOHN AND JANE DOES (G.R. NO. 188314, 10 JANUARY 2011, SERENO, J.) SUBJECTS: CONSPIRACY, SEARCHING INQUIRY RE PLEA OF GUILT, JUDICIAL ADMISSION. (BRIEF TITLE: PEOPLE VS. JANJALANI ET AL.)

x – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – x

D E C I S I O N

SERENO, J.:

Before the Court is an appeal from the Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated 30 June 2008, which affirmed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City in Criminal Case Nos. 05-476 and 05-4777 dated 18 October 2005. The latter Decision convicted the three accused-appellants – namely, Gamal B. Baharan a.k.a. Tapay, Angelo Trinidad a.k.a. Abu Khalil, and Rohmat Abdurrohim a.k.a. Abu Jackie or Zaky – of the complex crime of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder, and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of death by lethal injection. The CA modified the sentence to reclusion perpetua as required by Republic Act No. 9346 (Act Abolishing the Imposition of Death Penalty).

Statement of Facts

The pertinent facts, as determined by the trial court, are as follows:

On 14 February 2005, an RRCG bus was plying its usual southbound route, from its Navotas bus terminal towards its Alabang bus terminal via Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). Around 6:30 to 7:30 in the evening, while they were about to move out of the Guadalupe-EDSA southbound bus stop, the bus conductor noticed two men running after the bus. The two insisted on getting on the bus, so the conductor obliged and let them in.

According to Elmer Andales, the bus conductor, he immediately became wary of the two men, because, even if they got on the bus together, the two sat away from each other – one sat two seats behind the driver, while the other sat at the back of the bus. At the time, there were only 15 passengers inside the bus. He also noticed that the eyes of one of the men were reddish. When he approached the person near the driver and asked him whether he was paying for two passengers, the latter looked dumb struck by the question. He then stuttered and said he was paying for two and gave PhP20. Andales grew more concerned when the other man seated at the back also paid for both passengers. At this point, Andales said he became more certain that the two were up to no good, and that there might be a holdup.

Afterwards, Andales said he became more suspicious because both men kept on asking him if the bus was going to stop at Ayala Avenue. The witness also noticed that the man at the back appeared to be slouching, with his legs stretched out in front of him and his arms hanging out and hidden from view as if he was tinkering with something. When Andales would get near the man, the latter would glare at him. Andales admitted, however, that he did not report the suspicious characters to the police.

As soon as the bus reached the stoplight at the corner of Ayala Avenue and EDSA, the two men insisted on getting off the bus. According to Andales, the bus driver initially did not want to let them off the bus, because a Makati ordinance prohibited unloading anywhere except at designated bus stops. Eventually, the bus driver gave in and allowed the two passengers to alight. The two immediately got off the bus and ran towards Ayala Avenue. Moments after, Andales felt an explosion. He then saw fire quickly engulfing the bus. He ran out of the bus towards a nearby mall. After a while, he went back to where the bus was. He saw their bus passengers either lying on the ground or looking traumatized. A few hours after, he made a statement before the Makati Police Station narrating the whole incident.

The prosecution presented documents furnished by the Department of Justice, confirming that shortly before the explosion, the spokesperson of the Abu Sayyaf Group – Abu Solaiman – announced over radio station DZBB that the group had a Valentine’s Day “gift” for former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. After the bombing, he again went on radio and warned of more bomb attacks.

As stipulated during pretrial, accused Trinidad gave ABS-CBN News Network an exclusive interview some time after the incident, confessing his participation in the Valentine’s Day bombing incident. In another exclusive interview on the network, accused Baharan likewise admitted his role in the bombing incident. Finally, accused Asali gave a television interview, confessing that he had supplied the explosive devices for the 14 February 2005 bombing. The bus conductor identified the accused Baharan and Trinidad, and confirmed that they were the two men who had entered the RRCG bus on the evening of 14 February.

Members of the Abu Sayyaf Group – namely Khaddafy Janjalani, Gamal B. Baharan, Angelo Trinidad, Gappal Bannah Asali, Jainal Asali, Rohmat Abdurrohim a.k.a. Abu Jackie or Zaky, and other “John” and “Jane Does” – were then charged with multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder. Only Baharan, Trinidad, Asali, and Rohmat were arrested, while the other accused remain at-large.

On their arraignment for the multiple murder charge (Crim. Case No. 05-476), Baharan, Trinidad, and Asali all entered a plea of guilty. On the other hand, upon arraignment for the multiple frustrated murder charge (Crim. Case No. 05-477), accused Asali pled guilty. Accused Trinidad and Baharan pled not guilty. Rohmat pled not guilty to both charges. During the pretrial hearing, the parties stipulated the following:

1.)                The jurisdiction of this court over the offenses charged.

2.)                That all three accused namely alias Baharan, Trinidad, and Asali admitted knowing one another before February 14, 2005.

3.)                All the same three accused likewise admitted that a bomb exploded in the RRCG bus while the bus was plying the EDSA route fronting the MRT terminal which is in front of the Makati Commercial Center.

4.)                Accused Asali admitted knowing the other accused alias Rohmat whom he claims taught him how to make explosive devices.

5.)                The accused Trinidad also admitted knowing Rohmat before the February 14 bombing incident.

6.)                The accused Baharan, Trinidad, and Asali all admitted to causing the bomb explosion inside the RRCG bus which left four people dead and more or less forty persons injured.

7.)                Both Baharan and Trinidad agreed to stipulate that within the period March 20-24 each gave separate interviews to the ABS-CBN news network admitting their participation in the commission of the said crimes, subject of these cases.

8.)                Accused Trinidad and Baharan also admitted to pleading guilty to these crimes, because they were guilt-stricken after seeing a man carrying a child in the first bus that they had entered.

9.)                Accused Asali likewise admitted that in the middle of March 2005 he gave a television news interview in which he admitted that he supplied the explosive devices which resulted in this explosion inside the RRCG bus and which resulted in the filing of these charges.

10.)            Finally, accused Baharan, Trinidad, and Asali admitted that they are members of the Abu Sayyaf.[1][1]

In the light of the pretrial stipulations, the trial court asked whether accused Baharan and Trinidad were amenable to changing their “not guilty” pleas to the charge of multiple frustrated murder, considering that they pled “guilty” to the heavier charge of multiple murder, creating an apparent inconsistency in their pleas. Defense counsel conferred with accused Baharan and Trinidad and explained to them the consequences of the pleas. The two accused acknowledged the inconsistencies and manifested their readiness for re-arraignment. After the Information was read to them, Baharan and Trinidad pled guilty to the charge of multiple frustrated murder.[2][2]

After being discharged as state witness, accused Asali testified that while under training with the Abu Sayyaf in 2004, Rohmat, a.k.a Abu Jackie or Zaky, and two other persons taught him how to make bombs and explosives. The trainees were told that they were to wage battles against the government in the city, and that their first mission was to plant bombs in malls, the Light Railway Transit (LRT), and other parts of Metro Manila.

As found by the trial court, Asali, after his training, was required by the Abu Sayyaf leadership, specifically Abu Solaiman and Rohmat, to secure eight kilos of TNT, a soldering gun, aluminum powder, a tester, and Christmas lights, all of which he knew would be used to make a bomb. He then recalled that sometime in November to December 2004, Trinidad asked him for a total of 4 kilos of TNT – that is, 2 kilos on two separate occasions. Rohmat allegedly called Asali to confirm that Trinidad would get TNT from Asali and use it for their first mission. The TNT was allegedly placed in two buses sometime in December 2004, but neither one of them exploded.

Asali then testified that the night before the Valentine’s Day bombing, Trinidad and Baharan got another two kilos of TNT from him. Late in the evening of 14 February, he received a call from Abu Solaiman. The latter told Asali not to leave home or go to crowded areas, since the TNT taken by Baharan and Trinidad had already been exploded in Makati. Thirty minutes later, Trinidad called Asali, repeating the warning of Abu Solaiman. The next day, Asali allegedly received a call from accused Rohmat, congratulating the former on the success of the mission.[3][3] According to Asali, Abu Zaky specifically said, “Sa wakas nag success din yung tinuro ko sayo.”

 

Assignment of Errors

Accused-appellants raise the following assignment of errors:

I.                   The trial court gravely erred in accepting accused-appellants’ plea of guilt despite insufficiency of searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of the said plea.

II.                The trial court gravely erred in finding that the guilt of accused-appellants for the crimes charged had been proven beyond reasonable doubt.[4][4]

 

First Assignment of Error

          Accused-appellants Baharan and Trinidad argue that the trial court did not conduct a searching inquiry after they had changed their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty.” The transcript of stenographic notes during the 18 April 2005 re-arraignment before the Makati Regional Trial Court is reproduced below:

Court              : Anyway, I think what we should have to do, considering the stipulations that were agreed upon during the last hearing, is to address this matter of pleas of not guilty entered for the frustrated murder charges by the two accused, Mr. Trinidad and Mr. Baharan, because if you will recall they entered pleas of guilty to the multiple murder charges, but then earlier pleas of not guilty for the frustrated multiple murder charges remain… [I]s that not inconsistent considering the stipulations that were entered into during the initial pretrial of this case? [If] you will recall, they admitted to have caused the bomb explosion that led to the death of at least four people and injury of about forty other persons and so under the circumstances, Atty Peña, have you discussed this matter with your clients?

… … …

Atty. Peña     :  Then we should be given enough time to talk with them. I haven’t conferred with them about this with regard to the multiple murder case.

… … …

Court              :  Okay. So let us proceed now. Atty. Peña, can you assist the two accused because if they are interested in withdrawing their [pleas], I want to hear it from your lips.

Atty. Peña     :  Yes, your Honor.

                              (At this juncture, Atty. Peña confers with the two accused, namely Trinidad and Baharan)

                              I have talked to them, your Honor, and I have explained to them the consequence of their pleas, your Honor, and that the plea of guilt to the murder case and plea of not guilty to the frustrated multiple murder actually are inconsistent with their pleas.

Court              :  With matters that they stipulated upon?

Atty. Peña     : Yes, your Honor. So, they are now, since they already plead guilt to the murder case, then they are now changing their pleas, your Honor, from not guilty to the one of guilt. They are now ready, your Honor, for re-arraignment.

… … …

INTERPRETER: (Read again that portion [of the information] and translated it in Filipino in a clearer way and asked both accused what their pleas are).

                              Your Honor, both accused are entering separate pleas of guilt to the crime charged.

COURT              :  All right. So after the information was re-read to the accused, they have withdrawn their pleas of not guilty and changed it to the pleas of guilty to the charge of frustrated murder. Thank you. Are there any matters you need to address at pretrial now? If there are none, then I will terminate pretrial and accommodate…[5][5]

As early as in People v. Apduhan, the Supreme Court has ruled that “all trial judges … must refrain from accepting with alacrity an accused’s plea of guilty, for while justice demands a speedy administration, judges are duty bound to be extra solicitous in seeing to it that when an accused pleads guilty, he understands fully the meaning of his plea and the import of an inevitable conviction.”[6][6] Thus, trial court judges are required to observe the following procedure under Section 3, Rule 116 of the Rules of Court:

SEC. 3. Plea of guilty to capital offense; reception of evidence. — When the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, the court shall conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea and shall require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may also present evidence in his behalf. (Emphasis supplied)

            The requirement to conduct a searching inquiry applies more so in cases of re-arraignment. In People v. Galvez, the Court noted that since accused-appellant’s original plea was “not guilty,” the trial court should have exerted careful effort in inquiring into why he changed his plea to “guilty.”[7][7] According to the Court:

The stringent procedure governing the reception of a plea of guilt, especially in a case involving the death penalty, is imposed upon the trial judge in order to leave no room for doubt on the possibility that the accused might have misunderstood the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea.[8][8]

            Likewise, the requirement to conduct a searching inquiry should not be deemed satisfied in cases in which it was the defense counsel who explained the consequences of a “guilty” plea to the accused, as it appears in this case. In People v. Alborida, this Court found that there was still an improvident plea of guilty, even if the accused had already signified in open court that his counsel had explained the consequences of the guilty plea; that he understood the explanation of his counsel; that the accused understood that the penalty of death would still be meted out to him; and that he had not been intimidated, bribed, or threatened.[9][9]

We have reiterated in a long line of cases that the conduct of a searching inquiry remains the duty of judges, as they are mandated by the rules to satisfy themselves that the accused  had not been under coercion or duress; mistaken impressions; or a misunderstanding of the significance, effects, and consequences of their guilty plea.[10][10] This requirement is stringent and mandatory.[11][11]

Nevertheless, we are not unmindful of the context under which the re-arraignment was conducted or of the factual milieu surrounding the finding of guilt against the accused. The Court observes that accused Baharan and Trinidad previously pled guilty to another charge – multiple murder – based on the same act relied upon in the multiple frustrated murder charge. The Court further notes that prior to the change of plea to one of guilt, accused Baharan and Trinidad made two other confessions of guilt – one through an extrajudicial confession (exclusive television interviews, as stipulated by both accused during pretrial), and the other via judicial admission (pretrial stipulation). Considering the foregoing circumstances, we deem it unnecessary to rule on the sufficiency of the “searching inquiry” in this instance. Remanding the case for re-arraignment is not warranted, as the accused’s plea of guilt was not the sole basis of the condemnatory judgment under consideration.[12][12]

 

Second Assignment of Error

In People v. Oden, the Court declared that even if the requirement of conducting a searching inquiry was not complied with, “[t]he manner by which the plea of guilt is made … loses much of great significance where the conviction can be based on independent evidence proving the commission by the person accused of the offense charged.”[13][13] Thus, in People v. Nadera, the Court stated:

Convictions based on an improvident plea of guilt are set aside only if such plea is the sole basis of the judgment. If the trial court relied on sufficient and credible evidence to convict the accused, the conviction must be sustained, because then it is predicated not merely on the guilty plea of the accused but on evidence proving his commission of the offense charged.[14][14] (Emphasis supplied.)

            In their second assignment of error, accused-appellants assert that guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. They pointed out that the testimony of the conductor was merely circumstantial, while that of Asali as to the conspiracy was insufficient.

Insofar as accused-appellants Baharan and Trinidad are concerned, the evidence for the prosecution, in addition to that which can be drawn from the stipulation of facts, primarily consisted of the testimonies of the bus conductor, Elmer Andales, and of the accused-turned-state-witness, Asali. Andales positively identified accused Baharan and Trinidad as the two men who had acted suspiciously while inside the bus; who had insisted on getting off the bus in violation of a Makati ordinance; and who had scampered away from the bus moments before the bomb exploded. On the other hand, Asali testified that he had given accused Baharan and Trinidad the TNT used in the bombing incident in Makati City. The guilt of the accused Baharan and Trinidad was sufficiently established by these corroborating testimonies, coupled with their respective judicial admissions (pretrial stipulations) and extrajudicial confessions (exclusive television interviews, as they both stipulated during pretrial) that they were indeed the perpetrators of the Valentine’s Day bombing.[15][15]  Accordingly, the Court upholds the findings of guilt made by the trial court as affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Anent accused Rohmat, the evidence for the prosecution consisted of the testimony of accused-turned-state-witness Asali. Below is a reproduction of the transcript of stenographic notes on the state prosecutor’s direct examination of state-witness Asali during the 26 May 2005 trial:

Q                        :  You stated that Zaky trained you and Trinidad. Under what circumstances did he train you, Mr. Witness, to assemble those explosives, you and Trinidad?

A                        : Abu Zaky, Abu Solaiman, Khadaffy Janjalani, the three of them, that Angelo Trinidad and myself be the one to be trained to make an explosive, sir.

Q                        :  Mr. witness, how long that training, or how long did it take that training?

A                        :  If I am not mistaken, we were thought to make bomb about one month and two weeks.

… … …

Q                        :  Now, speaking of that mission, Mr. witness, while you were still in training at Mr. Cararao, is there any mission that you undertook, if any, with respect to that mission?

… … …

A                        :  Our first mission was to plant a bomb in the malls, LRT, and other parts of Metro Manila, sir.[16][16]

The witness then testified that he kept eight kilos of TNT for accused Baharan and Trinidad.

Q                        :  Now, going back to the bomb. Mr. witness, did you know what happened to the 2 kilos of bomb that Trinidad and Tapay took from you sometime in November 2004?

A                        :  That was the explosive that he planted in the G-liner, which did not explode.

Q                        :  How did you know, Mr. witness?

A                        :  He was the one who told me, Mr. Angelo Trinidad, sir.

… … …

Q                        :  What happened next, Mr. witness, when the bomb did not explode, as told to you by Trinidad?

A                        :  On December 29, Angelo Trinidad got 2 more kilos of TNT bombs.

… … …

Q                        :  Did Trinidad tell you why he needed another amount of explosive on that date, December 29, 2004? Will you kindly tell us the reason why?

… … …

A                        :  He told me that Abu Solaiman instructed me to get the TNT so that he could detonate a bomb

… … …

Q                        :  Were there any other person, besides Abu Solaiman, who called you up, with respect to the taking of the explosives from you?

A                        :  There is, sir… Abu Zaky, sir, called up also.

Q                        :  What did Abu Zaky tell you when he called you up?

A                        : He told me that “this is your first mission.”

Q                        :  Please enlighten the Honorable Court. What is that mission you are referring to?

A                        :  That is the first mission where we can show our anger towards the Christians.

… … …

Q                        :  The second time that he got a bomb from you, Mr. witness, do you know if the bomb explode?

A                        :  I did not know what happened to the next 2 kilos taken by Angelo Trinidad from me until after I was caught, because I was told by the policeman that interviewed me after I was arrested that the 2 kilos were planted in a bus, which also did  not explode.

Q                        :  So besides these two incidents, were there any other incidents that Angelo Trinidad and Tapay get an explosive for you, Mr. witness?

… … …

A                        :  If I am not mistaken, sir, on February 13, 2005 at 6:30 p.m.

Q                        :  Who got from you the explosive Mr. witness?

A                        :  It’s Angelo Trinidad and Tapay, sir.

… … …

Q                        :  How many explosives did they get from you, Mr. witness, at that time?

A                        :  They got 2 kilos TNT bomb, sir.

Q                        : Did they tell you, Mr. witness, where are they going to use that explosive?

A                        :  No, sir.

Q                        :  Do you know, Mr. witness, what happened to the third batch of explosives, which were taken from you by Trinidad and Tapay?

… … …

A                        :  That is the bomb that exploded in Makati, sir.

Q                        :  Why did you know, Mr. witness?

A                        :  Because I was called in the evening of February 14 by Abu Solaiman. He told me not to leave the house because the explosive that were taken by Tapay and Angelo Trinidad exploded.

… … …

Q                        : Was there any other call during that time, Mr. Witness?

… … …

A                        : I was told by Angelo Trinidad not to leave the house because the explosive that he took exploded already, sir.

Q                        : How sure were you, Mr. witness, at that time, that indeed, the bomb exploded at Makati, beside the call of Abu Solaiman and Trinidad?

A                        :  It was told by Abu Solaiman that the bombing in Makati should coincide with the bombing in General Santos.

… … …

A                        :  He told it to me, sir… I cannot remember the date anymore, but I know it was sometime in February 2005.

Q                        :  Any other call, Mr. witness, from Abu Solaiman and Trinidad after the bombing exploded in Makati, any other call?

… … …

A                        :  There is, sir… The call came from Abu Zaky.

Q                        :  What did Abu Zaky tell you, Mr. witness?

A                        :  He just greeted us congratulations, because we have a successful mission.

… … …

A                        : He told me that “sa wakas, nag success din yung tinuro ko sayo.”

… … …

Q                        :  By the way, Mr. witness, I would just like to clarify this. You stated that Abu Zaky called you up the following day, that was February 15, and congratulating you for the success of the mission. My question to you, Mr. witness, if you know what is the relation of that mission, wherein you were congratulated by Abu Zaky, to the mission, which have been indoctrinated to you, while you were in Mt. Cararao, Mr. witness?

A                        :  They are connected, sir.

Q                        : Connected in what sense, Mr. witness?

A                        :  Because when we were undergoing training, we were told that the Abu Sayyaf should not wage war to the forest, but also wage our battles in the city.

Q                        :  Wage the battle against who, Mr. witness?

A                        :  The government, sir.[17][17]

What can be culled from the testimony of Asali is that the Abu Sayyaf Group was determined to sow terror in Metro Manila, so that they could show their “anger towards the Christians.”[18][18] It can also be seen that Rohmat, together with Janjalani and Abu Solaiman, had carefully planned the Valentine’s Day bombing incident, months before it happened. Rohmat had trained Asali and Trinidad to make bombs and explosives. While in training, Asali and others were told that their mission was to plant bombs in malls, the LRT, and other parts of Metro Manila.  According to Asali, Rohmat called him on 29 December 2004 to confirm that Trinidad would get two kilos of TNT from Asali, as they were “about to commence” their “first mission.”[19][19] They made two separate attempts to bomb a bus in Metro Manila, but to no avail.  The day before the Valentine’s Day bombing, Trinidad got another two kilos of TNT from Asali. On Valentine’s Day, the Abu Sayyaf Group announced that they had a gift for the former President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. On their third try, their plan finally succeeded. Right after the bomb exploded, the Abu Sayyaf Group declared that there would be more bombings in the future. Asali then received a call from Rohmat, praising the former: “Sa wakas nag success din yung tinuro ko sayo.”[20][20]

In the light of the foregoing evidence, the Court upholds the finding of guilt against Rohmat. Article 17 of the Revised Penal Code reads:

Art. 17. Principals. — The following are considered principals:

1.      Those who take a direct part in the execution of the act

2.      Those who directly force or induce others to commit it

3.      Those who cooperate in the commission of the offense by another act without which it would not have been accomplished

Accused Rohmat is criminally responsible under the second paragraph, or the provision on “principal by inducement.” The instructions and training he had given Asali on how to make bombs – coupled with their careful planning and persistent attempts to bomb different areas in Metro Manila and Rohmat’s confirmation that Trinidad would be getting TNT from Asali as part of their mission – prove the finding that Rohmat’s co-inducement was the determining cause of the commission of the crime.[21][21] Such “command or advice [was] of such nature that, without it, the crime would not have materialized.”[22][22]

Further, the inducement was “so influential in producing the criminal act that without it, the act would not have been performed.”[23][23] In People v. Sanchez, et al., the Court ruled that, notwithstanding the fact that Mayor Sanchez was not at the crime scene, evidence proved that he was the mastermind of the criminal act or the principal by inducement. Thus, because Mayor Sanchez was a co-principal and co-conspirator, and because the act of one conspirator is the act of all, the mayor was rendered liable for all the resulting crimes.[24][24] The same finding must be applied to the case at bar.

The Court also affirms the finding of the existence of conspiracy involving accused Baharan, Trinidad, and Rohmat. Conspiracy was clearly established from the “collective acts of the accused-appellants before, during and after the commission of the crime.” As correctly declared by the trial court in its Omnibus Decision:

Asali’s clear and categorical testimony, which remains unrebutted on its major points, coupled with the judicial admissions freely and voluntarily given by the two other accused, are sufficient to prove the existence of a conspiracy hatched between and among the four accused, all members of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, to wreak chaos and mayhem in the metropolis by indiscriminately killing and injuring civilian victims by utilizing bombs and other similar destructive explosive devices.

While said conspiracy involving the four malefactors has not been expressly admitted by accused Baharan, Angelo Trinidad, and Rohmat, more specifically with respect to the latter’s participation in the commission of the crimes, nonetheless it has been established by virtue of the aforementioned evidence, which established the existence of the conspiracy itself and the indispensable participation of accused Rohmat in seeing to it that the conspirators’ criminal design would be realized.

It is well-established that conspiracy may be inferred from the acts of the accused, which clearly manifests a concurrence of wills, a common intent or design to commit a crime (People v. Lenantud, 352 SCRA 544). Hence, where acts of the accused collectively and individually demonstrate the existence of a common design towards the accomplishment of the same unlawful purpose, conspiracy is evident and all the perpetrators will be held liable as principals (People v. Ellado, 353 SCRA 643).[25][25]

In People v. Geronimo, the Court pronounced that it would be justified in concluding that the defendants therein were engaged in a conspiracy “when the defendants by their acts aimed at the same object, one performing one part and the other performing another part so as to complete it, with a view to the attainment of the same object; and their acts, though apparently independent, were in fact concerted and cooperative, indicating closeness of personal association, concerted action and concurrence of sentiments.”[26][26]

Accused contend that the testimony of Asali is inadmissible pursuant to Sec. 30, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court. It is true that under the rule, statements made by a conspirator against a co-conspirator are admissible only when made during the existence of the conspiracy. However, as the Court ruled in People v. Buntag, if the declarant repeats the statement in court, his extrajudicial confession becomes a judicial admission, making the testimony admissible as to both conspirators.[27][27] Thus, in People v. Palijon, the Court held the following:

… [W]e must make a distinction between extrajudicial and judicial confessions. An extrajudicial confession may be given in evidence against the confessant but not against his co-accused as they are deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine him. A judicial confession is admissible against the declarant’s co-accused since the latter are afforded opportunity to cross-examine the former. Section 30, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court applies only to extrajudicial acts or admissions and not to testimony at trial where the party adversely affected has the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant. Mercene’s admission implicating his co-accused was given on the witness stand. It is admissible in evidence against appellant Palijon. Moreover, where several accused are tried together for the same offense, the testimony of a co-accused implicating his co-accused is competent evidence against the latter.[28][28]

          WHEREFORE, the Petition is DENIED. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Makati, as affirmed with modification by the Court of Appeals, is hereby AFFIRMED.

          SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

 

         

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice

Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

   

 

                                            

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATTESTATION

 

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the Opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                               CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                                                 Associate Justice

                                                         Chairperson, Third Division

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, and the Division Chairperson’s Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

                                               RENATO C. CORONA

                                                         Chief Justice

                                                         

 


 


[1][1] Omnibus Decision of the Trial Court at 6, CA rollo at 97.

[2][2] TSN, 18 April 2005, at 3-17.

[3][3] CA rollo at 29.

[4][4] Brief for the Accused-Appellants at 1-2, CA rollo at 73-74.

[5][5] TSN, 18 April 2005, at 3-4, 14-15.

[6][6] People v. Apduhan, G.R. No. L-19491, 30 August 1968, 24 SCRA 798.

[7][7] People v. Galvez, G.R. No. 135053, 6 March 2002, 378 SCRA 389; see also People v. Chua, G.R. No. 137841, 1 October 2001, 366 SCRA 283.

[8][8] People v. Galvez, G.R. No. 135053, 6 March 2002, 378 SCRA 389, citing People v. Magat, 332 SCRA 517, 526 (2000).

[9][9] People v. Alborida, G.R. No. 136382, 25 June 2001, 359 SCRA 495.

[10][10] People v. Dayot, G.R. No. 88281, 20 July 1990, 187 SCRA 637;  People v. Alborida, G.R. No. 136382, 25 June 2001, 359 SCRA 495, citing People v. Sevilleno, 305 SCRA 519 (1999)

[11][11] People v. Galvez, G.R. No. 135053, 6 March 2002, 378 SCRA 389.

[12][12] People v. Alborida, G.R. No. 136382, 25 June 2001, 359 SCRA 495.

[13][13] People v. Oden, G.R. Nos. 155511-22, 14 April 2004, 427 SCRA 634, citing People v. Galas, 354 SCRA 722 (2001).

[14][14] People v. Nadera, G.R. Nos. 131384-87, 2 February 2000, 324 SCRA 490.

[15][15] Alano v. CA, G.R. No. 111244, 15 December 1997, 283 SCRA 269, citing People v. Hernandez, 260 SCRA 25 (1996).

[16][16] TSN, 26 May 2005, at 24-36.

[17][17] Id. at 24-51.

[18][18] Id. at 36.

[19][19] Id. at 24-51.

[20][20] Id. at 49.

[21][21] See generally U.S. v. Indanan, 24 Phil. 203 (1913); People v. Kiichi Omine, 61 Phil. 609 (1935).

[22][22] People v. Cruz, G.R. No. 74048, 14 November 1990, 191 SCRA 377, 385.

[23][23] Luis B. Reyes, The Revised Penal Code: Criminal Law – Book One, 529 (2008).

[24][24] People v. Sanchez, et al., G.R. No. 131116, 27 August 1999, 313 SCRA 254.

[25][25] Omnibus Decision of the Trial Court at 6, CA rollo at 123.

[26][26] People v. Geronimo, G.R. No. L-35700, 15 October 1973, 53 SCRA 246, 254, citing People v. Cabrera, 43 Phil. 64, 66 (1922); People v. Carbonell, 48 Phil. 868 (1926).

[27][27] People v. Buntag, G.R. No. 123070, 14 April 2004, 427 SCRA 180; see also People v. Palijon, 343 SCRA 486 (2000).

[28][28] People v. Palijon, G.R. No. 123545, 18 October 2000, 343 SCRA 486, citing People v. Flores, 195 SCRA 295, 308 (1991); People v. Ponce, 197 SCRA 746, 755 (1991).