The Court of Appeals has sustained the life imprisonment imposed by a regional trial court in Tabuk City, Kalinga against three drug peddlers, even as it called on the government to continue its relentless campaign against illegal drugs.
In a 17-page decision, the CA’s Special Ninth Division through Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon declared that the Court, as a staunch guardian of people’s rights and welfare, “cradles no compassion to peddlers of misery and death in our streets.”
Because of this, the appellate court denied the petition filed by Annabel Alverio Estrada, Marlon Cabilec Olimos, and Jackielou Castillo Macabenta seeking to set aside their conviction for the illegal sale of dangerous drugs issued by the Regional Trial Court of Tabuk City, Kalinga, Branch 25 on February 25, 2021.
Besides the life term, the CA also upheld the P500,000 fine imposed by the trial court against the accused.
The appellate court also affirmed the penalty of imprisonment of 12 years to 14 years and a fine of P300,000 imposed against Estrada for illegal possession of dangerous drugs.
“We can neither underestimate nor overemphasize the havoc brought about by the deleterious effects of prohibited drugs on the moral fiber of our society, especially that of the youth. True enough, countless lives have been wasted and many dreams lost, as a result of the upsurge of prohibited drugs in both the mainstream of high society and its grassroots,” the decision stated.
“Indeed, the strong arm of the law must never weaken against the onslaughts of this terrible affliction. The penalty provided by the law is severe because those who are caught in the stranglehold of prohibited drugs not only slide into the ranks of the living dead, what is worse, they become a grave menace to the safety of the law-abiding members of society,” it said.
Associate Justices Maximo de Leon and Eduardo Ramos concurred with the ruling.
The case arose from a buy-bust operation conducted by members of the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Philippine National Police in Tabuk City Police Station, Dagupan Centro, Kalinga.
Local police authorities claimed that they received a tip from a confidential informant that the three arrived in Tabuk City from Dasmariñas, Cavite to sell prohibited drugs.
A buy-bust operation was subsequently set up by the Tabuk City police team the next day.
The police asset called Estrada and informed her that he found an interested buyer of shabu worth P70,000.
Estrada agreed to hold the transaction at the Grand Zion Hotel and asked the asset to fetch her and her two companies at a restaurant.
Immediately after handling the payment to Estrada, the police asset signaled the police operatives to apprehend the accused appellants.
The police recovered more than 10 grams of shabu in Estrada’s possession during the operation.
In their petition, the accused appellants denied the charges against them and claimed and claimed that they were victims of a frame-up.
They recounted that they arrived in Tabuk City to see Apo Whang-od, a renowned traditional Filipino tattoo artist, in Tingalayan, Kalinga.
While inside their lodge, Estrada said she received a text from a certain “Kuya Martin” who told them that he will fetch them and bring them to the Grand Zion Hotel to eat. While waiting for their orders, two police officers suddenly approached the appellants and told them not to run.
Meanwhile, the appellants said “Kuya Martin” suddenly disappeared from the scene while the police started frisking them.
After the search, the appellants said they were told that illegal narcotics were recovered from them and that they would have to go with them to the police.
Olimos and Macabenta were charged and convicted with the illegal sale of dangerous drugs only as they were present during the negotiation, standing beside Estrada.
The complaint said they had prior knowledge of the drug transaction as they accompanied her in going to Tabuk City and then to the Grand Zion Hotel to transact with the poseur-buyer.
“Clutching at straws, the defense further argues that no buy-bust operation occurred, and that accused-appellants were framed. Lamentably, pitted against the presumption that police officers have performed their duties in a regular and proper manner, the evidence for the defense simply cannot prevail,” the CA said.
“It is well established that frame-up is the usual defense of those accused in drug-related cases, and it is viewed by the Court with disfavor since it is an allegation that can be made with ease.”
“Meanwhile, denial cannot be given greater evidentiary value than the unequivocal testimonies of credible witnesses who testified on affirmative matters. Positive identification destroys the defense of denial and renders it impotent, especially where such identification is credible and categorical, as in this case,” the court stressed.