People vs. Vasquez- G.R. No. 200304, January 15, 2014

Facts:
P/Insp. Fajardo testified that in the morning of April 1, 1998, a confidential informant went to their office and reported that a certain Donald Vasquez was engaged in illegal drug activity. This alias Don supposedly claimed that he was an employee of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). According to the informant, alias Don promised him a good commission if he (the informant) would present a potential buyer of drugs. P/Insp. Fajardo relayed the information to Police Superintendent (P/Supt.) Pepito Domantay, the commanding officer of their office. P/Insp. Fajardo was then instructed to form a team and conduct a possible buy-bust against alias Don. She formed a team on the same day, which consisted of herself, PO2 Trambulo, PO1 Agravante, PO1 Pedrosa, PO1 Sisteno, and PO1 De la Rosa. P/Insp. Fajardo was the team leader. With the help of the informant, she was able to set up a meeting with alias Don. The meeting was to be held at around 9:00 p.m. on that day at Cindy’s Restaurant located in Welcome Rotonda. She was only supposed to meet alias Don that night but she decided to bring the team along for security reasons.

In the evening of April 2, 1998, P/Insp. Fajardo and her team went back to Cindy’s Restaurant. Alias Don was already waiting for her outside the establishment when she arrived. He asked for the money and she replied that she had the money with her. She brought five genuine ₱500.00 bills, which were inserted on top of five bundles of play money to make it appear that she had ₱250,000.00 with her. After she showed the money to alias Don, he suggested that they go to a more secure place. They agreed for the sale to take place at around 1:30 to 2:00 a.m. on April 3, 1998 in front of alias Don’s apartment at 765 Valdez St., Sampaloc, Manila. The team proceeded to the Western Police District (WPD) Station along U.N. Avenue for coordination. Afterwards, the team held their final briefing before they proceeded to the target area. They agreed that the pre-arranged signal was for P/Insp. Fajardo to scratch her hair, which would signify that the deal had been consummated and the rest of the team would rush up to the scene. The team then travelled to the address given by alias Don.

When the team arrived at the target area around 1:15 a.m. on April 3, 1998, the two vehicles they used were parked along the corner of the street. P/Insp. Fajardo and the informant walked towards the apartment of alias Don and stood in front of the apartment gate. Around 1:45 a.m., alias Don came out of the apartment with a male companion. Alias Don demanded to see the money, but P/Insp. Fajardo told him that she wanted to see the drugs first. Alias Don gave her the big brown envelope he was carrying and she checked the contents thereof. Inside she found a plastic sachet, about 10×8 inches in size, which contained white crystalline substance. After checking the contents of the envelope, she assumed that the same was indeed shabu. She then gave the buy-bust money to alias Don and scratched her hair to signal the rest of the team to rush to the scene. P/Insp. Fajardo identified herself as a narcotics agent. The two suspects tried to flee but PO2 Trambulo was able to stop them from doing so. P/Insp. Fajardo took custody of the shabu. When she asked alias Don if the latter had authority to possess or sell shabu, he replied in the negative. P/Insp. Fajardo put her initials “JSF” on the genuine ₱500.00 bills below the name of Benigno Aquino. After the arrest of the two suspects, the buy-bust team brought them to the police station. The suspects’ rights were read to them and they were subsequently booked.

P/Insp. Fajardo said that she found out that alias Don was in fact the appellant Donald Vasquez. She learned of his name when he brought out his NBI ID while he was being booked. P/Insp. Fajardo also learned that the name of the appellant’s companion was Reynaldo Siscar, who was also arrested and brought to the police station. P/Insp. Fajardo explained that after she gave the buy-bust money to the appellant, the latter handed the same to Siscar who was present the entire time the sale was being consummated. Upon receiving the buy-bust money placed inside a green plastic bag, Siscar looked at the contents thereof and uttered “okey na to.” P/Insp. Fajardo marked the drug specimen and brought the same to the Crime Laboratory. She was accompanied there by PO2 Trambulo and PO1 Agravante. She handed over the drug specimen to PO1 Agravante who then turned it over to P/Insp. Taduran, the forensic chemist on duty. The police officers previously weighed the drug specimen. Thereafter, the personnel at the crime laboratory weighed the specimen again. P/Insp. Fajardo and her team waited for the results of the laboratory examination.

P/Insp. Fajardo further testified that the six plastic bags of shabu seized during the buy-bust operation were actually contained in a self-sealing plastic envelope placed inside a brown envelope. When the brown envelope was confiscated from the appellant, she put her initials “JSF” therein and signed it. She noticed that there were markings on the envelope that read “DD-93-1303 re Antonio Roxas y Sunga” but she did not bother to check out what they were for or who made them. When she interrogated the appellant about the brown envelope, she found out that the same was submitted as evidence to the NBI Crime Laboratory. She also learned that the appellant worked as a Laboratory Aide at the NBI Crime Laboratory. She identified in court the six plastic sachets of drugs that her team recovered, which sachets she also initialed and signed. P/Insp. Fajardo also stated that after the appellant was arrested, PO2 Trambulo conducted a body search on the two suspects. The search yielded 12 more plastic sachets of drugs from the appellant. The 12 sachets were varied in sizes and were contained in a white envelope. P/Insp. Fajardo placed her initials and signature on the envelope. As to the 12 sachets, the same were initialed by P/Insp. Fajardo and signed by PO2 Trambulo.
On August 6, 2009, the RTC convicted the appellant of the crimes charged of violation of Section 15 Article III of Republic Act No. 6425, as amended.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of the appellant. The appellate court ruled that the prosecution sufficiently proved the elements of the crimes of illegal sale and illegal possession of shabu.
The appellant appealed his case to this Court to once again impugn his conviction on two grounds: (1) the purported illegality of the search and the ensuing arrest done by the police officers and (2) his supposed authority to possess the illegal drugs seized from him. He argues that the police officers did not have a search warrant or a warrant of arrest at the time he was arrested. This occurred despite the fact that the police officers allegedly had ample time to secure a warrant of arrest against him. Inasmuch as his arrest was illegal, the appellant avers that the evidence obtained as a result thereof was inadmissible in court. As the corpus delicti of the crime was rendered inadmissible, the appellant posits that his guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. Appellant further insists that he was able to prove that he was authorized to keep the drug specimens in his custody, given that he was an employee of the NBI Forensic Chemistry Laboratory who was tasked with the duty to bring drug specimens in court.

Issue:
Whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the decision of the RTC when it ruled that the accused was validly arrested without a warrant.

Held:
No, the Court rules that the appellant can no longer assail the validity of his arrest. Any objection, defect or irregularity attending an arrest must be made before the accused enters his plea on arraignment. Having failed to move for the quashing of the information against them before their arraignment, appellants are now estopped from questioning the legality of their arrest. Any irregularity was cured upon their voluntary submission to the trial court’s jurisdiction. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the appellant was caught in flagrante delicto of selling illegal drugs to an undercover police officer in a buy-bust operation. His arrest, thus, falls within the ambit of Section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure when an arrest made without warrant is deemed lawful. Having established the validity of the warrantless arrest in this case, the Court holds that the warrantless seizure of the illegal drugs from the appellant is likewise valid.

This interdiction against warrantless searches and seizures, however, is not absolute and such warrantless searches and seizures have long been deemed permissible by jurisprudence in instances of (1) search of moving vehicles, (2) seizure in plain view, (3) customs searches, (4) waiver or consented searches, (5) stop and frisk situations (Terry search), and search incidental to a lawful arrest. The last includes a valid warrantless arrest, for, while as a rule, an arrest is considered legitimate if effected with a valid warrant of arrest, the Rules of Court recognize permissible warrantless arrest, to wit: (1) arrest in flagrante delicto, (2) arrest effected in hot pursuit, and (3) arrest of escaped prisoners.

Thus, the appellant cannot seek exculpation by invoking belatedly the invalidity of his arrest and the subsequent search upon his person.

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