MANILA, Philippines—The Supreme Court has reduced the sentence meted out to two Chinese men from reclusion perpetua (life) to just a maximum of 12 years in prison, citing weaknesses in the prosecution evidence that led to their conviction of drug trafficking in 2004.
In a decision dated January 9, the high court’s third division ruled that the prosecution failed to prove that Hong Yen E alias Benjie Ong and Tsien Tsien Chua sold two kilos of shabu worth P1.2 million to an undercover agent of the National Bureau of Investigation during a buy-bust operation.
While clearing them of the charge of selling narcotics, the Supreme Court said Hong and Chua were still guilty of illegal possession of prohibited drugs, a lighter offense.
“To prove the crime of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution’s evidence should establish the following elements: (1) The identity of the buyer and seller, object and consideration; and (2) The delivery of the thing sold and the payment. Absent any of these two elements, the prosecution’s case must fail,” said the decision penned by Justice Roberto Abad.
Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the division chair; and member justices Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Marvic Leonen concurred.
The justices cited the testimony given in the lower court by NBI agent Roy Rufino Sunega, who said that right after Chua handed him a bag containing illegal drugs, he was just about to hand over the marked money to Hong as payment when the rest of the NBI agents moved in for the arrest.
The NBI Narcotics Division earlier placed Hong under surveillance after receiving reports that he was engaged in drug pushing. The sting operation was set on September 5, 2001, at a restaurant in Manila.
The suspects were charged with selling prohibited drugs in violation of Republic Act No. 6425 of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972, and were later found guilty by the Manila Regional Trial Court in April 2004. They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua (20 to 40 years) and ordered to pay P500,000 each in fines.
The two convicts elevated the case to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals rejected their appeal in August 2007.
“Absence of proof of consummation [of the sale], the accused may be acquitted for illegal sale of drugs. Nonetheless, accused may be convicted for ‘illegal possession of prohibited drugs’—penalized under Section 8 of RA 6425—as possession is necessarily included in the crime charged,” the high court ruled.