CA affirms life term for Malaysian caught smuggling shabu at NAIA
The Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of a Malaysian found guilty of possessing 14 kilograms of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) worth about P64 million and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Pasay City regional trial court in June 2011.
Customs inspectors arrested the accused, Lim Ting Chong, after the shabu was found inside his bag when he arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on April 14, 2010.
In a 12-page decision dated May 13 and issued last week, the appellate court’s First Division denied Lim’s petition for lack of merit, rejecting his claims of warrantless search and the inadmissibility of the evidence against him.
“[T]he undisputed existence of the luggage tag bearing [Lim’s] name leads to the logical conclusion that he owns the suitcase and therefore maintained constructive possession of the same even while such bag was checked-in when he boarded the aircraft from Malaysia,” the court said in decision written by Justice Edwin Sorongon.
The other division members, Justices Andres Reyes Jr. and Ricardo Rosario, concurred in the ruling.
Officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s airport office testified before the RTC that they received a tip about Lim’s arrival from a Malaysian Airlines flight. They informed the Bureau of Customs task force on dangerous drugs and asked for assistance in intercepting Lim.
Lim, upon arrival, was held at the immigration area for questioning. A customs examiner searched his hand-carried bag but it yielded no drugs.
The airlines later confirmed that there was an unclaimed checked-in baggage under Lim’s name. Lim was asked to claim the luggage but he refused to open it it. The customs then decided to open the luggage and found shabu concealed inside foil packs of supposed powdered milk.
The accused, in his defense before the court, claimed he only brought a hand-carried sports bag in his trip and accused the authorities of forcing him to admit ownership of the luggage containing the drugs. He said his rights were violated and that the evidence against him were inadmissible since they were obtained through an invalid arrest and seizure, considered fruit of the poisonous tree.
The RTC, however, found Lim guilty beyond reasonable doubt, sentencing him to life imprisonment and fining him P500,000.
The Court of Appeals, in backing the RTC’s finding that the search was valid, cited a 1990 decision by the Supreme Court stating “a warrantless search of incoming and outgoing passengers, at the arrival and departure areas of an international airport, is a practice not constitutionally objectionable because it is founded on public interest, safety and necessity..”
“Hence, the search of [Lim’s] luggage for illegal contraband that was conducted by customs officers at the NAIA is clearly justified and permissible under the law. He could not therefore claim that the illegal articles found in his luggage is inadmissible in evidence against him,” the appeals justices said. SFM
Foreigner nabbed at NAIA; P64-M worth of ‘shabu’ seized
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