A personal driver of the family of former Congressman Cesar Sarmiento has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of possession of illegal drugs seized during an operation of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) almost a year ago.
Also ordered by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) to pay a fine of P400,000 was Sherwin Apostol Dañas, 47, a resident of Gogon Sirangan, where joint elements of the PDEA, Virac police station and the Catanduanes police intelligence branch found three sachets of methamphetamine hydrochloride weighing 13.0376 grams and valued at P60,000 during the raid on July 13, 2019.
RTC Branch 42 Presiding Judge Genie G. Gapas-Agbada forfeited the drug evidence in favor of the government for disposal by PDEA pursuant to the provisions of Republic Act 9165.
It may be recalled at on said day, law enforcers and anti-drug agents, armed with a search warrant issued by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 43 Presiding Judge Lelu P. Contreras, surrounded the accused’s residence.
Six months earlier, court records say, the PDEA Catanduanes provincial office was directed to validate police reports that Dañas was monitored to be active again in selling shabu despite surrendering to the authorities in 2016 during Oplan Tokhang.
On July 9, 2019, a test-buy operation was conducted against the suspect, with two PDEA undercover agents able to buy a sachet of shabu from him.
Four days later, PDEA operatives knocked on the door of the Dañas house and came upon the suspect at the dining room. When he started shouting and tried to get out of the house, the agents subdued him and informed him of the search warrant.
During the search conducted in the presence of barangay captain Juan Camacho, kagawad Leo Abundo Jr. and media representative Donnie Vic Tabirara, Investigating Officer I Raymundo Espinas found the blue Marlboro cigarette pack containing the illegal drugs inside a drawer in the master’s bedroom of the two-storey house.
In his defense, Dañas presented himself as witness along with his wife Sally, his father, sister and daughter, as well as his house help and a bus ticket seller.
Their testimony was intended to show that there could be no test-buy operation against him in Catanduanes on July 9, 2019 as he was in Cabuyao, Laguna that day and that the seized drug items were planted by the police.
Dañas, the members of his family and the house help testified that two members of the search team barged into the house and poked their guns on his head.
MSgt. Ronnie Valeza dragged the accused inside the comfort room, where he slapped him and punched him on the stomach while asking him about the whereabouts of the items he was hiding, the defense stated.
Sally Dañas claimed Investigating Agent I Daniel Tan pointed a gun at her and ordered her to sit.
The accused’s sister also surreptitiously took video recording of four scenes when she and her father arrived at the scene but three of the videos showed scant detail, the Court noted.
Rebutting their allegations, the prosecution showed that Msgt. Valeza was never in the Dañas house as he was assigned at the Gogon circle that day, with a visitor to the accused’s house testifying that Valeza was not among those who entered the house while she was there.
The accused, the Court stressed, was not able to explain why the PDEA would implicate him of the crime charged or for the PDEA witnesses, barangay officials and media representative to impute a crime that would send him to jail if the accusation is not true.
It noted that Sally Dañas herself admitted that kagawad Leo Abundo Jr. is his first cousin and neighbor and that Chairman Camacho is a friend and batchmate of her husband.
The accused himself was not able to declare with certainty that he saw Valeza plant the drug evidence, the Court pointed out, with the testimonies of the defense witnesses failing to agree with Sally Dañas’ claims in the police blotter report.
It also said that the manifesto of bus passengers presented to show that they were in Laguna on July 9 and were aboard the bus the next day is a suspect document, considering that Surban categorically confirmed that he has no knowledge as to issuance of the tickets to Sally Dañas and if the accused really boarded the bus.
“Although the existence of said document was admitted by the prosecution, the truthfulness of the contents of the same was not proven,” Judge Gapas-Agbada stated. “Said document was not even identified nor authenticated by its signatories.”
The manifesto containing the names of the passengers, alone and uncorroborated, will not suffice to prove that the persons listed therein indeed travelled on that day, the judge said.
She also underscored that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items had been preserved even when searcher IO1 Espinas himself directly turned over the evidence to the crime laboratory as required by the PDEA manual of operation.