MANILA (UPDATE) - A Makati court on Wednesday convicted for drug trafficking a Mexican man believed to be a high-ranking member of the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel caught here about 4 years ago.
The Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 63 sentenced Horacio Herrera to life imprisonment and meted him a fine of P500,000 to P10 million for violating section 5 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
He was caught selling P12 million worth of cocaine to agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (PNP-AIDSOTF) in a buy-bust operation at a restaurant in Makati City in January 2015.
The PDEA and PNP believe Herrera is either the third or fourth highest-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel hierarchy, but the court decision referred to him as a mid-level member. He has denied being part of the notorious Mexican drug syndicate.
The Sinaloa drug cartel is considered the world's most powerful drug trafficking and organized crime group. Its leader, Joaquin Guzman, more popularly known as El Chapo, was convicted on Tuesday in New York for drug trafficking.
It was not immediately clear if Herrera's transaction was connected to Sinaloa's global operations.
Herrera's arrest was supposedly linked to a 2013 discovery of a shabu warehouse in a farm in Lipa, Batangas where a Chinese national was arrested and shabu recovered. Authorities claimed there were Mexicans who got away in that raid.
In her decision, Makati RTC Branch 63 Acting Judge Selma Palacio Alaras said there was overwhelming evidence against Herrera that outweighed his mere denial.
"Against the overwhelming evidence of the prosecution, accused merely denied the accusation against him. The court cannot give credence to his testimony as his defense was unsubstantiated with evidence," she said, noting that Herrera did not produce CCTV footage which his lawyer was supposed to present in his defense.
The judge also noted Herrera did not present any eyewitnesses to substantiate his claim.
The judge added that the prosecution was able to preserve the integrity and value of the evidence.
Speaking to reporters after the promulgation, Herrera insisted on his innocence and said he would appeal the conviction.
Herrera was represented by Public Attorney's Office lawyer Edward Santiago only for promulgation purposes. His lawyer on record did not show up in the past few hearings.
A representative of the Mexican Embassy also attended the promulgation but only to observe the proceedings.
The Department of Justice welcomed the conviction and congratulated its prosecutors who handled the case.
"It is through their efforts, as well as that of our law enforcers, that we are able to keep safe our communities," said Spokesperson Usec Markk Perete.