October 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are selected October 2010 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

1. REVISED PENAL CODE

Murder; penalty for minors. Under Article 248 of the RPC, as amended by RA 7659, the penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death, but reclusion perpetua was not the correct penalty for Monreal due to his being a minor over 15 but under 18 years of age. The RTC and the CA did not appreciate Monreal’s minority at the time of the commission of the murder probably because his birth certificate was not presented at the trial. Yet, it cannot be doubted that Monreal was a minor below 18 years of age when the crime was committed on April 18, 1994. Firstly, his counter-affidavit executed on June 30 1994 stated that he was 17 years of age. Secondly, the police blotter recording his arrest mentioned that he was 17 years old at the time of his arrest on May 18, 1994. Thirdly, Villafe’s affidavit dated June 29, 1994 averred that Monreal was a minor on the date of the incident. Fourthly, as RTC’s minutes of hearing dated March 9, 1999 showed, Monreal was 22 years old when he testified on direct examination on March 9, 1999, which meant that he was not over 18 years of age when he committed the crime. And, fifthly, Mirandilla described Monreal as a teenager and young looking at the time of the incident. Salvador Atizado and Salvador Monreal vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 173822, October 13, 2010

Murder; penalty for minors. Under Section 7 of RA 9344, also known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, the age of a child may be determined from the child’s birth certificate, baptismal certificate or any other pertinent documents. In the absence of these documents, age may be based on information from the child himself/herself, testimonies of other persons, the physical appearance of the child and other relevant evidence. In case of doubt as to the age of the child, it shall be resolved in his/her favor. Thus, pursuant to Article 68 (2) of the RPC, the penalty next lower than that prescribed by law is imposed. Based on Article 61 (2) of the RPC, reclusion temporal is the penalty next lower than reclusion perpetua to death. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law and Article 64 of the RPC, therefore, the range of the penalty of imprisonment imposable on Monreal was prision mayor in any of its periods, as the minimum period, to reclusion temporal in its medium period, as the maximum period. Accordingly, his proper indeterminate penalty is from six years and one day of prision mayor, as the minimum period, to 14 years, eight months, and one day of reclusion temporal, as the maximum period.  Salvador Atizado and Salvador Monreal vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 173822, October 13, 2010

Murder; treachery. Treachery exists when an offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution of which tend directly and specially to ensure its execution, without risk to himself, arising from the defense which the offended party might make. The essence in treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by the aggressor on the unsuspecting victim, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend oneself, ensuring the attack without risk to the aggressor, and without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim. And this is exactly what happened in this case as testified by the witness, Obamen. According to her, Kinudalan was just seated at his own table when Asis got up, approached him and suddenly stabbed him four times. Obviously, even with a gun tucked in his waist, Kinudalan had no opportunity at all to defend himself. In fact, the gun that Asis was so afraid of was recovered from the body of Kinudalan still tucked in his waist. People of the Philippines vs. Astro Astrolabio Asis, etc., G.R. No. 191194, October 20, 2010

Rape; affidavit of desistance. AAA purportedly executed an Affidavit of Desistance wherein she stated that she was not raped by accused-appellant and that she no longer intends to pursue the cases filed against accused-appellant. During the hearing, she explained that her own mother forced her to execute the affidavit upon threat of harm. Accused-appellant claims that the instant case should have been dismissed by the trial court, considering that AAA had executed an affidavit of desistance exonerating accused-appellant from the crimes charged.  The Court ruled that AAA’s purported Affidavit of Desistance cannot cause the dismissal of the case since the affidavit was executed after the case had already been instituted.  Thus, the Court already had acquired jurisdiction over the case and control over the proceedings.  People of the Philippines vs. Demetrio Salazar, G.R. No. 181900, October 20, 2010

Rape; affidavit of desistance. As a rule, a recantation or an affidavit of desistance is viewed with suspicion and reservation.  Jurisprudence has invariably regarded such affidavit as exceedingly unreliable, because it can easily be secured from a poor and ignorant witness, usually through intimidation or for monetary consideration. Moreover, there is always the probability that it would later on be repudiated, and criminal prosecution would thus be interminable. By itself, an affidavit of desistance or pardon is not a ground for the dismissal of an action, once it has been instituted in court.  In the present case, private complainant lost the right or absolute privilege to decide whether the rape charge should proceed, because the case had already reached and must therefore continue to be heard by the court a quo. People of the Philippines vs. Demetrio Salazar, G.R. No. 181900, October 20, 2010

Treachery.  Whether or not an iron pipe was used to kill Jose Bersero and Edwin Lucas is irrelevant. It was the testimony of Roger Lara that accused-appellant killed Jose Bersero and Edwin Lucas by hitting them with an iron pipe while they were sleeping. It is beyond argument that the unconscious victims would have been unable to defend themselves from the attack of the accused, regardless of the weapon used. The essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by the aggressor on unsuspecting victims, thereby ensuring its commission without risk to the aggressor, and without the slightest provocation on the part of the victims. The kind of weapon used is immaterial. People of the Philippines vs. Roel “Ruel” Sally, G.R. No. 191254, October 13, 2010

2.     SPECIAL LAWS

Buy-bust operation; search warrant. A search warrant or warrant of arrest was not needed because it was a buy-bust operation and the accused were caught in flagrante delicto in possession of, and selling, dangerous drugs to the poseur-buyer. It was definitely legal for the buy-bust team to arrest, and search, them on the spot because a buy-bust operation is a justifiable mode of apprehending drug pushers. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando A. Araneta and Marilou T. Santos, G.R. No. 191064, October 20, 2010

Buy-bust operation; search warrant. A buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment whereby ways and means are resorted to for the purpose of trapping and capturing the lawbreakers in the execution of their criminal plan.  In this jurisdiction, the operation is legal and has been proven to be an effective method of apprehending drug peddlers, provided due regard to constitutional and legal safeguards is undertaken. When carried out with due regard for constitutional and legal safeguards, it is a judicially sanctioned method of apprehending those involved in illegal drug activities. It is a valid form of entrapment, as the idea to commit a crime comes not from the police officers but from the accused himself.  The accused is caught in the act and must be apprehended on the spot.  From the very nature of a buy-bust operation, the absence of a warrant does not make the arrest illegal. The illegal drugs seized were not the “fruit of the poisonous tree” as the defense would like this Court to believe.  The seizure made by the buy-bust team falls under a search incidental to a lawful arrest under Rule 126, Sec. 13 of the Rules of Court. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando A. Araneta and Marilou T. Santos, G.R. No. 191064, October 20, 2010

Buy-bust operation; validity. Accused-appellants contend that the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation had sufficient time to obtain a warrant of arrest considering that they were already in possession of pertinent information, i.e., the letter-complaint from the Barangay Captain.  Thus, they argue that the police officers had no basis to show any urgency upon which to justify a warrantless arrest. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that a buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment that is resorted to for trapping and capturing criminals.  It is legal and has been proved to be an effective method of apprehending drug peddlers, provided due regard to constitutional and legal safeguards is undertaken. Appellant’s argument that the police officers should have instead secured an arrest warrant is misplaced and untenable considering the nature of the offense involved, the obscurity of the transgressors thereof, and the unpredictability of the transaction subject of the offense.”  Moreover, it has ruled time and again that a buy-bust operation is employed to trap and catch a malefactor in flagrante delicto. People of the Philippines vs. Edward R. Feliciano and Anita G. Laurora, G.R. No. 190179, October 20, 2010

Illegal possession of dangerous drugs; penalty. Sec. 5, Art. II of RA 9165 provides that the penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (PhP 500,000) to ten million pesos (PhP 10,000,000) shall be imposed for the illegal sale of a dangerous drug, and pursuant to RA 9346, entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines,” only life imprisonment and a fine may be imposed upon accused-appellants for their violation of said section of RA 9165.  Under Sec. 11(3) of RA 9165, regarding illegal possession of a dangerous drug, the penalty imposed shall be imprisonment of twelve (12) years and (1) day to twenty (20) years, and a fine ranging from three hundred thousand pesos (PhP 300,000) to four hundred thousand pesos (PhP 400,000) if the quantity of the dangerous drug is less than 5 grams. People of the Philippines vs. Maria Politico y Ticala and Ewini Politico y Palma, G.R. No. 191394, October 18, 2010

3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Appeal; effect. Section 7, Rule III of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, as amended by Administrative Order No. 17 dated September 15, 2003, provides that an appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory. In case the penalty is suspension or removal and the respondent wins such appeal, he shall be considered as having been under preventive suspension and shall be paid the salary and such other emoluments that he did not receive by reason of the suspension or removal. The Ombudsman’s decision imposing the penalty of suspension for one year is immediately executory pending appeal. It cannot be stayed by the mere filing of an appeal to the CA. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Joel S. Samaniego, G.R. No. 175573, October 5, 2010

Appeal; effect. Respondent cannot successfully rely on Section 12, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court which provides that the appeal shall stay the award, judgment, final order or resolution sought to be reviewed unless the Court of Appeals shall direct otherwise upon such terms as it may deem just. In the first place, the Rules of Court may apply to cases in the Office of the Ombudsman suppletorily only when the procedural matter is not governed by any specific provision in the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman. Here, Section 7, Rule III of the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman, as amended, is categorical that an appeal shall not stop the decision from being executory. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Joel S. Samaniego, G.R. No. 175573, October 5, 2010

Appeal; effect. The provision in the Rules of Procedure of the Office of the Ombudsman that a decision is immediately executory is a special rule that prevails over the provisions of the Rules of Court. Specialis derogat generali. When two rules apply to a particular case, that which was specially designed for the said case must prevail over the other. Office of the Ombudsman vs. Joel S. Samaniego, G.R. No. 175573, October 5, 2010

Decision; applicability of constitutional requirements to DOJ. Respondent questions the DOJ Secretary’s Resolution, positing that the DOJ Secretary committed grave abuse of discretion in dismissing respondent’s petition for review without therein expressing clearly and distinctly the facts on which the dismissal was based, in violation of Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution. Rejecting respondent’s contention, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution does not thus extend to resolutions issued by the DOJ Secretary. Citing Balangauan v. Court of Appeals the High Court reiterated that the action of the Secretary of Justice in reviewing a prosecutor’s order or resolution via appeal or petition for review cannot be considered a quasi-judicial proceeding since the “DOJ is not a quasi-judicial body,” and since a preliminary investigation is not a quasi-judicial proceeding but partakes of an investigative or inquisitorial power for the sole purpose of obtaining information on what future action of a judicial nature may be taken. Atty. Alice Odchique-Bondoc vs. Tan Tiong Bio a.k.a. Henry Tan, G.R. No. 186652. October 6, 2010

Evidence; chain of custody. As a method of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. It would include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered in evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. People of the Philippines vs. Antonio Magyao, G.R. No. 187069, October 20, 2010

Evidence; chain of custody. Thus, the following are the links that must be established in the chain of custody in a buy-bust situation: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court. People of the Philippines vs. Antonio Magyao, G.R. No. 187069, October 20, 2010

Evidence; inconsistency in testimony. Accused-appellant cannot point to alleged differences between the sworn statement and the testimony of Roger Lara to exculpate him. The most honest witnesses may make mistakes sometimes, but such innocent lapses do not necessarily impair their credibility. The testimony of a witness must be considered and calibrated in its entirety and not by truncated portions thereof or isolated passages therein. People of the Philippines vs. Roel “Ruel” Sally, G.R. No. 191254, October 13, 2010

Evidence; inconsistency in testimony. It is a matter of judicial experience that an affidavit, being ex parte, is almost always incomplete and often inaccurate, sometimes from partial suggestions, sometimes for want of suggestions and inquiries, without the aid of which the witness may be unable to recall the connected collateral circumstances necessary for the correction of the first suggestions of his memory and for his accurate recollection of all that belongs to the subject. Affidavits  taken ex parte are generally considered to be inferior to the testimony given in open  court. Therefore, discrepancies between statements of the affiant in his affidavit and  those made by him on the witness stand do not necessarily discredit him. People of the Philippines vs. Roel “Ruel” Sally, G.R. No. 191254, October 13, 2010

Evidence; failure to present marked money. The Supreme Court rejected appellant’s contention that the failure to present the marked money was fatal to the case against him. Marked money used in the buy-bust operation is not indispensable in drug cases since it is merely corroborative evidence. In prosecuting a case for the sale of dangerous drugs, the failure to present marked money does not create a hiatus in the evidence for the prosecution as long as the sale of dangerous drugs is adequately proven and the drug subject of the transaction is presented before the court. Neither law nor jurisprudence requires the presentation of any money used in the buy-bust operation. People of the Philippines vs. Marianito Gonzaga y Jomaya, G.R. No. 184952, October 11, 2010

Presumption of innocence; frame up. The Supreme Court rejected the repeated contentions of frame-up of the accused-appellant and that the dangerous drug of methamphetamine hydrochloride was planted by the police officers.    The defense of frame-up in drug cases requires strong and convincing evidence because of the presumption that the police officers performed their duties regularly and that they acted within the bounds of their authority. People of the Philippines vs. Olive Rubio Mamaril, G.R. No. 171980, October 6, 2010

Presumption of innocence; frame up. According to the Supreme Court, frame-up, like alibi, is generally viewed with caution because it is easy to contrive and difficult to disprove. It is a common and standard line of defense in prosecutions of violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act. And so is the likewise repeated referral to the primacy of the constitutional presumption of innocence over the presumption of regularity in the performance of public functions, the contention being that the frame-up argument is supported by the constitutional presumption of innocence. While it is a constitutional mandate that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved it is, on the other hand, in the Rules of Court that official duty is presumed to have been regularly performed. In this case, the narration of the police officer who implemented the search warrant, was found after trial and appellate review as the true story. It is on firmer ground than the self-serving statement of the accused-appellant of frame-up. The defense cannot solely rely upon the constitutional presumption of innocence for, while it is constitutional, the presumption is not conclusive. People of the Philippines vs. Olive Rubio Mamaril, G.R. No. 171980, October 6, 2010

(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Hann Sevilla for their help in preparing this post.)


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