February 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are select February 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

1.         REVISED PENAL CODE

Conspiracy. The inconsistencies pointed out are inconsequential given the presence of conspiracy between the appellant and Olaso in killing the victim. Conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. The presence of conspiracy may be inferred from the circumstances where all the accused acted in concert at the time of the commission of the offense. Conspiracy is sufficiently established when the concerted acts show the same purpose or common design and are united in its execution.  Moreover, when there is conspiracy, it is not important who delivered the fatal blow since the act of one is considered the act of all. The overt acts of the appellant and Olaso showing their conspiracy to kill the victim are: (1) the appellant and Olaso flagged down the tricycle being driven by the victim; (2) the appellant seated himself at the back of the driver’s seat while Olaso went inside the tricycle; (3) the appellant and Olaso simultaneously assaulted the victim – the appellant embracing the victim while Olaso stabbed him; and (4) both men immediately fled the scene after the stabbing.  The above circumstances plainly show the common design and the unity of purpose between the appellant and Olaso in executing their plan to kill the victim.  People of the Philippines v. Rolly Angelio, G.R. No. 197540, February 27, 2012.

Estafa; elements. The offense of estafa, in general, is committed either by (a) abuse of confidence or (b) means of deceit. The acts constituting estafa committed with abuse of confidence are enumerated in item (1) of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended; item (2) of Article 315 enumerates estafa committed by means of deceit. Deceit is not an essential requisite of estafa by abuse of confidence; the breach of confidence takes the place of fraud or deceit, which is a usual element in the other estafa. In this case, the charge against the petitioner and her subsequent conviction was for estafa committed by abuse of confidence. Thus, it was not necessary for the prosecution to prove deceit as this was not an element of the estafa that the petitioner was charged with. Carmina G. Brokmann v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 199150, February 6, 2012.

Estafa; elements. For the successful prosecution of the crime of estafa, the following elements must concur: (a) that the accused defrauded another by abuse of confidence or by means of deceit, and (b) that damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation is caused to the offended party or third person. In this case, the prosecution’s evidence duly proved that due to the appellant’s false representations of overseas jobs, the complainants paid placement fees to the appellant who failed to secure the promised overseas jobs. People of the Philippines v. Nestor Tuguinay, G.R. No. 186132, February 27, 2012.

Falsification of commercial documents; elements. The elements of the crime of falsification of commercial documents as found in paragraph 1, Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code, are: “1) the offender is a private individual or a public officer or employee who did not take advantage of his official position; 2) the offender committed any of the acts of falsification enumerated in Article 171; and 3) the falsification was committed in a public or official or commercial document.” Applying this to the present case, all three elements are undeniably present – (i) Chua is a private individual; (ii) he used fictitious “inward foreign remittance advice of credit” to cause the funnelling or transfer of the two named bank clients’ payments into his own account, squarely falling under paragraph 2 of Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code; and (iii) the falsification was committed in two commercial documents, namely, “inward foreign remittance advice of credit” and the “debit tickets.” Undoubtedly, Chua’s subsequent conviction to a lesser crime of falsification of commercial documents was not unfounded. Richard Chua v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183132, February 8, 2012.

Hazing; lack of malicious intent to injure. In order to be found guilty of any of the felonious acts under Articles 262 to 266 of the Revised Penal Code, the employment of physical injuries must be coupled with dolus malus. As an act that is mala in se, the existence of malicious intent is fundamental, since injury arises from the mental state of the wrongdoer – iniuria ex affect facientis consistat. If there is no criminal intent, the accused cannot be found guilty of an intentional felony. Thus, in case of physical injuries under the Revised Penal Code, there must be a specific animus iniuriandi or malicious intention to do wrong against the physical integrity or well-being of a person so as to incapacitate and deprive the victim of certain bodily functions. Without proof beyond reasonable doubt of the required animus iniuriandi, the overt act of inflicting physical injuries per se merely satisfies the elements of freedom and intelligence in an intentional felony. The commission of the act does not in itself make a man guilty unless his intentions are. Artemio Villareal v. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines v. The Honorable Court of Appeals, et al/Fidelito Dizon v. People of the Philippines/Gerarda H. Villa v. Manuel Lorenzo Escalona II, et al, G.R. No. 151258/G.R. No. 154954/G.R. No. 155101/G.R. Nos. 178057 & G.R. No. 178080, February 1, 2012.

Hazing; reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. The absence of malicious intent does not automatically mean, however, that the accused fraternity members are ultimately devoid of criminal liability. The Revised Penal Code also punishes felonies that are committed by means of fault (culpa). According to Article 3 thereof, there is fault when the wrongful act results from imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight, or lack of skill. Reckless imprudence or negligence consists of a voluntary act done without malice, from which an immediate personal harm, injury or material damage results by reason of an inexcusable lack of precaution or advertence on the part of the person committing it. In this case, the danger is visible and consciously appreciated by the actor. Artemio Villareal v. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines v. The Honorable Court of Appeals, et al/Fidelito Dizon v. People of the Philippines/Gerarda H. Villa v. Manuel Lorenzo Escalona II, et al, G.R. No. 151258/G.R. No. 154954/G.R. No. 155101/G.R. Nos. 178057 and G.R. No. 178080, February 1, 2012.

Hazing; reckless imprudence resulting to homicide. There was patent recklessness in the hazing of Lenny Villa. The multiple hematomas or bruises found in Lenny Villa’s arms and thighs, resulting from repeated blows to those areas, caused the loss of blood from his vital organs and led to his eventual death. These hematomas must be taken in the light of the hazing activities performed on him by the Aquila Fraternity. According to the testimonies of the co-neophytes of Lenny, they were punched, kicked, elbowed, kneed, stamped on; and hit with different objects on their arms, legs, and thighs. They were also “paddled” at the back of their thighs or legs. There is also evidence to show that some of the accused fraternity members were drinking during the initiation rites. Consequently, the collective acts of the fraternity members were tantamount to recklessness, which made the resulting death of Lenny a culpable felony. It must be remembered that organizations owe to their initiates a duty of care not to cause them injury in the process. With the foregoing facts, we rule that the accused are guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Since the victim’s death was the cumulative effect of the injuries suffered, criminal responsibility redounds to all those who directly participated in and contributed to the infliction of physical injuries. Artemio Villareal v. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines v. The Honorable Court of Appeals, et al/FidelitonDizon v. People of the Philippines/Gerarda H. Villa v. Manuel Lorenzo Escalona II, et al, G.R. No. 151258/G.R. No. 154954/G.R. No. 155101/G.R. Nos. 178057 and G.R. No. 178080, February 1, 2012.

Kidnapping; elements. For the successful prosecution of the crime of kidnapping under Article 267, paragraph 4 of the Revised Penal Code, the prosecution must prove the concurrence of the following elements, to wit: (1) the offender is a private individual; (2) he kidnaps or detains another, or in any other manner deprives the latter of his or her liberty; (3) the act of detention or kidnapping is illegal; and (4) the person kidnapped or detained is a minor, female or a public officer. In this case, the prosecution has adequately and satisfactorily proved the existence of the foregoing elements based on the following findings: (a) that the appellant is a private individual; (b) that the appellant took Regelyn from Pier 14 to Pier 16 without the knowledge or consent of Regelyn’s parents; and (c) that the appellant admitted Regelyn’s minority and even referred to her as a “child.” People of the Philippines v. Marites Valerio y Traje, G.R. No. 186123, February 27, 2012.

Kidnapping for ransom; application of penalty. Since the prosecution adduced proof beyond reasonable doubt that the accused conspired to kidnap the victims for ransom, and kidnapped and illegally detained them until they were released by the accused after the latter received the P2,000,000.00 ransom, the imposable penalty is death as provided for in the second paragraph of Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code. The aggravating circumstance of using a motorized vehicle and motorized watercrafts, while alleged and proven, cannot affect the imposable penalty because Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code states that in all cases in which the law prescribes a single indivisible penalty (like reclusion perpetua and death), it shall be applied regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the deed. The Court of Appeals correctly reduced the appellant’s sentence from death penalty to reclusion perpetua considering the passage of RA 9346, prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty. To this, the Supreme Court added that the appellant shall not be eligible for parole. Under Section 3 of RA 9346, “[p]ersons convicted of offenses punished with reclusion perpetua, or whose sentences will be reduced to reclusion perpetua, by reason of this Act, shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4180, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended.” People of the Philippines v. Yusop Tadah, G.R. No. 186226, February 1, 2012.

Malversation of public funds. To sustain a criminal conviction for the crime of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, all the following elements must be present: (a) that the offender is a public officer; (b) that he had custody or control of funds or property by reason of the duties of his office; (c) that those funds or property were public funds or property for which he was accountable; and (d) that he appropriated, took, misappropriated or consented or, through abandonment or negligence, permitted another person to take them. Celso M. Manuel, et al vs. Hon. Sandiganbayan (4th Div.), et al/Melchor M. Mallare, et al v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 158413 and G.R. No. 161133, February 8, 2012.

Malversation; application of penalty. The penalty of imprisonment prescribed for malversation when the amount involved exceeds P22,000.00 is reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua. Such penalty is not composed of three periods. Pursuant to Article 65 of the Revised Penal Code, when the penalty prescribed by law is not composed of three periods, the court shall apply the rules contained in the articles of the Revised Penal Code preceding Article 65, dividing into three equal portions of time included in the penalty prescribed, and forming one period of each of the three portions. Accordingly, reclusion perpetua being indivisible, is at once the maximum period, while reclusion temporal in its maximum period is divided into two to determine the medium and minimum periods of the penalty. Conformably with Article 65, therefore, the periods of reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua are the following: (a) Minimum period17 years, 4 months, and 1 day to 18 years, 8 months; (b) Medium period – 18 years, 8 months, and 1 day to 20 years; (c) Maximum period – Reclusion perpetua. Since there is no findings with respect to modifying circumstances, the maximum of the indeterminate sentence should be taken from the medium period of the penalty, i.e., from 18 years, 8 months, and 1 day to 20 years. Zacaria A. Candao, et al v. People of the Philippines and Sandiganbayan, G.R. Nos. 186659-710, February 1, 2012.

Murder; application of penalty. The crime of murder qualified by treachery is penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, with reclusion perpetua to death. For the death of Eulogio, the appellant is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua only, since there were no aggravating or mitigating circumstances that attended the commission of the crime. On the other hand, for frustrated murder in Criminal Case No. 125678, the correct penalty is reclusion temporal.  Under Article 61, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for frustrated murder is one degree lower than reclusion perpetua to death, which is reclusion temporal. Reclusion temporal has a range of twelve (12) years and one (1) day to twenty (20) years. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the maximum of the indeterminate penalty should be taken from the medium of reclusion temporal, since no aggravating or mitigating circumstances attended the commission of the crime. The minimum of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the full range of prision mayor which is one degree lower than reclusion temporal. The imposed indeterminate penalty of eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal, as maximum, was proper. People of the Philippines v. Antonio Baldomar y Liscano, G.R. No. 197043, February 29, 2012.

Murder; treachery. Murder is the unlawful killing by the accused of a person, which is not parricide or infanticide, committed with any of the attendant circumstances enumerated in Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, among which is treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the victim might make.  The essence of treachery is that the attack comes without a warning and in a swift, deliberate, and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed, and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape.  Here, there is no doubt that treachery was present.  Benny and Adriano were in the crime scene prior to the incident.  They hid in a dark portion of the road and assaulted Jesus with their bolos while he was urinating with his back to them.  They even held him by his shoulders to render him defenseless and unable to resist the attack on him by his assailants.  Jesus was unaware of the imminent peril to his life and was rendered incapable of defending himself.  From the suddenness of the attack upon Jesus and the manner it was committed, there is no doubt that treachery indeed attended his killing. People of the Philippines v. Benny Cabtalan, G.R. No. 175980, February 15, 2012.

Perjury; venue of action. The MeTC-Makati City (where the Certificate against Forum Shopping was subscribed) is the proper venue and the proper court to take cognizance of the perjury case against the petitioners, and not MetC-Pasay City (where the Certificate against Forum Shopping was submitted and used). Venue is an essential element of jurisdiction in criminal cases. Section 10 and Section 15(a), Rule 110 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure categorically place the venue and jurisdiction over criminal cases not only in the court where the offense was committed, but also where any of its essential ingredients took place.  In other words, the venue of action and of jurisdiction are deemed sufficiently alleged where the Information states that the offense was committed or some of its essential ingredients occurred at a place within the territorial jurisdiction of the court.  The first element of the crime of perjury, the execution of the subject Certificate against Forum Shopping was alleged in the Information to have been committed in Makati City. The Supreme Court also found that the third element of willful and deliberate falsehood was also sufficiently alleged to have been committed in Makati City. Likewise, the second and fourth elements, requiring the Certificate against Forum Shopping to be under oath before a notary public were also sufficiently alleged in the Information to have been made in Makati City. Union Bank of the Philippines and Desi Tomas v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 192565, February 28, 2012.

Rape; damages.  The Supreme Court adopts the penalties imposed by the Court of Appeals upon accused-appellant but modifies the damages awarded to AAA.  With the enactment of RA 9346, accused-appellant was properly imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole for each of the four (4) counts of qualified rape for which he is hereby convicted.  In line with current jurisprudence, however, accused-appellant is liable to pay AAA for each of the four (4) counts of qualified rape the amount of Seventy-Five Thousand Pesos (P75,000.00) as civil indemnity, another Seventy-Five Thousand Pesos (P75,000.00) as moral damages, and Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) as exemplary damages.  Exemplary damages should be awarded in order to deter fathers with perverse tendencies and aberrant sexual behavior from preying upon their young daughters. People of the Philippines v. Paterno Sarmiento Samandre, G.R. No. 181497, February 22, 2012.

Rape; delay in filing charges.  Appellant asserts that AAA’s testimony is not credible considering that she could have immediately shouted for help if, indeed, appellant fled after he was hit by a piece of wood.  Instead, she waited for several days before filing the complaint.  The credibility of a witness, however, is not impaired if the delay in making a criminal accusation has been satisfactory explained.  Here, the delay is understandable.  AAA was afraid of appellant’s threats.  Since individuals react differently to emotional stress, no standard form of behavior can be expected of them after they have been raped.  People of the Philippines v. Diosdado Tubat y Versoza, G.R. No. 183093, February 1, 2012.

Rape; physical resistance.  The Supreme Court was convinced that AAA was not able to fight back not only because appellant was strong but because a knife was poked on her neck. He also threatened to kill her children.  These also explained why she did not shout for help.  As held in People v. Fernandez: “Physical resistance need not be established in rape when threats and intimidation are employed, and the victim submits herself to her attackers because of fear. xxx The use of a weapon, by itself, is strongly suggestive of force or at least intimidation, and threatening the victim with a gun is sufficient to bring her into submission. Thus, the law does not impose upon the private complainant the burden of proving resistance.” People of the Philippines v. Diosdado Tubat y Versoza, G.R. No. 183093, February 1, 2012.

Rape with deadly weapon.Under Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, whenever the crime of rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or by two or more persons, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death. The prosecution was able to sufficiently allege in the Information, and establish during trial, that a gun was used in the commission of rape.  Since no aggravating or mitigating circumstance was established in the commission of the crime, the lesser penalty shall be imposed.  The penalty of reclusion perpetua meted by the courts below is affirmed. Arnel Sison y Escuadro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187229, February 22, 2012.

Robbery with homicide; penalty. The special complex crime of robbery with homicide is penalized, under Article 294, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code, with reclusion perpetua to death. In this case, since the aggravating circumstance of the use of an unlicensed firearm had been alleged and proven during trial, the lower court correctly sentenced the appellant to suffer the death penalty pursuant to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended. However, the Supreme Court did not impose the death penalty in view of RA 9346, entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines.” Pursuant to RA 9346, the Supreme Court affirmed CA’s reduction of the penalty from death to reclusion perpetua for each count, with the modification that the appellant shall not be eligible for parole. People of the Philippines v. Teofilo “Rey” Buyagan, G.R. No. 187733, February 8, 2012.

Statutory rape; elements. For the charge of statutory rape to prosper, the prosecution must prove that: (1) the accused had carnal knowledge of the woman; and, (2) that such woman is under twelve (12) years of age.  In this case, statements relating to the elements of rape, such as carnal knowledge and the age of the victim were adequately proved by the prosecution.  The Supreme Court considers that at the time of the occurrence of the first incident of rape, AAA was only 8 years old.  People of the Philippines v. Eduardo N. Navarette Jr., G.R. No. 191365, February 22, 2012.

2.         SPECIAL PENAL LAWS

Dangerous Drugs; alibi and frame-up. Alibi and frame up are weak forms of defense usually resorted to in drug-related cases. The Supreme Court is careful in appreciating them and giving them probable value because this type of defense is easy to concoct. Also, the Supreme Court does realize the disastrous consequences on the enforcement of law and order, not to mention the well-being of society, if the courts, solely on the basis of the police officers’ alleged rotten reputation, accept in every instance this form of defense which can be so easily fabricated. It is precisely for this reason that the legal presumption that official duty has been regularly performed exists. Bare denial cannot prevail over the positive identification by SPO4 Taruc of Arriola as the one who sold them the shabu. For the defense’s position to prosper, the defense must adduce clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that government officials have performed their duties in a regular and proper manner. This, unfortunately, Arriola failed to supply. What she made was a bare allegation of frame-up without presenting any credible witness that would support her claim. Furthermore, she failed to show any motive on the part of the arresting officers to implicate her in a crime she claimed she did not commit. People of the Philippines v. Flordeliza Arriola y De Lara, G.R. No. 187736, February 8, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale; elements. To secure a conviction for illegal sale of shabu, the following essential elements must be established: (a) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale, and the consideration; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment for the thing. What is material in prosecutions for illegal sale of shabu is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti as evidence. In this case, the requisites for illegal sale of shabu were competently and convincingly proven by the Prosecution. PO2 Tayag, as the poseur-buyer, attested that Bautista sold shabu to him during a legitimate buy-bust operation. According to Forensic Chemist Arturo, the substance subject of the transaction, which weighed 0.05 gram, was examined and found to be methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug. PO2 Caragdag declared that he recovered the buy-bust money from Bautista’s hand right after the sale. Further, the Prosecution later presented as evidence both the sachet of shabu subject of the sale and the buy-bust money used in the buy-bust operation. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Cesar Bautista y Santos, G.R. No. 177320, February 22, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession; elements. For illegal possession of a dangerous drug, like shabu, the elements are: (a) the accused is in possession of an item or object that is identified to be a prohibited or dangerous drug; (b) such possession is not authorized by law; and (c) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug. The elements of illegal possession of a dangerous drug were similarly competently and convincingly established by the Prosecution. SPO1 Ybañez stated that upon seeing the pre-arranged signal given by PO2 Tayag, he and the other members of the team proceeded to arrest Bautista; and that he frisked Bautista and then recovered six other plastic sachets from Bautista’s pocket. Undoubtedly, the frisking was legally authorized as a search incidental to the lawful arrest of Bautista for evidence in the commission of illegal drug pushing. People of the Philippines v. Cesar Bautista y Santos, G.R. No. 177320, February 22, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale; elements. Jurisprudence holds that the elements of the crime of illegal sale of drugs are the following:  (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and payment therefor.  The testimonies of Romano, corroborated by his fellow NBI investigators Jimenez and Dizon and informant Cedeño established the sale and delivery by accused-appellant Clarite to Romano of what was initially believed to be 50 grams of shabu in four plastic sachets, in exchange for what Clarite thought was P50,000.00.  Romano positively identified accused-appellant Clarite as the person who sold the plastic sachets of shabu to him.  It was likewise clear from the evidence on record that P/Insp. Clemen examined the contents of the plastic sachets sold to Romano, and confirmed that they contained methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu), even though the total weight was only 45.8712 grams.  P/Insp. Clemen was also able to verify that both hands of accused-appellant were positive for the presence of bright orange ultraviolet fluorescent powder, thus, corroborating the testimonies of the NBI investigators that he received the counterfeit money which were dusted with such powder.  This also belies the testimony of accused-appellant that he never held the marked money. Thus, the accused-appellant’s conviction under RA 9165 is affirmed. People of the Philippines v. Arnel Clarite y Salazar, G.R. No. 187157, February 15, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; sale of illegal drugs; elements.The essential elements to be established in the prosecution of illegal sale of marijuana are as follows: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti as evidence. In this case, the evidence on record showed the presence of all the above elements. The witnesses for the prosecution successfully proved that a buy-bust operation took place and the block of marijuana subject of the sale was brought to, and duly identified in court. PO3 Garcia, the poseur-buyer, positively identified the appellants as the persons who sold to him one block of marijuana dried leaves wrapped in a newspaper in exchange for the sum of P1,000.00. PO3 Garcia’s testimony was corroborated on material points by his team leader, SPO3 De Guzman, SPO3 Galliguez, and SPO2 Natividad. PNP Forensic Chemist Police Supt. Theresa Ann Cid examined the items seized and found them to be positive for marijuana. People of the Philippines v. Teofilo Honrado and Romulo Honrado, G.R. No. 182197, February 27, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; sale of illegal drugs; elements. It was held in People v. Hernandez that the following essential elements must be established in order to secure a conviction for illegal sale of shabu:  (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment thereof.  People v. Naquita states that what is material to the prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti. The above elements have been sufficiently established by the prosecution.  PO2 Memoracion was the poseur-buyer and he identified the accused-appellant as the seller.  The object of the sale was the sachet containing eight centigrams (0.08 grams) of shabu, which bore the marking “RAM-1,” and the consideration paid by the poseur-buyer therefor consisted of the P200 marked money.  PO2 Memoracion also categorically stated that the object of the sale was in fact handed to him by the accused-appellant after he gave her the marked money. People of the Philippines v. Rosemarie Magundayao y Alejandro alias “Rose,” G.R. No. 188132, February 29, 2012.

Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody. The Supreme Court has, in many cases, held that while the chain of custody should ideally be perfect, in reality it is not, “as it is almost always impossible to obtain an unbroken chain.”  The most important factor is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items as they will be used to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.  Hence, the prosecution’s failure to submit in evidence the physical inventory and photograph of the seized drugs as required under Article 21 of RA 9165, will not render Mendoza’s arrest illegal or the items seized from her inadmissible. Here, it was shown that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized drugs had been preserved.  The plastic sachet containing shabu was marked, kept, and delivered to the forensic chemist by the same officer who received it from Mendoza.  Ching, the poseur-buyer, marked the plastic sachet he bought from Mendoza with “SOG-1” after the buy-bust team arrested her.  Thereafter, the marked plastic sachet, together with the laboratory request, was delivered by Ching himself to Macapagal for examination.  Macapagal’s Chemistry Report showed that she received a plastic sachet marked “SOG-1” for examination at around 3:20 p.m.  After she completed her examination at 5:20 p.m., she placed the same marked plastic sachet in a small brown envelope, which she in turn dated, signed, and sealed with a staple wire.  It is therefore clear, that the prosecution was able to account for each link in the chain of custody over the shabu, from the moment it was seized from Mendoza, up to the time it was presented during the trial as proof of the corpus delictiPeople of the Philippines v. Emily Mendoza y Sartin, G.R. No. 189327, February 29, 2012.

Illegal recruitment; elements. The appellant is guilty of large scale illegal recruitment. The essential elements of large scale illegal recruitment are: a) the offender has no valid license or authority required by law to enable him to lawfully engage in recruitment and placement of workers; b) the offender undertakes any of the activities within the meaning of “recruitment and placement” under Article 13(b) of the Labor Code, or any of the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 of the said Code (now Section 6 of RA 8042); and c) the offender committed the same against three (3) or more persons, individually or as a group, are present in this case. The prosecution adduced proof beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant enlisted the three (3) complainants for overseas employment without any license to do so. People of the Philippines v. Mariavic Espenilla y Mercado, G.R. No. 193667, February 29, 2012.

3.       CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Double jeopardy; gross negligence of special prosecutor. Gross negligence exists where there is want or absence of, or failure to exercise slight care or diligence, or the entire absence of care.  It involves a thoughtless disregard of consequences without exerting any effort to avoid them. Petitioner State failed to clearly establish the gross negligence on the part of the special prosecutor (or to show or even allege that there was collusion in the principal case between the special prosecutor and the respondents) that resulted in depriving the petitioner of its due process rights; and, consequently prevent the application of the rule on double jeopardy. If at all, what the records emphasized, as previously discussed, is the weakness of the prosecution’s evidence as a whole rather than the gross negligence of the special prosecutor.  The petitioner’s position is therefore rejected. People of the Philippines v. Hon. Sandiganbayan (Fourth Division), Imelda R. Marcos, Jose Conrado Benitez and Gilbert C. Dulay, G.R. No. 153304-05, February 7, 2012.

Evidence; circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is sufficient for conviction if: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. The circumstances must constitute an unbroken chain that inexorably leads to one fair conclusion: the accused committed the crime to the exclusion of all others. In this case, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction made by the RTC based on its findings that the accused was responsible for the murder of the Alolod couple based on circumstantial evidence. People of the Philippines v. Maritess Alolod, Efren Deocampo, Elmer Deocampo and Edwin Deocampo, G.R. No. 185212, February 15, 2012.

Evidence; credibility of witness. The Supreme Court is guided by the following jurisprudence when confronted with the issue of credibility of witnesses on appeal:  First, the Court gives the highest respect to the RTC’s evaluation of the testimony of the witnesses, considering its unique position in directly observing the demeanor of a witness on the stand.  Second, absent any substantial reason which would justify the reversal of the RTC’s assessments and conclusions, the reviewing court is generally bound by the lower court’s findings, particularly when no significant facts and circumstances, affecting the outcome of the case, are shown to have been overlooked or disregarded. Third, the rule is even more stringently applied if the CA concurred with the RTC. In this case, both the RTC and the CA found AAA and her testimony credible. The Supreme Court’s own independent examination of the records leads us to arrive at the same conclusion.  AAA’s testimony relating to the identity of the appellant as the perpetrator was firm and categorical. Her testimony on the details of the rape which established all its elements – namely, the carnal knowledge, the force and intimidation employed by the appellant, and AAA’s young age – was clear and unequivocal. AAA’s credibility is further strengthened by her clear lack of ill-motive to falsify. People of the Philippines v. Julieto Sanchez, G.R. No. 197815, February 8, 2012.

Evidence; dying declaration.  A dying declaration, although generally inadmissible as evidence due to its hearsay character, may nonetheless be admitted when the following requisites concur, namely: (a) that the declaration must concern the cause and surrounding circumstances of the declarant’s death; (b) that at the time the declaration is made, the declarant is under a consciousness of an impending death; (c) that the declarant is competent as a witness; and (d) that the declaration is offered in a criminal case for homicide, murder, or parricide, in which the declarant is a victim. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that all the above requisites were met. Bolanon communicated his ante-mortem statement to Estaño, identifying Salafranca as the person who had stabbed him. At the time of his statement, Bolanon was conscious of his impending death, having sustained a stab wound in the chest and, according to Estaño, was then experiencing great difficulty in breathing. Bolanon succumbed in the hospital emergency room a few minutes from admission, which occurred under three hours after the stabbing. There is ample authority for the view that the declarant’s belief in the imminence of his death can be shown by the declarant’s own statements or from circumstantial evidence, such as the nature of his wounds, statements made in his presence, or by the opinion of his physician. Bolanon would have been competent to testify on the subject of the declaration had he survived. Lastly, the dying declaration was offered in this criminal prosecution for murder in which Bolanon was the victim. People of the Philippines v. Rodrigo Salafranca y Bello, G.R. No. 173476, February 22, 2012.

Judgment; appeal of judgment of acquittal.  Only judgments of conviction can be reviewed in an ordinary appeal or a Rule 45 petition. As explained by the Supreme Court in People v. Nazareno, the constitutional right of the accused against double jeopardy proscribes appeals of judgments of acquittal through the remedies of ordinary appeal and a Rule 45 petition. However, the rule against double jeopardy cannot be properly invoked in a Rule 65 petition, predicated on two (2) exceptional grounds, namely: in a judgment of acquittal rendered with grave abuse of discretion by the court; and where the prosecution had been deprived of due process. The rule against double jeopardy does not apply in these instances because a Rule 65 petition does not involve a review of facts and law on the merits in the manner done in an appeal. In certiorari proceedings, judicial review does not examine and assess the evidence of the parties nor weigh the probative value of the evidence. It does not include an inquiry on the correctness of the evaluation of the evidence. A review under Rule 65 only asks the question of whether there has been a validly rendered decision, not the question of whether the decision is legally correct. In other words, the focus of the review is to determine whether the judgment is per se void on jurisdictional grounds. Arnold James M. Ysidoro v. Hon. Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, et al, G.R. No. 171513, February 6, 2012.

Judgment; appeal of judgment of acquittal.  Applying these legal concepts to this case, the Supreme Court found that, while the People was procedurally correct in filing its petition for certiorari under Rule 65, the petition does not raise any jurisdictional error committed by the Sandiganbayan. On the contrary, what is clear is the obvious attempt by the People to have the evidence in the case reviewed by the Court under the guise of a Rule 65 petition. This much can be deduced by examining the petition itself which does not allege any bias, partiality or bad faith committed by the Sandiganbayan in its proceedings. The petition does not also raise any denial of the People’s due process in the proceedings before the Sandiganbayan. It was also observed by the Supreme Court that the grounds relied in the petition relate to factual errors of judgment which are more appropriate in an ordinary appeal rather than in a Rule 65 petition. The grounds cited in the petition call for the Court’s own appreciation of the factual findings of the Sandiganbayan on the sufficiency of the People’s evidence in proving the element of bad faith, and the sufficiency of the evidence denying productivity bonus to Doller. Arnold James M. Ysidoro v. Hon. Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, et al, G.R. No. 171513, February 6, 2012.

Ombudsman; findings of fact. Elementary is the rule that the findings of fact of the Ombudsman are conclusive when supported by substantial evidence and are accorded due respect and weight, especially when they are affirmed by the CA. It is only when there is grave abuse of discretion by the Ombudsman that a review of factual findings may aptly be made. In reviewing administrative decisions, it is beyond the province of the Supreme Court to weigh the conflicting evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or otherwise substitute its judgment for that of the administrative agency with respect to the sufficiency of evidence. It is not the function of the Supreme Court to analyze and weigh the parties’ evidence all over again except when there is serious ground to believe that a possible miscarriage of justice would thereby result. Valiente C. Villegas v. Hon. Victor C. Fernandez, et al, G.R. No. 184851, February 15, 2012.

Sandiganbayan; exercise of discretion in the interest of justice. The Sandiganbayan, in the exercise of its sound discretion, may require or allow the prosecution to present additional evidence (at its own initiative or upon a motion) after a demurrer to evidence is filed. This exercise, however, must be for good reasons and in the paramount interest of justice.  The court may require the presentation of further evidence if its action on the demurrer to evidence would patently result in the denial of due process; it may also allow the presentation of additional evidence if it is newly discovered, if it was omitted through inadvertence or mistake, or if it is intended to correct the evidence previously offered.  In this case, Sandiganbayan is not guilty of grave abuse of discretion when it exercised restraint and did not require the presentation of additional evidence, given the clear weakness of the case at that point.  Under the obtaining circumstances, the petitioner failed to show what and how additional available evidence could have helped and the paramount interest of justice sought to be achieved.  It does not appear that pieces of evidence had been omitted through inadvertence or mistake, or that these pieces of evidence are intended to correct evidence previously offered. More importantly, it does not appear that these contemplated additional pieces of evidence (which the special prosecutor allegedly should have presented) were ever present and available. People of the Philippines v. Hon. Sandiganbayan (Fourth Division), Imelda R. Marcos, Jose Conrado Benitez and Gilbert C. Dulay, G.R. No. 153304-05, February 7, 2012.

(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Janette Ancog for their help in the preparation of this post.)