March 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

1.         REVISED PENAL CODE

Estafa; elements. The offense of estafa committed with abuse of confidence has the following elements under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended: (a) that money, goods or other personal property is received by the offender in trust or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of or to return the same; (b) that there be misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender, or denial on his part of such receipt; (c) that such misappropriation or conversion or denial is to the prejudice of another; and (d)there is demand by the offended party to the offender. Esla Macandog Magtira v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170964, March 7, 2012.

Estafa; elements. The Supreme Court ruled that all the above elements [of estafa] are present in this case, having been established by the prosecution’s evidence and by the petitioner’s own admissions. The first element was established by the evidence showing that the petitioner received various sums of money from the private complainants to be held in trust for them under the Paluwagan operation. The petitioner admitted that she was under obligation, at a fixed date, to account for and to deliver the Paluwagan funds to the private complainants in the sequential order agreed upon among them. The second element was established by the evidence that the petitioner failed to account for and to deliver the Paluwagan funds to the private complainants on the agreed time of delivery. The third and fourth elements of the offense were proven by evidence showing that the petitioner failed to account for and to deliver the Paluwagan funds to the private complainants despite several demands made upon her by the private complainants. Each of the private complainants testified as to how they were prejudiced when they failed to receive their allotted Paluwagan funds. Given the totality of evidence, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the petitioner of the crime charged. Esla Macandog Magtira v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170964, March 7, 2012.

Murder; treachery and evident premeditation. The essence of treachery is the sudden attack by an aggressor without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend himself, thereby ensuring the commission of the crime without risk to the aggressor. The evidence on record shows treachery in the killing of Atty. Alipio, thus qualifying the crime as murder.  The assailant, identified as accused-appellant Renato Ramos, just suddenly fired upon Atty. Alipio at a very close distance, without any provocation from said unarmed victim, who was then just conversing with some other people. There is also evident premeditation because the evidence shows that a couple of days before the actual shooting of Atty. Alipio, Raymundo Zamora already saw and heard accused-appellants Norberto (Jun) Adviento, Renato Ramos, and Lolito Aquino, talking to Francisca Talaro and coming to an agreement to kill Atty. Alipio. Thus, the Supreme Court finds no reason to overturn the Court of Appeals’ decision of conviction. People of the Philippines v. Francisca Talaro, et al, G.R. No. 175781, March 20, 2012.

Rape. For a charge of rape to prosper under Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, the prosecution must prove that (1) the offender had carnal knowledge of a woman; and (2) he accompanied such act through force, threat, or intimidation, or when she was deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious, or when she was under twelve years of age or was demented. In her September 20, 2000 testimony, the victim (AAA) narrated in detail how the appellant and Kino threatened to kill her, and then took turns in raping her. The Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution positively established the elements of rape required under Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code. First, the appellant and Kino succeeded in having carnal knowledge with the victim. AAA was steadfast in her assertion that both the appellant and Kino had raped her, as a result of which, she felt pain. She also felt that something “sticky” came out of the appellant’s and Kino’s private parts. Second, the assailants employed force, threat and intimidation in satisfying their bestial desires. According to AAA, the appellant and Kino threatened to kill her if she refused to obey them. People of the Philippines v. Alias Kino Lascano, et al, G.R. No. 192180, March 21, 2012.

Rape. In deciding rape cases, courts are guided by these three well-entrenched principles:(a) an accusation for rape is easy to make, difficult to prove and even more difficult to disprove; (b) in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with utmost caution; and (c) the evidence of the prosecution must stand on its own merits and cannot draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense. As a result of these guiding principles, the credibility of the victim becomes the single most important issue.Furthermore, testimonies of child victims are given full weight and credit, for youth and immaturity are badges of truth. Here, the Supreme Court finds that the testimony of AAA is straightforward and convincing with no inconsistency with regard to the material elements of the crime of rape, and since all the elements of qualified rape were duly alleged and proved during the trial, accused-appellant’s conviction is affirmed. People of the Philippines v. Ben Rubio y Acosta, G.R. No. 195239, March 7, 2012.

Robbery; damages. The award of damages are correct and in accordance with law for in robbery with homicide, civil indemnity and moral damages in the amount of P50,000 each are granted automatically in the absence of any qualifying aggravating circumstances.   An award of P25,000 for temperate damages may be allowed under Article 2224 of the Civil Code because the victim’s family undeniably incurred expenses in his burial. The Court of Appeals’ decision finding appellants Eduardo Castro y Peralta and Renerio Delos Reyes y Bonus guilty is affirmed with modification that appellants further pay the heirs of Ricardo Pacheco Benedicto P25,000 as temperate damages. People of the Philippines v. Eduardo Castro y Peralta, et al, G.R. No. 187073, March 14, 2012.

Self-defense. Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code states that anyone who acts in defense of his person or rights do not incur any criminal liability, provided that the following circumstances concur: (i) unlawful aggression, (ii) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, and (iii) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. SPO2 Lito T. Nacnac v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191913, March 21, 2012.

Self-defense. Unlawful aggression is an indispensable element of self-defense; and ordinarily, there is a difference between the act of drawing one’s gun and the act of pointing one’s gun at a target in determining the presence of unlawful aggression. The former cannot be said to be an unlawful aggression on the part of the victim, while the latter is generally considered unlawful aggression. Here, a warning shot fired by a fellow police officer (petitioner) was left unheeded as the victim reached for his own firearm and pointed it at petitioner. Petitioner was justified in defending himself from an inebriated and disobedient colleague.  As to the second circumstance above, the nature and number of wounds inflicted by the accused are constantly and unremittingly considered as important indicia of the means employed by the accused, which must be reasonably commensurate to the nature and the extent of the attack sought to be averted. Here, the lone gunshot was a reasonable means chosen by petitioner in defending himself in view of the proximity of the armed victim, his drunken state, disobedience of an unlawful order, and failure to stand down despite a warning shot. There is also lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself or herself in this case. Petitioner gave the victim a lawful order and fired a warning shot before shooting the armed and drunk victim. There was no evidence on petitioner sufficiently provoking the victim prior to the shooting. Thus, petitioner was only defending himself on the night he shot his fellow police officer, and must therefore be acquitted. SPO2 Lito T. Nacnac v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191913, March 21, 2012.

2.         SPECIAL PENAL LAWS

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are the (1) identities of the buyer and the seller, object, and consideration, and (2) delivery of the thing sold and payment therefor.  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 delivery of the illicit drug to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummate the buy-bust transaction.  The testimonial and the documentary pieces of evidence adduced by the prosecution in support of its case against the appellant establish the presence of these elements. First, the identity of the seller was duly established. Second, the police officers saw the appellant handing the sachet to the poseur-buyer in exchange of the P100.00 peso bill that the appellant earlier received from the poseur-buyer.  Thus, the Supreme Court affirms the assailed decision of conviction by the Court of Appeals. People of the Philippines v. Jerome Paler, G.R. No. 188103, March 7, 2012.

3.         CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Evidence; credibility of victim’s testimony. Sabadlab appealed his conviction for the crime of rape before the Supreme Court by assailing, among others, the credibility of the victim’s (AAA’s) testimony.The supposed inconsistencies dwelled on minor details or collateral matters of AAA’s testimony were held to be badges of veracity and manifestations of truthfulness due to their tendency of demonstrating that the testimony had not been rehearsed or concocted. It is also basic that inconsistencies bearing on minor details or collateral matters should not adversely affect the substance of the witness’ declaration, veracity, or weight of testimony. The only inconsistencies that might have discredited the victim’s credible testimony were those that affected or related to the elements of the crime. The supposed inconsistencies were inconsequential to the issue of guilt. For one, the matter of who of the three rapists had blindfolded and undressed AAA was trifling, because her confusion did not alter the fact that she had been really blindfolded and rendered naked. Nor did the failure to produce any torn apparel of AAA disprove the crime charged, it being without dispute that the tearing of the victim’s apparel was not necessary in the commission of the crime charged. In fact, she did not even state that her clothes had been torn when Sabadlab had forcibly undressed her. Verily, details and matters that did not detract from the commission of the crime did not diminish her credibility. The task of assigning values to the testimonies of witnesses and of weighing their credibility is best left to the trial judge by virtue of the first-hand impressions he derives while the witnesses testify before him. The demeanor on the witness chair of persons sworn to tell the truth in judicial proceedings is a significant element of judicial adjudication because it can draw the line between fact and fancy. Their forthright answers or hesitant pauses, their quivering voices or angry tones, their flustered looks or sincere gazes, their modest blushes or guilty blanches – all these can reveal if the witnesses are telling the truth or lying in their teeth. People of the Philippines v. Erland Sabadlab y Bayquel, G.R. No. 175924, March 14, 2012.

Evidence; credibility of victim’s testimony. As the final appellate reviewer in this case, the Supreme Court accorded utmost respect to the findings and conclusions on the credibility of witnesses reached by the trial judge on account of his unmatched opportunity to observe the witnesses and on account of his personal access to the various indicia available but not reflected in the record. AAA’s recollection of the principal occurrence and her positive identification of the rapists, particularly Sabadlab, were firm. It is reassuring, too, that her trustworthiness in identifying Sabadlab as one of the rapists rested on her recognition of him as the man who had frequently flirted with her at the store where she had usually bought pan de sal for her employer’s table. As such, the identification of him as one of the rapists became impervious to doubt. The Supreme Court sustained the conviction of Sabadlab. People of the Philippines v. Erland Sabadlab y Bayquel, G.R. No. 175924, March 14, 2012.

Evidence; denial and alibi.The well-established rule is that denial and alibi are self-serving negative evidence; they cannot prevail over the spontaneous, positive, and credible testimonies of the prosecution witnesses who pointed to and identified the accused-appellant as the malefactor. Indeed, alibi is easy to concoct and difficult to disprove. Although accused-appellant presented other witnesses to supposedly corroborate his alibi, the Supreme Court could not ascribe much probative weight to said witnesses’ testimonies. None of said witnesses actually saw the shooting, most only heard the gunshots and arrived at the scene after the shooting took place and, thus, had no personal knowledge of the said incident. Except for Aida, no other witness for the defense was physically with accused-appellant at the exact time of the shooting. And even Aida’s testimony is unreliable given the observation of the Regional Trial Court that it is in conflict with that of accused-appellant. Accused-appellant claimed that he first went to the billiard hall owned by Ilustre where he played with a certain Zaldy and then he transferred to Retota’s billiard hall where he was playing with Danilo and Dominador Baldaba when he heard the gunshots. Yet, Aida attested that she was watching accused-appellant playing billiards with a certain Zaldy when she heard the gunshots. In sum, the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of accused-appellant for the murder of Danilo in Criminal Case No. Q-01-105875 and attempted murder of Babelito in Criminal Case No.Q-01-105877. People of the Philippines v. Noel Adallom y Tunge, G.R. No. 182522, March 7, 2012.

Ombudsman; power to impose administrative penalties. The Ombudsman has the power to directly impose administrative penalties, including removal from office. The Ombudsman has the power to impose the penalty of removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution of a public officer or employee, in the exercise of its administrative disciplinary authority. The challenge to the Ombudsman’s power to impose these penalties, on the allegation that the Constitution only grants it recommendatory powers, had already been rejected by the Supreme Court in Ledesma v. Court of Appeals. The conclusion reached by the Supreme Court in Ledesma is clear: the Ombudsman has been statutorily granted the right to impose administrative penalties on erring public officials. Office of the Ombudsman v. Nellie R. Apolonio, G.R. No. 165132, March 7, 2012.

Petition for review; computation of period for filing petition for review.  Petitioner assailed, among others, the resolution issued by the Court of Appeals dismissing his petition for review for being filed out of time. In this case, the original period for filing the petition for review with the Court of Appeals was on May 19, 2007, a Saturday. Petitioner filed a petition for extension of time to file a petition for review on May 21, 2007, the next working day which followed the last day for filing which fell on a Saturday. However, petitioner prayed in his petition for extension that he be granted 15 days from May 21, 2007 or up to June 5, 2007 within which to file his petition. He then filed his petition for review on June 5, 2007. Petitioner’s filing with the Court of Appeals a petition for extension of time to file petition for review under Rule 42 of the Rules of Court praying for an extended period of 15 days from May 21, 2007, or until June 5, 2007, within which to file his petition (reckoning the extension from May 21, 2007 [Monday] and not from May 19, 2007 [Saturday]) is in violation A.M. No. 00-2-14-SC dated February 29, 2000 (Re: Computation of Time When the Last Day Falls on a Saturday, Sunday or a Legal Holiday and a Motion for Extension on Next Working Day is Granted). Alfredo Jaca Montajes v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183449, March 12, 2012.

Petition for review; computation of period for filing petition for review.  A.M. No. 00-2-14-SC [of the Supreme Court] provides, among others, that if the period to file a pleading or a motion is extended ipso jure to the next working day immediately following where the last day of the period is a Saturday, Sunday or a legal holiday and a motion for extension of time is filed and granted, any extension of time to file the required pleading or motion should be counted from the expiration of the period regardless of the fact that said due date is a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday. Petitioner here should have reckoned the 15-day extension from May 19, 2007 and not from May 21, 2007. The Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals correctly found that the petition for review was filed out of time pursuant to A.M. No. 00-2-14-SC-that the 15-day extension period prayed by petitioner should be tacked to the original period and commences immediately after the expiration of such period. Thus, counting 15 days from the expiration of the period which was on May 19, 2007, the petition filed on June 5, 2007 was already two days late. Alfredo Jaca Montajes v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183449, March 12, 2012.

Petition for review; computation of period for filing petition for review.  Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled that the circumstances obtaining in this case merit the liberal application of the rule in the interest of justice and fair play. Notably, the petition for review was already filed on June 5, 2007, which was long before the Court of Appeals issued its resolution dated September 21, 2007 dismissing the petition for review for being filed out of time. There was no showing that respondent suffered any material injury or his cause was prejudiced by reason of such delay. The late filing of the petition for review for few days did not warrant the automatic dismissal thereof where strong considerations of substantial justice are manifest in the petition. In this case, the Supreme Court relaxed the stringent application of technical rules in the exercise of its equity jurisdiction. Alfredo Jaca Montajes v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183449, March 12, 2012.

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

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