March 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are select March 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

1.            REVISED PENAL CODE

Rape; medical examination of victim not indispensable to prove rape. An inconclusive medical report does not negate the finding that the accused (Penilla) raped AAA. A medical examination of the victim is not indispensable in a prosecution for rape inasmuch as the victim’s testimony alone, if credible, is sufficient to convict the accused of the crime. In fact, a doctor’s certificate is merely corroborative in character and not an indispensable requirement in proving the commission of rape. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Penilla y Francia, G.R. No. 189324, March 20, 2013.

Rape; moral character of the victim is immaterial.  Accused Penilla’s insistence that he was then a virile young man of twenty-three years, lusted after by a separated and older woman, loses significance in light of the dictum that in rape cases, the moral character of the victim is immaterial. Rape may be committed not only against single women and children but also against those who are married, middle-aged, separated, or pregnant. Even a prostitute may be a victim of rape. Correlatively and more importantly, the libidinousness of the victim here, AAA, which is not accepted as a common attribute, should have been proven outside of the incident on the midnight of 22 October 1999. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Penilla y Francia, G.R. No. 189324, March 20, 2013.

Rape; when absence of physical resistance unavailing as a defense. Accused-appellant makes much of the fact that AAA did not cry for help given that the area where they lived was densely populated, the houses thereat were literally only divided by thin walls, and any commotion could easily be heard. Penilla likewise points out that AAA did not put up a fight. In this regard, Penilla asseverates that the prosecution’s story was silent on any physical struggle suggestive of rape. The Supreme Court found no credence in Penilla’s arguments. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Penilla y Francia, G.R. No. 189324, March 20, 2013.

Rape; when absence of physical resistance unavailing as a defense. Physical resistance need not be established in rape when threats and intimidation are employed, and the victim submits herself to her attacker because of fear. Failure to shout or offer tenacious resistance does not make voluntary the victim’s submission to the perpetrator’s lust. Besides, physical resistance is not the sole test to determine whether a woman involuntarily succumbed to the lust of an accused; it is not an essential element of rape. Rape victims react differently. Some may offer strong resistance while others may be too intimidated to offer any resistance at all. The use of a weapon, by itself, is strongly suggestive of force or at least intimidation, and threatening the victim with a knife, much more poking it at her, as in this case, 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. Gilbert Penilla y Francia, G.R. No. 189324, March 20, 2013.

Rape; when the delay of the victim in reporting the commission of rape unavailing as a defense. Relying on a tired defense, Penilla insists that AAA belatedly reported to the barangay authorities that she had been raped. For Penilla, this delay belies her cry of rape. The Supreme Court disagreed. Indeed, jurisprudence is replete with holdings that delay in revealing the commission of a crime such as rape does not necessarily render such charge unworthy of belief. This is because the victim may choose to keep quiet rather than expose her defilement to the cruelty of public scrutiny. Only when the delay is unreasonable or unexplained may it work to discredit the complainant. People of the Philippines v. Gilbert Penilla y Francia, G.R. No. 189324, March 20, 2013.

Qualified Theft; determination of imposable penalty. Perusal of the records of this case would show that the trial court imposed the penalty as prescribed in Article 310 (Qualified Theft) which is two degrees higher than those specified in Article 309 (Penalties for Theft). The Supreme Court held that this is erroneous considering that the penalty prescribed in Article 310 would apply only if the theft was committed under any the following circumstances: a) by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence, or b) if the stolen property is motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle, or consists of coconuts taken from the premises of the plantation or fish taken from a fishpond or fishery, or c) if the property is taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance. None of these circumstances is present in the instant case. Thus, the proper imposable penalty should be that which is prescribed under Article 309. In this case, the amount of the timber involved is P57,012.00. Since the amount exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods should be imposed in its maximum period plus an additional one (1) year for each additional P10,000 pesos in excess of P22,000.00 or three more years. Thus, the correct imposable maximum penalty is anywhere between eleven (11) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of prision mayor to thirteen (13) years of reclusion temporal. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum penalty is one degree lower than that prescribed by the law. In this case, the minimum penalty should be prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, which is anywhere between two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to six (6) years. Efren S. Almuete v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 179611, March 12, 2013

2.            SPECIAL PENAL LAWS 

Anti-Money Laundering Act; freeze order cannot be issued for an indefinite period. The Court of Appeals (CA), via its September 20, 2005 resolution, extended the freeze order over the Ligots’ various bank accounts and personal properties “until after all the appropriate proceedings and/or investigations being conducted are terminated.” By its very terms, the CA resolution effectively bars the Ligots from using any of the property covered by the freeze order until after an eventual civil forfeiture proceeding is concluded in their favor and after they shall have been adjudged not guilty of the crimes they are suspected of committing. These periods of extension are way beyond the intent and purposes of a freeze order which is intended solely as an interim relief; the civil and criminal trial courts can very well handle the disposition of properties related to a forfeiture case or to a crime charged and need not rely on the interim relief that the appellate court issued as a guarantee against loss of property while the government is preparing its full case. The term of the CA’s extension, too, borders on inflicting a punishment to the Ligots in violation of their constitutionally protected right to be presumed innocent because the unreasonable denial of their property comes before final conviction. Ret. Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot, et al v. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, G.R. No. 176944, March 6, 2013.  

Anti-Money Laundering Act; freeze order cannot be made effective for more than six months unless extended by the court upon motion of the Republic.  A freeze order is both a preservatory and preemptive remedy and meant to have a temporary effect; it was never intended to supplant or replace the actual forfeiture cases where the provisional remedy – which means, the remedy is an adjunct of or an incident to the main action – of asking for the issuance of an asset preservation order from the court where the petition is filed is precisely available. Thus, as a rule, the effectivity of a freeze order may be extended by the CA for a period not exceeding six months. Before or upon the lapse of this period, ideally, the Republic should have already filed a case for civil forfeiture against the property owner with the proper courts and accordingly secure an asset preservation order or it should have filed the necessary information. Otherwise, the property owner should already be able to fully enjoy his property without any legal process affecting it. However, should it become completely necessary for the Republic to further extend the duration of the freeze order, it should file the necessary motion before the expiration of the six-month period and explain the reason or reasons for its failure to file an appropriate case and justify the period of extension sought. The freeze order should remain effective prior to the resolution by the CA, which must resolve this kind of motion for extension with reasonable dispatch. Ret. Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot, et al v. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, G.R. No. 176944, March 6, 2013. 

Anti-Money Laundering Act; requisites for issuance of freeze order. Based on section 10 of R.A. 9160, as amended by R.A. 9194, there are only two requisites for the issuance of a freeze order: (1) the application ex parte by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and (2) the determination of probable cause by the Court of Appeals (CA). Ret. Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot, et al v. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, G.R. No. 176944, March 6, 2013. 

Anti-Money Laundering Act; requisites for issuance of freeze order. The probable cause required for the issuance of a freeze order refers to “such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably discreet, prudent or cautious man to believe that an unlawful activity and/or a money laundering offense is about to be, is being or has been committed and that the account or any monetary instrument or property subject thereof sought to be frozen is in any way related to said unlawful activity and/or money laundering offense.” In other words, in resolving the issue of whether probable cause exists, the CA’s statutorily-guided determination’s focus is not on the probable commission of an unlawful activity (or money laundering) that the Office of the Ombudsman has already determined to exist, but on whether the bank accounts, assets, or other monetary instruments sought to be frozen are in any way related to any of the illegal activities enumerated under R.A. 9160, as amended. Otherwise stated, probable cause refers to the sufficiency of the relation between an unlawful activity and the property or monetary instrument which is the focal point of section 10 of RA No. 9160, as amended. Ret. Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot, et al v. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, G.R. No. 176944, March 6, 2013. 

Anti-Money Laundering Act; requisites for issuance of freeze order. From AMLC’s verified allegations in its ex parte application and the Ombudsman’s complaint, it can be gleaned that Lt. Gen. Ligot himself admitted that his income came from his salary as an officer of the AFP. Yet, the Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that the bank accounts, investments and properties in the name of Lt. Gen. Ligot and his family amount to more than P54,000,000.00. Since these assets are grossly disproportionate to Lt. Gen. Ligot’s income, as well as the lack of any evidence that the Ligots have other sources of income, the CA properly found that probable cause exists that these funds have been illegally acquired. Ret. Lt. Gen. Jacinto C. Ligot, et al v. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, G.R. No. 176944, March 6, 2013.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of shabu; elements. To secure a conviction for illegal sale of shabu, the prosecution must prove the presence of the following essential elements: “(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.” It is necessary to establish that the transaction or sale actually took place, and to bring to the court the corpus delicti as evidence. PO1 Bernardo gave a detailed account of the transaction commencing from the introduction made by the confidential informant between him, as the poseur-buyer, and accused-appellants to the time the sale was consummated until the latter were arrested and several additional plastic sachets containing white crystalline substances, which later tested for shabu, were found in their possession – six from Zenaida and one from Myrna. That the sale actually took place and that several sachets were recovered from the accused-appellants were clear from the testimony of PO1 Bernardo in court. The credibility of PO1 Bernardo was put to test on cross-examination but his statements were consistent all throughout that the Supreme Court was convinced that his testimony, supported by evidence, was reliable. People of the Philippines v. Zenaida Soriano y Usi, and Myrna Samonte y Hiolen, G.R. No. 189843, March 20, 2013.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of dangerous drugs; elements. The only elements necessary to consummate the crime of illegal sale of drugs is proof that the illicit transaction took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence. In buy-bust operations, the delivery of the contraband to the poseur-buyer and the seller’s receipt of the marked money successfully consummate the buy-bust transaction between the entrapping officers and the accused. Unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the members of the buy-bust team were inspired by any improper motive or were not properly performing their duty, their testimonies on the operation deserve faith and credit. The Supreme Court has held that when police officers have no motive to testify falsely against the accused, courts are inclined to uphold the presumption of regularity accorded to them in the performance of their official duties. People of the Philippines v. Judge Rafael R. Lagos, et al, G.R. No. 184658, March 6, 2013

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of dangerous drugs; elements. In the present case, there is no contention that the members of AIDSOTF who conducted the buy-bust operation were motivated by ill will or malice. Neither was there evidence adduced to show that they neglected to perform their duties properly. Hence, their testimonies as to the conduct of the buy-bust operation deserve full faith and credence. Respondent judge harps on the fact that it was the CI who had personal knowledge of the identity of the seller, the initial offer to purchase the ecstasy pills, and the subsequent acceptance of the offer. It is clear from the testimonies of PO2 Frando and the other arresting officers that they conducted the buy-bust operation based on the information from the CI. However, the arrest was made, not on the basis of that information, but of the actual buy-bust operation, in which respondents were caught in flagrante delicto engaged in the illegal sale of dangerous drugs. Due to the investigative work of the AIDSOTF members, the illegal sale was consummated in their presence, and the elements of the sale – the identity of the sellers, the delivery of the drugs, and the payment therefor – were confirmed. That the CI initially provided this information or “tip” does not negate the subsequent consummation of the illegal sale. People of the Philippines v. Judge Rafael R. Lagos, et al, G.R. No. 184658, March 6, 2013

Dangerous Drugs Act; presentation of an informant not required for the prosecution of drug cases. Respondent Judge Lagos erred in requiring the testimony of the CI. Respondent judge based his ruling on a 2004 case, People v. Ong, the facts of which purportedly “mirror” those of the present case. However, the Supreme Court (SC) held that there is no basis for this conclusion, as Ong involved a conviction based on the lone testimony of one apprehending officer, Senior Police Officer (SPO1) Gonzales. The SC found then that SPO1 Gonzales was merely the deliveryman, while the CI was the one who acted as the poseur-buyer. In this case, one of the witnesses, PO2 Frando, was a buy-bust team member who also acted as the poseur-buyer. He participated in the actual sale transaction. His testimony was a first-hand account of what transpired during the buy-bust and thus stemmed from his personal knowledge of the arrest in flagrante delicto. Requiring the CI to testify is an added imposition that runs contrary to jurisprudential doctrine, since the SC has long established that the presentation of an informant is not a requisite for the prosecution of drug cases. The testimony of the CI is not indispensable, since it would be merely corroborative of and cumulative with that of the poseur-buyer who was presented in court, and who testified on the facts and circumstances of the sale and delivery of the prohibited drug. Informants are usually not presented in court because of the need to hide their identities and preserve their invaluable services to the police. Except when the accused vehemently denies selling prohibited drugs and there are material inconsistencies in the testimonies of the arresting officers, or there are reasons to believe that the officers had motives to falsely testify against the accused, or that it was the informant who acted as the poseur-buyer, the informant’s testimony may be dispensed with, as it will merely be corroborative of the apprehending officers’ eyewitness accounts. In the present case, the fact of the illegal sale has already been established by testimonies of the members of the buy-bust team. Judge Lagos need not have characterized the CI’s testimony as indispensable to the prosecution’s case. People of the Philippines v. Judge Rafael R. Lagos, et al, G.R. No. 184658, March 6, 2013

Dangerous Drugs Act; failure of the police to strictly comply with chain of custody rule excused where integrity and evidentiary value of the drugs seized are preserved. As regards the failure of the police to strictly comply with the provisions on chain of custody under section 21 of R.A. 9165, it is settled that the failure to strictly follow the directives of this section is not fatal and will not necessarily render the items confiscated from an accused inadmissible. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. In the present case, the succession of events established by evidence shows that the items seized were the same items tested and subsequently identified and testified to in court. Thus, the Supreme Court held that the integrity and evidentiary value of the drugs seized from the petitioner were not compromised. Moreover, the police officers explained during trial the reason for their failure to strictly comply with section 21 of R.A. 9165. Benedicto Marquez y Rayos v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 197207, March 13, 2013.

Dangerous Drugs Act; liberal application of chain of custody rule observed where school personnel took initial custody of dangerous drugs. The antecedents of this case involve a unique feature in the sense that the person who had initial custody of the dangerous drugs was not a police officer or agent, but a guidance counselor – a person who was not expected to be familiar with the niceties of the procedures required of law enforcers in the initial handling of the confiscated evidence. Contrary to the petitioner’s claim, Bagongon’s failure to mark the seized sachets should not in any way weaken the prosecution’s case, more so since she was able to prove that she was also the person who handed the seized sachets to the police when the latter arrived. Drug peddling in schools is prevalent; the scenario attending this case is likely to be repeated many times. To impose on teachers and other school personnel the observance of the same procedure required of law enforcers (like marking) processes that are unfamiliar to them is to set a dangerous precedent that may eventually lead to the acquittal of many drug peddlers. The evidentiary value of the seized specimen remains intact as long as the school personnel who had initial contact with the drug/s was able to establish that the evidence had not been tampered with when he handed it to the police, as in this case. Benedicto Marquez y Rayos v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 197207, March 13, 2013.

3.            CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Circumstantial evidence; when circumstantial evidence sufficient for conviction. Under section 4, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court, circumstantial evidence is sufficient for conviction when the concurrence of the following factors obtain: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived have been proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as would prove the crime beyond reasonable doubt. These circumstances and facts must be absolutely incompatible with any reasonable hypothesis propounding the innocence of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Gerald Soriano alias Pedro, G.R. No. 191271, March 13, 2013.

Circumstantial evidence; when circumstantial evidence sufficient for conviction. In the case at bar, the prosecution failed to establish the existence of an unbroken chain of circumstances that lead to no other logical conclusion but the guilt of the accused. The only circumstances cited to implicate the accused in the crime are the following: (a) he passed through the shortcut to Wao around 3:00 p.m. on 31 December 1998; (b) Vicky did not see anyone else use that road from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on that day; and (c) the soiled garments confiscated from him were identified to have been the same ones he was wearing then. To an unprejudiced mind, the fact that Soriano was the only one whom Vicky saw pass through the shortcut to Wao from 3:00p.m. to 5:00 p.m. does not logically lead to any conclusion regarding his participation in the raping and killing of AAA. It is a mere conjecture that can be refuted by other equally conceivable and rational inferences. The circumstances presented by the prosecution do not form a solid and cohesive narrative that proves with moral certainty its contention that accused perpetrated said heinous acts. People of the Philippines v. Gerald Soriano alias Pedro, G.R. No. 191271, March 13, 2013.

Credibility of Witness; factual findings of the trial court are accorded great weight and respect and will not be disturbed on appeal. The Supreme Court (SC) in this case found no cogent reason to disturb the factual findings of the lower courts. It is well-settled that factual findings of the trial court, especially on the credibility of the rape victim, are accorded great weight and respect and will not be disturbed on appeal. After a careful review, the SC was convinced that the testimony of AAA positively identifying Pielago as the one who molested her is worthy of belief. The clear, consistent and spontaneous testimony of AAA unrelentingly established that Pielago inserted his right hand’s forefinger into her vagina and anus while she and her younger brother, CCC, were in his custody. Being a child of tender years, her failure to resist or struggle while Pielago molested her would all the more prove how she felt intimidated by her “Kuya.”  Mike Alvin Pielago y Ros v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 202020, March 13, 2013

Criminal Information; what controls is not the title of the information or the designation of the offense but the actual facts recited in the information. It is well-settled that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused is entitled to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. In this respect, the designation in the information of the specific statute violated is imperative to avoid surprise on the accused and to afford him the opportunity to prepare his defense accordingly. In the instant case, the designation of the offense in the information against Pielago was changed from the crime of acts of lasciviousness in relation to section 5(b) of R.A. 7610 to the crime of rape by sexual assault penalized under Article 266-A(2) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 8353. It cannot be said, however, that his right to be properly informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him was violated. The information was worded as follows: “x x x commit an act of lasciviousness upon the person of [AAA], a minor being four (4) years old, by kissing the vagina and inserting one of his fingers to the vagina of AAA, x x x.” Indeed, in order to obtain a conviction for rape by sexual assault, it is essential for the prosecution to establish the elements that constitute such crime. Article 266-A(2) of the Revised Penal Code explicitly provides that the gravamen of the crime of rape by sexual assault which is the insertion of the penis into another person’s mouth or anal orifice, or any instrument or object, into another person’s genital or anal orifice. In the instant case, this element is clearly present when AAA straightforwardly testified in court that Pielago inserted his forefinger in her vagina and anus. Jurisprudence has it that testimonies of child-victims are given full weight and credit, since when a woman or a girl-child says that she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape was indeed committed. Thus, AAA’s unrelenting narration of what transpired, accompanied by her categorical identification of Pielago as the malefactor, established the case for the prosecution. Mike Alvin Pielago y Ros v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 202020, March 13, 2013

(Lindy thanks Izabel Serina, Elaine delos Santos and Vincent Juan for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)

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