November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law

Here are selected November 2009 Philippine Supreme Court decisions on criminal law:

Revised Penal Code

Conspiracy;  elements. Under Article 8 of the Revised Penal Code, there is conspiracy when two or more persons agree to commit a felony and decided to commit it. Conspiracy exists where the participants perform specific acts that indicate unity of purpose in accomplishing the same unlawful object. The presence of conspiracy is implied where the separate acts committed, taken collectively, emanate from a concerted and associated action.

It is clear from the testimonies of Joselito and Marcos that appellants were of one mind in killing Pedro, as shown by their well-connected overt acts during the incident, to wit: (1) appellants altogether approached Pedro; (2) appellant Ausencio suddenly embraced and held the shoulders of Pedro; (3) appellants Romulo and Lutgardo went in front of Pedro; (3) appellant Romulo hit Pedro on the forehead with a ukulele; (4) appellant Lutgardo stabbed Pedro in the left part of the stomach; (5) appellant Ausencio pushed Pedro to the ground and told the latter, “You can go home now as you have already been stabbed”; and (6) appellants altogether fled the scene. No other logical conclusion would follow from appellants’ concerted action, except that they had a common purpose in accomplishing the same felonious act. Conspiracy having been established, appellants are liable as co-principals regardless of their participation.   People of the Philippines vs. Ausencio Comillo, Jr., et al.,  G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009.

Homicide; elements. The elements of homicide are as follows: (1) a person was killed; (2) the accused killed him without any justifying circumstance; (3) the accused had the intention to kill, which is presumed; and (4) the killing was not attended by any of the qualifying circumstances of murder, or by that of parricide or infanticide.

It bears stressing that in criminal cases, the prosecution is not required to show the guilt of the accused with absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is demanded, or that degree of proof which, to an unprejudiced mind, produces conviction. Rey A. Villamor vs. People of the Philippines, G.R .No. 182156. November 25, 2009

Murder; alibi. It is settled that for the defense of alibi to prosper, the accused must prove not only that he was at some other place at the time of the commission of the crime, but also that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus delicti or within its immediate vicinity.  The People of the Philippines vs. Reynaldo Hernando y Aquino, G.R. No. 186493, November 25, 2009.

Murder; alibi. The twin defenses of denial and alibi raised by accused-appellant must fail in light of the positive identification made by one of his victims, Jay. Alibi and denial are inherently weak defenses and must be brushed aside when the prosecution has sufficiently and positively ascertained the identity of the accused. It is only axiomatic that positive testimony prevails over negative testimony. Accused-appellant and his two victims reside in the same barangay and are therefore familiar with one another. Thus, Jay could not have been mistaken on accused-appellant’s identity. For alibi to prosper, it must be established by positive, clear and satisfactory proof that it was physically impossible for the accused to have been at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission, and not merely that accused was somewhere else. Accused-appellant’s alibi that he was at his sister’s house at the time of the shooting, and that his cousin Pinoy later went to him and told him that he had shot the Valencias was disproved by Cristina, accused-appellant’s sister and witness. Cristina testified that her brother, accused-appellant, did not visit her on the night of the incident. Moreover, where the defense of denial remains unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, it becomes negative and self-serving, and must not be given more evidentiary value vis-à-vis the affirmative testimony of a credible witness.   People of the Philippines vs. Roman Lacaden y Parinas, G.R. No. 187682, November 25, 2009.

Murder;  evident premeditation. For evident premeditation to be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance, the following elements must be present: (1) the time when the offender was determined to commit the crime; (2) an act manifestly indicating that the culprit has clung to his resolve; and (3) a sufficient interval of time between the determination or conception and the execution of the crime to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act and to allow his conscience to overcome the resolution of the will if he desired to hearken to its warning.

In the instant case, no proof was adduced to prove the foregoing elements. Thus, the RTC and the Court of Appeals were correct in disregarding evident premeditation.   People of the Philippines vs. Ausencio Comillo, Jr., et al.,  G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009.

Murder; mitigating circumstances. Under Article 13(3) of the Revised Penal Code, a person’s criminal liability may be mitigated if the offender had no intention to commit so grave a wrong as that committed. This mitigating circumstance is obtaining when there is a notable disparity between the means employed by the accused to commit a wrong and the resulting crime committed. The intention of the accused at the time of the commission of the crime is manifested from the weapon used, the mode of attack employed and the injury sustained by the victim. The mitigating circumstance of lack of intent to commit so grave a wrong as that committed cannot be considered in favor of appellants.

Likewise, appellants are not entitled to the mitigating circumstance of sufficient provocation or threat on the part of the offended party, which must have immediately preceded the crime as provided in Article 13(4) of the Revised Penal Code. Before the same can be appreciated, the following elements must concur: (1) that the provocation or threat must be sufficient or proportionate to the crime committed and adequate to arouse one to its commission; (2) that the provocation or threat must originate from the offended party; and (3) that the provocation must be immediate to the commission of the crime by the person provoked.

Pedro did not in any way provoke appellants into a fight on that fateful night. Clearly, the mitigating circumstance of sufficient provocation or threat on the part of the offended party which immediately preceded the crime, is lacking in the present case.

Appellants cannot also avail themselves of the mitigating circumstance of having acted upon an impulse so powerful as naturally to have produced passion or obfuscation stated in Article 13(6) of the Revised Penal Code. The following essential requirements must be present: (1) there was an act that was both unlawful and sufficient to produce such condition (passion or obfuscation) of the mind; and (2) such act was not far removed from the commission of the crime by a considerable length of time, during which the perpetrator might have recovered his normal equanimity.

In the case at bar, there was no unlawful and sufficient act on Pedro’s part which sufficiently provoked passion or obfuscation on appellants’ side. As repeatedly stated, Pedro was innocently walking on the road to buy cigarettes for appellants when the latter viciously attacked him for no reason at all. Thus, the mitigating circumstance of passion or obfuscation is unavailing.  People of the Philippines vs. Ausencio Comillo, Jr., et al.,  G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009.

Murder;  out of court identification. Applying the totality-of-circumstances test, the eyewitnesses’ out-of-court identification is reliable. First, Dirige and David were very near the place where Atty. Sturch was shot; thus, they had a good view of the gunman. Second, no competing event took place to draw their attention from the incident. Nothing in the records shows the presence of any distraction that could have disrupted the witnesses’ attention at the time of the shooting incident, or that could have prevented them from having a clear view of the face of the gunman. Third, David immediately gave the description of the gunman, while Dirige gave his description four days after the shooting incident, giving sufficient explanation why it took him four days to go to the police station. Finally, there was no evidence that the police had supplied or even suggested to Dirige and David that appellant was the suspected gunman.  The People of the Philippines vs. Reynaldo Hernando y Aquino, G.R. No. 186493, November 25, 2009.

Murder; self defense. As an element of self-defense, unlawful aggression refers to an assault or attack, or a threat thereof in an imminent and immediate manner, which places the defendant’s life in actual peril. There is an unlawful aggression on the part of the victim when he puts in actual or imminent danger the life, limb, or right of the person invoking self-defense. There must be actual physical force or actual use of a weapon. To constitute unlawful aggression, the person attacked must be confronted by a real threat on his life and limb; and the peril sought to be avoided must be imminent and actual, not merely imaginary.

In the instant case, there was no unlawful aggression on the part of Pedro that justified appellant Lutgardo’s act of stabbing him. There was no actual or imminent danger on appellant Lutgardo’s life when he came face to face with Pedro. As narrated by eyewitnesses Joselito and Marcos, Pedro was just walking on the road to buy cigarettes and was not provoking appellant Lutgardo into a fight. It was appellant Lutgardo who approached and stabbed Pedro even when the latter was already held around the shoulders by appellant Ausencio and hit with a ukulele by appellant Romulo. In short, appellant Lutgardo, as well as appellants Ausencio and Romulo, were the unlawful aggressors. As earlier stated, we have found the testimonies of Joselito and Marcos to be credible, as they testified in a clear and consistent manner during the trial despite grueling cross-examination of the defense.

Self-defense is a weak defense because, as experience has demonstrated, it is easy to fabricate and difficult to prove. Thus, for this defense to prosper, the accused must proved with clear and convincing evidence the elements of self-defense. He must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of that of the prosecution. Even if the evidence of the prosecution is weak, it cannot be disbelieved if the accused admitted responsibility for the crime charged. In the case before us, appellant Lutgardo failed to prove with plausible evidence all the elements of self-defense. Hence, his plea of self-defense must fail.  People of the Philippines vs. Ausencio Comillo, Jr., et al.,  G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009.

Murder; treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from any defensive or retaliatory act which the victim might make. The essence of treachery is a deliberate and sudden attack that renders the victim unable and unprepared to defend himself by reason of the suddenness and severity of the attack. Two essential elements are required in order that treachery can be appreciated: (1) The employment of means, methods or manner of execution that would ensure the offender’s safety from any retaliatory act on the part of the offended party who has, thus, no opportunity for self-defense or retaliation; and (2) deliberate or conscious choice of means, methods or manner of execution.  People of the Philippines vs. Ausencio Comillo, Jr., et al.,  G.R. No. 186538, November 25, 2009.

Murder;  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 ensure their execution without risk to himself arising from the defense that the offended party might make. Two conditions must concur for treachery to exist, namely: (a) the employment of means of execution gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and (b) the means or method of execution was deliberately and consciously adopted.  The People of the Philippines vs. Reynaldo Hernando y Aquino, G.R. No. 186493, November 25, 2009.

Murder; treachery. Treachery qualifies the killing to murder. 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 especially to ensure its execution, without risk to himself arising from any defense which the offended party might make.

The elements of treachery are: (1) the employment of means of execution that gives the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and (2) the means of execution was deliberate or consciously adopted.

A review of the evidence on record established these elements. On the evening of 18 May 2005, Jay and Danny were walking home pushing their motorbike with an empty fuel tank, unarmed and unaware of the danger hiding behind the thick shrubs in the banana plantation. All of a sudden, accused-appellant, coming from the middle of the field, launched his attack, shooting at his victims with a .38 caliber pistol. Jay was hit on the chest, but was able to run for his life and seek help. Had he not sought medical attention, he would have bled to death. When Jay was about four meters away, he saw accused-appellant shoot Danny, who fell on the ground and died.  People of the Philippines vs. Roman Lacaden y Parinas, G.R. No. 187682, November 25, 2009.

Rape;  guilt. Three principles guide the courts in resolving rape cases: (1) an accusation for rape can be made with facility; it is difficult to prove but more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; (2) in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape in which only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and (3) the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits, and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.

In a determination of guilt for the crime of rape, primordial is the credibility of the complainant’s testimony, because, in rape cases, the accused may be convicted solely on the testimony of the victim, provided it is credible, natural, convincing and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things. Here, the victim, in the painstaking and well-nigh degrading public trial, related her painful ordeal that she was raped by appellant. Her testimony was found by the trial court, which had the undisputed vantage in the evaluation and appreciation of testimonial evidence, to have been made in “a simple, straightforward and spontaneous manner.”

This eloquent testimony of the victim, coupled with the medical findings attesting to her non-virgin state, should be enough to confirm the truth of her charges. Further, deeply entrenched in our jurisprudence is the rule that the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses are entitled to the highest respect and are not to be disturbed on appeal in the absence of any clear showing that the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied facts or circumstances of weight and substance which would have affected the result of the case. The People of the Philippines vs. Antonio Dalisay y Destresa, G.R. No. 188106, November 25, 2009.

Special laws

Dangerous Drugs; forensic chemist. The non-presentation of the forensic chemist in illegal drug cases is an insufficient cause for acquittal. The corpus delicti in dangerous drugs cases constitutes the dangerous drug itself. This means that proof beyond doubt of the identity of the prohibited drug is essential.

Besides, corpus delicti has nothing to do with the testimony of the laboratory analyst. In fact, this Court has ruled that the report of an official forensic chemist regarding a recovered prohibited drug enjoys the presumption of regularity in its preparation. Corollarily, under Section 44 of Rule 130, Revised Rules of Court, entries in official records made in the performance of official duty are prima facie evidence of the facts they state. Therefore, the report of Forensic Chemical Officer Sta. Maria that the five plastic sachets PO3 Galvez gave to her for examination contained shabu is conclusive in the absence of evidence proving the contrary. At any rate, as the CA pointed out, the defense agreed during trial to dispense with the testimony of the chemist and stipulated on his findings. People of the Philippines Vs. Zenaida Quebral y Mateo, et al., G.R. No. 185379, November 27, 2009.

Dangerous Drugs; warrant. The law enforcers already had an inkling of the personal circumstances of the persons they were looking for and the criminal act they were about to commit. That these circumstances played out in their presence supplied probable cause for the search. The police acted on reasonable ground of suspicion or belief supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man to believe that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. Since the seized shabu resulted from a valid search, it is admissible in evidence against the accused.

It would have been impractical for the police to apply with the appropriate court for a search warrant since their suspicion found factual support only at the moment accused Eusebio Quebral, Fernando Lopez, and Zenaida Quebral rendezvoused with Michael Salvador at the Petron gas station for the hand over of the drugs. An immediate search was warranted since they would have gone away by the time the police could apply for a search warrant. The drugs could be easily transported and concealed with impunity.  People of the Philippines Vs. Zenaida Quebral y Mateo, et al., G.R. No. 185379, November 27, 2009.

Trademark infringement;  gravamen. It is the element of “likelihood of confusion” that is the gravamen of trademark infringement. But “likelihood of confusion” is a relative concept. The particular, and sometimes peculiar, circumstances of each case are determinative of its existence. Thus, in trademark infringement cases, precedents must be evaluated in the light of each particular case.

In determining similarity and likelihood of confusion, jurisprudence has developed two tests: the Dominancy Test and the Holistic or Totality Test. The Dominancy Test focuses on the similarity of the prevalent features of the competing trademarks that might cause confusion and deception, thus constituting infringement. If the competing trademark contains the main, essential and dominant features of another, and confusion or deception is likely to result, infringement takes place. Duplication or imitation is not necessary; nor is it necessary that the infringing label should suggest an effort to imitate. The question is whether the use of the marks involved is likely to cause confusion or mistake in the mind of the public or to deceive purchasers. Courts will consider more the aural and visual impressions created by the marks in the public mind, giving little weight to factors like prices, quality, sales outlets, and market segments. Prosource International, Inc. vs. Horphag Research Management SA, G.R. No. 180073, November 25, 2009.

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