February 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

Criminal Law

1.     Revised Penal Code

Criminal liability; exemption. Under Art. 332 of the Revised Penal Code, the relationship by affinity created between the husband and the blood relatives of his wife is not dissolved by the death of one spouse, thus ending the marriage which created such relationship by affinity. The Supreme Court upheld the continuing affinity view, which maintains that the relationship by affinity between the surviving spouse and the kindred of the deceased spouse continues even after the death of the deceased spouse, regardless of whether the marriage produced children or not.

The continuing affinity view was adopted by the Supreme Court in interpreting Art. 332 of the Revised Penal Code. First, Art. 332(1) is meant to be beneficial to relatives by affinity within the degree covered under the said provision. This view has been applied in the interpretation of laws in order to benefit step-relatives or in-laws. Second, Art. 332(1) is couched in a general language because the legislative intent is to make no distinction between the spouse of one’s living child and the surviving spouse of one’s deceased child can be drawn from it without doing violence to its language. Third, the continuing affinity view is more in accord with family solidarity and harmony as declared by the Constitution in Section 12, Art. II, and Section 1, Art. 15. Fourth, the fundamental principle of in dubio pro reo (when in doubt, rule for the accused) and rule of lenity, must be applied.  These principles call for the adoption of an interpretation which is more lenient. Since the basic purpose of Art. 332 is to preserve family harmony by providing an absolutory cause, the court should adopt the continuing affinity view. Intestate of Manolita Gonzales vda. De Carungcong, represented by Mediatrix Carungcong as Administratirix vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 181409, February 11, 2010.

Criminal liability; command responsibility. Gen. Esperon and P/Dir Gen. Razon were included in the case on the theory that they, as commanders, were responsible for the unlawful acts allegedly committed by their subordinates against petitioners. While in a qualified sense tenable, the dismissal by the Court of Appeals of the case against them is incorrect if viewed in the light of command responsibility.

“Command responsibility” in its simplest terms, means the “responsibility of commanders for crimes committed by subordinate members of the armed forces or other persons subject to their control in international wars or domestic conflict. In this sense, command responsibility is properly a form of criminal complicity.

The Hague Conventions of 1907 adopted the doctrine of command responsibility, and recently, this doctrine has been codified in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to which the Philippines is a signatory. Section 28 of the Statute imposes individual responsibility on military commanders for crimes committed by forces under their control. However, the country is not yet formally bound by the terms and provisions embodied in this treaty-statute, since the Senate has yet to extend concurrence in its ratification. Thus, while there are several pending bills on command responsibility, there is still no Philippine law that provides for criminal liability under that doctrine.

It may be plausibly contended that command responsibility, as legal basis for criminal liability, may be made applicable to this jurisdiction on the theory that the command responsibility doctrine now constitutes a principle in international law in accordance with the incorporation clause of the Constitution. Still it would be inappropriate to apply to these proceedings this doctrine, as a form of criminal complicity through omission, if any, since the issue of criminal culpability is beyond the reach of a writ of amparo. Lourdes D. Rubrico, et al. vs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et al., G.R. No. 183871, February 18, 2010.

Estafa; elements.    The elements of the crime of estafa, under Article 315(2) of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) the accused made false pretenses or fraudulent representations as to his or her power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business, or imaginary transactions; (2) such false pretenses or fraudulent representations were made prior to or simultaneous with the commission of the fraud; (3) such false pretenses or fraudulent representations constitute the very cause which induced the offended party to part with his or her money or property; and (4) as a result of those acts, the offended party suffered damage. As all the elements have been duly proved, as found by the RTC and affirmed by the CA, the conviction of petitioner for estafa was proper. Adela B. Delgado vs. People of the Philippines and Emmanuel Ang Jaranilla, G.R. No. 161178, February 5, 2010.

Estafa; elements. Article 315(2)(a) of the Revised Penal Code punishes estafa, committed as follows: By means of any of the following false pretenses or fraudulent acts executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud: (a) By using fictitious name, or falsely pretending to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions; or by means of other similar deceits. The elements of the crime are: (1) the accused defrauded another by abuse of confidence or by means of deceit; and (2) the offended party or a third party suffered damage or prejudice capable of pecuniary estimation. In this case, it has been sufficiently proven that petitioner represented herself to private complainants as capable of sending them to Italy for employment, even if she did not have the authority or license for the purpose. Undoubtedly, it was this misrepresentation that induced private complainants to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for what they thought was a promising future abroad. The petitioner’s act clearly constitutes estafa under the above-quoted provision.

In this case, it has been sufficiently proven that petitioner represented herself to private complainants as capable of sending them to Italy for employment, even if she did not have the authority or license for the purpose. Undoubtedly, it was this misrepresentation that induced private complainants to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for what they thought was a promising future abroad. The petitioner’s act clearly constitutes estafa under the above-quoted provision. Angelita Delos Reyes Flores vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 185614, February 5, 2010.

Estafa; DOSRI Complaint. Acting on a letter transmitted by the BSP to the DOJ, two informations were filed against petitioner: one for estafa through falsification of documents, and the other for violation of the DOSRI law under Sec. 83 of the General Banking Act. Petitioner moved to dismiss the informations alleging that commission of estafa through falsification is inherently incompatible with the violation of DOSRI law. Rejecting both contentions, the Supreme Court ruled that the letters transmitted to the DOJ were not intended to be the complaint, as envisioned in the Rules. Rather, the letters merely transmitted for preliminary investigation the affidavits of people who had personal knowledge of the acts of petitioner. These affidavits, not the letters transmitting them, initiated the preliminary investigation. Since these affidavits were subscribed under oath, then there was substantial compliance with the requirements under the rules of court. Hilario P. Soriano vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 162336, February 1, 2010.

Estafa; DOSRI Complaint. Anent the issue of whether a loan transaction within the ambit of the DOSRI law could be the subject of estafa through falsification, the Supreme Court answered in the affirmative. The bank money which came to the possession of petitioner was money held in trust  or administration by him for the bank,  in his fiduciary capacity as the President of said bank.  It is not accurate to say that petitioner became the owner of the P8 million because it was the proceeds of a loan.   According to the information for estafa, the loan was supposed to be for another person, a certain “Enrico Carlos”; petitioner, through falsification, made it appear that said “Enrico Carlos” applied for the loan when in fact he (“Enrico Carlos”) did not.  Through such fraudulent device, petitioner obtained the loan proceeds and converted the same.  Thus, petitioner remained the bank’s fiduciary with respect to that money, which makes it capable of misappropriation or conversion in his hands.  Hilario P. Soriano vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 162336, February 1, 2010.

Estafa; DOSRI Complaint. The prohibition in Section 83 of the DOSRI Law is broad enough to cover various modes of borrowing It covers loans by a bank director or officer (like herein petitioner) which are made either: (1) directly, (2) indirectly, (3) for himself, (4) or as the representative or agent of others.  It applies even if the director or officer is a mere guarantor, indorser or surety for someone else’s loan or is in any manner an obligor for money borrowed from the bank or loaned by it.  The prohibition against indirect borrowing applies here. Hilario P. Soriano vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 162336, February 1, 2010.

Estafa; DOSRI Complaint. The information for DOSRI law violation describes the manner of securing the loan as indirect; names petitioner as the benefactor of the indirect loan; and states that the requirements of the law were not complied with. It contains all the required elements for a violation of Section 83, even if petitioner did not secure the loan in his own name.  The broad interpretation of the prohibition in Section 83 is justified by the fact that it even expressly covers loans to third parties where the third parties are aware of the transaction (such as principals represented by the DOSRI), and where the DOSRI’s interest does not appear to be beneficial but even burdensome (such as in cases when the DOSRI acts as a mere guarantor or surety).  If the law finds it necessary to protect the bank and the banking system in such situations, it will surely be illogical for it to exclude a case like this where the DOSRI acted for his own benefit, using the name of an unsuspecting person.  A contrary interpretation will effectively allow a DOSRI to use dummies to circumvent the requirements of the law. Hilario P. Soriano vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 162336, February 1, 2010.

Estafa thru falsification. The beneficial application of Art. 332 does not cover the complex crime of estafa thru falsification. The coverage of Art. 332 is strictly limited to the felonies mentioned therein. It does not apply where any of the crimes mentioned under Art. 332 is complexed with another crime, such as theft through falsification or estafa through falsification. Intestate of Manolita Gonzales vda. De Carungcong, represented by Mediatrix Carungcong as Administratirix vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 181409, February 11, 2010.

Estafa thru falsification. If the accused may not be held criminally liable for simple estafa by virtue of the absolutory cause under Art. 332, should he not be absolved from criminal liability for the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public documents? No. The absolutory cause under Art. 332 is meant to address specific crimes against property. All other crimes, whether simple or complex, are not affected by the absolutory cause provided by said provision. To apply the absolutory cause under Art. 332 to one of the component crimes of a complex crime for the purpose of negating the existence of that complex crime is to unduly expand the scope of said article. In other words, to apply Art. 332 to the complex crime of estafa through falsification of pubic document would be to mistakenly treat the crime of estafa as a separate simple crime, not as the component crime that is in that situation. Intestate of Manolita Gonzales vda. De Carungcong, represented by Mediatrix Carungcong as Administratirix vs. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 181409, February 11, 2010.

Estafa; penalty. Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code fixes the penalty for estafaviz.: Art. 315. Swindling (estafa). – 1st. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its minimum period, if the amount of the fraud is over 12,000 pesos but does not exceed 22,000 pesos; and if such amount exceeds the latter sum, the penalty provided in this paragraph shall be imposed in its maximum period, adding one year for each additional 10,000 pesos; but the total penalty which may be imposed shall not exceed twenty years.  In such cases, and in connection with the accessory penalties which may be imposed and for the purpose of the other provisions of this Code, the penalty shall be termed prision mayor or reclusion temporal, as the case may be. Angelita Delos Reyes Flores vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 185614, February 5, 2010.

Estafa; penalty. The Supreme Court affirmed with modification the penalty imposed on the accused for the crime of estafa considering that under Article 315, par. 2(d) of the Revised Penal Code, when the amount defrauded exceeds P22,000.00, the penalty imposed is prision correccional maximum to prision mayor minimum.  In computing the incremental penalty, the amount defrauded shall be subtracted by P22,000.00, and the difference shall be divided by P10,000.00.  Any fraction of a year shall be discarded in consonance with the rule that penal laws shall be construed liberally in favor of the accused. Thus, since the amount defrauded in this case exceeds P22,000.00 by P35,000, 3 years shall be added to the maximum period of the prescriped penalty. The lowest maximum term, therefore, that can be validly imposed is 9 years, 9 months, and 21 days, and not 9 years and 1 day as ruled by the Regional Trial Court. People of the Philippines vs. Rachelle Balagan Vs. Herminia Avila, G.R. No. 183099, February 3, 2010.

Murder; self defense. One who admits killing or fatally injuring another in the name of self-defense bears the burden of proving: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person claiming self-defense. By invoking self-defense, the burden is placed on the accused to prove its elements clearly and convincingly. While all three elements must concur, self-defense relies first and foremost on proof of unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. If no unlawful aggression is proved, no self-defense may be successfully pleaded. Self-defense cannot be justifiably appreciated when uncorroborated by independent and competent evidence or when it is extremely doubtful by itself. Indeed, in invoking self-defense, the burden of evidence is shifted and the accused claiming self-defense must rely on the strength of his or her own evidence and not on the weakness of the prosecution. People of the Philippines vs. Ford Gutierrez y Dimaano, G.R. No. 188602, February 4, 2010.

Murder; treachery. In appreciating treachery as a qualifying circumstance, the essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by the aggressor on unsuspecting victims, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend themselves, thereby ensuring its commission without risk to the aggressor, and without the slightest provocation on the part of the victims. Treachery was employed when the attack was sudden and unexpected. People of the Philippines vs. Ford Gutierrez y Dimaano, G.R. No. 188602, February 4, 2010.

Murder; treachery. Here, the fact of death of Vincent Pimentel is undisputed. What is left to be resolved is whether the killing was attended by treachery. The fact that Leozar and Vincent did not quarrel prior to the killing is indicative of the treachery employed by Leozar. After Vincent paid Leozar some money, he left and went inside the alley. When he came back from the alley, Leozar deliberately employed means with treachery affording Vincent no opportunity to defend himself, i.e. Leozar draped his arm around Vincent and slit his neck using a 24-inch samurai. All told, the victim was unaware of the imminent attempt on his life, and was not in a position to defend himself. Clearly, treachery was present in this killing. People of the Philippines vs. Ildefonso Mendoza y Berizo,G.R. No. 188353, February 16, 2010.

Murder; treachery. The defense asseverates that treachery could not qualify the killing of Ernesto since the witness failed to see how the attack commenced. Citing jurisprudence, the defense contends that treachery cannot be appreciated when the lone witness did not see the commencement of the assault. However, the cited jurisprudence do not apply to the case at bar since, unlike these cited cases, there was here restraint upon the victim which effectively rendered him defenseless and unable to effectively repel, much less evade, the assault. Thus, rightfully there is treachery where the victim is stabbed in a defenseless situation, as when he was being held by others since the accomplishment of the accused’s purpose was ensured without risk to himself from any defense the victim may offer. People of the Philippines vs. Alberto Tabarnero and Gary Tabarnero, G.R. No. 168169, February 24, 2010.

Murder; penalty. Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, the penalty imposed for the crime of murder is reclusion perpetua to death. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance, the penalty imposed on appellant is reclusion perpetua, pursuant to Article 63, paragraph 2. People of the Philippines vs. Ford Gutierrez y Dimaano, G.R. No. 188602, February 4, 2010.

Parricide; elements. The crime of parricide is defined and punished under Art. 146 of the Revised Penal Code. It is committed when: (1) a person is killed; (2) the deceased is killed by the accused; and (3) the deceased is the father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or a legitimate other ascendant or other descendant, or the legitimate spouse of the accused. The key element in parricide –other than the fact of killing—is the relationship of the offender to the victim. In the case of parricide of a spouse, the best proof of the relationship between the accused and the deceased would be the marriage certificate. In this case, however, the testimony of the accused that he was married to the victim, in itself, is ample proof of such relationship as the testimony can be taken as an admission against penal interest. People of the Philippines vs. Victorino Dela Cruz y Lorenzo, G.R. No. 187683, February 11, 2010.

Rape; credibility of witness. Jurisprudence holds that the failure of the victim to shout for help does not negate rape. Even the victim’s lack of resistance, especially when intimidated by the offender into submission, does not signify voluntariness or consent.  In fact, even absent any actual force or intimidation, rape may be committed if the malefactor has moral ascendancy over the victim, as in this case. Undoubtedly, the accused used his moral ascendancy over the victim to carry out his bestial desire. Although unmarried, the accused and the girl’s mother were living together as husband and wife, and it was a household where the accused wielded patriarchal authority. Thus, while the offended party might have initially resisted the sexual advances of the accused, the fact that the mother refused to interfere with the actuations of her live-in partner must have contributed to the sense of helplessness and resignation of the victim. People of the Philippines vs. Mariano Ofemiano alias Maning, G.R. No. 187155, February 1, 2010.

Rape; credibility of witness. Accused argues that the testimony of the victim is replete with inconsistencies considering that the victim could easily have refused to go with him. Moreover, he would have not allowed the victim’s brother to accompany them if he had intended to commit rape. According to the Court, however, these matters are inconsequential and do not bear upon the elements of the crime of rape. The decisive factor in the prosecution for rape is whether the commission of the crime has been sufficiently proven. For a discrepancy or inconsistency in the testimony of a witness to serve as a basis for acquittal, it must refer to the significant facts indispensable to the guilt or innocence of the accused for the crime charged. As the inconsistencies alleged by the accused had nothing to do with the elements of the crime of rape, they cannot be used as grounds for his acquittal. People of the Philippines vs. Hilario Escoton, G.R. No. 183577. February 1, 2010.

Rape; damages. In People v. Quiachon, even if the penalty of death is not to be imposed because of the prohibition in R.A. No. 9346, the civil indemnity of P75,000.00 is proper, because it is not dependent on the actual imposition of the death penalty but on the fact that qualifying circumstances warranting the imposition of the death penalty attended the commission of the offense. As explained in People v. Salome, while R.A. No. 9346 prohibits the imposition of the death penalty, the fact remains that the penalty provided for by the law for a heinous offense is still death, and the offense is still heinous. Accordingly, the civil indemnity for the victim which is P75,000.00 is proper. In addition, the victim is also entitled to moral damages pursuant to Art. 2219 of the Civil Code, without the necessity of additional pleadings or proof other than the fact of rape. Moral damages is granted in recognition of the victim’s injury necessarily resulting from the odious crime of rape. Such award is separate and distinct from the civil indemnity. Thus, the award of the P75,000.00 as moral damages is also proper. People of the Philippines vs. Egap Madsali, Sajiron Lajim and Maron Lajim, G.R. No. 179570, February 4, 2010.

Rape; evidence. The Supreme Court gives great weight to the trial court’s evaluation of the testimony of a witness, because the trial court had the opportunity to observe the facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice of a witness while testifying, thus, putting it in a better position to determine whether a witness was lying or telling the truth. People of the Philippines vs. Egap Madsali, Sajiron Lajim and Maron Lajim, G.R. No. 179570, February 4, 2010.

Robbery with homicide; circumstantial evidence. The confluence of the following established facts and circumstances sustain accused’s conviction: first, accused frequently visited AAA’s house, hence he was familiar with its layout; second, he admitted to his relatives and to the media that he was present during the commission of the crime, but only as a look-out; third, he was in possession of the victim’s missing necklace when he was arrested; and lastly, he admitted to the media that he committed the crime due to his peers and because of his poverty. However, since robbery was the main intent of the accused, rape should have only been appreciated as an aggravating circumstance. Thus, the accused here is liable only for robbery with homicide instead of robbery with rape and homicide. People of the Philippines vs. Michael Hipona, G.R. No. 185709, February 18, 2010.

Serious illegal detention; elements. The   elements  of   kidnapping  and  serious   illegal  detention  under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) the offender is a private individual; (2) he kidnaps or detains another or in any other manner deprives the latter of his liberty; (3) the act of detention or kidnapping is illegal; and (4) in the commission of the offense, any of the following circumstances are present: (a) the kidnapping or detention lasts for more than 3 days; or (b) it is committed by simulating public authority; or (c) any serious physical injuries are inflicted upon the person kidnapped or detained or threats to kill him are made; or (d) the person kidnapped or detained is a minor, female, or a public officer. In the case at bar, the accused who were private individuals, forcibly took and dragged the victim, a minor, to the forest and held her captive against her will. The crime of serious illegal detention consists not only of placing a person in an enclosure, but also of detaining him or depriving him in any manner of his liberty. For there to be kidnapping, it is enough that the victim is restrained from going home. Its essence is the actual deprivation of the victim’s liberty, coupled with indubitable proof of the intent of the accused to effect such deprivation. In this case, although the victim was not actually confined in an enclosed place, she was clearly restrained and deprived of her liberty, because she was tied up and her mouth stuffed with a piece of cloth, thus, making it very easy to physically drag her to the forest away from her home. People of the Philippines vs. Egap Madsali, Sajiron Lajim and Maron Lajim, G.R. No. 185709, February 18, 2010.

Theft; admissibility of evidence. If the information for theft alleges that the respondent has taken away cash in the amount of P 1,534,135.50, evidence that respondent has indorsed and deposited several checks in her account totaling to said amount cannot be admitted to prove this element of taking. BSB Group, Inc, represented by its President, Mr. Ricardo Bangayan vs. Sally Go a.k.a. Sally Go-Bangayan G.R. No. 168644, February 16, 2010.

Theft; admissibility of evidence. In theft, the act of unlawful taking connotes deprivation of personal property of one by another with intent to gain, and it is immaterial that the offender is able or unable to freely dispose of the property. The allegation of theft of money, hence, necessitates that evidence presented must have a tendency to prove that the offender has unlawfully taken money belonging to another. Petitioner has taken pains in attempting to draw a connection between the evidence and the allegation of theft in the information by claiming that respondent had fraudulently deposited the checks in her own name. But this line of argument seeks to establish the commission of some other crime, probably estafa, but not theft. Thus, for our purposes, as the information in this case accuses respondent of having stolen cash, proof tending to establish that respondent has actualized her criminal intent by indorsing the checks and depositing the proceeds thereof in her personal account becomes not only irrelevant, but also immaterial and on that score, inadmissible. BSB Group, Inc, represented by its President, Mr. Ricardo Bangayan vs. Sally Go a.k.a. Sally Go-Bangayan G.R. No. 168644, February 16, 2010.

2.     Special Laws

Dangerous Drugs Act; buy bust. A  buy-bust operation is a form of entrapment which in recent years has been accepted as a valid and effective mode of apprehending drug pushers.   In a buy-bust operation, the idea to commit a crime originates from the offender, without anybody inducing or prodding him to commit the offense. If carried out with due regard for constitutional and legal safeguards, a buy-bust operation deserves judicial sanction. Thus, from the very nature of a buy-bust operation, the absence of a warrant does not make the arrest illegal.People of the Philippines vs. Fernando Villamin y San Jose Alias Andoy, G.R. No. 175590, February 9, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; elements. The elements necessary for the prosecution of the illegal sale of drugs are: (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.   What is material to the prosecution for the 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 delictiPeople of the Philippines vs. Fernando Villamin y San Jose Alias Andoy, G.R. No. 175590, February 9, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs Act; elements. The elements necessary for the prosecution of the illegal sale of drugs are: (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.   What is material to the prosecution for the 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 delictiPeople of the Philippines vs. Fernando Villamin y San Jose Alias Andoy, G.R. No. 175590, February 9, 2010.

Criminal Procedure

Bail; application. The question of granting bail to the accused is but an aspect of the criminal action, preventing him or her from eluding punishment in the event of conviction.  The grant of bail or its denial has no impact on the civil liability of the accused that depends on conviction by final judgment.  Here, applicant has already been arraigned.  Trial and judgment, with award for civil liability when warranted, could proceed even in the absence of the applicant. In Narciso v. Sta. Romana-Cruz, the Supreme Court allowed the offended party to challenge before it the trial court’s order granting bail.  But in that case, the trial court gravely abused its discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction in granting bail without conducting any hearing at all. Thus, to disallow the appeal on the basis of lack of intervention of the OSG would “leave the private complainant without any recourse to rectify the public injustice.”  In the case at bar, the trial court took time to hear the parade of witnesses that the prosecution presented before reaching the conclusion that the evidence of guilt of applicant for bail was not strong. Heirs of Sarah Marie Palma Burgos vs. Court of Appeals and Johnny Co y Yu, G.R. No. 169711, February 8, 2010.

Criminal action; prejudicial question. Under the Rules, the existence of a prejudicial question is a ground in a petition to suspend proceedings in a criminal action.  Since suspension of the proceedings in the criminal action may be made only upon petition and not at the instance of the judge or the investigating prosecutor, the latter cannot take cognizance of a claim of prejudicial question without a petition to suspend being filed.  Since a petition to suspend can be filed only in the criminal action, the determination of the pendency of a prejudicial question should be made at the first instance in the criminal action, and not before the Supreme Court in an appeal from the civil action. Intergrated Bar of the Philippines, represented by its National President Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, H. Harry L. Roque, et al. vs. Honorable Manila Mayor Jose “Lito” Atienza, G.R. No. 188920, February 16, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. In a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the following elements must first be established: (1) proof that the transaction or sale took place and (2) the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug as evidence. In a prosecution for illegal possession of a dangerous drug, it must be shown that (1) the accused was in possession of an item or an object identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug, (2) such possession is not authorized by law, and (3) the accused was freely and consciously aware of being in possession of the drug. The Supreme Court held that to sustain a conviction, the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses must be unequivocal, definite and straightforward. More importantly, their testimonies must be consistent in material respects with each other and with other testimonies and physical evidence. People of the Philippines vs. Rolando Tamayo y Tena, G.R. No. 187070, February 24, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. In prosecutions involving narcotics, the narcotic substance itself constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to sustain a judgment of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, it must be clearly shown that the chain of custody was strictly followed. Any break in the chain of custody casts doubt on the integrity and evidentiary weight of the substance allegedly seized from the accused and thus warrants his acquittal. People of the Philippines vs. Wilson Suan y Jolongon, G.R. No. 184546, February 22, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs Act; evidence. Here, while the prosecution was able to prove the factuality of the buy-bust operation, it dismally failed to prove the identity of the substance taken from the accused. When the certificate of inventory was prepared by PO2 Labasano, the item allegedly seized bore no markings. However, in the Memorandum Laboratory examination, it was already referred to as Exhibit A. There was also a difference in the weight of the substance in the certificate of inventory and that in the chemistry report, which difference proved fatal to the case of the prosecution.  Moreover, the failure on the part of the Team Leader or Records custodian as the case may be, to testify on what he did with the drug while he was in possession resulted in a break in the chain of custody– an obvious missing link from the point when the drug was taken to the point when the same was submitted for examination. Under no circumstance can the Supreme Court consider or safely assume that the integrity and evidentiary value of the drug was property preserved by the apprehending officers. People of the Philippines vs. Wilson Suan y Jolongon, G.R. No. 184546, February 22, 2010.

Evidence; out of court identification. Petitioners contend that their identification by the prosecution witnesses was attended with irregularity considering that they were identified merely from among the four photographs at Camp Escudero. They posit that this manner of identification is suggestive. However, the Supreme Court rejected this contention finding no irregularity considering that the witnesses had an unobstructed view of the petitioners’ appearance and that there was no indication that darkness prevailed during the robbery. Experience dictates that due to the unusual acts of violence committed right before the witnesses’ eyes, they remember with high degree of reliability the identity of criminals. Moreover, the in-court identification of the petitioners later on dispels any doubt as to the correctness of the petitioners’ identities. Thus, even assuming arguendo that the out-of-court identification was defective, the defect was cured by the subsequent positive identification in court for the “inadmissibility” of a police line-up identification should not necessarily foreclose the admissibility of an independent in-court identification. Armando Vidar, et al. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 177361, February 1, 2010.

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

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