May 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

Anti-Graft; causing undue injury. The elements of the offense of causing undue injury under R.A. 3019, Sec. 3(e) are as follows: (1) that the accused are public officers or private persons charged in conspiracy with them; (2) that said public officers commit the prohibited acts during the performance of their official duties or in relation to their public positions; (3) that they caused undue injury to any party, whether the Government or a private party; (4) that such injury is caused by giving unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference to such parties; and (5) that the public officers have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. In this case, only the first element was proven. The other elements were not. Thus, the presumption of regularity in the performance of one’s function remains unrebutted and enjoyed by petitioners. Anuncio C. Bustillo, et al. vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 160718, May 12, 2010

Arrest; estoppel. An accused is estopped from assailing the legality of his arrest if he fails to raise this issue or to move for the quashal of the information against him on this ground, which should be made before arraignment. In this case, the irregularity of the accused’s arrest was raised only in his appeal before the Court of Appeals. This is not allowed considering that he was already properly arraigned and even actively participated in the proceedings. He is therefore deemed to have waived this alleged defect when he submitted himself to the jurisdiction of the court. People of the Philippines vs. Joseph Amper y Repaso, G.R. No. 172708, May 5, 2010.

Arrest; posting of bail. The erstwhile ruling of this Court was that posting of bail constitutes a waiver of any irregularity in the issuance of a warrant of arrest has already been superseded by Section 26, Rule 114 of the Revised Rule of Criminal Procedure.  The principle that the accused is precluded from questioning the legality of the arrest after arraignment is true only if he voluntarily enters his plea and participates during trial without previously invoking his objections thereto. Section 26, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure is a new one, intended to modify previous rulings of this Court that an application for bail or the admission to bail by the accused shall be considered as a waiver of his right to assail the warrant issued for his arrest on the legalities or irregularities thereon. The new rule has reverted to the ruling of this Court in People v. Red. The new rule is curative in nature because, precisely, it was designed to supply defects and curb evils in procedural rules. Thus, petitioners’ posting of bail bond should not be deemed as a waiver of their right to assail their arrest. Teodoro C. Borlongan, Jr. et al. vs. Magdaleno M. Peña, et al., G.R. No. 143591, May 5, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; admissibility of evidence. Non-compliance with the requirements of Section 21 of Republic Act No. 9165 will not necessarily render the items seized or confiscated in a buy-bust operation inadmissible. Strict compliance with the letter of Section 21 is not required if there is a clear showing that the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items have been preserved, i.e., the items being offered in court as exhibits are, without a specter of doubt, the very same ones recovered in the buy-bust operation. Hence, once the possibility of substitution has been negated by evidence of an unbroken and cohesive chain of custody over the contraband, such contraband may be admitted and stand as proof of the corpus delicti notwithstanding the fact that it was never made the subject of an inventory or was photographed pursuant to Section 21(1) of Republic Act No. 9165. People of the Philippines vs. Joel Roa y Villaluz, G.R. No. 186134, May 6, 2010.

Dangerous drugs; chain of custody. The chain of custody requirement is necessary in order to remove doubts as to the identity of the evidence, by monitoring and tracking custody of the seized drugs from the accused until they reach the court. The procedure and statutory safeguards prescribed for compliance by drug enforcement agencies have not been followed in this case. Failure to comply with the aforequoted Sec. 21(1) of RA 9165 implies a concomitant failure on the part of the prosecution to establish the identity of the seized illegal items as part of the corpus delicti. Although the nonpresentation of some of the witnesses who can attest to an unbroken chain of custody of evidence may, in some instances, be excused, there should be a justifying factor for the prosecution to dispense with their testimonies. The saving mechanism provided by Sec. 21(a), Article II of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165 ensures that not every case of non-compliance will permanently prejudice the prosecution’s case. The saving mechanism applies when the prosecution recognizes and explains the lapse or lapses in the prescribed procedures. In this case, the prosecution did not even acknowledge and discuss the reasons for the missing links in the chain. Taken with the uncorroborated testimony of the policemen involved in the buy-bust operation, these lapses create a reasonable doubt as to guilt of the accused. People of the Philippines vs. Norman Sitco and Raymundo Bagtas (Deceased), G.R. No. 178202, May 14, 2010

Evidence; conspiracy. An accepted badge of conspiracy is when the accused, by their acts aimed at the same object, one performing one part and another performing another so as to complete it, with a view to the attainment of the same object. As testified by the police officers, it was Joseph who negotiated with the poseur-buyer, received the buy-bust money and handed the same to Anthony, his brother. Anthony, after receiving the money from Joseph handed the latter the sachet of shabu to be given to PO1 Familara. It was Joseph who delivered the drug to PO1 Familara. Clearly, there was concerted action between the brothers before, during, and after the offense which ably demonstrated their unity of design and objective to sell the dangerous drug. People of the Philippines vs. Joseph Serrano and Anthony Serrano, G.R. No. 179038, May 6, 2010.

Illegal possession of firearms; constructive possession. Evangelista was arrested in Dubai for Illegal Possession of Firearms. In order to secure his release, the firearms as well as the person of Evangelista was surrendered to Capt. Nadurata, the PAL pilot of Flight No. PR 657 from Dubai to Manila on January 30, 1996. Upon arrival in the Philippines, he was arrested and charged with violation of PD 1866, Sec. 1, or illegal possession of firearms. Evangelista, in his petition for certiorari, contends that he is not guilty of illegal possession of firearms considering that from Brunei to Manila, he was never in physical possession of the guns. The Supreme Court ruled that Capt. Nadurata’s possession of the firearm during the flight from Dubait to Manila was for and in behalf of Evangelista. Consequently, Evangelista was in constructive possession of the subject firearms.  The kind of possession punishable under PD 1866 is one where the accused possessed a firearm either physically or constructively with animus possidendi or intention to possess the same.  Animus possidendi is a state of mind which the Court found to be present in the instant case. Teofilo Evangelista vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 163267, May 5, 2010

Probable cause; determination. When confronted with a motion to withdraw an Information on the ground of lack of probable cause based on a resolution of the DOJ Secretary, the bounden duty of the trial court is to make an independent assessment of the merits of such motion. Having acquired jurisdiction over the case, the trial court is not bound by such resolution, but is required to evaluate it before proceeding further with the trial and should embody such assessment in the order disposing the motion. Ligaya Santos and Robert Bunda vs. Domingo I. Orda Jr., G.R. No. 189402, May 6, 2010.

Rape; evidence. The fact that AAA did not immediately reveal that she was raped by appellant does not necessarily impair AAA’s credibility. It is settled that different people react differently to a given situation or type of situation and there is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange, startling or frightful experience. Death threats cannot be taken against the victim. The charge of rape is rendered doubtful only if the delay was unreasonable and unexplained.  In this case, the delay in reporting the sexual assault was reasonable and explained: AAA explained that she did not immediately inform anyone of her ordeal because she was ashamed and afraid because appellant had threatened to kill her. Thus, her reluctance that caused the delay should not be taken against her.  Neither can it be used to diminish her credibility nor undermine the charge of rape. The People of the Philippines vs. Lito Macapanas y Ecija, G.R. No. 187049, May 4, 2010.

Venue; internet libel. Gimenez, in behalf of the Yuchengco family, instituted before the Makati Prosecutors’ Office, a criminal complaint for libel against the accused for providing a public forum in the internet, as well as a yahoo e-groups by which the disgruntled plan holders of Pacific Plans Inc. could seek redress for their pecuniary loss under their (plan holders’) policies. The website contained defamatory remarks against the Yuchengco family. Finding probable cause, an information for libel was filed before the Makati Regional Trial Court (“RTC”).  The information failed to state the particular place within the RTC’s jurisdiction where the subject article was printed and first published, or that the offended parties resided in Makati at the time the alleged defamatory material was printed and first published, instead the information alleged where the offended party first accessed the internet-published material. Wonina M. Bonifacio, et al. vs. Regional Trial Court of Makati, et al, G.R. No. 184800, May 5, 2010.

Venue; internet libel. The Supreme Court in ruling that the RTC had not acquired jurisdiction over the case stated that venue is jurisdictional in criminal actions such that the place where the crime was committed determines not only the venue of the action but constitutes an essential element of jurisdiction. The venue of libel cases where the complainant is a private individual is limited to only either of two places, namely: 1) where the complainant actually resides at the time of the commission of the offense; or 2) where the alleged defamatory article was printed and first published.  The [Amended] Information in the present case opted to lay the venue by availing of the second.  Thus, it stated that the offending article “was first published and accessed by the private complainant in Makati City.” In other words, it considered the phrase to be equivalent to the requisite allegation of printing and first publication. Wonina M. Bonifacio, et al. vs. Regional Trial Court of Makati, et al, G.R. No. 184800, May 5, 2010.

Venue; internet libel. If the circumstances as to where the libel was printed and first published are used by the offended party as basis for the venue in the criminal action, the Information must allege with particularity where the defamatory article was printed and first published, as evidenced or supported by, for instance, the address of their editorial or business offices in the case of newspapers, magazines or serial publications. This precondition becomes necessary in order to forestall any inclination to harass. Wonina M. Bonifacio, et al. vs. Regional Trial Court of Makati, et al, G.R. No. 184800, May 5, 2010.

Venue; internet libel. The same measure cannot be reasonably expected when it pertains to defamatory material appearing on a website on the internet as there would be no way of determining the situs of its printing and first publication. To credit Gimenez’s premise of equating his first access to the defamatory article on petitioners’ website in Makati with “printing and first publication” would spawn the very ills that the amendment to Article 360 of the RPC sought to discourage and prevent. It hardly requires much imagination to see the chaos that would ensue in situations where the website’s author or writer, a blogger or anyone who posts messages therein could be sued for libel anywhere in the Philippines that the private complainant may have allegedly accessed the offending website. Wonina M. Bonifacio, et al. vs. Regional Trial Court of Makati, et al, G.R. No. 184800, May 5, 2010.

Venue; internet libel.  For the Supreme Court to hold that the Amended Information sufficiently vested jurisdiction in the courts of Makati simply because the defamatory article was accessed therein would open the floodgates to the libel suit being filed in all other locations where the pepcoalition website is likewise accessed or capable of being accessed. Wonina M. Bonifacio, et al. vs. Regional Trial Court of Makati, et al, G.R. No. 184800, May 5, 2010.

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