November 2010 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

1. CRIMINAL LAW

Conspiracy. When a homicide takes place by reason of or on the occasion of the robbery, all those who took part shall be guilty of the special complex crime of robbery with homicide, whether or not they actually participated in the killing, unless there is proof that there was an endeavor to prevent the killing. In this case, the records are bereft of any evidence to prove, or even remotely suggest, that appellant attempted to prevent the killing.  Therefore, the basic principle in conspiracy that the “act of one is the act of all” applies in this case.  People of the Philippines vs. Nonoy Ebet, G.R. No. 181635, November 15, 2010

Conspiracy. To be a conspirator, one need not participate in every detail of the execution; he need not even take part in every act or need not even know the exact part to be performed by the others in the execution of the conspiracy.  Each conspirator may be assigned separate and different tasks which may appear unrelated to one another but, in fact, constitute a whole collective effort to achieve their common criminal objective. Once conspiracy is shown, the act of one is the act of all the conspirators.  The precise extent or modality of participation of each of them becomes secondary, since all the conspirators are principals.  To exempt himself from criminal liability, a conspirator must have performed an overt act to dissociate or detach himself from the conspiracy to commit the felony and prevent the commission thereof. People of the Philippines vs. Nonoy Ebet, G.R. No. 181635, November 15, 2010

Qualified theft.  The Supreme Court upheld the appellant’s conviction for qualified theft. The position held by the appellant in St. John Memorial Park and Garden, as well as the special assignment given to her (appellant) by the land owners, were vested with trust and confidence. The appellant had custody of two bankbooks in which deposits of what she received were to be reflected.  Appellant’s failure to account for the subject funds which she was under obligation to deposit constitutes asportation with intent of gain, committed with grave abuse of the confidence reposed on her.  People of the Philippines vs. Rosalie Colilap Bañaga, G.R. No. 183699. November 24, 2010

Rape; penalty and damages. Under the second part of Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, the death penalty shall be imposed when the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim. As shown by her Certificate of Live Birth, AAA was born on June 1, 1986; AAA also testified to this fact. Clearly, AAA was only eleven years old when the three rapes happened in September 1997. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals was correct in reducing the death penalty to reclusion perpetua because the circumstance of relationship was not alleged in the complaints. None of the complaints alleged that the appellant was the stepfather of AAA. People of the Philippines vs. Arnel Macafe y Nabong, G.R. No. 185616, November 24, 2010

Rape; penalty and damages. The awards of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and moral damages, respectively, for each count of rape, were also affirmed in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence as civil indemnity is awarded on the finding that rape was committed and moral damages are awarded to rape complainants without the need of a pleading or proof of their basis (it is assumed that a rape complainant actually suffered moral injuries, entitling her to this award.) The amount of the awarded exemplary damages was increased from P25,000.00 to P30,000.00 pursuant to established jurisprudence to set a public example and serve as a deterrent against elders who abuse and corrupt the youth. People of the Philippines vs. Arnel Macafe y Nabong, G.R. No. 185616, November 24, 2010

Rape; sweetheart defense. The sweetheart defense is a much abused defense that rashly derides the intelligence of the Supreme Court. Being an affirmative defense, the invocation of a love affair must be supported by convincing proof. In this case, apart from his self-serving assertions, Cabanilla’s sweetheart defense suffers from lack of convincing and credible corroboration and fails to destroy the truthfulness and credibility of AAA’s testimony. The theory is a worn out defense. It is akin to a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. Taken in this light, such defense by the accused is merely a desperate attempt to extricate himself from the bind brought about by his insatiable desires. People of the Philippines vs. Arsenio Cabanilla, G.R. No. 185839, November 17, 2010.

Treachery. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that treachery attended the crime. There is treachery when the means, methods, and forms of execution gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate, and such means, methods, and forms of execution were deliberately and consciously adopted by the accused without danger to his person. What is decisive in an appreciation of treachery is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victim to defend himself. People of the Philippines vs. Francisco Relos, Sr., G.R. No. 189326, November 24, 2010

Treachery. The essence of treachery is the swift and unexpected attack on an unsuspecting and unarmed victim who does not give the slightest provocation. The victim was not prepared to meet the initial attack made by appellant as he was distracted by Oliver who greeted him, “Merry Christmas, insan!” He was then caught off guard by the subsequent blows delivered by the other assailants, which were successive and gave him no opportunity to defend himself. Moreover, he did not have the means to defend himself as he was unarmed. Hence, treachery was clearly present. People of the Philippines vs. Francisco Relos, Sr., G.R. No. 189326, November 24,  2010.

Treachery; elements. Accused argues that treachery should not have been appreciated by the trial court considering that the victim was armed with a gun at the time of the incident, and even after accused-appellant obtained possession of the gun, the victim had a fan-knife. The Supreme Court rejected this contention and affirmed the accused’s conviction for murder. According to the Supreme Court, treachery was properly appreciated as the two elements were present: (1) at the time of the attack, the victim was not in a position to defend himself; and (2) the accused consciously and deliberately adopted the particular means, methods, or forms of attack employed by him. People of the Philippines vs. Dennis D. Manulit, G.R. No. 192581, November 17, 2010.

Treachery; elements. The “essence of treachery is the sudden and unexpected attack by an aggressor on the unsuspecting victim, depriving the latter of any chance to defend himself and thereby ensuring its commission without risk of himself.” In the case at bar, the victim was only walking along the street when accused suddenly shot him at the back several times. He had no opportunity to defend himself because he had no inkling that an attack was forthcoming. It likewise appears that the means was deliberately planned. What is decisive is that the attack was executed in a manner that the victim was rendered defenseless and unable to retaliate. Evidently, treachery attended the killing. People of the Philippines vs. Dennis D. Manulit, G.R. No. 192581, November 17, 2010.

2. SPECIAL LAWS

Corrupt practices; elements. Section 3 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 3019 provides, among others, that causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence by any public officer shall constitute corrupt practices. This rule shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions. The following are the elements: (a) the accused must be a public officer discharging administrative, judicial or official functions; (b) he must have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence; and (c) that his action caused any undue injury to any party, including the government, or gave any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions. Among these elements, the first element is a given while the third element is in part dependent on the second element; the injury the petitioner suffered would be undue if the second element is present. The second and critical element provides the different modes for violating Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, that is, through “manifest partiality,” “evident bad faith,” or “gross inexcusable negligence.” Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. As a mode of authenticating evidence, the chain of custody rule requires that the admission or presentation of an exhibit, such as the seized prohibited drugs, be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be and this would ideally include the testimonies of all persons who handled the specimen from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered into evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. People of the Philippines vs. Sulpicio Sonny Boy Tan y Phua, G.R. No. 191069, November 15, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. Here, the Supreme Court ruled that there was substantial compliance with the law and the integrity of the drugs seized was preserved. The testimony of SPO2 Geronimo categorically established the manner by which the prohibited drugs were handled from the moment they were seized from accused-appellant up to the time they were turned over to the duty officer and investigator at SAID-SOTF, who in turn turned them over to the PNP Crime Laboratory for examination. People of the Philippines vs. Sulpicio Sonny Boy Tan y Phua, G.R. No. 191069, November 15, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; illegal possession.  The prosecution in this case succeeded in establishing with moral certainty all the elements of the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. People of the Philippines vs. Sulpicio Sonny Boy Tan y Phua, G.R. No. 191069, November 15, 2010

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale. In the crime of sale of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must be able to successfully prove the following elements: (1) identities of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment for it. Likewise, it is fundamental to prove that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti. The term corpus delicti means the actual commission by someone of the particular crime charged. Moreover, the existence of dangerous drugs is a condition sine qua non for conviction for the illegal sale of dangerous drugs, it being the very corpus delicti of the crime. In fact, the existence of the dangerous drug is essential to a judgment of conviction. It is, therefore, essential that the identity of the prohibited drug be established beyond doubt. Even more than this, what must also be established is the fact that the substance bought during the buy-bust operation is the same substance offered in court as exhibit. People of the Philippines vs. Mario Villanueva Baga, G.R. No. 189844, November 15, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. The essential elements to be established in the prosecution of illegal sale of marijuana are as follows: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti as evidence. Here, the Supreme Court upheld the view that these elements were duly proved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution. People of the Philippines vs. Evangeline V. Lascano, G.R. No. 172605, November 22, 2010

Dangerous Drugs; penalty. In imposing the proper penalty, the Supreme Court applied Sections 4 and 8, Article II, in relation to Section 20, of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 6425, as amended by R.A. No. 7659. Here, the Supreme Court affirmed the penalty of reclusion perpetua imposed by the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”) on the appellant for illegal possession of marijuana with a total weight of 948.64 grams proper, since it exceeded 750 grams, as well as the fine of P500,000.00, which is the minimum of the range of fines imposed under Section 4. The Supreme Court also affirmed the penalty of six (6) months of arresto mayor, as minimum, to two (2) years,  four (4) months, and one (1)  day of prision correccional, as maximum imposed by the RTC on appellant for the illegal sale of 11.54 grams of marijuana.  People of the Philippines vs. Evangeline V. Lascano, G.R. No. 172605, November 22, 2010

Dangerous Drugs; penalty. In People v. Simon,and People v. De Lara, the Supreme Court clarified the proper penalties to be imposed for drug-related crimes under R.A. No. 6425, as amended by R.A. No. 7659. With regard to marijuana, the appropriate penalty is reclusion perpetua if the quantity of the drug weighs 750 grams or more. If the marijuana involved is below 250 grams, the penalty to be imposed is prision correccional; from 250 grams to 499 grams, prision mayor; and, from 500 grams to 749 grams, reclusion temporal. Since the quantity recovered from appellant was only 11.54 grams, the maximum penalty to be imposed is prision correccional in its medium period in the absence of any mitigating or aggravating circumstance. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum sentence should be within the range of aresto mayor, the penalty next lower to prision correccional, the maximum range that was fixed. People of the Philippines vs. Evangeline V. Lascano, G.R. No. 172605, November 22, 2010

Ombudsman; duties. The mandate of the Ombudsman is expressed in Section 12, Article XI of the Constitution, which states that the Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations, and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof. In addition, Section 13, Article XI of the Constitution enumerates the powers, functions, and duties of the Ombudsman, among which is to investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient. The Ombudsman Act of 1989 (R.A. No. 6770) likewise provides that the Office of the Ombudsman shall have the power and duty to investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.  Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010.

Ombudsman; duties. The Ombudsman has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan and, in the exercise of its primary jurisdiction, it may take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency of government, the investigation of such cases. These constitutional and statutory provisions grant the Ombudsman full and unqualified authority, as well as the duty to investigate and prosecute violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.  They embody the duty to rule on probable-cause issues that the Ombudsman cannot shirk away from. Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010.

3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Alibi. For alibi to prosper, it must strictly meet the requirements of time and place. It is not enough to prove that the accused was somewhere else when the crime was committed, but it must also be demonstrated that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the crime scene at the time the crime was committed. The Supreme Court has always upheld that 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 and it is only axiomatic that positive testimony prevails over negative testimony. People of the Philippines vs. Nonoy Ebet, G.R. No. 181635, November 15, 2010

Arrest without warrant; validity. Section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure clearly provides for the instances when a person may be arrested without a warrant, to wit: (a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; (b) When an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and (c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another. Undoubtedly, the case at bar falls under Section 5 (a) of Rule 113, that is, when the person to be arrested is actually committing an offense, the peace officer may arrest him even without a warrant.  People of the Philippines vs. Sulpicio Sonny Boy Tan y Phua, G.R. No. 191069, November 15, 2010.

Arrest without warrant; validity. A warrantless arrest must still be preceded by the existence of probable cause. Probable cause is defined as “a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to induce a cautious man to believe that the person accused is guilty of the offense charged.” Probable cause refers to the existence of such facts and circumstances that can lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed, and that the items, articles or objects sought in connection with said offense or subject to seizure and destruction by law are in the place to be searched. The grounds of suspicion are reasonable when, in the absence of actual belief of the arresting officers, the suspicion that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing the offense is based on actual facts, i.e., supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to create the probable cause of guilt of the person to be arrested. A reasonable suspicion therefore must be founded on probable cause, coupled with good faith on the part of the peace officers making the arrest. People of the Philippines vs. Sulpicio Sonny Boy Tan y Phua, G.R. No. 191069, November 15, 2010.

Conviction; plea of guilt. Accused assails the March 4, 2003 Order of the trial court as being precipitate considering that the trial judge failed to ascertain the voluntariness of his plea of guilt when he did not fully understand its consequences and significance, for the records show neither proof nor a transcript of the proceedings on March 4, 2003 that appellant indeed voluntarily made a guilty plea and that he fully understood its import. The Supreme Court affirmed accused’s conviction ruling that his conviction was based on the evidence of the prosecution and not on his plea of guilt. People of the Philippines vs. Prince Francisco y Zafe, G.R. No. 192818, November 17, 2010.

Conviction; plea of guilt. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the searching inquiry of the trial court (to ascertain the voluntariness of the plea of guilt  of the accused) is “not only to satisfy the trial judge himself but also to aid the Supreme Court in determining whether the accused really and truly understood and comprehended the meaning, full significance and consequences of his plea.” People of the Philippines vs. Prince Francisco y Zafe, G.R. No. 192818, November 17, 2010.

Conviction; plea of guilt. In this case, while the records do not include any transcript of stenographic notes pertaining to the searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of the plea of guilty made by appellant during the pretrial on March 4, 2003, the order issued by the trial court on that date unequivocally demonstrates that it had conducted a searching inquiry to ascertain the voluntariness and full comprehension of appellant. The unavailability of the transcript of stenographic notes does not necessarily connote that no searching inquiry was made by the trial court since the trial court is entitled to the presumption of regularity of performance of duty under Section 2(m), Rule 131 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, absent any factual or legal basis to disregard this presumption. People of the Philippines vs. Prince Francisco y Zafe, G.R. No. 192818, November 17, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; frame-up. Frame-up is a defense that has been invariably viewed with disfavor for it can easily be concocted but difficult to prove and is a common and standard line of defense in most prosecutions arising from violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act. People of the Philippines vs. Evangeline V. Lascano, G.R. No. 172605, November 22, 2010.

Dangerous Drugs; frame-up. The Supreme Court found no convincing evidence presented by appellant to prove her defense of frame up. Appellant’s claim that her arrest was to make Litong Putol come out is unbelievable considering that she admitted not knowing where Putol resides; that Putol was not a frequent visitor in their house or had met with him anywhere, and that she had no communications with him. Thus, it would be futile for the police to arrest the appellant just to make Putol come out when appellant herself admitted that she had no communication with Putol long before her arrest. Hence, in the absence of proof of motive of the police officers to falsely impute such serious crimes against appellant, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty and the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses shall prevail over appellant’s claim of having been framed. People of the Philippines vs. Evangeline V. Lascano, G.R. No. 172605, November 22, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witness. The assessment of the credibility of witnesses is a domain best left to the trial court judge because of his unique opportunity to observe their deportment and demeanor on the witness stand — a vantage point denied appellate courts — and when his findings have been affirmed by the Court of Appeals, these are generally binding and conclusive upon this Court. People of the Philippines vs. Nonoy Ebet, G.R. No. 181635, November 15, 2010

Evidence; credibility of witnesses. The Supreme Court generally defers to the trial court’s evaluation of the credibility of witness and their testimonies, for it is in a better position to decide questions of credibility, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their attitude and deportment during trial. In the absence of any clear showing that the trial court overlooked or misconstrued cogent facts and circumstances which would alter a conviction, the Supreme Court is doctrinally bound by the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses. The application of this rule becomes even more stringent when such findings are sustained by the appellate court, as in the present case. Romeo Ilisan y Piabol vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witnesses. In this case, there was no misappreciation of facts committed by the courts a quo, which were uniform in their reliance on the prosecution’s version. Both were correct in concluding that the identity of petitioner and his actual shooting of Gaton were established beyond moral certainty through the testimonies of three (3) witnesses, namely: (i) Gabriel Gaton, who was summoned to the place of the incident while his brother Gaton was being mauled; (ii) Marlon Dellamas, who went to the scene of the incident to look for his brother; and (iii) Edgardo Dag-um, who was in the vicinity when the shooting transpired. The fact that Gabriel Gaton is the victim’s brother does not impair his credibility as a witness. Romeo Ilisan y Piabol vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Evidence; credibility of witnesses. Relationship by itself does not give rise to a presumption of bias or ulterior motive, nor does it ipso facto diminish the credibility or tarnish the testimony of a witness. On the contrary, a witness’ relationship to a victim of a crime would even make his or her testimony more credible as it would be unnatural for a relative who is interested in vindicating the crime to accuse somebody other than the culprit. The natural interest of witnesses, who are relatives of the victim, in securing the conviction of the guilty would actually deter them from implicating persons other than the true culprits. Romeo Ilisan y Piabol vs. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Information; probable cause. Probable cause has been defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would lead a person of ordinary caution and prudence to entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the person charged is guilty of the crime subject of the investigation. Being based merely on opinion and reasonable belief, it does not import absolute certainty. Probable cause need not be based on clear and convincing evidence of guilt, as the investigating officer acts upon reasonable belief. Probable cause implies probability of guilt and requires more than bare suspicion, but less than evidence which would justify a conviction. Ma. Imelda Pineda-Ng vs. People of the Phiippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Information; probable cause. The general rule is that the Supreme Court does not review factual findings of the trial court, which include the determination of probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest. It is only in exceptional cases where the conclusions of the prosecutor and the trial court judge on the existence of probable cause are set aside, such as cases where the Supreme Court finds it necessary in order to prevent the misuse of the strong arm of the law or to protect the orderly administration of justice. Ma. Imelda Pineda-Ng vs. People of the Phiippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Information; probable cause. The facts obtaining in this case do not warrant the application of the exception, i.e., where the Supreme Court reviews the factual findings of the trial court. In this case, respect is accorded to the factual findings of the City Prosecutor and the Court of Appeals that petitioner indeed encashed the allegedly anomalous checks. Suffice it to state that a finding of probable cause does not require an inquiry into whether there is sufficient evidence to procure a conviction – it is enough that there is a reasonable belief that the act or omission complained of constitutes the offense charged. Ma. Imelda Pineda-Ng vs. People of the Phiippines, G.R. No. 179487, November 15, 2010.

Jurisdiction; Office of the President. The Office of the President (“OP”) did not err in taking cognizance of the appeal of respondent, and the Court of Appeals (“CA”) likewise had jurisdiction to pass upon the issue of probable cause in a petition challenging the OP’s ruling. Memorandum Circular No. 58, provides, among others: “No appeal from or petition for review of decisions/orders/resolutions of the Secretary of Justice on preliminary investigations of criminal cases shall be entertained by the Office of the President, except those involving offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua to death wherein new and material issues are raised which were not previously presented before the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and were not ruled upon in the subject decision/order/resolution, in which case the President may order the Secretary of Justice to reopen/review the case, provided, that, the prescription of the offense is not due to lapse within six (6) months from notice of the questioned resolution/order/decision, and provided further, that, the appeal or petition for review is filed within thirty (30) days from such notice. Henceforth, if an appeal or petition for review does not clearly fall within the jurisdiction of the Office of the President, as set forth in the immediately preceding paragraph, it shall be dismissed outright and no order shall be issued requiring the payment of the appeal fee, the submission of appeal brief/memorandum or the elevation of the records to the Office of the President from the Department of Justice. If it is not readily apparent from the appeal or petition for review that the case is within the jurisdiction of the Office of the President, the appellant/petitioner shall be ordered to prove the necessary jurisdictional facts, under penalty of outright dismissal of the appeal or petition, and no order to pay the appeal fee or to submit appeal brief/memorandum or to elevate the records of the case to the Office of the President shall be issued unless and until the jurisdictional requirements shall have been satisfactorily established by the appellant/petitioner.” Heirs of the Late Nestor Tria vs. Atty. Epifania Obias, G.R. No. 175887, November 24, 2010

Jurisdiction; Office of the President. In this case, the offense for which respondent was charged is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death, which is clearly within the jurisdiction of the Office of the President (“OP”) in accordance with Memorandum Circular No. 58.  Respondent’s appeal was initially dismissed when Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Waldo Q. Flores issued the Resolution dated June 27, 2003 affirming in toto the appealed resolutions of the Secretary of Justice and adopting the latter’s findings and conclusions.  However, subsequent to her filing of a motion for reconsideration of the said June 27, 2003 Resolution, respondent filed a Supplemental Pleading and Submission of Newly Discovered Evidence.  The arguments of respondent in support of her motion for reconsideration were duly considered by the OP in reexamining the appealed resolutions.  As the word “may” in the second paragraph of Memorandum Circular No. 58 signifies, it is not mandatory for the President to order the DOJ to reopen or review respondent’s case even if it raised “new and material issues” allegedly not yet passed upon by the DOJ.  Hence, the OP acted well within its authority in reexamining the merits of respondent’s appeal in resolving the motion for reconsideration. Heirs of the Late Nestor Tria vs. Atty. Epifania Obias, G.R. No. 175887, November 24, 2010

Probable cause. A finding of probable cause simply requires the existence of facts that are “sufficient to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the respondent is probably guilty thereof, and should be held for trial.” Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010

Reckless imprudence; double jeopardy. The petition sought the review of the orders of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City affirming sub silencio a lower court’s ruling finding inapplicable the double jeopardy clause to bar a second prosecution for Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Homicide and Damage to Property despite the accused’s previous conviction for Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Slight Physical Injuries arising from the same incident grounding the second prosecution. The Supreme Court acquitted the accused on the ground of double jeopardy. Jason Ivler y Aguilar vs. Hon. Maria Rowena Modesto-San Pedro, etc. and Evangeline Ponce, G.R. No. 172716, November 17, 2010.

Reckless imprudence; double jeopardy. The Supreme Court held that reason and precedent both coincide in that once convicted or acquitted of a specific act of reckless imprudence, the accused may not be prosecuted again for that same act. The essence of the quasi offense of criminal negligence under article 365 of the Revised Penal Code lies in the execution of an imprudent or negligent act that, if intentionally done, would be punishable as a felony. The law penalizes thus the negligent or careless act, not the result thereof. The gravity of the consequence is only taken into account to determine the penalty, but it does not qualify the substance of the offense. And, as the careless act is single, whether the injurious result should affect one person or several persons, the offense (criminal negligence) remains one and the same, and cannot be split into different crimes and prosecutions.  Jason Ivler y Aguilar vs. Hon. Maria Rowena Modesto-San Pedro, etc. and Evangeline Ponce, G.R. No. 172716, November 17, 2010.

Rule 45; Remedies from Resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman in Criminal Cases. The Supreme Court ruled that that the remedy of aggrieved parties from resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman finding probable cause in criminal cases or non-administrative cases, when tainted with grave abuse of discretion, is to file an original action for certiorari with the Supreme Court, not with the Court of Appeals. In cases when the aggrieved party is questioning the Office of the Ombudsman’s finding of lack of probable cause, as in this case, there is likewise the remedy of certiorari under Rule 65 to be filed with the Supreme Court and not with the Court of Appeals. Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010

Rule 45; Remedies from Resolutions of the Office of the Ombudsman in Criminal Cases. Considering that the petitioner’s complaint before the Ombudsman, charging the respondents with violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, as amended, is undoubtedly criminal in nature, the petitioner’s recourse to the Supreme Court should have therefore been by way of a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, instead of a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45. However, the Supreme Court still took cognizance of the petition considering that upon reading the petition, the same readily reveals that the petition – while entitled and presented as a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 – in fact, outlines and charges acts that collectively constitute grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the Ombudsman. In other words, while the petitioner followed the Rule 45 procedures, the substance of the petition handily satisfies the requirements of a Rule 65 petition for certiorari. The Supreme Court in taking cognizance of the petition cited Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution which expressly directs the Judiciary as a matter of power and duty not only “to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable” but “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.”  The Supreme Court ruled that it has the duty to take cognizance of the allegations of grave abuse of discretion in the performance of this duty. Niceas M. Belongilot vs. Rolando S. Cua, et al, G.R. No. 160933, November 24, 2010

Trial; delay in criminal proceedings. Petitioner Francisco claims that his right to a speedy trial was violated when the public prosecutors assigned to the case failed to attend the nine hearings scheduled by the trial court. However, far from being vexatious, capricious and oppressive, the delays entailed by the postponements of the aforesaid hearings were to a great extent attributable to petitioner’s own pursuit of extraordinary remedies against the interlocutory orders issued by the trial court and the assignment of at least three public prosecutors to the case. Although the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure concededly mandates commencement of the trial within 30 days from receipt of the pre-trial order and the continuous conduct thereof for a period not exceeding 180 days, Section 3a(1), Rule 119 provides that delays resulting from extraordinary remedies against interlocutory orders shall be excluded in computing the time within which trial must commence. In determining the right of an accused to speedy trial, moreover, courts are “required to do more than a mathematical computation of the number of postponements of the scheduled hearings of the case” and to give particular regard to the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. Nelson Imperial, et al. vs. Maricel M. Joson, et al/Santos O. Francisco vs. Spouses Gerard and Maricel Joson Nelson/Imperial, et al vs. Hilarion C. Felix, et al, G.R. No. 160067/G.R. Mo. 170410/G.R. No. 171622, November 17, 2010.

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

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