February 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are selected February 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

CRIMINAL LAW

Revised Penal Code

Estafa; elements. The elements of the crime of estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) there must be a false pretense, fraudulent acts or fraudulent means; (2) such false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means must be made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (3) the offended party must have relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act or fraudulent means and was thus induced to part with his money or property; and (4) as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage. Lyzah Sy Franco v. People of the Philippines/ Steve Besario v. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 171328 and 171335, February 16, 2011.

Estafa; elements. All the elements of the crime of estafa under Article 315, par. 2(a) are present in this case. Petitioners presented themselves to Lourdes as persons possessing the authority and capacity to engage in the financing of used vehicles on behalf of Final Access Marketing.  This was a clear misrepresentation considering their previous knowledge not only of Erlinda’s complaint but also of several others as regards the failure of Final Access Marketing to deliver the motor vehicles bought.  Lourdes relied on their misrepresentations and parted with her money.  Almost a week passed by, but petitioners and Rule did not deliver the said motor vehicle.  They also did not fulfill their subsequent promise to provide a replacement or to refund her payment.  When Lourdes visited the office of Final Access Marketing to demand the return of her money, it was already closed.  She could not locate any of them except for Franco who denied any wrongdoing.  Consequently, she suffered damage. Lyzah Sy Franco v. People of the Philippines/ Steve Besario v. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 171328 and 171335, February 16, 2011.

Falsification of public documents; elements. The elements of falsification of public documents under Article 171, par. 4 of the Revised Penal Code (“RPC”) are as follows: (a) the offender makes in a public document untruthful statements in a narration of facts; (b) he has a legal obligation to disclose the truth of the facts narrated by him; and (c)  the facts narrated by him are absolutely false. In addition to the afore-cited elements, it must also be proven that the public officer or employee had taken advantage of his official position in making the falsification. In falsification of public document, the offender is considered to have taken advantage of his official position when (1) he has the duty to make or prepare or otherwise to intervene in the preparation of a document; or (2) he has the official custody of the document which he falsifies. Likewise, in falsification of public or official documents, it is not necessary that there be present the idea of gain or the intent to injure a third person because in the falsification of a public document, what is punished is the violation of the public faith and the destruction of the truth as therein solemnly proclaimed. Rosalio S. Galeos v. People of the Philippines/ Paulino S. Ong v. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 174730-37/G.R. Nos. 174845-52, February 9, 2011.

Libel; elements. A libel is defined as “a public and malicious imputation of a crime or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit or contempt of a natural or juridicial person or to blacken the memory of one who is dead.” For an imputation to be libelous, the following requisites must concur: a) it must be defamatory; b) it must be malicious; c) it must be given publicity and d) the victim must be identifiable. Absence of one of these elements precludes the commission of the crime of libel.  Dionisio Lopez y Aberasturi v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 172203, February 14, 2011.

Libel; elements. Although all the elements must concur, the defamatory nature of the subject printed phrase must be proved first because this is so vital in a prosecution for libel.  Were the words imputed not defamatory in character, a libel charge will not prosper.  Malice is necessarily rendered immaterial. An allegation is considered defamatory if it ascribes to a person the commission of a crime, the possession of a vice or defect, real or imaginary or any act, omission, condition, status or circumstance which tends to dishonor or discredit or put him in contempt or which tends to blacken the memory of one who is dead.  To determine whether a statement is defamatory, the words used are to be construed in their entirety and should be taken in their plain, natural and ordinary meaning as they would naturally be understood by persons reading them, unless it appears that they were used and understood in another sense. Dionisio Lopez y Aberasturi v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 172203, February 14, 2011.

Libel; elements. A charge is sufficient if the words are calculated to induce the hearers to suppose and understand that the person or persons against whom they were uttered were guilty of certain offenses or are sufficient to impeach the honesty, virtue or reputation or to hold the person or persons up to public ridicule. Dionisio Lopez y Aberasturi v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 172203, February 14, 2011.

Murder; alibi. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals (“CA”) and the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”) in rejecting the appellant’s defense of alibi. To begin with, the absence of the appellant from the scene of the murder was not firmly established considering that he admitted that he could navigate the distance between Barangay Olango (where he was supposed to be) and Barangay Bani (where the crime was committed) in an hour by paddle boat and in less than that time by motorized banca. Also, eyewitness Severino positively identified him as the one who hacked his father. The failure of the appellant to prove the physical impossibility of his presence at the crime scene negated his alibi. People of the Philippines v. Ruel Tuy, G.R. No. 179476, February 9, 2011.

Murder; award of damages. In murder, the grant of civil indemnity, which has been fixed by jurisprudence at P50,000.00, requires no proof other than the fact of death as a result of the crime, and proof of an accused’s responsibility therefor. Similarly, moral damages are awarded in view of the violent death of the victim, and these do not require any allegation or proof of the emotional sufferings of the heirs. As to actual damages, the official receipts that Angelita presented showed expenses that amounted to P17,258.00.  However, when actual damages proven by receipts amount to less than P25,000.00, the award of temperate damages amounting to P25,000.00 is justified, in lieu of actual damages for a lesser amount.  This is based on the sound reasoning that it would be anomalous and unfair to the heirs of the victim who tried but succeeded only in proving actual damages of less than P25,000.00.  They would be in a worse situation than another who might have presented no receipts at all, but is entitled to P25,000.00 as temperate damages. Thus, considering that expenses in the amount of P17,258.00 were proven by Edwin’s heirs, an award of P25,000.00 as temperate damages, in lieu of this lesser amount of actual damages, is proper.  Likewise, an award of P30,000.00 as exemplary damages in favor of the heirs of Edwin is likewise warranted. An aggravating circumstance, whether ordinary or qualifying, should entitle the offended party to an award of exemplary damages within the unbridled meaning of Article 2230 of the Civil Code. People of the Philippines v. Alvin Del Rosario, G.R. No. 189580, February 9, 2011.

Murder; credibility of witness. The Supreme Court did not disturb the RTC’s findings, as affirmed by the CA, when it found that the account of the victim’s wife is worthy of belief as it was a straightforward account consistent with the presented physical evidence. The witness had no reason to falsify and she was only interested in having the real killer punished; no motive affecting her credibility was ever imputed against her. On the other hand, the appellant failed to show by convincing evidence that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime during its commission; he was only a short 300 meters away. People of the Philippines v. Charlie Abaño y Cañares, G.R. No. 188323. February 21, 2011.

Murder; credibility of witness. The testimony of a sole eyewitness is sufficient to support a conviction so long as it is clear, straightforward and worthy of credence by the trial court. Indeed, when it comes to credibility of witnesses, the highest respect, even finality, is accorded to the evaluation made by the lower court of the testimonies of the witnesses presented before it. This holds true notwithstanding that it was another judge who presided at the trial and Judge Jaime N. Salazar Jr., who penned the decision in this case, heard only some witnesses for the defense.  Dionisio Lopez y Aberasturi v. People of the Philippines, et al., G.R. No. 172203. February 14, 2011

Murder; credibility of witness. It is axiomatic that the fact alone that the judge who heard the evidence was not the one who rendered the judgment, but merely relied on the record of the case, does not render his judgment erroneous or irregular. This is so even if the judge did not have the fullest opportunity to weigh the testimonies, not having heard all the witnesses speak or observed their deportment and manner of testifying. Verily, a judge who was not present during the trial can rely on the transcript of stenographic notes taken during the trial as basis of his decision.  Such reliance does not violate substantive and procedural due process. The validity of a decision is not necessarily impaired by the fact that its ponente only took over from a colleague who had earlier presided at the trial.  Lenido Lumanog, et al v. People of the Philippines/Cesar Fortuna v. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines v. SPO2 Cesar Fortuna y Abudo, et al, Rameses de Jesus y Calma, et al, G.R. Nos. 182555, 185123 and 187745, February 8, 2011.

Murder; defense of denial. A defense of denial is inherently weak unless supported by other evidence. Denial is negative and self-serving and cannot be given greater evidentiary weight over the testimony of a credible witness who positively testified that the appellant was at the locus criminis and was the last person seen with the victim. Significantly, the appellant failed to support his denial by any supporting evidence. People of the Philippines v. Herminiano Marzan y Olonan, G.R. No. 189294, February 21, 2011.

Murder; establishment of guilt. The records this case is replete with evidence establishing the appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The eyewitness account of Manuel Pomicpic, supported by the victim’s ante mortem statement, is more plausible than the appellant’s alibi. Both the RTC and the CA correctly appreciated the qualifying circumstance of treachery; although the attack on the victim was frontal, it was deliberate, sudden and unexpected, affording the hapless, unarmed and unsuspecting victim no opportunity to resist or to defend himself. People of the Philippines v. Romeo Anches, G.R. No. 189281, February 23, 2011.

Murder; loss of earning capacity. Loss of earning capacity is computed as follows: Net Earning Capacity = Life expectancy x Gross Annual Income – Living Expenses = [2/3 (80 – age at death)] x GAI – [50% of GAI]. The rule is that documentary evidence should be presented to substantiate a claim for loss of earning capacity. In this case, Liberty presented a certification from Tanod Publishing which showed that Melendres was a photo correspondent for Tanod Newspaper and that “his monthly salary ranges from P1,780 to P3,570 on per story basis.” Liberty presented another certification from Tanod Publishing which showed that Melendres received the total amount of P24,990 representing payment of honoraria and transportation allowance from 1 January to 31 July 2006.The defense did not object when the prosecution presented these documents before the trial court. The rule is that evidence not objected to is deemed admitted and may be validly considered by the court in arriving at its judgment. It was also established that at the time of his death, Melendres was 41 years old. Thus, Melendres’ net earning capacity can be derived from two sources: (1) his monthly salary and (2) his honorarium and transportation allowance totaling to P974,220. People of the Philippines v. Roberto Lopez y Cabal, G.R. No. 188902, February 16, 2011.

Murder; paraffin test. In this case, the appellants argued that it was erroneous for the trial court to disregard their negative paraffin test results coupled with their defenses of denial and alibi as a basis for their acquittal. The Supreme Court ruled that a negative paraffin test result is not conclusive. The appellants were subjected to paraffin tests on July 20, 2006, at 11:05 a.m. or the very next day and a little over 14 hours after the shooting incident.  Since gunpowder nitrates stay for 72 hours in the hands of a person who fired a handgun, a timely paraffin test, if positive, will definitely prove that a person had fired a handgun within that time frame.  A negative result, however, does not merit conclusive proof that a person had not fired a handgun.  Thus, the negative paraffin test results of accused-appellants cannot exculpate them, particularly Tomas, Sr., from the crime. People of the Philippines v. Barangay Captain Tony Tomas Sr., et al, G.R. No. 192251, February 16, 2011.

Murder; paraffin test. Time and again the Supreme Court had reiterated that “even negative findings of the paraffin test do not conclusively show that a person did not fire a gun,” and that “a paraffin test has been held to be highly unreliable.” This is so since there are many ways, either deliberately or accidentally, that the residue of gunpowder nitrates in the hands of a person who fired a handgun can be removed. People of the Philippines v. Barangay Captain Tony Tomas Sr., et al, G.R. No. 192251, February 16, 2011.

Murder; positive identification. The Supreme Court did not disturb the RTC’s findings, as affirmed by the CA, when it found more plausible the account of the eyewitness than the appellant’s alibi. Positive identification, where categorical, consistent and not attended by any showing of ill motive on the part of the eyewitnesses, prevails over alibi and denial, particularly where the appellant had not shown the physical impossibility of his access to the victim at the time and place of the crime. People of the Philippines v. Arnold Pelis, G.R. No. 189328, February 21, 2011.

Murder; self-defense. An accused who asserts self-defense admits his infliction of the fatal blows and bears the burden of satisfactorily establishing all the elements of self-defense. Indeed, upon invoking the justifying circumstance of self-defense, Jose assumed the burden of proving the justification of his act with clear and convincing evidence.  This is because his having admitted the killing required him to rely on the strength of his own evidence, not on the weakness of the Prosecution’s evidence, which, even if it were weak, could not be disbelieved in view of his admission. People of the Philippines v. Jose N. Mediado, G.R. No. 169871, February 2, 2011.

Murder; self-defense. It is notable that unlawful aggression, which is the condition sine qua non for the justifying circumstances of self-defense and defense of a relative, is absent in this case. As the CA pointed out, Jose did not support his claim that Jimmy had committed aggression by punching Rodolfo and by throwing stones at him and his father. In fact, he and his father were not able to identify any weapon used by Jimmy aside from the stone that he supposedly picked up from the ground. Plainly, he did not establish with clear and convincing proof that Jimmy had assaulted him or his father as to pose to either of them an imminent threat of great harm before he mounted his own attack on Jimmy. Moreover, the nature, number, and gravity of Jimmy’s wounds spoke not of defense on the part of Jose but of a criminal intent to kill Jimmy. They indicated beyond doubt the treacherous manner of the assault, that is, that Jose thereby ensured that the killing would be without risk and would deny to Jimmy any opportunity to defend himself. People of the Philippines v. Jose N. Mediado, G.R. No. 169871, February 2, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. The State competently and sufficiently established all the elements of rape beyond reasonable doubt. AAA rendered a complete and credible narration of her ordeal at the hands of the accused, whom she positively identified. In a prosecution for rape, the accused may be convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of the victim that is credible, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things, as in this case. Here, the victim’s testimony was even corroborated on material points by the testimonies of Mrs. Aris and Dr. Pastor as well as by the documentary evidences adduced.  People of the Philippines v. Avelino Felan, G.R. No. 176631, February 2, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. The attempt to discredit AAA on the ground of her being a user of illegal drugs and of her having engaged in prostitution deserved no consideration. First of all, AAA’s use of illegal drugs and engaging in prostitution, even if true, did not destroy her credibility as a witness or negate the rape. Indeed, a victim’s moral character was immaterial in the prosecution and conviction of an accused for rape, there being absolutely no nexus between it and the odious deed committed. Moreover, even a prostitute or a woman of loose morals could fall victim of rape, for she could still refuse a man’s lustful advances. People of the Philippines v. Avelino Felan, G.R. No. 176631, February 2, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. It is well settled that an accused may be convicted of rape based solely on the testimony of the victim as long as she is competent and credible. The unique nature of the crime of rape (which is usually committed in a private place where only the perpetrator and the rape victim are present) allows this evidentiary approach and the conclusion the lower courts reached may not be disturbed. The conduct of the trial and the findings of the trial court indicate no irregularity or grave abuse of discretion to warrant any suspicion about the validity of its findings and conclusions. People of the Philippines v. Evilio Milagrosa, G.R. No. 188108, February 21, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. On the issue of credibility of the victim or of the prosecution witnesses, the findings of the trial courts carry great weight and respect; generally, appellate courts do not overturn these findings unless the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance that can alter the assailed decision or affect the result of the case. In this case, the Supreme Court saw no reason to alter the findings of the RTC and the affirmation the CA accorded these findings. People of the Philippines v. Evilio Milagrosa, G.R. No. 188108, February 21, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. As the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses must be given great respect in the absence of any attendant grave abuse of discretion; the trial court had the advantage of actually examining both real and testimonial evidence, including the demeanor of the witnesses, and is in the best position to rule on their weight and credibility.  The rule finds greater application when the CA sustains the findings of the trial court. People of the Philippines v. Porferio Masagca Jr. y Padilla, G.R. No. 184922, February 23, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. The Supreme Court found that the prosecution successfully established the elements of rape.  AAA positively identified the appellant as her rapist. In rape cases, the accused may be convicted solely on the testimony of the victim, provided it is credible, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things. The record shows no indication that the Supreme Court should view AAA’s testimony in a suspicious light. The doctrine in People v. Efren Maglente y Cervantes finds particular application in this case: “When the offended party is a young and immature girl testifying against a parent, courts are inclined to lend credence to her version of what transpired. Youth and immaturity are given full weight and credit. Incestuous rape is not an ordinary crime that can be easily invented because of its heavy psychological toll. It is unlikely that a young woman of tender years would be willing to concoct a story which would subject her to a lifetime of gossip and scandal among neighbors and friends and even condemn her father to death.” People of the Philippines v. Porferio Masagca Jr. y Padilla, G.R. No. 184922, February 23, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. The appellant’s defenses of denial (for the October 6 and 14, 2001 incidents) and alibi (for the September 10, 2000 incident) cannot prevail over AAA’s testimony that she had been raped and her positive identification of the appellant as her rapist. Denial and alibi are the weakest of all defenses because they are easy to concoct and fabricate. To be believed, denial must be supported by a strong evidence of innocence; otherwise, it is regarded as purely self-serving. Alibi, on the other hand, is rejected when the prosecution sufficiently establishes the identity of the accused. The facts in this case do not present any exceptional circumstance warranting a deviation from these established rules. People of the Philippines v. Porferio Masagca Jr. y Padilla, G.R. No. 184922, February 23, 2011.

Rape; credibility of victim. Corollary to the three settled principles in the disposition and review of rape cases is the rule that the credibility of the victim is always the single most important issue in the prosecution of a rape case. Conviction or acquittal in a rape case more often than not depends almost entirely on the credibility of the complainant’s testimony because, by the very nature of this crime, it is usually the victim alone who can testify as to its occurrence. When the decision hinges on the credibility of witnesses and their respective testimonies, the trial court’s observations and conclusions deserve great respect and are often accorded finality. In the case at bench, the Supreme Court finds no cogent reason to depart from the trial court’s findings and its calibration of private complainant’s credibility. People of the Philippines v. Alex Condes y Guanzon, G.R. No. 187077, February 23, 2011.

Rape; defense of consensual intercourse. In his appeal, appellant’s main argument of consensual sexual intercourse rested on the failure of AAA to shout during the rape and on her failure to escape when he momentarily left her and while he was busy undressing himself. The Supreme Court rejected appellant’s defense of consensual sexual intercourse. Firstly, the defense of consensual sexual intercourse, like the sweetheart defense, demands corroboration. Yet, appellant offered no corroboration, thereby exposing his belatedly offered defense as a self-serving afterthought resorted to after his original defenses of denial and alibi had failed to ensure his acquittal by the CA. Thus, his new defense deserved scant consideration. Secondly, the physical evidence spoke more vividly than the testimony of the victim, whose multiple injuries confirmed the use of brutal force and violence in her rape. Also, the multiple stab wounds she sustained negated his claim of consensual sexual intercourse.  People of the Philippines v. Joey Toriaga, G.R. No. 177145, February 9, 2011.

Rape: moral and physical dominion in incestuous rape. Accused-appellant likewise attacks AAA’s credibility on the ground that the physical evidence presented yielded no proof of external signs of physical injuries, implying that this negates the contention that AAA was raped.  The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the shallow healed laceration at 9:00 o’clock position on complainant’s hymen, presented in the testimony of Dr. Viray, is in fact convincing physical evidence of the rape, especially considering the age of AAA and the fact that accused-appellant used a knife to threaten her.  More importantly, even if for the sake of argument that AAA did not put up a struggle against accused-appellant, who is her grandfather, it has been consistently held that actual force or intimidation need not be employed in incestuous rape of a minor. Thus, in the case at bar, we find that the moral and physical dominion of the ascendant is sufficient to take the place of actual force or intimidation.   People of the Philippines v. Jose Galvez, G.R. No. 181827, February 2, 2011.

Rape; reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction of the accused based on the nagging doubt with respect to the credibility of AAA’s testimony, the inconsistencies in the testimonies of the barangay tanod and barangay kagawad, and the purported confession put into writing and signed by all the accused; and the subsequent incidents relating to the case.  First, AAA testified that she does not personally know Jerwin and Felipe.  However, when the two allegedly invited her to go with them to a party, she readily accepted the invitation and in fact, went with them. Second, AAA recounted that the nipa hut where she was brought by the accused was very dark.  And yet, AAA readily identified Vicente and Larry inside the hut, as two of those who raped her.  Third, the medical certificate only contained one finding, that there was a “round-the-clock abrasion in the labia minora.” This is not at all conclusive nor corroborative to support the charge of rape.  At most, this indicates that AAA had sexual intercourse. Fourth, AAA’s belated reporting of the rape incident has relevance in this case, especially when it appears that she really had no intention at all to inform her mother, not until the latter actually asked her why she was walking in an unusual manner. Fifth, records show that AAA was seen visiting Jerwin in jail for at least six (6) times. The combination of all these circumstances are more than sufficient to create a reasonable doubt as to whether first, rape was actually committed and second, whether the accused were the perpetrators. People of the Philippines v. Jerwin Quintal y Beo, Vicente Bongat y Tariman, et al, G.R. No. 184170, February 2, 2011.

Rape; settled principles in the disposition and review of rape cases. In the disposition and review of rape cases, the Supreme Court is guided by three settled principles: First, an accusation for rape can be made with facility and it is difficult to prove but more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; second, in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape where only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and third, 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. People of the Philippines v. Alex Condes y Guanzon, G.R. No. 187077, February 23, 2011.

Rape with homicide; circumstantial evidence. In the special complex crime of rape with homicide, both the rape and the homicide must be established beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution for this crime is particularly difficult in proving its case since the victim can no longer testify against the perpetrator of the crime. Thus, resort to circumstantial evidence is usually unavoidable. People of the Philippines v. Fabian G. Romero, G.R. No. 181041, February 23, 2011.

Rape with homicide; circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence consists of proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which the main fact in issue may be inferred based on reason and common experience. Under section 4, Rule 133 of the Revised Rules of Court, circumstantial evidence is sufficient for conviction if the following requisites concur: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived have been established; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances unavoidably leads to a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. These circumstances must be consistent with one another and the only rational hypothesis that can be drawn therefrom must be the guilt of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Fabian G. Romero, G.R. No. 181041, February 23, 2011

Special Laws

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. Failure to immediately mark seized drugs will not automatically impair the integrity of chain of custody as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items have been preserved, as these would be utilized in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Ronaldo Morales y Flores alias “Ronnie” and Rodolfo Flores y Mangyan alias “Roding,” G.R. No. 188608, February 9, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody.  PO1 Alano accounted for the crucial links in the chain of custody of the marijuana.  It can be recalled that the green plastic bag containing marijuana placed inside two (2) envelopes was handed to him by Ronnie. After arresting appellants, PO1 Alano and the rest of the NARCOM operatives immediately brought appellants and the seized marijuana to Fort Bonifacio. Upon reaching the camp, PO1 Alano placed his initials on each envelope and turned them over to P/Supt. Pepito Dumantay (P/Supt. Dumantay).  Together with PO1 Buenafe and P/Supt Dumantay, PO1 Alano brought the marijuana to the PNP Crime Laboratory. The forensic chemist examined the very same specimen brought to her, and in her findings, she confirmed it to be positive for marijuana. The prosecution indeed sufficiently proved that that the chain of custody of the marijuana was never broken from the time PO1 Alano received the marijuana from Ronnie up to the moment it was presented in court as evidence. People of the Philippines v. Ronaldo Morales y Flores alias “Ronnie” and Rodolfo Flores y Mangyan alias “Roding”, G.R. No. 188608, February 9, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. The Supreme Court acquitted the accused for failure of the prosecution to provide the proper identity of the allegedly prohibited substance that the police seized from Roselle. Esguerra testified that he seized a heat-sealed sachet of white substance from Roselle and marked the sachet with “RPS” right in her presence.  He claimed that he then immediately submitted the specimen to the police crime laboratory for examination.  But the request for laboratory exam reveals that it was not Esguerra who delivered the specimen to the crime laboratory. It appears that Esguerra gave it to a certain SPO3 Puno who in turn forwarded it to a certain PO2 Santos.  No testimony, however, covers the movement of the specimen among these other persons.  Consequently, the prosecution was unable to establish the chain of custody of the seized item and its preservation from possible tampering.  People of the Philippines v. Roselle P. Santiago, G.R. No. 191061, February 9, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. It would have also been sufficient, despite intervening changes in its custody and possession, if the prosecution had presented the forensic chemist to attest to the following facts: (a) that the sachet of substance was handed to him for examination in the same condition that Esguerra last held it: still heat-sealed, marked, and not tampered with; (b) that he (the chemist) opened the sachet and examined its content; (c) that he afterwards resealed the sachet and what is left of its content and placed his own marking on the cover; and (d) that the specimen remained in the same condition when it is being presented in court. This omission is fatal since the chain of custody should be established from the time the seized drugs were confiscated and eventually marked until the same is presented during trial. People of the Philippines v. Roselle P. Santiago, G.R. No. 191061, February 9, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. To prove the crime of illegal sale of drugs under section 5, Article II of R.A. 9165, the prosecution is required to prove (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller as well as the object and consideration of the sale; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment given for the same. Further, the prosecution must present in court evidence of the corpus delicti. People of the Philippines v. Manuel Paloma y Espinosa, G.R. No. 178544, February 23, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. To convict an accused of illegal sale of marijuana, the prosecution must establish these essential elements: (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. All these elements were duly proven during the trial. The fact that an actual buy-bust operation took place involving the appellants is supported not only by the testimonies of Paz  (as the poseur-buyer) and P/Insp. Vargas, but also by the presented documentary evidence consisting of (a) the photocopy of the serial numbers of the marked money used in the buy-bust operation, (b) the Tigaon Police Station police blotter showing the arrest of the appellants on September 7, 1998 and the cause of their arrest by the group of P/Insp. Vargas, (c) the booking sheet and arrest report against the appellants prepared by P/Insp. Vargas, and (d) the Joint Affidavit of Arrest executed by P/Insp. Vargas and Eduardo Buenavente, another civilian volunteer. People of the Philippines v. Romeo Dansico y Monay and Augusto Cuadra y Enriquez, G.R. No. 178060, February 23, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. For the successful prosecution of offenses involving the illegal sale of drugs under section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165, the following elements must be proven: (1) the identity of the buyer and seller, object and consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor.  What is material to the prosecution for 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 delicti. People of the Philippines v. Michael Andres y Trinidad, G.R. No. 193184, February 7, 2011

Dangerous Drugs; illegal sale; elements. In the case at bench, there is no doubt that the prosecution successfully established all the elements of illegal sale of drugs prohibited under section 5, Article II of R.A. No. 9165. The records show that Andres was caught in flagrante delicto selling a dangerous drug, methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, to PO2 Talaue on March 25, 2003 in the vicinity of Poblacion, Valenzuela City. While on the witness stand, PO2 Talaue positively identified Andres as the seller of the confiscated shabu. He also identified the confiscated sachet which was marked, preserved as evidence and laboratory-tested to contain shabu. The clear and positive testimony of PO2 Talaue, corroborated by that of SPO2 Flores, is more than sufficient to prove that an illegal transaction or sale of shabu took place. SPO2 Flores was only about five (5) meters away from PO2 Talaue and the informant. It is a settled rule that in cases involving violations of the Dangerous Drugs Act, credence is given to prosecution witnesses who are police officers, for they are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there is evidence to the contrary. People of the Philippines v. Michael Andres y Trinidad, G.R. No. 193184, February 7, 2011

RA 3019; Section 3(e) violation; elements. Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019, which provides that “[c]ausing 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” shall constitute corrupt practices. In Cabrera v. Sandiganbayan, the Supreme Court explained that there are two ways for a public official to violate this provision in the performance of his functions, namely: (a) by causing undue injury to any party, including the government; or (b) by giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference. In that case, the Supreme Court enumerated the essential elements as follows: (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 gross inexcusable negligence; and (c) his action caused undue injury to any party, including the government, or gave any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference in the discharge of his functions. Van D. Luspo v. People of the Philippines/ Supt. Artuto H. Montano and Margarita Tugaoen v. People of the Philippines/ C/Insp. Salvador C. Duran Sr. v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188487/G.R. No. 188541 and G.R. No. 188556, February 14, 2011.

Sexual abuse; elements. The elements of sexual abuse under section 5, Article III of Republic Act No. 7610 are as follows: [i] The accused commits the act of sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct; [ii]  the said act is performed with a child exploited in prostitution or subjected to sexual abuse; and [iii] the child, whether male or female, is below 18 years of age. All the elements of sexual abuse are present in this case: First, appellant’s repeated touching, fondling, and sucking of AAA’s breasts and inserting his finger into AAA’s vagina with lewd designs undoubtedly constitute lascivious conduct under Section 2(h) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act No. 7610. Second, appellant, as a father having moral ascendancy over his daughter, coerced AAA to engage in lascivious conduct, which is within the purview of sexual abuse. Third, AAA was below 18 years old at the time of the commission of the offense based on her testimony, which was corroborated by her birth certificate presented during the trial. People of the Philippines v. Ernesto A. Fragante, G.R. No. 182521, February 9, 2011.

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Appeal in criminal cases; fresh-period rule. The Supreme Court’s pronouncement of a “fresh period” to appeal should equally apply to the period to appeal in criminal cases under section 6 of Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, for these reasons. First, BP 129, as amended, the substantive law on which the Rules of Court is based, makes no distinction between the periods to appeal in a civil case and in a criminal case. When the law makes no distinction, courts ought not to recognize any distinction. Second, the provisions of section 3 of Rule 41 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and section 6 of Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, though differently worded, mean exactly the same. There is no substantial difference between the two provisions insofar as legal results are concerned – the appeal period stops running upon the filing of a motion for new trial or reconsideration and starts to run again upon receipt of the order denying said motion for new trial or reconsideration. It was this situation that Neypes addressed in civil cases. No reason exists why this situation in criminal cases cannot be similarly addressed. Third, while the Supreme Court did not consider in Neypes the ordinary appeal period in criminal cases under section 6, Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure since it involved a purely civil case, it did include Rule 42 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure on petitions for review from the RTCs to the CA, and Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure governing appeals by certiorari to the Supreme Court, both of which also apply to appeals in criminal cases, as provided by section 3 of Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. Clearly, if the modes of appeal to the CA (in cases where the RTC exercised its appellate jurisdiction) and to the Supreme Court in civil and criminal cases are the same, no cogent reason exists why the periods to appeal from the RTC (in the exercise of its original jurisdiction) to the CA in civil and criminal cases under section 3 of Rule 41 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure and section 6 of  Rule 122 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure should be treated differently. Judith Yu v. Hon. Rosa Samson-Tatad and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170979, February 9, 2011.

Attorney; negligence of attorney binds client; due-process exception. This case concerns the dire consequences of a litigant’s failure to periodically follow-up with his counsel on the developments of his appeal. The general rule is that a client is bound by the counsel’s acts, including even mistakes in the realm of procedural technique. The rationale for the rule is that a counsel, once retained, holds the implied authority to do all acts necessary or at least incidental to the prosecution and management of the suit on behalf of his client, such that any act or omission by counsel within the scope of the authority is regarded in the eyes of the law as the act or omission of the client himself. A recognized exception to the rule is when the reckless or gross negligence of the counsel deprives the client of due process of law. For the exception to apply, however, the gross negligence should not be accompanied by the client’s own negligence or malice, considering that the client has the duty to be vigilant in respect of his interests by keeping himself up-to-date on the status of the case.  Failing in this duty, the client should suffer whatever adverse judgment is rendered against him. Peter Bejarasco Jr. v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 159781, February 2, 2011.

Attorney; negligence of attorney binds client; due-process exception. A litigant bears the responsibility to monitor the status of his case, for no prudent party leaves the fate of his case entirely in the hands of his lawyer. It is the client’s duty to be in contact with his lawyer from time to time in order to be informed of the progress and developments of his case; hence, to merely rely on the bare reassurances of his lawyer that everything is being taken care of is not enough.  In short, the petitioner’s failure to know or to find out the real status of his appeal rendered him undeserving of any sympathy from the Supreme Court vis-à-vis the negligence of his former counsel.  Peter Bejarasco Jr. v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 159781, February 2, 2011.

Due process; gross negligence of counsel binds client; exception made in the interests of justice. The Supreme Court suspended the rules in this case to give the petitioner a chance to seek relief from the Sandiganbayan and made an exception to the general rule that the mistakes and negligence of counsel bind the client. Doubtless, the filing of the appeal before the CA by the petitioner’s former counsel was not simple negligence. It constituted gross negligence. It bears stressing at this point, that the rule which states that the mistakes of counsel bind the client may not be strictly followed where observance of it would result in outright deprivation of the client’s liberty or property, or where the interests of justice so require. Filomena L. Villanueva v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188630, February 23, 2011.

Due process; gross negligence of counsel binds client; exception made in the interests of justice. In rendering justice, procedural infirmities take a backseat against substantive rights of litigants.  Corollarily, if the strict application of the rules would tend to frustrate rather than promote justice, the Supreme Court is not without power to exercise its judicial discretion in relaxing the rules of procedure. The function of the rule that negligence or mistake of counsel in procedure is imputed to and binding upon the client, as any other procedural rule, is to serve as an instrument to advance the ends of justice. When in the circumstances of each case the rule deserts its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes its great hindrance and chief enemy, its rigors must be relaxed to admit exceptions thereto and to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice. Filomena L. Villanueva v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188630, February 23, 2011.

Due process; gross negligence of counsel binds client; when exceptions made by Supreme Court. The Supreme Court noted that the petitioner had no participatory negligence.  The resulting dismissal by the CA of her case was utterly attributable to the gross negligence of her counsel.  The Supreme Court may suspend its own rules in the pursuit of justice in cases where reckless or gross negligence of counsel deprives the client of due process of law, when its application will result in outright deprivation of the client’s liberty or property, or where the interests of justice so require. In such cases, relief may be accorded to the client who has suffered by reason of the lawyer’s gross or palpable mistake or negligence. Aside from matters of life, liberty, honor or property which would warrant the suspension of the rules of the most mandatory character and an examination and review by the appellate court of the lower court’s findings of fact, the other elements that are to be considered are the following: (1) the existence of special or compelling circumstances, (2) the merits of the case, (3) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules, (4) a lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory, (5) the other party will not be unjustly prejudiced thereby. All these factors are attendant in this case. Filomena L. Villanueva v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188630, February 23, 2011.

Effect of dismissal of criminal case on administrative liability. The Supreme Court noted in this case that the Ombudsman’s dismissal of the complaint against petitioners was not because of a finding of good faith but because of a finding of lack of sufficient evidence.  While the evidence presented before the Ombudsman may not have been sufficient to overcome the burden in criminal cases of proof beyond reasonable doubt, it does not, however, necessarily follow, that the administrative proceedings will suffer the same fate as only substantial evidence is required, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. An absolution from a criminal charge is not a bar to an administrative prosecution or vice versa. The criminal case filed before the Office of the Ombudsman is distinct and separate from the proceedings on the disallowance before the COA.  So also, the dismissal by Margarito P. Gervacio, Jr., Deputy Ombudsman for Mindanao, of the criminal charges against petitioners does not necessarily foreclose the matter of their possible liability as warranted by the findings of the COA. Ruben Reyna, et al, v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 167219, February 8, 2011.

Information; when conviction for offense not charged. Guillergan was convicted for an offense other than that charged in the Information based on a claim that the essential elements of the offense of which he was convicted are also elements of the offense charged in the Information. The Information alleged that Guillergan committed falsification by making it appear in several public documents that P1,519,000.00 in AFP funds intended for the CIAs’ payroll were paid for that purpose when in truth these were just given to Rio, resulting in damage and prejudice to the government.  Although the charge was estafa in relation to Article 171 of the RPC, the facts alleged in the information sufficiently made out a case for violation of Article 172 of the RPC for which Guillergan was convicted.  Given that some of the essential elements of Article 171 constitute the lesser offense of falsification of public documents under Article 172, then the allegations in the Information were sufficient to hold Guillergan liable under Article 172. What is important is that the Information described the latter offense intelligibly and with reasonable certainty, enabling Guillergan to understand the charge against him and suitably prepare his defense. LtC. Roberto K. Guillergan v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 185493, February 2, 2011.

Information; when sufficient. The Supreme Court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the Information against him was invalid. He argued that though he was charged with “possession of an access device fraudulently applied for,” the act of “possession,” which is the gravamen of the offense, was not alleged in the Information. Section 6, Rule 110 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure lays down the guidelines in determining the sufficiency of a complaint or information which states that “a complaint or information is sufficient if it states the name of the accused; the designation of the offense given by the statute; the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense; the name of the offended party; the approximate date of the commission of the offense; and the place where the offense was committed.” In Information filed before the RTC against petitioner, it was clearly stated that the accused is petitioner “Mark Soledad y Cristobal a.k.a. Henry Yu/Arthur.”  It was also specified in the preamble of the Information that he was being charged with Violation of R.A. No. 8484, Section 9(e) for possessing a counterfeit access device or access device fraudulently applied for. In the accusatory portion thereof, the acts constituting the offense were clearly narrated in that “[petitioner], together with other persons[,] willfully, unlawfully and feloniously defrauded private complainant by applying [for] a credit card, an access device defined under R.A. [No.] 8484, from Metrobank Card Corporation, using the name of complainant Henry C. Yu and his personal documents fraudulently obtained from him, and which credit card in the name of Henry Yu was successfully issued, and delivered to said accused using a fictitious identity and addresses of Henry Yu, to the damage and prejudice of the real Henry Yu.” Moreover, it was identified that the offended party was private complainant Henry Yu and the crime was committed on or about the 13th day of August 2004 in the City of Las Piñas. Undoubtedly, the Information contained all the necessary details of the offense committed, sufficient to apprise petitioner of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. Mark Soledad y Cristobal v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 184274, February 23, 2011

Information; when sufficient. As aptly argued by respondent People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General, although the word “possession” was not used in the accusatory portion of the Information, the word “possessing” appeared in its preamble or the first paragraph thereof. Thus, contrary to petitioner’s contention, he was apprised that he was being charged with violation of R.A. No. 8484, specifically section 9(e) thereof, for possession of the credit card fraudulently applied for. The Supreme Court cited its holding in People v. Villanueva with respect to the relationship between the preamble and the accusatory portion of the Information, which in part reads: “The preamble or opening paragraph should not be treated as a mere aggroupment of descriptive words and phrases. It is as much an essential part [of] the Information as the accusatory paragraph itself. The preamble in fact complements the accusatory paragraph which draws its strength from the preamble. It lays down the predicate for the charge in general terms; while the accusatory portion only provides the necessary details. The preamble and the accusatory paragraph, together, form a complete whole that gives sense and meaning to the indictment.” Mark Soledad y Cristobal v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 184274, February 23, 2011.

Information; when sufficient. The opening paragraph of the Information bears the operative word “accuses,” which sets in motion the constitutional process of notification, and formally makes the person being charged with the commission of the offense an accused. Verily, without the opening paragraph, the accusatory portion would be nothing but a useless and miserably incomplete narration of facts, and the entire Information would be a functionally sterile charge sheet, thus making it impossible for the state to prove its case. The Information sheet must be considered, not by sections or parts, but as one whole document serving one purpose, i.e., to inform the accused why the full panoply of state authority is being marshaled against him. Mark Soledad y Cristobal v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 184274, February 23, 2011.

Information; when qualifying and aggravating circumstance for qualified rape not alleged, but proved. The failure to allege the qualifying circumstance of relationship in the Information precluded a finding of qualified rape against the accused. Section 8, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court expressly requires that qualifying and aggravating circumstances be specifically alleged in the Information. Due to such requirement being pro reo, the Supreme Court authorized its retroactive application in favor of even those charged with felonies committed prior to December 1, 2000 (i.e., the date of the effectivity of the 2000 revision of the Rules of Criminal Procedure that embodied the requirement). The term “aggravating circumstance” is strictly construed when the appreciation of the modifying circumstance can lead to the imposition of the maximum penalty of death. Consequently, the qualifying circumstance of relationship, even if established during trial, cannot affect the criminal penalty of the accused if not so alleged in the Information. The accused could not be convicted of the graver offense of qualified rape, although proven, because relationship was neither alleged nor necessarily included in the Information. People of the Philippines v. Renato Dadulla, G.R. No. 172321, February 9, 2011

Litis Pendentia; requisites. For litis pendentia to be successfully invoked as a bar to an action, the concurrence of the following requisites is necessary, namely: (a) there must be identity of parties or at least such as represent the same interest in both actions; (b) there must be identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the reliefs being founded on the same facts; and, (c) the identity in the two cases should be such that the judgment that may be rendered in one would, regardless of which party is successful, amount to res judicata in respect of the other. Absent the first two requisites, the possibility of the existence of the third becomes nil. Heirs of Eduardo Simon v. Elvin Chan and the Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 157547, February 23, 2011.

Ombudsman; power to investigate and prosecute independently. The Supreme Court cited Pleyto v. Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) in holding that the review of the SALN by the head of office of an agency is irrelevant and cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from conducting an independent investigation for criminal violations committed by the public official or employee. The office is vested with the sole power to investigate and prosecute motu proprio or on complaint of 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. The Office of the Ombudsman could file the Informations subject of these cases without any help from the DOF-RIPS. True, section 10 of R.A. 6713 provides that when the head of office finds the SALN of a subordinate incomplete or not in proper form such head of office must call the subordinate’s attention to such omission and give him the chance to rectify the same. But this procedure is an internal office matter.  Whether or not the head of office has taken such a step with respect to a particular subordinate cannot bar the Office of the Ombudsman from investigating the latter. Its power to investigate and prosecute erring government officials cannot be made dependent on the prior action of another office.  To hold otherwise would be to diminish its constitutionally guarded independence. Liberato M. Carabeo v. The Hon. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 190580-81, February 21, 2011.

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

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