Here are selected September 2011 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. CRIMINAL LAW
Aggravating circumstance; treachery; elements. The Supreme Court appreciated treachery as an aggravating circumstance in this case, it being sufficiently alleged in the Information and proved during trial. Treachery exists when an offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms which tend directly or especially to ensure its execution, without risk to the offender, arising from the defense that the offended party might make. This definition sets out what must be shown by evidence to conclude that treachery existed, namely: (1) the employment of such means of execution as would give the person attacked no opportunity for self-defense or retaliation; and (2) the deliberate and conscious adoption of the means of execution. People of the Philippines v. Orlito Villacorta, G.R. No. 186412, September 7, 2011.
Aggravating circumstance; treachery; elements. To reiterate, the essence of qualifying circumstance is the suddenness, surprise and the lack of expectation that the attack will take place, thus, depriving the victim of any real opportunity for self-defense while ensuring the commission of the crime without risk to the aggressor. Likewise, even when the victim was forewarned of the danger to his person, treachery may still be appreciated since what is decisive is that the execution of the attack made it impossible for the victim to defend himself or to retaliate. Both the RTC and the Court of Appeals found that treachery was duly proven in this case, and the Supreme Court sustained such finding. Cruz, the victim, was attacked so suddenly, unexpectedly, and without provocation. It was two o’clock in the morning of January 23, 2002, and Cruz, who was out buying bread at Mendeja’s store, was unarmed. Cruz had his guard down and was totally unprepared for an attack on his person. Villacorta suddenly appeared from nowhere, armed with a sharpened bamboo stick, and without uttering a word, stabbed Cruz at the left side of his body, then swiftly ran away. Villacorta’s treacherous mode of attack left Cruz with no opportunity at all to defend himself or retaliate. People of the Philippines v. Orlito Villacorta, G.R. No. 186412, September 7, 2011.
Bigamy; elements. For conviction of the crime of bigamy, the prosecution must establish the presence of the following elements: (a) that the offender has been legally married; (b) that the marriage has not been legally dissolved or, in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse could not yet be presumed dead according to the Civil Code; (c) that he contracts a second or subsequent marriage; (d) that the second or subsequent marriage has all the essential requisites for validity. The circumstances in the present case satisfy all the elements of bigamy. (1) Nollora is legally married to Pinat; (2) Nollora and Pinat’s marriage has not been legally dissolved prior to the date of the second marriage; (3) Nollora admitted the existence of his second marriage to Geraldino; and (4) Nollora and Geraldino’s marriage has all the essential requisites for validity except for the lack of capacity of Nollora due to his prior marriage. Atilano O. Nollora Jr. v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191425, September 7, 2011.
Murder; damages. Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for the crime of murder is reclusion perpetua to death. The RTC was correct in imposing the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua as there existed neither aggravating nor mitigating circumstances. In People v. Combate, it was ruled that when the circumstances surrounding the crime call for the imposition of reclusion perpetua only, the proper amounts of damages should be PhP 50,000.00 as civil indemnity, PhP 50,000.00 as moral damages, and PhP30,000.00 as exemplary damages. Therefore, the amount of moral damages awarded by the RTC to the heirs of the victim here should be reduced from PhP 100,000 to PhP 50,000 but the additional penalty of exemplary damages is imposed. To summarize, the following shall be assessed against accused-appellant: PhP 50,000 in civil indemnity, PhP 50,000 in moral damages, and PhP 30,000 in exemplary damages, with an interest of six percent per annum from finality of judgment until paid. Furthermore, actual damages amounting to PhP 33,180 is awarded. People of the Philippines v. David Maningding, G.R. No. 195665, September 14, 2011.
Rape; elements. The elements necessary to sustain a conviction for rape are: (1) that the accused had carnal knowledge of the victim; and (2) that said act was accomplished (a) through the use of force or intimidation, or (b) when the victim is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious, or (c) when the victim is under 12 years of age or is demented. All elements of rape under Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code were sufficiently proved through the statement of AAA alone. The testimony, here found credible, paves way for the affirmance of the conviction of the accused. In a prosecution for rape, the victim’s credibility becomes the single most important issue. For when a woman says she was raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape was committed. People of the Philippines v. Marcelo Perez, G.R. No. 191265, September 14, 2011.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Carnapping; elements. The elements of carnapping as defined and penalized under the Anti-Carnapping Act of 1972 are the following: (1) That there is an actual taking of the vehicle; (2) That the vehicle belongs to a person other than the offender himself; (3) That the taking is without the consent of the owner thereof; or that the taking was committed by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, or by using force upon things; and (4) That the offender intends to gain from the taking of the vehicle. The records of this case show that all the elements of carnapping are present and were proven during trial. The tricycle, which was definitively ascertained to belong to Biag, as evidenced by the registration papers, was found in Lagat and Palalay’s possession. Aside from this, the prosecution was also able to establish that Lagat and Palalay fled the scene when the Alicia PNP tried to approach them at the palay buying station. To top it all, Lagat and Palalay failed to give any reason why they had Biag’s tricycle. Their unexplained possession raises the presumption that they were responsible for the unlawful taking of the tricycle. Lagat and Palalay’s intent to gain from the carnapped tricycle was also proven as they were caught in a palay buying station, on board the stolen tricycle, which they obviously used to transport the cavans of palay they had stolen and were going to sell at the station. People of the Philippines v. Renato Lagat y Gawan, a.k.a. Renato Gawan and James Palalay y Villarosa, G.R. No. 187044, September 14, 2011.
Illegal possession of prohibited drugs; elements. For illegal possession of regulated or prohibited drugs, the prosecution must establish the following elements: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object, which is identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug. All these elements were duly established by the prosecution in this case. Rosana was found to have in her possession 0.05 gram of shabu. Nothing in the records show that she had the authority to possess it. Jurisprudence also provides that that mere possession of a prohibited drug constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to convict an accused in the absence of any satisfactory explanation. Rosana also failed to present contrary evidence to rebut her possession of the shabu. Rosana Asiatico y Sta. Maria v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 195005, September 12, 2011.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Appeal; legal personality to appeal Sandiganbayan’s dismissal of case. The crucial issue in this case concerns petitioner’s legal personality to challenge before the Supreme Court the dismissal by the Sandiganbayan of the criminal cases against respondent. Petitioner is not the proper party to file the present action. Section 4 (c) of P.D. No. 1606, as amended, clearly provides that “in all cases elevated to the Sandiganbayan and from the Sandiganbayan to the Supreme Court, the Office of the Ombudsman, through its special prosecutor, shall represent the People of the Philippines, except in cases filed pursuant to Executive Order Nos. 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, issued in 1986.” A private complainant in a criminal case before the Sandiganbayan is allowed to appeal only the civil aspect of the criminal case after its dismissal by said court. Petitioner is not even the offended party or private complainant in the main case. While petitioner’s name was included in the caption of the cases as private complainant during the preliminary investigation and re-investigation proceedings in the Office of the Ombudsman, it is the City of Tuguegarao which suffered damage as a consequence of the subject purchase of lands by respondent and, hence, is the private complainant in the main case. City Government of Tuguegarao, represented by Robert P. Guzman v. Randolph S. Ting, G.R. Nos. 192435-36, September 14, 2011.
Conviction; only moral certainty required. What is necessary for the prosecution to ensure conviction in criminal cases is not absolute certainty but only moral certainty that the accused is guilty of the crime charged. Here, the prosecution has sufficiently proved the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The victim’s testimony is worthy of belief, she having no ill motive to fabricate what she said against her stepfather. More, contrary to the claims of the accused, there is nothing in the testimony of the victim that would elicit suspicion as to the veracity of her story. For one thing, the fact that she did not shout for help or resist the sexual advances of the accused does not disprove the fact that he raped her. People of the Philippines v. Alejo Taroy y Tarnate, G.R. No. 192466, September 7, 2011.
Criminal cases; venue is jurisdictional. Venue is jurisdictional in criminal cases. It can neither be waived nor subjected to stipulation. The right venue must exist as a matter of law. Thus, for territorial jurisdiction to attach, the criminal action must be instituted and tried in the proper court of the municipality, city, or province where the offense was committed or where any of its essential ingredients took place. The Informations filed with the RTC of La Trinidad state that the crimes were committed in the victim and the offender’s house in City Limit, Tuding, Municipality of Itogon, Province of Benguet. This allegation conferred territorial jurisdiction over the subject offenses on the RTC of La Trinidad, Benguet. People of the Philippines vs.Alejo Taroy y Tarnate, G.R. No. 192466, September 7, 2011.
Evidence; affidavits of desistance. Courts look with disfavor on affidavits of desistance and/or retraction. In People v. Bation, it was ruled that: “[A]n affidavit of desistance is merely an additional ground to buttress the accused’s defenses, not the sole consideration that can result in acquittal. There must be other circumstances which, when coupled with the retraction or desistance, create doubts as to the truth of the testimony given by the witnesses at the trial and accepted by the judge.” Accused-appellant cannot plausibly bank on AAA’s affidavit of desistance, complemented by her testimony for the defense, as an exonerating vehicle for his dastardly act. Other than the retraction or desistance affidavit, nothing in the records would show any other circumstance of substance accepted by the trial court that would becloud the veracity of AAA’s earlier inculpating testimony. Thus, as long as the complaining witness musters the test of credibility and consistency, her testimony deserves full faith and confidence and cannot be discarded. And if such testimony is clear and credible to establish the crime beyond reasonable doubt, a conviction of rape based on it may lie even if she subsequently retracted her earlier testimony. So it must be here. People of the Philippines v. Joselito Orje y Borce, G.R. No. 189579, September 12, 2011.
Evidence; defense of denial and alibi. In the face of witness’ positive identification of the accused as the victim’s stabber, the accused merely interposed an uncorroborated denial as his defense. Denial, like alibi, as an exonerating justification, is inherently weak and if uncorroborated, regresses to blatant impotence. Like alibi, it also constitutes self-serving negative evidence which cannot be accorded greater evidentiary weight than the declaration of credible witnesses who testify on affirmative matters. People of the Philippines v. Orlito Villacorta, G.R. No. 186412, September 7, 2011.
Evidence; credibility of testimonial evidence. Testimonial evidence to be believed, must not only come from credible lips but must be credible in substance. A story that defies reason and logic and above all runs against the grain of common experience cannot persuade. Here, the prosecution’s account failed to pass these tests. In her Affidavit, MJ said that Rodel sought to walk her home because he wanted to talk to her about fixing their relationship. In her testimony, however, MJ insisted that she had no conversation with Rodel prior to his showing up at her house near midnight of December 23, 2003. And when Rodel left, MJ did not see him off at the door to lock it as he went out. Her excuse in not locking the door was that her mother was still out. But notably, when Rodel supposedly came and knocked at the door after she got home at 11:30 p.m., she had to let him in because it was already locked. MJ also said that she was no longer naked when she woke up and heard her brother screaming by the bedroom window, with Rodel in a tight grip. If this were true, somebody must have slipped her clothes back on while she was out cold. This contradicts LK’s testimony that her son had to wrap MJ in a blanket before taking her out of the room. The sequence of events that the prosecution tried to establish did not also make sense. With so many inconsistencies and incompatibilities with common experience, the unfiltered truth was not seen. Hence, the evidence failed to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Rodel Singson, G.R. No. 194719, September 21, 2011.
Evidence; trial court’s determination of credibility of witnesses respected on appeal. It is fundamental that the determination by the trial court of the credibility of witnesses, when affirmed by the appellate court, is accorded full weight and credit as well as great respect, if not conclusive effect. Such determination made by the trial court proceeds from its first-hand opportunity to observe the demeanor of the witnesses, their conduct and attitude under grilling examination, thereby placing the trial court in the unique position to assess the witnesses’ credibility and to appreciate their truthfulness, honesty and candor. In this case, both the RTC and the Court of Appeals gave full faith and credence to the testimony of prosecution witness Mendeja. The Court of Appeals rejected Villacorta’s attempts to impugn Mendeja’s testimony. People of the Philippines v. Orlito Villacorta, G.R. No. 186412, September 7, 2011.
Motion to quash; procedure when motion to quash denied. In the usual course of procedure, a denial of a motion to quash filed by the accused results in the continuation of the trial and the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. If a judgment of conviction is rendered and the lower court’s decision of conviction is appealed, the accused can then raise the denial of his motion to quash not only as an error committed by the trial court but as an added ground to overturn the latter’s ruling. In this case, the petitioner did not proceed to trial but opted to immediately question the denial of his motion to quash via a special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. As a rule, the denial of a motion to quash is an interlocutory order and is not appealable; an appeal from an interlocutory order is not allowed under Section 1(b), Rule 41 of the Rules of Court. Neither can it be a proper subject of a petition for certiorari which can be used only in the absence of an appeal or any other adequate, plain and speedy remedy. The plain and speedy remedy upon denial of an interlocutory order is to proceed to trial as stated above. A direct resort to a special civil action for certiorari is an exception rather than the general rule, and is a recourse that must be firmly grounded on compelling reasons. Joel Galzote y Soriaga v. Jonathan Briones and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 164682, September 14, 2011.
Petition for certiorari; the Supreme Court is a court of last resort. The Supreme Court is a court of last resort, and must so remain if it is to satisfactorily perform the functions assigned to it by the fundamental charter and immemorial tradition. It cannot and should not be burdened with the task of dealing with causes in the first instance. Its original jurisdiction to issue the so-called extraordinary writs should be exercised only where absolutely necessary or where serious and important reasons exist therefor. Hence, that jurisdiction should generally be exercised relative to actions or proceedings before the Court of Appeals, or before constitutional or other tribunals, bodies or agencies whose acts for some reason or another are not controllable by the Court of Appeals. Where the issuance of an extraordinary writ is also within the competence of the Court of Appeals or a Regional Trial Court, it is in either of these courts that the specific action for the writ’s procurement must be presented. This is, and should continue, to be the policy in this regard, a policy that courts and lawyers must strictly observe. Churchille V. Mari and People of the Philippines v. Hon. Rolando L. Gonzales, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 39, Sogo, Southern Leyte and PO1 Rudyard Paloma y Torres, G.R. No. 187728, September 12, 2011.
Petition for certiorari; rule that the Supreme Court is a court of last resort relaxed. In this case, although the petition is dismissible since petitioners failed to observe the doctrine on hierarchy of courts, the Supreme Court finds sufficient reason to relax the rule in this case since it also involves the issue of double jeopardy, necessitating it to look into the merits of the petition. The Supreme Court did not dismiss the petition. In Pacoy v. Cajigal, the Supreme Court opted not to strictly apply said doctrine, since the issue involved is double jeopardy which is considered to be one of the most fundamental constitutional rights of an accused. Churchille V. Mari and People of the Philippines v. Hon. Rolando L. Gonzales, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 39, Sogo, Southern Leyte and PO1 Rudyard Paloma y Torres, G.R. No. 187728, September 12, 2011.
Petition for transfer of venue. Petitioners in this case are mistaken in their notion that mere pendency of their petition for transfer of venue should interrupt proceedings before the trial court. Such a situation is akin to having a pending petition for certiorari with the higher courts. In People v. Hernandez, the Supreme Court ruled that “delay resulting from extraordinary remedies against interlocutory orders” must be read in harmony with Section 7, Rule 65 of the Rules of Court which provides that the “[p]etition [under Rule 65] shall not interrupt the course of the principal case unless a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction has been issued against the public respondent from further proceeding in the case.” Churchille V. Mari and People of the Philippines v. Hon. Rolando L. Gonzales, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 39, Sogo, Southern Leyte and PO1 Rudyard Paloma y Torres, G.R. No. 187728, September 12, 2011.
Right of accused to speedy trial. In this case, the Supreme Court debunked petitioners’ argument that the RTC dismissed the criminal case against private respondent too hurriedly, despite the provision in Section 10 of the Speedy Trial Act of 1998 (Republic Act No. 8493), now incorporated in Section 3, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court which provides that “[a]ny period of delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the accused” such as “delays resulting from orders of inhibition, or proceedings relating to change of venue of cases or transfer from other courts” shall “be excluded in computing the time within which trial must commence.” A careful reading of the above rule would show that the only delays that may be excluded from the time limit within which trial must commence are those resulting from proceedings concerning the accused. The time involved in the proceedings in a petition for transfer of venue can only be excluded from said time limit if it was the accused who instituted the same. Hence, in this case, the time during which the petition for transfer of venue filed by the private complainant is pending cannot be excluded from the time limit of thirty (30) days from receipt of the pre-trial order imposed in Section 1, Rule 119 of the Rules of Court. An accused’s right to speedy trial is deemed violated only when the proceeding is attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays. Churchille V. Mari and People of the Philippines v. Hon. Rolando L. Gonzales, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 39, Sogo, Southern Leyte and PO1 Rudyard Paloma y Torres, G.R. No. 187728, September 12, 2011.
Right of accused to speedy trial. In determining whether petitioner was deprived of the right to speedy trial, the factors to consider and balance are the following: (a) duration of the delay; (b) reason therefor; (c) assertion of the right or failure to assert it; and (d) prejudice caused by such delay. Here, it must be emphasized that private respondent had already been deprived of his liberty on two occasions. First, during the preliminary investigation before the MCTC, when he was incarcerated from November 18, 2004 to March 16, 2005, or a period of almost four months; then again, when an Information had already been issued and since rape is a non-bailable offense, he was imprisoned beginning June 27, 2008 until the case was dismissed on January 16, 2009, or a period of over 6 months. Verily, there can be no cavil that deprivation of liberty for any duration of time is quite oppressive. Because of private respondent’s continued incarceration, any delay in trying the case would cause him great prejudice. Thus, it was absolutely vexatious and oppressive to delay the trial in the subject criminal case to await the outcome of petitioners’ petition for transfer of venue, especially in this case where there is no temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction issued by a higher court against herein public respondent from further proceeding in the case. Churchille V. Mari and People of the Philippines v. Hon. Rolando L. Gonzales, Presiding Judge, RTC, Br. 39, Sogo, Southern Leyte and PO1 Rudyard Paloma y Torres, G.R. No. 187728, September 12, 2011.
(Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Janette Ancog for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)