December 2011 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

1.         REVISED PENAL CODE

Aggravating circumstances; treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from any defense which the offended party might make. Two conditions must concur for treachery to be appreciated.  First, is the employment of means of execution that gives the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate.  Second, the means of execution was deliberate or consciously adopted. People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, December 14, 2011.

Aggravating circumstances; treachery.  The essence of treachery is the sudden attack by an aggressor without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim, depriving the latter of any real chance to defend himself, thereby ensuring the commission of the crime without risk to the aggressor. On appeal, the Supreme Court debunked appellants’ contention that the trial and appellate courts erred in ruling that treachery qualified the killing of Cesario to murder since the attack on Cesario was frontal, therefore no element of surprise on the victim or suddenness of the assault that characterizes treachery. In this case, treachery is evident. From the facts, Cesario could not have been aware that he would be surrounded, attacked and killed by the appellants who were all related to him.  He could not have also been aware that Eddie had a shotgun concealed in a sack because if he was, he would not have casually approached Florencio when the latter summoned him.  Unfortunately, while Cesario was advancing towards Florencio, Eddie shot him at close range without any warning whatsoever.  Evidently, the crime was committed in a manner that there was no opportunity for Cesario to defend himself.  Also, the mode of attack did not spring from the unexpected turn of events but was clearly thought of by the appellants.  Hence, it no longer matters that the assault was frontal since its swiftness and unexpectedness deprived Cesario of a chance to repel it or offer any resistance in defense of his person. People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, December 14, 2011.

Homicide; attempted and frustrated. The main element of attempted or frustrated homicide is the accused’s intent to take his victim’s life.  The prosecution has to prove this clearly and convincingly to exclude every possible doubt regarding homicidal intent.  And the intent to kill is often inferred from, among other things, the means the offender used and the nature, location, and number of wounds he inflicted on his victim. Arnel Colinares v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 182748, December 13, 2011.

Homicide; attempted and frustrated. In this case, Arnel struck Rufino on the head with a huge stone.  The blow was so forceful that it knocked Rufino out.  Considering the great size of his weapon, the impact it produced, and the location of the wounds that Arnel inflicted on his victim, the Supreme Court is convinced that he intended to Rufino but found Arnel to be guilty only of attempted, not frustrated, homicide. While Rufino had two lacerations on his forehead, there was no indication that his skull incurred fracture or that he bled internally as a result of the pounding of his head.  The wounds were not so deep, they merely required suturing, and were estimated to heal in seven or eight days. Taken in its entirety, there is a dearth of medical evidence on record to support the prosecution’s claim that Rufino would have died without timely medical intervention.  Thus, the Supreme Court found Arnel liable only for attempted homicide. Arnel Colinares v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 182748, December 13, 2011.

Homicide; attempted and frustrated.  In Palaganas v. People, the Supreme Court ruled that when the accused intended to kill his victim, as shown by his use of a deadly weapon and the wounds he inflicted, but the victim did not die because of timely medical assistance, the crime is frustrated murder or frustrated homicide.  If the victim’s wounds are not fatal, the crime is only attempted murder or attempted homicide. Arnel Colinares v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 182748, December 13, 2011.

Mitigating circumstances; voluntary surrender. A surrender to be voluntary must be spontaneous, showing the intent of the accused to submit himself unconditionally to the authorities either because (a) he acknowledges his guilt or (b) he wishes to save them the trouble and expense necessarily incurred in his search and capture. People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, December 14, 2011.

Mitigating circumstances; voluntary surrender. In this case, Florencio’s subsequent presentation of himself at the police station cannot be considered as a “voluntary surrender” which would mitigate the penalty imposed.  Florencio cannot be considered to have surrendered voluntarily since his act did not emanate from a natural impulse to admit the killing of Cesario or to save the police officers the effort and expense that would be incurred in his search and incarceration.  Although he submitted a medico-legal certificate purportedly to show that his injuries prevented him from immediately surrendering to the authorities, same, however, does not certify as to the period of his incapacity or the period during which he required medical attendance.  Thus, there can be no explanation why he surrendered only on April 16, 1998 or 14 days after the commission of the crime.  Florencio’s surrender was a mere afterthought undeserving of any consideration.  Indeed, the failure of Florencio to immediately surrender militates against his claim that he killed Cesario in self-defense and in defense of relatives since an innocent person will not hesitate to take the prompt and necessary action to exonerate himself of the crime imputed to him.  People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, December 14, 2011.

Self-defense; elements. When self-defense is invoked, the burden of evidence shifts to the appellant to prove the following elements: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim, (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.  In the absence of the essential element of unlawful aggression, there is no self-defense. People of the Philippines v. Lino L. Duavis, G.R. No. 190861, December 7, 2011.

 2.         SPECIAL PENAL LAWS

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Ombudsman; preventive suspension. Section 24 of RA 6770 expressly provides for the power of the Ombudsman or his Deputy to place a public officer or employee under preventive suspension, which reads in part ”[t]he Ombudsman or his Deputy may preventively suspend any officer or employee under his authority pending an investigation, if in his judgment the evidence of guilt is strong, and (a) the charge against such officer or employee involves dishonesty, oppression or grave misconduct or neglect in the performance of duty; (b) the charges would warrant removal from the service; or (c) the respondent’s continued stay in office may prejudice the case filed against him. The preventive suspension shall continue until the case is terminated by the Office of the Ombudsman but not more than six months, without pay, except when the delay in the disposition of the case by the Office of the Ombudsman is due to the fault, negligence or petition of the respondent, in which case the period of such delay shall not be counted in computing the period of suspension herein provided. Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, et al v. Jesus D. Francisco Sr., G.R. No. 172553, December 14, 2011.

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Ombudsman; preventive suspension.  In this case, the Order of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon dated May 30, 2005, which placed the respondents in Administrative Case No. OMB-C-A-05-0032-A under preventive suspension, was received by respondent Francisco on July 1, 2005.  Instead of filing a motion for reconsideration thereon, Francisco filed before the Court of Appeals a Petition for Certiorari with Application for Temporary Restraining Order and/or Writ of Preliminary Injunction.  The appellate court, however, did not issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction.  Accordingly, the six-month period of the preventive suspension was not interrupted.  Having received notice of the Order on July 1, 2005, the period of suspension lapsed on December 28, 2005. Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon, et al v. Jesus D. Francisco Sr., G.R. No. 172553, December 14, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs Law; defense of frame-up.  The defense of denial or frame-up, like alibi, has been invariably viewed with disfavor for it can easily be concocted and is a common defense ploy in most prosecutions for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act. Charges of extortion and frame-up are frequently made in this jurisdiction.  Courts are, thus, cautious in dealing with such accusations, which are quite difficult to prove in light of the presumption of regularity in the performance of the police officers’ duties.  To substantiate such defense, which can be easily concocted, the evidence must be clear and convincing and should show that the members of the buy-bust team were inspired by any improper motive or were not properly performing their duty. Otherwise, the police officers’ testimonies on the operation deserve full faith and credit. In the instant case, no clear and convincing evidence to support the defense of frame-up was presented by appellant.  Neither did she put forward in her pleadings or testimony any imputation or proof of ill motive on the part of the arresting police officers. People of the Philippines v. Nelly Ulama y Arrisma, G.R. No. 186530, December 14, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs Law; illegal sale of drugs. The elements necessary for the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs are (1) the identities of the buyer and the seller, the 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. A thorough review of the records would indicate that the foregoing requisites are present in the case at bar.  The proof of the drug transaction was established by prosecution witness, Edison Bill, the poseur-buyer, who made a positive identification of the appellant as the one who gave him the plastic sachet which contained shabu and to whom he gave the marked money during the buy-bust operation. People of the Philippines v. Nelly Ulama y Arrisma, G.R. No. 186530, December 14, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs Law; illegal sale of drugs.  The successful prosecution of the sale of dangerous drugs case depends on the satisfaction of the following elements: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. In prosecutions for illegal sale of shabu, 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. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Amansec y Dona, G.R. No. 186131, December 14, 2011.

Dangerous Drugs Law; illegal sale of drugs.  It is evident in the case at bar that the prosecution was able to establish the said elements. Amansec was positively identified by the prosecution witnesses, as the person who sold to the poseur-buyer a heat-sealed plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance.  He had been caught red-handed in the entrapment operation conducted by the SDEU of the La Loma Police.  Such positive identification must prevail over Amansec’s uncorroborated and weak defense of denial, and unsubstantiated defense of frame-up. The corpus delicti of the crime was also established with certainty and conclusiveness.  Amansec gave one of the two remaining plastic sachets to Mabutol after receiving the ₱100.00 buy-bust money. The delivery of the contraband to the poseur-buyer and the receipt by the seller of the marked money successfully consummated the buy-bust transaction between the entrapping officers and Legaspi. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Amansec y Dona, G.R. No. 186131, December 14, 2011.

 

3.         CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Defense; alibi. Alibi is an inherently weak defense because it is easy to fabricate and highly unreliable.  To merit approbation, the accused must adduce clear and convincing evidence that he was in a place other than the situs criminis at the time the crime was committed, such that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime when it was committed. Since alibi is a weak defense for being easily fabricated, it cannot prevail over and is worthless in the face of the positive identification by a credible witness that an accused perpetrated the crime. People of the Philippines v. Henry Arpon, G.R. No. 183563, December 14, 2011.

Defense; alibi. In the instant case, the distance of [XXX] to Tacloban City is just a few kilometers and can be negotiated by passenger bus in less than one (1) hour, hence, it is not impossible for the accused to be present in [XXX] at any time of the day after working hours while working in Tacloban.  Besides, the accused has his day off every Sunday, which according to him he spent in [XXX], Leyte. The accused was positively identified by the victim as the person who sexually molested her beginning that afternoon of 1995, and subsequently thereafter in the coming years up to August 1999.  She cannot be mistaken on the identity of the accused, because the first sexual molestation happened during the daytime, besides, she is familiar with him being her uncle, the brother of her mother. People of the Philippines v. Henry Arpon, G.R. No. 183563, December 14, 2011.

Witnesses; credibility. Basic is the rule that the trial court’s factual findings, especially its assessment of the credibility of witnesses, are generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal.  When the issue is one of credibility, the Supreme Court will generally not disturb the findings of the trial court unless it plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value that, if considered, might affect the outcome of the case. The reason therefore is not hard to discern. The trial courts are in a better position to decide questions of credibility having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. People of the Philippines v. Lino L. Duavis, G.R. No. 190861, December 7, 2011.

Witnesses; credibility. Settled is the rule that testimonial evidence to be believed must not only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness but must foremost be credible in itself.  Hence, the test to determine the value or credibility of the testimony of a witness is whether the same is in conformity with common knowledge and is consistent with the experience of mankind.  Based on the findings of the trial court and the CA, the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution are more credible in itself than the self-serving defense of appellant. People of the Philippines v. Lino L. Duavis, G.R. No. 190861, December 7, 2011.

Witnesses; presentation of informant.  The presentation of an informant in an illegal drugs case is not essential for the conviction nor is it indispensable for a successful prosecution because his testimony would be merely corroborative and cumulative. In this case, if Amansec felt that the prosecution did not present the informant because he would testify against it, then Amansec himself should have called him to the stand to testify for the defense.  The informant’s testimony is not needed if the sale of the illegal drug has been adequately proven by the prosecution.  People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Amansec y Dona, G.R. No. 186131, December 14, 2011.

Witnesses; presentation of informant.  In People v. Ho Chua, the Supreme Court ruled that the presentation of an informant is not a requisite in the prosecution of drug cases.  In People v. Nicolas, the Supreme Court also ruled that “police authorities rarely, if ever, remove the cloak of confidentiality with which they surround their poseur-buyers and informers since their usefulness will be over the moment they are presented in court.”  Moreover, drug dealers do not look kindly upon squealers and informants.  It is understandable why, as much as permitted, their identities are kept secret. In any event, the testimony of the informant would be merely corroborative. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Amansec y Dona, G.R. No. 186131, December 14, 2011.

 (Lindy thanks Nuj Dumbrigue and Janette Ancog for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)

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