Here are select July 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Rape; principles in deciding rape cases. Antonio Baraoil was found guilty by the lower courts for two crimes of rape defined and penalized under RA 8353 and the Revised Penal Code. Courts use the following principles in deciding rape cases: (1) an accusation of rape can be made with facility; it is difficult to prove but more difficult for the person accused, though innocent, to disprove; (2) due to the nature of the crime of rape in which only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and (3) 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. Due to the nature of this crime, conviction for rape may be solely based on the complainant’s testimony provided it is credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things. The Supreme Court (“SC”) held in the instant case that the totality of the evidence adduced by the prosecution proved the guilt of the accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt. The SC finds no cogent reason to disturb the trial court’s appreciation of the credibility of the prosecution witnesses’ testimony. People of the Philippines v. Antonio Baraoil, G.R. No. 194608, July 9, 2012.
Robbery; distinguished from theft. Article 293 of the Revised Penal Code defines robbery as a crime committed by “any person who, with intent to gain, shall take any personal property belonging to another, by means of violence against or intimidation of any person, or using force upon anything.” Theft, on the other hand, is committed by any person who, with intent to gain but without violence against or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take the personal property of another without the latter’s consent. People of the Philippines v. Cesar Concepcion y Bulanio, G.R. No. 200922, July 18, 2012.
Robbery; distinguished from theft. Concepcion claimed that even assuming that he snatched Acampado’s shoulder bag, Concepcion should be held liable for simple theft only. In People v. Omambong, the Supreme Court distinguished robbery from theft. It was held there that had the appellant then run away, he would undoubtedly have been guilty of theft only, because the asportation was not effected against the owner’s will, but only without his consent; although, of course, there was some sort of force used by the appellant in taking the money away from the owner. Here, the prosecution failed to establish that Concepcion used violence, intimidation or force in snatching Acampado’s shoulder bag. Acampado herself merely testified that Concepcion snatched her shoulder bag which was hanging on her left shoulder. Acampado did not say that Concepcion used violence, intimidation or force in snatching her shoulder bag. Given the facts, Concepcion’s snatching of Acampado’s shoulder bag constitutes the crime of theft, not robbery. People of the Philippines v. Cesar Concepcion y Bulanio, G.R. No. 200922, July 18, 2012.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Civil liability; extinction of penal action does not lead to extinction of civil liability. Despite her acquittal from the charges of violation of BP 22 or the Bouncing Checks Law, the trial court still found petitioner Emilia Lim (“Emilia”) civilly liable and ordered her to pay the value of the bounced checks. Since the Supreme Court (“SC”) has ruled in a line of cases that the extinction of the penal action does not carry with it the extinction of the civil liability where the acquittal is based on reasonable doubt as only preponderance of evidence is required in civil cases, Emilia insists that the lower court dismissed the BP 22 cases against her not on the ground of reasonable doubt but on insufficiency of evidence. Hence, the civil liability should likewise be extinguished. Emilia’s Demurrer to Evidence, however, betrays this claim. In any case, even if the SC treats the subject dismissal as one based on insufficiency of evidence as Emilia wants to put it, the same is still tantamount to a dismissal based on reasonable doubt. As may be recalled, the criminal cases against her were dismissed because one essential element of BP 22 was missing, i.e., the fact of the bank’s dishonor. The evidence was insufficient to prove said element of the crime as no proof of dishonor of the checks was presented by the prosecution. This, however, only means that the trial court cannot convict Emilia of the crime since the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the quantum of evidence required in criminal cases. Conversely, the lack of such proof of dishonor does not mean that Emilia has no existing debt with Mindanao Wines, a civil aspect which is proven by another quantum of evidence, a mere preponderance of evidence. Emilia Lim v. Mindanao Wines & Liqour Galleria, a Single Proprietorship Business Outfit Owned by Evelyn S. Valdevieso, G.R. No. 175851, July 4, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; buy bust operation; prior surveillance not necessary. On 4 July 2003, an Information charging Nicart and Capanpan with violation of Section 5, Article II of RA 9165 was filed. A separate Information against Capanpan was also filed on even date for violation of Section 11, Article II of the same Act. The cases were filed following a buy-bust operation. The said buy-bust operation is valid despite the absence of a prior surveillance. Prior surveillance is not required, especially when the team is accompanied to the scene by the informant. The case of People v. Quintero cited by the defense is not on all fours with the present case. There, the buy-bust team relied solely on the description given by the informant that the subject was “wearing white t-shirt, khaki pants and tennis shoes” and, without prior surveillance, proceeded to the area unaccompanied by the informant. Here, the informant accompanied the team to the area and introduced the accused to the poseur-buyer. People of the Philippines v. Camilo D. Nicart and Manuel T. Capanpan, G.R. No. 182059, July 4, 2012.
Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. On appeal is the decision of the Court of Appeals (“CA”) affirming the decision of the lower court and finding appellant Alex Watamama y Esil guilty of violating Section 5 of RA 9165. In all prosecutions for the violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the existence of the prohibited drug has to be proved. The chain of custody rule requires that testimony be presented about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was seized up to the time it is offered in evidence. To this end, the prosecution must ensure that the substance presented in court is the same substance seized from the accused. Here, the prosecution failed to show how the seized evidence changed hands from the time PO1 Vargas turned it over to the investigator up to the time they were presented in court as evidence. The prosecution did not adduce evidence on how the evidence was handled or stored before its presentation at the trial. It is not enough to rely merely on the testimony of PO1 Vargas who stated that she turned the seized item over to the investigator who then prepared the letter of request for examination. There was no evidence on how PO2 Ortiz came into possession of the shabu and how he delivered the seized item for examination to the PNP Crime Laboratory. Neither was there any evidence how it was secured from tampering. Accused-appellant is therefore acquittedon the ground of reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines v. Alex Watamama y Esil @ Alex, G.R. No. 194945, July 30, 2012.
Dangerous drugs; illegal sale of drugs; elements. To obtain a conviction for the illegal sale of a dangerous drug, the State must prove the following, namely: (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object of the sale and the consideration; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment thereof. What is decisive is the proof that the sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delictias evidence. People of the Philippines v. Emmalyn Dela Cerna y Quindao @ “Inday”, et al, G.R. No. 181250, July 18, 2012.
Dangerous drugs; illegal sale of drugs; elements. In this case for illegal sale of methylenedioxymethmnphetomihe, popularly known as ecstasy, a dangerous drug, penalized under Section 5, Article II, of Republic Act No. 9165, the State convincingly and competently established the foregoing elements of the offense charged. Poseur-buyer NBI Agent Zuniga, Jr. testified that the two accused sold ecstacy to him during a legitimate buy-bust operation; and that he recovered the buy-bust money in Dela Cerna’s hand right after the sale. Based on the certification issued by a forensic chemist, the 200 ecstasy tablets were found to be positive for the presence of methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Also presented in court as evidence were the 200 ecstacy tablets, the marked buy-bust money, and the certification a forensic chemist confirming that Dela Cerna’s left and right hands tested positive for yellow fluorescent powder, the powder dusted on the buy-bust money prior to the buy-bust operation. Thus, the Court of Appeals’ decision of conviction is affirmed. People of the Philippines v. Emmalyn Dela Cerna y Quindao @ “Inday”, et al, G.R. No. 181250, July 18, 2012.
PD 957; selling without license to sell; meaning of sale. It was claimed that the condominium project comprised two phases/towers, and that each phase/tower was given a separate Certification of Registration and License to Sell by the HLURB. Allegedly, respondents sold petitioner a unit located in Tower II of the condominium project at the time when Megaworld had yet to receive the registration certificate and its license to sell. The Court of Appeals upheld the grant of the Motion to Withdraw the Information, allegedly because the law only proscribed transactions involving a contract of sale. However, PD 957 plainly shows that the execution of a contract of sale between the parties is not an essential ingredient before there could be a violation of Section 5 of PD 957. Read in conjunction with Section 2 thereof, Section 5 has an extended definition of “sale,” which forbids all activities that dispose or attempt to dispose of subdivision lots or condominium units absent a priorissuance of an HLURB license to sell. The prohibition includes all agreements that are in the nature of a contract to sell, a contract of purchase and sale, an exchange, an attempt to sell, an option of sale or purchase, a solicitation of a sale, or an offer to sell. The statement in the first Information that reads “sold to complainant” must be interpreted in the light of this extended definition. A perusal of the Reservation Agreement here would show that the transaction between petitioner Bernardo and Megaworld is covered by the extended definition of “sale” under PD 957. Thus, probable cause is present warranting the filing of criminal complaint against respondents. Julieta E. Bernardo v. Andrew L. Tan, G.R. No. 185491, July 11, 2012.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Appeal; period to appeal Ombudsman orders. Petitioners contend that the Court of Appeals (“CA”) erred in acting on the petition which was filed beyond the 10-day reglementary period for filing the same as provided under Section 27 of RA 6770. They claim that respondents received the Ombudsman order denying their motion for reconsideration on August 25, 2000 and filed a motion for extension of time with the CA on September 11, 2000, which was the 15th day from receipt of the order, relying on the ruling in Fabian v. Desierto and Rule 43 of the Rules of Court. Petitioners cite the cases of Lapid v. CA and Barata v. Abalos, Jr. to support the application of the 10-day period for filing the petition in the CA from receipt of the Ombudsman order. Section 27 of RA 6770 and Section 7, Rule III of AO No. 7 were declared in Fabian v. Desierto unconstitutional insofar as they provide for appeals in administrative disciplinary cases from the Office of the Ombudsman to the Supreme Court (“SC”). The SC held that such provision was violative of Section 30, Article VI of the Constitution as it expanded SC’s appellate jurisdiction without its advice and concurrence; and that they were also inconsistent with Section 1, Rule 45 of the Rules of Court which provides that a petition for review on certiorarishall apply only to a review of judgments or final orders of the CA, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals, the Regional Trial Court, or other courts authorized by law. However, in Lapid v. CA it was ruled there that the only provision affected by the Fabian ruling is the designation of the CA as the proper forum and of Rule 43 of the Rules of Court as the proper mode of appeal. All other matters included in said Section 27, including the finality or non-finality of decisions, are not affected and still stand. Subsequently, in Barata, the SC ruled that the petition was filed with the CA way beyond the reglementary period. Thus, the period provided under Section 27 of RA 6770, which is ten days, must be observed in filing a petition with the CA assailing the Ombudsman decision in administrative case. Hilarion F. Dimagiba, Irma Mendoza, and Ellen Rasco v. Julita Espartero, Ma. Berndardita L. Carreon and Melina San Pedro, G.R. No. 154952, July 16, 2012.
Appeal; period to appeal Ombudsman orders. In this case, at the time the petition was filed, the matter of which reglementary period must apply, whether 10 days under Section 27 of RA 6770 or 15 days under Section 4, Rule 43 of the Rules of Court, had not been established with definiteness until the Barata case was decided later. Considering that the Fabian ruling stated that Rule 43 of the Rules of Court should be the proper mode of appeal from an Ombudsman decision in administrative cases, and Section 4 of Rule 43 provides for 15 days from receipt of the order appealed from, the motion for extension to file petition which was filed on the 15th day from receipt of the Ombudsman order is considered timely filed. Moreover, as correctly stated by the CA, dismissal of appeals on purely technical ground is frowned upon especially if it will result to unfairness as in this case. Hilarion F. Dimagiba, Irma Mendoza, and Ellen Rasco v. Julita Espartero, Ma. Berndardita L. Carreon and Melina San Pedro, G.R. No. 154952, July 16, 2012.
Appeal; right to appeal. One of the grounds relied upon by the Court of Appeals (“CA”) in dismissing petitioners’ petition for review is the latter’s failure to submit copies of pleadings and documents relevant and pertinent to the petition filed, as required under Section 2, Rule 42 of the Rules of Court (“Rules”). While petitioners filed a Motion for Reconsideration, they still failed to comply with these requirements. Worse, they did not even mention anything about it in the said Motion. It is a settled rule that the right to appeal is neither a natural right nor a part of due process; it is merely a statutory privilege, and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law. An appeal being a purely statutory right, an appealing party must strictly comply with the requisites laid down in the Rules. Deviations from the Rules cannot be tolerated. Rosa H. Fenequito, Corazon E. Hernandez and Lauro H. Rodriguez v. Bernardo Vergara, Jr., G.R. No. 172829, July 18, 2012.
Appeal; right to appeal. Here, petitioners had all the opportunity to comply with the Rules. Nonetheless, they remained obstinate in their non-observance even when they sought reconsideration of the ruling of the CA dismissing their petition. Such obstinacy is incongruous with their late plea for liberality in construing the Rules. Rosa H. Fenequito, Corazon E. Hernandez and Lauro H. Rodriguez v. Bernardo Vergara, Jr., G.R. No. 172829, July 18, 2012.
Evidence; alibi. Agustin was charged with rape of a minor. In his defense, he simply denied the accusation against him. He claimed that he reported for work everyday, including Saturdays and Sundays, from 6:00 AM to 6 PM; and that on January 25, 2005, he reported for work at 6:00 AM and went home at night time and that he did not go home in the afternoon of January 25, 2005. Between the alibi and denial of the accused-appellant and the positive identification and credible testimony of the victim, weight was given to the latter, especially because the distance between the place where the rape was committed and the workplace of the accused-appellant is simply a walking distance. People of the Philippines v. Danilo Mirasol Agustin, et al, Danilo Mirasol Agustin, G.R. No. 194581, July 2, 2012.
Evidence; 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. Danilo Mirasol Agustin, et al, Danilo Mirasol Agustin, G.R. No. 194581, July 2, 2012.
Evidence; credibility of witness. The Regional Trial Court (“RTC”) rendered a decision convicting appellant for violation of Article III, section 16 of RA 6425 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. Appellant claimed that the RTC erred in its assessment of the credibility of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and in applying the principle of regularity in the performance of official duty. Appellant argued that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses who were all police officers and/or customs and airport personnel, lacked credibility and were self-serving. The Supreme Court (“SC”) sees no cogent reason why it should overturn the appraisal of the trial court as regards the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. It has been consistently held that in criminal cases the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge, whose conclusion thereon deserves much weight and respect because the judge has the direct opportunity to observe said witnesses on the stand and ascertain if they are telling the truth or not. People of the Philippines v. Cristina Gustafsson, G.R. No. 179265, July 30, 2012.
Evidence; credibility of witness. Absent any showing in this case that the lower courts overlooked substantial facts and circumstances, which if considered, would change the result of the case, the Supreme Court gives deference to the trial court’s appreciation of the facts and of the credibility of witnesses. This is especially so in this case since there is no showing that the prosecution witnesses were moved by ill motives to impute such a serious crime as possession of illegal drugs against the appellant. Indeed, both courts a quo correctly applied the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty and held the same to prevail over appellant’s self-serving and uncorroborated denial. People of the Philippines v. Cristina Gustafsson, G.R. No. 179265, July 30, 2012.
Evidence; examination of unavailable prosecution witness. The private prosecutor in this case filed with the Metropolitan Trial Court (“MeTC”) a Motion to Take Oral Deposition of Li Luen Ping, alleging that he was being treated for lung infection at the Cambodia Charity Hospital in Laos, Cambodia and that, upon doctor’s advice, he could not make the long travel to the Philippines by reason of ill health. In agreeing with the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that no rule of procedure expressly disallows the taking of depositions in criminal cases and that, in any case, petitioners would still have every opportunity to cross-examine the complaining witness and make timely objections during the taking of the oral deposition either through counsel or through the consular officer who would be taking the deposition of the witness. The Supreme Court (“SC”) ruled that examination of witnesses must be done orally before a judge in open court. However, the Rules of Court recognizes the conditional examination of witnesses and the use of their depositions as testimonial evidence in lieu of direct court testimony. Harry L. Go, Tonny Ngo Jerry Ngo and Jane Go v. The People of the Philippines and Highdone Company, Ltd., et al, G.R. No. 185527, July 18, 2012.
Evidence; examination of unavailable prosecution witness. Even in criminal proceedings, there is no doubt as to the availability of conditional examination of witnesses – both for the benefit of the defense, as well as the prosecution. However, for purposes of taking the deposition in criminal cases, more particularly of a prosecution witness who would foreseeably be unavailable for trial, the testimonial examination should be made before the court, or at least before the judge, where the case is pending as required by the clear mandate of Section 15, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. The suggested suppletory application of Rule 23 in the testimonial examination of an unavailable prosecution witness has been categorically ruled out by the Supreme Court in the case of Vda. de Manguerra in saying that criminal proceedings are primarily governed by the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. Harry L. Go, Tonny Ngo Jerry Ngo and Jane Go v. The People of the Philippines and Highdone Company, Ltd., et al, G.R. No. 185527, July 18, 2012.
Evidence; identification; value of testimony. De Guzman was charged with the crime of murder. The crucial issue here is the sufficiency of evidence to convict De Guzman. A nexus of logically related circumstances rendered the testimony of Flores, the supposed witness, highly suspect. His testimony is laden with improbabilities, and these lead to serious doubts on the veracity of the malefactor’s identity. The incident took place at 11 PM in a remote barangay with no electric lighting in the surroundings and the only source of light then was the illumination of a “moron” coming from a “peryahan.” Apart from the testimony of Flores, no other competent and corroborative evidence was adduced to settle this question of visibility and lighting condition. In his Sinumpaang Salaysay, Flores stated that the “moron (de gas)” was just on the table where they were drinking which was contrary to what he had testified in court. The distance of the “moron” in the “peryahan” from the site of the stabbing incident was not disclosed either. It could have helped determine if the place was well illuminated. In People v. Faustino, it was ruled that the identification of an accused by an eyewitness is a vital piece of evidence and most decisive of the success or failure of the case for the prosecution. Here, the inconclusive and unreliable identification by Flores of De Guzman as the culprit failed to break the barrier of proof beyond reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines v. Hermogenes De Guzman @ Mong, G.R. No. 192250, July 11, 2012.
Evidence; motive. It has not been shown that De Guzman had any motive for killing Urieta. The brutal and gruesome attack on Urieta, who sustained two stab wounds on the chest, a stab wound along the waist area which hit the liver, and a stab wound on the elbow, clearly manifested the intention of the perpetrator to purposely bring death upon the victim. There was no evidence, however, that De Guzman carried a grudge or had an axe to grind against the victim or his family, or even knew the victim at all. Prosecution witnesses Flores and Gina even attested that they did not know of any reason why De Guzman killed Urieta. Generally, the motive of the accused in a criminal case is immaterial and does not have to be proven. Proof of the same becomes relevant and essential when, as in this case, the identity of the assailant is in question. In People v. Vidad, the Supreme Court ruled that it is true that it is not indispensable to conviction for murder that the particular motive for taking the life of a human being shall be established at the trial, and that in general when the commission of a crime is clearly proven, conviction may and should follow even where the reason for its commission is unknown; but in many criminal cases, one of the most important aids in completing the proof of the commission of the crime by the accused is the introduction of evidence disclosing the motive which tempted the mind to indulge in the criminal act. People of the Philippines v. Hermogenes De Guzman @ Mong, G.R. No. 192250, July 11, 2012.
(Lindy thanks Janette Ancog for assisting in the preparation of this post).