September 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are select September 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

1.            REVISED PENAL CODE

Conspiracy; evidence. Conspiracy existed here as may be inferred from the concerted actions of the appellants and their co-accused, namely: (1) appellants and their co-accused brought Samuel to a waiting shed located on the left side of the road where the yellow pick-up service vehicle boarded by Mayor Tawan-tawan and his group would pass; (2) appellants and their co-accused, thereafter, assembled themselves on both sides of the road and surreptitiously waited for the aforesaid yellow pick-up service vehicle; (3) the moment the yellow pick-up service vehicle passed by the waiting shed, appellants and their co-accused opened fire and rained bullets thereon resulting in the killing and wounding of the victims; (4) immediately, appellants and their co-accused ran towards the house of Samuel’s aunt to get their bags and other stuff; (5) Samuel followed appellants and their co-accused; and (6) appellants and their co-accused fled. Conspiracy is very much evident from the afore-enumerated actuations of the appellants and their co-accused. They were synchronized in their approach to riddle with bullets the vehicle boarded by Mayor Tawan-tawan and his group. They were motivated by a single criminal impulse ─ to kill the victims. Conspiracy is implied when the accused persons had a common purpose and were united in its execution. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Conspiracy; responsibility. Spontaneous agreement or active cooperation by all perpetrators at the moment of the commission of the crime is sufficient to create joint criminal responsibility. With the presence of conspiracy here, appellants and their co-accused had assumed joint criminal responsibility ─ the act of one is the act of all. The ascertainment of who among them actually hit, killed and/or caused injury to the victims already becomes immaterial. Collective responsibility replaced individual responsibility. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Estafa; elements. Estafaunder Article 315, paragraph 2(a) of the Revised Penal Code is committed by any person who defrauds another by using fictitious name, or falsely pretends to possess power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions, or by means of similar deceits executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of fraud. The elements of estafa by means of deceit are the following: (a) that there must be a false pretense or fraudulent representation as to his power, influence, qualifications, property, credit, agency, business or imaginary transactions; (b) that such false pretense or fraudulent representation was made or executed prior to or simultaneously with the commission of the fraud; (c) that the offended party relied on the false pretense, fraudulent act, or fraudulent means and was induced to part with his money or property; and (d) that, as a result thereof, the offended party suffered damage. People of the Philippines v. Melissa Chua @ Clarita NG Chua, G.R. No. 187052, September 13, 2012.

Estafa; elements. Here, the prosecution has established that appellant defrauded the complaining witnesses by leading them to believe that she has the capacity to send them to Taiwan for work, even if she does not have a license or authority for the purpose. Such misrepresentation came before private complainants delivered P80,000 as placement fee to appellant. Clearly, private complainants would not have parted with their money were it not for such enticement by appellant. As a consequence of appellant’s false pretenses, the private complainants suffered damages as the promised employment abroad never materialized and the money they paid was never recovered. People of the Philippines v. Melissa Chua @ Clarita NG Chua, G.R. No. 187052, September 13, 2012.

Murder; damages. When death occurs due to a crime, the following damages may be awarded: (1) civil indemnity ex delicto for the death of the victim; (2) actual or compensatory damages; (3) moral damages; (4) exemplary damages; and (5) temperate damages. Article 2206 of the Civil Code provides that when death occurs as a result of a crime, the heirs of the deceased are entitled to be indemnified for the death of the victim without need of any evidence or proof thereof. Moral damages like civil indemnity, is also mandatory upon the finding of the fact of murder. Therefore, the trial court and the appellate court properly awarded civil indemnity in the amount of P50,000.00 and moral damages also in the amount of P50,000.00 to the heirs of each deceased victims. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Murder; exemplary damages. Article 2230 of the Civil Code states that exemplary damages may be imposed when the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances. Here, treachery may no longer be considered as an aggravating circumstance since it was already taken as a qualifying circumstance in the murder, and abuse of superior strength which would otherwise warrant the award of exemplary damages was already absorbed in the treachery.  However, in People v. Combate, the Supreme Court (“SC”) still awards exemplary damages despite the lack of any aggravating circumstance to deter similar conduct and to serve as an example for public good. To deter future similar transgressions, the SC finds that an award of P30,000.00 as exemplary damages in favor of the heirs of each deceased victims is proper. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Murder; temperate damages. Actual damages cannot be awarded for failure to present the receipts covering the expenditures for the wake, coffin, burial and other expenses for the death of the victims. In lieu thereof, temperate damages may be recovered where it has been shown that the victim’s family suffered some pecuniary loss but the amount thereof cannot be proved with certainty as provided for under Article 2224 of the Civil Code. In this case, it cannot be denied that the heirs of the deceased victims suffered pecuniary loss although the exact amount was not proved with certainty. Thus, the SC similarly awards P25,000.00 as temperate damages to the heirs of each deceased victims. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Rape; penalty. Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code provides that the penalty of death shall be imposed upon the accused if the victim of rape is under 18 years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim. To justify the imposition of the death penalty, however, it is required that the special qualifying circumstances of minority of the victim and her relationship to appellant be properly alleged in the information and duly proved during the trial. All these requirements were duly established here. In the two Informations, it was alleged that AAA was 16 years old when the incidents happened. Her minority was buttressed not only by her testimony during trial but likewise by her Certificate of Live Birth showing that she was born on August 3, 1985. With respect to her relationship to appellant, it was likewise specifically alleged in the Informations that appellant is AAA’s father. During trial, appellant categorically admitted that AAA is his daughter. Since the death penalty for heinous crimes has been abolished by RA 9346, the appellate court correctly modified the trial court’s imposition of the death penalty by reducing death as a penalty to reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole. People of the Philippines v. Antonio Venturina, G.R. No. 183097, September 12, 2012.

Rape; penetration required. The Supreme Court (“SC”) ruled that the prosecution failed to prove appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of consummated rape. The SC instead convicted him of attempted rape, as the evidence on record shows the presence of all the elements of this crime. The SC found that appellant’s penis did not penetrate, but merely ‘touched’ (i.e., “naidikit”) AAA’s private part. AAA confirmed on cross-examination that the appellant did not succeed in inserting his penis into her vagina. AAA’s Sinumpaang Salaysay also disclosed that the appellant was holding her hand when he was trying to insert his penis in her vagina. This circumstance – coupled with AAA’s declaration that she was resisting appellant’s attempt to insert his penis into her vagina – makes penile penetration highly difficult, if not improbable. AAA’s testimony did not establish that the appellant’s penis touched the labia or slid into her private part. Without any showing of penetration, there can be no consummated rape; at most, it can only be attempted rape or acts of lasciviousness. Thus, appellant cannot be convicted of consummated rape. People of the Philippines v. Christopher Pareja y Velasco, G.R. No. 188979, September 5, 2012.

Statutory rape; Pruna guidelines. Accused Lupac appeals the decision of the Court of Appeals (“CA”) which affirmed his conviction for the crime of rape but modified the characterization of the offense as statutory rape because of the failure of the prosecution to properly establish that the victim is under 12 years of age at the time of the rape. In convicting Lupac of statutory rape as defined and penalized under Paragraph 1(d), Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 8353, the Regional Trial Court concluded that although the qualifying circumstance of relationship had not been proven, AAA’s testimony showing her age of only 11 years at the time of the rape sufficed to prove her age as an essential element in statutory rape. The Supreme Court (“SC”) concurred with the CA. Although the information alleged that AAA had been only 10 years of age at the time of the commission of the rape, the prosecution did not reliably establish the age of the victim in accordance with the guidelines for competently proving such age laid down by the SC in People v. Pruna. People of the Philippines v. Edgardo Lupac y Flores, G.R. No. 182230, September 19, 2012.

Statutory rape; Pruna guidelines. The evidence adduced by the prosecution did not satisfy two of the Pruna guidelines, namely: [i] In the absence of a certificate of live birth, authentic document, or the testimony of the victim’s mother or relatives concerning the victim’s age, the complainant’s testimony will suffice provided that it is expressly and clearly admitted by the accused; and [ii] it is the prosecution that has the burden of proving the age of the offended party. The failure of the accused to object to the testimonial evidence regarding age shall not be taken against him. People of the Philippines v. Edgardo Lupac y Flores, G.R. No. 182230, September 19, 2012.

Treachery. Treachery, which was alleged in the Information, attended the commission of the crime. The Supreme Court in a plethora of cases has consistently held that there is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof, which tend directly and specially to ensure its execution without risk to himself arising from the defense that the offended party might make. There are two (2) conditions that must concur for treachery to exist, to wit: (a) the employment of means of execution gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and (b) the means or method of execution was deliberately and consciously adopted. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Treachery. The essence of treachery is that the attack is deliberate and without warning, done in a swift and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape. The deadly successive shots of the appellants and their co-accused did not allow the hapless victims any opportunity to put up a decent defense. The attack was executed by appellants and their-co-accused in such a vicious manner as to make the defense virtually impossible. Appellants had murder in their hearts when they waylaid their unwary victims. Thus, appellants should be held liable for murder.People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

2.         SPECIAL PENAL LAWS

Illegal recruitment; elements. In order to hold a person liable for illegal recruitment, the following elements must concur: (1) the offender undertakes any of the activities within the meaning of “recruitment and placement” under Article 13(b)20 of the Labor Code, or any of the prohibited practices enumerated under Article 34 of the Labor Code (now Section 6 of RA 8042) and (2) the offender has no valid license or authority required by law to enable him to lawfully engage in recruitment and placement of workers. In the case of illegal recruitment in large scale, a third element is added: that the offender commits any of the acts of recruitment and placement against three or more persons, individually or as a group. All three elements are present in the case at bar. People of the Philippines v. Melissa Chua @ Clarita NG Chua, G.R. No. 187052, September 13, 2012.

Illegal recruitment; elements. Inarguably, appellant Chua engaged in recruitment when she represented to private complainants that she could send them to Taiwan as factory workers upon submission of the required documents and payment of the placement fee. The four private complainants positively identified appellant as the person who promised them employment as factory workers in Taiwan for a fee of P80,000. The Senior Labor Employment Officer of the POEA presented a certification to the effect that appellant Chua is not licensed by the POEA to recruit workers for overseas employment. The prosecution witnesses were positive and categorical in their testimonies that they personally met appellant and that the latter promised to send them abroad for employment. Appellant cannot escape liability by conveniently limiting her participation as a cashier of Golden Gate. The provisions of Article 13(b) of the Labor Code and Section 6 of RA 8042 are unequivocal that illegal recruitment may or may not be for profit. It is immaterial, therefore, whether appellant remitted the placement fees to “the agency’s treasurer” or appropriated them. People of the Philippines v. Melissa Chua @ Clarita NG Chua, G.R. No. 187052, September 13, 2012.

Illegal sale of drugs; elements. After a buy-bust operation conducted by the police operatives, accused were charged with illegal sale and illegal possession of shabu. In ruling against the accused, the Supreme Court (“SC”) cited People of the Philippines v. Ricky Unisa y Islan, where it held that the sale of prohibited drugs is consummated upon delivery of the drugs to the buyer: “For a successful prosecution of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, like shabu, the following elements must first be established: (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object and consideration of the sale; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. What is material is proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of corpus delicti. Clearly, the commission of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, like shabu, merely requires the consummation of the selling transaction, which happens the moment the buyer receives the drug from the seller. As long as the police officer went through the operation as a buyer, whose offer was accepted by appellant, followed by the delivery of the dangerous drugs to the former, the crime is already consummated.” As borne by the records, all the above elements constituting the sale of shabuby the appellants were clearly testified to by PO Hamdani who averred that he received P1,000.00 worth of shabufrom accused after the latter gave the buy-bust money to De Jesus. Accordingly, the SC found the accused guilty of violating Section 5, Article II of RA 9165. People of the Philippines v. Ronald De Jesus y Apacible and Amelito Dela Cruz y Pua, G.R. No. 191753, September 17, 2012.

Illegal sale of drugs; elements. Accused cites several irregularities in the conduct of the buy-bust operation and in the presentation of the corpus delicti. The Supreme Court (“SC”) gave no credence to his arguments. 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. Sistemio, the poseur-buyer in this case, positively testified that the sale of shabu actually took place when he himself parted with the marked money and received the shabu from appellant. Yu corroborated Sistemio’s narration, as he also personally witnessed the transaction given that he was posted a few meters away from Sistemio and the accused. The SC also found that the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items were properly preserved by the buy-bust team under the chain of custody rule. Under these circumstances, the prosecution has established beyond doubt an unbroken link in the chain of custody. Hence, it has been established by proof beyond reasonable doubt that appellant here sold shabu. People of the Philippine v. Mohamad Angkob y Mlang, G.R. No. 191062, September 19, 2012.

Illegal sale of drugs; elements. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of the accused for illegal sale of dangerous drugs after finding that the following elements were sufficiently proved beyond reasonable doubt: (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 thereto. The identity of the buyer and the seller were both established by the prosecution, appellant being the seller and PO1 Soquiña as the poseur-buyer. The object of the transaction was the five sachets of Methylamphetamine Hydrochloride or shabu and the consideration was the P500.00 marked money. Both such object and consideration have also been sufficiently established by testimonial and documentary evidence presented by the prosecution. As to the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor, PO1 Soquiña caught appellant in flagrante delicto selling and delivering the prohibited substance during a buy-bust operation. He also personally handed to appellant the marked money as payment for the same. Clearly, the above-mentioned elements are present in this case. People of the Philippines v. Calexto D. Fundales, G.R. No. 184606, September 5, 2012.

3.         CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Arrest; warrantless arrest. Under Section 5 (a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court, a person may be arrested without a warrant if he “has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense.” Accused contends that the police officers arrested him without securing a warrant of arrest, and because his arrest was unlawful, the sachets of shabuallegedly seized from him were inadmissible in evidence. Accused was caught in the act of committing an offense during a buy-bust operation. When an accused is apprehended in flagrante delicto as a result of a buy-bust operation, the police officers are not only authorized but duty-bound to arrest him even without a warrant. An arrest made after an entrapment operation does not require a warrant inasmuch as it is considered a valid “warrantless arrest.” Accused argues that force and intimidation attended his arrest when four police officers arrested him and one of them pointed a gun at him. However, the Court of Appeals found that the defense neither objected to the accused’s arrest nor filed any complaint against the police officers. Considering that an arrest was lawfully made, the search incidental to such arrest was also valid. A person lawfully arrested may be searched, without a search warrant, for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in the commission of an offense. Accordingly, the two sachets of shabu seized in the present case are admissible as evidence. People of the Philippines v. Jose Almodiel alias “Dodong Astrobal,” G.R. No. 200951, September 5, 2012.

Evidence; denial and alibi. Both denial and alibi are inherently weak defenses which cannot prevail over the positive and credible testimonies of the prosecution witnesses that appellants committed the crime. For alibi to prosper, the requirements of time and place must be strictly met. It is not enough to prove that appellants were somewhere else when the crime happened. They must also demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that it was physically impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime at the approximate time of its commission. Unless substantiated by clear and convincing proof, such defense is negative, self-serving, and undeserving of any weight in law. A mere denial, like alibi, is inherently a weak defense and 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. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Evidence; denial and alibi. In this case, both appellants claimed that they were just in their respective houses in Poblacion, Salvador, Lanao del Norte, when the ambush incident happened and they have no involvement whatsoever in the commission thereof. The defense of alibimay not prosper if it is established mainly by the appellant himself and his relatives, and not by credible persons. Mere denial, if unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is a self-serving assertion that deserves no weight in law. Between the categorical and positive assertions of the prosecution witnesses and the negative averments of the accused which are uncorroborated by reliable and independent evidence, the former indisputably deserve more credence and are entitled to greater evidentiary weight. Withal, it was not physically impossible for the appellants to be at the scene of the crim. Poblacion, Salvador, Lanao del Norte, where both appellants’ reside, is only about seven (7) kilometers away from San Manuel, Lala, Lanao del Norte, where the ambush took place. People of the Philippines v. Wenceslao Nelmida, et al, G.R. No. 184500, September 11, 2012.

Leave to file demurrer; period to file demurrer. One of the issues raised by Reyes in this case is whether the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in counting the period to file a motion for leave to file demurrer from the receipt of the Order admitting the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence. Reyes insists that the counting of the 5-day period to file the motion must be from the denial of her opposition to the order admitting the prosecution’s documentary evidence. Section 23, Rule 119 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that a “motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence shall specifically state its grounds and shall be filed within a non-extendible period of five (5) days after the prosecution rests its case.” This period runs, according to Cabador v. People, only after the court shall have ruled on the prosecution’s formal offer for that is when it can be deemed to have rested its case. Here, Reyes filed a timely motion for reconsideration of the Sandiganbayan’s ruling on the prosecution’s formal offer, which is allowed, thus preventing the prosecution from resting its case. When the Sandiganbayan denied Reyes’ motion for reconsideration, she filed with it, within the required five days of her receipt of the order of denial, her motion for leave to file demurrer to evidence. Elsa B. Reyes v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/Artemio C. Mendoza v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/Elsa B. Reyes v. People of the Philippines/Caridad A. Miranda v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 148607/G.R. No. 167202/G.R. No. 167223/G.R. No. 167271, September 5, 2012.

Leave to file demurrer; discretion of court to deny filing of demurrers. Still, the Sandiganbayan’s error in not allowing Reyes to ask for leave to file a demurrer to the evidence cannot be regarded as capricious and whimsical as to constitute grave abuse of discretion. Courts have wide latitude for denying the filing of demurrers to evidence. An order denying a motion for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence or the demurrer itself is not subject to appeal or certiorari action before judgment. The remedy is to assign the order of denial as an error on appeal after judgment. Elsa B. Reyes v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/Artemio C. Mendoza v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/Elsa B. Reyes v. People of the Philippines/Caridad A. Miranda v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 148607/G.R. No. 167202/G.R. No. 167223/G.R. No. 167271, September 5, 2012.

(Lindy thanks Janette R. Ancog and Izabel F. Serina for assisting in the preparation of this post.)

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