Here are select January 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Conspiracy. Appellant questions the lower courts’ finding of conspiracy between her and co-accused. She claims that she merely accompanied Espiritu in going to the RFC Food Court and had nothing to do with the transaction. As a matter of fact, the shabu was not even found in or recovered from her possession. It just so happened that she was in the area during the delivery of the drugs. The argument did not persuade the Supreme Court. There is conspiracy if two or more persons agree to commit a felony and decide to commit it. Conspiracy must be proven on the same quantum of evidence as the felony subject of the agreement of the parties. Conspiracy may be proved by direct or circumstantial evidence consisting of acts, words, or conduct of the alleged conspirators before, during and after the commission of the felony to achieve a common design or purpose. The existence of conspiracy in this case was clearly established not only by the prosecution’s evidence but also by appellant’s very own testimony. As can be gleaned from appellant’s testimony as well as from the testimony of Carla as to what transpired during the actual buy-bust operation, appellant acted in common concert with her co-accused in the illegal sale of shabu. She cannot therefore isolate her act of merely accompanying Espiritu to the RFC Food Court or carrying the shabu since in conspiracy the act of one is the act of all. To be a conspirator, one need not participate in every detail of the execution; he need not even take part in every act or need not even know the exact part to be performed by the others in the execution of the conspiracy. People of the Philippines v. Simpresueta M. Seraspe, G.R. No. 180919, January 9, 2013.
Extinction of criminal liability and civil liability ex delicto upon death of accused. Article 89(1) of the Revised Penal Code provides that criminal liability is totally extinguished by the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment. It is also settled that “upon the death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction, the criminal action is extinguished inasmuch as there is no longer a defendant to stand as the accused; the civil action instituted therein for recovery of civil liability ex delicto is ipso facto extinguished, grounded as it is on the criminal.” While appellant Florencio died way back on February 7, 2007, the said information was not timely relayed to the Supreme Court (SC), such that the SC was unaware of the same when it rendered its December 14, 2011 Decision. It was only later that the SC was informed of Florencio’s death through the June 8, 2012 letter of the Officer-in-Charge of the New Bilibid Prison. Due to this development, it therefore became necessary for the SC to declare Florencio’s criminal liability, as well as his civil liability ex delicto, to have been extinguished by his death prior to final judgment. The judgment of conviction is thus set aside insofar as Florencio is concerned. People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, January 7, 2013.
Instigation; distinguished from entrapment. Appellant raises the defense of instigation to gain her acquittal. She argues that the government, through the PAOCTF operatives, induced her to commit the offense when they repeatedly approached and asked her to sell them shabu. The Supreme Court was unswayed. Instigation means luring the accused into a crime that he, otherwise, had no intention to commit, in order to prosecute him. It differs from entrapment which is the employment of ways and means in order to trap or capture a criminal. In instigation, the criminal intent to commit an offense originates from the inducer and not from the accused who had no intention to commit and would not have committed it were it not for the prodding of the inducer. In entrapment, the criminal intent or design originates from the accused and the law enforcers merely facilitate the apprehension of the criminal by using ruses and schemes. Instigation results in the acquittal of the accused, while entrapment may lead to prosecution and conviction. Here, the evidence clearly established that the police operatives employed entrapment, not instigation, to capture appellant and her cohorts in the act of selling shabu. It must be recalled that it was only upon receipt of a report of the drug trafficking activities of Espiritu from the confidential informant that a buy-bust team was formed and negotiations for the sale of shabu were made. Also, appellant testified that she agreed to the transaction of her own free will when she saw the same as an opportunity to earn money. Notably too, appellant was able to quickly produce a sample. This confirms that she had a ready supply of the illegal drugs. Clearly, she was never forced, coerced or induced through incessant entreaties to source the prohibited drug for Carla and PO3 Cariño and this she even categorically admitted during her testimony. People of the Philippines v. Simpresueta M. Seraspe, G.R. No. 180919, January 9, 2013.
Mitigating circumstances; minority of accused may be proved on appeal. Appellant Franklin is entitled to the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority. Franklin’s Certificate of Live Birth shows that he was born on December 20, 1981; hence, he was merely 16 years old at the time of the commission of the crime on April 2, 1998. He is therefore entitled to the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority embodied in Article 68(2) of the Revised Penal Code. It provides that when the offender is a minor over 15 and under 18 years, the penalty next lower than that prescribed by law shall be imposed on the accused but always in the proper period. The rationale of the law in extending such leniency and compassion is that because of his age, the accused is presumed to have acted with less discernment. This is regardless of the fact that his minority was not proved during the trial and that his birth certificate was belatedly presented for our consideration, since to rule accordingly will not adversely affect the rights of the state, the victim and his heirs. People of the Philippines v. Florencio Agacer, et al, G.R. No. 177751, January 7, 2013.
Murder; elements. To be convicted of murder, the following must be established: (1) a person was killed; (2) the accused killed him; (3) the killing was with the attendance of any of the qualifying circumstances under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code; and (4) the killing neither constitutes parricide nor infanticide. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Peteluna and Abundio Binondo, G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013.
Murder; evident premeditation. The SC, however held that, the prosecution failed to establish the presence of the qualifying circumstance of evident premeditation. Such could only be appreciated if there was evidence to show the following: (1) the time when the offender was determined to commit the crime; (2) an act manifestly indicating that the accused clung to his determination; and (3) a sufficient lapse of time between determination and execution to allow himself time to reflect upon the consequences of his act. None, for any such circumstance, was offered in the instant case. The testimony of Romeo, save from the statement that the appellants were whispering to each other before they placed their arms on Pablo’s shoulder, was confined to the acts that caused the death of the victim. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Peteluna and Abundio Binondo, G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013.
Murder; treachery. Appellants maintain that the qualifying circumstance of treachery was not attendant in the commission of the crime considering that there was no element of surprise when Pablo was attacked. Pablo had the opportunity to defend himself. Appellant Benjamin, in his Supplemental Brief, further argued that even if there was suddenness of the attack, Pablo could have chosen to retreat. The Supreme Court (SC) was not convinced. The SC has time and again declared that “the essence of treachery is a deliberate and sudden attack, affording the hapless, unarmed and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or to escape,” and that it may still exist even if the attack is frontal so long as the same is sudden and unexpected. In this case, it was clear that the elderly victim had no inkling of the impending danger against him. The attack was sudden notwithstanding the prior act of placing the assailants’ arms on the shoulder of the victim because such was done in a friendly manner. Records would show that Pablo was fifty-seven (57) years old at the time of his death. Admittedly, one’s thought processes and reflexes slow with age that Pablo did not readily understand the intentions of the appellants. The attack was, therefore, clearly sudden and unexpected. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Peteluna and Abundio Binondo, G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013.
Penalty; Information must allege qualifying circumstance of victim’s mental retardation; privileged mitigating circumstance of minority of accused. Under Article 266-B in relation to Article 266-A(1) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, simple rape is punishable by reclusion perpetua. However, when rape is committed by an assailant who has knowledge of the victim’s mental retardation, the penalty is increased to death. But this circumstance must be alleged in the information being a qualifying circumstance which increases the penalty to death and changes the nature of the offense from simple to qualified rape. In the case at bench, while appellant categorically admitted that he knew AAA to be suffering from mental abnormalities, the prosecution failed to allege this fact in the information. As such, even if it was proved, it cannot be appreciated as a qualifying circumstance. Thus, appellant’s conviction is only for simple rape for which he should be meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. People of the Philippines v. Rey Monticalvo y Magno, G.R. No. 193507, January 30, 2013.
Penalty; privileged mitigating circumstance of minority of accused considered. Nonetheless, a reasonable ground exists in this case that calls for the modification of the penalty of reclusion perpetua imposed by both lower courts upon the appellant. The Supreme Court found merit in appellant’s assertion that he was a minor during the commission of the crime charged. During trial, upon order of the trial court, the Local Civil Registrar of Bobon, Northern Samar, brought before it their office records, particularly appellant’s Certificate of Live Birth containing the fact of birth of the latter. Appellant’s Certificate of Live Birth shows that he was born on 23 February 1985. Indeed, at the time of the commission of the crime charged on 9 December 2002, appellant was only 17 years old, a minor. Thus, he is entitled to the privileged mitigating circumstance of minority pursuant to Article 68(2) of the Revised Penal Code. People of the Philippines v. Rey Monticalvo y Magno, G.R. No. 193507, January 30, 2013.
Rape; absence of injuries on genitalia of victim not a defense. The accused argues that the findings of old healed vaginal lacerations during the physical examinations disproved the charges against him, stressing that the old healed lacerations, being indicative of the lapse of three months from the time of the alleged sexual assault to the time of the medical examination, belied AAA’s claim of being raped on April 13, 1999, which was but only two months prior to the medical examination. He insists that the finding that her genitalia showed no fresh laceration or hymenal injury suffered in the previous seven days was inconsistent with BBB’s claim about being raped nine hours prior to her physical examination. The Supreme Court held that the arguments of the accused are unwarranted. The essence of rape is the carnal knowledge of a female either against her will (through force or intimidation) or without her consent (where the female is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious, or is under 12 years of age, or is demented). Carnal knowledge of a female simply means a male having bodily connections with a female. As such, the presence or absence of injury or laceration in the genitalia of the victim is not decisive of whether rape has been committed or not. Such injury or laceration is material only if force or intimidation is an element of the rape charged; otherwise, it is merely circumstantial evidence of the commission of the rape. Verily, a medical examination and a medical certificate, albeit corroborative of the commission of rape, are not indispensable to a successful prosecution for rape. The accused may then be convicted solely on the basis of the victim’s credible, natural and convincing testimony. This is no less true when the rape victim testifies against her own father; unquestionably, there would be reason to give her testimony greater weight than usual. People of the Philippines v. Pedro Buado Jr., y Cipriano, G.R. No. 170634, January 8, 2013.
Rape; assessment by the trial court of the credibility of the victim’s testimony respected. Ultimately and frequently, the resolution of the charge of rape hinges on the credibility of the victim’s testimony. The Supreme Court has consistently relied on the assessment of such credibility by the trial court, because the factual findings of the trial court, particularly those bearing on such assessment, are the product of the trial judge’s peculiar opportunity to observe the deportment and demeanor of the witnesses while they personally appear and testify during the trial, as contrasted with the dependence by the appellate courts on the mute pages of the records of the trial. This consistent reliance proceeds from the reality that the trial judge is in the best position to detect that frequently thin line between truth and prevarication that determines the guilt or innocence of the accused. Thus, an appellate court will not disturb the credence the trial court accorded to the testimonies of the witnesses unless the trial court is shown to have overlooked or arbitrarily disregarded facts and circumstances of significance in the correct resolution of the case. Here, the Regional Trial Court as the trial court and the Court of Appeals as the intermediately reviewing tribunal did not overlook or disregard any fact or circumstance of significance. Instead, they correctly appreciated the evidence, and rightly concluded that the accused committed the rapes of his own daughters.They regarded and accepted AAA and BBB as credible witnesses whose recollections about their father’s lecherous acts deserved the fullest faith and credence. The trial records entirely supported the lower courts’ findings in favor of the credibility of AAA and BBB’s recollections. Indeed, AAA and BBB deserved the credence accorded to them, for they were reliable in their recollection of their ordeals at the hands of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Pedro Buado, Jr., y Cipriano, G.R. No. 170634, January 8, 2013.
Rape; delay of victim in reporting of rape not a defense. Accused-appellant tries to undermine the credibility of “AAA” as a rape victim. He contends that the belated filing of the Complaint, “AAA’s” act of still returning to their house even after she was allegedly raped therein by the appellant, her failure to shout and offer resistance during the rape, and the several material inconsistencies between her affidavit and her open court testimony, tainted her credibility. The Supreme Court (SC) disagreed. Indeed, there was no prompt revelation of what befell “AAA.” But this is, according to the SC, not enough reason to discredit her. A delay in reporting a rape case for two months or longer, as in this case, cannot be taken against the rape victim. Long silence and delay in reporting the crime of rape have not always been construed as indications of a false accusation. A rape charge becomes doubtful only when the delay or inaction in revealing its commission is unreasonable and unexplained. In this case. “AAA’s” delay in filing the Complaint is not without a valid reason. She was cowed by appellant’s threats which hindered her from immediately reporting her painful ordeal to the authorities. People of the Philippines v. Rolando Cabungan, G.R. No. 189355, January 23, 2013.
Rape; elements; lone testimony of victim, if credible, is enough to sustain a conviction. BBB positively identified the appellant as the person who grabbed her and removed her short pants and panty while she was in her room, and who thereafter inserted his penis into her vagina. The Supreme Court then stressed the lower court’s observation that BBB, who was just nine years old when she testified, spoke in a clear, spontaneous and straightforward manner. She never wavered in identifying the appellant despite the defense’s gruelling cross-examination. The SC thus found her testimony credible. A young girl would not concoct a sordid tale of a crime as serious as rape at the hands of her very own father, allow the examination of her private part, and subject herself to the stigma and embarrassment of a public trial, if her motive were other than a fervent desire to seek justice. The SC further held that where no evidence exists to show any convincing reason or improper motive for a witness to falsely testify against an accused, the testimony deserves faith and credit. Moreover, the lone testimony of the victim in a rape case, if credible, is enough to sustain a conviction. People of the Philippines v. Patricio Rayon Sr., G.R. No. 194236, January 30, 2013.
Rape; lack of resistance of victim. Neither does “AAA’s” alleged failure to shout and offer resistance during the incident deserve credence. Contrary to appellant’s assertion, the records show that “AAA” tried to resist his advances but was not successful because he is bigger and stronger than her. In any event, the law does not impose upon a rape victim the burden of proving resistance especially when, as in this case, intimidation is exercised upon the victim who submitted herself to the advances of her assailant because of fear for her life. People of the Philippines v. Rolando Cabungan, G.R. No. 189355, January 23, 2013.
Rape; minor inconsistencies in testimony of rape victim. Anent the inconsistencies between “AAA’s” affidavit and her testimony in open court as pointed out by the appellant, the SC found that the same are not material and refer only to minor details. The alleged contradictions as to whether appellant is her uncle or step-father and whether it was she or her friend who revealed her ordeal to her mother are inconsequential matters that will not affect the determination of whether appellant is innocent of the crime charged or not. People of the Philippines v. Rolando Cabungan, G.R. No. 189355, January 23, 2013.
Rape; principles guiding appellate courts in review of rape convictions. In reviewing rape convictions, the Court has been guided by three principles, namely: (a) that an accusation of rape can be made with facility; it is difficult for the complainant to prove but more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; (b) that in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape as involving only two persons, the rapist and the victim, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and (c) that 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. Pedro Buado, Jr., y Cipriano, G.R. No. 170634, January 8, 2013.
Rape; special qualifying relationship of victim with the accused should be proved. The crime committed in this case is simple rape only in view of the failure of the prosecution to prove with clarity the special qualifying circumstance of relationship. While the information alleges that “AAA” is the step-daughter of the appellant, there is nothing on record to support the same. The step-father step-daughter relationship as a qualifying circumstance presupposes that the victim’s mother and the accused are married to each other which, however, is not obtaining in this case. Hence, the Court of Appeal’s affirmance of the penalty of reclusion perpetua as imposed upon appellant by the Regional Trial Court is proper. People of the Philippines v. Rolando Cabungan, G.R. No. 189355, January 23, 2013.
Treachery; definition. The Supreme Court (SC) here held that appellant’s act of suddenly stabbing Florendo while he was innocently cycling along Sampaguita Street, Barangay Capari, Novaliches, Quezon City constitutes the qualifying circumstance of treachery. Treachery is present when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution, which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the offended party might make. In this case, appellant surprised Florendo when he suddenly and swiftly attacked and stabbed him in the chest. The swift turn of events left Florendo defenseless to protect himself, allowing appellant to commit the crime without risk to his own person. Thus, the SC sustained the findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals that the qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the commission of the crime. People of the Philippines v. Ramil Rarugal Alias “Amay Bisaya,” G.R. No. 188603, January 16, 2013.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Dangerous Drugs Act; sale or possession of dangerous drugs; narcotics substance constitutes corpus delicti. Sale or possession of a dangerous drug can never be proven without seizure and identification of the prohibited drug. In prosecutions involving narcotics, the narcotic substance itself constitutes the corpus delicti of the offense and the fact of its existence is vital to sustain a judgment of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. People of the Philippines v. Reynaldo Nacua, et al, accused; Reynaldo Nacua, accused-appellant, G.R. No. 200165, January 30, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; sale or possession of dangerous drugs; strict compliance with rules on chain of custody required. Given the unique characteristic of dangerous and illegal drugs which are indistinct, not readily identifiable, and easily susceptible to tampering, alteration, or substitution, either by accident or otherwise, there must be strict compliance with the prescribed measures to be observed during and after the seizure of dangerous drugs and related paraphernalia, during the custody and transfer thereof for examination, and at all times up to their presentation in court. Such measures are described with particularity under section 21(1) of Republic Act No. 9165 and section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 9165. Moreover, in People v. Coreche, the Supreme Court emphasized that the marking of the seized drugs must be done immediately after they are seized from the accused and failure to do so suffices to rebut the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties and raises reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of the corpus delicti. People of the Philippines v. Reynaldo Nacua, et al, accused; Reynaldo Nacua, accused-appellant, G.R. No. 200165, January 30, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; sale or possession of dangerous drugs; strict compliance with rules on chain of custody required. In this case, there was a total disregard of the requirements of law and jurisprudence. The prosecution even admits that the police officers acquired the sachet of shabu presented in court against accused-appellant in a mere “test-buy” operation by SPO1 Rosales, PO3 Luague, and PO1 Aniñon. The police officers, after supposedly buying the sachet of shabu from the Nacua couple for Two Hundred Pesos (P200.00), left the residence of the Nacua couple, without recovering the marked money or effecting the couple’s arrest. The police officers brought the sachet of suspected shabu all the way back to their police station, and only there marked the said item, without the presence of the accused and/or other disinterested witnesses. While the Supreme Court (SC) allows for relaxation of the rules in some cases, there must be compelling and justifiable grounds for the same and it must be shown that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items have been properly preserved. However, such conditions are not present in the instant case. Firstly, the prosecution did not offer any explanation as to why the police officers failed to strictly comply with the established procedure for the custody of the suspected shabu. The SC thus surmised that the operation on September 2, 2005 was only meant to be a “test-buy,” so that the police officers could secure a search warrant for the house of the Nacua couple. There was no original intention to arrest and charge the Nacua couple for the shabu purchase that day. Surprisingly and inexplicably, however, the prosecution chose to indict the Nacua couple for the “test-buy” conducted on September 2, 2005, rather than for the result of the search conducted on September 21, 2005 at the house of the Nacua couple which purportedly yielded more shabu and related paraphernalia and led to the arrest of the couple. Secondly, the prosecution failed to show that the integrity and evidentiary value of the sachet of suspected shabu allegedly bought from the Nacua couple during the “test-buy” operation has been properly preserved from the time said item was transmitted to the crime laboratory up to its presentation in court. No evidence was offered to show as to how the said specimen was kept and by whom after its forensic examination throughout its presentation in court. With reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of the corpus delicti, the acquittal of accused-appellant of the crime charged is in order. People of the Philippines v. Reynaldo Nacua, et al, accused; Reynaldo Nacua, accused-appellant, G.R. No. 200165, January 30, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody rule. The accused argues that the NBI operatives failed to observe the chain of custody rule in dangerous drugs cases. The Supreme Court did not agree. The alleged failure of the apprehending team to inventory and photograph the confiscated items immediately after the operation is not fatal to the prosecution’s cause. What is of utmost importance is the preservation of the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items, as the same would be used in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. Here, the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized drugs had been preserved as there is evidence to account for the crucial links in the chain of custody of the seized shabu, starting from its confiscation to its presentation as evidence in the Regional Trial Court. People of the Philippines v. Hong Yen E and Tsien Tsien Chua, G.R. No. 181826, January 9, 2013.
Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs; elements. The elements of illegal possession of prohibited drugs are as follows: (a) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (b) such possession is not authorized by law; and (c) the accused freely and consciously possessed the prohibited drug. The evidence on record clearly established that appellant Chua was in possession of the plastic bags containing prohibited drugs without the requisite authority. Applying section 3(j), Rule 131 of the Rules of Court, a disputable presumption arises that she is the owner of the bag and its contents. It may be rebutted by contrary proof that the accused did not in fact exercise power and control over the thing in question, and did not intend to do so. The burden of evidence is thus shifted to the possessor to explain absence of animus possidendi. Here, Chua failed to present evidence to rebut the presumption. People of the Philippines v. Hong Yen E and Tsien Tsien Chua, G.R. No. 181826, January 9, 2013.
Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs; buy-bust operations or decoy solicitations are valid. A police officer’s act of soliciting drugs from appellant during the buy-bust operation, or what is known as the “decoy solicitation,” is not prohibited by law and does not invalidate the buy-bust operation. In People v. Legaspi, the Supreme Court pronounced that in a prosecution for sale of illicit drugs, any of the following will not exculpate the accused: (1) that facilities for the commission of the crime were intentionally placed in his way; or (2) that the criminal act was done at the solicitation of the decoy or poseur-buyer seeking to expose his criminal act; or (3) that the police authorities feigning complicity in the act were present and apparently assisted in its commission. Hence, even assuming that the PAOCTF operatives repeatedly asked her to sell them shabu, appellant’s defense of instigation will not prosper. This is especially true in that class of cases where the offense is the kind that is habitually committed, and the solicitation merely furnished evidence of a course of conduct. Mere deception by the police officer will not shield the perpetrator, if the offense was committed by him free from the influence or instigation of the police officer. People of the Philippines v. Simpresueta M. Seraspe, G.R. No. 180919, January 9, 2013.
Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs; elements. In the prosecution of illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the two essential elements are: (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. Hence, evidence that establishes both elements by the required quantum of proof, i.e., guilt beyond reasonable doubt, must be presented. Here, the said elements were duly proved by the prosecution. Carla and P/Chief Insp. Dandan positively identified appellant and her co-accused as the sellers of the contraband who sold the same in exchange for the marked money. The item was seized, marked and upon examination was identified as shabu, a dangerous drug. The same was subsequently presented in evidence. Moreover, Carla provided a detailed testimony as to the delivery and sale of shabu. Thus, the Supreme Court (SC) found no reason to doubt the above testimony of Carla. Aside from the fundamental rule that findings of the trial court regarding the credibility of prosecution witnesses are accorded respect considering that it is the trial court that had the opportunity to observe their conduct and demeanor, the SC noted that appellant herself corroborated the prosecution’s account of the crime. People of the Philippines v. Simpresueta M. Seraspe, G.R. No. 180919, January 9, 2013.
RA 7832; 48-hour prior notice of disconnection of electricity required; damages awarded for improper disconnection of electricity. The Court of Appeals here held that petitioner abused its right when it disconnected the electricity of Permanent Light. The appellate court upheld the validity of the provision in petitioner’s service contract which allows the utility company to disconnect service upon a customer’s failure to pay the differential billing. It however stressed that under section 97 of Revised Order No. 1 of the Public Service Commission, the right of a public utility to discontinue its service to a customer is subject to the requirement of a 48-hour written notice of disconnection. Petitioner’s failure in this regard, according to the appellate court, justifies the award of moral and exemplary damages to respondents. The Supreme Court (SC) took note of Resolution No. 95-21, or the Standard Rules and Regulations Governing the Operation of Electrical Power Services, of the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) which superseded and revoked Revised Order No. 1 of the Public Service Commission adopted on November 27, 1941. Section 48 of ERB Resolution No. 95-21, reads: “SEC. 48. Refusal or Discontinuance of Service. – Service may be discontinued for the non-payment of bills as provided for in Section 43 hereof, provided that a forty eight (48)-hour written notice of such disconnection has been given the customer.” True, Section 48 of ERB Resolution No. 95-21 expressly provides for the application of the 48-hour notice rule to Section 43 on Payment of Bills. However, petitioner Meralco, through its Revised Terms and Conditions of Service, adopted said notice requirement in cases where disconnection of service is warranted because (1) the consumer failed to pay the adjusted bill after the meter stopped or failed to register the correct amount of energy consumed, (2) or for failure to comply with any of the terms and conditions, (3) or in case of or to prevent fraud upon the Company. Considering the discovery of the tampered meter by its Fully Phased Inspectors, petitioner Meralco could have disconnected electricity to Permanent Light for no other reason but to prevent fraud upon the Company. Therefore, under the Revised Terms and Conditions of Service vis-à-vis Section 48 of ERB Resolution No. 95-21, petitioner is obliged to furnish respondents with a 48-hour notice of disconnection. Having failed in this regard, the SC found basis for the award of moral and exemplary damages in favor of respondents for the unceremonious disconnection of electricity to Permanent Light. Manila Electric Company (MERALCO) v. Atty. P.M. Castillo, doing business under the trade name and style of Permanent Light Manufacturing Enterprises, et al, G.R. No. 182976. January 14, 2013.
RA 9262; violence against women and children; leniency in favor of accused due to ambiguity of the law inapplicable. The Supreme Court held that it cannot construe the statute in favor of petitioner using the rule of leniency because there is no ambiguity in RA 9262 that would necessitate any construction. While the degree of physical harm under RA 9262 and Article 2668 of the Revised Penal Code are the same, there is sufficient justification for prescribing a higher penalty for the former. Clearly, the legislative intent is to purposely impose a more severe sanction on the offenders whose violent act/s physically harm women with whom they have or had a sexual or dating relationship, and/or their children with the end in view of promoting the protection of women and children. Karlo Angelo Dabalos y San Diego v. Regional Trial Court, Branch 59, Angeles City, etc., et al, G.R. No. 193960, January 7, 2013.
RA 9262; violence against women and children; crime of violence against women; elements. Petitioner here insists that the act which resulted in physical injuries to private respondent is not covered by RA 9262 because its proximate cause was not their dating relationship. Instead, he claims that the offense committed was only slight physical injuries under the Revised Penal Code which falls under the jurisdiction of the Municipal Trial Court. The Supreme Court (SC) did not give credence to this argument. In Ang v. Court of Appeals, the SC enumerated the elements of the crime of violence against women through harassment, to wit: (1) The offender has or had a sexual or dating relationship with the offended woman; (2) The offender, by himself or through another, commits an act or series of acts of harassment against the woman; and (3) The harassment alarms or causes substantial emotional or psychological distress to her. Karlo Angelo Dabalos y San Diego v. Regional Trial Court, Branch 59, Angeles City, etc., et al, G.R. No. 193960, January 7, 2013.
RA 9262; violence against women and children; crime of violence against women need not be a consequence of an existing or present dating relationship. Notably, while it is required that the offender has or had a sexual or dating relationship with the offended woman for RA 9262 to be applicable, it is not indispensable that the act of violence be a consequence of such relationship. Nowhere in the law can such limitation be inferred. Hence, applying the rule on statutory construction that when the law does not distinguish, neither should the courts, then, clearly, the punishable acts refer to all acts of violence against women with whom the offender has or had a sexual or dating relationship. As correctly ruled by the Regional Trial Court, it is immaterial whether the relationship had ceased for as long as there is sufficient evidence showing the past or present existence of such relationship between the offender and the victim when the physical harm was committed. Consequently, the SC did not depart from the parallelism in Ang and give credence to petitioner’s assertion that the act of violence should be due to the sexual or dating relationship. Karlo Angelo Dabalos y San Diego v. Regional Trial Court, Branch 59, Angeles City, etc., et al, G.R. No. 193960, January 7, 2013.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Alibi and Denial; alibi cannot prevail over positive identification. It is a time-honored principle that the positive identification of the appellant by a witness destroys the defense of alibi and denial. In this case, Romeo positively identified the appellants, whom he both knew since he was a child, thereby rendering the defenses of alibi and denial weak. Certainly, it was not physically impossible for appellant Abundio to be at the hilly portion of Sitio Liki where Pablo was attacked, the same being only a kilometer away from his own house and two (2) kilometers away from the farm where he and his father allegedly were on that fateful day. Appellant Benjamin’s bare denial, on the other hand, is definitely self-serving. It cannot stand against the positive identification of an unbiased and credible witness. People of the Philippines v. Benjamin Peteluna and Abundio Binondo, G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013.
Evidence; credibility of witnesses best evaluated by the trial court. XYZ positively identified the appellant as the person who embraced AAA and spread her legs; who held AAA’s breast; and who placed his hand inside the latter’s underwear sometime in 2002. XYZ’s testimony was corroborated by the testimony of her daughter XXX who declared that the appellant would embrace AAA and touch her vagina whenever the appellant came home from work. The lower courts found XYZ’s and XXX’s testimonies credible and convincing. In convicting the accused, the Supreme Court emphasized the well-settled doctrine that “the Court will not disturb the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses, as it was in the better position to observe their candor and behavior on the witness stand. Evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies is a matter best undertaken by the trial court; it had the unique opportunity to observe the witnesses and their demeanor, conduct, and attitude, especially under cross-examination. Its assessment is entitled to respect unless certain facts of substance and value were overlooked which, if considered, might affect the result of the case.” People of the Philippines v. Patricio Rayon Sr., G.R. No. 194236, January 30, 2013.
Evidence; denial and alibi are inherently weak defenses. In light of the straightforward and credible testimony of the victim, AAA, her positive identification of appellant as her assailant and the lack of ill-motive on her part to falsely testify against appellant, the latter’s defense of denial and alibi must necessarily fail. Denial is an inherently weak defense and has always been viewed upon with disfavor by the courts due to the ease with which it can be concocted. Denial as a defense crumbles in the light of positive identification of the accused, as in this case. Verily, mere denial, unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is negative self-serving evidence which cannot be given greater evidentiary weight than the testimony of the complaining witness who testified on affirmative matters. Like denial, alibi is not looked upon with favor by the trial court. It also cannot prevail over witnesses’ positive identification of appellant as the perpetrator of the crime. In any event, for the defense of alibi to prosper, it is not enough that the accused can prove his presence at another place at the time of its commission, it is likewise essential that he show physical impossibility for him to be at the locus delicti, which the appellant in this case failed to do. Here, the houses of the offended party and the appellant are only divided by a fence and the place of the incident is only at the back of the house of the appellant. As such, despite the appellant’s allegation that he was having a drinking spree and that he was dead drunk at around 6:00 p.m of that date, still, given its apparent proximity, there is no impossibility for him to be physically present at the scene of the incident. People of the Philippines v. Rey Monticalvo y Magno, G.R. No. 193507, January 30, 2013.
Evidence; dying declaration; requisites. The Rules of Court states that a dying declaration is admissible as evidence if the following circumstances are present: (a) it concerns the cause and the surrounding circumstances of the declarant’s death; (b) it is made when death appears to be imminent and the declarant is under a consciousness of impending death; (c) the declarant would have been competent to testify had he or she survived; and (d) the dying declaration is offered in a case in which the subject of inquiry involves the declarant’s death. People of the Philippines v. Ramil Rarugal Alias “Amay Bisaya,” G.R. No. 188603, January 16, 2013.
Evidence; dying declaration; requisites. Here, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the statement of the victim, Florendo, made to his brother, Renato, has complied with the requisites of a dying declaration. It is important to note that Florendo, after being stabbed by appellant twice on the chest, went home and under labored breathing, told Renato that it was appellant who had stabbed him. Clearly, the statement made was an expression of the cause and the surrounding circumstances of his death, and under the consciousness of impending death. There being nothing in the records to show that Florendo was incompetent, he would have been competent to testify had he survived. It is enough to state that the deceased was at the time competent as a witness. Lastly, the dying declaration is offered in an inquiry the subject of which involves his death. The positive identification made by the victim before he died, under the consciousness of an impending death is a strong evidence indicating the liability of herein appellant. People of the Philippines v. Ramil Rarugal Alias “Amay Bisaya,” G.R. No. 188603, January 16, 2013.
Information; designation of the crime charged not controlling; language of the statute need not be used. Amistoso was specifically charged in the Information with statutory rape under Article 266-A, paragraph (1)(d), of the Revised Penal Code. It is undisputed that AAA was over 12 years old on July 10, 2000; thus, Amistoso cannot be convicted of statutory rape. Nonetheless, it does not mean that Amistoso cannot be convicted of rape committed under any of the other circumstances described by Article 266-A, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code, as long as the facts constituting the same are alleged in the Information and proved during trial. What is controlling in an Information should not be the title of the complaint, nor the designation of the offense charged or the particular law or part thereof allegedly violated, these being by and large mere conclusions of law made by the prosecutor, but the description of the crime charged and the particular facts therein recited. In addition, the Information need not use the language of the statute in stating the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense. What is required is that the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense are stated in ordinary and concise language sufficient to enable a person of common understanding to know the offense charged. People of the Philippines v. Anastacio Amistoso y Broca, G.R. No. 201447, January 9, 2013.
Information; designation of the crime charged not controlling; language of the statute need not be used. In this case, a perusal of the Information against Amistoso reveals that the allegations therein actually constitute a criminal charge for qualified rape under Article 266-A, paragraph (1)(a), in relation to Section 266-B, paragraph (1) of the Revised Penal Code. The elements of rape under Article 266-A, paragraph (1)(a) of the Revised Penal Code are: (1) that the offender had carnal knowledge of a woman; and (2) that such act was accomplished through force, threat, or intimidation. But when the offender is the victim’s father, there need not be actual force, threat, or intimidation. Then to raise the crime of simple rape to qualified rape under Article 266-B, paragraph (1) of the Revised Penal Code, the twin circumstances of minority of the victim and her relationship to the offender must concur. The foregoing elements of qualified rape under Article 266-A, paragraph (1)(a), in relation to Article 266-B , paragraph (1), of the Revised Penal Code, are sufficiently alleged in the Information against Amistoso, viz: (1) Amistoso succeeded in having carnal knowledge of AAA against her will and without her consent; (2) AAA was 12 years old on the day of the alleged rape; and (3) Amistoso is AAA’s father. Amistoso cannot claim that he had been deprived of due process in any way. He adequately understood from the Information that he was being charged with the rape of his own daughter AAA to which he proffered the defense of denial and alibi, totally refuting the fact of AAA’s rape regardless of how it was purportedly committed. People of the Philippines v. Anastacio Amistoso y Broca, G.R. No. 201447, January 9, 2013.
Petition for Certiorari; Rule 65 petition for certiorari distinguished from Rule 45 petition for review on certiorari. The petitioner committed a serious procedural faux pas by filing before the Supreme Court (SC) a petition for certiorari under Rule 65, when the proper remedy should have been a petition for review on certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. Decisions, final orders or resolutions of the Court of Appeals (CA) in any case, i.e., regardless of the nature of the action or proceedings involved, may be appealed to the SC by filing a petition for review under Rule 45, which would be but a continuation of the appellate process over the original case. The period to file a petition for review on certiorari is 15 days from notice of the decision appealed from or of the denial of the petitioner’s motion for reconsideration. Here, the petitioner received a copy of the CA’s May 5, 2010 Resolution, which denied his second motion for reconsideration, on May 20, 2010, thus, he only had until June 4, 2010 to file a petition for review on certiorari with the SC. This he failed to do. “The perfection of an appeal in the manner and within the period prescribed by law is mandatory. Failure to conform to the rules regarding appeal will render the judgment final and executory and, hence, unappealable.” Thus, the petitioner’s failure to file a petition for review under Rule 45 within the reglementary period rendered the CA’s June 24, 2008 Decision, as modified by its March 4, 2009 Resolution, final and executory. Raul Escalante v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 192727, January 9, 2013.
Petition for Certiorari; Rule 65 petition for certiorari no substitute for a Rule 45 petition for review on certiorari. It is at once evident that the instant certiorari action is merely being used by the petitioner to make up for his failure to promptly interpose an appeal from the CA’s June 24, 2008 Decision and March 4, 2009 Resolution. However, a special civil action under Rule 65 cannot cure petitioner’s failure to timely file a petition for review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court. It is settled that a special civil action for certiorari will not lie as a substitute for the lost remedy of appeal, especially if such loss or lapse was occasioned by one’s own neglect or error in the choice of remedies. Raul Escalante v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 192727, January 9, 2013.
Preliminary investigations; probable cause; courts may review probable-cause findings of public prosecutors where grave abuse of discretion is shown. Petitioner contends that the Court of Appeals (CA) should not have taken cognizance of the petitions for certiorari filed before it because criminal proceedings shall not be restrained once probable cause has been determined and the corresponding information has been filed in courts. The Supreme Court, invoking its judicial power under Section 1, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, held that, settled is the rule that courts retain the power to review findings of prosecutors in preliminary investigations, although in a mere few exceptional cases showing grave abuse of discretion. Although policy considerations call for the widest latitude of deference to the prosecutors’ findings, courts should not shirk from exercising their power, when the circumstances warrant, to determine whether prosecutors’ findings are supported by the facts or by the law. In so doing, courts do not act as prosecutors but as organs of the judiciary that are exercising their mandate under the Constitution, relevant statutes, and remedial rules to settle cases and controversies. Antonio L Tan, Jr. v. Yoshitsugu Matsuura and Carolina Tanjutco/Antonio L. Tan Jr. v. Julie O Cua, G.R. Nos. 179003 & 195816. January 9, 2013.
Preliminary investigations; probable cause; courts may review probable-cause findings of public prosecutors where grave abuse of discretion is shown. While the findings of prosecutors are reviewable by the Department of Justice (DOJ), this does not preclude courts from intervening and exercising their powers of review with respect to the DOJ’s findings. In the exceptional case in which grave abuse of discretion is committed, as when a clear sufficiency or insufficiency of evidence to support a finding of probable cause is ignored, the Court of Appeals (CA) may take cognizance of the case via a petition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. Based on the grounds raised by the respondents in their petitions with the CA, the appellate court’s exercise of its power to review was also the proper and most prudent course to take after the Secretary had successively issued several resolutions with varying findings of fact and conclusions of law on the existence of probable cause, even contrary to the own findings of the Office of the City Prosecutor that conducted the preliminary investigation. Although by itself, such circumstance was not indicative of grave abuse of discretion, there was a clear issue on the Secretary of Justice’s appreciation of facts, which commanded a review by the court to determine if grave abuse of discretion attended the discharge of his functions. Antonio L Tan, Jr. v. Yoshitsugu Matsuura and Carolina Tanjutco/Antonio L. Tan Jr. v. Julie O Cua, G.R. Nos. 179003 & 195816. January 9, 2013.
Preliminary investigations; probable cause defined; determination of probable cause is an essentially executive function. Probable cause, for purposes of filing criminal information, pertains to facts and circumstances sufficient to incite a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and the accused is probably guilty thereof. Only such facts sufficient to support a prima facie case against the respondent are required, not absolute certainty. Probable cause implies mere probability of guilt, i.e., a finding based on more than bare suspicion but less than evidence that would justify a conviction. The strict validity and merits of a party’s accusation or defense, as well as admissibility of testimonies and pieces of evidence, are better ventilated during the trial proper of the case. The determination of probable cause is essentially an executive function, lodged in the first place on the prosecutor who conducted the preliminary investigation on the offended party’s complaint. The prosecutor’s ruling is reviewable by the Secretary of Justice (Secretary) who, as the final determinative authority on the matter, has the power to reverse, modify or affirm the prosecutor’s determination. As a rule, the Secretary’s findings are not subject to interference by the courts, save only when he acts with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction; or when he grossly misapprehends facts; or acts in a manner so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined by law; or when he acts outside the contemplation of law. Baron A. Villanueva, et al v. Edna R. Caparas, G.R. No. 190969, January 30, 2013.
Preliminary investigations; probable cause defined; determination of probable cause is an essentially executive function. Here, the Supreme Court held that the Secretary of Justice (Secretary) acted with grave abuse of discretion when he reversed the prosecutor’s resolution finding probable cause to charge Villanueva with homicide. The Secretary, in this case, calibrated the evidentiary weight of the NBI opinion vis-à-vis the autopsy report, as well as Edna’s complaint-affidavit vis-à-vis the affidavit of Jovita, and in so doing, already went into the strict merits of Villanueva’s defenses. Whether the alternative scenario on the cause of Renato’s injuries and death (as supported by Jovita’s affidavit and the NBI opinion and which Villanueva proposed by way of defense) is more credible and more likely than the narrations of Edna in her complaint-affidavit, in the affidavit of her witness, and the NBI autopsy report should best be left for the trial court to determine after a full-blown trial on the merits. When the Secretary made a determination based on his own appreciation of the pieces of evidence for and against Villanueva, he effectively assumed the function of a trial judge in the evaluation of the pieces of evidence and, thereby, acted outside his jurisdiction. Baron A. Villanueva, et al v. Edna R. Caparas, G.R. No. 190969, January 30, 2013.
Searches and Seizures; conduct of house searches; presence of owner of house during search not indispensable where witnesses present. The Supreme Court held that there was nothing irregular in the conduct of search of petitioner’s house. There were variations in the witnesses’ testimonies as to whether petitioner was inside the house during the search. One witness testified that petitioner was coming in and out of the house during the search while the other witnesses claimed that petitioner was waiting just outside the house. Assuming that petitioner was indeed outside the house, it does not taint the regularity of the search. Section 8, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court allows the absence of the lawful occupant provided that two witnesses are present. The presence of the two barangay officials was not disputed by petitioner. As found by the trial court, accused-appellant and his wife were not prevented from entering their house to observe the search conducted therein. This is bolstered by the testimonies of police officers. Thus, PO3 Villano testified on cross-examination that the wife of the accused was inside, watching. Likewise. P/C Insp. Perfecto de Lima Jr. testified that the accused-appellant and his wife went in and out of their house while the team was conducting a search inside said house; that Valleno and his wife stood outside and sometimes, came in while the search was being conducted; and that before the search the Valleno spouses were requested not to go inside the house, but during the search they kept going in and out of said house. In addition, the search was conducted in the presence of two witnesses of sufficient age and discretion residing in the same locality, in the persons of Brgy. Kgd. Reynaldo Brito and Chief Tanod Wilfredo Brito. Resultantly, the seized items cannot therefore, be considered as fruits of the poisonous tree. Nelson Valleno y Lucito v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 192050, January 9, 2013.
Testimony of Police Officers; presumption of regularity in the performance of functions; minor inconsistencies in testimonies not fatal. The Supreme Court (SC) noted the inconsistencies in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, particularly that of barangay tanod Reynaldo Brito and PO3 Molina, relating to the place where one of the plastic sachets was found and to the person who brought the illegal drugs to the crime laboratory, respectively. The SC however brushed aside these inconsistencies as inconsequential. Indeed, one can hardly expect their testimonies to be in perfect agreement. As held in the past, it is perhaps too much to hope that different eyewitnesses shall give, at all times, testimonies that are in all fours with the realities on the ground. Minor discrepancies in their testimonies are, in fact, to be expected; they neither vitiate the essential integrity of the evidence in its material entirety nor reflect adversely on the credibility of witnesses. Nelson Valleno y Lucito v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 192050, January 9, 2013.
Testimony of Police Officers; presumption of regularity in the performance of functions; minor inconsistencies in testimonies not fatal. For a successful appeal, the inconsistencies brought up should pertain to that crucial moment when the accused was caught selling shabu, not to peripheral matters. Testimonies of witnesses need only corroborate each other on important and relevant details concerning the principal occurrence. The inconsistent testimony of Reynaldo Brito deserves little weight in light of the consonant testimonies of all the police officers who testified in court. It is well-settled that the testimonies of the police officers in dangerous drugs cases carry with it the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions. Absent any clear showing that the arresting officers had ill-motive to falsely testify against the petitioner, their testimonies must be respected and the presumption of regularity in the performance of their duties must be upheld. Petitioner himself testified that he never had any personal encounter with the police prior to his arrest, thus negating any ill-motive on the part of the police officers. Nelson Valleno y Lucito v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 192050, January 9, 2013.
(Lindy thanks Izabel Seriña, Elaine de los Santos, and Vince Juan for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)