July 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are select July 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:

1.            REVISED PENAL CODE

Bigamy; elements. The elements of the crime of bigamy are: (1) the offender has been legally married; (2) the marriage has not been legally dissolved or, in case his or her spouse is absent, the absent spouse could not yet be presumed dead according to the Civil Code; (3) that he contracts a second or subsequent marriage; and (4) that the second or subsequent marriage has all the essential requisites for validity. James Walter P. Capili v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183805, July 3, 2013.

Bigamy; bigamy committed even if second marriage is subsequently declared void. In the present case, it appears that all the elements of the crime of bigamy were present when the Information was filed on June 28, 2004. It is undisputed that a second marriage between petitioner and private respondent was contracted on December 8, 1999, during the subsistence of a valid first marriage. Notably, the Regional Trial Court of Antipolo City itself declared the bigamous nature of the second marriage between petitioner and private respondent. Thus, the subsequent judicial declaration of nullity of the second marriage for being bigamous does not bar the prosecution of petitioner for the crime of bigamy. Jurisprudence is replete with cases holding that the accused may still be charged with the crime of bigamy, even if there is a subsequent declaration of the nullity of the second marriage, so long as the first marriage was still subsisting when the second marriage was celebrated. Finally, it is a settled rule that the criminal culpability attaches to the offender upon the commission of the offense, and from that instant, liability appends to him until extinguished as provided by law. It is clear then that the crime of bigamy was committed by petitioner from the time he contracted the second marriage with private respondent. Thus, the finality of the judicial declaration of nullity of petitioner’s second marriage does not impede the filing of a criminal charge for bigamy against him. James Walter P. Capili v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 183805, July 3, 2013.

Estafa under Article 315, par. 1(b); elements. The crime charged was estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1(b) of the Revised Penal Code. Its elements are as follows: (1) that money, goods, or other personal properties are received by the offender in trust, or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of, or to return, the same; (2) that there is a misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender or a denial of the receipt thereof; (3) that the misappropriation or conversion or denial is to the prejudice of another; and (4) that there is a demand made by the offended party on the offender. Paragraph 1(b) provides liability for estafa committed by misappropriating or converting to the prejudice of another money, goods, or any other personal property received by the offender in trust or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of or to return the same, even though that obligation be totally or partially guaranteed by a bond; or by denying having received such money, goods, or other property. Fernando M. Espino v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188217, July 3, 2013.

Estafa under Article 315, par. 1(b); elements. This at least, is very clearly shown by the factual allegations of the Informations. First, personal property in the form of the checks was received by the offender in trust or on commission, with the duty to deliver it to Mr. Banaag. Even though the accused misrepresented the existence of a deliverable commission, it is a fact that he was obliged by KN Inc., the injured party, to deliver the check and account for it. Second, the accused rediscounted the checks to his aunt-in-law. Third, this rediscounting resulted in the wrongful encashment of the checks by someone who was not the payee and therefore not lawfully authorized to do so. Finally, this wrongful encashment prejudiced KN Inc., which lost the proceeds of the check. When accounting was demanded from the accused, he could not conjure any justifiable excuse. His series of acts precisely constitutes estafa under Article 315, paragraph 1 (b). Fernando M. Espino v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188217, July 3, 2013.

Malversation of public funds; elements. The elements of malversation of public funds under Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code are: 1. that the offender is a public officer; 2. that he had the custody or control of funds or property by reason of the duties of his office; 3. that those funds or property were public funds or property for which he was accountable; and 4. that he appropriated, took, misappropriated or consented or, through abandonment or negligence, permitted another person to take them. Major Joel G. Cantos v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 184908, July 3, 2013.

Malversation of public funds; presumption that missing fund or property have been converted to personal uses. The Sandiganbayan did not commit a reversible error in its decision convicting petitioner of malversation of public funds The Supreme Court (SC) noted that all the above-mentioned elements are here present. Petitioner was a public officer occupying the position of commanding Officer of the 22nd FSU of the AFP Finance Center, PSG. By reason of his position, he was tasked to supervise the disbursement of the Special Duty Allowances and other Maintenance Operating Funds of the PSG personnel, which are indubitably public funds for which he was accountable. Petitioner in fact admitted in his testimony that he had complete control and custody of these funds. As to the element of misappropriation, indeed petitioner failed to rebut the legal presumption that he had misappropriated the fees to his personal use. In convicting petitioner, the Sandiganbayan cites the presumption in Article 217 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, which states that the failure of a public officer to have duly forthcoming any public funds or property with which he is chargeable, upon demand by any duly authorized officer, is prima facie evidence that he has put such missing fund or property to personal uses. The presumption is, of course, rebuttable. Accordingly, if petitioner is able to present adequate evidence that can nullify any likelihood that he put the funds or property to personal use, then that presumption would be at an end and the prima facie case is effectively negated. In this case, however, petitioner failed to overcome this prima facie evidence of guilt. He failed to explain the missing funds in his account and to restitute the amount upon demand. His claim that the money was taken by robbery or theft is self-serving and has not been supported by evidence. In fact, petitioner even tried to unscrew the safety vault to make it appear that the money was forcibly taken. Moreover, petitioner’s explanation that there is a possibility that the money was taken by another is belied by the fact that there was no sign that the steel cabinet was forcibly opened. The SC also took note of the fact that it was only petitioner who had the keys to the steel cabinet. Thus, the explanation set forth by petitioner is unsatisfactory and does not overcome the presumption that he has put the missing funds to personal use. Major Joel G. Cantos v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 184908, July 3, 2013.

Self-defense; elements; unlawful aggression. Accused-appellant Vergara claims self-defense. The following are the essential elements of self-defense: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel such aggression; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person resorting to self-defense. A person who invokes self-defense has the burden of proof. He must prove all the elements of self-defense. However, the most important of all the elements is unlawful aggression on the part of the victim. Unlawful aggression must be proved first in order for self-defense to be successfully pleaded, whether complete or incomplete. Unlawful aggression is an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. People of the Philippines v. Garry Vergara y Oriel and Joseph Incencio y Paulino, G.R. No. 177763, July 3, 2013.

Self-defense; elements; unlawful aggression. In the present case, the element of unlawful aggression is absent. By the testimonies of all the witnesses, the victim’s actuations did not constitute unlawful aggression to warrant the use of force employed by accused-appellant Vergara. The records reveal that the victim had been walking home albeit drunk when he passed by accused-appellants. However, there is no indication of any untoward action from him to warrant the treatment that he had by accused-appellant Vergara’s hands. As succinctly stated by the trial court:  “The victim was just walking, he was neither uttering invectives words nor provoking the appellants into a fight. Appellant Vergara was the unlawful aggressor. He was the one who put the life of the victim in actual peril. This can be inferred from the wounds sustained by the victim.” It is thus clear that there being no unlawful aggression on the part of the victim, the act of accused-appellant Vergara of taking a knife and stabbing the victim was not made in lawful self-defense. People of the Philippines v. Garry Vergara y Oriel and Joseph Incencio y Paulino, G.R. No. 177763, July 3, 2013.

Treachery. The Supreme Court ruled that treachery was correctly appreciated by the lower courts. A treacherous attack is one in which the victim was not afforded any opportunity to defend himself or resist the attack. The existence of treachery is not solely determined by the type of weapon used. If it appears that the weapon was deliberately chosen to insure the execution of the crime, and to render the victim defenseless, then treachery may be properly appreciated against the accused. Here, the Condes were unarmed when they were shot by appellant. The use of a 12-gauge shotgun against two unarmed victims is undoubtedly treacherous, as it denies the victims the chance to fend off the offender. People of the Philippines v. Regie Labia, G.R. No. 202867, July 15, 2013. 

Treachery. The Supreme Court found that the acts of accused-appellant Vergara constituted treachery qualifying the crime committed to murder. 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. Here, accused-appellant Vergara after exchanging words with the victim, threw his arm around the victim’s shoulder and proceeded to stab him. The victim was totally unaware of the evil that would befall him. The number and severity of the wounds received by the victim indicated that he was rendered immobile and without any real opportunity to defend himself other than feebly raising his arm to ward off the attack. People of the Philippines v. Garry Vergara y Oriel and Joseph Incencio y Paulino, G.R. No. 177763, July 3, 2013.

Treachery. The killing committed in this case is neither parricide nor infanticide and the same was attended with treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make. The essence of treachery is that the attack comes without a warning and in a swift, deliberate, and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed, and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape. In this case, treachery is evident from the fact that the victim could not have been aware of the imminent peril to his life. He was unprepared for the sudden, unexpected and unprovoked attack on his person when appellant stabbed his back with a knife then swiftly run away. Clearly, appellant’s execution of the killing left the victim with no opportunity to defend himself or retaliate. People of the Philippines v. Joemari Jalbonian alias “Budo,” G.R. No. 180281, July 1, 2013.

2.            SPECIAL PENAL LAWS

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; conspiracy to defraud the Government. As found by the Sandiganbayan, petitioners’ acts not only show gross negligence amounting to bad faith, but, when taken together, also show that there was conspiracy in their wilful noncompliance with their duties in order to defraud the government. In order to establish the existence of conspiracy, unity of purpose and unity in the execution of an unlawful objective by the accused must be proven. Direct proof is not essential to show conspiracy. It is enough that there be proof that two or more persons acted towards the accomplishment of a common unlawful objective through a chain of circumstances, even if there was no actual meeting among them. As found by the Supreme Court, a cash advance request cannot be approved and disbursed without passing through several offices, including those of petitioners. It is outrageous that they would have us believe that they were not in conspiracy when over hundreds of vouchers were signed and approved by them in a course of 30 months, without their noticing irregularities therein that should have prompted them to refuse to sign the vouchers. Clearly, they were in cahoots in granting the cash advances to Gonzales. By these acts, petitioners defrauded the government of such a large sum of money that should not have been disbursed in the first place, had they been circumspect in performing their functions. Not only were petitioners unified in defrauding the government, but they were also unified in not reporting the negligence of their cohorts because of their own negligence. Cesa himself admitted knowing that Gonzales had unliquidated cash advances, yet he signed the vouchers. He also failed to inform the other officials that they should not sign the vouchers and tolerated their negligence when they affixed their signatures thereto. Petitioners, through their admissions before the Sandiganbayan, all knew that there were irregularities in the vouchers; still they failed to correct one another, because they themselves signed the vouchers despite the glaring irregularities therein. Benilda N. Bacasmas v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines/ Alan C. Gaviola v. People of the Philippines/ Eustaquio B. Cesa v. People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 189343/ 189369/ 189553, July 10, 2013.

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; undue injury to the government; elements. The essential elements of the crime defined in section 3(e) of R.A. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, are: 1. The accused must be a public officer discharging administrative, judicial or official functions; 2. He must have acted with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or inexcusable negligence; and 3. That his action caused any undue injury to any party, including the government, or giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions. There is no question regarding the presence of the first requisite considering that at the time the subject appointments were made, both petitioners were faculty members and holding administrative positions in UP Diliman. What petitioners dispute is the existence of the second and third requisites. In Criminal Case No. 25465, the information charged that petitioners willfully, unlawfully and criminally gave unwarranted benefits to Dr. Posadas in appointing him as TMC Project Director, in violation of the prohibition against multiple positions and the rule on non-retroactivity of appointments, thereby causing undue injury to the Government.  Roger R. Posadas and Dr. Rolando P. Dayco v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 168951 & 169000, July 17, 2013.

Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; undue injury to the government; modes of commission. In Cabrera v. Sandiganbayan, the Supreme Court (SC) explained that there are two (2) ways by which a public official violates Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019 in the performance of his functions, namely: (a) by causing undue injury to any party, including the Government; or (b) by giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference. The accused may be charged under either mode or under both. The use of the disjunctive term “or” connotes that either act qualifies as a violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. No. 3019. Here, petitioners were charged with committing the offense under both modes. Upon the entire evidence on record, the Sandiganbayan was convinced that petitioners were guilty of causing undue injury to the Government. The SC sustained the decision of the Sandiganbayan holding petitioners liable for causing undue injury to the Government in appointing Dr. Posadas as TMC Project Director with evident bad faith. In this case, that petitioners acted in evident bad faith was duly established by the evidence. It was recalled that the Memorandum of Agreement was executed on September 18, 1995 and became effective upon the signature of the parties. Between that date and the China trip scheduled in the first week of November (the invitation was dated July 30, 1995), Dr. Posadas could have already appointed the Project Director and Consultant as indeed the retroactive appointment was even justified by them because supposedly “project activities” have already started by September 18, 1995. And yet he waited until the China trip, so that in his absence, the designated OIC Chancellor, Dr. Dayco, would be the one to issue the appointment. Apparently, Dr. Posadas’ appointment by Dr. Dayco in an OIC capacity was preconceived. Dr. Roger R. Posadas and Dr. Rolando P. Dayco v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. Nos. 168951 & 169000, July 17, 2013. 

Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody rule; proof of chain of custody. The prosecution carried the burden of establishing the chain of custody of the dangerous drugs that the police allegedly seized from the accused on the night of June 16, 2004. It should establish the following links in that chain of custody of the confiscated item: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turnover of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turnover by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turnover and submission of the marked illegal drug seized from the forensic chemist to the court. People of the Philippines v. Romeo Oniza y Ong and Mercy Oniza y Cabarle, G.R. No. 202709, July 3, 2013.

Dangerous Drugs Act; prosecution has burden of proving justifiable cause for non-compliance with chain of custody rule. Still, jurisprudence has established a rare exception with respect to the first required link—immediate seizure and marking of the seized items in the presence of the accused and others —namely, that (a) there must be justifiable grounds for non-compliance with the procedures; and (b) the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved. Here, the prosecution’s own evidence, as recited by the lower courts, is that the police officers did not make a physical inventory of the seized drugs nor did they take a picture of the same in the presence of the accused, someone in the media, a Department of Justice (DOJ) representative, and any elected public official. All that Officer Albarico could say is that his companion, Officer Jiro, marked the plastic sachets with the initials of the accused already at the police station and then turned over the same to the desk officer who prepared the Request for Laboratory Examination. Yet, the police officers did not bother to offer any sort of reason or justification for their failure to make an inventory and take pictures of the drugs immediately after their seizure in the presence of the accused and the other persons designated by the law. Both the lower courts misapprehended the significance of such omission. It is imperative for the prosecution to establish a justifiable cause for non-compliance with the procedural requirements set by law. People of the Philippines v. Romeo Oniza y Ong and Mercy Oniza y Cabarle, G.R. No. 202709, July 3, 2013.

Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody rule; safeguard against police abuse and extortion. The procedures outlined in Section 21 of R.A. 9165 are not merely empty formalities—these are safeguards against abuse, the most notorious of which is its use as a tool for extortion. The accused were therefore absolved of the charges against them because of the police officers’ outright failure without any justification to abide by the law governing the conduct of seizure operations involving dangerous drugs. People of the Philippines v. Romeo Oniza y Ong and Mercy Oniza y Cabarle, G.R. No. 202709, July 3, 2013.

The Ombudsman; the right of the Ombudsman to intervene in a case involving the enforcement of its decisions even though it is not itself a party to the case.  Petitioner in this case, the Office of the Ombudsman, prayed that the Resolution of the Court of Appeals (CA) which denied its Motion for Intervention be reversed and set aside. The Supreme Court held that the assailed Resolution is patently erroneous, and that granting the Office of the Ombudsman the opportunity to be heard in the case pending before the lower court is of primordial importance even though it (the Ombudsman) is not itself a party to the case. Since its power to ensure the enforcement of its decision was in danger of being impaired in the case before the lower court, the Office of the Ombudsman had a clear legal interest in defending its right to have its judgment carried out. The CA patently erred in denying the Office of the Ombudsman’s motion for intervention. Office of the Ombudsman v. Ernesto M. De Chavez, et al, G.R. No. 172206, July 3, 2013.

3.            CRIMINAL PROCEDURE

Acquittal in criminal case; private offended party barred from pursuing a civil case based on the delict only if the judgment of acquittal explicitly declares that the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist. Section 2, Rule 111 of the Rules of Court provides that an acquittal in a criminal case does not bar the private offended party from pursuing a subsequent civil case based on the delict, unless the judgment of acquittal explicitly declares that the act or omission from which the civil liability may arise did not exist. Based on the violation of petitioners’ right to speedy disposition of cases as was discussed here, the present case stands to be dismissed even before either the prosecution or the defense has been given the chance to present any evidence. Thus, the Supreme Court is unable to make a definite pronouncement as to whether petitioners indeed committed the acts or omissions from which any civil liability on their part might arise as prescribed under Section 2, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court. Consequently, absent this pronouncement, the Province is not precluded from instituting a subsequent civil case based on the delict if only to recover the amount of P20,000,000.00 in public funds attributable to petitioners’ alleged malfeasance. Rafael L. Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, et al./Edwin N. Nacionales, et al v. Sandiganbayan, et al, G.R. No. 191411/G.R. No. 191871, July 15, 2013. 

Ombudsman; preliminary investigations of Ombudsman subject to petitioners’ right to speedy disposition of cases under the Constitution. A person’s right to the speedy disposition of his case is guaranteed under section 16, Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution (Constitution) which provides: “All persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of  their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.”  This constitutional right is not limited to the accused in criminal proceedings but extends to all parties in all cases, be it civil or administrative in nature, as well as all proceedings, either judicial or quasi-judicial. In this accord, any party to a case may demand expeditious action to all officials who are tasked with the administration of justice. Rafael L. Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, et al./Edwin N. Nacionales, et al v. Sandiganbayan, et al, G.R. No. 191411/G.R. No. 191871, July 15, 2013. 

Ombudsman; preliminary investigations of Ombudsman subject to petitioners’ right to speedy disposition of cases under the Constitution. The right to speedy disposition of cases should be understood to be a relative or flexible concept such that a mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved would not be sufficient. Jurisprudence dictates that the right is deemed violated only when the proceedings are attended by vexatious, capricious, and oppressive delays; or when unjustified postponements of the trial are asked for and secured; or even without cause or justifiable motive, a long period of time is allowed to elapse without the party having his case tried. Hence, in the determination of whether the defendant has been denied his right to a speedy disposition of a case, the following factors may be considered and balanced: (1) the length of delay; (2) the reasons for the delay; (3) the assertion or failure to assert such right by the accused; and (4) the prejudice caused by the delay. Rafael L. Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, et al./Edwin N. Nacionales, et al v. Sandiganbayan, et al, G.R. No. 191411/G.R. No. 191871, July 15, 2013. 

Ombudsman; the Ombudsman’s failure to resolve cases under preliminary investigation for eight years held to be unjustifiable and violated right of petitioners to a speedy disposition of their cases under the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that its prior decisions regarding the legal effects of a violation of the constitutional right of the accused to a speedy trial apply equally when a person’s constitutional right to the speedy disposition of his case is violated. Since the proceedings relative to the preliminary investigation of the case against petitioners were terminated by the Ombudsman only after almost eight (8) years after the filing of the complaint, the Supreme Court found the delay in the Ombudsman’s resolution of the case to be unjustified. The Supreme Court held: “[I]n view of the unjustified length of time miring the Office of the Ombudsman’s resolution of the case as well as the concomitant prejudice that the delay in this case has caused, it is undeniable that petitioners’ constitutional right to due process and speedy disposition of cases had been violated. As the institutional vanguard against corruption and bureaucracy, the Office of the Ombudsman should create a system of accountability in order to ensure that cases before it are resolved with reasonable dispatch and to equally expose those who are responsible for its delays, as it ought to determine in this case. Corollarily, for the [Sandiganbayan’]s patent and utter disregard of the existing laws and jurisprudence surrounding the matter, the Court finds that it gravely abused its discretion when it denied the quashal of the Information [against petitioners]. Perforce, the assailed resolutions must be set aside and the criminal case against petitioners be dismissed. . . . [T]he foregoing pronouncement should, as matter of course, result in the acquittal of the petitioners.” Rafael L. Coscolluela v. Sandiganbayan, et al./Edwin N. Nacionales, et al v. Sandiganbayan, et al, G.R. No. 191411/G.R. No. 191871, July 15, 2013. 

Withdrawal of Information filed in court; duty of a trial court  to make an independent evaluation of the merits of a prosecutor’s motion to withdraw an information and to indicate the bases of its conclusion in its order. When a trial court is confronted with “a motion to dismiss a case or to withdraw an Information,” it is its “bounden duty to assess independently the merits of the motion, and this assessment must be embodied in a written order disposing of the motion.” Here, the December 9, 2005 Order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) denying the Motion to Withdraw Information failed to state cogent reasons behind the said court’s refusal to grant the withdrawal of the Information. The RTC simply declared that it was denying the motion for being “unmeritorious,” without further elaborating on the bases of its conclusion. Likewise, in its March 10, 2006 Order reiterating its denial of respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration, the RTC merely stated that the 5% interest is a matter of defense. There was never any discussion as to how it reached such a conclusion, or how the Department of Justice (DOJ) findings impacted on its ruling. Notably, the RTC in both Orders perfunctorily denied the motion to withdraw as it did not (1) positively state that the evidence against Purita is sufficient to make out a case for estafa; (2) include a discussion on the merits of the case; (3) assess if the DOJ’s conclusion is supported by evidence; (4) look at the basis of the DOJ’s recommendation; (5) embody its assessment in the said Orders; and, (6) state the reasons in denying the motion to withdraw information.” Hence, it is plain from the said Orders that the RTC failed to perform its bounden-duty to make an independent evaluation of the merits of the case. The Supreme Court thus directed the trial court to make an independent and thorough evaluation of the merits of the case. It must clearly state whether the evidence presented is sufficient to make out a case for estafa and whether the DOJ’s conclusion is supported by evidence. Carolina B. Jose v. Purita Suarez, G.R. No. 176111, July 17, 2013.

(Lindy thanks Isabel F. Serina, Elaine B. de los Santos, and Vincent C. Juan for assisting in the preparation of this post.)

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