August 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

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

1.            Revised Penal Code

Crime of Open Disobedience; elements. The Municipal Trial Court (MTC) did not gravely abuse its discretion in dismissing Criminal Case No. 46400 for lack of probable cause. The dismissal ought to be sustained since the records clearly disclose the unmistakable absence of the integral elements of the crime of Open Disobedience. While the first element, i.e., that the offender is a judicial or executive officer, concurs in view of Atty. Fria’s position as Branch Clerk of Court, the second and third elements of the crime evidently remain wanting. To elucidate, the second element of the crime of Open Disobedience is that there is a judgment, decision, or order of a superior authority made within the scope of its jurisdiction and issued with all legal formalities. In this case, it is undisputed that all the proceedings in Civil Case No. 03-110 have been regarded as null and void due to Branch 203’s lack of jurisdiction over the said case. Hence, since it is explicitly required that the subject issuance be made within the scope of a superior authority’s jurisdiction, it cannot therefore be doubted that the second element of the crime of Open Disobedience does not exist. Proceeding from this discussion, the third element of the crime, i.e., that the offender, without any legal justification, openly refuses to execute the said judgment, decision, or order, which he is duty bound to obey, cannot equally exist. Indubitably, without any jurisdiction, there would be no legal order for Atty. Fria to implement or, conversely, disobey. The Law Firm of Chavez Miranda and Aseoche, et al v. Atty. Josejina C. Fria, G.R. No. 183014, August 7, 2013.

Extinguishment of criminal liability by the death of the accused prior to final judgment; effect of death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction on his civil liability ex delicto. Article 89, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code states that, “Criminal liability is totally extinguished by the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefore is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment.” Given the foregoing, it is clear that the death of the accused pending appeal of his conviction extinguishes his criminal liability, as well as his civil liability ex delicto. Since 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 case. Undeniably, Amistoso’s death on December 11, 2012 preceded the promulgation by the Supreme Court (SC) of its Decision on January 9, 2013. When Amistoso died, his appeal before the SC was still pending and unresolved. The SC ruled upon Amistoso’s appeal only because it was not immediately informed of his death. Amistoso’s death on December 11, 2012 renders the SC’s Decision dated January 9, 2013, even though affirming Amistoso’s conviction, irrelevant and ineffectual. Moreover, said Decision has not yet become final, and the SC still has the jurisdiction to set it aside. People of the Philippines v. Anastacio Amistoso y Broca, G.R. No. 201447, August 28, 2013.

Rape; the absence of laceration and semen; complete or full penetration of the complainant’s private parts not necessary. With regard to the results of the medical examination, the Supreme Court ruled that the absence of laceration and semen does not preclude the fact that rape has been committed. In the crime of rape, complete or full penetration of the complainant’s private part is not at all necessary. Neither is the rupture of the hymen essential. What is fundamental is that the entry or at the very least the introduction of the male organ into the labia of the pudendum is proved. The mere introduction of the male organ into the labia majora of the complainant’s vagina, consummates the crime. Likewise, the absence of semen in AAA’s vaginal area would not preclude a finding of rape. The presence or absence of spermatozoa is immaterial because the presence of spermatozoa is not an element of rape. Moreover, it has been held that the absence of spermatozoa in the vagina could be due to a number of factors, such as the vertical drainage of the semen from the vagina, the acidity of the vagina or the washing of the vagina immediately after sexual intercourse. People of the Philippines v. Apolinario Manalili y Jose, G.R. No. 191253, August 28, 2013.

2.            Special Penal Laws

Ill-gotten Wealth; E.O. No. 1, Series of 1986; the mere holding of a position in the Marcos administration did not necessarily make the holder a close associate of Marcos. There are two concurring elements that must be present before assets or properties can be considered as ill-gotten wealth, namely: (a) they must have “originated from the government itself,” and (b) they must have been taken by former President Marcos, his immediate family, relatives, and close associates by illegal means. As can be gleaned from the above, evidentiary substantiation of the allegations of how the wealth was illegally acquired and by whom was necessary. For that purpose, the mere holding of a position in the Marcos administration did not necessarily make the holder a close associate within the context of E.O. No.1. Indeed, a prima facie showing must be made to show that one unlawfully accumulated wealth by virtue of a close association or relation with President Marcos and/or his wife. It would not suffice, then, that one served during the administration of President Marcos as a government official or employee. In this case, the Republic particularly insists that Luz Bakunawa served as the Social Secretary or the Assistant Social Secretary of First Lady Marcos, and mentions several other circumstances that indicated her close relationship with the Marcoses. However, Luz Bakunawa maintains that she was not First Lady Marcos’ Social Secretary, but a mere member of the staff of the Social Secretary; and that the assets of the Bakunawas were honestly earned and acquired well within the legitimate income of their businesses. Thus, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the Sandiganbayan that the evidence of the Republic was able to establish, at best, that Luz Bakunawa had been an employee in Malacañang Palace during the Marcos administration, and did not establish her having a close relationship with the Marcoses, or her having abused her position or employment in order to amass the assets subject of this case. Consequently, Luz Bakunawa could not be considered a close associate or subordinate of the Marcoses within the context of E.O. No. 1 and E.O. No. 2. Republic of the Philippines represented by the Presidential Commission on Good Government v. Luz Reyes Bakunawa, et al, G.R. No. 180418, August 28, 2013.

Illegal Sale of Dangerous Drugs; chain of custody. The Supreme Court here held that while there were indeed five sachets of suspected shabu sold to the poseur-buyer, there were still more broken links in the chain of custody. In this case, one broken link was that of the turnover of the seized items from the buy-bust team to the police investigator, SPO1 Doria. PO2 Dizon testified that after he placed the marking on the five sachets of suspected shabu, he turned them over to SPO1 Doria and the specimens were submitted to the crime laboratory for examination. However, SPO1 Doria did not testify before the trial court so as to shed light on this matter. Still another broken link was that involving the transfer of the drug specimens from SPO1 Doria to the crime laboratory. P/Sr. Insp. Perez testified that the request for laboratory examination and drug specimens were first received by PO2 Bagaoisan, the Duty Desk Officer. The latter then called her to physically receive the same. However, P/Sr. Insp. Perez stated that she did not actually see if it was SPO1 Doria who transmitted the specimens. She merely relied on the stamp of PO2 Bagaoisan. Furthermore, PO2 Bagaoisan was not presented in court to prove that it was indeed SPO1 Doria who delivered the drug specimens to the crime laboratory. In view of the evident breaks in the chain of custody, very serious doubts arise as to the identity of the seized illegal drugs in this case. Apparently, there can be no absolute certainty if the sachets of shabu seized from the informant were the very same drugs handed by accused-appellant, or, later on, the same drugs transmitted to the crime laboratory and eventually presented before the trial court. Accused-appellant was thus acquitted of the crime charged. People of the Philippines v. Rogelia Jardinel Pepino-Consulta, G.R. No. 191071, August 28, 2013.

Illegal Sale Of Dangerous Drugs; elements. For the prosecution of illegal sale of drugs to prosper, the following elements must be proved: (1) the identity of the buyer and seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and its payment. What is material is the proof that the transaction actually took place, coupled with the presentation before the court of the prohibited or regulated drug or the corpus delicti. The prosecution duly established the identity of accused-appellant as a drug seller or pusher, through the testimonies of PO2 Ibañez, the poseur-buyer, and PO3 Allauigan, as back-up officer. PO2 Ibañez testified that it was to accused-appellant that he handed the marked Php100.00 bill for the shabu that he bought on March 23, 2007; and that accused-appellant was the one who took out of his coin purse a plastic sachet containing shabu. Both PO2 Ibañez and PO3 Allauigan identified accused-appellant as the one they arrested during the buy-bust operation. Indeed in the instant case, all the elements constituting the illegal sale of dangerous drug are present. The sale of shabu was consummated. The alleged inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are mere minor matters, which do not detract from the fact that a buy-bust operation was conducted. People of the Philippines v. Ryan Blanco y Sangkula, G.R. No. 193661, August 14, 2013.

RA 3019, Sec. 3(e); elements. The elements of the crime charged under section 3(e) of RA 3019 are as follows: 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 gross inexcusable negligence; and 3. His action caused any undue injury to any party, including the government, or gave any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his functions. Here, the Supreme Court held that the Sandiganbayan correctly found the concurrence of the three elements. First, petitioner, being the city engineer of Cebu, is undisputedly a public officer. Second, the failure of petitioner to validate the ownership of the land on which the canal was to be built because of his unfounded belief that it was public land constitutes gross inexcusable negligence. In his own testimony, petitioner impliedly admitted that it fell squarely under his duties to check the ownership of the land with the Register of Deeds. Yet he concluded that it was public land based solely on his evaluation of its appearance, i.e. that it looked swampy. Moreover, the undue injury to private complainant was established. The cutting down of her palm trees and the construction of the canal were all done without her approval and consent. As a result, she lost income from the sale of the palm leaves. She also lost control and use of a part of her land. The damage to private complainant did not end with the canal’s construction. Informal settlers dirtied her private property by using the canal constructed thereon as their lavatory, washroom, and waste disposal site. Antonio B. Sanchez v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 187340, August 14, 2013.

3.            Criminal Procedure

Consolidation of Criminal Cases; when consolidation of cases is not advisable. As can be gleaned from the summary of charges in the Neri case and the Abalos case, the inculpatory acts complained of, the particulars and specifications for each of the cases are dissimilar, even though they were allegedly done in connection with the negotiations for and the implementation of the NBN Project. Due to this variance, the prosecution witnesses listed in the pre-trial order in the Neri case are also different from the list of the people’s witnesses lined up to testify in the Abalos case, albeit some names appear in both the pre-trial orders. This can be easily seen by a simple comparison of the list of witnesses to be presented in the cases consolidated. A consolidation of the Neri case to that of Abalos would expose petitioner Neri to testimonies which have no relation whatsoever in the case against him and the lengthening of the legal dispute thereby delaying the resolution of his case. What is more, there is a significant difference in the number of witnesses to be presented in the two cases. In fact, the number of prosecution witnesses in the Neri case is just half of that in Abalos. Awaiting the completion in due course of the presentation of the witnesses in Abalos would doubtless stall the disposition of the case against petitioner as there are more or less 35 prosecution witnesses listed in People v. Abalos who are not so listed in People v. Neri. In the concrete, this means, in the minimum, awaiting the completion of the testimonies of 35 additional witnesses, whose testimonies are unrelated to the charges against him, before the case against petitioner may finally be disposed of, one way or another. Also, petitioner will be exposed to an extra 35 irrelevant testimonies which even exceed those relating to his case, since the prosecution only has roughly about 26 witnesses for his case. Further still, any delay in the presentation of any of the witnesses in People v. Abalos would certainly affect the speedy disposition of the case against petitioner. At the end of the day, the assailed consolidation, instead of contributing to the swift dispensation of justice and affording the parties a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of their cases, would achieve the exact opposite. Romulo L. Neri v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 202243, August 7, 2013.

Intervention of Private Prosecutor In Perjury Case. Even assuming that no civil liability was alleged or proved in the perjury case being tried in the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC), it is nonetheless erroneous for the trial court to consider the intervention of the offended party by counsel as merely a matter of tolerance. Thus, where the private prosecution has asserted its right to intervene in the proceedings, that right must be respected. The right reserved by the Rules to the offended party is that of intervening for the sole purpose of enforcing the civil liability born of the criminal act and not of demanding punishment of the accused. Such intervention, moreover, is always subject to the direction and control of the public prosecutor. In the light of the foregoing, the MTC committed no grave abuse of discretion when it denied petitioner’s motion to exclude Atty. Macam as private prosecutor. Lee Pue Liong a.k.a. Paul Lee v. Chua Pue Chin Lee, G.R. No. 181658, August 7, 2013.

Probable Cause; concept. Probable cause has been defined as the existence of such facts and circumstances as would excite the belief in a reasonable mind, acting on the facts within the knowledge of the prosecutor, that the person charged was guilty of the crime for which he was prosecuted. In order to arrive at probable cause, the elements of the crime charged should be present. Masayuki Hasegawa v. Leila F. Giron, G.R. No. 184536, August 14, 2013.

Preliminary Investigation; only evidence to support a finding of probable cause, not a conviction, needed for preliminary investigation. All elements of the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code were sufficiently averred in the complaint-affidavit in this case and were sufficient to engender a well-founded belief that a crime may have been committed and petitioner may have committed it. Respondent, an office worker, claimed that she and her friend were taken at gunpoint by two men and forcibly boarded into a vehicle. They were detained for more than 24 hours. Whether or not the accusations would result in a conviction is another matter. It is enough, for purposes of the preliminary investigation that the acts complained of constitute the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention. The Investigating Prosecutor, however, ruled that the kidnapping and serious illegal detention charge is a mere fabrication. The Supreme Court said that the Investigating Prosecutor has set the parameters of probable cause too high. Her findings dealt mostly with what respondent had done or failed to do after the alleged crime was committed. She delved into evidentiary matters that could only be passed upon in a full-blown trial where testimonies and documents could be fairly evaluated in according with the rules of evidence. The issues upon which the charges are built pertain to factual matters that cannot be threshed out conclusively during the preliminary stage of the case. Precisely, there is a trial for the presentation of prosecution’s evidence in support of the charge. The validity and merits of a party’s defense or accusation, as well as admissibility of testimonies and evidence, are better ventilated during trial proper than at the preliminary investigation level. Masayuki Hasegawa v. Leila F. Giron, G.R. No. 184536, August 14, 2013.

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