Here are select February 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Aiding or abetting; Unsolicited Commercial Communications; Child Pornography. Aiding or abetting has of course well-defined meaning and application in existing laws. When a person aids or abets another in destroying a forest, smuggling merchandise into the country, or interfering in the peaceful picketing of laborers, his action is essentially physical and so is susceptible to easy assessment as criminal in character. These forms of aiding or abetting lend themselves to the tests of common sense and human experience. If such means are adopted, self-inhibition borne of fear of what sinister predicaments await internet users will suppress otherwise robust discussion of public issues. Democracy will be threatened and with it, all liberties. What is more, as the petitioners point out, formal crimes such as libel are not punishable unless consummated. In the absence of legislation tracing the interaction of netizens and their level of responsibility such as in other countries, Section 5, in relation to Section 4(c)(4) on Libel, Section 4(c)(3) on Unsolicited Commercial Communications, and Section 4(c)(2) on Child Pornography, cannot stand scrutiny. Jose Jesus M. Disini Jr., et al v. The Secretary of Justice, et al, G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014.
Conspiracy; direct proof. While direct proof is not essential to establish conspiracy as it may be inferred from the collective acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime which point to a joint purpose, design, concerted action, and community of interests, records are, however, bereft of any showing as to how the particular acts of petitioners figured into the common design of taking out the subject volume and inserting the falsified documents therein. It would be a stretch to conclude that the act of Castro of inviting Atibula to Atienza’s party, without any other proof of Castro’s participation, was instrumental or, at the very least, reasonably connected to Atienza and his own alleged participation in the above-stated crimes. Hence, the prosecution’s theory of conspiracy does not deserve any merit. Ricardo L. Atienza and Alfredo A. Castro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188694, February 12, 2014.
Conspiracy; existence of conspiracy. A conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. To determine conspiracy, there must be a common design to commit a felony. People of the Philippines v. Javier Morilla y Avellano, G.R. No. 189833, February 5, 2014.
Conspiracy; totality of the factual circumstances doctrine. In conspiracy, it need not be shown that the parties actually came together and agreed in express terms to enter into and pursue a common design. The assent of the minds may be and, from the secrecy of the crime, usually inferred from proof of facts and circumstances which, taken together, indicate that they are parts of some complete whole. In this case, the totality of the factual circumstances leads to a conclusion that Morilla conspired with Mayor Mitra in a common desire to transport the dangerous drugs. People of the Philippines v. Javier Morilla y Avellano, G.R. No. 189833, February 5, 2014.
Consummated homicide; elements. The crime of homicide is committed when: (1) a person is killed; (2) the accused killed that person without any justifying circumstance; (3) the accused had the intention to kill, which is presumed; and (4) the killing was not attended by any of the qualifying circumstances of murder, or by that of parricide or infanticide. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
Cyberlibel; only the author of the libelous statement or article penalized. Cyberlibel is actually not a new crime since Article 353, in relation to Article 355 of the Penal Code, already punishes it. In effect, Section 4(c)(4) of R.A. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, merely affirms that online defamation constitutes “similar means” for committing libel. But the Supreme Court’s acquiescence goes only insofar as the cybercrime law penalizes the author of the libelous statement or article. Cyberlibel brings with it certain intricacies, unheard of when the penal code provisions on libel were enacted. The culture associated with internet media is distinct from that of print. The internet is characterized as encouraging a freewheeling, anything goes writing style. In a sense, they are a world apart in terms of quickness of the reader’s reaction to defamatory statements posted in cyberspace, facilitated by one-click reply options offered by the networking site as well as by the speed with which such reactions are disseminated down the line to other internet users. Jose Jesus M. Disini Jr., et al v. The Secretary of Justice, et al, G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014.
Damages. The Supreme Court (SC) noted that the trial court and the Court of Appeals did not award actual damages. In lieu thereof, the SC awarded temperate damages in the amount of P25,000.00, as it cannot be denied that the heirs of the victim suffered pecuniary loss although the exact amount was not proved. This award is adjudicated so that a right which has been violated may be recognized or vindicated, and not for the purpose of indemnification. In addition, all damages awarded shall earn interest at the rate of 6% per annum from date of finality of the judgment until fully paid. People of the Philippines v. Wilfredo Gunda Alias “Fred”, G.R. No. 195525, February 5, 2014.
Frustrated homicide; elements. The crime of frustrated homicide is committed when: (1) an accused intended to kill his victim, as manifested by his use of a deadly weapon in his assault; (2) the victim sustained fatal or mortal wound/s but did not die because of timely medical assistance; and (3) none of the qualifying circumstance for murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code is present. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
Intent to kill. The petitioners’ intent to kill was clearly established by the nature and number of wounds sustained by their victims. Evidence to prove intent to kill in crimes against persons may consist, among other things, of the means used by the malefactors; the conduct of the malefactors before, at the time of, or immediately after the killing of the victim; and the nature, location and number of wounds sustained by the victim. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
Libel; elements. The elements of libel are: (a) the allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another; (b) publication of the charge; (c) identity of the person defamed; and (d) existence of malice. There is “actual malice” or malice in fact when the offender makes the defamatory statement with the knowledge that it is false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. The reckless disregard standard used here requires a high degree of awareness of probable falsity. There must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the accused in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the statement he published. Gross or even extreme negligence is not sufficient to establish actual malice. Jose Jesus M. Disini Jr., et al v. The Secretary of Justice, et al, G.R. No. 203335, February 11, 2014.
Murder; penalty. Under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death. There being no other aggravating circumstance other than the qualifying circumstance of treachery, the Court of Appeals correctly held that the proper imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua, the lower of the two indivisible penalties. It must be emphasized, however, that appellant is not eligible for parole pursuant to Section 3 of R.A. 9346 which states that ‘persons convicted of offenses punished with reclusion perpetua, or whose sentence will be reduced to reclusion perpetua by reason of this Act, shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4180, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended.’ People of the Philippines v. Wilfredo Gunda Alias “Fred”, G.R. No. 195525, February 5, 2014.
Political offense doctrine; concept. Under the political offense doctrine, “common crimes, perpetrated in furtherance of a political offense, are divested of their character as ‘common’ offenses and assume the political complexion of the main crime of which they are mere ingredients, and, consequently, cannot be punished separately from the principal offense, or complexed with the same, to justify the imposition of a graver penalty.” Any ordinary act assumes a different nature by being absorbed in the crime of rebellion. Thus, when a killing is committed in furtherance of rebellion, the killing is not homicide or murder. Rather, the killing assumes the political complexion of rebellion as its mere ingredient and must be prosecuted and punished as rebellion alone. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Qualifying circumstance; treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits a crime 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. People of the Philippines v. Wilfredo Gunda Alias “Fred”, G.R. No. 195525, February 5, 2014.
Rape; conviction solely on the testimony of the victim. Appellant questions the weighty trust placed by the trial court on the singular and uncorroborated testimony of AAA as the basis for his conviction. On this point, the Supreme Court reminded appellant that it is a fundamental principle in jurisprudence involving rape that the accused may be convicted based solely on the testimony of the victim, provided that such testimony is credible, natural, convincing and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Rape; conduct of the victim immediately following the alleged sexual assault. The conduct of the victim immediately following the alleged sexual assault is of utmost importance in establishing the truth or falsity of the charge of rape. In the case at bar, the actuations of AAA after the alleged rape is totally uncharacteristic of one who has been raped. It is contrary to normal human behavior for AAA to willingly go with her abuser’s mother, and worse, to live with her abuser’s entire family in one roof for eight (8) days sans any attempt to escape. It goes against the grain of human experience for a woman who has been robbed of her honor and chastity not to seize an opportunity to escape from the clutches of her malefactor. People of the Philippines v. Felimon Patentes y Zamora, G.R. No. 190178, February 12, 2014.
Rape; one count for each separate act of sexual assault. The appellant, citing People v. Aaron, insists that he cannot be convicted of three (3) counts of rape despite the three (3) penetrations because he was motivated by a single criminal intent. However, it appears from the facts that the appellant thrice succeeded in inserting his penis into the private part of AAA. The three (3) penetrations occurred one after the other at an interval of five (5) minutes wherein the appellant would rest after satiating his lust upon his victim and, after he has regained his strength, he would again rape AAA. Hence, it can be clearly inferredfrom the foregoing that when the appellant decided to commit those separate and distinct acts of sexual assault upon AAA, he was not motivated by a single impulse, but rather by several criminal intent. Hence, his conviction for three (3) counts of rape is indubitable. The three insertions into AAA were in satiation of successive but distinct criminal carnality. Therefore, the appellant’s conviction for three counts of rape is proper. People of the Philippines v. Manolito Lucena y Velasquez, G.R. No. 190632, February 26, 2014.
Rape; credibility of victim’s testimony. It is jurisprudentially settled that when a woman says she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that she has been raped and her testimony alone is sufficient if it satisfies the exacting standard of credibility needed to convict the accused. Thus, in this jurisdiction, the fate of the accused in a rape case, ultimately and oftentimes, hinges on the credibility of the victim’s testimony. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Rape; damages. Civil indemnity, which is mandatory in a finding of rape is distinct from and should not be denominated as moral damages which are based on different jural foundations and assessed by the court in the exercise of sound discretion. The award of moral damages, on the other hand, is automatically granted in rape cases without need of further proof other than the commission of the crime because it is assumed that a rape victim has actually suffered moral injuries entitling her to such award. In addition, the award of exemplary damages is justified under Article 2230 of the Civil Code if there is an aggravating circumstance, whether ordinary or qualifying. In this case, since the qualifying circumstance of the use of a deadly weapon was present in the commission of the crime. People of the Philippines v. Manolito Lucena y Velasquez, G.R. No. 190632, February 26, 2014.
Rape; elements. The elements of rape (under paragraph 1, subparagraph a of Article 266-A) are as follows: (1) that the offender is a man; (2) that the offender had carnal knowledge of a woman; and (3) that such act is accomplished by using force, (threat) or intimidation. People of the Philippines v. Aurelio Jastiva, G.R. No. 199268, February 12, 2014.
Rape; elements. The elements necessary to sustain a conviction for rape are: (1) the accused had carnal knowledge of the victim; and (2) said act was accomplished (a) through the use of force or intimidation, or (b) when the victim is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious, or (c) when the victim is under 12 years of age or is demented. People of the Philippines v. Felimon Patentes y Zamora, G.R. No. 190178, February 12, 2014.
Rape; impregnation not an element of rape. With regard to appellant’s first point, the Supreme Court (SC) agreed with the statement made by the Court of Appeals that it is not absurd nor contrary to human experience that AAA gave birth ten (10) months after the alleged sexual assault as there may be cases of long gestations. In any event, SC dismissed appellant’s contention as immaterial to the case at bar because jurisprudence reveals that impregnation is not an element of rape. It is well-entrenched in case law that the rape victim’s pregnancy and resultant childbirth are irrelevant in determining whether or not she was raped. Pregnancy is not an essential element of the crime of rape. Whether the child which the rape victim bore was fathered by the accused, or by some unknown individual, is of no moment. What is important and decisive is that the accused had carnal knowledge of the victim against the latter’s will or without her consent, and such fact was testified to by the victim in a truthful manner. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Rape; force or intimidation need not be irresistible in rape. The force and violence required in rape cases is relative and need not be overpowering or irresistible when applied. For rape to exist, it is not necessary that the force or intimidation be so great or be of such character as could not be resisted – it is only necessary that the force or intimidationbe sufficient to consummate the purpose which the accused had in mind. Further, it should be viewed from the perception and judgment of the victim at the time of the commission of the crime. What is vital is that the force or intimidation be of such degree as to cow the unprotected and vulnerable victim into submission. Force is sufficient if it produces fear in the victim, such as when the latter is threatened with death. People of the Philippines v. Manolito Lucena y Velasquez, G.R. No. 190632, February 26, 2014.
Rape; inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony. Anent the inconsistent statements made by AAA in her testimony which were pointed out by appellant, the Supreme Court agreed with the assessment made by the Court of Appeals that these are but minor discrepancies that do little to affect the central issue of rape which is involved in this case. Instead of diminishing AAA’s credibility, such variance on minor details has the net effect of bolstering the truthfulness of AAA’s accusations. A few discrepancies and inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses referring to minor details and not in actuality touching upon the central fact of the crime do not impair the credibility of the witnesses because they discount the possibility of their being rehearsed testimony. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Rape; penalty. The second paragraph of Art. 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, provides that “[w]henever the rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon x x x the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death.” As it was properly alleged and proved that the appellant used a gun in order to consummate his evil desires, thus, both lower courts correctly imposed upon him the penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count of rape. People of the Philippines v. Manolito Lucena y Velasquez, G.R. No. 190632, February 26, 2014.
Rape; physical evidence. Absence of external signs or physical injuries does not negate the commission of rape since proof of injuries is not an essential element of the crime. And, it is also a precept that physical evidence is of the highest order and speaks more eloquently than all witnesses put together. In the case at bar, the prosecution failed to present any scintilla of proof to support its claim. In fact, contrary to the prosecution’s claim that AAA was dragged, tied, mauled, slapped and boxed, the medical certificate revealed no telltale sign of the prosecution’s allegations. It has to be noted that the medical examination was conducted the day after AAA’s supposed escape from appellant. People of the Philippines v. Felimon Patentes y Zamora, G.R. No. 190178, February 12, 2014.
Rape; physical resistance not an essential element of rape. It must be borne in mind that when a rape victim becomes paralyzed with fear, she cannot be expected to think and act coherently. Further, as has been consistently held by this Court, physical resistance is not an essential element of rape and need not be established when intimidation is exercised upon the victim, and, the latter submits herself, against her will, to the rapist’s embrace because of fear for her life and personal safety. The victim’s failure to shout or offer tenacious resistance did not make voluntary her submission to the criminal acts of her aggressor. It bears stressing that not every rape victim can be expected to act with reason or in conformity with the usual expectations of everyone. The workings of a human mind placed under emotional stress are unpredictable; people react differently. People of the Philippines v. Manolito Lucena y Velasquez, G.R. No. 190632, February 26, 2014.
Rape; sweetheart theory. For the sweetheart theory to be believed when invoked by the accused, convincing evidence to prove the existence of the supposed relationship must be presented by the proponent of the theory. For the [“sweetheart”] theory to prosper, the existence of the supposed relationship must be proven by convincing substantial evidence. Failure to adduce such evidence renders his claim to be self-serving and of no probative value. For the satisfaction of the Court, there should be a corroboration by their common friends or, if none, a substantiation by tokens of such a relationship such as love letters, gifts, pictures and the like. In the present case, although it is a person other than the accused who is claiming to be the victim’s sweetheart and the father of her child, such an assertion must nonetheless be believably demonstrated by the evidence. The defense failed to discharge the burden of proving that AAA and Jackie Gucela had any kind of romantic or sexual relationship which resulted in AAA’s pregnancy. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Rape; three guiding principles in rape prosecutions. The three guiding principles in rape prosecutions are as follows: (1) an accusation of rape is easy to make, and difficult to prove, but it is even more difficult to disprove; (2) bearing in mind the intrinsic nature of the crime, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with utmost care and caution; and (3) the evidence of the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits; and cannot draw strength from the weakness of the defense. So, when a woman says that she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that the crime of rape was committed. In a long line of cases, the Supreme Court has held that if the testimony of the rape victim is accurate and credible, a conviction for rape may issue upon the sole basis of the victim’s testimony. This is because no decent and sensible woman will publicly admit to being raped and, thus, run the risk of public contempt unless she is, in fact, a rape victim. People of the Philippines v. Aurelio Jastiva, G.R. No. 199268, February 12, 2014.
Self-defense; elements. By invoking self-defense, the petitioners, in effect, admitted to the commission of the acts for which they were charged, albeit under circumstances that, if proven, would have exculpated them. With this admission, the burden of proof shifted to the petitioners to show that the killing and frustrated killing of David and Erwin, respectively, were attended by the following circumstances: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victims; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel such aggression; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the persons resorting to self-defense. Of all the burdens the petitioners carried, the most important of all is the element of unlawful aggression. Unlawful aggression is an actual physical assault, or at least a threat to inflict real imminent injury, upon a person. The element of unlawful aggression must be proven first in order for self-defense to be successfully pleaded. There can be no self-defense, whether complete or incomplete, unless the victim had committed unlawful aggression against the person who resorted to self-defense. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody rule. There are links that must be established in the chain of custody in a buybust situation, namely: “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.” In this case, the prosecution established clearly the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated shabu. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621, February 10, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody rule; marking. Appellant’s contention that the marking of the seized sachets of shabu should have been made in his presence while at the scene of the crime instead of in the police station fails to impress. It is clear from the earlier cited Sec. 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 9165 that in a buy-bust situation, the marking of the dangerous drug may be done in the presence of the violator in the nearest police station or the nearest office of the apprehending team. Appellant should not confuse buy-bust situation from search and seizure conducted by virtue of a court-issued warrant. It is in the latter case that physical inventory (which includes the marking) is made at the place where the search warrant is served. Nonetheless, non-compliance with the requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invalid such seizures of and custody over said items. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621, February 10, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody rule; when substantial compliance is allowed. The failure of the prosecution to show that the police officers conducted the required physical inventory and photographed the objects confiscated does not ipso facto result in the unlawful arrest of the accused or render inadmissible in evidence the items seized. This is due to the proviso added in the implementing rules stating that it must still be shown that there exists justifiable grounds and proof that the integrity and evidentiary value of the evidence have not been preserved. What is crucial is that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are preserved for they will be used in the determination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621, February 10, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; drug den. A drug den is a lair or hideaway where prohibited or regulated drugs are used in any form or are found. Its existence may be proved not only by direct evidence but may also be established by proof of facts and circumstances, including evidence of the general reputation of the house, or its general reputation among police officers. In this case, this fact was proven by none other than the testimony of PO2 Martinez, the poseur-buyer, who after buying the shabu had told the appellant that he wanted to sniff the same to which the latter responded by requiring the former to pay a rental fee of P10.00. The appellant, thereafter, allowed PO2 Martinez to enter his house and directed him to proceed to one of the rooms located at the right side of the sala. Upon entering the said room, PO2 Martinez saw three other persons already sniffing shabu. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession of drugs; elements. With regard to the offense of illegal possession of dangerous drugs, like shabu, the following elements must be proven: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object that is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possesses the said drug. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; elements. In a successful prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, like shabu, the following elements must be established: (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. What is material in a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs is the proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the illicit drug in evidence. The commission of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs merely requires the consummation of the selling transaction, which happens the moment the exchange of money and drugs between the buyer and the seller takes place.” People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621. February 10, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; chain of custody. To secure conviction for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, the identity of the prohibited drug seized from the accused must be proved with moral certainty. The prosecution must establish with such measure of certitude that the substance bought or seized during the buy-bust operation is the same substance offered as evidence in court. Proof of the chain of custody from the time of seizure to the time such evidence is presented in court ensures the absence of doubt concerning the integrity of such vital evidence. This requires as a minimum that the police mark the seized item (1) in the presence of the apprehended violator and (2) immediately upon confiscation. People of the Philippines v. Merlita Palomares y Costuna, G.R. No. 200915, February 12, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; chain of custody. The Supreme Court has ruled that immediate marking could be made at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending team. Here, however, the evidence is unclear as to where the responsible police officer marked the seized substance and whether it was done in Merlita’s presence. In fact, it is also not clear from the evidence which police officer did the marking since P02 Mallari and P02 Flores gave conflicting testimonies on this point.This uncertainty concerning a vital element of the crime warrants overturning the judgment of conviction. Besides, neither P02 Mallari nor P02 Flores testified that they conducted a physical inventory and took photos of the article that was seized from Merlita. In fact, their joint affidavit of arrest made no mention of any inventory taking or photographing of the same. And they did not bother at all to offer some justification for the omission. People of the Philippines v. Merlita Palomares y Costuna, G.R. No. 200915, February 12, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; drug pushers sell to any prospective customer, in any place and at any time. The Supreme Court (SC) had occasion to show the unacceptability of the contention of the appellant that the testimony of the poseur-buyer was absurd, illogical, contrary to reason and highly incredible for no person who is engaged in an illegal transaction would leave the door of the house open after such transaction. In case after case, SC observed that drug pushers sell their prohibited articles to any prospective customer, be he a stranger or not, in private as well as in public places, even in the daytime. Indeed, the drug pushers have become increasingly daring, dangerous and, worse, openlydefiant of the law. Hence, what matters is not the existing familiarity between the buyer and the seller or the time and venue of the sale, but the fact of agreement and the acts constituting the sale and the delivery of the prohibited drugs. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal transportation of methamphetamine hydrochloride; penalty. Originally, under Section 15 of R.A. 6425, the penalty for illegal transportation of methamphetamine hydrochloride was imprisonment ranging from six years and one day to twelve years and a fine ranging from six thousand to twelve thousand pesos. Pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 1683, the penalty was amended to life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from twenty to thirty thousand pesos. The penalty was further amended in Republic Act No. 7659, where the penalty was changed to reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos. People of the Philippines v. Javier Morilla y Avellano, G.R. No. 189833, February 5, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; possession of drugs is prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi. Definitely, the records do not show that the appellant had the legal authority to possess the four heat-sealed plastic packets of shabu. Settled is the rule that possession of dangerous drugs constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to convict an accused in the absence of a satisfactory explanation of such possession. As such, the burden of evidence is shifted to the accused to explain the absence of knowledge or animus possidendi, which the appellant in this case miserably failed to do. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Dangerous Drugs Act; “transport” defined. Morilla and Mayor Mitra were caught in flagrante delicto in the act of transporting the dangerous drugs on board their vehicles. “Transport” as used under the Dangerous Drugs Act means “to carry or convey from one place to another.” It was well established during trial that Morilla was driving the ambulance following the lead of Mayor Mitra, who was driving a Starex van going to Manila. The very act of transporting methamphetamine hydrochloride is malum prohibitum since it is punished as an offense under a special law. The fact of transportation of the sacks containing dangerous drugs need not be accompanied by proof of criminal intent, motive or knowledge. People of the Philippines v. Javier Morilla y Avellano, G.R. No. 189833, February 5, 2014.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Alibi. Alibi is an inherently weak defense because it is easy to fabricate and highly unreliable. For the defense of alibi to prosper, the appellant must prove that he was somewhere else when the offense was committed and that he was so far away that it was not possible for him to have been physically present at the place of the crime or at its immediate vicinity at the time of its commission. In the case at bar, the testimony of defense witness Filomeno Suson made known to the trial court that the distance between the scene of the crime and the copra kiln dryer where appellant claimed to have been working the entire time during which the incidents of rape occurred can be traversed in less than an hour. Thus, it was not physically impossible for appellant to be at the locus criminis on the occasion of the rapes owing to the relatively short distance. People of the Philippines v. Mervin Gahi, G.R. No. 202976, February 19, 2014.
Alibi; physical impossibility. Physical impossibility involves the distance and the facility of access between the crime scene and the location of the accused when the crime was committed; the accused must demonstrate that he was so far away and could not have been physically present at the crime scene and its immediate vicinity when the crime was committed. People of the Philippines v. Aurelio Jastiva, G.R. No. 199268, February 12, 2014.
Alibi; when applicable as a defense. It has been held that for the defense of alibi to prosper, the accused must prove the following: (i) that he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime; and (ii) that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime during its commission. Here, appellant Jastiva utterly failed to satisfy the above-quoted requirements. From the testimonies of the witnesses, it was shown that the distance between AAA’s farmhouse and appellant Jastiva’s house was only 150 meters, more or less. Certainly, 150 meters is not too far as to preclude the presence of appellant Jastiva at the farmhouse of AAA. People of the Philippines v. Aurelio Jastiva, G.R. No. 199268, February 12, 2014.
Circumstantial evidence; affidavit is hearsay unless affiant presented in court. Castro’s purported possession and eventual return of Volume 266 was only premised upon the statement of one Nelson de Castro (Nelson), i.e., the Sinumpaang Salaysay dated August 9, 1995, who averred that on May 18, 1995, at around 11:50 in the morning, Castro told him to pass by his office and there handed him a bag which, as it turned out, contained the missing Volume 266. Nelson was not, however, presented before the Regional Trial Court during trial, hence, was not subjected to any in-court examination. It is settled that while affidavits may be considered as public documents if they are acknowledged before a notary public (here, a public officer authorized to administer oaths), they are still classified as hearsay evidence unless the affiants themselves are placed on the witness stand to testify thereon and the adverse party is accorded the opportunity to cross-examine them. With the prosecution’s failure to present Nelson to affirm his statement that Castro caused the return of Volume 266, the prosecution’s evidence on the matter should be treated as hearsay and, thus, inadmissible to establish the truth or falsity of the relevant claims. Consequently, there exists no sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove Castro’s guilt. Ricardo L. Atienza and Alfredo A. Castro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188694, February 12, 2014.
Circumstantial evidence; when sufficient for conviction. Circumstantial evidence consists of proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which the main fact in issue may be inferred based on reason and common experience. It is sufficient for conviction if: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. To uphold a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, it is essential that the circumstantial evidence presented must constitute an unbroken chain which leads one to a fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to the accused, to the exclusion of the others, as the guilty person. Stated differently, the test to determine whether or not the circumstantial evidence on record is sufficient to convict the accused is that the series of circumstances duly proven must be consistent with each other and that each and every circumstance must be consistent with the accused’s guilt and inconsistent with his innocence. Ricardo L. Atienza and Alfredo A. Castro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188694, February 12, 2014.
Circumstantial evidence; discrepancy of accounts on the subject matter of the crimes charged. While records show that Atienza was positively identified by Atibula as having attempted to bribe him to take out Volume 260 of the CA Original Decisions from the Reporter’s Division, the fact is that the alleged intercalation actually occurred in a different document, that is Volume 266. The discrepancy of accounts on the very subject matter of the crimes charged dilutes the strength of the evidence required to produce a conviction. At best, the bribery attempt may be deemed as a demonstration of interest on the part of Atienza over said subject matter and in this regard, constitutes proof of motive. However, it is well-established that mere proof of motive, no matter how strong, is not sufficient to support a conviction, most especially if there is no other reliable evidence from which it may reasonably be deduced that the accused was the malefactor. Ricardo L. Atienza and Alfredo A. Castro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188694, February 12, 2014.
Denial; denial is a weak defense. 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. Inherently weak, denial as a defense crumbles in the light of positive identification of the appellant, as in this case. The defense of denial assumes significance only when the prosecution’s evidence is such that it does not prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, which is not the case here. 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 prosecution witness who testified on affirmative matters. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Double jeopardy; elements. Double jeopardy only applies when: (1) a first jeopardy attached; (2) it has been validly terminated; and (3) a second jeopardy is for the same offense as in the first. A first jeopardy attaches only after the accused has been acquitted or convicted, or the case has been dismissed or otherwise terminated without his express consent, by a competent court in a valid indictment for which the accused has entered a valid plea during arraignment. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Evidence; defense of denial versus positive identification. Denial cannot prevail against the positive testimony of a prosecution witness. A defense of denial which is unsupported and unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence becomes negative and self-serving, deserving no weight in law, and cannot be given greater evidentiary value over convincing, straightforward and probable testimony on affirmative matters. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621, February 10, 2014.
Evidence; defense of frame-up. Appellant cannot likewise avail of the defense of frame-up which is viewed with disfavor since, like alibi, it can easily be concocted and is a common ploy in most prosecutions for violations of the Dangerous Drugs Law. To substantiate this defense, the evidence must be clear and convincing and should show that the buy-bust team was inspired by improper motive or was not properly performing its duty. Here, there is no evidence that there was ill motive on the part of the buy-bust team. In fact, appellant himself admitted that he did not know the police officers prior to his arrest. There could therefore be no bad blood between him and the said police officers. Moreover, there was no proof that the arresting officers improperly performed their duty in arresting appellant and Parcon. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621. February 10, 2014.
Evidence; fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine. The Constitution enshrines in the Bill of Rights the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose. To give full protection to it, the Bill of Rights also ordains the exclusionary principle that any evidence obtained in violation of said right is inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding. However, the interdiction against warrantless searches and seizures is not absolute and that warrantless searches and seizures have long been deemed permissible by jurisprudence in the following instances: (1) search of moving vehicles; (2) seizure in plain view; (3) customs searches; (4) waiver or consented searches; (5) stop and frisk situations (Terry search); and (6) search incidental to a lawful arrest. The last includes a valid warrantless search and seizure pursuant to an equally warrantless arrest, for, while as a rule, an arrest is considered legitimate if effected with a valid warrant of arrest, the Rules of Court recognizes permissible warrantless arrest, to wit: (1) arrest in flagrante delicto; (2) arrest effected in hot pursuit; and (3) arrest of escaped prisoners. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Evidence; testimony; momentary lapse in memory reinforces credibility of the witness. Appellant’s claim that the testimony of PO2 Soriano does not deserve credence due to his failure to identify and/or recall the markings he made on the subject specimen fails to convince. His failure to immediately recall the markings on the specimens only show that he is an uncoached witness. Such momentary lapse in memory does not detract from the credibility of his testimony as to the essential details of the incident. It must also be considered that aside from the fact that police officers handle numerous cases daily, he testified three years after appellant’s arrest. It is therefore understandable that PO2 Soriano could no longer easily remember all the details of the incident. People of the Philippines v. Glenn Salvador y Balverde, et al, G.R. No. 190621, February 10, 2014.
Evidence; testimony of the offended party in crimes against chastity. The testimony of the offended party in crimes against chastity should not be received with precipitate credulity for the charge can easily be concocted. Courts should be wary of giving undue credibility to a claim of rape, especially where the sole evidence comes from an alleged victim whose charge is not corroborated and whose conduct during and after the rape is open to conflicting interpretations. While judges ought to be cognizant of the anguish and humiliation that a rape victim undergoes as she seeks justice, they should equally bear in mind that their responsibility is to render justice based on the law. People of the Philippines v. Felimon Patentes y Zamora, G.R. No. 190178, February 12, 2014.
Evidence; tests for determining the value of the testimony. The time-honored test in determining the value of the testimony of a witness is its compatibility with human knowledge, observation and common experience of man. Thus, whatever is repugnant to the standards of human knowledge, observation and experience becomes incredible and must lie outside judicial cognizance. Indeed, it is incompatible with human experience to keep a sex slave for eight (8) days in a house where the abuser’s entire family, including the abuser’s minor nephews and nieces live. For several days that AAA had been missing, which would have caused worry and anxiety among AAA’s family members, AAA’s father, instead of reporting the matter to police authorities, went to appellant’s house to discuss AAA and appellant’s marital plans on 7 December 1998. Clearly, this is contrary to human logic and experience, and inconsistent with the prosecution’s claim. People of the Philippines v. Felimon Patentes y Zamora, G.R. No. 190178, February 12, 2014.
Factual findings of the Regional Trial Court, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, entitled to great weight and respect. Factual findings of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), when affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA), are entitled to great weight and respect and are deemed final and conclusive when supported by the evidence on record. The Supreme Court (SC) found that both the RTC and the CA fully considered the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense, and they have adequately explained the legal and evidentiary reasons in concluding that the petitioners are guilty of the crimes of frustrated homicide and homicide. In the absence of any showing that the trial and appellate courts overlooked certain facts and circumstances that could substantially affect the outcome of the present case, SC upheld the rulings of the RTC and the CA which found the elements of these crimes fully established during the trial. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
Factual findings of the trial court; trial court’s assessment of credibility of witnesses. It is a fundamental rule that findings of the trial court which are factual in nature and which involve the credibility of witnesses are accorded with respect, more so, when no glaring errors, gross misapprehension of facts, and speculative, arbitrary, and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings. The reason behind this rule is that the trial court is in a better position to decide the credibility of witnesses having heard their testimonies and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. The rule finds an even more stringent application where the trial court’s findings are sustained by the Court of Appeals. People of the Philippines v. Vicente Rom, G.R. No. 198452, February 19, 2014.
Information; amendment or substitution. Section 14, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court provides that if it appears at any time before judgment that a mistake has been made in charging the proper offense, the court shall dismiss the original complaint or information upon the filing of a new one charging the proper offense in accordance with Section 19, Rule 119, provided the accused shall not be placed in double jeopardy. Thus, if it is shown that the proper charge against petitioners should have been simple rebellion, the trial court shall dismiss the murder charges upon the filing of the Information for simple rebellion, as long as petitioners would not be placed in double jeopardy. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Information; defects in the Information should be raised in a motion to quash. Morilla primarily cites the provision on Sec. 1(b), Rule 115 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure to substantiate his argument that he should have been informed first of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. He pointed out that the Information itself failed to state the word conspiracy, but was only inferred from the words used in the Information. Even assuming that his assertion is correct, the issue of defect in the information, at this point, is deemed to have been waived due to Morilla’s failure to assert it as a ground in a motion to quash before entering his plea. Further, it must be noted that accused Morilla participated and presented his defenses to contradict the allegation of conspiracy before the trial and appellate courts. His failure or neglect to assert a right within a reasonable time warrants a presumption that the party entitled to assert it either has abandoned it or declined to assert it. People of the Philippines v. Javier Morilla y Avellano, G.R. No. 189833, February 5, 2014.
Jurisdiction; jurisdiction over falsification of public document cases. The Regional Trial Court did not have jurisdiction to take cognizance of Criminal Case No. 01-197426 (i.e., the falsification case) since Falsification of Public Document under Article 172(1) of the RPC, which is punishable by prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods (or imprisonment for 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 6 years) and a fine of not more than P5,000.00, falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts pursuant to Section 32(2) of B.P. 129, otherwise known as the “Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980,” as amended by R.A. 7691. While petitioners raised this jurisdictional defect for the first time in the present petition, they are not precluded from questioning the same. Indeed, jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred only by the Constitution or the law and cannot be acquired through a waiver or enlarged by the omission of the parties or conferred by the acquiescence of the court. The rule is well-settled that lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter may be raised at any stage of the proceedings. Hence, questions of jurisdiction may be cognizable even if raised for the first time on appeal. Ricardo L. Atienza and Alfredo A. Castro v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188694, February 12, 2014.
Preliminary investigation. A preliminary investigation is “not a casual affair.” It is conducted to protect the innocent from the embarrassment, expense and anxiety of a public trial. While the right to have a preliminary investigation before trial is statutory rather than constitutional, it is a substantive right and a component of due process in the administration of criminal justice. In the context of a preliminary investigation, the right to due process of law entails the opportunity to be heard. It serves to accord an opportunity for the presentation of the respondent’s side with regard to the accusation. Afterwards, the investigating officer shall decide whether the allegations and defenses lead to a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed, and that it was the respondent who committed it. Otherwise, the investigating officer is bound to dismiss the complaint. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Rule 45; questions of fact not reviewable in petitions for review. Petition for review under Rule 45 generally bars any question pertaining to the factual issues raised. The well-settled rule is that questions of fact are not reviewable in petitions for review under Rule 45, subject only to certain exceptions, among them, the lack of sufficient support in evidence of the trial court’s judgment or the appellate court’s misapprehension of the adduced facts. The petitioners failed to convince the Supreme Court that it should review the findings of fact in this case. Rodolfo Guevarra and Joey Guevarra v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 170462, February 5, 2014.
Preliminary investigation; if respondent could not be subpoenaed. Section 3(d), Rule 112 of the Rules of Court allows Prosecutor Vivero to resolve the complaint based on the evidence before him if a respondent could not be subpoenaed. As long as efforts to reach a respondent were made, and he was given an opportunity to present countervailing evidence, the preliminary investigation remains valid. The rule was put in place in order to foil underhanded attempts of a respondent to delay the prosecution of offenses. In this case, the Resolution stated that efforts were undertaken to serve subpoenas on the named respondents at their last known addresses. This is sufficient for due process. It was only because a majority of them could no longer be found at their last known addresses that they were not served copies of the complaint and the attached documents or evidence. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Warrants of arrest; definition of probable cause. Probable cause for the issuance of a warrant of arrest has been defined as “such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed by the person sought to be arrested.” Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
Warrants of arrest; determination of probable cause. Although the Constitution provides that probable cause shall be determined by the judge after an examination under oath or an affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses, the Supreme Court has ruled that a hearing is not necessary for the determination thereof. In fact, the judge’s personal examination of the complainant and the witnesses is not mandatory and indispensable for determining the aptness of issuing a warrant of arrest. It is enough that the judge personally evaluates the prosecutor’s report and supporting documents showing the existence of probable cause for the indictment and, on the basis thereof, issue a warrant of arrest; or if, on the basis of his evaluation, he finds no probable cause, to disregard the prosecutor’s resolution and require the submission of additional affidavits of witnesses to aid him in determining its existence. Saturnino C. Ocampo v. Hon. Ephrem S. Abando, et al, G.R. No. 176830, February 11, 2014.
(Lindy thanks Izabel F. Seriña and Elaine B. De los Santos for assisting in the preparation of this post.)