Here are select March 2014 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1. REVISED PENAL CODE
Conspiracy; liability of conspirators. Assuming that the prosecution witnesses failed to identify exactly who inflicted the fatal wounds on Joey during the commotion, Erwin’s liability is not diminished since he and the others with him acted with concert in beating up and ultimately killing Joey. Conspiracy makes all the assailants equally liable as co-principals by direct participation. Since about 15 men, including accused Erwin, pounced on their one helpless victim, relentlessly bludgeoned him on the head, and stabbed him on the stomach until he was dead, there is no question that the accused took advantage of their superior strength. The Supreme Court thus affirmed the decision of the lower courts finding accused Erwin guilty of murder. People of the Philippines v. Erwin Tamayo y Bautisa, G.R. No. 196960, March 12, 2014.
Rape; rape victim with a mental disability either deprived of reason or demented. Article 266-A, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, provides for two circumstances when having carnal knowledge of a woman with a mental disability is considered rape, to wit: paragraph 1(b) – when the offended party is deprived of reason; and paragraph 1(d) – when the offended party is demented. Under paragraph 1(d), the term demented refers to a person who has dementia, which is a condition of deteriorated mentality, characterized by marked decline from the individual’s former intellectual level and often by emotional apathy, madness, or insanity. On the other hand, under paragraph 1(b), the phrase deprived of reason has been interpreted to include those suffering from mental abnormality, deficiency, or retardation. People of the Philippines v. Ernesto Ventura Sr., G.R. No. 205230, March 12, 2014.
Rape; when rape victim is deprived of reason but not demented. Since AAA is mentally deficient, she should properly be classified as a person who is “deprived of reason,” and not one who is “demented.” Hence, carnal knowledge of a mentally deficient individual is rape under subparagraph (b) and not subparagraph (d) of Article 266-A(1) of the RPC, as amended. Nevertheless, the erroneous reference to paragraph 1(d) in the Information will not exonerate Ventura because he failed to raise this as an objection, and the particular facts stated in the Information were protestation sufficient to inform him of the nature of the charge against him. From the foregoing, all that needs to be proven are the facts of sexual congress between the rapist and his victim, and the latter’s mental retardation. People of the Philippines v. Ernesto Ventura Sr., G.R. No. 205230, March 12, 2014.
Rape; exact date of rape incident not an essential element. AAA’s failure to recall the exact date of the first rape and the number of times she was sexually assaulted by Ventura prior to March 24, 2005, does not militate against her credibility since rape victims are not expected to cherish in their memories an accurate account of the dates, number of times and manner they were violated. This is especially true in the case of AAA who obviously cannot be expected to act like an adult who would have the courage and intelligence to disregard the threat to her life and complain immediately that she had been sexually assaulted. AAA’s testimony was clear that every time Ventura would rape her, he would threaten her against revealing the offense. Given AAA’s mental condition, it can well substitute for violence and intimidation enough to cow her into submission. The Supreme Court had repeatedly held that the exact date when the victim was sexually abused is not an essential element of the crime of rape, for the gravamen of the offense is carnal knowledge of a woman. Indeed, the precise time of the crime has no substantial bearing on its commission. As such, the time or place of commission in rape cases need not be accurately stated. Inconsistencies and discrepancies as to minor matters which are irrelevant to the elements of the crime cannot be considered grounds for acquittal. Hence, the allegation in the information, which states that the rape was committed on or about March 24, 2005, is sufficient to affirm the conviction of Ventura in the said case. People of the Philippines v. Ernesto Ventura Sr., G.R. No. 205230, March 12, 2014.
Statutory rape; elements; proof of force, intimidation or consent not necessary. Statutory rape is committed by sexual intercourse with a woman below 12 years of age regardless of her consent, or the lack of it, to the sexual act. Proof of force, intimidation or consent is unnecessary as they are not elements of statutory rape, considering that the absence of free consent is conclusively presumed when the victim is below the age of 12. At that age, the law presumes that the victim does not possess discernment and is incapable of giving intelligent consent to the sexual act. Thus, to convict an accused of the crime of statutory rape, the prosecution carries the burden of proving: (a) the age of the complainant; (b) the identity of the accused; and (c) the sexual intercourse between the accused and the complainant. People of the Philippines v. Guillermo B. Candano Jr., G.R. No. 207819, March 12, 2014.
Statutory rape; elements; proof of force, intimidation or consent not necessary. A judicious review of the records of this case would reveal that the aforementioned elements of statutory rape are present. First, the presentation of AAA’s Certificate of Live Birth showing that she was born on July 25, 1998 has proven that she was below 12 years of age when the three (3) rape incidents happened on December 26 and 27, 1996, and in June 2000, respectively. Second, the prosecution proved that Cadano indeed had carnal knowledge of AAA on three (3) separate occasions through the latter’s positive, categorical, and spontaneous testimony, as corroborated by the medico-legal report. People of the Philippines v. Guillermo B. Candano Jr., G.R. No. 207819, March 12, 2014.
2. SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Alias; defined. An alias is a name or names used by a person or intended to be used by him publicly and habitually, usually in business transactions, in addition to the real name by which he was registered at birth or baptized the first time, or to the substitute name authorized by a competent authority; a man’s name is simply the sound or sounds by which he is commonly designated by his fellows and by which they distinguish him, but sometimes a man is known by several different names and these are known as aliases. An alias is thus a name that is different from the individual’s true name, and does not refer to a name that is not different from his true name. Revelina Limson v. Eugenio Juan Gonzalez, G.R. No. 162205, March 31, 2014.
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Section 3(g); private persons acting in conspiracy with public officers may be indicted. The only question that needs to be settled in the present petition is whether herein respondent, a private person, may be indicted for conspiracy in violating Section 3(g) of R.A. 3019 even if the public officer, with whom he was alleged to have conspired, has died prior to the filing of the Information. Respondent contends that by reason of the death of Secretary Enrile, there is no public officer who was charged in the Information and, as such, prosecution against respondent may not prosper. The Supreme Court was not persuaded. It held that, it is true that by reason of Secretary Enrile’s death, there is no longer any public officer with whom respondent can be charged for violation of R.A. 3019. It does not mean, however, that the allegation of conspiracy between them can no longer be proved or that their alleged conspiracy is already expunged. The only thing extinguished by the death of Secretary Enrile is his criminal liability. His death did not extinguish the crime nor did it remove the basis of the charge of conspiracy between him and private respondent. Stated differently, the death of Secretary Enrile does not mean that there was no public officer who allegedly violated Section 3(g) of R.A. 3019. In fact, the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon found probable cause to indict Secretary Enrile for infringement of Sections 3(e) and (g) of R.A. 3019. Were it not for his death, he should have been charged. People of the Philippines v. Henry T. Go, G.R. No. 168539, March 25, 2014.
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; Section 3(g); private persons acting in conspiracy with public officers may be indicted. The requirement before a private person may be indicted for violation of Section 3(g) of R.A. 3019, among others, is that such private person must be alleged to have acted in conspiracy with a public officer. The law, however, does not require that such person must, in all instances, be indicted together with the public officer. If circumstances exist where the public officer may no longer be charged in court, as in the present case where the public officer has already died, the private person may be indicted alone. People of the Philippines v. Henry T. Go, G.R. No. 168539, March 25, 2014.
Chain of custody rule. The Supreme Court has time and again spoken on the chain of custody rule, a method of authenticating evidence which requires that the admission of an exhibit be preceded by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what the proponent claims it to be. This would include testimony about every link in the chain, from the moment the item was picked up to the time it is offered in evidence, in such a way that every person who touched the exhibit would describe how and from whom it was received, where it was and what happened to it while in the witness’ possession, the condition in which it was received and the condition in which it was delivered to the next link in the chain. These witnesses would then describe the precautions taken to ensure that there had been no change in the condition of the item and no opportunity for someone not in the chain to have possession of the same. People of the Philippines v. Freddie Ladip y Rubio, G.R. No. 196146, March 12, 2014.
Chain of custody rule; buy-bust situation. From the testimonies of the police officers in the case at bench, the prosecution established that they had custody of the drugs seized from the accused from the moment he was arrested, during the time he was transported to the police station, and up to the time the drugs were submitted to the crime laboratory for examination. The same witnesses also identified the seized drugs with certainty when these were presented in court. With regard to the handling of the seized drugs, there are no conflicting testimonies or glaring inconsistencies that would cast doubt on the integrity thereof as evidence presented and scrutinized in court. It is therefore safe to conclude that, to the unprejudiced mind, the testimonies show without a doubt that the evidence seized from the accused at the time of the buy-bust operation was the same one tested, introduced, and testified to in court. In short, there is no question as to the integrity of the evidence against the accused. People of the Philippines v. Freddie Ladip y Rubio, G.R. No. 196146, March 12, 2014.
Chain of custody; buy-bust situation. The following links must be established in the chain of custody in a buy-bust situation: first, the seizure and marking, if practicable, of the illegal drug recovered from the accused by the apprehending officer; second, the turn over of the illegal drug seized by the apprehending officer to the investigating officer; third, the turn over by the investigating officer of the illegal drug to the forensic chemist for laboratory examination; and fourth, the turn over and submission of the marked illegal drugs seized from the forensic chemist to the court. People of the Philippines v. Hermanos Constantino, Jr. y Binayug, a.k.a. “Jojit”, G.R. No. 199689, March 12, 2014.
Chain of custody; buy-bust situation. After a careful scrutiny of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, the Supreme Court found glaring inconsistencies affecting the integrity of the shabu purportedly confiscated from Constantino. The inconsistent testimonies of PO3 Domingo, PO3 Hernandez, and P/SInsp. Tulauan as to who, when, and where the two plastic sachets of shabu were marked lead the court to question whether the two plastic sachets of shabu identified in court were the very same ones confiscated from Constantino. The doubtful markings already broke the chain of custody of the seized shabu at a very early stage. To recall, the first crucial link in the chain of custody is seizure and marking of the illegal drug. In this case, PO3 Domingo, as poseur-buyer, received two plastic sachets of shabu from Constantino in exchange for P1,000. However, PO3 Domingo himself did not put any markings on the two plastic sachets of shabu. Instead, upon arrival of the buy-bust team with Constantino at the police station, PO3 Domingo turned over the two plastic sachets of shabu to the investigator, SPO2 Tamang, who was also a member of the buy-bust team. PO3 Domingo testified that it was SPO2 Tamang who put the marking “NBT” on the said sachets of shabu. However, PO3 Hernandez, another member of the buy-bust team, categorically pointed to SPO2 Taguiam, also a member of the buy-bust team, as the one who put the marking “NBT” on the plastic sachets upon the team’s return to the police station. To complicate things even further, P/SInsp Tulauan, the Forensic Chemist, also declared before the trial court that the marking “NBT” on the two plastic sachets of shabu were made by SPO3 Nelson B. Tamaray, the duty officer who received the specimens at the crime laboratory. On cross-examination, P/SInsp. Tulauan confirmed her previous declaration that SPO3 Tamaray had claimed making the marking on the sachets of shabu. Herein, the prosecution is completely silent as to why PO3 Domingo, the poseur-buyer, despite having immediate custody of the two plastic sachets of shabu purchased from Constantino, failed to immediately mark the seized drugs before turning over the custody of the same to another police officer. This lapse in procedure opened the door for confusion and doubt as to the identity of the drugs actually seized from Constantino during the buy-bust and the ones presented before the trial court, especially considering that three different people, during the interval, supposedly received and marked the same. People of the Philippines v. Hermanos Constantino, Jr. y Binayug, a.k.a. “Jojit”, G.R. No. 199689, March 12, 2014.
Illegal use of aliases. On the issue of the alleged use of illegal aliases, the Supreme Court observed that respondent’s aliases involved the names “Eugenio Gonzalez”, “Eugenio Gonzales”, “Eugenio Juan Gonzalez”, “Eugenio Juan Gonzalez y Regalado”, “Eugenio C.R. Gonzalez”, “Eugenio J. Gonzalez”, and – per Limson – “Eugenio Juan Robles Gonzalez.” But these names contained his true names, albeit at times joined with an erroneous middle or second name, or a misspelled family name in one instance. The records disclose that the erroneous middle or second names, or the misspelling of the family name resulted from error or inadvertence left unchecked and unrectified over time. What is significant, however, is that such names were not fictitious names within the purview of the Anti-Alias Law; and that such names were not different from each other. Considering that he was not also shown to have used the names for unscrupulous purposes, or to deceive or confuse the public, the dismissal of the charge against him was justified in fact and in law. Revelina Limson v. Eugenio Juan Gonzalez, G.R. No. 162205, March 31, 2014.
Presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty; procedure lapses in handling of shabu negates presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty. The Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts erred in giving weight to the presumption of regularity in the performance that a police officer enjoys in the absence of any taint of irregularity and of ill motive that would induce him to falsify his testimony. The regularity of the performance of the police officers’ duties leaves much to be desired in this case given the lapses in their handling of the allegedly confiscated shabu. The totality of all the procedural lapses effectively produced serious doubts on the integrity and identity of the corpus delicti, especially in the face of allegations of frame-up. The Supreme Court had previously held that these lapses negate the presumption that official duties have been regularly performed by the police officers. Any taint of irregularity affects the whole performance and should make the presumption unavailable. Indeed, the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty cannot by itself overcome the presumption of innocence nor constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt. It should be noted that the presumption is precisely just that – a presumption. Once challenged by evidence, as in this case, it cannot be regarded as binding truth. People of the Philippines v. Jerry Caranto y Propeta, G.R. No. 193768, March 5, 2014.
R.A. 3019; Section 3(e); proof of the extent of damage is not essential. The third element of the offense – that the act of the accused caused undue injury to any party, including the Government, or gave any private party unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference in the discharge of the functions of the accused – was established here. Proof of the extent of damage is not essential, it being sufficient that the injury suffered or the benefit received is perceived to be substantial enough and not merely negligible. In the present case, the prosecution’s evidence duly proved that petitioners, using their official positions, by dishonesty and breach of sworn duty, facilitated the approval and release of government funds amounting to P20,000,000 supposedly for the purchase of combat clothing and individual equipment (CCIE) items of PNP personnel. However, the recipients of the P20,000,000 turned out to be fictitious PNP personnel, and up to now the P20,000,000 remains unaccounted for. Thus, petitioners should be made liable for their deceit and misrepresentation and should compensate the government for the actual damage the government has suffered. Danilo O. Garcia and Joven SD. Brizuela v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 197204, March 26, 2014.
R.A. 9165; Section 21(a) of the IRR of R.A. 9165; inventory and marking of seized items in warrantless seizures. From a cursory reading of Section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9165, it can be gleaned that in cases of warrantless seizures, as in this case, inventory and marking of the seized item can be conducted at the nearest police station or office of the apprehending authorities, whichever is practicable, and not necessarily at the place of seizure. As held in People v. Resurreccion, “marking upon immediate confiscation” does not exclude the possibility that marking can be done at the police station or office of the apprehending team. Thus, in the present case, the apprehending team cannot be faulted if the inventory and marking were done at their office where appellant was immediately brought for custody and further investigation. Indeed, the fact that the inventory and marking of the subject item were not made onsite is of no moment and will not lead to appellant’s exoneration. People of the Philippines v. Manuel S. Aplat, G.R. No. 191727, March 31, 2014.
3. CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Alibi. For alibi to prosper, it must not only be shown that appellant was at another place at the time of the commission of the crime but that it was also impossible for him to be present at the crime scene. In this case, appellant attempted to show that he was at barangay Ananong at the time of the rape incident. However, as found by the trial court, the distance between barangay Ananong and barangay Ogbong is only four kilometers and could be traversed in one hour or even less. Hence, appellant’s assertion that the trial court and the appellate court should have considered his alibi must fail. People of the Philippines v. Jerry Obogne, G.R. No. 199740, March 24, 2014.
Appeal; issues not raised in the trial court cannot be raised on appeal. Petitioners anchor their defense on the nature of their respective positions to prove that they acted within the bounds of their functions. However, Garcia and Brizuela only raised their functions as Assistant Regional Director for Comptrollership and Disbursing Officer, respectively, for the first time before the Sandiganbayan when they filed their separate Supplements to Motion for Reconsideration and after a decision had already been rendered by the Sandiganbayan. The settled rule is that issues not raised in the court a quo cannot be raised for the first time on appeal – in this case, in a motion for reconsideration – for being offensive to the basic rules of fair play, justice and due process. Points of law, theories, issues, and arguments not brought to the attention of the trial court are barred by estoppel and cannot be considered by a reviewing court, as these cannot be raised for the first time on appeal. Danilo O. Garcia and Joven SD. Brizuela v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 197204, March 26, 2014.
Evidence; credibility of witnesses not affected by minor inconsistencies. Appellant here pointed out inconsistencies in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Espejo and Arce, to wit: (1) Espejo testified that he found the aluminum foils and the marked money tucked on appellant’s waistline while Arce testified that he saw Espejo frisk appellant and found the specimen in the latter’s pocket; (2) Espejo stated that appellant was then wearing basketball shorts while Arce described him as wearing a six-pocket short pants. Appellant argued that these inconsistent statements render Espejo and Arce incredible witnesses. The Supreme Court was not convinced. It held that the minor contradictions in Espejo and Arce’s testimonies are inconsequential and do not detract from the proven elements of the offense of illegal sale of dangerous drugs. People of the Philippines v. Sherwin Bis y Avellaneda, G.R. No. 191360, March 10, 2014.
Evidence; credibility of witnesses not affected by minor inconsistencies. It is now too well-settled to require extensive documentation that “inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses, which refer only to minor details and collateral matters, do not affect the veracity and weight of their testimonies where there is consistency in relating the principal occurrence and the positive identification of the accused.” Significantly, in the case at bench, the testimonies of the said witnesses for the prosecution were in harmony with respect to their positive identification of appellant as the one who sold the illegal drugs to Espejo, the poseur-buyer, in a planned buy-bust operation, as well as to the other surrounding circumstances that transpired during the said operation. People of the Philippines v. Sherwin Bis y Avellaneda, G.R. No. 191360, March 10, 2014.
Information; the court has the sole prerogative to resolve motions to withdraw an Information filed by the Secretary of Justice. When confronted with a motion to withdraw an Information on the ground of lack of probable cause based on a resolution of the Secretary of Justice, the bounden duty of the trial court is to make an independent assessment of the merits of such motion. Having acquired jurisdiction over the case, the trial court is not bound by such resolution but is required to evaluate it before proceeding farther with the trial. Indeed, once a criminal complaint or information is filed in court, any disposition of the case or dismissal or acquittal or conviction of the accused rests within the exclusive jurisdiction, competence, and discretion of the trial court. The rule applies to a motion to withdraw the Information or to dismiss the case even before or after arraignment of the accused. When the trial court grants a motion of the public prosecutor to dismiss the case, or to quash the Information, or to withdraw the Information in compliance with the directive of the Secretary of Justice, or to deny the said motion, it does so not out of subservience to or defiance of the directive of the Secretary of Justice but in the sound exercise of its judicial prerogative. Barry Lanier and Perlita Lanier v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 189176, March 19, 2014.
Information; when the Information is filed in court, the ruling of the Secretary of Justice with respect to the existence of probable cause is not binding on the court. The Regional Trial Court here clearly deferred to the finding of probable cause by the Secretary of Justice without doing its own independent evaluation. The trial court even expressed its apprehension that no prosecutor would be willing to prosecute the case should the motion to withdraw be denied. The only matter discussed by the trial court was its concurrence with the Department of Justice relative to the service and conduct of the search for illegal drugs. The trial court declared that the evidence is inadmissible in view of the manner the search warrant was served. Settled is the rule that the presence or absence of the elements of the crime is evidentiary in nature and is a matter of defense, the truth of which can be best passed upon after a full-blown trial on the merits. In the case at bar, the grounds relied upon by petitioners should be fully explained and threshed out not in a preliminary investigation but during trial as the same are matters of defense involving factual issues. The Supreme Court thus emphasized that the trial court, having acquired jurisdiction over the case, is not bound by such resolution but is required to evaluate it before proceeding further with the trial. While the Secretary’s ruling is persuasive, it is not binding on courts. Barry Lanier and Perlita Lanier v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 189176, March 19, 2014.
Probation; appeal and probation are mutually exclusive remedies. Aside from the goals of according expediency and liberality to the accused, the rationale for the treatment of appeal and probation as mutually exclusive remedies is that they rest on diametrically opposed legal positions. An accused applying for probation is deemed to have accepted the judgment. The application for probation is an admission of guilt on the part of an accused for the crime which led to the judgment of conviction. This was the reason why the Probation Law was amended: precisely to put a stop to the practice of appealing from judgments of conviction – even if the sentence is probationable – for the purpose of securing an acquittal and applying for the probation only if the accused fails in his bid. Enrique Almero y Alcantara v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 188191, March 12, 2014.
Probation; appeal and probation are mutually exclusive remedies. In the present case, petitioner cannot make up his mind whether to question the judgment, or apply for probation, which is necessarily deemed a waiver of his right to appeal. While he did not file an appeal before applying for probation, he assailed the validity of the conviction in the guise of a petition supposedly assailing the denial of probation. In so doing, he attempted to circumvent P.D. No. 968, as amended by P.D. 1990, which seeks to make appeal and probation mutually exclusive remedies. The assignment of errors in the Petition before the Supreme Court reflects the diametrically opposed positions taken by accused petitioner. On the one hand, he bewails the defects committed by the trial court during the promulgation of the judgment, thus casting doubt on the judgment itself. Yet in the same breath, he persists in his application for probation, despite the waiver and admission of guilt implicit in any procedure for probation – precisely the unhealthy wager the law seeks to prevent. Enrique Almero y Alcantara v. People of the Philippines, et al, G.R. No. 188191, March 12, 2014.
(Lindy thanks Izabel F. Seriña for assisting in the preparation of this post.)