Monday, March 25, 2013

February 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure | LEXOTERICA: A PHILIPPINE BLAWG

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February 2013 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Criminal Law and Procedure

Here are select February 2013 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on criminal law and procedure:
1.            REVISED PENAL CODE
Conspiracy; joint purpose and design. Conspiracy may be deduced from the mode, method, and manner in which the offense was perpetrated; orinferred from the acts of the accused when those acts point to a joint purpose and design, concerted action, and community of interests.Proof of a previous agreement and decision to commit the crime is not essential, but the fact that the malefactors acted in unison pursuant to the same objective suffices. In this case, the prosecution decisively established a community of criminal design among Alvarico, Reyes, and appellant Pondivida. While there is no evidence of any previous agreement among the assailants to commit the crime, their concerted acts before, during and after the incident establish a joint purpose and intent to kill. As attested to by accused-appellant, they all went to the intended victim’s house bearing firearms. Accused-appellant himself knocked on the door. After failing to locate “Udoy” and “Bagsik,” and discovering that Gener was the latter’s brother, they then engaged in a lengthy conversation, as they circled around a nearby well outside the house.Accused even admitted to shouting the name “Bagsik” over and over.They all asked Gener to step outside and speak withthem. Upon his refusal, appellant Pondivida, together with Alvarico, entered the house through an upstairs window. Alvarico fired at George who was at the stairs. Reyes, from his vantage point at the front door, also shot at George.After fleeing the scene, appellant Pondivida admitted that he met with Alvarico in Novaliches. Alvarico gave him money, and the latter thereafter boarded a bus headed to Olongapo City. Their acts together were indicative of a common purpose, which was murder. People of the Philippines v. John Alvin Pondivida, G.R. No. 188969, February 27, 2013.
Estafa; syndicated estafa; elements. The elements of syndicated estafa are: (a) estafa or other forms of swindling as defined in Article 315 and 316 of the Revised Penal Code is committed; (b) the estafa or swindling is committed by a syndicate of five or more persons; and (c) defraudation results in the misappropriation of moneys contributed by stockholders, or members of rural banks, cooperatives, “samahang nayon(s),” or farmers’ associations or of funds solicited by corporations/associations from the general public. In other words, only those who formed and manage associations that receive contributions from the general public who misappropriated the contributions can commit syndicated estafa. Gilbert Guy, et al, however, are not in any way related either by employment or ownership to Asia United Bank (AUB). They are outsiders who, by their cunning moves were able to defraud an association, which is the AUB. They had not been managers or owners of AUB who used the bank to defraud the public depositors. The present petition involves an estafa case filed by a commercialbank as the offended party against the accused who, as clients, defrauded the bank. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that the accused should only be charged for simple estafa. Rafael H. Galvez and Katherine L. Guy v. Asia United Bank/Asia United Bank v. Gilbert, et al./Gilbert Guy, et al v. Asia Untied Bank, G.R. Nos. 187919/G.R. No. 187979/G.R. No. 188030, February 20, 2013.
Homicide; intent to kill. The intent to kill, as an essential element of homicide at whatever stage, may be before or simultaneous with the infliction of injuries. The evidence to prove intent to kill may consist of,inter alia, the means used; the nature, location and number of wounds sustained by the victim; and the conduct of the malefactors before, at the time of, or immediately after the killing of the victim. Accused’s intent to kill was simultaneous with the infliction of injuries. Using a gun, he shot the victim in the chest. Despite a bloodied right upper torso, the latter still managed to run towards his house to ask for help. Nonetheless, accused continued to shoot at the victim three more times, albeit unsuccessfully. These belie the absence of petitioner’s intent to kill the victim. Edmundo Escamilla y Jugo v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188551, February 27, 2013.
Self-defense; elements. To successfully claim self-defense, the accused must satisfactorily prove the concurrence of the elements of self-defense. Under Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code, any person who acts in defense of his person or rights does not incur any criminal liability provided that the following circumstances concur: (1) unlawful aggression; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.The most important among all the elements is unlawful aggression. 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. Simon A. Flores v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 181354, February 27, 2013.
Self-defense; elements; burden of evidence is shifted to the accused. Generally, the burden lies upon the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt rather than upon the accused that he was in fact innocent. If the accused, however, admits killing the victim, but pleads self-defense,the burden of evidence is shifted to him to prove such defense by clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence that excludes any vestige of criminal aggression on his part. In this case, Flores does not dispute that he perpetrated the killing of Jesus by shooting him with an M16 armalite rifle. To justify his shooting of Jesus, he invoked self-defense. By interposing self-defense, Flores, in effect, admits the authorship of the crime. Thus, it was incumbent upon him to prove that the killing was legally justified under the circumstances. Simon A. Flores v. People of the Philippines,G.R. No. 181354, February 27, 2013.
Self-Defense; elements; number of gunshot wounds on victim negative unlawful aggression.  In this case, Flores failed to discharge his burden. The Supreme Court agreed with the Sandiganbayan’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses and the probative value of evidence on record. As noted by the Sandiganbayan, the defense evidence, both testimonial and documentary, were crowded with flaws which raised serious doubt as to its credibility. Furthermore, granting for the sake of argument that unlawful aggression was initially staged by Jesus, the same ceased to exist when Jesus was first shot on the shoulder and fell to the ground. At that point, the perceived threat to Flores’ life was no longer attendant. The latter had no reason to pump more bullets on Jesus’ abdomen and buttocks. Indeed, the nature and number of the gunshot wounds inflicted upon Jesus further negate the claim of self-defense by the accused. Records show that Jesus suffered four (4) gunshot wounds in the different parts of his body. According to Dr. Ruben Escueta, who performed the autopsy on the victim, the latter died of massive intra-abdominal hemorrhage due to laceration of the liver. If there was any truth to Flores’ claim that he merely acted in self-defense, his first shot on Jesus’ shoulder, which already caused the latter to fall on the ground, would have been sufficient to repel the attack allegedly initiated by the latter. But Flores continued shooting Jesus. Considering the number of gunshot wounds sustained by the victim, the Supreme Court found it difficult to believe that Flores acted to defend himself to preserve his own life. Simon A. Flores v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 181354, February 27, 2013.
2.         SPECIAL PENAL LAWS
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; offenses under section 3(e) of R.A. 3019. Braza challenges the sufficiency of the allegations in the second information because there is no indication of any actual and quantifiable injury suffered by the government. He then argues that the facts under the second information are inadequate to support a valid indictment for violation of section 3(e) of R.A. 3019. In a catena of cases, the Supreme Court (SC) has held that there are two (2) ways by which a public official violates section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 in the performance of his functions, namely: (1) by causing undue injury to any party, including the Government; or (2) by giving any private party any unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference.The accused may be charged under either mode or under both. The disjunctive term “or” connotes that either act qualifies as a violation of section 3(e) of R.A. 3019.In other words, the presence of one would suffice for conviction. It must be emphasized that Braza was indicted for violation of section 3(e) of R.A. 3019 under the second mode. “To be found guilty under the second mode,it suffices that the accused has given unjustified favor or benefit to another, in the exercise of his official,administrative and judicial functions.” The element of damage is not required for violation of section 3(e) under the second mode.In the case at bench, the second information alleged, in substance, that accused public officers and employees, discharging official or administrative function, together with Braza, confederated and conspired to give FABMIK Construction and Equipment Supply Company, Inc. unwarranted benefit or preference by awarding to it Contract J.D. No. 06H00050 through manifest partiality or evident bad faith, without the conduct of a public bidding and compliance with the requirement for qualification contrary to the provisions of R.A. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act. Settled is the rule that private persons, when acting in conspiracy with public officers, may be indicted and, if found guilty, held liable for the pertinent offenses under section 3 of R.A. 3019. Considering that all the elements of the offense of violation of section 3(e) were alleged in the second information, the SC found the same to be sufficient in form and substance to sustain a convictionIsabelo A. Braza v. The Honorable Sandiganbayan (1st Division), G.R. No. 195032, February 20, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; buy-bust operations; distinction between entrapment and instigation. A buy-bust operation has been recognized in this jurisdiction as a legitimate form of entrapment of the culprit. It is distinct from instigation, in that the accused who is otherwise not predisposed to commit the crime is enticed or lured or talked into committing the crime. While entrapment is legal, instigation is not. In entrapment, prior surveillance is not necessary to render a buy-bust operation legitimate, especially when the buy-bust team is accompanied to the target area by the informant. Also, the presentation of an informant as a witness is not regarded as indispensable to the success of a prosecution of a drug-dealing accused in view of the need to protect the informant from the retaliation of the culprit arrested through his efforts. Only when the testimony of the informant is considered absolutely essential in obtaining the conviction of the culprit should the need to protect his security be disregarded. Here, the police officer, who acted as a poseur-buyer, asked the accused if he could buy shabu, and the latter, in turn, quickly transacted with the former, receiving the marked bill from the police officer and turning over the sachet of shabu he took from his pocket. The accused was shown to have been ready to sell the shabu without much prodding from the police officer. There is no question that the idea to commit the crime originated from the mind of the accused. Also, the informant’s testimony as a witness against the accused would only be corroborative of the sufficient testimony of the police officer as the poseur-buyer; hence, such testimony was unnecessary. People of the Philippines v. Noel Bartolome y Bajo, G.R. No. 191726, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody; buy-bust operations. The chain of custody of the seized drugs in a buy-bust operation is sufficiently established when there is proof of the following: 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. The failure of the police officers to make an inventory report and to photograph the drugs seized from Linda and Elizabeth, as required by Article II, section 21, paragraph 1 of R.A. 9165, are not automatically fatal to the prosecution’s case, as it was able to trace and prove the chain of custody of the same. People of the Philippines v. Linda Alviz y Yatco and Elizabeth Dela Vega y Bautista, G.R. No. 177158, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody; procedure. The buy-bust team in this case did not observe the procedures laid down in section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 9165. They did not conduct a physical inventory and no photograph of the confiscated item was taken in the presence of the accused-appellant, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and any elected public official. In fact, the prosecution failed to present an accomplished Certificate of Inventory. Further, the circumstances obtaining from the time the buy-bust team was organized until the chain of custody commenced were riddled with procedural lapses and inconsistencies between the testimony and the documents presented as evidence in court so much so that even assuming, that the physical inventory contemplated in R.A. 9165 subsumes the marking of the items itself, the belated marking of the seized items at the police station sans the required presence of the accused and the witnesses enumerated under section 21(a) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 9165, and absent a justifiable ground to stand on, cannot be considered a minor deviation from the procedures prescribed by the law. There being a “gross, systematic, or deliberate disregard of the procedural safeguards” the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties is overturned. People of the Philippines v. Jose Alex Secreto y Villanueva, G.R. No. 198115, February 27, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain and custody; requirements; cases where non-observance may be excused. Although it appears that the buy-bust team did not literally observe all the requirements under section 21, Article II of R.A. 9165, like photographing the confiscated drugs in the presence of the accused, of a representative from the media and from the Department of Justice, and of any elected public official who should be required to sign the copies of the inventory and be given a copy of it, the same may be excused because the integrity and the evidentiary value of the seized shabu was preserved. Immediately upon the arrest of the accused, Police Officer Paras marked the plastic sachet containing the shabu with the accused’s initials of NBB. Thereafter, Paras brought the sachet and the contents to the ADSOU, where his superior officer, Insp. Cruz, prepared and signed the request for the laboratory examination of the contents of the marked sachet. P02 De Ocampo handcarried the request and the evidence to the PNP Crime Laboratory. SPO 1 Bugabuga of that office recorded the delivery of the request and the marked sachet, which were all received by Chemist Dela Rosa. In turn, Chemist Dela Rosa examined the contents of the marked sachet, and executed Physical Sciences Report No. D-1 03 8-03 confirming that the marked sachet contained 0.06 gram of shabu. In this regard, the accused did not deny that Paras and Chemist Dela Rosa affirmed the sequence of custody of the shabu during the trial. The Supreme Court ruled that this chain of custody of the shabu was firm and unbroken. People of the Philippines v. Noel Bartolome y Bajo, G.R. No. 191726, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody; substantial compliance may be sanctioned. Defense suggests that the non-marking of the seized illegal drug at the place where the same was confiscated is enough to exonerate the accused-appellant. The reason is that this allegedly places in doubt the authenticity of the drug delivered to the crime laboratory for examination. However, the Supreme Court found that the prosecution has properly established the continuous whereabouts of the exhibit at least from the time it came into possession of the police officers, during its testing in the laboratory to determine its composition and up to the time it was offered in evidence. The function of the chain of custody requirement is to ensure that the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are preserved, so much so that unnecessary doubts as to the identity of the evidence are removed. As long as the integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved by the apprehending police officers, substantial compliance with the procedure to establish a chain of custody is sanctioned. People of the Philippines v. Saiben Langcua y Daimla, G.R. No. 190343, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; chain of custody; integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items should be preserved. Failure to strictly comply with section 21 of R.A. 9165, which outlines the procedure on the chain of custody of confiscated, seized, or surrendered dangerous drugs, will not render an arrest illegal or the items seized from the accused inadmissible in evidence. 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. In the case at bar, the Supreme Court found that the prosecution was able to establish that the integrity and evidentiary value of the confiscated illegal drugs had been maintained. P/Insp. Salazar, who was one of the apprehending officers, marked the seized items in front of accused Manalao and the other apprehending officers. P/Insp. Salazar, who was also the investigating officer, thereafter signed a request for the laboratory examination of the seized drugs, which was received by Forensic Chemist Mag-abo, together with the items enumerated therein. She then testified in open court on how her examination confirmed that the seized items, which she submitted in court, tested positive for shabu. Besides, unless there is a showing of bad faith, ill will, or proof that the evidence has been tampered or meddled with, the presumptions that the integrity of such evidence had been preserved and that the police officers who handled the seized drugs had discharged their duties properly and with regularity remain. The burden to overcome such presumptions lies on Manalao, and the Supreme Court found that he failed to do so. People of the Philippines v. Malik Manalao y Alauya, G.R. No. 187496, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession of dangerous drugs; elements. When prosecuting an illegal possession of dangerous drugs case, the following elements must be established: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object, which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug. Mere possession of a prohibited drug, without legal authority, is punishable under R.A. 9165. Since accused Manalao failed to adduce any evidence showing that he had legal authority to possess the seized drugs, then he was correctly charged with its illegal possession. The Supreme Court has time and again looked upon the defense of denial with disfavor for being easily fabricated. Since accused failed to give anything more than his bare assertions, his defense of denial must necessarily be rejected. People of the Philippines v. Malik Manalao y Alauya, G.R. No. 187496, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession of dangerous drugs; elements. In prosecuting cases for illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the prosecution must establish the following elements: (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object, which is identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the drug. The above elements were all duly established by the prosecution. After De Jesus was validly arrested for the illegal sale of drugs, he was searched and frisked, pursuant to section 13, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, or the provision on searches incident to lawful arrest. Upon such search, De Jesus was found to be in possession of eight heat-sealed sachets of shabu, an item identified to be a prohibited or regulated drug. De Jesus failed to show that he had authority to possess them. Moreover, mere possession of a prohibited drug constitutes prima facie evidence of knowledge or animus possidendi sufficient to convict an accused in the absence of satisfactory explanation.People of the Philippines v. Victor De Jesus y Garcia, G.R. No. 198794, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession of dangerous drugs; elements. To prosecute illegal possession of dangerous drugs, there must be a showing that (1) the accused is in possession of an item or object which is identified to be a prohibited drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. As an incident to the arrest, Galido was ordered to empty his pockets which led to the confiscation of another plastic sachet containing illegal drugs. The defense presented no evidence to prove that the possession was authorized by law, the defense being non-possession or denial of possession. However, such denial cannot prevail over the positive identification made by the police officials.For the defense position to prosper, the defense must adduce clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that government officials have performed their duties ina regular and proper manner. Galido failed to present any evidence that the police officials were distrustful in their performance of duties. He even testified that prior to the arrest; he did not have any quarrel or misunderstanding with the police officers nor was he acquainted with any reason that they carried a grudge against him. Thus, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower courts convicting Galido of illegal possession of dangerous drugs. People of the Philippines v. James Galido y Noble, G.R. No. 192231, February 13, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal possession of dangerous drugs; elements; admissibility of evidence.  In a prosecution for illegal possession of dangerous drugs, the following facts must be proven with moral certainty: (1) that the accused is in possession of the object identified as prohibited or regulated drug; (2) that such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) that the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drug. Accused concedes that frisking passengers at the airport is a standard procedure but assails the conduct of Soriano and PO1 Trota-Bartolome in singling him out by making him stretch out his arms and empty his pockets. He believes such meticulous search was unnecessary because, as Soriano himself testified, there was no beep sound when petitioner walked past through the metal detector and hence nothing suspicious was indicated by that initial security check. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecution has satisfactorily established that airport security officers found in the person of accused the marijuana fruiting tops, an illegal substance, contained in rolled paper sticks during the final security check at the airport’s pre-departure area. Accused’s reluctance to show the contents of his short pants pocket after the frisker’s hand felt the rolled papers containing marijuana, and his nervous demeanor aroused the suspicion of the arresting officers that he was indeed carrying an item or material subject to confiscation by the said authorities. The search of the contents of petitioner’s short pants pockets being a valid search pursuant to routine airport security procedure, the illegal substance (marijuana) seized from him was therefore admissible in evidence. Don Djowel Sales y Abalahin v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191023, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of dangerous drugs; elements. The elements necessary to successfully prosecute an illegal sale of drugs case are (1) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the object, and the consideration; and (2) the delivery of the thing sold and the payment therefor. The prosecution must establish that the illegal sale of the dangerous drugs actually took place together with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti or the dangerous drugs seized in evidence.  In this case, the prosecution was able to establish the above elements. Accused Manalao was positively identified by PO1 Solarta, who knew him even before the operation, as the one who sold the seized shabu subject of this case to the poseur-buyer. Manalao was caught in flagrante delicto in the entrapment operation conducted by the PNP of Tubod, Lanao del Norte. Moreover, the corpus delicti of the crime was also established with certainty and conclusiveness. People of the Philippines v. Malik Manalao y Alauya, G.R. No. 187496, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of dangerous drugs; illegal possession of dangerous drugs; elements. As found by the lower courts, the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt the elements of illegal sale of dangerous drugs: (1) the accused sold and delivered a prohibited drug to another and (2) knew that what was sold and delivered was a prohibited drug;and illegal possession of dangerous drugs: (1) the accused is in possession of the object identified as a prohibited or regulatory drug; (2) such possession is not authorized by law; and (3) the accused freely and consciously possessed the said drugs. Manifest on record is thatthe buy-bust transaction between the police operatives and Diwa was unequivocally established by the prosecution, and it was so found by both lower courts. After being identified by the informant, Diwa was approached by PO3 Galvez for the purchase of marijuana.Diwa, after ascertaining the quantity to be purchased and accepting the marked money from PO3 Galvez, handed him a portion of marijuana from the bunch wrapped in newspaper, contained in the yellow “SM Supermarket” plastic bag. The contents thereof were sent to the Physical Sciences Division, and after examination, confirmed to be marijuana, a dangerous drug. People of the Philippines v. Magsalin Diwa y Gutierrez, G.R. No. 194253, February 27,2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of shabu. To establish the crime of illegal sale of shabu, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt (a) the identity of the buyer and the seller, the identity of the object and the consideration of the sale; and (b) the delivery of the thing sold and of the payment for the thing. It simply requires the consummation of the selling transaction, which happens at the moment the buyer receives the drug from the seller. If a police officer goes through the operation as a buyer, the crime is consummated when the police officer makes an offer to buy that is accepted by the accused, and there is an ensuing exchange between them involving the delivery of the dangerous drugs to the police officer. Should the accused raise the defense of frame-up and extortion, the same must be established with clear and convincing evidence because the fact that frame-up and extortion could be easily concocted renders such defenses hard to believe. In this case, the accused merely put up self-serving denials. If indeed the accused was merely a victim of frame-up and extortion, there was no reason for him and his brother not to have formally charged the police officers with the severely penalized offense of planting of evidence under section 2915 of R.A. 9165 and extortion. Therefore, the Supreme Court rendered the defenses of frame-up and extortion implausible. People of the Philippines v. Noel Bartolome y Bajo, G.R. No. 191726, February 6, 2013.
Dangerous Drugs Act; illegal sale of drugs; elements. What is material is proof that the transaction or sale actually took place, coupled with the presentation in court of evidence of the corpus delicti. The commission of illegal sale merely consummates the selling transaction, which happens the moment the buyer receives the drug from the seller. As long as the police officer went through the operation as a buyer, whose offer was accepted by seller, followed by the delivery of the dangerous drugs to the former, the crime is already consummated. In this case, the prosecution has adequately proven all the elements constituting sale of illegal drug. This is evident from the testimony of PO1 Domingo, who identified in open court the white crystalline substance contained in the plastic sachet as the one handed by Langcua to him during the buy-bust operation. The substance yielded positive result for methamphetamine hydrochloride, a dangerous drug, as evidenced by the Chemistry Report given by PSI Cayabyab. People of the Philippines v. SaibenLangcua y Daimla, G.R. No. 190343, February 6, 2013.
3.         CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
Alibi. Alibi is an inherently weak defense because it is easy to fabricate and highly unreliable. To merit approbation, the accused must adduce clear and convincing evidence that he was in a place other than the situscriminis at the time the crime was committed, such that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime when it was committed. Since alibi is a weak defensefor being easily fabricated, it cannot prevail over and is worthless in the face of the positive identification by a credible witness that an accused perpetrated the crime. In this case, the accused did not introduce any evidence other than his own testimony where he presented an alibi, i.e., that he was in another place, with his cousin, when the incident happened. But the accused did not even present his cousin to buttress this claim. Moreover, he in fact admitted that he had visited the dwelling of the victim in the morning on the day the crime was committed. Hence, the Supreme Court affirmed his conviction for the crime of rape.People of the Philippines v. Jonathan “Uto” Veloso y Rama, G.R. No. 188849, February 13, 2013.
Alibi; requisites; when it can succeed as a defense over positive identification. In order for alibi to prosper, petitioner must establish by clear and convincing evidence that, first, he was in another place at the time of the offense; and, second, it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime. The alibi of the accused was that he was at home asleep with his wife when the victim was shot. However, his wife’s testimony did not show that he was indeed at home when the crime happened. At the most, it only establishes that he was at home before and after the shooting. Accused also failed to prove the physical impossibility of his being at the scene of the crime at the time in question. His alibi that he was at home actually bolsters the prosecution’s claim that he was the shooter, because it placed him just a few steps away from the scene of the crime, which was in front of his house, when the victim was shot. Physical impossibility refers to the distance between the place where the accused was when the crime transpired and the place where it was committed, as well as the facility of access between the two places. Edmundo Escamilla y Jugo v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188551, February 27, 2013.
Circumstantial evidence; when sufficient for conviction. Circumstantial evidence is defined asthat evidence that indirectly proves a fact in issue through an inference which the fact-finder draws from the evidence established.It is sufficient for conviction if: [a] there is more than one (1) 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. 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 proved must be consistent with each other and that each and every circumstance must be consistent with the accused’s guilt and inconsistent with the accused’s innocence. Contrary to Abulencia’s contention in his brief,there are numerous circumstances sufficient to prove his participation in the crime, to wit: [a] it was established that Lamsen was an active participant to the crime; [b] Lamsen and Abulencia both admitted they were together in the vicinity of the crime scene when it happened;[c] his car with plate number PEW 781 was subjected to a flash alarm in connection with the crime;[d] Abulencia admitted he was driving his car when the flash alarm was raised;and [e] the dents and bluish green streaks of paint found on Sy’s jeep matched the dents and scratches found on Abulencia’s car.The combination of the aforementioned circumstances forms an unbroken chain which irrefragably points to Abulencia as among the perpetrators of the crime.People of the Philippines v. P/Supt. Artemio E. Lamsen, et al, G.R. No. 198338, February 20, 2013.
Credibility of witnesses; positive identification of the accused prevails over denial. The Supreme Court held that a categorical and consistently positive identification of the accused, without any showing of ill motive on the part of the eyewitnesses, prevails over denial. In this case, the identity of the assailant was proved with moral certainty by the prosecution, which presented three witnesses – the victim Mendol, Velasco, and Garcelazo – who all positively identified Escamilla as the shooter. All the three witnesses were unswerving in their testimonies and none of them had any ulterior motive to testify against him. Edmundo Escamilla y Jugo v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 188551, February 27, 2013.
Credibility of witnesses; inconsistencies on minor matters strengthen the credibility of witnesses. Accused Elizabeth harps on the purported contradictions and improbabilities in the testimonies of PO2 Ibasco and SPO4 Reburiano, specifically, as to: (1) the composition of the buy-bust team; (2) the existence of a preoperation report and coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA); and (3) the markings made by PO2 Ibasco on the sachet of shabu. The Supreme Court (SC) was not swayed and thus ruled that the inconsistencies adverted to by Elizabeth are trivial and insignificant and refer only to minor details. Time and again, the SC has ruled that inconsistencies on minor and trivial matters only serve to strengthen rather than weaken the credibility of witnesses for they erase the suspicion of rehearsed testimony. Furthermore, the SC cannot expect the testimonies of different witnesses to be completely identical and to coincide with each other since they have different impressions and recollections of the incident. Hence, it is only natural that their testimonies are at variance on some minor details. Indeed, in a prosecution for illegal sale of dangerous drugs, what is material is the proof that the accused peddled illicit drugs, coupled with the presentation in court of the corpus delicti, both of which were satisfactorily complied with by the prosecution in this case. People of the Philippines v. Linda Alviz y Yatco and Elizabeth Dela Vega y Bautista, G.R. No. 177158, February 6, 2013.
Credibility of witnesses; minor inconsistencies do not negate eyewitnesses’ positive identification. Minor inconsistencies in the narration of witnesses do not detract from their essential credibility as long as their testimony on the whole is coherent and intrinsically believable. Inaccuracies may in fact suggest that the witnesses are telling the truth and have not been rehearsed. Witnesses are not expected to remember every single detail of an incident with perfect or total recall. The witnesses’ testimonies need only to corroborate one another on material details surrounding the actual commission of the crime.In this case, the inconsistencies in the recollection of facts of PO1 Domingo, PO3 Nicolas and P/I Rosqueta regarding the street where the accused came from, the position of the motorcycle as well as the operational condition of the cellular phone, are not material elements in establishing an illegal sale of dangerous drug. It is not irregular for police officers to have inconsistent statements in the narration of details of the buy-bust operation, as indeed the inconsistency can indicate truthfulness. What is important is for them to recount the material facts constituting sale of dangerous drug such as the exchange of the illegal drug for buy-bust money and identification of the buyer, seller and illegal drug in court as the object of the sale. The three witnesses corroborated each other on material points which added to the confidence placed on their testimonies. People of the Philippines v. SaibenLangcua y Daimla, G.R. No. 190343, February 6, 2013.
Credibility of witnesses; trial court’s assessment accorded great respect. The trial judge is the one who hears the testimony of the witnesses presented firsthand and sees their demeanor and body language. The trial judge, therefore, can better determine if the witnesses are telling the truth being in the ideal position to weigh conflicting testimonies. Here, the accused raised on appeal the trivial inconsistencies in the testimony of the rape victim. However, the Supreme Court (SC) gave weight to the trial court’s observation of the demeanor of the victim when she testified. The SC affirmed the Regional Trial Court in specifically noting that the testimony of the victim during the trial was straightforward, candid, clear and consistent; that she was not moved nor cowed by the peroration of the cross-examiner; that her answers were direct and concise; that she was unmoved by the slings and arrows of her misfortune; that she was bold, determined and credible; and that the defense never broke her, in fact her answers enhanced her will to correct a wrong, her quest for the protective mantle of the law and her passion to punish the accused. The SC thus affirmed his conviction for the crime of rape. People of the Philippines v. Jonathan “Uto” Veloso y Rama, G.R. No. 188849, February 13, 2013.
Extrajudicial confession; binding only on the confessant; exceptions. A review of the records show that the only direct material evidence against Salapuddin is the confession made by Ikram. While the confession is arguably relevant, this is not the evidence competent to establish the probability that Salapuddin participated in the commission of the crime. On the contrary, as pointed out by the Secretary of Justice, this cannot be considered against Salapuddin on account of the principle of res inter alios acta alteri nocere non debet. Clearly thus, an extrajudicial confession is binding only on the confessant. It cannot be admitted against his or her co-accused and is considered as hearsay against them.The exception provided under section 30, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court to the rule allowing the admission of a conspirator requires the prior establishment of the conspiracy by evidence other than the confession. In this case, there is a dearth of proof demonstrating the participation of Salapuddin in a conspiracy to set off a bomb in the Batasan grounds and thereby kill Congressman Akbar. Not one of the other persons arrested and subjected to custodial investigation professed that Salapuddin was involved in the plan to set off a bomb in the Batasan grounds. Instead, the investigating prosecutors did no more than to rely on Salapuddin’s association with these persons to conclude that he was a participant in the conspiracy. The Supreme Court, however, has previously stressed that mere association with the principals by direct participation, without more, does not suffice. Relationship, association and companionship do not prove conspiracy. Salapuddin’s complicity to the crime, if this be the case, cannot be anchored on his relationship, if any, with the arrested persons or his ownership of the place where they allegedly stayed while in Manila. It must be shown that the person concerned has performed an overt act in pursuance or furtherance of the complicity. In fact, mere knowledge, acquiescence or approval of the act, without the cooperation or approval to cooperate, is not sufficient to prove conspiracy. Gerry A. Salapuddin v. The Court of Appeals, Gov. Jum Akbar, and Nor-Rhama J. Indanan, G.R. No. 184681, February 25, 2013.
Lawful warrantless arrests; evidence gathered in flagrante delictoadmissible. There is little credence in accused Elizabeth’s assertion that she and co-accused Linda were mere victims of a frame-up. There is absolute lack of evidence that the members of the buy-bust team were stirred by illicit motive or had improperly performed their duties in arresting Linda and Elizabeth. Both Linda and Elizabeth admitted that they did not know the police officers prior to their arrest. Hence, there could not have been any bad blood between them and said police officers. As a result of the finding that a buy-bust operation actually took place and that Linda and Elizabeth were apprehended in flagrante delicto, the evidence gathered and presented by the prosecution on the occasion of their lawful arrest without warrant cannot be deemed as the “fruits of a poisonous tree,” but are admissible and competent proof of their guilt. People of the Philippines v. Linda Alviz y Yatco and Elizabeth Dela Vega y Bautista, G.R. No. 177158, February 6, 2013.
Motion to re-open case for reception of further evidence; motion for new trial. Section 1 of Rule 121 of the Rules of Court provides that a new trial may only be granted by the court on motion of the accused, or motu proprio with the consent of the accused “[a]t any time before a judgment of conviction becomes final.” In this case, petitioners’ judgment of conviction already became final and executory on 26 July 2007 – the date on which the decision of the Supreme Court denying the petition and affirming the ruling of the Court of Appeals was recorded in the Book of Entries of Judgments. Thus, pleas for the remand of this case to the trial court for the conduct of a new trial may no longer be entertained. The rationale for this rule is that fundamental considerations of public policy and sound practice necessitate that, at the risk of occasional errors, the judgment or orders of courts should attain finality at some definite time fixed by law. Otherwise, there would be no end to litigation. Reynante Tadeja, et al v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 145336, February 20, 2013.
Newly-discovered evidence. Newly discovered evidence refers to that which (a) is discovered after trial; (b) could not have been discovered and produced at the trial even with the exercise of reasonable diligence; (c) is material, not merely cumulative, corroborative or impeaching; and (d) is of such weight that it would probably change the judgment if admitted. The most important requisite is that the evidence could not have been discovered and produced at the trial even with reasonable diligence; hence, the term “newly discovered.” In this case, the confession of Plaridel, the witness whose testimony was sought to be introduced as newly discovered evidence, does not meet this requisite. He participated in the trial before the Regional Trial Court and even gave testimony as to his defense. It was only after he and the petitioners had been convicted by the trial court that he absconded. Thus, the contention that his confession could not have been obtained during trial does not hold water.ReynanteTadeja, et al v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 145336, February 20, 2013.
Prejudicial questions; violations of B.P. 22.  The rescission of a contract of sale is not a prejudicial question that will warrant the suspension of the criminal proceedings commenced to prosecute the buyer for violations of the Bouncing Checks Law (B.P. 22) arising from the dishonor of the checks the buyer issued in connection with the sale. The violation of B.P. 22 requires the concurrence of the following elements, namely: (1) the making, drawing, and issuance of any check to apply for account or for value; (2) the knowledge of the maker, drawer, or issuerthat at the time of issue he does not have sufficient funds in or credit with the drawee bank for the payment of the check in full upon its presentment;and (3) the subsequent dishonor of the check by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit or dishonor for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid cause, ordered the bank to stop payment.The issue in the criminal actions upon the violations of B.P. 22 is therefore whether or not Reyes issued the dishonoured checks knowing them to be without funds upon presentment. On the other hand, the issue in the civil action for rescission is whether or not the breach in the fulfilment of Advanced Foundation’s obligation warranted the rescission of the conditional sale. If, after trial on the merits in the civil action, Advanced Foundation would be found to have committed material breach as to warrant the rescission of the contract, such result would not necessarily mean that Reyes would be absolved of the criminal responsibility for issuing the dishonored checks because, as the aforementioned elements show, he already committed the violations upon the dishonor of the checks that he had issued at a time when the conditional sale was still fully binding upon the parties. His obligation to fund the checks or to make arrangements for them with the drawee bank should not be tied up to the future event of extinguishment of the obligation under the contract of sale through rescission. Indeed, under B.P. 22, the mere issuance of a worthless check was already the offense in itself. Under such circumstances, the criminal proceedings for the violation of B.P. 22 could proceed despite the pendency of the civil action for rescission of the conditional sale. Teodoro A. Reyes v. Ettore Rossi,G.R. No. 159823, February 18, 2013.
Preliminary investigation; probable cause; courts cannot directly decide matters over which discretionary authority has been delegated to the executive department.  The Supreme Court (SC) in this case citedMetropolitan Bank & Trust Co. (Metrobank) v. Tobias III, where it stressed that a preliminary investigation for the purpose of determining the existence of probable cause is not part of a trial. At a preliminary investigation, the investigating prosecutor or the Secretary of Justice only determines whether the act or omission complained of constitutes the offense charged.There is no definitive standard by which probable cause is determinedexcept to consider the attendant conditions; the existence of probable cause depends upon the finding of the public prosecutor conducting the examination, who is called upon not to disregard the facts presented, and to ensure that his finding should not run counter to the clear dictates of reason. Here, the SC found no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Court of Appeals when it rendered its Decision dated January 11, 2011. There is ample evidence on record to support the said decision. To name one, the accountants who were part of the Inspection Team sent by Tan to Coastal Highpoint Ventures, Inc. (CHVI), executed a Joint Affidavit stating that the documents made available to them for inspection were limited. Further, they claimed that on the day of the inspection, they brought a portable photocopying machine to CHVI’s premises but they were not allowed to use the same. The offense punishable under section 74, in relation to section 144 of the Corporation Code, for which Chiu was indicted, requires the unjustified disallowance or refusal by a suspect, of a stockholder’s written request to examine or copy excerpts of a corporation’s books or minutes. The absence of any ascribed ill motives on the part of the aforementioned accountants to make statements adverse or unfavorable to Chiu lends credibility to their declarations. Besides, as the SC ruled in Metrobank, in a preliminary investigation, the prosecutor is bound to determine merely the existence of probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the accused has committed the same. The rules do not require that a prosecutor has moral certainty of the guilt of a person for the latter to be indicted for an offense after the conduct of a preliminary investigation. Further, the SC has repeatedly ruled that the determination of probable cause, for purposes of preliminary investigation, is an executive function. Such determination should be free from the court’s interference save only in exceptional cases where the Department of Justice gravely abuses its discretion in the issuance of its orders or resolutions. Loreli Lim Po v. Department of the Justice, et al/Antonio ng Chiu v. Court of Appeals, et al, G.R. Nos. 195198 & G.R. No. 197098, February 11, 2013.
Sandiganbayan; original and exclusive jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan.  P.D. 1606, as amended by R.A. 7975 and R.A. 8249,vests the Sandiganbayan with original exclusive jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases instituted pursuant to and in connection with Executive Orders 1, 2, 14 and 14-A, issued in 1986 by then President Corazon C. Aquino. Executive Order 1 refers to cases of recovery and sequestration of ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Marcoses, their relatives, subordinates, and close associates, directly or through nominees, by taking undue advantage of their public office and/or by using their powers, authority, influence, connections or relationships. Executive Order 2 states that the ill-gotten wealth includes assets and properties in the form of estates and real properties in the Philippines and abroad. Executive Orders 14 and 14-A pertain to the Sandiganbayan’s jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases relative to the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies. The amended complaint filed by the Republic to implead Asian Bank prays for reversion, reconveyance, reconstitution, accounting and damages. In other words, the Republic would recover ill-gotten wealth, by virtue of which the properties in question cameunder sequestration and are now, for that reason, in custodia legis. Although the Republic has not imputed any responsibility to Asian Bank for the illegal accumulation of wealth by the original defendants, or has not averred that Asian Bank was a business associate, dummy, nominee, or agent of the Marcoses, the allegation in its amended complaint in Civil Case No. 0004 that Asian Bank acted with bad faith for ignoring the sequestration of the properties as ill-gotten wealth has made the cause of action against Asian Bank incidental or necessarily connected to the cause of action against the original defendants. Consequently, the Sandiganbayan has original exclusive jurisdiction over the claim against Asian Bank, for the Supreme Court has ruled in Presidential Commission on Good Government v. Sandiganbayan, that “the Sandiganbayan has original and exclusive jurisdiction not only over principal causes of action involving recovery of ill-gotten wealth, but also over all incidents arising from, incidental to, or related to such cases.” Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, as successor-in-interest of Asian Bank Corporation v. Hon. Edilberto G. Sandoval, et al, G.R. No. 169677, February 18, 2013.
Warrantless arrests; flagrante delicto arrest; standard of probable cause.  A valid warrantless arrest which justifies a subsequent search is one that is carried out under the parameters of section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court which requires that the apprehending officer must have been spurred by probable cause to arrest a person caught in flagrante delicto. To be sure, the term probable cause has been understood to mean a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man’s belief that the person accused is guilty of the offense with which he is charged. Records show that PO2 Soque arrested accused Ramon for allegedly violating section 844 of the Manila City Ordinance regarding Breaches of the Peace. The Supreme Court (SC) held that the act of shouting in a thickly-populated place, with many people conversing with each other on the street, would not constitute any of the acts punishable under section 844 of the Manila City Ordinance. Ramon was not making or assisting in any riot, affray, disorder, disturbance, or breach of the peace; he was not assaulting, beating or using personal violence upon another; and, the words he allegedly shouted – “Putang ina mo! Limang daan na ba ito?” – are not slanderous, threatening or abusive, and thus, could not have tended to disturb the peace or excite a riot considering that at the time of the incident, Balingkit Street was still teeming with people and alive with activity. Further, it bears stressing that no one present at the place of arrest ever complained that Ramon’s shouting disturbed the public. On the contrary, a disinterested member of the community (a certain Rosemarie Escobal) even testified that Ramon was merely standing in front of the store of a certain MangRomy when a man in civilian clothes, later identified as PO2 Soque, approached Ramon, immediately handcuffed and took him away. In its totality, the SC observed that these facts and circumstances could not have engendered a well-founded belief that any breach of the peace had been committed by Ramon at the time that his warrantless arrest was effected. All told, no probable cause existed to justify Ramon’s warrantless arrest. Ramon Martinez y Goco/Ramon Goco y Martinez v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 198694, February 13, 2013.
(Lindy thanks Izabel Serina, Elaine delos Santos, and Vince Juan for their assistance in the preparation of this post.)
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