"x x x.
At the Regional Trial Court, William filed a motion to quash the information. According to him, his relationship with the person allegedly defrauded, his mother-in-law, was an exempting circumstance, citing Article 332 of the Revised Penal Code which states:
ART. 332. Persons exempt from criminal liability. – No criminal, but only civil liability shall result from the commission of the crime of theft, swindling, or malicious mischief committed or caused mutually by the following persons:
1. Spouses, ascendants and descendants, or relatives by affinity in the same line;
2. The widowed spouse with respect to the property which belonged to the deceased spouse before the same shall have passed into the possession of another; and
3. Brothers and sisters and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, if living together.
The exemption established by this article shall not be applicable to strangers participating in the commission of the crime. (emphasis supplied)
The trial prosecutor opposed the motion, citing that the death of Zenaida, William’s wife, extinguished the relationship by affinity between Manolita and William.
The RTC granted William’s motion and quashed the information, adopting the theory propounded by William that he is exempted from criminal liability due to his relationship by affinity with Manolita.
On petition for certiorari, the Court of Appeals upheld the RTC decision and dismissed the petition filed by the estate.
The estate represented by Mediatrix is now before the Supreme Court questioning the rulings of both the RTC and the Court of Appeals.
On of the core issues to be resolved is, whether or not the complex crime of Estafa Through Falsification of Public Document falls within the ambit of crimes covered by Article 332 of the Revised Penal code:
The Supreme Court:
“The absolutory cause under Article 332 is meant to address specific crimes against property, namely, the simple crimes of theft, swindling and malicious mischief. Thus, all other crimes, whether simple or complex, are not affected by the absolutory cause provided by the said provision. To apply the absolutory cause under Article 332 of the Revised Penal Code to one of the component crimes of a complex crime for the purpose of negating the existence of that complex crime is to unduly expand the scope of Article 332. In other words, to apply Article 332 to the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document would be to mistakenly treat the crime of estafa as a separate simple crime, not as the component crime that it is in that situation. It would wrongly consider the indictment as separate charges of estafa and falsification of public document, not as a single charge for the single (complex) crime of estafa through falsification of public document.
Under Article 332 of the Revised Penal Code, the State waives its right to hold the offender criminally liable for the simple crimes of theft, swindling and malicious mischief and considers the violation of the juridical right to property committed by the offender against certain family members as a private matter and therefore subject only to civil liability. The waiver does not apply when the violation of the right to property is achieved through (and therefore inseparably intertwined with) a breach of the public interest in the integrity and presumed authenticity of public documents. For, in the latter instance, what is involved is no longer simply the property right of a family relation but a paramount public interest.
The purpose of Article 332 is to preserve family harmony and obviate scandal. Thus, the action provided under the said provision simply concerns the private relations of the parties as family members and is limited to the civil aspect between the offender and the offended party. When estafa is committed through falsification of a public document, however, the matter acquires a very serious public dimension and goes beyond the respective rights and liabilities of family members among themselves. Effectively, when the offender resorts to an act that breaches public interest in the integrity of public documents as a means to violate the property rights of a family member, he is removed from the protective mantle of the absolutory cause under Article 332.
In considering whether the accused is liable for the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public documents, it would be wrong to consider the component crimes separately from each other. While there may be two component crimes (estafa and falsification of documents), both felonies are animated by and result from one and the same criminal intent for which there is only one criminal liability. That is the concept of a complex crime. In other words, while there are two crimes, they are treated only as one, subject to a single criminal liability.
As opposed to a simple crime where only one juridical right or interest is violated (e.g., homicide which violates the right to life, theft which violates the right to property), a complex crime constitutes a violation of diverse juridical rights or interests by means of diverse acts, each of which is a simple crime in itself. Since only a single criminal intent underlies the diverse acts, however, the component crimes are considered as elements of a single crime, the complex crime. This is the correct interpretation of a complex crime as treated under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code.
In the case of a complex crime, therefore, there is a formal (or ideal) plurality of crimes where the same criminal intent results in two or more component crimes constituting a complex crime for which there is only one criminal liability. (The complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document falls under this category.) This is different from a material (or real) plurality of crimes where different criminal intents result in two or more crimes, for each of which the accused incurs criminal liability. The latter category is covered neither by the concept of complex crimes nor by Article 48.
Under Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code, the formal plurality of crimes (concursus delictuorum or concurso de delitos) gives rise to a single criminal liability and requires the imposition of a single penalty:
Although [a] complex crime quantitatively consists of two or more crimes, it is only one crime in law on which a single penalty is imposed and the two or more crimes constituting the same are more conveniently termed as component crimes. (emphasis supplied)
In [a] complex crime, although two or more crimes are actually committed, they constitute only one crime in the eyes of the law as well as in the conscience of the offender. The offender has only one criminal intent. Even in the case where an offense is a necessary means for committing the other, the evil intent of the offender is only one.
For this reason, while a conviction for estafa through falsification of public document requires that the elements of both estafa and falsification exist, it does not mean that the criminal liability for estafa may be determined and considered independently of that for falsification. The two crimes of estafa and falsification of public documents are not separate crimes but component crimes of the single complex crime of estafa and falsification of public documents.
Therefore, it would be incorrect to claim that, to be criminally liable for the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document, the liability for estafa should be considered separately from the liability for falsification of public document. Such approach would disregard the nature of a complex crime and contradict the letter and spirit of Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code. It would wrongly disregard the distinction between formal plurality and material plurality, as it improperly treats the plurality of crimes in the complex crime of estafa through falsification of public document as a mere material plurality where the felonies are considered as separate crimes to be punished individually.”
x x x."