CASE BRIEF 2002-0461

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Rafael Principe [G.R. No. 135862 May 2, 2002]

PONENTE: Per Curiam:

SUBJECT:

  1. Criminal Procedure: Plea of guilty to capital offense; Duty of the Court;
  2. Evidence: Extrajudicial confession; Circumstantial Evidence;
  3. Torts and damages: Civil indemnity; funeral expenses; temperate damages.

FACTS:       
The information against accused, Rafael Principe, alleged:

“That on or about the 9th day of August, 1998, in the City of Cabanatuan, Republic of the Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with lewd design and by means of force and intimidation, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of one [AAA], who was then 6 years of age and by reason of (or) on the occasion thereof, said [AAA] was killed.”

Upon arraignment, during which the information was read, interpreted, and explained to accused and the consequences of a plea of guilt explained to him, accused, assisted by counsel, pleaded guiltyto the charge, whereupon the trial court ordered the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of accused and the precise degree of his culpability.

Before the hearing, the trial court asked accused:

“COURT:

Are you still willing to present evidence for your defense or you want the prosecution (to) present evidence and you still insist on admitting what you did [to the victim,AAA]?

R. PRINCIPE:

I will now admit the same, I will not present any other evidence, sir.

COURT:

Do you know that because you admit the guilt, you may be sentenced to death like Echegaray?

R. PRINCIPE:

Yes, sir.”

When the trial court again asked accused his final plea, accused answered:

“COURT:

Mr. Principe, for the last time, the court would like to ask you your final plea before the case is submitted for resolution.

ACCUSED PRINCIPE:

A         As narrated. I have admitted my guilt, sir, in connection with this case. My only plea is, if possible, kindly give me the minimum penalty that the Court can impose.

COURT:

Q         In other words, you admit your guilt because you did it. Only, what you want is leniency from the Court?

A         Yes, sir.

Q         I want to tell you that what you stated in open court are recorded and it is finally for the Supreme Court to give you leniency.

A         Yes, sir.”

The Regional Trial Court found the accused guilty and imposed upon him the penalty of death. The trial court further ordered the accused to indemnify the heirs of the deceased offended party in the sum of P50,000.00, and the additional sum of P21,307.00 representing funeral expenses.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the accused contends that the trial court failed to ascertain whether accused was fully apprised of the legal consequences of his plea, considering that he finished only up to the sixth grade of the elementary school.

ISSUES:

(A) What is the duty of the court if the accused enters a plea of guilt to a capital offense?

(B) Whether the trial court failed to ascertain if the accused was fully apprised of the legal consequences of his plea.

(C) Whether the accused is guilty of the crime charged.

(D) Whether the trial court erred in fixing the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P21,307.00 representing funeral expenses.

HELD:
(A) When an accused enters a plea of guilt to a capital offense, Section 3 of Rule 116 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that it is the duty of the trial court to observe the following rules: (1) it must conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea; (2) it must require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and (3) it must asks the accused if he desires to present evidence in his behalf and allow him to do so if he desires.This is because a plea of guilt must be based on a free and informed judgment. Thus, the inquiry must focus on the voluntariness of the plea and the full comprehension of the consequences of the plea.

(B) The trial court failed to comply fully with the requirement to conduct a searching inquiry to determine whether accused’s plea was voluntary and done with full comprehension of the consequences thereof.

In determining whether accused was aware of the full consequences of his plea of guilt, the trial court simply asked him whether he knew that he “may” be sentenced to death, implying that it was possible that the death penalty might not be imposed on him. But Art. 266-B of the Revised Penal Code provides for the mandatory imposition of the death penalty if the crime of rape is committed against a child below seven years old. In fact, even if the victim is not a child below seven years of age but homicide is committed by reason of or on the occasion of the rape, the imposable penalty is death. Indeed, as noted in People vs. Nadera [324 SCRA 490], a mere warning that the accused faces the supreme penalty of death is insufficient. More often than not, an accused pleads guilty because he hopes for a lenient treatment or a lighter penalty.

Although accused Principe said he was admitting guilt “because he did it,” there is doubt whether that was his only reason for pleading guilty because he also said he “wanted leniency from the court.” This makes it doubtful whether his plea was voluntary.

(C) Accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

While accused’s improvident plea should be disregarded, nevertheless his conviction cannot be set aside as there is, in addition to his plea, other sufficient and credible evidence on which the judgment of the trial court rests. This evidence consists of accused’s extrajudicial confession, his testimony in open court, and the testimony of the other witnesses.

With respect to accused’s extrajudicial confession, the Constitution, R.A. No. 7438, and case law lay down four fundamental requirements for the admissibility of extrajudicial confessions in general, to wit: (a) the confession must be voluntary; (b) it must be made with the assistance of competent and independent counsel; (c) the confession must be express; and (d) it must be in writing. In this case, after accused was read his rights in Tagalog, he signified his intention to confess his participation in the rape and killing of [AAA]. He did this in the presence of his father and with the assistance of Atty. Cesar Villar, who had been chosen by his father for him. In his confession, he stated categorically that he took the victim to an abandoned house near Best-Line Eatery, where he struck her on the head with a rock, raped her, and afterwards dumped her body into the toilet bowl in order to hide it. Accused’s confession was placed in writing and it was signed by him, his counsel, and the administering officer.

Accused acknowledged his extrajudicial confession in court. The court asked him if he executed the extrajudicial confession voluntarily and in the presence of counsel, and he answered in the affirmative. Accused testified with some relatives present in the courtroom, including his grandmother. In addition, he was assisted by his counsel de oficio, Atty. Victor Galang.

Finally, the testimonies of witnesses for the prosecution confirm accused’s testimony that he committed the crime.

The conviction of an accused may be based on circumstantial evidence provided the following requisites must concur: (1) there is more than one circumstance; (2) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (3) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, while there is no eyewitness account as to who raped and killed the victim, the above circumstances strongly point to no other person than accused as the perpetrator of the crime. This conclusion becomes all the more certain and inevitable when the circumstantial evidence is considered together with accused’s extrajudicial confession and his own testimony in open court.

(D) The trial court erred, however, in fixing the civil indemnity at P50,000.00. In People vs. Robles, Jr. [305 SCRA 273 (1999)], the Supreme Court ruled that where homicide is committed by reason or on the occasion of the rape, the civil indemnity shall be not less than P100,000.00.

The trial court likewise erred in granting the heirs of the deceased victim an additional amount of P21,307.00 representing funeral expenses. Under Art. 2199 of the Civil Code, a party is entitled to compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as proven. The recovery thereof must be premised upon competent proof and the best evidence obtainable, such as receipts, by the injured party showing the actual expenses incurred in connection with the death, wake, or burial of the victim. The list of expenses incurred for the wake, funeral, and burial of the victim amounting to P21,307.00submitted by the victim’s father is self-serving and not proved. Thus, the trial court’s award of P21,307.00 for funeral expenses cannot be affirmed.

NOTE: Supreme Court, nevertheless, awarded temperate damages.

However, the reason the victim’s father was unable to present the receipt for the funeral parlor was because the latter’s representative refused to issue a receipt until he had fully paid the entire amount, which he had not done at the time of the trial. Under Art. 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages may be recovered if it is shown that such party suffered some pecuniary loss but the amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proved with certainty. As there is no doubt the heirs of the victim incurred funeral expenses, although the amount thereof has not been proven, it is appropriate to award P15,000.00 by way of temperate damages to the heirs of the victim.

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      When an accused enters a plea of guilt to a capital offense, Section 3 of Rule 116 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that it is the duty of the trial court to observe the following rules: (1) it must conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea; (2) it must require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and (3) it must asks the accused if he desires to present evidence in his behalf and allow him to do so if he desires.

A mere warning that the accused faces the supreme penalty of death is insufficient. More often than not, an accused pleads guilty because he hopes for a lenient treatment or a lighter penalty.

B)       The conviction of an accused may be based on circumstantial evidence provided the following requisites must concur: (1) there is more than one circumstance; (2) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (3) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

C)      Where homicide is committed by reason or on the occasion of the rape, the civil indemnity shall be not less than P100,000.00.

D)      Temperate damages may be recovered if it is shown that such party suffered some pecuniary loss but the amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proved with certainty.

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