Cases after the death of Death Penalty

We previously wrote that on 24 June 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act No. 9346, entitled ‘An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines‘. Let’s examine the Supreme Court decisions after the abolition of the Death Penalty.

The case of People of the Philippines vs. Quiachon (G.R. 170236, 31 AUgust 2006) involves an accused who raped his 8-year old daughter, a deaf-mute. Under Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, the imposable penalty should have been death. With the abolition of the Death Penalty, however, the penalty was reduced to reclusion perpetua, without the possibility of parole under the Indeterminate Sentence Law.

The case of People of the Philippines vs. Santos (G.R. 172322, 8 September 2006) involves the rape of a 5-year old child. The accused was meted the penalty of death because rape committed against a ‘child below seven (7) years old’ is a dastardly and repulsive crime which merits no less than the imposition of capital punishment under Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code. The sentence was also reduced to reclusion perpetua, without the possibility of parole.

The case of People vs. Salome (G.R. 169077, 31 August 2006) involves a rape of a 13-year old girl (who got pregnant), committed in a dwelling and with the aid of a bladed weapon. The imposable penalty should have been death, but with the abolition of the Death Penalty, the Supreme Court reduced the penalty to reclusion perpetua, without the possibility of parole.

The case of People of the Philippines vs. Tubongbanua (G.R. 171271, 31 August 2006) involves the murder of a victim who suffered 18 stab wounds which were all directed to her chest, heart and lungs. Considering the existence of the qualifying circumstance of evident premeditation and the aggravating circumstances of dwelling, and taking advantage of superior strength without any mitigating circumstance, the proper imposable penalty would have been death. However, with the abolition of the death penalty law, the penalty imposed was reclusion perpetua, without the possibility of parole.

This is really the end of this article, but for the the law-inclined, we hasten to add that in Tubongbanua, the Supreme Court stated that the insertion of the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult or disregard of the respect due to rank, age, or sex of the victim is clearly a formal, not a substantial, amendment. These amendments do not have the effect of charging another offense different or distinct from the charge of murder as contained in the original information. They relate only to the range of the penalty that the court might impose in the event of conviction. The amendment did not adversely affect any substantial right of appellant. Besides, appellant never objected to the presentation of evidence to prove the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult or in disregard of the respect due to the offended party on account of rank, age or sex. Without any objection by the defense, the defect is deemed waived.

Still in Tubongbanua, the Supreme Court cited People vs. Mateo (G.R. Nos. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640). In Mateo, the Supreme Court first allowed an intermediate appeal to the Court of Appeals in criminal cases in which the penalty imposed is death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment (or lower but involving offenses committed on the same occasion or arising out of the same occurrence that gave rise to the more serious offense for which the penalty of death, reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment is imposed). Before, cases involving the said penalties are raised on automatic review directly to the Supreme Court.

In passing, during the deliberations among the members of the Court, there has been a marked absence of unanimity on the crucial point of guilt or innocence of herein appellant. Some are convinced that the evidence would appear to be sufficient to convict; some would accept the recommendation of acquittal from the Solicitor General on the ground of inadequate proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, the occasion best demonstrates the typical dilemma, i.e., the determination and appreciation of primarily factual matters, which the Supreme Court has had to face with in automatic review cases; yet, it is the Court of Appeals that has aptly been given the direct mandate to review factual issues.

While the Fundamental Law requires a mandatory review by the Supreme Court of cases where the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua, life imprisonment, or death, nowhere, however, has it proscribed an intermediate review. If only to ensure utmost circumspection before the penalty of death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment is imposed, the Court now deems it wise and compelling to provide in these cases a review by the Court of Appeals before the case is elevated to the Supreme Court. Where life and liberty are at stake, all possible avenues to determine his guilt or innocence must be accorded an accused, and no care in the evaluation of the facts can ever be overdone. A prior determination by the Court of Appeals on, particularly, the factual issues, would minimize the possibility of an error of judgment. If the Court of Appeals should affirm the penalty of death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment, it could then render judgment imposing the corresponding penalty as the circumstances so warrant, refrain from entering judgment and elevate the entire records of the case to the Supreme Court for its final disposition.

Statistics would disclose that within the eleven-year period since the re-imposition of the death penalty law in 1993 until June 2004, the trial courts have imposed capital punishment in approximately 1,493, out of which 907 cases have been passed upon in review by the Court. In the Supreme Court, where these staggering numbers find their way on automatic review, the penalty has been affirmed in only 230 cases comprising but 25.36% of the total number. Significantly, in more than half or 64.61% of the cases, the judgment has been modified through an order of remand for further proceedings, by the application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law or by a reduction of the sentence. Indeed, the reduction by the Court of the death penalty to reclusion perpetua has been made in no less than 483 cases or 53.25% of the total number. The Court has also rendered a judgment of acquittal in sixty-five (65) cases. In sum, the cases where the judgment of death has either been modified or vacated consist of an astounding 71.77% of the total of death penalty cases directly elevated before the Court on automatic review that translates to a total of six hundred fifty-one (651) out of nine hundred seven (907) appellants saved from lethal injection.

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