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[G.R. No. 175381. February 26, 2008.

]
JAMES SVENDSEN, petitioner, vs. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondent.

CARPIO-MORALES, J p:

Assailed via Petition for Review on Certiorari is the Court of Appeals Decision 1 of November 16, 2006
denying petitioner's appeal from the December 22, 2005 Decision 2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of
Manila, Branch 14 which affirmed the December 17, 2003 Judgment 3 of the Metropolitan Trial Court
(MeTC) of Manila, Branch 5, finding James Svendsen (petitioner) guilty of violation of Batas Pambansa
Blg. (B.P. Blg.) 22 or the Bouncing Checks Law.
In October 1997, Cristina Reyes (Cristina) extended a loan to petitioner in the amount of P200,000, to bear
interest at 10% a month. After petitioner had partially paid his obligation, he failed to settle the balance
thereof which had reached P380,000 inclusive of interest. 4
Cristina thus filed a collection suit against petitioner, which was eventually settled when petitioner paid her
P200,000 5 and issued in her favor an International Exchange Bank check postdated February 2, 1999 (the
check) in the amount of P160,000 representing interest. 6 The check was co-signed by one Wilhelm Bolton.
When the check was presented for payment on February 9, 1999, it was dishonored for having been Drawn
Against Insufficient Funds (DAIF). 7
Cristina, through counsel, thus sent a letter to petitioner by registered mail informing him that the check
was dishonored by the drawee bank, and demanding that he make it good within five (5) days from receipt
thereof. 8 SEIDAC
No settlement having been made by petitioner, Cristina filed a complaint dated March 1, 1999 against him
and his co-signatory to the check, Bolton, for violation of B.P. Blg. 22 before the City Prosecutor's Office
of Manila. No counter-affidavit was submitted by petitioner and his co-respondent. An Information dated
April 13, 1999 for violation of B.P. Blg. No. 22 was thus filed on April 29, 1999 before the MeTC of
Manila against the two, the accusatory portion of which reads:
That sometime in December 1998 the said accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously
and jointly make or draw and issue to CRISTINA C. REYES to apply on account or for value
INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE BANK check no. 0000009118 dated February 2, 1999 payable to
CRISTINA REYES in the amount of P160,000.00 said accused well knowing that at the time of issue
she/he/they did not have sufficient funds and/or credit with the drawee bank for payment of such check in
full upon its presentment, which check after having been deposited in the City of Manila, Philippines, and
upon being presented for payment within ninety (90) days from the date thereof was subsequently
dishonored by the drawee bank for INSUFFICIENCY OF FUNDS and despite receipt of notice of such
dishonor, said accused failed to pay said CRISTINA C. REYES the amount of the check or to make
arrangement for full payment of the same within five (5) banking days after receiving said notice.
TAESDH
CONTRARY TO LAW. 9
Bolton having remained at large, the trial court never acquired jurisdiction over his person. 10
By Judgment of December 17, 2003, Branch 5 of the Manila MeTC found petitioner guilty as charged,
disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, this Court finds accused James Robert Svendson [sic] GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt
of a violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (Bouncing Checks Law) and imposes upon him to pay a fine of
ONE HUNDRED SIXTY THOUSAND PESOS (P160,000.00), with subsidiary imprisonment in case of
insolvency.
Accused is also made liable to pay private complainant Cristina C. Reyes civil indemnity in the total
amount of ONE HUNDRED SIXTY THOUSAND PESOS (P160,000.00) representing his civil obligation
covered by subject check.
Meantime, considering that other accused Wilhelm Bolton remains at large, let a warrant of arrest against
him ISSUE. Pending his apprehension, let the case against him be sent to the ARCHIVES. (Emphasis in the
original; underscoring supplied)
As priorly stated, the RTC affirmed the MeTC judgment and the Court of Appeals denied petitioner's
appeal. ITAaCc
Hence, the present petition for review.
Petitioner argues that the appellate court erred in finding that the first element of violation of B.P. Blg. 22
— the making, drawing, and issuance of any check "to apply on account or for value" — was present, as
the obligation to pay interest is void, the same not being in writing and the 10% monthly interest is
unconscionable; in holding him civilly liable in the amount of P160,000 to private complainant,
notwithstanding the invalidity of the interest stipulation; and in violating his right to due process when it
convicted him, notwithstanding the absence of proof of receipt by him of a written notice of dishonor.
The petition is impressed with merit.
Section 1 of B.P. Blg. 22 or the Bouncing Checks Law reads:
SEC. 1. Checks without sufficient funds. — Any person who makes or draws and issues any check to
apply on account or for value, knowing at the time of issue that he does not have sufficient funds in or
credit with the drawee bank for the payment of such check in full upon its presentment, which check is
subsequently dishonored by the drawee bank for insufficiency of funds or credit or would have been
dishonored for the same reason had not the drawer, without any valid reason, ordered the bank to stop
payment, shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than thirty days but not more than one (1) year or
by fine of not less than but not more than double the amount of the check which fine shall in no case
exceed Two Hundred Thousand pesos, or both such fine and imprisonment at the discretion of the court.
ACDIcS
The same penalty shall be imposed upon any person who, having sufficient funds in or credit with the
drawee bank when he makes or draws and issues a check, shall fail to keep sufficient funds or to maintain a
credit to cover the full amount of the check if presented within a period of ninety (90) days from the date
appearing thereon, for which reason it is dishonored by the drawee bank. Where the check is drawn by a
corporation, company or entity, the person or persons who actually signed the check in behalf of such
drawer shall be liable under this Act.
For petitioner to be validly convicted of the crime under B.P. Blg. 22, the following requisites must thus
concur: (1) the making, drawing and issuance of any check to apply for account or for value; (2) the
knowledge of the maker, drawer, or issuer that 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. 11 EHCcIT
Petitioner admits having issued the postdated check to Cristina. The check, however, was dishonored when
deposited for payment in Banco de Oro due to DAIF. Hence, the first and the third elements obtain in the
case.
As for the second element, Section 2 of B.P. Blg. 22 provides that
[t]he making, drawing and issuance of a check payment of which is refused by the drawee because of
insufficient funds in or credit with such bank, when presented within ninety (90) days from the date of the
check, shall be prima facie evidence of knowledge of such insufficiency of funds or credit unless such
maker or drawer pays the holder thereof the amount due thereon, or makes arrangements for payment in
full by the drawee of such check within five (5) banking days after receiving notice that such check has not
been paid by the drawee.
In Rico v. People of the Philippines, 12 this Court held:
. . . [I]f . . . notice of non-payment by the drawee bank is not sent to the maker or drawer of the bum check,
or if there is no proof as to when such notice was received by the drawer, then the presumption of
knowledge as provided in Section 2 of B.P. 22 cannot arise, since there would simply be no way of
reckoning the crucial five-day period.
. . . In recent cases, we had the occasion to emphasize that not only must there be a written notice of
dishonor or demand letters actually received by the drawer of a dishonored check, but there must also be
proof of receipt thereof that is properly authenticated, and not mere registered receipt and/or return receipt.
IcCATD
Thus, as held in Domagsang vs. Court of Appeals, while Section 2 of B.P. 22 indeed does not state that the
notice of dishonor be in writing, this must be taken in conjunction with Section 3 of the law, i.e., "that
where there are no sufficient funds in or credit with such drawee bank, such fact shall always be explicitly
stated in the notice of dishonor or refusal". A mere oral notice or demand to pay would appear to be
insufficient for conviction under the law. In our view, both the spirit and letter of the Bouncing Checks Law
require for the act to be punished thereunder not only that the accused issued a check that is dishonored, but
also that the accused has actually been notified in writing of the fact of dishonor. This is consistent with the
rule that penal statutes must be construed strictly against the state and liberally in favor of the accused. . . .
In fine, the failure of the prosecution to prove the existence and receipt by petitioner of the requisite written
notice of dishonor and that he was given at least five banking days within which to settle his account
constitutes sufficient ground for his acquittal. 13 (Italics in the original; emphasis and underscoring
supplied)
The evidence for the prosecution failed to prove the second element. While the registry receipt, 14 which is
said to cover the letter-notice of dishonor and of demand sent to petitioner, was presented, there is no proof
that he or a duly authorized agent received the same. Receipts for registered letters including return receipts
do not themselves prove receipt; they must be properly authenticated to serve as proof of receipt of the
letters. 15 Thus in Ting v. Court of Appeals, 16 this Court observed:
. . . All that we have on record is an illegible signature on the registry receipt as evidence that someone
received the letter. As to whether this signature is that of one of the petitioners or of their authorized agent
remains a mystery. From the registry receipt alone, it is possible that petitioners or their authorized agent
did receive the demand letter. Possibilities, however, cannot replace proof beyond reasonable doubt. 17
IATSHE
For failure then to prove all the elements of violation of B.P. Blg. 22, petitioner's acquittal is in order.
Petitioner is civilly liable, however. For in a criminal case, the social injury is sought to be repaired through
the imposition of the corresponding penalty, whereas with respect to the personal injury of the victim, it is
sought to be compensated through indemnity, which is civil in nature. 18
The decision of the MeTC, which was affirmed on appeal by the RTC and the appellate court, ordering
petitioner "to pay private complainant Cristina C. Reyes civil indemnity in the total amount of ONE
HUNDRED SIXTY THOUSAND PESOS (P160,000) representing his civil obligation covered by subject
check," deserves circumspect examination, however, given that the obligation of petitioner to pay 10%
interest per month on the loan is unconscionable and against public policy.
The P160,000 check petitioner issued to Cristina admittedly represented unpaid interest. By Cristina's
information, the interest was computed at a fixed rate of 10% per month. 19
While the Usury Law ceiling on interest rates was lifted by Central Bank Circular No. 905, nothing therein
grants lenders carte blanche to raise interest rates to levels which will either enslave their borrowers or lead
to a hemorrhaging of their assets. 20 Stipulations authorizing such interest are contra bonos mores, if not
against the law. They are, under Article 1409 21 of the New Civil Code, inexistent and void from the
beginning. 22 ESHcTD
The interest rate of 10% per month agreed upon by the parties in this case being clearly excessive,
iniquitous and unconscionable cannot thus be sustained. In Macalalag v. People, 23 Diño v. Jardines, 24
and in Cuaton v. Salud, 25 this Court, finding the 10% per month interest rate to be unconscionable,
reduced it to 12% per annum. And in other cases 26 where the interest rates stipulated were even less than
that involved herein, the Court equitably reduced them.
This Court deems it fair and reasonable then, consistent with existing jurisprudence, to adjust the civil
indemnity to P16,000, the equivalent of petitioner's unpaid interest on the P200,000 loan at 12% percent per
annum as of February 2, 1999, the date of the check, plus 12% per annum interest to be computed from
April 29, 1999, the date of judicial demand (date of the filing of the Information) up to the finality of this
judgment. After the judgment becomes final and executory until the obligation is satisfied, the total amount
due shall bear interest at 12% per annum. 27 IcAaSD
Respecting petitioner's claim that since the promissory note incorporating the stipulated 10% interest per
month was not presented, there is no written proof thereof, hence, his obligation to pay the same must be
void, the same fails. As reflected above, Cristina admitted such stipulation.
In any event, the presentation of the promissory note may be dispensed with in a prosecution for violation
of B.P. Blg. 22 as the purpose for the issuance of such check is irrelevant in the determination of the
accused's criminal liability. It is for the purpose of determining his civil liability that the document bears
significance. Notably, however, Section 24 of the Negotiable Instruments Law provides that "Every
negotiable instrument is deemed prima facie to have been issued for a valuable consideration, and every
person whose signature appears thereon to have become a party thereto for value." It was incumbent then
on petitioner to prove that the check was not for a valuable consideration. This he failed to discharge.
WHEREFORE, the Court of Appeals Decision of November 16, 2006 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE.
Petitioner, James Svendsen, is acquitted of the crime charged for failure of the prosecution to prove his
guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
He is, however, ordered to pay private complainant, Cristina C. Reyes, the amount of SIXTEEN
THOUSAND PESOS (P16,000) representing civil indemnity, plus 12% interest per annum computed from
April 29, 1999 up to the finality of this judgment. After the judgment becomes final and executory until the
obligation is satisfied, the total amount due shall earn interest at 12% per annum. SDTcAH
SO ORDERED.

[G.R. No. 170470. September 26, 2006.]


PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee, vs. EDNA MALNGAN y MAYO, appellant.

CHICO-NAZARIO, J p:

The Case
For review is the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 01139 promulgated on 2
September 2005, affirming with modification the Judgment 2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila,
Branch 41, in Criminal Case No. 01-188424 promulgated on 13 October 2003, finding appellant Edna
Malngan y Mayo (Edna) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of "Arson with Multiple Homicide or
Arson resulting to the death of six (6) people," and sentencing her to suffer the penalty of death. IHaCDE
The Facts
As summarized 3 by the Court of Appeals, the antecedent facts are as follows:
From the personal account of Remigio Bernardo, the Barangay Chairman in the area, as well as the
personal account of the pedicab driver named Rolando
, it was at around 4:45 a.m. on January 2, 2001 when Remigio Bernardo and his tanods saw the accused-
appellant EDNA, one hired as a housemaid by Roberto Separa, Sr., with her head turning in different
directions, hurriedly leaving the house of her employer at No. 172 Moderna Street, Balut, Tondo, Manila.
She was seen to have boarded a pedicab which was driven by a person later identified as Rolando Gruta.
She was heard by the pedicab driver to have instructed that she be brought to Nipa Street, but upon her
arrival there, she changed her mind and asked that she be brought instead to Balasan Street where she
finally alighted, after paying for her fare.
Thirty minutes later, at around 5:15 a.m. Barangay Chairman Bernardo's group later discovered that a fire
gutted the house of the employer of the housemaid. Barangay Chairman Bernardo and his tanods responded
to the fire upon hearing shouts from the residents and thereafter, firemen from the Fire District 1-NCR
arrived at the fire scene to contain the fire.
When Barangay Chairman Bernardo returned to the Barangay Hall, he received a report from pedicab
driver Rolando Gruta, who was also a tanod, that shortly before the occurrence of the fire, he saw a woman
(the housemaid) coming out of the house at No. 172 Moderna Street, Balut, Tondo, Manila and he received
a call from his wife telling him of a woman (the same housemaid) who was acting strangely and
suspiciously on Balasan Street. Barangay Chairman Bernardo, Rolando Gruta and the other tanods
proceeded to Balasan Street and found the woman who was later identified as the accused-appellant. After
Rolando Gruta positively identified the woman as the same person who left No. 172 Moderna Street, Balut,
Tondo, Manila, Barangay Chairman Bernardo and his tanods apprehended her and brought her to the
Barangay Hall for investigation. At the Barangay Hall, Mercedita Mendoza, neighbor of Roberto Separa,
Sr. and whose house was also burned, identified the woman as accused-appellant EDNA who was the
housemaid of Roberto Separa, Sr. Upon inspection, a disposable lighter was found inside accused-appellant
EDNA's bag. Thereafter, accused-appellant EDNA confessed to Barangay Chairman Bernardo in the
presence of multitudes of angry residents outside the Barangay Hall that she set her employer's house on
fire because she had not been paid her salary for about a year and that she wanted to go home to her
province but her employer told her to just ride a broomstick in going home. IAaCST
Accused-appellant EDNA was then turned over to arson investigators headed by S[F]O4 Danilo Talusan,
who brought her to the San Lazaro Fire Station in Sta. Cruz, Manila where she was further investigated and
then detained.
When Mercedita Mendoza went to the San Lazaro Fire Station to give her sworn statement, she had the
opportunity to ask accused-appellant EDNA at the latter's detention cell why she did the burning of her
employer's house and accused-appellant EDNA replied that she set the house on fire because when she
asked permission to go home to her province, the wife of her employer Roberto Separa, Sr., named Virginia
Separa (sic) shouted at her: "Sige umuwi ka, pagdating mo maputi ka na. Sumakay ka sa walis, pagdating
mo maputi ka na" (TSN, January 22, 2002, p.6) ("Go ahead, when you arrive your color would be fair
already. Ride a broomstick, when you arrive your color would be fair already.") And when Mercedita
Mendoza asked accused-appellant EDNA how she burned the house, accused-appellant EDNA told her:
"Naglukot ako ng maraming diyaryo, sinindihan ko ng disposable lighter at hinagis ko sa ibabaw ng lamesa
sa loob ng bahay" (TSN, January 22, 2002, p. 7.) ("I crumpled newspapers, lighted them with a disposable
lighter and threw them on top of the table inside the house.")
When interviewed by Carmelita Valdez, a reporter of ABS-CBN Network, accused-appellant EDNA while
under detention (sic) was heard by SFO4 (sic) Danilo Talusan as having admitted the crime and even
narrated the manner how she accomplished it. SFO4 (sic) Danilo Talusan was able to hear the same
confession, this time at his home, while watching the television program "True Crime" hosted by Gus
Abelgas also of ABS-CBN Network.
The fire resulted in [the] destruction of the house of Roberto Separa, Sr. and other adjoining houses and the
death of Roberto Separa, Sr. and Virginia Separa together with their four (4) children, namely: Michael,
Daphne, Priscilla and Roberto, Jr.
On 9 January 2001, an Information 4 was filed before the RTC of Manila, Branch 41, charging accused-
appellant with the crime of Arson with Multiple Homicide. The case was docketed as Criminal Case No.
01-188424. The accusatory portion of said Information provides:
That on or about January 2, 2001, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused, with intent to cause
damage, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and deliberately set fire upon the two-storey
residential house of ROBERTO SEPARA and family mostly made of wooden materials located at No. 172
Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, this city, by lighting crumpled newspaper with the use of disposable lighter
inside said house knowing the same to be an inhabited house and situated in a thickly populated place and
as a consequence thereof a conflagration ensued and the said building, together with some seven (7)
adjoining residential houses, were razed by fire; that by reason and on the occasion of the said fire, the
following, namely, acIHDA
1. Roberto Separa, Sr., 45 years of age
2. Virginia Separa y Mendoza, 40 years of age
3. Michael Separa, 24 years of age
4. Daphne Separa, 18 years of age
5. Priscilla Separa, 14 years of age
6. Roberto Separa, Jr., 11 years of age
sustained burn injuries which were the direct cause of their death immediately thereafter. 5
When arraigned, accused-appellant with assistance of counsel de oficio, pleaded 6 "Not Guilty" to the
crime charged. Thereafter, trial ensued. 7
The prosecution presented five (5) witnesses, namely, SPO4 8 Danilo Talusan, Rolando Gruta, Remigio
Bernardo, Mercedita Mendoza and Rodolfo Movilla to establish its charge that accused-appellant Edna
committed the crime of arson with multiple homicide.
SPO4 Danilo Talusan, arson investigator, testified that he was one of those who responded to the fire that
occurred on 2 January 2001 and which started at No. 172 Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, Manila. He stated that
the fire killed Roberto Separa, Sr. and all the other members of his family, namely his wife, Virginia, and
his children, Michael, Daphne, Priscilla and Roberto, Jr.; the fire also destroyed their abode as well as six
neighboring houses. He likewise testified that he twice heard accused-appellant — once while the latter
was being interviewed by Carmelita Valdez, a reporter of ABS-CBN, and the other time when it was shown
on channel 2 on television during the airing of the television program entitled "True Crime" hosted by Gus
Abelgas — confess to having committed the crime charged, to wit:
Pros. Rebagay:
Based on your investigation, was there any occasion when the accused Edna Malngan admitted to
the burning of the house of the Separa Family?
xxx xxx xxx
Witness:
Yes, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
When was that?
A: On January 2 she was interviewed by the media, sir. The one who took the coverage was
Carmelita Valdez of Channel 2, ABS-CBN. They have a footage that Edna admitted before them, sir.
IcTEAD
Q: And where were you when Edna Malngan made that statement or admission to Carmelita Valdez
of ABS-CBN?
A: I was at our office, sir.
Q: Was there any other occasion wherein the accused made another confession relative to the
admission of the crime?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: When was that?
A: Last Friday, sir. It was shown in True Crime of Gus Abelgas. She was interviewed at the City Jail
and she admitted that she was the one who authored the crime, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
And where were you when that admission to Gus Abelgas was made?
A: I was in the house and I just saw it on tv, sir.
Q: What was that admission that you heard personally, when you were present, when the accused
made the confession to Carmelita Valdez?
A: "Naglukot po siya ng papel, sinindihan niya ng lighter at inilagay niya sa ibabaw ng mesa 'yung
mga diyaryo at sinunog niya."
xxx xxx xxx
Q: Aside from that statement, was there any other statement made by the accused Edna Malngan?
A: Yes, sir. "Kaya po niya nagawa 'yon galit po siya sa kanyang amo na si Virginia, hindi siya
pinasuweldo at gusto na po niyang umuwi na (sic) ayaw siyang payagan. Nagsalita pa po sa kanya na,
"Sumakay ka na lang sa walis. Pagbalik mo dito maputi ka na". (sic) 'Yon po ang sinabi ng kanyang amo."
Atty. Masweng:
That was a statement of an alleged dead person, your Honor.
Court:
"Sabi ni Valdes, ha?"
Pros. Rebagay:
"Sabi ni Edna Malngan kay Carmelita Valdez," Your Honor.
Court:
"Double hearsay na 'yon."
Pros. Rebagay:
No, Your Honor, the witness was present, Your Honor, when that confession was made by the
accused to Carmelita Valdez. 9
Rolando Gruta, the pedicab driver and one of the barangay tanods in the area, testified:
Pros. Rebagay:
Mr. Witness, what is your profession? IESAac
A: Sidecar driver, sir.
Q: On January 2, 2001 at around 4:45 in the morning, do you recall where were (sic) you?
A: I was at the corner of Moderna Street, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
And while you were at the corner of Moderna St., what happened if any, Mr. Witness?
A: I saw Edna coming out from the door of the house of Roberto Separa, sir.
Q: Do you know the number of the house of the Separa Family?
A: 172 Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, Manila, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: And you said you saw Edna coming out from the house of the Separa Family. How far is that
house from the place where you were waiting at the corner of Moderna and Paulino Streets?
A: About three meters from Moderna and Paulino Streets where my pedicab was placed. My distance
was about three meters, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: And how did you know that the house where Edna came out is that of the house of the Separa
Family?
A: "Mismong nakita po ng dalawang mata ko na doon siya galing sa bahay ng Separa Family."
Q: How long have you known the Separa Family, if you know them?
A: About two years, sir.
Q: How about this Edna, the one you just pointed (to) awhile ago? Do you know her prior to January
2, 2001?
A: Yes, sir. I knew(sic) her for two years.
Court:
Why?
Witness:
"Madalas ko po siyang maging pasahero ng aking pedicab."
Pros. Rebagay:
How about the Separa family? Why do you know them?
A: They were the employers of Edna, sir. cACEHI
Q: You said you saw Edna coming out from the house of the Separa Family. What happened when
you saw Edna coming out from the house of the Separa Family?
A: "Wala pa pong ano 'yan naisakay ko na siya sa sidecar."
Q: And what did you observe from Edna when you saw her coming out from the house of the Separa
family?
A: "Nagmamadali po siyang lumakad at palinga-linga."
xxx xxx xxx
Q: After she boarded your pedicab, what happened, if any?
A: "Nagpahatid po siya sa akin."
Q: Where?
A: To Nipa Street, sir.
Q: Did you bring her to Nipa Street as she requested?
A: Yes, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: You said that you brought her to Nipa Street. What happened when you go (sic) there at Nipa
Street, if any?
A: "Nagpahinto po siya doon ng saglit, mga tatlong minuto po."
Q: What did she do when she asked (you) to stop there for three minutes?
A: After three minutes she requested me to bring her directly to Balasan Street, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: What happened after that?
A: When we arrived there, she alighted and pay (sic) P5.00, sir.
Q And then what transpired after she alighted from your pedicab?
Witness:
I went home and I looked for another passenger, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
After that, what happened when you were on you way to your house to look for passengers?
cTECHI
A "Nakita ko na nga po na pagdating ko sa Moderna, naglalagablab na apoy."
Q: From what place was that fire coming out?
A: From the house of Roberto Separa Family, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Pros. Rebagay:
After you noticed that there was a fire from the house of Roberto Separa Family, what did you do
if any?
A: "Siyempre po, isang Barangay Tanod po ako, nagresponde na po kami sa sunog. Binuksan na po
ng Chairman naming 'yung tangke, binomba na po naming 'yung apoy ng tubig."
Q: After that incident, Mr. Witness, have you seen Edna Again (sic)."
A: No, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
And after that incident, did you come to know if Edna was apprehended or not?
xxx xxx xxx
A: I was called by our Barangay Chairman in order to identify Edna, sir.
xxx xxx xxx 10
Remigio Bernardo, Barangay Chairman of the area where the fire occurred, stated:
Pros. Rebagay:
On January 2, 2001, do you recall if there is a fire that occurred somewhere in your area of
jurisdiction, particularly Moderna Street?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Now, where were you when this incident happened?
A: "Kasi ugali ko na po tuwing umagang-umaga po ako na pupunta sa barangay Hall mga siguro 6:00
or 5:00 o' clock, me sumigaw ng sunog nirespondehan namin iyong sunog eh me dala kaming fire."
Court:
You just answer the question. Where were you when this incident happened? aSCHIT
Witness:
I was at the Barangay Hall, Your Honor.
Pros. Rebagay:
And you said that there was a fire that occurred, what did you do?
Witness:
"Iyon nga nagresponde kami doon sa sunog eh nakita ko iyong sunog mukha talagang arson dahil
napakalaki kaagad, meron pong mga tipong . . . Iyong namatay po contractor po iyon eh kaya siguro
napakaraming kalat ng mga pintura, mga container, kaya hindi po namin naapula kaagad iyong apoy,
nasunog ultimo iyong fire tank namin sa lakas," sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
Now, will you please tell us where this fire occurred?
A: At the house of the six victims, sir.
Q: Whose house is that?
A: The house of the victims, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Pros. Rebagay:
You said that you responded to the place, what transpired after you responded to the place?
A: "Iyon nga po ang nagsabi may lumabas na isang babae po noon sa bahay na nagmamadali habang
may sunog, me isang barangay tanod po akong nagsabi may humahangos na isang babae na may dalang
bag papunta po roon palabas ng sasakyan," sir.
Q: And so what happened?
A: "Siyempre hindi naman ako nagtanong kung sino ngayon may dumating galing na sa bahay
naming, may tumawag, tumawag po si Konsehala Alfonso na may isang babae na hindi mapakali doon sa
Calle Pedro Alfonso, ke konsehal na baka ito sabi niya iyong ganito ganoon nirespondehan ko po," sir.
Q: Where did you respond?
A: At Balasan, sir, but it's not the area of my jurisdiction.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: What happened when you reached that place? CAcIES
A: "Siya po ang nahuli ko doon," sir.
Court:
Witness pointing to accused Edna Malngan.
Pros. Rebagay:
And what happened?
A: I brought her to the barangay hall, sir.
Q: And what happened at the barangay hall?
A: "Inembestigahan ko, kinuha naming iyong bag niya, me lighter siya eh. Inamin niya po sa amin na
kaya niya sinunog hindi siya pinasasahod ng more or less isang taon na eh. Ngayon sabi ko bakit eh gusto
ko ng umuwi ng probinsya ang sabi sa akin ng amo ko sumakay na lang daw po ako ng walis tingting para
makauwi," sir.
Atty. Herman:
We would like to object, Your Honor on the ground that that is hearsay.
Pros. Rebagay:
That is not a hearsay statement, Your Honor, straight from the mouth of the accused.
Atty. Herman:
It's not under the exemption under the Rules of Court, Your Honor. He is testifying according to
what he has heard.
Court:
That's part of the narration. Whether it is true or not, that's another matter. Let it remain.
Pros. Rebagay:
Now, who were present when the accused are telling you this?
A: "Iyon nga iyong mga tanod ko, mamamayan doon nakapaligid, siyempre may sunog nagkakagulo,
gusto nga siyang kunin ng mga mamamayan para saktan hindi ko maibigay papatayin siya gawa ng may
namatay eh anim na tao and namatay, kaya iyong mga tao kinokontrol siya madidisgrasya siya dahil pin-
pointed po siya, Your Honor, iyong dami na iyon libo iyong nakapaligid doon sa barangay hall napakahirap
awatin. Gustong-gusto siyang kunin ng mga taong-bayan, nagalit dahil ang daming bahay hong nasunog."
11
For her part, Mercedita Mendoza, one of the neighbors of the Separa Family and whose house was one of
those destroyed by the fire, recounted:
Pros. Rebagay:
Madam Witness, on January 2, 2001, do you recall where were you residing then? DCIAST
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Where were you residing at?
A: At No. 170 Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, Manila, sir.
Q: Why did you transfer your residence? Awhile ago you testified that you are now residing at 147
Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, Manila?
A: Because our house was burned, sir.
Q: More or less, how much did the loss incurred on the burning of your house (sic)?
A: More or less, P100,000.00, sir
Q: Do you know the accused in this case Edna Malngan?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Why do you know her?
A: She is the house helper of the family who were (sic) burned, sir.
Q: What family?
A: Cifara (sic) family, sir.
Q: Who in particular do you know among Cifara (sic) family?
A: The woman, sir.
Q: What is the name?
A: Virginia Mendoza Cifara (sic), sir.
Q: Are you related to Virginia Mendoza Cifara (sic)?
A: My husband, sir.
Q: What is the relationship of your husband to the late Virginia Mendoza Cifara (sic)?
A: They were first cousins, sir.
Q: How far is your house from the house of the Cifara (sic) family?
A: "Magkadikit lang po. Pader lang ang pagitan."
Q: You said that Edna Malngan was working with the Cifara (sic) family. What is the work of Edna
Malngan?
A: "Nangangamuhan po." House helper, sir.
Q: How long do you know Edna Malngan as house helper of the Cifara (sic) family? cSEaTH
A: I cannot estimate but she stayed there for three to four years, sir.
Q: Do you know who caused the burning of the house of the Cifara (sic) family?
Witness:
Edna Malngan, sir.
Pros. Rebagay:
Why do you know that it was Edna Malngan who burned the house of the Cifara (sic) family?
A: When the fire incident happened, sir, on January 3, we went to San Lazaro Fire Station and I saw
Edna Malngan detained there, sir.
Q: And so what is your basis in pointing to Edna Malngan as the culprit or the one who burned the
house of the Cifara (sic) family?
A: I talked to her when we went there at that day, sir.
Q: What transpired then?
A: I talked to her and I told her, "Edna, bakit mo naman ginawa 'yung ganun?"
Q: And what was the answer of Edna?
A: She answered, "Kasi pag nagpapaalam ako sa kanyang umuwi ng probinsya, nagpapaalam po
siyang umuwi ng probinsya ang sinasabi daw po sa kanya ni Baby Cifara (sic) na, (sic)"Sige umuwi ka,
pagdating mo maputi ka na. Sumakay ka sa walis pagdating mo maputi ka na."
Pros. Rebagay:
What is the basis there that she was the one who burned the house of the Cifara (sic) family?
A: I also asked her, "Paano mo ginawa 'yung sunog?" She told me, "Naglukot ako ng maraming
diyaryo, sinindihan ko ng disposable lighter at hinagis niya sa ibabaw ng lamesa sa loob ng bahay". (sic) 12
Lastly, the prosecution presented Rodolfo Movilla, owner of the house situated beside that of the Separa
family. He testified that his house was also gutted by the fire that killed the Separa family and that he tried
to help said victims but to no avail.
The prosecution presented other documentary evidence 13 and thereafter rested its case. TDcAaH
When it came time for the defense to present exculpatory evidence, instead of doing so, accused-appellant
filed a Motion to Admit Demurrer to Evidence 14 and the corresponding Demurrer to Evidence 15 with the
former expressly stating that said Demurrer to Evidence was being filed ". . . without express leave of court
. . . ." 16
In her Demurrer to Evidence, accused-appellant asserts that the prosecution's evidence was insufficient to
prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt for the following reasons: 17 (a) that she is charged with crime not
defined and penalized by law; (b) that circumstantial evidence was insufficient to prove her guilt beyond
reasonable doubt; and (c) that the testimonies given by the witnesses of the prosecution were hearsay, thus,
inadmissible in evidence against her.
The prosecution filed its Comment/Opposition to accused-appellant's Demurrer to Evidence.
On 13 October 2003, acting on the Demurrer to Evidence, the RTC promulgated its Judgment 18 wherein it
proceeded to resolve the subject case based on the evidence of the prosecution. The RTC considered
accused-appellant to have waived her right to present evidence, having filed the Demurrer to Evidence
without leave of court.
In finding accused-appellant Edna guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Arson with Multiple
Homicide, the RTC ruled that:
The first argument of the accused that she is charged with an act not defined and penalized by law is
without merit. . . . the caption which charges the accused with the crime of Arson with Multiple Homicide
is merely descriptive of the charge of Arson that resulted to Multiple Homicide. The fact is that the accused
is charged with Arson which resulted to Multiple Homicide (death of victims) and that charge is embodied
and stated in the body of the information. What is controlling is the allegation in the body of the
Information and not the title or caption thereof. . . . .
xxx xxx xxx
The second and third arguments will be discussed jointly as they are interrelated with each other. . . . .
xxx xxx xxx
[W]hile there is no direct evidence that points to the accused in the act of burning the house or actually
starting the subject fire, the following circumstances that show that the accused intentionally caused or was
responsible for the subject fire have been duly established:
1. that immediately before the burning of the house, the accused hurriedly and with head turning in
different directions (palinga-linga) went out of the said house and rode a pedicab apparently not knowing
where to go . . .;
2. that immediately after the fire, upon a report that there was a woman in Balasan St. who appears
confused and apprehensive (balisa), the Barangay Chairman and his tanods went there, found the accused
and apprehended her and brought her to the barangay hall as shown by the testimony of Barangay
Chairman Remigio Bernardo; and DaTICc
3. that when she was apprehended and investigated by the barangay officials and when her bag was
opened, the same contained a disposable lighter as likewise shown by the testimony of the Barangay
Chairman.
[T]he timing of her hurried departure and nervous demeanor immediately before the fire when she left the
house and rode a pedicab and her same demeanor, physical and mental condition when found and
apprehended at the same place where she alighted from the pedicab and the discovery of the lighter in her
bag thereafter when investigated indisputably show her guilt as charged.
If there is any doubt of her guilt that remains with the circumstantial evidence against her, the same is
removed or obliterated with the confessions/admissions of the commission of the offense and the manner
thereof that she made to the prosecution witnesses Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo, Mercedita
Mendoza and to the media, respectively.
xxx xxx xxx
[H]er confessions/admissions are positive acknowledgment of guilt of the crime and appear to have been
voluntarily and intelligently given. These confessions/admissions, especially the one given to her neighbor
Mercedita Mendoza and the media, albeit uncounselled and made while she was already under the custody
of authorities, it is believed, are not violative of her right under the Constitution.
The decretal part of the RTC's Judgment reads:
WHEREFORE, the Demurrer to Evidence is hereby denied and judgment is hereby rendered finding the
accused EDNA MALNGAN Y MAYO guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Arson with Multiple
Homicide or Arson resulting to the death of six (6) people and sentencing her to suffer the mandatory
penalty of death, and ordering her to pay the heirs of the victims Roberto Separa, Sr. and Virginia Separa
and children Michael, Daphne, Priscilla and Roberto, Jr., the amount of Fifty Thousand (P50,000.00) Pesos
for each victim and the amount of One Hundred Thousand (P100,000.00) Pesos as temperate damages for
their burned house or a total of Four Hundred Thousand (P400,000.00) Pesos and to Rodolfo Movilla the
amount of One Hundred [Thousand] (P100,000.00) Pesos.
Due to the death penalty imposed by the RTC, the case was directly elevated to this Court for automatic
review. Conformably with our decision in People v. Efren Mateo y Garcia, 19 however, we referred the
case and its records to the CA for appropriate action and disposition.
On 2 September 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modification the decision of the RTC, the fallo
of which reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the assailed October 13, 2003 Judgment of the Regional Trial Court
of Manila, Branch 41, finding accused-appellant Edna Malngan y Mayo guilty beyond reasonable doubt of
Arson with multiple homicide and sentencing her to suffer the DEATH PENALTY is hereby AFFIRMED
with MODIFICATION in that she is further ordered to pay P50,000.00 as moral damages and another
P50,000.00 as exemplary damages for each of the victims who perished in the fire, to be paid to their heirs.
She is ordered to pay Rodolfo Movilla, one whose house was also burned, the sum of P50,000.00 as
exemplary damage. DISHEA
Pursuant to Section 13 (a), Rule 124 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure as amended by A.M. No. 00-
5-03-SC dated September 28, 2004, which became effective on October 15, 2004, the Court of Appeals,
after rendering judgment, hereby refrains from making an entry of judgment and forthwith certifies the case
and elevates the entire record of this case to the Supreme Court for review. 20
It is the contention of accused-appellant that the evidence presented by the prosecution is not sufficient to
establish her guilt beyond reasonable doubt as the perpetrator of the crime charged. In support of said
exculpatory proposition, she assigns the following errors21 :
I.
THE HONORABLE COURT ERRED IN RULING THAT THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
PRESENTED BY THE PROSECUTION IS SUFFICIENT TO CONVICT THE ACCUSED; and
II.
THE HONORABLE COURT ERRED IN ALLOWING AND GIVING CREDENCE TO THE HEARSAY
EVIDENCE AND UNCOUNSELLED ADMISSIONS ALLEGEDLY GIVEN BY THE ACCUSED TO
THE WITNESSES BARANGAY CHAIRMAN REMIGIO BERNARDO, MERCEDITA MENDOZA AND
THE MEDIA.
THERE IS NO COMPLEX CRIME OF ARSON WITH (MULTIPLE) HOMICIDE.
The Information in this case erroneously charged accused-appellant with a complex crime, i.e., Arson with
Multiple Homicide. Presently, there are two (2) laws that govern the crime of arson where death results
therefrom — Article 320 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 7659,
22 and Section 5 of Presidential Decree (PD) No. 161323 , quoted hereunder, to wit:
Revised Penal Code:
ART. 320. Destructive Arson. — . . .
If as a consequence of the commission of any of the acts penalized under this Article, death results, the
mandatory penalty of death shall be imposed. [Emphasis supplied.]
Presidential Decree No. 1613:
SEC. 5. Where Death Results from Arson. — If by reason of or on the occasion of the arson death results,
the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed. [Emphasis supplied.]
Art. 320 of the RPC, as amended, with respect to destructive arson, and the provisions of PD No. 1613
respecting other cases of arson provide only one penalty for the commission of arson, whether considered
destructive or otherwise, where death results therefrom. The raison d'être is that arson is itself the end and
death is simply the consequence. 24
Whether the crime of arson will absorb the resultant death or will have to be a separate crime altogether, the
joint discussion 25 of the late Mr. Chief Justice Ramon C. Aquino and Mme. Justice Carolina C. Griño-
Aquino, on the subject of the crimes of arson and murder/homicide, is highly instructive:
Groizard says that when fire is used with the intent to kill a particular person who may be in a house and
that objective is attained by burning the house, the crime is murder only. When the Penal Code declares that
killing committed by means of fire is murder, it intends that fire should be purposely adopted as a means to
that end. There can be no murder without a design to take life. 26 In other words, if the main object of the
offender is to kill by means of fire, the offense is murder. But if the main objective is the burning of the
building, the resulting homicide may be absorbed by the crime of arson. 27
xxx xxx xxx
If the house was set on fire after the victims therein were killed, fire would not be a qualifying
circumstance. The accused would be liable for the separate offenses of murder or homicide, as the case may
be, and arson. 28
Accordingly, in cases where both burning and death occur, in order to determine what crime/crimes
was/were perpetrated — whether arson, murder or arson and homicide/murder, it is de rigueur to ascertain
the main objective of the malefactor: (a) if the main objective is the burning of the building or edifice, but
death results by reason or on the occasion of arson, the crime is simply arson, and the resulting homicide is
absorbed; (b) if, on the other hand, the main objective is to kill a particular person who may be in a building
or edifice, when fire is resorted to as the means to accomplish such goal the crime committed is murder
only; lastly, (c) if the objective is, likewise, to kill a particular person, and in fact the offender has already
done so, but fire is resorted to as a means to cover up the killing, then there are two separate and distinct
crimes committed — homicide/murder and arson.
Where then does this case fall under? HCaIDS
From a reading of the body of the Information:
That on or about January 2, 2001, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused, with intent to cause
damage, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and deliberately set fire upon the two-storey
residential house of ROBERTO SEPARA and family mostly made of wooden materials located at No. 172
Moderna St., Balut, Tondo, this city, by lighting crumpled newspaper with the use of disposable lighter
inside said house knowing the same to be an inhabited house and situated in a thickly populated place and
as a consequence thereof a conflagration ensued and the said building, together with some seven (7)
adjoining residential houses, were razed by fire; that by reason and on the occasion of the said fire, the
following, namely,
1. Roberto Separa, Sr., 45 years of age
2. Virginia Separa y Mendoza, 40 years of age
3. Michael Separa, 24 years of age
4. Daphne Separa, 18 years of age
5. Priscilla Separa, 14 years of age
6. Roberto Separa, Jr., 11 years of age
sustained burn injuries which were the direct cause of their death immediately thereafter. 29 [Emphasis
supplied.]
accused-appellant is being charged with the crime of arson. It it is clear from the foregoing that her intent
was merely to destroy her employer's house through the use of fire.
We now go to the issues raised. Under the first assignment of error, in asserting the insufficiency of the
prosecution's evidence to establish her guilt beyond reasonable doubt, accused-appellant argues that the
prosecution was only able to adduce circumstantial evidence — hardly enough to prove her guilt beyond
reasonable doubt. She ratiocinates that the following circumstances:
1. That immediately before the burning of the house, the accused hurriedly and with head turning in
different directions (palinga-linga) went out of the said house and rode a pedicab apparently not knowing
where to go for she first requested to be brought to Nipa St. but upon reaching there requested again to be
brought to Balasan St. as shown by the testimony of prosecution witness Rolando Gruta;
2. That immediately after the fire, upon a report that there was a woman in Balasan St. who appears
confused and apprehensive (balisa), the Barangay Chairman and his tanods went there, found the accused
and apprehended her and brought her to the barangay hall as shown by the testimony of Barangay
Chairman Remigio Bernardo; and THSaEC
3. That when she was apprehended and investigated by the barangay officials and when her bag was
opened, the same contained a disposable lighter as likewise shown by the testimony of the Barangay
Chairman. 30
fall short of proving that she had any involvement in setting her employer's house on fire, much less show
guilt beyond reasonable doubt, given that "it is a fact that housemaids are the first persons in the house to
wake up early to perform routine chores for their employers," 31 one of which is preparing and cooking the
morning meal for the members of the household; and necessity requires her to go out early to look for open
stores or even nearby marketplaces to buy things that will complete the early meal for the day. 32 She then
concludes that it was normal for her to have been seen going out of her employer's house in a hurry at that
time of the day and "to look at all directions to insure that the house is secure and that there are no other
persons in the vicinity." 33
We are far from persuaded.
True, by the nature of their jobs, housemaids are required to start the day early; however, contrary to said
assertion, the actuations and the demeanor of accused-appellant on that fateful early morning as observed
firsthand by Rolando Gruta, one of the witnesses of the prosecution, belie her claim of normalcy, to wit:
Q: You said you saw Edna coming out from the house of the Separa Family. What happened when
you saw Edna coming out from the house of the Separa Family?
A: "Wala pa pong ano 'yan naisakay ko na siya sa sidecar."
Q: And what did you observe from Edna when you saw her coming out from the house of the Separa
family?
A: "Nagmamadali po siyang lumakad at palinga-linga."
xxx xxx xxx
Q: After she boarded your pedicab, what happened, if any?
A: "Nagpahatid po siya sa akin."
Q: Where?
A: To Nipa Street, sir.
Q: Did you bring her to Nipa Street as she requested?
A: Yes, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q: You said that you brought her to Nipa Street. What happened when you go (sic) there at Nipa
Street, if any? ECTSDa
A: "Nagpahinto po siya doon ng saglit, mga tatlong minuto po."
Q: What did she do when she asked (you) to stop there for three minutes?
A: After three minutes she requested me to bring her directly to Balasan Street, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
We quote with approval the pronouncement of the RTC in discrediting accused-appellant's aforementioned
rationale:
[O]bviously it is never normal, common or ordinary to leave the house in such a disturbed, nervous and
agitated manner, demeanor and condition. The timing of her hurried departure and nervous demeanor
immediately before the fire when she left the house and rode a pedicab and her same demeanor, physical
and mental condition when found and apprehended at the same place where she alighted from the pedicab
and the discovery of the lighter in her bag thereafter when investigated indisputably show her guilt as
charged. 34
All the witnesses are in accord that accused-appellant's agitated appearance was out of the ordinary.
Remarkably, she has never denied this observation.
We give great weight to the findings of the RTC and so accord credence to the testimonies of the
prosecution witnesses as it had the opportunity to observe them directly. The credibility given by trial
courts to prosecution witnesses is an important aspect of evidence which appellate courts can rely on
because of its unique opportunity to observe them, particularly their demeanor, conduct, and attitude,
during the direct and cross-examination by counsels. Here, Remigio Bernardo, Rolando Gruta and
Mercedita Mendoza are disinterested witnesses and there is not an iota of evidence in the records to
indicate that they are suborned witnesses. The records of the RTC even show that Remigio Bernardo, the
Barangay Chairman, kept accused-appellant from being mauled by the angry crowd outside of the barangay
hall:
Pros. Rebagay:
Now, who were present when the accused are (sic) telling you this?
A: "Iyon nga iyong mga tanod ko, mamamayan doon nakapaligid, siyempre may sunog nagkakagulo,
gusto nga siyang kunin ng mga mamamayan para saktan hindi ko maibigay papatayin siya gawa ng may
namatay eh anim na tao and namatay, kaya iyong mga tao kinokontrol siya madidisgrasya siya dahil pin-
pointed po siya, Your Honor, iyong dami na iyon libo iyong nakapaligid doon sa barangay hall napakahirap
awatin. Gustong-gusto siyang kunin ng mga taong-bayan, nagalit dahil ang daming bahay hong nasunog."
35
Accused-appellant has not shown any compelling reason why the witnesses presented would openly,
publicly and deliberately lie or concoct a story, to send an innocent person to jail all the while knowing that
the real malefactor remains at large. Such proposition defies logic. And where the defense failed to show
any evil or improper motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses, the presumption is that their
testimonies are true and thus entitled to full faith and credence. 36
While the prosecution witnesses did not see accused-appellant actually starting the fire that burned several
houses and killed the Separa family, her guilt may still be established through circumstantial evidence
provided that: (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 conviction beyond
reasonable doubt. 37
Circumstantial evidence is that evidence which proves a fact or series of facts from which the facts in issue
may be established by inference. 38 It is founded on experience and observed facts and coincidences
establishing a connection between the known and proven facts and the facts sought to be proved. 39 In
order to bring about a conviction, the circumstantial evidence presented must constitute an unbroken chain,
which leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to the accused, to the exclusion of others, as the
guilty person. 40
In this case, the interlocking testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, taken together, exemplify a case
where conviction can be upheld on the basis of circumstantial evidence. First, prosecution witness Rolando
Gruta, the driver of the pedicab that accused-appellant rode on, testified that he knew for a fact that she
worked as a housemaid of the victims, and that he positively identified her as the person hurriedly leaving
the house of the victims on 2 January 2001 at 4:45 a.m., and acting in a nervous manner. That while riding
on the pedicab, accused-appellant was unsure of her intended destination. Upon reaching the place where
he originally picked up accused-appellant only a few minutes after dropping her off, Rolando Gruta saw the
Separas' house being gutted by a blazing fire. Second, Remigio Bernardo testified that he and his tanods,
including Rolando Gruta, were the ones who picked up accused-appellant Edna at Balasan Street (where
Rolando Gruta dropped her off) after receiving a call that there was a woman acting strangely at said street
and who appeared to have nowhere to go. Third, SPO4 Danilo Talusan overheard accused-appellant admit
to Carmelita Valdez, a reporter of Channel 2 (ABS-CBN) that said accused-appellant started the fire, plus
the fact that he was able see the telecast of Gus Abelgas' show where accused-appellant, while being
interviewed, confessed to the crime as well. The foregoing testimonies juxtaposed with the testimony of
Mercedita Mendoza validating the fact that accused-appellant confessed to having started the fire which
killed the Separa family as well as burned seven houses including that of the victims, convincingly form an
unbroken chain, which leads to the unassailable conclusion pinpointing accused-appellant as the person
behind the crime of simple arson. DIETcC
In her second assigned error, accused-appellant questions the admissibility of her uncounselled
extrajudicial confession given to prosecution witnesses, namely Remigio Bernardo, Mercedita Mendoza,
and to the media. Accused-appellant Edna contends that being uncounselled extrajudicial confession, her
admissions to having committed the crime charged should have been excluded in evidence against her for
being violative of Article III, Section 12(1) of the Constitution.
Particularly, she takes exception to the testimony of prosecution witnesses Remigio Bernardo and
Mercedita Mendoza for being hearsay and in the nature of an uncounselled admission.
With the above vital pieces of evidence excluded, accused-appellant is of the position that the remaining
proof of her alleged guilt, consisting in the main of circumstantial evidence, is inadequate to establish her
guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
We partly disagree.
Article III, Section 12 of the Constitution in part provides:
(1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be
informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own
choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights
cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.
xxx xxx xxx
(3) Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this Section or Section 17 hereof shall be
inadmissible in evidence.
We have held that the abovequoted provision applies to the stage of custodial investigation — when the
investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but starts to focus on a particular person
as a suspect. 41 Said constitutional guarantee has also been extended to situations in which an individual
has not been formally arrested but has merely been "invited" for questioning. 42
To be admissible in evidence against an accused, the extrajudicial confessions made must satisfy the
following requirements:
(1) it must be voluntary;
(2) it must be made with the assistance of competent and independent counsel;
(3) it must be express; and EaCDAT
(4) it must be in writing. 43
Arguably, the barangay tanods, including the Barangay Chairman, in this particular instance, may be
deemed as law enforcement officer for purposes of applying Article III, Section 12(1) and (3), of the
Constitution. When accused-appellant was brought to the barangay hall in the morning of 2 January 2001,
she was already a suspect, actually the only one, in the fire that destroyed several houses as well as killed
the whole family of Roberto Separa, Sr. She was, therefore, already under custodial investigation and the
rights guaranteed by Article III, Section 12(1), of the Constitution should have already been observed or
applied to her. Accused-appellant's confession to Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo was made in
response to the "interrogation" made by the latter — admittedly conducted without first informing accused-
appellant of her rights under the Constitution or done in the presence of counsel. For this reason, the
confession of accused-appellant, given to Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo, as well as the lighter
found by the latter in her bag are inadmissible in evidence against her as such were obtained in violation of
her constitutional rights.
Be that as it may, the inadmissibility of accused-appellant's confession to Barangay Chairman Remigio
Bernardo and the lighter as evidence do not automatically lead to her acquittal. It should well be recalled
that the constitutional safeguards during custodial investigations do not apply to those not elicited through
questioning by the police or their agents but given in an ordinary manner whereby the accused verbally
admits to having committed the offense as what happened in the case at bar when accused-appellant
admitted to Mercedita Mendoza, one of the neighbors of Roberto Separa, Sr., to having started the fire in
the Separas' house. The testimony of Mercedita Mendoza recounting said admission is, unfortunately for
accused-appellant, admissible in evidence against her and is not covered by the aforesaid constitutional
guarantee. Article III of the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, solely governs the relationship between the
individual on one hand and the State (and its agents) on the other; it does not concern itself with the relation
between a private individual and another private individual — as both accused-appellant and prosecution
witness Mercedita Mendoza undoubtedly are. 44 Here, there is no evidence on record to show that said
witness was acting under police authority, so appropriately, accused-appellant's uncounselled extrajudicial
confession to said witness was properly admitted by the RTC.
Accused-appellant likewise assails the admission of the testimony of SPO4 Danilo Talusan. Contending
that "[w]hen SPO4 Danilo Talusan testified in court, his story is more of events, which are not within his
personal knowledge but based from accounts of witnesses who derived information allegedly from the
accused or some other persons . . .". In other words, she objects to the testimony for being merely hearsay.
With this imputation of inadmissibility, we agree with what the Court of Appeals had to say:
Although this testimony of SFO4 Danilo Talusan is hearsay because he was not present when Gus Abelgas
interviewed accused-appellant EDNA, it may nevertheless be admitted in evidence as an independently
relevant statement to establish not the truth but the tenor of the statement or the fact that the statement was
made [People v. Mallari, G.R. No. 103547, July 20, 1999, 310 SCRA 621 citing People v. Cusi, Jr., G.R.
No. L-20986, August 14, 1965, 14 SCRA 944.]. In People vs. Velasquez, G.R. Nos. 132635 & 143872-75,
February 21, 2001, 352 SCRA 455, the Supreme Court ruled that:
"Under the doctrine of independently relevant statements, regardless of their truth or falsity, the fact that
such statements have been made is relevant. The hearsay rule does not apply, and the statements are
admissible as evidence. Evidence as to the making of such statement is not secondary but primary, for the
statement itself may constitute a fact in issue or be circumstantially relevant as to the existence of such a
fact." 45
As regards the confession given by accused-appellant to the media, we need not discuss it further for the
reporters were never presented to testify in court. HaIESC
As a final attempt at exculpation, accused-appellant asserts that since the identities of the burned bodies
were never conclusively established, she cannot be responsible for their deaths.
Such assertion is bereft of merit.
In the crime of arson, the identities of the victims are immaterial in that intent to kill them particularly is
not one of the elements of the crime. As we have clarified earlier, the killing of a person is absorbed in the
charge of arson, simple or destructive. The prosecution need only prove, that the burning was intentional
and that what was intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. Again, in the case of People v.
Soriano, 46 we explained that:
Although intent may be an ingredient of the crime of Arson, it may be inferred from the acts of the accused.
There is a presumption that one intends the natural consequences of his act; and when it is shown that one
has deliberately set fire to a building, the prosecution is not bound to produce further evidence of his
wrongful intent. 47
The ultimate query now is which kind of arson is accused-appellant guilty of?
As previously discussed, there are two (2) categories of the crime of arson: 1) destructive arson, under Art.
320 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659; and 2) simple arson, under
Presidential Decree No. 1613. Said classification is based on the kind, character and location of the
property burned, regardless of the value of the damage caused, 48 to wit:
Article 320 of The Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 7659, contemplates the malicious burning of
structures, both public and private, hotels, buildings, edifices, trains, vessels, aircraft, factories and other
military, government or commercial establishments by any person or group of persons.[49 ] The
classification of this type of crime is known as Destructive Arson, which is punishable by reclusion
perpetua to death. The reason for the law is self-evident: to effectively discourage and deter the commission
of this dastardly crime, to prevent the destruction of properties and protect the lives of innocent people.
Exposure to a brewing conflagration leaves only destruction and despair in its wake; hence, the State
mandates greater retribution to authors of this heinous crime. The exceptionally severe punishment imposed
for this crime takes into consideration the extreme danger to human lives exposed by the malicious burning
of these structures; the danger to property resulting from the conflagration; the fact that it is normally
difficult to adopt precautions against its commission, and the difficulty in pinpointing the perpetrators; and,
the greater impact on the social, economic, security and political fabric of the nation. [Emphasis supplied.]
If as a consequence of the commission of any of the acts penalized under Art. 320, death should result, the
mandatory penalty of death shall be imposed. TCacIA
On the other hand, PD 1613 which repealed Arts. 321 to 326-B of The Revised Penal Code remains the
governing law for Simple Arson. This decree contemplates the malicious burning of public and private
structures, regardless of size, not included in Art. 320, as amended by RA 7659, and classified as other
cases of arson. These include houses, dwellings, government buildings, farms, mills, plantations, railways,
bus stations, airports, wharves and other industrial establishments.[50 ] Although the purpose of the law on
Simple Arson is to prevent the high incidence of fires and other crimes involving destruction, protect the
national economy and preserve the social, economic and political stability of the nation, PD 1613 tempers
the penalty to be meted to offenders. This separate classification of Simple Arson recognizes the need to
lessen the severity of punishment commensurate to the act or acts committed, depending on the particular
facts and circumstances of each case. [Emphasis supplied.]
To emphasize:
The nature of Destructive Arson is distinguished from Simple Arson by the degree of perversity or
viciousness of the criminal offender. The acts committed under Art. 320 of the Revised Penal Code (as
amended) constituting Destructive Arson are characterized as heinous crimes for being grievous, odious
and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity
and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality
in a just, civilized and ordered society. 51 On the other hand, acts committed under PD 1613 constituting
Simple Arson are crimes with a lesser degree of perversity and viciousness that the law punishes with a
lesser penalty. In other words, Simple Arson contemplates crimes with less significant social, economic,
political and national security implications than Destructive Arson. However, acts falling under Simple
Arson may nevertheless be converted into Destructive Arson depending on the qualifying circumstances
present. [Emphasis supplied.] 52
Prescinding from the above clarification vis-à-vis the description of the crime as stated in the accusatory
portion of the Information, it is quite evident that accused-appellant was charged with the crime of Simple
Arson — for having "deliberately set fire upon the two-storey residential house of ROBERTO SEPARA
and family . . . knowing the same to be an inhabited house and situated in a thickly populated place and as a
consequence thereof a conflagration ensued and the said building, together with some seven (7) adjoining
residential houses, were razed by fire." [Emphasis supplied.]
The facts of the case at bar is somewhat similar to the facts of the case of People v. Soriano. 53 The accused
in the latter case caused the burning of a particular house. Unfortunately, the blaze spread and gutted down
five (5) neighboring houses. The RTC therein found the accused guilty of destructive arson under paragraph
1 54 of Art. 320 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659. This Court, through
Mr. Justice Bellosillo, however, declared that:
. . . [T]he applicable provision of law should be Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613, which imposes a penalty of
reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua for other cases of arson as the properties burned by accused-
appellant are specifically described as houses, contemplating inhabited houses or dwellings under the
aforesaid law. The descriptions as alleged in the second Amended Information particularly refer to the
structures as houses rather than as buildings or edifices. The applicable law should therefore be Sec. 3, Par.
2, of PD 1613, and not Art. 320, par. 1 of the Penal Code. In case of ambiguity in construction of penal
laws, it is well-settled that such laws shall be construed strictly against the government, and liberally in
favor of the accused. cCaSHA
The elements of arson under Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613 are: (a) there is intentional burning; and (b) what is
intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. Incidentally, these elements concur in the case at
bar. 55
As stated in the body of the Information, accused-appellant was charged with having intentionally burned
the two-storey residential house of Robert Separa. Said conflagration likewise spread and destroyed seven
(7) adjoining houses. Consequently, if proved, as it was proved, at the trial, she may be convicted, and
sentenced accordingly, of the crime of simple arson. Such is the case "notwithstanding the error in the
designation of the offense in the information, the information remains effective insofar as it states the facts
constituting the crime alleged therein." 56 "What is controlling is not the title of the complaint, nor the
designation of the offense charged or the particular law or part thereof allegedly violate, . . ., but the
description of the crime charged and the particular facts therein recited." 57
There is, thus, a need to modify the penalty imposed by the RTC as Sec. 5 of PD No. 1613 categorically
provides that the penalty to be imposed for simple arson is:
SEC. 5. Where Death Results from Arson. — If by reason of or on the occasion of arson death results, the
penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed. [Emphasis supplied.]
Accordingly, there being no aggravating circumstance alleged in the Information, the imposable penalty on
accused-appellant is reclusion perpetua.
Apropos the civil liabilities of accused-appellant, current jurisprudence 58 dictate that the civil indemnity
due from accused-appellant is P50,000.00 for the death of each of the victims. 59 However, the monetary
awards for moral and exemplary damages given by the Court of Appeals, both in the amount of P50,000.00,
due the heirs of the victims, have to be deleted for lack of material basis. Similarly, the Court of Appeals
award of exemplary damages to Rodolfo Movilla in the amount of P50,000.00 for the destruction of his
house, also has to be deleted, but in this instance for being improper. Moral damages cannot be award by
this Court in the absence of proof of mental or physical suffering on the part of the heirs of the victims. 60
Concerning the award of exemplary damages, the reason for the deletion being that no aggravating
circumstance had been alleged and proved by the prosecution in the case at bar. 61
To summarize, accused-appellant's alternative plea that she be acquitted of the crime must be rejected. With
the evidence on record, we find no cogent reason to disturb the findings of the RTC and the Court of
Appeals. It is indubitable that accused-appellant is the author of the crime of simple arson. All the
circumstantial evidence presented before the RTC, viewed in its entirety, is as convincing as direct evidence
and, as such, negates accused-appellant's innocence, and when considered concurrently with her admission
given to Mercedita Mendoza, the former's guilt beyond reasonable doubt is twice as evident. Hence, her
conviction is effectively justified. More so, as it is propitious to note that in stark contrast to the factual
circumstances presented by the prosecution, accused-appellant neither mustered a denial nor an alibi except
for the proposition that her guilt had not been established beyond reasonable doubt. cDTaSH
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 2 September 2005, in CA G.R. CR HC
No. 01139, is hereby AFFIRMED insofar as the conviction of accused-appellant EDNA MALNGAN Y
MAYO is concerned. The sentence to be imposed and the amount of damages to be awarded, however, are
MODIFIED. In accordance with Sec. 5 of Presidential Decree No. 1613, accused-appellant is hereby
sentenced to RECLUSION PERPETUA. Accused-appellant is hereby ordered to pay the heirs of each of
the victims P50,000.00 as civil indemnity.
SO ORDERED.

[G.R. No. 163938. March 28, 2008.]


DANTE BUEBOS and SARMELITO BUEBOS, petitioners, vs. THE PEOPLE OF THE
PHILIPPINES, respondent.

REYES, R.T., J p:
THE law on arson has always been a constant source of confusion not only among members of the bar, but
also among those of the bench. The bewilderment often centers on what law to apply and what penalty to
impose.
In this case, the Court is again tasked to determine whether petitioners are liable for simple arson or arson
of an inhabited house which merits a penalty of up to reclusion perpetua. TSADaI
Before the Court is a petition to review on certiorari under Rule 45 the Decision 1 of the Court of Appeals
(CA), affirming with modification that 2 of the Regional Trial Court in Tabaco, Albay, finding petitioners
Dante Buebos and Sarmelito Buebos guilty of arson.
The Facts
On January 1, 1994 around 3:00 o'clock in the morning, Adelina B. Borbe was in her house at Hacienda
San Miguel, Tabaco, Albay watching over her sick child. 3 She was lying down when she heard some noise
around the house. She got up and looked through the window and saw the four accused, Rolando Buela,
Sarmelito Buebos, Dante Buebos and Antonio Cornel, Jr. congregating in front of her hut. 4 When she went
out, she saw the roof of her nipa hut already on fire. She shouted for help. Instead of coming to her
immediate succor, the four fled. 5
At some distance away, Olipiano Berjuela heard Adelina scream for help. Olipiano was then drinking with
Pepito Borbe to celebrate New Year's Eve. Olipiano immediately ran to the place and saw a number of
people jumping over the fence. When he focused his flashlight on them, he was able to identify Sarmelito
Buebos, Dante Buebos and Antonio Cornel, Jr. 6 He also saw Rolando Buela running away. 7 cSCTEH
On complaint of Adelina, petitioners Dante and Sarmelito Buebos, together with Rolando Buela and
Antonio Cornel, Jr., were indicted for arson in an Information bearing the following accusations:
That on or about the 1st day of January, 1994 at 3:00 o'clock in the Barangay Hacienda, Island of San
Miguel, Municipality of Tabaco, Province of Albay, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this
Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating and helping one another. With intent
to cause damage, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully, feloniously and maliciously set on fire the nipa
roof of the house of ADELINA B. BORBE, to the latter's damage and prejudice.
ACTS CONTRARY TO LAW. 8
The prosecution evidence portraying the foregoing facts was principally supplied by private complainant
Adelina Borbe and Olipiano Berjuela. ATDHSC
Upon the other hand, denial and alibi were the main exculpating line of petitioners and their co-accused.
The trial court summed up the defense evidence in the following tenor:
The defense contended that the accused were at different places at the time of the incident: Rolando Buela
claimed to be at sitio Tugon, Malictay, San Miguel, Tabaco, Albay as there was a novena prayer at his
parents' house on occasion of the death anniversary of his late grandfather; Dante Buebos also claimed to
have been at Romeo Calleja's having gone there in the evening of December 30, 1993 and left the place at
12:00 o'clock noontime of January l, 1994; Sarmelito Buebos asserted that he was at his residence at sitio
Malictay, Hacienda, San Miguel, Tabaco, Albay on the day the incident happened and that he never left his
house; Antonio Cornel, Jr. likewise claimed to be at his residence at Añgas after having visited his in-laws;
that he only came to know of the accusation five (5) days after the incident happened when he visited his
parents at Malictay; witnesses were likewise presented by the accused to corroborate their testimonies. 9
RTC and CA Dispositions
On April 7, 1998, the RTC found all of the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of arson. The
dispositive part of the judgment of conviction reads:
WHEREFORE, from all the foregoing, this Court finds accused ROLANDO BUELA, DANTE BUEBOS,
SARMELITO BUEBOS and ANTONIO CORNEL, JR. GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for the crime
charged; accordingly, each of the accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty ranging
from six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, eight (8) months
and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum; and to pay the cost. SIcEHC
SO ORDERED. 10
Via a notice of appeal, the four accused elevated the matter to the appellate court. In their appeal, they
contended that (1) the trial court erred in finding them guilty of the crime of arson; (2) that the trial court
erred in finding conspiracy; and (3) the trial court erred in failing to give weight and credence to their
defense of denial and alibi.
On November 13, 2003, through an eight-page decision penned by Associate Justice Eliezer R. de los
Santos, the CA disposed of the appeal in this wise:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the decision appealed from is hereby AFFIRMED with
MODIFICATION. Each of the accused-appellant is hereby sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of
imprisonment ranging from six (6) years of prision correccional as minimum to ten (10) years of prision
mayor as maximum.
SO ORDERED. 11 IHaSED
In downgrading the penalty, the CA opined that the accused could only be convicted of simple arson,
punishable by prision mayor, and not for burning of an inhabited house, which is punishable by
imprisonment ranging from reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua. According to the appellate court, the
information failed to allege with specificity the actual crime committed. Hence, the accused should be
found liable only for arson in its simple form. 12
Issues
Dissatisfied, Dante and Sarmelito Buebos have resorted to the present recourse. The following arguments
are now raised for the Court's consideration:
I.
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF
THE TRIAL COURT ON THE BASIS OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE;
II.
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT CONSPIRACY
EXISTED IN THE CASE AT BAR. 13 EScaIT
Our Ruling
Overview of the law on arson
The confusion surrounding arson has been confounded by the dearth of annotation on this part of our penal
law. Certainly, the law on arson is one of the least commented in this jurisdiction. For the guidance of the
bench and bar, a brief legislative history of the body of laws on arson is in order.
Previously, arson was defined and penalized under nine different articles of the Revised Penal Code: Article
320 (destructive arson), Article 321 (other forms of arson), Article 322 (cases of arson not included in the
preceding articles), Article 323 (arson of property of small value), Article 324 (crimes involving
destruction), Article 325 (burning one's own property to commit arson), Article 326 (setting fire to property
exclusively owned by the offender, Article 326-a (in cases where death resulted as a consequence of arson),
and Article 326-b ( prima facie evidence of arson).
On March 7, 1979, citing certain inadequacies that impede the successful enforcement and prosecution of
arsonists, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree (P.D) No. 1613. P.D. 1613
supplanted the penal code provisions on arson. The pertinent parts of the said presidential issuance read:
EDATSI
SEC. 1. Arson. — Any person who burns or sets fire to the property of another shall be punished by
prision mayor.
The same penalty shall be imposed when a person sets fire to his own property under circumstances which
expose to danger the life or property of another.
SEC. 2. Destructive Arson. — The penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion
perpetua shall be imposed if the property burned is any of the following:
1. Any ammunition factory and other establishments where explosives, inflammable or combustible
materials are stored;
2. Any archive, museum, whether public or private, or any edifice devoted to culture, education or
social services;
3. Any church or place of worship or other building where people usually assemble; IATSHE
4. Any train, airplane or any aircraft, vessel or watercraft, or conveyance for transportation of
persons or property;
5. Any building where evidence is kept for use in any legislative, judicial, administrative or other
official proceedings;
6. Any hospital, hotel, dormitory, lodging house, housing tenement, shopping center, public or
private market, theater or movie house or any similar place or building;
7. Any building, whether used as a dwelling or not, situated in a populated or congested area.
SEC. 3. Other Cases of Arson. — The penalty of reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua shall be imposed
if the property burned is any of the following:
1. Any building used as offices of the government or any of its agencies; aDACcH
2. Any inhabited house or dwelling;
3. Any industrial establishment, shipyard, oil well or mine shaft, platform or tunnel;
4. Any plantation, farm, pastureland, growing crop, grain field, orchard, bamboo grove or forest;
5. Any rice mill, sugar mill, cane mill or mill central; and
6. Any railway or bus station, airport, wharf or warehouse.
SEC. 4. Special Aggravating Circumstances in Arson. — The penalty in any case of arson shall be imposed
in its maximum period: CSIcHA
1. If committed with the intent to gain;
2. If committed for the benefit of another;
3. If the offender is motivated by spite or hatred towards the owner or occupant of the property
burned;
4. If committed by a syndicate. The offense is committed by a syndicate if it is planned or carried out
by a group of three (3) or more persons.
SEC. 5. Where Death Results from Arson. — If by reason of or on the occasion of arson death results, the
penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed.
SEC. 6. Prima Facie Evidence of Arson. — Any of the following circumstances shall constitute prima facie
evidence of arson:
1. If the fire started simultaneously in more than one part of the building or establishment.
2. If substantial amount of flammable substances or materials are stored within the building not
necessary in the business of the offender nor for household use. aEHIDT
3. If gasoline, kerosene, petroleum or other flammable or combustible substances or materials soaked
therewith or containers thereof, or any mechanical, electrical, chemical, or electronic contrivance designed
to start a fire, or ashes or traces of any of the foregoing are found in the ruins or premises of the burned
building or property.
4. If the building or property is insured for substantially more than its actual value at the time of the
issuance of the policy.
5. If during the lifetime of the corresponding fire insurance policy more than two fires have occurred
in the same or other premises owned or under the control of the offender and/or insured.
6. If shortly before the fire, a substantial portion of the effects insured and stored in a building or
property had been withdrawn from the premises except in the ordinary course of business.
7. If a demand for money or other valuable consideration was made before the fire in exchange for
the desistance of the offender or for the safety of other person or property of the victim. TacESD
SEC. 7. Conspiracy to Commit Arson. — Conspiracy to commit arson shall be punished by prision mayor
in its minimum period.
SEC. 8. Confiscation of Object of Arson. — The building which is the object of arson including the land
on which it is situated shall be confiscated and escheated to the State, unless the owner thereof can prove
that he has no participation in nor knowledge of such arson despite the exercise of due diligence on his part.
On November 11, 1980, the law on arson was again revisited via P.D. No. 1744. The new law expanded the
definition of destructive arson by way of reinstating Article 320 of the Revised Penal Code. The
amendatory legislation also paved the way for the reimposition of the capital punishment on destructive
arsonists.
When Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7659 (An Act to Impose the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes) was
passed on December 13, 1993, Article 320 again underwent a revision. As it now stands, Article 320 of the
Revised Penal Code is worded, thus: CTIDcA
Art. 320.Destructive Arson. — The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed upon any
person who shall burn:
1. One (1) or more buildings or edifices, consequent to one single act of burning, or as a result of
simultaneous burnings, committed on several or different occasions.
2. Any building of public or private ownership, devoted to the public in general or where people
usually gather or congregate for a definite purpose such as, but not limited to, official governmental
function or business, private transaction, commerce, trade, workshop, meetings and conferences, or merely
incidental to a definite purpose such as but not limited to hotels, motels, transient dwellings, public
conveyances or stops or terminals, regardless of whether the offender had knowledge that there are persons
in said building or edifice at the time it is set on fire and regardless also of whether the building is actually
inhabited or not.
3. Any train or locomotive, ship or vessel, airship or airplane, devoted to transportation or
conveyance, or for public use, entertainment or leisure. cEASTa
4. Any building, factory, warehouse installation and any appurtenances thereto, which are devoted to
the service of public utilities.
5. Any building the burning of which is for the purpose of concealing or destroying evidence of
another violation of law, or for the purpose of concealing bankruptcy or defrauding creditors or to collect
from insurance.
Irrespective of the application of the above enumerated qualifying circumstances, the penalty of reclusion
perpetua to death shall likewise be imposed when the arson is perpetrated or committed by two (2) or more
persons or by a group of persons, regardless of whether their purpose is merely to burn or destroy the
building or the burning merely constitutes an overt act in the commission or another violation of law.
The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall also be imposed upon any person who shall burn:
1. Any arsenal, shipyard, storehouse or military powder or fireworks factory, ordinance, storehouse,
archives or general museum of the Government. AIDTHC
2. In an inhabited place, any storehouse or factory of inflammable or explosive materials.
If as a consequence of the commission of any of the acts penalized under this Article, death results, the
mandatory penalty of death shall be imposed.
Of course, with the repeal of the Death Penalty Law on June 24, 2006 through R.A. No. 9346, arson is no
longer a capital offense. 14
We proceed to the crux of the petition.
Circumstantial evidence points to
petitioners' culpability
Petitioners score the CA for convicting them of arson based on circumstantial evidence. They argue that the
inference that they were responsible for the burning of private complainant's hut was not duly proven by the
People.
Circumstantial evidence is defined as that evidence that "indirectly proves a fact in issue through an
inference which the fact-finder draws from the evidence established. Resort thereto is essential when the
lack of direct testimony would result in setting a felon free." 15 DEHcTI
At the outset, We may well emphasize that direct evidence of the commission of a crime is not the only
basis on which a court draws its finding of guilt. Established facts that form a chain of circumstances can
lead the mind intuitively or impel a conscious process of reasoning towards a conviction. 16 Verily, resort
to circumstantial evidence is sanctioned by Rule 133, Section 5 of the Revised Rules on Evidence. 17
The following are the requisites for circumstantial evidence to be sufficient for a conviction: (a) there is
more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived have been proven; and (c)
the combination of all the circumstances results in a moral certainty that the accused, to the exclusion of all
others, is the one who has committed the crime. Thus, to justify a conviction based on circumstantial
evidence, the combination of circumstances must be interwoven in such a way as to leave no reasonable
doubt as to the guilt of the accused. 18
After a careful review of the evidence presented by both parties, We find that the circumstantial evidence
extant in the records is sufficient to identify petitioners as the authors of the burning of the hut of private
complainant Adelina Borbe: ACTIHa
1. Private complainant heard some noise emanating from outside her house at around 3:00 a.m.;
2. When she went out to check the disturbance, private complainant saw petitioners, together with
their two other co-accused, standing in front of the house;
3. Moments later, the roof of her house caught fire;
4. Petitioners and their cohorts absconded while private complainant desperately shouted for help.
The facts from which the cited circumstances arose have been proved through positive testimony. 19
Evidently, these circumstances form an unbroken chain of events leading to one fair conclusion — the
culpability of petitioners for the burning of the hut. The Court is convinced that the circumstances, taken
together, leave no doubt that petitioner perpetrated the arson.
Conspiracy evident from coordinated
action of petitioners
Petitioners next contend that conspiracy was erroneously appreciated by both the trial and appellate courts.
They posit that the finding of conspiracy was premised on speculation and conjecture. acAIES
The rule is well-entrenched in this jurisdiction that conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an
agreement concerning the commission of a crime and decide to commit it. Proof of the agreement need not
rest on direct evidence, as the same may be inferred from the conduct of the parties indicating a common
understanding among them with respect to the commission of the offense. Corollarily, it is not necessary to
show that two or more persons met together and entered into an explicit agreement setting out the details of
an unlawful scheme or the details by which an illegal objective is to be carried out. The rule is that
conviction is proper upon proof that the accused acted in concert, each of them doing his part to fulfill the
common design. In such a case, the act of one becomes the act of all and each of the accused will thereby
be deemed equally guilty of the crime committed. 20
In the case at bench, conspiracy was evident from the coordinated movements of petitioners Dante and
Sarmelito Buebos. Both of them stood outside the house of private complainant Adelina. They were part of
the group making boisterous noise in the vicinity. Petitioners also fled together while the roof of Adelina's
house was ablaze. These acts clearly show their joint purpose and design, and community of interest.
We quote with approval the CA observation along this line: SITCEA
Accused-appellant's assertion that conspiracy has not been established is belied by the accounts of the
prosecution witness. The manner by which the accused-appellants behaved after the private complainant
shouted for help clearly indicated a confederacy of purpose and concerted action on the part of the accused-
appellants. Even if there is no direct evidence showing that all of the accused had prior agreement on how
to set the roof of the house on fire, the doctrine is well settled that conspiracy need not be proved by direct
evidence of prior agreement to commit the crime. Very seldom such prior agreement be demonstrable since,
in the nature of things, criminal undertakings are only rarely documented by agreements in writing. 21
Crime committed and the penalty
The RTC sentenced all four accused to an indeterminate penalty ranging from six (6) years and one day of
prision mayor, as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal
as maximum. On appeal, the CA reduced the sentence to six (6) years of prision correccional, as minimum,
to ten (10) years of prision mayor, as maximum. The CA ratiocinated:
The information charges accused-appellants with "violation of P.D. 1613" without specifying the particular
provision breached. The information having failed to allege whether or not the burnt house is inhabited, and
not having been established that the house is situated in a populated or congested area, accused-appellants
should be deemed to have only been charged with plain arson under Section 1 of the decree. Under Section
1 of the decree, the offense of simple arson committed is punishable by prision mayor. cdasiajur
There being neither aggravating nor mitigating circumstances in the case at bar accused-appellants should
be sentenced to suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its medium period as provided under Article 321,
paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, by Presidential Decree No. 1613. Applying the
Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum penalty should be anywhere within the range of prision
correccional. 22
The legal basis of the trial court in convicting petitioners of arson is Section 3, paragraph 2 of P.D. No.
1613. The said provision of law reads:
SEC. 3. Other Cases of Arson. — The penalty of reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua shall be imposed
if the property burned is any of the following:
xxx xxx xxx
2. Any inhabited house or dwelling;
The elements of this form of arson are: (a) there is intentional burning; and (b) what is intentionally burned
is an inhabited house or dwelling. 23 Admittedly, there is a confluence of the foregoing elements here.
However, the information failed to allege that what was intentionally burned was an inhabited house or
dwelling. That is fatal. SHADcT
Sections 8 and 9 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure state:
Sec. 8. Designation of the offense. — The complaint or information shall state the designation of the
offense given by the statute, aver the acts or omissions constituting the offense, and specify its qualifying
and aggravating circumstances. If there is no designation of the offense, reference shall be made to the
section or subsection of the statute punishing it.
Sec. 9. Cause of the accusation. — The acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense and
the qualifying and aggravating circumstances must be stated in ordinary and concise language and not
necessarily in the language used in the statute but in terms sufficient to enable a person of common
understanding to know what offense is being charged as well as its qualifying and aggravating
circumstances for the court to pronounce judgment. HSDIaC
Under the new rules, the information or complaint must state the designation of the offense given by the
statute and specify its qualifying and generic aggravating circumstances. Otherwise stated, the accused will
not be convicted of the offense proved during the trial if it was not properly alleged in the information. 24
Perusing the information, there was no allegation that the house intentionally burned by petitioners and
their cohorts was inhabited. Rather, the information merely recited that "accused, conspiring, confederating
and helping one another, with intent to cause damage, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully, feloniously
and maliciously set on fire the nipa roof of the house of ADELINA B. BORBE, to the latter's damage and
prejudice." 25
Although the rule took effect only on December 1, 2000, while the petitioners were convicted by the RTC
on April 7, 1998, it may be applied retroactively. It is elementary that rules of criminal procedure are given
retroactive application insofar as they benefit the accused. 26
In fine, petitioners can be convicted only of simple arson, under Section 1, paragraph 1 of P.D. No. 1613,
punishable by prision mayor. HEISca
This is not a case of first impression. This Court has, on a number of occasions, modified the RTC and CA
judgments for having applied the wrong law and penalty on arson. In People v. Soriano, 27 the accused was
found guilty of destructive arson, then a capital offense. On automatic review, the Court held that he should
be held liable only for simple arson. The explanation:
However, we believe that the applicable provision of law should be Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613, which
imposes a penalty of reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua for other cases of arson as the properties
burned by accused-appellant are specifically described as houses, contemplating inhabited houses or
dwellings under the aforesaid law. The descriptions as alleged in the second Amended Information
particularly refer to the structures as houses rather than as buildings or edifices. The applicable law should
therefore be Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613, and not Art. 320, par. 1 of the Penal Code. In case of ambiguity in
construction of penal laws, it is well-settled that such laws shall be construed strictly against the
government, and literally in favor of the accused.
The elements of arson under Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613 are: (a) there is intentional burning; and (b) what is
intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. Incidentally, these elements concur in the case at
bar. AICTcE
The nature of Destructive Arson is distinguished from Simple Arson by the degree of perversity or
viciousness of the criminal offender. The acts committed under Art. 320 of The Revised Penal Code
constituting Destructive Arson are characterized as heinous crimes "for being grievous, odious and hateful
offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity
are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just,
civilized and ordered society." On the other hand, acts committed under PD 1613 constituting Simple Arson
are crimes with a lesser degree of perversity and viciousness that the law punishes with a lesser penalty. In
other words, Simple Arson contemplates crimes with less significant social, economic, political and
national security implications than Destructive Arson. However, acts falling under Simple Arson may
nevertheless be converted into Destructive Arson depending on the qualifying circumstances present.
In the present case, the act committed by accused-appellant neither appears to be heinous nor represents a
greater degree of perversity and viciousness as distinguished from those acts punishable under Art. 320 of
the Revised Penal Code. No qualifying circumstance was established to convert the offense to Destructive
Arson. The special aggravating circumstance that accused-appellant was "motivated by spite or hatred
towards the owner or occupant of the property burned" cannot be appreciated in the present case where it
appears that he was acting more on impulse, heat of anger or risen temper rather than real spite or hatred
that impelled him to give vent to his wounded ego. Nothing can be worse than a spurned lover or a
disconsolate father under the prevailing circumstances that surrounded the burning of the Cimagala house.
Thus, accused-appellant must be held guilty of Simple Arson penalized under Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613 for
the act of intentionally burning an inhabited house or dwelling. 28
An oversight of the same nature was addressed by this Court in the more recent case of People v. Malngan.
29 Said the Court in Malngan: DETACa
The ultimate query now is which kind of arson is accused-appellant guilty of?
As previously discussed, there are two (2) categories of the crime of arson: 1) destructive arson, under Art.
320 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659; and 2) simple arson, under
Presidential Decree No. 1613. Said classification is based on the kind, character and location of the
property burned, regardless of the value of the damage caused, 48 to wit:
Article 320 of The Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 7659, contemplates the malicious burning of
structures, both public and private, hotels, buildings, edifices, trains, vessels, aircraft, factories and other
military, government or commercial establishments by any person or group of persons. The classification of
this type of crime is known as Destructive Arson, which is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death. The
reason for the law is self-evident: to effectively discourage and deter the commission of this dastardly
crime, to prevent the destruction of properties and protect the lives of innocent people. Exposure to a
brewing conflagration leaves only destruction and despair in its wake; hence, the State mandates greater
retribution to authors of this heinous crime. The exceptionally severe punishment imposed for this crime
takes into consideration the extreme danger to human lives exposed by the malicious burning of these
structures; the danger to property resulting from the conflagration; the fact that it is normally difficult to
adopt precautions against its commission, and the difficulty in pinpointing the perpetrators; and, the greater
impact on the social, economic, security and political fabric of the nation. [Emphasis supplied]
If as a consequence of the commission of any of the acts penalized under Art. 320, death should result, the
mandatory penalty of death shall be imposed. HAEIac
On the other hand, PD 1613 which repealed Arts. 321 to 326-B of The Revised Penal Code remains the
governing law for Simple Arson. This decree contemplates the malicious burning of public and private
structures, regardless of size, not included in Art. 320, as amended by RA 7659, and classified as other
cases of arson. These include houses, dwellings, government buildings, farms, mills, plantations, railways,
bus stations, airports, wharves and other industrial establishments. Although the purpose of the law on
Simple Arson is to prevent the high incidence of fires and other crimes involving destruction, protect the
national economy and preserve the social, economic and political stability of the nation, PD 1613 tempers
the penalty to be meted to offenders. This separate classification of Simple Arson recognizes the need to
lessen the severity of punishment commensurate to the act or acts committed, depending on the particular
facts and circumstances of each case. [Emphasis supplied]
To emphasize: EHTADa
The nature of Destructive Arson is distinguished from Simple Arson by the degree of perversity or
viciousness of the criminal offender. The acts committed under Art. 320 of the Revised Penal Code (as
amended) constituting Destructive Arson are characterized as heinous crimes for being grievous, odious
and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity
and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality
in a just, civilized and ordered society. On the other hand, acts committed under PD 1613 constituting
Simple Arson are crimes with a lesser degree of perversity and viciousness that the law punishes with a
lesser penalty. In other words, Simple Arson contemplates crimes with less significant social, economic,
political and national security implications than Destructive Arson. However, acts falling under Simple
Arson may nevertheless be converted into Destructive Arson depending on the qualifying circumstances
present. [Emphasis supplied.]
Prescinding from the above clarification vis-à-vis the description of the crime as stated in the accusatory
portion of the Information, it is quite evident that accused-appellant was charged with the crime of Simple
Arson — for having "deliberately set fire upon the two-storey residential house of ROBERTO SEPARA
and family . . . knowing the same to be an inhabited house and situated in a thickly populated place and as a
consequence thereof a conflagration ensued and the said building, together with some seven (7) adjoining
residential houses, were razed by fire." [Emphasis supplied] ISHaCD
The facts of the case at bar is somewhat similar to the facts of the case of People v. Soriano. The accused
in the latter case caused the burning of a particular house. Unfortunately, the blaze spread and gutted down
five (5) neighboring houses. The RTC therein found the accused guilty of destructive arson under paragraph
1 of Art. 320 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659. This Court, through Mr.
Justice Bellosillo, however, declared that:
". . . [T]he applicable provision of law should be Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613, which imposes a penalty of
reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua for other cases of arson as the properties burned by accused-
appellant are specifically described as houses, contemplating inhabited houses or dwellings under the
aforesaid law. The descriptions as alleged in the second Amended Information particularly refer to the
structures as houses rather than as buildings or edifices. The applicable law should therefore be Sec. 3, Par.
2, of PD 1613, and not Art. 320, par. 1 of the Penal Code. In case of ambiguity in construction of penal
laws, it is well-settled that such laws shall be construed strictly against the government, and liberally in
favor of the accused.
The elements of arson under Sec. 3, par. 2, of PD 1613 are: (a) there is intentional burning; and (b) what is
intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. Incidentally, these elements concur in the case at
bar." HTASIa
As stated in the body of the Information, accused-appellant was charged with having intentionally burned
the two-storey residential house of Robert Separa. Said conflagration likewise spread and destroyed seven
(7) adjoining houses. Consequently, if proved, as it was proved, at the trial, she may be convicted, and
sentenced accordingly, of the crime of simple arson. Such is the case "notwithstanding the error in the
designation of the offense in the information, the information remains effective insofar as it states the facts
constituting the crime alleged therein." "What is controlling is not the title of the complaint, nor the
designation of the offense charged or the particular law or part thereof allegedly violate, . . . but the
description of the crime charged and the particular facts therein recited."
There is, thus, a need to modify the penalty imposed by the RTC as Sec. 5 of PD No. 1613 categorically
provides that the penalty to be imposed for simple arson is:
SEC. 5. Where Death Results from Arson. — If by reason of or on the occasion of arson death results, the
penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed. [Emphasis supplied] AaIDCS
Accordingly, there being no aggravating circumstance alleged in the Information, the imposable penalty on
accused-appellant is reclusion perpetua. 30
Now, to the penalty. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the maximum of the indeterminate penalty
should range from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years. Considering that no aggravating or
mitigating circumstance attended the commission of the offense, the penalty should be imposed in its
medium period [eight (8) years and one (1) day to ten (10) years]. The minimum of the indeterminate
sentence is prision correccional, which has a range of six (6) months and one (1) day to six (6) years, to be
imposed in any of its periods. HSIADc
The CA sentence is in accord with law and jurisprudence. We sustain it.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The appealed judgment is AFFIRMED in full.
SO ORDERED.