Villareal v. People (G.R. No. 151258; February 1, 2012)


FACTS: In February 1991, seven freshmen law students of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law signified their intention to join the Aquila Legis Juris Fraternity (Aquila Fraternity).

The neophytes, including victim, Lenny Villa, were subjected to initiation rites. After the second day of initiation rites has ended, accused non-resident or alumni fraternity members Fidelito Dizon (Dizon) and Artemio Villareal (Villareal) demanded that the rites be reopened. The head of initiation rites, Nelson Victorino (Victorino), initially refused. Upon the insistence of Dizon and Villareal, however, he reopened the initiation rites. The fraternity members, including Dizon and Villareal, then subjected the neophytes to "paddling" and to additional rounds of physical pain. Lenny received several paddle blows, one of which was so strong it sent him sprawling to the ground. The neophytes heard him complaining of intense pain and difficulty in breathing. After their last session of physical beatings, Lenny could no longer walk. He had to be carried by the auxiliaries to the carport. Again, the initiation for the day was officially ended, and the neophytes started eating dinner. They then slept at the carport.After an hour of sleep, the neophytes were suddenly roused by Lennys shivering and incoherent mumblings. Initially, Villareal and Dizon dismissed these rumblings, as they thought he was just overacting. When they realized, though, that Lenny was really feeling cold, some of the Aquilans started helping him. They removed his clothes and helped him through a sleeping bag to keep him warm. When his condition worsened, the Aquilans rushed him to the hospital. Lenny was pronounced dead on arrival.

Consequently, a criminal case for homicide was filed against 35 Aquilans.

G.R. No. 151258; Villareal v. People: The instant case refers to accused Villareals Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45. The Petition raises two reversible errors allegedly committed by the CA in its Decision dated 10 January 2002 in CA-G.R. No. 15520 first, denial of due process; and, second, conviction absent proof beyond reasonable doubt. While the Petition was pending before this Court, counsel for petitioner Villareal filed a Notice of Death of Party on 10 August 2011. According to the Notice, petitioner Villareal died on 13 March 2011. Counsel thus asserts that the subject matter of the Petition previously filed by petitioner does not survive the death of the accused.

G.R. No. 155101; Dizon v. People: Petitioner Dizon sets forth two main issues first, that he was denied due process when the CA sustained the trial courts forfeiture of his right to present evidence; and, second, that he was deprived of due process when the CA did not apply to him the same "ratio decidendi that served as basis of acquittal of the other accused.

G.R. No. 154954; People v. Court of Appeals: 
This Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 seeks the reversal of the CAs Decision, insofar as it acquitted 19 (Victorino et al.) and convicted 4 (Tecson et al.) of the accused Aquilans of the lesser crime of slight physical injuries. According to the Solicitor General, the CA erred in holding that there could have been no conspiracy to commit hazing, as hazing or fraternity initiation had not yet been criminalized at the time Lenny died.

In the alternative, petitioner claims that the ruling of the trial court should have been upheld, inasmuch as it found that there was conspiracy to inflict physical injuries on Lenny. Since the injuries led to the victims death, petitioner posits that the accused Aquilans are criminally liable for the resulting crime of homicide, pursuant to Article 4 of the Revised Penal Code.

G.R. Nos. 178057 and 178080; Villa v. Escalona: Petitioner Villa assails the CAs dismissal of the criminal case involving 4 of the 9 accused, namely, Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano. She argues that the accused failed to assert their right to speedy trial within a reasonable period of time. She also points out that the prosecution cannot be faulted for the delay, as the original records and the required evidence were not at its disposal, but were still in the appellate court.


[1] G.R. No. 151258 Villareal v. People: Did the death of Villareal extinguish his criminal liability?

[2] G.R. No. 155101 Dizon v. People: Was Dizon deprived of due process?

[3] G.R. No. 154954 People v. Court of Appeals: Did the CA err in convicting accused of the lesser offense of slight physical injuries instead of homicide?

[4] G.R. Nos. 178057 and 178080 (Villa v. Escalona): Did the CA err in dismissing the case for violation of the accused's right to speedy trial?

HELD: G.R. No. 151258 Villareal v. People: In a Notice dated 26 September 2011 and while the Petition was pending resolution, this Court took note of counsel for petitioners Notice of Death of Party.

According to Article 89(1) of the Revised Penal Code, criminal liability for personal penalties is totally extinguished by the death of the convict. In contrast, criminal liability for pecuniary penalties is extinguished if the offender dies prior to final judgment. The term "personal penalties" refers to the service of personal or imprisonment penalties, while the term "pecuniarypenalties" (las pecuniarias) refers to fines and costs, including civil liability predicated on the criminal offense complained of (i.e., civil liability ex delicto). However, civil liability based on a source of obligation other than the delict survives the death of the accused and is recoverable through a separate civil action.

Thus, we hold that the death of petitioner Villareal extinguished his criminal liability for both personal and pecuniary penalties, including his civil liability directly arising from the delict complained of. Consequently, his Petition is hereby dismissed, and the criminal case against him deemed closed and terminated.

G.R. No. 155101 (Dizon v. People): The right of the accused to present evidence is guaranteed by no less than the Constitution itself.

Article III, Section 14(2) thereof, provides that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel" This constitutional right includes the right to present evidence in ones defense, as well as the right to be present and defend oneself in person at every stage of the proceedings.

The trial court should not have deemed the failure of petitioner to present evidence on 25 August 1993 as a waiver of his right to present evidence. On the contrary, it should have considered the excuse of counsel justified, especially since counsel for another accused General had made a last-minute adoption of testimonial evidence that freed up the succeeding trial dates; and since Dizon was not scheduled to testify until two weeks later. At any rate, the trial court pre-assigned five hearing dates for the reception of evidence. If it really wanted to impose its Order strictly, the most it could have done was to forfeit one out of the five days set for Dizons testimonial evidence. Stripping the accused of all his pre-assigned trial dates constitutes a patent denial of the constitutionally guaranteed right to due process.

In criminal cases where the imposable penalty may be death, as in the present case, the court is called upon to see to it that the accused is personally made aware of the consequences of a waiver of the right to present evidence. In fact, it is not enough that the accused is simply warned of the consequences of another failure to attend the succeeding hearings. The court must first explain to the accused personally in clear terms the exact nature and consequences of a waiver.

G.R. Nos. 178057 and 178080 (Villa v. Escalona): 
We do not see grave abuse of discretion in the CAs dismissal of the case against accused Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano on the basis of the violation of their right to speedy trial.

While we are prepared to concede that some of the foregoing factors that contributed to the delay of the trial of the petitioners are justifiable, We nonetheless hold that their right to speedy trial has been utterly violated in this case.

The absence of the records in the trial court [was] due to the fact that the records of the case were elevated to the Court of Appeals, and the prosecutions failure to comply with the order of the court a quo requiring it to secure certified true copies of the same. What is glaring from the records is the fact that as early as September 21, 1995, the court a quo already issued an Order requiring the prosecution, through the Department of Justice, to secure the complete records of the case from the Court of Appeals. The prosecution did not comply with the said Order as in fact, the same directive was repeated by the court a quo in an Order dated December 27, 1995. Still, there was no compliance on the part of the prosecution. It is not stated when such order was complied with. It appears, however, that even until August 5, 2002, the said records were still not at the disposal of the trial court because the lack of it was made the basis of the said court in granting the motion to dismiss filed by co-accused Concepcion.

It is likewise noticeable that from December 27, 1995, until August 5, 2002, or for a period of almost seven years, there was no action at all on the part of the court a quo. Except for the pleadings filed by both the prosecution and the petitioners, the latest of which was on January 29, 1996, followed by petitioner Sarucas motion to set case for trial on August 17, 1998 which the court did not act upon, the case remained dormant for a considerable length of time. This prolonged inactivity whatsoever is precisely the kind of delay that the constitution frowns upon.

From the foregoing principles, we affirm the ruling of the CA in CA-G.R. SP No. 89060 that accused Escalona et al.s right to speedy trial was violated. Since there is nothing in the records that would show that the subject of this Petition includes accused Ampil, S. Fernandez, Cabangon, and De Vera, the effects of this ruling shall be limited to accused Escalona, Ramos, Saruca, and Adriano.

G.R. No. 154954 (People v. Court of Appeals): The rule on double jeopardy thus prohibits the state from appealing the judgment in order to reverse the acquittal or to increase the penalty imposed either through a regular appeal under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court or through an appeal by certiorari on pure questions of law under Rule 45 of the same Rules.

As we have reiterated in People v. Court of Appeals and Galicia, a verdict of acquittal is immediately final and a reexamination of the merits of such acquittal, even in the appellate courts, will put the accused in jeopardy for the same offense.

This prohibition, however, is not absolute. The state may challenge the lower courts acquittal of the accused or the imposition of a lower penalty on the latter in the following recognized exceptions: (1) where the prosecution is deprived of a fair opportunity to prosecute and prove its case, tantamount to a deprivation of due process; (2) where there is a finding of mistrial; or (3) where there has been a grave abuse of discretion.

The third instance refers to this Courts judicial power under Rule 65 to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government.

Indeed, we have ruled in a line of cases that the rule on double jeopardy similarly applies when the state seeks the imposition of a higher penalty against the accused. We have also recognized, however, that certiorari may be used to correct an abusive judgment upon a clear demonstration that the lower court blatantly abused its authority to a point so grave as to deprive it of its very power to dispense justice. The present case is one of those instances of grave abuse of discretion.

The appellate court relied on our ruling in People v. Penesa in finding that the four accused should be held guilty only of slight physical injuries. According to the CA, because of "the death of the victim, there can be no precise means to determine the duration of the incapacity or medical attendance required. The reliance on Penesa was utterly misplaced.

On the contrary, the CAs ultimate conclusion that Tecson, Ama, Almeda, and Bantug were liable merely for slight physical injuries grossly contradicts its own findings of fact. According to the court, the four accused "were found to have inflicted more than the usual punishment undertaken during such initiation rites on the person of Villa. It then adopted the NBI medico-legal officers findings that the antecedent cause of Lenny Villas death was the "multiple traumatic injuries" he suffered from the initiation rites. Considering that the CA found that the "physical punishment heaped on Lenny Villa was serious in nature, it was patently erroneous for the court to limit the criminal liability to slight physical injuries, which is a light felony.

Article 4(1) of the Revised Penal Code dictates that the perpetrator shall be liable for the consequences of an act, even if its result is different from that intended. Thus, once a person is found to have committed an initial felonious act, such as the unlawful infliction of physical injuries that results in the death of the victim, courts are required to automatically apply the legal framework governing the destruction of life. This rule is mandatory, and not subject to discretion.

Attributing criminal liability solely to Villareal and Dizon as if only their acts, in and of themselves, caused the death of Lenny Villa is contrary to the CAs own findings. From proof that the death of the victim was the cumulative effect of the multiple injuries he suffered, the only logical conclusion is that criminal responsibility should redound to all those who have been proven to have directly participated in the infliction of physical injuries on Lenny. The accumulation of bruising on his body caused him to suffer cardiac arrest. Accordingly, we find that the CA committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in finding Tecson, Ama, Almeda, and Bantug criminally liable for slight physical injuries. As an allowable exception to the rule on double jeopardy, we therefore give due course to the Petition.