Qualifying aggravating circumstance of influence of drugs


[ G.R. No. 181423, April 28, 2008 ]


Under review is the Decision[1] dated September 27, 2007 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01914 affirming with modification the Decision[2] dated May 20, 2001 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 259 in Parañaque City, finding accused-appellant Miguel Yuhico y Adao guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of arson and sentencing him to reclusion perpetua.

Two separate Informations in Criminal Case Nos. 98-185 and 98-186 were filed against accused-appellant for arson and attempted murder, committed as follows:

That on or about the 27th day of January 1998, in the Municipality of Parañaque, Metro Manila, Philippines, and wihtin the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, well knowing that the house owned by Hermina Yuhico located at 86 Ramona Tirona St., BF Homes, Parañaque, metro Manila, was occupied at the time by the complainant together with the members of the family, motivated by spite or hatred toward the occupants of the house, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously set the aforesaid house on fire thereby causing damage to the said house in the estimated amount of P2 million, excluding appliances and other items.

[T]he accused, with intent to kill, evident premeditation and treachery, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attempt to kill the complainant Emma Yuhico, by means of fire, that is, by setting the house on fire which the complainant together with other members of the family occupied at the time, thus commencing the commission of the crime of Murder, directly by overt acts but nevertheless did not perform all the acts of execution which should have produced the crime of Murder by reason of cause or causes other than his own spontaneous desistance, that is, due to her timely escape while the fire was in progress.
The facts as found by the trial and appellate courts are as follows:

Herminia Yuhico is the mother of accused-appellant and Emma Yuhico. All three lived with Emma's son, Joel, in a bungalow house located in Parañaque City.

On January 27, 1998, at around 1:00 a.m., Miguel tried to enter the bedroom of Herminia to talk to her, but she refused to unlock the door.  She feared that Miguel, who was apparently high on drugs, would harm her and Emma and Joel who were sleeping in the room.  Miguel shouted and cursed, and when he calmed down, Emma heard him utter that he would burn something.  Around two hours later, Herminia and Emma, both half asleep, noticed a strange flickering and burning light.  Emma hurriedly told Herminia to get off the bed, and when they opened the door, they saw Emma's bedroom on fire, as Miguel stood watching motionless.  Herminia grabbed her car keys, ran to the garage, and drove off to the house of her other son, Jaime.  Meanwhile, Emma returned to Herminia's room to wake Joel and get her car keys.  On their way to the garage Miguel followed and boxed Joel.  Emma shoved Joel in the car.  As Miguel blocked the car to prevent them from leaving, Emma repeatedly blew her car horn to attract the attention of their neighbors until finally Miguel got out of the way.  Emma drove to the police station to report the incident.

On the part of the defense, Miguel's counsel claimed that when accused-appellant burned the house, he was under the influence of drugs, which deprived him of reason or discernment.

After trial, the RTC rendered a Decision, finding accused-appellant guilty of arson and acquitting him of the charge of attempted murder due to insufficiency of evidence.  The dispositive portion of the RTC Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, finding the accused Miguel Yuhico GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of arson as defined and penalized under PD No. 1631 as amended by RA 7659, he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify Herminia Yuhico in the amount of [PhP 5 million] as actual damages.  And for insufficiency of evidence the accused is hereby acquitted for the crime of attempted murder. In accordance with People v. Mateo,[3] this Court, through its August 24, 2004 Resolution, transferred this case to the CA for intermediate review.  The CA affirmed the conviction but retained only the award of PhP 2 million as actual damages.  However, it ordered accused-appellant to further pay the victim PhP 1 million as temperate damages.

Before the CA, accused-appellant raised the following errors:

I. The Trial Court erred in convicting appellant of the crime charged despite the absence of the element of voluntariness on the part of appellant in the commission of the crime charged.

II. Assuming arguendo that appellant is guilty, the trial court erred in imposing the penalty of reclusion perpetua despite the fact that no special 
aggravating circumstance attended the commission of the crime. Accused-appellant's defense was that he is exempt from criminal liability because he was insane when he committed the crime.

The CA affirmed with modification the Decision of the RTC, as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant Appeal is hereby DENIED.  The Decision dated May 20, 2001 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 259, Parañaque City is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION.  Appellant Miguel Yuhico is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Simple Arson under Section 3(2) in relation to Section 4(3) of Presidential Decree No. 1613 and is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.  Appellant is directed to pay private complainant Herminia Yuhico Two Million Pesos (P2,000,000.00) as actual damages and One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00) as temperate damages.

SO ORDERED. Now before us, the sole issue is whether the CA erred in affirming the RTC's conviction, under accused-appellant's claim that when he burned the house, he was under the influence of drugs, which deprived him of reason or discernment.

The appeal fails.

Arson is the malicious burning of another's property.  It is classified into two-destructive arson and simple arson-depending on the degree of perversity and viciousness.  The case at bench involves the crime of simple arson under Section 3(2) Presidential Decree No. (PD) 1613, the elements of which are intentional burning and the object being an inhabited house or dwelling.  Sec. 3 of PD 1613 states:

Section 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;
    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;
    4. Any rice mill, sugar mill, cane mill or mill central; and
    5. Any railway or bus station, airport, wharf or warehouse.  (Emphasis supplied.)

After careful review, the Court finds that the prosecution had established the guilt of accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt.  The testimonies of prosecution witnesses Emma and Herminia Yuhico, both eyewitnesses, categorically and positively identified accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the crime.  They are uncontroverted.[4] Miguel himself does not deny that he committed the crime.[5]

We are unconvinced by his plea for exemption from criminal liability because he was high on drugs and thus insane.  Exempting circumstances enumerated under Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code exempt an accused from criminal liability because a lack of voluntariness or intelligence in committing the crime.  The burden of proof lies with the accused who pleads an exempting circumstance.

Insanity, as an exempting circumstance, implies that the accused was completely deprived of reason or discernment and freedom of will at the time of the commission of the crime.  However, the law presumes sanity, and, in the absence of proof to the contrary, every person is presumed to be of sound mind.  In this case, accused-appellant failed to prove with clear and convincing evidence that he was insane at the time of the commission of the crime.  He failed to substantiate his allegation that his continued use of methamphetamine has completely deprived him of reason or discernment.  The doctor presented by the defense testified that the accused is not suffering from psychosis or from any gross physical and neurological deficiency.[6]

Significantly, accused-appellant cannot raise drug addiction as an exempting circumstance because under Republic Act No. (RA) 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, a positive finding for the use of dangerous drugs shall be a qualifying aggravating circumstance in the commission of the crime by an offender.[7] 

Sec. 25 of RA 9165 reads:

Section 25. Qualifying Aggravating Circumstances in the Commission of a Crime by an Offender Under the Influence of Dangerous Drugs. - Notwithstanding the provisions of any law to the contrary, a positive finding for the use of dangerous drugs shall be a qualifying aggravating circumstance in the commission of a crime by an offender, and the application of the penalty provided for in the Revised Penal Code shall be applicable. We thus affirm accused-appellant's conviction.

On the civil liabilities of accused-appellant, the CA found that the RTC's grant of PhP 3 million as actual damages representing the estimated amount of furniture and appliances is not substantiated;[8] thus, it must be deleted.  We also affirm the appellate court's award of temperate damages in the amount of PhP 1 million in accordance with Art. 2224 of the Civil Code, providing that temperate damages may be recovered when the court finds that some precuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proven with certainty.

WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM IN TOTO the Decision dated September 27, 2007 of the CA in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01914, affirming with modification the RTC Decision that found accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Arson.

Costs de oficio.