Tara v. People (G.R. No. 223348. August 23, 2017)


On November 3, 2005, complainant Joseph Walde and his wife discovered that their Toshiba laptop and video camera were missing, with signs of entry into their bedroom. Joseph tried to search for the stolen articles around the neighborhood but to no avail. He reported the theft to the Las PiƱas City Police at its Police Precinct No. 5.

On November 4, 2005, Joseph distributed flyers around the neighborhood offering a reward for the return of the stolen articles. On November 8, 2005, he received a call from petitioner Maritess Tara informing him that she had information about the stolen laptop. Joseph confirmed the information to be true after she sent a photo of the laptop that had the photograph of Joseph and his wife as a newlywed couple as the Screensaver. Joseph and Maritess agreed to meet at the SM Southmall at 8:00 o'clock that evening. When they met, Maritess only brought the USB and CD with her, minus the laptop. She wanted to be first given the reward of P10,000.00, and an additional amount of P10,000.00 to be given to a certain Otoy Borela. According to Maritess, Otoy paid P10,000.00 to someone who had pawned the laptop to him.

When the petitioners failed to produce the laptop, Joseph reported them to the security guards of SM Southmall, and the latter apprehended the petitioners. The security guards turned them over to the police authorities. The petitioners led police officers to the house of Otoy but the latter was not home. Subsequently, however, Maritess produced the laptop that had been hidden in the pigpen near the house of Otoy.

The Office of the City Prosecutor of Las Piflas City formally charged the petitioners in the Regional Trial Court in Las Pinas City (RTC) with a violation of Presidential Decree No. 1612 (The Anti-Fencing Law of 1979).

On June 10, 2013, after trial, the RTC convicted the petitioners as charged.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the conviction of the petitioners with modification of the penalty. The CA, noting that the State had not adduced competent evidence on the value of the laptop because it had relied only on the self-serving declaration thereon by Joseph, modified the penalty.

ISSUE: Is Maritess guilty of fencing?

HELD: The Supreme Court DENIED the petition for review on certiorari, and AFFIRMED the decision of the CA upon finding it to be correct under the facts and the law.Indeed, the Supreme Court is not a trier of fact, and should accord respect to such findings unless the petitioners would show to that the CA committed grave errors in its appreciation and review of the findings of fact of the RTC. But they did not do so. Moreover, it is worthwhile to remind that the RTC, being the trial court, was in the best position to ascertain the facts presented during the trial.

Fencing is the act of any person who, with intent to gain for himself or for another, shall buy, receive, possess, keep, acquire, conceal, sell or dispose of, or shall buy and sell, or in any other manner deal in any article, item, object or anything of value which he knows, or should be known to him, to have been derived from the proceeds of the crime of robbery or theft.

The petitioners undoubtedly committed fencing. Both of them knew that the laptop had been stolen. That they were later on able to produce the laptop proved that they had been aware of its hiding place. They had intended to gain from returning the stolen laptop to its owner.
The modification of the penalty by the CA on the basis that the State had not adduced competent evidence on the value of the laptop is sustained. In the absence of such competent evidence, the value should be fixed at P10,000.00. Pursuant to Section 3(b) of Presidential Decree No. 1612, the penalty of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods (whose range is from two years, four months and one day to six years) is imposable if the value of the property robbed or stolen is more than P6,000.00 but does not exceed P12,000.00. In the absence of any modifying circumstances, the penalty is imposed in its medium period, that is, three years, six months and 21 days to four years, nine months and 10 days. Accordingly, the indeterminate sentence of one year and one day to three years, six months and 21 days imposed by the CA was correct.

[1]Manotok Realty, Inc. CUT Realty Development Corporation, G.R. No. 123346, November 29, 2005, 476 SCRA305.
[2] Section2(a) of Presidential Decree No. 1612.