SC acquits wife of illegally possessing husband's fake US$ notes

Article 168 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), under which petitioner was charged, provides:
ART. 168. Illegal possession and use of false treasury or bank notes and other instruments of credit. Unless the act be one of those coming under the provisions of any of the preceding articles, any person who shall knowingly use or have in his possession, with intent to use any of the false or falsified instruments referred to in this section, shall suffer the penalty next lower in degree than that prescribed in said articles.
The elements of the crime of violation of said law are: (1) that any treasury or bank note or certificate or other obligation and security payable to bearer, or any instrument payable to order or other document of credit not payable to bearer is forged or falsified by another person; (2) that the offender knows that any of the said instruments is forged or falsified; and (3) that he either used or possessed with intent to use any of such forged or falsified instruments.[1]

The Supreme Court held that none of the above elements were present in the case of Rimando v. People (G.R. No. 229701, November 29, 2017).

In Rimando v. People, the prosecution was not able to prove that she (the accused) was even aware of the counterfeit US$ notes. Moreover, there was no showing that petitioner (accused) had a hand or active participation in the consummation of the illegal transaction. In fact, petitioner was not present during the test-buy operation conducted by the team of Alex Muñez nor was she spotted during the surveillance.

Mere presence at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission is not, by itself, sufficient to establish conspiracy.[2] To establish conspiracy, evidence of actual cooperation rather than mere cognizance or approval of an illegal act is required.[3]

Mere knowledge, acquiescence or approval of the act, without the cooperation or agreement to cooperate, is not enough to constitute one a party to a conspiracy, but that there must be intentional participation in the transaction with a view to the furtherance of the common design and purpose.[4]

The fact that petitioner Rimando accompanied her husband at the restaurant and allowed her husband to place the money inside her bag would not be sufficient to justify the conclusion that conspiracy existed. In order to hold an accused liable as co-principal by reason of conspiracy, he or she must be shown to have performed an overt act in pursuance or in furtherance of conspiracy.[5]

This Supreme Court has held that an overt or external act is defined as some physical activity or deed, indicating the intention to commit a particular crime, more than a mere planning or preparation, which if carried out to its complete termination following its natural course, without being frustrated by external obstacles nor by the spontaneous desistance of the perpetrator, will logically and necessarily ripen into a concrete offense. The raison d'etre for the law requiring a direct overt act is that, in a majority of cases, the conduct of the accused consisting merely of acts of preparation has never ceased to be equivocal; and this is necessarily so, irrespective of his declared intent. It is that quality of being equivocal that must be lacking before the act becomes one which may be said to be a commencement of the commission of the crime, or an overt act or before any fragment of the crime itself has been committed, and this is so for the reason that so long as the equivocal quality remains, no one can say with certainty what the intent of the accused is. It is necessary that the overt act should have been the ultimate step towards the consummation of the design. It is sufficient if it was the first or some subsequent step in a direct movement towards the commission of the offense after the preparations are made. The act done need not constitute the last proximate one for completion. It is necessary, however, that the attempt must have a causal relation to the intended crime. In the words of Viada, the overt acts must have an immediate and necessary relation to the offense.[6]

The record of the case of Rimando v. People is bereft of any hint that petitioner cooperated in the commission of the crime under Article 168 of the RPC. Taken together, the evidence of the prosecution does not meet the test of moral certainty in order to establish that petitioner conspired with her husband Romeo to commit the crime. Hence, in the absence of conspiracy, if the inculpatory facts and circumstances are capable of two or more explanations, one of which is consistent with the innocence of the accused and the other consistent with his guilt, then the evidence does not fulfill the test of moral certainty[7] and is not sufficient to support a conviction.[8] Exoneration must then be granted as a matter of right.[9]

Thus, the High Court acquitted Rimando.[10]

[1] Tecson v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113218, November 22, 2001, 370 SCRA 181, 188.

[2] People v. Desoy, G.R. No. 127754, August 16, 1999, 312 SCRA 432, 445; Abad v. Court of Appeals, 353 Phil. 247, 253 (1998).

[3] People v. Tabuso, G.R. No. 113708, October 26, 1999, 317 SCRA 454, 459; People v. Alas, 340 Phil. 423, 436 (1997).

[4] People v. Del Rosario, G.R. No. 127755, April 14, 1999, 305 SCRA 740, 755.

[5] People v. Santiago, G.R. No. 129371, October 4, 2000.

[6] People v. Lizada, G.R. Nos. 143468-71, January 24, 2003, 396 SCRA 62, 95.

[7] People v. Marcos, G.R. No. 115006, March 18, 1999, 305 SCRA 1, 13.

[8] People v. Lomboy, G.R. No. 129691, June 29, 1999, 309 SCRA 440, 465.

[9] Monteverde v. People, G.R. No. 139610, August 12, 2002, 387 SCRA 196, 215.

[10] G.R. No. 229701, November 29, 2017.