Aggravating, mitigating and exempting
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2019 - 12:00am

This case is about circumstances which affect the criminal liability of an accused. They either exempt the accused from criminal liability like acting under the impulse of uncontrollable fear; or qualify the crime committed into a more serious offense like treachery and evident pre meditation; or aggravate the penalty like disregard of age, sex and abuse of superior strength. It also involves circumstances that may mitigate the crime committed and lighten the penalty like voluntary surrender and passion or obfuscation. When are these circumstances applicable? How are they proven? These are the issues resolved in this case.

This is the case of Dr. Bobby Santos and his wife Karla who are residing in a suburban city where the doctor maintains a clinic. Also staying with them are: the doctor’s mother, Lola Remedios, Rowena their old housemaid, and Jing-Jing, a 9-year-old girl under the custody and care of the couple, as foster parents. Working as their houseboy for more than one year already, was 18-year-old Fred who has a sweetheart Arlene and a relative named Roy, 19 years old.

The case happened shortly before noontime when Jing Jing was on her way home after school. When she reached their house, Fred grabbed her by the neck almost strangling her, and admonished her not to shout or else she will be killed. Jing Jing became terribly scared and obeyed Fred. Then Jing Jing noticed her Lola Remedios coming home then saw Roy appear suddenly in the sala, grabbed Lola by the neck and dragged her to the nearby bathroom. Later on Jing Jing saw the lifeless body of her Lola sprawled on the floor. Roy then brought the body inside the bathroom. About 4:30 pm, Dr. Santos arrived and Fred met him as Jing Jing and Roy hid in the bathroom. Then Jing Jing heard another fall on the floor and saw Dr Santos lying motionless. His body was dragged beside the cadaver of Lola Remedios still moaning and groaning until it died down. Then the doorbell sounded again as Karla arrived and Roy poked a gun at her. Then Fred ordered Karla to enter the clinic and open the steel safe as Fred and Roy ransacked it of valuables. Afterwards Jing Jing saw the fallen body of her mommy Karla wriggling on the floor of the bathroom. Later they went to the garage and were met by Roy with a sledge hammer who told them that Rowena, the old maid was already dead. Soon they prepared to leave the place and proceeded to the house of Arlene to whom Fred confided that they had killed the family of Dr. Santos and their maid. The next day they went to Fred’s uncle then proceeded to a Visayan island to hide.

Meantime because of the stench of the decomposing bodies of the massacre victims, the neighbors discovered their cadavers inside Dr. Santos’ house and reported the matter to the police. The information gathered by the police investigators showed that Fred and Roy were last seen inside the house. Eventually the two were traced at the Visayan island. Seeing that they can no longer escape, they surrendered to the police. Both admitted their participation in the crime and reenacted what they did. They were charged before the court for robbery with multiple homicide together with Arlene. Fred pleaded guilty but Roy denied his guilt and pointed to Fred as the one who told him to kill Lola Remedios and the housemaid Rowena at the point of a gun.

The prosecution presented Jing Jing as the eyewitness who narrated what she saw. Also presented was the policeman who investigated the crime and the doctor who examined the cadavers. The case for the Prosecution was built not only upon the testimony of Jing Jing but also on the extrajudicial confessions of Fred and Roy.

After trial, the lower court acquitted Arlene but found Fred and Roy guilty as charged and were both sentenced to suffer the supreme penalty of death and to indemnify the heirs of the victims jointly and severally without subsidiary imprisonment.

On automatic review by the Supreme Court, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. The SC said that aside from treachery and evident premeditation, the circumstances of dwelling, disregard of age and sex, and abuse of superior strength were considered against Fred. But the circumstances of disregard of age and sex and abuse of superior strength should be deemed included in the aggravating circumstance of treachery. The mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender cannot be considered in his favor because he did so only when escape is no longer possible. Neither could passion and obfuscation due to the alleged non-payment of wages and continued scolding be considered in his favor because they took place long before the commission of the crime. This would leave three aggravating circumstances of evident premeditation, dwelling and treachery against him without any mitigating circumstance. Hence the heavier penalty of death was legally imposed upon him by the trial court.

As regards Roy, the SC said that his defense of acting under the impulse of uncontrollable fear which is an exempting circumstance cannot be considered in his favor because Fred was not pointing the gun at him to secure his cooperation in the perpetration of the crime. He struck Karla inside the bathroom with the sledge hammer given him by Fred and continued striking her without any suggestion from Fred. The fear he harbored when he killed the old maid Rowena was merely imaginary and not real, imminent or reasonable fear for one’s life or limb. Voluntary surrender cannot also be appreciated in his favor because he surrendered only when escape was no longer possible. With three aggravating and no mitigating circumstance he also deserves the death penalty imposed by the lower court (People vs. Gervacio, G.R L-21965, August 30, 1968)

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