Unity of purpose
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2019 - 12:00am

Persons are criminally liable for a crime committed, either as principal, accomplice or accessory. Principals are those who take a direct part in the execution of the act; or indirectly force or induce others to commit it; or who cooperate in the commission of the offense by another act without which it would not have been accomplished. But if there is no proof on how the person took part in the commission of the crime, can such person be still liable as principal? This is one of the issues explained in this case. 

This is the case of Miguel and his friend Ramon who are both residing in a remote barrio up north. Miguel is married to his longtime sweetheart Alma whom he loves very much.  One of the residents in said barrio is Aling Maria, a sexagenarian who has a reputation as a witch.

One evening, Alma became seriously ill while dogs were barking and pigs were whining at their yard. So Miguel asked Ramon to accompany him to the house of Aling Maria as he suspected that she had something to do with Alma’s sickness. Miguel and Ramon then saw Aling Maria cutting firewood near her house. Miguel then approached her and told her: “you are the old woman who bewitched my wife.” Then he repeatedly beat Aling Maria with a piece of wood on different parts of the body while Ramon dragged her by the arms. The husband of Aling Maria, Mang Gimo, also a sexagenarian, was attracted by the noise outside and saw his wife being dragged by Ramon and clubbed by Miguel. Mang Gimo thus immediately went down to help his wife but Miguel met him at the stairs and threatened him with bodily harm should he intervene. Mang Gimo helplessly saw his wife being beaten and dragged toward the house of town Councilor Rez who was also related to Aling Maria. Councilor Rez then instructed Miguel and one of his men to go to Aling Maria’s house to get the ingredients for witchcraft. Upon their return they gave to the councilor bottles of wine and of oil. Councilor Rez then prepared a statement that Aling Maria indeed practiced witchcraft on Miguel’s wife Alma and had the same thumb-marked by Aling Maria.

Meantime Mang Gimo asked for help from his neighbor and went to Councilor Rez’s residence where he saw his wife already sprawled in the yard almost dead. So he approached and embraced Aling Maria who told him that she had been maltreated and that some of her teeth were broken. Later on he was also forced to sign the statement that Aling Maria thumb-marked. Aling Maria died that same evening at the house of Councilor Rez. Post mortem examination shows that she indeed sustained multiple bodily injuries that caused her death.

So Miguel and Ramon were charged with the crime of murder. The prosecution presented three witnesses including Mang Gimo who saw and affirmed the above narrated events. On the other hand Ramon raised the defense of alibi claiming that at the date and time of the incident, he was at his parents’ house in another town. Miguel on the other hand said that his wife Alma became seriously ill as heard the dogs barking and the pigs whining in their yard. So he said that he went down and saw Aling Maria who had a reputation in their barrio of being a witch, running away. Then he chased her and she fell face down who later on said that she had bewitched Alma whereupon he took her to Councilor Rez who is a close relative of Aling Maria. Ashamed of her admission, the councilor allegedly kicked her a number of times in her right side. Then he ordered Miguel to fetch Mang Gimo. And when Mang Gimo arrived and learned that Aling Maria admitted that she is a witch, Mang Gimo allegedly kicked her a number of times on different parts of the body. It was then that Councilor Rez wrote the affidavit whereby Mang Gimo assumed responsibility should his wife die.

The CFI however did not believe the defenses of Miguel and Ramon. It convicted Miguel of the crime of murder, as principal, and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, and Ramon as accomplice and sentenced him to imprisonment from 6 to 12 years. Both were also to indemnify Mang Gimo.

The Supreme Court however, modified said decision. It found both Miguel and Ramon guilty of murder as principal. It rejected the alibi of Ramon because this kind of defense can be easily conceived. Besides, all his witnesses were his relatives while the three prosecution witnesses positively identified and pointed to him as the one who dragged Aling Maria while Miguel clubbed her. The SC also ruled that it is hard to believe Miguel’s story that Mang Gimo, the aged husband of Aling Maria, would ever attempt to kick her several times in the presence of so many people just because she admitted being a witch. On the contrary, Mang Gimo testified that he tried in vain to rescue his wife. The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are also confirmed by the post mortem examination of the victim’s corpse.

However, the SC said that both Miguel and Ramon should be held guilty of murder, as principal. While it was only Miguel who clubbed Aling Maria, the established facts show that: (a) Ramon accompanied Miguel to the house of the deceased; and  (b) he held both hands of the deceased and pulled her while Miguel was hitting her. These facts clearly show concert of design and unity of purpose in the execution of the act. So they are both liable as principal because there is conspiracy between them.

But they are entitled to the mitigating circumstance of lack intent to commit so grave a wrong because they merely wanted to denounce her before the councilor as a witch. Obfuscation should also mitigate their liability because they committed the crime in the belief that the deceased cast a spell of witchcraft upon Alma. So they should be sentenced to imprisonment of 10 years one day minimum to 17 years four months and one day maximum (People vs. Zapata and Tubadeza, G.R.L-11074, February 27, 1960)

MIGUEL RAMON
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