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Alternative circumstances, A15 Revised Penal Code

1. Concept

Alternative circumstances – refers to circumstances wherein they may be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance or a mitigating circumstance depending on the conditions.

a. Legal basis

Article 15. Their concept. – Alternative circumstances are those which must be taken into consideration as aggravating or mitigating according to the nature and effects of the crime and the other conditions attending its commission. They are the relationship, intoxication and the degree of instruction and education of the offender.
The alternative circumstance of relationship shall be taken into consideration when the offended party in the spouse, ascendant, descendant, legitimate, natural, or adopted brother or sister, or relative by affinity in the same degrees of the offender.
The intoxication of the offender shall be taken into consideration as a mitigating circumstances when the offender has committed a felony in a state of intoxication, if the same is not habitual or subsequent to the plan to commit said felony but when the intoxication is habitual or intentional, it shall be considered as an aggravating circumstance.

(Revised Penal Code)

Alternative circumstances are those which must be taken into consideration as aggravating or mitigating according to the nature and effects of the crime and the other conditions attending its commission. They are the relationship, intoxication, and the degree of instruction and education of the offender. (People v. Belaro, G.R. No. 99869, May 26, 1999, Per Kapunan, J.)

b. Effects of alternative circumstances

Whether the presence of alternative circumstances will be appreciated as aggravating or mitigating will depend on the nature, effects and other conditions. Thus, they are alternative in the sense that they can either be aggravating or mitigating.

Alternative circumstances are those which must be taken into consideration as aggravating or mitigating according to the nature and effects of the crime and other conditions attending its commission. Based on a strict interpretation, alternative circumstances are thus not aggravating circumstances per se. (People v. Orilla, G.R. No. 148939-40, February 13, 2004, Per Carpio, J.)

1) Duly proven

As with other circumstances, alternative circumstances must be duly proven. (See Planos v. People, G.R. No. 232506, November 18, 2020)

People v. Belaro, G.R. No. 99869, May 26, 1999, Per Kapunan, J.:

• Appellants next faults the trial court for failing to appreciate two alternative circumstances to mitigate his liability.

• Appellant failed to introduce evidence to support the presence of this mitigating circumstance. He cannot be entitled to this mitigating circumstance merely on the declaration of the prosecution witness that appellant was drunk. Even if we consider Myrna Pastor’s testimony that appellant reeked of alcohol, this does not warrant a conclusion that the degree of intoxication affected his mental faculties. Appellant also did not prove that such intoxication was not habitual or intentional. This he failed to do, for the reason that appellant’s defense was that of alibi.

• Neither can appellant’s alleged lack of instruction be appreciated in his favor…  The said court was in a better position to gauge appellant’s level of intelligence from his appearance, demeanor and manner of answering questions.  In this case, the trial court did not make any findings, as to the degree of instruction of appellant. Indeed, the alleged presence of this circumstance is being raised for the first time here. That alternative circumstance cannot be considered in fixing the penalty to be imposed on appellant on appeal.

• Moreover, lack of instruction should be proved directly and positively;  it cannot be based on mere deduction or inference. There is no such proof in this case. On the contrary, appellant, being a CAFGU member, is presumed to have received some degree of instruction and training.

• Finally, there is jurisprudence holding that the accused’s lack of instruction cannot be considered mitigating in homicide or murder. The reason is that one does not have to be educated or intelligent to be able to know that it is unlawful to take the life of another person even if it is to redress a wrong committed against him.

People v. Sayat, G.R. Nos. 102773-77, June 8, 1993, Per Regalado, J.:

• Appellants asserts that the alternative circumstance of relationship was never proven, hence it could not be considered as an aggravating circumstance in the case at bar. It appears that the certificate of live birth of Marites Sayat, although marked as Exhibit “F” was not formally offered in evidence. Said document, therefore, cannot be taken into account by the Court.

• The identification of documentary evidence is different from its formal offer. The first is done in the course of the trial and is accompanied by the marking of the evidence as an exhibit; the second is made when the party rests his case. The mere fact that a particular document is identified and marked as exhibit does not mean that it will be or has been offered as part of the evidence of the party. The party may decide to formally offer it if he believes this will advance his cause, but then, again, he may decide not to do so at all. Appellant, therefore, is correct in his assertion that the alternative circumstance of relationship between him and the victim can not be proved by said document which was not submitted in court.

c. What are the alternatives circumstances

The following are alternative circumstances:

1) Relationship;

2) Intoxication; and

3) Degree of instruction and education.

1) Relationship

The alternative circumstance of relationship shall be taken into consideration when the offended party is the spouse, ascendant, descendant, legitimate, natural, or adopted brother or sister, or relative by affinity in the same degrees of the offender. (REVISED PENAL CODE, Article 15)

The Revised Penal Code is silent as to when relationship is mitigating and when it is aggravating. (People v. Orilla [2004], supra.)

People v. Marcos, En Banc, G.R. No. 132392, January 18, 2001, Per Puno, J.:

• In the case at bar, prosecution eyewitness Fernando Marcos, Jr. testified that Cesar and Virgilio Marcos are brothers. Accused likewise declared that Virgilio is his brother. That the victim is the elder brother of Cesar is likewise alleged in the Information. The rule is that relationship is aggravating in crimes against persons as when the offender and the offended party are relatives of the same level such as killing a brother. Thus, relationship was correctly appreciated as an aggravating circumstance.

a) Crimes against chastity

Jurisprudence considers relationship as an aggravating circumstance in crimes against chastity. (People v. Orilla [2004], supra.)

People v. ZZZ, G.R. No. 224584, September 04, 2019, Per Lazaro-Javier, J.:

• Considering that AAA was over 12 but under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the lascivious act, the imposable penalty is reclusion temporal in its medium period to reclusion perpetua.

• Since the crime was committed by the father of the offended party, the alternative circumstance of relationship should be appreciated. In crimes against chastity, such as acts of lasciviousness, relationship is always aggravating. With the presence of this aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance, the penalty shall be applied in its maximum period, i.e., reclusion perpetua, without eligibility of parole. This is in consonance with Section 31(c) of R.A. No. 7610 which expressly provides that the penalty shall be imposed in its maximum period when the perpetrator is, inter alia, the parent of the victim.

b) Rape

Relationship, as an alternative circumstance under Article 15 of the Revised Penal Code, is considered aggravating in the crimes of rape under Article 335 and acts of lasciviousness under Article 336 of the Revised Penal Code. (People v. Navida, G.R. Nos. 132239-40, December 4, 2000, Per Curiam)

2) Intoxication

The intoxication of the offender shall be taken into consideration as a mitigating circumstances when the offender has committed a felony in a state of intoxication, if the same is not habitual or subsequent to the plan to commit said felony but when the intoxication is habitual or intentional, it shall be considered as an aggravating circumstance. (REVISED PENAL CODE, Article 15)

[I]ntoxication is neither a justifying nor exempting circumstance that completely negates criminal liability. Under Article 15 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), it is an alternative circumstance that may either aggravate or mitigate the offense depending on the circumstances. (Planos v. People, G.R. No. 232506, November 18, 2020)

Planos v. People, G.R. No. 232506, November 18, 2020:

• The accused-petitioner anchored his appeal on his intoxication on the night of the incident. He argued that his intoxication negated any intent on his end to voluntarily commit the acts in question. This argument was already raised in the CA, which was held to be untenable as he was unable to prove that his alcohol intake that night affected his mental faculties.

• At most, therefore, his intoxication could only m1t1gate, not extinguish, his criminal liability. In turn, for the alternative circumstance of intoxication to be treated as a mitigating circumstance,

the defense has the burden of evidence to show “that the intoxication is not habitual, not subsequent to a plan to commit a felony and the accused’s drunkenness affected his mental faculties.

• In the present case, there is nothing on record to show that the accused-petitioner was not a habitual drinker, or that he did not drink subsequent to his plan to commit the crime. Neither was there anything in the records that shows his level of intoxication was such that his mental faculties were impaired. This was because the defense of intoxication was raised only in the appeal, as the defense only proffered denial during the trial. While the victim did in fact testify that she observed the accused-petitioner to be drunk, this is not enough for the intoxication to be considered as a mitigating circumstance because of the absence of any independent proof that the intoxication was at such a level that it impaired his mental faculties. Also to reiterate, the defense

was also unable to discharge its burden to prove that the accused petitioner was not a habitual drinker, or that he had already been drinking prior to his decision to commit the crime.

• Considering the foregoing, the Court therefore affirms the accused-petitioner’s conviction.

People v. Mondigo, G.R. No. 167954, January 31, 2008, Per Carpio, J.:

• The trial court erred in crediting appellant with the circumstance of intoxication as having mitigated his crimes because “the stabbing incident ensued in the course of a drinking spree.” For the alternative circumstance of intoxication12 to be treated as a mitigating circumstance, the defense must show that the intoxication is not habitual, not subsequent to a plan to commit a felony and the accused’s drunkenness affected his mental faculties. Here, the only proof on record on this matter is appellant’s testimony that before Damaso, Anthony, and Delfin attacked him, he drank “about 3 to 4 bottles of beer.” The low alcohol content of beer, the quantity of such liquor appellant imbibed, and the absence of any independent proof that appellant’s alcohol intake affected his mental faculties all negate the finding that appellant was intoxicated enough at the time he committed the crimes to mitigate his liability.

a) Drug addiction

In the 2002 case of People Tayag, the Solicitor General argued that drug addiction is an alternative circumstance similar to habitual intoxication. However, this was not favorable looked upon by the Supreme Court. Thus:

People v. Tayag, G.R. No. 134362, February 27, 2002, Per Kapunan, J.:

• The trial court… considered intoxication as an aggravating circumstance. The Solicitor General defends this ruling, contending that appellant’s habitual drug addiction is an alternative circumstance analogous to habitual intoxication under Article 15 of the Revised Penal Code:

• Intoxication of the offender shall be taken into consideration as a mitigating circumstance when the offender has committed a felony in a state of intoxication, if the same is not habitual or subsequent to the plan to commit said felony; but when the intoxication is habitual or intentional, it shall be considered as an aggravating circumstance.

• The Court does not agree. Article 13 of the Revised Penal Code provides a list of mitigating circumstances, which work to reduce the accused’s penalty. Article 13(10) allows courts to consider “any other circumstance of a similar nature and analogous to those” mentioned therein. Neither Article 14 of the same Code on aggravating circumstances nor Article 15 on alternative circumstances, however, contain a provision similar to Article 13(10). Accordingly, the Court cannot consider appellant’s drug addiction as an aggravating circumstance. Criminal statutes are to be strictly construed and no person should be brought within their terms who is not clearly within them.

3) Degree of instruction and education of the offender

The degree of instruction and education of the offender shall be taken into consideration.

Illiteracy alone will not constitute such circumstance; it must be accompanied by lack of sufficient intelligence and knowledge of the full significance of one’s act. Thus, it is the trial court, rather than the appellate court, to find and consider the circumstance of lack of instruction. (People v. Belaro [1999], supra.)

a) Cultural minority

People v. Macatanda, G.R. No. L-51368, November 6, 1981, Per De Castro, J.:

• Membership in a cultural minority does not per se imply being an uncivilized or semi- uncivilized state of the offender, which is the circumstance that induced the Supreme Court in the Maqui case, to apply lack of instruction to the appellant therein who was charged also with theft of large cattle. Incidentally, the Maqui case is the only case where lack of instruction was considered to mitigate liability for theft, for even long before it, in U.S. vs. Pascual, a 1908 case, lack of instruction was already held not applicable to crimes of theft or robbery. The Maqui case was decided in 1914, when the state of civilization of the Igorots has not advanced as it had in reaching its present state since recent years, when it certainly can no longer be said of any member of a cultural minority in the country that he is uncivilized or semi-uncivilized.

a) Crimes against property and chastity

[Citing the book of] Padilla on Criminal Law: “Lack of instruction is generally mitigating, except in crimes against property and chastity. In a more extensive discussion of such an alternative circumstance, Justice Aquino, in… his work on Criminal Law, pointed out that even in cases of theft and robbery, the court could take into consideration the “lack of instruction and education of the offender where it appears that, under all the circumstances attending the commission of the offense, he should not be held to the strict degree of responsibility prescribed in the Code for the ordinary offender.” (People v. Baltazar, G.R. No. L-30557, March 28, 1980, Per Fernando, C.J.)

b) Anti-Subversion Law

The Anti-Subversion Law was enacted solely for the purpose of remedying a grievous malady to the body politic. That is to be admitted. It should be applied, however, in a manner consistent with the efforts of the Administration to win anew the loyalty and allegiance of the disaffected and the discontented. One way of doing so is to temper strict justice with due consideration of circumstances that may have led the accused into performing culpable acts of subversion. In this case, a close examination of the record is indicative of the lack of instruction of the offender. Then, too, it must not be forgotten that so many persons in the Philippines, where agrarian unrest was then quite prevalent, resulted in their being misled by alien Ideologies. There is more than sufficient justification for the finding of the mitigating circumstance of the above character that would lessen the rigor of the Anti-Subversion law and, hopefully, could inspire the belief that it is resorted to only as a just measure of retribution but never for vindictive purposes. (People v. Baltazar [1982], supra.)

c) Murder

[T]he accused’s lack of instruction cannot be considered mitigating in homicide or murder. The reason is that one does not have to be educated or intelligent to be able to know that it is unlawful to take the life of another person even if it is to redress a wrong committed against him. (People v. Belaro [1999], supra.)

2. Other things to note

a. Relationship with aggravating circumstances

[W]e resort to the strict interpretation of the term “aggravating circumstance” only for the purpose of imposing the death penalty. When the penalty to be imposed is a range of penalties where the maximum penalty is death and the appreciation of an aggravating circumstance would call for the imposition of the maximum penalty, which is death, the term “aggravating circumstance” must be strictly construed. The aggravating circumstance sufficient to justify the imposition of the death penalty must not only be duly alleged and proven it must be one of those enumerated in Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code or that specified by law. In all other cases where the maximum penalty is not death, the term “aggravating circumstance” must be interpreted in its broad or generic sense so as to include the alternative circumstances under Article 15 of the Revised Penal Code. (People v. Orilla [2004], supra.)

NB: The above discussions involved a case being resolved at a time when the death penalty was still in force and effective.

References

Title I – Felonies and Circumstances which Affect Criminal Liability, Book I, Act No. 3815, Revised Penal Code

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