Monday, April 2, 2012

People v Echegaray G.R. No. 117472. February 7, 1997

Per Curiam

The SC rendered a decision in the instant case affirming the conviction of the accused-appellant for the crime of raping his ten-year old daughter.  The crime having been committed sometime in April, 1994, during which time Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7659, commonly known as the Death Penalty Law, was already in effect, accused-appellant was inevitably meted out the supreme penalty of death.
The accused-appellant timely filed a Motion for Reconsideration which focused on the sinister motive of the victim's grandmother that precipitated the filing of the alleged false accusation of rape against the accused.  This was dismissed.
On August 6, 1996, accused-appellant discharged the defense counsel, Atty. Julian R. Vitug, and retained the services of the Anti-Death Penalty Task Force of the Free Legal Assistance Group of the Philippines.
A supplemental Motion for Reconsideration prepared by the FLAG on behalf of accused-appellant.
In sum, the Supplemental Motion for Reconsideration raises three (3) main issues: (1) mixed factual and legal matters relating to the trial proceedings and findings; (2) alleged incompetence of accused-appellant's former counsel; and (3) purely legal question of the constitutionality of R.A. No. 7659.

Issue: Whether or not Article III, Section 19 (1) absolutely abolished the death penalty.

One of the indispensable powers of the state is the power to secure society against threatened and actual evil.  Pursuant to this, the legislative arm of government enacts criminal laws that define and punish illegal acts that may be committed by its own subjects, the executive agencies enforce these laws, and the judiciary tries and sentences the criminals in accordance with these laws.
The opposition to the death penalty uniformly took the form of a constitutional question of whether or not the death penalty is a cruel, unjust, excessive or unusual punishment in violation of the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishments.
Harden- "The penalty complained of is neither cruel, unjust nor excessive.  In Ex-parte Kemmler, 136 U.S., 436, the United States Supreme Court said that 'punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death, but the punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the constitution.  It implies there something inhuman and barbarous, something more than the mere extinguishment of life.
Limaco- "x x x there are quite a number of people who honestly believe that the supreme penalty is either morally wrong or unwise or ineffective.  However, as long as that penalty remains in the statute books, and as long as our criminal law provides for its imposition in certain cases, it is the duty of judicial officers to respect and apply the law regardless of their private opinions,"
Munoz- A reading of Section 19 (1) of Article III will readily show that there is really nothing therein which expressly declares the abolition of the death penalty.  The provision merely says that the death penalty shall not be imposed unless for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes the Congress hereafter provides for it and, if already imposed, shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua.  The language, while rather awkward, is still plain enough
Nothing is more defining of the true content of Article III, Section 19 (1) of the 1987 Constitution than the form in which the legislature took the initiative in re-imposing the death penalty.
The Senate never doubted its power as vested in it by the constitution, to enact legislation re-imposing the death penalty for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.  Pursuant to this constitutional mandate, the Senate proceeded to a two-step process consisting of:  first, the decision, as a matter of policy, to re-impose the death penalty or not; and second, the vote to pass on the third reading the bill re-imposing the death penalty for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.
With seventeen (17) affirmative votes and seven (7) negative votes and no abstention, the Chair declared that the Senate has voted to re-incorporate death as a penalty in the scale of penalties as provided in the Revised Penal Code. 
The import of this amendment is unmistakable.  By this amendment, the death penalty was not completely abolished by the 1987 Constitution.  Rather, it merely suspended the death penalty and gave Congress the discretion to review it at the propitious time.
We have no doubt, therefore, that insofar as the element of heinousness is concerned, R.A. No. 7659 has correctly identified crimes warranting the mandatory penalty of death.  As to the other crimes in R.A. No. 7659 punished by reclusion perpetua to death, they are admittingly no less abominable than those mandatorily penalized by death.  The proper time to determine their heinousness in contemplation of law, is when on automatic review, we are called to pass on a death sentence involving crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua to death under R.A. No. 7659, with the trial court meting out the death sentence in exercise of judicial discretion.  This is not to say, however, that the aggravating circumstances under the Revised Penal Code need be additionally alleged as establishing the heinousness of the crime for the trial court to validly impose the death penalty in the crimes under R.A. No. 7659 which are punished with the flexible penalty of reclusion perpetua to death.
A studious comparison of the legislative proceedings in the Senate and in the House of Representatives reveals that, while both Chambers were not wanting of oppositors to the death penalty, the Lower House seemed less quarrelsome about the form of the death penalty bill as a special law specifying certain heinous crimes without regard to the provisions of the Revised Penal Code and more unified in the perception of what crimes are heinous and that the fact of their very heinousness involves the compulsion and the imperative to suppress, if not completely eradicate, their occurrence.  Be it the foregoing general statement of Representative Sanchez or the following details of the nature of the heinous crimes enumerated in House Bill No. 62 by Representative Miguel L. Romero of Negros Oriental, there was clearly, among the hundred or so re-impositionists in the Lower House, no doubt as to their cause.
Article III, Section 19 (1) of the 1987 Constitution plainly vests in Congress the power to re-impose the death penalty "for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes".  This power is not subsumed in the plenary legislative power of Congress, for it is subject to a clear showing of "compelling reasons involving heinous crimes."
The constitutional exercise of this limited power to re-impose the death penalty entails (1) that Congress define or describe what is meant by heinous crimes; (2) that Congress specify and penalize by death, only crimes that qualify as heinous in accordance with the definition or description set in the death penalty bill and/or designate crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua to death in which latter case, death can only be imposed upon the attendance of circumstances duly proven in court that characterize the crime to be heinous in accordance with the definition or description set in the death penalty bill; and (3) that Congress, in enacting this death penalty bill be singularly motivated by "compelling reasons involving heinous crimes."
It is specifically against the foregoing capital crimes that the test of heinousness must be squarely applied.
We believe, however, that the elements of heinousness and compulsion are inseparable and are, in fact, interspersed with each other.  Because the subject crimes are either so revolting and debasing as to violate the most minimum of the human standards of decency or its effects, repercussions, implications and consequences so destructive, destabilizing, debilitating, or aggravating in the context of our socio-political and economic agenda as a developing nation, these crimes must be frustrated, curtailed and altogether eradicated. 
Article III, Section 19 (1) of the 1987 Constitution simply states that congress, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, may re-impose the death penalty.  Nothing in the said provision imposes a requirement that for a death penalty bill to be valid, a positive manifestation in the form of a higher incidence of crime should first be perceived and statistically proven following the suspension of the death penalty.  Neither does the said provision require that the death penalty be resorted to as a last recourse when all other criminal reforms have failed to abate criminality in society.
It is immaterial and irrelevant that R.A. No. 7659 cites that there has been an "alarming upsurge of such crimes", for the same was never intended by said law to be the yardstick to determine the existence of compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.  Fittingly, thus, what R.A. No. 7659 states is that "the Congress, in the interest of justice, public order and rule of law, and the need to rationalize and harmonize the penal sanctions for heinous crimes, finds compelling reasons to impose the death penalty for said crimes."

1 comment:

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