SC: Allegations in Information must be Precise; cannot be Stated Alternatively by Using “Or”
September 4, 2023
The allegation in the information charging the accused of Qualified Rape under Article 266-B(1) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), should be precise as to the relationship between the offender and the victim. The allegation cannot be stated in the alternative by using the disjunctive term ‘or.’
Thus held the Supreme Court’s First Division, in a 24-page Decision penned by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, which partially granted the appeal by XXX and affirmed with modification the ruling of the Court of Appeals (CA), Cagayan de Oro City. The Court found XXX guilty of Simple Rape under Article 266-A(1)(b) of the RPC, sentencing him to the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
In 2015, XXX was charged for the rape of minor AAA. Part of the Information stated that “[XXX], knowing full[y] well the minority of his first cousin or relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity, through force and intimidation and through grave abuse of authority, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully, feloniously insert his penis into the vagina of ‘AAA’, 16 [sic] years old, without her consent, to her damage and prejudice.” [emphasis supplied]
In 2017, XXX was convicted by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for Qualified Rape as defined under Article 266-A in relation to Article 266-B of the RPC. The CA affirmed the RTC, prompting XXX to appeal before the High Court.
The Supreme Court also affirmed XXX’s conviction, but only of Simple Rape under paragraph 1 of Article 266-A of the RPC.
Under the said provision, one commits the crime of rape when all of the following are present: (1) the offender had carnal knowledge of the victim; and (2) such act was accomplished through force or intimidation; or when the victim is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious; or when the victim is under 12 years of age.
Such crime of rape is qualified under Art. 266-B(1) when it is committed by a relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree of a victim below the age of 18. The penalty is also increased, from reclusion perpetua to death.
While the Court found that all elements under Article 266-A were present, it held that the prosecution failed to establish that the rape was qualified.
The Court stressed that in order to qualify the crime of rape, both qualifying circumstances of minority and relationship should be alleged in the Information.
While the minority of AAA was sufficiently established in the Information, the qualifying circumstance of relationship was not, found the Court.
The Court stressed that under Section 6, in relation to Section 9, Rule 110 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Information must be sufficient. “In the event that a qualifying or aggravating circumstance attended the commission of the crime, Sec. 9 ordains that the same should be stated in ordinary and concise language, sufficient to inform the accused not only of the crime, but also the qualifying circumstances which attended its commission. The facts alleged in the body of the information, not the technical name given by the prosecutor appearing in the title of the information, determine the character of the crime,” said the Court.
Thus, if the Information did not specifically allege the relationship, it cannot increase the crime to Qualified Rape.
In the case of XXX, the information contains an allegation that AAA is a “first cousin or relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity” [emphasis supplied].
Under the rules in statutory construction, the disjunctive word ‘or,’ signifies “disassociation and independence of one thing from the other things enumerated, unless the context requires a different interpretation,” held the Court.
“When ‘or’ is used, the various members of the enumeration are to be taken separately. Also, the word ‘or’ is significant, in that it indicates an alternative and often connects a series of words or propositions indicating a choice of either,” the Court said.
Hence, as a general rule, the terms that come before and after the disjunctive word ‘or,’ are different from each other, with the intention to provide an alternative option. The exception is when, based on the context of its usage, the terms may refer to the same thing or be similar in interpretation, added the Court.
Applying this rule to the Information charging XXX, the Court held that the terms ‘first cousin’ and ‘third degree relative by consanguinity” shall be accorded different, distinct, and separate meanings, especially since a first cousin is beyond the third degree of consanguinity, i.e. a fourth degree relative under Articles 964 and 966 of the Civil Code. Hence, ‘first cousin’ and ‘third degree relative by consanguinity’ refer to different relationships, said the Court.
The use of the word ‘or’ in the Information allowed the prosecution an opportunity to indict XXX in the alternative, either as a first cousin or as a relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity, the Court stressed.
“This cannot be permitted as it did not sufficiently apprise [XXX] of his precise liability in committing the offense,” the Court held, adding: “The Information should be precise as to the relationship between the offender and the victim, such that the averment cannot be stated in the alternative. More so in this case where being a first cousin will not elevate the crime to Qualified Rape which merits a heavier penalty.”
The Court thus found that the allegation of relationship in the Information was “couched imprecisely, thereby resulting in two inferences: (1) that AAA may either be a: first cousin or a relative of XXX within the third civil degree of consanguinity; or (2) that AAA, being a first cousin, is a relative within the third civil degree of consanguinity. Indubitably, the phrasing of the allegation results in confusion which may not be fully understood by a person of ordinary intelligence such as [XXX]. As such, [XXX] was not fully apprised that the charge of rape against him was made serious by the phrase ‘relative within the third degree of consanguinity,’ knowing only that he is merely a first cousin of AAA, which should only make him accountable for Simple Rape.
“With the imprecision in accusing [XXX] for Qualified Rape under Art. 266-B(1) of the RPC, he cannot be held liable for the same. Since carnal knowledge of AAA by means of force, threat, or intimidation had been established by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt, [XXX] may only be liable for Simple Rape,” the Court concluded. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
Full text of G.R. No. 245926 (People v. XXX, July 25, 2023) at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/245926-people-of-the-philippines-vs-xxx/