SC: In Criminal Law, Intent to Commit Crime is Different from Intent to Perpetrate the Act
December 14, 2023
Dispensing with proof of criminal intent for crimes mala prohibita, where criminal intent is not an element, does not discharge the prosecution’s burden of proving, beyond reasonable doubt, that the prohibited act was done by the accused intentionally.
Thus ruled the Supreme Court’s Third Division, in a Decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, granting the petition for review on certiorari filed by Felix G. Valenzona (Valenzona). The petition challenged the rulings of the Court of Appeals (CA) which had affirmed the Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) conviction of Valenzona for violation of Presidential Decree No. 957 or the Subdivision and Condominium Buyers’ Protective Decree (PD 957).
Valenzona was the president of ALSGRO Industrial and Development Corporation (ALSGRO), a real estate company. In 2003, ALSGRO entered into two contracts to sell with Ricardo B. Porteo for two lots in ALSGRO’s Bayfair of Margana Subdivision (subject contracts). However, upon verification with the Registry of Deeds of Muntinlupa City in 2006, Porteo discovered that the subject contracts were not registered in accordance with Section 17 of PD 957. This prompted the filing of criminal charges against Valenzona for violation of the said law.
The RTC found that ALSGRO failed to register the contracts to sell within 180 days from execution, in violation of PD 957 and its implementing rules. As ALSGRO President, Valenzona was found by the RTC criminally liable for the violation. This was affirmed by the CA, hence the present petition.
In granting Valenzona’s petition, the Court first stressed the importance, in the definition of every crime, of designating the offender upon whom the penalty is to be inflicted. For crimes committed by a corporation, the Court reiterated that the responsible officers personally bear the criminal liability since a corporation, as an artificial being created by fiction of law, can only act through its officers and agents.
In the present case, the crime charged is violation of Section 17 of PD 957, which states that contracts to sell involving subdivision lots and condominium units must be registered with the Office of the Register of Deeds of the province or city where the property is located. Section 25 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law further provides the period for registration, which is within 180 days from execution of the contract.
For the violation, Valenzona was the one specifically charged because he was the President of ALSGRO. However, the Court found that it has been established that the function to register contracts entered into by ALSGRO lies not with Valenzona, but with the ALSGRO’s Marketing, Documentations, and Processing Department.
The Court further rejected the prosecution’s counterargument that mere non-registration constitutes the offense given the nature of PD 957 as a special law and thus, defenses of good faith and lack of criminal intent should not be considered.
The Court clarified that while jurisprudence has recognized that a violation of PD 957 is regarded as malum prohibitum, or such offenses which are prohibited regardless of the person’s intent, the prosecution nevertheless still needs to show that the prohibited act was done intentionally by the accused.
The Court thus proceeded to distinguish between ‘intent to commit the crime’ and ‘intent to perpetrate the act’: “[W]hile a person may not have consciously intended to commit a crime regarded as malum prohibitum, he or she may still be held liable if he or she did intend to commit an act that is, by the very nature of things, the crime itself. Thus, for acts that are mala prohibita, the intent to perpetrate the prohibited act under the special law must nevertheless be shown.”
“While volition or voluntariness refers to knowledge of the act being done (as opposed to knowledge of the nature of the act), criminal intent is the state of mind that goes beyond voluntariness, and it is this intent which is punished by crimes mala in se,” held the Court.
Thus, for crimes mala in se, there must be proof of criminal intent, while for crimes mala prohibita, it is sufficient that the prohibited act is done freely and consciously, provided that it is established that the accused had the volition or intent to commit the prohibited act.
Applying this to Valenzona, the Court found that the evidence was insufficient to prove Valenzona’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt as all that was established was that the subject contracts were not registered by ALSGRO and that Valenzona was ALSGRO’s President.
“To hold Valenzona criminally liable, it must also be established that he had the volition or intent to not register or [to] cause the non-registration of the subject contracts,” which the prosecution failed to do, held the Court.
The Court added that it cannot simply rely on the bare findings of a violation of PD 957 committed by ALSGRO, and that Valenzona was the corporation’s president.
“The Court must be satisfied that the nexus between Valenzona’s position in the corporation, and the commission of the offense with which he was charged, has been shown. If such nexus is not required for purposes of conviction, and the mere pretext that a violation of PD 957 is malum prohibitum is deemed sufficient, then the President (or Manager or Administrator) of every corporation engaged in the real estate business covered by the law automatically becomes criminally liable for every violation of PD 957 committed by such corporation,” the Court ruled, stressing that such is an absurd interpretation of the law.
The Court thus reversed and set aside the rulings of the CA and the RTC, acquitting Valenzona. (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
Full text of G.R. No. 248584 (Valenzona v. People) at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/248584-the-people-of-the-philippines-vs-felix-g-valenzona/