Criminal Law, Election Law

Garcia v. Court of Appeals G.R. No. 157171 March 14, 2006 Criminal Intent, Mala In Se, Mala Prohibita

FACTS: 

An information was filed in the RTC of Alaminos, charging Herminio R. Romero, Renato R. Viray, Rachel Palisoc and Francisca de Vera, and petitioner, with violation of Section 27(b) of R.A. No. 6646, or “The Electoral Reforms Law of 1987”, for conspiring with, confederating together and mutually helping each other, did, then and there, willfully, and unlawfully decrease[d] the votes received by senatorial candidate Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. from 6,998 votes, to 1,921 votes as reflected in the Statement of Votes by Precincts and Certificate of Canvass, with a difference of five thousand seventy-seven (5,077) votes.

The RTC acquitted all the accused for insufficiency of evidence, except petitioner who was convicted thereof.

Petitioner appealed before the Court of Appeals which affirmed with modification the RTC Decision

The Court of Appeals likewise denied the motion for reconsideration. Hence, this appeal.

ISSUE: 

Whether or not a violation of Section 27(b) of Rep. Act No. 6646, classified under mala in se or mala prohibita

RULING: 

Generally, mala in se felonies are defined and penalized in the Revised Penal Code. When the acts complained of are inherently immoral, they are deemed mala in se, even if they are punished by a special law.

Accordingly, criminal intent must be clearly established with the other elements of the crime; otherwise, no crime is committed. 

On the other hand, in crimes that are mala prohibita, the criminal acts are not inherently immoral but become punishable only because the law says they are forbidden. With these crimes, the sole issue is whether the law has been violated.

Criminal intent is not necessary where the acts are prohibited for reasons of public policy.

Section 27(b) of Republic Act No. 6646provides:

SEC. 27. Election Offenses.– In addition to the prohibited acts and election offenses enumerated in Sections 261 and 262 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, as amended, the following shall be guilty of an election offense:

x x x

(b) Any member of the board of election inspectors or board of canvassers who tampers, increases, or decreases the votes received by a candidate in any election or any member of the board who refuses, after proper verification and hearing, to credit the correct votes or deduct such tampered votes.

x x x

Clearly, the acts prohibited in Section 27(b) are mala in se.

For otherwise, even errors and mistakes committed due to overwork and fatigue would be punishable. Given the volume of votes to be counted and canvassed within a limited amount of time, errors and miscalculations are bound to happen. 

And it could not be the intent of the law to punish unintentional election canvass errors. However, intentionally increasing or decreasing the number of votes received by a candidate is inherently immoral, since it is done with malice and intent to injure another.

Criminal intent is presumed to exist on the part of the person who executes an act which the law punishes, unless the contrary shall appear. Thus, whoever invokes good faith as a defense has the burden of proving its existence.

The grand total of the votes for private complainant, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, was only 1,921 instead of 6,921, or 5,000 votes less than the number of votes private complainant actually received. 

During trial of this case, petitioner admitted that she was indeed the one who announced the figure of 1,921, which was subsequently entered by then accused Viray in his capacity as secretary of the board. Petitioner likewise admitted that she was the one who prepared the Certificate of Canvass, though it was not her duty. To our mind, preparing the COC even if it was not her task, manifests an intention to perpetuate the erroneous entry in the COC.

The fact that the number of votes deducted from the actual votes received by private complainant, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. was not added to any senatorial candidate does not relieve petitioner of liability under Section 27(b) of Rep. Act No. 6646. The mere decreasing of the votes received by a candidate in an election is already punishable under the said provision.

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