We shall discuss public authority in criminal law and their role in the appreciation of the aggravating circumstance of contempt or insult to public authority. We, the people, make up a country. We have different ideas, hopes, and plans for our lives. We have a lot of different cultures, from Batanes to Sulu. Still, if there’s one time we all act the same, it’s during elections.
During this time, we, the voters, use the power we have to choose the people who will lead us and work for our goals and ideals, both for ourselves and for the country as a whole. The people we put in charge of the public are the public authorities.
In addition, through the power of appointment by the appointing authority, individuals are placed in a public office to discharge public function.
As a public authority, he or she bears the burden of responsibilities as a public official. Such an individual has a variety of duties and functions in our society. They have jurisdiction and the authority to govern and enforce laws, which is why we hold them in the highest regard because they perform public service for the people.
The Revised Penal Code recognizes that public officials are entitled to respect under the imprimatur of the law, which is why one of the aggravating circumstances provides a provision against contempt or insult to public authorities.
Yet, the term public authority as used in Article 14 Paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code has a technical meaning, as explained by jurisprudence. Thus, not all public officials are public authorities.
The Law | Public Authority in Criminal Law – Art. 14 Par. 2, Revised Penal Code
Revised Penal Code provides that one of the aggravating circumstances is: that the crime be committed in contempt of or with insult to the public authorities.1
Accordingly, for the said provision to be applicable, it needs the following requisites to be present:
(1) public authority is engaged in the exercise of his functions;
(2) he who is thus engaged in the exercise of said functions is not the person against whom the crime is committed;
(3) the offender knows him to be a public authority; and
(4) his presence has not prevented the offender from committing the criminal act.
Under the first criterion, it is stated that the public authority is performing his or her duties as such. This clause cannot be implemented if the said public authority was not in the performance of his or her duties at the time the offense was committed.
For this purposes, it should be understood that a public authority—is sometimes also called a person in authority—is a public officer who is directly vested with jurisdiction, that is, a public officer who has the power to govern and execute the laws.2 That said, individuals such as governors, vice-governors, mayors, vice-mayors, councilors, etc. are individuals who are recognized by law as public authority. In addition, the barangay captain and barangay chairman are also persons in authority.3
The law also states that if a crime is committed in the presence of a chief of police, this aggravating circumstance is not applicable because such an individual is only an agent of the person in authority.4 In this case, the provision cannot be utilized because it only applies to persons of authority.
Nevertheless, it has been clarified that the chief of police is a person in authority since he is vested with jurisdiction to maintain peace and order and even to prosecute the offenders.5
Anent the second requisite, he who is, thus, engaged in the performance of said functions is not the person against whom the crime is committed. The requirement is clear. The person in authority present at the time of the commission of the crime is not the one to whom the the criminal act is directed. As a result, if the felony is committed against a person in authority himself, the offender commits the crime of direct assault.6
In the third requisite, the offender recognizes him as a public authority. It is critical that the person committing the crime understands that the person present while the criminal act is being committed, is a public authority.
The offender’s lack of awareness constitutes a lack of intent to insult public authority. As a result, if A killed B in the presence of the town mayor, but A was unaware of the mayor’s presence, this aggravating circumstance should not be considered against A.7
In the final requirement, the public authority’s presence did not prevent the offender from committing the crime. This is one of the essential requisites. It is the reason why the said act would have this aggravating circumstance since the malefactor continued to commit the criminal act despite the presence of the public authority.
Consequently, the offender having been aware that a public authority was present, he still continued to commit the crime. In insulting the person in authority, he demonstrates contempt and perversity towards that public authority.
Why is it an aggravating circumstance?
It should be noted that a crime committed in contempt of or with insult to public authorities is an aggravating circumstance because this is based on the offender’s greater perversity, as demonstrated by his lack of respect for public authorities.8 This means he has no regrets about his actions while committing the crime.
Despite the presence of a public authority, the offender chose to continue with the criminal act. This demonstrates a disregard and disrespect for those individuals who were directly vested with jurisdiction. Nonetheless, it should also be noted that all of the prerequisites must be present. If one is missing, the aggravating circumstance will not be appreciated.
It should be highlighted that the law contemplates individuals who hold positions of responsibility i. e. public authorities who are directly vested with jurisdiction.
Teachers, professors, and those in charge of supervising public or properly recognized private schools, colleges, and universities are considered persons in authority9 only for the purpose of applying Articles 148 and 152 of the Revised Penal Code. Yet, as regards the application of Article 14 Paragraph 2, it cannot appreciated as an aggravating circumstance against offender who perpetrate a criminal act in their presence.
What has been decided?
In the case of The United States vs. Manuel Rodriguez, et al.10 the Supreme Court held that:
“if the crime was committed with contempt of and insult to the public authorities, those authorities must have been the public authorities of Davao. But the persons exercising that authority were the very persons against whom, among others, the crime charged in this action was being committed.”11
In this case, the crime committed was against the public authorities. Hence, such act constitutes as a direct assault. The Court held that par. 2 of Art. 14 of the Revised Penal Code cannot be applied, and there being no other aggravating circumstances, the penalty that was imposed is in its medium degree.
On the other hand, in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Mariano Tenorio,12 the High Tribunal ruled that:
A public peace rally was going on at the place where the defendant stabbed Attorney Maximino Bello. Many people were present. Among the public authorities present were Acting Provincial Governor Manuel Villanueva, Mayor Isidoro Querubin of Caoayan, Judge Antonio Quirino and Municipal Secretary Benjamin Quindipan. All these were seated on an elevated stage easily seen or viewable by the public. The place of the rally and of the crime was a public plaza, directly opposite the municipal building of Caoayan. The defendant’s denial that public authorities were there present cannot be accepted.13
The Supreme Court recognized the aggravating circumstance of contempt or insult to public authorities in this case. The Court accepted the presence of public officials such as the acting Provincial Governor, Mayor, Judge, and Municipal Secretary in the commission of the crime to justify the appreciation of such aggravating circumstance.
The accused’s defense was that no insult or contempt was intended. the Court rejected accused’s denial since the criminal act was made in a public place where public officials could be seen and viewed by the public. While the aggravating circumstance was acknowledged, it was offset by two mitigating circumstances: a guilty plea and voluntary surrender, and the penalty of murder was imposed in its medium period.
Aggravating circumstances are those that increase the offender’s criminal liability. One of these is the crime being committed in contempt of, or with insult to, the public authorities. The reason is simply that it reveals the offender’s greater perversity in committing the offense, as evidenced by his lack of respect for public authorities. This aggravating circumstance must contain the four (4) elements above in order to be properly appreciated.
Public authorities are people who have official and public responsibilities. They have specific duties and functions to perform, and as a result, they have a specific official position in our government. Crime committed in their presence, particularly while performing their function and knowing their presence as such, is considered aggravating because it demonstrates the offender’s disrespect for those public authorities. It shows the actor’s contempt for those with jurisdiction and official authority.
- Article 14, Paragraph 2, Revised Penal Code
- Page 341, Revised Penal Code: Criminal Law: Book 1, by Luis B. Reyes
- Article 152, Revised Penal Code, as amended by P.D. No. 1232, Nov. 7, 1977
- People vs. Siojo, G.R. No. L-41746 March 27, 1935
- People vs. Rodil, G.R. No. L-35156, November 20, 1981; cited in Criminal Law Conspectus, Florenz D. Regalado, 1st Edition, 2000, p. 75
- Article 148, Revised Penal Code
- Page 342, Revised Penal Code: Criminal Law: Book 1, by Luis B. Reyes
- Page 340, Ibid.
- Commonwealth Act No. 578, now part of Article 152, Revised Penal Code, as amended by Rep. Act No. 1978
- G.R. No. L-6344, March 21, 1911
- G.R. No. L-15478, March 30, 1962