In this article, we shall discuss the three fold rule in service of sentence. In layman’s perspective, when they hear that the accused has to serve a penalty of lifetime imprisonment or reclusion perpetua [habambuhay na pagkakakulong], the first thing that will come to their mind is that the accused will be imprisoned, for the rest of his life, with no chance of seeing the sun again, or until the he died.
Nonetheless, in the lens of a lawyer, law student, or those who have a surface knowledge of the law, they have basic knowledge that no person shall be imprisoned nor the penalty shall exceed 40 years of imprisonment – that the term “perpetua” and “lifetime” shall not be interpreted in its literal meaning.
But what if the accused let’s say, committed three counts of murder, and was found guilty by the judge, sentencing him reclusion perpetua for each count (20 years and 1 day to 40 years), does this mean that the accused will have to serve a minimum of 60 years and 3 days up to 120 years as maximum, or it’s still 40 years as maximum years of imprisonment?
Three Fold Rule in Service of Sentence
Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code provides that:
Article 70: Successive service of sentence. – When the culprit has to serve two or more penalties, he shall serve them simultaneously if the nature of the penalties will so permit otherwise, the following rules shall be observed:1
In the imposition of the penalties, the order of their respective severity shall be followed so that they may be executed successively or as nearly as may be possible, should a pardon have been granted as to the penalty or penalties first imposed, or should they have been served out.2
For the purpose of applying the provisions of the next preceding paragraph the respective severity of the penalties shall be determined in accordance with the following scale:3
- Reclusion perpetua,5
- Reclusion temporal,6
- Prision mayor,7
- Prision correccional,8
- Arresto mayor,9
- Arresto menor,10
- Perpetual absolute disqualification,12
- Temporal absolute disqualification,13
- Suspension from public office, the right to vote and be voted for, the right to follow a profession or calling, and14
- Public censure.15
Notwithstanding the provisions of the rule next preceding, the maximum duration of the convict’s sentence shall not be more than three-fold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him. No other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the same maximum period.16
Such maximum period shall in no case exceed forty years.17
In applying the provisions of this rule the duration of perpetual penalties (pena perpetua) shall be computed at thirty years. (As amended).18
How does this rule apply?
Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code speaks about the rule with regard to serving multiple penalties. Hence, this provision is only applicable if the accused is serving a minimum of two penalties.
If the accused, let’s say, only have to serve one penalty, which is reclusion perpetua, then this particular provision finds no application because no other sentence needs to be served, either simultaneously or successively.
There are certain rules in this provision. Such rules are:
- Multiple penalties should be served in order based on their severity. For example: if the accused was sentenced of reclusion perpetua, aresto mayor, prision correccional, the order of serving the penalties shall be: First, reclusion perpetua, being the most severe among the three penalties, followed by prision correccional, and lastly by aresto mayor.
- The accused should serve multiple penalties simultaneously if the nature of the penalties permits simultaneous service of sentence. Simultaneously means that the two or more penalties can be served at the same time.
- If the above rule is inapplicable, then the penalties should be served successively. Successively means the service of the next penalties will not commence until the end of the first one.
Example of penalties that can be served simultaneously with imprisonment: disqualification from public office, civil interdiction, public censure, etc.
What is the three fold rule ?
The fourth paragraph of Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code talks about the three fold rule.
Three fold rule means that the maximum duration of the convict’s sentence shall not be more than three times the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him. Such a rule applies only when the convict has to serve at least four sentences19
For example: the accused is sentenced for four (4) felonies committed with respective incarcerations such as 12 years of imprisonment, 20 years of imprisonment, 10 years of imprisonment, and 14 years of imprisonment, a total of 56 years of imprisonment.
The most severe of those penalties is 20 years. Three times that penalty is 60 years. Since Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code prohibits imprisonment of not more than 40 years, the accused will only serve 40 years.
Yet, if the accused was sentenced to 1 year of imprisonment, 2 years of imprisonment, 4 years of imprisonment, and 6 years of imprisonment, a total of 13 years, the three fold rule will not apply.
In this case, if we multiply the most severe penalty by 3, we will get 18 years. Since the sum total of all the penalties is only 13, which does not exceed 18 years, such a rule will not apply.
In the case of Bagtas vs. Director of Prisons,G.R. No. L-3215, October 06, 1949(()) herein petitioner contends that the subsidiary imprisonment should be eliminated because article 70 provides that “no other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the said maximum period”, the Court ruled that:
“We hold that the correct rule is to multiply the highest principal penalty by 3 and the result will be the aggregate principal penalty which the prisoner has to serve, plus the payment of all the indemnities which he has been sentenced to pay, with or without subsidiary imprisonment depending upon whether or not the principal penalty exceeds 6 years.20
“Applying that rule to the instant case, we find that the maximum duration of the principal penalty which the herein petitioner has to serve under his conviction in the 17 cases in question is threefold of 6 months and 1 day, or 18 months and 3 days, it being understood that he shall be required to pay to the offended parties the indemnities aggregating P43,436.45, with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency which shall not exceed one third of the principal penalty.21
“Assuming that the petitioner will not be able to pay the indemnify, the maximum duration of his imprisonment shall be 18 months and 1 day of subsidiary imprisonment, or a total of 2 years and 4 days.”22
“Considering that accused-appellant was convicted of 14 counts of qualified theft with the corresponding 14 prison sentences, Article 70 of the RPC on successive service of sentences will be observed.24
“Applying said article, despite the 14 counts of qualified theft with corresponding prison sentence for each count, the maximum duration of accused-appellant’s sentence shall not be more than three-fold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon her, and the maximum period shall in no case exceed forty years.25
“However, it must be emphasized that the application of Article 70 of the RPC should not yet to be taken into account in the court’s imposition of the appropriate penalty. Article 70 speaks of “service” of sentence, “duration” of penalty and penalty “to be inflicted.”26
“Nowhere in the article is anything mentioned about the “imposition of penalty.” It merely provides that the prisoner cannot be made to serve more than three times the most severe of these penalties the maximum of which is forty years.27
“Thus, courts should still impose as many penalties as there are separate and distinct offenses committed, since for every individual crime committed, a corresponding penalty is prescribed by law. Each single crime is an outrage against the State for which the latter, thru the courts of justice, has the power to impose the appropriate penal sanctions”28
Meanwhile, in the case of People vs. Mirto,29 herein accused was convicted of four counts of Qualified Theft, with penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count. The Court ruled that:
“In fine, considering that accused-appellant is convicted of four (4) counts of Qualified Theft with corresponding four penalties of reclusion perpetua, Art. 70 of the RPC on successive service of sentences shall apply.30
“Art. 70 pertinently provides that “the maximum duration of the convict’s sentence shall not be more than threefold the length of time corresponding to the most severe of the penalties imposed upon him.31
“No other penalty to which he may be liable shall be inflicted after the sum total of those imposed equals the said maximum period. Such maximum period shall in no case exceed forty years.” Applying said rule, despite the four penalties of reclusion perpetua for four counts of Qualified Theft, accused-appellant shall suffer imprisonment for a period not exceeding 40 years.”32
Article 70 of the Revised Penal Code provides different rules with regard to serving multiple penalties. Such provision is only applicable if the accused has to serve multiple penalties. Such penalties shall be served in order based on its severity.
As a general rule, the penalties shall be served simultaneously, if the nature of the penalties permit. Otherwise, it shall be served successively. It also sets a limit to the maximum imprisonment of the accused to 40 years.
Whether this particular provision unduly favors the accused, as he will only be deprived of liberty for a maximum of 40 years even if he committed multiple grave crimes, is best left to the discretion of the legislative branch of the government.
- Article 70, Revised Penal Code
- Reyes, Revised Penal Code, Book 1, 2020
- G.R. No. 237982, October 14, 2020
- G.R. No. 193479, October 19, 2011