Penal laws are those Statutes which prohibit acts or omissions and establish penalties for their violations. Penal laws are enacted by the legislature pursuant to the police power of the State to promulgate laws for the preservation of public order, morals, and the promotion of the general welfare.
The enactment of penal statute is a legislative function. An act or omission is not punishable unless the legislature provides for their penalty through a law.
One of the principles of criminal law is Nullum crimen sine lege. It states that there is no crime if there is no law punishing it.
There are two classifications of penal laws, namely the Revised Penal Code which defines and penalizes felonies and the Special Penal Law categorizing certain acts or omission as crimes.
The Revised Penal Code is the general repository of our criminal laws, hence, a codified law punishing certain offenses.
On the other hand, the penal statutes enacted, which the State through its legislative branch, that are not amendments of the Revised Penal Code, are called Special Penal Laws.
Do certain provisions of the Revised Penal Code apply in Special Laws? How and why?
Article 10 of the Philippine Revised Penal Code1 [RPC] provides:
“Article 10. Offenses Not Subject to the Provisions of this Code. — Offenses which are or in the future may be punishable under special laws are not subject to the provisions of this Code. This Code shall be supplementary to such laws, unless the latter should specially provide the contrary.”2
The general rule is that the provisions of the Revised Penal Code are not applicable if the offense is punishable under Special Laws, save for instance in a suppletorily character or unless the latter allow it.
However, this is subject to certain exceptions. There are two instances where the provisions under the revised penal code will apply to an offense punishable under special law.
First, if there is an express provision under special law stating that the provision under the revised penal code is applicable.
An example of this is Section 98 of the Republic Act [RA] No. 91653 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which provides that:
“Section 98. Limited Applicability of the Revised Penal Code. — Notwithstanding any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, the provisions of the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3814), as amended, shall not apply to the provisions of this Act, except in the case of minor offenders. Where the offender is a minor, the penalty for acts punishable by life imprisonment to death provided herein shall be reclusion perpetua to death.”4 [Emphasis supplied]
This special law expressly provides that the provision of the revised penal code is not applicable to crimes involving dangerous drugs except when the offender is a minor. That means that the provision of the revised penal code will only apply if the offender is a minor as expressly stipulated.
Another is Section 52 of the Republic Act No. 93725 or the Human Security Act of 2007 [this has been repealed, however, by RA No. 117496] which states that:
“Section 52. Applicability of the Revised Penal Code. – The provisions of Book I of the Revised Penal Code shall be applicable to this Act.”7
This special law expressly provides that the provisions of the Revised Penal Code are applicable to those acts or offenses involving terrorism.
The Second instance is the supplementary application or the suppletory effect of the Revised Penal Code to Special Laws.
In one of the decided cases of the Supreme Court,8 the latter applied the principle of conspiracy provided under Article 8 of the Revised Penal Code in suppletory character to violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 or the Bouncing Checks law. However, the accused here has been acquitted since conspiracy has not been proven.
The supplementary application is only applicable if there is no rule or provision under the special law to resolve the issue of the case. That is the only time the provision of the revised penal code can be applied suppletorily.
What is the difference between intent to commit a crime and intent to perpetrate the act?
In the intent to commit the crime, there must be criminal intent [mens rea] whereas in the intent to perpetrate the act, it is enough that the prohibited act is done freely and consciously. In crimes punishable under special penal law, intent to commit a crime is not necessary.
It was discussed in the case of Dela Cruz vs. People of the Philippines9 in which the Supreme Court held that:
“When the crime is punished by a special law, as a rule, intent to commit the crime is not necessary. It is sufficient that the offender has the intent to perpetrate the act prohibited by the special law.10
“Intent to commit the crime and intent to perpetrate the act must be distinguished. A person may not have consciously intended to commit a crime; but he did intend to commit an act, and that act is, by the very nature of things, the crime itself.11
“In the first (intent to commit the crime), there must be criminal intent; in the second (intent to perpetrate the act) it is enough that the prohibited act is done freely and consciously.”12
Can the nomenclature of penalties under the Revised Penal Code be used in Special Laws?
Cite examples and why do you think some Special Penal Laws have adopted the nomenclature of penalties under the RPC? The nomenclature of penalties under the Revised Penal Code can be used in Special Laws if there is an express provision under the latter stating that the nomenclature of penalties under the RPC is applicable.
As mentioned above, Section 52 of Republic Act No. 937213 or the Human Security Act of 2007 expressly provides that the provisions of the Revised Penal Code are applicable to those acts or offenses involving terrorism.
It, thus, includes the applicability of the nomenclature of penalties under the Revise Penal Code in penalizing crimes under RA No. 9372, even if it is a Special Penal Law.
The intention of the Special Law to adopt the penal system under the Revised Penal Code is for the reason that the Court may consider the modifying circumstances and stages of the execution of the crime in which the imposition of penalty may be lowered.
Conversely, if there will be aggravating circumstances, the Court may also take them into account in the imposition of proper penalties.
What is mala in se?
Mala in se crimes are those acts that are inherently evil or wrongful in itself. The crimes penalized under the Revised Penal Code like Rape, Murder, Theft, Homicide, Robbery, etc. are called mala in se.
They are wrongful in their nature. In acts mala in se, good faith or lack of criminal intent is a valid defense. In mala in se the prosecution must prove the evil intent [criminal intent or mens rea] of the offender to commit a crime.
The Court in imposing the proper penalties for the commission of mala in se crimes, in general, are:
- Modifying circumstances such as mitigating and aggravating circumstances
- The degree of the participation of the offender in the commission of a crime whether he is a principal, accomplice or accessory
- The stage of execution of commission of the crime whether it is consummated, frustrated and attempted
What is mala prohibita?
Mala prohibita offenses are those acts that are not inherently evil or wrong. They are only wrong because there are laws that punishes the said act or because they are merely prohibited by law.
The crimes penalized under special laws are called mala prohibita like Republic Act No. 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Republic Act No. 9262 or the Illegal Possession of Firearms, etc.
In mala prohibita, the prosecution must prove the intent to perpetrate the act. That is, the offender did intend to commit an act and said act by the very nature of things are prohibited by law.
In these crimes, no criminal intent is needed for the offender to be held liable for the commission of the crime. It is sufficient that a Special Penal Law has been violated, regardless of the motive or criminal intention of the offender.
In acts mala prohibita, modifying circumstances such as mitigating and aggravating circumstances are not considered by the court in the imposition of penalty, unless the said special penal law provide otherwise.
In the same manner, the degree of participation of the offender is not taken into account by the court. All perpetrators of the crime are criminally liable, and there is no principal, accessory or accomplice.
The stage of the execution of the crime that is considered is only the consummated stage; there are no attempted and frustrated stages since what is being punished is the actual commission of the prohibited or punishable act.
What is moral turpitude?
In the case of Dela Torre vs. Comelec,14 the Court applies the Black’s Law Dictionary’s definition of “moral turpitude” as:
“an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and woman or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.”15
The case of Zari vs. Flores,16 list down crimes involving moral turpitude such as adultery, concubinage, rape, arson, evasion of income tax, bigamy, bribery, extortion etc. The inherent nature of crimes involving moral turpitude are said to be as those against good morals and rule of conduct.
“Moral turpitude has been defined as including any act done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty or good morals.17
“Some of the particular crimes which have been held to involve moral turpitude are adultery, concubinage, rape, arson, evasion of income tax, barratry, bigamy, blackmail, bribery, criminal conspiracy to smuggle opium, dueling, embezzlement, extortion, forgery, libel, making fraudulent proof of loss on insurance contract, murder, mutilation of public records, fabrication of evidence, offenses against pension laws, perjury, seduction under promise of marriage, estafa, falsification of public document, estafa thru falsification of public document.18
Discuss mala in se and mala prohibita in relation to moral turpitude.
Not every criminal act involves moral turpitude. As a general rule, crimes mala in se involve moral turpitude, while crimes mala prohibita do not.
In the case of Zari vs. Flores,19 the court held that:
“It (moral turpitude) implies something immoral in itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law or not. It must not be merely mala prohibita, but the act itself must be inherently immoral. The doing of the act itself, and not its prohibition by statute fixes the moral turpitude. Moral turpitude does not, however, include such acts as are not of themselves immoral but whose illegality lies in their being positively prohibited.’’20
Is criminal intent material in crimes mala in se?
In crimes mala in se, good faith or lack of criminal intent is a valid defense. In these crimes the prosecution must prove the evil intent of the offender to commit a crime because these crimes are inherently evil or wrongful from their very nature.
Is criminal intent material in crimes mala prohibita?
Criminal intent is not a material in crimes mala prohibita. In these crimes, no criminal intent is needed for the offender to be held liable for the commission of the crime. It is sufficient that a special law was violated regardless of the motive or intention of the offender.
Are there felonies under the Revised Penal Code which are considered mala prohibita?
This can be responded to in an affirmative manner. While generally and for the most felonies under the RPC, they are considered mala in se or evil by its nature, there felonies incorporated in the said code that can be considered mala prohibita.
One instance is the felony of Technical Malversation, defined and penalized under Article 220 of the RPC. According to one case21 decided by the Supreme Court, it explained that:
“But criminal intent is not an element of technical malversation. The law punishes the act of diverting public property earmarked by law or ordinance for a particular public purpose to another public purpose.22
“The offense is mala prohibita, meaning that the prohibited act is not inherently immoral but becomes a criminal offense because positive law forbids its commission based on considerations of public policy, order, and convenience.23
“It is the commission of an act as defined by the law, and not the character or effect thereof, that determines whether or not the provision has been violated. Hence, malice or criminal intent is completely irrelevant.”24
Is the crime of plunder a mala prohibita crime?
Plunder is not a mala prohibita crime. In the case of Estrada vs. Sandiganbayan,25 the Supreme Court ruled that:
“The legislative declaration in R.A. No. 7659 that plunder is a heinous offense implies that it is a malum in se. For when the acts punished are inherently immoral or inherently wrong, they are mala in se and it does not matter that such acts are punished in a special law, especially since in the case of plunder the predicate crimes are mainly mala in se.26
“Indeed, it would be absurd to treat prosecutions for plunder as though they are mere prosecutions for violations of the Bouncing Check Law (B.P. Blg. 22) or of an ordinance against jaywalking, without regard to the inherent wrongness of the acts.”27
It was held that the acts enumerated in Section 1(d) of R.A. 7080 are mostly defined and penalized by the Revised Penal Code, e.g. malversation, estafa, bribery and other crimes committed by public officers.
As such, they are by nature mala in se crimes. Since intent is an essential element of these crimes, then, with more reason that criminal intent be established in plunder which, under R.A. No. 7659, is one of the heinous crimes as pronounced in one of its whereas clauses.
How are special penal laws interpreted?
Under the law, when the law is clear and free from any doubt or ambiguity there is no room for interpretation, there is only room for application. Special Penal Law which is clear and free from ambiguity, must be given its literal meaning and shall be apply accordingly.
What are the periods of prescription for crimes punished by Special Laws [Act No. 3326]?
Sections 1 and 2 of Act No. 3326,28 otherwise known as An act to establish periods of prescriptions for violations penalized by special acts and municipal ordinances and to provide when prescription shall begin to run provides that:
“Section 1. Violations penalized by special acts shall, unless otherwise provided in such acts, prescribe in accordance with the following rules:29
- after a year for offenses punished only by a fine or by imprisonment for not more than one month, or both;30
- after four years for those punished by imprisonment for more than one month, but less than two years;
- after eight years for those punished by imprisonment for two years or more, but less than six years;31 and
- after twelve years for any other offense punished by imprisonment for six years or more, except the crime of treason, which shall prescribe after twenty years. Violations penalized by municipal ordinances shall prescribe after two months.32
“Section 2. Prescription shall begin to run from the day of the commission of the violation of the law, and if the same be not known at the time, from the discovery thereof and the institution of judicial proceeding for its investigation and punishment.33
“The prescription shall be interrupted when proceedings are instituted against the guilty person, and shall begin to run again if the proceedings are dismissed for reasons not constituting jeopardy.”34
Are the felonies under the Revised Penal Code always mala in se crime?
Felonies under the RPC are not always mala in se crime. As previously discussed, Mala in se are those acts that are inherently evil or wrongful. They are wrongful from their very nature.
Given that crimes under the Revised Penal Code requires the criminal intent of the offender these may not be considered as mala prohibita because they are inherently evil and not merely prohibited by law.
However, as mentioned, the felony of Technical Malversation [Art. 220, RPC] is one instance of mala prohibita crime that is punished under the RPC.
Are the crimes punished by Special Penal Laws always mala prohibita crimes?
Crimes punished by Special Penal laws are not always mala prohibita. The crime of Plunder, even though punished by special penal law under Republic Act No. 7080 is not a mala prohibita crime.
In the case of Estrada vs. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. 148560, November 19, 2001,35 the Supreme Court ruled that the crime of plunder is a heinous offense hence it is a crime mala in se.
In the Case of People vs Moran,36 the Supreme Court stressed that Penal laws may be applied retroactively in favor of the accused and it is not necessary that it is expressly stipulated in the statute. As discussed by the Court:
“The general rule that penal laws shall be retroactive in so far as they favor the accused has no application where the later law is expressly made inapplicable to pending actions or existing cause of action,” which clearly means that in order for a penal statute favorable to the accused to have a retroactive effect, it is not necessary that it be so expressly provided in the statues, or, to put it in another way, that the provision declaring the retroactivity be repeated therein, but that if the Legislature intends it not to have a retroactive effect, it should expressly so state in the same statute.37
“And the reason for it is obvious. For it being the general rule, according to article 22 of the Penal Code, that penal laws have retroactive effect in so far as they favor the accused, said general rule applies to all laws that may be enacted in the future, and if the Legislature intends to make an exception to the said rule, it should expressly say so.”38
A violation of a Special Law can never absorb a crime punishable under the Revised Penal Code. In the case of People vs. Rodriguez,39 it was held that the use of firearms is an element of rebellion, so a rebel cannot be further prosecuted for illegal possession of firearms. As explained by the Court:
“While it is true that in the crime of rebellion there is no allegation that the firearm in question is one of those used in carrying on the, rebellion in that the same was borne by the accused without a license, the same would lot [“not”, sic] make the present charge different from the one included in the crime of rebellion, for it appears front the record that one of the firearms used in furtherance thereof is the same pistol with which the accused is now charged.40
“In fact, that pistol was presented in the rebellion case as evidence. Nor is the fact that there is no allegation in the rebellion case that the carrying of the firearm by the accused was without license of any consequence, for it can be safely assumed that it was so not only because the accused was a dissident but because the firearm was confiscated from his possession.”41
A lot of good special penal laws have been passed by the legislature, penalizing acts like illegal possession of firearms, illegal possession and trafficking of illegal drugs, money laundering, and a lot more.
These laws have helped in maintaining peace and order in our country. The ways crimes are committed evolve, and has been evolving, overtime, especially during this generation where technology has been a big influence on how human beings live and exist in this new age society.
There are a lot of laws penalizing crimes. Nevertheless, the question is that: are these laws properly executed or enforced?
No matter how good a law is, if it is not properly or effectively enforced, the efforts of our legislature in enacting these statutes will be wasted.
It is the duty of the State to protect its people. With the help of these penal laws, the security and safety of the people must be ensured and protected.
- Revised Penal Code of the Philippines[↩]
- Ibid., Article 10, RPC[↩]
- Section 98, RA No. 9165[↩]
- RA No. 9372[↩]
- Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020[↩]
- Ibid. RA No. 9372[↩]
- People vs. Ladonga, G.R. No. 141066, February 17, 2005[↩]
- G.R. No. 209387, January 11, 2016[↩]
- G.R. No. 121592 July 5, 1996[↩]
- A.M. No. (2170-MC) P-1356, November 21, 1979[↩]
- Ysidro vs. People, G.R. No. 192330, November 14, 2012[↩]
- G.R. No. 148560. November 19, 2001[↩]
- Act. No. 3326[↩]
- G.R. No. L-17905, January 27, 1923[↩]
- G.R. No. L-13981, April 25, 1960[↩]