Who are Principals to a Crime | Revised Penal Code
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Who are Principals to a Crime? Under the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, principals to a crime are those who participate directly or indirectly in its commission.

They are classified into three categories:

(1) Principal by direct participation – those who directly execute the criminal act;

(2) Principal by inducement – those who induce others to commit the crime;

(3) Principal by indispensable cooperation – those who cooperate in the commission of the offense by performing acts without which the crime would not have been accomplished.

All principals are equally liable, regardless of the level of their participation. However, their penalties may vary based on their individual roles in the crime.

Who are Principals to a Crime | Why are they Considered as such

Principals are considered as such to ensure that all individuals involved in the planning, execution, and accomplishment of a criminal act are held accountable for their actions. This principle promotes the concept of shared responsibility and deters potential malefactors from facilitating criminal activities. By recognizing both direct and indirect involvement, the law aims to maintain a fair and just approach to addressing criminal conduct in the Philippines.

They are treated as principals to a crime because they actively contribute to the criminal act and are therefore held accountable for their participation. Whether through direct action or inducement, their involvement in the unlawful act undermines the peace and order of society, necessitating their inclusion in the scope of criminal liability. When the State holds all participants responsible, the law aims to deter criminal behavior, thus, promoting justice and fairness in the legal system.

Sans Conspiracy, Degree of Participation

Failure to establish the existence of conspiracy in a crime gives rise to the need to identify the degree of participation of each individual who participated in the execution of the said crime. Article 17 of the Revised Penal Code provides for those who are considered “Principal” in the crime committed.

Principals. — The following are considered principals:1

  1. Those who take a direct part in the execution of the act;2
  2. Those who directly force or induce others to commit it;3
  3. Those who cooperate in the commission of the offense by another act without which it would not have been accomplished.4

Three kinds of Principals

Principal by direct participation

These are the perpetrators who took part in the criminal resolution. They are those who play a direct role in the development of the criminal design. They followed and carried out their sinister plan and individually participated in its execution through acts that directly aimed at the same goal. Thus, the elements:

  • Participating in the criminal resolution
  • Played a direct role in the creation of the criminal design
  • Carrying and executing the plan to its conclusion

The principal by direct participation is the one who executed the crime. Must be at the scene, personally taking part in its execution.  Without his act, the crime would not be realized.

Absence of any of the above will result in the findings that the accused’s is not a principal. Yet, his involvement short of becoming a principal will that be of an accomplice or accessory, as the case may be.

Principal by inducement

Principal by inducement is one who directly forces or induces others to commit a crime. The principal may or may not be present at the scene thereof. A criminal can be considered as principal by inducement when he induces, directly or indirectly, another person to commit a crime. In this case, the person who causes or persuades another to commit the crime has the same level of responsibility as if he had done the act himself.

Through convincing, persuading, inciting, or influencing another person to commit a crime, a person can become a principal by inducement. Therefore, he who encourages or instigates the commission of a crime bear legal responsibility even if he themselves did not personally commit the act.

The following situations illustrates when one convinces, persuades, instigates, or influences another individual to commit a crime, to wit:

  • By directly forcing another to commit a crime
  • By using irresistible force
  • By causing uncontrollable fear
  • By directly inducing another to commit a crime
  • By giving price, or offering reward or promise
  • By using powerful words of command

Inducement must be made with the goal of accomplishing the commission of a crime. What should be offered is the most powerful sort of inducement. Along with it, a determined endeavor to secure the commission of the crime also is the objective. Wanting such, one does not qualify as a principal by induction.

Thoughtless expressions or behaviors that have no purpose of producing the desired consequence are not deemed an act of persuading another to commit a crime. The inducement is the determining cause for which the actor executes the criminal act.

Inducing must be so influential such that the act would not have occurred in the absence of it. The executor, or the person induced, must have committed the illegal conduct purely for the benefit of the inducement and not for any other reason.

Principal by indispensable cooperation

Principal by indispensable cooperation is one who cooperated in the commission of the crime through the performance of another act (other than the execution of the crime itself) without which, the crime would not have been accomplished.

The accused took part in the criminal design. There is an active involvement by the cooperator in the execution of the punishable act. The crime would not have been carried out had it not been for the cooperator’s participation.

He must perform another act in order for the crime to be committed. The nature of the act performed must be indispensable; otherwise, the person will not be deemed a principal by indispensable collaboration, but merely an accomplice.

On the other hand, when principals in a felony are deemed conspirators, their participation as conspirators varies. They must have participated in the criminal resolution through express or inferred conspiracy. As a result of their direct participation, whether minimal or substantial, the principals are all authors of the crime.

Relevant Jurisprudence

In general, the word “induce” is broad enough to include situations in which the person doing the “inducing” has the strongest intention and most persistent effort to get the person doing the “inducing” to commit a crime, and in which the person doing the “inducing” has the strongest temptations put in front of them.

It can also include words or actions that are just the result of carelessness or lack of thought and do not have much of a “inducing” effect on their own. A random word said without thinking, a wrong understanding of a situation, an ironic phrase, or a thoughtless action can make someone think about or even decide to commit a crime, even if they weren’t already inclined to do so.

This is true even if the person who said the word or did the action did not expect it to be taken or really want it to have an effect. In that case, he would not be guilty of the crime, even though what he said was foolish and the consequences were very bad.

So, when applying the rules to real-life situations, all you need to remember is that the offer must be made directly with the goal of getting the crime done, and that the inducement must be the main reason why the crime happened.

The Court ruled that:

In the case before us, as we have seen, the accused falsely represented to the persons who actually committed the crime that he had an order from the Government requiring the death of Sariol and that they were under obligation to carry out that order.5

It is clear from the evidence that this inducement was offered by the accused directly to the persons interested with the intention of moving them to do his bidding, and that such representation was the moving cause of the fatal act.6

While it may be said, and is true, that the personal commands of the accused were entirely sufficient to produce the effects which actually resulted and that such commands may be considered the moving cause of the crime, still there is no doubt, under the evidence, that the representation that the accused had in his possession an order from the Government commanding the death of Sariol was also of material influence in effecting the death; and where two fundamental causes work together for the production of a single result and one of those causes would lead to a conviction upon one theory and the other upon another, a conviction is sustainable upon either theory.7

On another point, the explaining the nature of being a principal by indispensable cooperation, the High Court has this to say:

Neither can the appellant be considered a principal by indispensable cooperation, nor an accomplice in the crime of murder. To be a principal by indispensable cooperation, one must participate in the criminal resolution, a conspiracy or unity in criminal purpose and cooperation in the commission of the offense by performing another act without which it would not have been accomplished.8

In order that a person may be considered an accomplice, the following requisites must concur:9

(a) community of design, i.e., knowing that criminal design of the principal by direct participation, he concurs with the latter in his purpose;10

(b) he cooperates in the execution of the offense by previous or simultaneous acts; and11

(c) there must be a relation between the acts done by the principal and those attributed to the person charged as accomplice.12

The cooperation that the law punishes is the assistance knowingly or intentionally rendered, which cannot exist without previous cognizance of the criminal act intended to be executed.13

It is therefore required in order to be liable either as a principal by indispensable cooperation, or as an accomplice, that the accused must unite with the criminal design of the principal by direct participation.14

There is indeed nothing on record to show that appellant knew that Bernales was going to stab Palma, thus creating a doubt as to appellant’s criminal intent.15


The concept of “several principals” refers to a situation where multiple individuals are involved in the commission of a crime. Each of these persons, known as principals, plays a role in the criminal act, but they may have different degrees of involvement or responsibility.

In some cases, there may or may not be an established conspiracy between these principals. When two or more persons plan to perform an illegal act jointly, they have formed a conspiracy. If a conspiracy is present, it means the principals have actively planned and coordinated their actions to achieve a common criminal objective. Their liability proceeds from the general principle that the act of one is the act of all.

However, even without a formal conspiracy, the law recognizes that these individuals can still be held accountable for their actions as principals. The only requirement is that their acts must fall within the contemplation under Article 17 of the Revised Penal Code. They may Principals by Direct Participation, By Inducement, or By Indispensable Cooperation.

  1. Article 17 of the Revised Penal Code[]
  2. Id.[]
  3. Id.[]
  4. Id.[]
  5. U.S. vs. Indanan, G.R. No. L-8187, January 29, 1913[]
  6. Ibid.[]
  7. Ibid.[]
  8. People vs. Jorge, G.R. No. 99379, April 22, 1994[]
  9. Ibid.[]
  10. Ibid.[]
  11. Ibid.[]
  12. Ibid.[]
  13. Ibid.[]
  14. Ibid.[]
  15. Ibid.[]

RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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