People v. Malngan G.R. No. 170470, September 26, 2006

Facts: January 2, 2001 when the witness and his tanods saw the accused-appellant, one hired as a housemaid by Roberto Separa, Sr., hurriedly leaving the house of her employer. She was seen to have boarded a pedicab which was driven by a person later identified as Rolando Gruta. Thirty minutes later, at around 5:15 a.m. Barangay Chairman Bernardos group later discovered that a fire gutted the house of the employer of the housemaid. When Barangay Chairman Bernardo returned to the Barangay Hall, he received a report from pedicab driver Rolando Gruta, who was also a tanod, that shortly before the occurrence of the fire, he saw accused-appellant coming out of the house. Barangay Chairman Bernardo, Rolando Gruta and the other tanods proceeded to Balasan Street and found the accused-appellant. Mercedita Mendoza, neighbor of Roberto Separa, Sr. and whose house was also burned, identified the woman as accused-appellant, a disposable lighter was found inside accused-appellant’s bag. Thereafter, accused-appellant EDNA confessed to Barangay Chairman Bernardo in the presence of multitudes of angry residents outside the Barangay Hall that she set her employers house on fire because she had not been paid her salary for about a year and that she wanted to go home to her province but her employer told her to just ride a broomstick in going home.Accused-appellant was then turned over to arson investigators headed by S[F]O4 Danilo Talusan, who brought her to the San Lazaro Fire Station in Sta. Cruz, Manila where she was further investigated and then detained. When Mercedita Mendoza went to the San Lazaro Fire Station to give her sworn statement, she had the opportunity to ask accused-appellant at the latters detention cell why she did the burning of her employers house and accused-appellant replied that she set the house on fire because when she asked permission to go home to her province, the wife of her employer shouted at her and when Mercedita Mendoza asked accused-appellant how she burned the house, accused-appellant EDNA told her that she crumpled newspapers, lighted them with a disposable lighter and threw them on top of the table inside the house.

Issue: Whether the all confession without the assistance of competent and independent counsel of the appellant-accused is inadmissible as evidence.

Held: No, Arguably, the barangay tanods, including the Barangay Chairman, in this particular instance, may be deemed as law enforcement officer for purposes of applying Article III, Section 12(1) and (3), of the Constitution. When accused-appellant was brought to the barangay hall in the morning of 2 January 2001, she was already a suspect, actually the only one, in the fire that destroyed several houses as well as killed the whole family of Roberto Separa, Sr. She was, therefore, already under custodial investigation and the rights guaranteed by Article III, Section 12(1), of the Constitution should have already been observed or applied to her. Accused-appellants confession to Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo was made in response to the interrogation made by the latter admittedly conducted without first informing accused-appellant of her rights under the Constitution or done in the presence of counsel. For this reason, the confession of accused-appellant, given to Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo, as well as the lighter found by the latter in her bag are inadmissible in evidence against her as such were obtained in violation of her constitutional rights.
Be that as it may, the inadmissibility of accused-appellants confession to Barangay Chairman Remigio Bernardo and the lighter as evidence do not automatically lead to her acquittal. It should well be recalled that the constitutional safeguards during custodial investigations do not apply to those not elicited through questioning by the police or their agents but given in an ordinary manner whereby the accused verbally admits to having committed the offense as what happened in the case at bar when accused-appellant admitted to Mercedita Mendoza, one of the neighbors of Roberto Separa, Sr., to having started the fire in the Separas house. The testimony of Mercedita Mendoza recounting said admission is, unfortunately for accused-appellant, admissible in evidence against her and is not covered by the aforesaid constitutional guarantee. Article III of the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, solely governs the relationship between the individual on one hand and the State (and its agents) on the other; it does not concern itself with the relation between a private individual and another private individual as both accused-appellant and prosecution witness Mercedita Mendoza undoubtedly are. Here, there is no evidence on record to show that said witness was acting under police authority, so appropriately, accused-appellants uncounselled extrajudicial confession to said witness was properly admitted by the RTC.


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