Understanding Penalties in Criminal Laws in the Philippines

This article discusses penalties under criminal laws in the Philippines, the Revised Penal Code and Special Penal Laws and how to determine the imposable penalty for the commission of a crime.

Criminal Laws in the Philippines – a Hybrid System

The Philippines is a hybrid legal system from many perspectives. Laws and rules of procedure in courts draw their inspiration, to a significant extent, from existing laws and rules of procedure in other countries. Obviously, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

However, the adoption of laws in various countries, which are in themselves governed by peculiar circumstances, unique culture, and perspectives, sometimes result in conflict, and certainly, confusion among the citizens.

General Types of Criminal Laws in the Philippines in terms of Penalties

One such source of confusion is how penalties are named and enforced. In the Philippines, penal or criminal laws in general, can be segregated in to two (2) types, those punished under the Revised Penal Code, and those punished under special penal laws.

The Revised Penal Code of the Philippines supplanted the 1870 Spanish Codigo Penal. To be sure, the provisions of the Revised Penal Code are drawn from the experience of Philippine law makers under this foreign penal code.

Spanish Nomenclature still Used in Revised Penal Code

One noticeable distinction between the two (2) classes of penal legislation, is their description of penalties. You will notice that in the Revised Penal Code, the law still makes use of penalties in the Spanish language, i.e., arresto mayor, prision correccional, destierro, etc.. For example, the penalty for Bigamy, under Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code is as follows:

Art. 349. Bigamy. — The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings.

The Term “Imprisonment” adopted in Special Penal Laws

On the other hand, the penalties defined under special penal laws make use of the word “imprisonment”, and drops the use of penalties in the Spanish language. One example is the Republic Act No. 10173 also known as the Data Privacy Act of 2012, which defines the crime of Unauthorized Disclosure and penalizes the act as follows:

Section 32. Unauthorized Disclosure. – (a) Any personal information controller or personal information processor or any of its officials, employees or agents, who discloses to a third party personal information not covered by the immediately preceding section without the consent of the data subject, shall he subject to imprisonment ranging from one (1) year to three (3) years and a fine of not less than Five hundred thousand pesos (Php500,000.00) but not more than One million pesos (Php1,000,000.00).

(b) Any personal information controller or personal information processor or any of its officials, employees or agents, who discloses to a third party sensitive personal information not covered by the immediately preceding section without the consent of the data subject, shall be subject to imprisonment ranging from three (3) years to five (5) years and a fine of not less than Five hundred thousand pesos (Php500,000.00) but not more than Two million pesos (Php2,000,000.00).

 “Imprisonment” versus “Arresto”, “Prision” and others of Spanish nomenclature

Obviously, when the law uses the word “imprisonment” instead of “arresto mayor” and the like, the tenor of the imposable penalty is clear. However, this is not to say that the use of Spanish penalties in Philippine criminal laws are antiquated and should be discontinued. On the contrary, the use of Spanish penalties actually makes the application of certain legal principles less difficult, especially to a judge who is tasked to apply the law and decide the appropriate penalty to impose.

This is because the use of Spanish Penalties in Philippine criminal laws are so integrated within the justice system because of familiarity, long use and adoption, and also because of the fact that the justice system was typically built around these penal “heritage” provisions, so much so that certain principles like the application of mitigating circumstances in a criminal case would be easily applied with under the Spanish-sounding penalties as opposed to the special penal laws that use the term “imprisonment” in defining the penalty.

Penalties under the Revised Penal Code

Considering that the Philippine justice system revolves around the system of penalties in the Spanish language, it may be insightful to refer to these penalties, as provided in the actual legal provision:

Article 76. Legal period of duration of divisible penalties. – The legal period of duration of divisible penalties shall be considered as divided into three parts, forming three periods, the minimum, the medium, and the maximum in the manner shown in the following table:

TABLE SHOWING THE DURATION OF DIVISIBLE PENALTIES AND THE TIME INCLUDED IN EACH OF THEIR PERIODS

PenaltiesFull Range of the PenaltyMinimumMediumMaximum
 included in the penalty in its entiretyincluded in its minimum periodincluded in its medium periodincluded in its maximum
Reclusion temporalFrom 12 years and 1 day to 20 years.From 12 years and 1 day to 14 years and 8 months.From 14 years, 8 months and 1 day to 17 years and 4 months.From 17 years, 4 months and 1 day to 20 years.
Prision mayor, absolute disqualification and special temporary disqualificationFrom 6 years and 1 day to 12 years.From 6 years and 1 day to 8 years.From 8 years and 1 day to 10 years.From 10 years and 1 day to 12 years.
Prision correccional, suspension and destierroFrom 6 months and 1 day to 6 years.From 6 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months.From 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months.From 4 years, 2 months and 1 day to 6 years.
Arresto mayorFrom 1 month and 1 day to months.From 1 to 2 months.From 2 months and 1 day to 4 months.From 4 months and 1 day to 6 months.
Arresto menorFrom 1 to 30 days.From 1 to 10 days.From 11 to 20 days.From 21 to 30 days.

For illustration, in the previously cited provision of Article 349, Bigamy, which provides a penalty of Prision Mayor, the penalty for this offense would be the full range of its defined penalty, which is “From 6 years and 1 day to 12 years”, as stated in the table above.

Determining the Imposable Penalty

Another example is Article 365 of the Revised Penal Code which defines the crime of Criminal Negligence, as follows:

Article 365. Imprudence and negligence. – Any person who, by reckless imprudence, shall commit any act which, had it been intentional, would constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period; if it would have constituted a less grave felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods shall be imposed; if it would have constituted a light felony, the penalty of arresto menor in its maximum period shall be imposed.

Any person who, by simple imprudence or negligence, shall commit an act which would otherwise constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its medium and maximum periods; if it would have constituted a less serious felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period shall be imposed. …

You will note that one paragraph imposes the penalty of “arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period”. This means the in defining the particularly imposable penalty, you will have to determine the following:

a. the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period, which as mentioned in the table above is “From 4 months and 1 day to 6 months.”

b. the penalty of prision correccional in its medium period, which as mentioned in the table above is “From 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months.”

Given that you have now determined the range between the two (2) imposable penalties, to determine the actual imposable penalty, you will note the lowest imposable period from the lowest penalty in item a above (“From 4 months and 1 day to 6 months.”) and note the highest imposable penalty in item b above (“From 2 years, 4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months”) and from there, you can determine the actual range of the penalty that may be imposed by merging them together. You will arrive at “4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months” and this will be the imposable penalty for “arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period”.

About Nicolas and De Vega Law Offices

If you need assistance in civil or other criminal law-related issues,  we can help you. Nicolas and de Vega Law Offices is a full-service law firm in the Philippines.  You may visit us at the 16th Flr., Suite 1607 AIC Burgundy Empire Tower, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, 1605 Pasig City, Metro Manila, Philippines.  You may also call us at +632 84706126, +632 84706130, +632 84016392 or e-mail us at info@ndvlaw.com. Visit our website www.ndvlaw.com.

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