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People vs. Malngan, GR 170470, 26 September 2006
1. Brgy. Chairman Remigio’s group discovered that a fire gutted the house of Roberto Separa, Sr.
2. Gruta, a tanod, reported that shortly before the occurrence of the fire, he saw Edna, one hired as a housemaid by Roberto Separa, Sr., coming out of the house of the latter.
3. Mendoza, neighbor of Separa and whose house was also burned, identified accused-appellant EDNA. Upon inspection, a disposable lighter was found inside EDNA’s bag. Thereafter, EDNA confessed to Bernardo in the presence of multitudes of angry residents that she set her employer’s 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.
4. When Mendoza went to the San Lazaro Fire Station to give her sworn statement, she had the opportunity to ask EDNA at the latter’s detention cell how she burned the house, EDNA told her: “Naglukot ako ng maraming diyaryo, sinindihan ko ng disposable lighter at hinagis ko sa ibabaw ng lamesa sa loob ng bahay”.
5. When interviewed by a reporter of ABS-CBN, EDNA was heard by SPO4 Danilo Talusan as having admitted the crime and even narrated the manner how she accomplished it. SPO4 Talusan was able to hear the same confession, this time at his home, while watching the television program “True Crime” hosted by Gus Abelgas.
6. The fire resulted in [the] destruction of the house of Separa and other adjoining houses and the death of Separa, his wife and their four (4) children.
Whether or not the court erred in allowing and giving credence to the hearsay evidence and uncounselled admissions allegedly given by the accused.
We have held that the provision of Art. Section 12 (1) and (3) applies to the stage of custodial investigation – when the investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime but starts to focus on a particular person as a suspect. Said constitutional guarantee has also been extended to situations in which an individual has not been formally arrested but has merely been “invited” for questioning.
To be admissible in evidence against an accused, the extrajudicial confessions made must satisfy the following requirements: (1)it must be voluntary;(2) it must be made with the assistance of competent and independent counsel;(3) it must be express; and(4) it must be in writing.
The barangay tanods, including the Barangay Chairman, in this particular instance, may be deemed as law enforcement officers for purpose of applying by Article III, Section 12. When accused-appellant was brought to the barangay hall in, she was already a suspect, actually the only one, in the fire that destroyed several houses as well as killed the whole family of Separa. 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-appellant’s 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.
However, the inadmissibility of accused-appellant’s 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-appellant’s uncounselled extrajudicial confession to said witness was properly admitted by the RTC.