Sunday, April 19, 2009


With the controversy on the shooting of ABS-CBN broadcaster Ted Failon’s wife and subsequent arrest of his employees, “obstruction of justice” is now probably one of the most searched – googled, if you will – phrases in the internet among Filipinos. Even before this incident, however, I’m sure you have heard it mentioned several times already after the 2007 Manila Peninsula Hotel coup when several journalists were arrested for this offense.

The plain objective of PD 1829 is to penalize people who prevent the arrest and prosecution of criminals as shown by the title of the law. Section 1 tells us the different ways how this crime may be committed, but of immediate concern are the prohibited acts attributed to Failon and his employees which are found in paragraph (b) of Section 1. The pertinent provisions are as follow:

Section 1. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period, or a fine ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 pesos, or both, shall be imposed upon any person who knowingly or willfully obstructs, impedes, frustrates or delays the apprehension of suspects and the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases by committing any of the following acts:
x x x
(b) altering, destroying, suppressing or concealing any paper, record, document, or object, with intent to impair its verity, authenticity, legibility, availability, or admissibility as evidence in any investigation of or official proceedings in, criminal cases, or to be used in the investigation of, or official proceedings in, criminal cases;

Simply put, Section 1(b) means destroying or messing up anything that might furnish evidence for the arrest and prosecution of criminal suspects. As applied to Failon and company, they are being charged under this section for cleaning the bathroom where Failon’s wife was shot; for corrupting a crime scene. The theory is that by cleaning the bathroom investigators were prevented from collecting evidence that would help them identify, arrest and prosecute the offenders.

To be liable for this crime, however, the law requires a particular state of mind or what lawyers call the mens rea. It is not enough that the prohibited act was committed; the act must be accompanied by a particular state of mind. The offense, as defined, requires the doing of the act with a guilty mind or criminal intent as opposed to one being penalized only for reasons of public policy – an offense where a person would be held criminally liable by merely intentionally and voluntarily doing the prohibited act, such as illegal possession of firearms. Obstruction, in contrast, cannot be committed by the mere intentional and voluntary commission of any of the prohibited acts in Section 1 for it requires a specific criminal intent.

The word “willfully” in Section 1 clearly indicates this, which means there was awareness that the act performed was of a particular nature or knowledge that the act will necessarily or very likely cause a particular result. In other words, the suspect knows that his act of destroying, concealing or corrupting evidence will prevent or delay or very likely prevent or delay the arrest and prosecution of a criminal suspect.

Specifically, the mens rea in paragraph (b) is the intent to impair the authenticity, legibility, verity or availability of the evidence in a crime. Applying this to Failon and company, it must be proven that their intention in cleaning the bathroom was to remove or destroy anything that might provide evidence against whoever was responsible for the shooting of Failon’s wife.

Thus, if it could be proven that the scene of the incident was cleaned for sanitary purposes or to remove traces or memory of the tragic incident the mens rea required would be lacking. Given the claim of suicide by Failon, it would not be out of the ordinary that the bathroom would immediately be cleaned. It is very likely and reasonable for someone to want that part of his house where a family member has just committed suicide to be cleared and removed of the traces of the incident, as obviously no one would want to keep seeing such a gruesome scene.

By the way, one of Failon’s employees already explained that the reason why the bathroom was immediately cleaned is to prevent Failon’s daughter from seeing the blood; apparently to protect her from witnessing such horrifying scene.

Another important consideration is the necessity of the existence of a crime. As noted earlier, the purpose of the law is to prevent obstruction in the arrest and prosecution of criminal offenders. Liability is premised on the commission of a crime and preventing or obstructing the authorities in investigating, identifying, arresting and prosecuting whoever is responsible for that crime. The sentence “in any investigation of or official proceedings in, criminal cases, or to be used in the investigation of, or official proceedings in, criminal cases in paragraph (b) of Section 1 clearly shows this.

Until now, the police are still in the dark as to whether the shooting of Failon’s wife is suicidal or homicidal. They have yet to make a definitive determination on the matter. If the shooting turns out to be suicidal, no crime was committed. There being no crime there would be no obstruction of justice to speak of, as then who would the suspects be protecting from arrest and prosecution? The raison d’etre for the crime of obstruction would simply not be there.

In Ilusorio v. Ilusorio, et al, G.R. No. 171659 (Dec. 13, 2007), the petitioner therein filed charges against the respondents for robbery and qualified trespass to dwelling. She also charged them for obstruction of justice on her claim that they destroyed or corrupted the evidence for robbery and trespass. The Supreme Court ordered the dismissal of the obstruction charge against the respondents – as inevitable and necessary – after finding no basis for robbery and qualified trespass to dwelling. Since the court found no underlying crimes there was no basis for the obstruction charge.

Having said this, I was surprised when Sr. Superintendent Elmo San Diego, head of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) which is investigating the Failon case, said during a press conference that even if they found Failon’s wife’s shooting to be suicide that would not mean there would no longer be criminal liability for obstruction of justice. I thought it was only his head of criminal investigation, Superintendent Mabanag, who was ignorant when he said no warrant is necessary for arrests under PD 1829. If it was suicide what crime Failon and company were supposedly preventing from being investigated, and who were they supposedly protecting from arrest and prosecution? San Diego is clearly equally clueless about what he is saying.

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