Nope, just thinking about stealing or some other form of mayhem is not a crime. Mere thought does not amount to an offense under our Revised Penal Code which was passed way back in 1930, although crimes and criminals have been around longer than that.
As provided in Article 6, the stages of a crime or felony are as follows:
ARTICLE 6. Consummated, frustrated, and attempted felonies. — Consummated felonies as well as those which are frustrated and attempted, are punishable.
A felony is consummated when all the elements necessary for its execution and accomplishment are present; and it is frustrated when the offender performs all the acts of execution which would produce the felony as a consequence but which, nevertheless, do not produce it by reason of causes independent of the will of the perpetrator.
There is an attempt when the offender commences the commission of a felony directly by overt acts, and does not perform all the acts of execution which should produce the felony by reason of some cause or accident other than his own spontaneous desistance.
Once you go beyond mere thinking, you may begin to be liable, depending on the circumstances. For now, we’re all quite safe just thinking about strangling someone (or more) in Malacañang.
We need not discuss the consummated felony at length because it means the perpetrator has committed all the elements of the offense. He has killed, he has stolen or somehow fulfilled his criminal designs. It is the other stages which may need discussion.
A crime is usually made up out of elements, all of which should be present in order to constitute an offense. For example, homicide has the following elements: (1) that a person is killed, (2) that there is no justifying circumstance such as self-defense, (3) that the accuse had the intention to kill which is presumed and (4) there are no qualifying circumstances which would make it into murder or parricide or infanticide. It is a bit complex, but all of the elements have to be present for there to be a crime.
It may be easier if we start with an example of an actual criminal case started by a song as decided by the Supreme Court which begins with the following lines:
“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows —
And did it my way!
The song evokes the bitterest passions. This is not the first time the song “My Way” has triggered violent behavior resulting in people coming to blows. In the case at bar, the few lines of the song depicted what came to pass when the victims and the aggressors tried to outdo each other in their rendition of the song. PALAGANAS vs. PEOPLE [G.R. No. 165483. September 12, 2006.]
According to the prosecution, 3 brothers who decided to proceed to a videoke bar “were having a good time, singing and drinking beer.” 3 other individuals arrived and they occupied separate tables. Later, one of these individuals was singing, and one “of the brothers sang along with him as he was familiar with the song [My Way].” The singer “resented this and went near the table of the xxx brothers and said in Pangasinan dialect “As if you are tough guys.” He further said “You are already insulting me in that way.” Then, he then struck one brother with the microphone. “A rumble ensued xxx.” Later, when the brothers went outside, they saw one of their protagonists about 8 meters away standing at Rizal Street. He was pointing at them and said to his companion, later identified as petitioner [Rujjeric] Palaganas, “Oraratan paltog mo lara”, meaning “They are the ones, shoot them.” Petitioner then shot them xxx One brother was hit at the left side of the abdomen, one brother was fatally hit in the head while another was hit in the right shoulder.
The petitioner was convicted of attempted homicide, frustrated homicide and homicide. The Court had occasion to discuss how the stages of a felony are committed in the afore-cited case.
“xxx the distinctions between frustrated and attempted felony are summarized as follows:
1.) In frustrated felony, the offender has performed all the acts of execution which should produce the felony as a consequence; whereas in attempted felony, the offender merely commences the commission of a felony directly by overt acts and does not perform all the acts of execution.
2.) In frustrated felony, the reason for the non-accomplishment of the crime is some cause independent of the will of the perpetrator; on the other hand, in attempted felony, the reason for the non-fulfillment of the crime is a cause or accident other than the offender’s own spontaneous desistance.
In addition to these distinctions, we have ruled in several cases that when the accused intended to kill his victim, as manifested by his use of a deadly weapon in his assault, and his victim sustained fatal or mortal wound/s but did not die because of timely medical assistance, the crime committed is frustrated murder or frustrated homicide depending on whether or not any of the qualifying circumstances under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code are present. However, if the wound/s sustained by the victim in such a case were not fatal or mortal, then the crime committed is only attempted murder or attempted homicide. If there was no intent to kill on the part of the accused and the wound/s sustained by the victim were not fatal, the crime committed may be serious, less serious or slight physical injury. PALAGANAS vs. PEOPLE, Ibid.
The petitioner was convicted of attempted homicide with respect to one brother who was shot in the shoulder because it was not sufficient to cause his death. With respect to the brother who died, the crime was homicide. With respect to the one wounded in the abdomen who would have died if not for timely medical intervention, the crime was frustrated homicide.
With an unsuccessful criminal, there is just an attempted offense. First thing is that there must be overt acts. So no matter the intention or the planning, someone cannot be charged for an attempted offense unless he follows through with overt acts. There must be some physical activity or deed showing the intention to commit the offense. This is to be distinguished from preparatory acts. Just buying poison is not an offense. Buying then mixing it with the food intended for the victim would be. Raising a bolo without striking anyone is not an overt act in relation to the crime of homicide But please note that this could constitute some other offense such as grave threats.
Then despite the overt acts, there is a failure to perform all the acts of execution. In trespass to dwelling, just having opened up one board opening upon which the perpetrator was arrested has just committed attempted trespass. He was not able to make a physical entry.
The failure to perform the felony must be due to some cause or accident, not the perpetrator’s spontaneous act of desistance. The law allows the individual to heed the call of conscience even at the last moment. A person who does so does not incur criminal liability. If a person aims the gun at someone, pulls the trigger and the gun jams, there can be attempted homicide. If he hits someone, that’s frustrated homicide. If the victim dies that’s homicide. But even if he doesn’t aim at anyone but fires the gun and someone is hit, then that can still be frustrated homicide. If he fires without aiming at nor hitting anyone, it could be some other crime like the unlawful discharge of a firearm.
A person may feel frustrated if his criminal plans come to naught, but the frustration referred to in the code is different. In a frustrated felony, the offender performs all the acts of execution which would produce the felony as a consequence but which, nevertheless, do not produce it by reason or causes independent of the will of the perpetrator.
In the videoke case, one brother was inflicted with what could be mortal wounds as a result of the shooting but this was averted by timely medical attention. Hence, the conviction was only for frustrated homicide.
It is important to know the stages as this can determine the penalties to be imposed which becomes heavier as one goes from an attempted, frustrated to a consummated felony. So what does this teach us? Crime does not pay. If you think of a crime, you can actually start to do it but you still have a chance to pull back. And lastly, you should know better than to sing along with someone belting out “My Way” in a videoke bar. Or better yet, learn new songs that no one else knows.
 Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book Two (1981), p. 448.
 Reyes, The Revised Penal Code, Book One (1981), p. 98-99.
 Ibid, p. 100.
 Ibid. p. 103 citing People vs. Lamahang.
 Ibid, p. 104.