Monday, February 25, 2013

True Confessions: Admissibility of TV interviews

By Obiter07

As enshrined in Article III of the Constitution, a suspect is guaranteed certain rights:

SECTION 12. (1) Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.

(2)        . . .
(3)        Any confession or admission obtained in violation of this or Section 17 hereof shall be inadmissible in evidence against him.
(4)        . . ."[1]

Convictions have been thrown out because of confessions secured illegally since this was not made in the presence of counsel.  What is not commonly known is the fact that certain admissions can actually be used against the accused even in the absence of counsel.  And this was what happened in PEOPLE vs. ANDAN [G.R. No. 116437.  March 3, 1997.]

The accused in this case was charged with rape and homicide.  The victim, a 2nd year Nursing student, was invited inside the accused’s house on the pretext that she was to take the blood pressure of his grandmother-in-law.  As established by the prosecution, she agreed.  He “then punched her in the abdomen, brought her to the kitchen and raped her. His lust sated, appellant dragged the unconscious girl to an old toilet at the back of the house and left her there until dark.  Night came and appellant pulled Marianne, who was still unconscious, to their backyard.  The yard had a pigpen bordered on one side by a six-foot high concrete fence.  On the other side was a vacant lot.  Appellant stood on a bench beside the pigpen and then lifted and draped the girl's body over the fence to transfer it to the vacant lot.  When the girl moved, he hit her head with a piece of concrete block.  He heard her moan and hit her again on the face. After silence reigned, he pulled her body to the other side of the fence, dragged it towards a shallow portion of the lot and abandoned it. xxx”

The mayor formed a police team to apprehend the culprit.  They found the “a broken piece of concrete block stained with what appeared to be blood” at the crime scene, among other items.  When the accused’s nearby house was searched, they found bloodstains on the pigpen’s wall at the backyard. They traced the accused to his parent’s house and brought him to police headquarters.  He denied any knowledge of the crime during the initial interrogation.  When confronted with the concrete block, he pointed to his two neighbors as the killers, stating that he was only the lookout.  He then indicated where the victim’s two bags could be found which were recovered at his house.

The three suspects were then brought back to headquarters.  During a medical examination, the suspect was found to have multiple scratches on his neck and abrasions on his chest and back.  The mayor arrived and at the investigation room, the suspect approached him and asked for a private audience.  He then “broke down and said "Mayor, patawarin mo ako! I will tell you the truth. I am the one who killed Marianne."

The mayor then allowed the public and media to witness the confession.  He asked for a lawyer to assist but since one could not be found, he directed that the proceedings be photographed and videotaped.  In the presence of the mayor, the police, representatives of the media and his own wife and son, the accused confessed his guilt.  His confession was captured on videotape and covered by the media.  Over the next two days, he was again interviewed and he affirmed his confession to the mayor and reenacted the crime. However, at trial, he entered a plea of "not guilty."  His alibi was that he had attended a birthday party and was with his family until picked up by the police. And that he was brought to a hotel by the police and tortured to confess.

He was convicted by the trial court. Upon review with the Supreme Court, he questioned the “admission of the testimonies of the policemen, the mayor and the news reporters because they were made during custodial investigation without the assistance of counsel.”  Hence, any confession or admission made is inadmissible against him.

The Court ruled that his confession to the police as well as the two bags found at his house were inadmissible.  He was already a suspect when interrogated and he was already entitled to his rights under the Constitution.  However, the Court ruled against him with respect to his public confessions to the mayor and media.  While the “mayor has "operational supervision and control" over the local police and may arguably be deemed a law enforcement officer for purposes of applying Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution, his “confession to the mayor was not made in response to any interrogation by the latter. In fact, the mayor did not question appellant at all. No police authority ordered appellant to talk to the mayor.” He “spontaneously, freely and voluntarily” sought the mayor for a meeting. As observed by the Court: “The mayor did not know that appellant was going to confess his guilt to him. When appellant talked with the mayor as a confidant and not as a law enforcement officer, his uncounselled confession to him did not violate his constitutional rights.  Thus, it has been held that the constitutional procedures on custodial investigation do not apply to a spontaneous statement, not elicited through questioning by the authorities, but given in an ordinary manner whereby appellant orally admitted having committed the crime.  What the Constitution bars is the compulsory disclosure of incriminating facts or confessions.  The rights under Section 12 are guaranteed to preclude the slightest use of coercion by the state as would lead the accused to admit something false, not to prevent him from freely and voluntarily telling the truth.  Hence we hold that appellant's confession to the mayor was correctly admitted by the trial court.”

As to the confessions before media, these “were likewise properly admitted. The confessions were made in response to questions by news reporters, not by the police or any other investigating officer. We have held that statements spontaneously made by a suspect to news reporters on a televised interview are deemed voluntary and are admissible in evidence.”

The Court further stated thus: “Clearly, appellant's confessions to the news reporters were given free from any undue influence from the police authorities.  The news reporters acted as news reporters when they interviewed appellant.  They were not acting under the direction and control of the police.  They were there to check appellant's confession to the mayor.  They did not force appellant to grant them an interview and reenact the commission of the crime.  In fact, they asked his permission before interviewing him.  They interviewed him on separate days not once did appellant protest his innocence.  Instead, he repeatedly confessed his guilt to them.  He even supplied all the details in the commission of the crime, and consented to its reenactment.  All his confessions to the news reporters were witnessed by his family and other relatives. There was no coercive atmosphere in the interview of appellant by the news reporters.”

“We rule that appellant's verbal confessions to the newsmen are not covered by Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights does not concern itself with the relation between a private individual and another individual It governs the relationship between the individual and the State.  The prohibitions therein are primarily addressed to the State and its agents.  They confirm that certain rights of the individual exist without need of any governmental grant, rights that may not be taken away by government, rights that government has the duty to protect.  Governmental power is not unlimited and the Bill of Rights lays down these limitations to protect the individual against aggression and unwarranted interference by any department of government and its agencies.”

It is a truism that a liar is sometimes caught by his own tongue.  Even a criminal can be caught in the same manner as well.  It is sad to note that the accused here could have gotten away scot-free if the only evidence came from the police.  Fortunately, driven by his conscience or loquacity, and with the help of a quick-thinking mayor and media, the victim here got some measure of justice.  Confessions, no matter how true, will not be heard by the courts if secured through foul means.  And confessions, though made without counsel, are admissible if made voluntarily.  As the accused here found, talk is not always so cheap.

[1]  This has been further codified in R.A. No. 7438 55 which requires that "[a]ny person arrested, detained or under custodial investigation shall at all times be assisted by counsel." The last paragraph of Section 3 of the same law mandates that "[i]n the absence of any lawyer, no custodial investigation shall be conducted."


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

CRIMINAL LIBEL IS AGAINST FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION (The United Nations Human Rights Committee expresses itself to the Philippines)

By Siesta-friendly

We should have de-criminalized decades ago after we ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[1] on October 23, 1986.[2]  Yet, we continue to imprison people guilty of libel pursuant to Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code which imposes the penalty of “prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods [i.e., from 6 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months] or a fine ranging from 200 to 6,000 pesos, or both, in addition to the civil action which may be brought by the offended party.”

This unwarranted inconsistency between our treaty obligation and our local law was made glaring by the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Adonis vs. The Philippines (aka the Views adopted by the UNHRC at its 103rd session, 17 October–4 November 2011).[3]

Background of Adonis vs. The Philippines

Alexander Adonis is a “broadcast journalist based in General Santos City in Mindanao and commentator for the program Radyo Alerto”[4] who made commentaries back in July 2001 –

“In those commentaries, he criticized the alleged illicit relationship between then Congressman Prospero Nograles and Davao City television personality Jeanette Leuterio …

He called Nograles “Burlesque King” after Leuterio’s husband allegedly caught the two in bed in a Makati Hotel. In his commentaries, Adonis said Nograles ran naked from the room to escape the husband’s wrath.

Nograles filed two libel cases against Adonis.  In April 2007, Adonis was convicted on the second libel case, and was sentenced to four years and six months in prison.  He served time for two years.

The Department of Justice Board of Pardon and Paroles granted his parole in December 2007 but he wasn’t released until a year later because Leuterio filed another libel case against Adonis based on the same “Burlesque King” report…

While he was in prison, he sent a Communication through the help of Center for International Law before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) questioning his imprisonment, saying that it violated his right to free expression.”[5]

Adonis vs The Philippines: Imprisonment for Libel is Incompatible with the Right to Freedom of Expression

In his complaint before the UNHRC, Adonis alleged “that his conviction for defamation under the Philippine Penal Code constitutes an illegitimate restriction of his right to freedom of expression because it does not conform to the standards set by article 19, paragraph 3, of the [ICCPR].”[6]

Although Adonis specifically cites Article 19 paragraph 3 of the ICCPR, it is helpful to know the entire Article 19 which refers to freedom of expression -

1.      Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2.      Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3.      The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a)    For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b)   For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

In holding that Adonis’ imprisonment was incompatible with Article 19, paragraph 3 of the ICCR., the UNHRC cited its General Comment No. 34[7] which states that:

“defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they comply with paragraph 3, and that they do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression. All such laws, in particular penal defamation laws, should include such defences as the defence of truth and they should not be applied with regard to those forms of expressions that are not, of their nature, subject to verification. At least with regard to comments about public figures, consideration should be given to avoiding penalizing or otherwise rendering unlawful untrue statements that have been published in error but without malice. In any event, a public interest in the subject matter of the criticism should be recognized as a defence. Care should be taken by States parties to avoid excessively punitive measures and penalties. … States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty”.

In other words, the UNHRC said that defamation laws: (1) should allow the accused to put up defenses of truthful statement/s, statements made in error but without malice, and/or public interest in the subject matter, (2) should not provide “excessively punitive measures and penalties” and, (3) should not impose imprisonment in any case.  Also, pursuant to Article 19, paragraph 3, the UNHRC urged that our defamation laws be decriminalized and that criminal law should only be allowed “in the most serious of cases”.  None of these are true as regards our laws on defamation/libel.

Further, the UNHRC held that –

“the [Philippines] is under an obligation to provide [Adonis] with an effective remedy, including adequate compensation for the time served in prison. The [Philippines] is also under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future, including by reviewing the relevant libel legislation.”

In ending, the UNHRC reminded the Philippines of Article 2 of the ICCPR which we deem important to detail below:

1.      Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
2.      Where not already provided for by existing legislative or other measures, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps, in accordance with its constitutional processes and with the provisions of the present Covenant, to adopt such laws or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant.
3.      Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(a)    To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;
(b)   To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;
(c)    To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.

Therefore, the UNHRC held that, since the Philippines under Article 2 has “undertaken to [1] ensure to all individuals within its territory or subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the [ICCPR] and [2] to provide an effective remedy when it has been determined that a violation has occurred”, the [UNHRC] requested from the Philippines, “information about the measures taken to give effect to the [UNHRC’s] Views”, within 180 days.[8]

It is sad, frustrating and shameful that Filipinos have to go to an international body to find redress from the application of our local laws.  There is no good reason why we have not amended our libel laws after ratifying the ICCPR and after nearly 3 decades to boot.

Before we end, we note that the ICCPR encompasses other civil and political rights that more Filipinos may have to go the UNCHR for redress in case these rights are violated or otherwise disrespected by the state, like say, the right to freedom of information.

[1]  999 UNTS 171 and 1057 UNTS 407 / [1980] ATS 23 / 6 ILM 368 (1967)
[3]  Communication No. 1815/2008 : Human Rights Committee : Views Adopted By The Committee At Its 103rd Session, 17 October-4 November 2011.  CCPR/C/103/D/1815/2008/Rev.1. (2012, April 26).  Retrieved from  
[4]  Ordenes, L. (2012, October 1). Jailed for libel, broadcaster asks sc to protect free speech. Retrieved from
[5]  Ibid.
[6]  See supra note 3.
[7]  General Comment No. 34, Article 19, Freedoms Of Opinion And Expression. CCPR/C/GC/34. (September 12, 2011). Retrieved from
[8]  See supra note 3.