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Penal Laws of the Philippines

Info: 5431 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 21st Sep 2021

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): Philippine Law

The penal laws of the Philippines have general application, which means that it binds all people who live or sojourn in the Philippines. This principle can be gleaned from the 1987 Constitution and the Civil Code of the Philippines. [1] The Constitution provides:

a. The Civil Code states that:

Both citizens and aliens are bound to follow our laws. Citizens owe the State obedience for the protection the latter is providing the former. Aliens, on the other hand, are bound by our penal laws, because while they are within the Philippine territory, such laws protect them. In both instance, penal laws are obligatory because of the protection given by the State.

The generality principle refers to persons who may be made liable under the Code, on the other hand, territoriality refers to where the law takes effect. The laws of preferential application and those provided for treaties shall serve as exceptions to the generality principle. An example of a law of preferential application is Republic Act No. 75 which provides immunity for accredited foreign diplomatic and consular representatives. [2]

b. Territorial and Extra-Territorial Application

One of the general characteristics of criminal law is territoriality, which means that penal laws of the Philippines are enforceable only within its territory. [3] The Constitution provides that:

This is the extent of the Philippine territory as far as the Revised Penal Code is concerned. This territoriality principle was not explicitly written under the old Code of 1870. [4] Although the Code is territorial in nature as is expressly provided for, it gives certain circumstances wherein it will apply outside the territory of the Philippines.

For the Code to apply the offense must be committed in a Philippine ship or airship. Nationality of the vessel is vested by the registration. Therefore, a ship or airship is Filipino if it is registered in the Philippines, particularly the government agency attributed with such function. Any person who shall forge any coin or currency note or obligation of the Philippines and introduce the same in the territory, even if such was committed outside the territory, maybe tried in the Philippines for violation of the Code. A public officer, as defined in the Code, may be criminally liable, even if he is outside the Philippines, if an offense is committed in the exercise of their functions. When a person commits a crime against national security and law of nations, he may be held liable under Philippine Laws. The crimes committed against national security and the law of nations are found in Chapter 1, Book 2 of the Code, and they are as follows: treason, conspiracy to commit treason, misprision of treason, espionage, inciting to war or giving motives for reprisal, correspondence with hostile country, violation of neutrality and piracy. The offenses enumerated in Article 2 of the Code are said to be subject of trial in the Philippines, despite it extra-territorial application, because its pernicious effects are felt in the Philippines.

c. Prospective

Penal laws are prospective which means that a new penal law cannot make an act or omission a crime, when at the time of the omission or commission of the act such was not penalized. In short, the law in effect at the time of the commission of an act will govern. [5] The prospective principle of the Code is in conjunction with the Constitutional provision on bill of attainder and ex-post facto law. [6] A bill of attainder is an act which is punished without a trial [7] , while an ex-post facto law is one wherein an act is criminalized although at the time of the commission of the act, it was not. [8]


Felony is defined under the code as an act or omission punishable by law, committed through culpa or dolo. [9] The words “punishable by law” means that the act or omission must be defined and punished by the Revised Penal Code and no other law. Dolo is a Spanish term which means deceit. There is deceit when an act is performed with deliberate intent. [10] Culpa is also a Spanish term which means fault. There is fault when negligence, imprudence, lack of skill or foresight accompanies an unlawful act. Here lies the confusion. The Code specifically provides for a definition of a felony, but nevertheless simultaneously uses the word crime or offense in describing the acts and omissions punishable by the code. A crime is defined as an act or omission which is made punishable by law. On the other hand, an offense includes both felony and crime, as it is generally referred to as violations of the law.

A person incurs criminal liability either by committing a felony regardless of the original intent of the actor or by committing an impossible crime. [11] A person commiting a felony is liable even if the consequences is different from what he had wanted to do by virtue of the principle el que es causa de la causa es causa del mal causado, in English, he who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused. [12] On the other hand, an impossible crime is not actually a crime, as defined in the Code. It is an act which, had it not been for its physical or legal impossibility, constitiute an offense against persons or property. Impossible Crimes are penalized to suppress criminal propensity or tendencies. [13] The law punishes both intentional and unintentional felonies. The rationale behind the liability incurred for an intended act is simple: a person must be held liable for an act or omission which the law specifically prohibits. On the other hand an unintentional act is punishable because of the lack of skill/negligence or lack foresight/imprudence, which makes it as if it was intentional. The provision seems to define only the liability of a principal and excludes that of the accessory and accomplice.

Members of the Judiciary are required, under the code, to make a report to the president whenever there is an act that should be repressed but is not made punishable by any law and also, when an offense is penalized heavily. [14] This provision of the Code has never been used. This is because the duty to make laws, under the Constitution, is with the Congress, and not the President. [15] The Constitution provides that:

Congress has the legislative power which is to make, amend and repeal laws. To supplement such power, the Constitution gives Congress the power to conduct an investigation on an issue which, in their discretion, should be subject of legislation.

Circumstances affecting Criminal Liability

There are circumstances which are attendant in the commission of an offense which have the effect of increasing the penalty or lowering the penalty imposed. Also, there are acts which are considered to be wholly excusable if a certain circumstance is attendant in the commission of the felony. The Code provides for justifying, exempting, mitigating, aggravating and alternative circumstances which alter the penalty imposed if it is attendant in the commission of the offense. Absolutory causes, which exempt an offender from criminal liability, may also be found in the Code, although not found in one provision.

a. Justifying and Exempting Circumstances

Justifying Circumstances are those where the act of a person is said to be in accordance with law so that such person is deemed not to have transgressed the law and is free from criminal and civil liability. [16] The following circumstances, if present in the commission of a felony, serve to free the offender of any liability:

No crime is committed therefore no civil liability attaches. The burden of proving the existence of a justifying circumstance lies with the accused. [17] When an accused invokes self defense, it is incumbent upon him to prove such by clear and convincing evidence. [18]

On the other hand, Exempting Circumstances are those grounds exemption from punishment because there wanting in the agent of the crime any of the conditions which make the act voluntary or negligent. [19] The following are exempting circumstances:

According to Guevara [20] one who acts because of an exempting circumstance commits a crime, but because of the absence of voluntariness there is no criminal liability, only civil liability. The burden of proving, with clear and convincing evidence, that the accused acted with the existence of an exempting circumstance lies with the accused.

b. Mitigating Circumstances

Mitigating Circumstances are those which, if present in the commission of the crime, do not entirely free the actor from criminal liability, but serve only to reduce the penalty. [21] Diminution of the freedom or intelligence is the basis for the mitigation. [22] The Code provides the following circumstance which mitigate criminal liability:

There are four kinds of aggravating circumstance, namely: generic, specific, qualifying and inherent. Generic circumstances are those which generally apply to all crimes such as dwelling and recidivism. Those which apply only to particular crimes are Specific circumstances. Those that change the nature of the offense are called Qualifying circumstances. And that which necessarily accompanies the commission of the crime is called Inherent circumstance. Qualifying circumstances must be alleged and proved to have the necessary effect. The appreciation of a qualifying circumstance, even if it is not alleged, constitutes a violation of the constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. A qualifying circumstance changes the nature of the offense committed, therefore, constitute an integral part of the offense. The old rule is that, if the qualifying circumstance is not alleged, it may be proved during the course of the trial, and will be considered as a generic circumstance. [23] However, the revision of the Rules of Criminal Procedure resulted in a change of view. Under the 2000 revision, it is now required that, qualifying and generic aggravating circumstances be alleged in the information. [24] As a result of the revision, even if the qualifying circumstance be proved during trial, it cannot be appreciated as a generic aggravating circumstance. [25]

c. Alternative Circumstances

Alternative Circumstances are those when present in the commission offense serve to either aggravate or mitigate liability, depending on the nature of the felony. [26] There are three alternative circumstances: Relationship, Intoxication and Degree of Instruction or education of the offender. The provision of law which enumerates the alternative circumstance does not say when exactly, save for intoxication, shall be considered as aggravating or mitigating. Relationship is aggravating in Rape, but it is absolutory in Malicious Mischief. Degree of Instruction as an alternative circumstance is generally mitigating if it is low, if it is high, it becomes aggravating if he consciously avails of his knowledge to commit the crime. [27] If intoxication is not habitual or is not subsequent to plan to commit the felony, it is mitigating. [28] However, if it is habitual or was consciously adapted to commit the felony, it is aggravating.

d. Absolutory Causes

Absolutory causes are acts committed still constituting a crime but the law does not punish the offender for reason of public policy. [29] An example of an absolutory cause is when less serious or slight physical injuries is inflicted on the wife or lover upon seeing them in the act of sexual intercourse, the penalty of the felony committed is extinguished. [30] Another example of an absolutory cause is when a person enters the dwelling of another to render help or render some service. [31]

Persons Criminally Liable

The person who commits a crime is liable as a principal and there is no problem in determining his participation. The problem arises if there is more than one participant in the commission of the crime. The Revised Penal Code answers this by providing for various degrees of responsibility depending upon the participation of various actors committing the crime.

Persons who take direct participation in the commission of the offense, directly forcing or inducing others to commit the crime, or those who cooperate in the commission of the offense by another act, without which the offense would not have been accomplished, are considered principals. [32] An accused who personally takes part in the execution of the act resulting in the felony, is a principal by direct participation. [33] For instance, in a case of homicide, the person who actually kills the victim is the principal by direct participation. A person who induces or forces another to commit a crime becomes a principal by induction. It is important for this principal’s liability to attach, the person whom he induced or forced must commit the offense. [34] The inducement must be the reason for the commission of the felony. [35] A person who does not participate in the actual commission of the crime may be held liable if he does another act, prior or after, without which the crime could not have been consummated.


Penalty is a suffering that is inflicted by the State for the transgression of a law. [36] The state in the exercise of its police power impose penalty in order to maintain peace and order. Despite the police power, the Constitution restricts the imposition of excessive penalty, thus:

There is a three-fold purpose for the infliction of penalty: Retribution, Reformation and Social Defense. [37] The principle that the penalty must be proportionate to the crime committed or “Let the penalty fit the crime” is called the Principle of Retributive Justice. [38] Proportionality requires “severity should be allocated according to the blameworthiness of the criminal conduct”. [39] A retributive system must punish severe crime more harshly than minor crime, but delinquents differ about how harsh or soft the overall system should be.

Although punishment is allowed by law or the commission of a crime, it is with restriction. The 1987 Constitution explicitly provides for restriction that no excessive fines be imposed and no cruel and unusual punishment be inflicted. [40] It is for this reason that the penalty of cadena perpetua or hard labor, which had been imposed by the Spanish Penal Code of 1870, was abolished because it was cruel and inhumane. [41]

It is provided by law that no ex-post facto law or bill of attainder be enacted. [42] An ex-post facto law is a law which criminalizes an act which was legal when committed or aggravates a crime by increasing the penalty for a crime committed previously. [43] On the other hand, a bill of attainder is an act of the legislature which declares a person or group of persons guilty of a crime and punishes them without trial. [44] The general rule therefore is, criminal laws are given prospective application except if it favors the accused, provided that the accused is not a habitual delinquent [45] or if the new law specifically does not allow its retroactive applicability. A person is a habitual delinquent if “within the period of ten years from the date of his last release or last conviction of the crimes of serious or less serious physical injuries, robbery, theft, estafa and falsification, he is found guilty of any of the said crimes a third time or oftener”. [46] The crime to which habitual delinquency shall apply is specified by law.

The penalties enumerated in the penal code are classified as principal and accessory. [47] Principal penalties are those expressly imposed by the court in the rendering a conviction. [48] It is further classified according to their gravity, as Capital punishment, Afflictive penalties, Correctional penalties and Light penalties.

The capital punishment is death, by electric chair or, starting 1996, lethal injection. The penalty of death is not imposed when the offender is less than eighteen or more than seventy years old at the time of the commission of the crime, or when upon appeal or automatic review of the case of the Supreme Court, the required majority vote is not obtained. Although the Constitution specifically gives the Supreme Court the authority to automatically review cases of death penalty, life imprisonment and reclusion perpetua, such task is now with the Court of Appeals. [49] The penalty of death, however, has been suspended in June 24, 2006. [50] Instead, reclusion perpetua, when the law violated makes use of the nomenclature of the penalties of the Revised Penal Code, or life sentence, when the law violated does not makes use of the nomenclature of the penalties of the Revised Penal Code, is to be imposed as the penalty for the crimes punishable by death. [51] The difference between the commutated sentence and the principal penalty lie in the eligibility for parole. Those suffering the commutated sentence are not eligible for parole, and those who are not, parole is available. [52]

Reclusion Perpetua is classified as an afflictive penalty, the duration of which ranges from, 20 years and 1 day to 40 years. [53] The duration of the penalty of Reclusion Temporal is imprisonment of 12 and 1 day to 20 years. [54] On the other hand, Prision Mayor lasts 6 years and 1 day to 12 years. [55] Perpetual Absolute/Special Disqualification and Temporary Absolute/Special Disqualification are also considered afflictive penalties, although they are also considered accessory penalties. [56]

Correctional Penalties are Prision Correcional, Arresto Mayor, Suspension and Destierro. The penalties of Prision Correcional, Suspension and Destierro last for 6 months and 1 day to 6 years . [57] Arresto mayor lasts for 1 month and 1 day to 6 months. [58]

Light Penalties include Arresto Menor and Public Censure. The duration of Arresto Menor is from 1 day and 30 days. [59] Public Censure or reprimand is the penalty next lower in degree of Arresto Menor.

Temporary penalty, such as Temporary Absolute Disqualification, Temporary Special Disqualification and suspension, shall be computed from the date the conviction becomes final, if the accused is in prison. [60] If the offender is not in prison, computation of the duration of penalty constituting deprivation of liberty starts from when he is placed in the custody of judicial officer for the enforcement of his judgement. [61] Penalties involving deprivation of liberty are Imprisonment and destierro. In all other case, the duration shall be computed from the time the offender commences to serve his sentence. [62]

When an accused fails to put up bail or committed a non-bailable offense and he remains locked up in prison, it is called preventive suspension. [63] The time he spends in preventive imprisonment is credited in the service of his sentence for the full time he spent in preventive penalty, provided he allows, voluntarily in writing, the same rules imposed on convicted prisoners to apply to himself/herself. [64] However, if he does not allow the same rules to apply to him, only four fifths of the time he underwent preventive imprisonment shall be credited in his service of sentence. [65] The crediting of the preventive imprisonment shall not apply to offenders who are recidivists or those convicted of the same crimes twice, and did not voluntarily surrender after being summoned for the execution of their sentence. Offenders who have served the possible maximum of the offense he is being tried for in a case which has not yet terminated, he must be released without prejudice to the continuation of the trial or appeal. If the maximum penalty for the crime to which he may be made liable to is destierro, he must be released after thirty days of preventive imprisonment. [66]

On the other hand, Accessory penalties are those deemed included in the imposition of the principal penalties. According to the Code the following are Accessory penalties: Perpetual Absolute Disqualification, Perpetual Special disqualification, Temporary Perpetual Disqualification, Temporary Special Disqualification, Suspension from public office, the right to vote and be voted for, the profession or calling, Civil Interdiction, Indemnification, Forfeiture or confiscation of instruments and proceeds of the crime, and Payment of the cost. [67] Whenever the court imposes a penalty which carries with it other penalties, it must be understood that the offender shall be liable for the accessory penalties as well. [68] When a higher penalty is imposed on an offense with a given penalty, without specially designating the name of the former without, and it shall be death, same penalty and accessories as Article 40 shall attach. [69]

Perpetual Absolute Disqualification has the effect of depriving the offender of public office or employment, even if he is an elected officer, the right to vote or the right to be voted for, disqualifying the offender of the offices or public employment and the exercise of the right, and loss of retirement pay or pension for any office formerly held. [70] Temporary Absolute Disqualification has the effect of depriving the offender of public office of the exercise of the right of suffrage and disqualification from public office and employment only. Perpetual Absolute Disqualification, as the term suggests, lasts during the lifetime of the accused, Temporary Absolute Disqualification, on the other hand, lasts during the term of the sentence. After the sentence is served, the disqualification is lifted. Perpetual and Temporary Special Disqualification on the other hand include disqualification from public office or employment, profession or calling affected, and for holding similar offices or employment. [71] Again, the difference is the duration of the penalty. The penalties of Perpetual or Temporary Special Disqualification for the exercise of the right to suffrage has the effect of depriving offender from voting and be voted for and disqualification from holding any public office/employment during the term of his sentence. [72]

The penalty of Suspension has the effect of disqualifying the offender from holding such office and holding another office with the similar functions, during the term of the suspension. [73]

Civil Interdiction produces several effects, such as, prohibition from exercising parental authority, or guardianship over a ward. [74] Also he is deprived of the right to manage his own property and of the right to manage his property and of but the right to convey his property during his lifetime. [75]

Obviously, death has no accessory penalty attached to it, because after its execution, the person who shall be deprived of certain liberties is already dead. However, if by reason of commutation or pardon, the offender shall suffer perpetual absolute disqualification and civil interdiction of 30 years. [76] Pardon shall have the effect of erasing the principal penalty only, however, if the executive expressly remits the accessory penalties, then the offender shall not suffer them. The accessory penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and Temporal are perpetual absolute disqualification, unless expressly remitted by the pardon, and civil interdiction for life or during the sentence.

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