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Poh Chi Principle


Under the classical theory, on which the Revised Penal Code is principally based,
a man is essentially a moral creature with an absolutely free will to choose
between good and evil. If despite of such free will, he still commits an evil act
prohibited by law, the State will penalize him as a measure of retribution. A
criminal should therefore be adjudged on the basis of his criminal resolution and
not on the number of acts he commit in furtherance of a single criminal mind.
Despite the plurality of his acts, if his criminal intent is singular, retributive
justice of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is served by imposing upon him a
single penal sanction.

Crimes under the Revised Penal Code are mala in se, the concept of which gives
importance to criminal intent or mens rea of the offender. Thus, the number of
criminal intent and not the number of crimes committed generally determine the
number of penalty to be imposed for multiple crimes. Multiple crimes committed
by the same offender under a single criminal impulse are treated as one crime
and punished with a single penalty. Thus, a single penalty is being imposed for
multiple crimes with single criminal intent, which are merged to form a delito
compuesto, delito complejo, delito continuado or absorbing crime.

The “one penalty for one criminal mind” rule is also based on the “absorption
system”, which is one of the three systems of penalty, under which lesser
penalties are absorbed by the greater penalties.

One of the rules that require imposition of single penalty for multiple crimes is
the doctrine of absorption, under which one crime absorbs another if the latter is
inherent in, an element of, or a necessary consequence of the commission of the
former. A crime is considered inherent where its commission is an indispensable
means to commit another.
For example, a person who by means of violence coerces a lady to have sexual
intercourse with him should not be held liable for physical injuries and coercion
in addition to rape. Physical injuries are necessary consequence of the
employment of violence, which is an element of rape, while coercion is inherent
therein. Hence, physical injuries and coercion are absorbed in rape.

One who enters an inhabited house by using picklock and takes properties
therein without consent of its owner should not be held liable for illegal
possession of picklock and trespass to dwelling in addition to robbery in
inhabited house. Use of picklock to enter into a dwelling is a constructive force
upon thing that will qualify the taking into robbery in inhabited house. Since use
of picklock and entry in dwelling are elements of robbery by force upon thing,
illegal possession of picklock and trespass to dwelling are absorbed in robbery.

The essential elements of a given crime cannot be disintegrated in different parts,

each one to stand as a separate ground to convict the accused of a different
criminal offense. The elements constituting a given crime are integral and
inseparable parts of a whole. In contemplation of law, they cannot be used for
double or multiple purposes. They can only be used for the sole purpose of
showing the commission of the crime of which they form part. The nature of a
crime, which contains criminal components, does not endow it with the
functional ability of worm multiplication or amoeba reproduction (People vs.
Labra, G.R. No. L-886, August 10, 1948).

One of the basic principles in doctrine of absorption is the rule that if a crime is
an indispensable or inherent means to commit another crime, the latter absorbs
the former. For example, murder is an indispensable means to commit treason
(People vs Labra, supra) or rebellion (People vs. Hernandez, G.R. Nos. L-6025-
26, July 18, 1956); hence, the latter absorbs the former.

Offenses punishable under special laws, which are not wrong in nature, are mala
prohibita, and yet, the Supreme Court extended the application of the doctrine of
absorption to them. For example since obstruction of justice (Enrile vs Amin,
G.R. No. 93335, September 13, 1990), or illegal possession of loose firearm
(People vs. Rodriguez, G.R. No. L-13981, April 25, 1960; Section 29 of RA No.
10591) is inherent in the commission or rebellion or coup d'état, the latter
absorbs the former.

Akin to the doctrine of absorption is the single act rule. In US vs. Gustillo, G.R.
No. L-5843, March 25, 1911, the accused was caught in possession of two
unlicensed firearm. Since there is a single act of possession involving two
unlicensed firearms, with the single criminal intention to violate the law, the
accused cannot be convicted of two crimes because the rule on double jeopardy.

Section 29 of RA No. 10591 prescribes a higher penalty if the offender is in

possession of three loose firearms. Hence, the intention of the law is not to treat
possession of three firearms as three separate and distinct crimes.

In David vs. People, G.R. No. 181861, October 17, 2011, it was held that an
accused may only be convicted of a single offense of possession of dangerous
drugs if he or she was caught in possession of different kinds of dangerous drugs
(shabu and marijuana) on a single occasion. The David principle conforms to the
Gustillo case.

In U.S. vs. Poh Chi, G.R. No. 6637, September 1, 1911, it was held that opium and
the pipe were found together under the floor; they were found in the same place,
at the same time, and by the same person. Applying the Gustillo case, the
Supreme Court, En Banc said it is true that the law has provided a certain
punishment for the possession of a pipe used in the smoking of opium, and for
possession of opium, but it is not believed that it was the intention of the
legislature to have separate complaints filed against a person who was found in
the illegal possession of opium and a pipe at the same time.

The Supreme Court in several variant cases but involving the doctrine of
absorption of offenses under special laws affirmed the Poh Chi principle (People
vs. Buenviaje, G.R. No. 22945, March 03, 1925; People vs. Elkanish, G.R. No. L-
2666, September 26, 1951; People vs. Alger, G.R. No. L-4690, November 13,

Applying the Poh Chi principle by analogy, a person, who is caught in possession
of unregistered firearm with ammunition, should only be prosecuted for the
crime of possession of loose firearm although the law also prescribes a penalty for
possession of ammunition. In sum possession of unlicensed firearm and
ammunition should be treated as single offense (See: Pastrano vs. Hon. Court of
Appeals, G.R. No. 104504, October 31, 1997. This doctrine where possession of
firearm absorbs the crime of possession of ammunition is now found in Section
28 of RA No. 10591.

Under the same line of reasoning, a person, who is taking bets in an illegal
gambling, should not be prosecuted for illegal gambling and illegal possession of
gambling paraphernalia. Using gambling paraphernalia is inherent in the
commission of illegal gambling.

However, the Supreme Court, First Division in People vs. Casacop, G.R. No.
210454, January 13, 2016 did not apply the Poh Chi principle that possession of
dangerous drugs absorbed possession of drug paraphernalia. In Casacop case,
after the accused was apprehended for selling drugs, plastic sachets containing
shabu, an improvised glass tooter containing shabu residue and the rolled
aluminum foil with shabu residue were found in his pocket. He was convicted of
three separate crimes of sale of dangerous drugs under Section 5, possession of
dangerous drug under Section 11 and possession of drug paraphernalia under
Section 12.

In People vs. Piad, G.R. No. 213607, January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court,
Second Division, sustained the conviction of the accused for possession of
dangerous drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Despite of the Casacop case and Piad case, it is my submission that the Pho Chi
principle is still a good rule. The Supreme Court in Casacop case and Piad case is
not sitting En Banc. Hence, it cannot abandon the Pho Chi case. Under Section 4,
Article VIII of the Constitution, no doctrine or principle of law laid down by the
court in a decision rendered en banc or in division may be modified or reversed
except by the court sitting en banc.

In Zoomzat, Inc vs. People, G.R. No. 135535, February 14, 2005, the Supreme
Court, First Division made an interpretation of Section 3 (e) of RA No. 3019,
which is different from that made by the Supreme Court En Banc in Mejorada vs.
Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. L-51065-72, June 30, 1987. According to the case of
Stilgrove vs. Sabas, A.M. No. P-06-2257, March 28, 2008, Mejorada was decided
by the Court en banc. Following the constitutional mandate that no doctrine or
principle of law laid down by the Court in a decision rendered en banc or in
division may be modified or reversed except by the Court sitting en banc, the case
of Zoomzat cannot reverse the pronouncement in Mejorada, the former case
having been decided by a Division of the Court.

NOTE: For purpose of the bar exam, please follow the Casacop case and Piad