G.R. NO 207175

I. Facts:

– In 2002, around 11’oclock in the afternoon petitioner, Eduardo Magsumbol, Erasmo Magsino, Apolonio Inanoria, and Bonifacio Ramirez along with unidentified 7 unidentified others  allegedly cut, take, steal and carry away with them thirty-three (33) coconut trees valued (P44,400.00). The unregistered parcel of land was co-owned by Ernesto Caringal and Menandro Avanzado who then charged with the crime of  Theft against the petitioners.

In defense, Atanacio Avanzado testified that he authorized the petitioners to cut down the coconut trees within the boundary of his property, which was adjacent to the land co-owned by Menandro. He also claimed that there were no muniments that delimit the boundaries between the adjacent lots.

RTC and CA decided in favor of Caringal and M. Avanzado on the basis that A. Avanzado is a biased witness because he was related by affinity to Magsumbol and Magsino.

II. Issue/s

– W/N the accused are not guilty of Theft, where malice and intent to gain, as elements of the crime of theft are not present.

III. Ratio/Legal Basis:

– YES.  In view of conflicting claims, the Court cannot determine with certainty the owner of the 33 felled coconut trees. The uncertainty of the exact location of the coconut trees negates the presence of the criminal intent to gain. Criminal intent must be clearly established with the other elements of the crime; otherwise, no crime is committed. RTC and CA erred in brushing aside the testimony of A. Avanzado because of their family relationship does not by itself render a witness’ testimony inadmissible or devoid of evidentiary weight. 

The course of executing Atanacio’s instructions, Magsumbol and his co-accused encroached on the land co-owned by Menandro, because they missed the undetectable boundary between the two lots, and cut down some of Menandro’s trees, such act merely constituted mistake or judgmental error.

The criminal mind is indeed wanting in the situation where Magsumbol and his co-accused even sought prior permission from Brgy. Captain Arguelles to cut down the coconut trees which was done openly and during broad daylight effectively negated malice and criminal intent on their part. It defies reason that the accused would still approach the barangay captain if their real intention was to steal the coconut trees of Menandro. Besides, criminals would usually execute their criminal activities clandestinely or through stealth or strategy to avoid detection of the commission of a crime or a wrongdoing.

The prosecution miserably failed to establish proof beyond reasonable doubt that Magsumbol, together with his co-accused, damaged the property or Menandro with malice and deliberate intent and then removed the felled coconut trees from the premises.

IV. Dispositive Portion

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed December 14, 2012 Decision and the May 6, 2013 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in C.A.-G.R. CR No. 34431 are REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner