Friday, September 26, 2008

Case Digest: Cabal v. Kapunan

G.R. No. L-19052, December 29, 1962


Col. Jose C. Maristela filed with the Secretary of National Defense a letter-complaint charging petitioner Manuel Cabal, then Chief of Staff of the AFP, with "graft, corrupt practices, unexplained wealth, and other equally reprehensible acts". The President of the Philippines created a committee to investigate the charge of unexplained wealth. The Committee ordered petitioner herein to take the witness stand in the administrative proceeding and be sworn to as witness for Maristela, in support of his aforementioned charge of unexplained wealth. Petitioner objected to the order of the Committee, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination. The Committee insisted that petitioner take the witness stand and be sworn to, subject to his right to refuse to answer such questions as may be incriminatory. This notwithstanding, petitioner respectfully refused to be sworn to as a witness to take the witness stand.

The Committee referred the matter to the Fiscal of Manila, for such action as he may deem proper. The City Fiscal filed with the Court of First Instance of Manila a "charge" of contempt for failing to obey the order of the Committee to take the witness stand. The "charge" was assigned to the sala of respondent judge Kapunan. Petitioner filed with respondent Judge a motion to quash, which was denied. Hence this petition for certiorari and prohibition.

ISSUE: Whether or not the Committee's order requiring petitioner to take the witness stand violates his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

HELD: Yes.
Although the said Committee was created to investigate the administrative charge of unexplained wealth, it seems that the purpose of the charge against petitioner is to apply the provisions of the Anti-Graft Law, which authorizes the forfeiture to the State of property of a public officer or employee which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property. However, such forfeiture has been held to partake of the nature of a penalty. As a consequence, proceedings for forfeiture of property are deemed criminal or penal, and, hence, the exemption of defendants in criminal case from the obligation to be witnesses against themselves are applicable thereto.

No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. This prohibition against compelling a person to take the stand as a witness against himself applies to criminal, quasi-criminal, and penal proceedings, including a proceeding civil in form for forfeiture of property by reason of the commission of an offense, but not a proceeding in which the penalty recoverable is civil or remedial in nature.

The privilege of a witness not to incriminate himself is not infringed by merely asking the witness a question which he refuses to answer. The privilege is simply an option of refusal, and not a prohibition of inquiry. A question is not improper merely because the answer may tend to incriminate but, where a witness exercises his constitutional right not to answer, a question by counsel as to whether the reason for refusing to answer is because the answer may tend to incriminate the witness is improper.

The possibility that the examination of the witness will be pursued to the extent of requiring self-incrimination will not justify the refusal to answer questions. However, where the position of the witness is virtually that of an accused on trial, it would appear that he may invoke the privilege in support of a blanket refusal to answer any and all questions.

Note: It is not disputed that the accused in a criminal case may refuse, not only to answer incriminatory questions, but, also, to take the witness stand.

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