Art 1 of the Revised Penal Code : The three cardinal principles of the Philippine penal laws explained

The penal laws in the Philippines observed several principles in application of the law.

In the Revised Penal Code (RPC), in particular, here are the three cardinal principles:

1. Generality
2. Territoriality
3. Prospectivity

According to the book of Regalado, some would add the fourth principle, which is that of legality in consideration of the legal maxim “nullum crimen (or nulla poena) sine lege.”

This means that there are no common law crimes in this jurisdiction wherein it is required, as a civil law country, that a crime should be defined and a penalty should be imposed only by statute.

What is Generality?

In simple terms, the generality principle evolves on WHO are covered by this law?

The RPC applies to ALL PERSONS who commit felonies in Philippine territory, regardles of nationality, gender, age or other personal circumstances ( see also Art.14 of the Civil Code).

“Article 14. Penal laws and those of public security and safety shall be obligatory upon all who live or sojourn in the Philippine territory, subject to the principles of public international law and to treaty stipulations.”

General rule: The rule generality applies to (a) all persons who commit felonies in Philippine territory; (b)obligatory upon all who live or sojourn in the Philippine territory.

Established exceptions:
A. Treaty Stipulations or Executive Agreements
B. Laws of Preferential Applications
C. Principles of Public International Law (example: Sovereigns, head of state, and persons with diplomatic status and immunity are not subject to the provisions of RPC. Consuls and consulars, however, are not exempt from local prosecution.)

What is territoriality?

This territoriality principle covers the WHAT question, or the type of offenses covered by the law?

As a general rule, the RPC applies to ALL offenses committed within the Philippine territory.

The Philippine Constitution provides the limits of our national territory.

The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction, consisting of its terrestrial, fluvial and aerial domains, including its territorial sea, the seabed, the subsoil, the insular shelves, and other submarine arethe WHEN are laws appas. The waters around, between, and connecting the islands of the archipelago, regardless of their breadth and dimensions, form part of the internal waters of the Philippines.”


The exceptions to the rule of territoriality are found in Article 2 of the RPC which provides for the extraterritorial jurisdiction of our courts.

“Article 2. Application of its provisions. – Except as provided in the treaties and laws of preferential application, the provisions of this Code shall be enforced not only within the Philippine Archipelago, including its atmosphere, its interior waters and maritime zone, but also outside of its jurisdiction, against those who:

1. Should commit an offense while on a Philippine ship or airship

2. Should forge or counterfeit any coin or currency note of the Philippine Islands or obligations and securities issued by the Government of the Philippine Islands;

3. Should be liable for acts connected with the introduction into these islands of the obligations and securities mentioned in the presiding number;

4. While being public officers or employees, should commit an offense in the exercise of their functions; or

5. Should commit any of the crimes against national security and the law of nations, defined in Title One of Book Two of this Code.”

Articles 2 basically extends the jurisdiction of our local courts to felonies committed even outside the Philippine territory provided that any of the five circumstances mentioned are present.

Exception to the exceptions:

Take note that the law is clear.

Even if any of the five circumstances are present and the felony was committed outside the Philippine archipelago, our local penal laws still hold no jurisdiction if the treaties and laws of preferential application provide as such.

What is Prospectivity?

The principle of prospectivity covers the WHEN are laws applicable.

As a general rule, the Code has no retroactive effect.

Exception: When the provisions would be favorable to the accused who is not a habitual delinquent.

Take note that these two elements must be present: (FAVORABLE TO THE ACCUSED + NOT A HABITUAL DELINQUENT)

In this case, the law can take effect retroactively.

Exception to the exception:

The retroprospectivity of the law is still not applicable even if it is favorable to the accused and the accused is not a habitual delinquent if the later law has a provisions against its retrospective effect.

When can a person be considered a habitual delinquent?

“Under the law (art. 62, subsec. 5, par. 5, of the Revised Penal Code), a person shall be deemed to be habitual delinquent.” . . . if within a period of ten years from the date of his release or last conviction of the crimes of robo, hurto, estafa, or falsificacion, he is found guilty of any of said crimes a third time or oftener ( People of the Philippines vs Masonson).”

Rule of Construction of the Code:

“It’s provisions are construed strictly against the State and any doubt is resolved in favor of the accused (US vs Abad Santos)”

*I hope this blog can help and inspire my readers regardless of where they are from or whatever they do in life!

For Life and Law is also open to any article contribution which will potentially inspire others.

(Featured photo by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels)

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