Legally Yours

US v. Estapia

Statutory Construction. Verba accipienda sunt secundum materiam.
US v. Estapia
37 Phil 17

The defendants took part, either as principals or as spectators, in an ihaway, the local name for a kind of cockfight in which it is agreed that the losing cock is to be divided between the two owners of the two birds engaged in the fight. The owners, with a few of their friends, were seen carrying the gamecocks to a grove of buri palms near a recently constructed house; and were surprised by the police. There is nothing in the record which tends to indicate that the grove of buri palms where the fight took place had ever been used for such a purpose on any occasion; or that on wager or bet was made on the fight, other than the agreement that the losing bird should be killed and eaten by the owners of both cocks. Upon proof of these facts, judgment was entered in the court below convicting the defendants of a violation of the provisions of section 1 of Act No. 480. This statute does not penalize all unlicensed cockfighting, but merely unlicensed cockfighting in a cockpit. The statute does not impose penalties on those “who shall engage in cockfighting,” but on those who “shall engage cockfighting in a cockpit.” It does not direct that the prescribed penalty shall be imposed on one “who shall attend as a spectator of cockfighting,” but on any person who “shall attend as spectator of cockfighting in a cockpit.”

Whether or not the defendants violated Act No. 480

While it appears that the accused were participants in, or spectators at an unlicensed cockfight, nevertheless, the evidence of the record fails utterly to sustain a finding that this cockfight took place in a cockpit. The Attorney-General suggests that the term cockpit as used in the statute should be construed to mean any place at which a cockfight takes place. But this contention runs counter to the plain language of the statute and cannot be supported by any sound rule of statutory construction. It violates the elementary rule that, when possible, all the words of a statute are to be given some meaning so that when the legislator makes use of words of limitation, he must be presumed to have intended to limit and restrict. Further, the penal provisions of a statute are to be construed strictly — a rule of construction which emphatically forbids any attempt to hold that when the legislator penalizes the commission of an act on certain specific occasions, he intends to penalize it on all occasions. In construing particular words or terms used in a statute, due regard should be had for the context (verba accipienda sunt secundum materiam). The provisions of the statute with relation to the maintenance of unlicensed cockpits, and the taking part in games of chance in cockpits, licensed or not, quite clearly indicate that when the legislator made use of the word cockpit, he had in mind someplace specially designed for use by cockfighters, or used by cockfighters more or less frequently as the scene of their encounters; and not merely a place at which upon a single occasion, and without special preparation, a single encounter takes place between two birds. Hence, the accused should be acquitted of the offense.

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