Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 74065 February 27, 1989
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
NERIO GADDI y CATUBAY, defendant-appellant.
The Solicitor General for plaintiff-appellee.
Citizen Legal Assistance Office for defendant-appellant.
Nerio Gaddi y Catubay was charged with murder for the death of one Augusto Esguerra y Navarro in an information which reads as follows:
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That on or about the 11th day of December, 1981, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, the above-named accused, with intent to kill, without any justifiable cause, qualified with treachery and with evident pre-meditation (sic), did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and employ personal violence upon the person of one AUGUSTO ESGUERRA y NAVARRO, by then and there stabbing him several times with a knife, hitting him on the different parts of his body, thereby inflicting upon him serious and mortal wounds which were the direct and immediate cause of his death, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the offended party in such amount as maybe awarded under the provision of the Civil Code.
CONTRARY TO LAW. [Rollo, p. 15.]
After arraignment, wherein Gaddi pleaded not guilty, and trial Judge Maximiano C. Asuncion of Branch 104 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City handed down a verdict of guilt for the crime charged, the decretal portion of which reads:
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WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused NERIO GADDI y CATUBAY guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder, as charged in the information, and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA or LIFE IMPRISONMENT and to pay his heirs of Augusta Esguerra the sum of P50,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, with all the accessory penalties provided for by law, and to pay the costs.
SO ORDERED. [Rollo, p. 31.]
On appeal to this Court, Gaddi assigns as errors of the trial court the following:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF ERNESTO GUZMAN AND IN TOTALLY DISREGARDING THE EVIDENCE ADDUCED BY THE DEFENSE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT BASED ON HIS WRITTEN STATEMENT (EXH. "F") WHICH IS INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN APPRECIATING THE QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCES OF TREACHERY AND EVIDENT PRE-MEDITATION [Rollo, p. 38.]
The prosecution presented five (5) witnesses before the court a quo, namely: Ernesto Guzman, Pat, Arturo Angeles, Cpl. Rogello Castillo, Pat. Jesus Patriarca and Dr. Gregorio C. Blanco. On the other hand, the accused Gaddi was the sole witness presented for the defense. The prosecution's version of the facts are as follows:
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At about 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon of December 11, 1981, at San Bartolome, Novaliches, Quezon City, Ernesto Guzman saw appellant Nerio Gaddi and the victim Augusto Esguerra drinking gin. In the morning of the following day, December 12, 1981, appellant told Ernesto Guzman that he killed his drinking partner Augusto Esguerra and dumped his body in a toilet pit. Guzman advised appellant to surrender to the police. After work, Guzman went to the police and reported what appellant told him (pp. 2-3. tsn, September 2, 1982; pp. 2-8. tsn, August 9, 1983).
At around 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, December 12, 1981, Corporal Rogelio Castillo and Detective Rodrigo Salamat arrested appellant at Manrey Subdivision, Novaliches, Quezon City. Appellant told Corporal Castillo that he killed the victim and where he buried the body. Later, Pat. Jesus Patriarca arrived. Appellant himself led the policeman and Barangay residents to where the body was in a toilet pit in the backyard of Ernesto Guzman. The policeman, with the help of the Barangay residents, dug out the body. The body of the victim was Identified by Ernesto Guzman, his wife, and Jose Esguerra, victim's brother. Pat. Patriarca took pictures of the body (Exhibits C to C-5), noted the statements of Ernesto Guzman and Jose Esguerra, (Exhibit D), and took down the confession of appellant (Exhibit F). Later, the cadaver was subjected to autopsy (pp. 3-13, tsn, August 24, 1983; pp. 3-22, tsn, January 3, 1984).
A man's T-shirt with collar, colored yellow, red and blue, and red shorts, were recovered from the pit where the body of the victim was dug out. The T-shirt and shorts were Identified by Ernesto Guzman as those worn by appellant while he was drinking with the victim on December 11, 1981 (pp. 2-3, tsn, September 2, 1982). A small table, rubber slipper, bottle of wine and glass were likewise recovered from the same pit. (p. 6, tsn, July 14, 1983). [Brief for the Appellee, pp. 35; Rollo, p. 52.1
On the other hand, the defense's version of the facts are as follows:
Accused Nerio Gaddi a resident of Novaliches, Quezon City, testified that on December 11, 1981, at around 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., he was drinking with Augusta Esguerra (Bong Kuleleng) near the house of Ernesto Guzman. At about 5:00 p.m., be was requested by Ernesto Guzman to buy gin. He left Ernesto Guzman and Augusta Esguerra (who were allegedly drinking) in order to buy a bottle of gin in a nearby store, about 200 meters away. At the store, he met an acquaintance and they talked for a while before returning. Upon his arrival at the place (where they had a drinking spree) he noticed stain of blood in the place where they had been drinking and Augusta Esguerra, alias Bong Kuleleng was not there anymore. He inquired from Ernesto Guzman the whereabouts of Augusta Esguerra and was told that the latter "went home already". He then asked Guzman about the blood and was told that it was the blood stain of a "butchered chicken." At about 12:00 o'clock midnight, Ernesto Guzman informed him about the killing of Augusta Esguerra. Guzman narrated to him that Bong Kuleleng (Augusta Esguerra) held his rooster by the neck and that his tattoo mark BCJ (Batang City Jail) will be erased by him. He did not report the killing to the authorities. Guzman likewise requested ban to admit the killing but he refused. While in the house, Guzman filed the case ahead. He was later arrested and investigated while looking for the corpse. When brought to the police station, he was forced to admit the killing of Augusto Esguerra (TSN, pp. 3-14 August 20, 1984). [Appellant's Brief, p. 4-5; Rollo, p. 38.]
The Court finds the instant appeal unmeritorious.
Where the conviction of an accused is based merely on circumstantial evidence, as in this case, it is essential for the validity of such conviction that: 1) there be more than one circumstance; 2) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and 3) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt [Section 5, Rule 133 of the Revised Rules of Court, People v. Modesto, G.R. No. L-25484, September 21, 1968, 25 SCRA 36; People v. Pajanustan, G.R. No. L-38162, May 17, 1980, 97 SCRA 699.] Although no general rule has been formulated as to the quantity of circumstantial evidence which will suffice for any case, yet all that is required is that the circumstances proved must be consistent with each other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty and at the same time inconsistent with any other hypothesis except that of guilty [People v. Constante, G.R. No. L-14639, December 28, 1964, 12 SCRA 653; People v. Caneda, G.R. No. L-19132, September 26, 1964, 12 SCRA 9.]
In the case at bar, the circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution sufficiently satisfies the quantum of proof necessary to uphold a judgment of conviction. The following circumstances proven by the prosecution indubitably point to the accused as the perpetrator of the crime committed against Augusto Esguerra.
1. The fact that said victim was last seen on the day he was killed in the company of the accused, drinking gin at the back of the house of Ernesto Guzman [TSN, August 9,1983, p. 1.]
2. The fact that on the day after the drinking spree, December 12, 1981, the accused himself admitted to Ernesto Guzman that he stabbed his drinking companion and that the latter was 'nadisgrasya niya" so he dumped the body of the victim in a hole being dug out for a toilet, located at the yard of Ernesto Guzman [TSN, August 9,1983, p. 7.]
3. The fact that when he was turned over to Pat. Arturo Angeles and Pat. Rogelio Castillo of the Northern Police District by the barangay people who apprehended him, be admitted the truth of the charge of the barangay residents that he killed someone and that he dumped the body of the victim in a place being dug out as an improvised toilet [TSN, July 14, 1983, p. 5; TSN, August 24, 1983, p. 8.] At the time the barangay people started digging for the body of the victim, the appellant was even instructing them as to the exact location where the body was buried [TSN, August 24, 1983, p. 6.]
4. The fact that the place where be led the police officers and the barangay residents, i.e. the toilet pit in the backyard of Ernesto Guzman, was indeed the site where he buried the victim as the body of the victim was found there after the digging [TSN, January 3, 1984, p. 5.]
5. The fact that the T-shirt and shorts which the accused was wearing during the drinking spree were later recovered from the place where the victim was buried [TSN, September 2, 1982, p. 3.]
Appellant however disputes the trial court's reliance on the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses as a basis for his conviction. As a rule, the trial court's assessment of the credibility of the prosecution witnesses is entitled to great weight and respect [People v. Valentino, G.R. Nos. L-49859- 60, February 20, 1986, 141 SCRA 397; People v. Dagangon, G.R. Nos. L-62654-58, November 13, 1986, 145 SCRA 464] since it has the advantage of observing the demeanor of a witness while on the witness stand and therefore can discern if such witness is telling the truth or not [People v. Ornoza, G.R. No. 56283, June 30, 1987, 151 SCRA 495.]
Moreover, appellant's claim that Ernesto Guzman's testimony on Gaddi's confession of the crime to him cannot be given credence for being hearsay is unavailing. This Tribunal bad previously declared that a confession constitutes evidence of high order since it is supported by the strong presumption that no person of normal mind would deliberately and knowingly confess to a crime unless prompted by truth and his conscience [People v. Salvador, G.R. No. L-77964, July 26, 1988 citing People v. Castaneda; G.R. No. L-32625, August 31, 1979, 93 SCRA 59.] Proof that a person confessed to the commission of a crime can be presented in evidence without violating the hearsay rule [Section 30, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Court] which only prohibits a witness from testifying as to those facts which he merely learned from other persons but not as to those facts which he "knows of his own knowledge: that is, which are derived from his own perception." Hence, while the testimony of a witness regarding the statement made by another person, if intended to establish the truth of the fact asserted in the statement, is clearly hearsay evidence, it is otherwise if the purpose of placing the statement in the record is merely to establish the fact that the statement was made or the tenor of such statement [People v. Cusi Jr., G.R. No. L-20986, August 14, 1965, 14 SCRA 944.]Here, when Guzman testified that the appellant, who probably was bothered by his conscience, admitted the killing to him, there was no violation of the hearsay rule as Guzman was testifying to a fact which he knows of his own personal knowledge; that is, be was testifying to the fact that the appellant told him that he stabbed Augusta Esguerra and not to the truth of the appellant's statement.
That the testimony of Guzman on appellant's oral confession is competent evidence finds support in People v. Tawat [G.R. No. L-62871, May 25, 1984, 129 SCRA 4311 which upheld the trial court's reliance on an extrajudicial confession given, not to a police officer during custodial interrogation, but to an ordinary farmer as the basis for conviction. The Court's pronouncements in the aforesaid case find relevance in the instant case:
The declaration of an accused expressly acknowledging his guilt of the offense charged, may be given in evidence against him' (Sec. 29 Rule 130, Rules of Court). What Felicito told Ogalesco may in a sense be also regarded as part of the res gestae.
The Rule is that "any person, otherwise competent as a witness, who heard the confession, is competent to testify as to the substance of what he heard if he heard and understood all of it. An oral confession need not be repeated verbatim, but in such case it must be given in its substance." (23 C.J.S. 196.)
Proof of the contents of an oral extrajudicial confession may be made by the testimony of a person who testifies that he was present, heard, understood, and remembers the substance of the conversation or statement made by the accused [citing Underhill's Criminal Evidence, 4th Ed., Niblack, Sec. 278, p. 551.) [at pp. 436-437; Emphasis supplied.]
The trial court found no reason to doubt Guzman's credibility as a witness considering his stature in the community as a member of a religious movement participating in such activities as "mañanita" and procession of the Fatima and Black Rosary [Rollo, p. 30.] In fact, on the day the killing took place, he left his house where appellant and his companion, Esguerra were still drinking and went to the house of Junior Isla to attend a "mañanita" and participate in the weekly activity of bringing down the crucifix and the image of the Fatima [TSN, September 2, 1982. p. 2] Besides, there was no showing at all that he was actuated by improper motives in testifying against appellant so as to warrant disregard of his testimony [People v. Magdueno, G.R. No. L-68699, September 22, 1986, 144 SCRA 210.] On the contrary, the evidence shows that even though the appellant is not related at all to Guzman, the latter, as an act of generosity, allowed the former to sleep in the porch of his house as the former had no immediate relatives in Quezon City [TSN, August 9, 1983, p. 14.]
As to the testimony of Pat. Angeles and Pat. Castillo, the police officers who apprehended the appellant, credence should be given to their narration of how the appellant was apprehended and how he led the police and the barangay residents to the place where he dumped the body of his victim since those police officers are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner in the absence of evidence to the contrary [People v. Boholst, G.R. No. L-73008, July 23, 1987, 152 SCRA 263 citing People v. Gamayon, G.R. No. L-25486, April 28, 1983, 121 SCRA 642; People v. Campana, G.R. No. L-37325, August 30, 1983, 124 SCRA 271; People v. Rosas, G.R. No. L-72782, April 30 1987, 149 SCRA 464.]
Appellant's defense to the prosecution's charge rests on an uncorroborated and purely oral evidence of alibi. It has been ruled time and again that courts look upon the evidence of alibi with suspicion [People v. Bondoc, 85 Phil. 545 (1950)] and always receive it with caution [People v. Cinco, 67 Phil. 196 (1939); People v. de Guzman, 70 Phil. 23 (1940)] not only because it is inherently weak and unreliable but also because of its easy fabrication [People v. Rafallo, 86 Phil. 22 (1950).] To overcome the evidence of the prosecution, an alibi must satisfy the test of "full, clear and satisfactory evidence" [U.S. v. Pascua, 1 Phil. 631 (1903); U.S. v. Oxiles, 29 Phil, 587 (1915); U.S. v. Olais, 36 Phil 828 (1917).] This test requires not only proof that the accused was somewhere else other than the scene of the crime but clear and convincing proof of physical impossibility for the accused to have been at the place of the commission of the crime [People v. Pacis, G.R. Nos. L-32957- 58, July 25, 1984. 130 SCRA 540; People v. Coronado, G.R. No. 68932, October 28, 1986, 145 SCRA 250; People v. Ferrera, G.R. No. 66965, June 18, 1987, 151 SCRA 113.]
The testimony of the accused himself believes any claim of physical impossibility for him to be at the scene of the crime since according to him, the store where he allegedly bought another bottle of gin was only 200 meters away. He was able to return to Guzman's house only after half an hour since he still had a chat with an acquaintance at the store. Even granting the truth of appellant's story that he was ordered by Guzman to buy a bottle of gin at about 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon and that he was back after thirty minutes, it was not impossible for him to have committed the crime since Guzman and his wife left appellant alone with the victim at around 6:00 o'clock in the evening to attend the mananita at the house of Junior Isla. Thus, his statements on the witness stand, far from demonstrating physical impossibility of being at the scene of the crime, cast serious doubt on the veracity of his alibi.
As the culpability of the accused has been established beyond reasonable doubt by the evidence of the prosecution, there is no need to dwell on the admissibility of appellant's extra-judicial confession [Exh. F to F-9; Rollo, p. 20, et seq.] His conviction can be sustained independently of said confession.
However, in the absence of proof as to how the victim was killed, the aggravating circumstances of treachery and evident premeditation cannot be properly appreciated. The killing must be considered as homicide only and not murder since the circumstance qualifying the killing must be proven as indubitably as the killing itself [People v. Vicente, G.R. No. L-31725, February 18, 1986, 141 SCRA 347.] This Tribunal clearly pointed out in a previous case that
As heretofore stated, not a single eyewitness to the stabbing incident had been presented by the prosecution. Thus, the record is totally bereft of any evidence as to the means or method resorted to by appellant in attacking the victim. It is needless to add that treachery cannot be deduced from mere presumption, much less from sheer speculation. The same degree of proof to dispel reasonable doubt is required before any conclusion may be reached respecting the attendance of alevosia [People v. Duero, G.R No. 65555, May 22, 1985, 136 SCRA 515, 519-520; Emphasis supplied. ]
Neither can the aggravating circumstance of evident premeditation be considered, absent a clear showing of
1. the time when the of tender determined to commit the crime;
2. an act manifestly indicating that the culprit clung to his dead termination; and
3. a sufficient laspe of time between the determination and the execution to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act [People v. Diva, G.R. No. L-22946, October 11, 1968, 25 SCRA 468; People v. Pacada, Jr., G.R. Nos. L-44444-45, July 7, 1986, 142 SCRA 427.]
As the evidence on record does not disclose the existence of treachery and evident premeditation in the stabbing of the victim, the crime committed is only HOMICIDE and not murder, Since there are neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances, the penalty for homicide which is reclusion temporal should be imposed in its medium period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the range of the imposable penalty is from eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal, as maximum.
Absent any proof of actual damages, the heirs of Augusta Esguerra are entitled only to the indemnity of P 30,000.00. Hence, the amount of P50,000.00 awarded by the trial court should be reduced accordingly.
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is MODIFIED and the accused-appellant is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of HOMICIDE, sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum, to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal as maximum, and to indemnify the heirs of Augusto Esguerra in the amount of P 30,000.00.
Fernan, C.J., Gutierrez, Jr., Feliciano and Bidin, JJ., concur.
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