G.R. No. 116237 May 15, 1996
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
FE ARCILLA y CORNEJO, accused-appellant.
In an Information, dated August 5, 1992,1 accused FE ARCILLA y CORNEJO was charged with Parricide before the Regional Trial Court of Daraga, Albay, viz:
That on or about 9:00 A.M. of May 1, 1992, at Brgy. Namantao, Daraga, Albay, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill and while armed with a fan knife, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack and stab her husband, ANTONIO F. ARCILLA, hitting and inflicting upon the latter fatal wound on his left chest, which injury directly caused and resulted to the death of said Antonio F. Arcilla, all to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the deceased.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
Accused pleaded not guilty 2 and underwent trial.
The evidence for the prosecution shows that accused Fe Arcilla y Cornejo and the victim, Antonio Arcilla, were married in Goa, Camarines Sur, on April 19, 1975.3
They had five (5) children.
Accused was a teacher while Antonio was an employee of National Power Corporation in Daraga, Albay. In 1983, she left her family to work in Singapore. Her children remained in their conjugal home in Camarines Sur. Antonio, on the other hand, stayed most of the time in Albay.
Unknown to the accused, Antonio developed an illicit affair with Lilia Lipio. The house of Lilia's parents in barangay Namantao, Daraga, Albay, served as their lovenest. Antonio sired two (2) children during his amorous union with Lilia.
Eventually, the accused learned of her husband's infidelity. She returned to the country in 1988 but her return did not stop the illicit relationship between Lilia and Antonio.
The illicit relationship came to a tragic end on May 1, 1992. At about 9:00 A.M. of said date, accused went to Lilia's residence in Namantao, Daraga, Albay looking for Antonio. It was the barangay's feast day and Lilia's family had a lot of guests. The accused found Antonio having a drinking spree with his friends in a kiosk, just a few meters away from Lilia's house.
The meeting immediately started to be violent. Accused approached Antonio and slapped him. She then went inside Lilia's house and instructed Antonio to tell Lilia to join them. The three proceeded to the bedroom where the three (3) year-old son of Lilia and Antonio was sleeping. A heated altercation between accused and Antonio followed. Lilia left the bedroom and sat on a sofa in the receiving room. The sofa was about two (2) meters away and she could see the bickering couple through the bedroom's door which was then half-closed.
At the height of their arguments, the accused took a fan knife from her shoulder bag and stabbed Antonio on the chest, causing him to embrace her tightly. Lilia barged back to the room, held Antonio's belt at the back and pulled him away from accused. Accused was able to pull out the knife from Antonio's chest and she delivered a second thrust to Antonio. She hit him on the left thigh. Accused then fled with the fan knife. Blood stained her clothes.
Antonio was rushed to the hospital where he died due to "hypovolemic shock due to massive hemorrhage secondary, to stab wound."
Accused gave a different version.
She testified that she received an urgent letter from her eldest daughter asking for money to pay her tuition fees. Thus, in the early morning of May 1, 1992, she went to see her husband in his office in Daraga, Albay. The security guard told her that Antonio was in Namantao. She proceeded to Lilia's residence and found Antonio drinking with some friends. Antonio advised her up go home and not to make a scene. Irked, she slapped him and then went inside Lilia's house. Antonio followed her up the bedroom where the three-year old son of Lilia was sleeping. Lilia joined the couple in the bedroom. Accused then asked them if the child was theirs. Lilia denied the accusation but Antonio boldly admitted that the boy was theirs. The admission provoked a heated verbal exchange between the accused and Antonio while Lilia brought the child outside the bedroom. The altercation became violent when Antonio pushed the accused and she hit the concrete wall and felt dizzy. Seeing a fan knife in a cabinet, she held it with her right hand and warned Antonio not to go near her or she would stab him. Antonio did not heed her warning. They grappled for the knife until Antonio was able to twist her left arm at her back. She managed to free her left arm and held the knife with both hands. However, Antonio moved behind her, wrapped his arms around her, held her hands and tried to force the knife towards her. She twisted her body and the knife struck Antonio's left thigh. Undaunted, Antonio tried to direct the knife towards her a second time. She bit his arm but his grip even tightened. Again, she twisted her body and, in the process, the knife struck Antonio. When his embrace loosened, she ran away.
She chanced upon a barangay tanod who helped her surrender to the barangay captain of Namantao. She was then taken to the police headquarters in Daraga, Albay.
The trial court gave more credence to the testimony of prosecution witness Lilia Lipio and convicted the accused. The dispositive portion of the trial court's Decision, dated May 27, 1994,4
CONSIDERING THE FOREGOING RATIOCINATION, the court hereby finds the accused FE ARCILLA Y CORNEJO to have committed beyond reasonable doubt the act of stabbing her lawfully wedded husband ANTONIO ARCILLA, resulting to the latter's untimely death. Accused is therefore declared GUILTY of the crime of parricide as defined and penalized under Article 246 of the Revised Penal Code. She is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA and the accessory penalties provided by law.
Having been found (guilty) of the capital offense, the bail bond filed for her provisional liberty is hereby cancelled and accused is ordered committed to the provincial jail.
Accused is likewise hereby ordered to pay the heirs of the deceased victim ANTONIO ARCILLA, the sum of FIFTY THOUSAND (P50,000.00) PESOS for the fact of death; TWENTY THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED (P20,100.00) PESOS, as actual or compensatory damages; and another TWENTY THOUSAND (P20,000.00) PESOS, as moral damages.
Costs against the accused.
Subsequently, the trial court amended the dispositive portion of its Decision. Treating reclusion perpetua as a divisible penalty under Republic Act No. 7659, the trial court sentenced the accused as follows:
CONSIDERING THE FOREGOING RATIOCINATION, the Court finds the accused FE ARCILLA Y CORNEJO to have committed beyond reasonable doubt the act of stabbing her lawfully wedded husband ANTONIO ARCILLA, resulting to the latter's untimely death. Accused is therefore truly and truthfully guilty of the crime of parricide. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance and after applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, she is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of FOURTEEN (14) YEARS, EIGHT (8) MONTHS AND ONE (1) DAY OF RECLUSION TEMPORAL as minimum, to TWENTY-EIGHT (28) YEARS, (8) MONTHS AND ONE (1) DAY OF RECLUSION PERPETUA, as maximum, and all the accessory penalties provided by law.
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Hence, this appeal where appellant contends:
FIRST ASSIGNED ERROR
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ADMITTING THE TESTIMONY OF LILIA LIPIO DESPITE THE ABSENCE OF A PUBLIC PROSECUTOR IN THE TAKING THEREOF.
SECOND ASSIGNED ERROR
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF LILIA LIPIO RELATIVE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO THE DEATH OF ANTONIO ARCILLA.
THIRD ASSIGNED ERROR
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT GIVING CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT RELATIVE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND ANTONIO ARCILLA.
The appeal lacks merit.
We reject the first contention of the appellant. The records do not show that the entire testimony of the prosecution star witness, Lilia Lipio, was given in the absence of the prosecuting fiscal. As explicitly stated by the trial judge in his Decision, viz:
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From the records of Branch I of the Regional Trial Court, Prosecutor de Joya only attended the pre-trial of the case. The pre-trial was, however, waived by the defense. It appears that Prosecutor de Joya, after the pre-trial went back to Branch 2, as in fact he cross-examined a witness for the defense in People vs. Rogelio Andez. This case was heard after the hearing in instant case. So Prosecutor de Joya was absent for only a few minutes. He was not absent for all the time that Lilia Lipio took the witness stand.
The Presiding Judge had a chance to talk to Prosecutor de Joya. According to him, he stayed at Branch I for not more than five (5) minutes, then, returned to Branch 2. When he returned to Branch 2, the private prosecutor was still conducting his direct examination on Lilia. (Emphasis supplied)
The fleeting absence of Fiscal de Joya is not a sufficient ground to invalidate the testimony of Lilia Lipio as urged by appellant. To begin with, appellant herself did not object to the continuation of the testimony of Lipio despite the momentary absence of the prosecutor. Appellant has not also shown any prejudice caused to her by the incident. Through counsel, she was able to fully cross-examine Lipio and test her credibility. To be sure, appellant misappreciates the reason requiring the public prosecutor to be present in the trial of criminal cases. A crime is an offense against the State, and hence is prosecuted in the name of the People of the Philippines.6 For this reason, section 5 of Rule 110 provides that "all criminal actions either commenced by complaint or by information shall be prosecuted under the direction and control of the fiscal. . . ." Only private crimes like adultery, concubinage, seduction, abduction, rape or acts of lasciviousness can be prosecuted at the instance of the offended party.7 The presence of a public prosecutor in the trial of criminal cases is necessary to protect vital state interests at stake in the prosecution of crimes, fore most of which is its interest to vindicate the rule of law, the bedrock of peace of the people. As the representative of the State, the public prosecutor has the right and the duty to take all steps to protect the rights of the People in the trial of an accused. It ought to be self evident that the right belongs to the public prosecutor and not to the accused. The absence of a prosecutor cannot therefore be raised by an accused to invalidate the testimony of a state witness if he cannot prove personal prejudice as in the case at bar.
In her second assignment of error, appellant assails the credibility of Lilia Lipio. The records will show that Lilia Lipio was clear and categorical when she testified on how Antonio was stabbed by accused. She declared:8
What happened when you entered the room?
After I entered the room Fe Arcilla asked Antonio Arcilla whether the child who was sleeping is the child of Antonio Arcilla with me?
Q What did Antonio Arcilla answer or what was the answer of Antonio Arcilla?
A Antonio Arcilla said: "yes, is it not that you knew it already."
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Q How far were you from Antonio and Fe when you seated yourself in the receiving room?
A More or less two meters.
Q What happened while you were already seated in the receiving room.
A Fe Arcilla asked Antonio Arcilla: "what do you like me to do, do I have to kill you."
Q What was the answer of Antonio Arcilla?
A Antonio Arcilla answered, "just do it."
Q What else happened after that?
A Antonio Arcilla was standing fronting Fe Arcilla.
Q Where was he facing, was he looking at Fe Arcilla when he said that?
A Yes, sir, but his face was a little bit lower.
Q With that position of Antonio Arcilla so, what did Fe Arcilla do?
A I saw Fe Arcilla opened her shoulder bag.
Q What did he get from that bag?
A That fan knife.
Q What did she do with the fan knife?
A She immediately stabbed Antonio Arcilla.
Q Was Antonio Arcilla hit by that stabbing?
A Yes, sir.
Q Where, on what part of his body?
A At this juncture witness pointing to her left breast.
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Q Now, after Fe Arcilla stabbed Antonio Arcilla on the left breast what else happened?
A Antonio Arcilla was able to embrace Fe Arcilla.
Q What did you do?
A Inasmuch as the hands of Fe Arcilla could not extricate from the body of Antonio Arcilla what I did was to grab Antonio Arcilla by his belt on his back as there was blood oozing from his body.
Q What happened when you grabbed Antonio Arcilla at his belt?
A Fe Arcilla was able to pull the knife and stabbed Antonio Arcilla again for the second time.
Q Where was Antonio Arcilla hit with the second stab?
A On the left thigh.
(Witness pointing to his left thigh).
Q After the second stab what did Fe Arcilla do?
A She hurriedly went out of the house.
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During her cross-examination, Lipio remained firm and certain on what transpired that fateful day. She testified:9
Before Fe Arcilla stabbed Antonio Arcilla, nothing happened as to any conversation which took place between the two?
Only that altercation and Fe Arcilla even asked Antonio Arcilla: "What do you want me to do, do I have to kill you now?"
Q That child who was sleeping inside the room was he awakened?
A No, sir, my, child was not awakened but I told somebody to get my son and brought (sic) him to me.
Q You mean after the stabbing incident, your son was still sleeping?
A Yes, sir.
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Q You did not witness any commotion before the stabbing incident?
A No, sir, only the door was moved by them. Why, were they grappling for something?
A No, sir, but Antonio Arcilla was able to embrace Fe Arcilla when Antonio Arcilla was stabbed by Fe Arcilla.
Q And you witnessed all these?
A Yes, sir and even my other child was able to witness it. My other child fainted.
Q The one who was not asleep?
A Yes, sir, my daughter.
Q And you said that Fe Arcilla again stabbed Antonio Arcilla for the second time hitting him on the left thigh?
A When Fe Arcilla pulled the knife from Antonio Arcilla's breast and then she thrust (sic) it again on the left thigh.
Q How, will you demonstrate?
A At this juncture witness demonstrated how Antonio Arcilla was stabbed for the second time on the left thigh. Probably the intention of Fe Arcilla was to stab the genitals of Antonio Arcilla.
Q But she failed?
A Antonio Arcilla was hit on the left thigh.
Q And he was facing Fe Arcilla?
A Yes, sir, that is why he was able to embrace Fe Arcilla and even had a hard time in pulling the knife that is why I grabbed Antonio Arcilla on his back by pulling his belt.
Q And so, you were at the back of Antonio Arcilla when he was stabbed for the second time?
A Yes, sir, going out of the sala because Fe Arcilla passed by the sala as she was going out of the room Fe Arcilla passed by the right side.
Q And so, let us get this clear Fe Arcilla stabbed Antonio Arcilla for the second time using the same hand?
A Yes, sir, the same hand, the right hand.
Q And it was done in the same manner by which she made the first thrust?
A When she pulled the knife and made a thrust and he was hit on the left thigh.
Q But by then Fe Arcilla was closer to Antonio Arcilla than when she made the first thrust?
A Yes, sir, because I was able to grab him and she was able to pull the knife and made the second thrust.
Q Romeo Lipio your brother was inside the compound of your parent's house at that time of the incident?
A Yes, sir, because he was in-charge of the cooking of the food.
The records show that the demeanor of Lipio while on the witness stand impressed the trial judge . In his Decision, the trial judge declared:
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The court is then called upon (to) choose between these two . . . opposing actions of incompatibles. The court is wary and conscious of this state of things, so that it was quite critical and keen in the observation of the witnesses when they took the witness stand. The court was then particularly watchful and paid strict attention when prosecution witness Fe Arcilla, the accused herself, testified. Lilia may be considered a biased witness considering that she was the other woman in the life of Antonio. They have lived together for quite a number of years and in fact begotten two children out of their relation. Fe Arcilla, however, could not be far behind. She may likewise be considered as a biased witness on the footing and level as Lilia, as she is the accused in this case. . . .
As seen and sensed by the court through a careful analytic attention, Lilia was quite honest and sincere when she took the witness stand. She was emphatic in her testimony and straightforward. The court could not detect any evasiveness in her testimony. She was composed and cool.
The court, on the other hand, could feel any (sic) perceived that the accused was not disturbed by the incident which is quite unnatural. At times, she seemed to he amused and would smile, although there was nothing funny about the matter.
For the nth time, we reiterate that the trial court's assessment of the credibility of witnesses deserves great respect since it has the important opportunity to observe first-hand the expression and demeanor of the witnesses at the trial. 10 We find no cogent reason to depart from this well settled rule.
Anent the third assignment of error, we have examined the testimony of appellant and we are not convinced that the stabbing at bar was merely accidental and through the own doing of the victim. The location of the victim's wounds, the position of the accused and the victim, and their relative strength negate the credence of appellant's story. Indeed, her claim that she twisted her body at an angle that allowed the knife to pass just below her armpit and pierce the victim's chest and left thigh, is incredulous. Evidence to be believed must not only come from the mouth of a credible witness but must also be credible in itself. 11
We also reject the contention of the accused that she was forced to use the knife to resist the victim's assault. While the estranged couple had a heated argument before the stabbing incident, the evidence shows that it was the accused who provoked the victim. By her own admission, the victim initially dissuaded her from making a scene. Nonetheless, she could not control her emotion and she slapped the victim in front of his friends. Even assuming arguendo, that the victim harmed her prior to the stabbing, there was no reasonable necessity for her to use the knife as there were many people outside the house who could readily render assistance to her.
We now come to the penalty imposed by the trial court in its amended decision. In an on bane resolution, 12 dated January 9, 1995, this Court clarified its earlier 13 held that "although ruling in People v. Lucas and section 17 of R.A. 7659 has fixed the duration of reclusion perpetua from twenty years (20) and one (1) day to forty (40) years, there was no clear legislative intent to alter its original classification as an indivisible penalty." In accord with this clarification, the proper penalty to be imposed on the appellant is reclusion perpetua without any divisible period. It is then needless to address appellant's plea that the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender be considered in her favor. appellant's voluntary surrender will not alter her penalty of reclusion perpetua, the same being a single and indivisible penalty.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the assailed amended decision is AFFIRMED, with modification that accused FE ARCILLA y CORNEJO is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. No costs.
Regalado, Romero, Mendoza and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.
1 Original Records, p. 4.
2 Original Records, p. 45.
3 Exhibits "G" and "H", Original Records, pp. 124-125.
4 Penned by Judge Rafael T. Santelices; Rollo, pp. 36-37.
5 mended Decision, dated June 18, 1994; Ibid., at p. 39.
6 Section 2, Rule 110.
7 Section 5, Rule 110.
8 TSN, April 22, 1993, pp. 7-11.
9 TSN, April 22, 1993, pp. 30-33.
10 People vs. Vinas, Sr., G.R. Nos. 112070-71, June 29, 1995, 245 SCRA 448.
11 People vs. Quino, G.R. No. 105580, May 17, 1994.
12 240 SCRA 67.
13 G.R. Nos. 108172-173, promulgated on May 25, 1994.
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