Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 112984 November 14, 1996
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
CRESENCIO DE GRACIA AND BONIFACIO DE GRACIA, accused-appellants.
On February 19, 1992, Crispin Almazan died as a result of the injuries inflicted on his person. The Autopsy Report (Exhibit F-3) contains the post mortem findings: "(1) Compound fracture nasal bone possibly caused by a blunt instrument; (2) Stab wound on the right side of the neck caused by sharp edged object with pointed tip; (3) Stab wound on the right nasolabial fold caused by sharp edge instrument with pointed tip; (4) Stab wound on the left side of the neck caused by pointed sharp edge instrument; (5) Stab wound on the left chest, mid-clavicular line (second intercostal space); (6) Stab wound on the left chest below the shoulder bone (sub-clavicular area). 1
In an Information dated April 10, 1992, the brothers Cresencio De Gracia, Dalmacio de Gracia and Bonifacio de Gracia were charged with the crime of murder, the accusatory pleading averring substantially as follows:
That on or about the 19th day of February 1992, in the Municipality of Cuyapo, Province of Nueva Viscaya, Republic of the Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused armed with a bladed weapon with intent to kill, with evident premeditation, treachery and taking advantage of their superior strength, conspiring, confederating and helping with one another, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully, criminally and feloniously attack assault, stab and hack one Crispin Almazan hitting his throat and face, thereby inflicting upon him multiple hack-stab wounds which directly caused his instantaneous death.
CONTRARY TO LAW. 2
Upon arraignment, the accused, with the exception of Dalmacio de Gracia who is at large, pleaded "not guilty" and the case accordingly proceeded to trial. Thereafter judgment was rendered finding Cresencio and Bonifacio de Gracia guilty as charged and sentenced "to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua"
. . . and "to indemnify, jointly and severally, the heirs of the deceased Crispin Almazan in the sum of P50,000.00 as moral damages, and the total sum of P29,250.00 as actual damages and expenses, without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and to pay the costs." 3
Accused-appellants now seek the reversal of their conviction based on the following assignment of errors:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANTS CRESENCIO DE GRACIA AND BONIFACIO DE GRACIA, JR. ON THE BASIS OF THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES INCONSISTENT AND IMPROBABLE TESTIMONIES.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT GIVING EXCULPATORY WEIGHT ON ACCUSED-APPELLANTS' IMPUTATION OF MOTIVE UPON THE VICTIM AND THE LATTER'S RELATIVES WHO TESTIFIED FOR THE PROSECUTION.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING ACCUSED-APPELLANTS ON THE GROUND OF SELF-DEFENSE AND DEFENSE OF RELATIVE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT CREDITING ACCUSED-APPELLANT BONIFACIO DE GRACIA, JR. WITH THE MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCE OF VOLUNTARY SURRENDER AND, CONSEQUENTLY, IN NOT APPLYING THE BENEFITS OF THE INDETERMINATE SENTENCE LAW IN THE IMPOSITION OF THE PENALTY. 4
The pertinent antecedents of the case, aptly narrated in the People's brief and duly supported by the evidence on record, are as follows:
On February 19, 1992 at around 7:00 in the evening, Anita Almazan was at her yard in front of her house in Barangay Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija when she saw brothers Cresencio, Dalmacio and Bonifacio De Gracia hurling invectives against the Almasan family. Soon, her brother-in-law, 70 year old Crispin Almasan, went out of his house toward the yard but was met by the De Gracias. As they came closer, Crispin said, "My sons, why is it that when you are drunk or have taken intoxicating liquor, you used to utter unsavory words against us? You better behave (Annac co, apay aya nga no mabartec kayo ket pagsasawan yo came. Agtal na cayo man). "Vulva of your mother, Almasan" (Okihna yo nga Almazan), Cresencio blurted outed out as he hooked Crispin's neck with a bamboo (bayog) in his hand. Almost simultaneously, Bonifacio (a.k.a. Junior De Gracia) stabbed Crispin with a sharp pointed bolo about a foot long causing the latter to fall to the ground. Bonifacio followed with blow. Dalmacio took his turn and hit Crispin twice on the right shoulder with a spear (poka). The De Gracias pulled (pinarungguyod) Crispin toward the door of their house where they took turns in stabbing him. Thereafter, the three fled (TSN, July 3, 1992, pp. 2-4, August 4, 1992, pp. 3-4). Upon seeing this, Anita Almazan, who was exactly opposite the crime site, shouted for help. She approached the lifeless bloodsoaked body of the victim and saw the wounds inflicted by appellants.
Meantime, Aries Almazan, who also witnessed the commission of the crime while guarding his tomatoes on the field about 10 meters away, ran to their house and told the people therein about the fatal incident.
SPO1 Amado Cabanas, SPO1 Dominador Lozano, and SPO3 Carlito Dumandan, all of Cuyapo Police Station, immediately responded upon receipt of information from Barangay councilman Benedicto and the victim's daughter Lita Almazan. After investigation, SPO3 Dumandan prepared an Investigation Report which he submitted to Chief Investigator Felix Jacoba (Exh. "A"). Recovered from the crime site were a blood-stained 50 inches long spear, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter with iron blade pointed end about 10 inches long, a foot long chisel and a leather scabbard about 10 inches long. SPO3 Dumandan also photographed the victim where they found him (TSN Aug. 28, 1992, pp. 9-10). Anita Almazan executed a sworn statement describing the commission of the crime by appellants (Exh. "D").
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The victim's brothers and sisters shared in the expenses during the wake which amounted to P24,250.00 (TSN, Oct. 6, 1992, pp. 2-4; Exh. "G"). 5
Appellants lay stress on the apparent contradiction between the testimony of the prosecution witnesses Aries Almazan and Anita Almazan as to the location of the incident and the weapons used on the assault. Thus, they point out that while Anita testified that she saw appellants meet Crispin at the latter's house, and the weapon used was a spear, Aries, on the other hand, claimed that Crispin was met by appellants at the ricefield and the weapon used was a bolo. We are not persuaded. Prosecution witnesses Aries and Anita viewed the incident from different locations and angles, hence the variation in their perceptions. The discrepancy as to the place where the appellants met the victim is negligible considering that Crispin's yard was part of the rice field. Similarly, the disparity as to the kind of the weapon used is insignificant in the face of the declaration of Aries that Bonifacio stabbed Crispin with a bolo and Dalmacio with a spear, 6 while Bonifacio admitted using a spear and chisel. 7 Furthermore, the autopsy report is emphatic that the injuries suffered by Crispin resulting to his death were caused by "sharp edged object with pointed tip" and "pointed sharp edge instrument". Both a spear and a bolo fall under the description "pointed sharp edged instrument". In the whole, the alleged inconsistencies are inconsequential. The witnesses testifying on the same event do not have to be consistent in every detail as differences in recollection or viewpoints or impressions are inevitable. Total recall or perfect symmetry is not required for as long as the witnesses concur on material points, slight differences in their remembrance of the details do not reflect on the essential veracity of their testimony. 8 Indeed, "if rights were to be lost merely because witnesses, while agreeing on the essential fact, fail to testify harmoniously to all the particulars, in a very large proportion of cases involving wrongs to be redressed the law would fail to furnish a remedy. Hence, variations in the testimony of witnesses on the same side in respect of minor, collateral, or incidental matters do not usually impair the weight of their united testimony to the prominent facts." 9
Next, appellants invoke self-defense and defense of relative.
It is a settled rule that when an accused invokes self-defense, the burden is on him to establish by clear and convincing evidence his justification for the killing. 10 He must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of the evidence for the prosecution. For self-defense to prevail, three (3) requisites must concur, to wit: (1) unlawful aggression; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. 11
Upon minute examination of the evidence on record, we find that appellants have failed to discharge this burden. The first and crucial element for self-defense to prosper is wanting in this case. Unlawful aggression presupposes an actual, sudden and unexpected attack or imminent danger on the life and limb of a person. A mere threatening or intimidating attitude exhibited in the alleged shouting incident between Crispin and the brothers is not sufficient. 12 Thus, as correctly observed by the trial court:
The victim, Crispin Almazan, at the time when he was killed, was already 70 years old. On the other hand, the accused Cresencio De Gracia and Bonifacio (Jr.) De Gracia are 25 and 23 years old, respectively, at the time when they testified in Court. When Crispin Almazan was killed on February 19, 1992, said accused were young and full of vigor, vitality and strength considering their aforestated ages as compared to the victim Crispin Almazan who was already 70 years old. This being the case, the Court could hardly believe that the deceased Crispin had unlawfully attacked the said accused. Even assuming, without, however, admitting that said Crispin Almazan had initiated unlawful aggression upon the accused brothers, still the act of accused Bonifacio (Jr.) De Gracia in stabbing the deceased to death is not a reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it. Said accused could have just pushed aside or disarmed Crispin Almazan who was old and weak (see Exhibits C, C-1 and C-2, the pictures of Crispin). Considering the fact that not all the essential elements of self-defense as mentioned above were present, this Court is brushing aside the self-defense theory of accused Bonifacio (Jr.) De Gracia. His evidence is not sufficient to sustain self-defense. 13
Another factor which militates against the appellant's claim of self-defense and defense of a relative is the physical evidence on record. Crispin suffered no less than five (5) stab wounds on different parts of his body and a compound fracture on the nasal bone. Just as the presence and severity of a large number of wounds on the part of the victim disprove self-defense, 14 so do they belie the claim of defense of a relative and indicate not the desire to defend one's relative but a determined effort to kill.
In the final analysis, appellants first three assignment of errors hinge on the trial court's assessment of the witnesses' credibility. Factual findings of the lower court especially on the credibility of the witnesses is generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal. 15 In this case, the trial court considered the "testimonies of prosecution witnesses as natural, probable, straightforward, and credible." 16 We find no cogent reason to hold otherwise as the trial court is in the best position to make an honest determination of the witnesses' deportation during trial. 17
Lastly, appellant Bonifacio claims the benefit of the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender. We note that Bonifacio surrendered and was in fact accompanied by his uncle to the police station, albeit he remained silent. Nonetheless, we cannot take Bonifacio's silence against him. What matters is that Bonifacio, spontaneously, voluntarily and unconditionally placed himself at the disposal of the authorities. 18 This act of repentance and respect for the law indicates a moral disposition favorable to his reform. 19
The applicable penalty for murder prior to the enactment of the Death Penalty Law is reclusion temporal maximum to death. There being no aggravating circumstance but with one mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender, the penalty imposable on Bonifacio in accordance with Art. 64 (2) of the Revised Penal Code should be the minimum period, that is, reclusion temporal in its maximum period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, he is entitled to a minimum penalty of prision mayor maximum to reclusion temporal medium, being the range of the penalty next lower than that prescribed by Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code. 20 The same mitigating circumstance, however, cannot favor Cresencio as he did not surrender. Cresencio was thus correctly sentenced to reclusion perpetua.
WREREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court is AFFIRMED subject to the following MODIFICATIONS: Appellant Bonifacio is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of ten (10) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to twenty years (20) years of reclusion temporal as maximum and the P50,000.00 award for moral damages should be denominated as indemnity. Cresencio's sentence of reclusion perpetua and the award for actual damages are likewise AFFIRMED. Costs against appellants.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Panganiban, JJ., concur.
1 Records, p. 3.
2 RTC Decision, p. 1; Rollo, p. 29.
3 RTC, Nueva Ecija, Branch 31, promulgated on May 26, 1993; Rollo, p. 49.
4 Appellant's Brief, pp. 1-2; Rollo, p. 63-64.
5 Appellee's Brief, pp. 3-7.
6 TSN, August 4, 1992, pp. 3-4.
7 TSN, January 7, 1993, p. 8.
8 People v. de Guzman, 188 SCRA 407; People v. Cabanban, 196 SCRA 353; People v. Fabros, 214 SCRA 694.
9 Hardwood v. Baker, 3 Mo. P.C. 281, 287; Talbot v. Hamilton, 4 Grant Ch. U.C. 200, 207.
10 People v. Manlulu, 231 SCRA 701; People v. Tamparong, Jr., 249 SCRA 584; People v. Nuestro, 310 Phil. 221.
11 Article 11 (1), Revised Penal Code.
12 See People v. Galit, 230 SCRA 486.
13 Decision, pp. 13-14; Rollo, pp. 42-43.
Where the victim of murder is a sexagenarian it is unlikely that he assaulted 24-year old accused who had a gun and bolo. People vs. Diaz. 55 SCRA 178.
14 People v. Masangkay, 157 SCRA 320; People v. Maceda, 197 SCRA 499; People v. Ganzagan, Jr., G.R. No. 113793, August 11, .1995; People v. Orbes, G.R. No. 104664, August 28, 1995.
15 People v. Tami, 313 Phil. 665; People v. Flores, 313 Phil. 227; People v. Magalong, 313 Phil. 823.
16 RTC Decision, p. 20; Rollo, p. 48.
17 See Arzadon v. Arzadon, 15 Phil. 77; People v. Estenzo, 72 SCRA 428.
18 People v. Galaver, 223 SCRA 310; People v. Camahalan, supra.
19 Francisco, The Revised Penal Code, Book One, Third Ed., 1958, p. 375.
20 People v. Ocana, 229 SCRA 341.
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