Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 129216 April 20, 2001
THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
ROMEO GARCIA, accused-appellant.
Having been convicted of murder qualified by treachery by the Regional Trial Court and sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, the appellant seeks relief from this Court praying for his acquittal.
Accused-appellant was charged with murder before the Regional Trial Court, Tenth Judicial Region, Branch 35, Ozamis City, under the following information:
That at or about 7:20 o'clock in the evening of July 8, 1995, in Purok 6, Barangay Carmen, Annex, Ozamiz City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused willfully, unlawfully and feloniously with intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, attack, assault and use personal violence to the person of victim Rodrigo K. Manding, to wit: by the use of a firearm accused did then and there shot Rodrigo K. Manding which was the direct and immediate cause of his death thereafter.
CONTRARY to Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code.1
During arraignment, the accused-appellant pleaded not guilty. Trial on the merits then ensued. The following facts were established by the evidence for the prosecution which consisted of the testimonies of two (2) eyewitnesses.
Lucio Guintaason testified that on July 8, 1995, at around 6:30 in the evening, he was with victim Rodrigo Manding (a.k.a. Bebot Manding) in front of Gaisano Store in Ozamiz City.2 They walked home together towards Manding's house in Annex, Ozamiz City. Upon passing by a coconut tree, the accused-appellant, Romeo Garcia, who was wearing his security guard uniform, suddenly appeared and fired in the direction of the victim's chest. Manding raised his hand and said "enough."3 He then ran towards his house with the accused-appellant chasing him. When Manding fell to the ground, the accused-appellant shot him four (4) times.4 Guintaason witnessed the whole incident since he was only three (3) meters away from the protagonists. He noticed that the accused-appellant used a .38-caliber handgun.5 Guintaason had known the accused-appellant because Manding had earlier confided to him about a quarrel he had with the accused-appellant over a tricycle seat.6 Overcome by fear, Guintaason left for Pagadian City early the next morning. He returned to Ozamiz City only after three months from the incident.7
Jennelyn Romaguera, a stepdaughter of the victim, testified that at around 7:20 in the evening of that fateful day, she was tending their store in Carmen, Ozamiz City.8 She noticed that there was a chase outside and saw the accused-appellant, armed with a short handgun, running after Rodrigo Manding. Both were running towards their store. She then heard a single gunfire. When she peeped through a hole in their wall,9 she saw Romeo Garcia shoot her stepfather, who fell at the side of the store.10 The accused-appellant continued to fire his gun at the victim, hitting him three times on the head and twice on the body.11 Thereafter, the accused-appellant ran towards the artesian well.12 Romaguera was familiar with the accused-appellant since the latter's wife was renting the second floor of their house and he was a frequent visitor.13 She also knew him to be working as a security guard.14
Corroborating the testimonies of the two eyewitnesses, Dr. Victor Alinas, Assistant City Health Officer, testified that he conducted a post-mortem examination of the remains of Rodrigo Manding. He found multiple lacerated wounds which he believed to have been caused by gunshots located in different parts of the body. The certificate of death issued on July 10, 199515 indicated the following:
1. Lacerated wound, probably gunshot, temporal area right.
2. Lacerated wound, probably gunshot, left eyebrow.
3. Entrance lacerated wound, probably gunshot, left angle mouth.
4. Exit lacerated wound, right check.
5. Lacerated wound, anterior chest, left, probably gunshot.
6. Lacerated wound, probably gunshot, peri umbilical area, right.
7. Lacerated wound, probably gunshot, infrascapular area, right.
For his defense, the accused-appellant testified on his own behalf. He denied killing Bebot Manding and claimed that he had no motive as the disagreement which he previously had with the victim regarding the ownership and possession of a tricycle seat had already been resolved. He was a security guard assigned by his agency at Wilson Lumber in Catadman since June, 1995. His service firearm was a shotgun, not a short handgun. On July 8, 1995, his tour of duty was from seven o'clock in the evening to seven o'clock in the morning. He reported for work at the Wilson Lumber at 6:45 in the evening. He was conversing with Carlos Papa, a tricycle driver who at that time drove a passenger to Wilson Lumber, when a police patrol car arrived with his wife Luz Garcia. The police officer approached him and informed him that he was the suspect in the killing of Bebot Manding. The police officer smelled appellant's hands for gunpowder. Thereafter, the police officer invited him to the police headquarters to which appellant readily acceded.16
To corroborate his testimony, he presented (1) Mrs. Luz Garcia, (2) Carlos Papa, (3) SPO2 Gospe Maquiling, (4) Teofilo Nunez, (5) Angele Durias, and (6) Carlos Garcia.
Luz Garcia declared that she is the wife of the accused-appellant but they have long been separated. Her husband is now living with his paramour in another town. Luz Garcia and her children are renting the second floor of the house owned by the victim, Bebot Manding, while the latter and his family live on the ground floor. In order to discredit prosecution witness Romaguera, Luz Garcia testified that said witness was merely instructed by her mother, Cleopas Nomar, to point at the accused-appellant as the assailant,17 knowing about the grudge the two men had against each other. In fact, Luz Garcia even helped "coach" the witness in making these false accusations against her husband because of her hatred towards him for leaving her for another woman. She was now bothered by her conscience for turning against her husband. She added that when the investigating police officer smelled the hands of the accused-appellant, he did not smell any "gunpowder burn" and the latter allegedly concluded that the accused-appellant did not fire any gun.18
Carlos Papa is a tricycle driver who testified that he saw the accused-appellant at his post in Wilson Lumber at around 6:45 in the evening of July 8, 1995. He brought a female passenger to the lumber compound and conversed with the accused-appellant for around an hour since they were acquaintances. He left when the police officers came.19
SPO2 Maquiling testified that he was on duty in the evening of July 8, 1995. At 7:00 p.m., his team received a radio call that there was a shooting incident in Barangay Annex. They immediately responded and there they met the wife of the accused who told them that it was her husband who shot the victim. They went to the house of the accused in Aguada but were told by one Angela Durias that the accused-appellant was on duty at Wilson Lumber. They saw the accused-appellant at said place. SPO2 Maquiling smelled the hands of the accused-appellant for gunpowder and invited him to go with them to the headquarters. The accused-appellant deposited his service firearm with the management of Wilson Lumber and went with the police.20
Teofilo Nunez, a barangay kagawad, was presented to show that the accused-appellant had no motive to commit the crime charged. He alleged that in the morning of July 8, 1995, he met the victim and the accused-appellant outside of the barangay office. He asked what they needed and they replied that they wanted to see the barangay captain to help settle their dispute. Since the barangay captain was not around, he took the initiative to patch up the quarrel between the two men. Both parties agreed to reconcile, smiled at each other and even shook hands before him.21
Angela Durias is the live-in partner of the accused-appellant. She testified that she accompanied the accused-appellant and the victim to the office of the barangay captain to settle their differences and saw that they had reconciled. On the night of the incident, she saw accused-appellant leave her house at around 6:30 in the evening.22 She was surprised when the policemen came to her house asking the whereabouts of her husband. She told them that he was at work. Thereafter, she learned that her husband was arrested by the police.
Carlos Garcia, the son of the accused-appellant, averred that he was inside the house of the victim when he heard five gunshots. He alleged that when he went out of the house, he did not see any person except Manding, lying on the ground face down at the side of the house. He further testified that he heard her mother say that she was going to implicate his father as the assailant to get even with him.23 He was testifying in favor of his father because his conscience bothered him as well.
On August 26, 1996, the trial court rendered its decision24 convicting the accused-appellant of murder, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, finding accused Romeo Garcia guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder qualified by treachery without other modifying circumstances, this Court sentences him to reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of Rodrigo Manding P50,000.00 as death indemnity. With costs.
The accused-appellant now interposes this appeal, assigning the following errors, to wit:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT ROMEO GARCIA GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF COMMITTING THE CRIME OF MURDER DESPITE:
A) INCONSISTENT, IMPROBABLE AND INCREDIBLE TESTIMONIES OF THE EYEWITNESSES OF THE PROSECUTION THEREBY NEGATING HIS POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION.
B) FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO REBUT THE MATERIAL ALLEGATIONS OF THE DEFENSE IN ITS DENIAL.26
In the main, the accused-appellant attacks the credibility of the two eyewitnesses of the prosecution regarding their positive identification that it was accused-appellant who committed the crime.
The accused-appellant argues that while he recognizes the general rule that findings of facts of the trial court are given great weight and are not disturbed on appeal inasmuch as the trial court has a first hand view of the demeanor of the witnesses, the case at bar falls under one of the recognized exceptions. He asserts that the trial court overlooked or misunderstood significant contrarieties in the testimony of the witnesses which if considered would materially affect the result of conviction.
Accused-appellant points out some inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses, i.e., Romaguera testified that the store she was tending was open at the time the incident occurred while the other prosecution witness, Guintaason, asserted that the store was already closed.27 Romaguera also allegedly testified to the effect that the victim had not gone somewhere and was not in the company of anybody at the time of the incident but Guintaason's version is totally different.28
We find the accused-appellant's contentions without merit. The inconsistencies pointed out refer only to minor details, not to the crux of the case, and do not by themselves erode the credibility of the witness. What is important is that the testimonies reinforce each other on the essential facts and that the respective versions corroborate and substantially coincide with each other to make a consistent and coherent whole.29 Notwithstanding the inconsistencies, the fact remains that they positively identified the accused-appellant as the killer. This Court has held that a truth-telling witness is not always expected to give an error-free testimony, considering the lapse of time and the treachery of human memory. Inaccuracies may in fact suggest that the witnesses are telling the truth and have not been rehearsed.30
That the accused-appellant committed the crime was clearly established by the prosecution. The shooting of the victim which resulted in the latter's death was witnessed by two people. The place of the incident enjoyed sufficient lighting which came from a fluorescent lamp coming from the house of one of the neighbors31 as well as in front of their store.32 Romaguera was only around three (3) meters away from the accused and the victim.33 The general rule is that where conditions of visibility are favorable and the witness does not appear to be biased against the man on the dock, his assertions as to the identity of the malefactor should normally be accepted.34
The testimony of Romaguera is enlightening, to wit:
ASSISTANT CITY PROSECUTOR
Q: While watching at your store in that point of time, can you inform us if there was an unusual incident that you have observed?
A: I noticed that there was somebody running and chasing.
Q: Who were those persons chasing each other?
A; Romeo Garcia and my stepfather, Rodrigo Manding, ma'am.
Q: Who was the one chasing?
A: It was Romeo Garcia, ma'am, chasing my stepfather, Rodrigo Manding.
Q; Now, were you able to see that, whether on that point of time this Romeo Garcia was bringing something while chasing your stepfather?
A: Yes, there was, ma'am.
Q: What was that?
A: A short handgun.
Q: Where did they go, if you can remember?
A: Towards our store.
Q: Now, after that, what else happened if anything?
A: I heard one (1) gun burst, and I peep (sic) on the hole.
Q: Towards what direction was that gun burst you heard on the first instance?
A: That gun burst was coming from outside and going directly inside our store.
Q: You said that you peep (sic) at the hole, are you referring to the hole of the store?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Can you inform us, what did you see after that?
A: I saw this Romeo Garcia shot my stepfather, ma'am.
Q: How many times if you can still remember, after peeping at the hole of your store how many times did this Romeo Garcia shot (sic) your stepfather?
A: I saw Romeo Garcia shot once and my stepfather fell down.35
Q: Now, you said that this Romeo Garcia shot your father on that July 8, 1995, at more or less, 7:00 o'clock in the evening, are you familiar of (sic) this Romeo Garcia?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Why do you know him?
A: Because this Romeo Garcia has visited in our house, because his wife was residing at the second floor of our house, and that was in the evening of July 8, 1995.
Q: Can you inform us if that place where the incident happened there was light?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: What was the source of light?
A: A bulb and there was also a flourescent (sic) lamp coming from our neighbor.
Q: How far where you from this Romeo Garcia shooting your stepfather?
A: Three (3) meters, ma'am.36
Q: By the way, going back to the point that Romeo Garcia shot your stepfather, Rodrigo Manding, do you remember what happened after that time he shot your stepfather, what did you do?
A: He was running away towards that artesian well.
Q: Is this artesian well going away from your store or going to an opposite direction from your store?
A; Opposite direction, ma'am.37
Likewise, Guintaason, who had previously known and is familiar with the accused-appellant, testified that he saw the accused-appellant shoot the victim five times using a .38 caliber handgun. He was with the victim at the time of the initial attack and was merely three (3) meters from where the victim was shot to death. His testimony regarding the identity of accused-appellant is, likewise, clear and categorical, thus:
Q: And then, after 6:30 in the evening were you still with Rodrigo Manding alias Bebot Manding?
A: Yes, ma'am, we were together in going home.
Q: Where did you go, if you can still remember after 6:30 in the evening?
A: We were together with Rodrigo Manding and we went home to his residence.
Q: When you said "to his residence," can you inform us if there was anything that happened?
A: I was following him in going to his house near at (sic) Annex Elementary School.
Q: What transpired next after that?
A: And upon passing that coco tree, this Romeo Garcia suddenly appeared, and then, there was a gun burst, and I saw that they were chasing each other.
Q: To what direction did these Romeo Garcia and Rodrigo Manding go when you said that they were chasing each other?
A: Going towards the house of this Rodrigo Manding, ma'am.
COURT: (To witness)
Q: Who was chasing him?
A: Romeo Garcia was chasing Rodrigo Manding, Your Honor.
ASST. CITY PROS.
ANGOT: (To witness)
Q: Now, were you still around thereafter, when you saw that these Romeo Garcia and Rodrigo Manding were chasing each other?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: What transpired thereafter, if there was anything?
A: Romeo Garcia shot Rodrigo Manding.
Q: What was the position of Rodrigo Manding when he was again shot by this Romeo Garcia?
A: In a side view position ma'am.
Q: Lying down on the ground or standing up?
A: He was lying on the ground, ma'am.
Q: Was it only once or twice when he was shot lying on the ground?
A; Four (4) shots, excluding the first gun burst, ma'am.
Q: You are familiar of the store of Rodrigo Manding?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: When you will enter towards the store of Rodrigo Manding, you could see directly the face of Rodrigo Manding?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Are you familiar of this Romeo Garcia whom you said that shot this Rodrigo Manding, the victim of this case?
A: Yes, ma'am, because he was identified to me by Manding.
Q; When you said of Manding, that person you are referring to is Bebot Manding?
A: Yes, ma'am.
COURT: (To witness)
Q: When did this Bebot Manding tell you that this person is Romeo Garcia?
A: Quite along (sic) time already, Your Honor.
ASST. CITY PROS.
ANGOT: (To witness)
Q: How long have you been a friend of this Rodrigo Manding?
A: Since 1994, ma'am.
Q; And you have gone to his residence for how many times?
A; Many times ma'am.
Q; And this Rodrigo Manding were able to talk to you about this Romeo Garcia?
A: Yes, ma'am, as what he had related to me.
Q; What was the story given to you by your friend Rodrigo Manding about this Romeo Garcia before the incident?
A: As according to Rodrigo Manding, they had a quarrel about the bench of the tricycle.
Q: Was Rodrigo Manding, the deceased victim, afraid of Romeo Garcia?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q; Now, you said that you saw personally this Romeo Garcia shot Rodrigo Manding in this incident, can you tell us if he is around in court today?
A: Yes, he is around, ma'am.
Q: Can you point him before this Honorable Court?
A: Yes, ma'am, that person wearing a yellow T-shirt.
(WITNESS WAS POINTING TO A PERSON SITTING IN THE BENCH INSIDE THE COURTROOM WHO WHEN ASKED BY THE COURT, HEREBY DECLARED THAT HE IS ROMEO GARCIA.)
Q: Have you seen the firearm of Romeo Garcia whom you said that was used in shooting Rodrigo Manding?
A: Yes, ma'am, a .38 caliber.38
Accused-appellant capitalizes on the alleged strange behavior of Jennelyn Romaguera and Lucio Guintaason who avoided the police investigators after the shooting incident. Such behavior, according to accused-appellant, is unusual considering that Romaguera, a 14 year-old teenager recognized the assailant of her mother's common-law husband and yet did not immediately come out of the store when the police arrived to investigate the shooting incident. Likewise, Guintaason who is a friend of the victim reacted similarly and even ran away from the place.39
We do not find anything wrong with the witnesses' failure to talk to the police immediately after the incident. It is not uncommon for witnesses to delay or vacillate in disclosing the identity of the offender after the startling occurrence for fear of reprisals.40 The natural reluctance of witnesses to get involved in a criminal case and to provide information to the authorities is a matter of judicial notice.41 Absent any showing that these witnesses were actuated by improper motives, their testimonies deserve full faith and credit.
The allegation that Jennelyn Romaguera was a coached witness also deserves scant consideration. To this, the trial court stated that "witness Romaguera, by reason of her youth, may have been told by her mother and by Luz Garcia to tell the authorities what she had seen and that may have been the extent of the coaching she received."42 Being able to observe the comportment of witness Romaguera during trial, this finding of the trial court deserves utmost respect.1âwphi1.nęt
Upon a careful examination, we find that the testimony of witness Romaguera bears the earmarks of truth and sincerity and had been delivered with spontaneity and in a straightforward manner. Under scrutiny during cross-examination, this teenage witness responded with consistency upon material details which, to our mind, could only come from a firsthand perception of the events that unfolded before her eyes and inconsistent with a coached witness. We, thus, have no cogent reason to reverse the findings of the trial court with regard to the credibility of prosecution eyewitnesses.
Furthermore, the accused-appellant points out that he was found by the investigators in his place of work and willingly went with them upon their request. He justifies this behavior as proof of his non-complicity in the crime charged. This argument is without merit. Such behavior does not sufficiently rebut the eyewitness' testimonies nor is it conclusive proof of his innocence. There is nothing extraordinary with this conduct of acceding to the police' invitation to go to the headquarters for questioning.
Neither are we persuaded with his assertion that SPO2 Maquiling did not detect powder burns when he smelled the hands of the accused-appellant. SPO2 Maquiling admitted that he is not an expert in detecting powder burns in the hands of those who had recently fired a gun as he testified:
Q: You said that you are not sure or you are not an expert of smelling power burns, is that correct?
A: Yes, ma'am.
Q: So you cannot tell categorically whether this Romeo Garcia shot or fired a gun at that point of time since he does not smell any gun powder?
A: I cannot, ma'am.43
Nonetheless, the negative findings of powder burns on the hands of the accused-appellant does not justify his non-complicity of the crime. The Court has ruled that the negative findings of a paraffin test do not conclusively show that the accused-appellant did not discharge a firearm at the time the crime was committed. The absence of nitrates is possible if a person discharged a firearm with gloves on, or if he thoroughly washed his hands thereafter.44
The accused-appellant could only present the defenses of denial and alibi. He consistently claims that he could not have killed the victim considering that he was in his place of work carrying a conversation with Carlos Papa at the time of the alleged incident. As found by the trial court, his place of work was a scant ten minutes away from the place of the shooting, accessible by foot or tricycle.45 Evidently, the defense failed to show that it was impossible for accused-appellant to have been in the place of shooting at the time it allegedly occurred. In the face of independent and credible positive identification by eyewitness testimonies, the defenses of denial and alibi must fail.46
We hold that the trial court correctly appreciated the qualifying circumstance of treachery. There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods of forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.47 The qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the killing as the two conditions for the same are present, i.e., (1) that at the time of the attack, the victim was not in a position to defend himself and (2) that the offender consciously adopted the particular means, method or form of attack employed by him.48 The essence of treachery is a swift and unexpected attack on the unarmed victim without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim.49
Witness Lucio Guintaason clearly identified the accused-appellant as the offender. He testified that while walking towards the home of the victim, the accused-appellant suddenly appeared and shot the victim at the chest without any provocation. The victim at that time was unarmed and without any knowledge of an impending attack by the accused-appellant. The fact that the accused-appellant surreptitiously appeared from behind and shot the victim is treachery. While the victim started to flee after the first shot, he however, fell to the ground after running around three (3) meters. While lying defenseless on the ground, the accused-appellant shot him several times. The unarmed victim was never able to put up a defense. The medico-legal report shows that he was hit once on the chest, thrice on the head and twice on the body. This swift and unexpected attack upon the victim indicates a conscious adoption by the accused-appellant of a method of attack which ensured the death of the victim without any harm upon him. Without a doubt, treachery attended the killing of the victim.
In sum, the guilt of the appellant has been sufficiently shown by proof beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of the two eyewitnesses of the prosecution are strong and compelling evidence of appellant's complicity to the killing of the victim. The killing was attended with treachery and, hence, the crime committed is murder.
WHEREFORE, the challenged Decision dated August 26, 1996 of the Regional Trial Court, 10th Judicial Region, Branch 35 of Ozamiz City in Criminal Case No. 1678 finding herein appellant Romeo Garcia guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder in violation of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Pardo, Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.
1 Records, p. 1.
2 TSN, October 3, 1995, p. 8.
3 Id., at 13.
4 Id., at 9.
5 Id., at 11.
6 Id., at 10.
7 TSN, October 3, 1995, p. 18.
8 TSN, September 28, 1995, p. 12.
9 Id., at 13.
10 Id., at 15.
11 Id., at 14.
12 Id., at 16.
13 Id., at 15.
14 Id., at 21; Exhibit "1-B;" Rollo, p. 4.
15 Exhibit "C;" Records, p. 5.
16 TSN, May 7, 1996, pp. 29-41.
18 TSN, January 17, 1996, p. 12
19 TSN, March 25, 1996, p. 5
20 Id., at 13-15.
21 TSN, February 7, 1996, pp. 2-4.
22 TSN, April 5, 1996, pp. 5-7.
23 TSN, May 7, 1996, pp. 9-12.
24 Per RTC Judge Ma. Nimfa Penaco-Sitaca, p. 6; Rollo, p. 21.
25 Id., at 28.
26 Appellant's Brief, p. 1; Rollo, p. 111.
27 Appellant's Brief, p. 8; Rollo, pp. 117-118.
28 Id., at 9-10; Id. at 119-120.
29 People v. Porras, 255 SCRA 514 (1996).
30 People v. Ebrada, 296 SCRA 353, 365 (1998).
31 TSN, September 28, 1995, p. 15.
32 Id., at 18.
34 People v. Alvarez, 169 SCRA 730 (1989); People v. Galanza, 227 SCRA 526 (1993).
35 TSN, September 28, 1995, pp. 12-14.
36 Id.. at 15. Underscoring supplied.
37 Id. at 16.
38 TSN, October 3, 1995, pp. 8-11. Underscoring supplied.
39 Rollo, pp. 120-121.
40 People v. Reyes, 287 SCRA 229 (1998).
41 People v. Villanueva, 284 SCRA 501 (1998).
42 RTC Decision, pp. 5-6; Rollo, pp. 25-26.
43 Id. at 19.
44 See People v. Oliano, 287 SCRA 158 (1998).
45 RTC Decision, p. 6.
46 People v. Pasco, Jr., 137 SCRA 31 (1985); People v. Salison, Jr., 253 SCRA 758 (1996).
47 REVISED PENAL CODE, Art. 14, par. 16.
48 People v. Galam, G.R. No. 114740, February 15, 2000.
49 People v. Sumalpong, 284 SCRA 464 (1998).
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