[G.R. NO. 145336 : July 21, 2006]
REYNANTE TADEJA, RICKY TADEJA, RICARDO TADEJA and FERDINAND TADEJA, Petitioners, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
In this Petition for Review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, petitioners Reynante, Ricky, Ricardo and Ferdinand, all surnamed Tadeja, seek the reversal and setting aside of the Decision1 dated March 8, 2000 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 21740, as reiterated in its Resolution2 of September 25, 2000, affirming an earlier decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro, Branch 44, which found them guilty of the crime of homicide.
The case traces its formal beginning from an Information filed with the RTC of Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro charging petitioners, along with Plaridel Tadeja, with the crime of homicide for the killing of one Ruben Bernardo on the night of May 3, 1994. Docketed as Criminal Case No. Z-814 and raffled to Branch 44 of the court, a companion case - Criminal Case No. Z-815 for frustrated homicide - was also lodged in the same branch of the court at the instance and on the complaint of petitioner Reynante Tadeja against the two sons, Russel and Robenson, of Ruben Bernardo, the victim in Criminal Case No. Z-814.
On arraignment, all the accused in the two (2) related cases entered a plea of "Not Guilty." With all of them waiving the pre-trial, the cases were tried jointly.
The incidents leading to the proceedings before the trial court occurred on the night of May 3, 1994 at a time when Barangay Talabaan in Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro was then celebrating its annual barrio fiesta with a dance and coronation. Sadly, the otherwise festive night was marred by a bloody incident that cost the life of Ruben Bernardo, about which the parties gave conflicting versions.
During the joint trial, the prosecution presented two witnesses, namely: Jacinta del Fierro and Maria Elena Bernardo-Almaria, both relatives of the fatality, Ruben Bernardo. Corroborating each other's testimony, both testified that in the evening of that fateful night, while watching together the dance that was then going on, they saw the Tadejas kill the victim Ruben Bernardo at around twelve o'clock midnight. According to both, the Tadejas, armed with bolos and sanggots, hacked the victim to death. Explaining the injuries allegedly sustained by Reynante Tadeja, complainant in the Information for frustrated homicide (Crim. Case No. Z-815), both witnesses declared that those injuries were sustained by Reynante when he was accidentally hit by his co-accused, Plaridel Tadeja, while the Tadejas were ganging up on Ruben.
For their part, the Tadejas each testified on their own behalves. They denied the inculpatory allegations against them in Criminal Case No. Z-814 and provided an altogether different account of what supposedly transpired on the night in question. Three of the Tadejas - Ferdinand, Ricky and Ricardo - interposed alibi as their defense. Several witnesses were presented by the Tadejas in an effort to corroborate their tale.
Elaborating on their defense of alibi, Ferdinand, Ricky and Ricardo claimed that they were at home watching betamax with their first cousin Tomas Damasco up to around 10:30 or 11:00 o'clock of that fateful night. Thereafter, they went to bed and slept. Later, at about 1:00 o'clock in the early morning, they were awakened by their sister Maritess Alfaro who arrived home and informed them that their brother Reynante had been brought to the hospital. Immediately, the three proceeded to the provincial hospital whereat their brother Reynante informed them that he was stabbed by Ruben Bernardo. Corroborating their account is their sister, Maritess, and cousin, Tomas Damasco.
For his part, Reynante, the alleged victim of the charge for frustrated homicide in Criminal Case No. Z-815, declared that at about 11:00 o'clock that same night, he went to the plaza riding a tricycle, to fetch his daughter and two sisters. He testified that Ruben Bernardo, along with his two sons, Russel and Robenson, chased and wounded him with a knife.
As regards Plaridel Tadeja, this accused declared that it was he who, for no reason at all, was suddenly chased at around 11:30 o'clock that night by Ruben Bernardo, who was then holding a stainless bladed weapon. Plodding on, Plaridel declared that Ruben was with his two sons, Russel, then armed with a .29 balisong, and Robenson with a bat ("panggarote"). The father, Ruben Bernardo, allegedly thrusted his knife at him (Plaridel) but missed. Ruben was held by two men whom he (Plaridel) says he did not see. Later, he learned from one Raymundo Pajayon that Reynante was stabbed. He then went to the hospital that same night and there saw Ruben Bernardo at the emergency room whereat police officer Ronaldo Flores apprehended him (Plaridel) and brought him to the municipal jail.
After the joint hearing, the trial court, finding the prosecution's witnesses against the Tadejas more credible and their account more tenable, came out with its decision convicting the Tadejas of the crime of homicide in Criminal Case No. Z-815 and acquitting the brothers Russel and Robenson in Criminal Case No. Z-815, which was accordingly dismissed. We quote the decretal portion of the trial court's decision:
WHEREFORE, all the accused, Reynante Ferdinand, Plaridel, Ricardo and Ricky, all surnamed Tadeja are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and are convicted of Homicide defined and penalized under Art. 249 of the Revised Penal Code, and are sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum to Fourteen (14) years, Eight (8) months and One (10) day of Reclusion Temporal, as maximum; to indemnify the heirs of the offended party in the amount of FIFTY THOUSAND (P50,000.00) PESOS, and to pay the costs.
With the exception of Plaridel Tadeja, the Tadejas brothers, Reynante, Ricky, Ricardo and Ferdinand, went on appeal to the CA claiming that despite the joint trial of the two (2) cases, the trial court failed to consider the testimonies of the witnesses presented in Criminal Case No. Z-815, more particularly, the testimonies of Maria Regina Cortuna and Leticia Bernardo. It is their posture that the testimonies of said two (2) witnesses bare a major inconsistency with the story of the prosecution in Criminal Case No. Z-814 and could have entitled them to an acquittal in said case.
Not finding in the records of the cases any trace of the testimonies of witnesses Maria Regina Cortuna and Leticia Bernardo, the CA, in the herein assailed Decision dated March 8, 2000, dismissed the Tadejas' appeal.
In their motion for reconsideration, the Tadejas attached the missing transcripts of stenographic notes relative to the testimonies of the two (2) witnesses aforementioned which the trial court supposedly failed to consider. Nonetheless, the CA, in its Resolution of September 25, 2000, denied the motion, saying that there was nothing of substance in the aforesaid transcripts of stenographic notes to adversely affect the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses in Criminal Case No. Z-814 and to alter its previous affirmance of the trial court's judgment of conviction.
Undaunted, the Tadeja brothers are now with this Court via the present recourse raising the following issues:
1. Whether the CA erred in failing to reconcile the testimonies of the witnesses for the Bernardos, which diametrically contradicted each other on material and substantial matters;
2. Whether the CA erred in giving credence to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Maria Elena Bernardo Almaria and Jacinta del Fierro;
3. Whether the CA erred in not appreciating petitioner's defense of alibi; andcralawlibrary
4. Whether the CA erred in not acquitting the petitioners on the basis of reasonable doubt.
The petition must have to be denied.
While petitioners are correct in asserting that the totality of the evidence in Criminal Cases No. 814 and 815 should have been taken into consideration because the trial thereof was conducted jointly, the CA cannot be said to have erred in rendering the assailed decision and resolution since there was no trace of the missing testimonies in the records. Furthermore, no matter how anomalous this state of affairs may appear, we agree with the CA in its denial Resolution4 that such testimonies, even if given due consideration, would not alter the trial court's finding of conviction.
Petitioners contend that the testimony of defense witness for the Bernardos in Criminal Case No. Z-815, a certain Regina Cortuna, runs diametrically opposed to the testimonies of Jacinta del Fierro and Maria Elena Bernardo-Almaria, the prosecution's eye-witnesses in Criminal Case No. Z-814. Petitioners claim that Cortuna's testimony shows that Ruben Bernardo was completely alone when found wounded. On this score, petitioners argue that the account of the prosecution's alleged eye-witnesses, Jacinta del Fierro and Maria Elena Bernardo-Almaria, could not have been true. Unfortunately, after looking at the portion of Cortuna's testimony which the petitioners have quoted, the Court itself does not see any indication of the alleged contradiction. Nor does a close scrutiny of the complete transcripts of Cortuna's testimony reveal any such conflict.
Petitioners lay emphasis on the following excerpts of Cortuna's testimony:
Q When you returned to the house of your uncle Amado Alfaro, what did you do there?cralawlibrary
A At that time, before I arrived two (2) meters away from the gate I saw a person leaning to [sic] the fence, sir.
Q When you saw that person leaning to [sic] the fence, what did you do?cralawlibrary
A I approached him, sir.
Q When you approached him, were you able to recognize that person?cralawlibrary
A When I approached him, I recognized him, "Ah si Manong Ruben," sir.5
Nowhere in the afore-quoted testimony of Cortuna did she state that Ruben Bernardo was alone. Nor is there any indication by her that no one else was around to witness the incident.
Furthermore, petitioners' submission that the testimonies of Jacinta del Fierro and Maria Elena Bernardo-Almaria are hardly believable because the two are relatives of the deceased Ruben Bernardo cannot hold water. It is a basic precept that relationship per se of a witness with the victim of the crime does not necessarily mean that the witness is biased.6
Blood relationship alone does not, by itself, impair a witness' credibility. On the contrary, relationship may even fortify credibility, for it is unnatural for an aggrieved relative to falsely point an accusing finger at someone other than the actual culprit. The earnest desire to seek justice for a dead kin is not served should the witness abandon his conscience and prudence and blame one who is innocent of the crime.7
Moreover, petitioners failed to impute improper or evil motive on the part of either Del Fierro or Bernardo-Almaria to falsely testify against them. When there is no showing of any improper motive on the part of a prosecution witness to testify falsely against an accused, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists and that the testimony is worthy of full faith and credence.8
Indeed, the CA made the following apt observation:
Besides, accused-appellants also presented their relatives to testify in their favor, namely: Tomas Damasco, their first cousin, Maritess Alfaro, their sister, Rex Alfaro, their brother-in-law and Divino Tadeja, their uncle. Would accused-appellants agree on putting little or no weight at all to the testimonies of their witnesses just because they are relatives following the saying that what is sauce for the goose must be the sauce for the gander?9
Petitioners also argue that the CA had erred in not appreciating the defense of alibi interposed by the brothers Ferdinand, Ricky and Ricardo. For alibi to prosper, the accused must show that he was so far away from the scene of the crime that he could not have been physically present thereat at the time the crime was committed, and that his presence elsewhere renders it physically impossible for him to be at the crime scene. Put differently, for the defense of alibi to be worthy of credence, one who invokes it must prove that it was physically impossible for him to be at the situs of the crime at the time of its commission.
Here, it is not disputed that the Tadejas and the victim were all residents of Barangay Talabaan, Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro. Neither is it disputed that the locus of the crime was only about a kilometer away from the house of the brothers Ferdinand, Ricky and Bernardo where they were allegedly sleeping at the time the victim Ruben Bernardo was killed. Given such a distance, the Court sees no physical impossibility for them to be at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission. The distance would only take few minutes to traverse.
For sure, the defense of alibi, especially when corroborated, as here, mainly by relatives and friends of the accused, ought to be taken with extreme suspicion, precisely because alibi is easy to fabricate and concoct.10 It cannot prevail over clear, direct and positive identification of the accused. The settled rule is that alibi is
the weakest of all defenses, for it is easy to contrive and difficult to disprove.11
Accordingly, the CA properly rejected the brothers' defense of alibi, more so in the light of positive identification by witnesses who have no motive to falsely testify.
At bottom, the issues raised by the petitioners are factual in nature. Time and again, the Court has ruled that in cases brought to it from the CA, its review is limited to errors of law allegedly committed by that court.12 The CA is the final arbiter of questions of fact.13
Nonetheless, in the interest of justice and bearing in mind that the liberty of the petitioners is at stake, the Court has seen fit to delve into the records of this case, as well as the transcripts of stenographic notes of the testimonies of the witnesses presented before the trial court in the joint trial of Criminal Case No. Z-814 and Criminal Case Z-815. Sadly, after a perusal of these transcripts, the Court is inclined to agree with the CA that there is, indeed, nothing therein to overcome the positive testimony of the prosecution's eye-witnesses who were found credible by the trial court.
Where the issues raised on appeal hinge on the credibility of witnesses, as in this case, the appellate tribunal will accord due respect to the assessment of facts made by the trial court, said court having the best opportunity, not only of receiving evidence, but also of observing the conduct and demeanor of the witnesses while testifying. Even after an inspection of the records of the proceedings before the court of origin, the Court finds it difficult in arriving at a conclusion that the trial court had erred in its findings considering the inconsistency between the testimonies of Reynante and Plaridel as to who was supposedly chased and attacked by the Bernardos. It is clear from an overall examination of the testimonies of all the witnesses that the prosecution's version in both cases was indeed the more logical and straight-forward one, hence more worthy of belief.
Petitioner pleads the Court to acquit them on the basis of reasonable doubt. The conviction, however, still stands. It must be remembered that proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean such a degree of proof as, excluding the possibility of error, produces absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind.14 We find that the two courts below had not erred in arriving at a moral certainty as to the guilt of the petitioners for the offense of homicide charged against them in Criminal Case No. Z-814.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the assailed decision and resolution of the CA are AFFIRMED.
Puno, Chairperson, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, Azcuna, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, with Associate Justices Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez (now a member of this Court) and Salvador J. Valdez, Jr. concurring, Rollo pp. 49-64.
2 Rollo, pp. 66-67.
3 Rollo, p. 49.
4 Supra note 2.
5 Rollo p.17.
9 CA Decision, see note # 1, Rollo p. 61.
14 Section 2, Rule 133, Rules of Court.