[G.R. NO. 171085 : March 17, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. RODOLFO "RUDY" SORIANO, Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
This is an appeal from the Decision1 dated June 6, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 00978, which affirmed the Decision2 dated April 29, 2002 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 46 of Urdaneta City. The trial court found appellant Rodolfo "Rudy" Soriano guilty of murder in Criminal Case No. U-11465.
The Information dated July 17, 2001 charging appellant and one Ireneo "Rene" Lumilay with murder, defined and penalized under Article
2483 of the Revised Penal Code, reads as follows:
x x x
That on or about May 2, 2001 at Brgy. Oraan West, Manaoag, Pangasinan and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring together, armed and with the use of unlicensed firearms, with intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously shoot Diodito Broniola, inflicting upon him two (2) gunshot wounds which cause[d] his death to the damage and prejudice of his heirs.
Contrary to Art. 248, Revised Penal Code as amended by R.A. No. 7659 in relation to R.A. [No.] 8294.4
Appellant was arrested by the police authorities while Ireneo "Rene" Lumilay remained at large. Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty. Trial thereafter ensued.
The prosecution presented, as witnesses, Genaro R. Lumilay, an eyewitness; PO3 Dante N. Marmolejo, the police investigator of the PNP Manaoag, Pangasinan; and Dr. Arnulfo T. Bacorro, Rural Health Physician of Manaoag, Pangasinan.
Genaro R. Lumilay5 testified that on May 2, 2001 at 2:00 p.m., he attended a birthday party at Barangay Oraan, Manaoag, Pangasinan. At around 7:00 p.m., he left the party with Diodito "Perlito" Broniola and the latter's live-in partner, Rowena P. CariÃ±o. While walking on their way home, appellant and Ireneo suddenly emerged from nowhere and faced them. Appellant shot Diodito below the neck. Genaro moved Diodito to the canal along the left side of the road but Ireneo shot Diodito again at the left side of his body. As Diodito fell to the ground, Genaro ran home. Later that evening, the police fetched him and brought him to the police station where he gave his statement.
PO3 Dante N. Marmolejo6 testified that upon receiving a report that there was a shooting incident at Barangay Oraan, Manaoag, Pangasinan, he immediately proceeded to the place of the incident. He saw the lifeless body of Diodito lying on the side of the road. Rowena told him that it was appellant who shot Diodito. Thereafter, he searched for and arrested appellant at his house.
Dr. Arnulfo T. Bacorro conducted an autopsy on Diodito. In his Autopsy Report7 and testimony,8 he declared that Diodito's body bore two gunshot wounds. The first wound was fatal because it trajected the inferior lobe of the left lung up to the upper lobe of the right lung thereby causing massive bleeding.
On the other hand, the defense presented, as witnesses, appellant Rudy Soriano; Elvira Soriano, appellant's wife; and Edwina C. de Jesus.
Elvira Soriano9 testified that at around 7:00 p.m. of May 2, 2001, they heard a single gun burst while she, her husband and daughter, were eating supper. They proceeded to the road which was about ten meters away from their house. She saw Genaro running westward. Eastward, she saw Diodito lying on the ground with Rowena beside him. Appellant flagged down a tricycle to help Diodito but the driver refused to board them. When Genaro came back, he pointed to appellant as the one responsible for Diodito's death.
Elvira declared that Genaro hated appellant for the following reasons: First, appellant borrowed a male duck which they failed to return because it died. Second, appellant was close to Ireneo, who won a land dispute case against Genaro's father, and to one Jonathan Fernandez,10 the private complainant in a robbery case against Genaro.
Appellant Rudy Soriano11 testified that at around 7:00 p.m. of May 2, 2001, he was at home with his wife and daughter. While they were eating supper, they heard a burst of gun fire. They went out of their house and saw Genaro running eastward. He also saw Diodito lying at the side of the road face up. He tried to help him but the tricycle driver refused to board them. He was not able to report the incident since he was already arrested by PO3 Marmolejo.
Appellant added that Genaro testified against him because he failed to return the male duck he borrowed. He was also very close to Ireneo who won a land dispute case against Genaro's father, and Jonathan Fernandez, the private complainant in a robbery case against Genaro.
Edwina C. de Jesus12 testified that she was selling cooked food near the place of the incident on the night of May 2, 2001. While thereat, she heard a woman shouting, "bay-am, bay-am" (leave it, leave it), and saw two men and a woman. After a while, she heard a gun burst. She recognized the victim as Diodito, the woman as Rowena and the one who ran away as Genaro. As Rowena cried for help, Edwina approached her. She flagged down a tricycle but the driver told them not to bring Diodito to the hospital anymore since he was already dead.
Edwina added that she knows appellant but does not know if he was at the place of the incident because many people were there.
On April 29, 2002, the trial court convicted appellant. It gave credence to Genaro's testimony and rejected appellant's defense of denial and alibi. It also did not give weight to the insinuation of ulterior motive on Genaro's part. It held that Genaro and Rowena's statements were taken immediately after the incident and there could have been no time to fabricate their statements. Moreover, Genaro withstood the rigors of cross-examination and was firm in his testimony that it was appellant who shot Diodito.
The trial court appreciated treachery which qualified the killing to murder. It ruled that Diodito was attacked in a swift and unexpected manner affording him no chance to defend himself.
The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the court finds the accused guilty of murder penalized by Article 248 as amended by R.A. 7659 and sentences him to suffer the penalty of [Reclusion Perpetua] and to pay the heirs of the victim Diodito Broniola alias "Perlito" the civil indemnity of
P50,000.00 and with costs against the said accused.
On June 6, 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. First, it noted that Genaro's testimony regarding the details of the shooting incident was substantiated by the findings of Dr. Bacorro. Dr. Bacorro confirmed that Diodito sustained two fatal gunshot wounds. Second, it observed that Genaro's testimony was reliable as he did not immediately report the matter to the police. He ran home since he could no longer help Diodito. He had no time to fabricate or concoct any story as the incident was still fresh in his memory. He was cross-examined and was never shaken. His story was consistent throughout. Third, it held that the prosecution's failure to present Rowena was not fatal. Since the witness was equally available or accessible to the defense, no negative inference can be made out of it. The presumption of suppression of evidence is inapplicable where the evidence was at the disposal of both the defense and the prosecution and would have the same weight against one party as against the other. Fourth, it ruled that appellant's defense of denial and alibi deserved no weight. His alibi cannot prevail over his positive identification by the prosecution witness as one of the perpetrators of the crime. He failed to discharge the burden of proving that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. Fifth, it concluded that appellant's ill-motive theory was speculative and insufficient to impel Genaro to perjure himself and put appellant behind bars for life.
The appellate court likewise affirmed that treachery attended the killing. Diodito and his companions were merely walking when appellant suddenly appeared and shot him. Appellant consciously adopted said mode of nighttime attack to insure the success of his purpose without any risk to himself. Diodito was unaware of the attack and was not in a position to defend himself. There was treachery not only because of the suddenness of the attack but also because of the absence of an opportunity on Diodito's part to repel appellant's attack.
Dissatisfied, appellant appealed to this Court. As appellant and the Office of the Solicitor General opted not to submit their supplemental briefs, we shall review the decision of the appellate court based on the lone assignment of error before it:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY OF THE CRIME CHARGED DESPITE THE PROSECUTION'S FAILURE TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.14
Appellant contends that the trial court erred in relying on Genaro's positive identification since he was impelled by ill motive in testifying against appellant. This motive allegedly stemmed from an incident wherein Ireneo won a land dispute case against Genaro's father. Allegedly, Genaro also testified falsely against him because at that time, appellant was close to one Jonathan Fernandez who was the private complainant in a robbery case against Genaro. Appellant also contends that the failure to present Rowena, the other eyewitness, to corroborate Genaro's testimony raised the suspicion that Genaro was not telling the truth.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Appellee counters that the testimony of a prosecution witness is entitled to full faith and credit sans any indication of ill motive in testifying. The fact that Genaro's father lost a land dispute case against Ireneo is insignificant. For one, Genaro did not testify against Ireneo but against appellant. For another, the land dispute case was between Genaro's father and Ireneo which only indicates that any ill motive Genaro may have would have been against Ireneo and not appellant. On the other hand, the robbery case against Genaro does not involve appellant. It is foolhardy that Genaro would testify falsely against appellant just because his close friend filed the robbery case against Genaro. Appellee contends that the testimony of a lone eyewitness, if found convincing and trustworthy by the trial court, is sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
In our considered view, the appeal is without merit.
Appellant's assigned error basically refers to the trial court's assessment of the credibility of the prosecution's witnesses, particularly of Genaro R. Lumilay. According to appellant, Genaro was impelled by ill motive to testify falsely against him and that Genaro's testimony was uncorroborated.
Well-entrenched in our jurisprudence is the doctrine that the assessment of the credibility of witnesses lies within the province and competence of trial courts. This doctrine is based on the time-honored rule that the matter of assigning values to declarations on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge who, unlike appellate magistrates, can weigh the testimony in the light of the declarant's demeanor, conduct and attitude at the trial and is thereby placed in a more competent position to discriminate between truth and falsehood. Thus, appellate courts will not disturb the credence accorded by the trial court to the testimonies of witnesses unless it is clearly shown that the trial court has overlooked or disregarded arbitrarily facts and circumstances of significance in the case. None of the exceptions, we note, was shown in the case at bar.15
Appellant's argument that Genaro was impelled by ill motive to testify falsely against him must be rejected since the presence of personal motives on the part of a witness to testify in favor of the victim and against the accused should be supported by satisfactory proof before his testimony may be considered biased.16 The records are barren of any satisfactory proof to show such bias on the part of Genaro.
The trial court gave credence to Genaro's testimony after noting that he had no time to fabricate or concoct any story since his statement was taken immediately after the incident. It also observed that Genaro withstood the rigors of cross-examination and was consistent that it was appellant who shot Diodito. In the same vein, the Court of Appeals noted that the alleged ill motive on Genaro's part was speculative and insufficient to impel him to perjure himself and put appellant behind bars for life. As appellee also pointed out, although Genaro's father lost a land dispute case against Ireneo, Genaro did not testify against Ireneo but against appellant. Any ill motive Genaro may have would have been against Ireneo and not appellant. Moreover, the robbery case against Genaro did not involve appellant. It was filed by appellant's close friend and it would be stretching the imagination too far to conclude that Genaro would take that circumstance against appellant in order to testify falsely against him.
Finally, the testimony of prosecution witness Genaro, as corroborated by the medical findings of Dr. Bacorro, suffices for conviction. Dr. Bacorro confirmed Genaro's testimony that Diodito sustained two fatal gunshot wounds.
Well settled is the rule that the testimony of a single, trustworthy and credible witness is sufficient for conviction.17 Likewise, the prosecution has the exclusive prerogative to determine whom to present as witnesses. It need not present each and every witness but only such as may be needed to meet the quantum of proof necessary to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of the other witnesses may, therefore, be dispensed with if they are merely corroborative in nature. We have ruled that the non-presentation of corroborative witnesses does not constitute suppression of evidence and is not fatal to the prosecution's case.18
All told, we rule that the appeal lacks merit.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is DENIED. The Decision dated June 6, 2005 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 00978, which affirmed the Decision dated April 29, 2002 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 46 of Urdaneta City, finding appellant Rodolfo "Rudy" Soriano guilty of murder in Criminal Case No. U-11465, is AFFIRMED. Costs de oficio.
* Designated member of Second Division pursuant to Special Order No. 571 in place of Associate Justice Dante O. Tinga who is on sabbatical leave.
1 Rollo, pp. 3-12. Penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, with Associate Justices Romeo A. Brawner and Edgardo P. Cruz concurring.
2 Records, pp. 147-161. Penned by Acting Presiding Judge Alicia B. Gonzalez-Decano.
3 ART. 248. Murder. - Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua, to death if committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:
1. With treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or employing means to weaken the defense or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity.
2. In consideration of a price, reward or promise.
3. By means of inundation, fire, poison, explosion, shipwreck, stranding of a vessel, derailment or assault upon a railroad, fall of an airship, or by means of motor vehicles, or with the use of any other means involving great waste and ruin.
4. On occasion of any of the calamities enumerated in the preceding paragraph, or of an earthquake, eruption of a volcano, destructive cyclone, epidemic or other public calamity.
5. With evident premeditation.
6. With cruelty, by deliberately and inhumanly augmenting the suffering of the victim, or outraging or scoffing at his person or corpse. (As amended by R.A. No. 7659.)
4 Records, p. 1.
5 TSN, October 15, 2001, pp. 4-9.
6 TSN, October 8, 2001, pp. 4-5.
7 Records, p. 28.
8 TSN, October 1, 2001, pp. 3-5.
9 TSN, December 4, 2001, pp. 3-12.
10 Appears as Jonathan Bautista in some parts of the records.
11 TSN, December 11, 2001, pp. 3-12.
12 TSN, January 22, 2002, pp. 2-7.
13 Records, p. 161.
14 Rollo, pp. 7-8.
15 People v. Escote, G.R. No. 151834, June 8, 2004, 431 SCRA 345, 350-351; People v. Bolivar, G.R. No. 130597, February 21, 2001, 352 SCRA 438, 451.
16 People v. Baniega, G.R. No. 139578, February 15, 2002, 377 SCRA 170, 181; People v. Baltazar, G.R. No. 129933, February 26, 2001, 352 SCRA 678, 686.
17 People v. Manansala, G.R. No. 147149, July 9, 2003, 405 SCRA 481, 490; People v. Mira, G.R. No. 123130, October 2, 2000, 341 SCRA 631, 642.
18 People v. Pidoy, G.R. No. 146696, July 3, 2003, 405 SCRA 339, 346-347; People v. Mallari, G.R. No. 103547, July 20, 1999, 310 SCRA 621, 629-630 citing People v. Jumamoy, G.R. No. 101584, April 7, 1993, 221 SCRA 333, 344.