[G.R. NO. 177162 : March 31, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. ROBERTO PAJABERA y DOE, Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
On appeal is the December 22, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. 014371 affirming the July 7, 2005 Decision of Branch 63 of the Regional Trial Court of Calabanga, Camarines Sur in Criminal Case No. RTC '03-878, finding Roberto Pajabera (appellant) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Murder.
The Information dated November 5, 2003 charging appellant with Murder reads:
That on or about the 29th day of May, 2003 at about 2:30 P.M., in Barangay Pag-asa, Tinambac, Camarines Sur, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with deliberate intent to take the life of one MAJEN B. BOLANOS, with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and suddenly attack, assault and stab the latter from behind with a "balisong", fatally hitting the latter on his neck and other parts of his body, which caused the instantaneous and direct death of the said MAJEN B. BOLANOS, to the great damage and prejudice of his heirs, in such amount as may be proven in court.2
On arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty.3
On May 29, 2003 at around 2:30 in the afternoon, Majen B. Bolanos (the victim) was at the cockpit arena at Barangay Pag-asa, Tinambac, Camarines Sur to watch the scheduled cockfighting event that was part of the barangay fiesta celebrations. Appellant, who was also present thereat, called the victim from behind. When the victim turned around, appellant placed one hand on the victim's shoulder. The victim thereafter fell on the ground and blood oozed from his shoulder. Basi, who was standing beside the victim, and Barcillano, soon realized that appellant had stabbed the victim.
Appellant quickly pulled out the knife from the victim's shoulder, and left. At this juncture, the people at the cockpit arena scampered, and the cockfighting event did not push through.
Dr. Salvador Betito (Dr. Betito), Municipal Health Officer of Tinambac, Camarines Sur, who conducted a medico-legal necropsy examination on the body of the victim about two or three days after the incident,6 concluded that the cause of the death of the victim was rapid internal and external hemorrhage secondary to a deep penetrating stab wound measuring 1.5 cm. and .5 cm. on his right shoulder, which could have been caused by anything pointed and sharp like a knife.7
Appellant, admitted having stabbed the victim. He, however, claimed self-defense. By his account, he and the victim had wagered with each other for
P300 on the result of the cockfight, and he won.8 When he tried to collect his winning, however, the victim refused to pay; instead, the victim pulled out a bladed instrument and attacked him with it.9
Continued appellant: While he ran away from the victim, fell on the ground face down, and as he turned around, the victim promptly knelt down and stabbed him.10 He was able to parry the blow by holding the victim's hand, after which the two of them grappled for possession of the bladed instrument.11
Further, appellant related that in the course of the scuffle, while he was lying with his back on the floor and the victim was stooping down on him in a kneeling position, he (appellant), accidentally pushed the bladed instrument being then held by the victim towards the latter.12 He then saw blood oozing from the victim's body, but he was not sure which part,13 drawing him to flee out of fear.14
Salvador Habulin (Habulin), who claimed to have witnessed the incident at a distance of about three meters,15 corroborated appellant's account.
The trial court, crediting the testimonial evidence for the prosecution vis a vis the findings of Dr. Betito,16 convicted appellant of Murder, qualified by treachery, disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the prosecution having proven the guilt of accused Roberto Pajabera y Doe beyond reasonable doubt, he is hereby found guilty of the crime of murder as charged. He is sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and to pay the heirs of Majen Bolanos the amount of
P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; P50,000.00 as moral damages; P10,000.00 as actual damages and to pay the costs. Accused is likewise meted the accessory penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification as provided in Article 41 of the Revised Penal Code.
Considering that herein accused has undergone preventive imprisonment, he shall be credited in the service of his sentence with the time he has undergone preventive imprisonment subject to the conditions provided for in Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code.17
Rejecting appellant's claim of self-defense, the trial court found it improbable that the victim could be accidentally hit on the shoulder with the knife during the respective positions of the parties as described by appellant.18 If, posed the trial court, the victim was indeed kneeling and stooping down on appellant who was lying with his back flat on the ground prior to the fatal blow, the victim could have been hit on the chest or the stomach, but not on the shoulder.19
The trial court found that the killing was attended by treachery, the suddenness of the attack having deprived the unarmed victim of any means to defend himself.20 It ruled out evident premeditation, however, there being no proof of when appellant conceived of killing the victim.21
On appeal, the Court of Appeals, by Decision of December 22, 2006,22 affirmed that of the trial court, holding that appellant failed to discharge the burden of proving self-defense by clear and convincing evidence. Appellant thus comes before this Court.
Both appellant and the Solicitor General manifested that they were dispensing with the filing of supplemental briefs and submitting the case for decision based on the Briefs they had filed with the appellate court.23
The appeal fails.
What appellant essentially wants is for this Court to weigh the credibility of the prosecution witnesses against that of the defense witnesses and review the observations and conclusions of the trial and appellate courts.
It is settled that the issue of credibility is a question best addressed to the trial court, and that its findings of fact, especially when affirmed by the appellate court as in the present case, are accorded the greatest respect in the absence of a showing that it ignored, overlooked, or failed to properly appreciate matters of substance or importance likely to affect the results of the litigation.24
Independently of the factual findings of the lower courts, this Court, in its review of the records, found the findings in order.
Appellant would have it that he was lying with his back flat on the floor while the victim was kneeling and stooping down on him holding the knife. Given that, the thrust of the knife could only have been downwards pointing to appellant. Even assuming that appellant was able to twist the victim's hand which held the knife, it was unlikely that appellant could "accidentally" stab the victim on the right shoulder.
The Court notes that the testimony of Habulin, the defense's so-called "eyewitness," bears lapses on material points:
x x x
x x x
Q Then what happened when the two ran after each other?cralawred
A Roberto fell down and at that juncture Roberto was able to get hold of the right hand of Majen.
Q Then what happened when Roberto got hold of the right hand of Majen?cralawred
A This Majen was hit by the bladed weapon that he himself was holding.
Q When you said Berto and Roberto as you mentioned the person who was ran after by Majen, was he the same Roberto Pajabera the accused in this case?cralawred
A Yes, Sir.
Q After that, what happened, after you saw that bladed weapon being held by Majen struck [sic] him while the two were grappling with each other, what happened next?cralawred
A The people scampered.
x x x
x x x
Q And how about Roberto, where he was [sic], while you were as you said that [sic] you are at the fence?cralawred
A Roberto was lying back flat on the ground with his enemy on top of him.
x x x
Q And Roberto fell down, when Roberto fell down, did Roberto stood [sic] up?cralawred
A After the victim was hit that is the time that Roberto left.
Q Just answer my question whether or not when Roberto fell down after which he stood up or not [sic]?cralawred
A Yes, Sir.
Q Then when he stood up that is the time that you said they grappled with the knife, correct?cralawred
A Yes, Sir.
Q And when you said that Majen was hit, they were standing position [sic], correct?cralawred
A When Majen fell down because he was already hit, Roberto left.
Q So it is clear from your testimony that when they were grappling in a standing position, that's the time when Majen was hit and Majen fell down, correct?cralawred
Misleading, Your Honor. There was no testimony that they were grappling in a standing position.
Yes, there is already.
They were standing. Both of them were standing.
x x x
Alright for clarification. Alright, answer. Translate.
A They were both lying on the ground and Roberto was lying flat and Majen on his top when they were grappling for the possession of the deadly weapon.25 (Underscoring supplied.)
First, on direct examination, Habulin did not positively state that the victim was hit with the knife while grappling with appellant for its possession. The "grappling" part was only inserted in a subsequent question by counsel for the defense.
Second, on cross examination, Habulin was tentative on whether appellant and the victim were lying on the ground or standing while "grappling" for possession of the knife. He only remembered the version of appellant, which he was supposed to corroborate, when counsel for the defense led him to restate the same by objecting to the prosecution's question confirming his most recent statement that the "grappling" took place while appellant and the victim were standing.
To the Court, these lapses in Habulin's testimony cast serious doubt upon his claim that he witnessed the incident. It bears emphasis that the turn of events, particularly the respective position of appellant and the victim before the fatal blow, is crucial in view of appellant's claim of self-defense. Hence, the trial and appellate courts did not err in crediting the version of the prosecution.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
That there is no evidence of any dubious reason or improper motive why prosecution witnesses would testify falsely against appellant or falsely implicate him in a heinous crime renders their testimonies worthy of full faith and credit.26
Parenthetically, although the incident occurred in a public place, why was appellant only able to present one supposed "eyewitness" who even, as reflected above, contradicted himself?cralawred
Appellant's attack having been made in a swift and unexpected manner on the unsuspecting and unarmed victim who did not give the slightest provocation, treachery attended the killing.27 Perforce, appellant's conviction for Murder stands.
Since treachery qualified the killing to Murder and absent any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the penalty of reclusion perpetua is proper, applying Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code.28 Reclusion perpetua carries with it the accessory penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification.29
On the civil aspect of the case, the Court finds the awards of
P50,000 as civil indemnity and P50,000 as moral damages in order based on prevailing jurisprudence.30 Instead of actual damages, the Court awards temperate damages of P25,00031 as the actual damages claimed by the prosecution and admitted by appellant amount to P10,00032 or less than P25,000.
The award of exemplary damages in the amount of
P25,000 is additionally in order if, as here, there is present an aggravating circumstance (qualifying-treachery) in the commission of the crime.33 The Court thus grants the same.
WHEREFORE, the December 22, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals affirming that of Branch 63 of the Regional Trial Court of Calabanga, Camarines Sur is MODIFIED in that temperate damages of
P25,000 in lieu of P10,000 actual damages, and exemplary damages of P25,000 are AWARDED. In all other respects, the challenged Decision is AFFIRMED.
* Additional member per Special Order No. 587 dated March 16, 2009 in lieu of the leave of absence due to sickness of Justice Arturo D. Brion.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Arturo G. Tayag, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Noel G. Tijam.
2 Records, p. 1.
3 Id. at 28.
4 TSN, August 3, 2004, pp. 2-6.
5 TSN, August 17, 2004, pp. 2-5.
6 TSN, August 18, 2004, p. 4.
7 Id. at 4-5.
8 TSN, September 1, 2004, pp. 3-4.
9 Id. at 4-5.
11 Id. at 6.
13 Id. at 6-7.
15 TSN, September 7, 2004, pp. 3-5.
16 Records, p. 71.
17 Id. at 77-78.
18 Id. at 74.
20 Id. at 76.
21 Id. at 77.
22 CA rollo, pp. 110-120.
23 Rollo, pp. 17-21.
24 Vide De Guia v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 120864, October 8, 2003, 413 SCRA 114, 129; Producers Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 115324, February 19, 2003, 397 SCRA 651, 658-659.
25 TSN, September 7, 2004, pp. 4-10.
26 Vide People v. Bacungay, G.R. No. 125017, March 12, 2002, 379 SCRA 22, 31.
27 Vide People v. Bermas, G.R. NOS. 76416 and 94312, July 5, 1999, 309 SCRA 741, 778.
28 ART. 63. Rules for the application of indivisible penalties. - In all cases in which the law prescribes a single indivisible penalty, it shall be applied by the courts regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the deed.
In all cases in which the law prescribes a penalty composed of two indivisible penalties, the following rules shall be observed in the application thereof:
1. When in the commission of the deed there is present only one aggravating circumstance, the greater penalty shall be applied.
2. When there are neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances in the commission of the deed, the lesser penalty shall be applied.
3. When the commission of the act is attended by some mitigating circumstances and there is no aggravating circumstance, the lesser penalty shall be applied.
4. When both mitigating and aggravating circumstances attended the commission of the act, the court shall reasonably allow them to offset one another in consideration of their number and importance, for the purpose of applying the penalty in accordance with the preceding rules, according to the result of such compensation. (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
29 Art. 41, Revised Penal Code.
30 People v. Balais, G.R. No. 173242, September 17, 2008.
31 Vide People v. Villanueva, G.R. No. 139177, August 11, 2003, 408 SCRA 571, 581-582, wherein the Court held:
[W]hen actual damages proven by receipts during the trial amount to less than
P25,000, as in this case, the award of temperate damages for P25,000 is justified in lieu of actual damages of a lesser amount. Conversely, if the amount of actual damages proven exceeds P25,000, then temperate damages may no longer be awarded; actual damages based on the receipts presented during trial should instead be granted.
32 Vide records, p. 43.
33 People v. Balais, supra note 30.