[G.R. NO. 177827 : March 30, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ANSELMO BERONDO, JR. y PATERES, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
This is an appeal from the November 7, 2006 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 00386 entitled People of the Philippines v. Anselmo Berondo, Jr. y Pateres which held accused-appellant Anselmo Berondo, Jr. guilty of homicide. The CA Decision modified the September 23, 2003 Decision2 in Criminal Case No. 11760-02 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 8 in Malaybalay City, which held accused-appellant liable for murder.
At around 11:30 p.m. of February 13, 1999, after joining the Miss Gay competition at New Danao, Sinaysayan, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, Herbert Nietes, Jr. walked home to Puntian, Quezon, Bukidnon. While on the way, he suddenly heard a gunshot from nearby. Feeling afraid, he ran towards the grassy area by the roadside to hide. After about five minutes, he saw accused-appellant, Julie Tubigon, and Jesus Sudario, each holding a knife, walk towards the road and take turns in stabbing a person who was already slumped on the ground. He recognized the three as they are his townmates. Thereafter, he ran away from the area and went to Bato-Bato, Sinaysayan, Kitaotao, Bukidnon, where he spent the night. The next day, he learned that the person stabbed was Genaro Laguna. He later testified that he did not reveal what he had witnessed to anyone because he was afraid of getting involved.3
At about the same time, Pedro Tero, who was also walking along the road towards Puntian, saw Tubigon shoot Laguna. After the victim fell, about five to six persons whom he did not recognize went near the victim. He then immediately ran away from the scene and no longer saw what had happened next to the victim. On the following day, he told a certain Hoseas Sagarino what he saw but did not report it to the authorities.4
Two years after the incident, Nietes and Tero admitted to Dolores, Laguna's widow, that they had witnessed the crime. They then reported the matter to the police and, accordingly, executed their respective sworn statements. Thereafter, an Information for robbery with murder was filed against accused-appellant, Tubigon, and Sudario. The Information reads:
That on or about the 13th day of February 1999, in the evening, at Purok 2, barangay West Dalurong, [Kitaotao], [Bukidnon], Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, with intent to gain, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and criminally take, rob and carry away cash amounting to SIX THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED PESOS [PhP 6,500], belonging to GENARO LAGUNA, to his damage and prejudice in the aforementioned amount;
That on the occasion of the said Robbery, the above name accused, acting on the same conspiracy, and to enable them to consummate their desire, with intent to kill by means of force and taking advantage of superior strength, armed with a firearm with an unknown caliber, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and criminally attack, assault and shoot GENARO LAGUNA, inflicting upon his person multiple stab and gunshot wounds, which caused the instantaneous death of GENARO LAGUNA to the damage and prejudice of the legal heirs of GENARO LAGUNA in such amount as may be allowed by law.
Contrary to and in Violation of Article 294 in relation to Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by R.A. 7659.5
Trial proceeded only against accused-appellant because the two other accused remained at-large.
In his defense, accused-appellant denied any involvement in the killing of Laguna. He claimed that in the evening of February 13, 1999, he was with his wife and daughter watching the activities during the Araw ng New Danao (New Danao Day) at the Poblacion, New Danao, Sinaysayan. When the activities ended at about two o'clock in the morning of the next day, they went home together. Hours later, Geno Laguna, the victim's cousin, told him about the incident and together they proceeded to the place where the victim's body was found. Further, he alleged that prosecution witness Nietes was his daughter's former sweetheart. Their relationship became unfriendly after Nietes acted rudely against accused-appellant's daughter.6
On September 23, 2003, the RTC rendered a Decision, the dispositive part of which reads:
WHEREFORE, the accused ANSELMO BERONDO JR. y PATERES is found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt as principal in the crime of MURDER under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code and is sentenced to the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA. The accused is further ordered to pay the heirs of the deceased Genaro Laguna the amount of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (PhP50,000.00) as actual damages and civil indemnity in the sum of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (PhP50,000.00).
The case was appealed to the CA.
The Ruling of the CA
Affirming the decision of the trial court, the appellate court found credible Nietes' testimony pointing to accused-appellant as one of the persons who stabbed the victim. It dismissed the imputation of ill motive against Nietes and held that the clear and straightforward manner in which he testified is worthy of belief. Also, it held that Nietes' delay in reporting the crime was reasonable considering that eyewitnesses have a tendency to remain silent rather than imperil their lives or that of their family.
The CA, however, found that the prosecution failed to prove the attendance of the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength. It held that no evidence was presented to prove that the three accused purposely took advantage of their numerical superiority. Thus, accused-appellant was held guilty only of homicide and not murder.
The CA also modified the award of damages. Finding that there was absence of proof of actual damages, the CA instead awarded temperate damages in the amount of PhP 50,000.
The fallo of the November 7, 2006 CA Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the Decision appealed from is modified. In lieu of murder, the Court finds appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of homicide and he is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to twelve (12) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum. Appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of Genaro Laguna the amount of fifty thousand pesos (Php 50,000.00) as temperate damages and fifty thousand pesos (Php 50,000.00) as civil indemnity.7
Hence, we have this appeal.
In a Resolution dated August 22, 2007, this Court required the parties to submit supplemental briefs if they so desired. On October 25, 2007, accused-appellant, through counsel, signified that he was no longer filing a supplemental brief. Thus, the following issues raised in accused-appellant's Brief dated November 16, 2004 are now deemed adopted in this present appeal:
The court a quo gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellant of [homicide] despite the prosecution's failure to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The court a quo gravely erred in giving weight and credence to the incredible and inconsistent testimony of the prosecution witnesses.8
In essence, the case involves the credibility of the prosecution eyewitnesses and the sufficiency of the prosecution evidence.
The Ruling of the Court
The appeal is without merit.
Accused-appellant's guilt is anchored only on the testimony of Nietes. Accused-appellant, however, faults Nietes for belatedly reporting the identities of the assailants. He claims that the delay impaired Niete's credibility; thus, the latter's testimony should be disregarded.
We disagree. Delay in revealing the identity of the perpetrators of a crime does not necessarily impair the credibility of a witness, especially where sufficient explanation is given.9 No standard form of behavior can be expected from people who had witnessed a strange or frightful experience.10 Jurisprudence recognizes that witnesses are naturally reluctant to volunteer information about a criminal case or are unwilling to be involved in criminal investigations because of varied reasons. Some fear for their lives and that of their family;11 while others shy away when those involved in the crime are their relatives12 or townmates.13 And where there is delay, it is more important to consider the reason for the delay, which must be sufficient or well-grounded, and not the length of delay.14
In this case, although it took Nietes more than two years to report the identity of the assailants, such delay was sufficiently explained. Nietes stated that he feared for his life because the three accused also lived in the same town and the incident was the first killing in their area.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
He only had the courage to reveal to Dolores what he had witnessed because his conscience bothered him.
Despite the delay in reporting the identities of the malefactors, Nietes testified in a categorical, straightforward, and spontaneous manner, and remained consistent even under grueling cross-examination. Such bears the marks of a credible witness.15
As regards the sufficiency of the prosecution's evidence, we affirm the findings of the CA that the crime committed was only homicide and not murder. As correctly noted by the appellate court, the attendant circumstances of conspiracy and abuse of superior strength were not proved, thus:
The Court notes that witness Nietes Jr. was not able to identify the person who shot the victim. It was witness Tero who said that it was accused Julie Tubigon, but he did not witness the stabbing. Witness Nietes Jr. did. No evidence exists to show the events preceding the attack and those occurring after. The simultaneity of the delivery of stabs by the three assailants alone is not sufficient to prove conspiracy.
The Court likewise finds error in finding that the killing of the deceased was committed with abuse of superior strength, because no evidence was presented to prove that the accused purposely took advantage of their numerical superiority.
Absent clear and convincing evidence of any qualifying circumstance, conviction should only be for homicide.16
On the award of damages, the appellate court did not grant actual damages due to lack of proof of actual expenses, but instead granted temperate damages in the amount of PhP 50,000. Under Article 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages may be recovered when pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot be proved with certainty. In this case, it cannot be denied that the heirs of the victim incurred funeral and burial expenses although the exact amount was not established. In line with current jurisprudence, the amount of temperate damages should, however, be decreased to PhP 25,000.17
The CA also properly awarded civil indemnity as such is given without need of proof other than the fact of death as a result of the crime and proof of accused-appellant's responsibility for it.18 The trial court, however, failed to award moral damages. Moral damages are awarded without need of further proof other than the fact of the killing.19 Thus, PhP 50,000 in moral damages is additionally awarded in favor of the heirs of the victim.
WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the November 7, 2006 CA Decision in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 00386 with MODIFICATIONS. As modified, the dispositive portion of the CA Decision shall read:
WHEREFORE, the accused ANSELMO BERONDO JR. y PATERES is found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of HOMICIDE and is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to twelve (12) years, eight (8) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum. He is likewise ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the sum of PhP 50,000 as civil indemnity, PhP 25,000 as temperate damages, and PhP 50,000 as moral damages.
1 Rollo, pp. 4-18. Penned by Associate Justice Sixto C. Marella Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Edgardo A. Camello and Mario V. Lopez.
2 CA rollo, pp. 11-19. Penned by Judge Agustin Q. Javellana.
3 Id. at 13-14.
4 Id. at 14.
5 Rollo, p. 5.
6 CA rollo, p. 39.
7 Id. at 17.
8 Id. at 34.
9 People v. Castillo, G.R. No. 118912, May 28, 2004, 430 SCRA 40, 49; People v. Abendan, G.R. NOS. 132026-27, June 28, 2001, 360 SCRA 106, 123.
10 People v. Dulanas, G.R. No. 159058, May 3, 2006, 489 SCRA 58, 74; People v. Quirol, G.R. No. 149259, October 20, 2005, 473 SCRA 509, 516; People v. Plazo, G.R. No. 120547, January 29, 2001, 350 SCRA 433, 442.
11 See People v. Zuniega, G.R. No. 126117, February 21, 2001, 352 SCRA 403; People v. Rimorin, G.R. No. 124309, May 16, 2000, 332 SCRA 178.
12 People v. Paraiso, G.R. No. 131823, January 17, 2001, 349 SCRA 335.
13 See People v. Ignas, G.R. NOS. 140514-15, September 30, 2003, 412 SCRA 311; People v. Alarcon, G.R. No. 133191-93, July 11, 2000, 335 SCRA 457; People v. Suza, G.R. No. 130611, April 6, 2000, 330 SCRA 167.
14 People v. Natividad, G.R. No. 138017, February 23, 2001, 352 SCRA 651, 661.
15 People v. Torres, G.R. NOS. 135522-23. October 2, 2001, 366 SCRA 408, 424; Sevalle v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 122858, February 28, 2001, 353 SCRA 33, 43.
16 Supra note 1, at 16-17.
17 People v. Jabiniao, Jr., G.R. No. 179499, April 30, 2008, 553 SCRA 769, 787-788; People v. Dacubo, G.R. No. 175594, September 28, 2007, 534 SCRA 458, 477; People v. Belonio, G.R. No. 148695, May 27, 2004, 429 SCRA 579, 596.
18 People v. Whisenhunt, G.R. No. 123819, November 14, 2001, 368 SCRA 586, 610.
19 People v. Geral, G.R. No. 145731, June 26, 2003, 405 SCRA 104, 111; People v. Cabote, G.R. No. 136143, November 15, 2001, 369 SCRA 65, 78; citing People v. Panado, G.R. No. 133439, December 26, 2000.