[G.R. NO. 178543 : September 4, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. ARISTO VILLANUEVA, Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
From the March 30, 2007 Decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the February 4, 2004 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Urdaneta City (Branch 46) finding him guilty of murder, Aristo Villanueva (appellant) lodged the present appeal.
Via Information of March 20, 2002, appellant, together with one Rodrigo Malong (Malong) who is still at large, was charged as follows:
That on or about 7:00 o' clock [sic] in the morning of October 17, 2001 at Brgy. San Juan, San Manuel, 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 abuse of superior strength, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously shoot JANAIRO MAGCALAS inflicting upon him multiple gunshot wounds which caused 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.] 8294.1
From the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Marina Magcalas (Marina), Mercedita Capua (Mercedita), Dr. Asuncion Tuvera, SPO3 Danilo Pascua (SPO3 Pascua) of the San Manuel, Pangasinan Police Station and PO3 Julius Ceasar Manocdoc, the following version is gathered:
At 7:00 a.m. of October 17, 2001, while Janairo Magcalas (the victim) and his wife Marina were in front of their house in Barangay San Juan, San Manuel waiting for a tricycle that would bring them to Urdaneta City,2 and the victim's mother Mercedita was sweeping in the vicinity about three (3) meters away from the couple,3 appellant, who was on board a motorcycle in tandem with Malong, arrived and at once drew his caliber .45 gun and shot the victim. Malong, who was also armed with a gun, also shot the victim. The assailants then pointed their guns at Marina and again fired at the already sprawled victim.4
The autopsy of the victim who was pronounced dead on arrival5 at the hospital showed that he sustained five gunshot wounds, three of which were located at entry points at his back and two at exit points at the abdomen area.6
On arrival at the crime scene, when SPO3 Pascua asked Mercedita if she recognized the assailant, she replied "no, sir . . . [he] had [a] companion [on board] a Honda TMX." When he propounded the same question to Marina, she too said she did not.7 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
More than three months after the shooting or on January 31, 2002, Marina and Mercedita executed their respective sworn statements before the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group's Urdaneta City Sub-Office8 naming appellant and Malong as the malefactors. To Marina, appellant and Malong were regular patrons at her balut stand.9 To Mercedes, appellant was the one who usually fetched the victim from their house whenever the latter would go somewhere.10
Upon the other hand, appellant, who denied being acquainted with Marina and Mercedita as well as with the victim, invoked alibi, claiming that he was on the day of the incident, October 17, 2001, in Cahil, Diffun, Quirino helping his uncle at the farm; that he left Quirino for San Manuel on December 18, 2001 and was arrested and detained by the San Manuel police the next day11 in connection with the killing of a certain Saribay; that while on detention or in the second week of January 2002 Marina visited him;12 and that he was released from detention in April 2002 following the dismissal of the case against him in connection with the killing of Saribay.
Brushing aside appellant's alibi, the trial court, by Decision13 of February 4, 2004, convicted him, disposing as follows:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the accused ARISTO "ARIS" VILLANUEVA is found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of murder of JANARIO MAGCALAS. He is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and ordered to pay the heirs of Janario Magcalas (a)P12,990.00 in actual damages; (b) P50,000.00 death indemnity; and (c) P50,000.00 in moral damages.
x x x
In convicting appellant, the trial court noted that
[t]he prosecution witnesses were consistent in relating the principal occurrence and positive identification of the victim's assailants. The alleged inconsistencies, notwithstanding, the fact remains that they both categorically identified Villanueva as Janario's assailant. In view of their presence at the time of the incident and their unobstructed view of what transpired, undoubtedly, their eyewitness account must be given credit. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
The trial court ruled out the presence of the aggravating circumstance of use of unlicensed firearm, however, the same not having been established by the prosecution.
The Court of Appeals, by Decision16 of March 30, 2007, affirmed with modification appellant's conviction by awarding exemplary damages in the amount of
P25,000 due to the presence of the aggravating circumstance of treachery.
In the present appeal, appellant maintains that the prosecution failed to discharge its primary burden by overwhelming evidence. Citing People v. Contega,17 he contends that "the rule that alibi must be satisfactorily proved was never intended to change the burden of proof in criminal cases; otherwise, we w[ould] see the absurdity of an accused being out in a more difficult position where the prosecution's evidence is vague and weak than where it is strong."
For its part, the Office of the Solicitor General maintains that the testimonies of the relatives of the victim bear the badges of truth as they "have [the] natural knack for remembering the faces of the attackers and they, more than anybody else, would be concerned with vindicating the crime by having the felons brought before the bar of justice." Furthermore, the Solicitor General posits, there is nothing in the record to indicate that Marina and Mercedita were impelled by improper motive to testify against appellant.18
The appeal is impressed with merit.
Delay in reporting a crime or identifying the malefactor does not affect the credibility of the witnesses for as long as the same is sufficiently explained.19
In the present case, the Court entertains doubts on the identification, more than three (3) months after the incident, by prosecution witnesses Marina and Mercedita, of appellant as one of two men who fatally shot the victim. Nothing on record sufficiently explains why Marina and Mercedita, who claimed to be familiar with appellant, failed to immediately name him as one of the assailants when SPO3 Pascua inquired from them if they recognized the "assailant."
Marina, in fact even went to the Balungao District Jail, in the company of a certain Nel Ramos, a week after her husband's death in October 2001 purportedly to identify appellant, then on detention there, as one of the assailants. But despite that, she did not inform the police of appellant's involvement in her husband's killing, until after more than three months.
Consider Marina's following account, quoted verbatim, surrounding the delay.
Q After you claimed that you have seen Aris Villanueva shot your husband three (3) times. Where is the next time you have seen him?cralawred
A I did not see him sir.
Q In other words the next time you saw Aris Villanueva when he was already in Court, right?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q Is it not true that you went to the District Jail of Balungao to see Aris Villanueva?cralawred
A No sir.
Q And in fact you are even in the company of Ombudsman Narciso Ramos?cralawred
We would like to put on the record that she (witness) hardly answer the question for a yes or no. She hard times to answer the question, your Honor.
A Yes sir.
Q And you have seen Aris Villanueva the jail in Balungao?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q And somebody pointed to you, right?
A Yes sir.
Q If you love your husband why did it take you four (4) months from October 17 to report/identify the assailant. Why did it take you for some time?
A Because I newly gave birth that time and we are poor, sir.
Q When did you give birth?cralawred
A December sir.
Q You mean to say from October to December, two (2) months, and yet you did not tell to the Police that you recognized Aris Villanueva, right?cralawred
A Somebody helped us which is why I was given the nerve to report the matter, sir.
Q Why you have no nerve?cralawred
A Because we are threatened sir.
Q Who threatened you?cralawred
A There were times gunshot and motorcycle used to stop in front of our house, sir.
x x x
Q Even after you gave birth to your child on December, it still take you for two (2) months to report to the CIDG, San Fernando, La Union?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q Why San Fernando, La Union and not San Manuel Police?cralawred
A Because we reported to the San Manuel Police and nothing happened, sir.
Q When was that when you reported in San Manuel Police?cralawred
A At the time when my husband died, sir.
Q Did you tell the Police of San Manuel that Aris Villanueva and Rodrigo Malong who shot your husband?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q Who was that policeman whom you reported?cralawred
A Policeman Pascua sir.
Q Was it the other way Pascua whom you reported?cralawred
A I don't want to talk this time because I m afraid, sir.
Q In other words it was not Aris Villanueva and Rodrigo Malong?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q And you did not tell the Police that it was Aris Villanueva and Rodrigo Malong who shot your husband?
A Yes sir.
Q In fact you are present when Pascua testified in Court?cralawred
A Yes sir.
Q And it was very emphatic that you did not recognize who shot your husband?
A Yes sir.20 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
It bears stress that the foregoing testimony of Marina is noticeably discordant on whether she immediately reported to the police the identity of appellant as one of the malefactors. At one point, she volunteered that she gave the name of appellant to SPO3 Pascua only to contradict the same later. Again, consider her testimony as follows, quoted verbatim:
Q When you saw Aris Villanueva inside the district jail of Balungao, what did you do?cralawred
A None sir, but I just pointed to him.
Q You did not go and accused him for killing your husband?
A No sir.
x x x
Q You said that your husband was shot on October 17, 2001 in the morning. From that time your husband was shot, how many days when you and Ombudsman Ramos went to the District Jail of Balungao?cralawred
A More than a week, sir.
Q Why, do you know the reason why you and Ombudsman Ramos went to the Balungao District Jail?
A To identify whether he was really the one who shot my husband, sir.
Q Who told you to identify?
APareng Nel sir.21 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
Why Marina had to visit appellant, to whom she claimed to be familiar, in jail, in order to be able to point to him as one of the culprits underscores the fact that either she was not at all familiar with appellant or she did not really see who shot her husband. For, if she really saw and recognized or was familiar with appellant, there would have been no need for her to see him while in detention in order to identify him. In fact, that even after seeing appellant at the jail a week or more after the shooting she still failed to complain against him but waited for about three (3) months reinforces the doubt on her claim that it was he who was one of two who shot her husband.
Mercedita's attempt to explain the delay in identifying appellant as one of the malefactors does not impress either. Consider further her testimony as follows, quoted verbatim:
Q Why did you not go straight to San Manuel?cralawred
A Because if we go to the police of San Manuel they do not mind us there, sir.
Q How many times did you go there?cralawred
A Two (2) times, sir.
x x x
Q Did Pascua [of the San Manuel police force] ever see you and interview you?cralawred
A He did not investigate me.
Q But he saw you at the place in San Juan?cralawred
A Yes, sir.
Q You did not volunteer to tell Pascua what you saw at that time?cralawred
A Pascua just said, "Who is that who really did that?"
Q What was your answer to that question of Pascua?cralawred
A "This is what happened," I said.
Q What is that that happened that you told Pascua?cralawred
A When the cadaver arrived coming from the hospital, I told Pascua, "This is what happened," and Pascua did not say anything.
Q Did you tell Pascua that it was Aris Villanueva and Rodrigo Malong that shot your son?
A Not yet, sir.
Q What did you mean by not yet, did you finally tell him?
A No, sir, because our minds were not still in order.
Q After recovering from that state of mind of yours, did you go back to Pascua and tell him what happened?
A No, sir.
Q Why, when you claim that you saw and recognized the assailant of your son?cralawred
A No, sir, when they examined the cadaver of Janario, Pascua did not get near.
Q According to you, you talked with him two times, did you not tell him what you saw, this Investigator Pascua, you did not tell, him?cralawred
A Yes, sir, first was when Janario died and second was when I went there and they did not mind us.
Q Because he asked you who did that to your son and you did not tell him that is why he did not mind you anymore, right?cralawred
A Yes, sir.22 (Emphasis, capitalization, and underscoring supplied)
The foregoing testimony shows Mercedita's evasiveness on her answers on whether she told SPO3 Pascua the identity of appellant as one of her son's assailants, proffering vague retorts to an otherwise plain and simple query. At any rate, it is clear that she did not tell SPO3 Pascua who shot her son, as indeed SPO3 Pascua had claimed at the witness stand that both Marina and Mercedita had told him during the investigation that they did not recognize who shot the victim. Thus SPO3 Pascua testified:
Q What did you do when you found out that he died?cralawred
AI also interviewed Marina Magcalas if she knows the identity of the gunman. She was crying and crying and told me she does not know the two (2) who gunned h[er] husband.23
x x x
ATTY. IGNACIO: (Cross-examination)
Q You claim that when you arrived at the crime scene the mother of the victim, Mercedita Magcalas was around and you claim that you investigated her together with Tanod Manuel, how did you investigate them?cralawred
A In Ilocano, sir.
Q We expect that you asked them if they recognized the assailant in Ilocano, "AMAMMO YO KADI DAYDIAY PIMMALTOG? (Do you know the gunman?), what was their answer in Ilocano?cralawred
A "HAAN, SIR, ADDA CADUA NA, NAKAMOTOR TI HONDA TMX AGPABAGATAN DA" (No, sir, . . . he has companion [on board] a Honda TMX proceeding southward).24 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
As indicated in the earlier-quoted testimony of Marina, she claimed that she did not have the "nerve" to tell the police that she recognized appellant as one of her husband's killer as "we [were] threatened," explaining that "[t]here were times gunshot and motorcycle used to stop infront of our house." While threats have been held to be valid grounds to explain the delay in identifying the assailants, there is no showing in the present case if those claimed bases of the threats were real, and if they were, who lodged them and for what.
At all events, Marina and Mercedita gave differing explanations why it took some time for them to name appellant. Thus, Marina banked on her having just given birth. But she was two months shy of delivery at the time of the incident. Whereas Mercedita blamed the ensuing confusion (their "minds were still not in order").
The indifference attributed by Marina to the San Manuel Police in solving the crime thus appears to be a mere subterfuge, given that the records reflect the assiduous investigation of the police in tracking the killers with the search reaching a dead-end due to lack of leads.
While alibi is considered weak and unavailing, it acquires significance where no proper identification of the assailant has been made.25 Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
In fine, the prosecution failed to discharge its burden of proving beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of appellant. The burden of evidence did not thus shift to appellant, rendering it unnecessary to pass on his alibi.
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. For failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt, appellant, Aristo Villanueva, is ACQUITTED of murder.
Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Director of the Bureau of Corrections, Muntinlupa City who is directed to forthwith cause the immediate release of appellant, unless he is being lawfully held for another cause, and to inform the Court of action taken within 10 days.
Costs de oficio.
1 Records, p. 1.
2 Transcript of Stenographic Notes (TSN), April 21, 2003, pp. 3-4.
3 TSN, April 23, 2003, p.4-5.
4 TSN, April 21, 2003. pp. 4-7.
5 Id. at 8.
6 TSN, January 8, 2003, pp. 11-14.
7 Id. at 22-23, 27.
8 Records, pp. 8-10; Exhibits "H" and "I."
9 TSN, April 21, 2003, pp. 6-7.
10 TSN, April 23, 2003, p. 8.
11 TSN, June 3, 2003, pp. 3-5.
12 Id. at 6-7.
13 Rollo, pp. 21-41; Penned by Judge Tita Rodriguez-Villarin.
14 G.R. No. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640. Said case modified Sections 3 and 10 of Rule 122, Section 3 of Rule 125, Section 13 of Rule 134 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure and any other rule insofar as they provide direct appeals from the RTC to this Court in cases where the penalty imposed is death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment and allowed an intermediate review by the Court of Appeals before such cases are elevated to this Court.
15 Per Resolution dated September 8, 2004.
16 Penned by Associate Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez Jr. and Vicente S.E. Veloso concurring.
17 G.R. No. 133579, May 31, 2000, 332 SCRA 730.
18 Rollo, pp. 123-146; Appellee's Brief.
19 People v. Arlalejo, G.R. No. 127841, June 16, 2000, 333 SCRA 604, 612, citing People v. Agsunod, Jr., 306 SCRA 612 (1999); People v. Reduca, 301 SCRA 516 (1999); and People v. Banela, 301 SCRA 84 (1999).
20 TSN, April 21, 2003, pp. 13-16.
21 Id. at 20-21.
22 TSN, April 23, 2003, pp. 22-24.
23 TSN, January 8, 2003, p. 24.
24 Id. at 26-27.
25 People v. Giganto Sr., G.R. No.123077, July 20, 2000, 336 SCRA 294, 305.