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G.R. No. 182156 - Jazmin L. Espiritu and Porfirio Lazaro, Jr. v. Vladimir G. Lazaro, et al.

G.R. No. 182156 - Jazmin L. Espiritu and Porfirio Lazaro, Jr. v. Vladimir G. Lazaro, et al.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. NO. 182156 : November 25, 2009]

REY A. VILLAMOR, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.

R E S O L U T I O N

NACHURA, J.:

Before this Court is a Petition1 for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure seeking the reversal of the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision2 dated August 31, 2007 which affirmed the Decision3 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Virac, Catanduanes, Branch 42, dated September 21, 2005, convicting petitioner Rey A. Villamor alias

"Ikoy" (petitioner) of the crime of Homicide, with modification as to the damages awarded.

The Facts

On January 11, 1995, petitioner was charged with Homicide in an Information4 which reads:

That on or about the 13th day of July 1994 [in] [B]arangay Bagong Bayan, [M]unicipality of Panganiban, [P]rovince of Catanduanes, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously with intent to kill attack and assault one Manuel Cabrera by boxing and kicking him on the head and in different parts of his body which directly caused his death to the damage and prejudice of his heirs.

ALL ACTS CONTRARY TO LAW.

The RTC issued a warrant of arrest with a bail recommendation of P20,000.00.5 Petitioner posted bail for his provisional liberty.6 Upon arraignment on May 15, 1995, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the offense charged.7 During the pretrial, it was stipulated that the victim, Manuel Cabrera (Manuel), died on July 25, 1994 in the house of his sister, Helen Cabrera, in Quezon City; and that prior to his death, he worked as a welder in an iron workshop. Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued. In the course of the trial, two varying versions arose.

Version of the Prosecution

The prosecution established that Manuel was mauled on July 13, 1994 based on the testimonies of Lolito Cabrera,8 Barangay Chairman of Barangay Bagong Bayan, Panganiban, Catanduanes (Barangay Bagong Bayan), and Senior Police Officer 4 Roberto Reyes.9 The latter also

testified that he was the one who investigated the case and that affidavits sworn before him pointed to petitioner as the culprit.

The prosecution also relied on the testimony of Manuel's mother, Rosario Cabrera (Rosario), a Grade IV teacher assigned in Cahan, Bagamanoc, Catanduanes. Rosario testified that, in the early afternoon of July 13, 1994, she went home early from work as she would attend a conference the following day; that she hiked towards Barangay Hinipaan to wait for a ride home towards Panganiban, Catanduanes, where she resides; that, since there was no other available means of transportation at that time, she decided to just hitch a ride on a hemp-loaded truck en route to Virac, Catanduanes; and that being a hitchhiker, she stood at the back of the truck and held on to its ropes to maintain her balance.

She went on to narrate that when the truck passed by Barangay Bagong Bayan, she saw petitioner mauling and beating someone in front of the house of one Crispin Oliveros, Sr. (Crispin). She saw the victim fall to the ground bleeding, as petitioner kicked and boxed him on the stomach and on the head while the latter was sprawled on the ground. At that moment, Rosario did not pay much attention to the incident because she thought all along that Manuel was still in Manila. Her suspicion that Manuel was the victim of the mauling incident was confirmed only when she reached home and was informed that Manuel had already arrived. Rosario then wanted to go to the Viga District Hospital thinking that Manuel would be brought there, but was prevailed upon by her husband to go instead to the police station to have the incident blottered.

After attending her scheduled seminar the next day, Rosario went to the Viga District Hospital to visit Manuel. When they met, Manuel complained of physical pain and requested Rosario that he be brought immediately to Manila. She brought him to Virac on board a passenger jeepney to prepare for his flight to Manila. But since there was a storm at that time and all flights from Catanduanes were cancelled, Rosario was compelled to momentarily confine Manuel at the Eastern Bicol Medical Center (EMBC). At the EMBC, Manuel continued to complain of abdominal pains and had difficulty urinating.

When he was finally airlifted to Manila, Manuel still complained of abdominal pains and his nose bled. He was brought to the Tondo General Hospital where he was confined for four (4) days. Manuel was then brought to his house in Manila where he requested to see his family, as he could no longer bear the pain. He was then brought to his sister Helen Cabrera's house in Quezon City where he eventually died on July 25, 1994 because of cerebral edema.10

Version of the Defense

The defense denied the prosecution's claims. Petitioner testified that while he was drinking tuba with his friends, Milo Lara11 and Igmedio Torio Villamor,12 in front of Crispin's house at about 3:00 p.m. of July 13, 1994, Manuel passed by and shoved petitioner's baseball cap; that at around 3:20 p.m., he left the drinking session and went to work at the Sumalde ricemill located in the adjoining barangay, Barangay Sta. Maria; and that he stayed in the ricemill until 8:00 p.m. He claimed that he had no grudge against Manuel who was his cousin and that he learned of Manuel's death only when he received a subpoena.13 To corroborate petitioner's story, the defense presented Milo Lara14 and Igmedio Torio Villamor.15

The RTC's Ruling

On September 21, 2005, the RTC rendered its decision, finding petitioner guilty as charged. It lent credence to Rosario's testimony, finding the same to be credible, categorical and free from any ill motive. Thus, the RTC disposed:

WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused Rey Villamor guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide and hereby sentences him to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from 6 years and 1 day of prision mayor as minimum to 14 years, 8 months and 1 day of reclusion temporal as maximum and to pay the heirs of Manuel Cabrera P50,000.00 as civil indemnity.

SO ORDERED.

Aggrieved, petitioner appealed to the CA.16

The CA's Ruling

On August 31, 2007, the CA affirmed the findings of the RTC, giving full respect to the trial court's calibration of witnesses. However, the CA held that the RTC disregarded the testimony of Julieta Cabrera, Manuel's widow, on the award of compensation for the alleged lost income of Manuel. Thus, the CA ruled in this wise:

WHEREFORE, the 21 September 2005 Decision of Branch 42, Virac, Catanduanes assailed herein is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION to the effect that petitioner is ordered to pay the heirs

of Manuel Cabrera the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, and in addition P25,000.00 as temperate damages.

SO ORDERED.

Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration17 which was, however, denied by the CA in its Resolution18 dated November 9, 2007. Undaunted, petitioner filed a Second Motion for Reconsideration19 which the CA, in its Resolution20 dated December 18, 2007, denied for lack of merit and for being a prohibited pleading.

Hence, this Petition based on the following grounds:

[A] THE CHALLENGED DECISION/S (RESOLUTIONS) OF THE RESPONDENT/S [CA AND RTC] WERE RENDERED NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAW AND APPLICABLE DECISION/S OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT, AND IT ACTED WITH GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION[; AND]

[B] THE PUBLIC RESPONDENT[S] COMMITTED GRAVE ABUSE OF DISCRETION AMOUNTING TO LACK OF JURISDICTION IN [THEIR] DECISION/S WHICH IS CONTRARY TO LAW AND JURISPRUDENCE.21

Petitioner claims that Rosario's detailed testimony that she saw him boxing and kicking Manuel while she was on board a speeding truck is highly unbelievable, considering the distance of Crispin's house from the gutter of Barangay Bagong Bayan; that Rosario was obviously a coached witness; that Rosario's lone testimony, in the absence of other prosecution witnesses, which was made after the lapse of almost six (6) years from the incident, cannot support petitioner's conviction; that Rosario did not execute any affidavit during the police investigation, preliminary examination and preliminary investigation; and that petitioner had no ill motive against Manuel.22

On the other hand, respondent People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), asseverates that the instant Petition raises purely factual issues which are outside the office of a Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45; that Rosario is a credible witness who positively identified petitioner as the one who beat Manuel; that Rosario was able to see the mauling incident as the truck reduced speed due to the presence of people around the scene of the incident; and that moral damages should be awarded in favor of Manuel's heirs since his death resulted from petitioner's criminal act.23

The threshold issue in this case, therefore, is whether or not the prosecution was able to prove the guilt of petitioner beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses and the documentary evidence presented.

Our Ruling

The instant Petition is bereft of merit.

Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) defines and punishes the crime of homicide, viz.:

Art. 249. Homicide. - Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246,24 shall kill another without the attendance of any of the circumstances enumerated in the next preceding article, shall be deemed guilty of homicide and be punished by reclusion temporal.

The elements of homicide are as follows: 1) a person was killed; 2) the accused killed him without any justifying circumstance; 3) the accused had the intention to kill, which is presumed; and 4) the killing was not attended

by any of the qualifying circumstances of murder, or by that of parricide or infanticide.25

It bears stressing that in criminal cases such as this, the prosecution is not required to show the guilt of the accused with absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is demanded, or that degree of proof which, to an unprejudiced mind, produces conviction.26 In this case, we find that the prosecution has discharged its burden of proving the guilt of petitioner with moral certainty.

First. As correctly invoked by the CA, our ruling in People v. Buban27 clearly teaches that family relationship does not by itself render an eyewitness' testimony inadmissible, less credible or devoid of probative value. Verily, to discredit Rosario's testimony just because she is Manuel's mother is unfair. On the contrary, Rosario would have no reason to simply and indiscriminately impute the crime to anybody, especially to petitioner who is a cousin of Manuel. However, it is necessary that Rosario should have positively identified the malefactor properly in order to secure the conviction of the real culprit and obtain justice.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

Second. Nothing is more settled in criminal law jurisprudence than that denial and alibi cannot prevail over the positive and categorical testimony of the witness. Denial is an intrinsically weak defense, which must be buttressed with strong evidence of non-culpability to merit credibility. Similarly, alibi is an inherently weak defense, which is viewed with suspicion and received with caution because it can easily be fabricated. For alibi to prosper, the accused must prove not only that he was at some other place when the crime was committed, but that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus criminis at the time of its commission.28 In this case, petitioner was positively identified by Rosario as the one who mauled her son - a witness who was characterized by both the RTC and the CA as credible and who had no ill motive to implicate petitioner in this dastardly crime. Likewise, petitioner's own evidence shows that, in fact, he met Manuel and, thereafter, was in the immediate environs when the incident occurred, as the ricemill was located in a barangay adjacent to Barangay Bagong Bayan. We take note of the CA's keen observation that, at some point, petitioner was left alone by the two other defense witnesses who never saw where petitioner went after they saw him with Manuel.29

Lastly, the cardinal rule applies that factual findings of the trial court, its calibration of the testimonies of the witnesses and its conclusions anchored on its findings are accorded high respect, if not conclusive effect, particularly when affirmed by the CA. The recognized exception to this rule is when it is established that the trial court ignored, overlooked, misconstrued, or misinterpreted cogent facts and circumstances which, if considered, would change the outcome of the case. We have reviewed the records of the RTC and of the CA, and we find no valid justification to deviate from both courts' findings and their uniform conclusion that appellant is indeed guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide.30

Thus, we are in full agreement with the CA, when it aptly and judiciously held, to wit:

As to the assigned error claimed by the accused-appellant, we do not see the improbabilities being alleged by the defense as to the testimony of the victim's mother that she saw the mauling incident while standing on board a truck. We are more inclined to agree with the OSG that the mother was actually in the best position to witness the incident in that elevation. Furthermore, the defense was not able to prove any ill-motive on the part of the victim's mother to testify against her son's own cousin. On the contrary, she has all the reasons to punish the culprit and make sure that the one who would be punished is the one who killed her child.31

We also uphold the position of the OSG that the heirs of Manuel are entitled to moral damages. Moral damages are mandatory in cases of murder and homicide, without need of any allegation or proof other than the death of the victim. Moral damages are awarded despite the absence of proof of mental and emotional sufferings of the victim's heirs because, as borne out by human nature and experience, a violent death invariably and necessarily brings about emotional pain and anguish on the part of the victim's family.32 Consistent with this rule, we award the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence.33

WHEREFORE, the instant Petition is DENIED and the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. C.R. No. 29768, dated August 31, 2007, finding petitioner Rey A. Villamor guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION that said petitioner is further ORDERED to pay the heirs of Manuel Cabrera the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as moral damages. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Rollo, pp. 9-23.

2 Particularly docketed as CA-G.R. CR. No. 29768, penned by Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr., with Associate Justices Jose C. Mendoza and Ramon M. Bato, Jr., concurring; id. at 32-40.

3 Records, pp. 382-387.

4 Id. at 45.

5 Id. at 47.

6 Id. at 49.

7 Id. at 68.

8 TSN, February 24, 2000, pp. 3-8.

9 TSN, October 18, 2000, pp. 2-4.

10 TSN, August 10, 1999, pp. 2-11.

11 Also referred to as "Nilo Lara" in other pleadings and documents.

12 Also referred to as "Cabon Villamor" in other pleadings and documents.

13 TSN, September 19, 2002, pp. 2-6.

14 TSN, November 5, 2002, pp. 3-15.

15 TSN, July 10, 2003, pp. 3-6.

16 Records, p. 389.

17 Rollo, pp. 41-44.

18 Id. at 48.

19 Id. at 49-57.

20 Id. at 59-60.

21 Supra note 1, at 16.

22 Id.

23 Rollo, pp. 82-96.

24 The article in the RPC defining and punishing the crime of parricide.

25 Yadao v. People, G.R. No. 150917, September 27, 2006, 503 SCRA 496, 507, citing L. Reyes, THE REVISED PENAL CODE, Book Two, p. 470 (15th ed., 2001).

26 People of the Philippines v. Jessie Malate y Cañete, G.R. No. 185724, June 5, 2009.

27 G.R. No. 170471, May 11, 2007, 523 SCRA 118, 131-132, citing People v. Tulop, 289 SCRA 316, 331 (1998).

28 People v. Bulasag, G.R. No. 172869, July 28, 2008, 560 SCRA 245, 253.

29 Supra note 2, at 37-38.

30 Casitas v. People, G.R. No. 152358, February 5, 2004, 422 SCRA 242, 248.

31 Supra note 2, at 38.

32 People v. Opuran, 469 Phil. 698, 720-721 (2004). (Citations omitted.)

33 People of the Philippines v. Samuel Algarme y Bonda and Rizaldy Gelle y Biscocho, G.R. No. 175978, February 12, 2009, citing People v. Eling, 553 SCRA 724, 739 (2008).

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