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[G.R. No. 188124 : June 29, 2010]




Before us on appeal is the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals affirming the Judgment2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Parañaque in Criminal Case No. 02-01426 convicting appellants Jonel Falabrica Serenas alias "Joe-An" (Joe-An) and Joel Lorica Labad (Joel) of the crime of murder.

Appellants were charged under the following Information:

That on or about the 8th day of December 2002 in the City of Parañaque, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating with one John Doe, whose true name and present whereabouts is still unknown, and all of them mutually helping and aiding one another, with intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab one Nino Noel Ramos, thereby inflicting upon him serious and mortal stab wound, which caused his death.3

The facts, as narrated by prosecution witnesses, follow -

On 8 December 2002, at around 10:00 o'clock in the evening, Niño Noel Ramos (Niño) had just brought his girlfriend, Dianne Charisse Gavino (Dianne), home in Sto. Niño, Parañaque City. On his way back to La Huerta, he passed by a bridge connecting the barangays of Sto. Niño and La Huerta.  Thereat, Niño was stabbed and mauled.4

Cesar Ramos (Cesar), Niño's brother, was in the vicinity of N. Domingo Street in La Huerta when he heard a commotion on the bridge.  As he was about to proceed to the bridge, he met Niño and noticed that his brother was soaked in his own blood.  Niño relayed to Cesar that he was stabbed by Joe-An. Cesar immediately brought Niño to the hospital where the latter expired thirty (30) minutes later.5  At the police station, Cesar claimed that appellants told him that they merely "took fancy" on Niño.6

Dianne initially related in her affidavit executed at the police station that her cousin informed her of a commotion on the bridge.  Upon reaching the bridge, she met a friend who told her that her boyfriend, Niño, was stabbed and brought to the hospital.  She added that one day before the incident, she and Niño were walking along the bridge when they passed by the group of appellants and heard Joe-An utter the words, "Iyang mama na iyan, may araw din siya sa akin."7  In her testimony during the trial however, she narrated that she actually saw Joe-An stabbing Niño.8

PO3 Ramoncito Lipana (PO3 Lipana) was at the police station in La Huerta on 8 December 2002 when a woman named Dianne came to report a stabbing incident involving her boyfriend.  PO3 Lipana, together with PO2 Jesus Brigola (PO2 Brigola) and PO3 Marlon Golfo, immediately proceeded to the crime scene.  Upon arriving thereat, the police saw two men scampering away upon seeing them.  They chased the two men, later identified as Joe-An and Joel.  The police managed to catch the appellants while they were hiding near a bangka under the bridge. Appellants were brought to the police station where Dianne identified them as the assailants of Niño.9

Dr. Valentin T. Bernales (Dr. Bernales), the medico-legal officer who issued the autopsy report, testified that the victim was stabbed twice at the back and the assailant was situated within arm's length. The victim succumbed from the stab wounds, both of which, are fatal. Dr. Bernales also noted that there were contuse abrasions on different parts of the victim's body.10

Appellants invoked denial and alibi as their defense. Joe-An, a resident of Wawa, Sto. Niño, alleged that he was at his house on 8 December 2002.  While he was taking his dinner, he saw people running towards the bridge.  He went out of the house to check on what had happened.  He approached a group of people talking about the commotion. Thereafter, he saw the police and barangay tanods arrive.  He was immediately handcuffed and asked to go with the police. Joe-An alleged that he was physically forced by the police to admit the killing of Niño.11  Joe-An denied knowing the victim or his girlfriend, Dianne, but admitted that Joel is an acquaintance.12

Joel likewise denied his participation in killing Niño.  He stated that he was sleeping at around 11 p.m. on 8 December 2002 when he was awakened by an argument involving his mother and four (4) men outside his room.  He then got out of the room and saw PO3 Lipana, PO2 Brigola, and two other police "assets."  The group invited him for questioning.  When the two assets suddenly grabbed him, Joel resisted but he was forcibly brought to the police station.  He saw Dianne at the station but the latter did not identify him as the culprit. Instead, Dianne even sought his help to identify the person who killed her boyfriend. This fact notwithstanding, the police refused to let him go. He testified that he did not know the victim or Dianne personally.13

After trial, the RTC rendered judgment convicting appellants, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, considering that the prosecution was able to prove the guilt of both accused beyond reasonable doubt, accused JONEL FALABRICA SERENAS alias JOE-AN and JOEL LORICA LABAD are hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA pursuant to R.A. 9346 which repealed the death penalty law.  However, pursuant to Sec. 3 thereof, they are not eligible for parole.br>
Accused JONEL FALABRICA SERENAS alias JOE-AN and JOEL LORICA LABAD are jointly and severally liable to pay the heirs of NIÑ
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