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G.R. No. 192179, July 03, 2013 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. LITO HATSERO, Accused-Appellant.

G.R. No. 192179, July 03, 2013 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. LITO HATSERO, Accused-Appellant.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 192179, July 03, 2013

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. LITO HATSERO, Accused-Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

 

This is an Appeal from the Decision1 dated June 22, 2009 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB-CR-H.C. No. 00690, which affirmed with modification the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 17 of Roxas City finding accused-appellant Lito Hatsero guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder.

Accused-appellant Hatsero was charged with the crime of murder qualified by treachery in an Information dated March 14, 2001. He entered a plea of not guilty to the offense charged. Trial thereafter ensued, with the prosecution presenting the alleged eyewitness Alex Barroa; the victim’s widow, Nimfa Gravo; and Pilar, Capiz Municipal Health Officer Dr. Ramon Nolasco, Jr. The defense, on the other hand, presented accused-appellant himself, as well as Robinson Benigla, the Barangay Captain of Bgy. Dulangan, Pilar, Capiz at the time of the incident.

Thirty-eight-year old truck driver Alex Barroa testified that the victim, Mamerto Gravo, was the first cousin of his wife. He knew accused-appellant Hatsero as a hauler or “pakyador” of sugarcane in their place.

On August 27, 2000, at 12:30 a.m., Barroa was with Gravo, celebrating the barangay fiesta at the dance hall of Sitio Tunga, Barangay Dulangan, Pilar, Capiz. Barroa and Gravo were about to go home when they passed by a group drinking behind the dance hall, in front of the store of a certain Yulo. He recognized accused-appellant Hatsero as one of the drinkers, but failed to recognize his companion who was seated in a dark place. Accused-appellant Hatsero invited Gravo to have a drink. While Gravo was holding the glass, accused-appellant Hatsero stabbed him, and ran towards the store. Gravo was not armed when this happened. Barroa saw everything since he was only about 58 inches away from them. Barroa was stunned with what he saw, but he managed to run towards the door of the gate of the dance hall, where he got people to help him bring Gravo via a tricycle to the Bailan District Hospital. Barroa then had the incident recorded with the Barangay Captain.3

Nimfa Gravo, the widow of the victim, knew the accused-appellant as a worker in a cane field. She was at home when her husband was killed, and was merely informed of the incident by her neighbor, Eva Fuentes. She immediately ran to the dance hall, but her husband had been carried to the hospital when she arrived at the scene. She spent P15,000.00 at the funeral parlor and presented the receipt as evidence. She actually spent P100,000.00 in funeral expenses, but claimed that she no longer had the receipts. At the time of his death, her husband was 51 years old, in good health, and was continuously employed.4

Dr. Ramon Nolasco, Jr., the Municipal Health Officer of Pilar, Capiz, was not the one who conducted the post-mortem examination of Mamerto Gravo, but was presented in lieu of Dr. Freddie Bucayan, who was already in the United States and no longer connected with the office. He acknowledged that the Municipal Health Office conducted the post-mortem examination of Mamerto Gravo, based on the Medical Certificate issued by Dr. Bucayan and the Post-mortem Examination Report.5

According to said documents, Gravo sustained two wounds. The first was around 3.3 centimeters in length, 8 centimeters wide, and 6.4 centimeters deep. It had clean cut edges and clotted blood around it. The wound was located at the right armpit, stretching down Gravo’s right side and back. The point of entry was at the back of the body. The weapon used, which was pointed and probably bladed, hit the lungs and the blood vessels of the lungs. The second wound was located at the right side of the thorax, and was also fatal. The cause of death was cardio-pulmonary arrest arising from hemorrhagic shock secondary to injury of the lungs.6

Accused-appellant Lito Hatsero was 33 years old at the time of his testimony. He was a lumberjack chainsaw operator. He testified that he was sleeping in his house at around 12:30 a.m., on August 27, 2000. Earlier in the evening, however, he went with his children to the dance hall. He asserted that he left the dance hall at around 10:00 p.m., denied having killed Mamerto Gravo, and believed that he was implicated because he refused Mamerto Gravo’s wife’s request to be a witness when she asked him to pinpoint the real killer. He denied knowing Alex Barroa, and claimed that the latter’s testimony is incredible as he was wrong as regards the number of wounds inflicted.7

Robinson Benigla,8 a fisherman, was the Barangay Captain of Brgy. Dulangan, Pilar, Capiz at the time of the incident. He denied receiving any report of the killing of Mamerto Gravo and thus did not cause a blotter of the same. He attested that there was no record of the killing in the barangay. He claimed that he did not meet Alex Barroa early in the morning of August 28, 2000.9

On August 22, 2006, the trial court rendered its Decision convicting accused-appellant Hatsero of the crime of murder. The dispositive portion of the Decision is as follows:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

WHEREFORE, premises considered, accused Lito Hatsero is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder and he is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify the heirs of the deceased in the sum of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00), with subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and the sum of Sixty Thousand Pesos (P60,000.000) for funeral and hospital expenses.10

The trial court held that the accused-appellant was positively identified as the assailant, that the eyewitness account was categorical and consistent, and that there was no showing of ill motive on the part of the prosecution witnesses. The defense, on the other hand, failed to conclusively establish that it was physically impossible for the accused-appellant to be at the scene of the crime at the approximate time of its commission.11

Accused-appellant Hatsero elevated the case to the Court of Appeals which rendered its Decision affirming the conviction, to wit:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 17 of Roxas City dated August 22, 2006, finding accused-appellant Lito Hatsero guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION as to the amount of damages only. Accused-appellant should indemnify the heirs of the victim the following amount[s]: (i) Fifteen Thousand Pesos (P15,000.00) as actual damages; (ii) Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as civil indemnity for the death of the victim; and (iii) Twenty[-]Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) as exemplary damages.12

The Court of Appeals agreed with the assessment of the trial court that Alex Barroa described the stabbing incident in a clear and convincing manner. The disparities between the testimonies of Barroa and Dr. Nolasco do not make Barroa’s testimony less credible since Barroa fled the scene after the first stabbing, and may have merely failed to witness a second one. The Court of Appeals likewise reiterated that the defense failed to prove that Barroa was moved by any improper motive, giving rise to the presumption that his testimony is entitled to full faith and credit.13

The Court of Appeals, however, modified the civil damages as follows: (1) the award of P60,000.00 for funeral and hospital expenses was reduced to P15,000.00, the amount duly substantiated by a receipt; (2) accused-appellant was ordered additionally liable for the amount of P50,000.00 as indemnity for the death of Mamerto Gravo; and (3) accused-appellant was also made additionally liable for the amount of P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

Accused-appellant appealed to this Court through a Notice of Appeal.14 On February 22, 2010, accused-appellant filed a Manifestation15 stating that he will no longer file a supplemental brief as all relevant matters have already been taken up in his Appellant’s Brief with the Court of Appeals, thus bringing before us the same assignment of error:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED FOR THE CRIME OF MURDER DESPITE FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.16

Accused-appellant’s bone of contention is that the testimony of the lone eyewitness, Alex Barroa, is glaring with contradictions. Specifically, accused-appellant points out the following: (1) while the testimony of Barroa only indicated that there was one wound inflicted, the medical examination showed that there were two fatal wounds found in the body of Mamerto Gravo; (2) Barroa claimed that he saw Mamerto Gravo get stabbed on his left armpit, but the medical examination showed that the wounds were inflicted at the right side of his body; (3) Barroa claimed that accused-appellant used an icepick to stab Mamerto Gravo, but the medical examination yielded that the first wound was caused by a pointed and probably bladed instrument, while the second wound was caused by a bladed instrument which may be different from the first; and (4) Dr. Nolasco admitted that there was a possibility that there were two assailants.

Upon careful examination of the records of the case, we agree with the Court of Appeals that these alleged contradictions refer only to irrelevant and collateral matters, and have nothing to do with the elements of the crime charged and proven. As observed by the Court of Appeals, Barroa, in shock, fled the scene after the first stabbing, and may have merely failed to see a second one, possibly inflicted by accused-appellant’s companion. Even if this were the case, accused-appellant cannot escape from criminal liability from the death of Mamerto Gravo. It is clear from the records that both wounds were fatal (since vital organs were hit) and that accused-appellant inflicted the first stab wound. This first stab wound caused the death of Mamerto Gravo, even in the absence of a second wound.

Considering the shock experienced by Alex Barroa when he saw the victim getting stabbed by a person who, just moments before, appeared to have made a friendly offer of a drink, we cannot fault Barroa for failing to observe the exact part of the body where the icepick of accused-appellant hit Mamerto Gravo. Barroa specified that he was stunned by what he saw, and ran towards the gate of the dance hall, while accused-appellant ran towards the store of Yulo.17 In such confusion, it is understandable that he was not able to take an immediate second look to verify what he saw. What is important is that he positively identified accused-appellant as the person who stabbed Mamerto Gravo after handing him a drink.

In the face of this positive identification, accused-appellant puts up the defense of alibi, claiming that he was sleeping in his house at the time of the incident. It has been consistently held by this Court that, for the defense of alibi to prosper, the accused must prove not only that he was at some other place at the time of the commission of the crime, but also that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus delicti or within its immediate vicinity.18 In the case of accused-appellant, however, it was established in his very own direct testimony that his house is within the immediate vicinity of the scene of the crime:cralavvonlinelawlibrary

Q     Where were you when the incident happened on August 27, 2000 on or about 12:30 in the morning?

A     I was in my house.

Q     Is it not a fact that your house is near the dance hall when Mamerto Gravo was hit?

A    Yes, sir.

Q     Since there was a benefit dance near your house, you did not enter the benefit dance?

A     Earlier that night, I was there in the dance hall but at about 10:00 in the evening, I went up my house bringing along my child.19

Alibi is an inherently weak defense because it is easy to fabricate and highly unreliable. In the case at bar, it is even weaker because of the failure of the accused-appellant to prove that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus delicti at the time of the crime, and in the face of the positive identification made by Alex Barroa.20

Furthermore, we have time and again ruled that factual findings of the trial court, especially those affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are conclusive on this Court when supported by the evidence on record.21

Accused-appellant also assails the finding that treachery attended the killing of Mamerto Gravo. According to accused-appellant, it was not established that he consciously and deliberately used the icepick in killing the victim in such a way as to insure his safety from any retaliation or that the attack was sudden as to give the victim no opportunity to defend himself.22

We disagree. We have held that “[t]he essence of treachery is that the attack is deliberate and without warning, done in a swift and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape.”23 The manner Mamerto Gravo was stabbed by accused-appellant has treachery written all over it. We cannot think of any other reason accused-appellant would make the friendly gesture of offering a drink to a person he intended to kill, other than to intentionally lure the latter into a false sense of security.

In all, we find no cogent reason to overturn the factual findings of the appellate court. However, civil liabilities awarded by the Court of Appeals require modification in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence. It is settled that when death occurs due to a crime, the following may be recovered: (1) civil indemnity ex delicto for the death of the victim; (2) actual or compensatory damages; (3) moral damages; (4) exemplary damages; (5) attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation; and (6) interest, in proper cases.24 Since there was no award of moral damages in the lower courts, we hereby hold accused-appellant Hatsero additionally liable for the amount of P50,000.00 in moral damages pursuant to the Decision of this Court in People v. Malicdem.25 Likewise in accordance to the amounts awarded in Malicdem, where the accused was similarly convicted of the crime of murder qualified by treachery, the Court modifies the amount of civil indemnity and exemplary damages to P75,000.00 and P30,000.00, respectively. Furthermore, since the receipted expenses of the victim’s family was less than P25,000.00, temperate damages in said amount should be awarded in lieu of actual damages.26

Finally, all monetary awards should earn interest in conformity with current jurisprudence.

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals on June 22, 2009 in CA-G.R. CEB-CR-H.C. No. 00690, which affirmed with modification the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Roxas City finding accused-appellant Lito Hatsero GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION that accused-appellant Lito Hatsero is further ORDERED to pay the heirs of Mamerto Gravo the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P30,000.00 as exemplary damages, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P25,000.00 as temperate damages, plus interest at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum on all the amounts of damages awarded, commencing from the date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.

Costs on accused-appellant Lito Hatsero.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J., (Chairperson), Bersamin, Villarama, and Reyes, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:


1Rollo, pp. 2-18; penned by Associate Justice Franchito N. Diamante with Associate Justices Edgardo L. de los Santos and Rodil V. Zalameda, concurring.cralawlibrary

2 CA rollo, pp. 33-38.cralawlibrary

3 TSN, March 25, 2003, pp. 3-5.cralawlibrary

4 TSN, May 19, 2003, pp. 2-5.cralawlibrary

5 TSN, July 30, 2003, pp. 3-5.cralawlibrary

6 Id. at 7-11; sketch was presented as Exhibit D (records, p. 171).cralawlibrary

7 TSN, March 3, 2005, pp. 2-8.cralawlibrary

8 Identified in some parts of the records as “Robinhood Benigla.”

9 TSN, September 1, 2005, pp. 3-6.cralawlibrary

10 CA rollo, p. 38.cralawlibrary

11 Id. at 37-38.cralawlibrary

12Rollo, p. 17.cralawlibrary

13 Id. at 11-12.cralawlibrary

14 Id. at 19.cralawlibrary

15 Id. at 32-34.cralawlibrary

16 CA rollo, p. 26.cralawlibrary

17 TSN, March 25, 2003, p. 5.cralawlibrary

18People v. Ballesteros, 349 Phil. 366, 375 (1998).cralawlibrary

19 TSN, March 3, 2005, pp. 6-7.cralawlibrary

20 See People v. Bonifacio, 426 Phil. 511, 520-521 (2002).cralawlibrary

21People v. Barde, G.R. No. 183094, September 22, 2010, 631 SCRA 187, 208-209.cralawlibrary

22 CA rollo, pp. 29-30.cralawlibrary

23People v. Barde, supra note 21 at 215.cralawlibrary

24People v. Tolentino, 570 Phil. 255, 284 (2008).cralawlibrary

25 G.R. No. 184601, November 12, 2012, 685 SCRA 193, 206.cralawlibrary

26 People v. Abaño, G.R. No. 188323, February 21, 2011, 643 SCRA 587, 591.
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