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[G.R. No. 141080. September 17, 2002.]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ANECITO UNLAGADA y SUANQUE a.k.a. "Lapad," Accused-Appellant.



For the murder of twenty-four-year old Danilo Laurel, ANECITO UNLAGADA y SUANQUE alias "Lapad" was charged and subsequently convicted by the court a quo and sentenced to reclusion perpetua and ordered to pay the heirs of the victim P100,000.00 as moral damages, P50,000.00 as temperate damages, and another P50,000.00 as exemplary damages. 1

On 27 January 1989 at around 9:00 o’clock in the evening Danilo Laurel left his house together with Edwin Selda, a visitor from Bacolod City, to attend a public dance at Rizal St., Mag-asawang Taytay, Hinigaran, Negros Occidental. Two (2) hours later, or around 11:00 o’clock that evening, Danilo asked Edwin to take a short break from dancing to attend to their personal necessities outside the dance hall. Once outside, they decided to have a drink and bought two (2) bottles of Gold Eagle beer at a nearby store.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Not long after, Danilo, halfway on his first bottle, left to look for a place to relieve himself. According to Edwin, he was only about three (3) meters from Danilo who was relieving himself when a short, dark bearded man walked past him, approached Danilo and stabbed him at the side. Danilo retaliated by striking his assailant with a half-filled bottle of beer. Almost simultaneously, a group of men numbering about seven (7), ganged up on Danilo and hit him with assorted weapons, i.e., bamboo poles, stones and pieces of wood. Edwin, who was petrified, could only watch helplessly as Danilo was being mauled and overpowered by his assailants. Danilo fell to the ground and died before he could be given any medical assistance.

Edwin Selda testified that on 29 January 1989 the police invited him to the Municipal Building of Hinigaran to give his statement regarding the killing incident and, if necessary, to confirm the identity of the suspect who was then in their custody. Thereat, he executed an affidavit and affirmed before the police authorities that the man under detention, whom he later identified as accused Anecito Unlagada, was the same man who stabbed his friend Danilo.

Dr. Rene Ortigas, surgical resident of the Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Hospital, testified that the post-mortem examination showed that the victim sustained the following injuries: (a) an 8 cm. stab wound, 2nd intercostal space AAL right directed anteriorly, non-penetrating; (b) an 8 cm. stab wound, 4th intercostal MAL, directed postero-medially, non-penetrating; (c) an 8 cm. stab wound, 6th intercostal space, mid-clavicular line, directed postero-caudially, penetrating diaphragm and right dome of liver causing massive hemorrhage, sequestered at right hemithorax and abdomen; (d) an 8 cm. stab wound, 6th intercostal space, mid-clavicular line left, directed postero-laterally, non-penetrating; (e) an 8 cm. lacerated wound, antero-lateral aspect right thigh; (f) a multiple contusion hematoma, postero-medial aspect left elbow; and, (g) a multilinear abrasion, zygomatic area left face. Dr. Ortigas opined that wound No. 3 proved to be the only fatal injury which lacerated the diaphragm and right dome of the liver resulting in massive hemorrhage.

The defense presented a different picture of the story. Guglielmo Laurel testified that on the evening of 27 January 1989 he was at the dance hall when he met accused Anecito Unlagada. He was all by himself. On the same occasion, according to Guglielmo he also met Danilo Laurel and three (3) other companions although only Edwin Selda was introduced to him. Soon after, Danilo and his friends left the dance hall to drink liquor. An hour or so later, Danilo’s group returned to the dance hall. An altercation ensued when the gatekeeper refused them entry without a gate pass. From his vantage point of about forty (40) meters away, Guglielmo observed that a rumble erupted. From a distance, he saw a man, whom he later recognized as Danilo Laurel, fall to the ground. He however belied having seen the accused Anecito Unlagada anywhere near the scene of the crime. By his account, the melee broke up only when a policeman fired a warning shot in the air and the protagonists scampered away.

On cross-examination, however, Guglielmo Laurel asserted positively that accused Unlagada was inside the dance hall before, during and after the rumble, and stayed there even after a policeman fired a warning shot. This testimony of witness Guglielmo was corroborated by defense witnesses Jaime Umbiga and Mariano Salazar.

PO3 Jomarie Sarrosa narrated that at around 11:30 in the evening of 27 January 1989 he was inside his house entertaining some visitors when suddenly he heard frantic shouts, "fight, fight!" Answering the call of duty, he took his service pistol, went outside and fired a warning shot in the air to break up the fight that was going on some fifty (50) meters away. Instinctively, the protagonists broke up and scampered away. When he went near the place of the disturbance, he noticed a man with a deformed hand sprawled on the ground. He however clarified that he described the place as dark because there were no street lights.

PO3 Sarrosa lifted the prostrate body of the victim and asked a barangay tanod to stay with the victim as he would call a tricycle to seek emergency medical assistance. According to him, he caused the incident to be entered into the police blotter while Pfc. Tady and Cpl. Tañal investigated the killing incident. The investigators informed him the following morning that they already had a suspect by the name of "Lapad." He volunteered to look for the suspect since he knew him.

Accused Anecito Unlagada testifying in his defense, recounted that at around 10:00 o’clock in evening of 27 January 1989 while he was inside the dance hall, an altercation ensued near the gate between the gatekeeper and a group of four (4) individuals who, despite their disruptive behavior, were eventually allowed to get through the gate. At around 11:00 o’clock, a gunshot suddenly rang out. From the people around he learned that a rumble had taken place and that somebody was killed. But he came to learn the victim’s identity only the following morning when he and a certain Lorenzo Patos were brought by a police officer to the Municipal Building for questioning. At the Municipal Building, he heard somebody asking who "Lapad" was and an alleged eyewitness, who later turned out to be Edwin Selda, pointed to him as the man referred to by that name. Anecito Unlagada and Lorenzo Patos were put in jail and a complaint was filed against them before the Municipal Trial Court of Hinigaran. Meanwhile the case against Lorenzo was dismissed leaving Aniceto alone to face the charge of murder.

The trial court gave full credence to the inculpatory testimony of prosecution witness Edwin Selda because he was only three (3) meters away from the victim when the latter was stabbed to death. If it was true, according to the trial court, that at the Municipal Building Edwin readily identified the person of accused "Lapad" as the suspect, it was not by reason of any unlawful suggestion but a spontaneous confirmation of his observation of the perpetrator as vividly recalled by him.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

The trial court dismissed as incredible the alibi of the accused and the testimonies of the defense witnesses negating Anecito’s culpability. The trial court explained that it was highly unusual that the defense witnesses had their attention focused on the accused all the time since they were there to witness and enjoy the dance, characterizing their testimonies as a mere ploy concocted to weave a picture of an innocent man in the person of the accused. 2

Accused Anecito Unlagada now assails his conviction on the ground that it was error for the trial court to give full faith and credence to the lone and uncorroborated testimony of witness Edwin Selda, and in finding that the crime of murder was committed instead of "death caused in a tumultuous affray" under Art. 251 of The Revised Penal Code.

In an attempt to discredit the lone eyewitness, Accused-appellant posits the view that the circumstances of the place, the swiftness of the attack, and the drunken state of the witness engender serious doubt that the witness positively identified the malefactor.

At the epicenter of most criminal cases is the issue of credibility of the witnesses. In the instant case, a thorough review of the records however reveals no plausible reason to disbelieve the prosecution eyewitness. It will be recalled that when the fatal stabbing occurred, Edwin was only three (3) meters away from both the victim and his attacker, as opposed to the defense witnesses who were standing fifty (50) or so meters away. Edwin’s physical proximity to the main protagonists and the locus criminis afforded him the unenviable position of observing the ghastly crime at very close range. The time the accused passed in front of Edwin and when he mercilessly stabbed Danilo may be a fleeting moment but such was sufficient to make a vivid and lasting impression of the bearded perpetrator’s image specially so since the victim was a friend and a companion.

Neither can we accommodate accused-appellant’s defense of alibi. Basic is the rule that the defense of alibi should be rejected when the identity of the accused has been sufficiently and positively established by an eyewitness because alibi cannot prevail over the positive identification. 3 Since no improper motive has been ascribed to Edwin Selda, it creates the presumption that no such motive in fact existed. In the absence of any evidence showing why the prosecution witness would have testified falsely, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive existed and that the testimony is worthy of full faith and credit. 4 The findings and conclusions of the trial court on the credibility of the witness being unblemished by arbitrariness and capriciousness, this Court is bound to accord them great weight and even finality on appeal.

But, Accused-appellant claims that the lower court erred in convicting him of murder qualified by treachery and not "death in a tumultuous affray."cralaw virtua1aw library

"Death in a tumultuous affray" is defined in Art. 251 of The Revised Penal Code as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Art. 251. Death caused in a tumultuous affray. — When, while several persons, not composing groups organized for the common purpose of assaulting and attacking each other reciprocally, quarrel and assault each other in a confused and tumultuous manner, and in the course of the affray someone is killed, and it cannot be ascertained who actually killed the deceased, but the person or persons who inflicted serious physical injuries can be identified, such person or persons shall be punished by prision mayor.

A tumultuous affray takes place when a quarrel occurs between several persons who engage in a confused and tumultuous manner, in the course of which a person is killed or wounded and the author thereof cannot be ascertained. 5 The quarrel in the instant case is between a distinct group of individuals, one of whom was sufficiently identified as the principal author of the killing, as against a common, particular victim. It is not, as the defense suggests, a "tumultuous affray" within the meaning of Art. 251 of The Revised Penal Code, that is, a melee or free-for-all, where several persons not comprising definite or identifiable groups attack one another in a confused and disorganized manner, resulting in the death or injury of one or some of them.

Verily, the attack was qualified by treachery. The deceased was relieving himself, fully unaware of any danger to his person when suddenly the accused walked past witness Edwin Selda, approached the victim and stabbed him at the side. There was hardly any risk at all to accused-appellant; the attack was completely without warning, the victim was caught by surprise, and given no chance to put up any defense.

The penalty for murder under Art. 248 of The Revised Penal Code is reclusion temporal in its maximum period to death. Absent any aggravating or mitigating circumstance, the penalty should be imposed in its medium period which, as correctly imposed by the court a quo, is reclusion perpetua.

The civil aspect of the case should however be modified in consonance with prevailing jurisprudence. In addition to P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, the heirs of the decedent are entitled to a reduced amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages, while temperate damages of P50,000.00 and exemplary damages of another P50,000.00 should be deleted for lack of factual and legal basis.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

WHEREFORE, the Decision appealed from is AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATION: Accused-appellant ANECITO UNLAGADA y SUANQUE a.k.a. "Lapad" is ordered to pay the heirs of the deceased Danilo Laurel P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, plus moral damages in the reduced amount of P50,000.00. Costs against Accused-Appellant.


Mendoza, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.


1. Decision penned by Judge Jose Y. Aguirre, Jr., Acting Presiding Judge, RTC-Br. 56, Himamaylan, Negros Occidental.

2. Rollo, p. 42.

3. People v. Ballenas, G.R. No. 124299, 12 April 2000, 330 SCRA 519; People v. Rojas, G.R. No. 125292, 12 April 2000, 330 SCRA 540.

4. People v. Conrado Pajaro alias "Dadi," G.R. Nos. 93026-27, 17 December 1996, 265 SCRA 668.

5. Sison v. People, G.R. Nos. 108280-83, 16 November 1995, 250 SCRA 58.

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