This is an appeal from the Decision of the court a quo finding accused-appellant Paquito Cariño guilty of murder and imposing upon him the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of Rolly Dispo P75,000.00 as civil indemnity. 1
Paquito, Rolando, and Ronaldo, all surnamed Cariño, were initially charged with murder for the killing of Rolly Dispo. During the pendency of the case, however, Rolando died leaving behind Paquito and Ronaldo to answer for the crime.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
On 12 April 1996 at eight o’clock in the evening, Mario Dispo was on his way to the periyahan in Poro Dewey, Bolinao, Pangasinan, when he noticed Paquito Cariño walking behind him. When Paquito caught up with Mario, he invited the latter accompany him to the Puericulture Center inside Dewey Elementary School, to which Mario agreed. When they reached the place, Paquito instructed Mario to wait for him while he went off somewhere. Mario heeded Paquito’s instructions but some thirty (30) minutes later he got tired of waiting, so he retraced the path taken by Paquito to look for him. Then from a distance of some fifteen (15) meters Mario saw Paquito, Ronaldo and Rolando standing before the waiting shed, the latter two holding on to the arms of Rolly Dispo, a cousin of Mario, who was seemingly asleep on a bench. Suddenly, Paquito stabbed Rolly several times. Mario clearly saw what happened as the waiting shed was illumined by a fluorescent bulb seven (7) paces away from where Paquito was. Shocked and frightened, Mario ran towards the periyahan from where he headed home, purportedly, to sleep his fears away. That same night, Rolly’s mother discovered his body at the waiting shed when she went looking for him.
Dr. Vicente Cacho Jr. who autopsied the body of Rolly found that he sustained five (5) stab wounds four (4) of which were fatal as they were located along his chest and upper abdomen.
During the wake, Mario disclosed to Felimon Dispo, father of the victim, what he had witnessed. Felimon counseled Mario to keep his silence until after Rolly’s burial, to which the latter agreed. On 18 April 1996, Mario reported the matter to the police.
Reynaldo Dispo, brother of the victim, surmised that revenge was the motive behind the killing. Reynaldo related that at around eight o’clock in the evening of 11 April 1996, or a day before Rolly was killed, he was lounging at the basketball court located at the town plaza when people approached him with news that his brother Rolly and Ronaldo Cariño featured in a fight. Moments later, Ronaldo charged towards Reynaldo and pushed him. In retaliation, Reynaldo struck. Ronaldo on the head with a bottle of beer grande. Ronaldo retreated but threatened to kill Reynaldo and Rolly if he would see them the next day.
Testifying in his behalf, Paquito averred that he was at home on the eve of 12 April 1996. He claimed to know the real culprits as he actually witnessed the stabbing incident. He narrated that when he was on his way to his mother’s house located near the school he saw Jay Carsula and Jomar Torio stab Rolly Dispo. He was so frightened that he ran away. The day after the incident Carsula visited him in his house and warned him not to implicate them in the crime. On 15 April 1996 he left for Malunay, Quezon, where he was engaged in the buying-and-selling of daing. While there, he sent a letter to his wife Linda telling her that he knew who killed Rolly Dispo but cautioned her from disclosing it to anybody so as not to endanger their lives. Linda admitted that she received the letter and stood by the innocence of her husband.
Ronaldo Cariño did not take the witness stand. Instead, his mother Teresita Cariño testified that Ronaldo was at home on the night of the incident. She insisted that Mario Dispo was lying as he could not have witnessed the stabbing on 12 April 1996 since she, her husband Rolando, and Ronaldo, saw him sleeping at the balcony of his house when they passed by.
The trial court believed the testimony of Mario Dispo insofar as he saw Paquito stab the victim but doubted its veracity with regard to the presence of Ronaldo and Rolando at the crime scene and supposedly each holding the arms of Rolly. The court below surmised that the state of drunkenness of the victim did not require their participation in the crime. Thus, the trial court found only Paquito Cariño guilty of the crime charged, sentenced him to reclusion perpetua and ordered him to pay P75,000.00 as civil indemnity. The court however acquitted Ronaldo Cariño on the ground of reasonable doubt and dismissed the case as against Rolando Cariño in view of his demise during the pendency of the case and prior to the promulgation of the court’s decision.
Accused-appellant Paquito Cariño now asserts that the prosecution has failed to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. He points to the failure of the prosecution to present the doctor who autopsied the body and his corresponding medico-legal report showing the wounds sustained by the victim. Accused-appellant insists that his invitation for Mario to accompany him to the Puericulture Center discounts his participation in the crime and belies any intention to commit it since it would be foolhardy to invite someone to witness a crime, especially if he is related to the intended victim.
Accused-appellant also argues that Mario could not have witnessed the incident since it occurred at eight o’clock and not eight-thirty in the evening, within the school campus and not at the Puericulture Center. He claims that Mario vacillated in the identity of the assailants saying at one time that it was only Paquito, and at other times, saying it was all three (3) of them — Paquito, Rolando and Ronaldo. He contends that Mario is a first cousin of the victim, hence, a biased witness. Lastly, he claims that he deserves an acquittal for the reason that Ronaldo, who in fact had the motive to kill Rolly Dispo, was acquitted.
The findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses deserve great weight, given the clear advantage of a trial judge in the assessment of testimonial evidence. The trial court enjoys the unique opportunity to observe the witnesses first-hand and to note their demeanor, conduct and attitude under grueling examination. These are significant factors in appraising the sincerity of witnesses in the process of unearthing the truth. Thus, except for compelling reasons, which we do not find in the instant case; we are doctrinally bound by the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses. 2
Mario Dispo, categorically testified that on the night of the incident he was asked by Paquito Cariño to accompany him to the Puericulture Center and upon reaching the place was given instructions to wait. Likewise irrefutable was that after waiting for thirty (30) minutes, Mario Dispo came looking for accused-appellant and it was then that he chanced upon the latter stabbing an apparently asleep Rolly Dispo near the waiting shed located within the school premises. It was thus only a fluke of fate that accused-appellant was discovered in his own crime. Nothing impaired the power of observation of Mario Dispo. He had a clear view of the crime scene as he was merely fifteen (15) meters away from accused-appellant who was standing before the waiting shed illumined by a fluorescent bulb about seven (7) paces away.
Likewise, we detect no improper motive on the part of Mario Dispo despite his being a relative of the victim. Mere relationship of a witness to the victim does not impair his credibility as to render his testimony unworthy of credence. 3 Relationship does not automatically affect the veracity of testimonies made by witnesses for there is no legal provision that disqualifies relatives of the victim from testifying if they are competent. 4
In murder, the corpus delicti refers to the body, foundation or substance, upon which the crime has been committed, e.g., the corpse of a murdered man 5 Its elements are: (a) a certain result has been proven, i.e., a man was killed; and (b) some person is criminally responsible therefor. 6 It does not refer to the autopsy report evidencing the nature of the wounds sustained by the victim nor the testimony of the physician who conducted the autopsy or medical examination.
Be that as it may, and contrary to the allegations of accused-appellant, the doctor who conducted the autopsy was presented in court as one of the prosecution witnesses. In fact, he was called to the witness stand twice — first, on 5 February 1997 for his direct examination, and then on 13 March 1997 for his cross-examination. Dr. Vicente Cacho, Jr., presented not only the autopsy report but his medical notes as well and testified that the death of the victim was due to the five (5) stab wounds on the chest and upper abdomen, four (4) of which were fatal. 7 He likewise testified that the wounds could have been caused by a sharp instrument, possibly a knife, to the depth and size of the wounds. 8 His testimony therefore corroborated Mario Dispo’s testimony on material points.
Mario Dispo positively identified accused-appellant Paquito Cariño as the assailant of Rolly Dispo. Five (5) days after the incident, Paquito fled to Quezon province for an alleged business opportunity, leaving behind his wife and family, with no intentions of returning home to Pangasinan. His flight from the place after the commission of the crime bolsters his culpability. 9 Presumably, he feared for his life having been a recipient of death threats supposedly from Carsula. If indeed such was the case, then we are at a loss why he left alone leaving behind his wife and family vulnerable to any retaliatory attack from the family of the victim and also from the supposed real perpetrators of the crime. Although he named Carsula and Torio as the real perpetrators, we found that it was only to lead the police and the trial court on a wild goose chase as the two (2) had a valid alibi.
Notwithstanding the apparent lack of motive on his part to kill the victim, all other evidence point to accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the crime. Hence, motive is no longer necessary. The circumstance that he stabbed Rolly Dispo to death while the latter was drunk and unconscious, possibly sleeping, and therefore helpless and unable to defend himself, bespeaks of treachery or alevosia and qualifies the killing to murder.
When death occurs as a result of a crime, the heirs of the deceased are entitled to the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity without need of evidence or proof of damages. 10 Hence, the amount of P75,000.00 granted by the trial court as civil indemnity must reduced in line with prevailing jurisprudence. We however award to the heirs of the victim the additional amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages for the pain and anguish they suffered for the death of a loved one. 11 The absence of competent proof for funeral and burial expenses negates the award of actual damages.
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the court a quo finding accused-appellant Paquito Cariño guilty of murder qualified by treachery and sentencing him to reclusion perpetua is AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that the amount of P75,000.00 awarded as civil indemnity is reduced to P50,000.00. Accused-appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of the deceased Rolly Dispo P50,000.00 as moral damages. Costs against Accused-Appellant
Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ.
, on official leave.
1. Decision penned by Judge Jules A. Mejia, RTC-Br. 54, Alaminos, Pangasinan.
2. People v. Benito, G.R. No. 128072, 19 February 1999, 303 SCRA 468.
3. People v. Hernandez, G.R. No. 130809, 15 March 2000, 328 SCRA 201.
4. People v. Virtucio, Jr., G.R. No. 130667, 22 February 2000, 326 SCRA 198.
5. Black’s Law Dictionary, p. 344.
6. People v. Base, G.R. No. 109773, 30 March 2000, 329 SCRA 158.
7. TSN, 5 February 1997, pp. 4-8.
8. Id., p. 8.
9. People v. Paglinawan, G.R. No. 116729, 31 January 2000, 324 SCRA 97; People v. Naag, G.R. No. 123860, 20 January 2000, 322 SCRA 716; People v. Penaso, G.R. No. 121980, 23 February 2000, 326 SCRA 311.
10. People v. Verde, G.R. No. 119077, 10 February 1999, 302 SCRA 690.