Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 178063 April 5, 2010
[Formerly G.R. No. 149894]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
TIRSO SACE y MONTOYA, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
VILLARAMA, JR., J.:
This is an appeal from the Decision1 dated November 20, 2006 of the Court of Appeals in CA- G.R. CR-H.C. No. 02324 which affirmed the June 1, 2001 Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Boac, Marinduque, Branch 94 convicting appellant Tirso Sace y Montoya of the crime of rape with homicide.
Appellant was charged in an Information3 which reads,
That on or about the 9th day of September 1999, at around 7:00 o’clock in the evening, at barangay Tabionan, municipality of Gasan, province of Marinduque, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused did then and there by means of force and intimidation, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie and succeed in having carnal knowledge of [AAA]4 against her will and consent and thereafter, the accused did then and there, with intent to kill, stab with a sharp bladed weapon, said victim, inflicting upon her fatal injuries causing her death, to the damage and prejudice of her legal heirs represented by her mother….
CONTRARY TO LAW.
At the arraignment, appellant entered a plea of not guilty. Trial thereafter ensued.
The prosecution presented the following as witnesses: BBB, CCC, Rafael Motol, Bonifacio Vitto, Maribeth Mawac (Maribeth), Carmelita Mawac, Dr. Erwin Labay, SPO2 Praxedo Seño and Domingo Motol. On the other hand, appellant testified for his own behalf.
The prosecution’s evidence established the following version:
On September 9, 1999, at around seven (7) o’clock in the evening, AAA was inside their house with her 10-year-old brother BBB and a nephew, who was still a toddler, when appellant suddenly showed up. As admitted by appellant, he came from a drinking spree that began at about eleven (11) o’clock in the morning. AAA told appellant to leave and go home, but he did not heed her. Appellant then made sexual advances on AAA. AAA was able to evade appellant when he tried to embrace her, but appellant pulled a bladed weapon from his pocket. Sensing danger, AAA ran upstairs to the second level of their house. Appellant followed AAA, leaving BBB and the toddler in the first floor of the house. BBB heard appellant ordering AAA to remove her clothes, otherwise, he will stab her.5 Scared with the turn of events, the two (2) children hid at the lower portion of the house for around twenty (20) minutes, and came out only when CCC, the mother of AAA and BBB, arrived.
CCC, together with her elder daughter DDD and a certain Abelardo Motol (Abelardo), was on her way home when she and her companions heard AAA scream. They hurried towards the house and searched it but found it to be empty. As they searched further, appellant came out from somewhere in the kitchen area of the house. They noticed that he was bloodied and he told them that he was chasing someone. Appellant then joined in the search for AAA. Before long, Abelardo found the lifeless body of AAA lying on the ground nearby. AAA was half-naked and she appeared to have been ravished when they found her. Immediately, Abelardo called the barangay officials and the police.
Barangay Kagawad Carmelita Mawac (Carmelita) and other barangay officials and tanods, including Rafael Motol and Bonifacio Vitto, arrived. Upon arrival, they noticed the bloodstains on appellant’s clothing. Carmelita asked appellant what he did, but appellant denied any knowledge of what happened. Carmelita then went to the half-naked body of AAA and again asked appellant why he did such a thing to his cousin. At that point, appellant admitted to the barangay officials and tanods that he was the one (1) who committed the crime. He admitted that he raped and killed AAA.6 Barangay Tanod Rafael Motol also obtained the same confession from appellant when he interviewed him infront of other people, namely, Abelardo, Carmelita, and Bonifacio Vitto, as well as Arnaldo Mawac, Conchita and Iboy Serdeña, and Salvador and Julieta Motol. Appellant was then photographed by the police and Maribeth, who at that time had a camera on hand.
Dr. Erwin M. Labay examined AAA’s body. He found stab wounds and lacerations on the body, and also found irregular corrugations and lacerations of the hymenal ring.7
On the part of the defense, appellant denied participation in the crime. Appellant claimed that he was on his way home from a drinking spree when he passed by AAA’s house. As he was walking, appellant saw AAA who was bloodied and lying on the ground. He held his cousin to determine whether she was still alive. He then saw in the vicinity of AAA’s house, two (2) men whom he allegedly chased. Appellant could not identify nor remember what the two (2) men were wearing because it was dark at the time. Convinced that AAA was already dead, appellant did not any more call for help. Instead, appellant went to the house of his aunt and slept. When CCC and her companion arrived, he relayed to them how he had chased two (2) men who may have been responsible for AAA’s death. Appellant denied that he confessed to the crime.8
On June 1, 2001 the RTC found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the rape and killing of AAA, to wit:
WHEREFORE, premises considered and finding the accused Tirso Sace y Montoya GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Rape with Homicide defined and punished under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA No. 7659 and RA No. 8353, he is hereby sentenced to suffer the supreme penalty of DEATH and to indemnify the heirs of [AAA] the amount of
P100,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P30,000.00 for exemplary damages.
The body of said accused is committed to the custody of the Bureau of Corrections, Muntinlupa City through the Provincial Jail Warden of Marinduque.
Let the entire records of this case be forwarded to the Supreme Court, Manila for automatic review.
The trial court did not give credence to appellant’s alibi since he even categorically admitted that he was at the crime scene and saw AAA’s lifeless body. Because the crime occurred more or less around the time appellant left the drinking session, the trial court held that it was not impossible for appellant to accomplish his bestial act shortly after he left the drinking session as he had to pass by AAA’s house on his way home. Also, other than his bare denial, appellant did not offer any evidence to support his alibi.
The trial court further pointed out that during the trial, appellant was positively identified by the 10-year-old brother of AAA, BBB, as the culprit who chased AAA with a bladed weapon and threatened to kill her if she would not remove her clothes. BBB, who was only an arm’s length away from AAA and appellant, was able to describe vividly the appearance of appellant that night, his attire, and how appellant tried to embrace and chase AAA. The trial court found no improper motive on the part of BBB to testify falsely against appellant. BBB’s testimony was notably straightforward and spontaneous and considering his age, the trial court held that it was improbable for him to concoct such a terrifying story against his own cousin.9
The RTC found appellant’s defense as not only incredible and incredulous but also innately false and fatuous. Appellant never bothered to ask for help nor made an outcry when he found his cousin AAA dead. Instead, he claimed to have left the area and proceeded to the house of his aunt to sleep. When asked why he was bloodied, appellant merely said that he was chasing someone without disclosing that he carried the dead body of AAA. Appellant also disclaimed any knowledge on what happened to AAA when the others asked him.10
Lastly, the RTC also took into consideration the confession of appellant that he was the one (1) who raped and killed AAA. The trial court noted that the confession was made voluntarily and spontaneously in public, and witnessed by prosecution’s witnesses, who were not shown to have any ill motive against appellant. Thus, appellant’s declaration was admissible as part of res gestae, his statement concerning the crime having been made immediately subsequent to the rape-slaying before he had time to contrive and devise.11
On November 20, 2006, the Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the RTC, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated 1 June 2001 of the Regional Trial Court of Boac, Marinduque is AFFIRMED, except insofar as Republic Act No. 9346 retroactively reduces the penalty for heinous crimes from death to reclusion perpetua.
The death penalty imposed by the trial court is consequently REDUCED to reclusion perpetua and herein judgment may be appealed to the Supreme Court by notice of appeal filed with this court.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The appellate court ruled that while appellant’s bloodied shirt and pants alone do not establish that he committed the crime, his version is too perforated with inconsistencies to be believable. Appellant claimed to have previously located and embraced the corpse of AAA then left her at the crime scene before he went to the house of his aunt to sleep but he pretended to look for AAA with the others. And assuming that he took pity and wanted to help AAA, who was wounded and half-naked, appellant’s behavior was inconsistent with human nature when he went to his aunt’s house to sleep instead of asking for assistance. Likewise, the Court of Appeals found appellant’s testimony to be too evasive and vague. Moreover, the appellate court noted that, while flight oftentimes denotes guilt, the failure of the accused to flee does not per se establish his innocence. It held that appellant was in all probability too drunk to think of escape in the darkness of the night.12
Hence this appeal.
Appellant had assigned an error in his appeal initially passed upon by the Court of Appeals, to wit: whether the RTC erred in finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape with homicide.13
Appellant claimed that the circumstantial evidence relied upon by the RTC did not prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that appellant was wearing a bloodstained shirt did not mean that he committed the crime charged. Appellant had explained that when he saw AAA he held her in his arm to see if she was still alive; thus, his shirt was stained with blood. Moreover, if indeed he was guilty of the crime, he would not have assisted in the search for AAA’s body as he could have just escaped or at least changed his clothing. He stressed that it was not impossible that the two (2) unidentified men he chased had committed the crime.
We affirm appellant’s conviction.
It is doctrinal that the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in criminal law does not mean such a degree of proof as to exclude the possibility of error and produce absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind.14 While it is established that nothing less than proof beyond reasonable doubt is required for a conviction, this exacting standard does not preclude resort to circumstantial evidence when direct evidence is not available. Direct evidence is not a condition sine qua non to prove the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt. For in the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution may resort to adducing circumstantial evidence to discharge its burden. Crimes are usually committed in secret and under conditions where concealment is highly probable. If direct evidence is insisted on under all circumstances, the prosecution of vicious felons who commit heinous crimes in secret or secluded places will be hard, if not impossible, to prove.15
In this case, as found by the RTC, the following chain of events was established by prosecution’s evidence: (a) a drunken appellant came to AAA’s house; (b) appellant tried to embrace AAA but when the latter resisted and ran away, he chased her with a knife; (c) when appellant caught up with AAA at the upper portion of the house, he was heard uttering the words "Pag hindi daw po naghubad ay asaksakin"; (d) appellant was hiding when CCC and her companion searched the house for AAA, then he suddenly appeared from his hiding place with bloodied apparels; (e) when asked by CCC, appellant denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of AAA and what happened to her; and (f) appellant voluntarily confessed to having committed the rape with homicide infront of many witnesses then he submitted himself to police custody.16
BBB’s candid and unequivocal narration, which positively identified appellant as the culprit who tried to force himself on AAA, debunks appellant’s denial of any participation in the crime. BBB testified,
Fiscal Balquiedra : x x x On September 9, 1999 at around seven o’clock in the evening, where were you?
Witness : At our house.
Fiscal Balquiedra : Who were your companion at that time?
Witness : My sister and my "pamangkin".
Fiscal Balquiedra : How old is that "pamangkin" of yours?
Witness : Four (4) years old.
x x x x
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened during that time?
Witness : Manong Tirso came to our house, sir.
Fiscal Balquiedra : That Manong Tirso of yours who came to your house, where is he now?
Witness (Interpreter): Witness pointing to a man who identified himself as Tirso Sace.
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened when Tirso Sace arrived?
Witness : When Manong Tirso arrived at our house he was drunk.
x x x x
Fiscal Balquiedra : When he did not leave, what else happened?
Witness : "Ayapusin po si Ate noong hindi po siya umalis".
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened next when Tirso tried to embrace your Ate [AAA]?
Witness : "Hindi po nagpayapos si Ate".
Fiscal Balquiedra : And what happened next?
Witness : "Tumayo po si Ate and Manong Tirso also stand up and bumunot ng patalim".
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened when he pulled out bladed weapon?
Witness : Ate [AAA] ran towards the upper portion of our house.
Fiscal Balquiedra : How about Tirso, what did he do?
Witness : He ran after her.
Fiscal Balquiedra : Then what happened next?
Witness : Ate [AAA] shouted.
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened after your Ate [AAA] shouted?
Witness : My pamangkin was awakened and he went to the lower portion of our house.
Fiscal Balquiedra : How about Tirso, what did he do?
Interpreter : No answer.
Fiscal Balquiedra : When your Ate [AAA] shouted, did you hear Tirso say anything?
Witness : Yes, sir.
Fiscal Balquiedra : What did he say?
Witness : "Pag hindi daw po naghubad ay asaksakin".
Fiscal Balquiedra : Who said that?
Witness : Manong Tirso.
Fiscal Balquiedra : After hearing that, what did you and your pamangkin do?
Witness : We hid, sir.
Fiscal Balquiedra : Why did you and your pamangkin hide?
Witness : Because we were afraid, sir.
Fiscal Balquiedra : You said that your Ate [AAA] ran and Tirso ran after her, when Tirso ran after her, where was the "patalim"?
Witness : On his hands, "kinuha po sa bulsa niya".
Fiscal Balquiedra : What happened next?
Witness : Ate [AAA] ran when she saw the knife of Tirso.17
BBB did not waver during cross-examination, to wit:
Atty. de Luna : You testified that accused embraced the victim, is that correct?
Witness : Yes, sir.
Atty. de Luna : And was the accused successful when he allegedly embraced the victim?
Witness : No, sir.
Atty. de Luna : Why?
Witness : [AAA] evaded.
Atty. de Luna : When the accused allegedly embraced the victim, was he behind or infront the victim?
Witness : Infront, sir.
Atty. de Luna : How far were you from the victim when accused allegedly embraced her/or when he tried to embrace her?
Witness : "Kalahating dipa".
x x x x
Atty. de Luna : When accused arrived in your house, were you sleeping at that time?
Witness : No, sir.
Atty. de Luna : You testified that Tirso Sace pulled up a bladed weapon that night, is that correct?
Witness : Yes, sir.
Atty. de Luna : Did the accused pulled the knife before or after accused tried to embrace [AAA]?
Witness : After embracing, sir.
x x x x
Atty. de Luna : Where did the accused get the knife?
Witness : From his pocket, sir.
Atty. de Luna : And how far were you when you saw it?
Witness : "Mga isang dipa po".18
x x x x
It is axiomatic that a witness who testifies in a categorical, straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner and remains consistent on cross-examination is a credible witness.19 We see no justification to reverse the RTC’s appreciation of the testimony of BBB. Having observed the witness’s deportment while testifying, the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of BBB deserves our highest respect.
In contrast, appellant could only offer denial and alibi in his defense. Denial and alibi are weak defenses which must be supported by strong evidence of non-culpability to merit credibility. These are negative self-serving evidence which cannot be given greater weight than the testimony of a credible witness who testified on affirmative matters. Between the positive declarations of a prosecution witness and the negative statements of the accused, the former deserves more credence.20 Thus, between the positive identification made by BBB and the bare denial and alibi of appellant, there is scarcely any doubt that decisive weight must be given to the positive testimony of BBB.
Also, the facts in this case clearly show that appellant admitted the commission of the crime to the prosecution’s witnesses. According to their testimonies, appellant admitted having raped and killed AAA. Their testimonies were not rebutted by the defense. Appellant’s statements infront of the prosecution witnesses are admissible for being part of the res gestae. Under the Revised Rules on Evidence,21 a declaration is deemed part of the res gestae and admissible in evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule when the following requisites concur: (1) the principal act, the res gestae, is a startling occurrence; (2) the statements were made before the declarant had time to contrive or devise; and (3) the statements must concern the occurrence in question and its immediately attending circumstances.22 All these requisites are present in this case. Appellant had just been through a startling and gruesome occurrence, AAA’s death. His admission was made while he was still under the influence of said startling occurrence and before he had an opportunity to concoct or contrive a story. In addition, he was still under the influence of alcohol at that time, having engaged in a drinking spree from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. that day. His confession concerned the rape and killing of AAA. Appellant’s spontaneous statements made to private persons, not agents of the State or law enforcers, are not covered by the constitutional safeguards on custodial investigation and, as res gestae, admissible in evidence against him.
The rule is settled that where the culpability or innocence of the accused hinges on the credibility of the witnesses and the veracity of their testimonies, the findings of trial courts are given the highest degree of respect. Hence, their findings on such matters are binding and conclusive on appellate courts, unless some fact or circumstance of weight and substance has been overlooked, misapprehended or misinterpreted.23 We find no circumstance of weight or substance that was overlooked by the trial court.
With regard to damages, we modify the award of moral damages affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The heirs of AAA are entitled to moral damages amounting to
P75,000.00,24 pursuant to prevailing jurisprudence. Likewise, as to actual damages, we have held that if the amount of the actual damages cannot be determined because no receipts were presented to prove the same, but it was shown that the heirs are entitled thereto, temperate damages amounting to P25,000.00 may be awarded.25 There being a sufficient showing in the instant case that the heirs of AAA incurred funeral expenses, the award of temperate damages is in order.
WHEREFORE, the appeal of Tirso Sace y Montoya is DISMISSED and the November 20, 2006 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR- H.C. No. 02324 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. Temperate damages amounting to
P25,000.00 are hereby awarded in lieu of actual damages and the award of moral damages is increased to P75,000.00 in line with current jurisprudence.
With costs against the accused-appellant.
MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
REYNATO S. PUNO
|CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
|TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
1 Rollo, pp. 3-17. Penned by Associate Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Josefina Guevara-Salonga and Vicente Q. Roxas.
2 CA rollo, pp. 16-32. Penned by Executive Judge Rodolfo B. Dimaano.
3 Id. at 5-6.
4 See People v. Ching, G.R. No. 177150, November 22, 2007, 538 SCRA 117, 121. Pursuant to Republic Act No. 9262, otherwise known as the "Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004" and its implementing rules, the real name of the victim, together with the real names of her immediate family members, is withheld and fictitious initials instead are used to represent her, both to protect her privacy (People v. Cabalquinto, G.R. No. 167693, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 419, 421-426).
5 TSN, June 6, 2000, pp. 3-6.
6 TSN, November 15, 2000, pp. 4-7.
7 Records, pp. 44-45.
8 TSN, March 6, 2001, pp. 4-12.
9 CA rollo, pp. 22-25.
10 Id. at 26-27.
11 Id. at 28.
12 Rollo, pp. 10-13.
13 CA rollo, p. 51.
14 People v. Guihama, G.R. No. 126113, June 25, 2003, 404 SCRA 655, 668.
15 People v. Navarro, Jr., G.R. No. 132218, July 24, 2003, 407 SCRA 221, 235-236.
16 CA rollo, pp. 17-21.
17 TSN, June 6, 2000, pp. 3-6.
18 TSN, June 21, 2000, pp. 5-8.
19 People v. Torres, G.R. Nos. 135522-23, October 2, 2001, 366 SCRA 408, 424; People v. Dayuha, G.R. No. 120897, October 11, 2000, 342 SCRA 561, 566.
20 People v. Amante, G.R. Nos. 149414-15, November 18, 2002, 392 SCRA 152, 167; People v. Alvero, G.R. Nos. 134536-38, April 5, 2000, 329 SCRA 737, 756.
21 Rule 130, SEC. 42. Part of the res gestae. – Statements made by a person while a startling occurrence is taking place or immediately prior or subsequent thereto with respect to the circumstances thereof, may be given in evidence as part of the res gestae. So, also, statements accompanying an equivocal act material to the issue, and giving it a legal significance, may be received as part of the res gestae.
22 People v. Lobrigas, G.R. No. 147649, December 17, 2002, 394 SCRA 170, 178-179.
23 Supra note 14, at 666.
24 People v. Padua, G.R. No. 169075, February 23, 2007, 516 SCRA 590, 607.
25 People v. Abrazaldo, 445 Phil.109, 126 (2003).
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