Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

SECOND DIVISION

G.R. No. 179041               April 1, 2013

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
vs.
ARNEL NOCUM,* REY JOHNNY RAMOS, CARLOS JUN POSADAS, PANDAO POLING PANGANDAG (all at large), Accused,
REYNALDO MALLARI, Accused-Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This is an appeal from the January 31, 2007 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 00930, which dismissed the appeal of appellant Reynaldo Mallari (Mallari) and affirmed with modification the December 15, 2003 Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 276, Muntinlupa City in Criminal Case No. 00-551 finding Mallari guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of carnapping with homicide.

Factual Antecedents

On May 25, 2000, an Information3 was filed charging Mallari and co-accused Arne! Nocum (Nocum ), Rey Johnny Ramos (Ramos), Carlos Jun Posadas (Posadas) and Pandao Poling Pangandag alias Rex Pangandag (Pangandag) with violation of Republic Act (RA) No. 6539, otherwise known as the Anti-Carnapping Act of 1972, as amended by RA 7659.4 The accusatory portion of the Information reads:

That on or about September 12, 1998 in Muntinlupa City, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, with intent to gain for themselves and without the consent of the owner, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously take and carry away one motor vehicle more particularly described as follows:

Make/Type : - Toyota Tamaraw FX
Motor No. : - 7K-0157101
Chassis No. : - KF52-011609
Plate No. : - PXT- 143
Color : - Med. Grey Net

valued at more or less Three Hundred Thousand Pesos (P300,000.00) to the damage and prejudice of its owner, Lourdes Eleccion, in the aforestated amount and in the course of the commission thereof, Erico Medel, the driver of the said vehicle, was killed.

CONTRARY TO LAW.5

When the case was called for arraignment on November 10, 2000, only Mallari appeared as his co-accused remain at-large. He pleaded "not guilty" to the charge.6 Thereafter, trial ensued.

The Prosecution's Version

The prosecutionís lone witness was Chris Mahilac (Mahilac), a self-confessed member of "FX gang," a syndicate notorious for carjacking Toyota FX vehicles. The modus operandi of the gang is to carnap Toyota FX vehicles, transport them to Mindanao, and have them registered and sold to prospective buyers there. Together with Mallari and several others, Mahilac was previously charged with carnapping7 before the RTC of Parañaque City but was later on discharged to be a state witness.8 Consequently, Mahilac was placed under the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice (DOJ).9

Mahilac testified that the "FX gang" was active in Metro Manila and Mindanao.10 Nocum led the syndicateís criminal activities in Metro Manila while Pangandag, who was the head of the Land Transportation Office in Lanao Del Norte,11 led the Mindanao operations.12 Ramos, Posadas and Mallari were members of the gang.13

On September 6, 1998, while in Calamba, Laguna, Mahilac received a call from Nocum14 informing him of Pangandagís arrival in Manila on September 12, 1998.15 Subsequently, Mahilac, Nocum, Pangandag, Ramos, Posadas and Mallari met in Chowking fastfood restaurant in Poblacion, Muntinlupa City.16 During the said meeting, Pangandag demanded that their group deliver two Toyota FX vehicles to him in Lanao Del Norte by Monday or Tuesday of the following week.17 Nocum agreed and gave Mallari P20,000.00 for operating expenses. Mahilac received P3,500.00 and was instructed to meet the group in Cagayan de Oro City.18

As the group was departing from the restaurant, a Toyota FX taxi with plate number PXT-143 passed-by.19 Mallari flagged it down, talked to the driver, and boarded the same together with Ramos and Posadas.20 They proceeded south.21

On September 14, 1998, Mahilac arrived in Cagayan de Oro City and proceeded to McDonaldís Restaurant on Limketkai Street.22 Mallari, Ramos and Posadas arrived at around 4:14 p.m. on board the same Toyota FX taxi that Mallari flagged down in Muntinlupa City.23 They agreed to proceed to Iligan City en route to Tubod, Lanao del Norte, where said vehicle was to be delivered to Pangandag.24 Mallari told Mahilac not to board the said vehicle because its back portion reeked of the dried blood of the FX taxi driver, Erico Medel (Medel), who was stabbed to death while resisting the group.25 Mallari also informed Mahilac that Medelís corpse was dumped somewhere in Atimonan, Quezon.26 Mahilac thus took a taxi to Iligan City.27

Upon their arrival in Iligan City, Pangandag instructed them to take the vehicle to his residence in Tubod, Lanao del Norte.28 They arrived at Pangandagís residence and were given P250,000.00 as consideration for the vehicle.29 Mahilac received P20,000.00 as his share.

The gang continued to engage in this nefarious activity until Mahilacís arrest by law enforcement officers.30

In the meantime, on September 27, 1999, a cadaver in advance state of decomposition was found along Zigzag Road, Barangay Malinao Ilaya, Atimonan, Quezon. It was interred in the municipal cemetery of Atimonan, Quezon but was later on exhumed for identification.31 Based on the four extracted teeth and a piece of white "FILA" shoe,32 the mother and the wife of the victim positively identified the cadaver to be that of Medel.

Appellant's Version

Mallari denied any knowledge of the carnapping incident.33 He also denied knowing Nocum, Ramos and Posadas.34 He testified that he was with his wife and two children in their home in Tunasan, Muntinlupa City at the time the alleged carnapping occurred.35 He claimed that on June 25, 1999, four men in civilian clothes came to his house and forced him to board a van36 where he was blindfolded. He was then taken to Camp Crame, Quezon City.37

According to Mallari, Mahilac was his employer.38 He was unaware of Mahilacís reason for implicating him in the case.39

Mallari further testified that while in detention, he was made to sign a document which he cannot remember.40 He was taken to the DOJ and told that his case would be studied if he signs a document the contents of which were duly explained to him.41 Should he not sign the same, he will be charged immediately with carnapping with homicide.42 He therefore decided to sign the documents without the assistance of a lawyer, but continued to be detained in Camp Crame, Quezon City.43

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

On December 15, 2003, the RTC rendered its Decision44 finding Mallari guilty beyond reasonable doubt of carnapping with homicide. The trial court ruled that the testimony of Mahilac that Mallari participated in the theft of the FX taxi and the killing of its driver, Medel, cannot be negated by Mallariís denial and uncorroborated alibi. It also found that the commission of the crime was a result of a planned operation with Mallari and all the accused doing their assigned tasks to ensure the consummation of their common criminal objective.45

The trial court further held that Mahilac would not have known about the killing of Medel if he had not been informed by Mallari. He had no reason to falsely accuse Mallari and even implicated himself by: (1) admitting his presence during the planned theft of the FX taxi; (2) admitting his presence in Cagayan De Oro City together with Mallari; (3) directing Mallari and his co-accused to proceed with him to Pangandag in Lanao Del Norte; and (4) receiving the sum of P20,000.00 as his share in the criminal operation.

The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

PREMISES CONSIDERED, Accused Reynaldo Mallari is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of CARNAPPING WITH HOMICIDE and is hereby sentenced to die by lethal injection.

The Jail Warden of Muntinlupa City is hereby directed to bring Reynaldo Mallari to the New Bilibid Prison where he may serve his sentence.

It Is SO ORDERED.46

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

On January 31, 2007, the CA rendered its Decision47 affirming with modification the ruling of the trial court. The appellate court held that Mahilacís positive identification of Mallari as a member of the "FX gang" and his participation in the theft of the FX taxi and killing of its driver, Medel, sufficiently established his guilt beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged. The discovery of the remains of Medel in the vicinity mentioned by Mallari to Mahilac also gave credence to the latterís testimony.

The CA further held that the trial courtís determination on the credibility of Mahilac must be given great respect and, as a rule, will not be reversed on appeal in the absence of cogent reason. The CA also found no ill-motive on the part of Mahilac to testify falsely against Mallari.

According to the CA, the fact that the prosecution presented Mahilac as its sole witness is of no moment. His positive and credible testimony is sufficient to convict Mallari,48 whose defense of denial and alibi cannot prevail over the straightforward testimony of the former.49

However, the CA modified the penalty from death to reclusion perpetua pursuant to RA 934650 which prohibited the imposition of the death penalty.51

The dispositive portion of the CA Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED. The assailed December 15, 2003 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Muntinlupa City, Branch 276, in Criminal Case No. 00-551, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in that the death penalty imposed is reduced to reclusion perpetua, pursuant to Republic Act No. 9346, which did away with the imposition of death penalty.

SO ORDERED.52

Mallari filed a Notice of Appeal.53 On October 15, 2007,54 we accepted the appeal and notified the parties to file their supplemental briefs. However, Mallari opted not to file a supplemental brief in the absence of new issues to be raised. For its part, the Office of the Solicitor General manifested that it is likewise adopting the Appelleeís Brief it filed with the CA as its Supplemental Brief.55

The Assignment of Errors

The errors assigned in the Appellantís Brief are as follows:

I. THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT HAS BEEN PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT DESPITE THE LACK OF MATERIAL EVIDENCE TO JUSTIFY HIS CONVICTION; and

II. GRANTING WITHOUT ADMITTING THAT THE ACCUSED- APPELLANT COMMITTED THE CRIME CHARGED, THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN IMPOSING THE SUPREME PENALTY OF DEATH DESPITE THE LACK OF EVIDENCE OTHER THAN THE MERE ALLEGATION BY THE LONE PROSECUTION WITNESS CHRIS MAHILAC THAT THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT PARTICIPATED IN THE KILLING OF ERIC MEDEL.56

Mallari assails the credibility of Mahilac. He contends that as a state witness under the Witness Protection Program of the DOJ, Mahilac would implicate just any person as his cohort to justify his inclusion in the program.57 Mallari also argues that the evidence of the prosecution is not sufficient to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.58

On the other hand, the prosecution maintains that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to convict Mallari.59 Finally, the prosecution sought civil indemnity and moral damages of P50,000.00 each.60

Our Ruling

The appeal is unmeritorious.

Carnapping defined; Burden of the prosecution in a case for Carnapping with Homicide.

Section 2 of RA 6539 defines carnapping as "the taking, with intent to gain, of a motor vehicle belonging to another without the latterís consent, or by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, or by using force upon things." The crime of carnapping with homicide is punishable under Section 1461 of the said law, as amended by Section 20 of RA 7659. To prove the special complex crime of carnapping with homicide, there must be proof not only of the essential elements of carnapping, but also that it was the original criminal design of the culprit and the killing was perpetrated "in the course of the commission of the carnapping or on the occasion thereof." Thus, the prosecution in this case has the burden of proving that: (1) Mallari took the Toyota FX taxi; (2) his original criminal design was carnapping; (3) he killed the driver, Medel; and (4) the killing was perpetrated "in the course of the commission of the carnapping or on the occasion thereof."62

The trial and appellate courts held that the prosecution was able to discharge its burden of proving that Mallari was guilty beyond reasonable doubt of carnapping with homicide. These courts ruled that Mallari stole the FX taxi driven by Medel after he agreed to illegally supply his co-accused with this type of vehicle. The trial and appellate courts found that Mallari killed Medel in the course of the commission of the carnapping.

We find no reason to deviate from these courtsí evaluation as to Mallariís culpability.

The crime of carnapping with homicide, as well as the identity of Mallari as one of the perpetrators of the crime, is duly established by circumstantial evidence.

The culpability of Mallari for the complex crime of carnapping with homicide is duly established by the confluence of circumstantial evidence. Mahilac testified that he was present when Mallari and his co-accused, all members of the "FX Gang," gathered in Muntinlupa City to plan and conspire to steal vehicles and sell them to unscrupulous buyers in Mindanao. Immediately after said meeting, Mahilac saw Mallari hail the FX taxi driven by Medel, talk to him, board it together with two other conspirators, and head south towards the direction of Quezon province. A few days later, Mallari and his companions met Mahilac in Cagayan De Oro City on board the same FX taxi they rode in Muntinlupa City. All these show that Mallariís original criminal design was to carnap the taxi and that he accomplished his purpose without the consent of its owner. In addition, when the vehicle was brought to Cagayan de Oro City, its driver, Medel, was no longer with them. The vehicle also reeked of dried human blood. Upon inquiry by Mahilac, Mallari admitted that the dried blood belonged to Medel who had to be killed for resisting the group. Mallari also told him that Medelís body was dumped along Zigzag Road in Atimonan, Quezon. Mallari and his co-accused received P250,000.00 upon delivery of the FX taxi to its final destination. These prove that Medel was killed in the course of the commission of the carnapping.

The identity of Medel as the driver of the taxi was established by his mother and wife who both stated that he was the driver of the taxi on the day it was stolen by Mallari and his co-conspirators.63 The two later on identified his corpse when it was discovered in the same vicinity which Mallari told Mahilac to be the place where they dumped the dead body of Medel.64

In fine, all the elements of the special complex crime of carnapping with homicide, as well as the identity of Mallari as one of the perpetrators of the crime, were all proved beyond reasonable doubt. The foregoing circumstances inevitably lead to the lone, fair and reasonable conclusion that Mallari participated in stealing the FX taxi driven by Medel and in killing him.

Mallariís defense of alibi deserves no credence.

Mallariís claim that he was helping his wife with household chores at the time the crime was committed does not deserve credence. This defense of alibi cannot prevail over the testimony of Mahilac which, taken in its entirety, leads to the reasonable conclusion that Mallari participated in the commission of the crime.

Moreover, alibi is inherently weak, unreliable, and can be easily fabricated.65 Hence, it must be supported by credible corroboration from disinterested witnesses, and if not, is fatal to the accused.66 Here, Mallari could have presented evidence to support his alibi, but oddly, he did not. Thus, such a defense fails.

The Penalty

Under the last clause of Section 14 of the Anti-Carnapping Act of 1972 as amended by Section 20 of RA 7659, the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed when the owner or driver of the vehicle is killed in the course of the commission of the carnapping or on the occasion thereof.67 In this case, the trial court considered as aggravating circumstance the commission of the offense by a member of an organized or syndicated crime group under Article 62 of the RPC as amended by RA 765968 and, hence, imposed upon Mallari the death penalty.

However, under Rule 110, Section 8 of the Rules of Court, all aggravating and qualifying circumstances must be alleged in the Information. This new rule took effect on December 1, 2000, but applies retroactively to pending cases since it is favorable to the appellant.69 Here, there is no allegation in the Information that Mallari was a member of a syndicate or that he and his companions "had formed part of a group organized for the general purpose of committing crimes for gain, which is the essence of a syndicated or organized crime group."70 Hence, the same cannot be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance against Mallari. Thus, in consonance with Article 63(2) of the RPC, which provides that in the absence of any aggravating circumstance in the commission of the offense, the lesser penalty shall be applied. Mallari must, therefore, suffer the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua.71 Mallari is also not eligible for parole pursuant to Section 372 of RA 9346.

The Damages

For the killing of Medel, we award to his heirs the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity pursuant to prevailing jurisprudence.73 Said heirs are also entitled to an award of moral damages in the sum of P50,000.00 as in all cases of murder and homicide, without need of allegation and proof other than the death of the victim.74 We cannot, however, award actual damages due to the absence of receipts to substantiate the expenses incurred for Medelís funeral. The rule is that only duly receipted expenses can be the basis of actual damages.75 "Nonetheless, under Article 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages may be recovered as it cannot be denied that the heirs of the victim suffered pecuniary loss although the exact amount was not proved."76 We therefore award the sum of P25,000.00 as temperate damages in lieu of actual damages to the heirs of Medel.. "In addition, and in conformity with current policy, we also impose on all the monetary awards for damages an interest at the legal rate of 6o/o from date of finality of this Decision until fully paid."77

WHEREFORE, the appeal is DISMISSED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00930 finding appellant Reynaldo Mallari guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the special complex crime of carnapping with homicide is AFFIRMED with the following modifications: ( 1) appellant Reynaldo Mallari is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole; and, (2) appellant Reynaldo Mallari is ordered to pay the heirs of Erico Medel the amounts of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, P25,000.00 as temperate damages in lieu of actual damages, and interest on all these damages assessed at the legal rate of 6% from date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
Associate Justice

BIENVENIDO L. REYES**
Associate Justice

A T T E S T A T I O N

I attest 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.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice
Chairperson

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, 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.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO
Chief Justice


Footnotes

* Also spelled as Nocom in some parts of the record.

** Per raffle dated February 18, 2013.

1 CA rollo, pp. 105-114; penned by Associate Justice Vicente Q. Roxas and concurred in by Associate Justices Josefina Guevara-Sa1onga and Ramon R. Garcia.

2 Records, pp. 199-208; penned by Judge N.C. Perello.

3 Id. at 1 -3.

4 AN ACT TO IMPOSE THE DEATH PENALTY ON CERTAIN HEINOUS CRIMES, AMENDING FOR THAT PURPOSE THE REVISED PENAL LAWS, AS AMENDED, OTHER SPECIAL PENAL LAWS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

5 Records, pp. 1-2.

6 Id. at 65.

7 See Information in Criminal Case No. 99-704 filed before the RTC of Parañaque City, Branch 259, id. at 187-189.

8 TSN, March 21, 2003, pp. 14-15.

9 TSN, September 8, 2002, pp. 3-4.

10 TSN, September 18, 2002, p. 5.

11 Id. at 22.

12 Id. at 5.

13 Id.

14 Id. at 6-7.

15 Id. at 7-8.

16 Id. at 8-10.

17 Id. at 8-13.

18 Id.

19 Id. at 13-14.

20 Id. at 14-15.

21 Id. at 15.

22 Id. at 15-16.

23 Id. at 16-17.

24 Id. at 17-18.

*** Also spelled as Eric in some parts of the records.

25 TSN September 18, 2002, pp. 18-20.

26 Id. at 20.

27 Id.

28 Id. at 21.

29 Id. at 22-24.

30 Id. at 25-26.

31 Exhibit "D", records, p. 157.

32 Id.

33 TSN, September 19, 2003, p. 4.

34 Id. at 15.

35 Id. at 3.

36 Id. at 4.

37 Id. at 5.

38 Id. at 6.

39 Id. at 7-8.

40 Id.

41 Id. at 9.

42 Id.

43 Id. at 10 and 12.

44 Records, pp. 199-208.

45 Id. at 207.

46 Id. at 208.

47 CA rollo, pp. 105-114.

48 Id. at 113.

49 Id.

50 AN ACT PROHIBITING THE IMPOSITION OF DEATH PENALTY IN THE PHILIPPINES.

51 CA rollo, p. 114.

52 Id. Emphases in the original.

53 Id. at 117.

54 Rollo, p. 17.

55 Id. at 13-20.

56 CA rollo, p. 55.

57 Id. at 60.

58 Id. at 61-64.

59 Id. at 91-94.

60 Id. at 96.

61 Republic Act No. 6539, Section 14 previously reads:

Penalty of carnapping. Any person who is found guilty of carnapping, as this term is defined in Section Two of this Act, shall, irrespective of the value of motor vehicle taken, be punished by imprisonment for not less than fourteen years and eight months and not more than seventeen years and four months, when the carnapping is committed without violence or intimidation of persons, or force upon things; and by imprisonment for not less than seventeen years and four months and not more than thirty years, when the carnapping is committed by means of violence against or intimidation of any person, or force upon things; and the penalty of life imprisonment to death shall be imposed when the owner, driver or occupant of the carnapped motor vehicle is killed in the commission of the carnapping.

As amended, it now provides as follows:

Penalty for carnapping. Any person who is found guilty of carnapping, as this term is defined in Section Two of this Act, shall, irrespective of the value of motor vehicle taken, be punished by imprisonment for not less than fourteen years and eight months and not more than seventeen years and four months, when the carnapping is committed without violence or intimidation of persons, or force upon things; and by imprisonment for not less than seventeen years and four months and not more than thirty years, when the carnapping is committed by means of violence against or intimidation of any person, or force upon things; and the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed when the owner, driver or occupant of the carnapped motor vehicle is killed or raped in the course of the commission of the carnapping or on the occasion thereof.

62 People v. Latayada, 467 Phil. 682, 692 (2004).

63 Exhibit "B," Sinumpaang Salaysay of Velma De Jesus Medel, records, pp. 151-153 and Exhibit "C," Sinumpaang Salaysay of Florence Aduan Medel, id. at 154-156.

64 Id.

65 People v. Calope, G.R. No. 97284, January 21, 1994, 229 SCRA 413, 420.

66 Id.

67 Supra note 61, 2nd paragraph.

68 ART. 62. Effects of the attendance of mitigating or aggravating circumstances and of habitual delinquency.

- Mitigating or aggravating circumstances and habitual delinquency shall be taken into account for the purpose of diminishing or increasing the penalty in conformity with the following rules:

x x x x

The maximum penalty shall be imposed if the offense was committed by any person who belongs to an organized/syndicated crime group.

An organized/syndicated crime group means a group of two or more persons collaborating, confederating or mutually helping one another for the purpose of gain in the commission of any crime.

x x x x (Italics supplied)

69 People v. Fernandez, 460 Phil. 194, 216 (2003).

70 Id. at 217.

71 Id.

72 Section 3. Persons convicted of offenses punishable with reclusion perpetua or whose sentences will be reduced to reclusion perpetua by reason of this Act, shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4103 otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended.

73 People v. Concillado, G.R. No. 181204, November 28, 2011, 661 SCRA 363, 383.

74 Id. at 383-384.

75 Id. at 384.

76 Id.

77 Id.


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