THIRD DIVISION

September 21, 2105

G.R. No. 198057

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
vs.
RANDY BANEZ y BAYLON and RAMIL BANEZ y BAYLON, and FELIX RUFINO (at large), Accused-Appellants.

D E C I S I O N

PERALTA, J.:

The instant case seeks to reverse and set aside the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision1 dated April 29, 2011 in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00581-MIN. The CA upheld the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Surallah, South Cotabato, Branch 26, dated October 1, 2007 in Criminal Case No. 2645-B, which found accused-appellants Randy Bafiez y Baylon and Ramil Bafiez y Baylon guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder.

On December 14, 1999, an Information was filed indicting the Bafiez brothers and Felix. Rufino for the murder of Sevino Baylon, to wit:

That on or about the 8th day of October, 1999, at Sitio Ebenizer, Barangay Rang-ay (Bo. 4), Municipality of Banga, Province of South Cotabato, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill and with evident premeditation, abuse of superior strength and treachery, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping one another, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously attack, assault, drag to a secluded place and while thereat stab one SEVINO H. BAYLON alias "BOLOY" with the use of deadly bladed weapons, hitting and mortally wounding the latter in different parts of his body that caused his death thereafter.3

Upon arraignment, the Bañez brothers pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. Rufino, however, remains at large. Trial thus ensued.

The factual antecedents of the case are as follows:

On October 8, 1999, at 5:00 a.m., Dominador Marcelino was plowing outside his house in Sitio Ebenizer, Barangay Rang-ay, Banga, South Cotabato, when he heard Sevino Baylon shouting, "I have no fault!" He then saw Rufino striking Baylon with an iron bar while brothers Randy and Ramil Bañez were holding each of the latters arms behind his back. The accused-appellants thereafter dragged Baylon to Ramils house, which was merely thirty (30) meters away. Later that day, at around 5:00 p.m., Marcelino was asked to go to the house of Kagawad Dory Marquez regarding the incident he witnessed earlier.

The next day, or on October 9, 1999, at 7 oclock in the morning, Kagawad Marao Olarte went to Marcelinos house and invited him to search for Baylon, who had been reported missing. Accompanied by the authorities, they immediately proceeded to search Ramils house and the area surrounding it. In the course of their search, they suddenly smelled a foul odor coming from a pile of banana leaves, thirty (30) meters away from Ramils house. Upon removing the leaves, they found the missing body of Baylon lying face down, bearing several stab and hack wounds, with both arms tied behind his back, and with a slit throat.

Dr. Ellen D. Quidilla, the medico-legal expert who conducted a postmortem examination on the cadaver of the victim, found that the cause of his death was massive blood loss secondary to multiple stab wounds.

For its part, the defense presented Marcelinos Affidavit of Retraction. He stated therein that he was merely forced to testify against the accused due to threats he had received from Baylons family. The truth was, according to him, at the time of the incident, he was tending his carabao far away from the scene of the crime. Likewise, Randy and Ramil Bañez both testified that they were somewhere else at the time of the commission of the crime.

Randy claimed that he was deeply saddened when he saw his house gutted by fire, but he left after two (2) hours because he had to go with his wife to their house at Barrio 7, which is about two (2) kilometers from the crime scene.

On October 1, 2007, the RTC of Surallah, South Cotabato rendered a Decision convicting the Bañezes of the crime of murder, the decretal portion of which provides:

Accordingly, premises considered, both accused RANDY BAÑEZ y BAYLON and RAMIL BAÑEZ y BAYLON, are hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of having committed the crime of MURDER as defined in Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, qualified by treachery and aggravated by abuse of superior strength.1wphi1 The proper imposable penalty would have been death. However, pursuant to Republic Act No. 9346 which repealed and abolished death penalty, both accused then are sentenced each to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. It is further ORDERED that each of them pay the heirs of the victim, Sevino Baylon alias Boloy, the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages, all with interest at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum from the date this decision is promulgated and until the said amounts shall have been fully paid.

Meantime, let a warrant, with no bail recommended, be issued anew for the arrest of the other accused, Felix Rufino alias Pagong, so that he may also be brought before the bar of justice to answer for the charges against him.

Costs de oficio.

SO ORDERED.4

Thus, the Bañezes elevated the case to the CA. On April 29, 2011, the CA affirmed the trial courts Decision with modifications, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the Decision dated October 1, 2007 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. Appellants are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Murder qualified by treachery and sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua.1wphi1 In addition, appellants are ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P75,000.00 as moral damages, P25,000.00 as temperate damages and P30,000.00 as exemplary damages.

Costs against appellants.

SO ORDERED.5

Accused-appellants now come before the Court, seeking the reversal of the ruling of the court a quo, which found that the prosecution was able to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt on the mere basis of circumstantial evidence.6

The appeal lacks merit.

Accused-appellants attack Marcelinos credibility, harping on the fact that the latter did not even move, help, or run away from the crime scene, but simply chose to stay and continue plowing. Marcelinos reaction, however, was not at all uncommon or unnatural so as to make his testimony incredible. Placed in the same or a similar situation, some may choose to intervene, but others, like Marcelino, would just opt to stay away and remain hidden. It is settled that there could be no hard and fast gauge for measuring a person's reaction or behavior when confronted with a startling, not to mention horrifying, occurrence, as in this case. Witnesses of startling occurrences react differently depending upon their situation and state of mind, and there is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange, startling or frightful experience. The workings of the human mind placed under emotional stress are unpredictable, and people react differently to shocking stimulus some may shout, some may faint, and others may be plunged into insensibility.7

Further, the fact that Marcelino executed an Affidavit of Retraction should be given little weight or scant consideration.8 As the trial court aptly observed, in his original testimony, Marcelino described in full and vivid details what he saw and heard in the early morning of October 8, 1999. Such a detailed testimony could not have been the subject of fabrication, especially since the same survived the rigors of cross-examination. Besides, a mere retraction by a prosecution witness does not necessarily vitiate the original testimony, if credible. In cases where a previous testimony is retracted and a subsequent different, if not contrary, testimony is made by the same witness, the test to decide which testimony to believe is one of comparison, coupled with the application of the general rules of evidence. A testimony solemnly given in court should not be set aside and disregarded lightly. And before this can be done, both the previous testimony and the subsequent one should be carefully compared and juxtaposed, the circumstances under which each was made, carefully and keenly scrutinized, and the reasons or motives for the change, discriminatingly analyzed. The unreliable character of the affidavit of retraction executed by a complaining witness is also shown by the incredulity of the fact that after going through the burdensome process of reporting to and/or having the accused arrested by the law enforcers, executing an affidavit against the accused, attending trial and testifying against the accused, said witness would later on declare that all the foregoing was actually a farce and the truth is now what he says it to be in his affidavit of retraction. The Court looks with disfavor upon retractions of testimonies previously given in court. The rationale for this is simple: affidavits of retraction can easily be secured from witnesses, usually through intimidation or for a monetary consideration. There is always the probability that, later on, it will be repudiated. It is only when there exist special circumstances in a given case, which, when coupled with the recantation, raise doubts as to the truth of the previous testimony given, can retractions be considered and upheld.9No such special circumstances are extant in the case at bar.

Also, the lower courts resort to circumstantial evidence was perfectly in order. The lack or absence of direct evidence does not necessarily mean that the guilt of the accused can no longer be proved by any other evidence.

Direct evidence is not the sole means of establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt, because circumstantial, indirect or presumptive evidence, if sufficient, can replace direct evidence.10 Said reliance on circumstantial evidence is sanctioned by Section 4, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court, which, to warrant the conviction of an accused, requires that: (a) there is more than one (1) circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived have been proven; and (c) the combination of all these circumstances results in a moral certainty that the accused, to the exclusion of all others, is the one who committed the crime.11 Here, there exist sufficient circumstantial evidence pointing to the Bañez brothers as among the ones responsible for Baylons death. The prosecution was able to establish that: (1) the house of accused-appellant Randy Bañez was burned just a few hours before the incident; (2) Baylon shouted, "I have no fault!" when Rufino hit him with an iron bar, while the Bañezes held his arms; (3) the accused thereafter brought Baylon to the house of Ramil Bañez; and (4) Baylons lifeless body was discovered the following morning near Ramils house. Moreover, accusedappellants failed to show that it was physically impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission. Denial is an intrinsically weak defense which must be supported by strong evidence of non-culpability to merit credibility.12 There was likewise motive on the part of the Bañez brothers to hurt Baylon, since they had suspected him to have been the one responsible for the burning of Randys house.The totality of the aforementioned facts point to them, to the exclusion of others, as the perpetrators of the crime.

Lastly, the CA correctly ordered the award of P25,000.00 as temperate damages and P30,000.00 as exemplary damages. An award of temperate damages in lieu of actual damages is warranted because it is reasonable to presume that when death occurs, the family of the victim suffered pecuniary loss for the wake and funeral of the victim although the exact amount was not shown. Also, the award of exemplary damages is proper considering the attendance of treachery or alevosia that qualified the killing to murder.13 However, the awards of civil indemnity and moral damages should be reduced to P50,000.00 each.14 Further, consistent with present jurisprudence, the legal rate of 6% per annum is imposed on all monetary awards from date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.15

The CA likewise aptly held that even if the death penalty were still in effect, the imposable penalty would still be reclusion perpetua, since abuse of superior strength can no longer be appreciated as a separate aggravating circumstance in this case. When the circumstance of abuse of superior strength concurs with treachery, the former is absorbed in the latter. Since there no longer exists any aggravating circumstance, the proper penalty is reclusion perpetua, in accordance with Article 63 paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code, it being the lesser penalty between the two indivisible penalties for the crime of murder, which is reclusion perpetua to death.16

WHEREFORE, the petition is DISMISSED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated April 29, 2011 in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00581-MIN, affirming the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Surallah, South Cotabato, Branch 26, dated October 1, 2007 in Criminal Case No. 2645-B, which held accused-appellants Randy Bañez y Baylon and Ramil Bañez y Baylon guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. The award of civil indemnity is reduced to P50,000.00 and the award of moral damages is also reduced to P50,000.00. All monetary awards for damages shall earn interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum from date of finality of this Decision until fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice
Chairperson

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.
Associate Justice
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ*
Associate Justice

FRANCIS H. JARDELEZA
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.

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice
Chairperson, Third Division

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

* Designated Acting Member in lieu of Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes, per Special Order No. 2112 dated July 16, 2015.

1 Penned by Associate Justice Edgardo T. Lloren, with Associate Justices Romulo V. Borja and Rodrigo F. Lim, Jr., concurring; rollo, pp. 3-20.

2 Penned by Judge Roberto L. Ayco; CA rollo, pp. 47-61.

3 Id. at 47-48.

4 Id. at 61.

5 Rollo, p. 19.

6 Id. at 25.

7 People v. Malibiran, et al., 604 Phil. 556, 581 (2009).

8 CA rollo, pp. 52-53.

9 People v. Lamsen, G.R. No. 198338, November 13, 2013, 709 SCRA 522, 525.

10 Bacolod v. People, G.R. No. 206236, July 15, 2013, 701 SCRA 229, 233.

11 Bastian v. Court of Appeals, 575 Phil. 42, 56 (2008).

12 People v. Manalili, G.R. No. 191253, August 28, 2013. 704 SCRA 305, 317-318.

13 Bug-atan v. People, G.R. No. 175195, September 15, 2010, 630 SCRA 537, 559-560.

14 People v. Lopez, 658 Phil. 647 (2011).

15 Nacar v. Gallery Frames, G.R. No. 189871, August 13, 2013, 703 SCRA 439.

16 People v. Aquino, G.R. No. 201092, January 15, 2014, 714 SCRA 107.


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