Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

THIRD DIVISION

 

G.R. No. 114385 January 29, 1998

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
EFREN JEREZ, accused-appellant.


ROMERO, J.:

Appellant Efren Jerez, along with Joselito Quijan, Zaldy Victa and Efren Bola (at large), were charged with the crime of robbery with double homicide in Criminal Case No. 6755 before the Regional Trial Court 1 of Daet, Camarines Norte, Branch 38, under an information 2 dated October 15, which reads as follows:

That on or about 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon of May 23, 1990 within the Basit Compound at barangay Sta. Rosa, municipality of Jose Panganiban, province of Camarines Norte, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named (accused) armed with revolvers and bladed weapons conspiring, confederating together and mutually helping with one another, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent of gain and by means of violence take from REYNALDO OCHOA and JOSELITO BALBASTRO the following personal properties, to wit: cash money amounting to P45,000.00, two (2) gold plated Seiko 5 wristwatch(es), one (1) golden Horseshoe type ring and one (1) gold plated Ray-ban with the total value of P52,000.00, Philippine Currency, belonging to said Reynaldo Ochoa and Joselito Balbastro; that on the occasion of said robbery and for the purpose of enabling the said accused to take, steal and carry away the aforesaid articles, the herein accused in pursuance of their conspiracy, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with deliberate intent to kill, with treachery, evident premeditation and taking advantage of their superior number and strength, assault, attack and stab said Reynaldo Ochoa and Joselito Balbastro, thereby inflicting upon them multiple mortal wounds on the different parts of their bodies, and as a result thereof, the said Reynaldo Ochoa and Joselito Balbastro died instantly, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the victims.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

Upon arraignment, the accused entered a plea of not guilty.

A concise narration of the factual circumstances that led to appellant's conviction follows:

On May 23, 1990, while waiting for passengers near Josie's Restaurant in the Municipality of Labo, Camarines Norte, tricycle driver Gil Villafranca was approached by a person, later identified as appellant, informing him that he was looking for a carabao buyer. 3 Subsequently, Villafranca accompanied the latter to the house of one Reynaldo Ochoa. When apprised of purpose of the visit, Julian, the son of Reynaldo, sought his father near Kathleen Pawnshop and advised him about the four carabaos allegedly for sale at Barangay Teddy, Jose Panganiban, Camarines Norte.4

Appellant, together with Reynaldo and another carabao buyer, Joselito Balbastro, boarded a motorcycle and proceeded to Barangay Teddy to check the condition of the carabaos. It was the last time, however, that the two were seen alive. When the latter failed to return the following day, a search, led by Julian, was conducted. In the course of their inquiry, it was learned that the motorcycle owned by Reynaldo was in the custody of the barangay captain of Teddy, Jose Panganiban who told them that it was recovered from the Basit Compound. Forthwith, they proceeded to the said compound and found Reynaldo and Joselito lifeless, having sustained several mortally-inflicted stab wounds in different parts of their bodies. The victims were divested of their watches, rayban glasses, and a sum of money amounting to P37,000.00.

Police Major Roberto Rosales of the Camarines Norte Integrated National Police testified that upon appellant's arrest, the latter was apprised of his constitutional rights. On June 25, 1990, in the presence of Atty. August Schneider, an investigation conducted by the police ensued and statements therein were reduced to writing, signed and sworn to before Jose Panganiban Municipal Mayor Arnie Arenal, who likewise inquired whether or not appellant understood the consequences of his confession.5

Appellant, on the other hand, proferred alibi as his defense and that the extra-judicial confession was allegedly obtained through the use of physical violence, coercion and intimidation.

He contended that on the day the incident in question occurred, he was with his common law wife, Mercedes Sarical, at the house of a certain Felix Rellolosa from 9:00 o'clock a.m. to 4:00 o'clock p.m. drinking liquor with some friends.6 He further tried to buttress his alibi by declaring that no one saw with as a participant in the slaying nor was any property of the victims recovered from him.

In a decision dated April 19, 1993, the trial court convicted appellant, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, premises considered and finding accused EFREN JEREZ guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery with double homicide, he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify and/or reimburse the heirs of the following:

To the Heirs of Reynaldo Ochoa

1. P 50,000.00 damage for death
2. 100,000.00 loss of earning capacity
(estimated income x life span)
3. 25,000.00 articles/money lost
(P20,000.00, watch, others)
4. 50,000.00 burial and other expenses

P225,000.00

To the Heirs of Joselito Balbastro

1. P 50,000.00 damage for death
2. 100,000.00 loss of earning capacity
(estimated income x life span)
3. 27,000.00 articles/money lost
(P17,000.00, watch, Ray-Ban)
4. 50,000.00 burial and other expenses

P227,000.00

But for insufficiency of evidence, Joselito Quijan and Zaldy Victa are hereby acquitted.

SO ORDERED. 7

Appellant assails the lower court for giving weight and credence to the extra-judicial statement, stating that at the time of the taking thereof, he was assisted by an ineffectual counsel who could not safeguard his constitutional rights and interests.

We affirm appellant's conviction.

It is well-settled in this jurisdiction that for a confession to be admissible, it "must satisfy all four fundamental requirements: (1) the confession must be voluntary; (2) the confession must be made with the assistance of competent and independent counsel; (3) the confession must be express; and (4) the confession must be in writing."8 Appellant argued that the first and second requirements were not complied with. The records of the case, however, reveal otherwise.

It must be borne in mind that when appellant executed the extrajudicial confession, it was done in the presence of his counsel, Atty. Schneider, and sworn to before Mayor Arenal. If indeed his confession were obtained as a result of coercion and intimidation by policemen at the police station, he could have informed the Mayor of the maltreatment he suffered. Having failed to convince the authorities, the extra-judicial confession voluntarily made by Jerez is admissible in evidence. "The presumption, therefore, of spontaneity and voluntariness stands unless the defense proves otherwise."9

Appellant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his right to have an independent counsel of his own choice. The records show that at the time the extrajudicial confession was executed, appellant disclosed to the police officers that his counsel of choice was Atty. Freddie Venida but that the latter would not be available as he is due to depart for Manila on the same day. Subsequently, Major Rosales suggested that Atty. Schneider, supposedly the only lawyer available in Jose Panganiban, appear as the counsel of appellant during investigation and the latter answered in the affirmative, as shown from the excerpts of his extrajudicial confession, thus:

PASUBALI: Ginoong Jerez, ikaw ay kukunan namin ng malayang salaysay tungkol sa isang usapin na aming sinisiyasat. Subalit, bago ang lahat, nais naming malaman mo na ikaw ay may mga karapatan susog sa ating Saligang Batas. Ito ay ang mga sumusunod:

Una: Ikaw ay may karapatang tumangging magbigay ng salaysay o kaya ay magbigay ng salaysay, sapagkat ang anumang sasabihin mo sa pagtatanong na ito ay maaaring gamitin laban sa iyo sa harap ng hukuman. Nauunawaan mo ito?

Sagot: Opo.

Ikalawa: Ikaw ay may karapatang ding kumuha ng isang manananggol na sarili mong pili upang siyang maging gabay mo sa pagtatanong na ito. Nauunawaan mo ito?

Sagot: Opo

Nais mo bang maging gabay mong manananggol ang ating kaharap na manananggol na si Atty. Augusto B. Schneider?

Sagot: Opo.

Pangatlo: Nais din naming malaman mo at ng lahat na ikaw ay hindi namin pinangangakuan, sinasaktan o tinatakot upang magbigay ng iyong sariling salaysay, kundi, ito ay pawang katotohanang kusang loob mong sasabihin at isasalaysay. Nauunawaan mo ito?

Sagot: Opo.

Tanong: Kung nauunawaan mong lahat itong mga pasubaling ito, ikaw ba ay nakahanda ng magbigay ng iyong sariling malayang salaysay?

Sagot: Opo.10

While the initial choice of the lawyer in cases where a person under custodial investigation cannot afford the services of a lawyer or (where the preferred lawyer is available as in the case at bar) is naturally lodged in the police investigators, the accused has the final choice as he may reject the counsel chosen for him and ask for another one. A lawyer provided by the investigators is deemed engaged by the accused where he never raised any objection against the former's appointment during the course of the investigation and the accused thereafter subscribes to the veracity of his statement before the swearing officer. 11 Thus, "once the prosecution has shown that there was compliance with the constitutional requirement on pre-interrogation advisories, a confession is presumed to be voluntary and the declarant bears the burden of proving that his confession is involuntary and untrue. The burden is on the accused to destroy this presumption. A confession is admissible until the accused successfully proves that it was given as a result of violence, intimidation, threat or promise of reward or leniency. 12

Although appellant thereafter claimed that the confession he gave was made under duress, there is, however, no evidence on record to support the same. In People v. Villanueva, this Court declared that "voluntariness of a confession may be inferred from its language such that if upon its face the confession exhibits no sign of suspicious circumstances tending to cast doubt upon its integrity, it being replete with details, which could possibly be supplied only by the accused, reflecting spontaneity and coherence which psychologically cannot be associated with a mind to which violence and torture have been applied, it may be considered voluntary." 13 A scrutiny of the sworn statement discloses in detail relevant facts surrounding the commission of the offense charged which the accused himself could only have known.

The Court, therefore, finds that appellant's constitutional right to counsel was not breached when he agreed to be represented by Atty. Schneider.

Appellant likewise argued that the trial court should have admitted his defense of alibi "considering that he was not properly identified and physical evidence like properties, money, fingerprints were not discovered by the arresting officers." 14

This contention is simply unavailing in the case at bar. It is settled in this jurisdiction that "for alibi to prosper, it is not enough that the accused prove that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed. He must demonstrate that he could not have been physically present at the place of the crime or in its immediate vicinity at the time of its commission." 15 Appellant testified that on the day in question, he was engaged in a drinking spree with his friends at the house of Felix Rellolosa at Talobatib, Labo, Camarines Norte and he went home at 4:00 o'clock p.m. staying thereat for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, this version of the appellant was contradicted by prosecution witnesses, Julian Ochoa and Gil Villafranca, who positively identified him in court as the person scouting for carabao buyers in the Municipality of Labo, Camarines Norte at around 9:00 o'clock a.m. on May 23, 1990. Needless to say, where an accused's alibi is established only by himself, his relatives and friends, his denial of culpability should be accorded the strictest scrutiny. They are necessarily suspect and cannot prevail over the testimonies of the more credible witnesses for the prosecution. 16

The Court is, therefore, convinced that appellant's culpability of the offense charged was proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The computation, however, of the damages awarded by the trial court for loss of earning capacity fixing the same at P100,000.00 for each victim is erroneous.

"The formula consistently used by the Supreme Court in determining life expectancy is (2/3 x [80 - age of the victim at the time of death])." 17 Thus, the award for loss of earning capacity for each victim shall be as follows:

Joselito Balbastro

P36,000.00 gross annual income (P3,000.00 x 12 mos.)
Multiply: 30 life expectancy (2/3 x 45 [80 - 35 {age at time of death}])
P1,080,000.00 total loss of earning capacity

Reynaldo Ochoa

P36,000.00 gross annual income (P3,000.00 x 12 mos.)
Multiply: 21 life expectancy (2/3 x 31 [80 - 49 {age at time of death}])
P756,000.00 total loss of earning capacity

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the appeal is DISMISSED and the decision of the trial court finding accused-appellant EFREN JEREZ guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that appellant shall indemnify Joselito Balbastro and Reynaldo Ochoa in the amount of P1,080,000.00 and P756,000.00, respectively, for losses of their respective earning capacity. Costs against appellant.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Melo, Francisco and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

Footnotes

1 Penned by Judge Sancho Dames II.

2 Rollo, p. 15.

3 TSN, December 20, 1990, p. 3.

4 TSN, December 20, 1990, p. 23.

5 TSN, July 10, 1991, p. 27.

6 TSN, February 10, 1992, p. 78.

7 Rollo, pp. 63-64.

8 People v. Calvo and Longcop, G.R. No. 91694, March 14, 1997.

9 People v. Pamon, 217 SCRA 501 (1993).

10 Exhibit "C," Folder of Exhibits, pp. 7-10.

11 People v. Suarez, 267 SCRA 119 (1997).

12 Ibid.

13 266 SCRA 356 (1997), citing U.S. v. De los Santos, 24 Phil. 329.

14 Rollo, p. 179.

15 People v. Sumaoy, 263 SCRA 460 (1996).

16 People v. Diaz, G.R. No. 110829, April 18, 1997.

17 Baliwag Transit Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 262 SCRA 230 (1996); People v. Cordero, 263 SCRA 122 (1996).


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