Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

EN BANC

G.R. No. 170136             January 18, 2008

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee,
vs.
ROBERT BRODETT y PAJARO, appellant.

R E S O L U T I O N

CARPIO, J.:

Before this Court for review is the 2 August 2005 Decision1 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 00776. The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 46, Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, finding appellant Robert Brodett y Pajaro (appellant) guilty of murder, with the modification that only the generic aggravating circumstance of scoffing at the corpse is appreciated.

Appellant, together with Ronald Dulay (Dulay) and Reynald de Guzman were charged with murdering Dr. April Duque (April). They pleaded not guilty upon arraignment and trial ensued thereafter.

The prosecution established during the trial that on 29 December 2000, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Station at Alcala, Pangasinan received a report at around 2:00 a.m. regarding a burning corpse on the spillway of Laoac, Alcala, along the national highway. Chief of Police Ludovico Bravo and his men proceeded to the site and saw the corpse still burning. They poured water over the burning corpse until the fire was extinguished. They noted that the burned corpse was that of a woman who was about five feet tall and with fair complexion. They brought the corpse to a funeral parlor where an autopsy was performed by Dr. Alfredo Laguardia (Dr. Laguardia). A ring and a wristwatch taken from the left arm of the corpse were turned over to the head investigator of the police station. On 15 January 2001, the corpse was buried at the public cemetery after it remained unclaimed for several days.

On 1 February 2001, Aprilís mother and some agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from Dagupan City inquired at the PNP Alcala Station about a missing person named April. The NBI agents wanted to verify whether the corpse found on the spillway was that of April. When shown a picture of the burned corpse, Aprilís mother exclaimed that it was her daughter. Aprilís mother and the NBI agents went to the cemetery and had the corpse exhumed. Upon seeing the corpse, Aprilís mother cried and exclaimed that the facial features were those of her daughter and that she knew it was her daughter. She also identified the ring and wristwatch taken from the corpse as belonging to her daughter.

Prior to her death, April had been the live-in partner of appellant for nine years. April and appellant have a then 5-year-old son named Giobert, who was one of the prosecution witnesses. According to Giobert, his mommy was already in heaven because his daddy killed her. Giobert testified that he saw his daddy hit his mommyís head with a hammer and that his daddy also stabbed his mommy.

Another prosecution witness was Shirley Duzon (Shirley), the assistant of April, who was a dermatologist, in her clinic. Shirley testified that on 28 December 2000, she was at the clinic together with Aprilís son, Giobert. According to Shirley, April was scheduled to leave for Hong Kong at 11:00 p.m. that day together with her alleged new boyfriend Dulay and her son Giobert. When April failed to return to the clinic, Shirley decided to close the clinic at around 9:00 p.m. and brought Giobert to Aprilís residence. Shirley identified the ring and wristwatch taken from the corpse as belonging to April.

The defense presented appellant as the lone witness. Appellant admitted that he was the live-in partner of April for nine years. Appellant, April, and their son Giobert lived together in a townhouse in Urdaneta Villas. Appellantís testimony delved mainly on Aprilís alleged hatred of her mother because of the latterís extra-marital relations. When asked about the ring and wristwatch taken from the corpse, appellant denied that these items belonged to April.

On 5 June 2002, the trial court rendered a decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the Court finds the accused ROBERT BRODETT y Pajaro, GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of MURDER defined and penalized under Republic Act No. 7659 otherwise known as the Heinous Crime[s] Law, the offense having been committed with the attendant aggravating circumstances of superior strength, dwelling, with insult or in disregard of the respect due the offended party on account of her sex, cruelty and outraging or scoffing at her person or corpse, hereby sentences him the ultimum suplicum of DEATH to be executed pursuant to Republic Act No. 8177 known as the Lethal Injection Law, to pay the heirs of the victim DRA. APRIL SANTOS-DUQUE in the amount of P50,000.00 as indemnity and P1,000,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the costs.

It is said: "Dura Lex, sed lex," translated as "The law is harsh, but that is the law!"

With respect to the accused RONALD DULAY and REYNALD DE GUZMAN, for insufficiency of evidence against them, the Court declares their ACQUITTAL. The warden of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) of Urdaneta City, Pangasinan, where the accused are presently detained, is ordered to release immediately the persons of the said accused Dulay and de Guzman, unless they are detained for any legal or lawful cause or causes.

SO ORDERED.2

On appeal, appellant alleged that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

In its 2 August 2005 Decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial courtís decision with the modification that, aside from the qualifying circumstance of treachery, only the generic aggravating circumstance of scoffing at the corpse is appreciated. The Court of Appeals held that the murder of April was qualified by treachery. The injuries suffered by April clearly showed that she did not have any chance to defend herself. As regards the aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength, the Court of Appeals held that it was already absorbed in treachery. Since appellant and April resided in the same house, the appellate court ruled that the aggravating circumstance of dwelling could not be considered. The Court of Appeals likewise did not appreciate the aggravating circumstance of disrespect on account of sex since appellant did not deliberately intend to insult or disrespect Aprilís womanhood. However, the appellate court agreed with the trial court in appreciating the aggravating circumstance of outraging or scoffing at the victimís corpse which was burned and left on the spillway in order to conceal the crime.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the evidence of the prosecution clearly established that appellant murdered April. The most incriminatory evidence against appellant came from appellantís 5-year-old son Giobert who saw his father kill his mother April. Giobert even demonstrated in court how appellant killed his mother. Giobertís testimony of how April was killed was corroborated by the medico-legal report of Dr. Laguardia3 and the autopsy report of Dr. Ronald Bandonill.4

In this case, appellant killed April by hitting her head with a hammer and stabbing her neck using a bladed weapon. The medical and autopsy reports revealed that April sustained contusion, lacerated wounds and hematoma on the scalp and forehead, and a neck stab wound.5 Clearly, the killing of April was attended by treachery and abuse of superior strength. There is treachery when the mode of the attack tends to insure the accomplishment of the criminal purpose without risk to the attacker arising from any defense the victim might offer.6 Furthermore, an attack by a man with a deadly weapon upon an unarmed and defenseless woman constitutes abuse of superior strength.7 However, abuse of superior strength as an aggravating circumstance is already absorbed in treachery.8

The trial court and the appellate court imposed upon appellant the death penalty. However, in view of the effectivity of Republic Act No. 9346,9 the imposition of the death penalty has been prohibited and in lieu thereof, the penalty of reclusion perpetua should be imposed, without eligibility for parole. We also reduce the award of moral damages from P1,000,000 to P50,000 and increase the civil indemnity from P50,000 to P75,000 in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence.10 Furthermore, since the offense is attended by aggravating circumstances, exemplary damages in the amount of P25,000 should also be imposed.11

WHEREFORE, we AFFIRM with MODIFICATION the 2 August 2005 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 00776. We find appellant Robert Brodett y Pajaro guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder, qualified by treachery and with the attendant aggravating circumstance of outraging or scoffing at the victimís corpse. Pursuant to Republic Act No. 9346, prohibiting the imposition of the death penalty, appellant is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole. Appellant is further ordered to pay the victimís heirs P75,000 as civil indemnity, P50,000 as moral damages, and P25,000 as exemplary damages.

Costs against appellant.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Velasco, Jr., Nachura, Reyes, Leonardo-de-Castro, JJ., concur.


Footnotes

1 Penned by Associate Justice Lucenito N. Tagle with Associate Justices Martin S. Villarama, Jr. and Amelita G. Tolentino, concurring.

2 CA rollo, pp. 125-126.

3 Municipal Health Officer of the Municipality of Bautista, Pangasinan.

4 Medico-Legal Officer of the NBI.

5 See Exhibits "P" and "NN."

6 Martinez v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 168827, 13 April 2007, 521 SCRA 176.

7 People v. Tubongbanua, G.R. No. 171271, 31 August 2006, 500 SCRA 727.

8 People v. Rodas, G.R. No. 175881, 28 August 2007.

9 An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines.

10 People v. Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 171272, 7 June 2007, 523 SCRA 433; People v. Buban, G.R. No. 170471, 11 May 2007, 523 SCRA 118; People v. Taan, G.R. No. 169432, 30 October 2006, 506 SCRA 219.

11 People v. De Guzman, G.R. No. 173197, 24 April 2007, 522 SCRA 207; People v. Galvez, G.R. No. 157221, 30 March 2007, 519 SCRA 521; People v. Cabinan, G.R. No. 176158, 27 March 2007, 519 SCRA 133; People v. Ausa, G.R. No. 174194, 20 March 2007, 518 SCRA 602.


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