G.R. No. 144505 August 6, 2002
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
ERNESTO SAN JUAN Y DELA PEÑA, accused-appellant.
It came from the mouth of the accused San Juan himself that the blood of the victim Cortez is on his hands. He claims that he killed his prey to defend himself, but the Court is not persuaded.
On January 17, 1996, an information was filed against the accused San Juan, viz:
“The undersigned accuses ERNESTO SAN JUAN Y DELA PEÑA alias NESTOR BUWANG of the crime of Murder, committed as follows:
That on or about (the) 13th day of January 1996, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent to kill and with treachery and evident premeditation, attack, assault and use personal violence upon one BERNARDO CORTEZ Y CEZAR, by then and there stabbing the latter with a bladed weapon once in the body thereby inflicting upon the latter mortal wounds which were the direct and immediate cause of his/her death thereafter.
Contrary to law.”1
The accused pleaded not guilty. Trial ensued.
Valentino Socorro, Chief Barangay Tanod, took the witness stand. He knew the victim Cortez because the latter always loitered at the corner of Salvador Street, Paco, Manila, where the barangay hall was located. At around 2:30 a.m. on January 13, 1996, Socorro was at the door of the barangay hall. He was then on duty. He saw Cortez running to the hall and asking for help as he had a stab wound below his left breast. Socorro also saw the accused running from Salvador Street to Trece de Agosto Street. He knew the accused and saw him always drinking with the victim and a group of men on Salvador Street. Socorro and another person known as Tikoy brought Cortez to the hospital on a pedicab. Tikoy drove while Socorro and the victim occupied the sidecar.1âwphi1.nêt
On the way to the hospital, Socorro asked Cortez who stabbed him and he answered that it was Ernesto Buwang. Cortez uttered, “Tulungan ninyo ako at sinaksak ako ni Ernesto Buwang.”2 According to Socorro, Cortez’ condition was “fifty-fifty” at the time he said this. It took the group 30 minutes to reach the Philippine General Hospital. The victim was still alive when they arrived. When the doctors were already attending to Cortez, Socorro fetched the victim’s parents. The latter immediately went to the hospital. The following day, Cortez’ parents told Socorro that their son had expired. Socorro executed a Sworn Statement regarding the stabbing incident. Later, Barangay Kagawad Cesar Lopez informed Socorro that he apprehended the accused.
Socorro identified the accused during his testimony. According to him, the accused was called “Ernesto Buwang” in their neighborhood.3
Barangay Chairman Cesar Lopez testified. On January 13, 1996, at about 1:30 a.m., he was at Leroy Street, Barangay 679, Zone 74, District 5, Paco, Manila. He was then peeling squash. All of a sudden, there was a commotion and when he looked around, he saw a person stab another. He was about eight meters away. The place where the stabbing took place was well-lighted. The back of the assailant was towards him. The culprit immediately ran away after stabbing the victim. Being a barangay official, Lopez approached the victim and recognized him as Cortez. The latter told him that he was stabbed by Totoy Buwang. Cortez looked like he was dying. He was weak and very pale. He, along with two barangay tanods, brought the victim to the Philippine General Hospital, but the victim was already dead when they arrived there. He and two policemen then looked for the victim’s assailant. Two to three days after the stabbing incident, between 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., they found the accused at the corner of Paz and Trece de Agosto Streets. They apprehended him and brought him to the police headquarters.
Lopez identified the accused in court. He also said that the accused is the only person known as “Totoy Buwang” in their barangay. He executed a Sworn Statement regarding the stabbing incident.4
The accused took the witness stand. On January 13, 1996, he was in his house near the Paco Church. Cortez went to his house. They talked and later on had a heated exchange of words regarding the job that he (the accused) gave Cortez. The latter boxed him on the forehead. When he testified, he showed the court his scarred forehead.
On cross-examination, the accused added that Cortez also had a fan knife at the time he boxed him. Aside from boxing him, he claims that Cortez also stabbed him with a fan knife on the left side of his face.5
After one week, the accused retaliated. In another part of his testimony, he stated that he retaliated on the same day that Cortez boxed him. He was very angry. He stabbed the victim Cortez with a knife and hit him on the left side. That same day, he learned that Cortez died. He then surrendered to his parents and the Manila Police. He told the police that he killed Cortez in self-defense.
The trial court convicted the accused San Juan, viz:
“The accused admitted stabbing the victim, but asserted that he did it in retaliation for earlier being boxed on the forehead by the victim. The previous act of the victim in hitting with his fist the forehead of the accused, could not justify the felony committed by the accused, given the fact that at the time the victim was stabbed he was sleeping so, there was no unlawful aggression on his part. Neither could such act of the victim be considered as a mitigating circumstance since the boxing incident did not immediately precede the stabbing incident (Arts. 11 & 13, Revised Penal Code).
WHEREFORE, the accused, Ernesto San Juan, is hereby convicted of the crime of murder and sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all the accessory penalties provided by law and to pay the costs.
On the civil liability of the accused, he is ordered to pay the legal heirs of the victim moral and nominal damages in the sum of P200,000.00 and P100,000.00, respectively, and compensation for the loss of the life of the victim in the amount of P50,000.00 with interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum from this date until fully paid.”6
The accused appealed the decision to this Court. But before filing his Brief, he filed a “Motion to Remand Case to the Court a Quo for Further Reception of Defense Evidence.” The PAO lawyers handling his case on appeal averred that while studying the case, they discovered that a Medical Certificate dated October 6, 1997 and prepared by Senior Inspector and Medical Officer Arthur G. Lorenzo of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology was attached to the case records. It stated that accused San Juan was diagnosed to have “R/O Schizophrenia.” The medical certificate was not, however, formally offered by the last PAO lawyer who handled the case in the lower court. Neither was Dr. Lorenzo presented in court. Invoking substantial justice, the accused’s new PAO lawyers prayed for the remand of the case to the court a quo for further reception of evidence of the accused’s insanity at the time of the commission of the crime as his mental state would exempt him from liability.7
The Solicitor General filed an Opposition to the Motion to Remand, pointing out that the medical certificate, even if admitted, would only prove the accused’s insanity when he was diagnosed on October 6, 1997, and not at the time the crime was committed on January 13, 1996. The Solicitor General argues that, in fact, the accused “consciously admitted in court that he stabbed Bernardo Cortez with a knife on the date in issue allegedly in retaliation for hitting (punching) him on his forehead. . . Such admission indicates in clear terms that appellant understood the nature of his act and the consequences thereof. In short, the act was willfully, voluntarily and knowingly executed.”8 Finally, the Solicitor General avers that the Motion to Remand is procedurally flawed as it aims to reopen the case, but a motion to reopen a case is proper only after either or both parties have formally offered and closed their evidence, but before judgment.9
The parties then filed their respective Briefs. The accused makes the following assignment of errors:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF MURDER DESPITE INSUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE FOR THE PROSECUTION.
ASSUMING ARGUENDO, THAT ACCUSED-APPELLANT IS GUILTY, THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN AWARDING DAMAGES WHICH ARE NOT ONLY EXCESSIVE BUT ARE BEREFT OF ANY FACTUAL AND LEGAL BASIS.”10
The Solicitor General correctly points out that even assuming that the October 6, 1997 medical certificate were admitted in evidence, it would only prove the mental condition of the accused on that date, and not at the time of the commission of the crime on January 13, 1996, over a year prior to the issuance of the medical certificate. In People v. Madarang,11 we held that the evidence of insanity must relate to the time preceding or coetaneous with the commission of the offense with which he is charged. Although the accused is diagnosed with schizophrenia a few months after the stabbing incident, the evidence of insanity after the commission of the offense may be accorded weight only if there is also proof of abnormal behavior immediately before or simultaneous to the commission of the crime.12 The Motion to Remand is thus denied.
The accused asserts in his first assignment of error that the prosecution’s evidence to establish that he was Cortez’ assailant is insufficient. The accused, however, must not forget that in his testimony, he admitted that he stabbed the victim, but invoked self-defense. Thus, he cannot now raise the issue of identity which he has already admitted. When the accused theorized self-defense, he, in effect, assumed the onus probandi to substantiate the same. It became his inescapable burden to prove clearly and convincingly the elements of self-defense provided in Article 11, paragraph 1 of the Revised Penal Code.13
The Revised Penal Code provides in Article 11, par. 1, viz:
“Art. 11. Justifying circumstances. – The following do not incur criminal liability:
1. Anyone who acts in defense of his person or rights, provided that the following circumstances occur:
First. Unlawful aggression;
Second. Reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it;
Third. Lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.”
The Code also provides in Article 13, par. 1, viz:
“Art. 13. Mitigating circumstances. – the following are mitigating circumstances:
1. Those mentioned in the preceding chapter, when all the requisites necessary to justify the act or to exempt from criminal liability in the respective cases are not attendant.”
Unlawful aggression is an indispensable element of self-defense, whether complete or incomplete under Articles 11 or 13, respectively.14 Unlawful aggression refers to an actually materialized attack or at the very least, a clearly imminent attack.15 When an unlawful aggression has ceased to exist, the one making a defense has no right to kill or injure the former aggressor.16
The accused testified, viz:
“Q: Mr. Witness, you are being accused of killing of (sic) one Bernardo Cortez on January 13, 1996. What can you say about this accusation?
A: They hurt me and I hit them back.
x x x x x x x x x
Q: Who hurt you on your forehead?
A: Bernardo Cortez.
Q: What was used by Bernardo Cortez in (sic) your head?
A: He just boxed me.
Q: Now, Mr. Witness, that happened on that same day, January 13, 1996?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: What time?
A: Noontime, sir.
Q: Prior to that fist blows (sic) by Bernardo Cortez what were you doing, Mr. Witness?
A: I was in my house and he went there.
Q: Where is your house, Mr. Witness?
A: Near the Paco Church.
Q: When the victim went to your house what happened?
A: We talked.
Q: Then what happened?
A: We have (sic) a heated exchange of words.
Q: What were you arguing about?
A: Concerning our work. The work that I was able to give him.
Q: What happened after that heated argument?
A: He was the first one to hit me. He hit me in (sic) the forehead.
Q: After you were hit by Bernardo Cortez what did you do, Mr. Witness?
A: I went home and I retaliate (sic) when I came back.
Q: How long did it take for you to go back to retaliate?
A: After one week.
Q: On January 13, 1996, you said that the victim went to your house and then boxed you in (sic) the forehead?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: When he boxed you, what did you do?
A: I got hold of the knife and stabbed him.
Q: What part of the body were you able to hit him?
A: (Witness pointing to the left rear side of his body)
Q: What was the position of the victim when you hit him?
A: He was standing facing me.
Q: What happened after you were able to hit him with a knife?
A: I just stayed there at the house.
Q: Did you know what happened to Bernardo Cortez?
A: He died, sir.
Q: When did you come to know that Bernardo Cortez died?
A: That same day.
Q: What did you do, Mr. Witness, after you learned that he died?
A: I surrendered to my parents and also to the Manila Police.
Q: When you brought (sic) to the Manila Police did you tell them that you killed Bernardo Cortez for self-defense?
A: Yes, sir.”17 (emphasis supplied)
The accused’s testimony is uncorroborated. But even assuming arguendo that Cortez boxed the accused, thus committing an unlawful aggression against him, the accused failed to establish that the aggression had not ceased at the time he stabbed Cortez. In one part of his testimony, the accused said that Cortez boxed him on January 13, 1996 and he stabbed Cortez on the same day, without indicating the interval between the boxing and the stabbing. In another part of his testimony, he stated that it was a week after Cortez boxed him that he retaliated and stabbed Cortez. In the absence of proof that there was continued unlawful aggression on the part of Cortez, the accused’s theory of self-defense cannot benefit him whether as a justifying circumstance or a mitigating circumstance under Articles 11 or 13 of the Revised Penal Code, respectively.
We come now to the aggravating circumstances. The trial court found the accused guilty of murder qualified by treachery and evident premeditation, viz:
“And since the victim was sleeping when the accused repeatedly stabbed him, thereby making it impossible for him to defend himself, the crime committed is murder qualified by treachery and premeditation under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code.”18
The trial court was in error in appreciating the aggravating circumstances of treachery and evident premeditation. For treachery to be appreciated, the manner of attack must be proved. Without any particulars on the manner in which the aggression commenced or how the act which resulted in the victim’s death unfolded, treachery cannot be appreciated.19 Circumstances qualifying criminal responsibility cannot rest on mere conjectures, no matter how reasonable or probable, but must be based on facts of unquestionable existence.20 In the case at bar, no evidence was presented that the victim was sleeping when the accused stabbed him.
Neither can we appreciate evident premeditation. The following are the elements of evident premeditation: (1) the time when the accused decided to commit the crime; (2) an overt act manifestly indicating that he has clung to his determination; (3) sufficient lapse of time between decision and execution to allow the accused to reflect upon the consequences of his act.21 There is a dearth of evidence with respect to these elements.
In the absence of any aggravating circumstance to qualify the killing to murder, we adopt the recommendation of the Solicitor General to lower the crime to homicide.
Anent the damages, the trial court was correct in ordering the accused to pay civil indemnity of P50,000.00. We reduce, however, the grant of moral damages in the amount of P200,000.00 to P50,000.00 in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence.22 With respect to nominal damages, we cannot sustain the Solicitor General’s prayer for the deletion of the award of nominal damages on the ground that “x x x the trial court had already awarded civil indemnity and moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00, and P200,000.00, respectively.”23 Nominal damages are awarded so that a right which has been violated may be recognized or vindicated, and not for the purpose of indemnification. The award of civil indemnity and moral damages do not preclude the recovery of nominal damages. We, however, reduce the amount of nominal damages from P100,000.00 to P10,000.00.24
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the impugned decision is MODIFIED. The accused-appellant is found guilty of Homicide and sentenced to suffer the indeterminate sentence of six (6) years, eight (8) months and ten (10) days of prision mayor minimum as minimum, to fourteen (14) years, ten (10) months and twenty (20) days of reclusion temporal medium as maximum,25 and to pay the heirs of the victim P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P 10,000.00 as nominal damages. No costs.1âwphi1.nêt
Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
1 Original Records, p. 1.
2 TSN, Valentino Socorro, July 29, 1998, p. 2.
3 Id., pp. 2-7.
4 TSN, Cesar Lopez, October 21, 1999, pp. 2-5.
5 TSN, Ernesto San Juan, February 4, 2000, pp. 2-5; April 14, 2000, pp. 2-4.
6 Rollo, p. 14; Decision, p. 2.
7 Id., pp. 25-27.
8 Id., pp. 1-2.
9 Id., p. 52.
10 Rollo, p. 35.
11 332 SCRA 99 (2000).
13 People v. Borreros, 306 SCRA 680 (1999).
14 People v. Antonio, 303 SCRA 414 (1999).
15 People v. Borreros, 306 SCRA 680 (1999).
16 People v. Bitoon, 309 SCRA 209 (1999).
17 TSN, Ernesto San Juan, February 4, 2000, pp. 3-5.
18 Rollo, p. 14; Decision, p. 2.
19 People v. Rios, 333 SCRA 823 (2000), citing People v. Nalangan, 336 Phil. 970, 975 (1997).
20 People v. Cantonjos, G.R. No. 136748, November 21, 2001.
21 People v. Tan, et al., G.R. No. 116200-02, June 21, 2001, citing People v. Jose, G.R. No. 130666, January 31, 2000.
22 People v. Panado, et al., 348 SCRA 679 (2000).
23 Rollo, pp. 100-101.
24 People v. Carillo, 333 SCRA 338 (2000).
25 People v. Anacan, G.R. No. 144318, April 3, 2002.