G.R. No. 135919, May 9, 2003 PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee,
DANNY DELOS SANTOS Y FERNANDEZ, appellant.
For automatic review is the Decision1 dated October 2, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Malolos, Bulacan, in Criminal Case No. 3551798, finding appellant Danny delos Santos guilty of the crime of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of death.
In the Information2 dated February 23, 1998, appellant was charged with murder, thus:
“That on or about the 6th day of November 1997, in the Municipality of San Jose, Del Monte, Province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a kitchen knife, with intent to kill one Rod Flores y Juanitas, with evident premeditation, treachery and taking advantage of superior strength, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab with the said kitchen knife said Rod Flores y Juanitas, hitting him on the different parts of his body, thereby inflicting upon him mortal wounds which directly caused his death.”
Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded “not guilty.”3 Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued. The prosecution presented Marcelino de Leon, Marvin Tablate, Dr. Benito Caballero and Romeo Flores as its witnesses. Appellant and Sonny Bautista took the witness stand for the defense.
Marcelino De Leon testified that at around 8:00 p.m. of November 6, 1997, he saw Rod Flores drinking “gin” with Narciso Salvador, Marvin Tablate and Jayvee Rainier at the latter’s house in Sarmiento Homes, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.4 As he was about to fetch water from a nearby faucet, he approached them and borrowed Flores’ cart.5 While waiting for the cart, he stood across Flores who was then seated and conversing with the group.6 Suddenly, appellant emerged from the back of Flores and stabbed him with a knife,7 making an upward and downward thrust.8 Flores ran after he was stabbed twice.9 Appellant pursued him and stabbed him many times.10 As a result, Flores’ intestines bulged out of his stomach.11 Appellant ceased stabbing Flores only after he saw him dead. Thereafter, he turned his ire against Jayvee Rainier and chased him. Fearful for his life, witness De Leon hid himself and later on reported the incident to the police.12
Marvin Tablate corroborated De Leon’s testimony. On cross-examination, Tablate testified that he tried to help Flores by separating him from the appellant who ran away.13 He also testified that the latter joined his group at about 11:00 a.m. and kept on “coming back and forth.”
Dr. Caballero declared on the witness stand that Flores suffered twenty-one (21) stab wounds in the frontal, posterior and lateral side of his body, eleven (11) of which were fatal. Dr. Caballero said it was possible that appellant was behind Flores considering the stab wounds inflicted at his back.14 According to the doctor, Flores died because of “massive external/internal hemorrhages due to multiple stab wounds in the thorax and abdomen penetrating both lungs, heart, stomach, liver, spleen and intestines.”15
Romeo Flores testified that his son Rod Flores was then working at Vitarich, Marilao, Bulacan, earning P600.00 every 15th day of the month;16 that he spent P100,000.00 for his son’s burial and wake; that he has receipts in the amount of P19,110.00 spent for the funeral services and the cost of the cemetery lot17 and a list of other expenses in the amount of P35,960.00;18 and that his family has been grieving for the loss of a loved one.
Appellant had a different version of the events. He denied the accusation and declared that on November 6, 1997 at 8:00 p.m., he was in his auntie’s house in Muson, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan,19 forty (40) meters away from the scene of the crime. He was then fetching water.20 Earlier, at about 5:30 p.m., he and Flores met but they did not greet each other. There was no altercation between them. Hence, he could not understand why De Leon and Tablate testified against him.
Sonny Bautista testified that on that particular date and time, he and appellant were in their auntie’s house in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan.21 They watched television up to 8:30 p.m. and then went home. At about 10:00 p.m., appellant was arrested. Bautista did not inform the policemen that they were watching television in their auntie’s house at the time the crime took place. Neither did he accompany appellant to the police station.22
On October 2, 1998, the trial court rendered a Decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:
“All premises considered, this Court resolves and so holds that the prosecution has been able to establish the criminal culpability of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Accordingly, Danny delos Santos is hereby found guilty of the crime of Murder with the qualifying circumstance of treachery.
“In the imposition of the penalty, the Court hereby takes into account the brutality in the manner by which the life of the victim was taken, and if only to serve as deterrent to others who might be similarly obsessed, it is believed that the higher of the two penalties provided should be meted to the accused herein. Absent any circumstance that would mitigate the severity of his criminal act and pursuant to Articles 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 6, Republic Act no. 7659, the accused Danny delos Santos y Fernandez is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Death by lethal injection.
“Further, the accused is condemned to indemnify the heirs of the deceased the amount of P50,000.00 for the victim’s death. Moreover, accused delos Santos is ordered to pay the said heirs of the deceased Rod Flores the following sums of money:
1. P264,000.00 for loss of earning capacity;
2. P55,070.00 for actual and compensatory damages;
3. P50,000.00 for moral damages;
4. P50,000.00 for exemplary damages.
“With costs against the accused.
In his Appellant’s brief, appellant ascribes to the trial court the following errors:
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING FULL FAITH AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF THE ALLEGED EYEWITNESSES, AND IN NOT ACQUITTING ACCUSED-APPELLANT ON GROUND OF REASONABLE DOUBT.
THE COURT A QUO ERRED IN ORDERING ACCUSED-APPELLANT TO INDEMNIFY THE HEIRS OF VICTIM THE AMOUNT OF P50,000.00 FOR VICTIM’S DEATH; P264,000.00 FOR LOSS OF EARNING CAPACITY; P55,070.00 FOR ACTUAL AND COMPENSATORY DAMAGES; P50,000.00 FOR MORAL DAMAGES; AND P50,000.00 FOR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES.”23
Appellant contends that there are some inconsistencies between the testimonies of De Leon and Tablate, the prosecution witnesses. Also, there is no evidence that he has a motive to kill Flores. In fact, there was no previous heated argument or altercation between them. That the prosecution witnesses executed their sworn statements only after two months from the commission of the crime raises doubt as to their credibility. Finally, the evidence for the prosecution failed to meet the exacting test of moral certainty, hence, the trial court should not have ordered him to indemnify the heirs of Flores.
The Solicitor General, in the Appellee’s brief, counters that: (a) the inconsistencies pointed out by appellant are minor and do not vitiate the fact that he was the one who killed Flores; (b) appellant’s defenses of alibi and denial are worthless since he was positively identified by the prosecution witnesses; (c) he failed to proffer any explanation why the prosecution witnesses implicated him; (d) the crime was aggravated by cruelty because he “butchered” Flores until his intestines bulged out of his stomach; and (e) the heirs of Flores are entitled to indemnification as it has been shown beyond reasonable doubt that appellant killed him.
The first assigned error involves a determination of the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. Settled is the rule that when it comes to credibility of witnesses, appellate courts generally do not overturn the findings of trial courts. The latter are in a best position to ascertain and measure the sincerity and spontaneity of witnesses through their actual observation of the witnesses’ manner of testifying, demeanor and behavior in court.24
We see no reason to deviate from this rule.
Appellant maintains that there are inconsistencies in the testimonies of De Leon and Tablate. While De Leon testified that appellant did not join Flores’ group, however, Tablate declared that he was drinking “gin” with them at about 11:00 a.m. De Leon testified that no one assisted Flores when he was being attacked by appellant. However, Tablate stated that he attempted to separate Flores from appellant after the former had sustained two stab wounds.
The first alleged inconsistency is understandable. Unlike Tablate who was with the group in a drinking spree, De Leon approached Flores only when he borrowed the cart from the latter at about 8:00 p.m. He stayed with Flores’ group only for about thirty minutes,25 or up to 8:30 p.m. Thus, he could not have observed that appellant joined the group earlier, or at about 11: 00 a.m.
The second alleged inconsistency is a minor one that does not enfeeble the prosecution’s theory that appellant killed Flores. Evident from De Leon’s testimony is the fact that he was so shocked in witnessing the gruesome killing of his companion. With such a state of mind, it would be too much to demand from him a full recollection of the details surrounding the event. Many times we have ruled that inconsistencies in the testimony of witnesses when referring only to minor details and collateral matters do not affect the substance of their declaration, their veracity, or the weight of their testimony.26 They only serve to strengthen rather than weaken the credibility of witnesses for they erase the suspicion of a rehearsed testimony.27 What we find important in the case at bar is that the two prosecution witnesses were one in saying that it was appellant who stabbed Flores with a knife. We quote the clear and straightforward account of the incident by De Leon and Tablate. During cross-examination, De Leon testified as follows:
“Atty. De la Cruz:
Q You did not see the accused because it was dark in that place, is it not?
A No, sir, he suddenly appeared from the back of Rod Flores and started stabbing Rod that is why we were surprised.
Q How did the accused thrust the weapon to the victim?
A (Witness demonstrating by making upward, downward thrust at the back of the victim)
Atty. De la Cruz:
Q Where was Rod Flores hit, if you know?
A At the back, sir.
Q How many times?
A At first, twice, sir.
Q That was the time when Rod Flores ran away after having been stabbed twice.
A Yes, Your Honor.
xxx xxx xxx
Q How did the accused thrust for the second time the weapon at the back of the victim.
A Both at the back, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Atty. De la Cruz:
Q Was Rod Flores able to ran away?
A Yes, sir.
Q Where were you when Rod Flores was running away?
A We were left behind, sir. I was not able to move anymore.
Q And was the accused able to reach Flores?
A Yes, sir.
Q What did the accused do?
A Again, he started stabbing at the back, sir.
Q So the stabbing was inflicted at the back of the victim?
A Not all, sir, because he turned him face up and stabbed him again, sir.”28
Tablate’s direct testimony reads:
xxx xxx xxx
Q How did Danny delos Santos stab Rod Flores?
A “Patalikod,” sir.
Q What do you mean?
A Danny delos Santos stabbed Rod Flores at the back, sir.
Q When you said Danny delos Santos stabbed Rod Flores at the back, are you saying that Danny delos Santos was at the back of Rod Flores at the time?
A Yes, sir.
Q How many times did the accused stab Rod Flores?
A I saw him stabbed the victim twice, sir. (Witness demonstrated in downward position as if he was holding something).
Q What was he holding?
A A knife, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
xxx xxx xxx
Q Are you sure that when Rod Flores fell to the ground, he was not able to rise nor was he able to run away?
A He was able to run but then he was drunk and the accused was able to catch and stab him again, sir.
xxx xxx xxx
Q Are you positive to the identity of Danny delos Santos that he was the one who stabbed Rod Flores?
A Yes, sir.” 29
Appellant argues that since the prosecution witnesses testified that there was no altercation between him and Flores, it follows that no motive to kill can be attributed to him. This is an inconsequential argument. Proof of motive is not indispensable for a conviction, particularly where the accused is positively identified by an eyewitness and his participation is adequately established.30 In People vs. Galano,31 we ruled that in the crime of murder, motive is not an element of the offense, it becomes material only when the evidence is circumstantial or inconclusive and there is some doubt on whether the accused had committed it. In the case before us, no such doubt exits as De Leon and Tablate positively identified appellant.
In a last-ditch attempt to cast doubt on the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, appellant questions why their statements were taken only on January 29, 1998 when the incident happened on November 6, 1997. The two-month delay is hardly an indicium of a concocted story. It is but natural for witnesses to avoid being involved in a criminal proceeding particularly when the crime committed is of such gravity as to show the cruelty of the perpetrator. Born of human experience, the fear of retaliation can have a paralyzing effect to the witnesses.32 Thus, in People vs. Dacibar,33 we held that the initial reluctance of witnesses to volunteer information about a criminal case is of common knowledge and has been judicially declared as insufficient to affect credibility, especially when a valid reason exists for such hesitance.
Anent the second error, appellant contends that the trial court erred in indemnifying the heirs of Flores since his guilt was not proved beyond reasonable doubt. Suffice it to state at this point that the evidence for the prosecution produces moral certainty that appellant is guilty of the crime charged, hence, should be answerable for all its consequences.
As earlier mentioned, appellant’s defenses are mere alibi and denial. He testified that at the time the crime took place, he was in his auntie’s house in Muson; San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. When probed by the trial court, he categorically stated that the house is only 40 meters away from the scene of the crime and may be traveled in about three or five minutes.34 For the defense of alibi to prosper, it must be convincing enough to preclude any doubt on the physical impossibility of the presence of the accused at the locus criminis at the time of the incident.35 Certainly, the required impossibility does not exist here.
Weighing the evidence of the prosecution vis-à-vis that of the defense, the scale of justice must tilt in favor of the former. Time and again, we ruled that positive identification, where categorical and consistent and without any showing of ill-motive on the part of the eyewitnesses testifying on the matter, prevails over alibi and denial which, if not substantiated by clear and convincing proof, are negative and self-serving evidence undeserving of weight in law.36 With marked relevance is the fact that appellant did not present any evidence to show that the prosecution witnesses, in testifying against him, have improper motive.
The prosecution was able to establish that appellant’s attack on Flores was from behind without any slightest provocation on his part37 and that it was sudden and unexpected. This is a clear case of treachery. Where the victim was totally unprepared for the unexpected attack from behind with no weapon to resist it, the stabbing could only be described as treacherous.38 There being treachery, appellant’s conviction for murder is in order.
However, in the imposition of penalty, we cannot appreciate the aggravating circumstance of cruelty considered by the trial court. Pursuant to the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, every Information must state not only the qualifying but also the aggravating circumstances.39 This rule may be given retroactive effect in the light of the well-established rule that statutes regulating the procedure of the courts will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage.40 The aggravating circumstance of cruelty, not having been alleged in the Information, may not be appreciated to enhance the liability of appellant.
Under Article 24841 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for the consummated crime of murder is reclusion perpetua to death. In this case, the lesser of the two indivisible penalties shall be imposed, there being neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances attending the crime.42
In keeping with the current jurisprudence, the heirs of Flores are entitled to the amount of P50,000.00 by way of civil indemnity ex delicto.43 As regards the actual damages, it appears that out of the P55,070.00 awarded by the trial court, only P19,170.0044 was actually supported by receipts. The other amounts were based solely on a list prepared by Romeo Flores. To be entitled to actual damages, it is necessary to prove the actual amount of loss with a reasonable degree of certainty, premised upon competent proof and on the best evidence obtainable to the injured party.45 In the case at bar, the prosecution failed to present receipts for the other expenses incurred. Thus, in light of the recent case of People vs. Abrazaldo,46 we grant the award of P25,000.00 as temperate damages inasmuch as the proven actual damages is less than P25,000.00. The moral damages awarded in the amount of P50,000.00 is affirmed, there being proofs that because of Flores’ death, his heirs suffered wounded feelings, mental anguish, anxiety and similar injury.47 However, we reduce to P25,000.00 only the trial court’s award of P50,000.00 as exemplary damages.48
The amount of indemnity for loss of earning capacity is based on the income at the time of death and the probable life expectancy of the victim. In the case at bar, the trial court found that Flores’ annual gross income is P14,400.00 computed at the rate of P1,200.00 a month for twelve (12) months. From this amount is deducted the necessary and incidental expenses, estimated at 50%, leaving a balance of P7,200.00. His net income would then be multiplied by his life expectancy, using the following formula: 2/3 x 80 – 25 (age of the victim at time of death). Considering that he was 25 years old when he died, his life expectancy would be 37. Multiplying the net balance of his annual income by his life expectancy, the loss of his earning is P266,400.00, thus:
“In computing the life expectancy and loss of earning capacity of a person the following formula is used:
Life expectancy –
2/3 x (80 – the age of the victim at the time of death)
2/3 x (80 – 25)
2/3 x 55
= 36.66 or 37
Loss of earning capacity –
net annual income x life expectancy
P7,200 x 37
= P266,400.00″ 49
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated October 2, 1998 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Malolos, Bulacan, in Criminal Case No. 3551798, finding appellant Danny delos Santos y Fernandez guilty of the crime of murder is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in the sense that he is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the late Rod Flores y Juanitas the amounts of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, P25,0000.00 as temperate damages, P50,000.00 as moral damages, P25,000.00 as exemplary damages, and P266,400.00 for loss of earning capacity.
Costs de oficio.
Davide, Jr ., C .J ., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna, JJ ., concur.
1 Penned by Judge Cesar M. Solis, Rollo at 123-128.
2 Rollo at 2.
3 Records at 15.
4 TSN, July 3, 1998 at 2; July 1, 1998 at 4.
5 TSN, July 1, 1998 at 5.
6 Id. at 4.
7 TSN, July 3, 1998 at 4.
8 Id. at 5.
12 Id. at 6.
13 Id. at 8.
14 TSN, September 21, 1998 at 3.
15 RTC Decision at 17, Rollo at 124.
16 TSN, September 1, 1998 at 8.
18 Records at 99.
19 TSN, September 28, 1998 at 2.
20 Id. at 4.
21 Id. at 7.
22 Id. at 8.
23 Rollo at 47-57.
24 People vs. Ave, G.R. Nos. 137274-75, October 18, 2002; People vs. Alfanta, 378 Phil 95 (2000).
25 TSN, July 1, 1998 at 5.
26 People vs. Bato, 382 Phil. 558 (2000).
27 People vs. Dando, 382 Phil. 290 (2000).
28 TSN, July 3, 1998 at 5-6.
29 TSN, August 17, 1998 at 3-8.
30 People vs. Lozada, G.R. No. 130589, June 29, 2000, 334 SCRA 602; Lack of motive for committing the crime does not preclude conviction for such crime when the crime and participation of the accused are definitely proved. People vs. Quillosa, 382 Phil. 638 (2000).
31 384 Phil. 206 (2000).
32 Fear of reprisal and the natural reluctance of a witness to get involved in a criminal case are sufficient explanations for a witness’ delay in reporting a crime to the authorities. (People vs. Galido, 383 Phil. 61 (2000).
33 382 Phil. 618 (2000).
34 TSN, September 28, 1998 at 4-5.
35 People vs. Tanail, 380 Phil. 646 (2000).
36 People vs. Jose, 381 Phil. 845 (2000).
37 People vs. Aquino, 379 Phil. 845 (2000); People vs. Lumacang, 381 Phil. 266 (2000).
38 People vs. Mendoza, G.R. No. 128890, May 31, 2000, 332 SCRA 485.
39 Section 8, Rule 110.
40 People vs. Antonio, G.R. No. 144266, November 27, 2002; People vs. Arrojado, G.R. No. 130492, January 31, 2001, 350 SCRA 679.
41 Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code provides:
“ART. 248. Murder. – Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua to death . . . .”
42 People vs. Alcodia, G.R. No. 134121, March 5, 2003; Article 63 (2) of the Revised Penal Code; People vs. Piedad, G.R. No. 131923, December 5, 2002.
43 People vs. Ilo, G.R. No. 140731, November 21, 2002.
44 Records at 99, 100-103.
45 People vs. Acosta, G.R. No. 140386, November 29, 2001; People vs. Suelto, 381 Phil. 351 (2000); People vs. Samolde, G.R. No. 128551, July 31, 2000, 336 SCRA 632.
46 G.R. No. 124392, February 6, 2003.
47 People vs. Manlansing, G.R. No. 131736, March 11, 2002.
48 People vs. Catubig, G.R. No. 137842, August 23, 2001, 363 SCRA 636.
49 People vs. Cabande, 381 Phil. 889 (2000). People vs. Rubio, G.R. No. 128871, March 17, 2003; See also People vs. Visperas, Jr., G.R. No. 147315, January 13, 2003, citing People vs. Laut, G.R. No. 137751, February 1, 2001, 351 SCRA 93.