Appellant Max Mejos y Ponce, a scavenger, was charged with and convicted of the crime of Murder by the Regional Trial Court of Pasay City. 1
The Information 2 against him reads:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"That on or about the 30th day of October 1992, in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, Max Mejos y Ponce, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously with intent to kill, evident premeditation, taking advantage of superior strength, in disregard of the respect due the offended party on account of her sex and armed with a deadly weapon, attacked (sic), assault, and stab one Maria Nanette Cartagena Y Anolin on the vital parts of her body, thereby inflicting upon the latter mortal wounds which caused her instantaneous death.
"Contrary to Law."cralaw virtua1aw library
Appellant pled not guilty upon arraignment. Trial ensued.
The facts show that between 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. of October 30, 1992, Geronides Cartagena 3 and his 17-year old daughter, Ma. Nanette Cartagena, 4 went to the house of barangay chairman Bienvenido Flores at Apelo Cruz Street, Riverside, Malibay, Pasay City. They were to report that Nanette had earlier seen appellant Max Mejos within the vicinity. Appellant Mejos stabbed Geronides in 1991 and the latter wanted him to be apprehended. Nena Flores, wife of the barangay chairman, was watching television when Geronides and Nanette arrived. She advised them to seek help from other authorities as her husband was not yet home. Geronides left to fetch the police while Nanette and Flores waited for him at the barangay outpost. 5
While inside the outpost, Flores saw appellant approaching with a knife. Instinctively, Flores pushed Nanette and warned her: "Takbo, nandiyan si Max Mejos." They ran towards Apelo Cruz Street but appellant chased them. Nanette tripped and fell on the ground. Appellant caught up with her near the bridge, beside the Iglesia ni Kristo Chapel. Appellant stabbed her at the back. He grabbed Nanette’s hair and, in that position, stabbed her on the chest. Flores heard Nanette begging for her life, saying: "Tama na, tama na." Appellant did not heed Nanette’s pleas. He repeatedly stabbed her until she fell lifeless on the ground. 6
Although startled by the incident, Flores quickly came to her senses, boarded a "pedicab" and rushed to the police detachment. She met Geronides along the way with some policemen. They were looking for appellant. Flores directed them to the place where Nanette had been stabbed. They rushed to the crime scene but missed appellant who had already fled. 7
At about 6:15 p.m. that day, Flores executed her sworn statement 8 at the police station in Pasay City where she identified the assailant as Max Mejos, her neighbor. She returned to the police station the following day and gave an additional statement. Inside the station, she was asked by the police to point to Nanette’s assailant. She pointed to appellant who was in the safety cell of the investigation room. 9
Edgar Ribo, 10 a security guard, corroborated the testimony of Flores. At about 3:30 p.m. of October 30, 1992, he was at his post at the Iglesia Ni Kristo Chapel, situated along Apelo Cruz Street. He heard a woman screaming and begging for mercy. He saw appellant stabbing the victim from a distance of about five (5) meters. Blood was oozing from her back but appellant continued stabbing her until she fell on the ground. Appellant then fled towards EDSA. 11
Dr. Bienvenido Munoz, a medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigations, conducted an autopsy examination of the victim. His examination revealed that the victim sustained at least six (6) stab wounds. Two were inflicted at the back while the rest were inflicted on the chest and abdomen. The wounds at the back and abdomen were fatal. Dr. Munoz also found some incised wounds in the upper extremity of the victim. They signified that she tried to defend herself during the assault. He also opined that the assailant used a sharp-pointed, single-bladed instrument like a kitchen knife or a "balisong" (fan knife). He concluded that she could not have survived even if she was immediately brought to the hospital. 12
Appellant’s defense was alibi. He alleged that he lived in Bulacan from 1989 until 1992. On the material date and time, he was harvesting palay in Bustos, Bulacan when his wife, Carla, unexpectedly came bearing the news that their son was seriously ill. He borrowed money from a neighbor, Teresita Velasco, then proceeded to his sister’s house, Delia, and requested her to accompany them to Manila. That same afternoon, they went to the terminal in Baliwag and boarded a bus bound for Manila. The bus arrived in Manila at about 7:00 p.m. They alighted at Grace Park, Kalookan, and took a passenger jeepney bound for Libertad-Baclaran. From Libertad, they boarded another jeepney en route to Malibay. His sister repaired to her apartment in LTB while he and his wife alighted at the Philtranco terminal, near Apelo Cruz Street. At the Philtranco terminal, his wife told him to visit their child at San Lazaro Hospital in Tayuman, Manila. They parted ways. His wife boarded a "pedicab" along Apelo Cruz. About three (3) minutes after his wife had left, someone grabbed him from behind and accused him of snatching a necklace. He was brought to the Malibay detachment and made to answer for the murder charge.
Appellant further alleged that Nena Flores testified against him because of a dispute between her husband, Bienvenido Flores, and his brother, Felizardo Mejos, which transpired ten (10) years ago. Bienvenido Flores was convicted for stabbing Felizardo.
Carla Mejos, Teresita Velasco and Delia Fuentes corroborated the testimony of appellant. They all claimed that appellant was in Bulacan the whole afternoon of October 30, 1992.
After considering the diametrically opposed versions of the parties, the trial court gave credence to the version of the prosecution. It found that the killing was attended by the qualifying circumstance of abuse of superior strength and convicted appellant or Murder. It sentenced appellant to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua
. He was also ordered to pay the amount of fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) as indemnity to the heirs of the victim, and to pay the costs. 13
Hence, this appeal where appellant contends that:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING MORE WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE BIAS [sic] DECLARATION OF PROSECUTION WITNESS NENA FLORES.
II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF PROSECUTION WITNESS EDGAR REBO [sic] Y ESPONELLA WHO DID NOT SEE THE INCIDENT NOR DID HE SAW [sic] THE ASSAILANT.
III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE APPELLANT ON THE WEAKNESS OF THE DEFENSE-ALIBI — BUT NOT ON THE STRENGTH OF THE PROSECUTION."cralaw virtua1aw library
The issues boil down to the credibility of Nena Flores and Edgar Ribo, the eyewitnesses to the crime.
Appellant insists that Nena Flores is a biased witness. Her prejudice allegedly stemmed from the conviction of her husband for stabbing Felizardo Mejos, a brother of appellant, ten (10) years ago.
We reject this argument.
Nena Flores denied any knowledge about the alleged stabbing incident. 14 Even assuming that her husband stabbed appellant’s brother, the evidence is insufficient to show that Nena Flores still harbored ill-feelings against appellant after the lapse of ten (10) years. It ought to be noted that the incident did not involve appellant himself who was only fifteen (15) years old at that time.
To be sure, a perusal of the records will not yield any trace of bias in the testimony of Nena Flores. Her story is consistent and full of minute details. She testified: 15
"Q: What happened, madam witness, while you and Nanette Cartajena [sic] were sitting at the Brgy. outpost?
"A: Nanette Cartajena was seated at my left side and I noticed Max Mejos approaching with a knife.
"Q: How far was Max Mejos when you first saw him?
"A: About five (5) arms length.
"Q: From what direction did he come from?
"A: From our left side.
Q: What did you do when you noticed Max Mejos approaching with a bladed weapon?
"A: I suddenly shout(ed) and pushed Nanette Cartajena and told her, "TAKBO, NANDIYAN SI MAX MEJOS" .
"Q: And so, what happened after that?
"A: We simultaneously ran away towards 704 Apello Cruz.
"Q How about Max Mejos, did you notice him at that time when you ran away?
x x x
"A: He chased us.
"Q: And what happened next?
"A: When he chased us, Ma. Nanette Cartajena tripped and fell to (sic) the ground.
"Q: After that what happened next?
"A: When Nanette Cartajena tripped and fell to (sic) the ground, Max Mejos overtook her and first stabbed her at the back.
"Q: What happened next?
"A: While I was waiting for a pedicab, I happened to look back at them and I saw Max Mejos stab again Nanette Cartajena, took (sic) hold of her hair and stabbed (sic) her at the chest.
"Q: What else transpired during that time, Madam witness?
"A: While I was (on) board the pedicab, I look(ed) back and I saw Max Mejos continue to stab Nanette Cartajena who was pleading ‘TAMA NA, TAMA NA’ but Max Mejos did not cease to stabbed (sic) Nanette until she fell down.
"Q: To what place did you proceed?
"A: To the detachment.
"Q: Were you able to reach the police detachment?
"A: No more, ma’am, because I was able to meet the policeman on the way and also her father.
"Q: And what did you tell to (sic) the father of Nanette and the policeman, if any?
"A: I told them "go back, go back" because the criminal was able to stab Nanette Cartajena. And he was able to overtake her.
"Q: So what did you and the police officer and the father of Nanette do after Nanette Cartajena was being stabbed by the accused Max Mejos?
x x x
"A: They immediately proceeded to the place and chased Max Mejos but they were not able to catch him . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library
Flores could not have contrived her story. She identified appellant as the malefactor two (2) hours after the incident. Geronides corroborated the story of Flores in a sworn statement 16 similarly given to the police.
We further stress that appellant’s conviction rests not only on the testimony of Nena Flores but also on the testimony of eyewitness Edgar Ribo. Ribo, a security guard, heard how the victim begged for her life while appellant was stabbing her to death. He gave his eyeball account to the police at 9:35 a.m., on October 31, 1992, less than twenty-four hours after the killing. The relevant portion of his sworn statement 17 reads:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"06. T-: Nasaan ka naman nang mangyari ang insidente na iyong sinasabi?
S-: Nandoon po ako sa may gate ng Iglesia ni Kristo sa Apelo Cruz, Pasay City, nang ako po ay nakarinig ng hiyaw ng isang babae, nang aking marinig po yoon, lumabas po ako at nakita ko sa hindi kalayuan, na isang babae, duguan, na nagmamakaawa sa isang lalaki, ngunit pinagsasaksak pa ng lalaki ang babae.
07. T-: Nakita mo ba kung papaano ang itsura noong nagmamakaawa yoong babae?
S-: Nakita ko pong duguan ang babae na nagmumula sa kanyang likuran at nang nakaharap na ang babae ay pinagsasaksak pa nitonq lalaki itong babae.
"08. T-: Mga gaano ang layo mo doon sa insidente ng pinangyarihan.
S-: Siguro po mga limang metro.
"09. T-: Matapos saksakin noong lalaki yoong babae ano ang sumunod na nangyari?
S-: Tumakbo na po and lalaki, papuntang EDSA.
x x x
"12. T-: Maari bang igala mo ang iyong paningin sa silid na ito at ituro mo kung nandito ang taong iyong nakita na sumaksak sa babae?
S-: Opo, ayon po siya (declarant pointing to . . . and positively identified the person of one MAX MEJOS Y PONCE, 24 years old, married, a scavenger, of 704 Apelo Cruz, Malibay, Pasay City, a native of Law-ang, Samar, presently inside the safety cell together with five other male persons.
"13. T-: Sigurado ka bang ang taong iyong itinuro ay siyang sumaksak sa babae sa insidente na nakita mo?
S-: Opo, hindi po ako maaring magkamali."cralaw virtua1aw library
Ribo’s testimony during the trial was not shaken by the cross-examination of the defense counsel. It is not shown that he harbors any ill-motive against appellant. It is not expected that a witness would prevaricate and cause the criminal conviction of one who brought him no harm or injury. 18
We cannot sustain appellant’s alibi in view of his positive identification by credible eyewitnesses. Although his alibi was corroborated by three (3) witnesses which include his wife and his sister, we find no cogent reason to disturb the trial judge’s rejection thereof considering the ease of its fabrication. By virtue of visual advantage during the proceedings, the conclusions of the trial judge as to credibility of witnesses deserve our respect. 19
Moreover, appellant’s alibi does not inspire credence. Per his testimony, appellant was in Bulacan for a span of four (4) years, from 1989 until 1992. He claimed he was fetched by his wife because their son was seriously ill and was confined at the San Lazaro Hospital in Tayuman, Manila. They took a Baliwag bus and alighted at Grace Park in Kalookan. From Kalookan, they boarded a Baclaran bound passenger jeepney. Upon reaching Libertad, Pasay City, they took another jeepney going to Malibay. Appellant was allegedly arrested shortly after he and his wife alighted at the Philtranco terminal.
If appellant and his wife alighted at Grace Park, Kalookan and took a Baclaran bound jeepney, the same would pass by San Lazaro Hospital. Yet, they did not drop by the hospital to visit their supposed seriously ill child. They continued with their trip to Pasay, until they finally reached Malibay. They parted ways in Malibay to enable appellant to go to San Lazaro Hospital which they had already passed by. The circuitous route followed by appellant strains credulity.
We now come to the characterization of the crime at bar. It is a settled rule that a circumstance which could qualify the killing to murder must be proved as indubitably as the crime itself. We hold that the trial court erred in appreciating the circumstance of abuse of superior strength. The fact that the victim was a woman does not, by itself, establish that appellant committed the crime with abuse of superior strength. There ought to be enough proof of the relative strength of the aggressor and the victim. Abuse of superior strength can be appreciated only when there is a notorious inequality of forces between the victim and the aggressor. 20 It contemplates a situation of strength notoriously selected or taken advantage of by him in the commission of the crime. 21
Nor was evident premeditation duly proved. Nothing in the records show that appellant planned in advance the commission of the crime at bar. Neither can treachery be appreciated against appellant. The victim was aware of the attack against her. She was even able to flee, albeit briefly, from her attacker. 22 Finally, it was not shown that appellant consciously and deliberately adopted the particular means, methods and forms in the execution of the crime. 23
Since the killing was not attended by any circumstance qualifying it to murder, appellant should only be held liable for homicide. The penalty for homicide under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code is reclusion temporal. There is no mitigating or aggravating circumstance, hence, the imposable penalty is reclusion temporal, in its medium period. 24 Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, 25 the maximum term of the indeterminate penalty shall be the medium period of reclusion temporal, while the minimum term is anywhere within the range of prision mayor, the penalty next lower to that of reclusion temporal. 26 In line with People v. Casingal, 27 appellant should suffer the indeterminate penalty of ten (10) years of prision mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal, medium as maximum.
The records show that the trial court failed to make a complete award on the civil liability of appellant. The heirs of the victims incurred the amount of six thousand eight hundred pesos (P6,800.00) for funeral expenses. 28 The victim’s father also testified on the anguish and grief he suffered for the loss of his eldest daughter which would justify an award for moral damages. 29
IN VIEW WHEREOF, the conviction of appellant Max Mejos is AFFIRMED, with the modification that he is declared guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide and not Murder. Thus, appellant is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of ten (10) years of prision mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal, medium as maximum. The monetary award of P50,000.00 as indemnity for the death of the victim is also AFFIRMED, but appellant is further ordered to pay six thousand eight hundred pesos (P6,800.00) for funeral expenses and fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) for moral damages. Costs against Appellant
Regalado, Romero, Mendoza and Torres, Jr., JJ.
1. Docketed as Criminal Case No. 92-1754.
2. Dated November 3, 1992, Rollo, p. 2.
3. Also referred to as Geromedes or Leonides Cartagena in some parts of the records.
4. Referred to as Ma. Nanette Cartahina in the Certificate of Death (Exhibit "C"), Certificate of Post-Mortem Examination, and Rizal Funeral Homes, Inc. Service Contract, (Exhibit "D"), Original Records, pp. 39-42.
5. TSN, Nena Flores, January 12, 1993, pp. 4-6; TSN, Geronides Cartagena, January 18, 1993, pp. 4-5.
6. TSN, Nena Flores, January 12, 1993, pp. 7-8.
7. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
8. See Exhibit "A", Rollo, p. 39.
9. Exhibit "B", Rollo, p. 38.
10. Referred to as Edgar Rebo in the records.
11. Exhibit "F", Rollo, p. 44.
12. TSN, Bienvenido Munoz, February 8, 1993, p. 4-6; See also Exhibits "G" and "H", Original Records, pp. 45-46.
13. RTC Decision, dated August 23, 1993, penned by Judge Leonardo M. Rivera, Rollo, pp. 72-78.
14. TSN, Nena Flores, January 12, 1993, pp. 13-14.
15. Ibid., pp. 7-9.
16. Exhibit "E", Original Records, p. 43.
17. Exhibit "F", Original Records, p. 44.
18. People v. Jose, G.R. No. 107106, November 24, 1995, 250 SCRA 319.
19. People v. Aruta, G.R. No. 73907, May 18, 1993.
20. People v. Daquipil, G.R. No. 86305-06, January 20, 1995, 240 SCRA 314; People v. Patamama, G.R. No. 107938, December 4, 1995, 250 SCRA 603.
21. People v. Escoto, G.R. No. 91756, May 11, 1995, 244 SCRA 87.
22. People v. Ledesma, G.R. No. 105958, November 20, 1995, 250 SCRA 166.
23. People v. Teehankee, Jr., G.R. Nos. 111206-08, October 6, 1995, 249 SCRA 54;
24. Article 64 (1) of the Revised Penal Code.
25. Section 1 of the Indeterminate Sentence Law provides:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"Sec. 1. Hereafter, in imposing a prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence, the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense; . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library
26. Article 71 of the Revised Penal Code.
27. G.R. No. 87163, March 29, 1995, 243 SCRA 37, 47. See also People v. Escoto, supra; People v. Silvestre, G.R. No. 109142, May 29, 1995, 244 SCRA 479.
28. Exhibit "D", Original Records, p. 42.
29. TSN, Geronides Cartagena, January 18, 1993, pp. 9-10.