Mario Rabaja y Gallardo, an employee of the Forest Research Institute, Department of Environment and Natural Resources ("DENR"), Baguio City, has been charged with, and convicted of, a violation of Presidential Decree ("P.D.") No. 1866. The indictment reads:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"That on or about the 25th day of December 1992 in the City of Baguio, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have in possession, control, and custody a Caliber .22 Revolver, PALTIK with butt No. 770222, without any license or permit or authority duly and lawfully issued by the proper government office or authority to possess or keep the same.
"CONTRARY TO LAW." 1
The prosecution and the defense gave, not unexpectedly, conflicting versions of the incident.
According to the prosecution, on 25 December 1992, at 8:35 A.M., Marivic Galeno, a deaf-mute, accompanied by her mother Fortunata Galeno, went to Sub-station 4, PNP, Baguio City, to complain about having been threatened by Mario Rabaja. SPO3 Silverio Bangit, accompanied by SPO2 Butigan, SPO2 Tabobo and SPO3 Lumpit, went with the Galenos in proceeding to the Forestry Compound where Rabaja was said to be staying.
Arriving at the compound, SPO3 Bangit asked a girl (believed to be the landlord’s daughter) where Rabaja could be reached. The girl pointed to a room about three steps away. The door of the room was open. SPO3 Bangit went in and saw Rabaja packing his belongings. Rabaja turned to face the police officer. SPO3 Bangit saw Rabaja holding a gun which the latter was about to put inside a bag. When asked to show the gun’s license, Rabaja kept quiet. He was invited to the police station where Marivic identified the gun to have been the one used in threatening her.
It would appear that Marivic and Rabaja somehow had settled their differences since the complaint lodged by Marivic with the police was dropped. The charge, however, for illegal possession of firearm against him was pursued by the authorities.
Rabaja, in his defense, averred that, on 22 December 1991, he was visited by an old acquaintance, Renato Rabanal, accompanied by a certain Dioning. On 23 December 1992, while they were having a drinking spree, Dioning, a military man, fired his gun. A deaf-mute woman (apparently Marivic) was around at the time. Rabanal and Dioning left the day after the incident. Before departing, the two borrowed P500.00 from Rabaja, entrusting to the latter a bag, thought to contain clothing, which Rabaja placed inside a cabinet. On 24 December 1992, Rabaja had another drinking spree with friends that made him oversleep the next day. He was roused from sleep by the three policemen who forced open the door of his room. One of the policemen pointed a gun at him while the two others ransacked the room. The police officers found the bag left by Rabanal and Dioning and discovered the gun inside.chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary:red
On 21 November 1994, the Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, of Baguio City, giving credence to the evidence presented by the prosecution, found the accused guilty of the offense charged; it adjudged:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, this Court finds and declares the accused Mario Rabaja guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Illegal Possession of Firearm and hereby sentences him to suffer a straight penalty of SEVENTEEN (17) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal.
"In the service of this sentence, the accused shall be credited with his preventive imprisonment under the terms and conditions prescribed in Art. 29 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 6127.
"The confiscated firearm is hereby declared forfeited in favor of the Government and upon finality of this decision, the Branch Clerk of Court is directed to turn over the same to the PNP Provincial Director at Camp Dangwa, La Trinidad, Benguet, for disposition in accordance with law.
"SO ORDERED." 2
Rabaja appealed the trial court’s decision to the Court of Appeals. On 14 June 1996, the appellate court promulgated its decision sustaining the conviction but modifying the sentence; thus:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"However, the court a quo committed a reversible error when it sentenced the appellant to a straight penalty of seventeen (17) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal. It should have imposed the medium period of the prescribed penalty of reclusion temporal in its maximum period to reclusion perpetua
, there being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance present, and it should have also applied the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
"WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that the accused-appellant MARIO RABAJA y GALLARDO is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of TEN (10) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of prision mayor; as minimum, to EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS, EIGHT (8) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of reclusion temporal, as maximum.
"SO ORDERED." 3
Rabaja went to this Court for relief via a petition for review on certiorari
. Petitioner averred.
"1. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in affirming the judgment of conviction by the trial court;
"2. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in not declaring the search illegal it having been effected without search warrant;
"3. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in considering the gun as admissible evidence despite the fact that it was obtained by virtue of illegal search;
"4. The Honorable Court of Appeals erred in sustaining the finding of the trial court that the testimony of the lone witness for the prosecution is more credible than that of the accused and his witness." 4
The appeal before us, by and large, clearly boils down to the issue of credibility of witnesses.
Once again, the Court reiterates the long reigning rule that the assessment of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses should be accorded the highest respect, if not finality, by appellate courts. 5 The bare exception is when the trial court evidently has overlooked, ignored, or disregarded some fact or circumstance of sufficient weight or significance which, if considered, will affect the outcome of the case. 6 The doctrine has been predicated on the fact that it is at the trial stage when the testimony given at the witness stand can be best judged, whether plausible or merely specious. It is an opportunity that is not equally enjoyed by appellate tribunals.
The Court is not convinced that there are, in the case at bar, cogent reasons to disturb the factual findings of the trial court and the appellate court. Quoted hereunder, with approval, are pertinent portions of the appealed decision; viz.:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"On the other hand, the appellant as an accused had all the inducement to come up with a theory calculated to exonerate him. Unfortunately, his testimony is so peppered with oddities and shot through with contradictions that it hardly inspires belief. Why should Dioning, the alleged military man, who just tagged along with Renato Rabanal when the latter went to Baguio City from Tuguegarao, Cagayan, to visit the appellant, bring along with him two (2) handguns — a .38 caliber and a .22 caliber — was he on the warpath? — only to leave the .22 caliber in a bag with the appellant whom he had previously not known from Adam, so to speak, and without telling him that the bag contained a firearm? Was he planting evidence on the appellant? But why? when the appellant cordially entertained him to the extent of even lending him his (the appellant’s) clothes as he arrived in the City of Baguio empty-handed except for the bag containing the .22 caliber handgun.
"x x x
"Why did not Dioning take with him some extra clothes when they stayed in Baguio City for two days and two nights? And why did Renato Rabanal leave his own clothes in the bag of Dioning which the latter deposited in the bunkhouse of the appellant instead of bringing them back to Tuguegarao so he would have something to use while there?
"In the entire length and breadth of the appellant’s testimony, which was given on June 1, 1994, or after one (1) year and five (5) months from the time Rabanal and Dioning left Baguio City for Tuguegarao, Cagayan, on December 24, 1992, he (appellant) never mentioned that they ever returned to take back the bag containing Rabanal’s clothes and Dioning’s .22 caliber handgun, or queried about it, which is very strange indeed, unless the bag does not belong to them but to the appellant himself.
"As to the make-up of the room in the Forestry compound bunkhouse where he was staying, the appellant stated at one instance that it has no door.
"x x x
"But in the same breath, he contradictorily declared that it is the bunkhouse itself that has no main door but there is a door to his room the key to which he was holding.
"x x x
"To lend credence to his pretension that he was not packing his clothes when the policemen came upon him in his room, the appellant claimed in his brief that he was then fast asleep as he had been drinking liquor until dawn the night before and was awakened at 10:30 o’clock in the morning when the policemen forced open the door to his room. However, nowhere in his testimony did he mention such an until-dawn drinking spree. He merely said:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"x x x
"He also denied threatening a girl at the vicinity of his residence; otherwise, the complainant would have prosecuted her complaint. Yet, in his testimony, he stated that Marivic Galeno, the deaf-mute complainant, and her mother, Fortunata Galeno, were with the policemen who went to his bunkhouse and even pointed at him." 7
Petitioner, fortunately for him, is nonetheless not entirely bereft of relief. The enactment and approval on 06 June 1997 of Republic Act No. 8294, 8 being favorable to him, should now apply. Under this new law, the penalty for possession of any low powered firearm is only prision correccional in its maximum period and a fine of not less than P15,000.00.chanroblesvirtual|awlibrary
Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the prison penalty that may be imposed is anywhere from two years, four months and one day to four years and two months of prision correccional in its medium period, as minimum, up to anywhere from four years, two months and one day to six years of prision correccional in its maximum period, as maximum. The Court, in addition, may impose a fine consistent with the principle that an appeal in a criminal case throws the whole case open for review by the appellate tribunal. 9
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals is AFFIRMED, with MODIFICATION that the prison penalty is reduced to three years and one month, as minimum, to five years, two months and one day, as maximum, plus a fine of P15,000.00 with subsidiary imprisonment should petitioner fail to pay. Costs against Appellant
Davide, Jr., Kapunan and Hermosisima, Jr., JJ.
, took no part. Was not present during deliberation.
1. Rollo, p. 30.
2. Rollo, p. 33.
3. Rollo, p. 39.
4. Rollo, pp. 12-13.
5. Santos v. Court of Appeals, 229 SCRA 524.
6. People v. Gomez, 229 SCRA 138.
7. Rollo, p. 35-38.
8. AN ACT AMENDING THE PROVISION OF PRESIDENTIAL DECREE NO. 1866, AS AMENDED, ENTITLED "CODIFYING THE LAWS ON ILLEGAL/UNLAWFUL POSSESSION, MANUFACTURE, DEALING IN, ACQUISITION OR DISPOSITION OF FIREARMS, AMMUNITION OR EXPLOSIVES OR INSTRUMENTS USED IN THE MANUFACTURE OF FIREARMS, AMMUNITION OR EXPLOSIVES, AND IMPOSING STIFFER PENALTIES FOR CERTAIN VIOLATIONS THEREOF, AND FOR RELEVANT PURPOSES."cralaw virtua1aw library
9. Gonzales v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 95523, 18 August 1997.