G.R. No. 160858 - ROLITO RABANAL v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, ET AL.
[G.R. NO. 160858 : February 28, 2006]
ROLITO RABANAL, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES and HON. COURT OF APPEALS, Respondents.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a petition for certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court filed by Rolito Rabanal (petitioner) impugning the (1) Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated 31 March 2003 in CA-G.R. CR No. 14772, affirming the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 97 convicting petitioner of homicide and (2) its Resolution3 dated 11 November 2003 denying his motion for reconsideration.
In Criminal Case No. Q-48913, petitioner, along with Salvador Impistan alias "Ador" and Eloy Labatique (Eloy) were charged with homicide in an Information which reads:
That on or about the 16th day of November, [sic] 1986, in Quezon City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused conspiring together, confederating with [and] mutually helping each other, with intent to kill, with evident premeditation and treachery, and without any justifiable cause, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and employ personal violence upon the person of FELIPE SALES Y NACHOR by then and there stab[b]ing him with a bladed weapon hitting the victim on different parts of his body thereby inflicting upon him serious and mortal wou[n]ds which were the direct and immediate cause of his death, to the damage and prejudice of the [heirs] of the said FELIPE SALES Y NACHOR in such amount as may be awarded under the provisions of the Civil Code.
CONTRARY TO LAW.4
Eloy remained at large. On arraignment, Ador and petitioner pleaded not guilty. Trial on the merits ensued.
As culled from the testimony of the lone eyewitness Dionisio Javier (Javier) and the medico-legal report, the evidence of the prosecution established the following facts:
In the evening of 16 November 1986, Javier was watching a card game of pusoy inside the chapel in Seminary Road, Sitio Maligaya, Quezon City when Ador and Eloy arrived. Ador reportedly uttered, "Kung sino ang matapang dito, ako lang ang harapin, kung sino ang manggugulo, ako lang ang harapin." Thereafter, the duo left. Johnny Sibayan (Mang Johnny), the Barangay Tanod, came and asked the children to leave, after which he followed suit.
Ador and Eloy returned to the chapel. Ador suddenly boxed Javier on the right side of his head, causing the latter to move backward. When Javier asked "Bakit?" Eloy collared him and dragged him to a corner of the chapel's room. Eloy punched him again on the head and at the back while Javier was cowering to cover his face. At that instance, Mang Johnny came back and tried to pacify the assailant by saying, "Tama na yan, tama na yan." Mang Johnny subsequently ordered Javier to leave.
Instead of leaving, Javier went out to look for a stone to hurl back at Ador. However, Javier failed to find one; he instead stood beside the door. Peeping through a window, Javier saw the victim Felipe Sales putting his right foot over a chair while holding on to iron railings.
Suddenly, Javier saw petitioner appear from the back of the chapel. Petitioner leaned against the wall and pulled out a knife measuring seven (7) inches in length. He stabbed the victim with an upward thrust at his right armpit. Javier also saw Ador stab the victim near the chest, after which the latter groaned, "Aray." The victim retaliated with a blow to Ador, who simultaneously stabbed him at the front side of his body near the chest. Eloy entered the scene and likewise stabbed the victim. Javier saw Ador stab the victim several times until he fell down. Ador continued stabbing the victim several times at the back while he was lying flat on the floor.
At this moment, Javier ran away. On his way home, he met one of his friends and told him about the incident.
Dr. Florante Mendoza was on duty at the Quezon City General Hospital on 16 November 1986. He examined a patient named Felipe Sales who was declared dead on arrival. He testified that the victim suffered several stab wounds on the left upper arm, in the forearm, and at the back, which "possibly" caused his death.5
Dr. Desiderio Moraleda, on the other hand, testified that as per autopsy result, the cause of the victim's death was "cardio arrest due to respiratory shock and hemorrhage secondary to multiple stab wounds." The wounds totaled twenty-six (26), twenty-three (23) of which were located in the dorsal side, chest, forearm and back. He said that there was no wound at the right armpit. Based on his examination of the wounds, he opined that the assailants had been in motion, although he also said that it was possible that there could have been only one assailant.6
The evidence for the defense consists of the testimonies of Raymundo Buenaventura (Raymundo) and petitioner himself.
Raymundo was inside the chapel when he saw Ador and Eloy stab the victim several times. After the assailants left, the victim was brought to the hospital in a tricycle. He belied the testimony of witness Javier that petitioner was the first to stab the victim. According to Raymundo, petitioner was not present at the scene of the crime.
Petitioner testified on his behalf. He claimed that he was then working at the Quezon City General Hospital on 16 November 1986 from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. He went to the wake in the chapel after work. After being informed by Mang Johnny and Raymundo of the stabbing incident, he went home to avoid trouble. He denied stabbing the victim and further denied having known the victim prior to 16 November 1986.
The case against Ador was dismissed on demurrer to evidence. However, petitioner was eventually convicted of homicide in a Decision7 dated 12 January 1993.
The trial court gave credence to the testimony of the prosecution witness, despite some apparent inconsistencies on his part. The RTC opined that the prosecution was able to overcome the presumption of innocence of petitioner. The trial court sentenced petitioner to a penalty of imprisonment with a minimum term of ten (10) years and four (4) months and one (1) day to fifteen (15) years and ordered him to indemnity the heirs of the victim in the amount of
Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals. In his Brief, he capitalized on the inconsistency of Javier's testimony relative to the physical evidence as shown by the medical and autopsy findings to exculpate himself from criminal liability. Petitioner claimed that he could not be faulted for the death of the victim in the absence of credible proof of injury he caused to the victim.9
The appellate court dismissed petitioner's contention by holding that "[t]he location of the stab wounds at the cadaver is inconsequential in a homicidal attack. As long as the intent to kill is present, the requirement of the law for conviction is satisfied."10 The Court of Appeals gave full faith to the positive identification by the lone witness Javier of petitioner as the assailant in sustaining the latter's conviction.11
In a Decision dated 31 March 2003, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment of conviction with a clarification of the nomenclature of the penalty pertaining to the minimum and maximum terms of the indeterminate sentence, thus: ten (10) years and four (4) months and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to fifteen (15) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum.12
Petitioner moved for reconsideration, but his motion was denied in a Resolution dated 11 November 2003. The Court of Appeals remained steadfast in its original action for conviction, thus:
Even assuming, ex argumenti, that the witness' account of the location of the stab wound is disputatious, it will not warrant a reversal of Our ruling in light of the positive, categorical and consistent identification of appellant as the assailant.13
Aggrieved, petitioner interposed the instant petition anchored on the primordial issue of whether or not the guilt of petitioner was proven beyond reasonable doubt for the crime charged.14
It is a well-entrenched rule that the findings of fact of the trial court and its conclusions based on the said findings are accorded by this Court high respect, if not conclusive effect, especially when affirmed by the Court of Appeals. This is because of the unique advantage of the trial court of having been able to observe, at close range, the demeanor and behavior of the witnesses as they testify.15
Our jurisdiction in cases brought to us from the Court of Appeals is limited to the review and revision of errors of law allegedly committed by the appellate court, as its findings of fact are deemed conclusive. We are not duty-bound to analyze and weigh all over again the evidence already considered in the proceedings below. However, such rule is not without
exceptions.16 Such findings may be reviewed if there appears in the record some fact or circumstance of weight which the lower court may have overlooked, misunderstood or misappreciated, and which, if properly considered, would alter the result of the case.17 Where, as in this case, the weight and sufficiency of evidence is crucial to the question of innocence or guilt of petitioner, a thorough reevaluation of the evidentiary basis for conviction is imperative.
The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of its lone eyewitness to establish the participation of petitioner in the crime. Javier positively identified petitioner as one of those who stabbed the victim inside the chapel. In fact, the rulings of the lower courts rest primarily on his testimony to warrant petitioner's conviction. Thus, it becomes evident that Javier's testimony is pivotal in the determination of the guilt of petitioner.
Although the well-entrenched rule is that the testimony of a single witness is sufficient on which to anchor a judgment of conviction, it is required that such testimony must be credible and reliable.18
We shall now examine Javier's version of the stabbing incident. In his earlier statement made before the police taken on 17 November 1986, he made the following declaration:
T: Isalaysay mo nga ang buong pangyayari?cralawlibrary
S: Ganito po iyon, ng gabing [sic] ay nagpunta ako sa kapilya dahil nga may na aburol [sic] na patay, inabutan ko doon sina FELIPE, DELFIN at maraming tao na nanood din ng sugal. Habang magkakatabi [sic] kami nina FELIPE at DIONISIO ay dumating si ADOR na kasama si BOY BUWING at isa pa na hindi ko kilala. Bigla akong sinuntok ni ADOR sa mukha tapos niyan ay hinila ako sa aking t-s[h]irt ng kasama nila at nilayo, buti na lang at naawat ni JOHNNY kaya hindi na ako nasaktan. Lalabas sana ako ng kapilya pero nakita ko na sinaksak ni BOY BUWING si FELIPE, tapos niyon ay sinaksak din siya ni ADOR, hinawakan pa ni ADOR si FELIPE sa damit at pinagsasaksak [sic] sa katawan. Ang ginawa naman nina BOY BUWING at ng kasama nila ay pinagsasaksak din si FELIPE. Tumakbong palabas ng kapilya si FELIPE pero sinundan nina ADOR, BOY BUWING at ng kasama xxx nila. Nakahiga na sa lupa si FELIPE at sinusaksak [sic] pa nila. Nagtakbuhan na sina ADOR, BOY BUWING at kasama niya, si FELIPE naman ay dinala na sa hospital.19
Javier made these statements while the events were still fresh on his mind. It can thus be inferred that there were three people who allegedly attacked the victim, namely, Boy Buwing (petitioner), Ador, and one other person whose identity was not known to the witness at that time. Javier also stated that the trio arrived together at the chapel.
On direct examination, or two months after the incident, Javier gave the following answers to the questions propounded by the private prosecutor:
Q - Now do you recall of [sic] any unusual incident that happened on that précised [sic] date and time?cralawlibrary
A - There was.
Q - And will you please relate to this Court what that incident was all about?cralawlibrary
A - Yes sir.
Q - Kindly relate please?cralawlibrary
A - Yes sir.
x x x x
A - Then, Ador and Roy Labatique arrived.
Q - And what happened after [sic] arrival of these two?cralawlibrary
A - Ador told everyone present that if there is someone who will make trouble.
x x x x
A - "Sabi po nila, kung sino ang matapang dito ako lang ang harapin, kung sino ang manggugulo, ako lang ang harapin."
x x x x
Q - And after those words being uttered at by Ador, what happened next, if you remember?cralawlibrary
A - After they uttered those words, they left.
Q - And after having left the place if they left as you said, what happened next?cralawlibrary
A - The Barangay Tanod, Mang Johnny came.
x x x x
A - Mang Johnny told the children to get out.
x x x x
A - After he asked the children to leave, he also left.
x x x x
Q - After that, what happened?cralawlibrary
A - Then, Ador and Elloy suddenly arrived.
Q - Where were you positioned at when these Ador and Elloy arrived at the chapel?cralawlibrary
A - I was inside the chapel near the place where we were playing pusoy.20
Based on the foregoing testimony, Javier clearly stated that Ador and Eloy arrived together at the chapel and left abruptly after issuing a vague threat. The Barangay Tanod came and asked the children to leave. When Ador and Eloy came back, they chanced upon Javier.
Upon seeing Javier, Ador boxed him. Eloy, on the other hand, dragged him to a corner of the chapel and continuously hit him at the back and head. This mauling went on until he was pacified by the Barangay Tanod. Standing by the door of the chapel, Javier witnessed the killing. He positively declared that petitioner then stabbed victim once:
x x x x
Q - You said that this Rolito Rabanal arrived, where did you see him when he arrived?cralawlibrary
A - He came from behind the chapel.
Q - Why do you know that he came from behind the chapel?
x x x x
A - It is because I saw him.
Q - And what happened next after you saw him came from behind the chapel?cralawlibrary
A - Dumikit siya sa pader at bumunot ng patalim. (witness demonstrating)
x x x x
Q - After having seen [sic] the petitioner with that knife, what happened next?cralawlibrary
A - Then he stabbed Felipe by an upward thrust while Felipe was holding on to the grill.
(witness demonstrating the sudden upward thrust towards the left armpit)
Q - Left armpit of who?cralawlibrary
A - While Felipe was holding on to the grill, Rolito Rabanal stabbed him upwards near the right armpit. The thrust of the knife was upwards. (witness demonstrating an upward thrust on his right armpit under the armpit side of the right body just under the left armpit)
Q - And where was the petitioner positioned at in relation to the deceased Felipe Sales when Felipe Sales as you said was stabbed on the right armpit?cralawlibrary
A - Boy Buwing was on the right side of the Felipe Sales and the latter did not know that he was there because he just came from behind the chapel.21
According to Javier, the first stab wound was inflicted by petitioner, who came from behind the chapel. While the victim was holding on to the grill and unaware of the presence of petitioner, the latter allegedly stabbed him near his right armpit.
Then, Javier recounted the participation of Ador in the stabbing of Sales.
x x x x
Q - Now after you said Felipe Sales was stabbed by the petitioner, what happened next?cralawlibrary
A - Then I looked at Felipe Sales, Ador hit him near the chest with a knife, and then, after Felipe Sales was stabbed, he said, "aray," after that, he boxed Ador who was in front of him and then he simultaneously Ador stabbed him also near the front side of his body near the chest. I do not know the exact location.
Q - And this Ador you are referring to, would you be able to describe him?cralawlibrary
A - He is a small man but he has a robust body.
x x x x
Q - Now after Ador whom you stated gave a thrust at the chest of the victim, what happened next?cralawlibrary
A - After a simultaneous boxing by Felipe Sales and Ador was also stabbing him, then, this Ador stabbed him, when he was about to ran [sic] a little backward, Ador held him by the collar (witness indicating with his left hand the holding of the collar) and then stabbed him again, and then, Ador held him [by] the collar of his neck. After Felipe Sales boxed Ador, Ador stabbed him and when he moved a little backward, Ador followed him and held him by the collar on his neck, and then, Boy Buwing arrived and also stabbed Felipe Sales, and then Felipe Sales fell down to the ground, and then simultaneously, Elloy Labatique and Ador entered.22
Upon his cross-examination, however, Javier made a surprising turnaround.
Q - How about Salvador Impistan, did he stab Felipe Sales?cralawlibrary
A - After boxing me, a Barangay Tanod pacified us and I was sent out of the chapel by the Barangay Tanod.
Q - So, in short, you did not see whether or not Salvador Impistan stab Felipe Sales?cralawlibrary
A - Because I was sent out by the Barangay Tanod.
Q - I will repeat my question for the last time. Did you see Salvador Impistan stab Felipe Sales?cralawlibrary
A - No sir. I did not see. I only saw Rolito Rabanal.23
While Javier was very explicit in recounting Ador's participation in the crime in his sworn statement and during the direct examination, he retracted during the cross-examination when he expressly denied seeing Ador stab the victim. Presumably, the dismissal of the case against Ador on demurrer was grounded on this inconsistent, yet categorical statement of Javier.
The trial court disregarded these apparent inconsistencies and upheld the general credibility of the witness who appeared to be sincere.24 We are well aware of the rule that minor inconsistencies and contradictions do not destroy the credibility of the witness. In fact, they even tend to strengthen rather than weaken one's credibility by erasing any suspicion of a rehearsed testimony.25
However, these inconsistencies and contradictions in Javier's testimony cannot be characterized as minor or be dismissed as trivial. If at all, these inconsistencies reflect his uncertainty as to the identity of the malefactors. He was categorical in describing Ador's participation in stabbing the victim during the direct examination and even earlier in his sworn statement, only to retract during the cross-examination and deny having seen Ador stab the victim. This turnaround bears relevance to the identification of the assailants so as to create a reasonable doubt as to their culpability.
It is a well-established principle that when the identification is doubtful, inconclusive, or unreliable, an acquittal is called for. The doubtful identification of petitioner herein, when taken with the absence of any other evidence showing his guilt, justifies his acquittal.26
Corroborative evidence may be resorted to when there are reasons to warrant the suspicion that the witness falsified the truth or that his observations had been inaccurate.27
Javier had unequivocally testified that petitioner stabbed victim on the right armpit.28 This does not correspond with the autopsy report. Of the twenty-six (26) stab wounds, not a single wound was found at the right armpit.
Physical evidence is a mute but eloquent manifestation of truth and rates highly in the hierarchy of trustworthy evidence. It enjoys a far more superior probative weight than corroborative testimonies.29 In the instant case, the autopsy report negates the lone witness's account of the participation of petitioner in the stabbing of the victim.
The inconsistency between the positive testimony of Javier and the physical evidence, particularly the autopsy report, further diminishes the credibility of the lone eyewitness.
The Court has ruled that when serious and inexplicable discrepancies in important details are found in a witness's testimony, his/her testimony may be disregarded. Also, when discrepancies pervade the testimonies of prosecution witnesses such that the totality of the prosecution evidence fails to constitute a coherent account, the conviction of petitioner cannot be justified. In this case, where the testimony of the lone witness may be the sole basis for conviction, the serious discrepancies in his testimony hardly lend credence to his supposed positive testimony and cast a serious doubt as to the credibility of his charge.30
There are other circumstances extant from the record that likewise support reasonable doubt in favor of petitioner. His own witness, Raymundo, asserted that petitioner was not present at all at the scene of the crime. The medico-legal officer conceded that it was possible that only one person inflicted all the stab wounds on the victim, thus it is also possible that any one of the several people mentioned by Javier could have, on his own, perpetrated the crime. The gaps and inconsistencies in Javier's tale give rise to a plausible alternative version, supported by petitioner's witness and unrebutted by the physical evidence, that petitioner was not present at the scene of the crime, or otherwise did not participate in the stabbing of the victim. When confronted with variant though equally plausible version of events, the version that is in accord with the acquittal or the least liability of the accused should be favored.31
Law and jurisprudence demand proof beyond reasonable doubt before any person may be deprived of his life, liberty, or even property. Enshrined in the Bill of Rights is the right of the petitioner to be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and to overcome the presumption, nothing but proof beyond reasonable doubt must be established by the prosecution. The constitutional presumption of innocence requires courts to take "a more than casual consideration" of every circumstance or doubt proving the innocence of petitioner.32
The lower courts committed reversible error in ruling that the positive identification of petitioner-appellant by the complainant as the lone eyewitness presented by the prosecution established his guilt to a moral certainty. In this case, the testimony of Javier is dubious; hence, stark of probative weight.
A conviction in a criminal case must be supported by proof beyond reasonable doubt, which means a moral certainty that petitioner is guilty.33 The prosecution failed to establish the identity of the assailant beyond reasonable doubt. Hence, we cannot sustain petitioner's conviction.
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 14772 is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Petitioner is on reasonable doubt, and is ordered immediately released unless he is being held for some other valid or lawful cause. The Director of Prisons is DIRECTED to inform this Court of the action taken hereon within five (5) days from receipt hereof.
1 Rollo, pp. 18-30. Penned by Associate Justice Ruben T. Reyes and concurred in by Associate Justices Elvi John S. Asuncion and Lucas P. Bersamin.
2 CA rollo, pp. 13-17. Penned by Judge Oscar L. Leviste.
3 Id. at 32-33.
4 Id. at 4.
5 Rollo, p. 21.
7 CA rollo, pp. 13-17.
8 Id. at 17.
9 Id. at 73.
10 Rollo, p. 23.
11 Id. at 24.
12 Id. at 27.
13 Id. at 32-33.
14 Id. at 10.
15 Senoja v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 160341, 19 October 2004, 440 SCRA 695.
16 However, we have consistently enunciated that we may review the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals: (a) where there is grave abuse of discretion; (b) when the finding is grounded entirely on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (c) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (d) when the judgment of the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, is conflicting; (e) when the factual findings are conflicting; (f) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same are contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; (g) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; and (h) where the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court, or are mere conclusions without citation of specific evidence, or where the facts set forth by the petitioner are not disputed by the respondent, or where the findings of fact of the Court of Appeals are premised on the absence of evidence and are contradicted by the evidence on record. Tugade, Sr. v. Court of Appeals, 407 SCRA 497, 507 (2003).
17 J. King & Sons Company v. Hontanosas, Jr., A.M. No. RTJ-03-1802, 21 September 2004, 438 SCRA 525, citing People v. Parreno, G.R. No. 144343, 7 July 2004, 433 SCRA 591.
18 Francisco v. People, G.R. No. 146584, 12 July 2004, 434 SCRA 122, citing People v. Araneta, 335 SCRA 1 (2000); People v. Lotoc, 307 SCRA 471 (1999).
19 Records, p. 7.
20 TSN, 5 January 1987, pp. 4-6.
21 Id. at 10-11.
22 Id. at 11-13.
23 TSN, 14 April 1993, p. 3.
24 CA rollo, p. 17.
25 People v. Bulan, G.R. No. 143404, 8 June 2005, 459 SCRA 550, citing People v. Tamayo, G.R. No. 138608, 24 September 2002, 389 SCRA 540 and People v. Amazan, G.R. NOS. 136251, 138606 & 138607, 16 January 2001, 349 SCRA 218.
26 People v. Maguing, 352 Phil. 1026 (2003) citing People v. Saturno, 355 SCRA 578, March 28, 2001.
27 Rivera v. People, G.R. No. 138553, 30 June 2005, 462 SCRA 350, citing People v. Manalad, G.R. No. 128593, 387 SCRA 263 (2002).
28 Supra note 20.
29 People v. Palijon, 397 Phil. 545 (2000); People v. Ubaldo, 419 Phil. 718 (2001); People v. Atadero, 435 Phil. 888 (2002).
30 People v. Surio. 435 Phil. 888 (2002), citing People v. Palma, 308 SCRA 466 (1999) and People v. Diaz, 308 SCRA 744 (1999).
31 Li v. People, G.R. No. 127962, 14 April 2004, 427 SCRA 217, 235.
32 People v. Ochate 434 Phil. 575 (2002), citing People v. Morada, 307 SCRA 362, 379-380; People v. San Juan, 326 SCRA 786, 801; and People v. Ratunil, 334 SCRA 721, 737.
33 Section 2, Rule 133, Rules of Court.
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