G.R. No. 176566 - ELISEO EDUARTE Y COSCOLLA v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES
[G.R. NO. 176566 : April 16, 2009]
ELISEO EDUARTE Y. COSCOLLA, Accused-Appellee, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
To ferret out the truth in the maze of the conflicting claims of opposing parties is the Herculean task of the courts, the path which must always be illuminated by reason and justice. Tribunals should always insist on having the truth and judging only upon satisfactory evidence of the truth. The quest for truth is their main responsibility. To judge by means of untruths is to debase the noblest function in the hands of humanity.1
Before this Court is a Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by accused-appellant Eliseo Eduarte (Eduarte) seeking to reverse and set aside the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals dated 12 August 2004 in CA-G.R. CR No. 26716, affirming with modification the Decision3 dated 26 August 2002 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch 53, in Criminal Case No. 94-132224. The RTC found Eduarte guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery and, accordingly, sentenced him to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of four years, two months to 10 years and to pay Catherine Navarra (Navarra) compensatory damages in the amount of
P8,875.00. The decretal part of the assailed Court of Appeals Decision reads:
Wherefore, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. [Eduarte] is hereby sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment ranging from [four] years and [two] months of pricion correcional as minimum to [eight] years of prision mayor as maximum.4
An Information for Robbery was filed against Eduarte, to wit:
The undersigned accuses ELISEO EDUARTE Y COSCOLIA of the crime of Robbery, committed as follows:
That on or about the 26th day of January, 1994 in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused with intent to gain and by means of force, violence and intimidation, to wit: by pointing a sharp instrument on the waist of Catherine Navarra y Miranda and uttering the following, to wit: "Huwag kang kikilos ng masama, masasaktan ka" and thereafter forcibly grabbing her gold bracelet valued at
P8,875.00 did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously take, rob and carry away the said bracelet belonging to CATHERINE NAVARRA Y MIRANDA against her will, to the damage and prejudice of the said owner in the aforesaid amount of P8,875.00, Philippine Currency.5
Upon arraignment, Eduarte, assisted by counsel, entered a plea of not guilty. Subsequently, trial on the merits ensued.
The prosecution presented the following witnesses: (1) Navarra, the victim; (2) Karen Adoro (Adoro), Navarra's classmate who was her companion at the time of the robbery; and (3) Senior Police Officer (SPO) 3 Maphilendo Praves, one of the two police officers who arrested Eduarte.
The collective testimonial evidence adduced by the prosecution shows that at around 7:45 in the evening of 26 January 1994, Navarra, together with Adoro, was walking along the corner of United Nations (UN) and Taft Avenue in Manila. Navarra and Adoro were Tourism Management students of the Philippine Women's University (PWU) and were on their On-the-Job Training (OJT) at Attic Tours and Travels at Malate, Manila. That night, the two students just came from their OJT and they were on their way to the Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PLDT) Office at Padre Faura Street, Manila, when suddenly a man positioned himself between them and poked a pointed object at the waist of Navarra. The man ordered Navarra not to move; otherwise, she would get hurt. The man immediately grabbed the bracelet from Navarra's wrist and slowly ran away as if nothing happened. The jewelry was a 22-karat gold bracelet with eight dangling fruits and was worth
The man fled to the opposite direction of Taft Avenue going to the Manila City Hall, and he was chased by Adoro. Right behind Adoro was Navarra who was also running after the perpetrator. Adoro then saw the man casually sit inside the Greenrich Food Chain (not Greenwich) located below the UN Avenue Light Rail Transit (LRT) Station and immediately confronted him, demanding the return of the bracelet: "Ikaw ang magnanakaw, ibalik mo ang bracelet." Shortly thereafter, Navarra also arrived at the food stall and positively identified the snatcher: "Yan nga, siya, siya yon." The man denied the accusations and even tried to impress Navarra and Adoro by bragging to them that he was a Station Commander and that he had many connections. To convince Navarra and Adoro, the man flaunted his purported Police Identification (ID) Card. It was shown from the ID that his name was Eduarte.
Feeling that they could not prevail over Eduarte to return the bracelet, Navarra and Adoro sought help by shouting, "Magnanakaw, magnanakaw," which pleadings were heard by SPO3 Praves and SPO3 Nasareo Cueto (Cueto), who happened to be in their routine anti-crime night patrol along the area. The policemen responded and brought Eduarte to the police station for investigation.
For his defense, Eduarte denied the accusations hurled against him. His version of the incident was that on the night of 26 January 1994 at around 6:00 to 6:30, he arrived at the Greenrich Food Chain as part of his routine of fetching his girlfriend Clarissa Villafranca (Villafranca). Villafranca worked at the food stall as a waitress. Eduarte was already in Greenrich for more than an hour talking to Villafranca when Navarra and Adoro suddenly appeared and accused him of thievery. The imputations came as a surprise to Eduarte, so he reasoned that they might be mistaken: "Miss, baka nagkakamali po kayo." His explanation was seconded by Villafranca, who also told the ladies that they might just have mistaken him for someone else: "Miss, baka nagkamali po kayo, kanina pa sya nakaupo dyan," but to no avail. Eduarte then introduced himself as a former junior police officer and showed to Navarra and Adoro his ID in an effort to make the two believe that he could not have committed the alleged acts. Unable to sway his accusers, Eduarte told Navarra and Adoro that it would be better if all of them would go to the nearest police station in order to clear the matter. After Eduarte said that, Navarra and Adoro left. At this point, Villafranca tried to convince Eduarte to leave the area in order to avoid any trouble, but he stood his ground. After around 30 minutes, Navarra and Adoro returned to the food chain; this time they were with SPO3 Praves and SPO3 Cueto. Once again, Eduarte reiterated to the policemen that he was just erroneously identified: "Sir, itinuro ako, alam nyo naman hindi ko magagawa yun." But instead of listening to his plea, SPO3 Praves punched him on the stomach and slapped his face, while SPO3 Cueto snapped that he better explain that in the precinct. SPO3 Praves even took his wallet with his money and ID.
On 26 August 2002, the trial court rendered a Judgment finding Eduarte guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREOFRE, in view of the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused Eliseo Eduarte y Coscolla GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery defined and punished under Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code and is hereby sentenced to Four (4) Years, Two (2) months of Pricion Correcional as minimum to Ten (10) Years of Pricion Mayor as maximum; and further, said accused is ordered to pay Catherine Navarra compensatory damages in the amount of
P8,875.00 with legal interest computed from January 26, 1994; and to pay costs.6
The Court of Appeals, in its Decision dated 12 August 2004, confirmed the presence of all the elements of robbery under Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code and brushed aside the inconsistencies pointed out by Eduarte in the testimonies of witnesses. The appellate court, however, reduced the maximum length of imprisonment to eight years, applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
Eduarte is now before this Court urging us to reverse the findings of the RTC and the Court of Appeals arguing, in the main, that his conviction was tainted with reasonable doubt. Before we proceed, this Court opted not to dispense with the procedural issues raised by the parties and decide this case based on the merits involved, ignoring technicalities. Pertinent to the resolution of this case is the sole issue of:
WHETHER OR NOT THE CONVICTION OF EDUARTE TO THE CRIME OF ROBBERY IS TAINTED WITH REASONABLE DOUBT.
Maintaining his innocence, Eduarte insists that he was mistakenly identified by Navarra and Adoro as the malefactor who robbed Navarra of her bracelet. Eduarte invites the attention of this Court to pass upon the circumstances that assail the credibility of testimonies offered by Navarra and Adoro, underscoring their frailties and thereby creating a reasonable doubt on his conviction.
Inarguably, the resolution of the issue raised by Eduarte requires us to inquire into the credibility of the witnesses, a course of action which this Court will not do, consistent with our repeated holding that this Court is not a trier of facts.
Basic is the rule that factual findings of trial courts, including their assessment of the witnesses' credibility, are entitled to great weight and respect by this Court, particularly when the Court of Appeals affirms the findings.7
Eduarte wants this Court to weigh the credibility of the prosecution witnesses vis - Ã -vis the defense witnesses and to take this case out of the purview of the general rule and to review in its entirety, a task entrusted to the trial court, which is in the best position to discriminate between truth and falsehood because of its untrammeled opportunity to observe the deportment and demeanor of witnesses during trial.
Factual findings of the trial court are entitled to respect and are not to be disturbed on appeal, unless some facts and circumstances of weight and substance, having been overlooked or misinterpreted, might materially affect the disposition of the case.8 In the case under consideration, we find that the trial court did not overlook, misapprehend, or misapply any fact or value for us to overturn the findings of the trial court. Prevailing jurisprudence uniformly holds that findings of fact of the trial court, particularly when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are binding upon this Court.9
Eduarte is charged with the crime of simple robbery under paragraph 5, Article 29410 of the Revised Penal Code, the elements of which are: (1) intent to gain; (2) unlawful taking of personal property belonging to another; and (3) violence against or intimidation of any person.
Contrary to Eduarte's claim, all the above elements of robbery were proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. That the bracelet was not found in his possession does negate the existence of animus lucrandi, considering that there exists a substantial interval of time between the actual taking of the bracelet and the subsequent frisking of Eduarte, giving him enough opportunity to dispose of the stolen property. Eduarte himself narrated in open court that after he was confronted by Navarra and Adoro, the two left. They returned only after 30 minutes together with the policemen, viz:
Q: You mean to say Mr. Witness, that when these two (2) women continuously insisted that you were the thief, you challenged them to call the police, my question is did they call a policeman?cralawred
A: When I told them to go to the police station they left and when they returned after thirty (30) minutes they were with a policeman, sir.11
Eduarte fervently argues that he was not the one who robbed Navarra, but was erroneously accused as the thief. Eduarte claims the time and the manner of carrying out the crime made it highly improbable for Navarra and Adoro to create in their minds the image of the perpetrator that would enable them to correctly identify him later on. At the moment the snatching took place, it was already dark; and the snatching was swiftly carried out, thereby depriving Navarra and Adoro the opportunity to look at the physical features of the culprit, making their subsequent judgments of the identity of the suspect highly questionable.
We cannot agree. The most natural reaction of victims of violence is to strive to look at the appearance of the perpetrators of the crime and observe the manner in which the crime is being committed.12 Eduarte's assumption that it is harder to look at the features of a stranger's face when he is closer to you than when he is farther away may hold water only in normal situations. Under emotional stress, however, when the human body's adrenaline surges, it is highly inconceivable that the mind could not even manage to register the face of the person who threatened bodily harm. As a matter of fact, it is natural, if not instinctive, for the victims to look at the face of the felon. The production of sketches of criminals who were able to flee from authorities is borne out by this human experience. As aptly put by the RTC:
Experience shows that because of the unusual act committed before their very eyes, witnesses specially the victims of the crime, can remember with a high degree of reliability the identity of criminals. Most often, the face and body movements of the criminal create an impression which cannot easily be erased from their memory. x x x.13
Eduarte further posits that if he were the one who snatched the jewelry, why would he be just sitting in a nearby food chain and not running farther away to escape captivity. He argues that his demeanor of casually sitting in the food stall and nonchalantly chatting to his girlfriend was not that of a person who had just escaped from a crime, but that of an innocent man.
While this Court does not want to second-guess the wisdom of Eduarte's acts, his casual pretenses after the incident could not easily get him off the hook in light of the direct, straightforward and spontaneous identification by both Navarra and Adoro that he was the one who robbed Navarra of her bracelet, thus:
Q: And after the snatcher grabbed your bracelet what did you do, if any?cralawred
A: My classmate chased him and I also followed my classmate, he went inside the Greenrich restaurant as if there was nothing unusual that happened.
Q: What did he do there?cralawred
A: Sit down as if nothing happened, your Honor.
x x x
Q: What happened, he sit down as if nothing happened?cralawred
A: We confronted him and told him that he is the snatcher.
Q: What did he say?cralawred
A: He tried to impress us that he is a big or influential person.14
Witness Adorro corroborated Navarra in this wise:
Q: What happened after the accused was able to grab the bracelet from the wrist of Catherine?cralawred
A: He ran slowly as if he was jogging only (sic) seems as if nothing happened, sir.
Q: Then what happened after that?cralawred
A: I ran after him, sir.
Q: Then what happened?cralawred
A: He just sat down at [Greenrich] sir.
Q: Is that [Greenrich] a restaurant?cralawred
A: He sat down at [Greenrich] Cathy (sic) located under the LRT, sir.
Q: What did you do?cralawred
A: I approached him at the place there he (sic) sitted (sic) himself, sir.
Q: After that what happened?cralawred
A: Then I asked him to return the bracelet "Ikaw magnanakaw, ibalik mo yong bracelet."
Q: Then what did you do?cralawred
A: He just stared at me for a long time and nod his head and I told him to look at me you are a sinner then he looked at me and said "Hindi mo ba ako kilala" then he brought out something from his pocket and told me that he is a police commander and I told him that if you are a police commander why do (sic) you steal?cralawred
Q: Then what was his answer?cralawred
A: He said, a lot of people knew me, ask these people around.15
Q: When Catherine arrived at the Greenrich Restaurant, did anything happen between her and the accused?cralawred
A: None, your Honor, Catherine was shocked.
Q: And did she and the accused had many (sic) exchange of words or conversation?cralawred
A: There is, your Honor.
Q: What did Catherine say?cralawred
A: "Yan nga, siya, siya yon," your Honor.
Q: How about the accused?cralawred
A: There are many reactions, "how can that be, I am a police commander."
x x x
Q: One last question. What made you sure that it was the accused who grabbed the bracelet of your friend?cralawred
A: Simple lang, yong height nya, buhok, everything, his appearance sir.16
It is ineluctably clear from the foregoing that Eduarte was the snatcher. The firm, candid and unmistakable declaration of the prosecution witnesses that it was he whom they saw grabbing the bracelet was unerring and rang with truth. A testimony is credible if it bears the earmarks of truth and sincerity and has been delivered in a spontaneous, natural, and straightforward manner.17 The credible and forthright narrations of the prosecution witnesses debase the already weak denials of Eduarte. The infirmity of his denial becomes even more evident when, in his vain attempt to extricate himself, he pretended to be a police commander who had many connections. Eduarte's explanation that he was probably misheard by Navarra and Adoro is clearly an afterthought and deserves scant consideration.
What further fortifies the credibility of prosecution witnesses is that Eduarte has not shown that Navarra and Adoro had any ulterior motive in testifying against him. Adoro testified that the only reason why she testified against Eduarte was because he was the real culprit.18 Absent evidence showing any reason or motive for prosecution witnesses to perjure, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists, and their testimony is thus worthy of full faith and credit.19
Eduarte's insinuations, that it was only after the real culprit eluded the victim and the authorities' pursuit that they turned to him, is clutching at straws. The grabbing incident and the confrontation at the food stall constitute one continuous, unbroken chain of events that could lead to only one conclusion - - that Eduarte was the one who forcefully took Navarra's bracelet. The heated arguments that ensued at the restaurant was but an offshoot of the robbery that took place one block away. That the incident was attended by an interval of ten minutes does not detract from the continuity of events for, during such gap, Eduarte was being chased by the victim and her friend who never lost sight of the fleeing accused.20 For this Court to buy the fall-guy theory postulated by Eduarte is for us to close our eyes on the glaring facts and betray our formidable task of ferreting out the truth and administering justice to all.
Finally, Eduarte invoked his non-flight as an indication of his innocence. We remain unperturbed. Although flight is an indication of guilt, non-flight does not necessarily mean non-guilt or innocence. This judicial doctrine is simply applied to strengthen the evidence of guilt, taking into consideration other corroborative pieces of evidence. It cannot be singularly considered as evidence or as a manifestation determinative of innocence.21
All told, the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of Eduarte of the charge of robbery when, with the use of violence against the person of Navarra, he managed to take away the latter's jewelry. The trial court aptly gave full credence to the testimonies of Navarra and Adoro, which unmistakably demonstrated how Eduarte successfully robbed Navarra and almost successfully eluded apprehension. This finding was adopted by the appellate court, considering that the trial court was in the best position to ascertain credibility issues, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. Considering that the records show a dearth of evidence that reasonable doubt attended the conviction of Eduarte, we affirm the conclusion of the trial court and the appellate court that Eduarte is guilty of robbery under Article 294(5) of the Code and should be accorded with the proper penalty.
Article 294(5) of the Revised Penal Code provides for the penalty for simple robbery, to wit:
Art. 294. Robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons - Penalties. - Any person guilty of robbery with the use of violence against or intimidation of any person shall suffer.
x x x
5. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its medium period in other cases."
The felony committed by Eduarte was robbery by means of violence against or intimidation of persons which, under Article 294(5) of the Revised Penal Code, is punishable with prision correccional maximum to prision mayor medium (4 years, 2 months and 1 day to 10 years). There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance, the penalty should be imposed in the medium period, i.e., prision mayor minimum, which has a range of 6 years and 1 day to 8 years. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, Eduarte is entitled to a minimum term to be taken within the penalty next lower in degree to that imposed by the Code, or arresto mayor maximum to prision correccional medium, which has a range of 4 months and 1 day to 4 years and 2 months. As correctly found by the Court of Appeals, the penalty of imprisonment to be imposed should be 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional, as minimum, and 8 years of prision mayor, as maximum.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the instant petition is DENIED. The Decision dated 12 August 2004 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 26716 affirming the conviction of Eliseo Eduarte y Coscolla for the crime of Robbery and sentencing him to suffer the prison term ranging from 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional as minimum to 8 years prision mayor as maximum, is hereby affirmed in toto. He is ordered to pay private complainant Catherine Navarra the amount of
P8,875.00 by way of restitution.
1 Enriquez v. Bautista, 79 Phil. 220, 225 (1947).
2 Penned by Associate Justice Eliezer L. delos Santos with Associate Justices Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis, and Arturo D. Brion, concurring; rollo, pp. 37-46.
3 Penned Judge Reynaldo A. Alhambra; CA rollo, pp. 44-46.
4 Rollo, p. 46.
5 Records, p. 1.
6 Id. at 46.
7 Rivera v. Roman, G.R. No. 142402, 20 September 2005, 470 SCRA 276, 287.
This rule, however, admits of several exceptions, to wit: (1) when the findings are grounded entirely on speculation, surmises or conjectures; (2) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (3) when there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) when the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) when in making its findings the Court of Appeals went beyond the issues of the case, or its findings are contrary to the admissions of both the appellant and the appellee; (7) when the findings are contrary to those of the trial court; (8) when the findings are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; (9) when the facts set forth in the petition as well as in the petitioner's main and reply briefs are not disputed by the respondent; (10) when the findings of fact are premised on the supposed absence of evidence and contradicted by the evidence on record; and (11) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties, which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion.
8 Bautista v. Castillo, G.R. No. 174405, 26 August 2008, 563 SCRA 398, 406.
9 Castillo v. Court of Appeals, 329 Phil. 150, 159 (1996).
10 Art. 294. Robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons - Penalties. - Any person guilty of robbery with the use of violence against or intimidation of any person shall suffer.
x x x
5. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its medium period in other cases."
11 TSN, 3 February 1997, p. 9.
12 People v. Pedroso, 391 Phil. 43, 54 (2000).
13 CA rollo, p. 46.
14 TSN, 8 August 1994, pp. 5-6.
15 TSN, 14 July 1995, pp. 7-9.
16 TSN, 2 August 1995. p. 7-20.
17 People v. Lazo, G.R. No. 75367, 19 June 1991, 198 SCRA 274, 281.
18 Q: My question is you do not know him personally?
A: No, sir.
Q: So that you have no reason why you testified against him here?cralawred
A: There is, sir.
Q: Why are you testifying against him?cralawred
A: "Siya ang salarin," sir. (TSN, 2 August 1995, p. 20.)
19 Ureta v. People, 436 Phil. 148, 160 (2002).
20 Q: In other words, Ms. Adoro, while you were running, because according to you, you did not focus your attention to him because you were also looking at Catherine?
A: My attention was focused on him and I saw him sitting at Greenwich, sir.
Q: My question Ms. Adoro, while you were running after the accused, you were also looking back to your classmate as you told a while ago, is that correct?cralawred
A: No, I never. I just told Catherine, "just stay here, while I will run after the accused."
Q: You did not notice the accused having something coming from his pocket?cralawred
A: He just sit there, sir. (TSN, 2 August 1995, p. 5.)
21 People v. Abacia, 411 Phil. 881, 889 (2001).
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