G.R. No. 176389 : January 18, 2011
ANTONIO LEJANO, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
G.R. No. 176864 : January 18, 2011
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. HUBERT JEFFREY P. WEBB, ANTONIO LEJANO, MICHAEL A. GATCHALIAN, HOSPICIO FERNANDEZ, MIGUEL RODRIGUEZ, PETER ESTRADA and GERARDO BIONG, Appellants.
The Motion for Reconsideration assails the majority for failing to uphold the trial court's conclusions. The simple fact is that the evidence tends
to demonstrate that Hubert Webb is innocent. The simple fact also is that the evidence demonstrates that not only had Jessica Alfaro failed to
substantiate her testimony, she had contradicted herself and had been contradicted by other more believable evidence. The other main prosecution
witnesses fare no better. This is the gist of the Decision sought to be reconsidered. While this Court does not make a dispositive ruling other
than a pronouncement of "guilt" or "non-guilt" on the part of the accused, the legal presumption of innocence must be applied in operative fact. It
is unfortunate that statements were made that sought to dilute the legal import of the majority Decision. A pronouncement of this Court that the
accused has not been proven to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt cannot be twisted to mean that this Court does not believe in the innocence of the
accused when the reasoning of the Court demonstrates such belief. A careful reading of the majority Decision, as well as the concurring opinions,
is required to determine whether the accused were acquitted solely because there was lingering doubt as to their guilt of the
crime charged or whether the accused were acquitted not only because of doubt as to their guilt but also because the evidence tends to establish
their innocence. In the case of Hubert Webb, the evidence tends to establish his innocence. On the other hand, the testimony of Jessica Alfaro was
wholly rejected by the majority as not believable.
In his Motion for Reconsideration, private complainant asserts that this Court should have respected the trial court's resolve to give full
credence to the testimony of Jessica Alfaro. While as a general rule, a trial judge's findings as to the credibility of a witness are entitled to
utmost respect as he has had the opportunity to observe their demeanor on the witness stand, this holds true only in the absence of bias,
partiality, and grave abuse of discretion on the part of the judge. 1cralaw The succeeding discussion demonstrates why this Court has no choice but to reject the trial court's findings.
The mistaken impression that Alfaro was a credible witness was, in significant measure, perpetrated by the trial court's inappropriate and
mismatched attribution of rights to and duties of the accused vis-a-vis the principal witness in a criminal proceeding. As discussed in the
promulgated Decision of the Court in this case, the trial court failed to recognize the accused's right to be presumed innocent. Instead, the trial
court's Decision indicated a preconceived belief in the accused's guilt, and as a corollary, that witness Alfaro was telling the truth when she
testified to the accused's guilt. In excessively protecting Alfaro, the trial court improperly ascribed to her the right reserved for an accused.
It also unreasonably imposed severe limitations on the extent of the right of the defense to cross-examine her.
During Alfaro's cross examination, the defense counsel tried to impeach her credibility by asking her about her 28 April 1995 Affidavit, which
markedly differs from her 22 May 1995 Affidavit. The prosecution objected and moved that the questions be expunged from the records on the basis of
the inadmissibility of the evidence obtained allegedly without the assistance of counsel, pursuant to Article III Section 12(1) and (3) of the 1987
Constitution. 2cralaw This constitutional right, however, is a right reserved solely for the accused or a "person under investigation for the commission of an offense."
The prosecution's objection had no legal basis because Alfaro was clearly not the accused in the case. Alfaro was a witness who had a legal duty to
"answer questions, although his (her) answer may tend to establish a claim against him (her)." 3cralaw Notwithstanding this, the lower court sustained the prosecution's objection.
The law does not confer any favorable presumption on behalf of a witness. It is precisely due to the absence of any legal presumption that the
witness is telling the truth that he/she is subjected to cross-examination to "test his accuracy and truthfulness and freedom from interest or
bias, or the reverse, and to elicit all important facts bearing upon the issue." 4cralaw The Rules provide that "the witness may be cross-examined by the adverse party as to any matters stated in the direct examination, or connected
therewith, with sufficient fullness and freedom." 5cralaw A witness may be impeached "by contradictory evidence, by evidence that his general reputation for truth, honesty, or integrity is bad, or by
evidence that he has made at other times statements inconsistent with his present testimony." 6cralawredlaw
The right to cross-examine a witness is a matter of procedural due process such that the testimony or deposition of a witness given in a former
case "involving the same parties and subject matter, may be given in evidence against the adverse party" provided the adverse
party "had the opportunity to cross-examine him." 7cralawredlaw
Notwithstanding the right of the accused to fully and freely conduct a thorough cross examination, the trial court set undue restrictions on the
defense counsel's cross examination of Alfaro, effectively denying the accused such right. The length of the cross-examination is not as material
in the determination of the credibility of the witness as much as whether such witness was fully tested by the defense when demanded to be tested
on cross-examination - for honesty by contradictory evidence of a reputation for dishonesty, for inconsistency, or for possible bias or improper
To establish Alfaro's bias and motive for testifying in the case, the defense counsel sought to ask Alfaro about her brother, Patrick. Alfaro
admitted that Patrick was a drug addict and had been arrested once by the NBI for illegal possession of drugs, but that he was presently in the
United States. The theory of the defense was that Patrick's liberty was part of a deal that Alfaro had struck with the NBI in exchange for her
services. When defense counsel inquired about the circumstances of Patrick's departure for the United States, the prosecution objected to the
questions on the ground of irrelevance. Respondent judge sustained the objection, thus foreclosing a significant avenue for testing Alfaro's
"freedom from interest or bias." chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
The defense counsel tried to cross-examine Alfaro regarding her educational attainment as stated in her sworn statements. The defense presented her
college transcript of records to prove that she only enrolled for a year and earned nine (9) academic units, contrary to her claim that she
finished second year college. Notably, Alfaro misrepresented her educational attainment in both of her affidavits - her 28 April 1995 Affidavit
which she claimed was executed without assistance of counsel, and her subsequent 22 May 1995 Affidavit which was admittedly executed with the
assistance of counsel. Apparently, Alfaro's lie under oath about her educational attainment persisted even after being given counsel's assistance
in the execution of the second affidavit, as well as more time to contemplate the matter. Unfortunately, the lower court sustained the
prosecution's objection to the question on the ground of irrelevance when the line of testing could have tested Alfaro's penchant for "accuracy and
Ironically, notwithstanding the trial court's disallowance of the defense's attempts to impeach Alfaro's character, and the rule that "(e)vidence
of the good character of a witness is not admissible until such character has been impeached," 8cralaw the trial court allowed the prosecution to present Atty. Pedro Rivera 9cralaw to testify positively on Alfaro's character. Worse yet, the trial court disallowed the defense from presenting Atty. Rivera's earlier statement to
impeach the latter's credibility; again, this was disallowed on the ground of immateriality. When a proffer of evidence 10cralaw was made by the defense following such disallowance, the trial court struck the proffer from the record on the ground that it was allegedly
improper on cross-examination.
The notion that witness Alfaro was able to withstand her cross examination appears sustainable in large part because her cross examination was so
emasculated by the trial court's inordinate protection of her, which went so far as to improperly accord her the right reserved for an accused.
Taken together with repeated instances of unwarranted exertion of effort to wipe the record clean of some entries that cast doubt on Alfaro's
credibility, the trial court's actions show that it had a bias towards upholding the truthfulness of Alfaro's testimony.
The trial court's treatment of documentary evidence also suffered from mismatched ascription - discarding legal presumptions without evidence to
the contrary while giving evidentiary weight to unsubstantiated speculation. For instance, in rejecting Webb's alibi defense, the trial
court used mere speculation that the accused's family influenced the production of false entries in official documents to defeat the legal
presumption of said documents' accuracy and regularity of issuance. Notably, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (US INS)
Certification, which confirmed that Webb was in the United States from March 1991 until October 1992, was authenticated by no less than the Office
of the U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. State Department. Furthermore, this official certification of a sovereign state. having passed through
formal diplomatic channels, was authenticated by the Department of Foreign Affairs. As discussed in the main decision, such official documents as
the authenticated U.S. INS Certification enjoy the presumption of accuracy of the entries therein. 11cralaw Official documents are not infallible, but the presumption that they are accurate can only be overcome with evidence. Unfortunately, in the mind of
the trial court, pure conjecture and not hard evidence was allowed to defeat a legal presumption.
Clearly, the trial court's decision in this case was, in significant measure, the product of switched attributions as to who should enjoy certain
rights and what should be presumed under the law. This behavior on the part of the trial court and the effect it had on the factual conclusions on
the credibility of Jessica Alfaro and on the presence of Hubert Webb in the Philippines at the time of the commission of the crime cannot be
MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO