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G.R. No. 196735, May 05, 2014 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. DANILO FELICIANO, JR., JULIUS VICTOR MEDALLA, CHRISTOPHER SOLIVA, WARREN L. ZINGAPAN, AND ROBERT MICHAEL BELTRAN ALVIR, Accused–Appellants.

  G.R. No. 196735, May 05, 2014 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. DANILO FELICIANO, JR., JULIUS VICTOR MEDALLA, CHRISTOPHER SOLIVA, WARREN L. ZINGAPAN, AND ROBERT MICHAEL BELTRAN ALVIR, Accused–Appellants.

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

THIRD DIVISION

G.R. No. 196735, May 05, 2014

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. DANILO FELICIANO, JR., JULIUS VICTOR MEDALLA, CHRISTOPHER SOLIVA, WARREN L. ZINGAPAN, AND ROBERT MICHAEL BELTRAN ALVIR, Accused–Appellants.

D E C I S I O N

LEONEN, J.:

It is in the hallowed grounds of a university where students, faculty, and research personnel should feel safest. After all, this is where ideas that could probably solve the sordid realities in this world are peacefully nurtured and debated. Universities produce hope. They incubate all our youthful dreams.


Yet, there are elements within this academic milieu that trade misplaced concepts of perverse brotherhood for these hopes. Fraternity rumbles exist because of past impunity. This has resulted in a senseless death whose justice is now the subject matter of this case. It is rare that these cases are prosecuted. It is even more extraordinary that there are credible witnesses who present themselves courageously before an able and experienced trial court judge.

This culture of impunity must stop. There is no space in this society for hooliganism disguised as fraternity rumbles. The perpetrators must stand and suffer the legal consequences of their actions. They must do so for there is an individual who now lies dead, robbed of his dreams and the dreams of his family. Excruciating grief for them will never be enough.

It is undisputed that on December 8, 1994, at around 12:30 to 1:00 in the afternoon, seven (7) members of the Sigma Rho fraternity were eating lunch at the Beach House Canteen, near the Main Library of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, when they were attacked by several masked men carrying baseball bats and lead pipes. Some of them sustained injuries that required hospitalization. One of them, Dennis Venturina, died from his injuries.

An information1 for murder, docketed as Criminal Case No. Q95–61133, was filed against several members of the Scintilla Juris fraternity, namely, Danilo Feliciano, Jr., Julius Victor L. Medalla, Warren L. Zingapan, Robert Michael Beltran Alvir, Christopher L. Soliva, Reynaldo G. Ablanida, Carlo Jolette Fajardo, George Morano, Raymund E. Narag, Gilbert Merle Magpantay, Benedict Guerrero, and Rodolfo Peñalosa, Jr. with the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 219. The information reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

That on or about the 8th day of December 1994, in Quezon City, Philippines, the above–named accused, wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise, conspiring, confederating with other persons whose true names, identities and whereabouts have not as yet been ascertained, and mutually helping one another, with intent to kill, qualified with treachery, and with evident premeditation, taking advantage of superior strength, armed with baseball bats, lead pipes, and cutters, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and employ personal violence upon the person of DENNIS F. VENTURINA, by then and there hitting him on the head and clubbing him on different parts of his body thereby inflicting upon him serious and mortal injuries which were the direct and immediate cause of his death, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of said DENNIS F. VENTURINA. (Emphasis supplied)

Separate informations were also filed against them for the attempted murder of Sigma Rho fraternity members Cesar Mangrobang, Jr.,2 Cristobal Gaston, Jr.,3 and Leandro Lachica,4 and the frustrated murder of Sigma Rho fraternity members Mervin Natalicio5 and Arnel Fortes.6 Only 11 of the accused stood trial since one of the accused, Benedict Guerrero, remained at large.

A trial on the merits ensued.

The facts, according to the prosecution, are as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Leandro Lachica, Arnel Fortes, Dennis Venturina, Mervin Natalicio, Cristobal Gaston, Jr., Felix Tumaneng,7 and Cesar Magrobang, Jr. are all members of the Sigma Rho Fraternity. On December 8, 1994, at around 12:30 to 1:00 p.m., they were having lunch at Beach House Canteen, located at the back of the Main Library of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.8 Suddenly, Dennis Venturina shouted, “Brods, brods!9

According to Leandro Lachica, Grand Archon of Sigma Rho Fraternity, he looked around when Venturina shouted, and he saw about ten (10) men charging toward them.10 The men were armed with baseball bats and lead pipes, and their heads were covered with either handkerchiefs or shirts.11 Within a few seconds, five (5) of the men started attacking him, hitting him with their lead pipes.12 During the attack, he recognized one of the attackers as Robert Michael Beltran Alvir because his mask fell off.13

Lachica tried to parry the blows of his attackers, suffering scratches and contusions.14 He was, however, able to run to the nearby College of Education.15 Just before reaching it, he looked back and saw Warren Zingapan and Julius Victor L. Medalla holding lead pipes and standing where the commotion was.16 Both of them did not have their masks on.17 He was familiar with Alvir, Zingapan, and Medalla because he often saw them in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) and Zingapan used to be his friend.18 The attack lasted about thirty (30) to forty–five (45) seconds.19

According to Mervin Natalicio, the Vice Grand Archon of Sigma Rho, he looked to his left when Venturina shouted.20 He saw about fifteen (15) to twenty (20) men, most of who were wearing masks, running toward them.21 He was stunned, and he started running.22 He stumbled over the protruding roots of a tree.23 He got up, but the attackers came after him and beat him up with lead pipes and baseball bats until he fell down.24 While he was parrying the blows, he recognized two (2) of the attackers as Warren Zingapan and Christopher L. Soliva since they were not wearing any masks.25 After about thirty (30) seconds, they stopped hitting him.26 He was lying on his back and when he looked up, he saw another group of four (4) to five (5) men coming toward him, led by Benedict Guerrero.27 This group also beat him up.28 He did not move until another group of masked men beat him up for about five (5) to eight (8) seconds.29 When the attacks ceased, he was found lying on the ground.30 Several bystanders brought him to the U.P. Infirmary where he stayed for more than a week for the treatment of his wounds and fractures.31

According to Cesar Mangrobang, Jr., member of Sigma Rho, he also looked back when Venturina shouted and saw a group of men with baseball bats and lead pipes. Some of them wore pieces of cloth around their heads.32 He ran when they attacked, but two (2) men, whose faces were covered with pieces of cloth, blocked his way and hit him with lead pipes.33 While running and parrying the blows, he recognized them as Gilbert Merle Magpantay and Carlo Jolette Fajardo because their masks fell off.34 He successfully evaded his attackers and ran to the Main Library.35 He then decided that he needed to help his fraternity brothers and turned back toward Beach House.36 There, he saw Venturina lying on the ground.37 Danilo Feliciano, Jr. was beating Venturina up with a lead pipe while Raymund E. Narag was aiming to hit Venturina.38 When they saw him, they went toward his direction.39 They were about to hit him when somebody shouted that policemen were coming. Feliciano and Narag then ran away.40

Cesar Mangrobang, Jr. then saw Arnel Fortes. Fortes accompanied him to his car so they could bring Venturina to the U.P. Infirmary.41 When they brought the car over, other people, presumably bystanders, were already loading Venturina into another vehicle.42 They followed that vehicle to the U.P. Infirmary where they saw Natalicio.43 He stayed at the infirmary until the following morning.44

According to Cristobal Gaston, Jr., member of Sigma Rho, he immediately stood up when he heard someone shout, “Brods!45 He saw a group of men charging toward them carrying lead pipes and baseball bats.46 Most of them had pieces of cloth covering their faces.47 He was about to run when two (2) of the attackers approached him.48 One struck him with a heavy pipe while the other stabbed him with a bladed instrument.49 He was able to parry most of the blows from the lead pipe, but he sustained stab wounds on the chest and on his left forearm.50 He was able to run away.51 When he sensed that no one was chasing him, he looked back to Beach House Canteen and saw Danilo Feliciano, Jr., Warren Zingapan, and George Morano.52 He decided to go back to the canteen to help his fraternity brothers.53 When he arrived, he did not see any of his fraternity brothers but only saw the ones who attacked them.54 He ended up going to their hang–out instead to meet with his other fraternity brothers.55 They then proceeded to the College of Law where the rest of the fraternity was already discussing the incident.56

According to Arnel Fortes, member of Sigma Rho, he also ran when he saw the group of attackers coming toward them.57 When he looked back, he saw Danilo Feliciano, Jr. hitting Venturina.58 He was also able to see Warren Zingapan and George Morano at the scene.59

Leandro Lachica, in the meantime, upon reaching the College of Education, boarded a jeepney to the College of Law to wait for their other fraternity brothers.60 One of his fraternity brothers, Peter Corvera, told him that he received information that members of Scintilla Juris were seen in the west wing of the Main Library and were regrouping in SM North.61 Lachica and his group then set off for SM North to confront Scintilla Juris and identify their attackers.62

When they arrived in SM North, pillboxes and stones were thrown at them.63 Lachica saw Robert Michael Beltran Alvir and Warren Zingapan and a certain Carlo Taparan.64 They had no choice but to get away from the mall and proceed instead to U.P. where the Sigma Rho Fraternity members held a meeting.65

On the night of December 8, 1994, the officers of Sigma Rho advised the victims to lodge their complaints with the National Bureau of Investigation.66 Their counsel, Atty. Frank Chavez, told the U.P. Police that the victims would be giving their statements before the National Bureau of Investigation, promising to give the U.P. Police copies of their statements. In the meantime, Venturina was transferred from the U.P. Infirmary to St. Luke’s Hospital on December 8, 1994. He died on December 10, 1994.67

On December 11, 1994, an autopsy was conducted on the cadaver of Dennis Venturina.68 Dr. Rolando Victoria, a medico–legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation, found that Venturina had “several contusions located at the back of the upper left arm and hematoma on the back of both hands,”69 “two (2) lacerated wounds at the back of the head,70 generalized hematoma on the skull,”71 “several fractures on the head,”72 and “inter–cranial hemorrhage.”73 The injuries, according to Dr. Victoria, could have been caused by a hard blunt object.74 Dr. Victoria concluded that Venturina died of traumatic head injuries.75

On December 12, 1994, Lachica, Natalicio, Mangrobang, Fortes, and Gaston executed their respective affidavits76 before the National Bureau of Investigation and underwent medico–legal examinations77 with their medico– legal officer, Dr. Aurelio Villena. According to Dr. Villena, he found that Mervin Natalicio had “lacerated wounds on the top of the head, above the left ear, and on the fingers; contused abrasions on both knees; contusion on the left leg and thigh,”78 all of which could have been caused by any hard, blunt object. These injuries required medical attendance for a period of ten (10) days to thirty (30) days from the date of infliction.79

Dr. Villena found on Arnel Fortes “lacerated wounds on the head and on the right leg which could have been caused by a blunt instrument.”80  These injuries required hospitalization for a period of ten (10) days to thirty (30) days from date of infliction.81 He also found on Cesar Mangrobang, Jr. a “healed abrasion on the left forearm which could possibly be caused by contact with [a] rough hard surface and would require one (1) to nine (9) days of medical attention.”82 He found on Leandro Lachica “contusions on the mid auxiliary left side, left forearm and lacerated wound on the infra scapular area, left side.”83 On Christopher Gaston, Jr. he found “lacerated wounds on the anterior chest, left side, left forearm; swollen knuckles of both hands; contusions on the mid auxiliary left side, left forearm and lacerated wound on the infra scapular area, left side.”84

On September 18, 1997, after the prosecution presented its evidence– in–chief, the court granted the demurrer to evidence filed by Rodolfo Peñalosa, Jr. on the ground that he was not identified by the prosecution’s witnesses and that he was not mentioned in any of the documentary evidence of the prosecution.85

Upon the presentation of their evidence, the defense introduced their own statement of the facts, as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

According to Romeo Cabrera,86 a member of the U.P. Police, he was on foot patrol with another member of the U.P. Police, Oscar Salvador, at the time of the incident. They were near the College of Arts and Sciences (Palma Hall) when he vaguely heard somebody shouting, “Rumble!” They went to the place where the alleged rumble was happening and saw injured men being helped by bystanders. They helped an injured person board the service vehicle of the Beach House Canteen. They asked what his name was, and he replied that he was Mervin Natalicio. When he asked Natalicio who hit him, the latter was not able to reply but instead told him that his attackers were wearing masks. Oscar Salvador87 corroborated his testimony.

Benjamin Lato,88 a utility worker of the Beach House Canteen, likewise testified that the identities of the attackers were unrecognizable because of their masks. He, however, admitted that he did not see the attack; he just saw a man sprawled on the ground at the time of the incident.

Frisco Capilo,89 a utility worker of U.P. assigned to the Main Library, was buying a cigarette at a vendor located nearby. From there, he allegedly saw the whole incident. He testified that ten (10) men, wearing either masks of red and black bonnets or with shirts covering their faces, came from a red car parked nearby. He also saw three (3) men being hit with lead pipes by the masked men. Two (2) of the men fell after being hit. One of the victims was lifting the other to help him, but the attackers overtook him. Afterwards, the attackers ran away. He then saw students helping those who were injured. He likewise helped in carrying one of the injured victims, which he later found out to be Arnel Fortes.

A U.P. student and member of the Sigma Alpha Nu Sorority, Eda Panganiban,90 testified that she and her friends were in line to order lunch at the Beach House Canteen when a commotion happened. She saw around fifteen (15) to eighteen (18) masked men attack a group of Sigma Rhoans. She did not see any mask fall off. Her sorority sister and another U.P. student, Luz Perez,91 corroborated her story that the masked men were unrecognizable because of their masks. Perez, however, admitted that a member of Scintilla Juris approached her to make a statement.

Another sorority sister, Bathalani Tiamzon,92 testified on substantially the same matters as Panganiban and Perez. She also stated that she saw a person lying on the ground who was being beaten up by about three (3) to five (5) masked men. She also stated that some of the men were wearing black masks while some were wearing white t–shirts as masks. She did not see any mask fall off the faces of the attackers.

According to Feliciana Feliciano,93 accused–appellant Danilo Feliciano, Jr.’s mother, her son was in Pampanga to visit his sick grandfather at the time of the incident. She alleged that her son went to Pampanga before lunch that day and visited the school where she teaches to get their house key from her.

According to Robert Michael Beltran Alvir,94 he had not been feeling well since December 5, 1994. He said that he could not have possibly been in U.P. on December 8, 1994 since he was absent even from work. He also testified that he wore glasses and, thus, could not have possibly been the person identified by Leandro Lachica. He also stated that he was not enrolled in U.P. at the time since he was working to support himself.

According to Julius Victor Medalla,95 he and another classmate, Michael Vibas, were working on a school project on December 8, 1994. He also claimed that he could not have participated in the rumble as he had an injury affecting his balance. The injury was caused by an incident in August 1994 when he was struck in the head by an unknown assailant. His testimony was corroborated by Jose Victor Santos96 who stated that after lunch that day, Medalla played darts with him and, afterwards, they went to Jollibee.

Christopher Soliva,97 on the other hand, testified that he was eating lunch with his girlfriend and another friend in Jollibee, Philcoa, on December 8, 1994. They went back to U.P. before 1:00 p.m. and went straight to their fraternity hang–out where he was told that there had been a rumble at the Main Library. He also met several Sigma Rhoans acting suspiciously as they passed by the hang–out. They were also told by their head, Carlo Taparan, not to react to the Sigma Rhoans and just go home. Anna Cabahug,98 his girlfriend, corroborated his story.

Warren Zingapan99 also testified that he was not in U.P. at the time of the incident. He claimed to have gone to SM North to buy a gift for a friend’s wedding but ran into a fraternity brother. He also alleged that some Sigma Rhoans attacked them in SM North that day.

On February 28, 2002, the trial court rendered its decision100 with the finding that Robert Michael Alvir, Danilo Feliciano, Jr., Christopher Soliva, Julius Victor Medalla, and Warren Zingapan were guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and attempted murder and were sentenced to, among other penalties, the penalty of reclusion perpetua.101 The trial court, however, acquitted Reynaldo Ablanida, Carlo Jolette Fajardo, Gilbert Magpantay, George Morano, and Raymund Narag.102 The case against Benedict Guerrero was ordered archived by the court until his apprehension.103

The trial court, in evaluating the voluminous evidence at hand, concluded that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

After a judicious evaluation of the matter, the Court is of the considered view that of the ten accused, some were sufficiently identified and some were not. The Court believes that out of the amorphous images during the pandemonium, the beleaguered victims were able to espy and identify some of the attackers etching an indelible impression in their memory. In this regard, the prosecution eyewitnesses were emphatic that they saw the attackers rush towards them wielding deadly weapons like baseball bats, lead pipes, pieces of wood and bladed ones, and pounce on their hapless victims, run after them, and being present with one another at the scene of the crime during the assault. Although each victim had a very strong motive to place his fraternity rivals permanently behind bars, not one of them testified against all of them. If the prosecution eyewitnesses, who were all Sigma Rhoans, were simply bent on convicting Scintilla Juris members for that matter, they could have easily tagged each and every single accused as a participant in the atrocious and barbaric assault to make sure that no one else would escape conviction. Instead, each eyewitness named only one or two and some were candid enough to say that they did not see who delivered the blows against them.104

Because one of the penalties meted out was reclusion perpetua, the case was brought to this court on automatic appeal. However, due to the amendment of the Rules on Appeal,105 the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals.106 In the Court of Appeals, the case had to be re–raffled several times107 before it was eventually assigned to Presiding Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. for the writing of the decision.

On December 26, 2010, the Court of Appeals, in a Special First Division of Five, affirmed108 the decision of the Regional Trial Court, with three (3) members concurring109 and one (1) dissenting.110

The decision of the Court of Appeals was then brought to this court for review.

The issue before this court is whether the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that accused–appellants attacked private complainants and caused the death of Dennis Venturina.

On the basis, however, of the arguments presented to this court by both parties, the issue may be further refined, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

  1. Whether accused–appellants’ constitutional rights were violated when the information against them contained the aggravating circumstance of the use of masks despite the prosecution presenting witnesses to prove that the masks fell off; and

  2. Whether the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals correctly ruled, on the basis of the evidence, that accused– appellants were sufficiently identified.

I


An information is sufficient when
the accused is fully apprised of the
charge against him to enable him to
prepare his defense


It is the argument of appellants that the information filed against them violates their constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them. They argue that the prosecution should not have included the phrase “wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise” in the information since they were presenting testimonial evidence that not all the accused were wearing masks or that their masks fell off.

It is enshrined in our Bill of Rights that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”111 This includes the right of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty and “to be informed of the nature and accusation against him.”112

Upon a finding of probable cause, an information is filed by the prosecutor against the accused, in compliance with the due process of the law. Rule 110, Section 1, paragraph 1 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

A complaint or information is sufficient if it states the name of the accused; the designation of the offense given by the statute; the acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense; the name of the offended party; the approximate date of the commission of the offense; and the place where the offense was committed.

In People v. Wilson Lab–eo,113 this court has stated that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The test of sufficiency of Information is whether it enables a person of common understanding to know the charge against him, and the court to render judgment properly. x x x The purpose is to allow the accused to fully prepare for his defense, precluding surprises during the trial.114

Contrary to the arguments of the appellants, the inclusion of the phrase “wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise” in the information does not violate their constitutional rights.

It should be remembered that every aggravating circumstance being alleged must be stated in the information. Failure to state an aggravating circumstance, even if duly proven at trial, will not be appreciated as such.115

It was, therefore, incumbent on the prosecution to state the aggravating circumstance of “wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise” in the information in order for all the evidence, introduced to that effect, to be admissible by the trial court.

In criminal cases, disguise is an aggravating circumstance because, like nighttime, it allows the accused to remain anonymous and unidentifiable as he carries out his crimes.

The introduction of the prosecution of testimonial evidence that tends to prove that the accused were masked but the masks fell off does not prevent them from including disguise as an aggravating circumstance.116  What is important in alleging disguise as an aggravating circumstance is that there was a concealment of identity by the accused. The inclusion of disguise in the information was, therefore, enough to sufficiently apprise the accused that in the commission of the offense they were being charged with, they tried to conceal their identity.

The introduction of evidence which shows that some of the accused were not wearing masks is also not violative of their right to be informed of their offenses.

The information charges conspiracy among the accused. Conspiracy presupposes that “the act of one is the act of all.”117 This would mean all the accused had been one in their plan to conceal their identity even if there was evidence later on to prove that some of them might not have done so.

In any case, the accused were being charged with the crime of murder, frustrated murder, and attempted murder. All that is needed for the information to be sufficient is that the elements of the crime have been alleged and that there are sufficient details as to the time, place, and persons involved in the offense.

II

Findings of the trial court,
when affirmed by the
appellate court, are entitled to
great weight and credence


As a general rule, the findings of fact by the trial court, when affirmed by the appellate court, are given great weight and credence on review. The rationale for this was explained in People v. Daniel Quijada,118 as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Settled is the rule that the factual findings of the trial court, especially on the credibility of witnesses, are accorded great weight and respect. For, the trial court has the advantage of observing the witnesses through the different indicators of truthfulness or falsehood, such as the angry flush of an insisted assertion or the sudden pallor of a discovered lie or the tremulous mutter of a reluctant answer or the forthright tone of a ready reply; or the furtive glance, the blush of conscious shame, the hesitation, the sincere or the flippant or sneering tone, the heat, the calmness, the yawn, the sigh, the candor or lack of it, the scant or full realization of the solemnity of an oath, the carriage and mien.119

There are, of course, recognized exceptions to this rule. In People v. Leticia Labarias,120 this court stated that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is the policy of this Court to sustain the factual findings of the trial court on the reasonable assumption that it is in a better position to assess the evidence before it, particularly the testimonies of the witnesses, who reveal much of themselves by their deportment on the stand. The exception that makes the rule is where such findings are clearly arbitrary or erroneous as when they are tainted with bias or hostility or are so lacking in basis as to suggest that they were reached without the careful study and perceptiveness that should characterize a judicial decision.121 (Emphasis supplied)

In criminal cases, the exception gains even more importance since the presumption is always in favor of innocence. It is only upon proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt that a conviction is sustained.

In this case, a total of eleven (11) witnesses for the prosecution and forty–two (42) witnesses for the defense were put on the stand from 1995 to 2001. In an eighty–three (83)–page decision, the trial court acquitted six (6) and convicted five (5) of the accused. On the basis of these numbers alone, it cannot be said that the trial court acted arbitrarily or that its decision was “so lacking in basis” that it was arrived at without a judicious and exhaustive study of all the evidence presented.

Inasmuch, however, as the trial court’s findings hold great persuasive value, there is also nothing that precludes this court from coming to its own conclusions based on an independent review of the facts and the evidence on record.

The accused were sufficiently
identified by the witnesses for
the prosecution


The trial court, in weighing all the evidence on hand, found the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution to be credible. In its decision, the trial court stated that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x. Although each victim had a very strong motive to place his fraternity rivals permanently behind bars, not one testified against all of them. If the prosecution eyewitnesses, who were all Sigma Rhoans, were simply bent on convicting Scintilla Juris members for that matter, they could have easily tagged each and every accused as a participant in the atrocious and barbaric assault to make sure no one would escape conviction. Instead, each eyewitness named only one or two and some were candid enough to say that they did not see who delivered the blows against them.

Thus, the prosecution witnesses, Ernest Paulo Tan, Dennis Gaio and Darwin Asuncion, testified to have seen it all but they could not, and did not, disclose any name. Lachica, on the other hand, said that he did not have the opportunity to see and identify the person who hit him in the back and inflicted a two–inch cut. His forearm was also hit by a lead pipe but he did not see who did it. Natalicio, one of the other three who were hospitalized, was severely beaten by three waves of attackers totalling more than 15 but he could only name 3 of them. He added, however, that he would be able to recognize those he saw if he would see them again. Of them, Mangrobang pointed to at least 5 but he stressed that he did not see Zingapan, Soliva, Guerrero, Del Rosario, Daraoay, Denoista, and Penalosa during the onslaught. Gaston could have named any of the accused as the one who repeatedly hit him with a heavy pipe and stabbed him but he frankly said their faces were covered. Like Natalicio, Fortes was repeatedly beaten by several groups but did not name any of the accused as one of those who attacked him. The persons he identified were those leading the pack with one of them as the assailant of Venturina, and the two others who he saw standing while he was running away. He added that he saw some of the accused during the attack but did not know then their names.122 (Emphasis supplied)

We agree.

The trial court correctly held that “considering the swiftness of the incident,”123 there would be slight inconsistencies in their statements. In People v. Adriano Cabrillas,124 it was previously observed that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is perfectly natural for different witnesses testifying on the occurrence of a crime to give varying details as there may be some details which one witness may notice while the other may not observe or remember. In fact, jurisprudence even warns against a perfect dovetailing of narration by different witnesses as it could mean that their testimonies were prefabricated and rehearsed.125 (Emphasis supplied)

According to their testimonies, Lachica was able to identify Alvir, Zingapan, and Medalla;126 Natalicio was able to identify Medalla, Zingapan, and Soliva;127 and Fortes was able to identify Feliciano, Medalla, and Zingapan.128 Their positive identification was due to the fact that they either wore no masks or that their masks fell off.

It would be in line with human experience that a victim or an eyewitness of a crime would endeavor to find ways to identify the assailant so that in the event that he or she survives, the criminal could be apprehended. It has also been previously held that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is the most natural reaction for victims of criminal violence to strive to see the looks and faces of their assailants and observe the manner in which the crime was committed. Most often the face of the assailant and body movements thereof, creates a lasting impression which cannot be easily erased from their memory.129

In the commotion, it was more than likely that the masked assailants could have lost their masks. It had been testified by the victims that some of the assailants were wearing masks of either a piece of cloth or a handkerchief and that Alvir,130 Zingapan,131 Soliva,132 and Feliciano133 had masks on at first but their masks fell off and hung around their necks. Equally telling was the testimony of defense witness Frisco Capilo during cross–examination who observed that some of the attackers were wearing masks and some were not, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q
Mr. Capilo, do you know this Scintilla Juris Fraternity?
A
No, sir.
Q
During the incident of December 8, 1994, there were a lot of people eating in the Beach House Canteen, and then running towards different directions, is it not?
A
Yes, sir.
Q
And some people were wearing masks and some were not?
A
Yes, sir.134

While the attack was swift and sudden, the victims would have had the presence of mind to take a look at their assailants if they were identifiable. Their positive identification, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, must be upheld to be credible.

It has been argued that the trial court did not give Mangrobang’s testimony credence while Gaston’s testimony was found to be “hazy.” This argument is unmeritorious.

It should be noted that it was the trial court itself that stated that the acquittal of the Scintilla Juris members identified by Mangrobang “should not be misinterpreted to mean that the testimony of Mangrobang was an absolute fabrication.”135 The court went on to state that they “were exonerated merely because they were accorded the benefit of the doubt as their identification by Mangrobang, under tumultuous and chaotic circumstances were [sic] not corroborated and their alibis, not refuted.”136  There was, therefore, no basis to say that Mangrobang was not credible; it was only that the evidence presented was not strong enough to overcome the presumption of innocence.

Gaston’s testimony, on the other hand, was considered “hazy”137 by the trial court only with regard to his identification of Zingapan’s companion. Gaston testified that he saw Zingapan with Morano, with Zingapan moving and Morano staying in place. Fortes, however, testified that both Zingapan and Morano were running after him. Lachica also testified that it was Medalla, not Morano, who was with Zingapan. Because of this confusion, the trial court found that there was doubt as to who was really beside Zingapan. The uncertainty resulted into an acquittal for Morano. Despite this, the court still did not impute doubt in their testimonies that Zingapan was present at the scene.

Be that as it may, the acquittals made by the trial court further prove that its decision was brought about only upon a thorough examination of the evidence presented. It accepted that there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of the victims but that these were minor and did not affect their credibility. It ruled that “[s]uch inconsistencies, and even probabilities, are not unusual ‘for there is no person with perfect faculties or senses.’”138

Evidence as part of the res gestae
may be admissible but have little
persuasive value in this case


According to the testimony of U.P. Police Officer Salvador,139 when he arrived at the scene, he interviewed the bystanders who all told him that they could not recognize the attackers since they were all masked. This, it is argued, could be evidence that could be given as part of the res gestae.

As a general rule, “[a] witness can testify only to the facts he knows of his personal knowledge; that is, which are derived from his own perception, x x x.”140 All other kinds of testimony are hearsay and are inadmissible as evidence. The Rules of Court, however, provide several exceptions to the general rule, and one of which is when the evidence is part of res gestae, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Section 42. Part of res gestae. — Statements made by a person while a starting occurrence is taking place or immediately prior or subsequent thereto with respect to the circumstances thereof, may be given in evidence as part of res gestae. So, also, statements accompanying an equivocal act material to the issue, and giving it a legal significance, may be received as part of the res gestae.141

In People v. Rodrigo Salafranca,142 this court has previously discussed the admissibility of testimony taken as part of res gestae, stating that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

A declaration or an utterance is deemed as part of the res gestae and thus admissible in evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule when the following requisites concur, to wit: (a) the principal act, the res gestae, is a startling occurrence; (b) the statements are made before the declarant had time to contrive or devise; and (c) the statements must concern the occurrence in question and its immediately attending circumstances.

x x x x

The term res gestae has been defined as “those circumstances which are the undesigned incidents of a particular litigated act and which are admissible when illustrative of such act.” In a general way, res gestae refers to the circumstances, facts, and declarations that grow out of the main fact and serve to illustrate its character and are so spontaneous and contemporaneous with the main fact as to exclude the idea of deliberation and fabrication. The rule on res gestae encompasses the exclamations and statements made by either the participants, victims, or spectators to a crime immediately before, during, or immediately after the commission of the crime when the circumstances are such that the statements were made as a spontaneous reaction or utterance inspired by the excitement of the occasion and there was no opportunity for the declarant to deliberate and to fabricate a false statement. The test of admissibility of evidence as a part of the res gestae is, therefore, whether the act, declaration, or exclamation is so intimately interwoven or connected with the principal fact or event that it characterizes as to be regarded as a part of the transaction itself, and also whether it clearly negatives any premeditation or purpose to manufacture testimony.143

There is no doubt that a sudden attack on a group peacefully eating lunch on a school campus is a startling occurrence. Considering that the statements of the bystanders were made immediately after the startling occurrence, they are, in fact, admissible as evidence given in res gestae.

In People v. Albarido,144 however, this court has stated that “in accord to ordinary human experience:”

x x x persons who witness an event perceive the same from their respective points of reference. Therefore, almost always, they have different accounts of how it happened. Certainly, we cannot expect the testimony of witnesses to a crime to be consistent in all aspects because different persons have different impressions and recollections of the same incident. x x x145 (Emphasis supplied)


The statements made by the bystanders, although admissible, have little persuasive value since the bystanders could have seen the events transpiring at different vantage points and at different points in time. Even Frisco Capilo, one of the bystanders at the time of the attack, testified that the attackers had their masks on at first, but later on, some remained masked and some were unmasked.

When the bystanders’ testimonies are weighed against those of the victims who witnessed the entirety of the incident from beginning to end at close range, the former become merely corroborative of the fact that an attack occurred. Their account of the incident, therefore, must be given considerably less weight than that of the victims.

The belated identification by
the victims do not detract from
their positive identification of the
appellants


It is argued that the fact that the victims stayed silent about the incident to the U.P. Police or the Quezon City Police but instead executed affidavits with the National Bureau of Investigation four (4) days after the incident gives doubt as to the credibility of their testimonies.

U.P. Police Officer Romeo Cabrera146 testified that on their way to the U.P. Infirmary, he interviewed the victims who all told him they could not recognize the attackers because they were all wearing masks. Meanwhile, Dr. Mislang147 testified to the effect that when she asked Natalicio who attacked them, Natalicio answered that he did not know because they were masked.

It must be remembered that the parties involved in this case belong to rival fraternities. While this court does not condone their archaic and oftentimes barbaric traditions, it is conceded that there are certain practices that are unique to fraternal organizations.

It is quite possible that at this point in time, they knew the identities of their attackers but chose not to disclose it without first conferring with their other fraternity brothers. This probability is bolstered by the actions of Sigma Rho after the incident, which showed that they confronted the members of Scintilla Juris in SM North. Because of the tenuous relationship of rival fraternities, it would not have been prudent for Sigma Rho to retaliate against the wrong fraternity.

Their act of not disclosing the correct information to the U.P. Police or to Dr. Mislang does not make the police officer or the doctor’s testimonies more credible than that of the victims. It should not be forgotten that the victims actually witnessed the entire incident, while Officer Salvador, Officer Cabrera, and Dr. Mislang were merely relaying second– hand information.

The fact that they went to the National Bureau of Investigation four (4) days after the incident also does not affect their credibility since most of them had been hospitalized from their injuries and needed to recover first. Since a fraternity moves as one unit, it would be understandable that they decided to wait until all of them were well enough to go to the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in order to give their statements.

Seniority is also often the norm in fraternities. It was upon the advice of their senior “brods” and their legal counsel that they executed their sworn statements before the National Bureau of Investigation four (4) days after the incident.

The decision to report the incident to the National Bureau of Investigation instead of to the U.P. Police was the call of their legal counsel who might have deemed the National Bureau of Investigation more equipped to handle the investigation. This does not, however, affect the credibility of the witnesses since they were merely following the legal advice of their counsel.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that the National Bureau of Investigation is better equipped than the U.P. Police to handle the investigation of the case. As stated in the U.P. College of Economics website:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

The UP Diliman Police (UPDP) is tasked with maintaining campus security. Their station is located in front of the College of Architecture.

The primary missions of the UPDP are to maintain peace and order, secure and protect lives and property, enforce basic laws, applicable Quezon City Ordinances, and University Rules and Regulations including policies and standards; and to perform such other functions relative to the general safety and security of the students, employees, and residents in the U.P. Diliman Campus. x x x.148 (Emphasis supplied)

It can be seen that the U.P. Police is employed by U.P. primarily for campus security. They are by no means an actual police force that is equipped to handle a full–blown murder investigation. Fraternity–related violence in U.P. has also increasingly become more frequent, which might possibly have desensitized the U.P. Police in such a way that would prevent their objectivity in the conduct of their investigations. The victims’ reliance on the National Bureau of Investigation, therefore, is understandable.

III

Alibi cannot prevail over the
positive identification of the
victim


It is settled that the defense of alibi cannot prevail over the positive identification of the victim.149 In People v. Benjamin Peteluna,150 this court stated that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

It is a time–honored principle that the positive identification of the appellant by a witness destroys the defense of alibi and denial. Thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

x x x. It is well–entrenched that alibi and denial are inherently weak and have always been viewed with disfavor by the courts due to the facility with which they can be concocted. They warrant the least credibility or none at all and cannot prevail over the positive identification of the appellant by the prosecution witnesses. For alibi to prosper, it is not enough to prove that appellant was somewhere else when the crime was committed; he must also demonstrate that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission. Unless substantiated by clear and convincing proof, such defense is negative, self–serving, and undeserving of any weight in law. Denial, like alibi, as an exonerating justification[,] is inherently weak and if uncorroborated regresses to blatant impotence. Like alibi, it also constitutes self–serving negative evidence which cannot be accorded greater evidentiary weight than the declaration of credible witnesses who testify on affirmative matters.151

In this case, the victims were able to positively identify their attackers while the accused–appellants merely offered alibis and denials as their defense. The credibility of the victims was upheld by both the trial court and the appellate court while giving little credence to the accused–appellants’ alibis. There is, thus, no reason to disturb their findings.

Accused–appellants were correctly
charged with murder, and there was
treachery in the commission of the crime


According to the provisions of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, the accused–appellants were correctly charged with murder. Article 248 states:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

ART. 248. Murder.—Any person who, not falling within the provisions of Article 246, shall kill another, shall be guilty of murder and shall be punished by reclusion perpetua, to death if committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

1. With treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or employing means to weaken the defense, or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity;

x x x x

It is undisputed that on December 8, 1994, a group of men armed with lead pipes and baseball bats attacked Dennis Venturina and his companions, which resulted in Venturina’s death.

As correctly found by the trial court and the appellate court, the offense committed against Dennis Venturina was committed by a group that took advantage of its superior strength and with the aid of armed men. The appellate court, however, incorrectly ruled out the presence of treachery in the commission of the offense.

It has been stated previously by this court that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

[T]reachery is present when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution, which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the offended party might make.152

Similarly, in People v. Leozar Dela Cruz,153 this court stated that:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution, which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the offended party might make. The essence of treachery is that the attack comes without a warning and in a swift, deliberate, and unexpected manner, affording the hapless, unarmed, and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or escape. For treachery to be considered, two elements must concur: (1) the employment of means of execution that gives the persons attacked no opportunity to defend themselves or retaliate; and (2) the means of execution were deliberately or consciously adopted.154 (Emphasis supplied)

The appellate court, in affirming the conviction of the accused– appellants, ruled that contrary to the findings of the trial court, there was no treachery involved. In particular, they ruled that although the attack was sudden and unexpected, “[i]t was done in broad daylight with a lot of people who could see them”155 and that “there was a possibility for the victims to have fought back or that the people in the canteen could have helped the victims.”156

This reasoning is clearly erroneous. The victims in this case were eating lunch on campus. They were not at a place where they would be reasonably expected to be on guard for any sudden attack by rival fraternity men.

The victims, who were unarmed, were also attacked with lead pipes and baseball bats. The only way they could parry the blows was with their arms. In a situation where they were unarmed and outnumbered, it would be impossible for them to fight back against the attackers. The attack also happened in less than a minute, which would preclude any possibility of the bystanders being able to help them until after the incident.

The swiftness and the suddenness of the attack gave no opportunity for the victims to retaliate or even to defend themselves. Treachery, therefore, was present in this case.

The presence of conspiracy makes
all of the accused–appellants liable
for murder and attempted murder


In the decision of the trial court, all of the accused–appellants were found guilty of the murder of Dennis Venturina and the attempted murder of Mervin Natalicio, Cesar Mangrobang, Jr. Leandro Lachica, Arnel Fortes, and Cristobal Gaston, Jr. The appellate court, however, modified their liabilities and found that the accused–appellants were guilty of attempted murder only against Natalicio and Fortes, and not against Mangrobang, Lachica, and Gaston.

It is the appellate court’s reasoning that because Lachica and Mangrobang “were no longer chased by the attackers,”157 it concluded that accused–appellants “voluntary desisted from pursuing them and from inflicting harm to them, which shows that they did not have the intent to do more than to make them suffer pain by slightly injuring them.”158 It also pointed out that the wound inflicted on Gaston “was too shallow to have been done with an intent to kill.”159 Thus, it concluded that the accused– appellants would have been guilty only of slight physical injuries.

This is erroneous.

It should be remembered that the trial court found that there was conspiracy among the accused–appellants160 and the appellate court sustained this finding.161 Conspiracy, once proven, has the effect of attaching liability to all of the accused, regardless of their degree of participation, thus:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Once an express or implied conspiracy is proved, all of the conspirators are liable as co–principals regardless of the extent and character of their respective active participation in the commission of the crime or crimes perpetrated in furtherance of the conspiracy because in contemplation of law the act of one is the act of all. The foregoing rule is anchored on the sound principle that “when two or more persons unite to accomplish a criminal object, whether through the physical volition of one, or all, proceeding severally or collectively, each individual whose evil will actively contributes to the wrong–doing is in law responsible for the whole, the same as though performed by himself alone.” Although it is axiomatic that no one is liable for acts other than his own, “when two or more persons agree or conspire to commit a crime, each is responsible for all the acts of the others, done in furtherance of the agreement or conspiracy.” The imposition of collective liability upon the conspirators is clearly explained in one case where this Court held that

... it is impossible to graduate the separate liability of each (conspirator) without taking into consideration the close and inseparable relation of each of them with the criminal act, for the commission of which they all acted by common agreement ... The crime must therefore in view of the solidarity of the act and intent which existed between the ... accused, be regarded as the act of the band or party created by them, and they are all equally responsible

Verily, the moment it is established that the malefactors conspired and confederated in the commission of the felony proved, collective liability of the accused conspirators attaches by reason of the conspiracy, and the court shall not speculate nor even investigate as to the actual degree of participation of each of the perpetrators present at the scene of the crime. x x x.162 (Emphasis supplied)

The liabilities of the accused–appellants in this case arose from a single incident wherein the accused–appellants were armed with baseball bats and lead pipes, all in agreement to do the highest amount of damage possible to the victims. Some were able to run away and take cover, but the others would fall prey at the hands of their attackers. The intent to kill was already present at the moment of attack and that intent was shared by all of the accused–appellants alike when the presence of conspiracy was proven. It is, therefore, immaterial to distinguish between the seriousness of the injuries suffered by the victims to determine the respective liabilities of their attackers. What is relevant is only as to whether the death occurs as a result of that intent to kill and whether there are qualifying, aggravating or mitigating circumstances that can be appreciated.

The appellate court, therefore, erred in finding the accused–appellants guilty only of slight physical injuries. It would be illogical to presume that despite the swiftness and suddenness of the attack, the attackers intended to kill only Venturina, Natalicio, and Fortes, and only intended to injure Lachica, Mangrobang, and Gaston. Since the intent to kill was evident from the moment the accused–appellants took their first swing, all of them were liable for that intent to kill.

For this reason, the accused–appellants should be liable for the murder of Dennis Venturina and the attempted murder of Mervin Natalicio, Cesar Mangrobang, Jr., Leandro Lachica, Arnel Fortes, and Cristobal Gaston, Jr.

A Final Note

It is not only the loss of one promising young life; rather, it is also the effect on the five other lives whose once bright futures are now put in jeopardy because of one senseless' act of bravado. There is now more honor for them to accept their responsibility and serve the consequences of their actions. There is, however, nothing that they can do to bring back Dennis Venturina or fully compensate for his senseless and painful loss.

This is not the first fraternity–related case to come to this court; neither will it be the last. Perhaps this case and many cases like it can empower those who have a better: view of masculinity: one which valorizes courage, sacrifice and honor in more life–saving pursuits.

Giting at dangal” are words of the anthem of the University of the Philippines. It colors the stories of many who choose to expend their energy in order that our people will have better lives. Fraternity rumbles are an anathema, an immature and useless expenditure of testosterone. It fosters a culture that retards manhood. It is devoid of “giting at dangal.”

This kind of shameful violence must stop.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA–G.R. CR No. 01158 dated November 26, 2010 is AFFIRMED insofar as the accused­ appellants Danilo Feliciano, Jr., Julius Victor Medalla, Christopher Soliva, Warren L. Zingapan, and Robert Michael Beltran Alvir are found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of Murder in Criminal Case No. Q95–61133 with the MODIFICATION that they be found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of Attempted Murder in Criminal Case Nos. Q95–61136, Q95–61135, Q95–61134, Q95–61138, and Q95–61137.

SO ORDERED.

Sereno, C.J.,* and Del Castillo *** JJ., concur.
Peralta, (Acting Chairperson),** J., joins the dissents of J. Abad.
Abad, J
., see dissenting opinion.


Endnotes:


*Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno was designated as Acting Member of the Third Division, vice Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., per Raffle dated February 1, 2012.

**
Associate Justice Diosdado M. Peralta was designated as Acting Chairperson of the Third Division, vice Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. recused himself due to close relation to one of the parties.

***
Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo was designated as Acting Member of the Third Division, vice Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza who penned the lower court decision, per Raffle dated April 29, 2014.

1 Original records, vol. I, p. 3.

2 Docketed as Q95–61134.

3 Docketed as Q95–61135.

4 Docketed as Q95–61136.

5 Docketed as Q95–61137.

6 Docketed as Q95–61138.

7 Felix Tumaneng was not presented as a witness by the prosecution.

8 TSN, June 5, 1995, pp. 9–11.

9 TSN, July 3, 1995, p. 7.

10 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 25.

11 Id. at 11–12.

12 Id. at 12.

13 Id.

14 Id. at 13.

15 Id. at 13–14.

16 Id. at 45–46.

17 Id. at 13–14.

18 Id.

19 Id. at 33.

20 TSN, July 3, 1995, p. 7.

21 Id.

22 Id. at 10.

23 Id.

24 Id. at 12–13.

25 Id. at 14–16.

26 Id. at 16.

27 Id. at 16–17.

28 Id. at 17.

29 Id. at 19.

30 Id. at 19–20.

31 Id.

32 TSN, September 28, 1995, pp. 14–15.

33 Id. at 16.

34 Id. at 17–18.

35 Id. at 20–21.

36 Id. at 21–22.

37 Id. at 23.

38 Id. at 23–26.

39 Id. at 28.

40 Id. at 28–29.

41 Id. at 33.

42 Id. at 34.

43 Id. at 35.

44 Id. at 36.

45 TSN, October 11, 1995, p. 15.

46 Id.

47 Id. at 16–17.

48 Id. at 17–18.

49 Id. at 19–20.

50 Id. at 24.

51 Id. at 31.

52 Id. at 31–32.

53 Id. at 33.

54 Id. at 34–35.

55 Id. at 40.

56 Id. at 44–45.

57 TSN, October 30, 1995, p. 74.

58 Id. at 30–31.

59 Id. at 77–78.

60 TSN, June 21, 1995, pp. 5–6.

61 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 14.

62 Id.

63 Id. at 14–15.

64 Id. at 17.

65 Id. at 15.

66 Id. at 20.

67 TSN, September 16, 1996, pp. 10–14.

68 TSN, July 24, 1995, pp. 6–7.

69 Id. at 14–16.

70 Id. at 16–17.

71 Id. at 18.

72 Id. at 19–20.

73 Id. at 22.

74 Id. at 41.

75 Id. at 23.

76 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 17; TSN, July 3, 1995, p. 20; TSN, September 28, 1995, pp. 116–117; TSN, October 20, 1995, p. 34; TSN, October 11, 1995, p. 48.

77 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 17.

78 TSN, July 31, 1995, p. 14.

79 Id. at 46.

80 Id. at 26–28.

81 Id. at 46.

82 Id. at 40.

83 Id. at 31–33.

84 Id.

85 RTC decision, p. 15.

86 TSN, November 11, 1995.

87 TSN, November 20, 1995.

88 TSN, November 27, 1995.

89 TSN, December 4, 1995.

90 TSN, December 11, 1995.

91 Id.

92 TSN, December 18, 1995.

93 TSN, November 27, 1995.

94 TSN, February 2, 2000.

95 TSN, September 22, 1999.

96 TSN, August 11, 1999.

97 TSN, June 16, 1999.

98 TSN, November 23, 1998.

99 TSN, May 12, 1999.

100 Penned by the Hon. Jose Catral Mendoza, now an Associate Justice of this court (CA rollo, pp. 576–644).

101 RTC decision, pp. 81–83.

102 Id. at 82–83.

103 Id. at 83.

104 Id. at 48–49.

105 Per People v. Mateo, G.R. No. 147678–87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640, which modified the rules on direct appeal to the Supreme Court.

106 Per resolution of this court dated April 13, 2005, CA rollo, p. 297.

107 Justice Romeo F. Barza voluntarily inhibited due to membership in Sigma Rho Fraternity. Justices Celia C. Librea–Leagogo and Isaias P. Dicdican also voluntarily inhibited, but the reason was not shown in the records.

108Rollo, pp. 4–72; CA rollo, pp. 1480–1551.

109 Justices Amelita G. Tolentino, Jose C. Reyes, Jr., and Mariflor P. Punzalan–Castillo.

110 Justice Stephen C. Cruz.

111 CONST., art. III, sec. 14 (1).

112 CONST., art. III, sec. 14 (2).

113 424 Phil. 482 (2002) [Per J. Carpio, Third Division].

114People v. Wilson Lab–eo, 424 Phil. 482, 497 (2002) [Per J. Carpio, Third Division], citing Jumawan v. Eviota, G.R. Nos. 85512–13, July 28, 1994, 234 SCRA 524 [Per J. Mendoza, En Banc].

115 RULES OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, Rule 110, Sec. 8.

116See People v. Sabangan Cabato, 243 Phil. 262 (1988) [Per J. Cortes, Third Division] and People v. Veloso, 197 Phil. 846 (1982) [Per Curiam, En Banc].

117People v. Halil Gambao, G.R. No.172707, October 1, 2013 [Per J. Perez, En Banc].

118 328 Phil. 505 (1996) [Per J. Davide, En Banc].

119People v. Daniel Quijada, 328 Phil. 505, 530–531 (1996) [Per J. Davide, En Banc], citing People v. De Guzman, G.R. No. 76742, August 7, 1990, 188 SCRA 407 [Per J. Cruz, First Division]; People v. De Leon, 315 Phil. 584 (1995) [Per J. Davide, Jr., First Division]; People v. Delovino, 317 Phil. 741 (1995) [Per J. Davide, Jr., First Division]; Creamer v. Bivert, 214 MO 473, 474 [1908]; M. Frances Mcnamara, 200 Famous Legal Quotations [1967], 548.

120 G.R. No. 87165, January 25, 1993, 217 SCRA 483 [Per J. Cruz, First Division].

121 Id. at 484.

122 RTC decision, p. 49.

123 Id. at 57.

124 G.R. No. 175980, February 15, 2012, 666 SCRA 174 [Per J. Del Castillo, First Division].

125 Id. at 191, citing People v. Lacbayan, 393 Phil. 800, 807 (2000) [Per J. Ynares–Santiago, First Division].

126 TSN, June 5, 1995, pp. 11–13.

127 TSN, July 3, 1995, pp. 21–22.

128 TSN, October 30, 1995, pp. 91, 112.

129People v. Opiniado Dolar, G.R. No. 100805, March 24, 1994, 231 SCRA 414, 423 [Per J. Puno, Second Division], citing People v. Sartagoda, G.R. No. 97525, April 7, 1993, 221 SCRA 251, 257 [Per J. Campos, Jr., Second Division].

130 TSN, June 21, 1995, p. 33.

131 TSN, July 5, 1995, p. 24.

132 Id. at 48–52.

133 TSN, September 28, 1995, p. 24.

134 TSN, December 4, 1995, p. 47; See also RTC decision, p. 51.

135 RTC decision, p. 64.

136 Id.

137 Id. at 65.

138 Id. at 58.

139 TSN, November 20, 1995, p. 20.

140 RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, Rule 130, Sec. 36.

141 RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, Rule 130 (C) (6), Sec. 42.

142 G.R. No. 173476, February 22, 2012, 666 SCRA 501 [Per J. Bersamin, First Division].

143People v. Rodrigo Salafranca, G.R. No. 173476, February 22, 2012, 666 SCRA 501, 512–514 [Per J. Bersamin, First Division], citing People v. Peralta, G.R. No. 94570, September 28, 1994, 237 SCRA 218, 224 [Per J. Cruz, First Division]; People v. Maguikay, G.R. Nos. 103226–28, October 14, 1994, 237 SCRA 587, 600 [Per J. Puno, Second Division]; Alhambra Bldg. & Loan Ass’n v. DeCelle, 118 P. 2d 19, 47 C.A. 2d 409; Reilly Tar & Chemical Corp. v. Lewis, 61 N.E. 2d 297, 326 Ill. App. 117; Kaiko v. Dolinger, 440 A. 2d 198, 184 Conn. 509; Southern Surety Co. v. Weaver, Com. App. 273 S.W. 838; People v. Sanchez, G.R. No. 74740, August 28, 1992, 213 SCRA 70, 79 [Per J. Davide, Jr., Third Division]; Molloy v. Chicago Rapid Transit Co., 166 N.E. 530, 335 Ill. 164; Campbell v. Gladden, 118 A. 2d 133, 383 Pa. 144, 53 A.L.R. 2d 1222.

144 420 Phil. 235 (2001) [Per J. Sandoval–Gutierrez, Third Division].

145 Id. at 245, citing People v. Real, 367 Phil. 524 (1999) [Per J. Pardo, First Division]. This statement was used in order to justify that minor inconsistencies do not affect the witnesses’ credibility so long as they concur on the material aspects of the incident.

146 TSN, November 13, 1995, pp. 37–38.

147 TSN, September 16, 1998, p. 20.

148UP Diliman Police, http: www.econ.upd.edu.ph=” ” up–diliman–police=” "> (visited March 4, 2014).

149People v. Benjamin Peteluna, G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013, 689 SCRA 190, 197 [Per J. Perez, Second Division].

150 G.R. No. 187048, January 23, 2013, 689 SCRA 190 [Per J. Perez, Second Division].

151 Id. at 197, citing People v. Barde, G.R. No. 183094, September 22, 2010, 631 SCRA 187, 211 [Per J. Perez, First Division]; People v. Estepano, 367 Phil. 209, 217–218 (1999) [Per J. Bellosillo, Second Division]; People v. Berdin, 462 Phil. 290, 304 (2003) [Per J. Sandoval–Gutierrez, En Banc]; People v. Francisco, 397 Phil. 973, 985 (2000) [ Per C.J. Davide, Jr., En Banc].

152People v. Gary Vergara, G.R. No. 177763, July 3, 2013, 700 SCRA 412, 423 [Per J. De Castro, First Division], citing People v. Laurio, G.R. No. 182523, September 13, 2012, 680 SCRA 560, 571–572 [Per J. Leonardo–De Castro, First Division].

153 G.R. No. 188353, February 16, 2010, 612 SCRA 738 [Per J. Velasco, Third Division].

154People v. Leozar Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 188353, February 16, 2010, 612 SCRA 738, 747 [Per J. Velasco, Third Division], citing People v. Amazan, 402 Phil. 247, 270 (2001) [Per J. Mendoza, Second Division]; People v. Bato, 401 Phil. 415, 431 (2000) [Per J. Pardo, First Division]; People v. Albarido,

420 Phil. 235, 252 (2001) [Per J. Sandoval–Gutierrez, Third Division], citing People v. Francisco, 389 Phil. 243, 266 (2000) [Per J. Kapunan, First Division].

155 CA decision, p. 59.

156 Id.

157 CA decision, p. 61.

158 Id.

159 Id.

160 See RTC decision, pp. 78–79.

161 See CA decision, pp. 22–23.

162People v. Peralta, et al., 134 Phil. 703 (1968) [Per Curiam, En Banc], citing U.S. v. Ramos, 2 Phil. 434 (1903) [Per J. Willard, En Banc]; U.S. v. Maza, 5 Phil. 346 (1905) [Per J. Johnson, En Banc]; U.S. v. Grant and Kennedy, 18 Phil. 122 (1910) [Per J. Trent, En Banc]; U.S. v. Ipil, 27 Phil. 530 (1914) [Per J. Johnson, En Banc]; U.S. v. Synder, 3 McCrary, 377; People v. Bannaisan, 49 Phil. 423 (1926) [Per J. Villa–Real, En Banc]; U.S. v. Bundal, et al., 3 Phil. 89 (1903) [Per J. Torres, En Banc].







DISSENTING OPINION

ABAD, J.:


I strongly dissent from the majority Decision.

The incident in this case was an offshoot of a campus war between members of two fraternities at the University of the Philippines (UP) where one group, allegedly masked, surprised and beat up the other, resulting in injuries to some and death to one.

Alleging conspiracy, the City Prosecutor of Quezon City filed an information for murder, two informations for frustrated murder, and three informations for attempted murder against 12 accused, belonging to the Scintilla Juris Fraternity, before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City in Criminal Cases Q95–61133 to 38 with no bail recommended. Only 11 of the accused were tried, however, since accused Benedict Guerrero remained at large.

The Facts and Case

The evidence for the prosecution shows that seven Sigma Rho Fraternity members were taking lunch at the Beach House Canteen inside the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City, between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m. on December 8, 1994 when about 15 men, carrying baseball bats or lead pipes, with some wearing masks, swooped down upon them. SR Dennis Venturina shouted an alarm, “Brods! Brods!” His brods scampered away but the attackers got to some of them. (To avoid confusion, SR or SJ is affixed before the names of those involved to distinguish members of the Sigma Rho Fraternity from members of the Scintilla Juris Fraternity.)

SR Leandro Lachica, his fraternity’s Grand Archon, testified that the attackers all wore improvised masks of cloth or t–shirts. Five of them went after SR Lachica, hitting him on the back and forearms as he parried the blows. In the course of that attack, the mask of one of them, SJ Robert Michael Beltran Alvir, with whom he was familiar, fell off. SR Lachica got away from those who were beating him but he looked back while running and saw SJ Warren Zingapan and Julius Victor Medalla, two of the attackers, no longer wearing masks. The attack lasted for about 30 to 45 seconds.1

SR Mervin Natalicio, a 4th year law student and Vice–Grand Archon of his fraternity, testified that while most of the attackers running towards their group wore masks, one of them, SJ Medalla, wore none. Natalicio tried to scamper away but he tripped on a tree root and fell. About 10 attackers, including SJ Zingapan and Christopher Soliva who also wore no masks, bludgeoned him on the back, arms, left shoulder, hips, toes, and right hand.2

After his initial attackers left SR Natalicio, a group of four or five others led by SJ Benedict Guerrero, took over and beat him up, too. A third group came and also mauled him on the left side of his body. When Natalicio was so hurt he could no longer move, some people brought him to the UP Infirmary where they treated his injuries.3

SR Natalicio later went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), gave his statement, and submitted himself to medico–legal examination. He said that Scintilla Juris members attacked them as an offshoot of an August 1994 rumble despite a signed truce.4

SR Cesar Mangrobang testified that after SR Venturina sounded the alarm, he saw a group of men, some with cloth masks, approach with lead pipes and clubs. As he received a blow on his back, he tried to run but two masked men blocked his way and repeatedly beat him up. When their masks fell off, the two turned out to be SJ Gilbert Magpantay and Carlo Fajardo.5

SR Mangrobang succeeded in running away until he reached the corner of the Main Library. On glancing back, he saw no one after him. He then decided to return to the scene of the commotion where he saw from three to four meters away SJ Danilo Feliciano, Jr. and Raymund Narag hitting SR Venturina with lead pipes. SJ Feliciano’s cloth mask had fallen off. SR Mangrobang also saw SJ Reynaldo Ablanida wielding a lead pipe while running.6

SJ Narag and Feliciano were about to turn on SR Mangrobang when somebody shouted, “Pulis! Takbo! Takbo!,” prompting the two to run in the direction of the Main Library. SR Mangrobang and others helped carry SR Venturina into a passenger jeepney to bring him to the Infirmary.7

SR Cristobal Gaston, Jr. testified that, of the men who came, two attacked him: the first with a lead pipe, hitting him on the arms and hands as he tried to cover his head, while the second stabbed him on the left chest and forearm. The two wore masks. SR Gaston got away and ran towards Palma Hall but, as he looked back, he saw SJ Zingapan, Feliciano and George Morano at the scene.8 SR Gaston went to confer with his fraternity brothers at the College of Law building. Later that evening, they met with their alumni brothers.9

SR Arnel Fortes testified that some of the men who attacked them wore masks but some did not. He saw SJ Feliciano, whom he recognized despite a cloth mask, and SJ Medalla who wore none. SR Fortes managed to run away but, as he looked back, he saw SJ Zingapan and Morano, who also wore no masks, running after him. They hit him on the back, causing him to fall. He stood up and tried to run again but a group of 10 men attacked him for five to eight seconds, hitting his head five to seven times. They also hit him on the legs. He did not recognize any of his attackers. But, standing up again after the second attack, SR Fortes saw SJ Feliciano beating up SR Venturina. SJ Feliciano’s mask fell off in the process.10

Dr. Rolando Victoria described the injuries that SR Venturina suffered.11 Dr. Aurea Villena, on the other hand, testified on the results of her medical examinations of SR Natalicio, Fortes, Mangrobang, Lachica, and Gaston four days after the mauling incident.12

Emmanuel Batungbakal testified that he saw a group of men board three cars that had no plate numbers. The cars sped past the back of the law library. SJ Feliciano was one of those on board. Batungbakal did not, however, witness the reported incident that followed.13

Ernesto Paolo Tan testified that he was at the Beach House Canteen during the incident. He saw three separate groups of men, some of whom wore masks, attack SR Natalicio. After the attackers left, he helped Natalicio board a service vehicle.14

Dennis Gaio testified that he was having lunch outside the canteen when three of the attackers came from the Arts and Science Building followed by 10 more from the College of Law. Some wore masks but the others did not. They attacked the group that was having lunch, including SR Venturina. He tried to help the latter after he had fallen but one of the attackers stopped him. Gaio had two women companions but he told them to run towards the sunken garden when he sensed the arrival of the masked men.15

The defense presented 42 witnesses. To prove its claim that the identities of the attackers were unrecognizable because of their masks, the defense presented, among others, Benito Lato and Frisco Capilo, both utility workers at UP and some student customers at the canteen. Lato recalled that he was collecting plates at the canteen when the attackers came. But he was unable to recognize them because they wore masks and he could see only their eyes.16 Capilo, on the other hand, testified that he was on his way to the Main Library to work when several men, all wearing masks and carrying lead pipes, rushed towards the canteen and attacked some who were eating there.17

Daniel Mabazza testified that he was on his way out of the canteen when 15 men arrived from the South wing of the Main Library and attacked some customers who were eating at the tables. He testified further that he was about 3 to 5 meters from where SR Venturina was attacked but he could not identify any of the attackers because they were all wearing masks and none of these fell off during the attack.18

Alpha Sigma Nu Sorority members, Eda Pangilinan, Luz Perez, and Bathalani Tiamson testified that they were unable to identify the attackers because they all wore masks. Pangilinan and Tiamson insisted that they did not see any of the attackers’ masks fall off.19

UP police officer Romeo Cabrera testified that he and fellow officer, Oscar Salvador, were at the Arts and Science Building when they responded to reports that a rumble was taking place at the back of the Main Library. On arrival at the Beach House Canteen, they saw the wounded SR Natalicio with some companions. They put him on board a jeepney and brought him to the UP Infirmary with his companions. On the way, Cabrera asked SR Natalicio who attacked his group. He replied that he did not recognize any of them because they wore masks. Cabrera asked SR Natalicio the same question after he had received treatment. SR Natalicio gave the same answer. Cabrera could not interrogate SR Venturina because the latter suffered serious injuries.20

UP police officer Salvador testified that when he and Cabrera responded to reports of commotion, they noticed a mauling victim, SR Natalicio, surrounded by some people. Salvador asked some of the bystanders who the culprits were.  They said they did not recognize them since they were wearing masks.21

The police officers brought SR Natalicio and his three companions to the Infirmary using the canteen’s jeepney. On the way, Cabrera asked SR Natalicio and the others with him who attacked them. They replied that they could not tell since the men wore masks. Salvador saw SR Venturina and Gaston being treated at the Infirmary. After SR Natalicio was treated, Cabrera asked him again if he recognized the men who hit him. Natalicio replied that he did not because they wore masks. When asked how many hit him, Natalicio said that he could not tell because he had his back on them.22

SJ Feliciano testified that he was in Pampanga on December 8, 1994, visiting his grandfather whom he thought had undergone surgery of the prostate gland.23 His mother, Feliciana, and an elementary school teacher, Rogelio Yumul, corroborated his testimony. Yumul testified that he was on his way to the principal’s office at around noon of December 8 when he saw Feliciano seated at a waiting shed.24

SJ Alvir testified that he had been ill since December 5. Consequently, he neither reported for work nor went to UP on December 8.25

SJ Medalla testified that on the day in question he was with his classmate Michael Vibas working on a school project. He claimed that he could not have taken part in the rumble since he suffered from an August 1994 head injury that affected his balance.26 Jose Victor Santos testified that he and Medalla played darts after lunch on December 8 and they later went to Jolibee since Medalla had to treat him after losing the game.27  Dr. Gerardo Legaspi corroborated Medalla’s testimony regarding his previous head injuries.28

SJ Soliva testified that he was having lunch with his girlfriend and her lady friend at Jollibee Philcoa when the incident took place. They returned to UP at around 1:00 p.m. Soliva went straight to his “tambayan” where he learned of the rumble at the main library.29 Anna Cabahug, Soliva’s girlfriend, corroborated his testimony.30

SJ Zingapan testified that he could not have taken part in the incident at UP since he was at that time having lunch with Teodoro Canay in Kamuning, Quezon City. From there, he went to the SM City mall at around 1:00 p.m. to buy an electric thermos as a wedding gift for a town mate. He was on his way out of the mall when he chanced upon two of his “brods.”31

The RTC absolved SJ Rodolfo Peñalosa on a demurrer to evidence since none of the prosecution witnesses testified that he had taken part in the attack.

On February 28, 2002 the RTC rendered judgment32 finding SJ Alvir, Feliciano, Soliva, Medalla, and Zingapan guilty beyond reasonable doubt of one count of murder and four counts of attempted murder. The court gave credence to the testimonies of the victims who identified their attackers. It thought little of the failure of some of the victims to name them when asked by the UP police officers and the physicians at the Infirmary. It did not agree that the victims’ delayed identification of their attackers tainted their testimonies. The RTC held that the accused conspired in the commission of the crimes charged. But it acquitted SJ Ablanida, Fajardo, Magpantay, Morano, and Narag for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA), Special First Division of Five,33 with one Justice dissenting, affirmed the RTC Decision and found SJ Alvir, Feliciano, Soliva, Medalla, and Zingapan guilty of three counts of slight physical injuries in Criminal Cases Q95–61136, Q95–61135, and Q95–61134; two counts of attempted murder in Criminal Cases Q95–61138 and Q95–61137; and one count of murder in Criminal Case Q95–61133. The CA imposed on the accused the penalties that corresponded to the offenses and ordered them to pay various civil indemnities to the victims or, in the case of SR Venturina, to his heirs.

The CA ruled that the witnesses’ positive identification of SJ Alvir, Feliciano, Soliva, Medalla, and Zingapan prevailed over the latter’s defenses and alibis. It regarded the inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses as trivial and did not tarnish their credibility. The CA held that the delay in the identification of the accused had been explained: SR Natalicio and Fortes needed medical attention; the others with them wanted to come together when they filed their complaints.

The CA explained that it characterized the crimes charged in Criminal Cases Q95–61136, Q95–61135, and Q95–61134 as mere slight physical injuries since the intent to kill was not evident, given that none of the accused chased them. SR Gaston, said the CA, suffered only a lacerated wound near his breast, precluding an attempt on his life.

The Issue Presented

The central issue in this case is whether or not the CA erred, like the RTC, in not rejecting the victims’ identification of their assailants as mere fabrications to go around the fact that the latter wore masks and in thus not absolving the accused of the charges.

In every criminal action, the prosecution has to establish the identity of the offender, like the crime itself, by proof beyond reasonable doubt. Indeed, its first duty is to prove the identity of the offender for, even if the commission of the offense can be established, no conviction can take place without proof of his identity beyond reasonable doubt.34

True, alibi is a weak defense in the face of positive testimonies of prosecution witnesses that the accused committed the crime. But such testimonies must be credible and must come from credible witnesses.35

Several circumstances militate against the mauling victims’ testimonies that they were able to identify their attackers:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

1.  SR Lachica, one of the victims, himself testified that the men he saw coming to attack his group, at least 10 in number, all wore masks. He said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q:
When one of your brod you heard shouted “Brods”, what did you do?
A:
I stood up and I was alarmed. I stood up and looked back and from my side, I saw at least ten (10) armed men and masked men.
Q:
You said armed men, you saw armed men when you looked back.
With what were they armed with?
A:
They were armed with lead pipes and baseball bats.

Q:

You also mentioned that these men were wearing masks. What kind of masks?
A:
They were wearing handkerchiefs, piece of clothes, and some t–shirts.36

SR Lachica also said that, as five of the attackers beat him up on the back, he covered his head with his forearms.37  Consequently, it was not likely that, as he would claim, he saw SJ Alvir’s mask fall off his face.

SR Lachica also testified that as he ran away from his assailants, he looked back running and was able to place the accused SJ Zingapan and Medalla at the scene.38 But, considering that SR Lachica was trying to get away from the men who were beating him up, it was not likely, having succeeded in sprinting away, that he would look back and risk slowing down his escape. He did not even claim that SJ Zingapan and Medalla were among those who attacked him. He appears to have just made up the statement to get on record evidence that the two were part of the attackers.

2.  SR Natalicio testified that the men who attacked them mostly wore masks but SJ Medalla who led those men wore no mask.39 This is not easy to believe since SR Lachica, the other prosecution witness, testified that the attackers all wore masks but when he looked back while getting away, he saw SJ Medalla already without a mask, implying that the latter lost it, thus belying SR Natalicio’s testimony that SJ Medalla wore no mask from the start.

SR Natalicio testified that while parrying his attackers’ blows, he saw SJ Zingapan and Soliva.40 These two must be near each other since he saw them at glance. But, contradicting SR Natalicio, SR Gaston also saw SJ Zingapan, not with Soliva but with Morano.41

3.  The RTC itself gave no credence to SR Mangrobang’s testimony and for this reason acquitted SJ Magpantay and Fajardo, two of his attackers whose masks supposedly fell off. The trial court also acquitted SJ Narag, whom SR Mangrobang said he saw, when he returned to the scene of the commotion, hitting SR Venturina with the aid of SJ Feliciano. It is quite unbelievable that having narrowly escaped his attackers, SR Mangrobang would go back while the mauling was still in progress. Finally, the trial court acquitted SJ Ablanida whom SR Mangrobang said he saw wielding a lead pipe while running because it simply could not believe this witness.

4.  After SR Lachica and Natalicio, the third witness to use the look–back proposition was SR Gaston. He testified that one of two masked men tried to bludgeon him on the head as the other lunged at him with a knife, wounding his chest and forearm. As SR Gaston ran and escaped from those two men, he managed to look back just to place SJ Zingapan and Morano at the scene of the mauling.

The trial court itself found something terribly wrong with SR Gaston’s testimonies. It said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

In this regard, Gaston related a hazy story. At one point, he said that he saw Zingapan and Morano at the same place but not at the same time explaining that the former was there first and when he moved, the latter stood in the same place. Later, he said that both were there at the same time. Granting arguendo that Morano was moving, his story does not entirely jibe with that of Fortes.42

5.  SR Fortes was the fourth witness to foist the same look–back proposition. He ran away after seeing about 15 men, armed with lead pipes and clubs, coming to attack his group. But he looked back while on the run to see SJ Zingapan and Morano, who supposedly had no masks, right behind him. They hit him on the back, causing him to fall. As he stood up and tried to run again, a group of 10 men attacked him for five to eight seconds. He recognized none of them. But, standing up again after the second attack, he supposedly saw SJ Feliciano whose mask fell off while beating up SR Venturina.

Just what are the chances that four out of five witnesses who were fleeing and, indeed, running for their lives would just look back, risk stumbling and crashing down, to put in evidence the identities of some of those whom the RTC and the CA convicted? Very little. It appears a convenient excuse for providing evidence where none existed. The circumstances of the separate identifications, taking place in split seconds, defy belief. What baffles me is the fact that the trial court acquitted SJ Morano whom SR Fortes and Gaston identified while looking back on the run but convicted SJ Zingapan, Soliva, and Medalla who were also targets of look–back testimonies.

The trial court had reason to further doubt SR Fortes’ testimonies. It said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

By the way, the Court has not ignored the testimony of Arnel Fortes that Morano repeatedly struck him with a lead pipe. It was, however, given during the rebuttal stage. When he sat at the witness stand for the first time, he said nothing of that sort. He could have been saying the truth and that what he related was not an afterthought but still the cloud of doubt remains. As there still that haziness, the barrier remains uncleared.43

6.  Emmanuel Batungbakal of course testified that he saw three plate–less cars rush out towards the Main Library44 with SJ Feliciano on board one car. But this testimony is inconclusive since Batungbakal admitted on cross–examination that he was not sure it was SJ Feliciano he saw. Besides, as pointed out above, no credible testimony supports the view that SJ Feliciano in fact took part in the mauling.

The trial court acquitted some of the accused after rejecting the testimonies of SR Mangrobang who fingered SJ Feliciano as well. On the other hand, although SR Gaston did not mention SJ Feliciano on direct testimony, he brought up his name only on cross, a catch–up kind of testimony that the trial court rejected in SJ Morano’s case. SR Fortes, the final witness against SJ Feliciano, said an uncanny thing: two groups of attackers had just bludgeoned him one after the other, yet SR Fortes claimed that he still managed to stand up in time to observe SJ Feliciano attacking SR Venturina.

7.  Notably, the two sides gave conflicting testimonies regarding the victims’ opportunity to identify their attackers.  The prosecution witnesses claim that some of the attackers could be identified because they wore no masks or their masks fell off. The defense witnesses testified that all the attackers wore masks and none of these fell off. Since identification of the attackers is the key issue, the Court has to consider which witnesses and stories appear to be more credible.

I am impressed with the testimony of UP police officer Salvador, who had served the UP’s police force for 18 years and had no motive to fabricate or lie. He testified that when he and fellow officer Cabrera arrived at the scene of the mauling, he asked the bystanders the identities of the assailants. The bystanders replied that they were unable to identify the attackers because they wore masks. Salvador testified:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q:
Upon being informed by the blue guard that there was a rumble near the Beach House canteen, tell the Court what did you and Cabrera do?
A:
We rushed to the place where the incident took place, sir.
Q:
And upon reaching the area of the Beach House Canteen, what did you notice?
A:
I noticed one victim together with some people, sir, and I asked some of the bystanders if they saw what happened and they said they did not recognize the attackers because they were wearing mask.45

The statement of the bystanders, made while some of the wounded were bleeding there and the excitement lingered, may be given in evidence as part of the res gestae. Section 42, Rule 130 of the Rules of Evidence provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Sec. 42. Part of the res gestae. – Statements made by a person while a startling occurrence is taking place or immediately prior or subsequent thereto with respect to the circumstances thereof, may be given in evidence as part of the res gestae. x x x

These statements are spontaneous reactions inspired by the excitement of the moment. It may be assumed that, unlike tardy witnesses, the bystanders who made the statements had no opportunity to deliberate or fabricate.  The words they uttered are part of the commotion they described.46 The res gestae contradicts the attempt of prosecution witnesses to show that a number of the attackers wore masks or that identification was possible because the masks of some fell off.

In fact, Luz Perez, a 3rd year Interior Design student, then lining up to get food at the Beach House Canteen, testified like many others that she was unable to identify the attackers because they all wore masks. She said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q:
How many masked men did you see Miss Perez?
A:
There were about ten to fifteen masked men.
x x x x
ATTY. W. CHUA
Q:
And can you identify any of the attackers that you saw?
WITNESS
A:
No, I cannot.
Q:
Why can you not identify them?
A:
Because they were wearing masks.47

8.  In the same way, while the startling incident and the pains it caused still occupied their minds, SR Natalicio and his three companions admitted to the two UP police officers investigating the mauling incident that they could not identify their attackers because the latter wore masks. UP police officer Cabrera testified:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

q–
On you way to the Infirmary, please tell the court if anything had transpired.
a–
I asked Marvin Natalicio of his names, sir.
q–
What else did you ask him, if any?
a–
I asked him who hit him, sir.
q–
What did he say?
a–
He told me he did not recognize any of them because they were wearing masks, sir.
q–
What about his companions who were with you in this vehicle, did you not ask them?
a–
They answered the same thing, they did not recognize any of them, sir.
x x x x
q–
Now, upon arriving at the Infirmary, please tell the Court what transpired?
a–
At the Infirmary, there were two (2) other persons who were also injured, Sir.
q–
Please tell the court what you did at the U.P. Infirmary?
a–
I asked Marvin again if he recognized the two (2) other persons who hit him and he answered the same thing as what I have asked him when we were at the vehicle, Sir.48

Notably, as SR Fortes testified, it was “SOP” for all fratmen to familiarize themselves with the faces and names of the members of other fraternities.49 This being the case, there was no reason for SR Natalicio and his companions, all fratmen, not to promptly name the attackers from the rival fraternity when first queried by the police officers.

9.  Besides, Dr. Carmen Mislang, a physician who had been serving at the UP Infirmary for 20 years, also testified that when asked, SR Natalicio and his companions told her that they could not identify their attackers because the latter were masked.50 Dr. Mislang in fact included this information in her medical report. She thus testified:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q:
You said doctor, in this history of present illness, marked as Exhibit 9–a–2=zingapan, that I quote: “x x x he was allegedly hit by a lead pipe during the rumble by unknown assailants.” What was the basis of your statement here?
A:
He told us, the group because they came with friends, they alleged that he was hit by a group of people masked by a lead pipe. I asked if they know the assailants and they said no because they are masked.
Q:
You said he, to whom are you referring to?
A:
The patient and their friends around because there are also commotion in the emergency room, sir.
Q:
Are you referring to the patient by the name of Mervin Natalicio?
A:
Yes, sir.51

SR Natalicio of course denied having said that he could not identify their assailants when the police officers and the doctor asked him and his companions about it. But between the latter, on the one hand, and those officers and the doctor, on the other, the Court should have been more inclined to believe the latter.

Indeed, there is no evidence that SR Natalicio, Lachica, Fortes, Gaston, Mangrobang, and Tumaneng, who survived the mauling, gave statements shortly after the incident either to the UP police officers or the Quezon City police which had primary jurisdiction over the crimes. They took four days mulling over it before going to the NBI to name their assailants.

10. SR Natalicio of course gave a different version of his interview with the UP police officers. When they asked him who their assailants were, he said that he requested them to come back as he was not feeling well.52  There is testimony that two of his Sigma Rho brothers conferred with him to discuss what happened and their strategy for getting back at those whom they believed were responsible. Further to this, SR Lachica53 and Gaston54 testified that they met with their alumni brothers that evening. SR Natalicio said that when the police officers came back to ask him the identities of the attackers, a senior fraternity brother–lawyer was present and he told the police officers that the statements would be given to the NBI and they would just be furnished copies.55

This is ludicrous. The right to silence is given to persons under suspicion for committing some crimes, not to the victims whose duty is to promptly assist the police investigators in pinpointing criminal responsibilities. No evidence has been presented to show that the UP police force was partial to the opposing fraternity. I am thus unable to blame the accused for believing that the only possible reason in this case for withholding information from the police from day one was that the victims and their counsel had yet to put their acts together.

11.  The supposed identification of the accused came four days later at the NBI office in Manila. Admittedly, the victims and their brods waited for everyone to be ready before they came as a group to give their statements at the NBI office. The excuse that SR Natalicio and Fortes needed medical attention and that the others with them wanted to come together when they filed their complaints at the NBI is not a valid excuse. Since they claim that they were terribly aggrieved and that one of them lost his life, the natural thing was for them to demand immediate justice and action from the police or the NBI on the afternoon of December 8, 1994.

12. The prosecution witnesses testified that the masks of five of the accused just fell off to reveal who they were. These were (a) SJ Alvir per SR Lachica’s testimony;56 (b) SJ Zingapan and (c) SJ Medalla also per SR Lachica’s testimony that the two were not wearing masks when he looked back and saw them,57 implying that they had masks at the beginning of the attack; (d) SJ Magpantay and (e) SJ Fajardo per SR Mangrobang’s testimony that the masks of these two fell off.58 SR Fortes also testified that he saw SJ Feliciano’s mask fell off as he was hitting SR Venturina.59

Just what are the chances that the masks of five out of 12 accused just fell off during the mauling? Quite little or nil since it was not actually a fraternity rumble where the protagonists hit each other creating the possibility that any mask they were wearing could fall off. Here, the victims testified that they bore the punishment and were unable to fight back since their attackers were numerous and carried lead pipes and clubs. Indeed, none of the victims testified that his action in protecting his head resulted in the unmasking of one or some of his attackers. Evidently, the attackers deliberately wore masks to hide their identities. It made no sense for them to wear masks that would just fall off when one sneezes.

Those who swing bats to strike at objects before them rarely hit their own faces. Only in funny movies like The Three Stooges can that happen. What are the chances that a mask would just fall off from the face of the person wearing it? Construction and industrial laborers doing strenuous work wear mask all day long to protect themselves from dusts, chemicals, or fumes. Food processing workers wear them at work to prevent food contamination. They are not likely to be heard experiencing unpredictable falling off of masks taking place in great number. Here, if the prosecution were to be believed, five out of just 12 accused lost their masks in only 30 to 45 seconds. The odds of this happening are unbelievable.

Indeed, prosecution witness Gaio himself who was at the scene of the commotion testified that he did not see any of the attackers losing their masks at any point in time. He said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

ATTY. CHUA:
Q:
At any point in time, did you see any mask pulling [sic] off?
WITNESS:
A:
I did not see anything, sir.60

Gaio also belied SR Fortes’ testimony that SJ Feliciano’s mask fell off while he was hitting SR Venturina. Gaio said:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Q:
Mr. Dennis Venturina was hit and fell down, was the person who hit Dennis wearing mask?
A:
Their faces were covered, sir.
Q:
All of them?
A:
Yes, sir.
Q:
There is no way to recognize them?
A:
None, sir.61

While the attack by masked men is doubly condemnable, not only for the treachery involved but also for the cowardice and deception that came with it, the Court cannot hastily send to prison those charged with these crimes without proof beyond reasonable doubt that they committed them. The Constitution ordains this.

In a case like this, where the identities and participations of the several accused involved are difficult to prove, the ideal solution is to convince the least guilty of them, the one who showed the most reluctance and delivered the lightest blows, to tum state witness. I am unable to say if efforts in this direction were taken by the NBI or the prosecutors to ensure that they had a good case.

I condemn the senseless death of SR Venturina and commiserates with the sufferings of his family. Fraternity wars, many of them cruel and barbaric, are the scourge of many campuses. New recruits are romanticized with the mystery, pride, and drama of brotherhood or kinship with senior members of great reputation. This of course invites envy and annoyance from other brotherhoods for none is greater or more courageous than one’s own. They thus test each other’s unity, capability, and resolve, destroying each other, and subordinating the real purpose of their being in school. They forget that true brotherhood comes from mutual kindness and respect.

ACCORDINGLY, I vote to GRANT the petition, REVERSE AND SET ASIDE the judgment of conviction of the Regional Trial Court in Criminal Cases Q95–61133 to 38 dated February 28, 2002, and ACQUIT the accused–appellants Robert Michael Beltran Alvir, Danilo A. Feliciano, Jr., Christopher L. Soliva, Julius Victor L. Medalla, and Warren L. Zingapan on ground of reasonable doubt.


Endnotes:


1 TSN, June 5, 1995, pp. 11–14.

2 TSN, July 3, 1995, pp. 6–16.

3 Id. at 17–19.

4 Id. at 20–23.

5 TSN, September 28, 1995, pp. 14–19.

6 Id. at 20–30.

7 Id. at 28–34.

8 TSN, October 11, 1995, pp. 17–38.

9 Id. at 44–46.

10 TSN, October 16, 1995, pp. 42–63.

11 TSN, July 24, 1995, pp. 11–24.

12 TSN, July 31, 1995, pp. 9–10.

13 TSN, November 6, 1995, pp. 33–39; 61–62.

14 TSN, September 3, 1996, pp. 16–17; 24–54.

15 TSN, April 3, 1997, pp. 10–22.

16 TSN, November 27, 1995, pp. 10–12.

17 TSN, December 4, 1995, p. 13.

18 TSN, September 17, 1997, pp. 7–16.

19 RTC Decision, p. 37.

20 TSN, November 13, 1995, pp. 22–53.

21TSN, November 20, 1995, pp. 15–22.

22 Id. at 22–40.

23 TSN, February 17, 1999, pp. 8–9.

24 TSN, November 12, 1997, pp. 7–10.

25 TSN, February 2, 2000, pp. 9–16.

26 TSN, September 22, 1999, pp. 4–21.

27 TSN, August 11, 1999, pp. 7–12.

28 TSN, September 15, 1999, pp. 10–25.

29 TSN, June 16, 1999, pp. 12–21.

30 TSN, November 23, 1998, pp. 5–27.

31 TSN, May 12, 1999, pp. 7–18.

32 Penned by Hon. Jose Catral Mendoza, now a member of the Court.

33 The cases were re–raffled many times after several Court of Appeals justices inhibited themselves, claiming close relation with a party, a counsel, or a fraternity involved in the case. See: Court of Appeals Decision, pp. 26–27.

34People v. Pineda, 473 Phil. 517, 548 (2004); People v. Tresvalles, Jr., 313 Phil. 471, 492 (1995), citing Tuason v. Court of Appeals, 311 Phil. 813, 817 (1995).

35People v. Mansueto, 391 Phil. 611, 633 (2000); People v. Crispin, 383 Phil. 919, 932 (2000).

36 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 11.

37 Id. at 29.

38 Id. at 13.

39 TSN, July 3, 1995, p. 9.

40 Id. at 14–16.

41 TSN, October 11, 1995, p. 143.

42 RTC Decision, p. 65.

43 Id.

44 TSN, November 6, 1995, pp. 31, 33.

45 TSN, November 20, 1995, pp. 19–20.

46 2 Jones, Sec. 10:1, 6th Edition.

47 TSN, December 11, 1995, pp. 80, 85.

48 TSN, November 13, 1995, pp. 37–40.

49 TSN, October 30, 1995, p. 12.

50 TSN, September 16, 1998, pp. 20–21.

51 Id.

52 TSN, July 12, 1995, p. 3.

53 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 15.

54 TSN, October 11, 1995, pp. 46, 148–149.

55 TSN, February 7, 2001, p. 31.

56 TSN, June 5, 1995, p. 12.

57 Id. at 13.

58 TSN, September 28, 1995, pp. 17–18.

59 TSN, October 16, 1995, pp. 62–63.

60 TSN, April 3, 1997, pp. 48–49.

61 Id. at 49.

G.R. No. 196735, May 05, 2014 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. DANILO FELICIANO, JR., JULIUS VICTOR MEDALLA, CHRISTOPHER SOLIVA, WARREN L. ZINGAPAN, AND ROBERT MICHAEL BELTRAN ALVIR, Accused–Appellants.


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