February 2017 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 198954, February 22, 2017 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RODRIGO MACASPAC Y ISIP, Accused-Appellant.
G.R. No. 198954, February 22, 2017
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RODRIGO MACASPAC Y ISIP, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
When the victim was alerted to the impending lethal attack due to the preceding heated argument between him and the accused, with the latter even uttering threats against the former, treachery cannot be appreciated as an attendant circumstance. When the resolve to commit the crime was immediately followed its execution, evident premeditation cannot be appreciated. Hence, the crime is homicide, not murder.
Rodrigo Macaspac y Isip (Macaspac) hereby seeks to reverse the decision promulgated on April 7, 2011,1 whereby the Court of Appeals (CA), in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 03262, affirmed with modification the decision rendered in Criminal Case No. C-31494 by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 129, in Caloocan City declaring him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder for the killing of Robert Jebulan Pelaez (Jebulan).2
The information charging Macaspac with murder filed by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Caloocan City reads as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
That on or about the 7th day of July 1988, at Caloocan City, Metro Manila and within the jurisdiction of the Honorable Court, the above-named accused, without any justifiable cause, with deliberate intent to kill, and with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab with kitchen knife on the vital part of his body one ROBERT JEBULAN PELAEZ, thereby inflicting upon the latter serious physical injuries, which injuries directly caused the victim's death.The case was archived for more than 15 years because Macaspac had gone into hiding and remained at large until his arrest on July 28, 2004. Upon his arraignment on August 31, 2004, he pleaded not guilty to the foregoing information.4
Contrary to law.3
The Prosecution's evidence revealed that at around 8:00 in the evening of July 7, 1988, Macaspac was having drinks with Ricardo Surban, Dionisio Barcomo alias Boy, Jimmy Reyes, and Jebulan on Pangako Street, Bagong Barrio, Caloocan City. In the course of their drinking, an argument ensued between Macaspac and Jebulan. It became so heated that, Macaspac uttered to the group: Hintayin yo aka d'yan, wawalisin ko kayo, and then left.5 After around three minutes Macaspac returned wielding kitchen knife. He confronted and taunted Jebulan, saying: Ano? Jebulan simply replied: Tama na. At that point, Macaspac suddenly stabbed Jebulan on the lower right area of his chest, and ran away. Surban and the others witnessed the stabbing of Jebulan. The badly wounded Jebulan was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.6
Macaspac initially invoked self-defense, testifying that he and Jebulan had scuffled for the possession of the knife, and that he had then stabbed Jebulan once he seized control of the knife, viz.:7
Atty. SanchezHowever, Macaspac later on claimed that Jebulan had been stabbed by accident when he fell on the knife. Macaspac denied being the person with whom Jebulan had the argument, which he insisted had been between Barcomo and one Danny. According to him, he tried to pacify their argument, but his effort angered Jebulan, who drew out the knife and tried to stab him. He fortunately evaded the stab thrust of Jebulan, whom he struck with wooden chair to defend himself The blow caused Jebulan to fall on the knife, puncturing his chest.9
Q And it was alleged here in the information that on July 7, 1988 at around o'clock in the evening, in the City of Caloocan you stabbed the victim Robert Julian (Jebulan). What can you say about this?
A We scuffled for possession for sharp instrument and when I was able to grab that sharp instrument, was able to stab Roberto Jebulan, sir.8
On February 19, 2008, the RTC found Macaspac guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder,10 disposing:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
WHEREFORE, the Court finds that the killing of Robert Jebulan is qualified by treachery. In the absence of mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the Court hereby finds the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt as charged, and hereby sentences him to suffer the imprisonment of reclusion perpertua.On appeal, the CA affirmed the conviction but modified the civil liability by imposing civil indemnity of P50,000.00, exemplary damages of P25,000.00, and temperate damages of P25,000.00, decreeing:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
The accused is ordered to indemnify the victim in the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages.
Costs de oficio.
WHEREFORE, the appealed 19 February 2008 Decision of Branch 129 of the Regional Trial Court of Caloocan City is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATIONS that appellant, aside from the moral damages awarded by the trial court in the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00), is further ORDERED to pay the heirs of the victim, Robert Jebulan, the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as civil indemnity, Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) as exemplary damages and Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (P25,000.00) as temperate damages.Macaspac is now before the Court arguing that the CA erred in affirming his conviction for murder on the ground that the Prosecution did not establish his guilt for murder beyond reasonable doubt.13
It is settled that the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and their testimonies is best undertaken by the trial court because of its unique opportunity to observe the witnesses firsthand and to note their demeanor, conduct, and attitude under grueling examination. These factors are the most significant in evaluating the sincerity of witnesses and in unearthing the truth, especially in the face of conflicting testimonies. Through its personal observations during the entire proceedings, the trial court can be expected to determine whose testimonies to accept and which witnesses to believe. Accordingly, the findings of the trial court on such matters will not be disturbed on appeal unless some facts or circumstances of weight were overlooked, misapprehended, or misinterpreted as to materially affect the disposition of the case.14
The Court sees no misreading by the RTC and the CA of the credibility of the witnesses and the evidence of the parties. On the contrary, the CA correctly observed that inconsistencies had rendered Macaspac's testimony doubtful as to shatter his credibility.15 In so saying, we do not shift the burden of proof to Macaspac but are only stressing that his initial invocation of self-defense, being in the nature of forthright admission of committing the killing itself, placed on him the entire burden of proving such defense by clear and convincing evidence.
Alas, Macaspac did not discharge his burden. It is noteworthy that the CA rejected his claim of self-defense by highlighting the fact that Jebulan had not engaged in any unlawful aggression against him. Instead, the CA observed that 1ebulan was already running away from the scene when Macaspac stabbed him. The CA expressed the following apt impressions of the incident based on Macaspac's own declarations in court, viz.:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
ACP AzarconMacaspac's initial claim that he and Jebulan had scuffled for the possession of the knife, and that he had stabbed Jebulan only after grabbing the knife from the latter became incompatible with his subsequent statement of only striking Jebulan with the wooden chair, causing the latter to fall on the knife. The incompatibility, let alone the implausibility of the recantation, manifested the lack of credibility of Macaspac as witness.
x x x
Q How could you (appellant) hit him (Jebulan) at his back when you were facing him?
A When picked up the chair, when was about to hit him with the chair, Obet turned his back to ran (sic) from me, sir.
Q To ran (sic) away from you?
A Yes, sir, because he saw me, was already holding the chair, sir. (Emphasis supplied)
Self-defense, requires three (3) elements, namely: (a) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (b) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel the aggression; and (c) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself, must be proved by clear and convincing evidence.
From the above-quoted testimony of appellant, it is clear that even before he stabbed Jebulan, the latter was already running away from him. Hence, granting that Jebulan was initially the aggressor, appellant's testimony shows that said unlawful aggression already ceased when appellant stabbed him. Clearly, appellant's act of stabbing said victim would no longer be justified as an act of self-defense.16
Both the RTC17 and the CA18 concluded that Macaspac had suddenly attacked the completely unarmed and defenseless Jebulan; and that Macaspac did not thereby give Jebulan the opportunity to retaliate, or to defend himself, or to take flight, or to avoid the deadly assault.
Did the lower courts properly appreciate the attendance of alevosia, or treachery?
This is where we differ from the lower courts. We cannot uphold their conclusion on the attendance of treachery.
There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against persons, employing means and methods or forms in the execution thereof which tend to directly and specially ensure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.19 Two conditions must concur in order for treachery to be appreciated, namely: one, the assailant employed means, methods or forms in the execution of the criminal act which give the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and two, said means, methods or forms of execution were deliberately or consciously adopted by the assailant.20 Treachery, whenever alleged in the information and competently and clearly proved, qualifies the killing and raises it to the category of murder.21
Based on the records, Macaspac and Jebulan were out drinking along with others when they had an argument that soon became heated, causing the former to leave the group and punctuating his leaving with the warning that he would be back "to sweep them," the vernacular for killing the others (Hintayin n'yo ako d'yan, wawalisin ko kayo). His utterance was threat of an impending attack. Shortly thereafter, Macaspac returned to the group wielding the knife, immediately confronted and directly taunted Jebulan (Ano?), and quickly stabbed the latter on the chest, and then fled. The attack, even if it was sudden, did not constitute treachery. He did not mount the attack with surprise because the heated argument between him and the victim and his angry threat of going back "to sweep them" had sufficiently forewarned the latter of the impending lethal assault.
Nonetheless, the information also alleged the attendance of evident premeditation. We now determine if the records sufficiently established this circumstance.
The requisites for the appreciation of evident premeditation are: (1) the time when the accused determined to commit the crime; (2) an act manifestly indicating that the accused had clung to his determination to commit the crime; and (3) the lapse of sufficient length of time between the determination and execution to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act.22
Macaspac's having suddenly left the group and his utterance of Hintayin n'yo ako d'yan, wawalisin ko kayo marked the time of his resolve to commit the crime. His returning to the group with the la1ife manifested his clinging to his resolve to inflict lethal harm on the others. The first and second elements of evident premeditation were thereby established. But it is the essence of this circumstance that the execution of the criminal act be preceded by cool thought and reflection upon the resolve to carry out the criminal intent during the space of time sufficient to arrive at calm judgment.23 Was the lapse of time between the determination and execution matter of three minutes, based on the records-sufficient to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act? By quickly returning to the group with the knife, he let no appreciable time pass to allow him to reflect upon his resolve to carry out his criminal intent. It was as if the execution immediately followed the resolve to commit the crime. As such, the third requisite was absent.
Accordingly, we cannot appreciate the attendance of evident premeditation in the killing, for, as explained in People v. Gonzales:24
x x x The qualifying circumstance of premeditation can be satisfactorily established only if it could be proved that the defendant had ample and sufficient time to allow his conscience to overcome the determination of his will, if he had so desired, after meditation and reflection, following his plan to commit the crime. (United States v. Abaigar, Phil., 417; United States v. Gil, 13 Phil., 530.) In other words, the qualifying circumstance of premeditation can be taken into account only when there had been cold and deep meditation, and tenacious persistence in the accomplishment of the criminal act. (United States v. Cunanan, 37 Phil. 777.) But when the determination to commit the crime was immediately followed 1Jy execution, the circumstance of premeditation cannot be legally considered. (United States v. Blanco, 18 Phil. 206.) x x x (Bold underscoring is supplied for emphasis)Without the Prosecution having sufficiently proved the attendance of either treachery or evident premeditation, Macaspac was guilty only of homicide for the killing of Jebulan. The penalty for homicide, based on Article 246 of the Revised Penal Code, is reclusion temporal. Under Section 1 of the Indeterminate Sentence Law,25 the court, in imposing prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, is mandated to prescribe an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the Revised Penal Code, and the minimum term shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Revised Penal Code for the offense. In the absence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the imposab1e penalty is reclusion temporal in its medium period, or 14 years, eight months, and one day to 17 years and four months. This is pursuant to Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code.26 It is such period that the maximum term of the indeterminate sentence is reckoned from. On the other hand, the minimum term of the indeterminate sentence is taken from the degree next lower to reclusion temporal, which is prision mayor. Accordingly, Macaspac shall suffer the indeterminate penalty of eight years of prision mayor, as minimum, to 14 years, eight months and one day of reclusion temporal.
Anent the civil liabilities, we deem modification to be necessary to align with prevailing jurisprudence.27 Hence, Macaspac shall pay to the heirs of Jebulan the following amounts, namely: (a) P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; (b) P50,000.00 as moral damages; and (c) P50,000.00 as temperate damages. The temperate damages are awarded because no documentary evidence of burial or funeral expenses was presented during the trial.28 Moreover, Macaspac is liable for interest on all the items of damages at the rate of 6% per annum reckoned from the finality of this decision until fully paid.29
WHEREFORE, the Court DECLARES accused-appellant RODRIGO MACASPAC y ISIP guilty beyond reasonable doubt of HOMICIDE, and SENTENCES him to suffer the indeterminate penalty of EIGHT YEARS OF PRISION MAYOR, as minimum, to 14 YEARS, EIGHT MONTHS AND ONE DAY OF RECLUSION TEMPORAL, as maximum; to pay to the heirs of the late Robert Jebulan: (a) P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; (b) P50,000.00 as moral damages; and (c) P50,000.00 as temperate damages, plus interest on all damages hereby awarded at the rate of 6% per annum from the finality of the decision until fully paid.
The accused shall further pay the costs of suit.
Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), Leonen,** and Caguioa,***JJ., concur.
Reyes, J., on leave.
** In lieu of Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, who inhibited due to prior participation as the Solicitor General, per the raffle of February 20, 2017.
*** Designated as additional Member of the Third Division per Special Order No. 2417 dated January 4, 2017.
1Rollo, pp. 2-14; penned by Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario with Associate Justice Hakim S. Abdulwahid (retired) and Associate Justice Danton Q. Bueser concurring.
2 CA rollo, pp. 21-36; penned by Presiding Judge Thelma Canlas Trinidad-Pe Aguirre.
3Rollo, p. 3.
5 Id. at 3-4.
6 Id. at 4.
7 Id. at 5.
8 Id. at 8, citing TSN, 24 July 2007, p. 5.
9 Id. at 5, citing TSN, 24 July 2007, pp. 8-14 and pp. 17-19.
10 CA rollo. pp.21-36.
11 Id. at 35.
12 Supra note 1, at 13.
13Rollo, p. 29.
14People v. Pili, G.R. No. 124739, April 15, 1998, 289 SCRA 118, 131.
15Rollo, p. 8.
16 Id. at 9-10.
17 Supra note 2, at 35.
18 Supra note 1, at 11.
19 Article 14, paragraph 16, Revised Penal Code.
20People v. Flores, G.R. No. 37497, February 5, 2004, 422 SCRA 91, 97.
21People v. Sarabia, G.R. No. 106102, October 29, 1999, 317 SCRA 684, 694.
22People v. Torpio, G.R. No. 138984, June 4, 2004, 431 SCRA 9, 15; People v. Delos Reyes, G.R. No. 140680, May 28, 2004, 430 SCRA 166, 178; People v. Factao, G.R. No. 125966, January 13, 2004, 419 SCRA 38, 57; People v. Catbagan, G.R. Nos. 149430-32, February 23, 2004, 423 SCRA 535, 565; People v. Garcia, G.R. No. 153591, February 23, 2004, 423 SCRA 583, 588; People v. Montejo, No. L-68857, November 21, 1988, 67 SCRA 506, 513; People v. Diva, G.R. No. L-22946, April 29, 1968, 23 SCRA 332, 340; People v. Ardisa, No. L-29351, January 23, 1974, 55 SCRA 245, 259.
23People v. Tagana, G.R. No. 133023, March 4, 2004, 424 SCRA 620, 634; People v. Borbon, G.R. No. 143085, March 10, 2004, 425 SCRA 178, 189; People v. Factao, G.R. No. 25966, January 13, 2004, 419 SCRA 38, 57; Aquino, The Revised Penal Code, 1987 Ed., Vol. I, p. 352, citing People v. Durante, 53 Phil. 363 (1929); and People v. Camo, 91 Phil. 240 (1952).
24 76 Phil. 473, 479 (1946).
25 Section 1. Hereafter, in imposing prison sentence for an offense punished by the Revised Penal Code, or its amendments, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense; and if the offense is punished by any other law, the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence, the maximum term of which shall not exceed the maximum fixed by said law and the minimum shall not be less than the minimum term prescribed by the same. (As amended by Act No. 4225)
26 Article 64. Rules for the application of penalties which contain three periods. - In cases in which the penalties prescribed by law contain three periods, whether it be single divisible penalty or composed of three different penalties, each one of which forms period in accordance with the provisions of Articles 76 and 77, the court shall observe for the application of the penalty the following rules, according to whether there are or are not mitigating or aggravating circumstances:
1. When there arc neither aggravating nor mitigating circumstances, they shall impose the penalty prescribed by law in its medium period.
x x x x
27People v. Jugueta, G.R. No. 202124, April 5, 2016.
29 See Nacar v. Gallery Frames, G.R. No. 189871, August 13, 2013, 703 SCRA 439, 459.