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FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. L-25785 February 26, 1981

SATURNINO BAYASEN, Petitioner, vs. COURT OF APPEALS, Respondent.

FERNANDEZ, J.:

This is a petition for certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals 1promulgated on November 17, 1965, in CA-G.R. N.. 05105-CR affirming and modifying the decision of the Court of First Instance of Mountain Province, Second Judicial District, in Criminal Case No. 1056 entitled "People of the Philippines vs. Saturnino Bayasen" 2convicting the accused, petitioner herein, of the crime of Homicide Thru Reckless Imprudence.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

The records show that the petitioner was charged in December 1963 by the Provincial Fiscal of Mountain Province of the crime of Homicide Thru Reckless Imprudence allegedly committed as follows: chanrobles virtual law library

That on or about the 15th day of August, 1963, at Langtiw, Municipality of Sagada, Province of Mountain, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, being then the driver and person in-charge of Rural health Unit Jeep bearing Plate No. 5735, Philippines, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously drove, managed and operated the said jeep along Suyo Municipal Road, Sagada, Mountain Province in a negligent, careless and imprudent manner, lack of foresight and skill, without due care and absolute disregard of traffic laws, rules and regulations and other conditions of the road, making it to run in an unreasonable rate of speed, without taking the necessary precaution to prevent accident to persons and damage to property in violation of law, and as a result of which said jeep driven and operated by the herein accused fell over a precipice in the abovementioned place causing thereby the death of Elena Awichen shortly thereafter.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Contrary to law. 3chanrobles virtual law library

After trial, the petitioner was found guilty of the charge and was sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of Four (4) Months and One (1) Day of arresto mayor as minimum. to One (1) Year, Seven (7) Months and Ten (10) Days of prision correccional as maximum, to indemnify the heirs of the deceased Elena Awichen the amount of P3,000.00 as compensatory damages and P1,000.00 as fees of the attorney contracted by the said heirs and P1,886.00 for burial expenses of the deceased, and to pay the costs. 4 From this decision, the petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals 5 which affirmed the decision of the trial court with the following modifications: the indemnity was increased to P6,000.00; the award of attorney's fees was set aside, and the maximum of the prison term was raised to One (1) Year, Seven (7) Months, and Seventeen (17) Days of prision correccional. 6chanrobles virtual law library

The motion for reconsideration of the petitioner was denied by Justices Angeles, Capistrano, Mojica and Soriano. Justice Magno S. Gatmaitan voted to grant the said motion. 7chanrobles virtual law library

From the decision of the respondent Court of Appeals, the petitioner has appealed to this Court assigning the following errors: 8chanrobles virtual law library

Ichanrobles virtual law library

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN CONCLUDING THAT THE ACCUSED-PETITIONER SATURNINO BAYASEN WAS NEGLIGENT IN DRIVING HIS JEEP, AFTER TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION ALLEGED PREVIOUS INCIDENTS IN WHICH THE ACCUSED WAS ALLEGEDLY INVOLVED, THEREBY DECIDING A QUESTION OF SUBSTANCE - THAT OF PRESUMED NEGLIGENCE - NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW OR ESTABLISHED RULES OF EVIDENCE SPECIFICALLY THE RULE OF RES INTER ALIOS ACTA.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

IIchanrobles virtual law library

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE PROXIMATE CAUSE OF THE DEATH OF AWICHEN WAS THE PETITIONER'S "NEGLIGENCE IN DRIVING AT AN UNREASONABLE SPEED," WHICH FINDING IS OPENLY CONTRARY TO THE EVIDENCE OF THE PROSECUTION.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

III chanrobles virtual law library

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING THE ACCUSED-PETITIONER OF THE CRIME CHARGED.

The facts, as found by the Court of Appeals, are: chanrobles virtual law library

On the morning of August 15, 1963, Saturnino Bayasen, the Rural Health Physician in Sagada, Mountain Province, went to barrio Ambasing to visit a patient. Two nurses from the Saint Theodore's Hospital in Sagada, viz., Elena Awichen and Dolores Balcita, rode with him in the jeep assigned for the use of the Rural Health Unit as they had requested for a ride to Ambasing. Later, at Ambasing, the girls, who wanted to gather flowers, again asked if they could ride with him up to a certain place on the way to barrio Suyo which he intended to visit anyway. Dr. Bayasen again allowed them to ride, Elena sitting herself between him and Dolores. On the way, at barrio Langtiw, the jeep went over a precipice About 8 feet below the road, it was blocked by a pine tree. The three were thrown out of the jeep. Elena was found lying in a creek further below. Among other injuries, she suffered a skull fracture which caused her death. 9chanrobles virtual law library

The Court of Appeals concluded: chanrobles virtual law library

It is not therefore improbable that due to lack of sufficient skin and confidence in driving, he lost his nerve when confronted by an emergency due to his negligence in driving at an unreasonable speed on a narrow and slippery road and was at a loss what to do - indeed, at no time did he step on the brakes - he failed to control the jeep after it skidded. On the whole, we are, satisfied that the fatal and unfortunate accident was due to appellant's failure to exercise due diligence under the circumstances. 10

The main issue raised by the petitioner is whether or not he is entitled to acquittal on the ground that the finding of the Court of Appeals that the proximate cause of the death of Awichen was the petitioner's "negligence in driving at an unreasonable speed" is openly contrary to the evidence of the prosecution.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

The majority opinion of the Court of Appeals is that the accused- petitioner was negligent in driving his jeep because he was driving at "an unreasonable speed".chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

A careful examination of 'he evidence introduced by the prosecution shows no "legally sufficient" proof that the accused was negligent in driving his jeep. The star witness of the prosecution, Dolores Balcita who was one of the passengers in the jeep, testified that the accused-petitioner, Saturnino Bayasen was driving his jeep moderately just before the accident and categorically stated that she did not know what caused the jeep to fall into the precipice.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

The pertinent portions of her testimony are:

ATTY. GOMEZ: chanrobles virtual law library

Q From Ambasing to the place where the jeep fell over the precipice, was the driver running fast or slow? chanrobles virtual law library

A He was with moderate speed, sir. 11

In the course of the cross-examination, the Court asked the witness the following:

COURT: to the witness) chanrobles virtual law library

Q Could you inform this Court as to what caused the jeep to fall into the embankment? chanrobles virtual law library

A I do not know, sir. 12

When asked whether the jeep hit anything before it fell into the precipice, the witness answered that she did not feel any bump or jolt. Her testimony on this point reads:

COURT (to the witness)

xxx xxx xxxchanrobles virtual law library

Q Did the jeep hit anything before it fell into the embankment ?chanrobles virtual law library

A I did not feel any bump, sir.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Q Going to Suyo you were passing by a mountain is that right? chanrobles virtual law library

A Yes, sir.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Q On what side was that mountain? chanrobles virtual law library

A On the left side.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Q And while the jeep was going toward Suyo, how far was it from the mountain along the left side? chanrobles virtual law library

A I do not know, sir.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Q Where was the jeep nearer to while it was on the way to Suyo - to the embankment or the mountain?chanrobles virtual law library

A I do not know, sir. I was not aware of that.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

Q During the time that the jeep was traversing toward Suyo, was there any conversation transpiring? chanrobles virtual law library

A Just before the accident, I did not hear anything, sir. 13

It is clear from the last part of the Testimony of the witness, Dolores Balcita, that there was no conversation between the passengers in the jeep that could have distracted the attention of the accused while driving the jeep. As to the condition of the jeep itself, the same witness testified that she "did not notice anything wrong" 14 with it from the time they drove from Sagada to Ambasing, and from there to the place where the jeep fell off the road. Regarding the road, she said that it was fair enough to drive on, but that it was moist or wet, and the weather was fair, too. 15 As to whether the accused-petitioner was under the influence of liquor at the time of the accident, she testified that he was not. 16 In the light of the testimony of Dolores Balcita, the eyewitness of the accident presented by the prosecution, there is absolutely no evidence on record to show that the accused was negligent in driving his jeep.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

The petitioner testified that before reaching the portion of the road where the jeep fell he noticed that the rear wheel skidded, while driving from 8 to 10 kilometers per hour; that as a precautionary measure, he directed the jeep towards the side of the mountain, along the side of the mountain, but not touching the mountain; that while doing so, the late Elena Awichen suddenly held the steering wheel and he felt that her foot stepped on his right foot which was pressed then on the accelerator; and that immediately after, the jeep suddenly swerved to the right and went off. 17 chanrobles virtual law library

In rebuttal to this testimony, Dolores Balcita, testified thus:

COURT chanrobles virtual law library

Witness may answer.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

A When I said I was [not] looking at him, I did not see and with the space of time that I was still conscious, I did not feel any movement from my side.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

COURT chanrobles virtual law library

Your answer is not responsive. Is it true what the accused said?chanrobles virtual law library

A I did not see, sir. 18

From the foregoing testimony of Dolores Balcita, it is apparent that she "did not see" what Elena Awichen suddenly did, and she "did not feel any movement from (her) side". These answers of Dolores Balcita are all in the negative and equivocal. They do not deny or preclude the truth of the positive testimony of the accused. As held by this Court: chanrobles virtual law library

The testimony of a credible witness that he saw or heard at a particular time and place is more reliable than that of an equally credible witness who with the same opportunities, testified that he did not see or hear the same thing at the same time and place. 19chanrobles virtual law library

Hence as to the relative weight to be given to the positive and consistent. testimony of the accused and to the negative and equivocal answers of Dolores Balcita, the former is more worthy of credence .chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

Furthermore , the statement of Dolores Balcita that the accused was driving at moderate speed and not "an unreasonable ,speed' is bolstered by the testimony, of Pablo Lizardo. then mayor of Sagada, Mountain Province, who found the jeep at second gear when he examined it not long after the incident. 20 Such fact shows that the accused-petitioner could not have been driving the jeep at a fast rate of speed.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

Mr. Justice Gatmaitan, in voting to grant the motion for reconsideration, said: chanrobles virtual law library

... but that statement of the Majority would most clearly show that its position is that appellant's negligence, the proximate cause of the tragedy, was appellant's unreasonable speed which has been refuted by the very evidence of prosecution, for here, it can hardly be debated that the proximate cause was the skidding of the rear wheels, - there is nothing, absolutely nothing in the entire record which would pin upon him the fault for that, prosecution witnesses concede that he was driving moderately, - the skidding of the rear wheels was to my mind, undisputably an unforeseen cause, because of this, I cannot rest easy on conviction and therefore register my final vote for acquittal. 21chanrobles virtual law library

It is obvious that the proximate cause of the tragedy was the skidding of the rear wheels of the jeep and not the "unreasonable speed" of the petitioner because there is no evidence on record to prove or support the finding that the petitioner was driving a at "an unreasonable speed".chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

It is a well known physical tact that cars may skid on greasy or slippery roads, as in the instant case, without fault on account of the manner of handling the car. Skidding means partial or complete loss of control of the car under circumstances not necessarily implying negligence. It may occur without fault.chanroblesvirtualawlibrary chanrobles virtual law library

No negligence as a matter of law can, therefore, be charged to the petitioner. In fact, the moment he felt that the rear wheels of the jeep skidded, he promptly drove it to the left hand side of the road, parallel to the slope of the mountain, because as he said, he wanted to play safe and avoid the embankment. 22 chanrobles virtual law library

Under the particular circumstances of the instant case, the petitioner- driver who skidded could not be regarded as negligent, the skidding being an unforeseen event, so that the petitioner had a valid excuse for his departure from his regular course. The negligence of the petitioner not having been sufficiently established, his guilt of the crime charged has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. He is, therefore, entitled to acquittal.chanroblesvirtualawlibrarychanrobles virtual law library

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Court of Appeals sought to be reviewed is hereby set aside and the petitioner is ACQUITTED of the crime charged in the information in Criminal Case No. 1056 of the Court of First Instance of Mountain Province, with costs de oficio.

SO ORDERED.

Teehankee (Chairman), Makasiar, Guerrero and Melencio-Herrera, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:


1 CA Decision, Annex "A", Petition, Rollo. p. 16, Written by Justice Eugenio Angeles and concurred in by Justice Carmelito G. Alvendia and Justice Magno S. Gatmaitan.chanrobles virtual law library

2 Record of Criminal Case No. 1056, pp. 167-197,

3 Ibid., p. 27.chanrobles virtual law library

4 Ibid., p. 197.chanrobles virtual law library

5 Ibid., p. 199.chanrobles virtual law library

6 CA Decision, p. 8, Annex "A", Petition, Rollo, p. 23.chanrobles virtual law library

7 Rollo, pp. 27-29.chanrobles virtual law library

8 Brief for the Petitioner, pp. 6-7, Rollo, p. 59.chanrobles virtual law library

9 CA Decision, Annex "A", pp. 1-2. Rollo, p. 16.chanrobles virtual law library

10 CA Decision, pp. 6-7, Annex "A", Petition, Rollo, p. 16.chanrobles virtual law library

11 TSN., p. 38.chanrobles virtual law library

12 Ibid, p. 44.chanrobles virtual law library

13 Ibid, pp. 44-45.chanrobles virtual law library

14 Ibid, pp. 35, 41.chanrobles virtual law library

15 Ibid, pp. 38, 43.chanrobles virtual law library

16 Ibid, p. 40.chanrobles virtual law library

17 Ibid, pp. 191-195.chanrobles virtual law library

18 Ibid, pp. 335-336.chanrobles virtual law library

19 People vs. Gonzales. et aL., 76 Phil. 473

20 TSN., p. 103,

21 Resolution on Motion for Reconsideration, Rollo, pp.chanrobles virtual law library

22 TSN., pp. 218-220.




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