G.R. No. 125894 December 11, 1998
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, vs. NARITO ARANETA, Accused-Appellant.
Joebert Araneta, Samuel Aronda-in, Joesel Araneta, Marvin Deogluis, and Narito Araneta were charged with the crimes of MURDER and FRUSTRATED MURDER for the death of Mansueto Datoon, Jr. and the injury sustained by Hilario Malones in two separate informations, which read:
Accused Narito Araneta posted a bond of P40,000.00 and pled not guilty. The other accused, Samuel Aronda-in, Joesel Araneta and Marvin Deogluis, remain at large. The charges against Joebert Araneta, an active member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction over his person.
The trial records show that Hilario Malones, Fe Malones, Ma. Paz Datoon, Dr. Elizabeth D. Altamira and Dr. Giovanni Delos Reyes testified for the prosecution. They established that at about 8:30 in the evening of December 6, 1989, Fe was preparing to go to sleep when she heard a noise in front of their house as if a sledge was being dragged. She stood up, listened, and heard somebody shout, "Noy Lario, help me." She recognized the voice as that of Mansueto Datoon, Jr. She opened the window and saw the accused Narito pulling Mansueto to the ground. Frightened, she woke up her husband, who immediately stood up and peeped through the open window. Hilario himself saw all the accused beating Mansueto. With Fe on his trail, he rushed out of the house and pleaded to the accused to take pity on Mansueto. They ignored him at first, but they stopped beating Mansueto when Hilario insisted that they free the victim.
Finding Mansueto incapable of standing up, Hilario helped him lean on a kapok tree. It was then that Candelaria Araneta arrived. She advised Hilario not to get involved. Hilario replied, "As a mother, you should advise or pacify your children; instead, you consent to what they are doing." Joebert then shot Hilario with a .38 caliber revolver. Joebert turned his attention to Mansueto and shot him too. He put the gun's muzzle on Mansueto's shirt and shot him again. As if that was not enough, Narito and the other accused resumed beating Mansueto.
Fe decided to look for help. On the way to her parents' house, she met Ma. Paz Datoon. She briefed Paz who repaired to the scene of the crime. She saw Samuel turning Mansueto's lifeless body around while Joebert ordered, "Hurry, let's go, we will be caught." Paz, however, testified that she did not see the other accused there. For her husband's burial, she spent about P35,000.00.
Dr. Elizabeth D. Altamira described the wounds suffered by Mansueto as follows:
Hilario was brought to the West Visayas State University Hospital where Dr. Giovanni Delos Reyes treated him for a "1.0 cm. gunshot wound, umbilical area, penetrating abdominal cavity, perforating multiple loops of jejunum and transverse colon." Dr. Delos Reyes opined that the timely operation done on Hilario saved him from death. Hilario's hospitalization cost P37,000.00.
Narito interposed alibi as defense. He averred that on December 6, 1989, he went to bed at 7:30 p.m. He learned about the incident at 8:30 p.m. when his wife and Joebert Araneta arrived home. He listened to their story, turned off the lights and went back to sleep. Joebert left immediately after changing his clothes. Narito claimed that they had a visitor by the name of Nelson Salo that night.
Nelson Salo testified that on December 6, 1989, at 5 p.m., he arrived at the Aranetas' house to invite Narito to his farm. He found Narito, Candelaria and their three children there. As he had done in the past, he stayed with the Aranetas that night. He had dinner with them at 7 p.m. and slept afterwards. At 8:30 p.m., Joebert came to get his clothes. The following day, at 4:00 a.m., he left for Brgy. Hinalinan Nuevo with Narito. On the way, Narito told him that Joebert figured in a fight the night before. Salo claimed that after they slept, Narito never left the house that fateful evening.
Narito's wife, Candelaria, also corroborated his story. Candelaria is a dressmaker. On December 6, 1989, at 4:00 p.m., she was in school taking measurements. Her daughter came and told her that Nelson Salo was in their house looking for Narito. Narito was then at their farm in Brgy. Siniba-an. Candelaria ordered her daughter to tell Salo to wait for her. She followed shortly but forgot all about Salo. At 5:00 p.m., Joebert came. He informed Candelaria about his disagreement with Mansueto Datoon, Jr. He left thereafter.
Narito came at 7:00 p.m. He ate dinner and went to bed. Joebert returned at 8:00 p.m. with Samuel Aronda-in. He requested Candelaria to pack his clothes for him. Candelaria claimed that she was the only one awake at that time. After dinner, Joebert told Candelaria that he was, going to buy beer. Candelaria tried to dissuade him because they had a visitor who was already sleeping. Joebert was heedless and bought beer with Aronda-in. Before long, Candelaria heard somebody shout, "You are going to kill me." She recognized the voice as that of her son, Joebert. She went out to look for Joebert. She saw Hilario, Fe, Joebert, Nono and Mansueto in front of Hilario's house.
She claimed that Hilario and Mansueto were carrying guns. She asked Hilario what he planned to do with his gun as she reminded him that Joebert was unarmed. Mansueto then fired his gun at Joebert but hit Hilario instead. Joebert pushed Mansueto to the ground and they wrestled for the gun. Candelaria heard another shot which hit Mansueto. All the while, Aronda-in stood still in the middle of the road and did not help Joebert. Hilario then shot but missed Joebert. Joebert stood up and with Candelaria ran home.
On May 3, 1991, the trial court convicted accused-appellant Narito Araneta but only for the crimes of homicide and frustrated homicide:
Accused Narito appealed to the Court of Appeals and continued to be free on the same bailbond he had posted with the trial court.
On May 24, 1996, the Court of Appeals modified the decision of the trial court. It found the accused-appellant guilty of murder in Criminal Case No. 34642 and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua but acquitted him in Criminal Case No. 34643, viz.:
Consequently, the Court of Appeals certified the case to us in accordance with Rule 124, Section 13 of the Revised Rules of Court.
On October 16, 1996, we resolved: (1) to accept the case; (2) to inform the accused-appellant that he may file an additional appellant's brief if he so desires and to require the Office of the Solicitor General to file an additional appellee's brief in case accused-appellant files an additional brief; (3) to cancel the bail of accused-appellant; and (4) to require the RTC to order the commitment of accused-appellant to the New Bilibid Prison. 4
On December 23, 1996, we received the First Indorsement dated December 5, 1996 of Action Officer Homobono Lachica, Jr. of the Bureau of Corrections stating that they have no record of confinement of accused-appellant in the Bureau of Corrections. 5
On April 3, 1997, Judge Tito G. Gustilo of the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo submitted a report stating among others:
On April 10, 1997, we received a copy of the return of the warrant of arrest signed by SPO4 Morito Muyco Tuarez. It stated that the police failed to effect the alias order of arrest issued by Judge Gustilo as they could not locate accused-appellant and his whereabouts were unknown. 7
On July 30, 1997, we directed Judge Gustilo to issue another alias warrant of arrest against accused-appellant to be served by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). 8 Judge Gustilo issued an alias warrant of arrest on September 11, 1997. 9 The NBI has not made a return of said warrant to this day.
Since the accused-appellant has jumped bail, we shall first determine whether the Court should proceed to exercise jurisdiction over his appeal. Section 8, Rule 124 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure provides:
Under the second paragraph, the Court has the discretion to dismiss the appeal in case the appellant escapes from custody or jumps bail. 10
We hold that dismissal of accused-appellant's appeal at this stage will result in injustice. In Criminal Case No. 34642, the Decision of the trial court finding him guilty of homicide and sentencing him to a minimum of prision mayor to a maximum of reclusion temporal will become final. The findings of the Court of Appeals that he should instead be convicted for murder and meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua can no longer be acted upon by this Court. And in Criminal Case No. 34643, accused-appellant will be acquitted from the charge of frustrated homicide as found by the Court of Appeals. In fine, accused-appellant will be benefitted by his act of jumping bail. To avoid this mockery of justice, we resolved to continue exercising jurisdiction over Criminal Case No. 34642. The acquittal of accused-appellant in Criminal Case No. 34643, however, can no longer be reviewed in view of the rule on double jeopardy.
After a painstaking review of the records of the case, we find the accused-appellant guilty of murder in Criminal Case No. 34642 as recommended by the Court of Appeals. Hilario and Fe Malones positively identified accused-appellant as one of those who beat Mansueto before and after the latter was shot by Joebert Araneta:
In light of such positive identification, accused-appellant's alibi must fall. It is settled that alibi is the weakest of all defenses. It cannot prevail over the positive identification of the accused by witnesses who have no ill motive to testify falsely. 15 Alibi becomes less plausible when it is corroborated by relatives and friends who may not be impartial witnesses. 16 More so when the corroborating testimonies are marred by discrepancies.
In the case at bar, Nelson Salo testified that he arrived at the Aranetas' at 5:00 p.m. on December 6, 1989 and found accused-appellant Narito, Candelaria and their three children there. 17 In contrast, Candelaria said that she and Narito were not at home when Salo arrived. She declared she was in school, while Narito was at their farm in Brgy. Siniba-an. Narito came home only at 7:00
Vis-a-vishis positive identification, accused-appellant cannot also seek exculpation in Ma. Paz Datoon's negative testimony that she did not see Narito at the scene of the crime. Neither can he capitalize on the failure of the prosecution to show criminal motive on his part or on his decision to stay at their place even after the commission of the crime. Proof of motive is not indispensable to conviction. 22 Also, non-flight is not necessarily proof of innocence. 23
We further reject accused-appellant's contention that the prosecution failed to show that he conspired with his son, Joebert Araneta, in killing Mansueto Datoon, Jr. He stresses that he did not take part in the shooting and that he had already released Mansueto long before Joebert started his shooting spree. The evidence shows that the prosecution proved that he beat Mansueto before and after Joebert shot the deceased. When he beat Mansueto a second time, it was clear that he cooperated with the efforts of Joebert to finish off Mansueto.
Well-established is the doctrine that conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence of prior agreement to commit the crime. 24 Conspiracy may be inferred from the acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime. 25 Where conspiracy is established, it matters not who among the accused actually shot and killed the victim. 26 That criminal act is attributable to all accused for the act of one is the act of all. 27
The crime committed by accused-appellant is murder. The killing of Mansueto was qualified by abuse of superior strength. Mansueto was clearly overwhelmed by the combined efforts of five (5) assailants which included accused-appellant. Worse, the assailants used guns against the unarmed Mansueto. The numerous wounds sustained by Mansueto indisputably show that the group of accused-appellant took advantage of their superior strength in perpetrating the crime at bar. There being no mitigating circumstance, accused-appellant should be imposed the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
WHEREFORE, the Court finds accused-appellant Narito Araneta guilty of murder in Criminal Case No. 34642, sentences him to reclusion perpetua and orders him to pay the heirs of the victim the sum of P50,000.00 as indemnity and P35,000.00 as actual damages. Costs against accused-appellant.
Bellosillo, Mendoza and Martinez, JJ., concur.
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