G. R. No. 114740 - February 15, 2000
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ROGELIO GALAM,1 accused-appellant.
On appeal is the decision dated November 26, 1993, of the Regional Trial Court2 of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Branch 47, in Criminal Case No. 8194, convicting accused-appellant of the crime of murder, imposing upon him the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and ordering him to pay the heirs of the victim, Roberto Balasanos, the amount of P50,000.00 as compensatory damages, P30,000.00 as moral damages, and P20,000.00 as exemplary damages, and to pay the costs.
The facts of the case on record are as follows:
On June 10, 1989, at around 11:00 o'clock in the evening while Jose Medina was on his way to the store of a certain Hidalgo in Malis, Brooke's Point, Palawan, he chanced upon appellant Rogelio Galam and another unidentified man, walking in the same direction. Medina noticed that appellant appeared to be carrying a long gun wrapped inside a jacket, placed under his right armpit. Upon reaching the store, Medina bought a cigarette. When he was about to leave, appellant likewise entered the store. Suddenly, five gun shots rang out in the night. Medina saw appellant pointing the gun at the victim, Roberto Balasanos, who was hit on the chest and his sides. The victim leaned weakly on a star-apple tree. Medina was about five (5) meters from the victim, and about ten (10) meters from appellant during the incident. While it was dark on the road, there was a lighted fluorescent lamp, which illuminated the scene of the incident. Shocked at the incident, Medina and the other persons milling around the store scampered away. Appellant merely walked away, and nobody dared to stop him.3
On August 4, 1989, appellant was charged with the crime of "Murder with the use of firearm" under the following Information:4
On December 14, 1989, upon arraignment, appellant entered a plea of not guilty. Pre-trial having been waived,5 trial commenced.
The prosecution presented four (4) witnesses, namely (1) Jose Medina, a 20 year-old farmer who witnessed the shooting incident; (2) Patricio Imperial, a 57 year-old farmer who testified that he was present when the victim was shot, but he did not actually see the gunman;6 (3) Marciana Balasanos, the widow of the victim, who testified as to the damages she sustained as a result of the death of her husband;7 and 4) Dra. Alma Feliciano Rivera, Medical Officer III of the Palawan Provincial Hospital, who interpreted the Partial Autopsy Report issued by Dr. Narciso B. Leoncio, M.D., since the prosecution and defense agreed to dispense with the presentation of Dr. Leoncio. The defense admitted the due execution and genuineness of the Partial Autopsy Report and the Certificate of Death.8 Dr. Rivera testified that the cause of death of the victim was the four (4) gunshot wounds which were all fatal and could cause instant death.9
For his part, appellant invoked the defense of denial and alibi. He claimed that on the night of the incident, he was at his house in Samariniana, Brooke's Point, Palawan, which is some eight (8) kilometers from the locus criminis. He spent the entire night tending to the sick two (2) year-old son of his friend, Nilda Maranan. His testimony was corroborated by two witnesses, Primitivo Bahande, the faith healer (arbulario) who treated the malaria-stricken child for two (2) days, and Nilda Maranan herself, who testified that appellant and Bahande were with her throughout that same night.10
After due trial, on November 26, 1993, the trial court rendered a decision, disposing thus:
Hence, the present appeal. Appellant assigns the following errors:11
Appellant anchors his appeal on the credibility of Joe Medina's testimony and his alleged failure as prosecution witness to sufficiently identify appellant as the gunman in the shooting incident. Appellant argues that in the face of this questionable identification, the trial court erred in not giving due credence to appellant's defense of alibi, which was corroborated by his two witnesses. He further contends that the prosecution failed to present evidence to prove the existence of evident premeditation and treachery.
For the State, the Office of the Solicitor General raises the issues as follows: (1) Was the eyewitness account of Jose Medina sufficient to convict? (2) Was the crime committed murder? The OSG points out that prosecution witness Medina actually saw appellant fire at the victim as the events unfolded before his very eyes from a distance of mere ten (10) meters in a well-lighted place. Hence, his positive identification should prevail over appellant's alibi. The OSG also contends that treachery qualified the killing to murder because of the suddenness of the attack on the victim, who was unarmed and had no chance at all to defend himself.
On the issue of credibility of witnesses, we abide by the well-entrenched rule that the "findings of the trial court as to the credibility of witnesses are accorded great weight, even finality, on appeal, unless the trial court has failed to appreciate certain facts and circumstances which, if taken into account, would materially affect the result of the case. Having had the opportunity to personally observe and analyze their demeanor and manner of testifying, the trial judge is in a better position to pass judgment on their credibility."12 In his Brief, appellant emphasizes the following portions of Medina's testimony which he claims demonstrate the prosecution's failure to sufficiently identify him as the assailant:
Appellant contends that these excerpts prove two things that Medina did not actually see appellant carrying a firearm on the night of June 10, 1989, and that he did not see appellant fire at the victim. It is noteworthy, however, that appellant does not allege any inconsistencies in Medina's testimony, but merely hammers on his alleged lack of perception as to the actual shooting incident. We have scrutinized the excerpts cited in the context of Medina's entire testimony, and find that Medina categorically testified on two crucial points first, Medina saw appellant at the locus criminis that fateful night, and second, Medina actually saw appellant fire at the victim. We have repeatedly held that "a witness' testimony must be considered and calibrated in its entirety, and not by truncated portions or isolated passages thereof."16 For better appreciation, Medina's answer in the aforequoted Sinumpaang Salaysay is quoted hereunder in full:17
From the transcripts of stenographic notes covering witness Medina's testimony19 emerges a clear picture of the shooting incident, as follows:
As correctly observed by the trial court, Medina testified in clear, categorical manner as to the circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime. His testimony in court was at all fours with his previous sworn statement executed some four years prior. He was acquainted with appellant, known to him as "Giliong," for almost a year prior to the shooting incident. He was but a mere five (5) meters away from the victim when he was shot, and a mere ten (10) meters from the appellant. More importantly, his testimony as to the gunshot wounds sustained by the victim was corroborated by the Partial Autopsy Report, whose due execution and authenticity were duly admitted by the defense. Further, the defense could not attribute any motive for him to falsely testify against appellant. Absent any evidence showing any reason or motive for a prosecution witness to perjure, the logical, conclusion is that no such improper motive exists, and his testimony is thus worthy of full faith and credit.20 Although Medina was the sole eyewitness to the crime, we have long held that the testimony of a single eyewitness is sufficient to support a conviction, so long as it is clear, straightforward and worthy of credence by the trial court.21
As to the defense of alibi, the trial court dismissed his version of the story as a "rehearsed scenario" and "tailored to fit and suit the defense of alibi." The trial court did not find it physically impossible for appellant to be at the locus criminis since there were vehicles playing the eight-kilometer road between Malis and Samarisniana. For alibi to be considered, it is not enough to prove that appellant was somewhere else when the offense was committed. It must likewise be shown that he was so far away that it was not possible for him to have been physically present at the place of the crime or its immediate vicinity at the time of its commission.22 Thus while appellant testified that he at Samariniana at the time of the commission of the offense, his testimony is bereft of any explanation that if was physically impossible for him to be present at the scene of the crime. Further, prosecution witnesses Medina practically demolished appellant's alibi when he testified that appellant was at the locus criminis on the night of the incident. In view of appellant's positive identification as the assailant, his alibi holds no water. The rule is that the positive and categorical assertions of witnesses generally prevail over bare denials.23
Based on the foregoing testimonial and documentary evidence, we agree with the trial court's finding that appellant's identity as the killer of Roberto Balasanos has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
We now come to the proper determination of crime committed, in view of the attending circumstances. The qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the killing as the two conditions for the same are present, i.e., (1) that at the time of the attack, the victim was not in a position to defend himself and (2) that the offender consciously adopted the particular means, method or form of attack employed by him.24 The attack was not only sudden, it was unexpected, as the victim even cried out in surprise "Why are you firing at me, I have not done anything wrong!"25 Further, appellant deliberately or consciously adopted the means of attack as shown by the fact that he even wrapped the gun inside a jacket prior to shooting the victim.
However, evident premeditation cannot be appreciated inasmuch as the following elements were not duly proven: (1) the time when the offender determined to commit the crime; (2) an act manifestly indicating that the offender had clung to his determination; and (3) sufficient lapse of time between the determination and the execution to allow the offender to reflect on the consequences of his act.26
Nor can the aggravating circumstance of nighttime be appreciated, for the prosecution failed to demonstrate (1) that the malefactor particularly sought or took advantage of the darkness to commit the offense, or (2) that nighttime facilitated the commission of the crime.27 Although the crime took place at around 11:00 in the evening, the store/house where the incident occurred was sufficiently lighted by a fluorescent lamp,28 and there were still people milling around because of the dance held at a nearby plaza.
As to damages, the award of P50,000.00 as compensatory or actual damages must be disallowed since it is not supported by receipts.29 However, the heirs of the victim are entitled to the amount of P50,000.00 as death indemnity under our current rulings.30 The award of moral damages in the amount of P30,000.00, being supported by the testimony of the victim's widow, is sustained under Article 2206 (3) of the New Civil Code. Under Article 2230 of the New Civil Code, exemplary damages may be imposed "when the crime is committed with one or more aggravating circumstances." There being no aggravating circumstances, the award of P20,000.00 as corrective or exemplary damages should be deleted.
At the time of the commission of the crime in 1989, the penalty for murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code was reclusion temporal maximum to death. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstances, pursuant to Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for murder should be imposed in its medium period, which is reclusion perpetua.
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court finding appellant Rogelio Galam guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder and sentencing him to reclusion perpetua is AFFIRMED, with MODIFICATIONS as to the amount of damages. Appellant is hereby ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the amount of P50,000.00 as death indemnity and the amount of P30,000.00 as moral damages. The award of exemplary damages is deleted for lack of legal basis. Costs against appellant.
Bellosillo, Mendoza, Buena and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
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