G. R. No. 106282 - January 20, 2000
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. QUINCIANO RENDOQUE, SR. y AMORES, VICTORINO BACUAC y QUISEL, FELIX ESTRELLADO y BACUAC, PABLITO RENDOQUE y ABIO, QUINCIANO RENDOQUE, JR. y ABIO, and ESPERATO SALAQUIN y BACUAC, accused, PABLITO RENDOQUE y ABIO, QUINCIANO RENDOQUE, JR. y ABIO, and ESPERATO SALAQUIN y BACUAC, Accused-Appellants.
Appellants assail the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Dumaguete City, Branch 36,1 in Criminal Case No. 8341, convicting them of the crime of murder, imposing upon them the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and ordering them to indemnify the heirs of the victim the amount of P30,000.00, and to pay the costs. Their co-accused Quinciano Rendoque, Sr. y Amores, Victorino Bacuac y Quisel, and Felix Estrellado y Bacuac were acquitted for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The facts, as summarized by the Office of the Solicitor General and which we find to be supported by the records, are as follows:2
Following police investigation, a criminal complaint for murder3 was filed against all six (6) accused. At the preliminary investigation, they waived the filing of counter-affidavits.4 The Municipal Trial Judge issued a
Upon arraignment, the accused, duly assisted by counsel, entered pleas of "no guilty."7 Through counsel, they filed a Motion for Consolidation8 with another criminal case against the same accused, for murder involving the brother of the victim herein, committed on the same night. In its Order dated November 24, 1988,9 the trial court, however, denied said Motion because the proceedings had already reached different stages.
The prosecution presented the following witnesses: (1) Elvie Sido, the 15 year-old daughter of the victim; (2) Florida Sido, the widow of the victim, both eyewitnesses to the shooting incident; (3) Dra. Bienvenida Palongpalong, Municipal Health Officer of San Jose, Negros Oriental, who conducted the post-mortem examination on the victim and testified that the cause of death was "severe hemorrhage resulting from the (gunshot) wounds of the victim."10
Testifying on their behalf, appellants interposed the defenses of denial and alibi. Appellant Pablito Rendoque claimed that on April 21, 1988, from 7 o'clock in the evening until 7:00 the following morning, he was on duty as a security guard at Master Footwear in Dumaguete City.11 His testimony was supported by the testimonies of several witnesses. Eduardo Dingal, his co-security guard, testified that appellant Pablito Rendoque relieved him from duty at 7:00 P.M. of April 21, 1988.12 Dingal's wife, also testified that she visited her husband at Master Footwear at 7:00 P.M., and saw appellant Pablito Rendoque take over her husband's post.13 Ernesto Amistoso, a member of the PNP, San Jose, Negros Oriental, also testified that the day after the incident, he confirmed with Dingal that appellant Pablito Rendoque relieved him from duty the previous night.14 Aniano Eliseo, Officer-In-Charge of the Sherlock Security Agency, testified that he conducted an inspection of the guards of the agency and saw appellant Pablito Rendoque at his post in Master Footwear at around 7:00 on the night of the incident.15
The other five accused testified that on April 21, 1988, from 6 o'clock in the evening until around 8 o'clock the following morning, they were in the house of Placido Despojo at Sto. Niño, San Jose, Negros Oriental to attend an "Anti-Communist Trust In Oriental Negros" (ACTION) seminar, which however, was postponed to the following day.16 Placido Despojo confirmed this fact.17 Millard Generoso, the District Commander of ACTION, testified that on April 22, 1988, the day after the incident, the five accused, except for appellant Pablito Rendoque, were at his house in Calindagan, Dumaguete City from around 8 o'clock in the morning up to 11 o'clock in the evening attending the seminar.18
The defense also presented as its witness Patrolman Fred Redira, who testified that on the night of the incident, one Celso Turtal reported to him that he (Turtal) was requested by the wife of the victim to inform the authorities that the victim was shot by "unidentified men."19 The defense also presented Patrolman Antonio Ramirez, the Officer-in-Charge of the Police Station,20 and the custodian of the police logbook containing the aforesaid report. Patrolman Ramirez testified that he prepared the affidavits of Elvie and Florida Sido wherein they stated that the persons who shot the victim were Pablito Rendoque and Esperato Salaquin only. However, Patrolman Ramirez claimed that the Municipal Mayor borrowed the affidavits and never returned them again. He also testified that the affidavits of Elvie and Florida Sido which were presented to him in court for identification were new affidavits, and not the ones which he prepared.21
On January 6, 1992, the trial court rendered a decision22 convicting the three (3) appellants. As already stated, their three (3) co-accused were acquitted for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
Hence, the present appeal. In their consolidated brief, appellants assign the following errors:
Appellants' brief contends that the trial court erred in not considering the entry in the police logbook, and the testimonies of the custodian and the entrant thereof that the victim's wife asked Celso Turtal to report to the authorities that her husband was shot by "unidentified men" while sitting on the porch of their house. Appellants claim that the statement of the widow should have been considered as part of the res gestae under Section 42 of Rule 130 of the Rules of Court. Further, appellants insist that the trial court erred in not considering the Affidavit of Confirmation executed by Celso Turtal regarding the incident. Appellants contend that the trial court erred in not allowing the defense to present Florida Sido as a hostile witness. The foregoing evidence, appellants claim, if properly considered, would destroy the positive identification of appellants and co-accused as the perpetrators of the shooting incident. Appellants also fault the trial court for not giving due credence to the defenses of denial and alibi of appellants considering that these were sufficiently supported by the testimonies of their numerous witnesses.
The Office of the Solicitor General, on the other hand, contends that the issues raised pertain to the credibility of witnesses, the assessment of which is within the province of the trial court. In fact, the defense failed to point any significant flaw in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses. The OSG further asserts that the entries in the police logbook cannot be correlated to the alleged Affidavit of Confirmation of one Celso Turtal because the latter's affidavit is inadmissible for being hearsay. The OSG also contends that the trial court could not be faulted for denying the request of the defense to make Florida Sido a hostile witness since the defense already cross-examined said witness extensively regarding her identification of the assailants. On the defenses of denial and alibi, the OSG cites the finding of the trial court that the place of work of Pablito Rendoque and the house of Placido Despojo are a mere eight (8) kilometers away from the locus criminis. The OSG likewise prays that the award of death indemnity be increased from P30,000.00 to P50,000.00 pursuant to existing jurisprudence.
The crucial issue raised by appellants, in our view, pertains solely to the credibility of the prosecution witnesses. In particular, we have to consider the positive identification of appellants as the perpetrators of the offense as against their defenses of denial and alibi.
In a long line of cases, the Court has consistently held that the determination of credibility of a witness is properly within the domain of the trial court as it is in the best position to observe his demeanor and bodily movements.23 Findings of the trial court with respect to the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are entitled to great respect, and even finality,24 unless said findings are arbitrary, or facts and circumstances of weight and influence have been overlooked, misunderstood, or misapplied by the trial judge which, if considered, would have affected the case.25 In the present appeal, after a thorough review of the records, no cogent reason justifies our departure from the aforecited salutory rule. We are constrained not to disturb the factual findings of the trial court.
The two eyewitnesses, Elvie and Florida Sido, positively identified appellants as the perpetrators of the fatal shooting.26 Both clearly narrated on the witness stand the extent of the appellants' participation in the incident. They categorically testified that appellant Pablito Rendoque gave the order to "fire,"27 and in obedience to such order, appellants Esperato Salaquin and Quinciano Rendoque, Jr., fired their guns (known locally as "bali-ontod") against the victim.28 Witness Elvie Sido said that as the shooting was going on, she was rooted on the spot, looking at the faces of the men firing at her father.29 Although the incident occurred at nighttime, the house of the victim was sufficiently illuminated by two kerosene lamps (lamparillas), one carried by the daughter of the victim and another located near the victim,30 which cast enough light for purposes of identification. Numerous cases have held that illumination coming from a kerosene lamp (also called "gasera") is sufficient for purposes of identification of an assailant.31 Aside from the sufficient lighting, the two eyewitnesses were familiar with the faces of the assailants because they were townmates,32 and appellants did not even bother to hide their identities by covering their faces.33
Appellants admitted that they could not ascribe any ill-motive against the prosecution witnesses to falsely testify against them.34 Absent any evidence showing any reason or motive for prosecution witnesses to perjure, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists, and their testimonies are thus worthy of full faith and credit.35 The fact that the witnesses were the daughter and the widow of the deceased could not impair their credibility. Blood or conjugal relationship between a witness and the victim does not per se impair the credibility of the witness. On the contrary, relationship itself could strengthen credibility in a particular case, for it is unnatural for an aggrieved relative to falsely accuse someone other than the actual culprit. The earnest desire to seek justice for a dead kin is not served should the witness abandon his conscience and prudence to blame one who is innocent of the crime.36
Failing to demolish the positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, appellants now make a belated attempt to impeach their testimonies. Appellants fault the trial court for not considering the Affidavit of Celso Turtal that Florida Sido told him that the assailants were "unidentified men." The trial court correctly disregarded said affidavit for being hearsay since Turtal did not testify in court. An affidavit is generally hearsay, and has no probative value unless the affiant himself is placed on the witness stand to testify thereon.37 Hence, the trial court correctly rejected the admission of such affidavit in evidence.
As to the police logbook which was presented in evidence to prove the contents thereof, we have held that entries in the police blotter should not be given undue significance or probative value, as they do not constitute conclusive proof of the truth thereof.38 Entries in police blotters, although regularly done in the course of the performance of official duty, are not conclusive proof of the truth stated in such entries and should not be given undue significance or probative value because they are usually incomplete and inaccurate. Sometimes they are based on partial suggestion or inaccurate reporting and hearsay, untested in the crucible of a trial on the merits.39
Appellant Pablito Rendoque's defenses of denial and alibi, in our view, could not be sustained. Although supported by testimonies of his superior and the guard who relieved him on the night of the incident, as well as the guard's wife, they do not exculpate him. We have already ruled that for alibi to prosper, 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.40 It should be noted that appellant was seen by said witnesses at his post at 7 o'clock in the evening, while the shooting incident occurred at 8 o'clock in the evening. Appellant failed to prove that it was impossible for him to have been physically present in the locus criminis at the very time of its commission. As to Quinciano Rendoque, Jr. and Esperato Salaquin, the other two appellants, their alibis are equally unavailing. Though the testimony of Placido Despojo sought to support them, their defense is far from persuasive. As observed by the trial court, there is no proof of physical impossibility for these appellants to be present in the locus criminis. Well settled is the doctrine that alibi is a weak defense and should be rejected when the identities of the accused, as in this case, have been sufficiently and positively established by eyewitnesses to the offense.41 Hence, in the light of the positive identification of appellants by two eyewitnesses as the perpetrators of the crime, their defenses of denial and alibi could not prosper.42
As proved, the crime committed by the three appellants is murder, since the killing was qualified by treachery. Treachery attended the killing because at the time of the shooting, the victim was unarmed, sitting inside his house, and was evidently not in a position to defend himself.43 Further, appellants consciously adopted the particular means, method or form of attack employed by them when they went to the house of the victim armed with shotguns.44
The generic aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength attended the killing, but is already absorbed in treachery.45 Evident premeditation while alleged in the Information was not sufficiently proven by the prosecution, and therefore cannot be appreciated.
But since the victim was killed inside his house, even though the assailants were outside the house, the aggravating circumstance of dwelling should be appreciated.46 Dwelling is considered an aggravating circumstance because primarily of the sanctity of privacy the law accords to human abode.47
As to the actual participation of appellants in the crime charged, appellant Pablito Rendoque, having given the order to shoot at the victim, is liable as a principal under Article 17, No. 1 and No. 2 of the Revised Penal Code. His participation is direct; at the same time he induced his co-appellants Esperato Salaquin and Quinciano Rendoque, Jr. to commit the offense. These co-appellants obeyed the order by firing their shotguns at the victim, hence they acted as principals by direct participation under Article 17, No. 1 of the Revised Penal Code. The three appellants acted in concert and helped each other accomplish the nefarious deed.
The award of death indemnity in the amount of P30,000.00 should be increased to P50,000.00, pursuant to existing jurisprudence.48 No moral damages can be awarded since the wife and daughter of the victim did not testify with regard to moral damages. In view of the attendance of an aggravating circumstance, pursuant to Article 2230 of the Civil Code, exemplary damages in the amount of P20,000.00 should be awarded.49
WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court finding appellants PABLITO RENDOQUE, ESPERATO SALAQUIN AND QUINCIANO RENDOQUE, JR. guilty of the crime of MURDER and sentencing them to RECLUSION PERPETUA is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as to damages. Appellants are hereby ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the amounts of P50,000.00 as indemnity and P20,000.00 as exemplary damages. Costs against appellants.
Bellosillo, Mendoza, Buena and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.
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