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FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 133799 : February 5, 2002

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. GEORGINO BONIFACIO y MENDOZA and JERRY BONIFACIO y MENDOZA, accused-appellants.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

Accused-appellants, brothers Georgino and Jerry Bonifacio, were charged with murder in an amended Information which reads:

That on or about May 21, 1997, in the City of Zamboanga, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a bolo and knife, conspiring and confederating together, mutually aiding and assisting one another, by means of treachery, abuse of superior strength, and with intent to kill, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously suddenly attack and without warning, assault, attack, hack and stab, with the use of said weapons that they were then armed with, at the person of NOEL SAAVEDRA Y REBOLLOS, thereby inflicting upon the latters person mortal hacked and stabbed wounds which directly caused his death, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of said victim.

CONTRARY TO LAW.1cräläwvirtualibräry

The facts as narrated by the prosecution:

At 7:00 in the evening of May 21, 1997, Noel Saavedra, Roberto Seiton and Ricardo Isidro were at the waiting shed at Campo Lourdes, Upper Bunguiao, Zamboanga City. Fifteen meters away, Georgino and Jerry Bonifacio were loading boxes of mangoes on a parked bus.

After some time, Saavedra left the waiting shed to relieve himself. Jerry Bonifacio followed Saavedra and approached him from behind, unsheathed his bolo from its scabbard and hacked him at the back of the head causing the latter to fall face down to the ground. Georgino Bonifacio approached Saavedra and repeatedly stabbed him with a bolito. Saavedra expired. Georgino and Jerry immediately fled thereafter.

Saavedra suffered the following wounds:

(1) INCISED WOUND - measuring about 6 inches in length located at the parieto-occipital region cutting scalp and skull into the cranial cavity to the right of the mid-saggital plane.

(2) STAB WOUND - measuring 2 cms. in length and 2 1/2 inches in length located at the left chest region.

(3) STAB WOUND - measuring 3 cms. in length located at the left back laterally into the left armpit region 5 inches in depth.

(4) STAB WOUND - measuring 3 cms. in length located at the left back into the chest cavity.

(5) STAB WOUND - measuring 2 inches in length located at the left back region into the chest cavity.

(6) STAB WOUND - measuring 1 inch in length located at the right back into the chest cavity.

(7) STAB WOUND - located at the right side of the body measuring 2 cms. in length into the chest cavity.

Immediately after the stabbing, Seiton left the place and reported the incident to the Bunguiao Police Station.

Ricardo Isidro corroborated Seitons testimony. He narrated that a few minutes after Saavedra left the waiting shed, Jerry Bonifacio followed him and hacked him with a bolo on his head causing him to fall to the ground face down. After that, he no longer knew what transpired as he ran to the nearby store of Reynaldo Francisco and informed him of the hacking incident. Together they boarded the jeepney of Francisco to report the incident to the police. On their way to the police station, they passed by the house of Moises Saavedra, father of the victim, and informed him of the death of his son. At the police station, they learned that Seiton had already reported the incident.

Moises Saavedra, father of the victim, testified that he spent P50,000.00 for the burial of his son.

On the other hand, the defense had a totally different story. Georgino Bonifacio admitted having killed Saavedra but maintained that he did so in self-defense. He declared that while he was loading boxes of mangoes on a bus parked in front of the waiting shed, Saavedra passed by and threatened to kill him. Georgino ran but was chased by Saavedra with a bolo. Saavedra attempted to hack him but he was able to evade the blow. Georgino Bonifacio unsheathed his own bolo and hacked the former on the head. As he was about to hack him again, the handle of his bolo fell so he had to use his bolito that was tucked in his waist. He pulled the bolito from the scabbard and stabbed Saavedra several times.

Rogelio Alviar, another defense witness, testified that while he was loading boxes of mangoes on the parked bus, he saw Saavedra chasing Georgino Bonifacio. Saavedra ran straight past the bus. Moments later, Georgino Bonifacio, pulled his bolo and hacked Saavedra on his head. Georgino Bonifacio next pulled his bolito and repeatedly stabbed Saavedra.

Jerry Bonifacio, on the other hand, denied participation in the crime. He averred that on the night of the incident, he was at the house of his brother-in-law Reynerio Alviar together with Diego Nacario, another brother-in-law, located at Zone 3, Bunguiao proper. According to him, Zone 3, Bunguiao is eight (8) kilometers from Campo Lourdes, Upper Bungiao, Zamboanga City. They drank beer from 6:00 p.m. until 8:30 in the evening. Hence, it was physically impossible for him to be at the crime scene at the approximate time of the killing. He went straight home after their drinking spree. He only came to know about the incident from his mother who told him that his brother Georgino killed Noel Saavedra. Both Alviar and Nacario corroborated his testimony.

From the evidence presented, the trial court concluded that Gerogino and Jerry conspired to kill Saavedra. Their actions showed unity of purpose and design. The trial court also found that the qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the commission of the crime. The attack from behind was so sudden leaving the victim unprepared and defenseless. Consequently, the trial court found Georgino and Jerry Bonifacio guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and correspondingly sentenced them to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify the heirs of Noel Saavedra in the amount of P50,000.00 and another P50,000.00 as actual damages.2cräläwvirtualibräry

Accused-appellants filed separate appeals. Georgino claims that the trial court erred: 1) in not giving exculpatory weight to his assertion of self-defense, and 2) in giving weight and credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses.

Jerry, on the other hand, claims that the trial court erred in finding him guilty of the crime as charged. Specifically, he argues that the trial court erred in not considering his defense of alibi.

Anent the first error alleged by Georgino, we agree with the trial courts not giving credence to accused-appellant Georginos version of self-defense. As correctly observed by the trial court:

x x x. Georginos testimony does not inspire belief. It was directly contradicted by the testimonies of Roberto Seiton and Ricardo Isidro who had no motive to testify falsely against both accused. It is difficult to believe that Noel who was allegedly running after Georgino with a bolo would run past Georgino so that Georgino was able to hack him at the back of the head. It is also not credible that Georgino pulled his bolo from its scabbard only after he evaded Noel and after Noel ran past him and then hacked the latter. It is also hard to believe that the handle of Georginos bolo broke after it hit the head of Noel. It is not credible that accused Georgino Bonifacio had two bolos, one 21 inches long with scabbard tied on the left side of his waist and another 16 1/2 inches long small bolo (bolito) with scabbard, tucked on his left waist inside his pants while he was loading boxes of mangoes on the bus and when he allegedly hacked and stabbed the victim.

The allegation of Georgino Bonifacio that he killed Noel Saavedra in self-defense was x x x also belied by the fact that five (5) fatal wounds were inflicted on the victim; one on the head and four at the back which all penetrated the victims chest cavity x x x Photographs taken by the police show a very big gaping wound at the back of the victims head x x x The wound was fatal. There was no need for Georgino to pull a 16 1/2 inch bolo from its scabbard tucked on his waist inside his pants and then repeatedly stab the helpless victim on the back, inflicting four fatal wounds which penetrated his chest cavity. The several fatal wounds inflicted on the victim and the location of the fatal wounds, one at the back of the head and four at the back penetrating the chest cavity contradict Georginos claim of self-defense. Moreover, it is incredible that the victim who was allegedly the unlawful aggressor and who chased Georgino with a bolo was not able to inflict a single wound, not even a mere scratch, on the latters body, while Georgino x x x was able to inflict several fatal wounds on the said victim.3cräläwvirtualibräry

To prove self-defense, the accused must show with clear and convincing evidence that: [1] he is not the unlawful aggressor; [2] there was lack of sufficient provocation on his part; and [3] he employed reasonable means to prevent or repel the aggression. Self-defense, like alibi, is a defense which can easily be concocted. It is well-settled in this jurisdiction that once an accused had admitted that he inflicted fatal injuries on the deceased, it is incumbent upon him, in order to avoid criminal liability, to prove the justifying circumstance claimed by him with clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence. He cannot rely on the weakness of the prosecution but on the strength of his own evidence, for even if the evidence of the prosecution were weak it could not be disbelieved after the accused himself admitted the killing.4cräläwvirtualibräry

In the case at bar, Georgino attempted to prove that it was the victim who was the unlawful aggressor by claiming that the latter first threatened to kill him and chased him. This contention was however rebutted by the positive and categorical testimonies of prosecution witnesses Seiton and Isidro, who both witnessed the commencement of the attack when Jerry Bonifacio approached the victim from behind and hacked him with a bolo hitting him on the head. Georginos theory of self-defense was belied by the fatal wounds sustained by the victim. Even assuming that the unlawful aggression came from the victim, still, Georgino did not employ reasonable means to prevent or repel said aggression as clearly shown by the fatal wounds inflicted upon Dionisio. In People v. Roche, et al.,5 we reiterated the primacy of physical evidence over biased and uncorroborated testimony of witnesses, thus:

. . . Physical evidence is a mute but eloquent manifestation of truth, and it ranks high in our hierarchy of trustworthy evidence. In criminal cases such as murder or rape where the accused stands to lose his liberty if found guilty, this Court has, in many occasions, relied principally upon physical evidence in ascertaining the truth.

Georgino Bonifacio next maintains that the trial court erred in lending credence to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Seiton and Isidro. He claims that the testimony of Seiton is incredible, biased and unreliable considering that he was a friend of the deceased.

We are not persuaded. Mere relationship does not disqualify Seiton from taking the witness stand. Relationship with the victim per se is not proof of prejudice.6 More importantly, Seiton himself also admitted being a friend of Georgino.

On the other hand, the alleged inconsistencies in the testimonies of Isidro refer only to trivial matters and do not dwell on the elements of the crime. Thus, it is immaterial whether Isidro met Seiton and the victim at his house or at the store of Reynaldo Francisco. Also, it is irrelevant whether Isidro was sitting at the waiting shed at the time of the incident or on a big stone at the side of the waiting shed. Likewise, it does not matter whether Jerry Bonifacio took one step or several steps behind Saavedra before hacking him on the head.

Despite the alleged inconsistencies, the fact remains that Isidro witnessed the commission of the crime. Besides, no improper motive was shown to have caused Isidro to testify against Georgino. Where conditions of visibility are favorable and the witnesses did not appear to be biased against the accused, their assertions as to the identity of the malefactors should normally be accepted. In the absence of any evidence to show that the witness was actuated by any improper motive, his identification of the accused as the assailant should be given full faith and credit.7cräläwvirtualibräry

Alibi is a defense invariably viewed by the Court as weak. It is treated with disfavor simply because it is easily fabricated. Thus, against the positive testimony of an unflappable eyewitness, with no motive to lie, alibi as a defense is worthless.8 Weak as it is, alibi becomes weaker in the face of the positive identification made by the prosecution witnesses as in this case.

Still, Jerry argues that Seiton failed to positively identify him as one of Saavedras killers. Jerry claims that Seiton reported to the Bungiao Police that there was only one suspect and named him, on the mistaken belief that he was Georgino. This was belied, however, by the testimony of PO3 Gerdie Limen of the Bunguiao Police who reported that Noel Saavedra was killed and that the assailant was Jerry Bonifacio. This report was recorded in the Police Log Book. Hence, the trial court did not err in disregarding his defense of alibi.

However, the trial court should have awarded moral damages to the victims heirs commensurate to their emotional suffering. An award of P50,000.00 is proper and reasonable under current case law.9cräläwvirtualibräry

The award of actual damages amounting to P50,000.00 was not duly proven by the prosecution. Moises Saavedra merely presented a list of funeral and burial expenses and explained that he was not provided with receipts for said expenses. The list of expenses cannot replace receipts when the latter should have been issued as a matter of course in business transactions. It is necessary for a party seeking the award of actual damages to produce competent proof or the best evidence obtainable to justify such award. Only substantiated and proven expenses, or those that appear to have been genuinely incurred in connection with the death, wake or burial of the victim will be recognized in court. The court will not rely merely on suppositions or conjectures.10 In People v. Carillo,11 the award for actual damages was deleted for lack of competent proof. Nevertheless, it awarded P10,000.00 by way of nominal damages ratiocinating thus:

Anent accused-appellants civil liability, the award of P30,165.00 actual damages for the expenses incurred as a result of the death of the victim should be deleted as there were no receipts presented evidencing the same. However, as the heirs of the victim clearly incurred funeral expenses, P10,000.00 by way of nominal damages should be awarded. This award is adjudicated so that a right which has been violated may be recognized or vindicated, and not for the purpose of indemnification.

Accordingly, we deem it proper to award P10,000.00 by way of nominal damages to the heirs of the victim.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 16 of Zamboanga City, in Criminal Case No. 14469, finding accused-appellants Georgino Bonifacio y Mendoza and Jerry Bonifacio y Mendoza guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder for the killing of Noel Saavedra y Rebollos, and sentencing them to reclusion perpetua, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. As modified, accused-appellants are ordered jointly and severally, to pay the heirs of the victim the sum of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages, and the amount of P10,000.00 as nominal damages. The award of actual damages in the amount of P50,000.00 is DELETED for lack of sufficient basis. Costs de oficio.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Puno, Kapunan, and Pardo, JJ., concur.


Endnotes:

1 Docketed as Criminal Case No. 14469, Rollo, p. 7.

2 Penned by Jesus C. Carbon, Jr., Presiding Judge, RTC of Zamboanga City, Branch 16.

3 Rollo, pp. 25-26.

4 People v. Belbes, 334 SCRA 161 [2000].

5 330 SCRA 91 [2000].

6 People v. Rios, 333 SCRA 823 [2000].

7 People v. Geral, 333 SCRA 453 [2000].

8 People v. Bello, 327 SCRA 1 [2000].

10 People v. Rios, supra.

11 333 SCRA 338 [2000].




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