PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ALDRIN LICAYAN y SUCANO (At Large), Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Five-year old Rowena C. Bangcong, the only girl among her siblings, was beaten, raped and killed. Her bruised and battered body which was flung into a nipa swamp was discovered the following morning after a massive search.
For the brutal rape-slay of Rowena, herein accused Aldrin Licaya y Sucano was charged with Rape with Homicide in an Information1 which alleges
That on the 25th day of June 1999 at around 7:00 oclock in the evening, more or less at Barangay Inobulan, Municipality of Salay, Province of Misamis Oriental, Republic of the Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with force and intimidation, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with (sic) a five year old Rowena C. Bangcong against her will and consent and with intent to kill, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and struck (sic) the different parts of the victims body with the use of a hard object, which accused previously provided himself, thus causing lacerated wounds, abrasions hematomas and submerging the victim in water at the nipa swamp which caused her death.
CONTRARY TO and in violation of Section II, Chapter III, paragraph 5 of Article 266-B of R.A. 8353.
Upon arraignment, accused, assisted by counsel, pleaded not
guilty to the offense charged.2 The case thereafter proceeded to trial. However, after the prosecution had rested its
case and formally offered its evidence, accused escaped detention on
Counsel for the defense submitted the case for decision without
presenting evidence in behalf of the accused.
Thereafter, the court a quo rendered judgment4 on
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered by the Court sentencing accused to suffer the supreme penalty of death, to indemnify the heirs of Rowena Bangcong in the sum of P75,000.00, to pay moral damages in the sum of P50,000.00 and to pay the costs.
Since accused is at large after he escaped detention while the case was still pending but after the prosecution had presented its evidence, let a warrant for his arrest, or alias warrant of his arrest issue.
Once arrested let his custodian ship his person to the National Penitentiary without delay as provided by law, there to await the result of the review of this case by the Highest Tribunal of the land.
On automatic review, accused-appellant faults the trial court with a lone assignment of error, to wit:
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN HOLDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF RAPE WITH HOMICIDE THEREBY SENTENCING HIM TO SUFFER THE DEATH PENALTY DESPITE THE GLARING INSUFFICIENCY OF THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE AGAINST HIM.5cräläwvirtualibräry
On the other hand, the Solicitor General recommends affirmance of the appealed Decision in toto.
The prosecutions version of the incident is summarized thus in the Peoples brief:
Appellant Aldrin Licayan
and Bernard Agcopra were friends from way back. On
The group continued drinking in the house of Wenny Rajal also in Barangay Inobulan, Salay, Misamis Oriental. After consuming two bottles of Beer Grande, they bought a case of the same drink, which they brought to the house of Romeo. When they arrived, Romeos wife Rosalinda and his children, Rey Oriente, Raymundo and five-year old Rowena were there. Agcopra did not stay long and did not drink beer anymore. He went with Romeo to the barangay captain leaving appellant in Romeos house. When Romeo returned to his house, appellant was embracing and kissing Rowena, justifying it by saying that he missed his daughter.
Appellant kept on embracing Rowena. At
When Romeo got tired of waiting for Rowena, he went to the Dorbit house to inquire about her. Rey Oriente told him what happened, which caused him to cry. Neighbors were alerted and immediately formed a posse to look for the girl. While searching for Rowena, they spotted appellant when they trained a flashlight to him. Appellant ran towards the ricefield. The posse chased him, but failed to catch him when he jumped into the deep Inobulan River. When appellant passed by a group of men who offered him a drink, his clothes were wet and his body was muddy. He had no slippers. That same night, appellant was arrested by the police.
The following morning, the dead and naked body of Rowena was found at the swamps, where appellant told Rogelio Dahilan, Jr., one of the searchers, she would be. Photographs were taken of the girl. A postmortem examination of the girl revealed that she had hematomas, lacerations, abrasions all over her body, as well as a deep incomplete hymenal laceration at the
As stated earlier, after the prosecution had rested its case and formally offered its evidence, accused-appellant escaped detention and has remained at large despite efforts to apprehend him. Once an accused escapes from prison or confinement, he loses his standing in court and is deemed to have waived any right to seek relief from the court unless he surrenders or submits to the jurisdiction of the court.7 Accused-appellants escape should be considered a waiver of his right to be present at the trial and the inability of the court to notify him of the subsequent hearings will not prevent the court from continuing with the trial because the escapee is deemed to have received notice.8cräläwvirtualibräry
The fact of escape made accused-appellants failure to attend unjustified because he has, by escaping, placed himself beyond the pale and protection of the law. This being so, the trial against the fugitive should be brought to the ultimate conclusion. Thereafter, the trial court had the duty to rule on the evidence presented by the prosecution against the accused and to render its judgment accordingly. It should not wait for the fugitives appearance or re-arrest,9 for the State as much as the accused has an interest in and is entitled to a speedy trial and disposition of the case.
In the case at bar, accused-appellant was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence of the commission of the crime is not the only matrix wherefrom a court may draw its conclusions and findings of guilt.10 The rules on evidence11 and case law sustain the conviction of the accused through circumstantial evidence when the following requisites concur: 1.] there must be more than one circumstance; 2.] the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and 3.] the combination of all circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused.12cräläwvirtualibräry
In assaying the probative value of circumstantial evidence, four basic guidelines must be observed:
1) it should be acted upon with caution;
2) all the essential facts must be consistent with the hypothesis of guilt;
3) the facts must exclude every other theory but that of guilt; and
4) the facts must establish such a certainty of guilt of the accused as to convince the judgment beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is the one who committed the offense.13 The peculiarity of circumstantial evidence is that the guilt of the accused cannot be deduced from scrutinizing just one particular piece of evidence. It is more like a puzzle which when put together reveals a convincing picture pointing towards the conclusion the accused is the author of the crime.14cräläwvirtualibräry
The following circumstances pointed out by the trial court lead to the inevitable conclusion that the accused-appellant perpetrated the crime:
Second, the three, accused, Bernard Agcopra and Romeo Bangcong, reached Romeos house. In the house then were Romeos wife and children, Rosalina and Rowena, 5 years old. Accused was drunk. But no sooner than they arrived that accused and Romeo started drinking the case of beer grande that they had brought. Bernard Agcopra begged off. He went home. When Rey Oriente Bangcong, one of Romeos children and elder brother of Rowena, arrived from school that afternoon of June 25th, which was Friday, he saw accused drinking with his father and while so doing he kissed and embraced Rowena, justifying it by saying that he missed his daughter. This happened in the presence of the Bangcong family. At about
Third, arriving at Dorbits house, Rey saw accused telling Rowena Day come here because your father asked you to go home so that you can eat your supper. Accused was holding the hand of Rowena and was dragging her. Soon Romeo Bangcong also arrived at Dorbits house looking for Rowena.
Fourth, the Bangcongs neighbors organized a search party. One group spotted accused 20 meters away. He ran toward the direction of the rice field. They chased him but they failed to overtake him as he jumped into the Inobulan River which is 5 arms length wise but deep. The searchers lost him.
Fifth, at about
Sixth, with muddy pants, wet and without slippers accused emerged at the place where Wilson Salvaa and companions were drinking at about
Seventh, accused was the last person with whom Rowena was last seen.15cräläwvirtualibräry
Accused-appellant, however, insists that the foregoing circumstances are insufficient to prove his guilt. He argues that: 1.] the first three (3) circumstances do not point to accused-appellants guilt; 2.] prosecution witness Hernando Zambrano who was among those who organized the search party, is not credible because he did not shout upon finding accused-appellant; 3.] the witnesses could not have seen accused-appellant in the darkness; 4.] the witnesses could have seen somebody else; 5.] assuming that accused-appellant was the one seen by the posse, he was not committing any wrong by running away; 6.] the claim of prosecution witnesses that Jun-jun Dahilan told them where Rowenas body could be found based on accused-appellants admission is hearsay; 7.] granting that accused-appellant revealed where Rowenas lifeless body could be found, he never admitted having raped and killed her; 8.] the admission made by accused-appellant to Dahilan, Jr. is inadmissible; 9.] the circumstance that accused-appellant was seen with wet pants, muddy body and without slippers lacks probative value; and 10.] there were no tell-tale signs that accused-appellant was dragging Rowena to the swamp.
The series of events pointing to the commission of a felony is appreciated not singly but together. Like strands which create a pattern when interwoven, a judgment of conviction based on circumstantial evidence can be upheld if the circumstances proved constitute an unbroken chain which leads to one fair and reasonable conclusion pointing to the accused to the exclusion of all others, as the guilty person.16cräläwvirtualibräry
The peculiarity of circumstantial evidence is that the guilt of the accused cannot be deduced from scrutinizing just one particular piece of evidence. It is more like weaving a tapestry of events that will culminate in a clear picture that will reveal a convincing scenario pointing towards the accused as the author of the crime.17cräläwvirtualibräry
The credibility of prosecution witness Hernando Zambrano cannot be impeached by the mere fact that he failed to rouse other members of the search party when he found the accused-appellant. Suffice it to state that different people react differently to a given stimulus or type of situation and there is no standard form of behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange, startling or frightful experience.18cräläwvirtualibräry
The contention that accused-appellant could not have been identified from a distance of about twenty (20) meters in the dark is untenable, considering that illumination produced by a flashlight or kerosene lamp is sufficient to allow the identification of persons.19 In this regard, we have held that:
Visibility is indeed a vital factor in the determination of whether or not an eyewitnesses could have identified the perpetrator of a crime. However, it is settled that when conditions of visibility are favorable, and the witnesses do not appear to be biased, their assertion as to the identity of the malefactor should normally be accepted. Illumination produced by kerosene lamp or a flashlight is sufficient to allow identification of persons. Wicklamps, flashlights, even moonlight or starlight may, in proper situations be considered sufficient illumination making the attack on the credibility of witnesses solely on that ground unmeritorious.20cräläwvirtualibräry
Accused-appellants argument that he did not commit any wrong in running away upon being espied by the search party likewise deserves scant consideration. Courts go by the biblical truism that the wicked flee when no man pursueth but the righteous are as bold as a lion.21 Accused-appellant has not satisfactorily explained why he fled upon being spotted by the posse.
In People v. Templo,22 we held that the act, declaration or omission of a party as to a relevant fact may be given in evidence against him. One type of act that can be given in evidence against him is flight. In criminal law, flight means an act of evading the course of justice by voluntarily withdrawing oneself to avoid arrest or detention or the institution or continuance of criminal proceedings. The unexplained flight of the accused person may as a general rule be taken as evidence having tendency to establish his guilt. In short, flight is an indication of guilt.23 What makes flight particularly damaging for accused-appellant is that he fled twice, i.e. first, upon being spotted by the search party and second, by scaling the perimeter fence of the Provincial Jail while he was in the custody of the law and undergoing trial.
Accused-appellant cannot validly claim that the statement made by Rogelio Jun-jun Dahilan, Jr. as to the location of the victims body is hearsay. Any oral or documentary evidence is hearsay by nature if its probative value is not based on the personal knowledge of the witnesses but on the knowledge of some other person who was never presented on the witness stand,24 because it is the opportunity to cross-examine which negates the claim that the matters testified to by a witness are hearsay.25 In the instant case, Rogelio Dahilan, Jr. testified that accused-appellant indeed told him where the victims body can be found. What is more, the victims body was actually recovered at the location pointed by accused-appellant.
Accused-appellants objection to the admissibility of his statement as to where he dumped the body of the victim, which allegedly partakes of an extra-judicial confession, is just as tenuous. The impugned extra-judicial statement, as testified to by Dahilan, is as follows:
Q While you were there and Aldrin Licayan was also there did you have a chance to talk to him?
A Yes, Maam.
Q What did you talk about?
A I asked him Brod, as if I was guessing, where did you leave the child?
Q What was his answer to your question?
A He told me Did you remember the place where we were drinking?
Q What was your answer?
A I told him, Yes, at the place of Wennie Rajal.
Q What more?
A He said, Yes in the place of Wennie Rajal. From his place there was a curve[d] road or junction. And in that junction the side of it is a ricefield. After the ricefield there is a nipa swamp. Try to see there maybe I left the child there!
Q After getting that information from Aldrin Licayan what did you do?
A Me and my companions went outside the Municipal Hall and proceeded to the place where Aldrin Licayan told us.
Q Did you reach the area described by Aldrin Licayan?
A Yes, Maam.
Q What did you see when you arrived in that place described by Aldrin?
A It is where we found the child.[26cräläwvirtualibräry
The foregoing is not an extra-judicial confession, but merely an extra-judicial admission. Sections 2627 and 33,28 Rule 130 of the Revised Rules of Court clearly delineates their distinction. In People v. Agustin,29 we elucidated on the difference between the two in this wise:
A confession is an acknowledgment in express terms, by a party in a criminal case, of his guilt of the crime charged, while an admission is a statement by the accused, direct or implied, of facts pertinent to issue, and tending, in connection with proof of other facts, to prove his guilt. In other words, an admission is something less than a confession and is but an acknowledgment of some fact or circumstance which in itself is insufficient to authorize a conviction, and which tends only to establish the ultimate fact of guilt.
The records show that Rogelio Jun-jun Dahilan was neither a law enforcement nor a public officer conducting a custodial interrogation of accused-appellant. He was merely a jeepney driver and an acquaintance of accused-appellant who asked the whereabouts of the missing child of his kumpadre because the victim was last seen with the latter.30cräläwvirtualibräry
In fact, there is no showing that Dahilan colluded with the police authorities to elicit inculpatory evidence against accused-appellant. Neither was he instructed by the police to extract information from accused-appellant on the details of the crime. In People v. Andan,31 the accuseds spontaneous and voluntary verbal confession made in a private meeting with the municipal mayor was admitted in evidence because the same was not covered by the requisites of Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution.
...Constitutional procedure on custodial investigation do not apply to a spontaneous statement not elicited through questioning by the authorities, but given in an ordinary manner whereby the accused orally admitted having committed the crime32cräläwvirtualibräry
Even assuming arguendo that accused-appellants admissions indeed partake of an extra-judicial confession, the same would still be admissible not only on account of the foregoing considerations but also because it is corroborated by evidence of corpus delicti. Under Rule 133, Section 3 of the Rules of Court,33 an extra-judicial confession shall not be sufficient ground for conviction, unless corroborated by evidence of corpus delicti, which is defined as the body of the crime and, in its primary sense, means a crime has actually been committed.34 Applied to a particular offense, it is the actual commission by someone of the particular crime charged.35 In this case, aside from the admission made by accused-appellant, the bruised and battered body of the victim herself recovered at the exact spot described by accused-appellant conclusively established the corroborating evidence of corpus delicti.
Furthermore, the admission is replete with details on the whereabouts of the victim who at that time had not yet been found, thereby ruling out the probability that it was involuntarily made. The voluntariness of a confession may be inferred from its language such that if, upon its face, the confession exhibits no suspicious circumstances tending to cast doubt upon its it integrity, it being replete with details - which could only be supplied by the accused - reflecting spontaneity and coherence, it may be considered voluntary.36cräläwvirtualibräry
Contrary to accused-appellants claim, he was in fact seen grabbing and dragging the struggling victim from the house where she was watching television by Rey Oriente, the victims elder brother.37cräläwvirtualibräry
While accused-appellant indeed did not admit to anyone that he raped and killed Rowena, the prevailing circumstances overwhelmingly point to his guilt. As stated earlier, direct evidence is not always necessary to identify the accused as the perpetrator of the crime. A witness may not have actually seen the very act of commission of a crime, hut he may nevertheless identify the accused as the assailant as when the latter is the person last seen with the victim immediately before and right after the commission of the crime,38 as in this case.
In sum, the foregoing circumstances when viewed in their entirety are as convincing as direct evidence and, as such, negate the innocence of the accused-appellant.39 In other words, the circumstantial evidence against accused-appellant fully justifies the finding of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt of the felony committed.40cräläwvirtualibräry
We, therefore, find no compelling reason to reverse the ruling of the trial court insofar as accused-appellants guilt is concerned. The crime of Rape with Homicide is defined and penalized by Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. No. 7659. The definition of the felony was later expanded and the same was reclassified as a crime against persons and incorporated as Articles 266-A41 and 266-B42 in Title Eight, Chapter Three thereof.
The penalty imposed by the trial court is correct.43 Death being a single indivisible penalty, the same shall be imposed regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstance that may have attended the commission of the crime.44 Indeed, the penalty of death must be mandatorily imposed under Article 47 of the Revised Penal Code, to wit:
Art. 47. In what cases death penalty shall not be imposed; Automatic review of death penalty cases. - The death penalty shall be imposed in all cases in which it must be imposed under existing laws except when the guilty person is below eighteen (18) years of age at the time of the commission of the crime or is more than seventy years of age or when upon appeal or automatic review of the case by the Supreme Court, the required majority vote is not obtained for the imposition of the death penalty, in which cases the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua.
Under prevailing jurisprudence, the amount of civil indemnity in cases of rape with homicide is now P100,000.00.45 On the other hand, the award of moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00 given to the victims heirs is proper taking into consideration the pain and anguish of the victims family46 brought about by her death.47cräläwvirtualibräry
WHEREFORE, the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 19 in Criminal Cases Nos. 99-696 finding accused Aldrin Licayan y Sucano guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Rape with Homicide, sentencing him to suffer the penalty of death and ordering him to pay the heirs of the victim, Rowena Bangcong, P50,000.00 as moral damages, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that accused-appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of the victim P100,000.00 as civil indemnity.
In accordance with Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 25 of R.A. No. 7659, upon finality of this decision, let a certified true copy of the record of this case be forthwith forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of clemency and pardoning power.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Buena, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
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