[G.R. NO. 171271 : August 31, 2006]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. ELBERTO TUBONGBANUA y PAHILANGA, Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant Elberto Tubongbanua was charged with the crime of murder in an amended Information 1 that reads:
That on or about the 12th of February, 2001, in the Municipality of San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused, with intent to kill and with evident premeditation, treachery, taking advantage of superior strength, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab Evelyn Kho y Sua on the different parts of her body with the use of a deadly weapon, thereby inflicting upon said Evelyn Kho y Sua stab wounds, which directly caused her death; that the act was committed inside the dwelling of Evelyn Kho y Sua and with insult or in disregard of the respect due to the offended party on account of his (sic) rank, age or sex.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
When arraigned, appellant pleaded not guilty and trial on the merits ensued.
The facts are as follows:
Accused was employed as a family driver by Atty. Evelyn Sua-Kho since 1998. The latter worked as the managing partner of the Lawyer's Advocate Circle, a law firm operated as a sole proprietorship, and located at 2302 Atlanta Center, 31 Anapolis St., Greenhills, San Juan, M.M. Accused was initially paid P6,000.00 a month as wages, aside from boarding, food, overtime and extra pay, which he received when he did extra driving and other work for Atty. Sua-Kho's family.
On February 12, 2001, at around 6:00 o'clock in the evening, the accused drove Atty. Sua Kho to her condominium unit at 1702 Platinum 2000, Anapolis St., Greenhills, San Jun M.M. After handing his employer's bag to Marissa Hiso, the housemaid, accused proceeded to the kitchen where he drank a glass of water. Also in the condominium unit were Atty. Sua-Kho's three year old daughter Issa and her nanny, Nelie Maglasang. After talking and playing with her daughter for a few minutes, Atty. Sua-Kho emerged from the bedroom to talk with the accused. Shortly thereafter, Marrisa heard her employer screaming, and she saw the accused stabbing her with their kitchen knife. She tried to stop the accused, shouting "Kuya Bert!", but the latter continued to stab Atty. Sua-Kho. Meanwhile, Nelie also heard her employer's screams, and locked herself with Issa in the master's bathroom. When she peeped-out from her hiding place, she saw Marissa, whom she signaled to go downstairs for help. The latter did so, and sought help from the security guard. Nellie, meanwhile called Atty. Sua-Kho's father, Marcelino Sua, and husband, Daniel Kho, on the bedroom phone.
When Marcelino Sua arrived, he saw Marissa and a security guard in front of the condominium unit. When they entered, they saw the bloodied and unmoving body of Atty. Sua-Kho sprawled on the floor. Marcelino then brought his daughter to the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital, where doctors tried to revive her, but failed. The accused, meanwhile, fled, using the victim's car. He was arrested soon afterwards in Calapan, Mindoro, while on his way to his home province.
Upon examination of the victim's body, Dr. Edgardo Rodriguez Vida found that she suffered eighteen (18) stab wounds and three (3) incise wounds aside from other minor injuries. The stab wounds on her chest were considered fatal as they affected both lungs, the main blood vessel of the heart and the heart itself. There were four stab wounds on the heart, one on the right lung and four on the left lung. According to the doctor, the wounds could have been caused by a sharp single-bladed object and that the incise wounds found on the left forearm, right wrist and left leg could have been inflicted while Atty. Sua-Kho tried to parry the blows.
Marian Aquino, legal secretary of the Lawyer's Advocate Circle, where the victim worked, related that prior to the killing of Atty. Sua-Kho, the accused had confided to her about his grudges against the victim, such as being given spoiled food, that his meals were being measured, that he worked long hours of the day and served many bosses. On February 11, 2001, accused spent the day at her boarding house where he told her he could no longer take the way Atty. Sua-Kho treated him. Later he said "nadedemonyo na ako" and that he would finish Atty. Sua-Kho. He would hit her at the back, very deep, and he would make sure that she would die. Then he would go to the province, his territory, where he could not be followed.
Atty. Joel Baguio, an associate at the Lawyer's Advocate Circle, also testified that before the killing, the accused told him of his grudges against Atty. Sua-Kho, like his being scolded for being late, and being called a thief, a killer, and ex-convict and other bad names. On February 12, 2001, the accused also told him not to get too close, as he might get involved in what was going to happen.
The accused, on the other hand, raised the defense of self-defense. Atty. Sua-Kho, he testified, didn't want her husband to know that she had been taking trips with a company guest, a certain Phillip Robinson, to Puerto Azul and Daranak Falls in Tanay. She warned the accused that something bad would happen to him if her husband would learn about it. In the evening of February 12, 2001, Atty. Sua-Kho urged accused to go to her father's house, because her husband Daniel Kho would be arriving. As she and the accused argued about Phillip Robinson, the former got a knife and stabbed him with it, catching him on the wrist. Accused managed to wrest control of the knife, and with it, stabbed Atty. Sua-Kho three or four times. After he stabbed her he was shocked and left the place using the victim's car. He fled to Mindoro where he allegedly surrendered to the police.2
On March 26, 2002, the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City, Branch 163, rendered judgment, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, accused, Elberto Tubongbanua y Pahilanga, is found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code and is sentenced to suffer the severe penalty of death by lethal injection with all the accessory penalties provided by law and to pay the costs.
On the civil liability of the accused, he is ordered to pay the legal heirs of the victim actual, moral, nominal, exemplary and temperate damages in the respective sums of P298,202.25, P50,000.00, P200,000.00, P200,000.00 and P50,000.00. He is also ordered to pay the victim's heirs P50,000.00 for the loss of the victim's life, all with interest thereon at the legal rate of 6 percent per annum from this date until fully paid.
On October 21, 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modifications the decision of the trial court. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig City is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS, in that, the accused-appellant, having been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of Murder, is hereby sentenced to Death. He is ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victim the following:
(1) P50,000.00 as civil indemnity;
(2) P50,000.00 as moral damages;
(3) P298,202.25 as actual damages; andcralawlibrary
(4) P50,000.00 as exemplary damages
The awards of temperate and nominal damages are hereby DELETED.
Since the imposition of the death penalty in this case was affirmed, this Decision and the complete records of this case are hereby ordered TRANSMITTED to the Supreme Court on automatic review, immediately upon the promulgation of this Decision.
The Court of Appeals disregarded appellant's claim of self defense for lack of evidence and for being incredible considering the number and location of wounds sustained by the victim and his flight from the crime scene. It also noted that treachery did not attend the commission of the crime as there were no particulars as to how the killing began or executed.
However, the appellate court found that evident premeditation was adequately established which qualified the killing to murder. Likewise, it appreciated abuse of superior strength as an aggravating circumstance.
As regards the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult to the rank, sex and age of the victim, the Court of Appeals noted that these circumstances were included as amendments to the information after the presentation by the prosecution of its evidence. As such, the same should not be allowed because it will prejudice the rights of the appellant.
In a Resolution dated March 7, 2006, we required both parties to file supplemental briefs. The Office of the Solicitor General manifested that it will no longer be filing a supplemental brief. On the other hand, appellant insisted on his theory of self defense and prayed for his acquittal.
We agree with the findings of the trial court and the Court of Appeals that appellant's claim of self-defense is self-serving hence should not be given credence. In Cabuslay v. People, 7 we ruled that:
One who invokes self defense admits responsibility for the killing. Accordingly, the burden of proof shifts to the accused who must then prove the justifying circumstance. He must show by clear and convincing evidence that he indeed acted in self-defense, or in defense of a relative or a stranger. With clear and convincing evidence, all the following elements of self defense must be established: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person claiming self defense.
Appellant's version of the stabbing incident does not inspire belief. His testimony that it was Atty. Sua-Kho who attacked him is uncorroborated and improbable. Appellant's alleged use of reasonable means to repel the aggression is also untenable considering the nature and number of wounds inflicted on the victim which demonstrate a determined effort to kill the victim and not just defend oneself.8 We note that the victim suffered 18 stab wounds which were all directed to her chest, heart and lungs. She also had incised wounds which were inflicted while she was parrying the blows coming from the appellant. In fact, appellant testified that Atty. Sua-Kho was running away from him but he still pursued her and inflicted the fatal wounds:
Q: According to you, Atty. launched at you and you covered and cut on your left hand and that was the time you got the knife and what happened after that?cralawlibrary
A: What I remember is that she went inside.
Q: So, she run (sic) away from you, is that what you are saying?cralawlibrary
A: When I was hit and I was able to stab her, she ran towards the room.
Q: So she was trying to avoid [you] after she stabbed you the first time?cralawlibrary
A: I do not know, what I know is that when I stabbed her, she went inside the room.
Q: What part of the body did you hit her the first time?cralawlibrary
A: At the abdominal area, sir.
Q: After that initial wound, Atty. Kho run (sic) towards the room, is that correct?cralawlibrary
A: What I remember, she run (sic), sir.9
Moreover, appellant's act of fleeing from the crime scene instead of reporting the incident to the police authorities is contrary to his proclaimed innocence but highly indicative of guilt and negate his claim of self defense.10
We agree with the Court of Appeals that the qualifying circumstance of treachery was not present. Treachery under paragraph 16 of Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code is defined as the deliberate employment of means, methods, or forms in the execution of a crime against persons which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the intended victim might raise. For treachery to be present, two conditions must concur: (a) the employment of means of execution which would ensure the safety of the offender from defensive and retaliatory acts of the victim, giving the victim no opportunity to defend himself; and (b) the means, method and manner of the execution were deliberately and consciously adopted by the offender.11 Treachery cannot be presumed; it must be proved by clear and convincing evidence or as conclusively as the killing itself.12
In the instant case, there is no proof on how the attack was commenced. Where no particulars are known as to the manner in which the aggression was made or how the act which resulted in the death of the victim began and developed, it can in no way be established from mere suppositions that the killing was perpetrated by treachery.13
We find however that evident premeditation and taking advantage of superior strength attended the killing.
Like any other circumstance that qualifies a killing as murder, evident premeditation must be established by clear and positive evidence; 14 that is, by proof beyond reasonable doubt.15 The essence of premeditation is that the execution of the act was preceded by cool thought and reflections upon the resolution to carry out the criminal intent during a space of time sufficient to arrive at a calm judgment. To be considered, the following elements must be proven: (1) the time when the accused decided to commit the crime; (2) an overt act manifestly indicating that he has clung to his determination; and (3) sufficient lapse of time between the decision and the execution, to allow the accused to reflect upon the consequences of his act.16
Prosecution witnesses Marian Aquino and Atty. Joel Baguio testified as to appellant's state of mind and predisposition to avenge the alleged maltreatment by the victim. Both witnesses testified on appellant's ill-plans against his employer the day prior to the crime. Absent evidence showing any reason or motive for the witnesses to falsely testify against the appellant, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists and their testimonies should be accorded full faith and credit. Thus, the lower courts correctly concluded that evident premeditation attended the commission of the crime.
Appellant likewise took advantage of his superior strength to perpetuate the criminal act. He killed Atty. Sua-Kho by overpowering her and driving the murder weapon into her body several times, despite her attempts to parry the blows. He could not have executed the dastardly act without employing physical superiority over the victim. In People v. Espina, 17 we have ruled that an attack by a man with a deadly weapon upon an unarmed and defenseless woman constitutes the circumstance of abuse of that superiority which his sex and the weapon used in the act afforded him, and from which the woman was unable to defend herself.
We find, however, that the Court of Appeals erred in not allowing the amendments in the information regarding the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult or disregard of the respect due to rank, age or sex. Section 14, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court, 18 provides that an amendment after the plea of the accused is permitted only as to matters of form, provided leave of court is obtained and such amendment is not prejudicial to the rights of the accused. A substantial amendment is not permitted after the accused had already been arraigned.19
In Teehankee, Jr. v. Madayag, 20 we had the occasion to distinguish between substantial and formal amendments:
A substantial amendment consists of the recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the court. All other matters are merely of form. Thus, the following have been held to be merely formal amendments, viz.: (1) new allegations which relate only to the range of the penalty that the court might impose in the event of conviction; (2) an amendment which does not charge another offense different or distinct from that charged in the original one; (3) additional allegations which do not alter the prosecution's theory of the case so as to cause surprise to the accused and affect the form of defense he has or will assume; and (4) an amendment which does not adversely affect any substantial right of the accused, such as his right to invoke prescription.
The test as to whether an amendment is only of form and an accused is not prejudiced by such amendment is whether or not a defense under the information as it originally stood would be equally available after the amendment is made, and whether or not any evidence which the accused might have would be equally applicable to the information in one form as in the other; if the answer is in the affirmative, the amendment is one of form and not of substance.21
Tested against these guidelines, the insertion of the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult or disregard of the respect due to rank, age, or sex of the victim is clearly a formal, not a substantial, amendment. These amendments do not have the effect of charging another offense different or distinct from the charge of murder as contained in the original information. They relate only to the range of the penalty that the court might impose in the event of conviction. The amendment did not adversely affect any substantial right of appellant.22 Besides, appellant never objected to the presentation of evidence to prove the aggravating circumstances of dwelling and insult or in disregard of the respect due to the offended party on account of rank, age or sex.23 Without any objection by the defense, the defect is deemed waived.24
There is no dispute that Atty. Sua-Kho was killed in her home. Appellant could have killed her elsewhere but he decided to commit the crime at her home; thus we appreciate the aggravating circumstance of dwelling. However, it was not convincingly shown that appellant deliberately intended to offend or disregard the respect due to rank, age, or sex of Atty. Sua-Kho. The motive for the murder was his grudge against the victim and not because she was a lawyer and his employer. Neither did appellant took into consideration the age of Atty. Sua-Kho and the fact that she is a woman when he killed her.
Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, 25 as amended by R.A. No. 7659, 26 prescribes the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death for the crime of murder. Considering the qualifying circumstance of evident premeditation and the aggravating circumstances of dwelling, and taking advantage of superior strength without any mitigating circumstance, the proper imposable penalty would have been death.27
However, in view of the enactment of Republic Act No. 9346 or the Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty on June 24, 2006 28, the penalty that should be meted is reclusion perpetua, thus:
SECTION 1. The imposition of the penalty of death is hereby prohibited. Accordingly, Republic Act No. Eight Thousand One Hundred Seventy-Seven (R.A. No. 8177), otherwise known as the Act Designating Death by Lethal Injection is hereby repealed. Republic Act No. Seven Thousand Six Hundred Fifty-Nine (R.A. No. 7659), otherwise known as the Death Penalty Law and all other laws, executive orders and decrees insofar as they impose the death penalty are hereby repealed or amended accordingly.
SEC. 2. In lieu of the death penalty, the following shall be imposed:
(a) the penalty of reclusion perpetua, when the law violated makes use of the nomenclature of the penalties of the Revised Penal Code; or
(b) the penalty of life imprisonment, when the law violated does not make use of the nomenclature of the penalties of the Revised Penal Code.
Pursuant to the same law, appellant shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4103, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law.
Regarding damages, when death occurs due to a crime, the following may be recovered: (1) civil indemnity ex delicto for the death of the victim; (2) actual or compensatory damages; (3) moral damages; (4) exemplary damages; (5) attorney's fees and expenses of litigation, and (6) interest, in proper cases.29
We affirm the monetary awards granted by the Court of Appeals but modify the amount of actual damages and exemplary damages.
The award for civil indemnity is mandatory and is granted to the heirs of the victim without need of proof other than the commission of the crime. Hence, based on recent jurisprudence, the award of civil indemnity ex delicto of P75,000.00 for the heirs Atty. Sua-Kho is in order.
Actual or compensatory damages are those awarded in order to compensate a party for an injury or loss he suffered. They arise out of a sense of natural justice and are aimed at repairing the wrong done.30 To be recoverable, actual and compensatory damages must be duly proved with reasonable degree of certainty.31 In the present case, the award of actual damages of P298,210.25 32 is correct, considering that the said amount has been duly proven.
The Court of Appeals correctly awarded moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00 in view of the violent death of the victim and the resultant grief of her family.
Article 2230 of the Civil Code specifically states that exemplary damages may be imposed when the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances, as in this case. Moreover, as an example and deterrent to future similar transgressions, the Court finds that an award of P25,000.00 for exemplary damages is proper.
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 01366, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Appellant Elberto Tubongbanua y Pahilanga isfound GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of MURDER as defined in Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, qualified by evident premeditation and with the attendant aggravating circumstances of taking advantage of superior strength and dwelling, with no mitigating circumstances. The proper imposable penalty would have been death. However, pursuant to Republic Act No. 9346, appellant is sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua without possibility of parole. The appellant is ORDERED to pay the heirs of Atty. Evelyn Sua-Kho, the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; P298,210.25 as actual damages; 50,000.00 as moral damages; and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages; all with interest at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum from this date until fully paid.
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