[G.R. NO. 164545 : November 20, 2006]
LORBE REBUCAN y BALTAZAR, Petitioner, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
In this Petition for Review on Certiorari1 under Rule 45 of the Revised Rules of Court, petitioner Lorbe Rebucan y Baltazar prays for the reversal of the Decision dated 12 March 20042 and Resolution dated 2 July 20043 of the Court of Appeals, affirming with modifications the Decision dated 6 November 20014 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 2, Kalibo, Aklan, in Criminal Cases No. 4625, 4626, 4629, 4630, 4631, 4632, 4633, 4635, 4636, 4637, 4638, 4639, and 4640, finding petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of 13 counts of the crime of Qualified Theft.
On 23 February 1996, petitioner was charged with 13 counts of the crime of qualified theft in 13 separate Informations.5 The Information in Criminal Case No. 4625 reads:
That on or about 27th day of February, 1994, in Poblacion, Municipality of Kalibo, Province of Aklan, Republic of the Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused who was then the Cashier of Thumbelina Books and Supplies owned by Mrs. GRAZIA ATHENA C. ZAULDA, with grave abuse of confidence and intent of gain, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously take, steal, and appropriate for her personal use and benefit the amount of Three Hundred Pesos (
The Informations in Criminal Cases No. 4626, 4629, 4630, 4631, 4632, 4633, 4635, 4636, 4637, 4638, 4639 and 4640 are similarly worded with the afore-quoted Information except in the dates of the commission of the crime and the amounts allegedly stolen. The following are the case numbers, dates of the commission of the crime and the amounts involved in the said cases:
When arraigned in all the cases on separate dates, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the charges. Trial on the merits thereafter ensued.
The facts according to the prosecution are as follows:
Sometime in 1980, petitioner was employed as a saleslady of Thumbelina Books and Office Supplies (TBOS) located at 19 Martyrs St., Kalibo, Aklan, and owned by private complainant Grazia Athena Zaulda. In 1990, petitioner was promoted therein as a cashier. Her tasks as such were to receive the daily sales of TBOS; to remit the cash to private complainant or the latter's authorized representatives, namely, Emma Retiro (Emma) and Monica Ili-Zausa (Monica) twice a day - first at 12:00 in the afternoon and second at 5:00 in the afternoon; and to list and compute all cash purchases for the day on a ruled sheet of paper reflecting every purchase made by customers.7
On the morning of 28 February 1994, while private complainant was inspecting the operations of TBOS, she noticed that her employees used the sheets of paper containing the lists and computations of purchases as wrappers for the rolled cartolina paper and Manila paper merchandises of TBOS. Out of curiosity, private complainant took one of the lists dated 27 February 1994 and computed the figures/purchases stated therein. To her shock and disbelief, she discovered that the computation/addition in one of the columns under the name "Bhing" (the nickname of petitioner) was understated. She removed the other lists from the stocks of rolled cartolina paper and Manila paper and examined the same. Again, she found that the computations in some of the columns under the name "Bhing" were understated.8
On that same day after lunch, she confronted the petitioner about the understatements in the listings. Caught by surprise, petitioner trembled and told her in their native dialect, "Kon pila ron nang hay bayaran ko" (Whatever the amount is, I will pay). She asked petitioner to elaborate on the understatements in the listings but the latter did not say a word. Hence, private complainant told petitioner to take a vacation.9
Subsequently, she instructed Emma and Monica to look for other listings which may have also been understated by the petitioner. They found more understated listings under the nickname of petitioner. Later, she told the petitioner to proceed to the TBOS. When the petitioner arrived, she showed to her the understated lists but the latter merely looked at it and kept her silence.10 Left with no other recourse, she told the petitioner that her employment was already terminated.11 Thereafter, she filed a complaint for 72 counts of qualified theft against petitioner at the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor, Kalibo, Aklan.12
Petitioner, on the other hand, vehemently denied the accusations of private complainant. Her defenses and arguments are summarized in the Decision of the RTC dated 6 November 2001, to wit:
[T]hat before she was employed initially as a saleslady with the Thumbelina Bookstore and Office Supplies in 1982; that this store is owned by Mr. And Mrs. Lolly Zaulda [private complainant]; that her last day of employment thereat was on February 28, 1994 as cashier; that she denies the accusations by the complainant in these cases as well as the testimonies of the witnesses against her that she deliberately made understatements in her listings during her term as cashier thereat; that it is not true also that she pocketed some money which were in her possession as such cashier; that the nature of her work as cashier was, at the start of the day, she first prepared a grade one pad paper, wrote thereon the respective salesladies and listed the sales for the day; that all cashiers (four of them) were provided with ballpens, calculator, and adding machine and a cash register but the latter was kept upstairs after using it for about four years; that the listing recorded on a pad paper were turned over twice a day and during busy days, four times a day; that these listings were picked up by Monica Ili [Monica Ili-Zausa] and Emma Retiro from the cashiers to be brought by them upstairs; x x x that these listings with alleged discrepancies shown by the prosecution where she listed the items brought by the customers from the Thumbelina Bookstore and Office Supplies are the same in appearance; that the Thumbelina store is a two-story establishment; that when the items were brought upstairs by Monica Ili-Zausa and Emma Retiro, they did not go with them but stayed on (sic) their posts; that they knew that all these listings when brought upstairs were being checked one by one; that the amount corresponding to those in the listings were collected during closing time at about 5:30 p.m.; that they knew how much cash was collected and turned over upstairs by means of a piece of paper from the adding machine they called "tape" to reconcile with it with the cash in hand; that those present when the listings were being checked in notation to the cash money were the salesladies and the cashiers; that this practice was a usual daily routine; that in the afternoon after the turned over of the cash, they waited downstairs; that during lunchtime she went home for lunch because she had a baby to breast feed; that when she came back in the afternoon the listings were being used for the afternoon sales and when there were still spaces, to be used for the following morning sales; that in summation for the listings to be brought upstairs, they used ballpens, adding machine and calculator; that for the first time on February 28 1994, she was confronted upstairs by Mrs. Zaulda the alleged discrepancies in the listings; that she did not know where Mrs. Zaulda got the listings with alleged discrepancies but the others were the listings she had before; that during the confrontation she explained to Mrs. Zaulda that those listings were being checked every afternoon; that she was asked to make a refund but she refused; that it is not true that she made an offer to pay the same; that she was then told by Mrs. Zaulda of her dismissal from her job and [afterwards] she went home.
That one week after her dismissal from her job she went back to the Thumbelina Bookstore and Office Supplies to ask for her A-1 Form so that she could continue her SSS membership but Mrs. Zaulda replied that she could no longer afford to pay her membership fee due to her being unemployed; that she then went to the Provincial DOLE Office for an opinion; that a labor case was then filed against Mrs. Zaulda in 1994; that during the course of her employment with the Thumbelina Bookstore and Office Supplies, no disciplinary action was filed against her in connection with her work performance as cashier nor did she ever pocketed money belonging to the store; that she was shown of (sic) all the listings allegedly with discrepancies for her to check one by one the listings for any possible insertions or erasures therein and found none except in Exhibit "D-2"; that on the fourth page thereof those were not in her own handwriting. Xxx
x x x [T]hat maybe they [private complainant, Monica and Emma] made insertions because the total amount of the summation became different; that the reason why she went to the Department of Labor was to seek assistance for her right which they took for granted by dismissing her for no reason at all; that she filed the case against Mrs. Zaulda ahead of these cases she filed against her; that she met again Mr. And Mrs. Zaulda in the office of Atty. Icamina [counsel of private complainant] where she was asked to withdraw the case [illegal dismissal case] she filed against them and for them to withdrew these cases they filed against her but she did not agree to their proposal; that aside from these cases, other cases were filed against her in Branch 1 but were dismissed (Exh. "1") while the other cases in Branch 3 were archived. x x x.13
On 6 November 2001, the RTC rendered its Decision finding petitioner guilty of 13 counts of qualified theft.14 It gave full faith and credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses (private complainant, a certain Melanie Retiro and Monica) who all declared that the understated lists were the "sole handiwork" of petitioner since they are all very familiar with the handwriting of petitioner and that they were the co-employees of the petitioner at the TBOS for a number of years.15 It noted that their testimonies were truthful because they were "unrehearsed, straightforward, categorical, natural and spontaneous."16 It also observed that there is no evidence on record which disclosed that the prosecution witnesses were impelled by "improper and ill-motive" to testify falsely against petitioner.17 There was never an instance wherein petitioner and the prosecution witnesses had a misunderstanding prior to the instant cases and that they treated each other as family-members.18
Furthermore, it held that the systematic method adopted by petitioner in committing the crime, which was the understating of the amount in the lists, was specially adopted by her to forestall detection, and, thus, unless the figures stated in the listings are carefully and meticulously tallied, the shortages and understatements therein cannot be noticed.19 It also found that petitioner was personally recommended by Melanie Retiro (Melanie) to private complainant.20 Since Melanie is a trusted employee/assistant of the private complainant, the latter accepted petitioner to work at the TBOS.21 During the initial period of her work as a saleslady at the TBOS, petitioner had proved to the private complainant that she could be trusted. Thus, she was promoted to the position of cashier at the TBOS. Subsequently, however, petitioner had abused the trust and confidence of private complainant by understating the amount in the lists and used the money for her personal benefit. It opined that petitioner's easy access to the cash could have "bedevilled" her to commit the crime.22 In conclusion, the RTC ruled:
WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused LORBE BALTAZAR REBUCAN alias "BHING", guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Qualified Theft (13 counts) and hereby imposes upon her the following penalties:
Moreover, the Court hereby orders the afore-named accused to pay the private complainant GRAZIA ATHENA ZAULDA the total amount of
With costs against the accused.23
Unyielding, the petitioner appealed the RTC Decision dated 6 November 2001 with the Court of Appeals. In its Decision dated 12 March 2004, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modifications the ruling of the RTC.24 The modifications pertain only to the penalties imposed by the RTC, thus:
IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the appealed decision is AFFIRMED, with modification that appellant is hereby sentenced to suffer indeterminate penalty of FOUR (4) YEARS, TWO (2) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of prision correcional, as minimum, to NINE (9) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of prision mayor, as maximum, for Criminal Cases Nos. 4625, 4626, 4629, 4630, 4635, 4636, 4637, 4638, and 4640;
As to Criminal Cases Nos. 4631, 4632, 4633 and 4639, appellant is hereby sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of TWO (2) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of prision correccional, as minimum, to TEN (10) YEARS, TWO (2) MONTHS and TWENTY-ONE (21) DAYS of prision mayor, as maximum. In all other respects, the appealed decision stands.25
Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration26 of the above-stated decision but the same was denied by the Court of Appeals in its Resolution dated 2 July 2004. Hence, on 30 August 2004, petitioner filed a Petition for Review before this Court raising the following issues for our consideration:
Anent the first issue, petitioner contends that her acquittal in Criminal Cases No. 4627 and 4634 for Qualified Theft in the RTC, Branch 1, Kalibo, Aklan,28 casts reasonable doubt on her guilt in the cases before the RTC, Branch 2, Kalibo, Aklan, which are the subject of the instant appeal; that there was no direct eyewitness to the alleged crimes imputed against her; and, that the conclusions of the Court of Appeals were based merely on speculations, conjectures and circumstantial evidence.
There is no merit in the contention.
It appears that private complainant had filed 72 counts of qualified theft against petitioner in the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Kalibo, Aklan.29 A number of these cases were assigned to Branches 1 and 2 of the RTC, Kalibo, Aklan, while the rest were archived in Branch 3.30 Although the judge in Branch 1 had acquitted the petitioner of qualified theft, it does not automatically follow that the judge in Branches 2 and 3 are obliged or duty-bound to acquit the petitioner for the same offense. The factual findings of each of these judges are given respect and independence. They are entitled to make their own appreciations and conclusions in accordance to what they have personally seen and heard of the witnesses and the other evidences presented during the trial. Thus, in the case of People v. Langit,31 we ruled that:
The appreciation of one judge of the testimony of a certain witness is not binding on another judge who heard the testimony of the same witness on the same matter. Each magistrate who hears the testimony of a witness is called upon to make his own appreciation of the evidence. It is, therefore, illogical to argue that because one judge made a conclusion in a certain way with respect to one or more of the accused necessarily dictates that the succeeding judge who heard the same case against the other accused should automatically make the same conclusion.
Verily, the foregoing principle must be observed in order to preserve the credibility, independence and impartiality of the courts, and to protect public trust and confidence in the judicial system.
Moreover, each count of qualified theft, whether assigned to Branch 1, 2, or 3 of the RTC, Kalibo, Aklan, is separate and distinct from the others. Although all 72 counts of qualified theft may have involved the same parties and may have been committed in similar manner by the petitioner, the prosecution still bears the burden of establishing beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the petitioner for every count.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Thus, it is completely possible and rational that a court which heard and accepted all the evidence on several counts of the crime may find the accused guilty of some yet acquitted as to the other counts. Moreso, when the various counts of the crime are assigned and tried by separate courts in which the differences in the evidence presented, the manner the prosecution and the defense conducted the trial, and the appreciation of the judges, may end in varying results for each count.
While it is true that there was no eyewitness when the petitioner committed the crime of qualified theft, it does not necessarily follow that her guilt for such act was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. It should be emphasized that an accused can be convicted even if no eyewitness is available, as long as sufficient circumstantial evidence had been presented by the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the crime.32 Circumstantial evidence will be considered sufficient if the following are shown:
The above-stated requisites are present in the case at bar. During the trial, all of the witnesses for the prosecution testified under oath that the understatement of the figures in the lists were made by the petitioner since they are all very familiar with her handwriting as they were co-employees for many years.34 This is bolstered by the records which show that all of the understated lists are indicated under the name "Bhing" which is petitioner's nickname.35 Moreover, as aptly stated by the Solicitor General, a closer examination of the lists reveals that the handwritten understated figures are uniform and consistent. The strokes are notably similar and written by one and same person.36 Petitioner admitted that, as the former cashier of TBOS, she wrote and computed the understated figures in the lists. Although she claimed that there were insertions/alterations in the lists, she failed to point out or identify such during the trial.37 These lists were presented in evidence and were verified during the trial by the prosecution witnesses and by the petitioner.38
Furthermore, it should be noted that petitioner, as the trusted cashier of TBOS, had easy access to the lists of sales as well as to the cash or proceeds thereof. Therefore, it would not be impossible or difficult for the petitioner to understate the lists and cart away the missing amount.
Petitioner had denied having committed the crime charged. She, however, had failed to present sufficient evidence to support her disclaim of any liability. As the defense of denial is inherently weak for being negative and self-serving, and the petitioner failed to substantiate the same, the positive and categorical declarations of the prosecution witnesses must prevail.39
The foregoing circumstantial evidences, taken together, constitute an unbroken chain leading to a fair and reasonable conclusion that petitioner had understated the lists and pocketed the missing amount for her personal benefit.40
Contrary to the position of petitioner, the Decision dated 6 November 2001 of the Court of Appeals are not based on speculations and conjectures. In affirming the conviction of petitioner, it relied on the evidences presented during the trial such as the understated lists and the transcript of stenographic notes. It also stated some jurisprudence as bases for its conclusions.41 Hence, the asseveration of petitioner with regard to this matter must fail.
As to the second issue, petitioner argues that the prosecution failed to prove the identity of the alleged falsifier of the lists. She also avers that it was impossible for her to understate the figures in the lists since she knew that her remittances were being counterchecked by Monica and Emma, and that if she really wanted to misappropriate the private complainant's money, she could have done it easily by not incorporating the sales for the day in her listings.
To reiterate, the RTC gave full faith and credence to the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses (private complainant, a certain Melanie Retiro and Monica) who all declared that the understated lists were the "sole handiwork" of petitioner since they are all very familiar with her handwriting as they were co-employees of the petitioner in the TBOS for number of years.42 It noted that their testimonies were truthful because they were "unrehearsed, straightforward, categorical, natural and spontaneous."43 In this regard, it should be borne in mind that the findings of fact of the trial court, its calibration of the testimonies of the witnesses and its assessment of the probative weight thereof, as well as its conclusions anchored on said findings are accorded high respect if not conclusive effect.44 This is because the trial court has the unique opportunity to observe the demeanor of a witness and is in the best position to discern whether they are telling the truth.45
The RTC also observed that there is no evidence on record which disclosed that the prosecution witnesses were impelled by "improper and ill-motive" to testify falsely against petitioner.46 In fact, there was never an instance wherein petitioner and the prosecution witnesses had a misunderstanding prior to the instant case and that they treated each other as family-members.47 Thus, without evidence to show that the prosecution witnesses were actuated by an improper motive, their testimonies deserve full faith and credit.48
It is also worth stressing at this point that the Court of Appeals affirmed such findings of the RTC. We adhere to the well-established rule that when the trial court's findings have been affirmed by the appellate court, said findings are generally conclusive and binding upon this Court.49 We find no compelling reason to deviate from their findings.
Among the assigned tasks of Monica and Emma at the TBOS were to pick up the lists of sales together with the corresponding cash from the petitioner, and to countercheck them in order to determine whether the lists of sales are consistent with the cash at hand. However, Monica testified that she and Emma stopped counterchecking the lists since December 1993 because they trusted the veracity of petitioner's computation of the sub-totals of the sales.50 As the petitioner was like a family-member to them, they relied on her honesty and accuracy.
It is undeniable that a crime may be committed in more ways than one. That petitioner could have more easily misappropriated the private complainant's money by not incorporating the sales for the day in the listings instead of understating the figures/amounts therein, would not discount the possibility of her choosing and actually doing the latter, where, although more difficult and elaborate, is not a totally impossible or irrational choice for petitioner to make since it is less likely to give rise to suspicion or is more difficult to detect.
In arguing the last issue, petitioner posited that the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of qualified theft. She also claimed that the listings under her name are mostly understated by
We reject these contentions.
Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code provides for the concept of the crime of theft, viz:
ART. 308. Who are liable for theft. - Theft is committed by any person who, with intent to gain but without violence against or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take personal property of another without the latter's consent. x x x
Based on this provision, the elements of the crime of theft may be deduced as follows:
Relatively, Article 310 of the same Code states that the crime of theft becomes qualified when it is, among others, committed with grave abuse of confidence, to wit:
ART. 310. Qualified theft. - The crime of theft shall be punished by the penalties next higher by two degrees than those respectively specified in the next preceding article, if committed x x x with grave abuse of confidence x x x.
The elements of theft as well as the circumstances that made the same as qualified theft were sufficiently established by the prosecution.
It appears that petitioner was personally and favorably recommended by Melanie to private complainant.ςηαñrοblεš νιr†υαl lαω lιbrαrÿ
Since Melanie is a trusted and long-time employee/assistant of the private complainant, the latter accepted petitioner to work at the TBOS. During the initial period of her work as a saleslady in the TBOS, petitioner had performed her job well. Impressed, the private complainant reposed her full trust and confidence on the petitioner by promoting the latter to the sensitive position of a cashier. As such, petitioner had an easy access to the lists of sales report and the proceeds/cash of the daily sales. Knowing that she already enjoyed the full trust and confidence of private complainant and of her co-employees, petitioner had "systematically and repeatedly"51 understated the amounts in the lists which contains the daily sales of the TBOS, and pocketed the money or the proceeds thereof for her personal benefit.
The lists as attached to the records clearly show that the petitioner understated the amount/figures thereof by
As we already found, the foregoing facts were verified and testified to by the prosecution witnesses during the trial since they are all very familiar with her handwriting as they were co-employees for many years. Petitioner admitted that, as the former cashier of TBOS, she wrote and computed the understated figures in the lists. Although she claimed that there were insertions/alterations in the lists, she failed to point or identify such during the trial. It should also be noted that the understated figures were indicated under the petitioner's admitted nickname. Moreover, the understated lists themselves were presented in evidence and verified by both parties during the trial.
Clearly, then, petitioner, by taking advantage of and gravely abusing the trust and confidence of private complainant, was able to understate the lists of sales of TBOS for the month of January 1994 up to February 1994, and, took the proceeds or missing amounts thereof for her personal benefit. Given the foregoing, there is no doubt that the prosecution's evidence passed the test of moral certainty and established beyond reasonable doubt that petitioner is guilty of qualified theft.
While petitioner theorized that the figure 1 or 2 could have been inserted in the listings under her name to make it appear that she understated the sales amounts, she was not able to point out or identify them during the trial. She did not also present any evidence to support this claim. She did not provide any reason or motive why another person would do such a thing that would expose her to criminal liability. Therefore, such allegation has no basis and deserves no consideration. More importantly, as aptly stated by the Solicitor General, a close scrutiny of the listings reveal that the figures are uniform and consistent. The strokes are observably similar and written by one and the same person, the petitioner.
As a last resort, petitioner tries to impress upon this Court that the filing of criminal cases against her by private complainant was a mere retaliation for the illegal dismissal case she had previously filed against private complainant. Again, this sweeping statement is a mere speculation as there was no proof adduced in support thereof. Moreover, the issue in the illegal dismissal case filed by petitioner against private complainant is very much different from the issue in the criminal cases at bar. Granting that petitioner's view is correct, it cannot affect the criminal liability of petitioner for qualified theft which was firmly established by the prosecution.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition is hereby DENIED. The Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 12 March 2004 and its Resolution dated 2 July 2004 in CA-G.R. CR No. 26263 are hereby AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner.
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