G.R. No. 138696 : July 7, 2010
FELIZARDO S. OBANDO and JUAN S. OBANDO, Petitioners, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a petition for review on certiorari filed by petitioners Felizardo and Juan Obando seeking to annul and set aside the Decision1cralaw dated August 13, 1998 and the Resolution2cralaw dated May 17, 1999 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 20187.
The antecedent facts are as follows:chan robles virtual law library
Petitioners filed their appeal with the CA.
On August 13, 1988, the CA issued its assailed Decision affirming in toto the decision of the RTC.
Petitioners' motion for reconsideration was denied in a Resolution dated May 17, 1999.
Hence, this petition for review filed by petitioners on the following grounds:chan robles virtual law library
Petitioners contend that the non-presentation of the original copy of the alleged falsified will before the RTC was a fatal defect which entitles them to an acquittal.
We are not persuaded.
We note that during the trial of this case, petitioners did not raise any objection when the alleged will was presented and testified to by NBI Document Examiner Torres. We also note that in the Offer of Prosecution Evidence,10cralaw where the machine copy of the alleged will was marked as Exhibit "A," the prosecution, in the last paragraph of such offer, stated that "all these (documents) form the bulk of evidence in Special Proceeding Nos. 123948 and 61567 and were simply reproduced here as agreed upon by the parties. We are compelled to mention this so that the accused will have no reason for questioning their authenticity."11cralaw In their Comment/Objection to the Offer of Prosecution Evidence,12cralaw petitioners merely stated that: "If this particular document is the original copy of the Last Will and Testament of Doña Alegria Strebel Vda. de Figueras, which was marked as Exhibits "J," "J-1" to "J-17" in Special Proceedings Nos. 61567 and 123948, then the accused admits not only of its existence but also its validity, authenticity and due execution of said Last Will and Testament," but nowhere did they object to such submission of the machine copy. In fact, petitioners never sought reconsideration when the RTC admitted the machine copy of the alleged will.
More importantly, we note that a duplicate original copy of the alleged will was formally offered in evidence13cralaw as one of petitioners' documentary evidence and the same was already admitted by the RTC. Thus, a duplicate original copy of the alleged will was already admitted in the records of the case which the RTC used for comparison of the questioned signatures with that of the standard signatures of Alegria.
Petitioners fault the RTC and the CA for giving more weight to the findings of NBI Document Examiner Torres that the signature in the alleged will was forged as against the findings of PNP Document Examination Chief Cruz that the questioned signature was genuine.
The rule is 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. This is more true if such findings were affirmed by the appellate court. When the trial court's findings have been affirmed by the appellate court, said findings are generally binding upon this Court unless when that determination is clearly without evidentiary support on record, or when the judgment is based on misapprehension of facts or overlooked certain relevant facts which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion,14cralaw which we do not find in this case.
In examining the questioned signatures of Alegria, Torres used the standard specimen signatures submitted by petitioners, Eduardo and Fritz, the parties in the probate proceedings. Torres found that the questioned and standard/sample signatures of Alegria were not written by one and the same person. However, as petitioners did not agree with such findings, petitioners moved for another examination of the same documents together with three additional documents to be conducted by the PNP. PNP Document Examiner Chief Francisco Cruz submitted his report where he found that the questioned signatures and the standard signatures executed in 1978 indicated that they were written by one person. Both Torres and Cruz testified in court.
Torres, in her direct and cross-examinations, thoroughly explained her findings by establishing the fundamental differences in the writing characteristics and habits existing in the questioned and standard signatures.
First, in the alignment characteristics, i.e., the relationship of the letters in the name with the base line or where the letters rest. She pointed out that in the standard signatures, all the letters in the name were written in an even straight base notwithstanding that some of the standard signatures were written without the horizontal line. In the questioned signatures, the name Alegria S. Vda. de Figueras was written either in a going up or going down direction, i.e., there was no even placement of the letters.15cralaw
Second, in the arrangement characteristics, i.e., the position of the written signature in relation to the typewritten name. Torres found that the one who wrote the questioned signatures had the habit of affixing the signatures across and covering the entire typewritten name. While in the standard signatures, the writer affixed the signatures above the typewritten name and there was no instance where the signature crossed the typewritten name. Torres intimated that such arrangement characteristic in handwriting identification was very significant, because it was considered to be an inconspicuous characteristic which meant that even the writers themselves would not notice that manner of signing.16cräläwvirtualibräry
Third, the slight but consistent difference in the slant of the letter "g" in the name Alegria. Torres stated that slant meant the slope of the letter in relation to the base line. She found that in the standard signatures, the slopes of the letter "g" in Alegria formed an angle of less than 90 degrees; that the letter "g" was slanting to the right. While in the questioned signatures, the slopes of letter "g" formed an angle of more than 90 degrees.17cräläwvirtualibräry
Fourth, the proportion characteristic which meant the relationship of one letter to the next letter.18cräläwvirtualibräry
Fifth, the manner of execution of the questioned signatures was different from that of the standard signatures. Torres found that in the questioned signatures, there were presence of hesitations, tremors, slow drawing movement, and consciousness which were not found in the standard signatures, which she had explained in details in her testimony.
On the other hand, PNP Document Examiner Cruz stated that there was a wide range of variations existing between the questioned signatures made in 1978 and the standard signatures executed in 1974, 1976 and 1978, indicating that there was a radical change in the physical condition of the writer wherein the muscle and nerves were affected resulting in the loss of muscular control. He also stated that while the questioned signatures and the standard signatures were dissimilar in the manner of execution, quality of lines, alignment and size of letter, no definite conclusion can be reached in view of the wide gap of execution. He then stated that the questioned signatures executed on November 11, 1978 and the standard signature executed in December 1978, which was most contemporaneous to the date of the execution of the questioned signatures, he found they were similar and showed that they were written by one person.19cralaw
We note that Cruz's findings as to the loss of muscular control in Alegria's hand allegedly due to her physical condition was contradicted by Torres' testimony that the standard signature executed by Alegria in December 1978, i.e., one month after the alleged will was executed, showed that she was in good physical condition, because her signature was smooth with flowing strokes with an even alignment which indicated that Alegria had good muscular control and coordination.20cralaw Notably, Dr. Elena Cariaso, the doctor who was tasked by the probate court to examine the physical and mental condition of Alegria in December 1978, testified that Alegria was physically and mentally fit with only a weakness in her lower extremities; thus, corroborating Torres' finding that Alegria's hand had good muscular control and coordination. In fact, Torres established that the standard signatures written in 1966, 1974, 1976 and in December 1978, all showed that the signatures were made in a continuous, spontaneous and unconscious manner21cralaw unlike that of the questioned signatures.
Expert opinions are not ordinarily conclusive. They are generally regarded as purely advisory in character. The courts may place whatever weight they choose upon and may reject them, if they find them inconsistent with the facts in the case or otherwise unreasonable. When faced with conflicting expert opinions, as in this case, courts give more weight and credence to that which is more complete, thorough, and scientific.22cralaw The value of the opinion of a handwriting expert depends not upon his mere statements of whether a writing is genuine or false, but upon the assistance he may afford in pointing out distinguishing marks, characteristics and discrepancies in and between genuine and false specimens of writing which would ordinarily escape notice or detection from an unpracticed observer.23cralaw
We agree with the RTC and the CA in giving more weight and credence to the testimony of Torres as the examination conducted by Torres was complete, thorough and scientific. We find that the RTC had the opportunity to examine the relevant documents and make comparisons thereof. In fact, upon our own comparison of the questioned signatures and the standard signatures taking into consideration inconspicuous differences noted by Torres on the questioned and standard signatures, we find that the questioned signatures showed substantial differences with that of the standard signatures of Alegria.
Petitioner claims that the testimonies of the notary public, as well as the two attesting witnesses that they saw Alegria sign the will in their presence, should have outweighed the testimony of Torres.
We are not persuaded.
In his testimony, Notary Public Farrales testified that when he, together with another lawyer, Atty. Cordon, went inside the room of Alegria who was in bed, he presented to her copies of the will which he brought from his office;24cralaw that Alegria read the same and called in petitioner Felizardo to bring some small board where she could write; after Felizardo handed the same, he again left the room. Farrales said that Alegria signed the will in his presence, as well as in the presence of Atty. Cordon and the other attesting witnesses, Mercedes and Victorino; that petitioner Felizardo was just outside the room when the signing was on-going;25cralaw that Farrales was the one who assisted Alegria in turning the pages of the documents and was the one who pointed to her the portion where she was to affix her signatures;26cralaw and that after the signing and notarization of the will, Alegria requested them to call on petitioner Felizardo and once Felizardo was inside the room, Alegria gave the documents to the latter who placed the will in an envelope.27cralaw
On the other hand, Mercedes testified that when she and Victorino entered Alegria's room, she saw Alegria, Felizardo, Attys. Farrales and Cordon; that Alegria instructed petitioner Felizardo to read aloud the will which Felizardo did;28cralaw and that Alegria and the other witnesses signed the will in the presence of each other and was duly notarized; and that she saw Felizardo keep the will inside the vault. 29cräläwvirtualibräry
Victorino testified that when he and Mercedes entered Alegria's room, he saw Atty. Farrales, Cordon, Felizardo and Alegria who was in a reclined position in her bed; that Alegria asked Felizardo to get the sealed document from a cabinet;30cralaw that Alegria told petitioner Felizardo to give each one of them a copy of the document and instructed petitioner Felizardo to read the contents of the will aloud;31cralaw and that he saw Alegria signed the will in their presence.
Notably, their testimonies showed material inconsistencies which affected their credibilities. Farrales testified that the copies of the alleged will came from his office and he was the one who gave the same to Alegria which, however, was contrary to Victorino's claim that petitioner Felizardo got the alleged will from the cabinet. Farrales testified that petitioner Felizardo was not inside the room when the signing was ongoing which was again contrary to the claims of both Mercedes and Victorino that petitioner Felizardo was inside the room while the signing was on-going; and that Alegria even instructed Felizardo to read aloud the contents of the same to them. Notably, Farrales testified that he was the one who turned the pages of the will and was also the one who pointed to Alegria the portion where to affix her signatures and that no other person rendered such assistance except him.32cralaw However, in petitioner Felizardo's testimony, he said that he was present when the will was being signed by Alegria.33cralaw In fact, petitioner Felizardo submitted photographs which were admittedly taken by co-petitioner Juan to prove the former's presence during the signing and to show that he was the one assisting Alegria in signing the will.
Such contradictory statements coming from persons who allegedly were present when the will was executed render doubtful the genuineness of the alleged forged will. Thus, we find no error committed by the RTC in not giving credence to their testimonies.
We find the elements of falsification of public document present in this case. Essentially, the elements of the crime of Falsification of Public Document under Article 172 (1) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) are: (1) that the offender is a private individual; (2) that the offender committed any of the acts of falsification enumerated under Article 171; and (3) that the act of falsification is committed in a public document. Under paragraph 2 of Article 171, a person may commit falsification of a public document by causing it to appear in a document that a person or persons participated in an act or proceeding, when such person or persons did not, in fact, so participate in the act or proceeding.
In this case, petitioners are private individuals who presented the alleged will to the probate court and made it appear that Alegria signed the alleged will disposing of her rights and interest in the real properties, as well as all of her personal properties to petitioners when in fact petitioners knew that Alegria never signed such alleged will as her signatures therein were forged.
We find apropos the findings of the RTC that petitioners conspired to perpetuate such forgery, to wit:
The crime of falsification of public document was the means for petitioners to commit estafa. The elements of estafa under Article 315, par. 1 (b) of the RPC34cralaw are as follows: (1) that money, goods or other personal property is received by the offender in trust, or on commission, or for administration, or under any other obligation involving the duty to make delivery of or to return the same; (2) that there be misappropriation or conversion of such money or property by the offender or denial on his part of such receipt; and (3) that such misappropriation or conversion or denial is to the prejudice of another.
Petitioner Felizardo argued that he already had in his possession the personal properties of Alegria which included the pieces of jewelry by virtue of an alleged general power of attorney executed by Alegria in his favor. However, as correctly argued by the Solicitor General, such agency between Alegria and petitioner Felizardo, was terminated upon Alegria's death; thus, he had no basis for taking possession and custody of Alegria's properties after her death. However, by virtue of the falsified will which petitioners presented for probate, and by which petitioner Felizardo became a co-administrator of the estate of the Figueras couple, and had gained possession of the jewelry, he was not able to account for the same when ordered to do so by the probate court.
On the other hand, co-petitioner Juan admitted that the pieces of jewelry went to his daughters and nieces, while the real properties were already sold even while the intestate and probate proceedings were still pending in court.
Petitioners' misappropriation of the jewelry was to the prejudice of Eduardo Figueras who also has the right to Alegria's jewelry in general which were part of the declared conjugal estate of his father Jose and Alegria Figueras. Notably, Alegria, as administratrix of the estate of Jose, submitted in 1966 an inventory of the conjugal real and personal properties of the Figueras couple and one of those listed under conjugal personal properties was jewelry in the amount of
The crime committed was estafa through falsification of public document. Being a complex crime, the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed in its maximum period.35cralaw While we sustain the conviction of petitioners of the crime charged, we found, however, that the penalty imposed by the trial court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals was not proper.
The amount of damages is the basis of the penalty for estafa. However, we note that the prosecution failed to satisfactorily show that the amount of jewelry misappropriated was indeed two million pesos. The only evidence on record which would establish the amount of the jewelry was the inventory submitted in 1966 by Alegria where she listed the jewelry in the amount of
Since the amount misappropriated by petitioners was established to be only in the amount of
Thus, the maximum penalty to be imposed in this case is the medium period of prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods, there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum penalty should be taken from the penalty next lower in degree which is arresto mayor maximum to prision correccional minimum in any of its period.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated August 13, 1998 and the Resolution dated May 17, 1999 of the Court of Appeals are AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as to the penalty imposable. Petitioners are hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of one (1) year and one (1) day of prision correccional, as minimum, to four (4) years, nine (9) months and ten (10) days of prision correccional, as the maximum, and to pay a fine of
DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA
A T T E S T A T I O N
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
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