PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,Plaintiff-Appellee, v. GEORGE DE LA CRUZ Y CERCADA, accused-appellant.
D E C I S I O N
This is an appeal from the Decision of Branch 951 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, convicting appellant George de la Cruz y Cercada of the crime of robbery with homicide.
At about 9:00 p.m. of February 28, 1993, Branch Cashier Liza Sebastian of Andresons Group, Inc. was in the cashier's office and had just concluded counting the money and checks representing the day's remittances when she heard footsteps coming her way.
Realizing that she was the only person left at the office aside from security guard Jaime Fabian, she inquired if there was anybody else in the office but nobody answered. Moments later, two armed men barged into her office and immediately announced a hold-up. One of the armed men, the herein appellant, held a bag, a jacket, and a bladed weapon, while the other had a gun. They advised Liza not to shout while asking her where the money was kept. Appellant then aimed his knife at Liza's neck and threatened her, "Putang-ina mo! Makisama ka sa amin kung ayaw mong mangyari ang nangyari sa guardiya nyo" while his companion poked his gun to her head with the following threat, "O, ano pare, pasabugin na natin, ang ulo nito."
Liza pleaded for her life and
pointed to the vault where the money was kept. Immediately, the two men took
the money amounting to not less than
P139,669.00 (as evidenced by
Exhibits "C" to "C-45"2, "H" to H-15"3, "I" to "I-21"4, and "J" to "J-9"5 ) and after placing it in their bag, tied
Liza's hands behind her back with two electric cords (Exhibits "A"
warned not to make any noise or shout unless she wanted to suffer the same fate
as the security guard.
also threatened that he would definitely go back for her.
What appellant did next was to cover Liza's head with a jacket he
Liza would later recount
that it was the same jacket which she saw Jaime Fabian was wearing when she saw
the latter at 7:00 p.m. of that day.
After the two armed men had fled, Liza tried to untangle herself from the electrical cords tied around her back and hollered for security guard Jaime Fabian to come to her aid. Having loosened herself from the cords, she ran to the guard's post and found no one so she proceeded to the guardhouse where she saw the lifeless body of Jaime Fabian lying in a pool of blood with hands and feet hogtied. Liza then sought police assistance.
On March 1, 1993, while being shown by the police pictures of possible suspects, Liza saw the picture of appellant herein. Liza was therefore brought by policemen to Caloocan City where in a vacant lot, she found and identified the herein appellant himself who was immediately arrested.
On March 3, 1993, appellant was charged with the crime of robbery with homicide, under an Information7 filed by the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City, alleging:
"That on or about the 28th day of February, 1993, in Quezon
City, Philippines, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating with
other person, whose true name, identity and whereabout has not as yet been
ascertained and mutually helping each other, with intent to kill, did then and
there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack and employ personal
violence upon the person of JAIME FABIAN Y BATOON, security guard of ANDRESONS
GROUP, INC. located at the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue, this City, by then
and there shooting him on his head, thereby inflicting upon him serious and
mortal wounds which were the direct and immediate cause of his instantaneous
death; and thereafter, said accused armed with a gun and knife rob the
ANDRESONS GROUP, INC. in the following manner to wit: the said accused barged
inside the cashier's room and once inside announced a hold-up andwith
the use of electrical cord hogtied LIZA SEBASTIAN, a cashier of said
establishment, and emptied the company's vault amounting to
Philippine Currency, after which fled with their loot, to the damage and
prejudice of the ANDRESONS GROUP, INC. herein represented by PAUL S. ITURRALDE,
and the heirs of JAIME FABIAN Y DATOON.
CONTRARY TO LAW."
With the accused pleading not guilty upon arraignment thereunder, trial ensued.
On August 24, 1993, the trial court came out with its Decision8convicting appellant of the crime of robbery with homicide, and sentencing, thus:
"WHEREFORE, the Court finds accused George de la Cruz y
Cercada guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery with homicide
charged herein, defined and punished in Arts. 293 and 294(l) of the Revised
Penal Code, as principal in the commission thereof and, accordingly, he is
hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua; to indemnify the
Andresons Group, Inc. in the sum of
P139,669.00 as actual damages and
the heirs of the deceased Jaime Fabian in the sum of P342,000.00 as
actual and compensatory damages and the further sum of P50,000.00 as
death indemnity; and, to pay the costs, without prejudice to the application of
Rep. Act NO. 6127.
In convicting appellant, the trial court gave full credence to the eyewitness account of Liza Sebastian positively identifying the appellant as one of the persons who perpetrated the crime of robbery at her office. Appellant's defense of alibi did not convince the trial court in the face of Liza's clear and categorical eyewitness account.
Appellant placed reliance on the assignment of errors, that:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF PROSECUTION EYEWITNESS LIZA SEBASTIAN THAT ACCUSED-APPELLANT COMMITTED THE CRIME CHARGED, AND IN DISREGARDING THE TESTIMONY OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT ON THE GROUND OF REASONABLE DOUBT.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF THE CRIME OF ROBBERY WITH HOMICIDE DESPITE THE PROSECUTION'S FAILURE TO PROVE THE ATTENDANT HOMICIDE BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.
In support of the first and second assigned errors, appellant invites attention to what he branded as "inconsistencies and improbabilities" in the testimony of Liza Sebastian, to wit:
1. That it was Liza Sebastian's first time to see the appellant on February 28, 1993 at 8:00 p.m. Appellant contends that it was not the first time as he was formerly connected with the Andresons Group, Inc. as a security guard from July 12, 1991 up to February 17, 1993 when Liza Sebastian was already an employee of the company, having been employed since August 9, 1990.
2. That only she and security guard Jaime Fabian were left at the office at around 8:00 p.m. of February 28, 1993. Yet, the witness also testified that a few minutes before the robbery there were still five (5) salesmen together with Boy Corrales who were in the basketball court.
3. That Jaime Fabian was wearing the jacket (Exhibit "R") the last time she saw him before the hold-up. Yet the jacket is not even tainted with blood.
4. That she cannot remember the number of times she appeared and failed to appear before the trial court. Yet she recalls the exact number of times that she saw security guard Jaime Fabian.
5. That she claimed to have
counted only about
P140,000.00 when the Marketing Manager of Andresons
Group, Inc. testified that the amount lost was PI39,669.00.
6. That Liza Sebastian could
not remember the denominations of the
7. The fact that Liza
Sebastian took three (3) hours to count the sum of
unusual for a business graduate.
Appellant's contentions are untenable. The alleged inconsistencies and improbabilities aforestated are too minor to deserve consideration. They cannot adversely affect the witness' credibility.9 Minor lapses even enhance the veracity of the testimony of a witness as they erase any suspicion of a rehearsed declaration.10 Absent evidence to show any reason or motive why a witness should testify falsely, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists and his testimony is worthy of full faith and credit.11 In the case under scrutiny, the Court cannot fathom why Liza Sebastian should testify falsely against accused-appellant. As a victim, her only motivation was certainly to tell the truth of what happened in her office on February 28, 1993. Then, too, appellant failed to show any reason or motive why Liza should give a false testimony against him. Having failed to show proof, we can only surmise that the witness had nothing against the appellant when she testified for the prosecution.
Liza Sebastian's testimony is clear and categorical. There is no indication that she ever wavered in her identification of George de la Cruz y Cercada as one of the perpetrators of the crime. On the other hand, the trial court found her positive identification of appellant reliable and straightforward.
Liza Sebastian's credibility is not diminished by her admission that she saw the appellant for the first time during the commission of the crime. On the contrary, it appears that she had sufficient time to clearly see appellant's face at a distance of only about an arm's length when the latter poked his weapon at her and when she was being hogtied. What is more, the perpetrators were in her room for several minutes so that there was sufficient time for the said witness to develop familiarity with the face of appellant.
Even the stressful condition of the witness when the crime was commited did not dilute the accuracy of her testimony. In fact, a violent incident such as the one sued upon may even serve as a catalyst to one's memory. As was said in People v. Campa,12 "their faces would in the very nature of things, also have been forcefully impinged upon and etched into the witnesses' memories by the acts of ferocity perpetrated before their eyes."
Appellant relied upon the defense of alibi in disowning liability for the commission of the crime. According to him, when the crime charged was perpetrated, he was in the house of a cousin at 169 Susano Road, Novaliches, Quezon City, and before that, he was at the place of Jaharra Muhamad, a labor recruiter. The court believes, and so rules, that the alibi theorized upon by appellant cannot hold against his positive identification by the witness that he (appellant) was one of the perpetrators of the crime.13 Alibi is a weak defense and cannot prevail over the positive identification of the accused.14cräläwvirtualibräry
For the defense of alibi to prosper, the accused must prove that he was not at the locus delicti at the time the crime was committed, and that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission.15 Accused utterly failed to meet such requirement as his own evidence indicated that it would take him only 35 to 40 minutes to negotiate the distance from his house to the crime scene16, and 45 minutes from his cousin's house to the crime scene17. Appellant failed to prove that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime at the approximate time of its commission.
Under the third assigned error, appellant argues that the crime of homicide was not proven beyond reasonable doubt as no witness was presented to identify the assailant of security guard Jaime Fabian and witness Liza Sebastian admitted that she did not see the shooting or killing of Jaime Fabian; that Liza Sebastian said that she had no personal knowledge that the jacket worn by Jaime Fabian was the same jacket used by the appellant to cover her; and she was not sure whether the victim was wearing a jacket.
The issue for resolution is whether there is ground to hold appellant guilty of the crime of robbery with homicide. Appellant maintains that even if found guilty, he is only liable for robbery. We hold otherwise.
Even if there is no direct evidence that the accused shot the victim, his guilt may be established by the attendant circumstances constituting an unbroken chain which leadsto only one fair and reasonable conclusion - that the accused is guilty of the killing of the victim.18 There is sustainable basis for the submission by the Solicitor General that the following circumstances lead to no other conclusion than that the accused killed the security guard, Jaime Fabian, on the occasion of the robbery, to wit:
1. After appellant announced a hold-up, he poked a bladed weapon at Liza with the warning: "Putang ina mo makisama ka sa amin kung ayaw mong mangyari ang nangyari sa gwardiya niyo."19
2 The jacket which was worn by Jaime Fabian and which was used by appellant to cover Liza's head shows that when appellant and his companion entered the cashier's office, they were already able to disarm and immobilize the security guard.
3. The security guard was himself hogtied in the same fashion that Liza was tied up.
The aforementioned circumstances constitute an unbroken chain evidencing appellant's culpability for the death of the said Jaime Fabian. Appellant having acted in conspiracy with his companion robber, there is no more need to establish the identity of the triggerman. What is important and decisive is that the said circumstances established that the appellant and his companion disarmed the security guard, Jaime Fabian, took away his jacket, and shot him before they entered the office of Liza Sebastian where they committed the robbery.
Resort to circumstantial evidence is essential when to insist on direct testimony would result in setting felons free and deny proper protection to the community.20 As in the present case, with presence of the following requisites, circumstantial evidence is sufficient to convict, to wit: (1) There is more than one circumstance; (2) The facts from which inferences are derived are proven; and (3) The combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.21cräläwvirtualibräry
It bears stressing that the actual and compensatory damages awarded below are well substantiated and borne out by the evidence on record.
WHEREFORE, for lack of merit, the appeal is hereby DISMISSEDand the judgment appealed from AFFIRMEDin toto. Costs against the appellant.
Romero (Chairman), Vitug, Panganiban, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.
1 Presided by Judge Aloysius C. Alday.
2 Folder of Exhibits, pp. 1-46.
3 Ibid., pp. 52-68.
4 Ibid., pp. 69-90.
5 Ibid., pp. 91-100.
6 See envelope containing Exhibits "A" and "B".
7 Rollo, pp. 6-7.
8 Ibid., pp. 21-25.
9 People v. Benitez, 264 SCRA 586.
10 People v. Verano, 264 SCRA 546.
11 People v. Malazarte, 261 SCRA 482.
12 230 SCRA 431, 442.
13 People v. Trilles, 254 SCRA 633; People v. Ferrer, 255 SCRA 19.
14 People v. Patrolia, Jr. 254 SCRA 467.
15 People v. Batulan, 253 SCRA 52.
16 Transcript of Stenographic Notes, July 20, 1993, p. 6.
17 See Decision, p. 4.
18 People v. Sumaoy, 263 SCRA 460.
19 TSN, April 2, 1993, p. 8.
20 People v. Prado, 263 SCRA 460.
21 People v. Bracamonte, 257 SCRA 380.