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[ GR No. 118653, Sep 23, 1996 ]


330 Phil. 873


[ G.R. No. 118653, September 23, 1996 ]




Accused-appellant Marcos Villegas seeks the reversal of the decision[1] of 15 February 1994 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig, Branch 164, in Criminal Case No. 82088, finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua; to indemnify the heirs of the deceased the sum of P50,000.00; to reimburse the victim's mother for the funeral and sundry expenses; and to pay the costs.  In the alternative, he prays for a modification of the decision that he be convicted only of homicide.

The accusatory portion of the information in Criminal Case No. 82088, filed on 2 May 1990, reads as follows:
That on or about the 18th day of December, 1989, in the Municipality of Pasig, Metro-Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a hunting knife, with intent to kill and with the attendant qualifying circumstances [sic] of treachery did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously stab with said deadly weapon one Lauro de Guzman y Manteza, hitting him on the left side of his body, thereby inflicting upon the latter stab wounds which directly caused his death.

The Order of Arrest of 9 May 1990[3] was returned with a notation that the accused had left his residence and that his whereabouts were unknown.  In view thereof, the trial court ordered on 22 February 1991[4] that the case be archived until such time that the accused could be brought before the court for trial.

In a 1st Indorsement[5] dated 5 August 1993, P/Supt.  Benjamin M. Go, Jr., informed the trial court that the order of arrest had been served upon the accused on even date, after he was arrested and detained on 2 August 1993 for violation of R.A. No. 6425, specifically, possession of dried marijuana leaves.[6]

At his arraignment on 22 September 1993, the accused entered a plea of not guilty.[7]

To establish its case, the prosecution presented three witnesses, namely, eyewitness Lorenzo Marcelo; Eleuteria de Guzman, the victim's mother; and Dr. Dario Gajardo, who conducted the autopsy on the cadaver of the victim.

Lorenzo Marcelo declared that at around 11:30 p.m. of 18 December 1989, he was walking home from Aling Nemy's store near Orocan Street, Santolan, Pasig, Metro Manila.  He was ahead of Lauro de Guzman, his neighbor, by three armslengths.  They came from a dark alley and were headed towards a portion lit by a nearby MERALCO post located in front of the house of Benny Yang.  Then suddenly, the accused darted from a small sidestreet or alley, approached Lauro from behind, and stabbed the latter once with a long weapon similar to a hunting knife, hitting Lauro on the left side of his back.  The accused then ran away.  Marcelo and a certain Dodong Yuson brought the victim to the hospital[8] where he died on 20 December 1989.[9]

Dr. Dario Gajardo, Medico-Legal Officer and Chief of the Integrated National Police (INP) Crime Laboratory Service, performed the autopsy upon request[10] of the Eastern Police District, Pasig Station, and with the consent of the victim's mother.[11] In his Medico-Legal Report,[12] Dr. Gajardo concluded that the cause of death was "cardio-respiratory arrest due to shock & hemorrhage secondary to stab wounds in the trunk."  His findings were
(1)   healed abrasion, left mammary region ...
(2)   stab wound, left lumbar region ... directed posteriorwards and
      mediawards, lacerating the pancreas ...
(3)   stab wound, left lumbar region ... directed downwards,posteriorwards
      and mediawards, lacerating the intestine ...
On the witness stand, however, Dr. Gajardo declared that he found only one stab wound located "on the left thorax or the chest."[13] He further testified that the wound could have been caused by a pointed single-bladed weapon and that the assailant either came from the victim's left side or both the victim and his assailant were facing each other.[14]

Eleuteria de Guzman testified that she saw the accused only once prior to the death of her son, Lauro de Guzman.  The latter.was single and gainfully employed during his lifetime as a shoemaker and earned from P500.00 to P700.00 a week.  She spent P10,000.00 in connection with Lauro's death.[15]

The accused raised the defenses of alibi and denial.  He testified that on 18 December 1989, at around 11:30 p.m., he was plying his route as a tricycle driver in Santolan, Pasig.  When he parked his tricycle in front of his house, he noticed a commotion about one lamp post away.  Three persons, one whom he recognized as a certain Danny Bisaya, ran to him and asked him to bring them to Marcos Highway.  He agreed.  When he returned home, he learned that Lauro de Guzman was stabbed.  He knew the victim, as they were together in a cursillo house in San Pedro, Laguna, but they were unable to speak with each other then.[16]

Adelo Tena corroborated the story of the accused.

On 15 February 1994, the trial court promulgated the decision appealed from finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.  It passed upon the credibility of eyewitness Marcelo vis-a-vis that of the accused and Tena, and gave full faith and credence to that of Marcelo.  Despite the accused's claims, the trial court considered his "flight" as indicative of guilt in view of the inability to serve upon him the order of arrest, which resulted in the archiving of the case; and appreciated against him the qualifying circumstance of treachery.

The accused seasonably filed his Notice of Appeal.

In his Appellant's Brief, the accused asserts that the trial court erred (1) in giving weight and credence to the testimony of prosecution eyewitness Lorenzo Marcelo whose testimony is doubtful and contradictory, and (2) in holding that the crime charged was committed with the attendant qualifying circumstance of treachery.[17]

The accused invokes the presumption of innocence and contends that the quantum of evidence required for a conviction was not met through Marcelo's eyewitness account.  Initially, the accused characterizes as improbable Marcelo's claim that the assailant stabbed the victim on the chest while the assailant came from behind the victim.  Further, Marcelo made incredible statements, such as when he claimed that the alley from where the accused came from was dark, yet on cross-examination, Marcelo admitted that the place was only five armslengths away from the lamp post; and although he testified on cross-examination that he did not speak with the victim, yet, when confronted with his sworn statement, he admitted that he invited the victim to eat, but not to talk.

Anent the second error, the accused argues that assuming he killed the victim, treachery was not established, for (a) Marcelo's testimony shows that he could not have seen how the attack commenced since Marcelo was walking ahead of the victim; (b) it was highly probable that the victim could have seen the accused coming from the alley as the distance between the alley and the well-lit area was only between five to six meters; and (c) the location of the wound, i.e., on the victim's chest, when considered together with Dr.Gajardo's testimony that the victim and the assailant could have been facing each other, negate the presence of treachery.

In the Appellee's Brief filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, the People contend that the determination of the credibility of witnesses is left to the trial court that prosecution witness Marcelo was not compelled by any ill-motive, and that the alleged contradictions raised by the accused were but minor and frivolous and not connected with the main overt act in question.  With respect to the finding of treachery, the People are in full accord with the trial court, but recommend that the accused be meted out the penalty of twenty-seven years of reclusion perpetua in view of the favorable provisions of R.A. No. 7659.

After a meticulous scrutiny and evaluation of the evidence, we find the imputed errors to be without merit.

It is not at all improbable that the injury sustained by the victim was inflicted by an assailant who approached the former from behind.  One need not unduly stretch his imagination to infer that it could be done without much difficulty through the proper positioning of the hand wielding the weapon.  We have no doubt whatsoever in our minds that prosecution witness Marcelo was at the scene of the crime and saw the victim and the accused.  On this, the accused was unable to cast serious doubt; thus, he merely harped on certain inconsistencies in Marcelo's testimony on the detail s of the assault.  We find such inconsistencies to be on minor, trivial, and inconsequential matters.  One of the well-entrenched principles in our criminal justice system is that such inconsistencies do not affect the credibility of a witness; on the contrary, they may be considered badges of veracity or manifestations of truthfulness on material points in the testimony, or that they may even heighten their credibility.[18]

What the accused entirely missed was Marcelo's testimony that the accused stabbed the victim once and the latter was hit on the left side of his back.[19] However, the Medico-Legal Report of Dr. Gajardo showed that the victim sustained two stab wounds on the left lumbar region.  This discrepancy could not be attributed to falsehood on the part of Marcelo, but to inaccuracy in his perceptions because of the fleeting nature of the attack.  This discrepancy does not diminish the weight of his testimony that the accused suddenly appeared from a dark alley, approached the victim from behind, and stabbed the latter.  As pointed out by the trial court:
[T]he testimony of said eyewitness as a whole must be given full credence considering that said witness was shown to be objective at every turn, portions of which were even confirmed by the accused himself such as where the incident happened was lighted; that the accused was present nearby at that time and date; that both knows [sic] one another prior to the incident; and that they do not have any misunderstanding as between themselves.  So much so that in the mind of the Court, the testimony of this eyewitness is impeccable and worthy of the utmost belief.[20]
It is doctrinally settled that when the issue is one of credibility of witnesses, appellate courts will generally not disturb the finding of facts of the trial court, considering that the latter is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial, unless it plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value that, if considered, might affect the result of the case.[21]

Then too, in the process of impugning Marcelo's testimony, the accused was unable to conjure any improper motive for the former to falsely testify against him.  Where there is no evidence and there is nothing to indicate that the principal witness for the persecution was actuated by improper motive, the presumption is that he was not so actuated, and his testimony is entitled to full faith and credit.[22]

The thrust of the second assigned error is that there is no evidence of treachery since Marcelo could not have seen how the victim was stabbed and the victim could have noticed the accused.  Oddly enough, as to the former, the accused quotes the following portion of the transcript of stenographic notes:
Q  But your back was turned where the incident happened?
A  It was by coincidence, Your Honor, that when I turned my head
     this incident happened.[23]
There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.[24] In the instant case, the unarmed victim was going home when he was suddenly, unexpectedly, and without warning assaulted by the accused and then stabbed with a pointed single-bladed weapon.  Whether or not the victim could have seen the accused coming from the dark alley, as claimed by the latter -- which is mere speculation -- does not diminish the impact of the suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack because by its manner it precluded the possibility of the victim being forewarned of the attack and being able to prepare for his defense.  We do not then hesitate to rule that treachery attended the killing, which qualified the crime to murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code.

The trial court correctly appreciated flight against the accused, It found that:
The accused Marcos Villegas has already left his residence at No. 132 Victorino Street, Santolan, Pasig, Metro Manila when the Order of Arrest was to be served upon him and that the accused's whereabouts are unknown.  This was sometime in May 28, 1990 or a few months after the stabbing incident and when the complaint against the accused was filed in court.  Because of his disappearance, the present complaint has to be archived by this Court sometime in [sic] February 22, 1991 and was only revived when the accused was later arrested in connection with another criminal complaint against him sometime in [sic] August 5, 1993 and was brought before this Court to face the present charge.[25]
The accused offered no satisfactory explanation for his flight.  It is settled that flight evidences guilt and a guilty conscience, or strongly indicates a guilty mind, or betrays the existence of a guilty conscience.[26]

On a final note, the Court rejects the People's recommendation as regards the penalty.  Suffice it to state, in our resolution of 9 January 1995 in People vs.  Lucas,[27] we ruled that although ยง17 of R.A. No. 7659 fixed theduration of reclusion perpetua from twenty (20) years and one (1) day to forty (40) years, there was no clear legislative intent to alter its original classification as an indivisible penalty; hence, it remains indivisible.[28]

WHEREFORE, the instant appeal is DISMISSED and the 15 February 1994 decision of the Regional Trial Court of Pasig, Branch 164, in Criminal Case No. 82088 is AFFIRMED in toto.

Costs against the accused-appellant.


Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Melo, Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ, concur.

[1] Original Records (OR), Criminal Case No. 82088, 77-88; Rollo, 12-23.  Per Judge Apolonio R. Chavez, Jr.

[2] Id., 1-2; Id., 4.

[3] OR, 3-4.

[4] Id., 5.

[5] Id., 6.

[6] Id., 11.

[7] Id., 26-27.

[8] TSN, 15 October 1993, 2-6; 8-9; 12-14.

[9] Exhibit "I" (Certificate of Death); OR 75.

[10]  Id., 71.

[11] Id, 72.

[12] Exhibit "G"; Id., 73-74.

[13] TSN, 22 October 1993, 3-4.

[14] Id., 4.

[15] TSN, 12 October 1993, 3-6.

[16] TSN, 16 November 1993, 4-5.

[17] Rollo, 35.

[18] People vs.  Castor, 216 SCRA 410, 418-419 [1992]; People vs.  Lase, 219 SCRA 584, 596 [1993].

[19] TSN, 15 October 1993, 4.

[20] OR, 85; Rollo, 20.

[21] People vs.  Pascual, 208 SCRA 393, 399 [1992]; People vs. Jumamoy, 221 SCRA 333, 343 [1993]; People vs.  Deunida, 231 SCRA 520, 532 [1994]; People vs.  Pamor, 237 SCRA 462, 471 [1994].

[22] People vs.  Simon, 209 SCRA 148, 159 [1992]; People vs.  Castor, supra, note 18, 419; People vs.  Rostata, 218 SCRA 657, 673-674 [1993].

[23] TSN, 15 October 1993, 13.

[24] Article 14(16), Revised Penal Code.

[25] OR, 86; Rollo, 21.

[26] People vs.  Garcia, 209 SCRA 164, 176-177 [1992]; People vs.  Martinado, 214 SCRA 712, 732 [1992]; People vs.  Enciso, 223 SCRA 675, 687-688 [1993]; People vs. Alvero, 224 SCRA 16, 33 [1993].

[27] 240 SCRA 66 [1995].

[28] People vs.  Excija, G.R. No. 119069, 5 July 1996, at 23.