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354 Phil. 867


[ G.R. No. 116059, July 23, 1998 ]




Accused-appellant Manuel Crisostomo y Cabanban, after having been found guilty by the Regional Trial Court of San Fernando, La Union of the murder of one Nartito Gavina (hereafter, Nartito), was sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify the victim’s heirs in the amount of P50,000.00.

For the prosecution, the circumstances surrounding Nartito’s death were narrated by Susana Gavina and Manuel Gavina, Nartito’s parents.

Susana recalled that at about 12:00 o’clock midnight of June 21, 1992, she, her husband Manuel, Nartito and a granddaughter were all inside their house at Brgy. Aludaid, San Juan, La Union. A partition separated Nartito's room from where his mother was lying down on the floor. While mother and son were engaged in conversation, Susana heard a gunshot emanating from Nartito’s room. She then darted to the window, peeped and saw, under a bright moonlight and from a distance of less than one meter, appellant running away from underneath their house armed with a gun. After identifying appellant, Susana went to Nartito’s room only to find her son’s bloodied, lifeless body and brain oozing from his head. Her children-in-law arrived at the scene in response to her and Manuel’s cries for help. Three (3) days after, Susana gave a sworn statement at the police station of San Fernando, La Union regarding the incident. On cross-examination, she testified having actually seen appellant insert the barrel of his gun in the hole underneath their house and then fire at Nartito, hitting him on the head.[1]

Manuel, Nartito’s 89-year old father, gave a similar testimony in that after he heard a gunshot emanating from under the flooring of their house, he went to the window and saw appellant running away. He confirmed the identity of the gunman as appellant since the latter is his neighbor. Upon hearing his wife’s shouts for help, Manuel rushed to Nartito’s room where he saw the gory condition of his son. When his efforts to revive Nartito proved futile, Manuel sought the help of the barangay captain. He likewise executed a sworn statement before the police as to Nartito’s death.[2]

The autopsy report[3] prepared by Dr. Arturo G. Llavare revealed the following post mortem findings:
“Cadaver, in state of cadaveric rigidity.

"Wound, GUNSHOT: ENTRANCE, Scalp, Parietal region, left side, posterior aspect, 13.5 cms. above and 1.5 cms. behind the left ear, measuring approximately 3.0 x 1.1 cms. in size, elongated, edges inverted, with a surrounding abraded collar widest at its supero-posterior portion, with singeing and gunpowder residues over hair in surrounding area of wound; directed forward, downward, and from left to right; Involving the Scalp, parietal region, left side, the bullet fracturing the left parietal bone and producing a fracture hole measuring 2.0 x 0.6 cm. At its outer table and 2.4 x 1.3 cm. At its inner table (with bevelling), producing radial fracture lines directed anteriorly to the fronto-parietal suture line and the Frontal bone, midaspect, approximately 16.0 cms. long; the bullet lacerating the Parietal lobe of the brain, left, then crossing the midline and lacerating the Frontal lobe, right side, the bullet further directed downward and fracturing the floor of the anterior cranial fossa, right side, producing periorbital hematoma (left, 3.5 x 2.0 cms.; right, 6.5 x 4.0 cms.), the bullet lacerating the soft tissues of the orbital fossa, right, where a slightly deformed copper-jacketed bullet was RECOVERED.

“Hematoma, Scalp: Fronto-temporo-parieto-occipital region, left side, 18.0 x 16.0 cms. in size, massive, extensive.

“Stomach, with about one third full of partially digested rice and other food particles.”
On the witness stand, Dr. Llavare theorized that Nartito was shot by his assailant on the head while he was lying down and at very close range – a mere six (6)-inch distance between the gun and the target.[4]

Appellant sought to parry the accusation with an alibi. He claimed that he was not in Brgy. Aludaid, San Juan, La Union at the time of Nartito’s killing but at his residence in San Gabriel, La Union, with the distance between the two municipalities, as per his own account, negotiable by transportation in a matter of twenty (20) minutes, or by foot in about one (1) hour. Appellant would also want it to appear that it was Nartito who had an axe to grind, by testifying that a few days prior to the killing (June 14, to be exact), he confronted Nartito after the latter attempted to steal his carabao the previous night. Obviously incensed, Nartito cursed appellant and threatened to kill him with a bolo. Nartito’s threat on his life was the principal reason why appellant and his family decided to transfer to San Gabriel.[5]

Appellant's alibi was corroborated by his father, Agapito Crisostomo, who confirmed appellant's presence at his house in Brgy. Central, San Gabriel, La Union for almost a week prior to June 21, 1992, and that appellant was already resting as early as 7:30 in the evening of Nartito's murder.[6]

Three (3) other witnesses were presented by the defense, namely: SPO2 Bienvenido Cacalne Rodriguez, Roger Crisostomo and SPO3 Felix Angala whose testimonies, however, do not support the alibi. The gist of SPO2 Rodriguez's testimony is that at the time he entered in the police blotter on June 23, 1992 the subject incident relayed to him by SPO4 Angala, there was no named suspect yet.[7] Roger Crisostomo, a DZSO Bombo Radio reporter and first cousin of appellant, testified to the effect that when he went to Brgy. Aludaid on June 22, 1992 to interview the barangay captain and Nartito's mother, both did not know who the author of the crime was. It was only five (5) days later when he learned that appellant was the suspect.[8] SPO3 Angala is one of the policemen who investigated Nartito's death upon being informed thereof at about 7:00 o'clock in the morning of June 22, 1992. In that investigation, Nartito's father, Manuel Gavina, disclosed that his son's killer was appellant. SPO3 Angala nonetheless failed to enter appellant's name in his report because of lack of evidence against him.[9]

Appellant was convicted principally on the basis of Susana and Manuel Gavina’s testimonies which the trial court found to be credible. Appellant now comes to us pleading for his acquittal, arguing that the lower court erred:







We find appellant’s conviction to be in order.

In an attempt to undermine the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, appellant pounces on what he claims as material inconsistencies in the open court declarations of Susana and Manuel Gavina, and also in relation to their affidavits/sworn statements, in this wise:

“Susana Gavina, 65 years old, mother of victim Nartito Gavina, testified on direct examination that she was lying down and conversing with her son Nartito when the latter was shot at around midnight of June 21, 1992 (TSN – April 15, 1993, pp. 4-5). On cross-examination, which was conducted nearly a month after the direct examination, Susana Gavina testified that she was already asleep when the shooting incident happened (TSN – May 7, 1993, p. 5). Later, the witness seemed to have changed her mind and said that it was only her son who was asleep but she was awake (TSN – May 7, 1993, p. 8).

“On the other hand, Manuel Gavina, 89 years old, father of victim Nartito Gavina, testified that his wife Susana and son Nartito were already asleep for about fifteen minutes when his son was shot at around midnight of June 21, 1992 (TSN – July 16, 1993, p. 19). He claims to be awake at that time, contrary to the statement he gave to the police immediately after the incident that he was asleep when his son was shot (Sworn Statement of Manuel Gavina, Exhibit 2, Question and Answer No. 7). When confronted about the conflicting statements, he contends that the statement given to the police was a mistake or maybe falsified (TSN – July 16, 1993, pp. 22-23).

“Even Susana Gavina, in her sworn statement to the police immediately after the incident, told that her husband was already asleep when their son was shot and that he only came to know of what happened when she shouted for help (Sworn Statement of Susana Gavina, Exhibit 1, Question and Answer No. 14).

“From the aforementioned facts, we can identify the following contradictions. The oral testimony of Susana Gavina contradicts the oral testimony of Manuel Gavina. The oral testimony of Manuel Gavina is in conflict with his sworn statement and that of Susana Gavina which were given to the police immediately after the incident. But what is worse is that the oral testimony of Susana Gavina is in itself full of conflicting and contradictory statements. At one time, Susana said that she was awake conversing with her son when the latter was shot. At another time, she said that she was already asleep when the shooting incident occurred. Later still, she claims that her son was already asleep and that she was the only one awake when her son was killed. The killing occurred at around midnight. It is of judicial notice that barrio folks retire early at night especially in remote barangays where there is no electricity.

“On another point, Susana Gavina claims to have seen the accused went (sic) underneath their house and even saw him inserting the barrel of his gun on the hole underneath their house and near the head of his son (TSN – May 7, 1993, p. 4, p. 6 and p. 7). That she saw all these by looking out through the window (Ibid., p. 6). Yet she claims elsewhere that she did not see the accused shot (sic) her son (Ibid., p. 3). She also testified that she was lying down and was able to retire when she heard the gun report, and that was the time she got up and looked through the window and saw the accused (Ibid., p. 5); (Sworn Statement of Susana Gavina, Exhibit 1, Question and Answer No. 10).”[10]
On this score, appellant, sad to say, has made much ado about nothing. More decisive is that these perceived inconsistencies do not per se preclude the establishment of the commission of the crime itself because there is sufficient evidence to prove that indeed the crime was committed by the appellant.[11] Convincing evidence irresistibly suggest that Nartito's death was indeed authored by appellant, as supplied by the positive and uniform testimonies of Susana and Manuel Gavina identifying him as the person running away from underneath their house immediately after Nartito was shot point blank on that fateful midnight of June 21, 1992. In this connection, the discrepancies pointed out by the appellant between the statements of Susana and Manuel Gavina in their respective affidavits and those made by them on the witness stand, being merely inconsequential, do not necessarily discredit them since ex-parte affidavits are generally incomplete. Affidavits are generally subordinated in importance to open court declarations because the former are often executed when an affiant's mental faculties are not in such a state as to afford him a fair opportunity of narrating in full the incident which had transpired.[12] Thus, whenever an inconsistency exists between a statement in the affidavit of a witness and his/her testimony in open court, the latter commands greater weight.[13] Trivial incongruities within a testimony and between testimonies likewise do not impair the credibility of the witness/witnesses. Minor lapses are to be expected when a person is recounting details of a traumatic experience too painful to recall.[14] In fact, the discordance in the testimonies of witnesses on minor matters heightens their credibility and shows that their testimonies were not coached or rehearsed,[15] especially where there is consistency in relating the principal occurrence and positive identification of the assailant.[16]

Neither will the fact alone of relationship of prosecution witnesses Susana and Manuel to the victim Nartito place them in bad light. It is not to be lightly supposed that the relatives of the deceased would callously violate their conscience to avenge the death of a dear one by blaming it on persons whom they know to be innocent thereof.[17] Hence, where there is no evidence and nothing to indicate that the principal witnesses for the prosecution were actuated by improper motive, the presumption is that they were not so actuated and their testimonies are entitled to full faith and credit.[18] It is in fact appellant who had all the reason to harbor a vengeful grudge against Nartito, in view of Nartito's thwarted attempt to steal his carabao and threats on his life. The trial court thus correctly observed that:
"The accused had all the motive to kill the victim Nartito Gavina; where the motive was only conjectured by the mother of the deceased victim, the accused during his testimony in chief confirmed the ill will that existed between him and the deceased. This ill will must have been so intense as to make him move the residence of his family from his wife's barangay (Aludaid) to his hometown at San Gabriel. And any doubt that may arise in the identification of the accused as the perpetrator of the crime is erased by the existence of this bad blood between the accused and the victim who threatened to kill the accused."[19]
With the credibility of prosecution witnesses Susana and Manuel Gavina now beyond question, their testimonies pinpointing appellant as Nartito's killer demolish the defense of alibi - a handy but shabby excuse which indictees never seem to tire of.[20] And although the actual shooting was never seen by either Susana or Manuel, their common and positive declaration in having seen appellant run away from their house holding a gun right after the gunshot was heard is sufficient evidence to pin down appellant, for the rule is that alibi falls in the light of positive testimony placing the accused at the crime scene immediately after the shooting.[21] Susana and Manuel could not have erred in the identity of appellant, considering the illumination provided by the moonlight on that fateful evening which is sufficient for the identification of persons, and their familiarity with appellant who is a long-time neighbor. Even if it be conceded that appellant was already at San Gabriel, La Union a week prior to the tragedy, it would have been easily possible for him to be present on the date (June 21, 1992) and at the precise time (12:00 o'clock midnight) and place (Brgy. Aludaid) of Nartito's murder, considering that Brgy. Aludaid is just twenty (20) minutes away from San Gabriel by transportation. Having miserably failed to prove that it was physically impossible for him to be at the crime scene, appellant's alibi shatters all the more[22] notwithstanding corroboration thereof by his father Agapito Crisostomo, since alibi becomes less plausible when it is invoked and sought to be crafted mainly by the accused himself and his immediate relatives.[23]

Appellant would also quibble at the fact that the judge who penned the now-assailed decision is not the same magistrate who heard and received the testimony of the primary prosecution witness, Susana Gavina. This observation, however, is not much help for appellant. Simply because the judge who heard the evidence is not himself the one who prepared, signed and promulgated the decision, but some other judge in his place, constitutes no compelling reason to jettison his findings and conclusions and does not per se render it erroneous,[24] and more so where the judgment appears to be fully supported by the evidence on record as in this case.[25]

The crime committed by appellant is indeed one of murder, considering that appellant snuffed Nartito's life while the latter was lying down ready to retire - defenseless and blissfully unaware of any deadly assault from anybody. Settled is the rule that the suddenness of the attack without the slightest provocation from the victim who was unarmed and had nary an opportunity to repel the aggression or defend himself, ineluctably qualifies the killing with alevosia.[26] The penalty of reclusion perpetua was, therefore, correctly imposed, being in accordance with Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code.

WHEREFORE, the appealed decision dated June 14, 1994 convicting app ellant Manuel Crisostomo y Cabanban of murder is hereby AFFIRMED in all respects.

Regalado, (Chairman), Melo, Puno, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.

[1] TSNs of April 15, 1993 and May 7, 1993.

[2] TSN of July 16, 1993.

[3] Exhibit “E.”

[4] TSN of December 15, 1992.

[5] TSN of Oct. 15, 1993.

[6] TSN of December 17, 1993, pp. 12-18.

[7] TSN of December 17, 1993, pp. 2-11.

[8] TSN of January 14, 1994, pp. 2-20.

[9] TSN of February 17, 1994, pp. 2-16.

[10] Appellant’s Brief, pp. 3-5.

[11] People v. Sunga, 238 SCRA 274.

[12] People v. Padao, 267 SCRA 64.

[13] People v. Ponayo, 235 SCRA 226; People v. Loveria, 187 SCRA 47.

[14] People v. Perez, 270 SCRA 526.

[15] People v. Mendoza, 254 SCRA 61; See also People v. Laray, 253 SCRA 654; People v. Melivo, 253 SCRA 347; People v. Letigio, 268 SCRA 227.

[16] Sumalpong v. CA, 268 SCRA 764.

[17] People v. Libed, 14 SCRA 410.

[18] People v. Tabaco, 270 SCRA 32.

[19] RTC Decision p.15.

[20] People v. Gamiao, 240 SCRA 254.

[21] People v. Abitona, 240 SCRA 335.

[22] People v. Quinevista, 244 SCRA 586.

[23] People v. Danao, 253 SCRA 146.

[24] People v. Quiamco, 268 SCRA 516.

[25] People v. Rayray, 241 SCRA 1.

[26] People v. Apongan, 270 SCRA 713.

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