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586 Phil. 34

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 157106, September 03, 2008 ]

ROMULO TINDOY, PETITIONER, VS. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT. D E C I S I O N

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

By this petition for review, petitioner Romulo Tindoy seeks the annulment and setting aside of the Decision[1] dated April 25, 2002 of the Court of Appeals (CA), as reiterated in its Resolution[2] of February 6, 2003, in CA-G.R. CR No. 22574, affirming an earlier decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Pasig City, Branch 167 which adjudged the petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide.

The facts:

On August 15, 1995, herein petitioner, SPO1 Romulo Tindoy, together with his fellow police officers PO1 Manuel Fernandez (Fernandez) and PO3 Ariel Sanchez (Sanchez), was charged before the RTC of Pasig City with the crime of Homicide, allegedly committed, per the indicting Information[3] docketed as Criminal Case No. 108640, as follows:
That on or about the 29th day of August 1993 in the Municipality of Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused, conspiring and confederating together and all of them mutually helping and aiding one another, with intent to kill, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and inflict personal violence upon the person of one Dominador Viernes, thereby causing him to sustain mortal injuries which directly caused his death.

CONTRARY TO LAW.
When arraigned, the three accused, assisted by counsel, entered a plea of "Not Guilty." In time, trial ensued.

In the ensuing trial, the prosecution presented in evidence the testimonies of Consolacion Viernes, mother of the victim Dominador Viernes, Elsie Fernandez (Elsie), common-law wife of the victim and alleged eyewitness, Dr. Florante Baltazar, the designated Medico-Legal Officer of Bulacan who performed the autopsy on the cadaver of the victim, Dr. Raul Palma, the neurosurgeon who examined the victim when he was brought to the Makati Medical Center for a CT-scan, and Dr. Nestor Bautista, the neurologist who examined the images imprinted in and made the official findings of the result of the CT-scan.

For its part, the defense adduced in evidence the testimonies of petitioner and hi co-accused PO3 Sanchez, as well as Dr. Eugenio Alonzo, the physician who attended to the couple at the Rizal Medical Center, Antonio Aleviado Sr., a Barangay Tanod, Sandro Salve, and Elias AbaƱo, an alleged eyewitness to the couple's quarrel before the arrival of the police.

It is not disputed that in the early evening of August 29, 1993, petitioner, together with PO1 Fernandez and PO3 Sanchez responded to a call for police assistance regarding a case of domestic violence. It was reported that the victim was beating his common-law wife Elsie at their residence at Block 72, Lot 36, Purok 5, Valdez St., Upper Bicutan, Taguig.

When the policemen arrived at the couples' residence the victim had already left the house to buy cigarettes at a nearby store. The couple was nonetheless invited to the police station for questioning. Thereafter, the couple was brought to the Rizal Medical Center where the couple was examined for injuries. Elsie was released that same evening while the victim was detained overnight and released only in the afternoon of the following day August 30, 1993.

On August 31, 1993, the victim was rushed to the Fort Bonifacio Hospital complaining of chills and severe headache. Upon recommendation of the attending physician, the victim was brought to the Makati Medical Center for a CT-scan.

On September 2, 1993 the victim died due to traumatic head injuries. The autopsy conducted by Dr. Florante Baltazar yielded the following findings:
F I N D I N G S:
Fairly developed, fairly nourished male cadaver in rigor mortis with postmortem lividity over the dependent portions of the body. Conjunctivae, lips and nailbeds were pale. There were needle puncture marks at the dorsum of right hand.

EXTERNAL INJURIES: HEAD AND NECK:
1)
Healed abrasion, right frontal region, 6.5 cms. from anterior midline, measuring 1.5 cms x 0.4 cm.
2)
Hematoma, right peri-orbital region, 4.5 cms. from anterior midline, measuring 7 cms. x 4.5 cms.
3)
Healed abrasion, right supra-orbital region, 4 cms. from anterior midline measuring 0.4 cm x 0.5 cm.
4)
Healed abrasion, right lateral aspect of the neck, 8 cms. from midline measuring 2 cms x 0.2 cm
-Over-
C O N C L U S I O N:
Cause of death is traumatic injury, head. [4]
From the foregoing admitted or undisputed facts, the prosecution and the defense presented conflicting versions as to how the fatal head injuries were sustained by the victim.

According to Elsie, the lone eyewitness for the prosecution when the couple was invited to the police station, the victim refused to go with the policemen commenting, "Wala kayong pakialam, away mag-asawa ito" and informed the policemen that he is a military man. In the end the policemen prevailed and the couple was brought to the Taguig police sub-station. While being frisked by PO3 Sanchez, the victim remarked, "Wala akong dala at sundalo ako." To this PO1 Fernandez commented "Sundalong Kanin." The victim's immediate retort Hindi ako ganoon infuriated PO1 Fernandez who punched the victim on the head causing the latter to fall and hit his head against the wall. Petitioner then picked the victim up from the floor and together with PO1 Fernandez and PO3 Sanchez dragged the victim to the comfort room. From the comfort room door Elsie saw the three policemen throw fistic blows on the head of the victim with each hand held by petitioner and PO3 Sanchez. Upon seeing her husband's predicament, Elsie pleaded with the station commander Lieutenant Romeo De Castro to stop the three policemen from beating the victim but her pleas landed on deaf ears. The mauling lasted for three to five minutes.[5] Thereafter, the couple was brought to the Rizal Medical Center where the victim received treatment. Elsie was then released while the victim was detained overnight and released only in the afternoon of the following day, August 30, 1993.

Elsie denied having hit her husband during their argument. Her narration of what transpired between her and the victim is contained in her sworn statement which was also admitted in evidence.[6]

The defense has its own account of what purportedly actually transpired.

Petitioner and SPO3 Sanchez denied having manhandled the victim. They insisted that it was Elsie who inflicted the fatal injuries on the victim when she hit the latter with a piece of 2x2 wood during their quarrel. According to petitioner, when they arrived at the couple's house to respond, to a domestic violence report, they were joined by a barangay tanod prosecution witness Antonio Aleviado. They found the victim drunk and had a bruise on his right eye. Elsie, on the other hand, had a hematoma on her face. The policemen admitted that the victim resisted going to the police station but added that they did not take such resistance against the victim because the latter eventually joined them. After the investigation, the policemen took the couple to the Rizal Medical Center for treatment. The defense underscored the fact that when the victim was asked by Dr. Eugenio Alonzo where he got the bruise on his left eye the victim replied that his wife hit him with a piece of wood.

On July 31, 1998, the trial court rendered its decision[7] finding the petitioner and his co-accused guilty of the crime of Homicide. Dispositively, the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered finding the accused SPO1 ROMULO TINDOY, PO3 MANUEL FERNANDEZ and PO3 ARIEL SANCHEZ all "GUILTY" beyond reasonable doubt of the offense of Homicide defined and penalized under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code and each of them is sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of Eight (8) Years and one (1) Day of prision mayor, as minimum, to Fourteen (14) Years, Eight (8) Months and One (1) Day of reclusion temporal, as maximum; to indemnify the offended party in the amount of P 71, 900.00, by way of actual damages; to suffer all accessory penalties consequent thereto; and, to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.
Unable to accept their conviction, the three policemen went on appeal to the CA in CA-G.R. CR No. 22574, insisting on their innocence and arguing that the trial court committed reversible error in convicting them instead of the real offender, prosecution witness Elsie.

During the pendency of the appeal, petitioner's co-accused PO1 Fernandez and PO3 Sanchez went into hiding and were, thus, stripped of their right to appeal pursuant to Section 8, paragraph 2, Rule 124 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure.

On April 25, 2002, the CA rendered its Decision[8] which affirmed that of the trial court. With his motion for reconsideration having been denied by the same court in its resolution of February 6, 2003, petitioner is now with this Court contending that the CA committed reversible error in not finding that the trial court misappreciated the evidence presented during trial.

As it were, petitioner would have the Court review once more the factual determinations of the trial court, as affirmed by the CA. Under Section 1, Rule 45 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, an appeal to this Court by way of a petition for review on certiorari should raise only questions of law which must be distinctly set forth in the petition. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Thus, the Court may be minded to review the factual findings of the CA only in the presence of any of the following circumstances: (1) the conclusion is grounded on speculations, surmises or conjectures; (2) the inference is manifestly mistaken, absurd or impossible; (3) there is grave abuse of discretion; (4) the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; (5) the findings of fact are conflicting; (6) there is no citation of specific evidence on which the factual findings are based; (7) the findings of facts are contradicted by the presence of evidence on record; (8) the findings of the CA are contrary to those of the trial court; (9) the CA manifestly overlooked certain relevant and undisputed facts that, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion; (10) the findings of the CA are beyond the issues of the case; and (11) such findings are contrary to the admissions of both parties.[9]

Perusal of the record shows that, none of the above exists in this case. Nonetheless, we shall address petitioner's lament.

Petitioner contends that the two courts below erred in giving full faith and credit to the testimony of the principal prosecution witness, Elsie. According to him the subject testimony was faulty, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and coming from a witness who may as well be the most likely suspect. Petitioner maintains that it was Elsie who caused the fatal injury to the victim when she hit the latter on the head with a piece of wood during their argument.

We are not persuaded.

We see no reason to doubt the positive testimony of Elsie. As aptly observed by the trial court the testimony was both convincing and credible:
Convincingly, Elsie Fernandez narrated how PO1 Manuel Fernandez hit her husband with fist blows on the right forehead and pushed him against the concrete wall, with the right forehead of Viernes hitting the concrete wall. After SPO1 Romulo Tindoy and SPO3 Ariel Sanchez assisted Dominador Viernes to be able to stand up, he was thereafter led to the comfort room just beside the investigation room. From the door Elsie Fernandez saw the three (3) accused pushing the head of Dominador Viernes against the urinary bowl, with PO1 Fernandez also hitting Viernes on the abdomen, while SPO1 Tindoy and SPO3 Sanchez respectively holding with one hand both hands of Viernes and hitting the latter's head with the other hand.[10]
Basic is the rule that the trial court's factual findings, especially its assessment of the credibility of witnesses, are generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal. When the issue is one of credibility, the Court will generally not disturb the findings of the trial court unless it plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value that, if considered, might affect the outcome of the case. The reason therefor is not hard to discern. The trial courts are in a better position to decide questions of credibility having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.[11]

Elsie's testimony that the victim was mauled is corroborated by the three (3) doctors who examined the victim, namely: Dr. Raul Palma, Dr. Nestor Bautista and Dr. Florante Baltazar.

Dr. Raul Palma, the neurosurgeon who examined the victim when he was brought to the Makati Medical Center for a CT-scan testified that the victim sustained contusion hemorrhage in both frontal and temporal regions of his brain and had two fractures, linear fractures and a non-displaced fractures on the right and left regions of the skull. Dr. Palma opined that the injuries sustained by the victim were probably caused by multiple hard fist blows against the head.[12]

Dr. Nestor Bautista, the neurologist who examined the images imprinted in and made the official findings of the result of the CT-scan testified that the victim had sub-arachnoid hemorrhage and fronto-temporal brain contusion which could have been caused by a blow, shaking of the victim's head or the head was hit against the wall. He added that the victim's brain was, "medyo nabugbog."[13]

Lastly, Dr. Florante Baltazar testified that the fatal injury was the internal injury which is a fracture on the right frontal bone caused by multiple blows inflicted on the victim simultaneously and not by a single blow.[14]

To our mind, petitioner's posturing that it was Elsie who caused the death of the victim by hitting the latter with the piece of wood is a futile attempt to skirt criminal liability.

As we see it, the defense failed to present any witness who actually saw Elsie hit the victim with a piece of wood. Neither has evidence been presented to show the number of times the victim was supposed to be hit by Elsie. Even if the Court were to assume for the sake of argument that Elsie did hit the victim with a piece of wood, there is no proof that same could not have produced such severe multiple head injuries as sustained by the victim. Verily, Dr. Alonzo, a defense witness, even testified he did not think that the wife can hit him that hard to sustain that injury.[15]

Verily, the findings of the two courts below coincide with the expert testimony of Doctors Bautista and Palma that to produce the injuries found on the victim, the latter must have been hit several times.

Lastly, petitioner would make much of the February 23, 1994 resolution of the prosecutor in I.S. Nos. 93-8538 and 93-8803 which recommended the filing of a complaint against Elsie for the victim's death. This offers no aid to petitioner's cause, since the Secretary of Justice reversed the said resolution of February 23, 1994 and instead found probable cause for the indictment of petitioner and his co-accused in his resolution dated July 3, 1995.[16]

In view of the foregoing, the petitioner miserably failed to advance any compelling reason to disturb the factual findings of the trial court, as affirmed by the CA. We thus go by the established principle that, on factual matters, the findings of trial courts, especially when affirmed by the appellate court, must be accorded the greatest respect in the absence, as here, of a showing that they ignored, overlooked, or failed to properly appreciate matters of substance or importance likely to affect the results of the litigation.[17]

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED and the assailed decision and resolution of the CA are AFFIRMED.

Costs against the petitioner.

SO ORDERED.

Puno, C.J. (Chairperson), Carpio, Corona and Azcuna, JJ., concur.



[1] Penned by Associate Justice Eloy R. Belo, Jr. (ret.), with Associate Justices Godardo A. Jacinto and Rebecca De Guia-Salvador, concurring; rollo, pp. 142-148.

[2] Id. at 160.

[3] Id. at 75.

[4] Records, p. 10.

[5] TSN, November 8, 1996, pp. 7-9.

[6] Records, pp. 7-8.

[7] Rollo, pp. 77-87.

[8] Supra note 1.

[9] Gonzales v. Court of Appeals, 358 Phil. 806, 821 (1998); Polotan, Sr. v. Court of Appeals, 357 Phil. 250, 256-257 (1998). See also Lacanilao v. Court of Appeals, 330 Phil. 1074, 1079-1080 (1996).

[10] Rollo, p. 84.

[11] People v. Laceste, G.R. No. 127127, July 30, 1998, 293 SCRA 397.

[12] TSN, January 8, 1997, p. 5.

[13] TSN, February 19, 1997, p. 6.

[14] TSN, September 6, 1996, p. 38.

[15] TSN, October 16, 1997, p. 4.

[16] Records, pp. 22-24.

[17] De Guia v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 120864, October 8, 2003, 413 SCRA 114, 129; Producers Bank of the Philippines v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 115324, February 19, 2003, 397 SCRA 651, 658-659; De la Cruz v. Sosing, et al., 94 Phil. 26, 29 (1953).

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