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587 Phil. 521


[ G.R. No. 168050, September 19, 2008 ]




For review before this Court is the Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated March 31, 2005 in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00060 finding the accused-appellant Bernardino Gaffud, Jr. guilty of the complex crime of double murder and sentencing him to death, affirming with modification the Decision[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) dated August 28, 2002 in Criminal Case No. 1125.

The facts of this case were aptly summarized by the CA as follows:
Records show that accused-appellant Bernardino Gaffud, Jr., along with two John Does were indicted for Double Murder for the killing of Manuel Salvador and Analyn Salvador, under the following Information:
"The undersigned 2nd Assistant Provincial Prosecutor accuses Bernardino Gaffud, Jr. and two (2) JOHN DOES of the crime of DOUBLE MURDER defined and penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, committed as follows:

`That on or about 8:00 o'clock in the evening of May 10, 1994 at Sitio Biton, Barangay Wasid, Municipality of Nagtipunan, Province of Quirino, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused with intent to kill and motivated by long standing grudge, after conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, by means of fire, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously, shot and burn Manuel Salvador and Analyn Salvador which caused their instantaneous death.'

CONTRARY TO LAW." (p. 15, Records)
It appears that Manuel Salvador and his daughter Analyn Salvador were killed when the house they were staying in located at Sitio Biton, Barangay Wasid, Nagtipunan, Quirino was burned down while they were inside. An eyewitness pointed to accused-appellant Bernardino Gaffud, Jr. as one of the arsonists.

Upon preliminary investigation, where appellant Gaffud, Jr. failed to appear despite being subpoenaed to submit his counter-affidavit, Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Ferdinand Orias resolved that charges for double murder by means of fire be filed against herein appellant and two John Does, (p.14, Records).

When arraigned on June 6, 1995, accused-appellant Gaffud, Jr. entered a plea of Not Guilty, (p. 48, Records), paving the way for his trial.

The prosecution presented six (6) witnesses against appellant Gaffud, Jr., namely Dominga Salvador, common-law wife of Manuel Salvador and mother of Analyn Salvador, Orly Salvador, nephew of Manuel Salvador, Potado Ballang, Barangay Captain of Wasid, Nagtipunan, Quirino, Dan Dangpal, a neighbor of the deceased, SPO2 Dominador Tabal, the investigating police, and Dr. Teodomiro Hufana who conducted the autopsy on the deceased Manuel Salvador.

Evidence for the prosecution tended to prove that on the night of May 10, 1994, Orly Salvador was on his way to the house of his uncle Manuel Salvador to fetch the latter as they were going to attend a wedding at the nearby barangay hall. He suddenly heard two gunshots. Thereafter, he saw the house of his uncle burning. Because of the glow emanating therefrom, he saw three persons within the vicinity of the burning house. He saw them hurriedly leaving the place towards the direction of the Cagayan river. One of the three was holding a flashlight, whom he identified as appellant Gaffud, Jr. He could not identify the two other persons. After the house was burned, Orly went towards the barangay hall to see if his uncle Manuel Salvador was there, but he met Brangay Captain Potado Ballang who informed him that his uncle was not at the barangay hall. They then proceeded to the burned house, and found the charred remains of Manuel Salvador and Analyn Salvador. (TSN, October 10, 1995, pp. 3-8)

Barangay Captain Potado Ballang testified that he saw appellant Gaffud, Jr. on the fateful day at around 6:30 PM, along the riverbank, a few meters away from the house of Manuel Salvador. When Potado asked what he was doing there, Gaffud, Jr. said he was looking for his boat. However, Potado knew that the appellant did not own a boat. After a few minutes, Potado left to attend the wedding party being held at the barangay hall. (TSN, November 4, 1996, pp. 2-5)

Dan Dangpal's testimony was dispensed with, but the defense agreed to the nature of the testimony he would have given, which tended to show that sometime at about 8:00 PM on the fateful evening, while inside his house, he heard successive gunshots, and when he went out of his house, he saw the deceased's house burning about 200 meters away. He heard persons laughing and saw the light of a flashlight and persons moving away from the burning house. He could not recognize any of them. (TSN, February 24, 1997; Exhibit "D", p. 8, Records)

Dominga Salvador's testimony tended to show that the appellant Gaffud, Jr. was their neighbor. In the morning of May 10, 1994, she went to the house of the appellant to see him about her husband's share in the construction of the barangay hall, which was contracted to the appellant. Gaffud, Jr. told her that he would go to her house that afternoon to introduce his in-law Balbino Bravo to her husband. Thereafter, she went home, and left again at around 11:00 AM, leaving behind her husband Manuel Salvador and their daughter Analyn. Later that night, she was at Natipunan, Quirino attending a seminar for "hilot", (TSN, July 4, 1995, pp. 3-15). In her sinumpaang salaysay, offered in evidence as Exhibit "A", Dominga also related that she had earlier filed a complaint in the barangay against the appellant and his brother for slaughtering her pig.

SPO2 Dominador Tabal was a police investigator who investigated the killing of Manuel and Analyn Salvador. Thereat, he saw two dead bodies hanging from a Melina tree. They were put there so that they would not be reached by the dogs. He saw that one of the victims had a fractured head, while the other had a wound on the side. Pictures of the victims including the scene of the incident were taken by them. Among those interviewed the appellant Gaffud, Jr. and his brother, (TSN, June 5, 1997, pp. 2-7).

Dr. Teodomiro Hufana's testimony was also dispensed with, (p. 127, Records) in view of the defense counsel's admission of the contents of his Autopsy Report on Manuel Salvador, (Exhibit "C"), which reads in pertinent part:

-Cremated charcoaled, about 3 ft. long, stomach and intestine (Large) protruding from the abdomen.

-Presence of semi-burned rattan about 1 inch long about 1 cm. in diameter on the burned hand.

-Presence of a peculiar hole from the thoracic cavity directed downward to the body, probably gunshot wound.

REMARKS: Cannot be identified if male or female
For the appellant's defense, the defense presented the appellant himself. His defense of alibi was corroborated by his wife Juanita Gaffud and in-law Balbino Bravo.

Appellant denied the accusation leveled against him, and testified that the approximate time of the burning of the victims' house, he was at home, entertaining his in-laws, Balbino Bravo and Rufina Bravo, who was there for a visit. After eating dinner, he and Balbino Bravo talked. At around 7:00 to 8:00 PM, he and Balbino Bravo saw a blaze coming from the other side of the Cagayan River, about 50 to 80 meters away from the house of the Bravos. They did not mind the blaze, and instead went to sleep. The next morning, they heard news about somebody being burned, and because of this, he and Balbino Bravo hiked to the place of the incident. That's where he found that his "pare" Manuel Salvador and his daughter were burned in their house. After seeing the dead bodies, appellant went home. He went back later, and was even designated by the Barangay Captain to guard the bodies of the deceased. Thereafter, he was forced to evacuate his family from Nagtipunan, because the Ilongot tribe was forcing him to testify against someone but he didn't want to. He was told that something might happen to his family if he didn't leave, (TSN, June 3, 2002).

The appellant's defense was corroborated on its material points by the testimony of his wife, Juanita Gaffud, and his in-law, Balbino Bravo, both of whom testified that on May 10, 1994, the accused was at his residence entertaining visiting Bravo spouses and stayed there the whole night, (TSN January 31, 2002 and March 18, 2002).

Juanita Gaffud also testified that during the pendency of the trial, she talked to Dominga Salvador about the settlement of the case and even offered a certain amount for the said purpose, (TSN, March 10, 2002, p. 12).[3]
After trial, the RTC rendered its Decision finding accused-appellant guilty of two (2) counts of murder, the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the Court finds Bernardino Gaffud, Jr. GUILTY for two (2) counts of murder and hereby sentences him as follows, to wit:

a) Death penalty - for the death of Manuel Salvador;

b) Another death penalty - for the death of Analyn Salvador;

c) To pay the legal heirs of the victims:

c-1) SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P75,000.00) for each count or a total of ONE HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P150,000.00) as death indemnities;

c-2) FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) for each count or a total of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P100,000.00) as moral damages;

c-3) TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND PESOS (P25,000) for each count or a total of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) as exemplary damages;

c-4) TEN THOUSAND PESOS (P10,000.00) as nominal damages;


c-5) Costs.

x x x x

As the death penalty was imposed, the case was elevated to this Court for automatic review. In his Appellant's Brief,[5] accused-appellant argued that the RTC erred in: (i) failing to rule and resolve whether or not conspiracy existed, as the information charged him with conspiracy with two others in the commission of the crime; and (ii) convicting him despite the fact that conspiracy was not proven, and also despite the fact that there was no proof whatsoever as to what overt act he committed which would constitute the crime of murder.

The case was transferred to the CA for appropriate action and disposition per Resolution[6] of this Court dated August 24, 2004, in accordance with the ruling in People v. Mateo.[7] In disposing of the assigned errors, the CA held that the lack of discussion of conspiracy among accused-appellant and his anonymous co-accused in the decision of the RTC was not antithetic to his conviction for the crime of murder, since the charge that he was a principal performer in the killing of the victims was spelled out in the Information[8] filed against him.[9] Moreover, in the absence of conspiracy, each of the malefactors is liable only for the act committed by him.[10] As to the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the prosecution, the CA held that the circumstantial evidence in this case established accused-appellant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.[11] Accordingly, the CA affirmed the Decision of the RTC, finding accused-appellant guilty of the complex crime of double murder, with the following modifications:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED, although the decision of the lower court is hereby MODIFIED, in that: The accused Bernardino Gaffud, Jr. is hereby found GUILTY of the complex crime of double murder, and is hereby sentenced to the supreme penalty of Death. He is also ordered to pay the legal heirs of the victims: (1) P100,000.00 or P50,000.00 for each victim, as civil indemnity for the death of the victims; (2) P100,000.00 or P50,000.00 for each victim, as moral damages; and (3) P10,000.00 as nominal damages plus costs.

Pursuant to Section 13, Rule 124 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 00-5-03-SC dated September 28, 2004, the case was elevated to this Court for review.

On the first assigned error, we concur with the CA that the failure to prove conspiracy in this case is not fatal.

The rule is that in the absence of evidence showing the direct participation of the accused in the commission of the crime, conspiracy must be established by clear and convincing evidence in order to convict the accused.[13] In the case at bar, however, we hold that the direct participation of accused-appellant in the killing of the victims, Manuel Salvador and Analyn Salvador, was established beyond doubt by the evidence of the prosecution. Hence, a finding of conspiracy in this instance is not essential for the conviction of accused-appellant.

On the second assigned error, we uphold the finding of both courts a quo that the evidence proffered by the prosecution, although circumstantial in nature, leads to the conclusion that accused-appellant is the perpetrator of the act resulting in the death of the victims.

It is well-settled that circumstantial evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction if (i) there is more than one circumstance; (ii) the facts from which the inference is derived are proven; and (iii) the combination of all circumstances is such as to produce conviction beyond reasonable doubt.[14]

In this case, the following facts or circumstances were proven:

(i) Accused-appellant was near the place of the incident just a few minutes before the crime was committed. Captain Potado Bollang testified that he saw the accused-appellant at the riverbank, about 100 meters from the house of the victims, coming to and fro, allegedly looking for his boat, when in fact, Captain Bollang knew that accused-appellant did not own one.[15]
(ii) Accused-appellant, together with two unidentified persons, was near the house of the victims at the time it was on fire. Accused-appellant was identified by Orly Salvador as one of the three men he saw about 5 meters from the house of his uncle, Manuel Salvador, while it was burning. Previously, he heard two gunshots as he was on his way towards the said house. He also saw appellant fleeing with the other malefactors, while holding a flashlight.[16] His testimony was corroborated by the admitted testimony of Dan Dangpal who said that he heard two gunshots while he was at his home, which was near that of the victims. When he went out, he also heard men laughing, and saw them fleeing from the burning house, illumined by a flashlight.[17]
(iii) Accused-appellant was in a hurry to leave the place of the incident without giving any help to his kumpare Manuel Salvador and the latter's daughter, Analyn. Orly Salvador testified that he saw accused-appellant holding a flashlight, in a hurry to leave the burning house of the victim, going towards the direction of the river.[18]
(iv) Accused-appellant had a motive to kill the victims because of the complaint filed by Manuel Salvador's wife, Dominga Salvador, and the fact that he owed Manuel Salvador some money. Dominga Salvador testified that she had filed a complaint against accused-appellant and his brother in their barangay for their act of slaughtering her pig. Aside from this, in the morning of the same fateful day, she went to the house of accused-appellant aiming to collect her husband's share in the profits for the construction of the barangay hall they had built, but the accused-appellant only told her that he and his in-law would see her husband later that day.[19]

These circumstances, when taken together, are enough to produce the conclusion that accused-appellant was responsible for the killing of the victims by means of burning them inside their house.

Moreover, we sustain the following observation of the CA that against the convincing evidence of the prosecution, accused-appellant's defense of denial and alibi must fail:
The Court finds incredible appellant's story that after seeing the blaze across his house, he merely slept with his in-laws without investigating. The Court finds it against human nature for one to sleep soundly during a fire occurring just 50-80 metes from one's house, even though the blaze is occurring across a river. Also, appellant muse know, after seeing the location of the blaze, that the house of his "pare", or close friend, was in danger, and his natural reaction at least was to verify the object of the conflagration. Appellant's story that he only slept soundly after seeing the blaze is therefore unbelievable, and taints the credibility of his alibi.

Another telling factor on the appellant's defense is his flight. Appellant admitted that in his testimony that he fled Wasid, Nagtipunan, Quirino after he was investigated at the Municipal Hall, (TSN, June 3, 2002, p. 19). Appellant said he fled because of threats from the Ilongots. However, appellant said it never entered his mind to report the threats on him. Appellant's explanation fails to convince. It bears stressing that appellant fled right after being investigated and questioned by police authorities, and during the time that the preliminary investigation of the case was ongoing. This is highly suspicious, as such time is the best time for him to defend his innocence, if he is indeed innocent. As it is, appellant was arrested in San Vicente, Jones, Isabela, a remote barangay by the elements of the NBI, (Id., at 23; reverse of p. 19, Records). Flight is consistently held as and indication of guilt, (People v. Magaro, 291 SCRA 601 [1998]). There is no showing why such conclusion should not be made in this case.[20]
We now go to whether or not accused-appellant should be held liable for two (2) separate counts of murder or for the complex crime of double murder.

Article 48 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended, reads:
ARTICLE 48. Penalty for complex crimes. — When a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies, or when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other, the penalty for the most serious crime shall be imposed, the same to be applied in its maximum period.
In a complex crime, although two or more crimes are actually committed, they constitute only one crime in the eyes of the law as well as in the conscience of the offender. Hence, there is only one penalty imposed for the commission of a complex crime.[21]

There are two kinds of complex crime. The first is known as compound crime, or when a single act constitutes two or more grave or less grave felonies. The second is known as complex crime proper, or when an offense is a necessary means for committing the other.[22]

The classic example of the first of kind is when a single bullet results in the death of two or more persons. A different rule governs where separate and distinct acts result in a number killed. Deeply rooted is the doctrine that when various victims expire from separate shots, such acts constitute separate and distinct crimes.[23]

In the landmark case People v. Guillen,[24] the Court held that the single act of throwing a grenade at President Roxas resulting in the death of another person and injuring four others produced the complex crime of murder and multiple attempted murders. Under Article 248 of the RPC, murder is committed when a person is killed by means of explosion. Applying Article 48 of the RPC, the penalty for the crime committed is death, the maximum penalty for murder, which is the graver offense.

More recently, in People v. Carpo et al.,[25] we held that the single act of hurling a grenade into the bedroom of the victims causing the death of three persons and injuries to one person constituted the complex crime of multiple murder and attempted murder. Also, in People v. Comadre,[26] we held:
The underlying philosophy of complex crimes in the Revised Penal Code, which follows the pro reo principle, is intended to favor the accused by imposing a single penalty irrespective of the crimes committed. The rationale being, that the accused who commits two crimes with single criminal impulse demonstrates lesser perversity than when the crimes are committed by different acts and several criminal resolutions.

The single act by appellant of detonating a hand grenade may quantitatively constitute a cluster of several separate and distinct offenses, yet these component criminal offenses should be considered only as a single crime in law on which a single penalty is imposed because the offender was impelled by a "single criminal impulse" which shows his lesser degree of perversity.
In light of these precedents, we hold that the single act of accused-appellant — burning the house of Manuel Salvador, with the main objective of killing the latter and his daughter, Analyn Salvador, resulting in their deaths resulted in the complex crime of double murder. Under Article 248 of the RPC, murder is committed by means of fire. Since the maximum penalty imposed for murder was death, when the case was pending in the CA, the CA correctly imposed the penalty of death for the complex crime of double murder instead of the two death penalties imposed by the RTC for two counts of murder. In view, however, of the passage of Republic Act No. 9346 (otherwise known as "An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines"), we reduce the penalty of death to reclusion perpetua with no eligibility for parole.[27]

Anent the award of damages, we increase the award of civil indemnity by the CA for the death of the victims from P100,000 or P50,000 for each victim, to P150,000 or P75,000 for each victim in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence.[28]

As to the deletion of exemplary damages by the CA, we reinstate the award by the RTC of exemplary damages in the amount of P50,000, or P25,000 for each victim.

By and of itself, nighttime is not an aggravating circumstance. It becomes aggravating only when: (1) it is especially sought by the offender; or (2) it is taken advantage of by him; or (3) it facilitates the commission of the crime by ensuring the offender's immunity from capture.[29] In this case, the RTC correctly appreciated nighttime as aggravating considering that nighttime was especially sought by accused-appellant to carry out his evil plan. Evidence shows that accused-appellant waited for nighttime to consummate his plan. It should be noted that accused-appellant was seen lurking near the house of the victims earlier in the evening. The fact that he brought with him a flashlight clearly shows that he intended to commit the crime in darkness.

We sustain the award by the CA of moral damages in the amount of P100,000, or P50,000 for each victim, in view of the grief and sorrow suffered by the heirs of the victims. We likewise affirm the award of nominal damages in the amount of P10,000 for the value of the burned house as sufficiently explained by the RTC and affirmed by the CA.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, we hereby AFFIRM the March 31, 2005 decision of the CA in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00060 with the following MODIFICATIONS:

(1) the penalty of death imposed on accused-appellant is REDUCED to reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole;

(2) the civil indemnity for the death of the victims is increased to P150,000, or P75,000 for each victim; and

(3) accused-appellant is ordered to pay exemplary damages in the amount of P50,000, or P25,000 for each victim.


Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Azcuna, Chico-Nazario, Velasco, Jr., Reyes, Leonardo-De Castro, and Brion, JJ., concur.
Tinga, J., in the result.
Nachura, J., no part. Signed pleading as Sol Gen.

[1] Rollo, pp. 3-14, penned by Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico, concurred in by Justices Danilo B. Pine and Arcangelita Romilla-Lontok.

[2] Records, pp. 358-372; penned by Executive Judge Menrado V. Corpuz, Regional Trial Court, Second Judicial Region, Branch 38, Maddela, Quirino.

[3] Supra note 1 at 4-7.

[4] Supra note 2 at 371-372.

[5] CA rollo, pp. 38-51.

[6] Id. at 107.

[7] G.R. Nos. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640.

[8] Records, p. 15.

[9] Supra note 1 at 9.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 10.

[12] Id. at 13-14.

[13] People v. Agda et al., 197 Phil. 306 (1982); People v. Taaca et al., G.R. No. 35652, September 29, 1989, 178 SCRA 56.

[14] RULES OF COURT, Rule 133, Sec. 5.

[15] TSN, November 4, 1996, pp. 2-5.

[16] TSN, October 10, 1995, pp. 3-8.

[17] TSN, February 24, 1997; Exhibit "D," records, p. 8.

[18] Supra note 16 at 4-5.

[19] TSN, July 4, 1995, pp. 3-15.

[20] Supra note 1 at 11-12.

[21] LUIS B. REYES, THE REVISED PENAL CODE, REVISED FIFTEENTH EDITION, BOOK ONE, 650 (2001) citing People v. Hernandez, 99 Phil. 515.

[22] Id.

[23] People v. Hon. Pineda et al., 127 Phil. 150 (1967).

[24] 85 Phil. 307, 318 (1950).

[25] G.R. No. 132676, April 4, 2001, 356 SCRA 248.

[26] G.R. No. 153559, June 8, 2004, 431 SCRA 366, 384.

[27] Republic Act No. 9346 (2006), Sec. 2.

[28] People v. Brodett, G.R. No. 170136, January 18, 2008, 542 SCRA 88.

[29] People v. Silva et al., 435 Phil. 779 (2002).

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