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403 Phil. 347


[ G.R. No. 120547, January 29, 2001 ]




On appeal is the decision[2] dated January 16, 1995 of the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, Branch 30, convicting appellant of the crime of murder, sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and to pay the heirs of the victim P50,000.00 as indemnity, P15,712.00 as actual damages, P10,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the costs.

The facts, based on the records, are as follows:

On August 8, 1989, at around 4:00 in the afternoon, Leonor Fabula went out of her house in May-anao, Tigaon, Camarines Sur to buy sugar at a nearby store. When she reached the store, she saw appellant boxing her son Romeo Fabula and banging his head on the post of the store, while asking him why he told the police about his brother and the location of appellant's house. When Leonor sought to intervene, appellant got angry at her. She became afraid and asked for help but nobody went near them. Romeo freed himself from the hold of appellant and ran away. Appellant chased Romeo with a small bolo known locally as "gatab." Leonor shouted at appellant to stop but the latter did not heed her pleas. Appellant caught up with Romeo and stabbed him at the back causing Romeo to fall on the ground. Appellant continued to stab Romeo in the upper and lower chest area. Leonor continued shouting for help and eventually someone came to help. However, when she saw her son no longer moving, she told the people not to touch or move him because she was going to the Poblacion of Tigaon to get a policeman.

When Patrolmen Virgilio Azucena and Jose Madera arrived at the scene of the crime, they saw the fallen body of Romeo with a small bolo imbedded on his chest and the detached handle of the bolo on the ground near his body. The policemen brought the body to the Municipal Building where the Municipal Health Officer, Dr. Constancio Tam, conducted an autopsy.[3]

On June 10, 1991, appellant was charged with the crime of murder under the following Information:[4]
"That on or about the 8th day of August, 1989 at Barangay May-Anao, Municipality of Tigaon, Province of Camarines Sur, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a knife, with intent to kill, with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloneously (sic) attack, assault and stab one Romeo Fabula directing the blow on the vital parts of his body which was the direct and immediate cause of his death, to the damage and prejudice of his heirs in such amount as maybe awarded by the Court.

Acts Contrary To Law."
On arraignment appellant, assisted by counsel de oficio, pleaded not guilty.[5]

During trial, the prosecution presented the following witnesses: (1) Leonor Fabula, the mother of the victim; (2) SPO1 Jose Madera and SPO4 Virgilio Azucena, both members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) of Tigaon, Camarines Sur, and (4) Dr. Constancio A. Tam, Municipal Health Officer of Tigaon, Camarines Sur.

Leonor Fabula testified that she witnessed the stabbing incident and identified appellant as the assailant of her son. She said that the police were looking for appellant's brother who had a pending case for robbery in Manila. The police asked her son where the house of appellant's brother was. Her son, who knew nothing of the case, pointed out the house to the police leading to the arrest of appellant's brother. This angered appellant who sought out and killed her son. She also testified on damages sustained as a result of her son's death.[6]

SPO1 Jose Madera testified that he was present during the autopsy and that Dr. Tam turned over to him the bolo which was imbedded in the body of the victim. He identified the same bolo in court.[7]

SPO4 Virgilio Azucena testified that upon the report of Leonor Fabula of the stabbing incident, he and four others immediately went to the place of the incident in May-anao, Tigaon. They found the body of the victim in the ricefield some 50 meters away from the road. The bolo was embedded in the victim's chest and the handle lying beside him.[8]

Dr. Constancio A. Tam testified that the victim sustained four stab wounds in the left upper abdomen, right eliac part of the abdomen, upper part of the left chest, and upper part of the left back. The weapon was still embedded in the upper left abdomen when he examined the body.[9] Dr. Tam testified that this wound was fatal since it pierced the heart. He said that the stab wounds could have been caused by a sharp-bladed, sharp-pointed instrument, locally known as "gatab".[10]

The defense presented as its witnesses the appellant himself and his cousin, Alfredo Siso. Appellant's version is as follows:

In the afternoon of August 8, 1989, appellant was at a billiard hall in May-anao, Tigaon, serving as a spotter in a game between Celso Plazo and Alfredo Siso. The victim suddenly arrived drunk, placed a ball on top of the table, and said that he wanted to put a bet against Alfredo Siso. Insulted, Alfredo told appellant to pacify the victim. However, the victim became angry and struck appellant with a billiard stick. Alfredo and Celso helped pacify the victim who became even angrier, and then drew a bladed weapon saying he would use it on appellant. Appellant ran away followed by the victim. Appellant slipped and injured his foot and the victim caught up with him. The two grappled with the small bolo and suddenly, the bolo was already imbedded in the chest of the victim. Appellant fled and eventually went to Manila because of the threats of relatives of the victim. Appellant's cousin, Alfredo, merely testified that after the two protagonists ran away, he already went home.[11]

After trial, the trial court rendered its decision[12] finding appellant guilty of the crime of murder, disposing thus -
"WHEREFORE, the accused Edison Plazo is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with the inherent accessories provided by law, to indemnify the heirs of the late Romeo Fabula for the latter's death the sum of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00); the sum of Fifteen Thousand Seven Hundred Twelve Pesos (P15,712.00) as actual damages; and the sum of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) as moral damages, all of Philippine Currency and for the said accused to pay the costs.

The accused Edison Plazo shall be entitled to full credit of his preventive imprisonment if he agreed to abide with the rules imposed upon convicted persons, otherwise, he shall only be entitled to four-fifth (4/5) credit thereof.

Appellant assigns the sole error that -[13]
In his brief,[14] appellant assails the credibility of the testimony of Leonor Fabula, the victim's mother, considering that (1) contrary to her testimony, the medical findings did not indicate that the victim was boxed nor his head banged on the store post; (2) her testimony that her son was stabbed dead on a ditch did not jibe with the testimony of SPO4 Azucena that the body of the victim was recovered from the ricefield; and (3) her actions after seeing her son dead and getting a policeman instead of comforting him was contrary to normal human conduct. Further, appellant claims that his testimony that he acted in self-defense was corroborated by the testimony of his cousin, Alfredo Siso. Lastly, appellant claims there was no treachery because there was no proof as to how the attack began.

For the State,[15] the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) contends that appellant failed to establish the elements of self-defense considering the number and location of the wounds of the deceased. Further, the testimony of defense witness Alfredo Siso should not be given credence because he did not actually witness the stabbing incident. The OSG asserts that treachery attended the killing because appellant unleashed two separate attacks on the victim, the first consisted only of fist blows, and the second consisted of the stabbing.

The issues for our consideration pertain to (1) the assessment of credibility of witnesses, (2) the existence of valid self-defense, and (3) the sufficiency of the evidence to convict appellant of the crime of murder.

Well-entrenched is the rule that findings of the trial court as to the credibility of witnesses are accorded great weight, even finality, on appeal, unless the trial court has failed to appreciate certain facts and circumstances which, if taken into account, would materially affect the result of the case. Having had the opportunity to personally observe the witnessess' demeanor and manner of testifying, the trial judge is in a better position to pass judgment on their credibility.[16] As observed by the trial court, "Leonor Fabula testified in a straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner."[17] A review of the records and transcript of stenographic notes leads us to agree with that conclusion.

As to the alleged inconsistencies in Fabula's testimony, the fact that the medical findings did not indicate that the victim was boxed nor his head banged does not negate the possibility of such acts. The defense failed to question the medico-legal officer on the stand and it cannot now raise such factual matter before this court. As to the location of the body of the victim, while Leonor Fabula testified that her son was stabbed "just by the ditch of the road of May-anao,"[18] SPO4 Azucena testified that they found the body "in the ricefield." The records show, however, that on cross-examination, SPO4 Azucena clarified that they found the body on the "embankment of the rice-field (bas-og)."[19] Hence, there is no inconsistency between their testimonies on the matter.

The testimony of witnesses to a crime could not be expected to be error-free throughout. Different persons have different impressions and recollections of the same incident.[20] Likewise, we find nothing extraordinary or unusual about a mother seeking help from the authorities first before rushing to help her son. As repeatedly stressed, there is no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange, startling, or frightful experience.[21] Witnessing a crime is an unusual experience that elicits different reactions from the witnesses, and for which no clear-cut standard form of behavior can be drawn.[22]

Further, while it was only the mother of the victim who testified on the events leading to the stabbing incident, we have held that the testimony of a single eyewitness is sufficient to support conviction so long as it is clear, straightforward, and found worthy of credence by the trial court.[23] The mere fact that she is the mother of the victim does not impair her credibility. Blood relationship between a witness and victim does not, by itself, impair the credibility of the witness.[24] On the contrary, relationship strengthens credibility, for it is unnatural for an aggrieved relative to falsely accuse someone other than the actual culprit.[25] The earnest desire to seek justice for a dead kin is not served should the witness abandon his conscience and prudence and blame one who is innocent of the crime.[26] More importantly, Leonor Fabula's version of the stabbing incident, that appellant repeatedly stabbed her son in the "upper and lower chest area,"[27] is duly supported by the findings of the medico-legal officer that the victim sustained four stab wounds in the chest and abdomen area.

As to appellant's claim of self-defense, there is no evidence to support such assertion. Self-defense as a justifying circumstance must satisfy the following requirements: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to repel the aggression; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the accused.[28] The burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the killing was justified is on the accused.[29] In doing so, he must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of that of the prosecution.[30] Appellant herein failed to prove any of the elements of self-defense. As correctly pointed out by the trial court, the number of wounds on the body of the victim negates self-defense. If indeed, the victim was stabbed while the two protagonists were grappling with the small bolo, then why did the victim sustain four stab wounds? The nature, location and number of wounds inflicted on the victim negate the claim of self-defense[31]and, instead, indicate a determined effort to kill the victim.[32]

Further, the flight of the appellant after the incident betrays the existence of his guilty conscience.[33] According to his testimony, he went to Manila because his relatives and residents of their barangay advised him to take care of himself because the relatives of the victim were running after him.[34] Appellant himself admitted that he hid "for several years." This conduct is inconsistent with his protestations of self-defense.

While the information alleged the attendance of the qualifying circumstances of treachery and evident premeditation, these were not proven by the prosecution's evidence. Circumstances which qualify criminal responsibility must in no case rest upon mere presumptions, no matter how reasonable or probable, but must be based on facts of unquestioned existence. It is settled that circumstances which qualify killing to murder must be proved as indubitably as the crime itself.[35]

There was no treachery because there was no proof in this case as to how the attack started. For treachery to be present, two conditions must be shown: (1) the employment of means of execution that give the person attacked no opportunity to defend or retaliate and (2) the deliberate or conscious adoption of the means of execution. Treachery cannot be presumed; it must be proven as fully and as convincingly as the crime itself. The sole eyewitness testified that when she arrived at the scene, appellant was already boxing her son.[36] Hence, she could not have possibly witnessed the inception of the attack. Any doubt as to the existence of treachery must be resolved in favor of the accused. Where no particulars are known regarding the manner in which the aggression was made or how the act which resulted in the death of the victim began and developed, it cannot be established from mere supposition that an accused perpetrated the killing with treachery.[37]

Likewise, the prosecution failed to prove the following requisites of evident premeditation: (1) the time when the offender determined to commit the crime; (2) an act manifestly indicating that the culprit clung to his determination; and (3) sufficient lapse of time between the determination and execution to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act.[38]

Hence, in the absence of any circumstance which would qualify the crime to murder, we find that appellant should be found liable only for the crime of homicide.

Under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code, the penalty for the crime of homicide is reclusion temporal. There being no mitigating nor aggravating circumstance, the penalty of reclusion temporal should be imposed in its medium period.[39] Applying the indeterminate sentence law, the minimum of the indeterminate sentence should be taken from the penalty next lower in degree, which is prision mayor.

The trial court correctly awarded the amount of P50,000.00 as indemnity. However, the award of actual damages in the amount of P15,712.00 was based solely on the bare assertions of the mother of the victim. The Court can only grant such amount for expenses if they are supported by receipts.[40] In the absence thereof, no actual damages can be awarded. However, in lieu of actual damages, temperate damages under Art. 2224 of the Civil Code may be recovered where it has been shown that the victim's family suffered some pecuniary loss but the amount thereof cannot be proved with certainty.[41] We find the award of P15,000.00 as temperate damages reasonable. Moral damages cannot be awarded in the absence of any evidence to support its award.[42]

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, Branch 30, in Criminal Case No. T-1009, is hereby MODIFIED. Appellant Edison Plazo is found guilty of the crime of homicide, and sentenced to a minimum of eight (8) years, eight (8) months, and one (1) day of prision mayor medium as minimum, to fifteen (15) years, six (6) months, and twenty (20) days of reclusion temporal medium as maximum, and to pay the heirs of the victim the amount of P50,000.00 as indemnity and P15,000.00 as temperate damages, and the costs.


Bellosillo, (Chairman), Mendoza, Buena, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

[1] The records did not indicate his middle name or initial.

[2] Rollo, pp. 19-26.

[3] Id. at 20-21.3

[4] Records, p. 12.

[5] Id. at 15-16.

[6] TSN, August 9, 1993, pp. 4-11; TSN, August 31, 1993, pp. 2-11.

[7] TSN, August 9, 1993, pp. 2-4; Exhibits "C," "C-1," and "C-2."

[8] TSN, October 13, 1993, pp. 2-4.

[9] Autopsy Report, Exhibit "A," Records, p. 2.

[10] TSN, December 2, 1991, pp. 2-8.

[11] Decision, Rollo, pp. 22-23; TSN, November 22, 1993, pp. 4-13; TSN, May 30, 1994, pp. 2-5; TSN, August 16, 1994, pp. 2-4.

[12] Records, pp. 231-238.

[13] Appellant's Brief, Rollo, p. 35.

[14] Id. at 35-45.

[15] Appellee's Brief, Rollo, pp. 78-96.

[16] People v. Batidor, 303 SCRA 335, 345 (1999).

[17] Decision, Rollo, p. 25.

[18] TSN, August 31, 1993, p. 4.

[19] TSN, October 13, 1993, p. 3.

[20] People v. Real, 308 SCRA 244, 255-256 (1999).

[21] People v. Laceste, 293 SCRA 397, 406 (1998).

[22] Id. at 407.

[23] People v. Hillado, 307 SCRA 535, 549 (1999).

[24] People v. Realin, 301 SCRA 495, 510 (1999).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] TSN, August 9, 1993, p. 6.

[28] Article 11, No. 1, Revised Penal Code.

[29] People v. Tadeje, 310 SCRA 426, 432 (1999).

[30] People v. Dorado, 303 SCRA 61, 69 (1999).

[31] People v. De la Cruz, 313 SCRA 189, 205 (1999).

[32] People v. Magallanes, 275 SCRA 222, 231 (1997).

[33] People v. Borreros, 306 SCRA 680, 691 (1999).

[34] TSN, August 16, 1994, p. 3.

[35] People v. Israel, 272 SCRA 95, 110 (1997).

[36] TSN, August 9, 1993, p. 5; TSN, August 13, 1993, p. 2.

[37] People v. Bahenting, 303 SCRA 558, 567 (1999).

[38] Id. at 566.

[39] Art. 64, first par., Revised Penal Code.

[40] People v. Silvestre, 307 SCRA 68, 91 (1999).

[41] People v. Suplito, 314 SCRA 493, 504 (1999).

[42] People v. Benito, 303 SCRA 468, 480 (1999).

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