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428 Phil. 465


[ G.R. No. 137518, March 06, 2002 ]




This case is here on automatic review of the decision[1] dated January 15, 1999 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 259, Parañaque City, finding accused-appellants Editho Suyum and Pedro Ocania guilty of the crime of murder and sentencing each of them to suffer the penalty of death and to indemnify the heirs of Rommel Ampo in the amount of P50,000.00, P23,000.00 for funeral expenses, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P50,000.00 as exemplary damages.

The information against accused-appellants charged —
That on or about the 12th day of January 1997 in the Municipality of Parañaque, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating together and both of them actually helping and aiding one another, with intent to kill, treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab one Rommel Ampo, thereby inflicting upon the latter serious and mortal stab wound which caused his death.

Accused-appellants pleaded not guilty to the charge, whereupon they were tried.

Five witnesses, namely, Glenda Serna Ampo, the victim’s sister, Edgar Luid and Darlindo Coyno, who claimed to have witnessed the incident, Dr. Eduardo Tan Vargas, who conducted an autopsy on the victim’s body, and PO3 Mateo Interia, who investigated the incident, testified for the prosecution.  Their testimonies are as follows:

Glenda Serna Ampo identified both accused-appellants in court.  She testified that on January 12, 1997, at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, while she was with her niece in the latter’s house on Aratiles Street, her brother-in-law told her of a killing nearby.  Accordingly, she went out to find out about the incident.  On her way to the place of the incident, she met accused-appellant Editho Suyum, who was carrying a bloodstained bladed weapon approximately two feet long, with blood on his hand.  Upon reaching the scene, Glenda said she saw her brother Rommel Ampo lying in a pool of his own blood on the ground.  Glenda called for policemen and, with their help, brought the body of her brother Rommel to Funeraria Malaya.  She further testified that she and her family spent P12,500.00 for the funeral of Rommel, P5,000.00 for food during the wake, and P5,000.00 for carpentry, electricity, and transportation expenses.[3]

Edgar Luid, a construction worker and a resident of Aratiles Street, Parañaque, also identified both accused-appellants.  He said that he witnessed the killing of Rommel on January 12, 1997, at around 2:30 p.m.  He claimed that he and the victim Ampo were having drinks in his (Luid’s) house on Aratiles Street when accused-appellants Suyum and Pedro Ocania, alias “Kiti-Kiti” approached them.  Suyum was armed with a bolo about two feet long.  Sensing trouble, as Suyum was approaching them with his bolo raised above his head, Luid said he shouted at Ampo to run.  Luid himself fled to a rest room about 13 meters from the place where they were drinking.

After a few minutes, Luid came out of his hiding place and went to a nearby house from where he saw accused-appellant Ocania holding Ampo’s hands at the back.  Suyum hacked Ampo, hitting him on the left side of the neck, as a result of which Ampo fell on his knees.  Suyum then stabbed Ampo on the left shoulder.  When Ampo fell to the ground, Luid said he saw Suyum place an “x” mark on Ampo’s face, using the tip of the bolo for this purpose, after which accused-appellants fled.[4]

Darlindo Coyno, a resident of Aratiles Street, also identified accused-appellants as the perpetrators of the crime.  He testified that on January 12, 1997, at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, while he was at the billiard hall on Aratiles Street, he noticed accused-appellant Suyum brandishing a bolo and Ocania a knife.  He saw the two approach the victim Ampo, who was standing in front of a bakery.  Suyum struck Ampo with his bolo, hitting him on the left side of the neck.  Ocania, who was standing on the right side of the victim, was accidentally hit on the back by Suyum.  As Ampo fell on his knees, Suyum again stabbed him, hitting him on the left shoulder.  Suyum then placed an “x” mark on the left side of Ampo’s face with the use of his bolo and then he and Ocania left.[5]

Dr. Eduardo Tan Vargas, medico-legal specialist, conducted the postmortem examination on the body of Rommel Ampo.  He issued Autopsy Report No. N-97-88 dated January 12, 1997 (Exhibit J).[6] He testified that Ampo sustained six incised wounds on the face and one stab wound on the upper portion of the chest, which was the fatal wound, all of which could have possibly been inflicted with a bolo.  Dr. Vargas stated that the assailant could have been within an arm’s length of the victim, who could have been kneeling down when he was stabbed.[7]

PO3 Mateo Interia testified that he was the officer who investigated a  case regarding a stabbing incident which occurred in the afternoon of January 12, 1997.  He took Luid’s statement and prepared a report, dated January 14, 1997, (Exhibit L)[8] of his investigation.

For its part, the defense presented as witnesses accused-appellants Editho Suyum and Pedro Ocania, as well as Isidro Refuerzo and Antonio Manlapaz, eyewitnesses, and Dr. Renato Borja.

Accused-appellant Editho Suyum testified that in the afternoon of January 12, 1997, at around 3 o’clock, he and accused-appellant Pedro Ocania were having drinks with the victim Ampo in the house of Mario Cameron on Aratiles Street.  They started drinking at 11 o’clock in the morning.  Edgar Luid passed by at around 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but left at around 2:30 p.m.  Suyum claimed that after consuming several bottles of gin, the victim Ampo complained that there was no “pulutan.” Suyum was irked and he berated Ampo, telling him to go and look for “pulutan” himself.  According to Suyum, Ampo left, but returned moments later with a bolo around 14 inches long.  Suyum said that Ampo stabbed Ocania on the back and then turned to attack him, but he (Suyum) was able to parry the blow.  Ampo and Suyum then grappled for the bolo, in the course of which Ampo slipped and fell on his knees.  Suyum claimed that he accidentally stabbed Ampo with the bolo.[9]

For his part, accused-appellant Pedro Ocania corroborated Suyum’s testimony.  He claimed that Ampo struck him with a bolo, hitting him on the back.  Wounded, Ocania said he ran away.  As he looked back, he saw Suyum and Ampo fighting for possession of the bolo.  He claimed that Ampo slipped and was accidentally stabbed on his left shoulder.  Ocania said he then proceeded to the barangay outpost to seek help.  The barangay police arrived 15 minutes later and took him to the Medical Center.[10]

Isidro Refuerzo, brother-in-law of accused Suyum, testified that on the date in question, after coming from the basketball court, he saw accused-appellants with an unidentified companion having a drinking session on Aratiles Street.  Then, Ampo came out of nowhere and stabbed Ocania at the back with a bolo.  Ampo also tried to hit Suyum with his bolo, but the latter was able to evade the blow.  Ampo and Suyum then fought for the possession of the bolo.  Upon seeing this, Refuerzo said, he left.[11]

The defense likewise presented Antonio Manlapaz, a fellow worker of Suyum.  He claimed that he was on his way to Aratiles Street to look for Suyum to ask him to take his place as a barker as he (Manlapaz) was not feeling well.  Manlapaz said he saw Suyum with Ocania and another person having drinks.  Then, all of a sudden a male person came out from an alley brandishing a bolo and stabbed Ocania on the back.  Ocania fled from the scene, leaving Suyum and the unidentified person as they were locked in combat.  He claimed he saw Ampo slip, as a result of which Suyum accidentally hit him with the bolo on the left chest.[12]

Dr. Renato Borja testified that on the said afternoon, he treated accused-appellant Pedro Ocania for hack wounds on the back, one 5 centimeters long and the other about 2 centimeters long.  He stated that the wounds could have been caused by a bladed weapon about one foot long, and that the victim could have been hit from behind.  He treated accused-appellant Suyum, who suffered an abrasion at the left index finger, a laceration at the right index finger, and a lacerated wound at the right middle finger, which could have been caused by a sharp bladed weapon.[13]

On January 15, 1999, the trial court rendered a decision and found accused-appellants guilty of murder with the qualifying aggravating circumstance of treachery and the generic aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength.  However, it found the aggravating circumstance of evident premeditation not to have been sufficiently established.  The dispositive portion of its decision reads:
WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, finding both accused Editho Suyum and Pedro Ocania GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of Murder as defined and penalized under Art. 248 of the RPC as amended by RA 7659 with the qualifying aggravating circumstance of treachery and a generic aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength and there being no mitigating circumstance to offset the aggravating circumstance present and proved in the case at bar, both accused Editho Suyum and Pedro Ocania are hereby sentenced to the penalty of death by lethal injection and to indemnify the heirs of the victim Rommel Ampo the amount of P50,000.00 each in line with existing jurisprudence; P23,000.00 each for funeral expenses; P50,000.00 each as moral damages, and P50,000.00 each as exemplary damages.[14]
Hence, this appeal.  Accused-appellants contend  that —




The appeal has no merit.

First.  Accused-appellants contend that the testimonies of Edgar Luid and Darlino Coyno were inconsistent on many points and, for this reason, should not have been given credence by the trial court. Their alleged inconsistencies relate to the following: (a) the location of the victim at the time he was assaulted; (b) his companion; (c) the weapon used in attacking the victim; (d) the participation of Pedro Ocania in assaulting the victim; and (e) the stab and hack wounds inflicted by accused-appellants upon the victim.

The alleged inconsistencies are more speculative than real and can be explained.  The inconsistencies as to the location of the victim at the time of the assault and the companion of the victim are the result of Luid and Coyno observing the incident from different places and stages. Luid testified as to the moment prior to the attack as well as the initial stage of the attack, while Coyno witnessed a part of the incident after Luid had fled. Hence, Coyno did not see Luid, who was the companion of the victim, when the latter was attacked by accused-appellants.

As to the weapon held by Ocania, it is probable for Luid’s and Coyno’s testimonies not to coincide since, according to Luid, when he saw Ocania, the latter was walking behind Suyum as the two approached the victim. It is possible that Luid’s view of Ocania was obstructed by Suyum and so he did not see whether Ocania was also  armed.  Not only that, Luid said that his attention was actually on Suyum, who was carrying a bolo and approaching them menacingly.  This also explains the alleged inconsistency regarding the participation of Ocania.

Indeed, the fact that the statements of the two prosecution witnesses differ on some minor details does not in any way affect their credibility.  For persons who witness an event may perceive it from different points of reference.  For this reason, they may have different accounts of how the incident took place.  Indeed, we cannot expect the testimonies of witnesses to a crime to be consistent in all respects because different persons have different impressions and recollections of the same incident.  What is important is that their testimonies reinforce each other on the essential facts and that their versions corroborate and substantially coincide with each other to make a consistent and coherent whole.[16]

Moreover, what is significant is that the trial court had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of the prosecution witnesses and found them to be truthful and worthy of credence.[17] The determination of credibility of witnesses is properly the function of the trial court considering its vantage position in observing their demeanor and deportment on the witness stand.  Hence, its findings with respect to the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are entitled to great respect, and even finality, unless such findings are arbitrary or facts and circumstances of weight and influence have been overlooked, misunderstood, or misapplied by the trial judge which, if considered, would affect the outcome of the case.[18]

The defense also points out an inconsistency regarding the stab and hack wounds suffered by the victim.  Accused-appellants claim that while Luid and Coyno testified that Ampo was struck by Suyum twice, once on the left side of the neck and another on the left shoulder, and that afterwards Suyum placed an “x” mark on the victim’s face, Dr. Vargas, who conducted the postmortem examination, found six incised wounds and only one hack wound.

The records will, however, show that these testimonies are not really contradictory. Dr. Vargas on cross-examination stated:[19]
You said in your autopsy report that there were three incised wounds measuring 4.0 cms., 2.0 cms., and 2.0 cms.  So far as the left ear?
Yes, sir.
And those three wounds were located where?
In front of the ear.
The other three?
Yes.  One is going downward, that is vertically located and the other one is horizontally located and the other one is at the ambivular area, left side.
The description gives the impression of an “x” mark.  A sketch of the incised wounds prepared by Dr. Vargas and marked as Exhibit K-3[20] confirms that the wounds resembled a cross.  Hence, the testimonies of Luid and Coyno that they saw Suyum placing an “x” mark on the victim’s face after stabbing him is supported by physical evidence.

Second.  The defense likewise contends that the trial court erred in not appreciating accused-appellant Suyum’s claim of self-defense.  According to the defense, it was the victim Rommel Ampo who attacked accused-appellants with a bolo.  They contend that the stab wound sustained by the victim on the left shoulder was accidentally inflicted by accused-appellant Suyum in the course of the struggle for possession of the weapon.

We do not agree.  The claim is not only improbable but is also contrary to the physical evidence and the testimonies of the witnesses.  The nature and depth of the wound sustained by the victim, as found by the medico-legal expert, Dr. Eduardo Vargas, negates Suyum’s claim that the victim sustained the wound accidentally.  Dr. Vargas testified:[21]
What about the other wounds?
There was a single stab wound noted on the upper portion of the chest and this fractured the ribs on the upper portion, first and likewise, on the second rib and entered the [thoracic] cavity.  It involves the upper lobe of the left lung then going downward.  It also involves the heart, then, further going downward to the abdomen involving the diaphragm and likewise the liver and also the stomach and portion of the small intestine.
You are referring to the location of the wounds as appearing in Exhibit “K-1”?
Yes, sir.
How would you consider this stab wound with regard to whether it is mortal or not?
It is fatal, sir.
. . . .
Did you measure the depth of the wound on the left side of the chest?
The approximate depth was 30 cms.  That is about one foot long down from the entrance up to where it ends.
And considering the location of the wound as well as its dimension oriented obliquely, what was the relative position of the assailant to the victim?
The assailant could be within arm’s reach of the victim.
The stab wound sustained by the victim, if such had indeed been accidentally inflicted, could not have been as deep as that found by the medico-legal expert. Furthermore, the fact that Suyum managed to remove the deeply imbedded bolo after the incident is contrary to the natural reaction of a person who has accidentally wounded another.[22]

There are other factors which belie the defense’s theory of how the killing happened. Accused-appellant Ocania’s claim that he had been stabbed by Ampo is belied by the testimony of the defense’s own witness, Dr. Renato Borja, who testified that Ocania sustained a hack - not a stab - wound.[23] On the other hand, Suyum’s claim that he stabbed the victim accidentally as well as his denial that he placed an “x” mark on the victim’s face after stabbing him are belied by Ocania’s testimony, thus:[24]
Pagkatapos noong umalis ka ay hindi mo na alam kung anong nangyari?
Nakita ko lang po ng nag-aagawan sila ng itak at nakita ko ang itak sa kaliwang tenga at sa mabilis na pangyayari ay biglang napaluhod si Rommel Ampo at napatusok ni Editho Suyum kay Rommel Ampo sa kaliwa.
.  .  .  .
At naano niya ang kamay ni Rommel Ampo at bigla niyang nasaksak sa balikat si Rommel?
At nagawan pa niya ng marka si Rommel sa pisngi ng X?
We cannot see why a person who had accidentally wounded another while defending himself would add insult to injury by placing a mark on the victim’s face by means of the fatal weapon.

Self-defense must be proved with certainty by sufficient satisfactory and convincing evidence which excludes any vestige of criminal aggression on the part of the person invoking it.  It cannot be entertained where it is not only uncorroborated by any separate competent evidence but is also doubtful.  If the accused fails to discharge the burden of proof, his conviction shall of necessity follow, on the basis of his admission of the killing.  The question whether the accused acted in self-defense is essentially a question of fact properly evaluated by the trial court.  Absent any glaring errors bordering on gross misapprehension of the facts or speculative or unsupported conclusions, the findings of the trial court must stand.[25] For this reason, Suyum’s claim of self-defense must fail.

Third.  The defense further alleges that the trial court erred in finding conspiracy between accused-appellants and claims that the guilt of accused-appellant Pedro Ocania has not been sufficiently proved.  It points out alleged contradictions in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses.  Luid testified that he saw Ocania holding the victim’s hands behind the latter’s back as Suyum stabbed him, whereas Coyno testified that Ocania was merely beside the victim.  Thus, according to the defense, it was error on the part of the trial court to find accused-appellant Ocania guilty.

The argument is without merit.  A conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a crime and decide to commit it.  Proof of the agreement need not rest on direct evidence as the same may be inferred from the conduct of the parties, indicating a common understanding between them with respect to the commission of the offense.  Conspiracy may be deduced from the mode and manner in which the offense was perpetrated or inferred from the acts of the accused evincing a joint or common purpose and design, concerted action, and community of interest.[26]

In the case at bar, it is clear from the act of Suyum in charging the victim with a bolo that he meant to cause the victim harm.  Ocania, by his presence and assistance, necessarily aided Suyum to accomplish his plan with little or no chance for the victim to fight back.  Indeed, Coyno testified that he saw Ocania armed as well.[27] These factors taken collectively reveal a unity of purpose between accused-appellants.  After the commission of the crime, they fled together.  For this reason, both should suffer the consequences of their actions.

Fourth.  Another error imputed to the trial court concerns its finding that there was treachery in the commission of the crime.  Accused-appellants anchor their argument on their theory that it was the victim who started the aggression by attacking them.  The defense also claims that the victim was sufficiently forewarned by Luid about the impending attack by accused-appellants, and thus could not have been taken by surprise.  There is, therefore, no treachery, so it is contended.

Again, we find the foregoing contention to be without merit.  We hold that the trial court correctly appreciated the qualifying circumstance of treachery.  The essence of treachery is a sudden and unexpected attack, without the slightest provocation on the part of the victim.[28] Treachery exists when any of the crimes against person is committed with the employment of means, methods, or forms that tend directly and specially to insure its execution such that the offender faces no risk that may arise from the defense which the offended party might make.[29]

In this case, the qualifying circumstance of treachery attended the killing as the two conditions for the same were present, i.e., (1) at the time of the attack, the victim was in no position to defend himself and (2) the offenders consciously adopted the particular means, method, or form of attack employed by them.[30]

We agree with the Solicitor General that the victim was utterly defenseless when he was killed.  His arms were held behind his back by accused-appellant Ocania, thus leaving him without any means to defend himself or escape his captors.  This circumstance qualifies the killing into murder.[31]

This fact is not altered by the testimony of Luid that, upon seeing accused-appellants approaching them, he shouted at the victim to run.[32] As the Solicitor General observes, the warning came too late.  By the time the victim was made aware of the impending danger, accused-appellant Suyum was only about four arm’s length away from him.  And, as Luid ran ahead of Rommel Ampo, he did not really see whether the victim was indeed able to run or, if he was able to do so at all, whether he was able to run very far.

However, the trial court erred in appreciating the aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength.  This circumstance is absorbed in treachery and therefore cannot be appreciated separately as an independent aggravating circumstance.[33]

On the other hand, the defense argues that accused-appellants should be given credit for voluntary surrender as accused-appellant Suyum gave himself up to Jimmy Montecarlos, a security officer of the Mayor of Parañaque, while Ocania waited for the arresting officers at the barangay outpost and surrendered to them.

We do not agree.  For voluntary surrender to be considered, the following requisites must concur:  (1) the offender was not actually arrested; (2) he surrendered to a person in authority or to an agent of a person in authority; and (3) his surrender was voluntary.  A surrender to be voluntary must be spontaneous, showing the intent of the accused to submit himself unconditionally to the authorities either because (a) he acknowledges his guilt or (b) he wishes to save them the trouble and expense necessarily incurred in his search and capture.[34] In the case at bar, while Suyum and Ocania went to the bodyguard of the Municipal Mayor and the barangay outpost, respectively, it is not clear that they did so because they sought to surrender.

In any event, it is immaterial whether accused-appellants surrendered.  Article 63, par. 1, of the Revised Penal Code provides:
Art. 63.  Rules for the application of indivisible penalties. — In all cases in which the law prescribes a single indivisible penalty, it shall be applied by the courts regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the deed.
The penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death.  Considering that there is neither a mitigating nor an aggravating circumstance in the commission of the crime, the lesser penalty of reclusion perpetua should be imposed on accused-appellants in accordance with Art. 63, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code.

Anent the award of damages, the trial court’s award of moral damages and civil indemnity, amounting to P50,000.00 each, should be affirmed, being in accordance with our current rulings.[35] However, the award of actual damages should be limited to those which were duly substantiated by receipts or documentary evidence and should be reduced to P12,500.00.[36] Moreover, since the crime was committed without any aggravating circumstance, the award of exemplary damages should be deleted.[37]

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 259, Parañaque City, finding accused-appellants Editho Suyum and Pedro Ocania guilty of murder, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that accused-appellants are each sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and ordered to pay the heirs of Rommel Ampo the sums of P50,000.00 as moral damages, P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, and P12,500.00 as actual damages.


Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Buena, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.

[1] Per Judge Zosimo V. Escano.

[2] Records, p. 1.

[3] TSN (Glenda Serna Ampo), pp. 25-30, May 14, 1997.

[4] TSN (Edgar Luid), pp. 2-25, July 1, 1997.

[5] TSN (Darlino Coyno), pp. 4-35, Oct. 13, 1997.

[6] Record, p. 466.

[7] TSN (Dr. Eduardo Tan Vargas), pp. 8-15, Sept. 10, 1997.

[8] TSN (PO3 Mateo Interia), pp. 20-22, Sept. 10, 1997.

[9] TSN (Editho Suyum), pp. 3-14, Oct. 13, 1998.

[10] TSN (Pedro Ocania), pp. 4-12, July 12, 1998.

[11] TSN (Isidro Refuerzo), pp. 4-12, March 16, 1998.

[12] TSN (Antonio Manlapaz), pp. 4-8, July 7, 1998.

[13] TSN (Dr. Renato Borja), pp. 5-19, June 4, 1998.

[14] Decision, p. 12; Records, p. 835.

[15] Brief for Accused-Appellants, pp. 1-2; Rollo, pp. 63-64.

[16] People v. Garcia, G.R. No. 129216, Apr. 20, 2001.

[17] People v. Albarido, G.R. No. 102367, Oct. 25, 2001.

[18] Pablo De la Cruz v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 139150, July 20, 2001.

[19] TSN (Dr. Eduardo Tan Vargas), pp. 17-18, Sept. 10, 1997.

[20] Records, p. 468.

[21] TSN (Dr. Eduardo Tan Vargas), pp. 8-11, Sept. 10, 1997 (emphasis added).

[22] TSN (Editho Suyum), pp. 23-24, July 27, 1997.

[23] TSN (Dr. Renato Borja), p. 10, June 4, 1998.

[24] TSN (Pedro Ocania), p. 24, July 27, 1998 (emphasis added).

[25] People v. Templa, G.R. No. 121897, Aug. 16, 2001.

[26] People v. Concepcion, G.R. No. 133225, July 26, 2001; See also People v. Hapa, G.R. No. 125698, July 19, 2001.

[27] TSN (Darlino Coyno), p. 9, Oct. 13, 1997.

[28] People v. Clarino, G.R. No. 134634, July 31, 2001.

[29] People v. Hapa, G.R. No. 125698, July 19, 2001.

[30] People v. Garcia, G.R. No. 129216, April 20, 2001.

[31] Record, p. 148.

[32] TSN (Edgar Luid), p. 7, Aug. 20, 1997.

[33] People v. Clarino, G.R. No. 134634, July 31, 2001;  People v. Birayon, 346 SCRA 396 (2000); People v. Quillosa, 325 SCRA 747 (2000);

[34] People v. Nanas, G.R. No. 137299, Aug. 21, 2001; see also Roca v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 114917, Jan. 29, 2001; People v. Marcos,  349 SCRA 537 (2001); People v. Alo, 348 SCRA 702 (2000).

[35] E.g., Del Rosario v. People, G.R. No. 141749, April 17, 2001; People v. Anivado, 348 SCRA 74 (2000); People v. Francisco, 330 SCRA 497 (2000).

[36] People v. Anivado, supra; People v. Cotas, 332 SCRA 627 (2000); People v. Flores, 328 SCRA 461 (2000).

[37] People v. Sagaysay, 308 SCRA 455 (1999).

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