369 Phil. 872

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 103547, July 20, 1999 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. ROMEO MALLARI Y SANCHEZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

Accused-appellant Romeo Mallari y Sanchez, also known as "Romy Toyo" or "Meo," was charged with murder in an information that reads as follows:
"That on or about December 9, 1990, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said accused did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent to kill and with treachery and evident premeditation, attack, assault and use personal violence upon one ALFREDO MENDOZA Y ESTRELLA, by then and there stabbing the latter with a bladed weapon on the chest thereby inflicting the latter mortal wounds which were the direct and immediate cause of his death thereafter."[1]
Upon arraignment, accused-appellant pleaded "not guilty." Whereupon, trial on the merits ensued. The prosecution presented Wilfredo Eyas, an alleged eyewitness; Pfc. Norberto Obrero of the Investigation Division and Dr. Marcial Ceñido, Medico Legal Officer, both of the Western Police District. The defense, on the other hand, presented accused-appellant himself and his father Pedro Mallari.

The facts as found by the trial court are as follows:

At 8:30 in the evening of December 9, 1990, Alfredo Mendoza, Wilfredo Eyas, and Ricardo Borja were having a drinking spree at the corner of Claro M. Recto and Elcano Streets, Binondo, Manila.[2] Eyas sat in front of Mendoza about an armslength away while Borja sat on his right.[3] About four (4) meters away was the pushcart owned by a certain Aling Vicky where they bought beer.[4] Mendoza, Eyas and Borja were drinking for more or less thirty (30) minutes and consumed six (6) bottles of beer.[5] While Mendoza was pouring beer into his glass, accused-appellant suddenly appeared from behind Mendoza and stabbed him on the chest once with a pointed weapon.[6] After stabbing Mendoza, accused-appellant casually walked away and then fled from the scene.

Eyas ran after accused-appellant but when the latter saw Eyas running after him, he turned around and ran after Eyas instead. Afraid, Eyas retraced his steps and returned to where he left his wounded comrade.[7]

Mendoza, by then, had already been brought to Mary Johnston Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The guard on duty called up the homicide section of the Western Police District and reported the stabbing incident. Responding to the call, Pfc. Norberto Obrero and Pat. Henry Nuñez went to the hospital where they saw Bartolome Castro and Joey Angeles who claimed to have been likewise stabbed by "Romy Toyo" on C.M. Recto and Elcano Streets, Binondo, Manila. They likewise learned that a certain Alejandro Quintana was also stabbed dead by "Romy Toyo" on the same street corner.

At around 9:30 in the evening of December 9, 1990, the police investigators went to the crime scene where they were informed by a certain Aling Vicky that Wilfredo Eyas was one of the drinking companions of the victim. They sought Eyas but the latter only told them his name and address and did not give any statement regarding the incident. Eyas knew accused-appellant was then still at large and a notorious killer.

Medico-Legal Officer Dr. Marcial Ceñido autopsied the cadaver of Mendoza. According to him, Mendoza died of a "penetrating stab wound right anterior thorax appearing at the right ventricle of the heart."[8] In his opinion, the relative position of the wound would be more in line with the theory that the assailant could have been standing when he attacked his seated victim.[9]

Based on the information gathered, Pfc. Obrero prepared the "Advance Information" naming "Romy Toyo" or "Meo" as the suspect.

On January 7, 1991, operatives of the Patrol Division of the Western Police District apprehended accused-appellant in connection with a robbery with homicide case.[10] Apprised of the apprehension, Pfc. Obrero asked Eyas and Borja to identify him. Eyas pointed to accused-appellant in a police line-up of seven persons as the killer of Alfredo Mendoza. On the basis of the identification, accused-appellant was formally charged for the killing of Alfredo Mendoza.

Accused-appellant denied knowing Alfredo Mendoza or killing him. He confirmed being called "Romy Toyo" by his family and friends but denied being called "Meong."[11] He claimed he was resting in his house at J.P. Rizal St., Makati on the day the stabbing occurred.[12]

Accused-appellant also testified that he was invited to the Makati Police Station where he was informed of the charge of murder against him.[13] He admitted being made to join a police line-up twice in the Western Police District Station but denied that Eyas pointed or identified him. He further alleged that he did not even see Eyas during the police line-up.[14] He claimed that the police officers maltreated him while in detention and forced him to admit the charges filed against him.[15]

In addition, accused-appellant alleged that Pfc. Obrero demanded money supposedly for the dropping of charges against him. Since the money given by his father and sister was not enough, only three (3) out of five (5) charges against him were dropped.[16]

Accused-appellant claimed he only met Ricardo Borja, who was then also detained at the City Jail, for the first time when he appeared before the trial court in connection with his case.[17]

Pedro Mallari, father of accused-appellant, testified that he accompanied his son to the police station and pleaded with Pfc. Obrero to help his son. However, Pfc. Obrero told him the case was already out of his hands. He admitted offering money to the policeman for the dropping of the cases against his son.[18]

The trial court found accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, to indemnify the heirs of Alfredo Mendoza in the amount of P50,000.00 and to pay the costs.[19]

The accused-appellant raises the following assignment of errors:

I.
"THE FAILURE TO PRODUCE BORJA TO TESTIFY IS TANTAMOUNT TO A SUPPRESSION OF EVIDENCE UNDER RULE 131 WHILE BEING AT THE SAME TIME A GROSS VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT OF THE ACCUSED TO COMPULSORY PROCESS.

II

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FULL FAITH AND CREDIT TO WITNESS EYA'S TESTIMONY.

A] WITNESS EYA'S ACCOUNT OF THE STABBING DOES NOT JIBE WITH THE MEDICAL FINDINGS OF THE MEDICO-LEGAL OFFICER AND IT FURTHERMORE DEFIES HUMAN EXPERIENCE.

B] TREACHERY NECESSARILY WAS NOT PROVEN.

C] THERE WAS FAILURE TO PROVE EYA'S PRESENCE AT THE TIME OF THE INCIDENT.

D] THE LACK OF PROOF OF ILL-MOTIVE ON EYAS'S PART IS NOT REQUIRED IN THIS CASE CONTRARY TO THE TRIAL COURT'S DECISION.

E] EYA'S TESTIMONY IS INCREDIBLE, AND FRAUGHT WITH INCONSISTENCIES.

III

THE FINDING OF GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT IS PERFORCE EQUALLY ERRONEOUS."[20]
This Court is not persuaded. Consequently, accused-appellant's conviction stands.

First: Contrary to the assertion of the defense, the prosecution is not guilty of suppression of evidence. The disputable presumption that evidence willfully suppressed would be adverse if produced is not even applicable in the instant case. It is extant from the records that the prosecution has satisfactorily established its case against accused-appellant through the sole testimony of Wilfredo Eyas. Hence, there is no more necessity to present Borja as his testimony would only be corroborative, if not cumulative.

In People v. Pagal[21] citing People v. de Jesus,[22] this Court has ruled that "the adverse presumption arising from suppression of evidence is not applicable when the evidence is merely corroborative or cumulative and/or likewise available to the defense." In the instant case, Borja was not a material witness but merely a corroborative one. If at all, Borja would only confirm the matters already testified to by Eyas. It should be noted that Borja was a drinking companion of Mendoza and Eyas and in all likelihood, would only testify on what he saw during the incident which would not have been substantially or significantly different from what Eyas had testified on. In any event, it was within the prerogative of the prosecution whom to present as witness.

More importantly, Borja was at the disposal of both the prosecution and the defense. Both parties subpoenaed Borja but the latter failed to appear at both times. The defense did not proffer proof that the prosecution prevented Borja from testifying. There is therefore no basis for it to conclude that the prosecution is guilty of suppression of evidence.

The defense was not short of alternative remedies for their failure to compel Borja to appear before the court. They could have asked that Borja be cited for contempt, or if they were really desperate to disprove the eyewitness account of Eyas, they could have summoned other witnesses aside from Borja because, to borrow the words of the defense, "there are of course others who have witnessed the crime."[23] In People v. Jumanoy,[24] this Court held:
"The prosecution's failure to present the other witnesses listed in the information did not constitute, contrary to the contention of the accused, suppression of evidence. The prosecution has the exclusive prerogative to determine the witnesses to be presented for the prosecution. If the prosecution has several witnesses, as in the instant case, the prosecution need not present all of them but only as many as may be needed to meet the quantum of proof necessary to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of the other witnesses may, therefore, be dispensed with for being merely corroborative in nature. This Court has ruled that the non-presentation of corroborative witnesses would not constitute suppression of evidence and would not be fatal to the prosecution's case."
Regardless, the well-entrenched rule is that the testimony of a lone eyewitness, if found positive and credible by the trial court, is sufficient to support a conviction especially when the testimony bears the earmarks of truth and sincerity and had been delivered spontaneously, naturally and in a straightforward manner. It has been held that witnesses are to be weighed, not numbered; hence, it is not at all uncommon to reach a conclusion of guilt on the basis of the testimony of a single witness. For although the number of witnesses may be considered a factor in the appreciation of evidence, preponderance is not necessarily with the greater number and conviction can still be had on the basis of the credible and positive testimony of a single witness. Corroborative evidence is deemed necessary only when there are reasons to warrant the suspicion that the witness falsified the truth or that his observation had been inaccurate.[25] The lower court found nothing to indicate that Eyas falsified the truth or that his observation had been inaccurate.

Second: The defense posits that it was highly incredible for accused-appellant to have stabbed his victim in the manner described by Eyas without him leaning back or touching the shoulders of his victim. Accused-appellant argues, "(t)o produce that mortal wound by using only one hand and without touching the other parts of the body of the intended victim, the wielder of the knife must first lean back in order to gain enough momentum to produce the force required to inflict such kind of a stab wound. Either that or hang on to any part of the victim's body with one hand and then plunge the knife at (sic) the chest with the other. In this case, no such leaning back was shown by the witness nor was there any proof given by the witness showing that the killer clinged (sic) to the victim before delivering the fatal blow."[26]

This reasoning is flawed. It presupposes that the demonstration in the trial court as to how accused-appellant supposedly stabbed the victim was squarely and exactly the same on all points with the actual stabbing. The defense exaggerates the point that accused-appellant did not lean back before plunging the pointed instrument nor did so without touching the shoulders of the victim in order to forcefully deliver the fatal blow. Suffice it to say that the cold pages of the records of this case do not graphically convey every minute detail that transpired in the lower court. Not every fearful glance or guilty sigh of the accused nor the resigned and restrained anguish of the victim is reflected and given life in the records. This is precisely the reason why this Court has often relied on the factual findings of the trial courts. Corollary to this, the court a quo found:
"After a minutiose and incisive consideration and judicious assessment of the evidence marshalled by the Prosecution, more particularly the testimony of Wilfredo Eyas, the Court found, and so holds that, indeed, the Prosecution was able to prove that it was Accused who stabbed the deceased, Alfredo Mendoza, on the chest which caused the latter's death (Exhibits "G" and "H" and "H-I"). Wilfredo Eyas was barely armslength from in front of Alfredo Mendoza and positioned himself on the side of the latter and then stabbed Alfredo Mendoza on the chest, once, with a five-inch knife (minus the handle). The place where the stabbing occured was illumined by the light emanating from the 100-watt bulb hanging from the pushcart of Aling Vicky behind Wilfredo Eyas where the latter, Ricardo Borja and Alfredo Mendoza were having a drinking spree. Considering the proximity of Wilfredo Eyas to the deceased when the Accused stabbed the latter and the lighting conditions in the vicinity at the time, there is no scintilla of doubt in the mind of the Court of the identification of the Accused as the perpetrator of the macabre stabbing. Wilfredo Eyas has pointed to and identified the Accused in a police line-up of seven (7) persons on January 9, 1991, at the Homicide Section of the Western Police District as the person who stabbed Alfredo Mendoza (Exhibits "J" and "J-I"). When Wilfredo Eyas testified before the Court, he spontaneously and unerringly pointed to and identified the Accused when asked by the Assistant City Prosecutor to identify and point, from among the persons inside the courtroom, to be the person who stabbed Alfredo Mendoza.

There is no shred of evidence in the record and the Accused adduced none to prove that Wilfredo Eyas had any pernicious or devious motive to fabricate and concoct the charge against the Accused and tergervisate (sic) his testimony before the Court. The barefaced fact that Wilfredo Eyas and Alfredo Mendoza are friends is not enough to taint the testimony of Wilfredo Eyas. Absent such ill-motive, the testimony of Wilfredo Eyas must be accorded by the Court full credit and probative value."[27]
Besides, the medical findings corroborated the testimony of Eyas particularly on the manner by which the stabbing was committed. Eyas's narration complemented the medical finding's description of the wounds inflicted upon the victim. In addition, the finding that the victim's stomach contained a liquid substance of alcoholic odor confirmed the fact that the victim was drinking beer when accused-appellant suddenly and unexpectedly lunged at him.

Third: The defense argues that Eyas's presence at the crime scene was not proven considering that Aling Vicky, supposedly the policeman's source of information, was not presented before the Court thereby making the policeman's testimony of doubtful credibility for being hearsay. We disagree. When Pfc. Obrero said they were informed by a certain Aling Vicky that Eyas was one of the drinking companions of the victim, he was only testifying that they were able to talk to a certain Aling Vicky. In so saying, he was not asserting that Eyas was present at the crime scene. Under our Rules of Evidence, this is considered an independently relevant statement and an exception to the hearsay rule. In People v. Cusi, Jr.[28] this Court had occasion to rule that "(w)hile the testimony of a witness regarding a statement made by another person, if intended to establish the truth of the fact asserted in the statement, is clearly hearsay evidence, it is otherwise if the purpose of placing the statement in the record is merely to establish the fact that the statement was made or the tenor of such statement."

Besides, there was no need to present Aling Vicky as Eyas himself categorically testified that he was at the crime scene at the time it was committed and positively identified accused-appellant as the lone assailant. The trial court believed Eyas's version finding him more credible than accused-appellant. The Court sees no reason to disturb this finding. It is well-entrenched that when the issue boils down to credibility, the findings of trial courts is accorded due weight and respect because of its unique position to properly observe the deportment of every witness during trial.

Fourth. The inconsistencies referred to by the defense were inconsequential and trivial. The points that mattered most in Eyas's testimony were his presence at the crime scene, his identification of accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the crime, and his credible and corroborated narration of accused-appellant's manner of stabbing Mendoza. The inconsistencies pointed out by the defense referred only to events occurring after the commission of the crime.

As to Eyas's apparent inconsistency in his description of the weapon, suffice it to say that the alleged inconsistency, assuming there was one, is not fatal to the case at bar. In fact, Eyas's account that a bladed weapon was used corresponds with the medico-legal officer's finding that the fatal thrust was delivered using a pointed instrument. Be that as it may, the description of the weapon used in perpetrating the crime was not essential in establishing the guilt of accused-appellant. Even without said description, all the elements of the crime of murder have already been satisfactorily established. Inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses which refer to minor and insignificant details do not destroy their credibility. Such minor inconsistencies even manifest truthfulness and candor and erase any suspicion of rehearsed testimony.[29]

Fifth: The trial court correctly found that treachery attended the commission of the crime. "There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crime against the person, employing means, methods or forms in the execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make."[30] In the instant case, accused-appellant stealthily approached the seated Mendoza from behind while the latter was pouring beer into his glass. The stabbing was executed swiftly and lasted less than a minute. The suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack even failed to forewarn or arouse any alarm from Mendoza's drinking companions. Because of the suddenness by which the crime was committed, Mendoza did not have any opportunity to defend himself. Accused-appellant deliberately approached Mendoza from behind to avoid any risk for himself and to ensure its execution. Clearly, the attack was treacherous. In People v. Mario Villanueva y Faustino[31] this Court held:
"The victim was shot from behind by one who proceeded stealthily and quickly. The victim was not aware of any impending attack against his person, and even Adelfa Nacional, who had seen MARIO approach her husband, was surprised by the suddenness with which MARIO shot her husband. Under these circumstances, the victim was clearly deprived of an opportunity to defend himself, thus ensuring the execution of the offense without risk to MARIO. Hence, there was treachery."
WHEREFORE, based on the foregoing, the decision of the Regional Trial Court-Br. 44, Manila, finding accused-appellant Romeo Mallari y Sanchez GUILTY of murder and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, to indemnify the heirs of Alfredo Mendoza P50,000.00 and to pay the costs, is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Melo, Kapunan, and Pardo, JJ., concur.



[1] Information; Rollo, p. 4.

[2] Testimony of Wilfredo Eyas, TSN, February 27, 1991, p.4.

[3] Id., p. 13.

[4] Id., p. 15.

[5] Id., p. 11.

[6] Id., p. 16.

[7] Id., pp. 29-30.

[8] Testimony of Dr. Marcial Ceñido, TSN, February 20, 1991, p. 5.

[9] Id., p. 6.

[10] Testimony of Pfc. Norberto Obrero, TSN, February 18, 1991, p. 6.

[11] Testimony of Romeo Mallari, TSN, June 14, 1991, pp. 18-19.

[12] Id., p. 13.

[13] Id., pp. 4-5.

[14] Id., pp. 10-11.

[15] Id., p. 9.

[16] Id., p. 26.

[17] Id., pp. 20-21.

[18] Testimony of Pedro Mallari, TSN, June 18, 1991, pp. 9-10.

[19] Decision penned by Judge Romeo J. Callejo (now Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals), p. 19; Rollo, p. 30.

[20] Appellant's Brief, pp. 2-3; Rollo, pp. 140-141.

[21] G.R. Nos. 112620-21, May 14, 1997, 272 SCRA 449.

[22] G.R. No. 93852, January 24, 1992, 205 SCRA 383.

[23] Appellant's Brief, p. 8; Rollo, p. 146.

[24] G.R. No. 101584, April 7, 1993, 221 SCRA 333, at 344.

[25] People v. Tulop, et.al., G.R. No. 124829, April 21, 1998.

[26] Appellant's Brief, p. 17; Rollo, p. 155.

[27] Decision, pp. 7-8; Id., pp. 18-19.

[28] No. L-20986, August 14, 1965, 14 SCRA 945-946.

[29] People v. Edgardo Grefaldia, G.R. Nos. 121631-36, October 30, 1998.

[30] People v. Mario Villanueva y Faustino, G.R. No. 122746, January 29, 1999.

[31] Ibid.



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