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329 Phil. 1057


[ G.R. No. 119070, August 30, 1996 ]




Virgilio Alcartado claimed having witnessed his cousin, accused-appellant Carlito Alcartado, stab Digna Guillermo, accused-appellant's live-in partner, several times inside Virgilio's house in Danglas, Abra at about 3 o'clock on the morning of February 16, 1993. As a result, accused-appellant was charged with, and thereafter convicted by the Regional Trial Court of the First Judicial Region (Branch 2, Bangued, Abra) of the crime of murder under an Information that reads as follows:
That on or about the 16th day of February 1993, at around 3:00 o'clock A.M. at Sitio Dumeguiay, Barangay Caupasan, Municipality of Danglas, Province of Abra, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused with intent to kill, with treachery and evident premeditation, while armed with a sharp-pointed bolo (recovered), did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab one DIGNA GUILLERMO, hitting her on the different parts of her body thereby causing her instantaneous death to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the offended party.

                    (p. 6, Rollo.)
The trial court laid down the basis for its imposition of the penalty of reclusion perpetua in this manner:
There is no doubt in the mind of the Court that murder was committed, qualified by treachery with the aggravating circumstances of evident premeditation and abuse of superior strength which, although not alleged in the information, was proven during the trial. But the latter aggravating circumstance could not be appreciated as an independent generic aggravating circumstance because the same is already absorbed and deemed included in treachery which qualified the killing to murder (People vs. SespiƱe, et al., 102 Phil. 199; People vs. De Gracia, 18 SCRA 197).

                    (p. 23, Rollo.)
The present review involves the issue of whether or not the facts, as borne out by the record, will justify the conviction of accused-appellant for the death of Digna Guillermo and if so, what particular crime he may be held accountable for.

Briefly, the bare facts of the case are the following:

Accused-appellant and the victim were common-law husband and wife, with six children. Accused-appellant is a native of Danglas, Abra, while the victim, of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.

Sometime in February 1993, accused-appellant tried to persuade the mother of the victim to sell her house and lot, the proceeds of which he intended to borrow in order to bail out his son by another woman, then charged with frustrated murder or homicide and detained at the provincial jail. The victim's mother did not agree to sell the house and lot. Thereafter, accused-appellant left for Danglas, Abra for the town fiesta. The victim, together with three of their children followed him and stayed at the house of accused-appellant's cousin Virgilio Alcartado.

At about 3 o'clock on the morning of February 16, 1993, Virgilio was awakened by the victim's cries for help. He immediately went to the room of the couple and there saw accused-appellant in the act of stabbing, the victim with a bolo. Virgilio tried to stop accused-appellant, but to no avail. Finally, when accused-appellant stopped his deadly assault, Virgilio succeeded in wresting the bolo. Soon thereafter, the police authorities arrived at the crime scene and arrested accused-appellant. In the meanwhile, the victim was rushed to the La Paz District Hospital, where she was declared dead on arrival. The autopsy report (Exhibit "A"), indicated the following injuries sustained by the victim:

#1 Stab wound 2.5 cm penetrating 5th ICS R-right parasternal line.
#2 Stab wound 2.5 cm penetrating 7th ICS L-left parasternal line.
#3 Stab wound 2.5 cm non-penetrating (semilunar) wound at areola 4th ICS L Mid-clavicular line.
#4 Stab wound 2.5-3 cm with intestinal evisceration 1-1/2 inch above the umbilicus.
#5 Incised wound about 1.5 cm L wrist.
#6 Incised wound 2 cm lower half L arm.


- About 2-3 liters of clotted blood evacuated from the thoracic cavity.

- 7th, 8th rib - left were transected.

LUNGS:  R middle lobe was macerated and collapsed

LIVER:  L lobe of the liver was macerated


INTESTINES:   Omentum and Ileum (Proximal 1/3) were perforated


                    (p. 6, Record.)
In the instant appeal, accused-appellant assails the credibility of prosecution witness Virgilio Alcartado, claiming that his testimony does not deserve credence as he nurtured ill-feelings towards accused-appellant and wanted him out of the way. According to accused-appellant, Virgilio used to collect the GSIS pension of accused-appellant's father, and it was a financial blow to Virgilio when accused-appellant decided to transfer the pensioner's forwarding address from Danglas, Abra to Narvacan, Ilocos Sur. He also claims that witness Virgilio's credibility is crippled by his behavior at the scene of the crime, considering that Virgilio was the one who was nervous and jittery while the accused-appellant was calm and silent.

Accused-appellant further contends that since Virgilio's testimony is not entitled to full credence, the prosecution should have presented corroborative testimony, that of accused-appellant's two children who had also witnessed the events that transpired. Non-presentation of the other eyewitnesses, according to accused-appellant, is nothing but suppression of evidence.

We are not persuaded by these arguments.

It is significant to note that the trial judge who personally observed the deportment of Virgilio gave full faith and credence to his eye-witness account. Upon careful review of the record, we find no cogent reason to rule otherwise. The alleged transfer of the forwarding address of accused-appellant's father's GSIS pension from Danglas, Abra to Narvacan, Ilocos Sur cannot possibly constitute sufficient motive for Virgilio to falsely testify against accused-appellant for a crime which he may not have committed, specially so when the crime charged is of such gravity such as murder which may result in incarceration for life. Accused-appellant fails to show how Virgilio somehow benefited from the GSIS pension of the father of accused-appellant. Be this as it may, Virgilio, cannot be so financially strapped as to falsely testify against accused-appellant, his own cousin.

We likewise find nothing strange in the alleged nervous behavior of Virgilio after witnessing the crime which may render his eyewitness account unworthy of any credence. On the contrary, such nervous deportment even bolsters his credibility because there is no behavior more natural and expected under a situation where one person is face-to-face with a killer who is armed with a sharp bolo than to be nervous and jittery. It would have been more unnatural if it were otherwise. Furthermore, what is really material and relevant in gauging the credibility of a witness is not alleged behavior at the scene of the crime, which, incidentally, in the case at bar, is merely related to the court by another witness, but his demeanor on the witness stand when he recounts the sequence of events that he witnessed, and which behavior is personally observed by the presiding judge himself.

This explains why as between an appellate court, which is necessarily limited to the substance of the witnesses' responses as appearing in the transcript of stenographic notes containing the record of the testimony of the witnesses presented during the trial, and the lower court, whose presiding judge had personally observed the demeanor of the witnesses consisting not only of their testimony but also their gestures, facial expressions, and their over-all composure, or lack of it, on the witness stand, the trial judge is by far in a better position to assess the credibility of witnesses.

Furthermore, in a criminal case where the trial judge has the constitutional duty to acquit if he is not morally convinced of the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, any conduct or actuation of the witnesses which may cast even the slightest doubt as to their credibility would always be considered in favor of the accused. Thus, with more reason, the factual findings of the trial judge in criminal cases should be given great weight on appeal. Nobody can be in a better position to assess the credibility of witnesses than the trial judge who can consider the interplay of all these factors.

Withal, in the present recourse where the argument basically centers on the credibility of eyewitness Virgilio, the words of this Court in People vs. Capoquian, (236 SCRA 655 [1994]), find relevance:
We are, therefore, constrained to once again reiterate that the findings and conclusions of the trial court on the credibility of the witnesses are matters left mainly to its discretion because it is the trial court which observed the demeanor and the manner of testimony of the witnesses and, therefore, the trial court is in a better position to assess the same than the appellate court. As a matter of established jurisprudence, the findings of the trial court on credibility of a witness are not disturbed on appeal unless there is a showing that it failed to consider certain facts and circumstances which would change the same.
Corollarily, there being no reason to discredit the testimony of Virgilio, the fact that it was not corroborated by the testimony of accused-appellant's children who likewise witnessed the commission of the crime, would be of no moment. After all, in this jurisdiction the testimony of a single witness, when credible and trustworthy is sufficient to convict (People vs. Hangad, 227 SCRA 244 [1993]).

Too, if at all, the testimony of the two children would admittedly be merely corroborative evidence and we have already ruled in People vs. Realon, (99 SCRA 422, 459-460 [1980]), that:
The rule on suppression of evidence finds no applicability in cases where the evidence allegedly suppressed is merely corroborative or cumulative. Thus:

"No inference arises against a party failing to call a witness where the only object of calling such witness would be to produce corroborative or cumulative evidence ... (31 C.J.S., 857).

"Failure to present some witnesses for the prosecution, even if the omitted witnesses are eyewitnesses of the crime, does not of necessity give rise to the presumption that evidence wilfully suppressed would be adverse if produced, which does not apply to the suppression of merely corroborative evidence (People vs. Tuzon, 56 Phil. 649; U.S. vs. Gonzales, 22 Phil. 325 and U.S. vs. Dinola, 37 Phil. 797)."
And of course, since the witnesses whose testimony accused-appellant urges us to presume as unfavorable to the prosecution were equally available or accessible to the defense, we need but recall the rule that the presumption of suppression of evidence is inapplicable where the evidence was at the disposal of both the defense and the prosecution and would have the same weight against one party as against the other. Verily, if accused-appellant believed that his children's testimony would have been favorable to him, then he should have called them to the stand.

In sum, the trial court was correct in holding accused-appellant criminally liable for the death of Digna Guillermo. However, as correctly pointed out by the Solicitor General, the trial court erred in finding accused-appellant guilty of murder and sentencing therefor, taking in the process treachery as a qualifying circumstance. The trial court further erred in appreciating against accused-appellant evident premeditation as an aggravating circumstance.
Submits thus the Office of the Solicitor General:

We cannot, however, agree with the trial court's finding that the appellant is guilty of murder. Treachery cannot be appreciated in this case where the lone eye-witness was not able to see how the assault started. It cannot be presumed but must be proven positively. (People vs. Quilatan, 205 SCRA 279 [1992]; People vs. Cordero, 217 SCRA 1 [1991]). As Virgilio Alcartado testified, he was only awakened by the victim's cries for help (T.S.N. July 18, 1993, p 18). Well-settled is the rule that where no particulars are known as to the manner in which the aggression was made or how the act which resulted in the death of the victim began and developed, it can in no way be established from mere suppositions that the killing was perpetrated by treachery (People vs. Devaras, 205 SCRA 676 [1992]).

In the case at bar, where the manner of attack was not proven, the appellant should be given the benefit of the doubt and the crime should be considered homicide only (People vs. Agcaoili, 206 SCRA 606 [1992]).

Neither can we consider evident premeditation as being proven by the prosecution. The fact that the appellant was unable to secure a loan from the parents of his common-law wife will not, standing alone suffice to establish evident premeditation.

As this Court clearly stated in People vs. Florida, 214 SCRA 227 [1992], evident premeditation must be clearly proven, established beyond reasonable doubt and must be based on external acts which are evident, not merely suspected, and which indicate deliberate planning.
The aggravating circumstances of abuse of superior strength was, however, proved during the trial. Virgilio saw the accused-appellant on top of the victim, repeatedly stabbing the latter with a sharp-pointed bolo. The murder weapon was recovered and presented in evidence during the trial. There is likewise concrete evidence showing that the victim indeed sustained numerous stab and incised wounds as a consequence of the attack. As early as in the case of People vs. Guzman (107 Phil. 1122 [1960]), it was held:
An attack made by a man with a deadly weapon upon an unarmed and defenseless woman constitutes the circumstance of abuse of that superiority which his sex and the weapon used in the act afforded him, and from which the woman was unable to defend herself.
Ordinarily, abuse of superiority would qualify the killing, to murder. But since this was not alleged in the information, it may only be treated as a generic aggravating circumstance (People vs. Fuertes, 229 SCRA 289 [1994]) which, in the absence of any mitigating circumstance, will merit the imposition of the sentence for homicide in its maximum period (Article 64, par. 3, Revised Penal Code). This aggravating circumstance was, however, disregarded by trial court, due to its error, earlier pointed, in appreciating evident premeditation which if correctly regarded indeed absorbs abuse of superior strength. Due to our pronouncement that evident premeditation did not attend the commission of the crime, abuse of superior strength may now be counted against accused.

WHEREFORE, premises considered the decision appealed from is modified. Accused-appellant Carlito Alcartado is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt only of the crime of homicide, aggravated by abuse of superior strength, and he is hereby sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of twelve (12) years of prision mayor, as minimum, to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum (People vs. Fuertes, supra) and ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victim in the amount of fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00). No special pronouncement is made as to costs.


Narvasa, C.J. (Chairman), Davide, Jr., Francisco, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.

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