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353 Phil. 862


[ G.R. No. 113021, July 02, 1998 ]




This is an appeal from the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Bohol, 7th Judicial Region, City of Tagbilaran, Branch 2, finding accused-appellant Romeo Magaro guilty of murder for the killing of Fidel Doria on September 22, 1991 and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the widow of the deceased P50,000.00 as indemnity.

The prosecution version of the incident is as follows:[1]

At around 6:45 in the evening of September 22, 1991, Creston Lingatong, Marino Soriano, Gaudencio Angcog, Hermogenes Namolata, and the victim, Fidel Doria, were having drinks at Judith Espina’s store at Poblacion, Bilar, Bohol when accused-appellant Romeo Magaro arrived drunk. Creston Lingatong, upon seeing Magaro, offered him a drink, which the latter accepted. Lingatong then bought another round of drinks. As Lingatong was refilling glasses, he accidentally spilled liquor on the table. This angered Magaro. Magaro is greatly feared from his days in the CAFGU (Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit). He has a record of conviction for homicide. Seeing that Magaro was angry, Lingatong apologized, saying “Why are you mad at me when I did not do anything against you?”. But Magaro was unmoved. Instead, he told Lingatong, “You wait for me there because I will come back for you.”

Lingatong tried to pacify Magaro and pleaded with him, “Please do not be angry at me, because I have done nothing against you.” Lingatong’s wife, too, pleaded with accused-appellant, “Long, do not be angry with my husband because he did not do anything against you.” Fidel Doria likewise tried to appease Magaro, telling him, “Do not harm Tony, because he did not do anything against you.”

As Magaro appeared unmoved, Lingatong left with his wife. But accused-appellant followed them. Lingatong again begged Magaro not to be angry at him. Fidel Doria followed the three to avert any untoward incident, pleading with Magaro “not [to] harm Tony, he did not do anything against you.” All of a sudden, Magaro pulled out a small bolo from a scabbard tied to his waist and, with it, stabbed Fidel Doria in the abdomen. Doria cried, “Agay! I am stabbed.” He was taken by Hermogenes Namolata to the store where they waited for a ride to take them to the hospital. He was taken to the Gallares Memorial Hospital where he died.

Lingatong and his wife ran towards their house and locked themselves inside.

Marino Soriano reported the incident to the police that same night. The police, led by SPO3 Roberto Cahucom, immediately proceeded to the scene of the crime. They met Magaro who, upon seeing them, ran away towards the basketball court. He stopped and gave himself up when SPO3 Cahucom fired a warning shot. He was then placed under arrest. Seized from him was a blood-stained bolo with its scabbard. Magaro admitted that he had stabbed Fidel Doria with the bolo.

The defense version is that accused-appellant stabbed Doria in self-defense.[2] According to the defense, on September 22, 1991, Magaro and his family prepared for his son’s birthday. A pig, which they intended to butcher, escaped and ran towards the highway. He ran after the animal and came upon a group of men having drinks in a store beside the highway. He was asked to join. He took a little drink, although he had rheumatism and had been told not to take alcohol. Then he was asked by Hermogenes Namolata to buy another bottle of liquor. When he claimed he had no money, he was asked by Fidel Doria to pledge his watch so he could buy the group some liquor. As he refused, Namolata gave him a fist blow in the mouth. Accused-appellant claimed he tried to run away but he was chased by the three men. When they caught him, Fidel Doria held him by the shoulder as Ariston Lingatong hit him with a broken coconut shell, as a result of which he and Doria fell to the ground. Accused-appellant said that as he stood up and attempted to escape, Lingatong tried to stab him but missed. Lingatong again attacked him, but he was able to parry the blow. He then kicked Lingatong in the thigh, causing the latter to drop his bolo to the ground. Accused-appellant said he tried to pick up the bolo, but Fidel Doria beat him to it. He then held Doria by the elbow and twisted the latter’s hand which was holding the bolo so that the bolo was pointed towards the body of Doria. The next thing he knew, Fidel Doria was crying for help, saying he had been hit. He then released Doria. Lingatong was about to attack him with a club but he was able to wrest it away. As a result, Lingatong fled.

The trial court found the testimonies of prosecution witnesses Lingatong and Namolata credible and accepted the version of the prosecution. It found accused-appellant guilty of murder in a decision[3] dated September 21, 1992. Hence, this appeal.

Accused-appellant claims he acted in self-defense. He contends:[4]
[I]t is ostensible that appellant ROMEO MAGARO was the subject of an unlawful aggression by a group of men who were drinking liquor in a store when he refused to buy a bottle of liquor for them. He was assaulted with fist and stab blows. Being able to evade the stab blows, a struggle for the possession of the bladed weapon took place between him and FIDEL DORIA. Clearly, the stabbing took place in the act of self-defense when accused-appellant tried to repel the aggression of the victim. He took hold of the elbow of the victim which was holding the bolo and pressed the bolo toward the body of the victim resulting in the wounding of DORIA. Having acted in self-defense, accused-appellant is not criminally liable. . .
Accused-appellant’s contention has no merit. Having admitted killing the deceased, accused-appellant has the burden of proving all the elements of self-defense.
[A]lthough it is a cardinal principle in criminal law that the prosecution has the burden of proving the guilt of the accused, the rule is reversed where the accused admits committing the crime but only in defense of oneself. In the latter case, the burden is shifted to the accused who must prove clearly and convincingly the following elements of self-defense: (1) unlawful aggression on the part of the victim; (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.[5]
If such evidence is of doubtful veracity, and it is not clear and convincing, the defense must necessarily fail.[6]

Prosecution witnesses Lingatong and Namolata positively identified accused-appellant as the aggressor and perpetrator of the crime. The trial court correctly gave full faith and credit to their testimonies. For, as we have said in one case:
. . . Absent evidence to show any reason or motive why witnesses for the prosecution should have testified falsely, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists and that their testimony is worthy of full faith and credit.[7]
The trial court’s ruling that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were more credible is entitled to respect. This Court accords the highest respect for the findings of the trial court on the issue of credibility of witnesses because the trial court is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses testify and observed their demeanor and deportment while testifying, absent any showing that the trial court overlooked, misunderstood, or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which would have affected the result of the case.[8]

Indeed, given accused-appellant’s reputation for violence, it was unlikely that he would be the victim of aggression. He was dreaded in the community. That is why people feared to incur his ire. Lingatong and others in his behalf minced no words apologizing to accused-appellant for spilling liquor on the table.

Moreover, this Court has, over the years, established badges of guilt or circumstances which serve as indicia of a person’s guilt.[9] Several of these are present in this case. First, accused-appellant tried to run away upon seeing the policemen.[10] Flight is an indication of guilt. For as the Proverbs say, the guilty runneth even when no man pursueth, but the innocent are as bold as a lion. Second, while Fidel Doria suffered a fatal stab wound in the stomach, accused-appellant was unable to show even the slightest scratch on himself, a fact which totally negates his claim of self-defense. Accused-appellant claims that there was a struggle and yet a perusal of the testimonies of defense witnesses and the list of documentary evidence presented by the defense does not support this allegation. His shirt was not shown to have been soiled or to have any tear caused by the bolo which supposedly hit his shirt. No proof was introduced showing any bruise, scratch, wound, or anything concrete to show he had been engaged in a struggle. On the contrary, when asked on cross-examination[11] by defense counsel whether he found accused-appellant’s shirt to have been soiled, SPO3 Cahucom answered in the negative. His testimony was not rebutted by the defense. Finally, accused-appellant never claimed upon his arrest that he had acted in self-defense. According to SPO3 Cahucom, accused-appellant merely claimed that he had stabbed Fidel Doria because he was afraid Doria might stab him first.[12] SPO3 Cahucom said:

When you were able to arrest accused Romeo Magaro, you said that you asked him about this particular weapon, did you ask him why he stabbed the victim Fidel Doria?
Yes, sir.
What was his answer?
He said Fidel Doria followed him so he stabbed him, because Fidel Doria might stab him first.
Mr. Witness, at that item when you arrested him, did you notice the accused having soiled or dirtied his t-shirt?
I have not noticed.
Did the accused tell you that he was able to have a struggle or a fight with the victim?
No, sir.

This, too, was not rebutted by the defense.

It should also be noted that the decision of defense witness Teofredo Malicuban to testify was admittedly made only after eight months had elapsed from the time of the incident.[13] As between the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, who immediately gave their respective accounts of the incident, and that of Malicuban, the former’s accounts would seem to be more accurate, given the possibility that because of the time which has elapsed, the chances of memory lapses are greater.

For the foregoing reasons, we think the trial court correctly dismissed accused-appellant’s claim of self-defense.

The trial court appreciated the qualifying circumstance of treachery and thus found accused-appellant guilty of murder. In People v. Magallanes,[14] this Court held:
There is treachery when the offender commits any of the crimes against the person, employing means, methods, or forms in the execution thereof which tend directly and specially to insure its execution, without risk to himself arising from the defense which the offended party might make. Thus, for treachery or alevosia to be appreciated as a qualifying circumstance, the prosecution must establish the concurrence of two (2) conditions: (a) that at the time of the attack, the victim was not in a position to defend himself; and (b) that the offender consciously adopted the particular means, method or form of attack employed by him. . . .

. . . where the meeting between the accused and the victim was casual and the attack was done impulsively, there is no treachery even if the attack was sudden and unexpected . . . As has been aptly observed the accused could not have made preparations for the attack, . . .; and the means, method and form thereof could not therefore have been thought of by the accused, because the attack was impulsively done.
Treachery cannot also be presumed from the mere suddenness of the attack . . . In point is the following pronouncement we made in People v. Escoto:
We can not presume that treachery was present merely from the fact that the attack was sudden. The suddenness of an attack, does not of itself, suffice to support a finding of alevosia, even if the purpose was to kill, so long as the decision was made all of a sudden and the victim’s helpless position was accidental. . . .
In People v. Bautista,[15] it was held:
. . . The circumstance that an attack was sudden and unexpected to the person assaulted did not constitute the element of alevosia necessary to raise homicide to murder, where it did not appear that the aggressor consciously adopted such mode of attack to facilitate the perpetration of the killing without risk to himself. Treachery cannot be appreciated if the accused did not make any preparation to kill the deceased in such manner as to insure the commission of the killing or to make it impossible or difficult for the person attacked to retaliate or defend himself. . . .
Applying these rulings, we do not think there was treachery in this case. We think the trial court erred in finding the killing to be murder. The killing was homicide. Indeed, treachery must be proved by strong, clear, and convincing evidence. In the absence thereof, all doubts must be resolved in favor of the accused.[16] In the present case, the meeting between accused-appellant and the victim was by chance. There is no evidence showing that the accused consciously adopted his mode of attack to facilitate the killing without risk to himself. In fact, he was focused on catching up with Lingatong and only noticed Doria when the latter tried to intercede in behalf of Lingatong.

The aggravating circumstance of recidivism was alleged in the information[17] and admitted[18] by the accused-appellant during the trial. Consequently, it must be considered in the imposition of the penalty.[19]

The penalty for homicide is reclusion temporal.[20] Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum range of the indeterminate sentence shall be taken from any of the periods of prision mayor, the penalty next lower in degree. On the other hand, considering the aggravating circumstance of recidivism, the maximum of the penalty to be imposed shall be taken from the maximum period of reclusion temporal.[21]

WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that accused-appellant Romeo Magaro is found guilty of homicide and is hereby sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of twelve (12) years of prision mayor, as minimum, to twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal, as maximum, with the accessory penalties provided by law.

Regalado, (Chairman), Melo, Puno, and Martinez, JJ., concur.

[1] Appellee’s Brief, pp. 3-6; Rollo, pp. 82-85.

[2] Appellant’s Brief, pp. 6-7; id., pp. 47-48.

[3] Id., pp. 15-19.

[4] Appellant’s Brief, pp. 9-10; id., pp. 50-51.

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

[6] People v. Artiaga, 274 SCRA 685 (1997).

[7] People v. Malazarte, 261 SCRA 482 (1996).

[8] People v. Talaboc, 256 SCRA 441 (1996).

[9] Ingles v. Court of Appeals, 269 SCRA 122 (1997).

[10] TSN, p. 17, Aug. 21, 1992.

[11] Id., p. 21.

[12] Ibid.

[13] TSN, pp. 33-34, Aug. 31, 1992.

[14] Supra note 5.

[15] 254 SCRA 621 (1996).

[16] People v. Ocsimar, 253 SCRA 689 (1996).

[17] Rollo, p. 6.

[18] TSN, pp. 7-8, Sept. 15, 1992.

[19] Revised Penal Code, Art. 14(9) and Art. 62.

[20] Id., Art. 249.

[21] Id., Art. 64(3).

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