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363 Phil. 684


[ G.R. No. 126123, March 09, 1999 ]




In an information filed on October 14, 1988, Joaquin Platilla and Renato Platilla were charged before the Regional Trial Court of Palo, Leyte, in Criminal Case No. 8734, with the crime of murder allegedly committed as follows:
That on or about the 9th day of September, 1988, in the City of Tacloban, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping each other, with intent to kill and with evident premeditation, did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, stab and wound one CESARIO LABITA with the use of bolos which the accused had provided themselves for the purpose, thereby inflicting upon him several wounds on the different parts of his body which caused his instantaneous death.[1]
Joaquin Platilla was arrested on the same day the stabbing incident took place. He admitted his culpability and pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of Homicide.[2] He was sentenced by the trial court to a penalty of (twelve) 12 years and (one) 1 day to (fourteen) 14 years and (eight) 8 months of reclusion temporal, and was asked to indemnify the heirs of Cesario Labita the amount of P30,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency.[3]

Accused-appellant Renato Platilla, on the other hand, was apprehended only 2 March 1994, almost six years after the incident took place.[4] Upon arraignment, he pleaded Not Guilty and waived pre-trial.[5] Thereafter, trial ensued.

The prosecution[6] presented evidence establishing the following:

In the afternoon of 9 September 1988, Eduardo Andalahao employed the services of Cesario Labita to transport by means of his pedicab the rice bran which the former intended to purchase in Cocomart, Marasbaras, Tacloban City. On their way back to Barangay San Jose after buying the rice bran, Labita and Andalahao, together with another passenger, took the route via the Coca-Cola plant. While Labita was driving, accused-appellant suddenly appeared, carrying a long bolo, and pursued the former from a distance of ten (10) meters.[7] Labita pedalled faster but the weight of the pedicab's load prevented him from securing a safe distance from accused-appellant. At the beginning of the chase, accused-appellant failed to catch up with Labita who jumped out of the pedicab and ran. Fearing that the pedicab, now without a driver, would absolutely go out of control, Andalahao grabbed hold of its handlebar and tried to keep it on course.

Meanwhile, Labita continued to run towards the direction of Burayan, San Jose. He already gained some distance from accused-appellant when he was blocked on his path by accused-appellant's brother, Joaquin, who was standing by his parked pedicab.[8] Armed with a long bolo, locally known as "sundang," Joaquin stabbed Labita, deeply piercing his chest.[9] Before Joaquin could pull out the bolo from Labita's body, accused-appellant arrived, and stabbed Labita on the side of his body with his long bolo.[10] With the two bolos still punctured in his body, Labita fell into a ditch together with his two (2) assailants. There, appellant and Joaquin removed their bolos from the body of Labita. Afterwards, they took turns in wounding Labita.[11]

Andalahao witnessed all these from just across the street where Labita's pedicab, after continuously moving under Andalahao's control, grinded to a halt. While all these were happening a policeman riding a motorcycle passed by. Andalahao called his attention and informed him about the incident and the participation of accused-appellant and Joaquin in the stabbing of Labita.[12] Joaquin surrendered himself and the two (2) bolos to the policeman claiming sole authorship and responsibility for the incident. For this reason the policeman brought only Joaquin to the police station for further investigation. Accused-appellant, on the other hand, left the scene of the crime and brought with him his brother's pedicab. Andalahao went to the San Jose police station and reported the occurrence. Labita was left behind lying in the ditch.

In the meantime, an unknown caller informed the Tacloban City Police Station about the stabbing incident. In response, SPO3 Nestor Manocsoc with some companions went to the scene of the crime in Burayan and found Labita lying by the roadside. They brought Labita to the Tacloban City Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Prosecution witness Encarnacion Labita testified that she was the mother of the victim. She disclosed that her son was married and had three children. She related that the wife of Labita went to Manila to work. She said that she spent a total of P4,800.00 for the burial of her son.

On the other hand, the defense interposed a different version of the incident.

Accused-appellant testified at around 3:00 p.m. of 9 September 1988, he was at their place in Dulag, harvesting the palay at the ricefield of one Wilfredo Dasugbo.[13] He alleged that he worked that day from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. He further stressed that he did not go to San Jose, Tacloban City, on 9 September 1988.

Accused-appellant contended that he was implicated in this case because he was the cause of an incident which involved his brother Joaquin. According to him, both he and Labita were pedicab drivers. Sometime in August, 1988, he drove two passengers to the airport. When these passengers alighted, they left their bag in his pedicab. Labita, who was behind accused-appellant on the way to the airport, saw this. Labita allegedly approached accused-appellant and asked the latter to give him the bag because he knew the passengers. Accused-appellant gave the bag to Labita without question. Afterwards, Labita returned the bag to accused-appellant who did not know that certain things from the bag were already missing. According to accused-appellant, these were a pair of pants and a jacket. The owner of the bag, one of the passengers, came to see him for the missing bag. He gave back the bag with the missing articles. When the owner found out that there were items missing in his bag he became angry with accused-appellant. However, despite this, he did not inform the owner of the cause of the lost.

Accused-appellant told his brother Joaquin about this incident. His brother got angry upon learning about it and advised him to go to Dulag. Accused-appellant testified that after Labita returned the bag to him he never saw him again.

Accused-appellant declared that he came to know that Joaquin stabbed Labita to death when he visited him in jail, four (4) days after the occurrence.[14] He further averred that he never left Dulag after he was advised by Joaquin to go home. He was apprehended only on 2 March 1994, at Manlurip, San Jose.[15]

Accused-appellant testified that Joaquin never told him that he was included in the charge even while the latter was at the Abuyog Penal Colony or even after he was paroled.

On 20 November 1995, the trial court[16] rendered judgment convicting the appellant of the crime charged. The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused RENATO PLATILLA guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder as defined and penalized under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code and there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstance to offset the same, the Court hereby sentences said accused to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and to reimburse the heirs of the said victim the consequential damages suffered by them as a result of the death of Cesario Labita. Furthermore, the accused is hereby ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the amount of P50,000.00 by way of moral damages and to pay the costs.[17]
Accused-appellant thereafter interposed the present appeal to this Court, assigning this lone error:
In support of the above contention, accused-appellant argues that from the reading of the testimony of Eduardo Andalahao it is doubtful if he really saw the stabbing of Labita. He also puts up the defense of alibi and denies having participated in the commission of the crime. He maintains that his delayed arrest and the lack of interest of the police to apprehend him weaken the prosecution's theory regarding his involvement in the killing of Labita. Finally, he asserts that he should be made liable only for homicide and not for the higher offense of murder since the prosecution failed to establish the presence of evident premeditation in the commission of the crime.

The Office of the Solicitor General, on the other hand, contends that the prosecution has clearly established the guilt of accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Moreover, the unwavering and unqualified testimony of prosecution witness Eduardo Andalahao clearly established appellant's culpability.

We affirm the conviction of the accused but only for the crime of Homicide.

Appellant assails the credibility of prosecution witness Eduardo Andalahao. He disputes that Andalahao could not have been a real eyewitness to the killing of Labita because while the physical evidence shows that the victim suffered from so many wounds (16 stabs), Andalahao merely mentioned that Labita was stabbed only twice, once each by appellant and Joaquin. The testimony of Andalahao belies this averment. Andalahao, the lone eyewitness for the prosecution, testified in clear and unequivocal terms that he saw both appellant and his brother Joaquin help each other in wounding Labita, to wit:
Q: You said you used the road passing Cocacola plant, on your way, was there an unusual incident that happened?
A: Yes, on our way home.
Q: What was this unusual incident?
A: Renato Platilla ran after us carrying a long bolo locally known as Sundang.
Q: How do you know that you were being chased by Renato Platilla who was carrying a long bolo?
A: Because we were the only ones who passed.
Q: How far were you when you saw Renato Platilla carrying a long bolo and chasing you?
A: About 10 meters more or less away.
 Was Renato Platilla able to catch up with you?
A: No, your Honor, because Cesario Labita jumped from the pedicab.
x x x
Q: When Cesario Labita jumped from the pedicab, how far was Renato Platilla who was chasing him?
A: He was further away already. He could have been very far if Renato's older brother did not block the way.
x x x
Q: Will you tell the Court why Joaquin Platilla blocked the way of Cesario Labita?
Cesario was running towards another pedicab which was parked and Joaquin was the driver of said pedicab. When Cesario passed the place where Joaquin was, he was the first one to stab Cesing.
Q: With (sic) what kind of weapon was used in stabbing Cesario Labita by Joaquin?
A: Sundang, the same weapon, a long bolo or Sundang.
x x x
Q: That time when Cesario Labita was stabbed by Joaquin Platilla, how far was Renato Platilla?
A: He was running towards them.
Q: How far was he during the stabbing of Cesario Labita?
A: Before the long bolo embedded into the body of Cesario was taken out, Renato also stabbed Cesario.
Q: With (sic) what kind of weapon was used by Renato in stabbing Cesario?
A: Sundang, a long bolo, the same long bolo as the other one.
Q: What part of the body of Cesario was hit when Renato hit Cesario?
A: On the side through and through.
Q: Why do you say through and through, did you see the tip of the bolo?
A: Yes, Sir. Before the same long bolo was taken out from the body of the victim, the three of them fell to the ditch.
Q: When the three of them fell to the ditch, do you know what happened?
A: The two helped each other in wounding the victim.[19]
It is evident from the foregoing declarations of Andalahao that accused-appellant and Joaquin dealt much more than two (2) stab blows on the victim, and, this is consistent with the findings on Labita's death certificate[20] and the medico-legal necropsy report.[21] The medico-legal necropsy report submitted by Major Angel A. Cordero, Chief Medico-Legal Officer of Camp Sec. Ruperto Kangleon, PC Hills, Palo, Leyte, indicated that the contusions, lacerations and stabbed wounds found on the body of the deceased corresponded with Andalahao's narration of how the accused had acted together in attacking the victim; viz:
  1. Incised wound, mid forehead, vertical in appearance measuring 8 cms in length, 1cm in width, with exposure of the skull.

  2. Incised wound, right cheek, measuring 5 x 4 x 2 cms AML.

  3. Abrasion, left mandibular region, 10 cms in length.

  4. Punctured wound, upper third of the left arm, measuring 1 x 1 cms, muscle deep.

  5. Abrasion, left side of the anterior chest measuring 9 cms in length.

  6. Abrasion, at the lower portion of the left heart measuring 2 cms in length.

  7. Stab wound, lower portion of the left chest, anterior, at the level of the 7th ICS, measuring 2 x 1 x 4 AML, 10 cms in depth, puncturing the lower lobe of the left lung.

  8. Stab wound, through from the left lateral side of the neck to the left part of the base of the skull, measuring 2 x 1 x 3 cms PML.

  9. Stab wound, at the lateral chest, at the left 7th ICS, of the chest, measuring 4 x 2 x 14 cms AML, 11 cms in depth, directed laterally and superiorly puncturing the left lung and the pericardial sac.

  10. Stab wound, right thigh, measuring 7 x 2 cms, through from the anterior to the posterior part of the right thigh at its middle third.

  11. Lacerated wound, left patellar bone, measuring 4 cms exposing the left patella.

  12. Stab wound, right infrascapular region, measuring 2 x 2 x 4 PML, 10 cms in depth, directed inwards and anteriorly puncturing the upper lobe of the right lung.

  13. Stab wound, basal posterior of the skull, left part measuring 2 x 2 x 2 cms PML, exposing the skull.

  14. Stab wound, left portion of the chest, left anterior of the chest, left anterior measuring 2 x 2 x 4 cms AML, directed lateralwards puncturing the left lung lower lobe.

  15. Lacerated wound, small finger, middle finger, left hand.

  16. There were around 1,000 c.c. of blood clots at the thoracic cavity.
Shock and hemorrhage due to multiple stab wounds of the chest, anterior portion puncturing the heart and lungs.[22]

As borne by the records, Andalahao was able to fully witness the commission of the crime from start to finish. From his vantage point, he could clearly see what was going on:
Q: How far were you when this stabbing incident occurred? Can you point the place here from where you are standing?
 From the witness stand to the opposite door of the window inside the courtroom measuring 7 to 8 meters away.
Q: Why that far only?
A: When the pedicab stopped, they were just across.
Q: You mean the pedicab you were riding continued to drive because you were holding the driver's handle?
A: Yes, Sir.[23]
Since he was just across the street where the crime was committed he was able to identify Labita's assailants. He further testified that he knew accused-appellant and his brother even before the stabbing incident took place, thus:
Q: Do you know the name of that older brother?
A: Joaquin.
Q: You seem to know Renato Platilla and Joaquin Platilla, will you tell the court why?
A: This Renato Platilla usually visit (sic) our barangay.
Q: That was before this incident happened?
A: Yes, Sir.[24]
The stenographic transcript shows that Andalahao did not waiver on the stand regarding what he saw on that fateful day. His testimony was replete with all the details establishing how the offense was perpetrated. Based on the foregoing, the trial court correctly gave weight and credence to the testimony of prosecution witness Andalahao.

Moreover, settled in this jurisdiction is the doctrine that the Court accords great respect to the factual findings of the trial court, which is in a better position than an appellate court to properly evaluate testimonial evidence, such as observing directly the witnesses' deportment and manner of testifying, absent any palpable error or arbitrariness in their findings.[25] After carefully examining the records of the case, we the find no reason to depart from this principle.

Likewise, the Court has already determined that the testimony of a single eyewitness is sufficient to support a conviction, so long as it is clear, straightforward and worthy of credence by the trial court,[26] as in this case. Witnesses are to be weighed, not numbered.[27] Nowhere is it required that the testimony of a witness be corroborated for it to be credible.[28]

At any rate, it does not change the fact that Andalahao witnessed a crime that day and that he saw accused-appellant Renato as one of those who committed it. This witness saw the incident from a distance of about 7 to 8 meters.[29] He knew accused-appellant very well, and he recognized him easily on the day in question.[30]

Finally, it was not shown that witness Andalahao had any motive to testify falsely against accused-appellant. Absent any evidence showing any reason or motive for prosecution witness to perjure, the logical conclusion is that no such improper motive exists, and his testimony is thus worthy of full faith and credit.[31]

Against the detailed and impartial testimony of the witness for the prosecution accused-appellant interposed the defense of alibi. According to him, at the time of the commission of the offense on 9 September 1988, he was working in the farm of a certain Wilfredo Dasugbo. However, he did not present Wilfredo Dasugbo or any other witness to confirm his testimony. Thus, his alibi stood uncorroborated. For this reason, we brush aside his defense.

Alibi is always considered with suspicion and received with caution, not only because it is inherently weak and unreliable, but also because it is easily fabricated and concocted.[32] Alibi is a weak defense and it should be rejected when the identity of the accused was sufficiently and positively established by an eyewitness to the offense.[33] Andalahao's testimony gave a complete account of the killing of Labita, and positively identified accused-appellant as one of the perpetrators of the crime. This testimony definitely cannot be overcome by a self-serving declaration of accused-appellant which was not even corroborated by any other evidence. As consistently enunciated by this Court, the established doctrine is that, for the defense of alibi to prosper, the accused must prove, not only that he was at some other place at the time of the commission of the crime, but also that it was physically impossible for him to be at the locus delicti or within its immediate vicinity.[34] While accused-appellant testified that he was in Dulag, Leyte at the time of the commission of the offense, his testimony is bereft of any explanation that it was physically impossible for him to be present at the scene of the crime. Therefore, his alibi cannot prosper against the positive identification of Andalahao that he was one of the perpetrators of the crime.

In order to exculpate himself, accused-appellant also claims that he was implicated in the killing of Labita because he had an altercation with the deceased regarding a bag which was left by one of his passengers in his pedicab. The trial court refused to believe the allegation of accused-appellant on this matter. According to the trial court, accused-appellant's reasoning that he gave the bag to Labita because of the latter's representation that he knew the owner of the bag was not convincing, considering that Labita did not even mention the name of the owner to accused-appellant. The trial court held that there was no cogent or compelling reason for accused-appellant to surrender the bag to Labita. We sustain the ruling of the trial court. The actuation of accused-appellant in giving the bag to Labita without question is not in accord with human nature. No person in his right mind would give someone else's belongings to another person upon the latter's request without inquiring why he was asking for it. The only logical conclusion is that accused-appellant's testimony is false and should not be given faith and credit.

Accused-appellant makes much of the argument that lack of interest of the police in pursuing him weakened the theory of the prosecution. This contention is untenable. As correctly pointed out by the Solicitor-General, the apparent inefficiency of the authorities does not make accused-appellant innocent or less guilty; neither does it demolish the case of the prosecution.[35] The lack of interest on the part of the police in pursuing accused-appellant has no connection whatsoever on his guilt or innocence. It has no bearing on the case at all. The positive identification of accused-appellant as one of the culprits by the witness for the prosecution is all that matters. Whatever incompetence may be ascribed to the police does not alter this fact.

For his final argument, accused-appellant asserts that if found guilty, he should only be made liable for the crime of homicide and not for the higher offense of murder. He claims that the prosecution failed to prove the existence of the qualifying circumstances of evident premeditation. On this score, we agree with accused-appellant. The presence of evident premeditation in the commission of the crime was not established by the prosecution. Thus, it was an error on the part of the trial court to consider this qualifying circumstance in raising the killing to murder. The trial court merely relied on the contention of the prosecution that evident premeditation attended the killing without explaining the basis for such a conclusion. This cannot be allowed.

In order to establish evident premeditation the prosecution must show the following requisites, viz: (a) the time when the accused determined to commit the crime, (b) an act manifestly indicating that the accused has clung to his determination, and (c) a lapse of time, between the determination to commit the crime and the execution thereof, sufficient to allow him to reflect upon the consequences of his act.[36] In the case at bar, there is no evidence as to when and how accused-appellant planned and prepared for the killing of his victim. There is no act indicating that accused-appellant persisted in his plan. Nor is there any evidence of the lapse of time between the determination and execution of the same. Evident premeditation cannot be appreciated to qualify the killing to murder in the absence of direct evidence showing the planning and preparations in killing the victim,[37] as in the case at bar. Thus, accused-appellant should only be convicted for homicide under Article 249[38] of the Revised Penal Code.

What was actually established by the evidence of the prosecution was the aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength. As regards this aggravating circumstance, what should be considered is not that there were three, four or more assailants as against one victim, but whether the aggressors took advantage of their combined strength in order to consummate the offense.[39] It is, therefore, necessary to show that the attackers cooperated in such a way as to secure advantage of their superiority in strength. In the case at bar, not only was there a greater number of assailants with deadly weapons, but the aggressors obviously took advantage of their combined strength when they took turns in stabbing the victim who was unarmed. The number of stab wounds sustained by Labita confirm this.

Be that as it may, abuse of superior strength cannot qualify the killing to murder. While the information charged the accused with murder, it contained no allegation of abuse of superior strength. A qualifying aggravating circumstance, being an integral part of the offense, must be alleged in the information; otherwise, it is a generic aggravating circumstance only.[40] Accordingly, since abuse of superior strength was not alleged in the information, it must be treated only as a generic aggravating circumstance.

The penalty for Homicide in the Revised Penal Code is reclusion temporal. There being one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance, the maximum imposable penalty should be reclusion temporal maximum. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum imposable penalty is any period within the penalty next lower, which is prision mayor.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appealed Decision is MODIFIED. Appellant is hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of homicide. He is SENTENCED to serve ten (10) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to seventeen (17) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum. The civil indemnity of P50,000.00 is AFFIRMED.


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

[1] Original Records, p. 1.

[2] Id., at 58.

[3] Id.

[4] TSN, January 3,1995, p.6.

[5] Original Records, p. 58.

[6] The prosecution presented the following as its witnesses: Eduardo Andalahao, SPO3 Nestor Manocsoc and Encarnacion Labita.

[7] TSN, July 19,1994, p. 4.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Id., at 5.

[10] Id., at 6.

[11] Id.

[12] TSN, July 19,1994, pp. 10-11

[13] TSN, January 3, 1995, p. 2.

[14] Id., at 6.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Presided by Judge Walerico B. Butalid

[17] Original Records, p. 65.

[18] See Appellant's Brief, p. 7, Rollo, p. 47

[19] TSN, July 19, 1994, pp. 3-6 (underscoring added).

[20] Exhibit A, Original Records, p. 5.

[21] Exhibit B, Original Records, p. 6.

[22] Original Records, p. 6.

[23] TSN, July 19, 1994, p. 5.

[24] Id., at 4.

[25] People v. Gargar, et al., G.R. 110029-30, December 29, 1998, citing People v. Zamora, 278 SCRA 60 (1997).

[26] People v. Villanueva, 284 SCRA 501, 509 (1998) citing People v. de Roxas 241 SCRA 369 (1995).

[27] Id., citing People v. Rayray, 241 SCRA 1 (1995).

[28] Id., at 509.

[29] TSN, July 19, 1994, p. 5.

[30] Id., at 4.

[31] People v. Agunias, 279 SCRA 52, 65 (1997) citing People v. Malazarte, 261 SCRA 482 (1996).

[32] People v. Gargar, supra note 25, p. 9, citing People v. Salvador, 279 SCRA 693 (1997).

[33] People v. Ballesteros, 285 SCRA 439 (1998); People v. Ravanes, 284 SCRA 634 (1998).

[34] People v. Galapin, et. al, G.R. No. 124215, July 31, 1998; People v. Cawaling, et al., G.R. No. 117970, July 28, 1998; People v. Aranjuez, 285 SCRA 466 (1998); People v. Ravanes, 284 SCRA 634 (1998); People v. Baydo, 273 SCRA 526 (1997).

[35] See Appellee's Brief, p. 15, Rollo, p. 47

[36] People v. Cawaling, et al., G.R. No. 117970, July 28, 1998, citing People v. Magsombol, 252 SCRA 187 (1996).

[37] People v. Salvador, 279 SCRA 164, 178 citing People v. Ganzagan, Jr., 247 SCRA 220 (1995).

[38] Article 249. Homicide. - Any person, not falling within the provisions of Article 246 shall kill another without the attendance of any of the circumstances enumerated in the next preceding article, shall be deemed guilty of homicide and be punished by reclusion temporal.

[39] People v. Gelera, 277 SCRA 450, 459 citing People v. Flores, 40 SCRA 230 (1971).

[40] People v. Valeriano, 226 SCRA 694 (1993); People v. Entes, 103 SCRA 162 (1981).

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