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460 Phil. 727


[ G.R. No. 134563, October 28, 2003 ]




Early in the evening of November 25, 1996, Julio Clapano and Absalon Tedlos attended the double wedding of Catalino Wario and his son Simeon at Sitio Bandera, Barangay Oguis, Initao, Misamis Oriental. Francisco Dala cooked food for the occasion. Julio, Absalon and Francisco drank tuba with the guests. Francisco even served food to Julio and Absalon.

At about 7:00 p.m., Julio and Absalon decided to go home, and so did Francisco and his wife Rotelia. Francisco held a kitchen knife in its scabbard on his left hand and a flashlight on his right hand. He and his wife Rotelia were quarreling as they walked. Francisco cursed his wife, thus: "You devil wife, beware if I catch you." Rotelia left her husband and walked past Julio and Absalon. Francisco was then behind Julio and Absalon by about seven arms' length.

Julio and Absalon were in high spirits as they crossed the creek, and held each other's hand as they walked. Momentarily, Francisco told Julio and Absalon to stop. They did so and faced Francisco. The latter directed his flashlight towards the two. Absalon greeted Francisco, "Brade." Julio followed suit and greeted Francisco, "Noy." Francisco suddenly unsheathed the kitchen knife he was holding and stabbed Absalon on the right side of the chest. Absalon fled to a distance of about ten meters and then fell to the ground. Julio fled for his life, leaving Francisco behind in hot pursuit. Julio managed to elude Francisco and rushed to the house of Absalon's brother and narrated the incident.

Dr. Concepcion Banogon, Senior Resident Physician of the Initao District Hospital, signed Absalon's certificate of death, where she stated that the victim died of cardio-respiratory arrest due to a stab wound on the right armpit and anterior chest.[1]

Francisco was charged with murder in an Information filed with the Regional Trial Court of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 25, the accusatory portion of which reads:
That on or about 7:00 o'clock in the evening of November 25, 1996, in Bandera, Oguis, Initao, Misamis Oriental, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill and with treachery, evident premeditation and taking advantage of darkness, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, stab and wounded one ABSALON TEDLOS, thereby inflicting stab wound right armpit and anterior chest, causing his instantaneous death.

CONTARY TO and in violation of Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to R.A. 7659.[2]
On his arraignment, Francisco assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty.

Francisco admitted killing his second cousin Absalon but claimed that he did so in self-defense. He testified that he and his wife Rotelia were on their way home. Francisco walked ahead, carrying a flashlight, a ramie bag and a bolo which he used to butcher pigs. Momentarily, he saw Absalon and Julio hiding behind banana plants. Absalon was holding a pocket-sized bottle of tanduay rhum, while Julio was holding a stick. When Francisco walked past them, he heard Julio say: "Here comes the toughie, Noy." Absalon suddenly emerged from the shrubs and attempted to hit Francisco on the head, even as Absalon muttered: "you are a tough animal." Francisco moved backwards, and was able to evade the thrust. When Absalon attempted to hit Francisco anew with the same bottle, Francisco stabbed Absalon with his bolo on the left nipple. Julio attempted to strike Francisco with the wooden stick but ran away when Francisco faced him. Julio stumbled three times as he fled.

Francisco passed by the house of the barangay captain and proceeded to the house of Absalon where he told the latter's wife to retrieve the body of her husband from the creek because he, Francisco, had just stabbed him. The next day, he surrendered to the police authorities at Initao in the company of the barangay captain and a kagawad.

After due proceedings, the trial court rendered judgment finding Francisco guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
Wherefore, premises considered, this Court hereby finds the accused Francisco Dala GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder as principal with the qualifying circumstance of treachery without any aggravating circumstances but with the attendance of the mitigating circumstances of voluntary surrender and plea of guilt and sentences the accused to a penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA pursuant to Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by R.A. 7659 in relation to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code and to indemnify Antonina Tiglos (sic) and Rufino Tiglos (sic) the sum of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) and to pay moral damages in the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) and to pay Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) as burial expenses and costs.

Aggrieved, Francisco appealed from the decision.[4] He asserts in this Court that the trial court erred in not acquitting him on his plea of self-defense. He contends that he adduced sufficient proof that he acted in self-defense when he stabbed Absalon. He avers that even on the assumption that he is criminally liable for Absalon's death, he is guilty only of homicide and not of murder, absent proof of treachery.

The appeal is without merit.

Case law has it that where the accused interposes the justifying circumstance of self-defense, he is burdened to prove with clear and convincing evidence the confluence of the following essential elements:
(1) there must be unlawful aggression by the victim;
(2) that the means employed to prevent or repel such aggression were reasonable; and
(3) that there was lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself.[5]
The accused must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of that of the prosecution because if the accused fails to discharge his burden, the evidence of the prosecution can no longer be disbelieved.[6] Unlawful aggression is a sudden and unexpected attack or an imminent danger thereof, and not merely a threatening or an intimidating attitude.[7] Absent unlawful aggression, no self-defense, complete or incomplete, may be successfully pleaded.[8] A plea of self-defense cannot be justifiably appreciated in favor of the accused where it is not only corroborated by independent and competent evidence but is also extremely doubtful by itself.[9]

The appellant failed to prove his defense with the requisite quantum of evidence. The only evidence adduced by the appellant to prove his defense is his testimony which is tenuous and implausible, if not discordant.

The appellant, by his testimony, would want the Court to believe that Absalon, armed with a pocket-sized bottle of tanduay rhum, suddenly emerged from behind the banana plants and attempted to hit him on the head with the bottle, but that the appellant managed to evade the thrust. The appellant also asserts that he was able to parry the hands of the victim, and when the latter tried, for the second time, to hit the appellant with the bottle, the appellant stabbed him with his bolo on the left side of the chest. However, the appellant testified that the victim tried to hit him for the second time with the bottle, and it was then that he was able to parry the hand of the victim, thus:
How many times did Absalon Tedlos try to strike you with the bottle?
Absalon Tedlos struck me two times with the bottle during that time.

And with the second time strike, you were not also hit?
Yes, because I was able to parry his hands.

So, in short, you were never hit by any of the strikes of Mr. Tedlos?
Yes, because I was able to parry his second strike. [10]
There is no evidence on record that the victim tried to hit the appellant for the third time. The only reason why he stabbed the victim with his bolo was because the latter, not Julio, blocked his way:
What was your reason then why you killed Absalon Tedlos at that particular date and time?
If they have not blocked my way, I could not kill him.

That was the only reason why you stabbed him?
I only acted in self-defense because there were two of them, and I have overdone it.

Why? You lose control of yourself?
Yes, because we were at the creek, and I cannot run. [11]
The appellant failed to adduce evidence of any improper motive on the part of Julio, to compel the latter to prevaricate and ascribe to the appellant the commission of a felony punishable by death or a long prison term. Absent such evidence of ill motive, the logical conclusion is that, no improper motive exists, and his testimony is, thus, worthy of full faith and credit.[12]

Moreover, the trial court gave credence and full probative weight to the testimony of Julio. Having observed at close range, the deportment, conduct and demeanor of Julio and the appellant when they testified, the findings of the trial court, its calibration of the testimonial evidence of the parties and its assessment and probative weight of the said evidence were all accorded by the appellate court high respect, if not conclusive effect.[13]

On the third assignment of error, we agree with the trial court that the appellant killed the victim with treachery. Although the appellant attacked the victim frontally, the attack was sudden and unexpected, without giving the victim any opportunity to repel the attack or offer any defense especially since the victim was unarmed.[14]

Under Republic Act No. 7659, the penalty for murder is reclusion perpetua to death. The appellant has in his favor the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender. Hence, the trial court correctly sentenced the appellant to reclusion perpetua, conformably to Article 63 of the Revised Penal Code.

IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 25, is AFFIRMED in toto. Costs against the appellant.


Bellosillo, (Chairman), Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Tinga, JJ., concur

[1] Exhibit "B," Records, p. 12.

[2] Records, p. 2.

[3] Records, pp. 140-141.

[4] Penned by Judge Noli T. Catli.

[5] People vs. Sanchez, 308 SCRA 264 (1999).

[6] Ibid.

[7] People vs. Janairo, 311 SCRA 58 (1999).

[8] People vs. Antonio, 303 SCRA 414 (1999).

[9] People vs. Janairo, supra.

[10] TSN, 5 May 1997, p. 10 (Dala).

[11] Id. at 7-8.

[12] People vs. Galam, 325 SCRA 489 (2000).

[13] Ibid.

[14] People vs. Cual, 327 SCRA 623 (2000).

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