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452 Phil. 386


[ G.R. No. 135857, June 18, 2003 ]




For automatic review is the decision[1] dated March 12, 1998, of the Regional Trial Court of Borongan, Eastern Samar, Branch 2, convicting appellant Adriano Arca in Criminal Case No. 10866, for the murder of Rommel Godornez.  Appellant was sentenced to death, as well as to indemnify the victim's heirs in the sum of P50,000, and to pay the costs.

Appellant was charged under the Information dated July 17, 1997, as follows:
That on July 16, 1997, at about 9:00 o'clock in the morning, at Barangay Maypangdan, Borongan, Eastern Samar, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill and with evident premeditation and treachery, and without justifiable cause, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, stab and wound ROMMEL GODORNEZ[2] with the use of a sharp pointed weapon (Dipang) which the accused provided himself for the purpose, thereby inflicting injuries upon the latter, which injuries caused the direct death of the victim, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the victim.

Upon arraignment on September 25, 1997,[4] appellant pleaded not guilty.  Trial ensued thereafter.

The prosecution presented the following as witnesses: Donald Arnulfo, Reynaldo Afable, Susan Agda, and Milagros Godornez, mother of the victim.  Rebuttal witnesses, Sofronio Obina and Romeo Arca, were later presented.

DR. EDGARDO E. JUABAN, examining physician at the Eastern Samar Provincial Hospital, issued the post mortem examination (autopsy) report, to which the defense offered no objection when presented.  The report reads: (1) stab wound 1.5 cm length with clean cut edges located at 5th ICS (R) directed posteriorly and medially penetrating (R) lung and main pulmonary blood vessel with massive hemothorax; (2) incised wound 2 cm. length located (L) forearm medial aspect 0.5 cm. deep.  Cause of death: Cardio-pulmonary arrest secondary to hypovolemic shock with massive blood loss from stab wound at (R) anterior chest with direct injury to the (R) lung and pulmonary blood vessel.

DONALD ARNULFO ALIDO, a 33-year-old resident of Borongan, Eastern Samar,[5] testified that on July 16, 1997, at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, he was at the victim's house when the stabbing incident occurred.  He was then eating breakfast with Bolaw Alde and Maria Agda in the company of the victim, Rommel Godornez.[6]  They were there on the occasion of the barrio fiesta.  The witness claimed that he was about one meter away from the doorway so he got a good look at what happened on the street outside.  He saw that appellant, Adriano Arca, came from a house located behind that of the victim's.  The victim, who had just left the house for school, was suddenly stabbed by appellant at the back, hitting the victim by the right arm and right breast. He added that he saw appellant attack Rommel once but perhaps because the latter tried to parry the blows, he was also hit in the arm. The victim then ran towards their house where he was met by the witness, Donald, who brought him to the hospital.[7]

Police Officer REYNALDO AFABLE, a resident of Barangay Maypangdan, Borongan, testified that a barangay tanod went over to his house and informed him of the stabbing.  In response, he went to the scene of the crime and began questioning the people in the area who might have seen who the malefactor.  When told that it was Adriano Arca who stabbed the victim, he immediately ran after appellant, who still had in hand the bolo, locally called depang, used in the stabbing.  Appellant released the bolo and scabbard he was holding, and surrendered without a fight.  Witness Afable said he brought appellant to the police station.[8]

In answer to clarificatory questions by the trial court, witness Afable recalled that it was Kagawad Ipe[9] who went over to his house and informed him of the stabbing.  Kagawad Ipe went asking for help, saying that somebody, armed with a deadly weapon, was running amuck and had already stabbed someone.  When Afable got to the place, he saw the victim bleeding from a stab wound and the appellant still holding a bloodied depang.  Appellant tried to hide but Afable gave chase.  Eventually, appellant surrendered without any incident.[10]

SUSAN AGDA, aunt of the victim, testified that on July 16, 1997 at around 9:00 A.M., she was at her house together with her nephew, victim Rommel Godornez.  She was outside her house, one-half meter  more or less away from the doorway, handing out fare money to Rommel, who was then on his way to ROTC training.  She said she saw appellant from the back of the house, holding a bolo in hand, and was about to stab Rommel.  Then she saw appellant hit her nephew with the bolo.  At that point, she ran towards the house of Kagawad Ipe Suyap, who lives only a fence away from her house.

MILAGROS GODORNEZ,[11] mother of the victim, was presented by the prosecution to prove damages.  She testified that her son was turning 17 years old at the time of his death.  He was a first year Civil Engineering student at the Eastern Samar State College.  He was a full-time student when he passed away.[12]

The defense presented as its first witness, ROBERTO ARCA, the 11-year-old brother of appellant Adriano Arca. Roberto testified that in the morning of July 16, 1997, at about 9:00 o'clock, he was walking home with his brother, the appellant, when they bumped into Romeo Arca, their cousin, whom he called "Mano Romy."   Appellant was drunk.  He recalled that out of the blue, Mano Romy manhandled appellant, who fell down. The deceased, Rommel Godornez, arrived and tried to pacify his Mano Romy.  But Mano Romy, according to the witness, stabbed Rommel with a depang.  He said that he was three meters away from the protagonists and could clearly see what was going on.  According to the witness, Rommel was hit in the right breast.  His brother, Adriano Arca, was still prostrate on the ground when the stabbing occurred.  Mano Romy then fled, leaving the depang behind, said Roberto.  When the police arrived, according to Roberto, it was his brother, herein appellant, who got arrested.[13]

Appellant ADRIANO ARCA was presented as the last witness to testify for the defense. He corroborated the testimony of his brother, Roberto Arca, on all material points. He contradicted the statements of all the prosecution witnesses.

He denied knowing either the prosecution witnesses Arnulfo Alido, Susan Agda, SPO1 Renato Afable, or the victim Rommel Godornez. He testified that he went to barangay Maypangdan the day before the incident, together with his brother, Roberto. They took a motorized tricycle and reached the place at around three o'clock p.m. They visited their uncle, Armando Cartago, and drank gin with other companions until around six o'clock p.m. Then they went to enjoy a local dance, after which they went back to his uncle's house. They spent the night there, and they left at seven o'clock the next morning. Although appellant felt inebriated, he and his brother walked back home to Barangay Cagbunga. On their way home they came across Romeo Arca, their first-degree cousin. Without any warning, Romeo punched the appellant four times in the chest area, causing the appellant to suffer much pain. The severity of the pain coupled with his drunken stupor made him fall to the ground and become unaware of the occurrences around him. All the appellant remembered afterwards was that he was brought to the PNP Office for investigation regarding the death of Rommel Godornez. He denied ever having owned or possessed a depang.[14]

SOFRONIO OBINA, a 39-year-old resident of Brgy. Maypangdan, testified on rebuttal for the prosecution. He claimed that appellant is related to his wife while the victim is his neighbor.  In the morning of July 16, 1997, at around 9:00 A.M., he said he was sitting outside his "sari-sari" store when the stabbing took place.  He saw appellant Adriano Arca, staggering along the street.  According to Sofronio, he did not see Romeo Arca punch appellant.  But he saw appellant Adriano Arca in possession of the depang. When the police arrived, he saw appellant slid the depang into its scabbard, and then promptly threw the weapon away.  It was the police who picked up the weapon, and thereafter arrested appellant.[15]

ROMEO ARCA also testified as rebuttal witness for the prosecution.  He said that the victim, Rommel Godornez, was  his wife's nephew who lived with his family.  He added that appellant, Adriano Arca, is his cousin. According to the witness, he was going out of his house to attend mass when the stabbing occurred.  He denied punching appellant.  He said the boy who was presented as "defense witness," Roberto Arca, was nowhere around when the stabbing happened.  It was appellant, said the witness, whom he saw holding a depang.  The witness added he was about 15 meters away when appellant was arrested by the police.[16]

On March 12, 1998, the trial court rendered its decision finding appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder, thus:
WHEREFORE, and in view of the foregoing, the Court finds the accused, Adriano Arca, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder defined and penalized under Art. 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. No. 7659.  And there being an aggravating circumstance of treachery, the accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of DEATH.  He is hereby ordered, further, to indemnify the heirs of Rommel Godornez the sum of P50,000; and to pay the costs.

Hence, this automatic review. Appellant now assigns the following errors:



Stated simply the issues presented before us pertain to the credibility of prosecution witnesses and the sufficiency of evidence to convict the appellant of murder beyond reasonable doubt.

Appellant contends that treachery cannot be appreciated against him because there was sufficient showing that the blows were frontal, thus negating averments that the attack against the victim was sudden.  He further claims that from their respective vantage points, the witnesses did not have an opportunity to know what transpired prior to the killing, considering that at that time of the incident the victim was already out on the street and on his way to ROTC.  He adds that the witnesses could not have known whether or not an altercation previously ensued before the attack, implying thereby that the attack was provoked by a verbal dispute.  Finally, appellant assails the credibility of the testimony of the prosecution witnesses, pointing out that their testimonies are inconsistent and contradictory.

For the appellee, the Office of the Solicitor General contends that the victim was not aware of the impending attack, because he had his back to the appellant when he was stabbed, hence there was treachery.  Moreover, said the OSG, appellant is unable to point out with specificity the alleged inconsistent testimonies of prosecution witnesses.  Citing the case of People v. Calayca,[19] the OSG submits that an affirmative allegation requires proof to be accepted by the court.  Appellant's failure to substantiate his claim of inconsistent testimonies makes his defense untenable, concludes the OSG.

The trial court found the testimonies of prosecution witnesses credible.  On this point, we are in agreement.  As elucidated by the presiding judge, Celso F. Lorenzo, Sr., they corroborate each other on material points, in a logical fashion.  Further, Judge Lorenzo concluded that treachery qualified the offense based on the sworn testimonies of Donald Arnulfo Alido and Susan Agda, the eyewitnesses to the stabbing incident.

The main defense of appellant is bare denial and finger-pointing.  He points to a third person as the perpetrator of the killing.  Relying on the testimony of his 11-year-old brother, Roberto, he names Romeo Arca as the knife-wielder.  Rebuttal witnesses, however, contradicted Roberto's testimony.

Bare denials of appellant cannot be accorded greater evidentiary weight than the positive declarations of credible witnesses who testify on affirmative matters.[20]  The trial court found the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses straightforward and credible.  As first-hand accounts, the testimonies of the two eyewitnesses, Alido and Agda, adequately established the fact of the killing and the identity of the killer.  They concur in pointing to appellant, and no other, as the person who committed the crime.

Well established is the rule that the findings of the trial court as to the credibility of the witnesses and the probative value of their testimonies deserve great weight for the trial judge had the opportunity to observe the manner by which the testimonies are given and could see any tell tale sign of a coached or rehearsed account.[21]

In this case, no ill motive was imputed against the eyewitnesses for implicating appellant in a grave offense. The defense raised no plausible reason why the witnesses for the prosecution would lie or invent scenarios against him.  The rule is settled that where there is nothing to indicate that a witness was actuated by improper motives, his positive and categorical declarations on the witness stand, made under solemn oath, should be given full faith and credence.[22]  It defies reason for the relatives of the deceased to insist on appellant's guilt if indeed another person committed the crime.  Human nature tells us that the aggrieved relatives would want the real killer punished for their loss, and not accept a mere scapegoat to take the rap for the real malefactor.

We note that barrio Maypangdan was celebrating its fiesta at the time of the stabbing.  The testimony of 11-year-old Roberto Arca that the streets were deserted when his "Mano Romy" (Romeo Arca), rather than the appellant, allegedly stabbed the victim, Rommel, does not inspire belief.  The boy would naturally wish to exculpate his brother, the appellant.  But the boy's tale appears rather tall, in the light of his cross-examination, wherein he testified thus:
Q: Before your brother was castigated by Romy Arca did they have any exchange of words?
A: No, sir.
x x x
Q: And after Adriano Arca fell down to the ground, it was the time that Rommel Gordonez arrived, correct?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: From where did Rommel Gordonez[23] come?
A: From the direction of the other person who was just nearby, sir.

And how far was that another person where they came from to where your brother Adriano fall down?

A: From where I am seated to the stair of the justice building which is more or less 20 meters, sir.
Q: Was that person from where Rommel Gordonez came from alone?
A: Yes, sir, he was alone.

And that person kept on standing that place where he was when Rommel Gordonez left?

A: Yes, sir.
Q: And I assume that there was a sort of quarrel happening he must be looking at you at the place where you were?
A: Yes, sir.
x x x
Q: Can you more or less estimate how many minutes was that from the stabbing up to the time the policeman arrived?
A: More or less two (2) minutes, sir. (Underscoring supplied).[24]
From the foregoing, we are led to believe there was a person, other than the boy, who allegedly witnessed the entire incident.  This person was allegedly standing a mere 20 meters away from the crime scene, and could have seen who stabbed whom.  Yet, appellant and his defense counsel made no effort to know who he was and then present him in court.  We can only conclude that either his testimony would be fatal to appellant's cause, or there is no such person to corroborate the boy's version of the incident.  Worse, the boy's version could only be a coached scenario to favor appellant.

Appellant's testimony on the boy's alleged trip to and presence in the barrio Maypangdan, the crime scene, is itself curious.  Thus:
Q: And there were other passengers in the tricycle who boarded with you in going to Brgy. Maypangdan?
A: Yes, sir. There were.
Q: Please name the passengers.
x x x
A: A certain Mano Jun Celada, sir.
Q: Who else who boarded on that tricycle?
A: Mano Vic Linggal, sir.
Q: What is his surname?
A: I do not know his full name, sir.
Q: And there were only two whom you remember who boarded with you in that tricycle going to Maypangdan?
A: Yes, sir. Mano June Celada was the driver.
x x x

There were six of us, including the driver, sir. So, there were five passengers.

Q: As you only knew one of the passengers by the name of Vic Linggal, you cannot recall the names of the other three passengers who boarded with you from Brgy. Cagbunga to Brgy. Maypangdan?
A: Yes, sir.
x x x
Q: And when you arrived at Maypangdan at approximately 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, where did you proceed?
A: I went to the house of my Uncle, sir.
Q: Who is that Uncle of yours?
A: Armando Cartago, sir.

Were you alone when you went to your Uncle Armando Cartago?

A: There were two of us, sir.
Q: Who was your companion?
A: My younger brother, Roberto Arca, sir.
Q: Where did you meet your younger brother Roberto Arca?
A: We were together when we left Brgy. Cagbunga, sir.
Q: But you did not mention him to be with you?
Atty. Limon:  
  That is argumentative, Your Honor.
Q: Why is it that you did not include the name of your brother as one of your co-passengers of that tricycle from Brgy. Cagbunga to Brgy. Maypangdan?
  The witness is thinking of what to answer.
Q: Now, the reason why you did not mention your brother as one of the passengers of that tricycle from Brgy. Cagbunga to Brgy. Maypangdan was he was not actually one of the passengers then?
A: He rode in that tricycle with me because we were together, sir. (Underscoring supplied).[25]
Appellant's account of his brother's alleged presence when the incident happened is far from convincing. The cited excerpts of appellant's own testimony and the testimony of his brother reflect poorly upon his credibility, and also upon the probative value of young Roberto's assertion that another person was the malefactor.  In contrast, the testimonies of eyewitnesses Donald Alido and Susan Agda are candid and straightforward that appellant had stabbed the victim.  Both deserve full faith and credence.

We now come to crucial issue of treachery as a qualifying circumstance.  Is there sufficient evidence to sustain the trial court's finding that treachery qualified the killing?

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.[26]  Appellant contends that the nature of the wounds sustained by the victim only shows that the attack was frontal, hence there was no treachery.  Nothing could be more fallacious.  Even a frontal attack could be treacherous when unexpected and on an unarmed victim who would be in no position to repel the attack or avoid it.[27]  Thus, we find that the trial court did not err in qualifying the killing as murder.

However, we find that the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender was not appreciated in favor of the appellant.  Prosecution witness PO Reynaldo Afable stated that appellant "surrendered."[28] PO Afable had intended to investigate the incident and "apprehend" the perpetrator of the stabbing but there was no arrest because in Afable's own words,[29] appellant "surrendered" himself as well as his bolo to the police officer.  Thus, on direct examination by Prosecutor Vicente Catudio, PO Afable testified as follows:
Q: As you urge him to surrender, did he surrender?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: And how about that small bolo he was bringing what happened to that bolo?
A: He surrendered the bolo, sir.
Q: I have here a small bolo, is this the same bolo he surrendered?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: You said he surrendered to you please inform the court who was the person who surrendered?
A: Adriano Arca, sir. (Witness pointing to a person seated at the front bench.)
Q: Is that Adriano Arca who surrendered a small bolo present in court now?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Please point to him if he is around?
A: Witness pointing to a person seated on the first bench and the person pointed to by witness when asked his name answers Adriano Arca.
On clarificatory questioning by Judge Lorenzo, PO Afable further testified:
Q: As a police officer do you know the difference between surrendering a weapon and surrendering as the alleged respondent?
A: Yes, Your Honor.
Q: Did Mr. Arca surrender[ed] to you by reason of his possessing the deadly weapon or did he surrender[ed] because he committed a crime other than possessing a weapon?
A: Because he was in possession of that deadly weapon and he had injured somebody, Your Honor.[30]
Murder is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death.  Both are indivisible penalties.  Where a mitigating circumstance like voluntary surrender is present, there being no aggravating circumstance, then the lesser penalty should be imposed. Thus, in this case, reclusion perpetua, and not death, is the proper penalty.

A modification on the award of damages is likewise in order. Although the trial court awarded the amount of P50,000 as civil indemnity, we are constrained, considering the circumstances of this case and under prevailing jurisprudence, to add another P50,000 by way of moral damages for the mental anguish suffered by the heirs of the victim on account of his untimely and senseless demise.[31]  Further, we find that despite the lack of showing of any actual monetary loss on account of the victim's wrongful death, some pecuniary loss has been suffered.[32]  Hence, we award by way of temperate damages the amount of P15,000,[33] which is reasonable under the circumstances.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Borongan, Eastern Samar, Branch 2, is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION.  Appellant Adriano Arca is found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the MURDER of Rommel Godornez, but appellant's sentence is hereby reduced to reclusion perpetua, with the corresponding accessory penalties provided by law.  Further, he is ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victim the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, another P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P15,000.00 as temperate damages. Costs de oficio.


Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Panganiban, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Azcuna, JJ., concur.

[1]Rollo, pp. 16-34.

[2] Appears as ROMMEL AGDA GODORNES in the Death Certificate; Records, p. 50.

[3] Records, p. 30.  "Dipang" is also spelled as "depang" in the records.

[4] Id. at 31.

[5] TSN, 15 October 1997, p. 2.

[6] Id. at 4.

[7] Id. at 3-9.

[8] Id. at 15-19.

[9] Also referred to as Eppie Suyap, TSN, 16 October 1997, p. 8.

[10] Id. at 23-26.

[11] Appears as GORDONEZ, TSN, 16 October 1997, p. 18.

[12] TSN, 16 October 1997, pp. 18-20.

[13] TSN, 13 November 1997, pp. 2-9.

[14] TSN, 4 December 1997, pp. 3-22.

[15] TSN, 11 December 1997, pp. 2-9.

[16] TSN, 15 January 1998, pp. 3-11.

[17] Rollo, p. 34.

[18] Id. at 66.

[19] G.R. No. 121212, 20 January 1999, 301 SCRA 192, 204.

[20] People v. Balasa, G.R. No. 106357, 3 September 1998, 295 SCRA 49, 81.

[21] People v. Adrales, G.R. No. 132152, 19 January 2000, 322 SCRA 424, 435.

[22] People v. Suplito, G.R. No. 104944, 16 September 1999, 314 SCRA 493, 503.

[23] Appears as GODORNEZ in the Information; Rollo, p. 6.

[24] TSN, 13 November 1997, pp. 14-16.

[25] TSN, 4 December 1997, pp. 16-19.

[26] Revised Penal Code, Article 14, par. (16).

[27] People v. Tampon, G.R. No. 105583, 5 July 1996, 258 SCRA 115, 132 and People v. Miranday, G.R. No. 111581, 23 March 1995, 242 SCRA 620, 628.

[28] TSN, 15 October 1997, pp. 15-19.

[29] Id. at 17-18.

[30] Id. at 25.

[31] People v. Manlansing, G.R. Nos. 131736-37, 11 March 2002, p. 20 citing People v. Casturia, G.R. No. 128819, 20 November 2000, 345 SCRA 206, 212.

[32] CIVIL CODE, ART. 2224. Temperate or moderate damages, which are more than nominal but less than compensatory damages, may be recovered when the court finds that some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proved with certainty.

[33] Temperate damages must be reasonable under the circumstances.

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