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449 Phil. 653

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 141187, April 28, 2003 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, APPELLEE, VS. RONNIE MACTAL Y AZARCON, APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

CORONA, J.:

Before us on automatic review is the decision[1] of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 36, Gapan, Nueva Ecija, in Criminal Case No. 4045 convicting herein appellant of the crime of parricide and sentencing him to suffer the supreme penalty of death.

Appellant Ronnie Mactal y Azarcon was charged with killing his wife, Evelyn Joaquin Mactal, in an information[2] that read:
“That or on about the 15th day of July, 1995, at Daang Bakal, San Nicholas, Gapan, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill and with the use of a hard object, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and use personal violence upon EVELYN MACTAL Y JOAQUIN, his lawfully wedded wife, who sustained injuries on her head that caused her instantaneous death as per the Autopsy Report, to the death as per the Autopsy Report, to the damage and prejudice of the victim’s heirs.”
During arraignment on September 15, 1995,[3] appellant, assisted by his counsel, pleaded “not guilty” to the charge. Thereafter, trial ensued.

The factual antecedents follow.

Appellant and the deceased were married by a Catholic priest in Gapan, Nueva Ecija, on March 23, 1985. However, their union was not a happy one, beset by frequent violent quarrels due to appellant’s drinking, gambling and womanizing. The couple separated a number of times but deceased Evelyn always came back to her husband inspite of the physical abuse because she loved him. As appellant failed to earn a living for his family, Evelyn ran a small sari-sari store located in front of their house. On the night of the incident, July 14, 1995, at around 7:00 p.m., appellant’s brother-in-law, Romeo Rivera, whose house was right beside the couple’s, heard the couple arguing but he did not mind them as he was used to their arguments. At around 8:00 p.m., Liwayway Rillon, the deceased’s good friend, went to the store to buy something but did not stay long as Evelyn seemed to be in a bad mood and was getting ready to close the store. Through the door of the store, Rillon saw appellant inside the store and the couple’s children sleeping in bed; their living quarters were adjacent to the store.

At around midnight, appellant went to Rivera’s house to check whether his wife Evelyn was there. Rivera did not reply but instead asked if the two had a quarrel. The appellant answered in the negative. Rivera, his wife and appellant conversed in the former’s garage for about 30 minutes, with the Rivera couple suggesting places where appellant should look for his wife. Then appellant’s sister-in-law went to appellant’s house and peeped inside the unlighted room of the couple but did not find her sister, the deceased. After this, the Rivera couple returned to their house and went to sleep.

At around 1:00 a.m., Alfred Young, on board a tricycle, was passing by appellant’s house. From a distance of 15 meters, he saw Evelyn seated on a wooden chair in front of the window of the house. She appeared lifeless because her head was “hanging.” Appellant was about an arm’s length away from Evelyn and, when he saw the tricycle, he disappeared into a unlighted part of the house. At about the same time, Romeo Adayo, who was walking home, saw appellant. The latter was about 20 steps away from him, carrying the body of his wife Evelyn over his right shoulder, face up, with the head at appellant’s back and the legs in front. Appellant was walking very fast towards a dark street. As Adayo was very tired after his trip from Manila, he did not call appellant and just continued walking. The body of Evelyn was discovered by a neighbor at around 5:00 a.m., 15 meters away from her house.

The autopsy conducted by Dr. Marcelo Gallardo revealed a 3.5-inch laceration in the middle part of Evelyn’s head. It was probably caused by blunt object like wood, bamboo or round metal. The cause of death was shock secondary to laceration and contusion on the head.[4] According to the doctor, timely medical attention could have saved the life of the deceased.

Upon investigation of the appellant’s house, SPO1 Jose Jimenez, SPO2 Jose Galang and SPO3 Nicolas Salaysay found bloodstains on a yellow sando, electric fan, wooden chair and the cement floor. There were also bloodstains on items found outside the house, e.g., a wastebasket, newspaper and cigarette carton. Emetria San Pedro vda. de Joaquin, Evelyn’s mother, who arrived at her daughter’s house a few minutes before the police, also noticed bloodstains on the furniture and electric fan. When the bloodstains were sent to the national police crime laboratory in Camp Crame for analysis, they tested positive as human blood. The blood found on a yellow sando was of blood type B.

When SPO1 Jimenez asked appellant what he did after finding out about his wife’s disappearance, he said that he looked for his wife in her friend Josie’s house. This was, however, denied by the latter upon questioning by SPO1 Jimenez.

For his defense, appellant denied the charges against him and testified that the last time he saw his wife alive was at 8:30 p.m. in their house because at 9:00 p.m., he went to sleep. He denied being seen by prosecution witnesses Young and Adayo as he was already asleep at 1:00 a.m. He denied that he beat up his wife and presented his son, Ronald, and his mother, Estrella Mactal, to corroborate this fact. Ronald testified that his father loved his wife Evelyn very much and could not have possibly killed her.

The trial court found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of parricide and sentenced him to death after finding that nighttime and abuse of superior strength aggravated the crime:
“WHEREFORE, having been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of parricide, as charged, attended by the aggravating circumstances of nighttime and for having taken advantage of his superior strength in the commission of the crime, accused Ronnie Mactal is sentenced to suffer the penalty of death by lethal injection and to indemnify the heirs of Evelyn Mactal, the victim, the sum of P75,000.

Let the records of the case be forwarded to the Honorable Supreme Court for Review.

SO ORDERED.”
In his brief, appellant raises the following assignments of error:
  1. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FAITH AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONIES OF ALFRED B. YOUNG AND ROMEO ADAYO.

  2. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ACCORDING WEIGHT TO THE TESTIMONY AND FINDINGS OF DR. JESUSA VERGARA

  3. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF PARRICIDE ON THE BASIS MERELY OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE WHICH DO NOT PROVE WITH CERTAINTY THAT ACCUSED-APPELLANT KILLED HIS WIFE EVELYN, AND THAT IF EVELYN WAS INDEED DELIBERATELY KILLED, IT WAS ACCUSED-APPELLANT ALONE WHO COULD HAVE DONE IT, TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHERS.

  4. ASSUMING ARGUENDO THAT ACCUSED-APPELLANT IS TRULY LIABLE FOR THE DEATH OF EVELYN MACTAL, THE TRIAL COURT, NONETHELESS, ERRED IN IMPOSING UPON HIM THE SUPREME PENALTY OF DEATH. [5]
The Solicitor General agrees that appellant ought to be convicted of parricide but recommends that the penalty be reduced to reclusion perpetua as there was no evidence showing that nighttime and notorious strength were purposely sought and used to facilitate the commission of the crime.

After a thorough review of the records, we find that the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution was enough to find appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of parricide. However, we agree with the Solicitor General that the penalty should be reduced to reclusion perpetua as nighttime and abuse of superior strength should not be taken against the appellant. These circumstances were, moreover, not alleged in the information.

Under Article 246[6] of the Revised Penal Code, parricide is the killing of one’s legitimate or illegitimate father, mother, child, any ascendant or descendant and spouse and is punishable by the single indivisible penalty of reclusion perpetua to death.

In the present case, the Court is convinced that, in the evening of July 14, 1995, appellant fatally hit his wife on the head with a blunt object. Though there is no direct evidence, we have previously ruled that direct evidence of the actual killing is not indispensable for convicting an accused when circumstantial evidence can sufficiently establish his guilt.[7] The oft-repeated rule has been that circumstantial evidence is adequate for conviction if there is more than one circumstance, the facts from which the inferences are derived have been proven and the combination of all circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.[8]

Appellant argues that the circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution was not enough to convict him beyond reasonable doubt. However, the Court is satisfied that the circumstantial evidence in this case constituted an unbroken chain which led to the fair and reasonable conclusion that appellant, to the exclusion of all others, was guilty of killing his wife Evelyn:
  1. the couple had a quarrel around 7:00 on the night of the incident;
  2. the couple’s marriage was not a happy one due to appellant’s drinking, gambling and womanizing;
  3. on the night of the incident, the deceased Evelyn was last seen at the couple’s house, closing her sari-sari store;
  4. on the night of the incident, appellant was also seen at the couple’s house watching television with his children;
  5. appellant was seen an arm’s length away from the seemingly lifeless body of Evelyn propped up on a wooden chair near the window of the house;
  6. appellant was seen carrying the body of Evelyn towards a dark street;
  7. the body of the deceased was found in front of an abandoned house 15 meters from their house;
  8. bloodstains were found on the furniture and appliances inside appellant’s house, as well as outside, e.g., on a wastebasket, newspaper and cigarette carton, and
  9. the laboratory test revealed that the bloodstains found were human blood.
The foregoing circumstances are proven facts as the Court found no reason to discredit the testimony of the witnesses. Appellant argues that prosecution witnesses Young and Adayo should not be believed because they failed to investigate the “strange and startling” scene they witnessed. However, time and again, this Court has ruled that there is no standard human behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange, startling or frightful experience.[9] Thus, the failure of these witnesses to question appellant about the strange sight of him carrying his wife’s body or the deceased propped up on a chair with her head bowed does not detract from their credibility and render their testimony untruthful. Besides, well-entrenched is the rule that the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses is accorded great respect and will not be disturbed on appeal inasmuch as the court below was in an advantageous position to observe the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying.[10] The Court does not find any arbitrariness or error on the part of the trial court warranting a deviation from this well-entrenched rule.

Appellant also faults the trial court for giving weight to the findings of Dr. Vergara, the medico-legal officer who conducted the tests and determined that the bloodstains found in appellant’s house were human blood. Appellant argues that the blood could not have belonged to deceased Evelyn Mactal because Dr. Vergara testified that the bloodstains were only two days old when she received the specimen four days after the death of Evelyn. As aptly pointed out by the Solicitor General, the actual testimony of Dr. Vergara was that the blood submitted to her was more than four days old.[11] Also, appellant argues that the failure of the prosecution to show that Evelyn had blood type B meant that the bloodstains found were not the deceased’s. However, we find that such failure was not fatal to the prosecution’s case since the guilt of appellant was sufficiently established by circumstantial evidence.

Regarding the penalty, we agree that reclusion perpetua and not death should be imposed on the appellant. The trial court erred in appreciating the aggravating circumstances of nighttime and abuse of superior strength against appellant. As pointed out by the Solicitor General:
Nighttime could not be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance where no evidence was presented showing that nocturnity was especially sought by the accused nor taken advantage of by him to facilitate the commission of the crime or to insure his immunity from captive.

Likewise, abuse of superior strength requires, at base, a deliberate intent on the part of the malefactor to take advantage thereof. There must be a situation of strength notoriously selected and made use of by the offender in the commission of the crime.

Here, there is no evidence showing that appellant purposely sought the cover of darkness to insure the commission of the crime. Neither is there evidence establishing that appellant wielded strength notoriously selected and made use of it in the commission of the crime.

Moreover, abuse of superior strength cannot be appreciated in this case because it is inherent in the crime of parricide as it is generally accepted that the husband is physically stronger than the wife.[12]
Besides, as already noted, these aggravating circumstances were not alleged in the information and cannot therefore justify the death penalty. Section 8, Rule 110[13] of the 2000 Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure now requires that any aggravating circumstance must be alleged in the information for it to be appreciated in the imposition of the penalty. Since the rule is favorable to the accused, it can be given retroactive effect, consistent with the basic principles of criminal jurisprudence.

There being no aggravating nor mitigating circumstance, the proper imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua pursuant to Article 63 (2)[14] of the Revised Penal Code which states that when the imposable penalty is a single indivisible one (as in the case of parricide) and there is no aggravating nor mitigating circumstance, the lesser penalty should be applied.

Based on current jurisprudence, when the imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua, the heirs of the victim are entitled to a civil indemnity ex delicto of P50,000.[15]

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trail Court, Branch 76, Gapan, Nueva Ecija in Criminal Case No. 4045 is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the penalty is hereby reduced to reclusion perpetua and the amount of P50,000 is awarded as civil indemnity ex delicto.

SO ORDERED.

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



[1] Penned by Judge Arturo M. Bernardo.

[2] Rollo, p. 5.

[3] Id., p. 34.

[4] Necropsy Report, Rollo, p. 8.

[5] Accused-appellant’s Brief, Rollo, p. 65.

[6] Art. 246. Parricide. – Any person who shall kill his father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or any of his ascendants, or descendants, or his spouse, shall be guilty of parricide and shall be punished by the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death.

[7] People vs. Abella et al., 339 SCRA 129 [2000]; People vs. Bago, 330 SCRA 115 [2000].

[8] People vs. Sanez, 320 SCRA 805 [1999] citing People vs. Dela Cruz, 229 SCRA 754; People vs. De Guzman, 231 SCRA 737 [1994]; People vs. Retuta, 234 SCRA 645 [1994].

[9] People vs. Alarcon, 335 SCRA 457[2000].

[10] People vs. Daroy, 336 SCRA 24 [2000]; People vs. Saulog, 344 SCRA 756 [2000]; People vs. Suelto, October 7, 1999.

[11] TSN, January 10, 1996, p. 14.

[12] Brief for the Appellee, pp. 31-32.

[13] Rule 110, Sec. 8. Designation of the offense. – The complaint or information shall state the designation of the offense given by the statute, aver the acts or omissions constituting the offense, and specify its qualifying and aggravating circumstances. If there is no designation of the offense, reference shall be made to the section or subsection of the statute punishing it.

[14] Art. 63. Rules for the application of indivisible penalties. –
  1. When there are neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances in the commission of the deed, the lesser penalty shall be applied.
[15] People vs. Cayago, 312 SCRA 623 [1999].

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