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452 Phil. 1080


[ G.R. No. 148730, June 26, 2003 ]




This is an automatic review of the Decision of the court a quo convicting accused-appellants JOSE DELA CRUZ y DACILLO, JAMES SALBORO y JOROLAN, EDWIN "BUTCH" GENER y CATEAN and ARNEL SAN PEDRO y TACOME of robbery with homicide and imposing upon them the supreme penalty of death.[1]

On 13 July 1999, at around 1:15 in the morning, a passenger bus of the Chinese-Filipino Friendship Transport, Inc. (CFFTI), with Plate No. PXS 898, driven by Terry Edma with Antonio Dormitorio as conductor was on its way to its garage in Fairview, Quezon City. For both Edma and Dormitorio it was another grueling day as they had been plying their customary Alabang-Monumento-Letre route since 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon the day before.

Upon reaching EDSA-Guadalupe, they decided to pick up Quezon City-bound commuters on their homeward trip to maximize their income and earn extra for the day.   Seven (7) new passengers boarded the bus, referring to the group of herein accused-appellants Jose dela Cruz, James Salboro, Edwin "Butch" Gener, Arnel San Pedro and three (3) unidentified companions.  An eighth passenger, SPO1 Joven Avida Ebona of the Western Police District, who was in plain clothes as he was already off-duty and on his way home, likewise got into the bus after accused-appellants' group.

As the bus approached Riverside St., Barangay Camachile, Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, accused-appellant James Salboro pulled a .38 cal. revolver and announced a holdup. Accused-appellant Arnel San Pedro who was also armed with a gun commanded bus conductor Dormitorio to hand over his fare collections, which amounted to P3,000.00, and his Seiko 5 wristwatch which he readily surrendered.  Accused-appellant Jose dela Cruz ordered Edma to pull over to the side of the street and turn off the interior lights of the vehicle.  He poked his gun at Edma's head and took all his money amounting to P2,000.00. Thereafter, Jose dela Cruz aided by Edwin "Butch" Gener hurriedly divested the other passengers of their money and valuables.

Meanwhile, SPO1 Joven Avida Ebona, who was dozing off, was roused by the disturbance.   He was unaware that the bus was being robbed.  Visibly irritated, Ebona yelled "ano yan?" at accused-appellants.  He did not realize the danger until he found himself surrounded by seven (7) men with drawn guns.  Then hell broke loose.  A flurry of gunshots followed in the wake of which Ebona slumped dead on his seat, soaked in his own blood.[2]

The holdup men took the service firearm of Ebona and fled on foot.  They left him dead in the crime scene and the rest of the passengers in terror.  As soon as the driver regained his composure, he drove his bus to the nearby Litex Police Detachment to report the incident.

Dr. Tomas D. Suguitan, Medico-Legal Officer of the PNP who conducted the post-mortem examination of SPO1 Joven Avida Ebona, found that the victim died of "hemorrhage as a result of gunshot wounds in the head and trunk."[3]

On 14 July 1999 a team of detectives from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) invited Edma and Dormitorio to the CIDG Field Office, Station 10, Edsa-Kamuning, Quezon City, for purposes of identifying the suspects in the robbery-homicide incident.   Edma and Dormitorio positively identified three (3) of the suspects from among the photographs in the rogues' gallery:  accused-appellants Jose dela Cruz, James Salboro and Arnel San Pedro. Driver Edma likewise identified a fourth suspect, Edwin "Butch" Gener, whom he described as a "fat man," although the suspect had no picture in the CIDG criminal portfolio.

The identified suspects fell one by one into the hands of the authorities following a brief manhunt. Dela Cruz and Gener were arrested on 15 July 1999, while Salboro and San Pedro were apprehended a day after or on 16 July 1999.  Witnesses Edma and Dormitorio were with the CIDG operatives when they nabbed the suspects.

Accused-appellants raised the defense of denial and alibi.  Primarily they denied complicity in the crime as in fact, according to them, they had not known each other individually prior to their arrest. Accused-appellant Jose dela Cruz claimed that at the time of the incident he and his wife were transferring their household belongings from their old house in Luzviminda St., Filinvest, Batasan Hills, Quezon City, to a newly rented room two (2) blocks away from Luzviminda St.

Accused-appellant James Salboro stated that from 1:00 o'clock to 6:00 o'clock in the morning of 13 July 1999 he was at home in Visayas St., Batasan Hills, Quezon City, taking care of his wife who was then pregnant and very sick.

Accused-appellant Arnel San Pedro similarly declared that in the evening of 12 July 1999 until the following morning he was at home with his wife and children in Barangay Holy Spirit, Batasan Hills, Quezon City.

Accused-appellant Edwin "Butch" Gener asserted that from 12 to 13 July 1999 he stayed home the entire time in Sauyo Road, Novaliches, Quezon City, as he was not feeling well and suffering from boils in both armpits.

After a thorough review of the evidence on record, we cannot find any reason to set aside the conviction of accused-appellants.  By and large, the instant case basically revolves around the question of credibility of witnesses.  The well-entrenched rule in this jurisdiction, of course, is that the matter of assigning values to the testimonies of witnesses is best discharged by the trial court, and appellate courts will not generally disturb the findings of the trial court in this respect.  The reason is quite simple:  the trial judge is in a better position to determine the conflicting testimonies of witnesses after having heard them and observed their deportment and manner of testifying.  As we ruled in People v. Cayabyab[4]
Having the advantage of directly observing the witnesses, the trial judge is able to detect that sometimes thin line between fact and prevarication that will determine the guilt or innocence of the accused.  That line may not be discernible from a mere reading of the impersonal record by the reviewing court.  The records will not reveal those tell-tale signs that will affirm the truth or expose the contrivance, like the angry flush of an insisted assertion or the sudden pallor of a discovered lie or a tremulous mutter of a reluctant answer or the forthright tone of a ready reply.  The records will not show if the eyes darted in evasion or looked down in confession or gazed steadily with a serenity that has nothing to distort or conceal.  The records will not show if tears were shed in anger, or in shame, or in remembered pain, or in feigned innocence.  Only the judge trying the case can see all these and on the basis of these observations arrive at an informed and reasoned verdict.
It is incumbent upon accused-appellants to convince this Court that a departure from the basic rule is justified and warranted, and only upon a satisfactory showing that the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which, if considered, would alter the outcome of the case.  These, accused-appellants miserably failed to do.

Prosecution witnesses Terry Edma and Antonio Dormitorio, who were themselves victims of the holdup, positively identified accused-appellants as among those responsible for the bus robbery and the killing of police officer Ebona.   In their Sinumpaang Salaysay, executed before the CIDG investigator, Edma and Dormitorio declared in no uncertain terms —
T: Sinabi mo na makikilala mo ang mga hold-upper kung makikita mo silang muli lalong lalo na sa mukha at sa hitsura nila, mayroon akong ipapakita na mga litrato sa iyo (at the same time this investigator showing a group of pictures of some of the suspects placed on a white folder), mayroon ka bang nakikilala sa mga ito, pagmasdan mong mabuti?
S: Opo sir, ito po sir, ito ang tumutok sa akin (affiant at the same time pointing to the picture of Jose dela Cruz y Dacillo, alias Bonjoe, as the one who poked a gun on his head and at the time affixing his signature below the picture number 7) sir ito po ang nagsabi ng "hold-up to" (affiant at the same time pointing to the picture of James Salboro y Jorolan, alias James, as the one who declared the hold-up and at the same time affixing his signature below the picture number 9), at ito sir (affiant pointing to the picture of Ariel San Pedro, who poked a gun to his conductor and forcibly got the collection money and same fixing his signature below the picture number 10).
T: Paano mo nasabi at nakilala na ito si Jose dela Cruz y Dacillo, alias Bonjoe, James Salboro y Jorolan, alias James, at Ariel San Pedro, ay isa sa mga nangholdap sa inyo?
S: Kasi sir, nakikita ko sila sa aking center mirror at maliwanag po sa loob ng bus ng mag-deklara sila ng holdap x x x x

Bakit mo naman nasabi na itong sina Jose dela Cruz at James Salboro ay isa sa mga bumaril doon sa pasahero ninyong pulis?

S: Kasi sir, ng sumigaw yung pulis na "ano yan?" sabay tindig nitong si Jose dela Cruz at ibinaling na niya ang kanyang baril doon sa pulis at sabay putok, pati na rin itong si James Salboro at ang kanyang mga kasamahan at pagkatapos ay pilit na ipinapapatay sa akin ni Jose dela Cruz ang ilaw (ng bus) x x x x
T: Mayroon akong ipapakita sa iyo na mga larawan ng mga suspects na mga holdaper, at ito ay pagmasdan mong mabuti, (at the same time this investigator showing to the affiant some pictures of suspects placed on a white folder with corresponding number), may nakikilala ka ba rito?
S: Opo sir, ito sir ang nagsabi na "para at hold-up ito" at tumutok sa mga pasahero (at the same time affiant pointing to the picture of James Salboro y Jorolan, alias James, and affixing his signature below the picture number 9) ito sir ang tumutok naman sa akin at pilit kinuha yung collection namin at yung aking relo na Seiko 5 (affiant pointing to the picture of Ariel San Pedro and same affixing his signature below the picture number 10), at ito naman sir ang tumutok sa aking driver (at the same time affiant pointing to the picture of Jose dela Cruz Dacillo, alias, Bonjoe and same affixing his signature below the picture number 7).

Paano mo nakilala itong sila Jose dela Cruz, James Salboro at Ariel San Pedro na siyang nangholdap sa inyo sa nasabing petsa, oras at lugar?

S: Tandang-tanda ko po sir yung mga mukha at hitsura nila dahil maliwanag sa loob ng bus at kakaunti na lang yung pasahero namin x x x x
T: Nasabi mo rin dito na pinagbabaril ng mga holdaper yung pasahero mong pulis, nakailaw pa ba sa loob ng bus?
S: Opo sir.
T: Nakita mo ba kung sino ang bumaril doon sa pulis?
S: Nakita ko po na ang nagngangalan sa picture na si James Salboro ay siyang unang bumaril sa pulis, pagkatapos sinundan na nila Jose dela Cruz, Ariel San Pedro at iba pa nilang kasamahan x x x x (underscoring supplied foremphasis).[5]
Again, Edma and Dormitorio readily pointed to the same accused-appellants in open court and identified them during the trial.  Both witnesses gave substantially the same accounts of the incident and the personalities involved, hence for brevity, we quote only the testimony of witness Edma — 
  As far as you know and remember, how many persons [were] involved in that hold up incident, Mr. witness?
  There were seven of them sir x x x x
  Now look around this courtroom and tell us if you can identify some of them?
  There are persons here sir.
  Please point one by one.
  That man sir.


  Witness pointing to a man who identified himself as James Salboro.
  Now you pointed to James Salboro, could you please tell this Court what his participation was in that hold up, if any, Mr. witness?
  He was the one who shot sir.
  Next, Mr. witness.
  That one at the far end sir.
  Witness pointing to a man who identified himself as Jose dela Cruz your Honor.


  This Jose dela Cruz, what was his role in that hold up?
  He was the one who was behind me and he was the one who poked the gun at me sir.
  Next Mr. witness.
  That thin man sir.
  Witness pointing to a man who identified himself as Arnel San Pedro your Honor.
  This Arnel San Pedro, what was his participation Mr. witness?


  He was the one who declared the hold up and he was the one who poked the gun at my conductor sir.
  Who else Mr. witness?
  That fat man sir.
  Witness pointing to a man who identified himself as Edwin Gener your Honor.
  What was his participation in this hold up Mr. witness?
  He was also one of those who shot the person in civilian clothes and also collected from the passengers sir x x x x (underscoring ours).[6]
Verily, the eyewitness identification of accused-appellants is a vital and decisive evidence which, as in most cases, virtually sealed their culpability.

Accused-appellants would, however, lay considerable emphasis on a perceived weakness and deficiency in the identification of accused-appellants by witnesses Edma and Dormitorio.  In their separate briefs,[7] accused-appellants tenuously assert that: (a) the overhead lights inside the bus were turned off during the robbery and were switched on only after the holdup men alighted, which rendered the malefactors' identification impossible; and (b) the prosecution witnesses never identified accused-appellant Gener as one of the culprits — neither in the police investigation, nor in the supposed police line-up, nor in the inquest proceedings; and, that the only instance witness Edma pointed  to accused-appellant Gener as one of the robbers was during the trial, but even then, his "court declaration must be taken with a grain of salt x x x [as] it is palpably an afterthought.   An afterthought is a lie, a big lie, in disguise x x x x Edma's questionable identification in court with respect to Gener was dictated upon, or at least suggested by the police x x x x"

We are not persuaded by accused-appellants.  The records reveal that the witnesses were in an ideal position to know the identities of their assailants.   Witness Edma testified on direct examination —
  The man at, right behind me ordered me to pull over and to turn off the light of the bus sir.
  Did you obey the order, did you obey the man that commanded you to do that, Mr. witness?
  I was not able to obey because when I was about to do that, I looked behind and there was a gunshot sir.
  When you looked back and there was a gunshot, what did you observe Mr. witness?
  They were shooting a man in civilian clothes sir.[8]
Likewise, both Edma and Dormitorio in their Sinumpaang Salaysay respectively affirmed that: "Nakikita ko sila sa aking center mirror at maliwanag po sa loob ng bus ng mag-deklara sila ng holdap," and "Tandang-tanda ko po sir yung mga mukha at hitsura nila dahil maliwanag sa loob ng bus at kakaunti na lang yung pasahero namin."

It is thus evident that at the time of the holdup the bus was sufficiently lighted inside, which circumstance undeniably allowed Edma and Dormitorio to have an unobstructed view of the crime scene.  Moreover, their proximity to accused-appellants while the robbery was in progress further strengthened their identification of accused-appellants. Where the conditions of visibility are favorable and witnesses Edma and Dormitorio do not appear to harbor ill motives against the men on the dock, their assertions as to the identities of the malefactors should be accepted.  More so in this case where both witnesses were themselves victims of the bloody heist, who could be expected to strive to remember the faces of their assailants.  They bore witness to every detail of the holdup since they were inside the bus and, naturally, keenly observed what happened as they faced the same danger as the other passengers.  As observed by the trial court, "bus drivers and conductors — like kristos in a sabungan — have an uncanny way of retaining the looks of their passengers," precisely because it is part of their job to be on the watch and know who has paid his fare and who has not.

Even assuming arguendo that accused-appellant Edwin "Butch" Gener was not identified by eyewitnesses during the CIDG investigation, it was only because the CIDG had no picture of Gener on file.  At any rate, there is no law requiring a police investigation or a police line-up as a condition sine qua non for the proper identification of an accused.[9] What is crucial is that witness Edma positively and categorically identified accused-appellant Gener during the trial. The suggestions of defense counsel to the effect that accused-appellant Gener's identification in court was merely an "afterthought," "a big lie" and "dictated upon by the police," are, to say the least, unfair.  Primarily, the CIDG would certainly gain nothing by falsely implicating Gener to the ghastly crime.  Also, in the absence of proof to the contrary, law enforcement agencies of the government enjoy the presumption of regularity in the performance of their official functions.

Although there are some inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses Edma and Dormitorio — as pointed out by the defense counsel — due probably to the general confusion that characterized the incident, we hold that these testimonial imperfections hardly relate to facts material to the commission of the crime.   Truth-telling witnesses are not expected to give flawless testimonies, considering the lapse of time and the treachery of human memory. The Court has stated time and again that minor inconsistencies in the narration of witnesses do not detract from their essential credibility as long as their testimonies on the whole are coherent and intrinsically believable.  Inaccuracies may in fact suggest that the witnesses are telling the truth and have not been rehearsed.[10] We consider innocuous whatever discrepancies there were in the testimonies of Edma and Dormitorio.

In the face of the positive identification by prosecution witnesses, accused-appellants' defense of denial and alibi must fall.  Denials, as negative and self-serving evidence, do not deserve as much weight in law as positive and affirmative testimonies.  Oft-repeated is the rule that for alibi to offset the evidence of the prosecution demonstrating accused-appellants' guilt, they must establish not only that they were somewhere else when the crime was committed but that it was also physically impossible for them to have been at the scene of the crime at the time it was perpetrated.[11] The defense utterly failed to meet the requisite time and place.

We take judicial notice of the fact that the residences of accused-appellants Jose dela Cruz, James Salboro and Arnel San Pedro in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, where they claimed to have been at the time of the commission of the crime, are situated in close proximity to Riverside St., Barangay Camachile, the locus criminis.   As for accused-appellant Edwin "Butch" Gener, while he could have been in Sauyo Road, Novaliches, Quezon City, from 12 to 13 July 1999, it was not physically impossible for him to have been in Riverside St., Barangay Camachile, on the day the crime was perpetrated.

It is interesting to note that the same accused-appellants had previously been indicted for robbery with homicide and frustrated murder before the Office of the City Prosecutor, Quezon City, docketed as I.S. No. 99-12581, Abigail T. Mayrina, et al. v. Jose dela Cruz, et al.   In that case, accused-appellants were reported to have held up at gunpoint a Jason Liner passenger bus with plate no. PXS-445 along EDSA-Balintawak, at about 10:00 o'clock in the evening of 4 June 1999, and hurriedly collected the money and other valuables of the passengers.  What could have been a simple holdup mission for the group, however, turned bloody when someone from among the passengers introduced himself as a police officer. Accused-appellants went on a shooting rampage killing four (4) passengers including the police officer, and wounding five (5) others.[12] Incidentally, this EDSA-Balintawak episode happened much earlier than the present case, although that case was prosecuted much later.  In other words, the instant case was already being tried by the court a quo with the early arrest of accused-appellants before the earlier case could be brought to trial.

Quite obviously, the robbery pulled in the CFFTI passenger bus by accused-appellants, now subject of the instant case, was not an isolated act but appears to be a part of an organized, systematic and well-orchestrated bus robbery operations of accused-appellants on buses plying EDSA.

While it may be that pursuant to Sec. 48, Rule 130, of the Rules of Court, "evidence that one did or omitted to do a certain thing at one time is not admissible to prove that he did or omitted to do the same or similar thing at another time," the same Rule also provides that "it may be received to prove a specific intent or knowledge, identity, plan, system, scheme, habit, custom or usage and the like." Thus, the circumstance that accused-appellants were likewise involved in another bus robbery may be taken as proof of their plan, scheme or modus operandi in pursuance of a heinous enterprise.

Robo con homicidio is an indivisible offense, a special complex crime.  It carries a severe penalty because the law sees in this crime that men place lucre above the value of human life, thus justifying the imposition of a harsher penalty than that for simple robbery or homicide.[13] A conviction for robbery with homicide requires the prosecution to firmly establish the following elements:  (a) the taking of personal property with violence or intimidation against persons; (b) the property taken belongs to another; (c) the taking was done with animo lucrandi; and, (d) on the occasion of the robbery or by reason thereof, homicide was committed.[14]

In this case before us, all the essential ingredients of robbery with homicide have been established by the prosecution with proof beyond reasonable doubt. Personal properties and cash belonging to the bus driver, conductor and passengers were taken by accused-appellants by means of force and intimidation, and with obvious intent to gain. Moreover, during the heist, a police officer was mercilessly gunned down by accused-appellants.  When homicide takes place by reason or on the occasion of the robbery, all those who took part in the robbery shall be guilty of the special complex crime of robbery with homicide whether or not they actually participated in the killing, unless there is proof that they had endeavored to prevent the perpetration of the crime.

Robbery with homicide is punishable with reclusion perpetua to death, under Art. 294 (1) of The Revised Penal Code.  Quite fortunately for accused-appellants,   however, they may be spared from the extreme punishment of death.  The 2000 Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure now explicitly requires qualifying as well as aggravating circumstances to be expressly and specifically pleaded in the complaint or Information, otherwise they will not be considered by the court even if proved during the trial —
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.

Sec. 9. Cause of the accusation. — The acts or omissions complained of as constituting the offense and the qualifying and aggravating circumstances must be stated in ordinary and concise language and not necessarily in the language used in the statute but in terms sufficient to enable a person of common understanding to know what offense is being charged as well as its qualifying and aggravating circumstances for the court to pronounce judgment.[15]
Thus, in the present dispensation, the proper imposable penalty upon accused-appellants should be reclusion perpetua only in the absence of allegations of mitigating or aggravating circumstances in the Information.

Accused-appellants, whose humanity had been seared by their insatiable greed for instant gain, are like vultures that gorge on the weak.  Callous to the pain and misery of their innocent victims, their crime becomes especially detestable when lives are senselessly lost in its commission. Edma and Dormitorio are but simple people forced by necessity to work and earn a decent living in the hope that somehow they could lift themselves from penury.  

And what about the police officer whose wife they widowed and whose children they orphaned?  Society cannot tolerate the despicable deeds of these sociopaths, and for this they deserve to be cashiered to the deepest recesses of the dungeons where they can grind and gnash their teeth till kingdom come.

WHEREFORE, the Decision under review finding accused-appellants JOSE DELA CRUZ y DACILLO, JAMES SALBORO y JOROLAN, EDWIN "BUTCH" GENER y CATEAN and ARNEL SAN PEDRO y TACOME guilty beyond reasonable doubt of robbery with homicide is AFFIRMED subject to the MODIFICATION that they are sentenced to suffer the reduced penalty of reclusion perpetua.

Accused-appellants are ordered to PAY, jointly and severally, the heirs of SPO1 Joven Avida Ebona the following amounts: (a) P50,000.00 civil indemnity, (b) P55,000.00 actual damages, (c) P831,870.00 representing the loss of earnings, as proved during the trial, (d) P50,000.00 moral damages, and, (e) P50,000.00 exemplary damages.

Finally, accused-appellants are likewise ordered to PAY, jointly and severally, bus driver Terry Edma the amount of P2,000.00, and bus conductor Antonio Dormitorio P3,000.00 representing the bus fare collections taken from them by accused-appellants, and RETURN to Dormitorio his Seiko 5 wristwatch or its reasonable value of P2,000.00.  Costs against accused-appellants.


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

Austria-Martinez, J., on official leave.

[1] Decision penned by Judge Jaime N. Salazar, Jr., RTC-Br. 103, Quezon City.

[2] Dormitorio testified that when he turned his head and looked back, he saw accused-appellant San Pedro, followed by accused-appellant Salboro, and then accused-appellant Cruz, shoot police officer Ebona, although he heard only one (1) shot.  See TSN, 14 December 1999, p. 20.

[3] Medico-Legal Report No. M-0582-99, Records; p. 19.

[4] G.R. No. 123073, 19 June 1997, 274 SCRA 387.

[5] See Records, pp. 11-18.

[6] TSN, 30 March 2000, pp. 8-10.

[7] Accused-appellants Jose dela Cruz, James Salboro and Arnel San Pedro were represented by the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), while accused-appellant Edwin "Butch" Gener was represented by private defense counsel Atty. Antonio Carbonell.

[8] TSN, 30 March 2000, p. 7.

[9] See People v. Magdamit, G.R. No. 118130, 24 September 1997, 279 SCRA 423.

[10] People v. Ebrada, G.R. No. 122774, 25 September 1998, 296 SCRA 353.

[11] See People v. De la Cruz, G.R. No. 123397, 13 October 1998, 298 SCRA 36.

[12] Although in that case the Assistant City Prosecutor recommended the filing of the appropriate criminal charges against Jose dela Cruz and James Salboro only on the basis of the positive identification by complainants. Edwin "Butch" Gener and Arnel San Pedro were not included since they were not positively identified by the complainants then, hence there was no factual basis to hold them for trial.

[13] People v. Salazar, et al., G.R. No. 99355, 11 August 1997, 277 SCRA 67.

[14] People v. Baccay, et al., G.R. No. 120366, 16 January 1998, 284 SCRA 296.

[15] See also People v. Legaspi, G.R. Nos. 136164-65, 20 April 2001, 357 SCRA 234.

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