Supreme Court E-Library
Information At Your Fingertips

  View printer friendly version

408 Phil. 721


[ G.R. No. 138261, April 17, 2001 ]




The credibility of witnesses and their testimonies is best assessed by the trial court, which had the opportunity to observe their demeanor and conduct on the stand.  Moreover, reclusion perpetua is an indivisible penalty; hence, it is imposed in its entirety.

The Case

Pedro Ramirez  appeals the Decision[1] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Ormoc City (Branch 35) in Criminal Case No. 4195-O, finding him guilty of murder and sentencing him to "suffer imprisonment of forty (40) years reclusion perpetua."

Ormoc City Prosecutor Alberto L. Canopio filed an Information dated June 16, 1993, charging appellant with murder allegedly committed as follows:

"That on or about the 21st day of May 1993, at around 7:30 o'clock in the evening, Brgy. San Jose, Ormoc City, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused PEDRO RAMIREZ, with treachery, evident premeditation and intent to kill, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, stab and wound the person of the victim herein JONATHAN `Jojo' ALKUINO, without giving the latter sufficient time to defend himself, thereby inflicting upon said JONATHAN `Jojo' ALKUINO mortal wounds which caused his death.  Medical Certificate is hereto attached."[2]

When arraigned on March 20, 1997, appellant, with the assistance of counsel,[3] entered a plea of not guilty.  Trial on the merits ensued.  On February 18, 1999,  the trial court  promulgated its assailed Decision,  the dispositive portion of which reads as follows:

"WHEREFORE, having moral certainty from all of the foregoing, the Court finds the accused Pedro Ramirez GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder and hereby sentences him to suffer imprisonment of forty (40) years reclusion perpetua and to pay the aggrieved party the sum of P50,000.00 as indemnity and another sum of P50,000.00 as moral damages.

If the accused is a detainee, his period of detention shall be credited to him in full if he abides in writing by the terms for convicted prisoners; otherwise, for only four-fifths (4/5) thereof."

In view of the penalty imposed, the appeal was lodged directly with this Court.[4]

The Facts
Version of the Prosecution

In its Brief, the Office of the Solicitor General summarizes the prosecution's version of the facts in this wise:[5]

"1.  On May 21, 1993 at around 7:30 in the evening, Montano Bañez, after entertaining his visitors on the occasion of the town fiesta of Bgy. San Jose, Ormoc City, was strolling in the public plaza where he met Jonathan `Jojo' Alkuino, a former resident of the barangay (pp. 6-11, tsn, July 22, 1997).

"2.  Montano Bañez took him aside and invited Jojo to a drinking spree in a nearby store.  They sat side by side on a bench outside the store and while exchanging pleasantries and drinking, appellant Pedro Ramirez suddenly came in front of them. Appellant ordered beer. Then he calmly approached Jojo hitting him on the right side of the body just below the ribs (pp. 6-11, tsn, supra).

"3.  Jojo Alkuino was brought to the Ormoc District Hospital and was examined and treated by Dr. Kierulf who issued the medical certificate (Exhibit A) with the following findings:

`The stab wound that hit the victim was at his right anterior chest wall, at the level of 4th ICS penetrating thoracic abdominal cavity, incising the right lobe of the liner with massive hemothorax and hemoperit[o]neum"

"Although the victim was conscious and alive when he was admitted on May 21, 1993 at around 9:55 in the evening, he, however, died the following day at about 5:30 in the afternoon due to hypovolemic shock or massive blood loss (p. 24, tsn, July 17, 1998)."

Version of the Defense

In his Brief, appellant presents the following statement of facts:[6] "The first witness, Remegio Montalban, testified that he [was] a resident and farmer of Brgy. Sta. Cruz, San Francisco, Camotes, Cebu, and a neighbor of Pedro Ramirez, the accused. On May 21, 1993, he remembered he and Pedro Ramirez were working on his farm in said barangay.  They had been working on the farm since 1991.  He knows that the accused went to Ormoc City in 1986 but he returned in 1990 and since then he never left their barangay.  On cross examination, the witness admit[ed] there [was] a regular trip from San Francisco, Camotes to Ormoc City and the trip would take only more than an hour to negotiate.  When asked, however, as to the birth dates of his 8 children, he could not tell all.  Even on the date of the arrest of the accused, his testimony falter[ed] (TSN of July 29, 1998, pp. 6-21).

"The second witness was the accused himself.  His line of testimony corroborate[d] the testimonies of his first and third witnesses. Accused admit[ted] having gone to Ormoc City and that was in the year 1986 when he was hired by Poten Larrazabal to harvest his sugarcane plantation.  He stayed there for four (4) years, up to 1990, in Laray, Valencia together with his wife and two children (TSN of September 2, 1998, p. 9, p. 44).  He testified that on May 21, 1993 he was at Barangay Santa Cruz, Camotes, Cebu working.  He even denie[d] knowing where Barangay San Jose, Ormoc City, [was][;] in short, he denie[d] the charge against him.

"On cross examination, the accused testified that he did not go out too often while he was living in Sitio Laray, Valencia; that he did not even hear of Barangay San Jose (TSN of September 2, 1996. Pp. 22-23).

"The last witness, Eduardo Austria, corroborate[d] the line of theory of the accused and the first witness. They had a kind of cooperative work, Ramirez, he, and Montalban.  It was an inconsequential routine work and a passing of day that occurred on May 21, 1993 and the following day (TSN of October 5, 1998, pp. 7-14)

"On cross examination, the witness testified there was no cooperative work with Ramirez around in May of 1994, 1995 and 1996; that the witness [did] not even know the date of the incident involved in this case. (TSN, pp. 20-31)"

The Trial Court's Ruling

In convicting appellant, the trial court gave credence to the prosecution witnesses' testimonies.  It ruled as follows:

"We can notice that from the testimony of Montano Bañez up to the last witness Amelito Biyu, there was positive identification of the assailant, the one who stabbed Jonathan Alkuino; there was knowledge about the accused and the victim.  The testimonies of the witnesses were in details, not in generalities, and [the] testimony of the father, Milchisedeck Alkuino relate[d] x x x the dying declaration of his son, the victim in this case.  The evidence so far adduced by the prosecution established the elements of the crime of murder: the killing of an individual [did] not [fall] under parricide and the killing was attended by treachery, the fact that the stabbing was sudden and the victim was sitting while the assailant was standing and there was therefore no means for the victim to defend himself."[7]

On the other hand, the RTC rejected the defense witnesses' testimonies for being "weak, unreliable and full of uncertainties."  It concluded that the prosecution evidence "was not substantially overcome or overwhelmed by the defense's own proof or evidence."[8]


In his Brief, appellant cites the following alleged errors:[9]


The Court a quo erred in giving credence to the witnesses for the prosecution.


The Court a quo erred in appreciating treachery notwithstanding the failure of the prosecution to prove the same.


The Court a quo erred in convicting the accused notwithstanding the failure of the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt."

In the main, the Court will resolve the following matters:  (1) sufficiency of the prosecution evidence and (2) presence of treachery.  In addition, it  will also determine the propriety of appellant's penalty and civil liability.

This Court's Ruling

The appeal is devoid of merit.

First Issue:
Sufficiency of Prosecution Evidence

The conviction of appellant was based on the eyewitness accounts of Montano Bañez and Amelito Biyu.  Bañez testified that he was with the victim when the crime was committed. He narrated the incident in this wise:[10]

. Now at that particular time while you were having a round of drink with the said Jonathan "Jojo" Alkuino, what happened?
Pedro Ramirez approached us, sir.
x x x x x x x x x
What did Pedro Ramirez do when he approached you and Jojo Alkuino?
They introduced each other and immediately thereafter he stabbed him, sir.
x x x x x x x x x
Who delivered that stab thrust?
It was Pedro Ramirez, sir.
What kind of weapon did he use in stabbing the victim?
A knife, sir.
x x x x x x x x x
When Pedro Ramirez whom you have identified earlier delivered a stab thrust toward Jonathan "Jojo" Alkuino was the latter hit?
Yes sir, he was hit.
Which part was x x x hit?
Here sir (witness tapping at his right just below the ribs).
Now, after Pedro Ramirez stabbed Jonathan "Jojo" Alkuino, what did Pedro do next?
They ran away, sir."

The foregoing narration was corroborated by Biyu, who was then a few meters away from the crime scene.  Pertinent portions of his testimony are reproduced hereunder:[11]

After having bought banana cue for your child, what happened?
After I bought banana cue, I also bought one bottle of beer in front of the store where Jonathan Alkuino and Pedro Ramirez were having a drinking spree.
How far is that store [from] where Jonathan Alkuino and Pedro Ramirez were?
About 3 meters more or less.
What did you observe next?
While I was drinking one bottle of beer, he, Pedro Ramirez, approached Jonathan Alkuino and Montano Bañez (the witness pointed to the person earlier identified as Pedro Ramirez).
What did he do?
As far as I have seen, he approached Jonathan Alkuino and he talked for awhile and after that he drew a knife and immediately stabbed.
Was Jonathan Alkuino hit by the stab thrust delivered by the assailant?
Yes, sir.
How many times did the assailant deliver his stab thrust?
Only once.
After seeing that incident, wherein Jonathan Alkuino sustained an injury, what did you do?
After he stabbed, he ran and Jonathan Alkuino asked for help, saying `[H]elp me because I [have been] stabbed by Pedro Ramirez.'"

As earlier noted, the trial court gave credence to these testimonies.  Time and time again, the Court has held that the trial court's findings on the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are accorded great weight and respect, in the absence of a clear showing that some facts or circumstances of weight or substance have been overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied.[12] Indeed, the lower court had the opportunity to observe directly the demeanor of the witnesses as they testified.  In this case, appellant has not given us any valid ground to reverse or modify the trial court's assessment.

Alleged Inconsistencies

Appellant contends that the trial court should not have accorded credence to the prosecution witnesses, whose testimonies "were full of inconsistencies and contradictions."[13] He points out discrepancies regarding  (1) the manner in which appellant initiated the attack and (2) the behavior of the victim after the incident.

Appellant insists that "[a]ccording to Montano Bañez, Pedro approached the victim, and without saying any word, immediately stabbed the latter x x x.  However, Amelito Biyu testified that Pedro Ramirez approached Jonathan Alkuino and talked to him for a while."[14] This argument is not borne by the records.  Contrary to the claim of the defense, Bañez did not say that appellant had approached the victim and stabbed the latter "without saying a word."  In fact, Bañez testified that appellant and the victim had indeed talked very briefly.

"Q. Exactly, what did Pedro Ramirez say?
A. There were no words uttered sir, except to introduce themselves.
Q. So, when the accused Ramirez introduced himself to the victim, Jojo Alkuino also introduced himself to him, is that correct?
A. Yes, sir."[15]

Appellant also contends that the testimony of Biyu -- that the victim was aided by friends and acquaintances after the incident - was inconsistent with that of Bañez, who allegedly stated that the victim "was still able to go home, without mentioning whether he was aided by anyone."[16] It should be stressed, however, that Bañez did not say that the victim left the crime scene alone.[17] The mere fact that the former was silent on whether the victim was assisted by others does not mean that the latter was not assisted at all.

Likewise, we reject appellant's claim that the testimony of Bañez -- that the latter saw appellant stab the right side of the victim's body, below the ribs -- was inconsistent with that of the victim's father, Milchisedeck Alkuino, who said that "the injury of his son was at his left arm."[18]

This alleged inconsistency pertains to a very trivial matter which does not in any way affect the disposition of the case.  It has been held that inconsistencies referring only to minor details do not weaken the credibility of witnesses.  On the contrary, these inconsistencies are signs that the witnesses were not rehearsed.[19]

In all, we agree with the trial court in convicting appellant based on the eyewitness accounts of Bañez and Biyu.  The two saw the incident and positively identified appellant as the perpetrator.

Appellant's Alibi

In the light of the foregoing, we reject appellant's alibi that he was in Cebu when the crime was committed in Ormoc City on May 21, 1993. The well-settled rule is that alibi cannot prevail over the positive identification of appellant by credible witnesses.[20]

Second Issue:


Appellant contends that treachery was not established in this case, considering that the stabbing was neither swift nor sudden.  He points out that there was "an exchange of words between the accused and the victim."[21] We are not convinced.  There is treachery when one employs means, methods or forms in the execution of a crime without risk to oneself arising from the defense which the offended party might make.[22] In this case, treachery was not negated by the mere fact that the attacker and the victim had spoken to each other briefly.[23] The prosecution established that the attack was sudden and that the victim was defenseless, unarmed and with no opportunity to retaliate.  This fact is clear from Bañez's following testimony:[24]

Was there an opportunity for Jojo Alkuino to retaliate?
There was none, sir.
Was Jojo armed at that time?
No sir, he was no[t].
In other words, he was defenseless when he was attacked.
Yes sir, he was defenseless.
Why do you say that he was defenseless?
Was defenseless sir, because he was sitting then.
He was able to parry that stab thrust?
No sir, he was not.
Why not?
How could he parry the thrust made by Pedro Ramirez, [when] the thrust was so sudden, sir."

Penalty and Civil Liability

In line with current jurisprudence,[25] we affirm the award of indemnity ex delicto to the heirs of the victim in the sum of  P50,000.  This award needs no proof other than the commission of the crime.  Likewise, we sustain the award of P50,000 for moral damages, which has evidentiary basis.  The victim's father testified that as a result of the crime, he suffered "heaviness of heart" as well as "mental anguish."[26] We disagree with the trial court, however, in sentencing appellant "to suffer imprisonment of forty (40) years reclusion perpetua."  There was no justification or need for the trial court to specify the length of imprisonment, because reclusion perpetua is an indivisible penalty.  The significance of this fundamental principle was laid down by the Court in People v. Diquit:[27] "Since reclusion perpetua is an indivisible penalty, it has no minimum, medium or maximum periods.  It is imposed in its entirety regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the crime. (Art. 63, Revised Penal Code) Reclusion perpetua is imprisonment for life but the person sentenced to suffer it shall be pardoned after undergoing the penalty for thirty (30) years, unless by reason of his conduct or some other serious cause, he shall be considered by the Chief Executive as unworthy of pardon (Art. 27, Revised Penal Code)."

WHEREFORE, the appealed Decision is AFFIRMED, except in regard to the penalty, which is hereby MODIFIED; accordingly, appellant is sentenced to the indivisible penalty of reclusion perpetua.  Costs against appellant.


Melo (Chairman), Vitug, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.

[1] Written by Judge Fortunito L. Madrona, it was dated February 10, 1999 and promulgated on February 18, 1999.  RTC Decision, p. 5; rollo, p. 20; records, p. 223.

[2] Records, p. 2; rollo, p. 6.

[3] Atty. Crescente Maraya; records, p. 27.

[4] The case was deemed submitted for decision on December 18, 2000, when this Court received the Manifestation in Lieu of Reply Brief filed by appellant, stating that he "is respectfully adopting the arguments in [his] Brief as his reply to the appellee's Brief."

[5] Appellee's Brief, pp. 3-4; rollo, pp. 89-90. This was signed by Solicitor General Ricardo P. Galvez, Assistant Solicitor General Antonio L. Villamor and Solicitor Ellaine Rose A. Sanchez-Corro.

[6] Appellant's Brief, pp. 7-8; rollo, pp. 60-61. This was signed by Attys. Arceli A. Rubin, Amelia C. Garchitorena and Ferdinand C. Baylon of the Public Attorney's Office.

[7] RTC Decision, p. 3; rollo, p. 18; records, p. 221.

[8] Ibid., p. 4; rollo, p. 19; records, p. 222.

[9] Appellant's Brief, pp. 1-2;  rollo, pp. 54-55.

[10] TSN, July 22, 1997, pp. 8-11.

[11] TSN, June 17, 1998, pp. 11-13.

[12] People v. Ferrer, 255 SCRA 19, March 14, 1996; People v. Lua, 256 SCRA 539, April 26, 1996.

[13] Appellant's Brief, p. 9; rollo, p. 62.

[14] Appellant's Brief, p. 10; rollo, p. 63. Underscoring found in the original.

[15] TSN, July 22, 1997, p. 29.

[16] Appellant's Brief, p. 11; rollo, p. 64.

[17] In fact, Bañez testified that the victim did not go home, but proceeded to a cousin's house and was thereafter brought to a hospital.

[18] Appellant's Brief, pp. 9-10; rollo, pp. 62-63. Emphasis supplied.

[19] People v. De Leon, GR Nos. 124338-41,  May 12, 2000; People v. Monieva, GR No. 123912, June 8, 2000.

[20] People v. Grefaldia, 298 SCRA 337, October 30, 1998; People v. Marollano, 276 SCRA 84, July 24, 1997; People v. Espanola, 271 SCRA 689, April 18, 1997.

[21] Appellant's Brief, p. 12; rollo, p. 65.

[22] People v. Caritativo, 256 SCRA 1, April 1, 1996; People v. Torrefiel, 265 SCRA 369, April 18, 1996.

[23] See People v. Elijorde, GR No. 126531, April 21, 1999;  People v. Alib, GR No. 130944, January 18, 2000; People v. Belaro, GR No. 99869, May 26, 1999.

[24] TSN, July 22, 1997, pp. 11-12.

[25] People v. Vermudez, 302 SCRA 276, January 28, 1999; People v. Albao, 287 SCRA 129, March 6, 1998.

[26] TSN, March 3, 1998, pp. 14-15.

[27] 205 SCRA 501, January 27, 1992, per Griño-Aquino, J.  See also People v. Lucas, 240 SCRA 66, January 9, 1995; People v. Francisco, GR No. 130490,  June 19, 2000.

© Supreme Court E-Library 2019
This website was designed and developed, and is maintained, by the E-Library Technical Staff in collaboration with the Management Information Systems Office.