437 Phil. 849

EN BANC

[ G.R. Nos. 144907-09, September 17, 2002 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. MANUEL GUTIERREZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

BELLOSILLO, J.:

VENUS RAMOS went to see her sister Analiza de la Cruz in her house in the family compound at Tibag, Baliuag, Bulacan, on 20 June 1999. Venus' other sister, Lorelie de la Cruz, lived next door with their cousin, accused Manuel Gutierrez, in the family's two (2)-storey ancestral home. At around 2:30 in the afternoon while Venus was watching television she heard some noise coming from the second floor of the old family home. She rushed there but was immediately greeted upstairs with a gruesome scenario. Her sister Lorelie was being stabbed mercilessly from behind by their cousin Manuel Gutierrez. Terrified, Venus retreated and dashed downstairs where she met her sister Analiza. Upon learning of the incident, Analiza rushed back to her house next door. Venus ran towards the gate of the compound in an effort to seek help from the neighbors. When she looked back she chanced upon the accused also stabbing her cousin Rializa Trabel. The accused next turned his ire on Rializa's mother, Lilian Trabel, whom he struck on the ear with a kitchen knife although the latter was able to evade further harm by seeking refuge inside her house. Lilian survived the attack, but Rializa and Lorelie died even before they could receive medical attention.

Accused Manuel Gutierrez was arrested a few hours after the carnage and was accordingly charged with double murder for the death of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel and with attempted murder for the wounding of Lilian Trabel.

The accused initially entered a plea of "Not Guilty" but after the prosecution had presented its first witness, he changed his plea to "Guilty." Before accepting his plea of guilt, the trial court inquired whether he understood fully the meaning of his plea of guilt and the consequences thereof. After convincing the court that he understood his plea of guilt and its consequences, the accused maintained his plea of guilt explaining that he desperately wanted to give his relatives serenity and peace of mind. Thus the trial court continued with the reception of the evidence for the prosecution to determine the proper imposable penalty.

Lilian Trabel narrated in between sobs how her daughter Rializa was stabbed to death by the accused Manuel Gutierrez. She said that Rializa was roused from her sleep upon hearing some noise from a neighbor's house and then darted through her main door. She followed Rializa but as they were about to step out of the house they were met by the accused who was already in a belligerent mood. Without saying a word the accused suddenly stabbed Rializa who could only shout "Jojo, huwag!" Thereupon, the accused turned his wrath on her and stabbed her on the head with a kitchen knife. Then she ran back to her house and locked the door for safety. Once inside, she kept calling out for her daughter Rializa but she did not get any response.

Thereafter, accused Manuel Gutierrez was convicted of two (2) counts of murder and one (1) count of serious physical injuries. The court a quo appreciated the presence of treachery as Lorelie was assaulted from behind with the accused holding on to her hair. Considering that the assault happened within the victim’s own house, the trial court opined that there was every reason to believe that it was sudden and unexpected. Treachery was likewise found to have attended the killing of Rializa since it was made upon an unsuspecting victim who did not have any opportunity to defend herself or to avoid the attack. On the other hand, for the asault on Lilian Trabel, the trial court held the accused liable only for serious physical injuries as her wounds required only a month to heal.[1]

Consequently, the accused was sentenced twice to suffer the penalty of death for the killing of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel, and to an indeterminate prison term of four (4) months of arresto mayor as minimum to two (2) years and four (4) months of prision correcional as maximum for the attack upon Lilian Trabel resulting in serious physical injuries. The accused was further ordered to indemnify the heirs of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel P100,000.00 and Lilian Trabel P5,000.00 as actual damages.

These cases were elevated to us on automatic review in view of the penalty of death imposed twice upon the accused by the court a quo.

The accused does not deny his guilt. He faults the trial court for appreciating the qualifying circumstance of treachery in the killing of Lorelie and Rializa. He insists that insofar as the stabbing of Lorelie is concerned, Venus Ramos admittedly did not witness the commencement of the attack thus defeating the prosecution’s bid to establish treachery as an aggravating circumstance. The accused also argues that treachery cannot be appreciated in the killing of Rializa as the evidence shows that the assault upon her was thought of only seconds after the killing frenzy.

On the part of the government, the Solicitor General asserts that a plea of guilt amounts to a judicial confession of all the material facts alleged in the Information, and by pleading guilty to the charges alleged in the Information, the accused admits not only the commission of the crime but also the attendant aggravating circumstances alleged therein. Thus, the accused cannot now be heard to complain that the trial court wrongly appreciated treachery in convicting him of two (2) counts of murder.

The Solicitor General’s argument is already passé. We are reminded of People v. Derilo[2] where after enumerating the perils posed by the rule equating a guilty plea with an admission of all the aggravating circumstances alleged in the Information, we categorically stated that a formal plea of guilt was insufficient to sustain a conviction of the aggravated crime charged in the Information. We ratiocinated that it happens not infrequently that upon arraignment the accused pleads guilty to the commission of an offense qualified by aggravating circumstances, when in truth his intention was merely to admit that he committed the act charged in the complaint without an understanding of the aggravating circumstances. It is highly unreasonable to assume that an accused, untutored in the ways of the judicial system, would fully comprehend the allegation that the aggravating circumstances of treachery and evident premeditation attended the commission of the crimes inasmuch as treachery is a highly technical term the juridical meaning of which is beyond the understanding not only of the illiterates but even those who, being educated, are not lawyers.[3]

Too, it should no longer be assumed that the profession of guilt includes an admission of the attending circumstances alleged in the Information considering that Sec. 3, Rule 116, of the Rules of Court mandates the presentation of evidence in capital offenses where the accused has entered a plea of guilty. This rule would be rendered nugatory if we were to determine the liability of the accused for an aggravated crime based on the dubious strength of a presumptive rule. Thus, although the accused herein pleaded guilty to the charges alleged in the three (3) separate Informations, treachery may not be taken against him if the evidence presented by the prosecution failed to adequately establish its existence. Hence, the primordial issue to be resolved now is whether the assaults perpetrated by the accused were attended with treachery.

To sustain a finding of treachery, two (2) conditions must be established: (a) the means, method and form of execution employed by the accused gave the victim no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and, (b) such means, method or form of execution was deliberately and consciously adopted by the accused to eliminate or diminish the risk to his person from any defense which the party attacked might offer.[4] Treachery may not simply be deduced from presumptions as it is necessary that its elements be fully established as the crime itself.

In the instant case, however, we are not prepared to rule that treachery attended the killing of Lorelie de la Cruz. As borne out by the records, prosecution witness Venus Ramos did not actually see how the stabbing began, how it developed, and how the unfortunate victim succumbed to death on the second floor of the ancestral house. Venus witnessed only a portion of the assault, so that she would be unable to paint an accurate picture of the killing. We have consistently ruled that absent any particulars as to the manner with which the aggression was commenced, or how the act that resulted in the death of the victim unfolded, treachery cannot be appreciated.[5] Thus, no matter how truthful the suppositions offered by Venus appear, they do not, as they cannot produce the effect of aggravating the liability of the accused.

Treachery likewise was not attendant in the killing of Rializa. The attendant circumstances indicate that the attack on Rializa was the result of a rash and impetuous impulse rather than of a deliberate, conscious and willful act. We have ruled in a catena of cases that where the meeting between the accused and the victim was casual and the attack was done impulsively or devoid of any plan, there can be no treachery even if the attack was sudden and unexpected. In treachery, the mode of attack must not spring from the unexpected turn of events but must have been deliberately thought of by the offender.[6]

As the meeting between the accused and Rializa was purely accidental, and in the absence of proof of any evil motive, it becomes obvious that the accused had no opportunity to plan the killing, much less map the strategy with which to implement it. No evidence on record supports the theory that he had previously decided to kill Rializa. There is even no proof that he purposely sought her out, much less that he had even any motive aforethought preceding the perpetration of the crime.

We likewise take exception to the view of the trial court denominating the assault upon Lilian Trabel as serious physical injuries for the reason that the medical certificate estimated the healing period of one (1) month for her wounds. Article 265 of The Revised Penal Code, in relation to par. (4), Art. 263 thereof, provides that where the incapacity of the victim or his required medical attendance is from ten (10) to thirty (30) days the offense would be less serious physical injuries, and if for more than thirty (30) days, it would be serious physical injuries.[7]

Article 13 of the Civil Code explicitly provides that when the law speaks of months it shall be understood that they are of thirty (30) days. Applied in the present case, the one (1) month healing period provided in Lilian’s medical certificate should thus be interpreted as referring to thirty (30) days of incapacity. The liability therefore of the accused for the wounding of Lilian Trabel should fall under Art. 265 of The Revised Penal Code for less serious physical injuries, and not under par. (4), Art. 263, of the aforesaid law.

Treachery should not also aggravate the liability of the accused as the attack upon Lilian, similarly to that of her daughter Rializa, was devoid of any predetermination.

There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance attendant to the assault, and taking into consideration the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the penalty for the crime of less serious physical injuries should be taken from arresto menor in any of its periods, which is from one (1) day to thirty (30) days, as minimum, and arresto mayor medium, which is two (2) months and one (1) day to four (4) months, as maximum, or a straight penalty of two (2) months will suffice.

In light of our finding that treachery did not qualify the killings of Lorelie and Rializa to murder, the accused could only be held liable for homicide. There being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance in both assaults, the proper imposable penalty is reclusion temporal in its medium period. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum term imposable upon the accused for each killing should be within the range of prision mayor or from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years, and the maximum should be within the range of reclusion temporal medium or from fourteen (14) years eight (8) months and one (1) day to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months.

We see no need to modify the civil indemnity of the accused. Apart from the award of civil indemnity ex delicto in the amount of P100,000.00, or P50,000.00 each for the heirs of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel, each set of heirs is likewise entitled to an award of moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00.[8] We delete however the award of actual damages to Lilian Trabel as no competent proof was presented in support thereof.[9]

WHEREFORE, the Decision appealed from is MODIFIED. According, accused Manuel Gutierrez is found guilty instead of two (2) counts of homicide for the death of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel and is sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of eight (8) years four (4) months and twenty (20) days of prision mayor medium, as minimum, to fifteen (15) years eight (8) months and twenty (20) days of reclusion temporal medium, as maximum, for each of the killings. For the assault upon Lilian Trabel, the accused Manuel Gutierrez is found guilty of less serious physical injuries and is sentenced to a straight prison term of two (2) months. 

Accused Manuel Gutierrez is further ordered to pay the heirs of Lorelie dela Cruz and Rializa Trabel P50,000.00 each as death indemnity, and another P50,000.00 each for moral damages, plus the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

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


[1] Decision penned by Judge Basilio R. Gabo Jr., RTC-Br. 11, Malolos, Bulacan; Rollo pp. 13-17.

[2] 338 Phil. 350 (1997).

[3] Id., citing People v. Gungab, 64 Phil. 779 (1937).

[4] People v. Coscos, G.R. No. 132321, 21 January 2002; People v. Kinok, G.R. No. 104629, 13 November 2001; People v. Dumayan, G.R. No. 116280, 21 May 2001; People v. Magsayac, G.R. No. 126043, 19 April 2000, 330 SCRA 767; People v. Tadeje, G.R. No. 123143, 19 July 1999, 310 SCRA 426; People v. Serzo, Jr., G.R. No. 118435, 20 June 1997, 274 SCRA 553; People v. Iligan, G.R. No. 75369, 26 November 1990, 191 SCRA 643.

[5] People v. Sia, G.R. No. 137457, 21 November 2001; People v. Bantiling, G.R. No. 136017, 15 November 2001; People v. Bautista, G.R. Nos. 96618-19, 11 August 1999, 312 SCRA 214; People v. Mantung, G.R. No. 130372, 20 July 1999, 310 SCRA 819; People v. Borreros, G.R. No. 125185, 5 May 1999, 306 SCRA 680; People v. Bahenting, G.R. No. 127659, 24 February 1999, 303 SCRA 558; People v. Patamana, G.R. No. 107938, 4 December 1995, 250 SCRA 603; People v. Misola, 87 Phil. 826 (1950).

[6] People v. Santillana, G.R. No. 127815, 9 June 1999, 308 SCRA 104; People v. Tavas, G.R. No. 123969, 11 February 1999, 303 SCRA 86; People v. Belga, G.R. Nos. 94376-77, 11 July 1996, 258 SCRA 583; People v. Malazzab, G.R. No. 39136, 15 April 1988, 160 SCRA 123; People v. Abalos, 84 Phil. 771 (1949); People v. Calinawan, 83 Phil. 647 (1949); US v. Namit, 38 Phil. 926 (1918).

[7] Art. 263. Serious physical injuries. - Any person who shall wound, beat or assault another, shall be guilty of the crime of serious physical injuries and shall suffer: x x x x 4. The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period, if the physical injuries inflicted shall have caused the illness or incapacity for labor of the injured person for more than thirty days.

Art. 265. Less serious physical injuries. Any person who shall inflict upon another physical injuries not described in the preceding articles, but which shall incapacitate the offended party for labor for ten days or more, or shall require medical attendance for the same period, shall be guilty of less serious physical injuries and shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor x x x x

[8] People v. Alba, G.R. No. 130523, 29 January 2002; People v. Verino, G.R. No. 133224, 25 January 2002; People v. Costales, G.R. Nos. 141154-56, 15 January 2002; People v. Canares, G.R. No. 132743, 22 November 2001; People v. Caboquin, G.R. No. 137613, 14 November 2001.

[9] People v. Lab-eo, G.R. No. 133438, 16 January 2002; People v. Dianos, G.R. No. 119311, 7 October 1998, 297 SCRA 19; People v. Obello, 348 Phil. 82 (1998).



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