438 Phil. 530

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 148859, September 24, 2002 ]

HERMINIGILDO LUCAS, PETITIONER, VS. COURT OF APPEALS AND PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

BELLOSILLO, J.:

HERMINIGILDO LUCAS was charged with theft before the Regional Trial Court of Binangonan, Br. 69, Rizal, together with Wilfredo Navarro and Enrique Lovena. The Information[1] alleged that on or about 8 June 1990 the three (3) accused, conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, with intent to gain, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously stole and carried away one stereo component, a 14-inch colored TV, an electric fan, twenty-three (23) pieces of cassette tapes, one (1) box of car toys, four (4) pieces of Pyrex crystal bowls, cash of P20,000.00 and jewelry worth P10,000.00, valued at P100,000.00 all belonging to Luisito Tuazon.

Petitioner Herminigildo Lucas and his co-accused Wilfredo Navarro pleaded not guilty. Their co-accused Enrique Lovena remains at large.

Private complainant Luisito Tuazon testified that on 8 June 1990 he arrived home from work at around six o'clock in the morning to find the door of his house ajar. He was residing at Barrio Tagpos, Binangonan, Rizal. No one else was at home since his wife was in Singapore and his children were with his relatives. His television set and stereo component were missing, as well as an electric fan, kitchen utensils, cassette tapes and toys, cash in the amount of P20,000.00 and jewelry of his wife worth P10,000.00.[2]

Patrolman Edgardo Fuentes responded to Luisito's call for help. Pat. Fuentes testified that in the early morning of 8 June 1990 a certain Tuazon arrived at the police outpost in Tayuman and asked for help concerning a burglary in his house. He conducted an investigation of the house and its surroundings and recovered an empty bag where the cash and jewelry were placed. He returned to the outpost but was asked to come back by the same Tuazon who had found some of the stolen items outside a neighbor's house.[3] These were the television set, the stereo component, electric fan, toy cars and cassette tapes.

At around two o'clock in the morning of 8 June 1990 Shirley Blanquisco a niece of Luisito Tuazon and her boyfriend were inside the balutan factory which was just beside Luisito's house. While Shirley and the boyfriend were talking, they heard a sound coming from the house of her uncle Luisito. They peeped through a window and saw the three (3) accused coming out of the front door. Herminigildo Lucas was carrying an electric fan while Wilfredo Navarro and Enrique Lovena each carried a box. Shirley knew who they were as they bought salted eggs from her and she had seen them pass by her house before. She could see them clearly as there was a light above the front door of the house when they passed. Immediately after the incident, she went home but was not able to tell her uncle what she had seen until much later.[4]

Reynaldo Raymundo corroborated Shirley Blanquisco's testimony. He said that at around the same time and in the same place, he was on his way home to Angono, Rizal, and was waiting for a ride. He felt like urinating so he relieved himself. While doing so, he saw the three (3) accused coming out of a house, one of them carrying an electric fan and the other two (2) were carrying one box each. He could see the three (3) very well since the street was lighted and they were only some thirty (30) meters away from him. The thieves loaded the articles onto a passing tricycle which then drove away.[5]

Petitioner Lucas and his co-accused Navarro put up the defense of alibi and denial. Lucas claimed that at around the time the theft took place, he was sound asleep in his home in Tagpos, Binangonan, Rizal, although he worked as a jeepney driver for his employer in Project 4, Quezon City. At around four o'clock every morning he would leave his house for Quezon City to get the vehicle from his employer and ply his route from five o'clock in the morning to eight o'clock in the evening. He would return home at around nine o'clock in the evening. On 7 June 1990 he followed this routine. Upon returning home in the evening, he had dinner and afterwards watched television. He went to sleep at around ten o'clock in the evening and did not wake up until four o'clock the following morning.[6] His wife Violeta Lucas also took the witness stand and confirmed his testimony.[7]

The trial court found Lucas and Navarro guilty as charged and sentenced them to imprisonment ranging from four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day of prision correccional as minimum, to ten (10) years of prision mayor as maximum, and to pay the costs. The court also ordered them to jointly and severally return the amount of P30,000.00 corresponding to cash and the value of the jewelry taken.[8] As basis for the penalty imposed, the trial court considered only the P30,000.00 representing the cash and the value of the jewelry which were unrecovered. In the opinion of the trial court, Luisito's allegation that the stolen items were valued at P100,000.00 was inconclusive since there was no documentary nor oral evidence presented to establish the actual value of all the things stolen.[9]

The two (2) accused went to the Court of Appeals which affirmed their conviction and even raised the period of their imprisonment to from six (6) years of prision correccional as minimum to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal as maximum.[10] The appellate court based the penalty on private complainant's claim that the things stolen were valued at P100,000.00. It cited Art. 309, par. (1), of The Revised Penal Code which provides that when the value of the stolen article exceeds P200,000.00, prision mayor in its minimum and medium periods shall be imposed in the maximum, plus one (1) year for every P10,000.00 in excess thereof but the total penalty shall not exceed twenty (20) years of reclusion temporal.[11]

Petitioner Lucas first alleges that it was impossible for conspiracy to have existed among the accused. He claims he did not know his co-accused Navarro and Lovena; neither did they know him on or before 8 June 1990. Petitioner raises the possibility that he could have been mistaken for David Quiozon, a defense witness for co-accused Navarro, and who was with Navarro from around 9:00 o'clock to 10:00 o'clock in the evening on 7 June 1990 drinking beer at a store near the place where the crime was committed.[12] Lucas and Quiozon allegedly resembled each other as they both had similar physical appearance with seven (7) upper teeth missing.[13]

The finding of conspiracy is further alleged to be without basis because the testimony of prosecution witnesses Shirley and Raymundo that all of the accused placed the stolen items in a tricycle and boarded the same vehicle in leaving the scene of the crime, negates the declaration of complainant Tuazon and Pat. Fuentes that the stolen items were recovered under a bougainvillaea plant at a neighbor's house. Petitioner explains that the alleged stolen items could not have been asported from the house of complainant and placed under the bougainvillaea plant and at the same time loaded into a tricycle as testified to by Blanquisco and Raymundo.

Conspiracy need not be proved by direct evidence of a prior agreement to commit the crime. It may be deduced from the concerted acts of the accused, indubitably demonstrating their unity of purpose, intent and sentiment in committing the crime. Thus, it is not required that the accused were acquainted with one another or that there was an agreement for an appreciable period prior to the occurrence. It is enough that the accused acted in concert at the time of the commission of the offense and that they had the same purpose or common design, and that they were united in its execution.[14]

In the case before us, Lucas, Navarro and Lovena demonstrated their agreement to commit the theft by their unified acts of taking Luisito Tuazon's personal belongings away from his home and boarding a tricycle together to leave the locus criminis. Conspiracy can be inferred from their actions.

There is likewise no merit in the argument that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses negate the conspiracy. For purposes of clarification, Blanquisco only testified that she saw the three (3) accused coming out of Tuazon's house carrying an electric fan and two (2) boxes. She did not see the accused load those things into a tricycle and make their getaway. Raymundo corroborated Blanquisco's testimony as he too saw the accused coming out of a house carrying the things mentioned, and in addition, saw the accused carry the things onto a tricycle and drive away. On the other hand, Luisito Tuazon and Pat. Fuentes recovered the television set, stereo component, toy cars, cassette tapes and electric fan.

Petitioner also assails the credibility of prosecution witness Shirley Blanquisco. He claims that being a niece of the complainant, Blanquisco has a personal motive in testifying against him. He pointed out inconsistencies in her testimony that allegedly show that she was brazenly lying. First, she claimed that, at the time of the incident, complainant's wife and children were present in the house. This was belied by complainant Tuazon's testimony that his wife was in Singapore and his children were staying with relatives. Second, she declared during the trial that she told complainant about the alleged burglary as early as eight o'clock in the morning of 8 June 1990. However, in complainant's sworn statement, he stated that as of eleven o'clock in the morning he had as yet no knowledge of the identities of the persons responsible for the theft. Further, Blanquisco stated in her Sinumpaang Salaysay that it was her father to whom she first disclosed the incident that transpired in the evening of 8 June 1990.

In petitioner's opinion, the better and only witness to the crime is the child Jasmin Jamin. Pat. Fuentes named Jasmin Jamin as a witness in his Sinumpaang Salaysay and in his testimony during the trial. It was also during the trial that the prosecution declared that it would offer Jasmin as its witness. However, the prosecution failed to do so.[15] With her non-presentation, petitioner contends the prosecution is guilty of suppression of evidence. The prosecution's failure to present her gives the presumption that said witness, if presented, would give testimony adverse to the prosecution.

It is a settled rule that when the issue is one of credibility of witnesses, appellate courts will generally not disturb the findings of the trial court considering that the latter is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.[16] The rule admits of certain exceptions, such as when patent inconsistencies in the statements of witnesses are ignored by the trial court, or when the conclusions arrived at are clearly unsupported by the evidence.[17]

Shirley Blanquisco was very categorical and straightforward in her identification of the accused as the perpetrators of the theft. The inconsistencies cited by petitioner relate only to trivial matters that do not negate or refute her testimony. Blanquisco explained in open court that she misunderstood defense counsel's question when she was asked who lived in the house.[18] She explained that what she meant was that Luisito Tuazon, his wife and their children were residents of the house where the incident took place, but they were not there at that time. This is further bolstered by the testimony of complainant Tuazon himself. Also, the time when Blanquisco was supposed to have informed Tuazon of the incident hardly matters. What is evident is that at some point she told her uncle about what she saw despite her fears of being reprimanded by her father. 

It is said that affidavits carry less weight than testimonies given in open court. Affidavits are often hurriedly done, sometimes prepared by persons other than the affiant himself whereas testimonies in court are tested by the cross-examination of the adverse party.[19] The inconsistencies between Blanquisco's Sinumpaang Salaysay and her testimony in court relate only to such minor details that are negligible.

We cannot see any ill motive on the part of Blanquisco in testifying against petitioner. As the niece of complainant, she had more reason to ensure that the real perpetrator of the crime would be punished. It is not natural for a victim’s relative interested in vindicating the crime to accuse somebody other than the real culprit.[20] Where there is no evidence to indicate that the prosecution witness was actuated by any improper motive, and absent any compelling reason to conclude otherwise, the testimony given is accorded full faith and credit.

To sustain a conviction for theft, the following elements must be present: (1) personal property of another person must be taken without the latter's consent; (2) the act of taking the personal property of another must be done without the use of violence against or intimidation of persons nor force upon things; and, (3) there must be an intention to gain from the taking of another person's personal property.[21]

The non-presentation of Jasmin Jamin is of no consequence. The matter of deciding whom to present as witness for the prosecution is the exclusive prerogative of the prosecutor.[22] More importantly, the testimonies of Blanquisco and Raymundo are sufficient to convict petitioner beyond a reasonable doubt, so that Jasmin Jamin's testimony, if presented, would only be corroborative. Based on the accounts of prosecution witnesses Shirley Blanquisco and Reynaldo Raymundo, all the elements of the offense and the identity of the perpetrators have been established. The failure to present Jamin as witness did not weaken the evidence of the prosecution, much less result in suppression of evidence on the part of the prosecution.

On the other hand, petitioner's only defense is alibi, the weakest of all defenses as it is easily fabricated. For alibi to prosper, one must not only prove that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed but also that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime at the time it was committed.[23] Petitioner testified that, at the time of the incident, he was sleeping in his house which was located in the same barangay. He even testified that his house is only around 200 meters from Tuazon's house.[24] His alibi is supported only by the testimony of his wife.[25] He failed to prove that it was physically impossible for him to be at the crime scene at the time the theft happened. Moreover, the defense of alibi cannot prevail over the positive identification by prosecution witnesses Blanquisco and Raymundo.

Finally, there is a question as to the proper penalty to be imposed on petitioner. The trial court refused to base the penalty on the claim of private complainant that value of the things stolen amounted to P100,000.00 since this was merely a sweeping assessment unsupported by evidence. Hence, the trial court based its judgment on the cash and the value of the jewelry stolen that were not recovered. On the other hand, the appellate court considered the P100,000.00 assessment made by Luisito Tuazon to be sufficient and imposed a higher penalty.

In the case at bar, the prosecution presented only the testimony of complainant Tuazon to prove the value of the things stolen. Tuazon, however, merely gave an estimate of the value of the things stolen, unsupported by any document proving their true worth. He even appeared uncertain about the value of some items taken. It would seem, therefore, that the prosecution did not satisfactorily establish the value of the stolen property. In the light of the insufficiency of the testimony of the complainant and the rejection by the trial court of his estimate of the loss, we cannot arbitrarily hold that the loss sustained amounted to P100,000.00 and affirm the higher penalty imposed by the Court of Appeals. We have no evidentiary basis to conclude that the total value of the things stolen is P100,000.00. The estimate does not consider the depreciation of the value of the television set, stereo component and electric fan. Hence, in the light of the legal principle of resolving any doubt in favor of the accused, the penalty imposed by the trial court should be sustained.

WHEREFORE, the assailed Decision of the Court of Appeals finding the petitioner, Herminigildo Lucas, guilty of the crime of theft is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the imposed penalty of six (6) years of prision correccional as minimum to seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal as maximum is REDUCED to imprisonment ranging from four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day of prision correccional, as minimum to ten (10) years of prision mayor as maximum. Petitioner is likewise ordered to return to private complainant Luisito Tuazon the amount of P30,000.00 representing the money and the value of the jewelry stolen from him. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Mendoza, Quisumbing, Austria-Martinez, and Callejo, Sr., JJ., concur.




[1] Rollo; pp. 91-92.

[2] TSN, 3 March 1992, pp. 9-12.

[3] TSN, 11 February 1993, pp. 6-13.

[4] TSN, 23 April 1991, pp. 5-16.

[5] TSN, 3 March 1993, pp. 8-15.

[6] TSN, 2 March 1995, pp. 4-8, 11.

[7] TSN, 21 March 1995, pp. 5-6.

[8] Decision penned by Judge Paterno G. Tiamson, RTC-Br. 69, Binangonan, Rizal; Rollo, pp. 116-117.

[9] CA Records, pp. 30-32.

[10] Decision penned by Associate Justice Salvador J. Valdez, Jr., concurred in by Associate Justices Wenceslao I. Agnir, Jr. and Edgardo P. Cruz of the Special Seventeenth Division; Rollo, pp. 35-52.

[11] Id, pp. 55-56.

[12] TSN, 13 October 1994, pp. 11-13; 17 January 1995, pp. 7-8.

[13] TSN, 17 January 1995, p. 19.

[14] People v. Ericto Appegu y Materum, G.R. No. 130657, 1 April 2002.

[15] Jasmin Jamin reportedly heard Navarro and Lucas discussing that they would enter a certain house; Rollo, pp. 26-28.

[16] People v. Mamerto Obosa, G.R. No. 129688, 2 April 2002.

[17] Id.

[18] TSN, 21 January 1992, p. 27.

[19] People v. Canales, G.R. No. 126319, 12 October 1998, 297 SCRA 667, 675.

[20] People v. Dimailig, G.R. No. 120170, 31 May 2000, 332 SCRA 340, 350.

[21] Art. 308, Revised Penal Code.

[22] People v. Cornelio Gelin, G.R. No. 135693, 1 April 2002.

[23] People v. Yamashito Ronquillo, G.R. No. 126136, 5 April 2002.

[24] TSN, 2 March 1995, pp. 12 and 17.

[25] See Note 7.



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