G.R. No. 207658. August 30, 2017

THIRD DIVISION: [G.R. No. 207658, August 30, 2017] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. JONATHAN LUNA Y FERNANDEZ, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

The accused was pronounced guilty of murder as charged by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 14, in Zamboanga City through the decision dated August 8, 2008 for the fatal stabbing of the late Ranny Resurreccion y Columba on August 3, 2006, and was meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua.[1]

On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the conviction on November 27, 2012.[2] decreeing:
FOR THESE REASONS, the appealed Judgment dated 08 August 2008 is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the civil indemnity and the moral damages are increased from P50,000.00 to P75,000.00 and the exemplary damages, from P25,000.00 to P30,000.00; and that accused-appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of the victim interests on all damages awarded at the legal rate of 6% per annum from 03 August 2006 up to the finality of this Decision, and interest at 12% per annum on all damages from date of finality of this Decision until folly paid.

SO ORDERED.
Hence, this appeal, in which the accused-appellant reiterates the errors and arguments raised in the CA.[3]

After a judicious review of the records, the Court finds the appeal bereft of substance and persuasion.

To start with, the accused initially pleaded not guilty to the information at his arraignment, but he changed his plea to guilty during the pre-trial with the consent of the State and complainant Merelyn V. Resurreccion. Later on, and contradicting his later plea of guilty, he insisted that he did not see who had stabbed the victim because he had been inside the store when the assault happened.[4] His insistence displayed the unreliability of his recollection about the stabbing incident.

Secondly, the CA properly appreciated the attendance of treachery when the accused fatally assaulted the victim notwithstanding the testimony of Prosecution witness Richard Bautista to the effect that the victim and the accused had engaged in a fist fight prior to the stabbing. The CA noted that the accused - who had been one of the helpers in the victim's rice delivery business — and two other helpers had been left behind at a delivery stop when the victim and his wife had driven off to another place to have breakfast; that the victim and his wife were unaware that they had inadvertently left the three helpers behind, but upon realizing their omission, they turned around to pick up the three; that the accused had been angered by what happened; that after fetching the three, the victim stopped the truck at a carinderia in Tugbungan for all to have breakfast, and it was then when the accused had alighted from the rear of the truck and attacked the victim as the latter was himself going down from the driver's seat with his back towards the accused; that the latter had then repeatedly stabbed the victim; that the victim had gotten down on his knees from the assault; that the victim's wife had witnessed the sudden assault by the accused; that witness Richard Bautista, a barangay kagawad of the area, who had been on his way on foot to the barangay hall, had also witnessed the stabbing of the victim, and had forthwith introduced himself to the accused as a barangay kagawad, ordering the latter to drop his weapon; and that after the latter had complied with his order, Bautista then apprehended him.

Treachery is defined in paragraph 16 of Article 14 of the Revised Penal Code as the deliberate employment of means, methods or forms in the execution of a crime against persons which tend directly and specially to ensure its execution, without risk to the offender arising from the defense which the intended victim might raise. It is present when two conditions concur, namely: (1) that the means, methods and forms of execution employed gave the person attacked no opportunity to defend himself or to retaliate; and (2) that such means, methods and forms of execution were deliberately and consciously adopted by the accused without danger to his person. The State proved that the accused-appellant had deliberately adopted means and methods for the execution of his crime without risk to himself and without the possibility of any defense or evasion on the part of the victim by quickly getting off from the rear of the truck, and then and there suddenly and repeatedly assaulting him with the knife at the moment when the latter, coming down from the driver's seat, had his back turned towards the former.And, thirdly, the CA properly disregarded the mitigating circumstances of voluntary surrender and voluntary plea of guilty considering that the penalty for the crime was indivisible.

Nonetheless, we revise the civil liability in order to conform to prevailing jurisprudence. In People v. Jugueta,[5] the Court fixed at P75,000.00 for each of the civil indemnity, moral damages and exemplary damages awarded where the penalty imposed is reclusion perpetua, and required interest of 6% per annum to be charged on such awards reckoned from the finality of the decision until full satisfaction.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision promulgated on September 20, 2012 subject to the MODIFICATION that accused JONATHAN LUNA FERNANDEZ shall pay the heirs of Ranny Resurreccion y Columba civil indemnity of P75,000.000, moral damages of P75,000.00 and exemplary damages of P75,000.00, plus interest of 6% per annum on such amounts from the finality of the decision until full satisfaction.

The accused shall further pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

[1] CA Rollo, pp. 20-23; penned by Presiding Judge Reynerio G. Estacio.

[2] Rollo, pp. 3-14; penned by Associate Justice Edgardo A. Camello, with Associate Justice Renato C. Francisco and Associate Justice Oscar V. Badelles concurring.

[3] The Court noted on February 3, 2014 the waiver by the parties of the filing of their respective supplemental briefs.

[4] Rollo, pp. 5-6.

[5] G.R. No. 202124, April 5, 2016, 788 SCRA 331.

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