G.R. No. 238525. March 27, 2019

SECOND DIVISION: [G.R. No. 238525, March 27, 2019] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VERSUS JEFFREY FAJARDO Y JULO @ "PING", ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

After a careful review of the records of the case and the issues submitted by the parties, the Court finds no error committed in the Decision[1] dated August 22, 2017 of the Court of Appeals, First Division (CA), in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 08656. The facts, as borne out by the records, sufficiently support the conclusion that accused-appellant Jeffrey Fajardo y Julo (Fajardo) is indeed guilty of the crime of Murder. The issues and matters raised before the Court, the same ones as those raised in the CA, there being no supplemental briefs filed, were sufficiently addressed and correctly ruled upon by the CA.

It is well-settled that in the absence of facts or circumstances of weight and substance that would affect the result of the case, appellate courts will not overturn the factual findings of the trial court.[2] Thus, when the case pivots on the issue of the credibility of the witnesses, the findings of the trial courts necessarily carry great weight and respect as they are afforded the unique opportunity to ascertain the demeanor and sincerity of witnesses during trial.[3] Here, after examining the records of this case, the Court finds no cogent reason to vacate the RTC's[4] appreciation of the evidence, which was affirmed in toto by the CA.

In the same vein, Fajardo's defense of denial cannot outweigh the positive and categorical testimonies of the witnesses, particularly of eyewitnesses Harijone Aya and Regan Dotig, that it was Fajardo who stabbed the victim numerous times while locking the latter's neck using his right arm. The Court has oft pronounced that denial is an inherently weak defense which cannot prevail over the positive and credible testimony of the prosecution witnesses that the accused committed the crime. Thus, as between categorical testimonies which have the ring of truth on the one hand, and a mere denial on the other, the former is generally held to prevail.[5]

In the present case, there is nothing on the record which would show why the eyewitnesses of the prosecution would implicate Fajardo for the crime if it was not true that he indeed committed the same. It must be pointed out that the eyewitnesses in this case were friends with both the victim and Fajardo. Thus, the Court fails to see why it should afford greater weight to Fajardo's bare denial over the positive and categorical testimonies of the eyewitnesses.

Furthermore, the Court agrees with the RTC and the CA that the crime committed was Murder as the killing was attended by treachery. In particular, the Court agrees with the CA that the Information in this case sufficiently described the acts of Fajardo that constituted the qualifying circumstance of treachery. To recall, the Information filed against Fajardo stated:
That on or about March 12, 2002, at around 10:30 o'clock in the evening at A. Delas Alas Drive, Batangas City, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court the above-named accused, while armed with two (2) kitchen knives, deadly weapons, with intent to kill and with qualifying circumstances of treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there, wilfully (sic) unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and stab with said kitchen knives, suddenly and without warning, one Jethro James Mac y Enriquez, while the latter was unarmed and completely defenseless, thereby hitting him at the different parts of his body, which directly caused the victim's death.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[6] (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)
From the above, it is clear that the Information clearly accused Fajardo of suddenly attacking the unarmed victim with kitchen knives, which rendered the latter defenseless. During the trial, the prosecution was able to prove, through the testimonies of the eyewitnesses, that Fajardo purposely took the victim away from his friends and isolated him in another street, put his right arm around the neck of the victim, and repeatedly stabbed him using kitchen knives. The attack was also unexpected because, as the RTC pointed out, "it would be nonsensical for Jethro to oblige in talking to the accused if he (Jethro) was aware of any intention on the part of the accused to harm him,"[7] the fact being that Fajardo and the victim were long-time friends. The attack was therefore sudden, unexpected, and purposely sought by Fajardo to ensure execution without risk to himself from the defense that the victim might make.

As the existence of the qualifying circumstance of treachery was sufficiently alleged and proved, the Court thus affirms the conviction of Fajardo for the crime of Murder.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the appeal is DISMISSED for lack of merit. The Decision dated August 22, 2017 of the Court of Appeals, First Division in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 08656, finding accused-appellant Jeffrey Fajardo y Julo @ "Ping" guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-11. Penned by Associate Justice Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando, with Associate Justices Mario V. Lopez and Ramon Paul L. Hemando (now a Member of this Court) concurring.

[2] People v. Gerola, G.R. No. 217973, July 19, 2017, 831 SCRA 469, 478.

[3] People v. Aguilar, 565 Phil. 233, 247 (2007).

[4] See Decision dated August 16, 2016 of the Regional Trial Court of Pallocan West, Batangas City, Branch 4 in Criminal Case No. 12273, penned by Presiding Judge Albert A. Kalalo; CA rollo, pp. 58-62.

[5] People v. Piosang, 710 Phil. 519, 527 (2013).

[6] Rollo, p. 3.

[7] CA rollo, p. 61

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