People v. Nocum (G.R. No. 235463. August 01, 2018)

CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 235463, August 01, 2018]. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. JEFFREY NOCUM Y MAMUCOD.

FACTS: In an amended information dated July 27, 2015, appellant was charged with the crime of murder. On August 3, 2015, appellant was arraigned and pleaded "not guilty." Thereafter, trial ensued.

The prosecution presented Catherine Nana (Nana), Edwin Ortiz (Ortiz), Elizabeth David, PO3 Bernardo Cayabyab and Dr. Jane Monzon (Dr. Monzon), as its witnesses. Their combined testimonies tended to establish the following:

On May 1, 2015, at around 2:00-2:45 in the morning, Tvan William Aranza (victim), together with his live-in partner, went to the house of Ortiz's mother at Sta. Cruz, Manila. Ortiz narrated that the victim wanted to borrow P300.00 from him but he refused because he did not have any money. Thereafter, when the victim was still inside the house, near the front door, and in a matter of five (5) seconds, Ortiz heard three (3) to four (4) gunshots and saw the victim already lying on the floor. Ortiz was not able to see who shot the victim, but when he asked the latter who shot him, the victim answered that it was "Jeffrey Negro " - the alias of herein appellant. Ortiz went out of the house to seek help. The victim was brought to Jose Reyes Memorial Hospital, but eventually succumbed to death.

Moments before the shooting incident, Nana was at Natividad Street fetching water, when she saw her friend, appellant, going towards the house of Ortiz. Nana then proceeded to the house of Ortiz to see what was happening. Nana saw appellant walking casually away from Ortiz's house before she saw the victim, who was also her childhood friend, bloodied and being carried out of Ortiz's house. She then saw appellant boarded a motorcycle.

On May 3, 2015, or two (2) days after the incident, appellant was arrested by the police. An unlicensed 0.9mm caliber pistol bearing Serial No. BA704489, believed to have been used in shooting the victim, was recovered from him.

A medico-legal report prepared by Dr. Monzon, who conducted the autopsy on the victim, was also presented as evidence. The autopsy revealed that the victim sustained two (2) gunshot wounds, which damaged his vital organs causing massive bleeding that led to his death. The autopsy also showed that the assailant must have been on the right side of the victim when he shot him.

The RTC Ruling

In its judgment dated August 25, 2016, the RTC found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of murder, punishable under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). It ruled that the qualifying circumstances of evident premeditation, treachery and abuse of superior strength were not proven by the prosecution. However, it found that the use of an unlicensed firearm was a special aggravating circumstance that qualify the killing to murder.

Aggrieved, appellant elevated an appeal to the CA.The CA affirmed with modification the RTC ruling. It held that based on several pieces of circumstantial evidence, it was established that appellant was the one who shot the victim. The CA further opined that the identity of appellant was established through the dying declaration of the victim when he stated to Ortiz that "Ex-O may tama ako. " It also held that the said identity was established through res gestae.

Nevertheless, the CA ruled the warrantless arrest conducted against appellant was illegal because he was arrested two (2) days after the incident and the police officers who conducted the arrest did not have personal knowledge of the facts or circumstance surrounding the crime. Accordingly, it held that the search incidental to the warrantless arrest was invalid and the unlicensed firearm seized from appellant was inadmissible as evidence.

Absent any qualifying circumstance, the CA held that appellant is only guilty of homicide.
Hence, this appeal.

In a Resolution[7] December 11, 2017, the Court required the parties to submit their respective supplemental briefs, if they so desired. In his Manifestation,[8] in lieu of supplemental brief, dated March 20, 2018, appellant manifested that he was adopting his appellant's brief filed before the CA as it had adequately discussed all the matters pertinent to his defense. In its Manifestation,[9] dated March 12, 2018, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) stated that all matters and issues raised by appellant had already been discussed in its Brief before the CA and asked that it be excused from filing its supplemental brief.

HELD: The appeal has no merit.

Circumstantial evidence prove that appellant was the killer.

The Court rules that the prosecution has proven that the victim was killed by appellant. The victim sustained two gunshot wounds which damaged his vital organs causing massive bleeding that led to his death. While there was no direct witness to the shooting, the RTC and the CA properly observed that there were numerous circumstantial evidence pointing to appellant as the perpetrator thereof.

The rules on evidence and precedents to sustain the conviction of an accused through circumstantial evidence, require the presence of the following requisites: (1) there are more than one circumstance; (2) the inference must be based on proven facts; and (3) the combination of all circumstances produces a conviction beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused. To justify a conviction upon circumstantial evidence, the combination of circumstances must be such as to leave no reasonable doubt in the mind as to the criminal liability of the appellant.[10]

In this case, Nana testified that in the early morning of May 1, 2015, while she was fetching water at the corner of Natividad Street, she saw appellant went to the house of Ortiz; that she followed him and she saw appellant inside the house with the victim and the latter's partner; not long thereafter, gun shots were heard from inside the house; appellant came out of the house; thereafter, the victim's bloodied body was being carried out of the house.

On the other hand, Ortiz testimony reinforced Nana's testimony that: in the early morning May 1, 2015, the victim went to his house to borrow money but Ortiz told him that he did not have any money; the victim stayed in one of the rooms of the house; that after a few minutes, somebody barged in the front door of the house; that he heard gunshots from the sala of the house; that he heard gunshots three or four times; and that the victim was shot and lying on the floor.

Indeed, the testimonies of Nana and Ortiz establish that appellant was the perpetrator of the crime. Nana confirmed that it was appellant who went inside the house and immediately came out after the shooting incident; while Ortiz testified that the victim was indeed shot inside his house. Moreover, appellant had a grudge against the victim because the latter previously borrowed money from him and failed to pay the same despite demands. With these several pieces of circumstantial evidence, it was established beyond reasonable doubt that appellant killed the victim.

There was no dying declaration;  instead, there was res gestae

The CA stated that the dying declaration of the victim established that appellant was the perpetrator of the crime.

The Court disagrees.

A dying declaration is an exemption to the hearsay rule wherein such declaration may be received as evidence of the cause and surrounding circumstances of the death of the declarant.[11] The rule is that, in order to make a dying declaration admissible, a fixed belief in inevitable and imminent death must be entered by the declarantIt is the belief in impending death and not the rapid succession of death in point of fact that renders the dying declaration admissible. It is not necessary that the approaching death be presaged by the personal feelings of the deceased. The test is whether the declarant has abandoned all hopes of survival and looked on death as certainly impending.[12]

In this case, the CA said that the victim believed his imminent and impending death because he stated to Ortiz that: "Ex-O may tama ako." However, the Court finds that this statement does not convincingly establish that the victim was conscious of his impending death. This statement from the victim does not show that the victim has abandoned all hopes of survival and looked on death as certainly impending. Hence, the victim's statement regarding appellant as his killer does not constitute a dying declaration because the essential element of the victim's consciousness of an impending death was not proven.

Nevertheless, even though not all the elements of a dying declaration were present in this case, the Court finds that the statement of the victim immediately after the shooting constitutes as res gestae. Statements made by a person while a startling occurrence is taking place or immediately prior or subsequent thereto with respect to the circumstances thereof, may be given in evidence as part of res gestae.[13]

In the case at bench, immediately after the shooting, Ortiz asked the victim who shot him and the latter answered that it was appellant.[14] Verily, the multiple shooting of the victim was a startling occurrence and the victim's statement immediately thereafter is the res gestae that must be considered by the Court. At that time, the victim had no time to contrive the identification of the assailant and his utterance was made in spontaneity and only in reaction to the startling occurrence. Hence, the res gestae statement of the victim bolsters the finding that it was appellant who shot the victim.

No qualifying circumstance was proven

With respect to the circumstances that would qualify the killing to murder, the Court finds that the prosecution failed to prove any of the qualifying circumstances. The RTC correctly pointed out that the alleged qualifying circumstances of evident premeditation, abuse of superior strength and treachery were not proven because none of the witnesses actually saw how the assailant attacked the victim. Hence, there is no evidence to prove the existence of these circumstances.Further, the CA correctly pointed out that the qualifying circumstance of the use of an unlicensed firearm cannot be used against appellant. The shooting incident happened May 1, 2015. Two (2) days later, or on May 3, 2015, the police officers conducted a warrantless arrest of appellant at his house. Thereafter, a warrantless search incidental to an arrest was conducted at his house and the police officers found an unlicensed firearm.

The Court finds that the warrantless arrest of appellant was invalid because it failed to comply with Sec. 5(b), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court. The said provision, which refers to a hot pursuit, states that an arrest of a suspect where, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances the arresting officer, there is probable cause that said suspect was the perpetrator of a crime which had just been committed. In warrantless arrests made pursuant to Section 5(b), it is essential that the element of personal knowledge must be coupled with the element of immediacyotherwise, the arrest may be nullified, and resultantly, the items yielded through the search incidental thereto will be rendered inadmissible in consonance with the exclusionary rule of the 1987 Constitution.[15]

In People v. Cendana,[16] the Court ruled that where the accused was arrested one (1) day after the killing of the victim and based only on an information obtained from unnamed sources and not from the personal knowledge of the facts or circumstance of the arresting officer, the warrantless arrest was invalid.

In this case, the warrantless arrest of appellant based on Sec. 5(b) was invalid because it was not made based on the personal knowledge of the fact or circumstances of the crime by the arresting officers. The police officers who arrested the appellant were not witnesses to the killing and had no personal knowledge of any fact or circumstance regarding the said incident. They merely effected the arrest based on the statements of other persons. Moreover, the element of immediacy was not present because the police officer made the arrest two (2) days after the incident. Indeed, the police officers did not have a genuine finding of probable cause because they did not immediately conduct the arrest.

As the warrantless arrest was invalid, the warrantless search incidental to the arrest should also be declared invalid. The unlicensed firearm unlawfully seized from appellant is inadmissible in consonance with the exclusionary rule of the 1987 Constitution. Accordingly, the said firearm cannot qualify the killing of the victim to the crime of murder. Appellant may only be convicted of the crime of homicide.

The defenses of appellant are not credible

The Court finds that appellant's defense of denial fails to persuade. Denial, being inherently weak, cannot prevail over positive identification of the appellant.[17] A defense of denial which is unsupported and unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence becomes negative and self-serving, deserving no weight in law, and cannot be given greater evidentiary value over convincing, straightforward and probable testimony on affirmative matters.[18]

In this case, appellant failed to substantiate his denial of the offense charged. He did not provide an alternative version of the story, nor explained whether he was indeed at the place of Ortiz or not. Appellant merely declared that he did not kill the victim. Without any credible evidence to support his defense, the denial of appellant cannot overcome the overwhelming evidence of the prosecution.

Evidently, the prosecution was able to establish the identity and presence of appellant at the scene of the crime. The positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses placed appellant at the place and time of the victim's killing. In addition, the victim himself, through his statement which forms part of res gestae, positively identified appellant as the author of the crime.

Proper penalty

Under Art. 249 of the RPC, the penalty for the crime of homicide is reclusion temporal. The appellate court held that there being no circumstances modifying criminal liability, the penalty is applied in its medium period. Under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum of the indeterminate sentence is taken from prision mayor, and the maximum from the medium period of reclusion temporal. Hence, the CA is correct in imposing the indeterminate sentence of 10 years of prision mayor, as minimum, to 17 years of reclusion temporal, as maximum.

The damages awarded must, however, be modified. Pursuant to People v. Jugueta,[19] the crime of homicide entails the following awards of damages: P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages. The award of P70,000.00 as actual damages for the proven expenses incurred by the heirs of the victim relative to his death and burial must also be affirmed. In addition, the damages awarded shall earn legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum from date of finality of the judgment until fully paid.

WHEREFORE, the Decision dated August 17, 2017, of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CRHC No. 08626 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS. The Court finds appellant Jeffrey Nocum Mamucod GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of homicide under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code and sentences him to suffer an indeterminate sentence of 10 years of prision mayor, as minimum, to 17 years of reclusion temporal, as maximum; to pay the heirs of Ivan William Aranza the amounts of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P70,000.00 as actual damages; and the amounts of damages awarded shall have an interest of 6% per annum from the date of finality of judgment until fully paid. (Martires, J., on leave.)

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-21; penned by Associate Justice Stephen C. Cruz with Associate Justices Rosmari D. Carandang and Carmelita Salandanan Manahan, concurring.

[2] CA rollo, pp. 45-60; penned by Judge Marivic Balisi-Umali.

[3] Id. at 59-60.

[4] Rollo, p. 20.

[5] CA rollo, pp. 20-43.

[6] Id. at 23-24.

[7] Rollo, p. 27.

[8] Id. at 37-39.

[9] Id. at 33-36.

[10] Belonghilot v. RTC of Zamboanga del Norte, et al., 450 Phil. 265, 290 (2003).

[11] RULES OF COURT, Rule 130, Sec. 37.

[12] See People v. Almeda, 209 Phil. 393, 398 (1983); see also People v. Devaras, 147 Phil. 664, 673 (1971).

[13] RULES OF COURT, Rule 130, Sec. 42.

[14] Rollo, p. 12.

[15] See People v. Manago, 793 Phil. 505, 521 (2016).

[16] 268 Phil. 571 (1990).

[17] People v. Manchu, et al., 593 Phil. 398, 410 (2008).

[18] People v. Carlito Mateo, 582 Phil. 369, 384 (2008).

[19] 783 Phil. 806, 852 (2016).

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