G.R. No. 197362. Jan. 15, 2014

FIRST DIVISION
[ G.R. No. 197362, January 15, 2014 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES V. ROMEO VERZOSA ALIAS "ROMY," EDGARDO KUNGHI GUEVARRAS ALIAS "EDGAR," PEDRO MORILLA ALIAS "INDO," CELSO VILLEGAS APOSCOLO, JR. ALIAS "NONOY VERZOSA" AND NILO VERZOSA.

We resolve the appeal, filed only by accused-appellants Romeo Verzosa and Celso Villegas Aposcolo, Jr.[1] from the Decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated 11 August 2010.[2] The CA affirmed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) dated 8 December 2008[3] convicting them of the murder of Artemio Arazay Sagdullas.

The RTC Ruling

The RTC discovered that before they stabbed Artemio to death, the five accused held a drinking spree in which they talked specifically about stabbing the victim. Two days thereafter, as found by the trial court, they carried out their plan: Romeo asked Artemio to come out of his bakery store, then Edgardo appeared, shoved and stabbed Artemio in the stomach while Romeo grabbed the victim's neck and hands; and after Artemio tried to run, the accused gave chase - with Celso and Nilo taking their cue from Romeo to block the two streets where Artemio might pass.

The RTC appreciated that this whole account of Artemio's demise was established by (1) the narration of three eyewitnesses identifying the respective participations of appellants before and after the commission of the crime; and (2) the dying declaration of the victim tagging Edgar and appellant Romeo as part of the group that ganged up on him. On the other hand, the trial court held that appellants' defense of alibi had merely been based on uncorroborated statements. Consequently, the RTC sided with appellants and adjudged them guilty of murder qualified by treachery and evident premeditation. The trial court sentenced them to reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole[4] and ordered them to pay the heirs of the victim P50,000 as civil indemnity, P50,000 as moral damages, and P30,000 as exemplary damages.

The CA Ruling

The CA affirmed the ruling of the RTC. The appellate court appreciated that the conduct of appellants - restraining Artemio, stabbing the victim, and blocking his path, as planned - collectively evinced a treacherous murder attended by evident premeditation. Thus, it sustained the judgment of conviction by the RTC, but modified the award of damages by increasing the grant of civil indemnity to P75,000 and imposing P25,000 as temperate damages. The CA omitted in its fallo the compensation for exemplary damages.We now rule on the case on final review.

Our Ruling

We deny the Petition.

After a careful review of the records of the case, we see no reason to reverse or modify the findings of the RTC, less so in the present case in which its findings were affirmed by the CA.

Appellants hinge their defense on the purportedly faulty testimonies of the three prosecution witnesses. First, they claim that it was contrary to human experience for Artemio to run after being stabbed. Quite the opposite, this Court considers it totally unnatural that a victim would not instinctively retreat[5] and escape to a safer haven[6] away from the aggressors.

Second, appellants claim that because the victim's wife was purportedly in a state of shock, it would have been impossible for her to accurately witness that Romeo signalled Celso to block the victim's path. But there is simply no standard form of human behavioral response when one is confronted with a startling or frightful experience - some people may shout, some may faint, and some may be shocked into insensibility, while others may openly welcome an intrusion.[7] Hence, similar to People v. Aranjuez,[8] we reject this reasoning.

Third, appellants assail the credibility of one of the witnesses since she allegedly was "not in speaking terms" with the accused. They arrived at this submission based on the testimony of the witness on cross-examination that she would not talk to them, unless they talked to her.[9] Unfortunately, they did not specify who among the accused she begrudged. In effect, their submission is a general allegation unsupported by any evidence on record. Thus, for failing to successfully attack the credibility of the witness as regards her partiality,[10] this Court affirms the findings of the lower court which had the opportunity to see, hear and observe the proceedings and to assess the witness' credibility.[11]

Fourth, appellants point to other inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses. The testimonies allegedly confuse the kinship of appellants to one another. The accounts purportedly muddle the exact identification of appellant Celso in the whole incident. But regardless of these alleged inconsistencies, appellants never controverted the straightforward account of their prior plan to stab Artemio.[12] The dying declaration of the victim as regards their culpability weighs heavily against their innocence.[13] More importantly, the three witnesses positively identified appellants in the locus criminis, including the specific acts that they performed in attacking him.[14] Hence, given the load of proof against them, the courts a quo did not err in finding appellants guilty beyond reasonable doubt of killing the victim.

Treachery and evident premeditation attended this killing. As this Court enunciated in People v. Dones,[15] the essence of treachery is a deliberate and sudden attack affording the hapless, unarmed, and unsuspecting victim no chance to resist or to escape. In this case, the lower courts correctly appreciated a clear case of treachery, given that (1) Edgar immediately stabbed Artemio as the latter was conversing with Romeo; (2) Romeo restrained the neck and hands of the victim; and (3) Celso blocked the path towards the victim's escape.

The essence of evident premeditation is that "the execution of the criminal act must be preceded by cool thought and reflection upon the resolution to carry out the criminal intent, during the space of time sufficient to arrive at a calm judgment."[16] Here, the courts a quo uniformly found that appellants had a grudge against Artemio for firing them from his bakery store, which led them to execute the attack planned two days ahead of the stabbing.[17] These uncontroverted and uniform findings show the time appellants resolved to commit the crime, the overt actions executing the plan, and the space of time between their resolution and execution of the felony.[18] This space would have allowed appellants to contemplate on the matter, or maybe even reconsider.[19] That they did not reconsider is shown by the case before us now.

Therefore, we sustain the RTC and the CA in convicting appellants of murder qualified by treachery and evident premeditation. However, we clarify that the judgement of conviction entitles the heirs of the victim to moral damages, now at P75,000.[20] Based on prevailing jurisprudence, we correct the award of damages by increasing exemplary damages to P30,000[21] and by imposing a 6% legal interest per annum on all monetary awards.[22]

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 03729 is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Accused-appellants Romeo Verzosa and Celso Villegas Aposcolo, Jr. are found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder qualified by treachery and evident premeditation. They are sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole and ordered to pay P75,000 as civil indemnity, P75,000 as moral damages, P25,000 as temperate damages, and P30,000 as exemplary damages. All monetary awards shall earn interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of this judgment until the damages are fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Eduardo Kunghi Guevarras died before he was convicted by the RTC. The other co-accused, Pedro Morilla and Nilo Verzosa, had their cases archived by the trial court; rollo, p. 3.[2] Penned by Associate Justice Manuel M. Barrios, with Associate Justices Ramon R. Garcia and Rosmari D. Carandang concurring; docketed as CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 03729, id. at 2-9.
[3] Penned by Parañaque RTC Branch 258 Judge Raul E. de Leon; docketed as Criminal Case No. 01-0837, CA rollo, pp. 18-33.
[4] Republic Act No. 9346 (2006), Sections 1 and 3.
[5] People v. Ferrera, 235 Phil. 116 (1987).
[6] People v. Sarmiento, 409 Phil. 515 (2001).
[7] 349 Phil. 395 (1998).
[8] Id.
[9] TSN, 10 January 2008, p. 28. The witness answered the question of whether she often talked to the accused in this manner: "Hindi ko po sila pinagkakausap, eh. 'Pagtinanong lang po ako nila, saka ko lang sila kakausapin."
[10] People v. So, 337 Phil. 826 (1995).
[11] People v. Panganiban, 130 Phil. 855 (1968).
[12] Rollo, p. 7; CA rollo, p. 26.
[13] People v. Cabtalan, G.R. No. 175980, 15 February 2012, 666 SCRA 174.
[14] Rollo, pp. 6-7; CA rollo, p. 29.
[15] G.R. No. 188329, 20 June 2012,674 SCRA 261.
[16] People v. Belga, 328 Phil. 93, 114 (1996).
[17] Rollo, pp. 6-7; CA rollo, p. 28.
[18] People v. Alinao, G.R. No. 191256, 18 September 2013.
[19] People v. Dearo, G.R. No. 190862, 9 October 2013.
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] People v. Vergara, G.R. No. 177763, 3 July 2013.

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