G.R. No. 207391. Jan 15, 2014

FIRST DIVISION [ G.R. No. 207391, January 15, 2014 ] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VERSUS JULIUS TORECAMPO, DANILO H. LINA AND SABELLANO ALJAS, JR., ACCUSED; JULIUS TORECAMPO, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

Before this Court is an appeal from the July 31, 2012 Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA) which affirmed the judgment[3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 16, of Tangub City, finding appellant guilty of the crime of robbery with homicide.

Summarily, the prosecution proved the following facts: On October 30, 2003, at around 7:20 a.m., Efren S. Teogaya was driving an Isuzu Elf Truck owned by Emma Montealto. They were on their way to the Misamis Occidental Market with several other persons when appellant and his two co-accused, Danilo Lina and Sabellano Aljas, Jr., suddenly flagged down their truck. Appellant was armed with a shotgun while his co-accused Danilo carried a .38 caliber firearm, and all of them were wearing bonnets. Danilo shot Efren with a .38 caliber firearm when the latter held the gear handle of the truck. Thereafter, Danilo divested Emma of her money amounting to P31,000 and a Nokia 2100 cellular phone worth P6,000. The three robbers took off their bonnets as they fled from the crime scene. Appellant was easily recognized by one of the passengers, Carmelito Villegas, since the latter knew appellant for some time prior to the incident. Efren died on the way to the hospital.[4]

During trial, appellant, who was the only one arrested by the police, denied his participation in the crime. He gave an alibi and claimed that at the time of the incident, he was at the house of his sister in Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur. He added that they went to Pagadian City to observe All Soul's Day. He likewise denied knowing Carmelito Villegas.[5]

The RTC found appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery with homicide. The RTC sentenced him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of Efren civil indemnity of P50,000 and temperate damages of P25,000. Additionally, he was ordered to pay Emma P37,000 as actual damages for the stolen money and cellphone. The RTC found that the prosecution evidence clearly established that appellant conspired with his co-accused to commit the crime of robbery in broad daylight, which robbery led to the killing of Efren. The identity of appellant, who was carrying a shotgun during the robbery, was also established by Carmelito. The trial court noted that although appellant initially wore a bonnet, he took it off while fleeing. And while the names of appellant's co-accused were furnished by the police, such fact does not diminish the positive identification made by Carmelito of appellant since Carmelito personally knew appellant prior to the robbery.[6]

The RTC held that while appellant and his co-accused committed robbery with homicide on a highway, they should not be convicted for highway robbery with homicide under Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 532.[7] It noted that the object of said presidential decree is to punish lawless elements or outlaws who indiscriminately commit acts of depredation upon persons and properties on Philippine highways. Accordingly, a robbery committed on a Philippine highway by persons who are not members of the prescribed lawless elements or directed only against a specific victim is not a violation of P.D. No. 532. The trial court also found that the prosecution was not able to show that the robbery committed was staged indiscriminately and not against predetermined victims. Further, the wrong designation in the information of the crime committed is of no material consequence since what determines the offense charged is not the designation in the information but the allegations contained therein.[8]

On appeal, the CA affirmed the decision of the RTC finding appellant guilty of robbery with homicide, but modified the monetary damages awarded. The CA increased the award of civil indemnity to the heirs of Efren to P75,000 and additionally awarded them moral damages of P50,000. The CA agreed with the findings of the RTC and held that appellant's alibi lacks credence since he was not able to show that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the place of the crime. Besides being uncorroborated, his alibi fails as he admitted that the travel time from Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur to the locus criminis is merely one hour. Moreover, the CA noted that the positive identification by Carmelito, who has no ill motive against appellant, was categorical and consistent.[9]After a careful review of the records of this case and the parties' submissions, the Court finds no cogent reason to disturb the decision of the CA. It has been consistently held that in criminal cases, the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge, whose conclusion thereon deserves much weight and respect because the judge has the direct opportunity to observe them on the stand and ascertain if they are telling the truth or not. This deference to the trial court's appreciation of the facts and of the credibility of witnesses is consistent with the principle that when the testimony of a witness meets the test of credibility, that alone is sufficient to convict the accused. This is especially true when the factual findings of the trial court are affirmed by the appellate court. Absent any showing that the lower courts overlooked, misunderstood or misappreciated substantial facts and circumstances, which if considered would change the result of the case, this Court gives deference to the trial court's appreciation of the facts and of the credibility of witnesses.[10]

In line with prevailing jurisprudence, however, exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000 is hereby awarded.

Moreover, for the defense of alibi to prosper, the requirements of time and place must be strictly met. It is not enough to prove that the appellant was somewhere else when the crime was committed, but he must also demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that it was physically impossible for him to have been at the scene of the crime at the time the same was committed.[11] Such physical impossibility was not shown to have existed in this case.

WHEREFORE, the July 31, 2012 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00699-MIN affirming the conviction of appellant Julius Torecampo for the crime of robbery with homicide is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in that exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000 is hereby awarded.

Interest at the rate of 6% per annum on all monetary damages awarded in this case reckoned from the finality of this Resolution until fully paid shall likewise be paid by appellant to the heirs of Efren S. Teogaya.

With costs against the appellant.

The Manifestation by the Office of the Solicitor General that it will no longer file a supplemental brief considering that it has already exhaustively discussed the issues in its Appellee's Brief filed on August 3, 2011 and the Manifestation in Lieu of Supplemental Brief by the Public Attorney's Office, counsel for accused-appellant, adopting its Appellant's Brief in lieu of supplemental brief in order to avoid repetition of the issues and arguments already discussed are NOTED.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Also spelled as Torrecampo in some parts of the records.[2] Rollo, pp. 3-16. Penned by Associate Justice Pedro B. Corales with Associate Justices Romulo V. Borja and Ma. Luisa C. Quijano-Padilla concurring. The assailed decision was rendered in CA-G.R CR-HC No. 00699-MIN.
[3] CA rollo, pp. 35-42. Penned by Judge Sylvia A. Singidas-Machacon.
[4] Rollo, p. 5; id. at 36-37.
[5] Id. at 6; id. at 37.
[6] CA rollo, pp. 37, 42.
[7] Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, effective August 8, 1974.
[8] CA rollo, pp. 37-40.
[9] Rollo, pp. 7-9, 15-16.
[10] People v. Obina, G.R. 186540, April 14, 2010, 618 SCRA 276, 280-281.
[11] People v. Dela Cruz, G.R. No. 108180, February 8, 1994, 229 SCRA 754, 765.

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