G.R. No. 208995. January 20, 2014

SECOND DIVISION [ G.R. No. 208995, January 20, 2014 ] MANOLITO SORIA Y CLIMACO, PETITIONER V. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

The present Petition for Review on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court seeks the reversal and the setting aside of the Court of Appeals Decision[1] dated 20 March 2013 in CA-G.R. CR No. 33568 affirming the Regional Trial Court[2] (RTC) Decision[3] dated 28 April 2010 in Criminal Case No. 1983-N, convicting herein petitioner Manolito Soria y Climaco of the crime of homicide with the modification on the award of damages. Assailed as well is the Court of Appeals Resolution[4] dated 7 August 2013 denying for lack of merit the petitioner's Motion for Reconsideration thereof.

Petitioner was charged with homicide in an Amended Information dated 2 July 1998 for the killing of Leonardo Donato. The said Amended Information specifically states:
That on or about the 27th day of March, 1998, in the municipality of Narvacan, province of Ilocos Sur, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the [herein petitioner], with intent to kill, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully, and feloniously assault, attack and shoot with an illegally possessed firearm one Leonardo Donato, thereby inflicting upon the latter multiple gunshot wounds on his body, which wounds necessarily produced the death of said Leonardo Donato.[5]
When arraigned, petitioner pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued.

The prosecution presented Reinhard Gascon, who was the eyewitness to the crime; Vivencio Cabusora, the Chief Tanod of Barangay Pantoc, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, at the time the incident happened; Dr. Diana Directo-Lim, Municipal Health Officer of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, who conducted an autopsy on the cadaver of the victim; Juliana Valdez; and Senior Police Officer 4 Percival Quisora.[6]

On the side of the defense, the petitioner and his wife Mercedes Soria were presented to contradict all the allegations of the prosecution.[7]After considering the testimonies of both parties, the RTC rendered its Decision dated 28 April 2010 convicting the petitioner of the crime of homicide and sentencing him to suffer an indeterminate sentence of 10 years and one day of prision mayor, as minimum, to 17 years and 4 months of reclusion temporal, as maximum. The petitioner was likewise ordered to pay the heirs of the victim the amount of P75,000.00 as death or civil indemnity; P30,000.00 for funeral service of the victim; P20,000.00 as temperate damages; and P50,000.00 as and for moral damages.[8]

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction but modified the award of damages as follows: 1) exemplary damages of P30,000.00 is awarded in view of the presence of an aggravating circumstance of use of unlicensed firearm; 2) actual damages is increased to P34,500.00 in view of the receipts adduced by the prosecution; and 3) temperate damages is deleted in view of the award of actual damages.[9]

Petitioner moved for the reconsideration of his conviction but it was denied in a Resolution dated 7 August 2013.

Hence, this Petition raising the following arguments: (1) the Court of Appeals gravely erred in giving undue weight and credence to the highly questionable accounts of the alleged eyewitnesses; and (2) the Court of Appeals gravely erred in affirming the petitioner's conviction despite the prosecution's failure to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.[10]

This Court sustains petitioner's conviction but modifies the award of death or civil indemnity to the heirs of the victim.

It is a hornbook doctrine that the findings of fact of the trial court are entitled to great weight on appeal and should not be disturbed except for strong and valid reasons since the trial court is in a better position to examine the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying.[11] This rule finds an even more stringent application where said findings are sustained by the Court of Appeals,[12] as in this case.

In the case at bench, this Court finds no compelling reason to deviate from the lower courts' findings that, indeed, the petitioner was the perpetrator of the crime and his guilt was sufficiently proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt.

Now, going to the award of death or civil indemnity, this Court finds it proper to modify the same in order to conform to this Court's rulings, the recent of which is People v. Valdez.[13] Thus, the award of civil indemnity is reduced from P75,000.00 to P50,000.00.

WHEREFORE, the instant Petition is DENIED. The Decision and Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 33568 dated 20 March 2013 and 7 August 2013, respectively, are AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION reducing the award of death or civil indemnity to P50,000.00 only.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Penned by Justice Japar B. Dimaampao with Associate Justices Elihu A. YbaƱez and Victoria Isabel A. Paredes. Rollo, pp. 86-93.[2] Branch 72, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur.
[3] Penned by Judge Sixto D. Diompoc. Rollo, pp. 41-67.
[4] Id. at 102-103.
[5] Court of Appeals Decision dated 20 March 2013. Id at 86.
[6] RTC Decision dated 28 April 2010. Id. at 42 and 44-46.
[7] Id. at 47 and 49.
[8] Id. at 64-67.
[9] Id. at 92.
[10] Petition for Review on Certiorari. Id. at 17-18.
[11] People v. Apattad, G.R. No. 193188, 10 August 2011, 655 SCRA 335, 349.
[12] People v. Campomanes, G.R. No. 187741, 9 August 2010, 627 SCRA 494, 504.
[13] G.R. No. 175602, 13 February 2013, 690 SCRA 563.

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