G.R. No. 213592, October 17, 2018

THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 213592, October 17, 2018 ] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. LAURENCIO GENSIS Y BELOS A.K.A. "PAEL" A.K.A. "JIM," ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

This appeal involves an examination of whether accused-appellant Laurencio Gensis y Belos (Laurencio) was positively identified as the assailant who treacherously shot SPO2 Roman C. Lucero (Roman) and Randolf Anthony Sorronda (Sorronda), thereby making him liable for two (2) counts of murder.

Two (2) Informations were filed against Laurencio, charging him with two (2) counts of murder:[1]
Criminal Case No. CBU-67832

That on or about the 19th day of February 2003, at about 12:20 p.m., in the City of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, armed with a pistol, with deliberate intent, with intent to kill, and with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, suddenly and unexpectedly attack, assault and use personal violence upon one Roman C. Lucero, by shooting him with the use of said pistol, hitting the latter upon vital part of his body and inflicting upon him physical injuries, and as a consequence of said injuries Roman C. Lucero died few minutes later.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

Criminal Case No. CBU-67833

That on or about the 19th day of February 2003, at about 12:20 p.m., in the City of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, armed with a pistol, with deliberate intent, with intent to kill, and with treachery and evident premeditation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, feloniously, suddenly and unexpectedly attack, assault and use personal violence upon one Randolf Anthony Sorronda, by shooting him with the use of said pistol, hitting the latter upon vital part of his body and inflicting upon him physical injuries and as a consequence of said injuries Randolf Anthony Q. Sorronda died few minutes later.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[2] (Underscoring in the original, citations omitted)
On March 25, 2004, Laurencio pleaded not guilty during arraignment. Pre-trial was held and trial on the merits ensued afterwards.[3]The prosecution presented Rebecca Betonta (Betonta), Myrna Lucero (Myrna), Dr. Nestor Satur (Dr. Satur), and Dr. Gil Macato (Dr. Macato) as witnesses.[4]

Betonta, the live-in partner of police informant Sorronda, testified that on February 19, 2003 at around 12:20 p.m., she, Sorronda, and Roman were in her house located at 378-J Tres de Abril Street, Cebu City. They were watching the television when a man suddenly entered the house and aimed a gun at Sorronda. Betonta begged the gunman not to fire but her pleas fell on deaf ears. The gunman shot Sorronda seven (7) times and proceeded to shoot Roman next. As a consequence, both victims died.[5]

Betonta admitted that it was during the shooting incident that she first laid eyes on the gunman. She identified the assailant later in court as Laurencio.[6] She stated that "[t]here was a grudge between . . . Sorronda and the Gensis brothers, [Alberto] and Laurencio, because Sorronda was a police informer."[7] She narrated that Alberto Gensis was previously arrested for electricity theft although Laurencio took no part in it.[8]

During rebuttal, Betonta admitted that she saw Laurencio for the second time at the police station. She did not speak with him because of fear as he was her common-law husband's killer.[9]

Myrna, Roman's widow, stated that she was shocked upon learning of her husband's death. She testified that since Roman and Sorronda were friends, it was not surprising that her husband was at Sorronda's house. She also stated that she did not know Laurencio prior to the shooting incident. For the death of her husband, Myrna asked for actual, moral, and exemplary damages. However, she could only present the receipts for the burial services and the burial lot in support of her claim for actual damages.[10]

Dr. Satur, a Medico-Legal Officer of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory, testified that he had examined the body of Roman. He stated that Roman sustained two (2) fatal gunshot wounds—one (1) lacerated the left lung while the other lacerated the aorta.[11] He concluded that Roman "died of hemorrhage secondary to gunshot wounds."[12] He did not find any tattooing which meant that the gunman was more than two (2) feet away when he fired at Roman.[13] Moreover, it was possible that Roman was "lying on his right side considering the upward direction of the bullet."[14]

Dr. Macato, a Medico-Legal Officer of the National Bureau of Investigation Region 7, testified that he examined the body of Sorronda.[15] He stated that Sorronda sustained one (1) fatal gunshot wound aside from three (3) other gunshot wounds and concluded that Sorronda died of "severe hemorrhage secondary to multiple gunshot wounds."[16]

Meanwhile, the defense presented Laurencio and his wife Josephine Gensis (Josephine) as witnesses.[17]

Laurencio denied knowing Sorronda or Roman. He narrated that he was a previous resident of Alaska, Mambaling, Cebu City. Due to difficulty of livelihood, he and his family relocated to Manila in 1996. He stated that he worked for JB Passion Trucking as a driver and that his wife would accompany him whenever his route was outside Manila. He presented a barangay certificate to prove his residency in Manila and his company I.D. as proof of his employment in Manila. He also denied going to Cebu before or after the day of the shooting incident.[18]

Laurencio testified that he was apprehended in Manila on February 14, 2004. Although he admitted to having a brother, he averred that "[h]e only came to learn that his brother was previously arrested for illegal tapping of electricity while he was already detained in Cebu."[19] He claimed that he saw Betonta at a distance for the first time while he was detained. He averred that the police brought her to where he was, and that she asked him if he was the one whom the police arrested in Manila. He responded in the affirmative.[20]

Josephine corroborated Laurencio's statements regarding his residence and his work. She confirmed that she always accompanied her husband in his work. She likewise denied knowing Sorronda or Roman. She stated that on the day of the incident, Laurencio was driving a 10-wheeler truck owned by his employer.[21]

On March 20, 2008, the Regional Trial Court rendered Judgment[22] finding Laurencio guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two (2) counts of murder.[23] It gave weight to the testimony of the prosecution's lone eyewitness, Betonta, who clearly and categorically stated that it was Laurencio who shot Sorronda and Roman. She reiterated this identification during her rebuttal examination. The Regional Trial Court did not find any ill motive for Betonta. Thus, her statements prevailed over the denial and alibi of Laurencio.[24]

The Regional Trial Court also held that it was not physically impossible for Laurencio to be at the scene of the crime on the day of the shooting incident considering that a plane ride from Manila to Cebu would only take around one (1) hour. Therefore, it was possible for him to be in Cebu on that day even if he resided in Manila.[25]

On the allegation of treachery, the Regional Trial Court found:
The attack was sudden and unexpected and no doubt the victims were not given the chance to defend themselves. The weapon used and time of the day when the attack was made leave no other conclusion except that these circumstances were consciously adopted to ensure the consummation of the crimes without risk to the perpetrator.[26]
The Regional Trial Court awarded the heirs of Roman and of Sorronda P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages. The heirs of Roman were also awarded P86,000.00 as actual damages for the burial lot expense.[27]

The dispositive portion of the Regional Trial Court March 20, 2008 Judgment provided:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing premises, the court finds the accused LAURENCIO GENSIS guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of Murder for the death of SPO2 Roman Lucero and Randolf Anthony Sorronda and hereby imposes upon him the following:
  1. In Criminal Case No. CBU-67832, the accused is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all its accessory penalties and, in addition, to indemnify the heirs of SPO2 Roman Lucero the sum of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, P86,000.00 as actual damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.
  2. In Criminal Case No. CBU-67833, the accused is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua with all its accessory penalties and, in addition, to indemnify the heirs of Randolf Anthony Sorronda the amount of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.
SO ORDERED.[28]
Laurencio filed an appeal[29] before the Court of Appeals. He claimed that it was the police who suggested to Betonta that he was the assailant. He stressed that she admitted to not knowing him or the identity of the gunman. He alleged that it was also the police who suggested to her that he had motive to kill Sorronda, who exposed the illegal activity of his brother. He also stated that the identification was not conducted in a police lineup and that he was the only person brought before Betonta for identification. He declared that she could not have identified the gunman without impermissible suggestions from the police.[30]

While Laurencio admitted that his only defense was denial and alibi, he claimed that "it is not and cannot be the sole basis of conviction, if on the other hand, the evidence for the prosecution is even weaker."[31] He stressed that it is for the prosecution to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.[32]

On the other hand, the People of the Philippines, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, maintained that the Regional Trial Court did not err in convicting Laurencio with two (2) counts of murder since the prosecution was able to prove the presence of all the elements of the crime. It also argued that Betonta's identification was positive and categorical as she was able to view the gunman during the shooting incident, which happened in her presence. She even begged Laurencio not to shoot her common-law husband. In addition, Laurencio failed to prove that Betonta could have been distracted during the incident for her not to focus on the assailant.[33]

The Office of the Solicitor General likewise emphasized that Laurencio's defenses of denial and alibi deserved scant consideration because he failed to provide evidence that "it was impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime and commit murder."'[34]

On January 24, 2014, the Court of Appeals promulgated a Decision,[35] denying the appeal and affirming with modification the Regional Trial Court March 20, 2008 Judgment.[36] It gave weight to Betonta's testimony that she saw Laurencio shoot Sorronda and Roman in her house on February 19, 2003. It also held that a police lineup is not required for proper identification as out-of-court identifications are permitted if they are not tainted with improper suggestions. Assuming that the identification of Laurencio was irregular, this would not rule out the admissibility of Betonta's in-court identification as it was independent of her out-of-court identification. Further, the Court of Appeals held that the Regional Trial Court did not solely rely on Betonta's out-of-court identification in convicting Laurencio.[37]

Additionally, Laurencio failed to demonstrate that "he was so far away from the scene of the crime that it was physically impossible for him to be present there at the time of its commission."[38] The Court of Appeals also found the presence of treachery in the commission of the crime.[39]

The Court of Appeals sustained the award of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages, but increased the award of exemplary damages to P30,000.00. It deleted the award of actual damages in CBU-67832 for failure to present evidence in support of the claim during trial.[40] In lieu of the deleted actual damages, the Court of Appeals awarded temperate damages in the amount of P25,000.00 since "no evidence of burial or funeral expenses [was] presented in the trial court."[41] Lastly, it imposed the legal interest rate of 6% per annum on all damages from the finality of judgment until full payment pursuant to recent jurisprudence.[42]

The dispositive portion of the Court of Appeals January 24, 2014 Decision provided:
WHEREFORE, the appeal is hereby DENIED. The Judgment of the court a quo in Crim. Cases Nos. CBU-67832 and 67833 imposing the penalty of reclusion perpetua on accused-appellant LAURENCIO GENSIS for the two (2) counts of murder is MODIFIED, as follows:
1. In Crim. Case No. CBU-67832, accused-appellant LAURENCIO GENSIS is found GUILTY of murder under Art. 248 of the Revised Penal Code qualified by treachery, and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the victim SPO2 Roman Lucero P75,000.00 as indemnity for his death, P50,000.00 as moral damages, P25,000.00 as temperate damages in lieu of actual damages, and P30,000.00 as exemplary damages; and

2. In Crim. Case No. CBU-67833, accused-appellant LAURENCIO GENSIS is found GUILTY of murder under Art. 248 of the Revised Penal Code, qualified by treachery, and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the victim Randolf Anthony Sorronda P75,000.00 as indemnity for his death, P50,000.00 as moral damages, and P30,000.00 as exemplary damages.
Accused-appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of the victims interest on all damages awarded at the legal rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of this judgment until all the above-stated awards shall have been fully paid.

SO ORDERED.[43] (Emphasis in the original)
On March 7, 2014, Laurencio filed his Notice of Appeal.[44]

On July 10, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued a Resolution,[45] giving due course to Laurencio's Notice of Appeal and ordering the transmittal of the case records to this Court.[46]

On January 12, 2015, this Court issued a Resolution,[47] noting the records of this case forwarded by the Court of Appeals and requiring the parties to file their supplemental briefs.[48]

However, both the Office of the Solicitor General[49] and Laurencio[50] manifested that they would no longer file supplemental briefs.

On July 8, 2015, this Court issued a Resolution,[51] noting the respective Manifestations of the Office of the Solicitor General and Laurencio.[52]

The sole issue for this Court's resolution is whether or not accused-appellant Laurencio Gensis y Belos is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two (2) counts of murder.

Accused-appellant Laurencio insists that Betonta's out-of-court identification was irregular and that he was not at the scene of the shooting incident before, during, or after February 19, 2003.

Upon review of the case records, this Court does not find merit in accused-appellant's contentions.

In People v. Ordona,[53] this Court held:
The determination of the credibility of witnesses is a function best left to the trial courts. Generally, their findings and conclusions on this matter are given great respect and weight. There are only a few instances when the trial court's findings and conclusions may be disregarded. The party seeking the exception must be able to allege and prove that the trial court either erred in appreciating the facts and circumstances of the case or made unsound inferences from the facts established.[54] (Citations omitted)
People v. Quintos[55] further explained:
The observance of the witnesses' demeanor during an oral direct examination, cross-examination, and during the entire period that he or she is present during trial is indispensable . . . because it helps establish the moral conviction that an accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged. Trial provides judges with the opportunity to detect, consciously or unconsciously, observable cues and microexpressions that could, more than the words said and taken as a whole, suggest sincerity or betray lies and ill will. These important aspects can never be reflected or reproduced in documents and objects used as evidence.
Hence, "[t]he evaluation of the witnesses' credibility is a matter best left to the trial court because it has the opportunity to observe the witnesses and their demeanor during the trial. Thus, the Court accords great respect to the trial court's findings," more so when the Court of Appeals affirmed such findings.

The exception is when the trial court and/or the Court of Appeals "overlooked or misconstrued substantial facts that could have affected the outcome of the case."[56] (Citations omitted)
This case does not fall under the cited exception.

Records show that Betonta positively identified accused-appellant as the gunman. During trial, she recounted:
Q- Now, while watching T.V. inside your house on said date and time, as (sic) there any unusual incident that happened?
A- A man entered the house and shot my husband and also Jerome Lucero.
Q- Now, immediately prior to the shooting, did that man who suddenly entered have a conversation with your husband?
A- No, Sir, he just immediately shot my husband.
Q- After shooting your husband, what did that man do?
A- I pleaded, but he shoved me away and he shot Jerome instead.
Q- At that precise moment when he shot SPO2 Lucero, what was then SPO2 Lucero doing when he was shot by that man?
A- He was lying in (sic) the sofa.
ATTY. SALVA:
Q- Now, because of that shooting incident, what happened to your live-in partner, Randolf Anthony Soronda (sic) as well as SPO2 Roman Lucero?
WITNESS:
A- Both are already dead.
Q- Flow far were you when that man shot your live-in partner as well as SPO2 Roman Lucero?
A- (Witness is pointing to a distance about 1 and 1/2 arms length.)
Q- Now, after that person who shot your live-in partner as well as SPO2 Roman Lucero is inside the courtroom, can you pinpoint to him?
A- Yes, Sir.
Q- Please do so?
A: The man sitting in the middle between three detention prisoners. (Witness is pointing to a person who stood up and identified himself as Laurencio Gensis.)[57]
From her testimony, it is apparent that Betonta saw the gunman shoot Sorronda and Roman as she was about 1 and Vi arm's length away from the exact shooting spot. She saw the shooter's face and even pleaded for him not to shoot her common-law husband. Although she did not know his name, she saw his face.

In People v. Martinez,[58] this Court held:
Common human experience tells us that when extraordinary circumstances take place, it is natural for persons to remember many of the important details. This Court has held that the most natural reaction of victims of criminal violence is to strive to see the features and faces of their assailants and observe the manner in which the crime is committed. . . . All too often, the face of the assailant and his [or her] body movements create a lasting impression on the victim's mind and cannot thus be easily erased from his [or her] memory.[59]
Although Betonta is not a victim but a witness, it can be deemed that the extraordinary circumstance of a shooting incident and her proximity from the assailant and the victims when the violent crime happened created a lasting impression on her mind regarding the gunman's face. To reiterate, she was even able to talk to him. Having seen the gunman's face and with no allegation of ill-motive on her part, Betonta is considered a credible witness. Her positive identification during trial that accused-appellant was the gunman was correctly given weight by the Regional Trial Court and the Court of Appeals. In People v. Gamer,[60] this Court stressed:
[I]t is not merely any identification which would suffice for conviction of the accused. It must be positive identification made by a credible witness or witnesses, in order to attain the level of acceptability and credibility to sustain moral certainty concerning the person of the offender.[61]
As to the irregularity of the alleged out-of-court identification, this Court held in People v. Rivera[62] that:
[A] police line-up is not essential in identification and [this Court has] upheld the identification of the accused through a show-up. We also held that even assuming arguendo that the out-of-court identification was defective, the defect was cured by the subsequent positive identification in court for the "inadmissibility of a police line-up identification . . . should not necessarily foreclose the admissibility of an independent in-court identification."[63] (Citation omitted)
On accused-appellant's defenses of denial and alibi, this Court holds that a positive identification made by a credible witness with no ill-motive cannot be overcome by these defenses. Denial and alibi as defenses are weak and unreliable, and can be easily concocted.[64] Accused-appellant likewise failed to provide corroborative evidence that he was at another place at the exact day and time of the shooting incident or that it was physically impossible for him to be there.

After an evaluation of the records of this case, this Court resolves to dismiss the appeal of accused-appellant Laurencio for his failure to sufficiently show reversible error in the assailed Court of Appeals January 24, 2014 Decision warranting the exercise of this Court's appellate jurisdiction. This Court also increases the award of civil indemnity, moral damages, and exemplary damages to P100,000.00 each, increases the award of temperate damages to P50,000.00 in Criminal Case No. CBU-67832, and adds the award of temperate damages of P50,000.00 in Criminal Case No. CBU-67833, pursuant to its ruling in People v. Jugueta.[65]

WHEREFORE, the Court of Appeals January 24, 2014 Decision in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00961 is hereby AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS:

1. In Criminal Case No. CBU-67832, accused-appellant LAURENCIO GENSIS is found GUILTY of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code qualified by treachery, and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the victim SPO2 Roman Lucero P100,000.00 as indemnity for his death, P100,000.00 as moral damages, P50,000.00 as temperate damages in lieu of actual damages, and P100,000.00 as exemplary damages; and

2. In Criminal Case No. CBU-67833, accused-appellant LAURENCIO GENSIS is found GUILTY of murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, qualified by treachery, and is sentenced to suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and to pay the heirs of the victim Randolf Anthony Sorronda P100,000.00 as indemnity for his death, P100,000.00 as moral damages, P50,000.00 as temperate damages, and P100,000.00 as exemplary damages.

Accused-appellant is further ordered to pay the heirs of the victims interest on all damages awarded at the legal rate of six percent (6%) per annum from the date of finality of this Resolution until all the awards are fully paid.

SO ORDERED. Gesmundo, J., on leave.

[1] Rollo, p. 5.

[2] Id. at 5-6.

[3] Id. at 6.

[4] Id. at 6-8, and CA rollo, p. 35-36.

[5] Id. at 6, and CA rollo, pp. 35 and 58.

[6] Id.

[7] CA rollo, p. 35. The RTC Judgment named the Gensis brothers as Roberto and Laurencio, but Laurencio's brother is named Alberto. See CA rollo, p. 29.

[8] Id.

[9] Rollo, p. 8, and CA rollo, p. 38.

[10] Rollo, p. 7, and CA rollo, p. 36.

[11] Rollo, p. 6, and CA rollo, p. 35.

[12] Rollo, p. 6.

[13] CA rollo, p. 35

[14]Rollo, p. 7.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 7-8, and CA rollo, pp. 36-37.

[18] Id. at 7, and CA rollo, p. 37.

[19] Id. at 7.

[20] Id. at 7 and CA rollo, p. 37.

[21] Id. at 7-8, and CA rollo, pp. 36-37.

[22] CA rollo, pp. 34-42. The Judgment, docketed as Crim. Case Nos. CBU-67832 and CBU-67833, was penned by Judge Gilbert P. Moises of Branch 18, Regional Trial Court Cebu City

[23] Id 42

[24] Id. at 38-39.

[25] Id.

[26] Id. at 41.

[27] Id.

[28] Id. at 42.

[29] Id. at 22-33.

[30] Id. at 30.

[31] Id. at 31.

[32] Id.

[33] Id. at 57-62.

[34] Id. at 62-63.

[35] Rollo, pp. 4-16. The Decision, docketed as CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 00961, was penned by Associate Justice Maria Elisa Sempio Diy and concurred in by Associate Justices Edgardo L. Delos Santos and Pamela Ann Abella Maxino of the Eighteenth Division of the Court of Appeals, Cebu City.

[36] Id. at 14-15.

[37] Id. at 9-11.

[38] Id. at 11.

[39] Id. at 11-13.

[40] Id. at 13-14.

[41] Id. at 14.

[42] Id.

[43] Id. at 14-15.

[44] Id. at 17-19.

[45] Id. at 20-21.

[46] Id. at 20.

[47] Id. at 25-26.

[48] Id. at 25.

[49] Id. at 29-32.

[50] Id. at 35-38.

[51] Id. at 40-41.

[52] Id. at 40.

[53] G. R. No. 227863, September 20, 2017 [Per J. Leonen, Third Division].

[54] Id. at 5.

[55] 746 Phil. 809 (2014) [Per J. Leonen, Second Division].

[56] Id. at 819-820.

[57] Rollo, pp. 9-10. The witness referred to SPO2 Roman Lucero as Jerome Lucero.

[58] 469 Phil. 558 (2004) [Per Curiam, En Banc].

[59] Id. at 570-571.

[60] 383 Phil. 557 (2000) [Per J. Quisumbing, Second Division].

[61] Id. at 570.

[62] 458 Phil. 856 (2003) [Per J. Puno, En Banc].

[63] Id. at 876-877.

[64] See People v. Ambatang, G.R. No. 205855, March 29, 2017, 822 SCRA 118, 125 [Per J. Leonen, Second Division].

[65] 783 Phil. 806, 850 (2016) [Per J. Peralta, En Banc].

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