G.R. No. 207232, February 05, 2014


Before this Court is an appeal from the July 30, 2012 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) which affirmed the judgment[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Carigara, Leyte, Branch 13, convicting appellants Alden Alcober (Alden) and Noel Varona (Noel) for the murder of Jose Conos Ponferrada (Jose).

Summarily, the prosecution proved the following facts: At around 9 o' clock in the evening of April 8, 2001, Jose and his two friends Hector Claros (Hector) and Felimon Geraldo (Felimon) were sitting on a long bench outside of Hector's house. They had their backs to the street and were facing Hector's house while their other companions were sitting nearby. Suddenly, Hector heard a person say "ada na birahi" meaning "there he is, do it". Curious, Hector turned around and saw appellant Noel handing a short bolo or pisao to appellant Alden. Appellants were just three meters away from their group. With the weapon in his hand, appellant Alden suddenly stabbed Jose at the back. Jose's companions were unable to do anything as they were shocked by the startling occurrence.[3]

After he was stabbed, Jose fell to the ground. Appellant Alden delivered a second stab towards Jose's chest when the latter attempted to stand up again. Due to the multiple stab wounds he sustained, Jose fell to the ground lifeless. Appellant Alden fled the scene only when one of Jose's companions, Jacinto Claros, picked up a plastic chair and hit him on the face with it. During the entire incident, appellant Noel stayed around 10 meters away from the group.[4]

In the face of the prosecution's evidence, appellants presented another version of the incident. Appellant Alden claimed that he was on his way home from the party of his brother-in-law at a nearby barangay and that the pisao strapped on his waist was what he used in butchering the pig for the party that morning. He passed by Hector's house, where Jose and his companions were drinking tuba or fermented coconut wine. When he was about one meter from the group, appellant Alden heard Felimon say "it is already here, strike him, kill him." Suddenly, Jose stood up and hit him with a monobloc chair. When appellant Alden pleaded with Jose, the latter said he would kill him. Jose then took hold of his short bolo and attempted to stab him but he was able to dodge the attack. In self-defense, he pulled out his own short bolo and stabbed Jose in the chest. As Jose kept coming at him, appellant Alden struck Jose a second time on the back. After the second strike, Jose fell to the ground. Appellant Alden then left the place.[5]As to appellant Noel, the defense claimed that he was merely accompanying his mother to Hector's store to buy cigarettes for his mother. He was slowly following appellant Alden since they were going in the same direction. However, he did not proceed near the store anymore because the stabbing already ensued when he arrived there.[6]

The RTC found appellants guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder qualified by treachery. Appellant Alden was held liable as principal by direct participation and sentenced to reclusion perpetua, while appellant Noel was held liable merely as an accomplice to the murder and sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of twelve (12) years of prision mayor to seventeen (17) years and four (4) months of reclusion temporal. They were further ordered to pay the heirs of Jose P75,000 as civil indemnity and P50,000 as moral damages. The RTC relied on the categorical, consistent and positive identification of appellants by the prosecution's witnesses who were found to have no ill motive to testify falsely against appellants. Moreover, the RTC noted that the result of the post-mortem examination corroborated the prosecution witnesses' narration of the incident. The medical certificate showed that Jose sustained three wounds: one on the right chest, one on the left chest, and another at the right side of the back.

Moreover, the RTC noted that appellant Alden did not deny killing Jose but instead claimed self-defense. In doing so, the burden of proof shifted to him to prove that he indeed acted in defense of himself. The RTC however, did not give credence to appellant Alden's claim of self-defense because while he claimed that Jose was armed with a knife when they wrestled, appellant Alden did not even suffer any scratch on his body. The RTC found instead that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses that Jose was unarmed when appellant Alden stabbed him were more credible. The trial court also noted that appellant Alden did not voluntarily surrender to the police as he was in fact arrested at his uncle's house.

As to appellant Noel, the RTC found that his denial was weak and that his presence at the scene of the crime was never refuted. The trial court held him liable as an accomplice since he was heard by prosecution witnesses telling appellant Alden "ada na birahi" or "there he is, do it" and was seen handing him the short bolo that was used to kill Jose.

As aforesaid, the CA on appeal affirmed with modification the decision of the RTC. The CA found both appellant Alden and appellant Noel guilty of murder and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. The CA further reduced the amount of civil indemnity to P50,000 and ordered the appellants to pay the heirs of Jose an additional amount of P25,000 as temperate damages, and P30,000 as exemplary damages. The amount of moral damages was retained at P50,000.

The CA agreed with the RTC that appellant Alden failed to prove that there was unlawful aggression on the part of Jose. As testified by prosecution witnesses, Jose and his companions were merely conversing when appellant Alden suddenly stabbed Jose. The CA noted that the prosecution witnesses were all disinterested eyewitnesses to the stabbing incident. The CA likewise found that the killing was qualified by treachery. The suddenness of the stabbing rendered Jose totally unable to defend himself against the assault.

As regards appellant Noel's criminal liability, the CA ruled that the RTC failed to consider the existence of conspiracy. There is conspiracy when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. The overt acts of appellant Noel in telling appellant Alden to stab Jose and in handing him the bladed weapon prove the concerted actions and community of interest in the killing of Jose. Since there was conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all. Thus the CA held both appellants guilty as principals in the murder of Jose.

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 witness 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.[7] Absent any showing that the lower courts overlooked, misappreciated or misunderstood 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.

However, based on existing jurisprudence, the civil indemnity must be increased to P75,000[8] and appellants must be ordered to pay interest at the legal rate of 6% per annum on all damages awarded reckoned from the finality of this resolution until fully paid.[9]

WHEREFORE, the July 30, 2012 Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CEB-CR HC No. 00177 affirming the conviction of appellants Alden Alcober and Noel Varona is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Civil indemnity is increased to P75,000.00 and appellants are further ordered to pay interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum on all damages awarded in this case reckoned from the finality of this resolution until fully paid.

With costs against the appellants.

The letter dated January 2, 2014 of PIS Geraldo I. Aro, Officer-in-Charge, Leyte Regional Prison, Abuyog, Leyte, informing this Court that accused-appellants Alden Alcober and Noel Varona were received at said prison on November 28, 2003 in compliance with the Resolution dated July 29, 2013 is NOTED.


[1] Rollo, pp. 5-22. Penned by Associate Justice Pamela Ann Abella Maxino with Associate Justices Edgardo L. Delos Santos and Zenaida T. Galapate-Laguilles concurring. The assailed decision was rendered in CA-G.R. CEB-CR HC No. 00177.[2] CA rollo, pp. 25-40. Penned by Presiding Judge Crisostomo L. Garrido.

[3] Rollo, p. 7.

[4] Id. at 7-8.

[5] Id. at 8-9.

[6] Id. at 9-10.

[7] People v. Obina, G.R. No. 186540, April 14, 2010, 618 SCRA 276, 281.

[8] People v. Laurio, G.R. No. 182523, September 13, 2012, 680 SCRA 560, 572.

[9] Id. at 573.