G.R. No. 72964, January 07, 1998

241 Phil. 1. THIRD DIVISION [ G.R. No. 72964, January 07, 1998 ] FILOMENO URBANO, PETITIONER, VS. HON. INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURT AND PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENTS. GUTIERREZ, JR., J.: This is a petition to review the decision of the then Intermediate Appellate Court which affirmed the decision of the then Circuit Criminal Court of Dagupan City finding petitioner Filomeno Urbano guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide.

The records disclose the following facts of the case.

At about 8:00 o'clock in the morning of October 23, 1980, petitioner Filomeno Urbano went to his ricefield at Barangay Anonang, San Fabian, Pangasinan located at about 100 meters from the tobacco seedbed of Marcelo Javier. He found the place where he stored his palay flooded with water coming from the irrigation canal nearby which had overflowed. Urbano went to the elevated portion of the canal to see what happened and there he saw Marcelo Javier and Emilio Erfe cutting grass. He asked them who was responsible for the opening of the irrigation canal and Javier admitted that he was the one. Urbano then got angry and demanded that Javier pay for his soaked palay. A quarrel between them ensued. Urbano unsheathed his bolo (about 2 feet long, including the handle, by 2 inches wide) and hacked Javier hitting him on the right palm of his hand, which was used in parrying the bolo hack. Javier who was then unarmed ran away from Urbano but was overtaken by Urbano who hacked him again hitting Javier on the left leg with the back portion of said bob, causing a swelling on said leg. When Urbano tried to hack and inflict further injury, his daughter embraced and prevented him from again hacking Javier.

Immediately thereafter, Antonio Erfe, Emilio Erfe, and Felipe Erfe brought Javier to his house about 50 meters away from where the incident happened. Emilio then went to the house of Barangay Captain Menardo Solwen but not finding him there, Emilio looked for Barrio Councilman Felipe Solis instead. Upon the advice of Solis, the Erfes together with Javier went to the police station of San Fabian to report the incident. As suggested by Corporal Torio, Javier was brought to a physician. The group went to Dr. Guillermo Padilla, rural health physician of San Fabian, who did not attend to Javier but instead suggested that they go to Dr. Mario Meneses because Padilla had no available medicine.
After Javier was treated by Dr. Meneses, he and his companions returned to Dr. Guillermo Padilla who conducted a medico- legal examination. Dr. Padilla issued a medico-legal certificate (Exhibit “C” dated September 28, 1981) which reads:

“This is to certify that I have examined the wound of Marcelo Javier, 20 years of age, married, residing at Barangay Anonang, San Fabian, Pangasinan on October 23, 1980 and found the following:

“1-Incised wound 2 inches in length at the upper portion of the lesser palmar prominence, right.

“As to my observation the incapacitation is from (7-9) days period. This wound was presented to me only for medico-legal examination, as it was already treated by the other doctor, (p. 88, Original Records)
Upon the intercession of Councilman Solis, Urbano and Javier agreed to settle their differences. Urbano promised to pay P700.00 for the medical expenses of Javier. Hence, on October 27, 1980, the two accompanied by Solis appeared before the San Fabian Police to formalize their amicable settlement. Patrolman Torio recorded the event in the police blotter (Exhibit “A”), to wit:
“Entry Nr 599/27 Oct ‘80/1030H/ Re entry Nr 592 on page 257 both parties appeared before this Station accompanied by Brgy Councilman Felipe Solis and settled their case amicably, for they are neighbors and close relatives to each other. Marcelo Javier accepted and granted forgiveness to Filomeno Urbano who shoulder (sic) all the expenses in his medical treatment, and promising to him and to this Office that this will never be repeated anymore and not to harbour any grudge against each other.” (p. 87, Original Records.)
Urbano advanced P400.00 to Javier at the police station. On November 3, 1980, the additional P300.00 was given to Javier at Urbano's house in the presence of Barangay Captain Soliven.

At about 1:30 a.m. on November 14, 1980, Javier was rushed to the Nazareth General Hospital in a very serious condition. When admitted to the hospital, Javier had lockjaw and was having convulsions. Dr. Edmundo Exconde who personally attended to Javier found that the latter's serious condition was caused by tetanus toxin. He noticed the presence of a healing wound in Javier's palm which could have been infected by tetanus.

On November 15, 1980 at exactly 4:18 p.m., Javier died in the hospital. The medical findings of Dr. Exconde are as follows:

“Date Diagnosis
11-14-80 ADMITTED due to trismus
adm. at DX: TETANUS
1:30 AM Still having frequent muscle spasm. With
#35, 421 difficulty opening his mouth.
1 1-15-80 Restless at times. Febrile
Referred. Novaldin 1 amp. inj. 1M. Sudden
cessation of respiration and HR after
muscular spasm. 02 inhalation
administered. Ambo bag resuscitation and
cardiac massage done but to no avail.
Pronounced dead by Dra. Cabugao at 4:18
P.M. PMC done and cadaver brought home by relatives.” (p. 100. Original Records)

In an information dated April 10, 1981, Filomeno Urbano was charged with the crime of homicide before the then Circuit Criminal Court of Dagupan City, Third Judicial District.

Upon arraignment, Urbano pleaded “not guilty.” After trial, the trial court found Urbano guilty as charged. He was sentenced to suffer an indeterminate prison term of from TWELVE (12) YEARS of prision mayor, as minimum to SEVENTEEN (17) years, FOUR (4) MONTHS and ONE (1) DAY of reclusion temporal, as maximum, together with the accessories of the law, to indemnify the heirs of the victim, Marcelo Javier, in the amount of P12,000.00 without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and to pay the costs. He was ordered confined at the New Bilibid Prison, in Muntinlupa, Rizal upon finality of the decision, in view of the nature of his penalty.

The then Intermediate Appellate Court affirmed the conviction of Urbano on appeal but raised the award of indemnity to the heirs of the deceased to P30,000.00 with costs against the appellant.

The appellant filed a motion for reconsideration and/or new trial. The motion for new trial was based on an affidavit of Barangay Captain Menardo Soliven (Annex “A”) which states:
“That in 1980. I was the barrio captain of Barrio Anonang, San Fabian, Pangasinan, and up to the present having been re-elected to such position in the last barangay elections on May 17, 1982;

“That sometime in the first week of November. 1980, there was a typhoon that swept Pangasinan and other places of Central Luzon including San Fabian, a town of said province;

“That during the typhoon, the sluice or control gates of the Bued- irrigation dam which irrigates the ricefields of San Fabian were closed and/or controlled so much so that water and its flow to the canals and ditches were regulated and reduced;

“That due to the locking of the sluice or control gates of the dam leading to the canals and ditches which will bring water to the ricefields. the water in said canals and ditches became shallow which was suitable for catching mudfishes;

“That after the storm, I conducted a personal survey in the area affected, with my secretary Perfecto Jaravata;

“That on November 5, 1980, while I was conducting survey, 1 saw the late Marcelo Javier catching fish in the shallow irrigation canals with some companions;

“That few days thereafter, or on November 15, 1980, 1 came to know that said Marcelo Javier died of tetanus.” (p. 33, Rollo)
The motion was denied. Hence, this petition.

In a resolution dated July 16, 1986, we gave due course to the petition.

The case involves the application of Article 4 of the Revised Penal Code which provides that “Criminal liability shall be incurred: (1) By any person committing a felony (delito) although the wrongful act done be different from that which he intended xxx.” Pursuant to this provision “an accused is criminally responsible for acts committed by him in violation of law and for all the natural and logical consequences resulting therefrom.” (People v. Cardenas, 56 SCRA 631)
The record is clear that Marcelo Javier was hacked by the petitioner who used a bolo as a result of which Javier suffered a 2-inch incised wound on his right palm; that on November 14, 1981 which was the 22nd day after the incident, Javier was rushed to the hospital in a very serious condition and that on the following day, November 15, 1981, he died from tetanus.

Under these circumstances, the lower courts ruled that Javier's death was the natural and logical consequence of Urbano’s unlawful act. Hence, he was declared responsible for Javier's death. Thus, the appellate court said:
“the claim of appellant that there was an efficient cause which supervened from the time the deceased was wounded to the time of his death, which covers a period of 23 days does not deserve serious consideration. True, that the deceased did not die right away from his wound, but the cause of his death was due to said wound which was inflicted by the appellant. Said wound which was in the process of healing got infected with tetanus which ultimately caused his death.

"Dr. Edmundo Exconde of the Nazareth General Hospital testified that the victim suffered lockjaw because of the infection of the wound with tetanus. And there is no other way by which he could be infected with tetanus except through the wound in his palm (tsn., p. 78, Oct. 5, 1981). Consequently, the proximate cause of the victim’s death was the wound which got infected with tetanus. And the settled rule in this jurisdiction is that an accused is liable for all the consequences of his unlawful act. (Article 4, par. 1, R.P.C.; People v. Red, CA 43 O.G. 5072; People v. Cornel, 78 Phil. 418)

“Appellant's allegation that the proximate cause of the victim’s death was due to his own negligence in going back to work without his wound being properly healed, and lately, that he went to catch fish in dirty irrigation canals in the first week of November, 1980, is an afterthought, and a desperate attempt by appellant to wiggle out of the predicament he found himself in. If the wound had not yet healed, it is impossible to conceive that the deceased would be reckless enough to work with a disabled hand.” (pp. 20-21, Rollo)
The petitioner reiterates his position that the proximate cause of the death of Marcelo Javier was due to his own negligence, that Dr. Mario Meneses found no tetanus in the injury, and that Javier got infected with tetanus when after two weeks he returned to his farm and tended his tobacco plants with his bare hands exposing the wound to harmful elements like tetanus germs.

The evidence on record does not clearly show that the wound inflicted by Urbano was infected with tetanus at the time of the infliction of the wound. The evidence merely confirms that the wound, which was already healing at the time Javier suffered the symptoms of the fatal ailment, somehow got infected with tetanus. However, as to when the wound was infected is not clear from the record.

In Vda. de Bataclan, et al. v. Medina (102 Phil. 1 181), we adopted the following definition of proximate cause:

xxx xxx xxx
“xxx A satisfactory definition of proximate cause is found in Volume 38, pages 695-696 of American Jurisprudence, cited by plaintiffs-appellants in their brief. It is as follows:

“*** ‘that cause, which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the result would not have occurred.’ And more comprehensively, ‘the proximate legal cause is that acting first and producing the injury, either immediately or by setting other events in motion, all constituting a natural and continuous chain of events, each having a close causal connection with its immediate predecessor, the final event in the chain immediately effecting the injury as a natural and probable result of the cause which first acted, under such circumstances that the person responsible for the first event should, as an ordinarily prudent and intelligent person, have reasonable ground to expect at the moment of his act or default that an injury to some person might probably result therefrom.” (at pp. 185-186)
The issue, therefore, hinges on whether or not there was an efficient intervening cause from the time Javier was wounded until his death which would exculpate Urbano from any liability for Javier's death.

We look into the nature of tetanus —
"The incubation period of tetanus, i.e., the time between injury and the appearance of unmistakable symptoms, ranges from 2 to 56 days. However, over 80 percent of patients become symptomatic within 14 days. A short incubation period indicates severe disease, and when symptoms occur within 2 or 3 days of injury, the mortality rate approaches 100 percent.
“Nonspecific premonitory symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, and headache are encountered occasionally, but the commonest presenting complaints are pain and stiffness in the jaw, abdomen, or back and difficulty swallowing. As the disease progresses, stiffness gives way to rigidity, and patients often complain of difficulty opening their mouths. In fact, trismus is the commonest manifestation of tetanus and is responsible for the familiar descriptive name of lockjaw. As more muscles are involved, rigidity becomes generalized, and sustained contractions called risus sardonicus. The intensity and sequence of muscle involvement is quite variable. In a small proportion of patients, only local signs and symptoms develop in the region of the injury. In the vast majority, however, most muscles are involved to some degree, and the signs and symptoms encountered depend upon the major muscle groups affected.

Reflex spasm usually occur within 24 to 72 hours of the first symptoms, an interval referred to as the onset time. As in the case of the incubation period, a short onset time is associated with a poor prognosis. Spasms are caused by sudden intensification of afferent stimuli arising in the periphery, which increases rigidity and causes simultaneous and excessive contraction of muscles and their antagonists. Spasms may be both painful and dangerous. As the disease progresses, minimal or inapparent stimuli produce more intense and longer-lasting spasms with increasing frequency. Respiration may be impaired by laryngospasm or tonic contraction of respiratory muscles which prevent adequate ventilation. Hypoxia may then lead to irreversible central nervous system damage and death.

Mild tetanus is characterized by an incubation period of at least 14 days and an onset time of more than 6 days. Trismus is usually present, but dysphagia is absent and generalized spasms are brief and mild. Moderately severe tetanus has a somewhat shorter incubation period and onset time; trismus is marked, dysphagia and generalized rigidity are present, but ventilation remains adequate even during spasms. The criteria for severe tetanus include a short incubation time, and an onset time of 72 hrs,, or less, severe trismus, dysphagia and rigidity and frequent prolonged, generalized convulsive spasms. (Harrison's Principle of Internal Medicine, 1983 Edition, pp. 1004-1005; Italics supplied)
Therefore, medically speaking, the reaction to tetanus found inside a man's-body depends on the incubation period of the disease.

In the case at bar. Javier suffered a 2-inch incised wound on his right palm when he parried the bolo which Urbano used in hacking him. This incident took place on October 23, 1980. After 22 days, or on November 14, 1980, he suffered the symptoms of tetanus, like lockjaw and muscle spasms. The following day, November 15, 1980, he died.

If, therefore, the wound of Javier inflicted by the appellant was already infected by tetanus germs at the time, it is more medically probable that Javier should have been infected with only a mild case of tetanus because the symptoms of tetanus appeared on the 22nd day after the hacking incident or more than 14 days after the infliction of the wound. Therefore, the onset time should have been more than six days. Javier, however, died on the second day from the onset time. The more credible conclusion is that at the time Javier's wound was inflicted by the appellant, the severe form of tetanus that killed him was not yet present. Consequently, Javier's wound could have been infected with tetanus after the hacking incident. Considering the circumstances surrounding Javier's death, his wound could have been infected by tetanus 2 or 3 or a few but not 20 to 22 days before he died.

The rule is that the death of the victim must be the direct, natural, and logical-consequence of the wounds inflicted upon him by the accused. (People v. Cardenas, supra) And since we are dealing with a criminal conviction, the proof that the accused caused the victim's-death must convince a rational mind beyond reasonable doubt. The medical findings, however, lead us to a distinct possibility that the infection of the wound by tetanus was an efficient intervening cause later or between the time Javier was wounded to the time of his death. The infection was, therefore, distinct and foreign to the crime. (People v. Rellin, 77 Phil. 1038).

Doubts are present. There is a likelihood that the wound was but the remote cause and its subsequent infection, for failure to take necessary precautions, with tetanus may have been the proximate cause of Javier's death with which the petitioner had nothing to do. As we ruled in Manila Electric Co. v. Remoquillo, et al. (99 Phil. 1 18):
“’A prior and remote cause cannot be made the basis of an action if such remote cause did nothing more than furnish the condition or give rise to the occasion by which the injury was made possible, if there intervened between such prior or remote cause and the injury a distinct, successive, unrelated, and efficient cause of the injury, even though such injury would not have happened but for such condition or occasion. If no danger existed in the condition except because of the independent cause, such condition was not the proximate cause. And if an independent negligent act or defective condition sets into operation the circumstances, which result in injury because of the prior defective condition, such subsequent act or condition is the proximate cause.’ (45 C.J. pp. 931 -93.2).”(at p. 125)
It strains the judicial mind to allow a clear aggressor to go scot free of criminal liability. At the very least, the records show he is guilty of inflicting slight physical injuries. However, the petitioner's criminal liability in this respect was wiped out by the victim's own act. After the hacking incident, Urbano and Javier used the facilities of barangay mediators to effect a compromise agreement where Javier forgave Urbano while Urbano defrayed the medical expenses of Javier. This settlement of minor offenses is allowed under the express provisions of Presidential Decree No. 1508, Section 2(3). (See also People v. Caruncho, 127 SCRA 16)

We must stress, however, that our discussion of proximate cause and remote cause is limited to the criminal aspects of this rather unusual case. It does not necessarily follow that the petitioner is also free of civil liability. The well-settled doctrine is that a person, while not criminally liable, may still be civilly liable. Thus, in the recent case of People v. Rogelio Ligon y Tria, et al. (G.R. No. 74041, July 29, 1987), we said:
“xxx While the guilt of the accused in a criminal prosecution must be established beyond reasonable doubt, only a preponderance of evidence is required in a civil action for damages. (Article 29, Civil Code). The judgment of acquittal extinguishes the civil liability of the accused only when it includes a declaration that the facts from which the civil liability might arise did not exist. (Padilla v. Court of Appeals, 129 SCRA 559)

“The reason for the provisions of Article 29 of the Civil Code, which provides that the acquittal of the accused on the ground that his guilt has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt does not necessarily exempt him from civil liability for the same act or omission, has been explained by the Code Commission as follows:

“’The old rule that the acquittal of the accused in a criminal case also releases him from civil liability is one of the most serious flaws in the Philippine legal system. It has given rise to numberless instances of miscarriage of justice, where the acquittal was due to a reasonable doubt in the mind of the court as to the guilt of the accused. The reasoning followed is that inasmuch as the civil responsibility is derived from the criminal offense, when the latter is not proved, civil liability cannot be demanded.

“’This is one of those cases where confused thinking leads to unfortunate and deplorable consequences. Such reasoning fails to draw a clear line of demarcation between criminal liability and civil responsibility, and to determine the logical result of the distinction. The two liabilities are separate and distinct from each other. One affects the social order and the other, private rights. One is for the punishment or correction of the offender while the other is for reparation of damages suffered by the aggrieved party. The two responsibilities are so different from each other that Article 1813 of the present (Spanish) Civil Code reads thus: ‘There may be a compromise upon the civil action arising from a crime; but the public action for the imposition of the legal penalty shall not thereby be extinguished.’ It is just and proper that, for the purposes of the imprisonment of or fine upon the accused, the offense should be proved beyond reasonable doubt. But for the purpose of indemnifying the complaining party, why should the offense also be proved beyond reasonable doubt? Is not the invasion or violation of every private right to be proved only by a preponderance of evidence? Is the right of the aggrieved person any less private because the wrongful act is also punishable by the criminal law?

“’For these reasons, the Commission recommends the adoption of the reform under discussion. It will correct a serious defect in our law. It will close up an inexhaustible source of injustice — a cause for disillusionment on the part of the innumerable persons injured or wronged.’”
The respondent court increased the P12,000.00 indemnification imposed by the trial court to P30,000.00. However, since the 'indemnification was based solely on the finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt in the homicide case, the civil liability of the petitioner was not thoroughly examined. This aspect of the case calls for fuller development if the heirs of the victim are so minded.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED. The questioned decision of the then Intermediate Appellate Court, now Court of Appeals, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The petitioner is ACQUITTED of the crime of homicide. Costs de oficio.


Fernan (Chairman), Feliciano, Bidin, and Cortes, JJ., concur.