A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2019 - 12:00am

In identifying an accused as the perpetrator of the crime, direct evidence or eyewitness account is not always necessary. A witness may not have actually seen the very act of commission of the crime, but he may nevertheless identify the accused through circumstantial evidence. What are the requirements in order that circumstantial evidence may convict an accused? When is there treachery that qualifies the killing of a person from homicide to murder?

This is the case of the spouses Robert and Amor who have two children, Doti and Rod and living in a remote barangay from where they have to pass through a two-meter wide muddy path thickly planted to shoulder-high ramie plants on both sides before they can reach the town proper where the church is located. One of their neighbors for 20 years is Gaspar, whose family suspects that Robert had a hand in the killing by the NPA of Gaspar’s brother, Teddy.

One New Year’s Eve, at about 9 p.m., Robert and Amor with their two children were on their way to the church to hear mass. After passing by Gaspar’s house, they walked along the two-meter wide muddy path with Robert about 20 meters behind their children while Amor was about four meters behind him. Although it was a moonlit night, Amor carried a torch to light her way. Then suddenly, Robert heard a gunshot from behind. He immediately looked back and saw Amor lying on the ground with the torch still burning. With the light coming from the moon and the torch, Robert saw Gaspar approaching him from where Amor was. Another man wearing a big hat also emerged from the ramie plants and approached Robert. Then Gaspar pointed a gun at Robert’s forehead and fired it twice hitting Robert on his right back hand and the middle portion of his chest. The second man also fired at Robert’s right waist but his pistol jammed.

Robert was able to escape and caught up with his children and headed for the police substation where Robert reported what happened. After the police entered the incident in the police blotter, Robert was brought to the hospital for treatment of his wound,while Doti called up Rod who was interviewed by the police investigator about the personal circumstances of his father. A police team then went to the crime scene where they found the lifeless body of Amor lying on her side with her face, neck, chest and clothes burned.

Interviewed by the police, Robert did not tell them who the assailant was because he was still not in his right mind and had the intention of avenging his wife’s death. Eventually, Robert already told Doti, his mother-in-law and the barangay captain that the assailant was Gaspar. So Gaspar was charged with the crimes of murder for the killing of Amor and frustrated murder for trying but failing to kill Robert. The prosecution presented Robert, Doti, and the doctor as witnesses who affirmed the foregoing events.

Gaspar denied the accusations and told the court that he was not at the crime scene at that time as he was in the army camp doing his job as a cook and had a drinking spree with six soldiers until 2 a.m. His testimony was corroborated by Teddy’s brother in law, a soldier at the camp who recommended Gaspar to become an Army cook.

By way of rebuttal, the prosecution presented the barangay captain and Robert who both testified to disprove Gaspar’s defense of alibi because the distance between the crime scene and the army camp is only about eight kilometers and would only take an hour to reach walking slowly by foot.

The RTC sustained the prosecution’s version of the shooting incident and found Gaspar guilty of murder and frustrated murder and sentenced him accordingly. This was affirmed by the Supreme Court which declared that Robert’s testimony as found by the RTC, is sincere, clear, convincing and straightforward.  The SC said that with the light coming from the moon and Amor’s torch, Robert was able to recognize Gaspar who has been his neighbor for more than 20 years. Gaspar was carrying a gun when he shot Amor on the head from within two feet. It was the same gun with which he shot Robert. Even if there is no eyewitness to the killing therefore, the combination of these circumstances lead to no other conclusion than that Gaspar fatally shot Amor and wounded Robert.

The SC however found no treachery in this case.  Robert did not witness the manner his wife was attacked by Gaspar. He looked back only after he heard the fatal gunshot and saw Amor already fallen. There is dearth of evidence whether Amor had no opportunity to defend herself or to retaliate nor on whether the means of execution was consciously adopted, the SC ruled.

With respect to the crime committed against Robert, the SC said that Gaspar’s use of the same gun which killed Amor in assaulting Robert shows his intent to kill him even if only a slight gunshot wound was inflicted on him. But because Gaspar has not performed all the acts of execution that would bring about Robert’s death, the crime committed is only attempted homicide since no treachery or other circumstance qualifies the assault on Robert as attempted murder. Hence Gaspar should be sentenced only to imprisonment of 8 years and 1 day to 14 years, 8 months and one day for the killing of Amor with actual damages and civil indemnity. As for the attempted homicide of Robert, Gaspar’s sentence is imprisonment from 2 months and 1 day minimum and two years four months and 1 day maximum plus actual damages and cost (People vs Albacin, G.R. 133913, September 13, 2000).

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