Qualifying circumstances
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2019 - 12:00am

Crimes against persons are of two kinds: Destruction of life and Physical Injuries. Two of the crimes consisting of the destruction of life are murder and homicide. It is murder if it is committed with qualifying circumstances such as evident premeditation, treachery, cruelty or in an uninhabited place. This case explains the meaning and illustrates how these qualifying circumstance are committed.

This is the case of Mario and Helen, husband and wife living in a remote and hilly barrio up north. One morning the couple went to the hill of a nearby barrio to dig up some roots used as medicine for Helen’s toothache. While Mario was in a ditch at the hillside, stooping down and digging up the roots,  Gary, a resident of the same barrio, appeared and suddenly rushed at Mario, stabbing the latter in the neck from behind. Mario felt the blow and tried to raise his head asking what he wants to do with him. Helen in turn asked Gary what he has done to Mario. But Gary continued attacking Mario who was unarmed, and threatened to kill Helen if she reported him. Terrified at what she witnessed, Helen fled to their house and did not tell anyone about what happened until the next day when she hinted to her father and a neighbor to look for Mario at said hill.

Mario’s body was thus found the next day so the town’s authorities were informed about it. On the same night, the town’s justice of the peace (JP), police chief and head of the sanitary division Dr. Rivas went to the crime scene. Thereafter Dr. Rivas autopsied Mario’s body and found five mortal wounds and three others in different parts of Mario’s body produced by a sharp instrument.

Gary made a voluntary sworn statement before the town’s justice of the peace who conducted the preliminary investigation in the presence of the town mayor and the police chief. He admitted killing Mario because Helen allegedly urged him to do so since Helen was having an illicit affair with him. He further admitted ownership of the bolo used in the killing, and identified Mario’s clothing when he killed him.

But when charged with murder before the Court of First Instance (now RTC), Gary pleaded not guilty. So, at the trial of the case, the prosecution presented the JP who identified the sworn statement containing Gary’s admission before him; and Dr. Rivas, who confirmed the contents of the autopsy report, and that they found Mario’s body on a hillside in a hole about one meter deep with the head a little bit inclined to the left while the left hand was under the head and the right hand on the abdomen. He likewise identified the shirt and the long drawers worn by Mario whose body was starting to decompose.

On the other hand, Gary testified that he came upon Mario as he was looking for the cattle he pastured. But Mario ran after him with a drawn bolo. He was thus compelled to fight back because he had reached a dead-end and could not flee. He then stabbed Mario, who was more robust than him wounding him in the neck. Without realizing what he was doing, he continued to stab Mario until the latter sank seriously wounded. He denied that Helen was there at that time. He also claimed that the police who arrested him tied his hands and bound him because he refused to confess; that during the investigation he only admitted that he had caused the death of Mario but the Constabulary men brought him to the JP of the town who drew up a document and made him sign it without the assistance of counsel. On cross examination however, Gary admitted that he signed it and that its contents were true which he first affirmed before the investigating Fiscal. He also said that he never told the Fiscal that he was maltreated by the Constabulary men to sign the document.

The trial court however, found Gary guilty of murder with the qualifying circumstances of committing it in an uninhabited place and with cruelty. Thus the court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

This ruling was affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC). The SC ruled that Gary is really guilty of murder beyond reasonable doubt. It noted that in testifying before the trial court, Gary never mentioned about the alleged instigation by Helen to commit the crime; but even if there is such instigation, the SC said that it is not enough reason for Gary to be exempted from criminal liability for the treacherous killing of Mario who was then stooping down with his back to Gary, entirely unprepared to defend himself when Gary gave the first blow, clearly showing Gary’s treachery in attacking Mario, thereby qualifying his killing as murder defined and penalized in Article 403   now Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code.

Gary’s defense that he was being pursued by Mario and had to use his bolo because he had no way out is not credible and merely an invention, pure and simple, said the SC. The SC also ruled that the number of wounds found on Mario’s corpse however does not by itself alone show that there was cruelty. To prove cruelty, it must be shown that Gary deliberately and inhumanly increased the sufferings of Mario. The circumstance of uninhabited place cannot also be appreciated for lack of evidence showing that Gary sought the place where the crime was committed in order to better attain his purpose.

Nevertheless, the killing is still murder because of treachery. Hence the judgment of the Lower Court imposing the penalty of life imprisonment which is the medium degree fixed in Article 403 of the Penal Code for the crime of murder is in accordance with law (People vs. Aguinaldo, G.R.L-33843, February 11, 1931)

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