Independent and relevant
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - May 15, 2020 - 12:00am

The general rule is that a witness can testify only as to the facts which he knows of his personal knowledge or derived from his own perception. If the person just heard them, it is mere hearsay and not admissible as evidence. One of the exceptions to this rule is the statement made by a person with respect to a startling occurrence while it is taking place or immediately prior to or subsequently thereafter (res gestae). They are acts, declarations and incidents of the fact in issue. This is illustrated in our case for today.

This is the case of Gary married but separated and with a three-year-old son Ben. Staying with them at their house is Lola Salve, the grandmother of Gary’s estranged wife who is taking care of Ben together with their house boy, Berto.

One late morning about 11 a.m. Ben was rushed to a hospital carried by Berto followed by Lola Salve who was shouting hysterically. Ben’s face was swollen and bruised and his body covered by dry blood as if recently hit by a truck according to the attending nurse.

Lola Salve however repeatedly said in a series of cries and tears that the Ben “ay pinatay ng sariling ama.” The old woman told the people inside the Emergency Room (ER) that the boy’s father, Gary, wouldn’t allow Ben to come with her, and when Ben started to cry and wouldn’t stop crying, Gary began to beat Ben so hard, tied his hands and made “tusok, tusok” in his body. He continued beating Ben even when excrements were already coming out from the boy’s anus, Lola Salve continued.

The limpid Ben being carried by Berto followed by Lola Salve caught the attention of Ria Medina, one of the people in the ER who brought her daughter Nica for removal of some stitches in her head. Then Berto already shouted at Lola Salve, “hoy tigil ka na, wag kang maingay” telling the people at the ER, “sira ang ulo ng matanda eh.” But Lola Salve wouldn’t stop and continued to say “Pu*ang ina ang ama niyan, hayop siya.” Then Ben was pronounced dead by the doctor as Lola Salve knelt and cried beside him.

Ria’s conscience was bothered by what she saw and heard, so she decided to do something about it. She approached the chairman of a civil liberties organization, Atty. Medy Abarquez. After a few weeks of research, Atty. Abarquez found out that Gary left their house and that Ben was brought to a funeral parlor where a doctor certified that his cause of death was broncho pneumonia with heart complications. The autopsy on the cadaver was waived by a woman who claimed to be Ben’s mother. So Atty. Abarquez requested the NBI for exhumation of the cadaver. The exhumation report revealed the grave and fatal injuries, internal and external which caused Ben’s death and could have resulted only from violence or strong physical force. On the strength of the NBI report, the sworn statement of Ria and the evidence gathered by Atty. Abarquez, an Information for parricide was eventually filed against Gary.

After Gary was arrested almost four years later, he was arraigned and pleaded not guilty. The prosecution built up its case on the basis of the sworn statement of Ria and her testimony in open court narrating the events she saw and heard. Gary on the other hand claimed that he was not in his house and that Ben must have fallen from the stairs leading to the second floor of the house as told to him by his auntie and not by Lola Salve. He also said that Ben was a sickly child from birth and was often hospitalized due to difficulty in breathing. He also presented the death certificate of Ben showing that he died of broncho pneumonia with heart complications. He also submitted the police investigation report of Ben’s death.

Six years after Ben’s death the lower court rendered a decision finding Gary guilty of parricide and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua. The court mainly based its ruling on the testimony of Ria who declared that she heard Gary’s grandmother Lola Salve, shouting that it was Gary who killed his own son by beating him to death and also some circumstances which are incompatible with the normal and reasonable behavior of an innocent father regarding the horrifying death of his son. Was the lower court correct?

The Supreme Court said yes. In so far as the statements of Lola Salve are concerned, they are admissible as part of the res gestae (things done), caused by and resulting from the startling and gruesome occurrence that she witnessed which was uttered with spontaneity and without prior opportunity to contrive the  same. The report made by Ria Medina is not hearsay since she was actually there and personally heard that statements of Lola Salve which she recounted in court. Her account of the statements of Lola Salve is admissible under the doctrine of independent relevant statement with respect to the tenor not the truth thereof, since they are relevant to the issue as to the cause of death of the victim.

Furthermore the NBI exhumation and autopsy report showing contusions and abrasions on Ben’s face, buttocks, knees, hand and thigh, hematoma on the temporal region of his head, severe hemorrhage on the cerebral hemisphere of the skull, and congestion in his brain and visceral organ, which even the hospital nurse initially believed were caused by his being run over by a truck, belie the story of Gary and his houseboy Berto that Ben merely fell from the stairs (People vs. Robert Cloud, G.R. 119359, December 10, 1996)

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