Credibility of witnesses
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 31, 2020 - 12:00am

This is another case involving the issue of credibility of witnesses. The general rule in this connection is that the findings of the trial court as to their credibility is presumed to be correct considering that it is in a better position to decide said issue having heard the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial. What is the exception to this rule if any? Also raised and answered in this case – when can dwelling be considered as an aggravating circumstance.

This case happened in the house of Victor and Josie located in a remote barangay of an island province. On the night of the incident at about 6 p.m. while Josie and Victor were preparing for supper together with their three grandsons Stephen, Jun and Randy, they were disturbed by the incessant barking of their dogs. So Josie and Stephen looked out through their windows where Stephen saw six men three of whom he recognized as Lance his uncle and Jepoy and Bogart who are the friends of Lance.

Jepoy and Bogart who were armed with bolos immediately rushed to the door of the house and eventually gained entry through the hole of the door in the kitchen. Josie recognized Jepoy because the light was on. Once inside, Jepoy hacked Victor on right arm, forehead and left arm until Victor died with a final blow on the chest.

Thereafter, Bogart bound the hands and feet of Josie and dragged her alongside Victor then hit her with a gun asking where she kept the money. After Bogart and Jepoy took turns hitting Josie, she already pointed to the trunk where the money was kept. The two malefactors took the money and demanded more. But they left already after Lance told them to come down the house because his father Victor is already dead. After Bogart and Jepoy left, Josie’s grandsons untied her and because of her injuries, helped her walked over to the house of her daughter Andrea. Then the police arrived and investigated the incident. Eventually, Lance, Jepoy and Bogart and their three unidentified companions as John Does were charged by the provincial fiscal with the crime of robbery with homicide.

After pleading not guilty, the trial proceeded only against Lance, Jepoy and Bogart because the three “John Does” had not been arrested.

The prosecution presented Josie, her grandson Stephen who was then only seven years old, the policemen (Patrolman Rodas) who investigated the case and Dr. Mendoza autopsied the corpse of Victor to prove what happened as above set forth and the identities of the three accused, particularly Jepoy and Bogart who entered the house, attacked and killed Victor and got the money and other properties of the couple.

On the other hand, Bogart and Jepoy relied on the defense of alibi. They declared that at the time of the incident they were at another barangay about 13 kilometers away attending a barrio fiesta. Bogart said that he was then at the house of his brother in said barangay together with four other friends attending the Barangay fiesta where they had a drinking spree and ate the “lechon” which they themselves roasted until 12 o’clock midnight. His defense was corroborated by his friends.

After trial the Regional Trial Court (RTC) found the three accused guilty of robbery with homicide as defined and penalized in Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code and sentenced them to life as well as payment of actual damages and civil indemnity for the death of Victor.

The accused appealed the decision of the RTC but eventually only the appeal of Bogart remained as Lance withdrew his appeal while Jepoy already died. Bogart admitted that alibi is a weak defense nevertheless he contended that his conviction must be based on the strength of the prosecution’s evidence and not on the weakness of the evidence of the defense. He even cited the testimony of Pat. Rodas, who investigation report of the incident did not mention the identities of the assailants; and that of Andrea who testified that her mother Josie and her nephew Stephen did not recognize the perpetrators.

But the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the RTC’s decision convicting Bogart of the crime charged with the modification that the penalty should be reclusion perpetua instead of life imprisonment and the civil indemnity should be increased to P50,000.

According to the SC, the issue in this case revolves around the findings of facts of the trial court, which in turn depend largely on the credibility of the witnesses. And in this regard the SC ruled that it will not interfere with the judgment of the trial court in passing on the credibility of the opposing witnesses unless there appears in the record some fact or circumstance of weight and influence which has been overlooked or the significance of which has been misinterpreted. The court said that the exception to the rule is not found in this case. The trial court found that the survivors of this unfortunate incident Josie and her grandson Stephen pointed to Bogart and his two other companions Jepoy and Lance who is even the son of Victor the victim, and the uncle of Stephen, as the perpetrators of the crime. Both of them identified the three accused when they testified in open court. Josie said that she saw and identified Bogart and Jepoy because they were good friends of Lance who was also a co-accused in the crime. She identified Jepoy and Bogart who took the money because the light was still switched on while she was already lying down. They were likewise identified by Stephen, the grandson of Josie who even called them by nicknames when he also testified in open court.

Having been identified as one of the malefactors, Bogart’s defense of alibi cannot prosper. Even if it was not shown to have inflicted any injury upon the victim, he is still equally liable for the victim’s death which happened on the occasion of the robbery. The aggravating circumstance although not specifically alleged in the information was duly proved without objection of the accused. In robbery with homicide dwelling may be properly appreciated. It is not inherent only in robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons because such crime can be committed without violating the domicile of the victim. With this aggravating circumstance, the imposable penalty should have been death. Since the 1987 Constitution prohibits death as a penalty, the penalty that must be imposed is reclusion perpetua (People vs Enciso et.al G.R. 92000, July 5, 1993)

CREDIBILITY
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