Reasonable doubt
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Basic is the rule in the prosecution of crimes that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. This constitutional presumption of innocence must be overcome by quantum of proof that will survive the test of reason and necessary to warrant a conviction.

This is the rule that comes into play in this case of the brothers Sherwin, 22 years old and Christian, 17 years old.

The case happened at a river bank of a barangay in an island province of Western Visayas. The night before the incident, Sherwin had a drinking spree with the victim Ernesto and Andro at a store until early morning when they decided to go to a cockpit to watch a cockfight. Since the cockpit was still closed they went to the nearby house of Jude, where Andro again bought tuba and drank with Sherwin and Ernesto. After about half an hour Ernesto left Jude’s house, followed by Sherwin. Then Andro followed them and saw Ernesto playing cara y cruz with Sherwin watching. The three proceeded to the cockpit where they stayed until nighttime. After the cockfight, the three again drank at the side of a store. Then Christian saw and approached them. As they were about to finish drinking, Ernesto walked to a banana plant about ten meters away and urinated. That night Ernesto failed to come home. So the following morning, his father Mang Boy asked his other son SP02 Chavez to look for his brother. Later he was informed that a body had been discovered by the bridge of the river and buried. When exhumed upon request of Mang Boy, it turned out to be that of his son Ernesto.

After a thorough investigation by the police and the required preliminary inquest by the prosecutor, Sherwin and Christian were charged with the crime of murder for conspiring and helping one another in killing Ernesto.

The prosecution presented three eyewitnesses to the killing: Andro, Jude and Dante, a farmer who was on his way to the barangay but had to wait for the ferry up to 7 p.m. to cross the river. According to them, Sherwin approached and boxed Ernesto, who fell on the ground because of the impact. And as Ernesto was trying to get up Christian hit him with a cane about two meters in diameter. The brothers then dragged Ernesto by the river bank and forcibly submerged him in the water that caused his death. The medico legal officer who examined the exhumed corpse of Ernesto also testified that the cause of death of the victim was respiratory arrest secondary to drowning.

The brothers, however, denied their guilt and insisted that they were not in the barangay at the time of the incident but in a city nearby and that Ernesto’s death was accidental as the banca he rode on had capsized in the middle of the river in the barangay.

After trial, the judge who took over from the previous judge hearing the case found Sherwin and Christian guilty beyond moral certainty of the crime of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua and to pay civil indemnity of P50,000 to the heirs of Ernesto. So the brothers appealed the decision, maintaining their innocence and arguing that Ernesto’s death was caused by accidental drowning as shown by the physical evidence. They contended that the trial court erred in not acquitting them on grounds of reasonable doubt.

The Supreme Court (SC) found the appeal of Sherwin and Christian meritorious and acquitted them of the crime of murder. According to the SC, the mass of evidence proffered by the prosecution do not meet the quantum of proof necessary to convict the brothers beyond reasonable doubt. The medico-legal report contained no signs of external physical injuries, particularly on the right face and the abdomen where Sherwin allegedly delivered the fist blows as recounted by Jude. More importantly, the report did not reflect the alleged banging of the victim’s nape with a wooden cane as uniformly asserted by the prosecution witnesses. If it were true that Ernesto was hit hard on the face that caused him to fall, there should have been some evidence of physical violence on his face. Only a superficial swelling under the skin at the back of the head was found by the doctor. If Ernesto was hit by a wooden cane the resulting injury would have been more serious than skin swelling. Both his abdomen and his extremities also showed no signs of physical injury, belying the prosecution’s theory that he was boxed before being drowned. So the physical evidence must prevail over the testimonial evidence of the prosecution.

Significantly also, the prosecution witnesses were driven by ill motive to testify against the accused as shown by the unrebutted testimony of Sherwin. The brothers would not pounce like wild beasts on Ernesto without any provocation as the latter was just answering nature’s call.

Considering the loose ends in the prosecution’s theory, the brothers’ evidence that Ernesto, who was drunk, accidentally drowned when the banca he rode on with Andro capsized as they crossed the river. The testimonies of the prosecution’s witnesses are miserably tainted with improbabilities on the essential details of the murder allegedly committed by the brothers. The prosecution must stand or fall on its own evidence: it cannot draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense (People vs Vasquez and Vasquez, G.R.102366, Oct. 3, 1997).

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