CASE BRIEF 2013-0484

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Ronald Credo aka “Ontog,” Randy Credo and Rolando Credo [G.R. No. 197360 July 3, 2013]

PONENTE: Perez, J.:

SUBJECT:

1.  Extinguishment of Criminal Liability: Effect of death pending appeal;

2. Credibility of Witness: Inconsistency in the statements and witness being relative of the victim;

3. Conspiracy;

4. Abuse of superior strength;

5. Damages: Standards in the proper award of damages in criminal cases

FACTS:        Joseph Nicolas (Joseph), was at a “bingohan” in Zone 3 of Brgy. San Nicolas, Pili, Camarines Sur. Randy Credo (Randy) arrived at the “bingohan,” approached Joseph and suddenly punched the latter on the chest, causing him to fall down. Randy then immediately ran away towards the direction of their house located at Zone 4.

When Russel, Ramon, Roldan and Rea, all children of the victim, heard that their father was in trouble, they decided to look for him in Zone 3. On their way, they met the Randy accompanied by his co-accused: his brother Ronald Credo (Ronald) and their father Rolando Credo (Rolando), who suddenly started throwing stones at them, causing them to run away. Russel got separated from his siblings but he continued to look for his father. He came across the three accused again in Zone 2 where he saw the three accused hacking somebody with their bolos. That person later turned out to be their father. Russel saw that when all three accused were done hacking their victim, Randy and Rolando went back to where the victim was lying and gave him another blow, saying in the Bicolano dialect, “pang-dulce” (for dessert).

The scene was witnessed by another person, Francis Nicolas Credo (Francis). According to him, he heard Roger Credo, the brother of Randy and Ronald, shout: “Tama na Manoy, gadan na!” (Enough brother, he is already dead!) Upon hearing these words, Francis proceeded to their sala and peeped through the jalousies of the sala window. He saw the three accused, all armed with a bolo, repeatedly hacking Joseph to death.

Joseph died on the same day of the incident.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, the accused prayed for their acquittal claiming that there are inconsistencies in the testimony of Russel and Francis; that Francis is the nephew of the victim making him not a credible witness; and that the killing was done in defense of Ronald and Randy’s mother whom Joseph was, at the time of the incident, about to hack. According to the accused, when Ronald heard of what happened between Randy and Joseph, Ronald left the house with a bolo in search of Joseph. When their parents learned that Ronald left to confront Joseph, they followed Ronald to the “bingohan.” Rina, sister of Ronald and Randy, testified that while their parents and Ronald were walking back towards their house from the “bingohan,” Joseph suddenly emerged from the back of their house with a bolo. She saw that Joseph was brandishing the bolo and was about to attack their mother so she shouted a warning to their mother. Ronald came to her rescue and attacked Joseph, resulting in the latter’s death.

Pending resolution of their appeal by the Supreme Court, the latter received a letter from the Office of the Superintendent, New Bilibid Prison, informing the Court that Rolando had died at the New Bilibid Prison Hospital. Attached to the letter was a certified true copy of the certificate of deathof Rolando listing “Cardio respiratory Arrest” as the immediate cause of death.

ISSUES:

(A) What is the effect of the death of Rolando on his criminal and civil liability?

(B) Whether the inconsistencies in the statements of Russel and  Francis sufficient to acquit the accused.

(C) Whether Francis is not a credible witness – he being a nephew of the victim.

(D) Whether the three accused acted in conspiracy with one another in the execution of the crime.

(E) Whether abuse of superior strength attended the commission of the crime

RULING:

(A)     As a consequence of Rolando’s death while the case is pending appeal, both his criminal and civil liability ex delicto were extinguished pursuant to Article 89 of the Revised Penal Code. The said provision of law states that criminal liability is totally extinguished by “the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment.”

As a result, the appeal shall only be decided as against Randy and Ronald only.

(B)     Trial court’s assessment of the credibility of a witness accorded great weight.

The accused claim that the respective testimonies of Russel and Francis were marked with several inconsistencies that cast doubt on their veracity, especially considering that they are the son and the nephew, respectively, of the victim. They noted that Francis narrated that after Ronald hacked Joseph, Rolando left with his wife followed by Ronald and Randy. Russel, on the other hand, testified that after the three accused hacked the victim, Randy and Rolando went back to where the victim was lying down and gave him another blow, saying, “pang-dulce.” Moreover, Francis initially stated that after the hacking incident, the victim was left lying on the ground on his side. However, when again questioned by the court as to what he saw, Francis gave a different answer, saying that the victim was lying flat on the ground.

The inconsistency in the respective statements of Francis and Russel with respect to who among the three accused actually dealt the final blow on the victim is understandable considering that they witnessed the scene from different vantage points. Francis definitely had a clearer view as he was nearer the scene of the crime (3-4 meters) whereas Russel was much farther as evidenced by the fact that from where he was watching, he was unable to recognize the victim as his father. All the same, both were one in saying that at least one of the accused returned to where the victim was prostrate to give him another blow.

The aforementioned inconsistency is, moreover, a minor detail that does not affect the credibility of Russel and Francis as eyewitnesses. The primordial consideration is that both Russel and Francis were present at the scene of the crime and that they positively identified the three accused as the perpetrators of the crime charged. This Court has been consistent in ruling that “although there may be inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses on minor details, they do not impair their credibility where there is consistency in relating the principal occurrence and positive identification of the assailant.”

(C)     The attack of the accused on the credibility of Francis as a witness for the prosecution on the ground that the victim is the brother of Francis’ mother – making Francis the nephew of the victim – loses significance when the relationship of Francis with the accused is considered: accused Rolando is his uncle, being the brother of his father, thereby making accused Randy and Ronald his first cousins. As held by the Court of Appeals:

“Considering that appellants are also his close relatives, it is difficult to believe that Francis would point to appellants as the killers, if such were not true. Moreover, the lack of proof of ill-motive on the part of Francis, indicate that he testified, not to favor any of the parties in this case, but solely for the purpose of telling the truth and narrating what he actually witnessed. His testimony deserves full faith and credit.”

(D)     The accused acted in conspiracy with one another in the execution of the crime

“Conspiracy is said to exist where two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. Direct proof is not essential to prove conspiracy for it may be deduced from the acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime charged, from which it may be indicated that there is a common purpose to commit the crime.”

In the present case, the prosecution witnesses were one in saying that prior to the hacking incident, they saw all three accused walking together towards the direction of the “bingohan” and that all three were each carrying a bolo. They deliberately sought Joseph out to confront him about the altercation incident between him and Randy. Likewise, the two eyewitnesses confirm each other’s respective statements that all three accused were armed with a bolo with which they repeatedly hacked the victim, who fell to the ground; after which, the three accused left the scene of the crime.

While no evidence was presented to show that accused met beforehand and came to an agreement to harm Joseph, their concerted acts before, during and after the incident all point to a unity of purpose and design. Indeed, “proof of a previous agreement and decision to commit the crime is not essential but the fact that the malefactors acted in unison pursuant to the same objective suffices.”  Such proof “may be shown through circumstantial evidence, deduced from the mode and manner in which the offense was perpetrated, or inferred from the acts of the accused themselves when such lead to a joint purpose and design, concerted action and community of interest.”

(F)      Abuse of superior strength attended the commission of the crime.

There is abuse of superior strength when the perpetrators of a crime deliberately used excessive force, thereby rendering the victim incapable of defending himself. “The notorious inequality of forces creates an unfair advantage for the aggressor.”

Here, there can be no denying that all accused took advantage of their superior strength to ensure the successful execution of their crime. This is evident from the fact that there were three of them against the victim who was alone. More importantly, their victim was unarmed while the three of them were each armed with a bolo.

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)      Criminal liability is totally extinguished by “the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment.”

B)       Although there may be inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses on minor details, they do not impair their credibility where there is consistency in relating the principal occurrence and positive identification of the assailant.

C)      Direct proof is not essential to prove conspiracy for it may be deduced from the acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime charged, from which it may be indicated that there is a common purpose to commit the crime.

          Proof of a previous agreement and decision to commit the crime is not essential but the fact that the malefactors acted in unison pursuant to the same objective suffices.

D)      There is abuse of superior strength when the perpetrators of a crime deliberately used excessive force, thereby rendering the victim incapable of defending himself.

NOTE: The Supreme Court in this case reiterated the standards in the proper award of damages in criminal cases laid down in the case of People v. Anticamara [G.R. No. 178771, 8 June 2011], as follows:

x x x the award of civil indemnity is mandatory and granted to the heirs of the victim without need of proof other than the commission of the crime. In People v. Quiachon, the Court held that even if the penalty of death is not to be imposed because of the prohibition in R.A. 9346, the civil indemnity of ₱75,000.00 is proper, because it is not dependent on the actual imposition of the death penalty but on the fact that qualifying circumstances warranting the imposition of the death penalty attended the commission of the offense. As explained in People v. Salome, while R.A. No. 9346 prohibits the imposition of the death penalty, the fact remains that the penalty provided for by law for a heinous offense is still death, and the offense is still heinous. Accordingly, the award of civil indemnity in the amount of ₱75,000.00 is proper.

Anent moral damages, the same are mandatory in cases of murder, without need of allegation and proof other than the death of the victim. However, consistent with recent jurisprudence on heinous crimes where the imposable penalty is death but reduced to reclusion perpetua pursuant to R.A. No. 9346, the award of moral damages should be increased from ₱50,000.00 to ₱75,000.00.”

          Also, In the case of People v. Villanueva [456 Phil. 14, 29 (2003)]:

“when actual damages proven by receipts during the trial amount to less than ₱25,000, as in this case, the award of temperate damages for ₱25,000 is justified in lieu of actual damages of a lesser amount. Conversely, if the amount of actual damages proven exceeds ₱25,000, then temperate damages may no longer be awarded; actual damages based on the receipts presented during trial should instead be granted.”

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