THIRD DIVISION

[G.R. No. 117689. January 30, 1997]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ELISEO ALVAREZ y VILLALVA, VILMA ALVAREZ y MAGADA, and ALBERTO ALVAREZ y MAGADA, accused-appellants.

D E C I S I O N

FRANCISCO, J.:

Herein appellants - spouses Eliseo and Vilma Alvarez, together with their son Alberto - were charged before the Regional Trial Court of Boac, Marinduque with the murder of one Benito Paez. Docketed below as Criminal Case No. 98-93, the information reads:

That on or about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon of October 12, 1993 in barangay Masaguisi, municipality of Sta. Cruz, province of Marinduque, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court the above-named accused, armed with boloes and ax, conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with deliberate intent to kill, and with treachery, attack, assault, stab and hack one Benito Paez inflicting upon him the following fatal injuries, to wit:

1. 4 inch long non penetrating laceration in the sternal area along the level of the 2nd - 3rd rib;

2. 3 inch linear laceration left shoulder joint;

3. 1 inch linear shallow laceration left chin area;

4. 2 inch linear shallow laceration left chin area;

5. 4 inch linear laceration in parietal area with brain tissue protruding out of the broken skull;

6. Left arm was severed up to the bone with only the skin keeping the arm intact;

7. 7 inch linear laceration extending from right lumbar area to the left scapular area;

8. 4 inch laceration penetrating mid lumbar area;

9. 2 inch laceration penetrating ingastric area possibly compatible with wound Number 8;

10. 3 inch linear laceration in right scapular area.

which injuries directly caused the instantaneous untimely death of afore-named Benito Paez, and to the damage and prejudice of his legal heirs represented by his wife Rosalinda Paez.

A separate information for frustrated homicide was filed against appellant Vilma, docketed as Criminal Case No. 21-94, arising out of her alleged assault on Benito Paezs wife Rosalinda Paez committed on the same occasion of Benito's murder. Thus:

That on or about the 12th day of October 1993, at around 4:00 oclock in the afternoon, in barangay Masaguisi, municipality of Sta. Cruz, province of Marinduque, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with bolo, with intent to kill, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, attack, assault and stab one Rosalinda Permejo-Paez, inflicting upon the latter the following fatal injuries, to wit:

2. Multiple Injury

- Incised wound of the middle finger right cutting themetacarpal bone.

- Incised wound of the thumb right cutting the tip.

- Incised wound of the right index and fourth finger tip.

- small skin deep incised wound on the right latero-infraorbital area.

thereby performing all the acts of execution which would have produced the crime of homicide but nevertheless, did not produce it by reason of some cause other than the spontaneous desistance of the said accused, which was, the timely medical assistance rendered to Rosalinda Permejo-Paez, and to the latter's damage and prejudice.

Trial of the appellants son Alberto (in Criminal Case No. 98-93) was suspended upon his commitment to the National Center for Mental Health for psychiatric examination.

The two cases were tried jointly. In brief, the prosecution presented its version of the incident in this wise:

In Barangay Masaguisi, Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon of October 12, 1993, Rosalinda Paez and her victim-husband, Benito Paez, were threshing palay in their hut. While Rosalinda and Benito were doing their chores, appellant Eliseo Alvarez, coming from his farm with his wife, appellant Vilma Alvarez, went near Benito and instantly hacked him on the shoulder. Eliseo had been irked by the barkings of their dog which was blocking his path (TSN, pp. 3-6, March 25, 1994). This angered Eliseo who drew his bolo with Vilma and demanded of the spouses Paez to pacify the dog (TSN, p. 24, March 25, 1994). Eliseo then turned his ire on the spouses and hacked Benito whose back was turned against him. Benito tried to stand but Vilma stabbed him with her own bolo at the left breast obliquely to the center and above the nipple. As a result, Benito fell to the ground (TSN, p. 7, March 25, 1994).

Rosalinda tried to carry Benito with both arms but she was struck by Vilma. She parried the blow with her right palm, which disabled her four fingers from the thumb to the right finger. Vilma also hit her on the right side of the eye (TSN, p. 11, March 25, 1994). Scared, Rosalinda then fled and hid in a bushy area, about twenty-five (25) meters from the crime scene. From there, she saw Alberto hit her husband on the head, followed by stabbing blows and a kick from Eliseo. After five (5) minutes, Rosalinda ran to the house of a certain Ka Juaning where her injured hands were treated and bandaged (TSN, pp. 12-15, March 25, 1994).

Thereafter, while on her way to the house of the barangay captain, Rosalinda remembered that her three-year-old daughter was left behind in their hut; she then decided to go back. Upon her arrival, the hut was already full with people including the barangay captain who informed Rosalinda that her husband was already dead (TSN, p. 16, March 25, 1994).

Another prosecution witness, Jimmy Ornos, declared that about 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon of October 12, 1993, he passed by the hut of the spouses Paez after coming from the house of his manager in Masaguisi. Aside from the spouses, also inside the hut were the spouses' daughter and a helper by the name of Lauro (TSN, p. 9, March 28, 1994). Benito and Rosalinda were sitted side by side threshing palay. Suddenly, Eliseo, coming from behind, hacked Benito at the back with a long bolo. Then Vilma stabbed Benito on the chest with her own bolo (TSN, pp. 10-12, March 28, 1994). Alberto ran to their house and came back with an axe, which he used in hitting Benito on the left shoulder, right forearm, and left part of the face (TSN, p. 13, March 28, 1994). Mustering enough courage, Jimmy approached Alberto and took away from him the axe. Jimmy then threw away the axe (Ibid). Seeing that the spouses' daughter was fast approaching Benito, Jimmy grabbed the child and ran away. The witness corroborated the testimony of Rosalinda that appellants were irked by the barkings of the spouses dog which prompted Eliseo to utter Pag hindi sinaway ang aso ay tatabakin ko (TSN, p. 18, March 28, 1994). However, instead of stabbing the dog, Eliseo hacked Benito.[1]

Appellant Eliseos story is one of self-defense. He claims that while he and son Alberto were bound for home coming from their ricefield, the spouses Paezs (deceased Benito and Rosalinda) dog blocked their path. Eliseo requested the Paezs to pacify the dog, which the latter did not do. Instead, Benito challenged him by saying, Ngayon tayo magkaintindihan. To this, Eliseo replied, Bakit ako ay hinahamon mo ay wala naman akong galit sa iyo? Thereafter, Benito struck Eliseos head with a branch of a tangal tree which broke into three pieces. After having been hit and when Benito was about to get another pamalo, Eliseo hacked Benito on his back with a bolo. When Benito fell on his back, Eliseo followed up on his assault by twice hitting Benito on the throat with the blunt side of the bolo which caused the latter's death. Eliseo also claims that his wife appellant Vilma, was beaten up by Jimmy Ornos and Lauro Red upon the prodding of Benitos wife Rosalinda. Rosalinda then delivered a hacking blow on the fallen appellant Vilma, hitting her on the right sole and below the right knee. Eliseo was then hit by Rosalinda twice on the head with a madre cacao wood when he was going near appellant Vilma. He retaliated by hacking Rosalinda on her right hand, and after which Rosalinda ran towards her brother's place located at the adjacent barrio. Eliseo denies that appellant Vilma and her son Alberto participated in the hacking of Benito and Rosalinda.[2]

For her part, appellant Vilma testified that at the time of the incident in question, she was weeding at the garden of their house. Eliseo was approaching the garden carrying two pails of water when Rosalinda, in the presence of Jimmy Ornos and Lauro Red, hit Eliseo on the head. Vilma later on said that she also saw Benito lying down, the reason for which she, however, does not know. Continuing with her story, Vilma said that when she approached Eliseo to pacify his assailants, Rosalinda instead ordered her companions (Jimmy and Lauro) to also pounce on her (upakan na raw po ako). Rosalinda then hacked her, wounding her right sole and knee. Vilma was brought to the hospital for treatment. And despite of what happened, she did not file any complaint against Rosalinda.[3]

Judgment of conviction was thereafter handed down by the trial court, the dispositive portion of which reads:

"WHEREFORE, finding both accused Eliseo Alvarez y Villalva and Vilma Alvarez y Magada guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder charged in the Information (Criminal Case No. 98-93) with the qualifying circumstance of treachery and confederating with one another through their simultaneous action, but without any aggravating nor mitigating circumstance attendant to its commission, both accused Eliseo Alvarez y Villalva and Vilma Alvarez Magada are hereby sentenced to each suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and the accessory penalty thereof. Both are hereby ordered to indemnify the heirs of the victim the sum of P50,000.00 as death indemnity of Benito Paez.

"The charge against Alberto Alvarez under the same Criminal Case No. 98-93 is hereby archived and will be brought back to the active calendar of this court after this Court has been informed by the National Center for Mental Health that the said accused is already fit for trial.

However, in Criminal Case No. 21-94, charging Vilma Magada Alvarez with the offense of Frustrated Homicide, appreciating the medical certificate (Exh. C) which did not reveal that the injury suffered by Rosalinda Paez is fatal, as in fact immediately after the hacking of the right palm she was given first aid with the use of guava leaves and net, the crime committed is not frustrated one but only an attempt. While it may be true that with the injuries sustained by Rosalinda, Vilma Magada Alvarez had started the commission of the crime of homicide, she was not, however, able to perform all the acts necessary for the commission of the same.

WHEREFORE, Vilma Magada Alvarez is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt with the offense of Attempted Homicide defined and punished under Art. 249 in relation to Art. 51 of the Revised Penal Code. There being no mitigating nor aggravating circumstance attendant to the commission of the crime but crediting her with the benefit of the Indeterminate Sentence Law, Vilma Magada Alvarez is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate prison term of Four (4) Months of arresto mayor, medium as minimum, to Two (2) Years, Four (4) Months and One (1) Day of prision correccional, medium as maximum.

The Court cannot pronounce the civil liability as the prosecutor failed to show proof of such damages.

Both accused shall be credited with the full extent of their preventive imprisonment in accordance with the Revised Penal Code. The bolos used (Exh. C and C-1) are hereby confiscated in favor of the government. The body of both accused are hereby committed to the custody of the Director of Prisons, National Penitentiary, Muntinlupa, M. Manila, thru the Provincial Warden, Boac, Marinduque.

"Let the mittimus be immediately prepared for the commitment of both accused to the National Penitentiary.

"SO ORDERED."

Before us, appellants assign the following errors:

I

The trial court gravely erred in giving full credence to the prosecutions evidence and disregarding the theory of defense of self-defense.

II.

Assuming that the guilt of the accused-appellant has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, the trial court erred in appreciating treachery as purposely employed by the accused-appellants to commit the crime charged in the information.

We sustain appellants conviction.

On the first assignment of error, the rule consistently adhered to in this jurisdiction is that when the accused had admitted that he is the author of the death of the victim and his defense is anchored on self-defense, it is incumbent upon him to prove this justifying circumstance to the satisfaction of the court. This circumstance he has to establish by clear and convincing evidence, the onus probandi having shifted to him. He must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not on the weakness of that of the prosecution for, even if the prosecution is weak, it could not be disbelieved after the accused himself admitted the killing.[4] This burden appellants unfortunately failed to discharge for there are material discrepancies in the appellants testimonies that render their story incredible, examples of which are as follows:

1) Note that appellant Eliseo testified to the effect that his assault on Benito was preceded by the incident involving the Paezs dog and the challenge hurled by Benito. However, in his Sinumpaang Salaysay, Eliseo does not make mention of these antecedents and states instead that Benito, Jimmy Ornos and Lauro Red suddenly attacked him and his son Alberto. Thus,

2. Na ang totoo nito ay ipinagtanggol ko lamang ang aking sarili sapagkat noong nasabing petsa at oras ay kasama ko ang aking anak na si Alberto Alvarez pauwi sa aming bahay at kami ay mula sa paggapas sa bundok, nang bigla na lamang kaming tinambangan nina Benito Paez, Jimmy Ornos at Lauro Red na pawang mga lasing."[5] (Underscoring supplied.)

Even appellant Vilma seems to belie his husband's story when she denied having seen any dog:

Q: At the time when your husband was walking towards the garden, did you see any dog near the residence of Rosalinda?

A: I just saw my husband was being hit. I did not see any dog."[6]

2) Appellant Vilma testified on direct examination that she saw Benito lying down for reasons she does not know and that it was Rosalinda whom she saw hit Benito. Yet on cross-examination, appellant Vilma makes a very confusing statement by saying that she did not see Benito, but she nonetheless saw appellant Eliseo being hit by Rosalinda and Benito.

Q: You said that you saw the body of Benito Paez already lying. In what particular spot did you see the body of Benito Paez?

A: I did not see Benito Paez. I only saw my husband that was being hit by Benito Paez and Rosalinda Paez.

Q: Are you sure that you saw Benito Paez hitting your husband?

A: I will not tell a lie. I am sure I saw Benito Paez hitting my husband at the head."[7] (Underscoring supplied.)

When Fiscal Opis finally asked appellant Vilma which of her conflicting versions is true, she gave a new and more perplexing account:

Q: Yesterday, you testified that it was only Rosalinda Paez who hit your husband. Now, you are saying it was Benito Paez and Rosalinda Paez who hit your husband. What is the truth now?

A: It was only Benito Paez who hit my husband. Rosalinda Paez hacked me, sir."[8] (Underscoring supplied.)

3) Appellant Eliseo claims that he delivered his first hacking blow on the back of Benito after the latter struck him with the tangal branch on the head and was about to hit him again. The veracity of this story is very doubtful, for as aptly observed by the trial court:

x x x if it is true that Benito Paez used the branch of tangal on the head of Eliseo Alvarez, then the first stabbing blow could not have landed on the back. More so when in his written statement he said:

5. Na dahil sa lakas, ako ay napa-upo at halos mahilo, at pagkatapos ay nakita ko na lamang itong si Benito Paez na may hawak na namang pamalo at akmang papaluin uli ako, kaya wala akong naisipang ibang gawin kundi ipagtanggol ang aking sarili sa pamamagitan ng pagtaga sa kanya dahil kung hindi ko gagawin ang pagtatanggol sa aking sarili ay malamang na patay na ako ngayon;

Thus, if Paez was in the act of hitting him again, then the first hacking blow will not land at Benitos back but must be frontally inflicted."[9]

Another point. If appellant Eliseo killed Benito merely to defend himself, it defies reason why Benito had to suffer numerous wounds on different parts of his body which the Medico-Legal Certificate[10] describes as follows:

"1. 4 inch long non penetrating laceration in the sternal area along the level of the 2nd-3rd rib.

2. 3 inch linear laceration left shoulder joint.

3. 1 inch linear shallow laceration left chin area.

4. 2 inch linear shallow laceration left occipital area.

5. 4 inch linear linear laceration in parietal area with brain tissue protruding out of the broken skull.

6. Left arm was severed up to the bone with only the skin keeping the arm intact.

7. 7 inch linear laceration extending from the right lumbar area to the left scapular area.

8. 4 inch laceration penetrating mid lumbar area.

9. 2 inch laceration penetrating ingastric area possibly compatible with wound number 8.

10. 3 inch linear laceration in right scapular area.

State of injuries: Fatal

The oft-repeated rule is that the presence of a large number of wounds on the part of the victim negates self-defense, instead, it indicates a determined effort to kill the victim.[11]

The trial court therefore acted properly in giving more credence to the prosecution's version of how appellants committed their assault which almost caused the death of Rosalinda Paez and which actually claimed Benito Paez's life. In this connection, the trial judge observed:

The prosecutions witnesses evidence were not found to be tainted with ill-motive and/or biasness. They were straightforward and are in accordance with the natural course of things.[12]

This Court will not alter the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses, principally because it was in a better position to assess the same than the appellate court.[13]

In the face of the more credible version of the prosecution, appellants last assignment of error, which assails the trial courts finding of treachery, must likewise fail. There is no dispute that the back of Benito was turned to appellant Eliseo when the latter delivered his first hacking blow on the former. Appellant Vilma followed up by stabbing Benito on the chest with her bolo, then afterwards Alberto hit Benito on the left shoulder, right forearm and left part of the face. Evidently, the attack was vicious and sudden, and there was no way Benito could have put up any kind of defense whatsoever. Settled is the rule that an unexpected and sudden attack under circumstances which render the victim unable and unprepared to defend himself by reason of the suddenness and severity of the attack, constitutes alevosia.[14]

WHEREFORE, the assailed judgment of the trial court finding 1) appellants Eliseo Alvarez and Vilma Alvarez guilty of the crime of murder [in CC No. 98-93] and 2) appellant Vilma Alvarez guilty of attempted homicide [in CC No. 21-94] and imposing upon them the respective penalties and civil liabilities therein stated, is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., (Chairman), Davide, Jr., Melo, and Panganiban, JJ., concur.



[1] Appellee's Brief, pp. 10-13.

[2] TSN of April 27, 1994.

[3] TSN of April 28, 1994.

[4] People v. Alapide, 236 SCRA 555. See also People v. Albarico, 238 SCRA 203; People v. Camahalan, 241 SCRA 558.

[5] Records, p. 9.

[6] TSN, April 29, 1994, p. 6.

[7] TSN, April 29, 1994, p. 3-A.

[8] TSN, April 29, 1994, p. 3-A.

[9] RTC Decision, pp. 16-17; Records, pp. 134-135.

[10] Records, p. 5, Exhibit A.

[11] People v. Rivero, 242 SCRA 354; People v. Nuestro, 240 SCRA 221.

[12] Decision, p. 21.

[13] People v. Cascalla, 240 SCRA 482. See also People v. Montefalcon, 243 SCRA 617; People v. Nemeria, 242 SCRA 448; People v. Morin, 241 SCRA 709.

[14] People v. Soldao, 243 SCRA 119, citing US v. de Silva, 14 Phil. 413; US v. Matanug, 11 Phil. 188; People v. Suitos, 220 SCRA 419; People v. Villanueva, 225 SCRA 353.