SYLLABI/SYNOPSIS

FIRST DIVISION

[G.R. No. 121039-45. January 25, 1999]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. MAYOR ANTONIO L. SANCHEZ, GEORGE MEDIALDEA, ZIOLO AMA, BALDWIN BRION, LUIS CORCOLON, ROGELIO CORCOLON, and PEPITO KAWIT, accused-appellants.

D E C I S I O N

MARTINEZ, J.:

. . . a plot seemingly hatched in hell . . .

This was how Judge Harriet O. Demetriou[1] of the Pasig City Regional Trial Court, Branch 70, in her 132-page Decision dated March 11, 1995 now before us on review, emphatically described the Allan Gomez-Eileen Sarmenta rape-slay that drew strong condemnation from an outraged populace in the middle of 1993. After a protracted and grueling 16-month trial, she found all those charged therewith, namely: Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez (hereafter the Mayor), George Medialdea, Luis and Rogelio Corcolon, Zoilo Ama, Baldwin Brion and Pepito Kawit (appellants herein), guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape with homicide on seven counts and sentenced each one of them:

. . . to suffer the maximum penalty of reclusion perpetua for each of the seven offenses or a total of seven reclusion perpetua for each accused. In addition, the Court hereby orders all the accused to jointly and severally pay the victims respective families the following sums by way of civil indemnity:

1. the sum of P3,432,650.00 representing the actual damages sustained by the Sarmenta family;

2. the sum of P3,484,000.00 representing the actual damages sustained by the Gomez family;

3. the sum of P2,000,000.00 as moral damages sustained by the Sarmenta family;

4. the sum of P2,000,000.00 as moral damages sustained by the Gomez family;

5. the sum of P191,000.00 as attorneys fees and litigation expenses incurred by the Gomez family; and

6. the sum of P164,250.00 for litigation expenses incurred by the Sarmenta family.

As to the antecedents, appellants all appear to agree that the trial court, in the very words of counsel[2] who prepared the consolidated brief for the Mayor and Medialdea, made a very detailed summary of both the prosecution and defense evidence.[3] This Court can thus conveniently provide a briefer but fairly accurate account of the respective versions of the State and the defense on the basis of the trial courts summary, rather than combing the heap of evidence presented by both sides.

The prosecutions version of the events on that horrible night of June 28, 1993 was based mainly on the recollections of its star witnesses Aurelio Centeno and Vicencio Malabanan (a member of appellant Sanchez security team) co-conspirators turned state witnesses. Both admitted having taken part in the abduction of Eileen and Allan, but denied any personal involvement in the rape of Eileen and the twin killings that followed. Heres their story.

Medialdea (then the Deputy Chief of the PNP Calauan), together with Centeno who was driving an ambulance, fetched witness Malabanan at his residence in the early morning of June 28, 1993 on the pretext that they will apprehend one Rodolfo Calva alias Tisoy a notorious gun runner and drug pusher in the locality. Next to be picked up was Ama in Barangay Masiit, then Luis Corcolon (hereafter, Luis) in Barangay Mabacan. On board the ambulance, the five (5) men made stopovers in Barangays Imok and Wawa until they headed back for Calauan at past 7:00 oclock in the evening, upon orders of Luis.

At the Shell gas station in the poblacion of Calauan, the five (5) men met and picked up Rogelio Corcolon (hereafter, Boy), Kawit and Brion, then they proceeded to Los Baos. Along the way, Luis announced to the group that the real purpose behind the Los Baos trip is to take a pretty young lass long desired by the Mayor and offer her to him as a gift. Luis, to satisfy his companions curiosity, even guaranteed that her beauty will make their saliva drip.

Not for long, the ambulance arrived at the U.P. Los Baos grounds. Witness Centeno drove the ambulance around the campus at a snails pace while Luis scoured the area with watchful eyes. As the search inside the campus proved fruitless, Luis then ordered Centeno to slowly drive out of the university compound and to stop upon reaching the vicinity of the Agrix complex. Luis, Boy, Ama, Brion and Kawit alighted from the ambulance and went inside the Agrix complex. Witness Centeno overheard Medialdea informing the Boss, via the radio, that they were already in the area. The Boss was the Mayor.

Inside the Agrix complex is a restaurant called Caf Amalia. Parked in front of that establishment was a Tamaraw van. Eileen and Allan were its passengers, both occupying the front seats. She was wearing a T-shirt, white shorts and rubber shoes. Armed with guns, Luis and Boy approached Eileen and Allan, forcibly took the two and loaded them at the back of the van. All the appellants boarded the van while Centeno and Malabanan stayed in the ambulance. Both vehicles then headed for Erais Farm situated in Barangay Curba, owned by the Mayor.

As soon as the group arrived at the farm, the two (2) captives were brought down the van. Eileen was gagged by a handkerchief and her hands, like Allan, were tied. A white towel was wound around Allans mouth. The Mayor, then wearing a jogging attire, emerged from the resthouse and asked the group: My children, whats the problem? To this Luis respondent: Mayor, this is our gift to you, the girl youve been longing for. Shes really beautiful. But whos that man? asked the Mayor. Eileens companion, boss. Medialdea replied. We brought him along to avoid complications, he continued.

The two youngsters were then brought inside the resthouse where Eileen was taken to the Mayors room. Allan was badly beaten up by Luis, Boy, Ama and Medialdea and thereafter thrown out of the resthouse. Kawit followed-up by striking Allans diaphragm with the butt of an armalite, causing Allan to fall against a cement box. Brion thought Allan was already dead, but Kawit said: :His death will come later.

Meanwhile, Centeno, while waiting for further orders, joined the Mayors personal aides Edwin Cosico and Raul Alorico watch television at the adjacent resthouse. Alorico told Centeno that the Mayor had been eagerly waiting for the group and worried that they will not arrive.

At around 1:00 a.m. of the next day, a crying Eileen was dragged out of the resthouse by Luis and Medialdea her hair disheveled, mouth covered by a handkerchief, hands still tied and stripped of her shorts. The Mayor, clad merely in white polo, appeared and thanked Luis and Medialdea for the gift. I am through with her. Shes all yours, the Mayor uttered in contentment. When asked what will happen to Allan, Medialdea assured the Mayor that they will also kill him for full measure. Eileen and Allan were then loaded in the Tamaraw van by the appellants and headed for Calauan, followed closely by the ambulance.

En route to Calauan, Centeno, who was driving the ambulance, noticed the van swaying from side to side. Then he heard gunfire coming therefrom. The van pulled over whereupon Kawit dragged Allan, whose head was already drenched in blood, out of the vehicle onto the road and finished him off with a single gunshot from his armalite. The ambulance and van then sped away.

The next destination was a sugarcane field in Sitio Paputok, Kilometro 74 of Barangay Mabacan. It was here that Luis announced that its tiime for the group to feast on Eileen (the exact words of Luis were Turbohin na rin natin ang tinurbo ni Boss). She was laid at the back of the van, with her hands and legs being held by the appellants while waiting for their turn. Then the gang-rape began. The first to ravish Eileen was Luis, then Medialdea, Boy, Ama, Brion and finally, Kawit. Bewailing the helplessness of her situation, Eileen pleaded, in between sobs and whimpers, for the torture to stop. However, her tears for compassion fell, weak and ineffective, upon the insensitive brutes. Kawit invited Centeno to join the sexual fiasco but the latter refused as he cannot, in conscience, bear the bestiality being committed on Eileen who appeared to be dead. After Kawits turn, Eileen knelt on the seat of the van and begged for her life. Unmoved, Luis muted Eileens cried by forcing an object into her mouth and then fired his baby armalite at her. Centeno was thereafter ordered to get rid of Eileens dead body. Moments later, all eight (8) men boarded the ambulance and proceeded to Calauan, leaving the Tamaraw van with Eileens remains behind. Along the way, Centeno and Malabanan watched in dismay as Luis, Boy, Medialdea, Ama, Brion and Kawit savored the nights escapade, to their sickening delight. Appellants and Malabanan were then brought to their respective homes by Centeno.

June 29, 1993 and the day following were tense moments for the group. In the morning of June 29, Medialdea and Centeno fetched Malabanan, Luis and Ama. They were going to Barangay Imok to make it appear that they were conducting some police operations in that area. Upon reaching Barangay Imok, the group saw Allans body which they dumped a few hours earlier. Luis, Medialdea and Malabanan alighted from the ambulance, whereupon Luis ordered Centeno to drive back to the municipal hall.

Boy Corcolon, who was at the municipal hall, informed Ama that a dead female loaded inside a Tamaraw van was found in Barangay Mabacan. Ama then radioed the PNP Chief of Calauan, Major Cao, who at that time was summoned by the Mayor. Major Cano thereafter arrived and ordered one SPO2 Melencio Nuez to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, Centeno received word that he was to fetch Malabanan, Luis and Medialdea in Barangay Imok. After picking up the three (3), Centeno drove the ambulance to Barangay Mabacan where the dead Eileen was found.

Eileens body lying inside the Tamaraw van was a pitiful sight. Her face bore a gunshot wound; a handkerchief was stuffed in her mouth; her T-shirt was rolled up revealing her breasts; and her panty was rolled down on one of her feet still with rubber shoes on. Medialdea covered Eileens exposed private parts by fixing her T-shirt and underwear and by placing a sackcloth over her lower body. The group then escorted the van with Eileens body in it, to the UP Los Baos police station where student milled around and identified the cadaver to be Eileen indeed. Later on, the van carrying Eileen, as well as Allans body, was brought to the Calauan municipal hall. There, Centeno saw a prisoner named Arnold cleaning the van.

Meanwhile, Malabanan, Ama and Medialdea, on June 29, went to the site (Bgy. Imok) where Allans body was found, started asking residents about the incident and were able to retrieve an empty armalite shell. Malabanan thereafter handed the empty shell to Major Cao at the police station. The three (3) men and one SPO3 Rizaldy Belen, sometime in the afternoon of the same day, visited the Mayor at his house in Bay, Laguna. Medialdea informed the Mayor of the presence of people from the CIS, NBI and press in the locality. The Mayor flared up and blamed them for not using their heads. But he later on assured them that he could fix the problem in less the amount of a brand new car.

The following day, June 30, Medialdea, upon the Mayors directive, handed a pair of white walking shorts to Major Cao. When Malabanan asked Medialdea whose pair of shorts was that, the latter replied that it was the short of Eileen which the Mayor wanted to be delivered to Major Cao.

That same day of June 30, Centeno went to see the Mayor at his house in Calauan about his worries over reports that the driver of the ambulance involved in the rape-slay was being hunted down. The Mayor gave Centeno P2,000.00 and advised him to keep silent or better yet, to go into hiding. Centeno did hide himself until CIS agents accosted him at the Divisoria market on August 10, 1993. As to Malabanan, he, Medialdea and Ama were brought to the PNP Sta. Cruz Command to shed light on the cleaning of the Tamaraw van.

Coming now to the defense, each of the appellants had an alibi to tell and sought to put the blame on Kit Alqueza, the son of a feared general (Dictador Alqueza) who earned the monicker Barako from the local residents.

The Mayor claimed that he was at the residence of his mistress Elvira in Bay, Laguna in the morning of June 28, 1993. They left for Makati City at about 1:00 oclock in the afternoon thereafter proceeded to San Pablo City at around 4:00 p.m., left that city at 7:30 p.m. and then returned to Elviras house in Bay at around 10:00 p.m. He and Elvira retired at around 12:30 in the morning. He woke up at 5:00 a.m. Jogging was his favorite form of exercise, but foul whether prevented him from running that morning. His three (3) children with Elvira greeted him at around 6:30 a.m. before heading for school. He took his breakfast and lunch at Elviras house.

Medialdea, Ama and Malabanan arrived between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. and informed the Mayor of the rape-slay in which Kit Alqueza was the prime suspect. This made the Mayor very angry, for which he ordered a thorough investigation of the incident to avoid any whitewash. "I will not hesitate to have the perpetrators of this crime killed (by electric chair), whether a generals son in involved or not, son of a bitch!, he blurted. The Mayor then advised appellants not to worry if they were really innocent and that the primordial concern is that a full investigation be conducted.

The Mayor then went to his residence in Calauan. At around 4:00 p.m. of that same day (June 29), he sent his driver Mario Puyales to Barangays Masiit and Balayhangin to inquire from the residents about the crime. Puyales returned at around 7:00 p.m. and informed the Mayor that a card gambler was able to retrieve a pair of white shorts lying near the national highway in Barangay Balayhangin. Puyales was sent back to that barangay to advise the residents thereof to keep the shorts at their fence near the highway as it may later on aid the on-going investigation.

In the morning of June 30, 1993, the Mayor, with some companions, jogged towards the direction of Barangay Mabacan and at the same time inquired from residents whether they noticed anything unusual on the night of June 28, 1993. A certain Mang Torio told the Mayor that he found a pair of maong pants lying at the side of the road but left if there. After inspecting the dirty maong pants, the Mayor instructed Mang Torio to keep the pants as the former will send someone back to pick it up.

Eventually, the Mayor got hold of the pairs of white shorts and maong pants. The shorts was clean, with complete beltloops and without any tear. He then ordered his driver Puyales to send the articles to Medialdea for safekeeping. But during the trial, the Mayor, when shown the shorts and pants, claimed that they are quite different from the articles he got hold of previously. The maong pants shown to him by Mang Torio was of a darker shade of blue. As to the white shorts, it was the same pair he gave to Medialdea, but now it is torn and has some missing beltloops.

Based on his own investigation, the Mayor came to know that Kit Alqueza is a feared and dangerous student of the university, being a member of an elite fraternity in the campus and a generals son at that. The Mayor later informed Congressman Tingzon of Kits probable involvement in the crime. Congressman Tingzon, in turn, disclosed that Kit, his nephew-in-law (the congressmans wife is the sister of Gen. Alquezas wife), was hiding in his house and that the legislator will call Gen. Alqueza in Davao City to discuss the matter.

The Mayor also testified that he closely coordinated with Major Cao in investigating the case. This included frequent evening conferences with Malabanan, medialdea and Ama who were members of Major Caos investigation team.

Subsequently, the Mayor was requested to facilitate the surrender of Luis and Boy Corcolon to Camp Crame since the CIS suspected them of being involved in the crime together with Kit. The Corcolon brothers, accompanied by the Mayor, peacefully surrendered to CIS operatives in the afternoon of July 12, 1993.

On August 10, 1993, the Mayor received an anonymous phone call advising him that he would better leave the country because he was to be arrested in three (3) days time. He refused to heed the advice because he had nothing to do with the crime. And so he was apprehended on August 13, 1993 at his Calauan residence and brought to Camp Vicente Lim where he was presented to the media. There he saw Centeno and Malabanan who did not greet him. General Salimbangon ordered the two (2) witnesses to implicate the Mayor. The general then ordered that the Mayor be handcuffed as he is the rapist. You son of a bitch, Salibangon. You framed me up, the Mayor cursed.

The Mayor denied having given Centeno advice and P2,000.00 pocket money on June 30, 1993. It was only in the courtroom that he saw Centeno, although he knows the latter. The Mayor also denied Malabanans testimony implicating him in the crime. In fact, Malabanan wrote him letters asking for his help. The trial court noted, however, that the letter adverted to by the Mayor were all addressed to Judge Baldo.

Appellant Medialdea was Calauan policeman until his summary dismissal on September 10, 1993. He claimed that he, being a member of a crack team formed by Major Cao and composed of Malabanan, Luis and Ama, was preoccupied the whole day of June 28, 1993 conducting police operations on board an ambulance in different barangays of the town in search of Tisoy. The fruitless operations ended at about 9:00 p.m. of June 28. Driving the ambulance, he got home at around 10:30 p.m. where he saw his wife playing mahjong with some friends. Medialdea joined the players for about an hour, then he slept until 5:00 a.m. of the next day (June 29).

The crack team met again in the morning of June 29, 1993 to continue the manhunt for Tisoy. At around 7:15 a.m. in Barangay Imok, they saw Tisoy speed by in a motorcycle. Medialdea and Luis fired shots in the air but Tisoy managed to escape. Centeno was not present when this event transpired because he was instructed to go to the municipal hall with the ambulance.

Upon hearing news over the radio that a dead body was found at Sitio Paputok, Km. 74, Barangay Mabacan, Medialdea radioed Centeno to fetch the group at the fishpond of one Gani. As soon as Centeno arrived at around 8:00 a.m., they proceeded to Km. 74 where they saw Eileens body inside the van parked in the sugarcane field. Major Cao and several policemen were already there. Medialdea had to pull down Eileens T-shirt and roll up her underwear to spare her from numerous kibitzers staring at her naked body. He recovered several scattered items inside the van like cigarette packs, a paddle, spike shoes, and 5 bottles of beer. The van was then driven by a certain Gener to the UP Los Baos escorted by the ambulance and Major Caos police car.

Thereafter, at around 9:30 a.m., Medialdea, on Major Caos directive, went to the Gomez residence and asked for Allan. The maid told him that Allan has not come home since the night before and that she last saw him at around 6:30 p.m. with one Jet Tejada. As there was no other person inside the house except the maid, Medialdea, with her permission, searched for Allan inside but to no avail. Before leaving, he instructed the maid to tell Allan that he better make good his hiding because Allan is a suspect in the crime. At the Tejada residence, Jet was neither there. So Medialdea proceeded to the boarding house of Eileen and instructed the landlady to inform calmly Eileens parents on what had happened to their daughter.

Medialdea then returned to the UP Los Baos security force where he told Major Cao that Allan had escaped. Before leaving UP campus to bring Eileens body to Calauan, Major Cao ordered Medialdea to still look for Allan. When his efforts to find Allan inside the campus proved futile, Medialdea sought the aid of Barangay Captain Cesar Ruiz who brought him to the barangay hall where Jet Tejada was. Tejada strongly objected to Medialdeas insinuation of his and Allans participation in the crime, saying that they can never do anything as dastardly as that.

Afterwards, a certain Allan, a barangay tanod, volunteered that he knew Allan. This Allan opines that if Allan was dead then Kit had a hand on it since Allan had earned Kits ire when the former began dating the latters girlfriend named Rose. Medialdea informed Major Cao that Allan perhaps has gone to Manila with his father. The Major replied that Allan is here, but is likewise dead.

Ama then informed Major Cao that they have a suspect named Kit who had an axe to grind against Allan. Then someone in the crowd uttered Ako iyon. Kit approached and told Ama that he and Allan had patched up their differences three (3) months ago. Medialdea noticed a drop of blood on the middle of Kits right thigh. Kit explained that the blood oozed after punching a wall with his right knuckle.

At the municipal hall, Ama handed an empty armalite shell recovered from the site where Allans body was found. Thereafter, Arnold (the prisoner who was cleaning the van) was seen carrying the rubber matting of the Tamaraw van to hang it over the municipal fence to dry. Ama could not help but curse Arnold and ordered the latter to bring it back. Ama explained to Major Cao that they could be dragged to the case just like what happened to the policeman in the Paraaque massacre who burned a mosquito net and was thereafter sacked.

Medialdea also testified that it was Major Cao who ordered the cleaning of the van to diffuse the stench caused by the blood stains therein.

Then on July 6, 1993, Medialdea, together with Ama and Malabanan, went to the PNP Sta. Cruz Command to answer queries about the cleaning of the van. They were then brought to Canlubang where they executed their respective sworn statements. Medialdea also recalled that Major Cao instructed them not to say anything about the cleaning of the van. Afterwards, they were brought back to the PNP Sta. Cruz and detained therein pending the filing of formal charges against them.

Major Cao visited Medialdea the next day, July 7. The major advised him that they should just point to Malabanan as the one who cleaned the van. Medialdea did not heed his advice for he pitied Malabanan and besides, it was Major Cao who really ordered its cleaning. The major then reiterated the reason why he caused its cleaning (the unbearable stench of blood).

Days later, on July 16, 1993, Medialdea and Ama, together with Malabanan, were brought to the Department of Justice where Fiscal Abesamis asked them to sign a waiver of their detention. On July 24, 1993, the three (3) men were led back to PNP Canlubang where Colonels Gualberto and Tiangco began investigating then on July 27, 1993. During the investigation, Medialdea was being enticed by Col. Gualberto to cooperate with the government by testifying against the Mayor, as there is an order from the higher echelon to bring the Mayor down. He refused, saying that the Mayor is completely innocent because he is pro-poor and the Mayor even walks the church aisle on his knees. Col. Gualberto threatened that he will be dragged all the more to the case if he will not cooperate. Medialdea begged for mercy and suggested that they should investigate Kit instead. The colonel said that messing up with Kit is like ramming into a wall. Medialdea was then asked to sign a statement that contained inaccurate answers. The inaccuracies were supplied by Col. Gualberto.

Medialdea also professed his ignorance before Col. Tiangco. This colonel was less diplomatic. He splashed coffee on Medialdeas face, cursed him and whipped his face. So was Malabanan. The investigators would hit then when they try to reason. Back to his cell, Medialdea heard Col. Tiangco order somebody to have him killed in the evening.

On August 13, 1993, one Colonel Versoza advised Medialdea to follow Malabanan in testifying against the Mayor. They will be placed under the Witness Protection Program where they would be entitled to allowances, free housing facilities and the chance to go abroad with their families where they can live peacefully, Col. Versoza assured them. Medialdea refused once again. Malabanan therafter informed him that he and Centeno had already given false statements for they can no longer stand the torture inflicted on them. But Medialdea stood pat with his refusal, for he cannot testify falsely against his companions just to free himself. It is still better to live than to die a martyr, Malabanan answered.

We now to go appellant Luis Corcolons story which painted the Kit Alqueza angle in greater detail. In the morning of June 25, 1993, three (3) men went to Luis residence in Barangay Mabacan. They told Luis that their boss, Edgardo Lavadia alias Uod, wanted to see him the next day. Lavadia is a very generous friend of Luis for so many years who, as a professional forger of checks, is being protected by General Alqueza.

Luis arrived at Lavadias house at around 2:00 p.m. of June 26. There he saw Kit and Lavadias men. Lavadia requested him to abduct and kill Allan because the latter has done something wrong to Kit. Luis asked what Allans fault was and then suggested that if its just a small squabble, they better forgive Allan. Lavadia insisted, but Luis appeared hesitant since it might put him in big trouble. Lavadia tempered his request by asking Luis to merely help in getting rid of the body. Luis agreed. He and Lavadia were to meet again on June 28, 1993 in the Bay cockpit. After this, Luis left.

Luis was also a member of the team formed by Major Cao to hunt down Tisoy. At around 8:30 in the morning of June 28, 1993, he was fetched by Medialdea, Ama, Malabanan and proceeded to Barangay Imok on board the ambulance driven by Centeno to apprehend Tisoy. At around 1:00 p.m., Luis left the group and went to Bay cockpit to meet Lavadia, as agreed upon the previous day. When he arrived at the cockpit, only Lavadias men were there. Luis then asked one of the men to tell Lavadia that he is backing out of the agreement. He first attended the derby being held at the cockpit before returning to Barangay Imok at around 5:00 p.m. and re-joined the team. They left Barangay Imok at around 7:30 p.m. and proceeded to Barangay Wawa, San Pablo City where they stayed for about two (2) hours waiting for Tisoy. Sensing that Tisoy would not be passing by, the team headed back for Calauan. Luis was driven home first and reached his house at around 9:30 p.m. A certain Ernesto Bustillo was waiting for him to borrow his passenger jeepney. Thereafter, Luis slept at around 10:30 p.m.

At around 4:45 a.m. of the next day (June 29) while Luis was preparing the breakfast of his children, a Tamaraw van, driven by Kit, stopped in front of his house honking its horn continuously. Four (4) motorcycle-riding men, each wearing bonnet masks and maong jackets, escorted the van. Kit sought his help in burying at once the dead female body inside the van. Luis inspected the van and saw a naked corpse of a woman. He refused Kits summons after which Luis immediately returned to his house, turned off the lights and closed door for fear that Kits escorts would shoot him. The convoy then headed towards the direction of Sitio Paputok, Km. 74.

At about 6:30 a.m., Luis, Centeno, Medialdea and Malabanan met and continued their surveillance of Tisoy at Barangay Imok. They saw Tisoy pass by at around 7:10 a.m. but were not able to apprehend him. The group thereafter went to Ganis fishpond at about 8:30 a.m. then proceeded to Km. 74 to verify reports of a females death. There they saw the Tamaraw van with a dead woman inside. Luis recognized the vehicle as that driven by Kit hours earlier, but he kept silent. The group then brought the van to the UP Los Baos campus.

In the morning if June 30, 1993, Luis met the Mayor. The latter instructed him to investigate on who dumped Eileens body at Km. 74. Luis obliged and said that he will make a report within a week. He, however, did not tell the Mayor about Kits involvement in the crime.

On July 7, 1993, CIS agents of Canlubang raided his house during his absence thereat. The agents, his wife said, planted a gun inside. The next day, Luis read in the papers that a P100,000.00 reward has been offered for his and brother Boys capture. He rushed to the Mayor who advised him to remain quiet.

In the afternoon of July 12, 1993, Luis went to Boys house upon being summoned by the Mayor who was with General Quizon and Colonel Hilario. He and Boy were brought to Camp Crame for interview. After the interview, the CIS took their sworn statements. The answers therein, Luis said, were furnished by the agents. He signed the statement out to fear without the assistance of a lawyer of his own choice. For several days, he was investigated by PACC agents. Then on or July 20, 1993, he and Boy were transferred to CIS Canlubang and were interrogated by Col. Tiangco who repeatedly manhandled and cursed him. Luis insisted on his innocence and suggested that it is Kit who they should investigate. After the interview, Luis was tortured by way of water treatment, denied of food and was not allowed to receive visitors. In the afternoon of June 28, 1993, Luis was brought before the PACC where he was again manhandled during the 2-hour interrogation. He answered yes to all the questions hurled at him because he was already dizzy. He was also informed that Lavadia had already executed a statement saying that the latter paid him.

On August 1, 1993 at the PACC-TFH office, General Quizon was forcing him to testify against the Mayor. He was also interviewed by media afterwhich, he was brought back to his cell where he met Lavadia. He cursed and strangled Lavadia. Luis suggested that they should now tell the truth about Kits involvement, but Lavadia advised him to remain silent because reprisal from General Alqueza would be far worse. Luis was detained at the PACC until the start of the trial. He also filed a complaint for torture before the Commission on Human Rights.

Boy Corcolon testified that he never left house on the night of June 28, 1993. He woke up at around 7:00 a.m. of the next day and proceeded to the Calauan police station on his motorcycle upon being informed of the discovery of a dead female in sitio Paputok, Km. 74. After going to the municipal building where he saw Ama, Major Cao and Judge Baldo, Boy followed Major Cao and his men in going to Km. 74. There he saw the naked body of the dead woman inside the van. Boy thereafter followed the van to the UP compound. Moments later, the van was brought to Calauan municipal hall compound. He did not stay in the municipal hall, but went straight home instead.

The CIS agents raided his house on July 7, 1993. The next day, Boy read in the papers that he and his brother Luis were being haunted down by the authorities and a P100,000.00 bounty is at stake for their capture. He rushed to the house of the Mayor to inform the latter of the raid. The Mayor advised him to remain calm and to avoid being visible.

In the afternoon of July 12, 1993, he and Luis were fetched by General Quizon and Colonel Hilario at Luis residence and thereafter brought to Camp Crame. At the camp, press people interviewed them after which they were led to a room for taking of their respective sworn statements. Boy claimed that he was forced to give his statement after being kicked, slapped and cursed by the investigators. He tried to correct portions of his statement but the investigating officer did not allow him. Boy and Luis were detained at the camp until charges have been filed against them, for their refusal to cooperate with the CIS.

On July 20, 1993, the two (2) brother were brought to an uninhabited place near a hill in Barangay Paliparan where they were made to stand in front of the military group consisting of Generals Quizon and Salimbangon, Colonel Gualberto and his men. Boy and Luis were each asked to hold an armalite rifle, and then pictures were taken of them handing the rifles over to the generals.

The next day (June 21), they were brought to CIS Canlubang and stayed there until the start of the trial in September, 1993. Boy claimed he was subjected to electric shock and water treatment to make him confess his guilt.

Ama, also a member of the team involved in the Tisoy manhunt, related a similar story on the groups sorties in different barangays on June 28, 1993. After the failed mission, Centeno dropped him off at his residence in Barangay Masiit at about 10:00 p.m. of the same day and did not leave the house until the next morning.

At around 6:15 a.m. of the next day (June 29), he was at Barangay Balayhangin to wait for Tisoy per Medialdeas instruction. Minutes later, he saw Tisoy pass by on a motorcycle and thereafter reported the matter to Medialdea. Ama learned of Eileens death at around 8:00 a.m. when he was at the Calauan police station. Centeno thereafter picked him up and they, together with Medialdea, Malabanan and Luis proceeded to Sitio Paputok where Eileens body was found.

From the university compound, he, Medialdea, Malabanan and a UP student named Butch went to Allans house but the latter was not there. They also went to Jet Tejadas and Eileens boarding houses.

At Barangay Batong Malaki, Los Baos, barangay tanod Allan revealed to Medialdea that the dead Allans enemy was Kit. Allan was fond of girls and there was a time when Kit got angry at and threatened Allan when the latter dated Kits girlfriend Rose, the tanod narrated.

Ama and the rest of the group were able to talk to Jet Tejada who denied any involvement in the crime. After Major Cao informed him that Allan is already dead, Ama told the major about the friction between Allan and Kit. Then someone tapped Major Caos shoulder and identified himself as Kit who clarified that he had patched up with Allan about three (3) months ago. Kit angrily pointed his finger at Ama, then Major Cao pacified them. Ama asked Kit about the drops of blood on his right thigh. Kit explained that the blood came from his right knuckle. He is our suspect Ama blurted. Major Cao, however, reprimanded him for making such a loud comment.

*(On the cleaning of the van, Amas story is similar to Medialdeas account heretofore discussed).

Thereafter, Ama, Medialdea and Malabanan found their way to the Mayors residence in bay. Ama revealed to the Mayor that Kit is the suspect. The Mayor said that Kit comes from a very powerful and influential family, and that his father, General Alqueza, is a tough man. The Mayor nonetheless assured them of his support.

On July 1, 1993, Ama accompanied some CIS personnel at the site where Allans body was found. They found drops of blood, cigarette butts and wrappers in the area. Later in the afternoon, Ama went to Canlubang as he was asked by Colonel Roxas to make a written report on the Kit Alqueza angle. He completed his statement in about five (5) hours. The officer before whom he was sworn, Ama noticed, was drunk.

On July 3, 1993, he received word that he was to undergo counter-insurgency training effective that same day. Two (2) days after (July 5), he asked a certain Colonel Toco why he was being required to undergo training again. The colonel promised to look into the matter. On that same day, Malabanan informed him that Luis appeared panicky and was acting suspiciously, as the latter seemed to go back and forth to the municipal hall and kept asking Malabanan for the names of people investigating the case. Also on that day, Ama gave the NBI Regional Director some information about Kit and Luis which started the NBI investigation.

On July 6, 1993, Ama, together with Medialdea and Malabanan, executed his statement in CIS Canlubang assisted by one Atty. Exconde who asked him to sign the same even before Ama can read it. At PHQ Sta. Cruz, the Deputy Provincial Commander for Operations fumed when he declared in his statement that he was absent during the cleaning of the van. He declared so because Major Cao instructed him to keep silent on that matter. Subsequently (July 7), he learned of Malabanans escape.

On July 24, 1993, Ama, Malabanan and Medialdea were brought to CIS Canlubang. They ate drugged food which gave him chest pain and made him very weak and talkative. He saw Medialdea being whipped on the head with a newspaper by one official.

Five days later (July 29), they were brought to the PACC where Luis pointed to them before the media. The next day (July 30), he and General Alqueza met at the Department of Justice. The general cursed him for dragging Kit in the case and even challenged him to a fistfight outside the building.

On August 7, 1993, at General Salimbangons office, the general informed him that his summary dismissal is on hand unless he testifies against the Mayor. When he refused, the general cursed him. Colonel Gualberto also tried to convince him by offering promotion, house and lot, monthly allowance, or a chance to leave the country with his family. But Ama insisted on his innocence.

On August 13, 1993, a sobbing Malabanan embraced Ama and asked for his forgiveness because the former has already implicated him falsely in the crime. Malabanan said he could no longer bear the torture being inflicted on him and the threats on his life and family. He was also advised by Malabanan to follow suit, but he refused once again.

Brion is the Mayors nephew. He denied being in the company of any of the appellants on the evening of June 28, 1993 as he stayed at their house on J. del Valle St., Calauan the whole night. In the morning of July 29, 1993, he was arrested at his father-in-laws house without any warrant. The arresting officer told him that Colonel Navarro (PNP Director of Laguna) wanted to interview him. Brion was brought to the Calamba police station from where he was taken to Canlubang. There, Col. Navarro cursed him for being so elusive. Brion answered that he never went into hiding. Col. Navarro informed him that Luis Corcolon has revealed that he was the third man to rape Eileen. Brion then heard Malabanan shouting that he is taking all the blame for the crime if they would just spare the two students (Brion and Kawit) who are totally innocent.

Brion, together with Malabanan, Ama and Luis, was brought to the office of the then Vice-President Estrada who asked Ama and Malabanan whether they raped Eileen. Ama belied the accusation. Malabanan, too, professed innocence and said that in the nine (9) years he stayed in Mindanao, it is his first time to cry this way. This convinced the vice-president of Malabanans innocence. Kawit also cried at this point. Brion saw Luis being held up by two men towards the room as Luis appeared to be on the brink of collapse. One of the escorts then raised Luis hand so as to point at Brion.

On July 30, 1993, Brion, Ama, Malabanan, Kawit, Luis and Boy were brought to the Department of Justice where Fiscal Zuo asked them to sign some papers. Luis was instructed to re-affirm his sworn statement before the PACC while Brion and Kawit were asked to sign a waiver of detention. The three (3), however, refused. Fiscal Zuo offered them a lawyer from the Public Assistance Office (PAO) to assist them but Brion rejected the offer.

On August 6, 1993, General Quizon asked Brion to sign a confession but he refused. When a second statement was prepared, he cried because he was allowed to read only that portion relating to his personal circumstances before being forced to sign it without the assistance of a lawyer. Thereafter, he was brought back to PHQ Sta. Cruz at around 5:00 p.m.

Brion related having executed a sworn statement detailing the methods of torture he underwent to force him into implicating the Mayor, Ama, Medialdea and Malabanan, viz:

1) he would be placed in a doghouse-like cell fitted with loudspeakers;

2) his hands would be tied behind his back and he would be tied to a bench. A towel would be placed over his mouth and nostrils, then 7-up is poured on his face;

3) his body would be whipped with guns.

No medical examination was ever conducted on him. More, his captors would padlock his cell whenever Atty. Arias paid him a visit.

Kawit was a houseboy of the Mayor in his Calauan residence. He claimed he slept at around 9:00 p.m. of June 28, 1993 and woke up at 6:00 a.m. the following day to water the plants.

On July 16, 1993, he was interrogated in connection with the deaths of Eileen and Allan. Later in the day, Medialdea and some policemen fetched him at his house in Barangay Bagong Pook and brought him to PHQ Sta. Cruz. Kawit was led into a room where Medialdea, in the presence of Centeno and Malabanan, asked him the name of the girl who was reportedly shouting while Kawit was dragging her at CPAMMS. Kawit answered that there were two (2) bar girls, whose names are Carla and Ninja Joyce, who were shouting at Barangay Bagong Pook. Ama then entered the room and requested Malabanan and Medialdea not to hurt Kawit. When Malabanan and Medialdea left the room, Kawit explained to Ama that the two (2) bar girls complained of one Melvin Pajadan not paying them for their services.

Thereafter, Kawit was asked by one Major Uyami to make a statement. After signing the statement, Kawit was told by investigator Cansanay that the major wanted him to include in his statement the Mayors involvement in the Gomez-Sarmenta slaying, but Kawit refused. He was thus detained for the night. A policeman in civilian clothes thereafter asked him to sign a paper bearing his name and the handwritten words: Pauuwiin ka na bukas ng umaga. Kawit signed the paper, but he was not released the next day.

Before this Court, Mayor Sanchez and Medialdea filed their consolidated Appellants Brief, and so did Ama, Brion and Kawit. Brothers Luis and Boy Corcolon, on the other hand, filed separate appeal briefs. Briefly, the pith of the assigned errors and the focus of the appellants arguments is the issue of witnesses Centeno and Malabanans credibility, whose open-court narrations served as principal basis for the trial courts rendition of a guilty verdict.

So oftenly repeated by this Court is that the matter of assigning values to declarations on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge[4] who had the unmatched opportunity to observe the witnesses and to assess their credibility by the various indicia available but not reflected in the record. The demeanor of the person on the stand can draw the line between fact and fancy. The forthright answer or the hesitant pause, the quivering voice or the angry tone, the flustered look or the sincere gaze, the modest blush or the guilty blanch these can reveal if the witness is telling the truth or lying in his teeth.[5]

Judge Demetriou who presided over the entire trial until its very conclusion expressed her satisfaction with the way witnesses Centeno and Malabanan survived the hot seat with flying colors, so to speak. With respect to Centeno, the honorable Judge had this to say:

In thus passing upon the credibility of Centeno, this Court kept his alleged dubious reputation for veracity in mind. But, after carefully reviewing the testimony of Centeno in his direct examination and gruelling (sic) cross-examination for almost 3 months, this Court, even with a jaundiced eye, could not help but be impressed about the myriad of details in his testimony and his frank, spontaneous and straightforward manner of testifying. The lengthy and punishing cross-examination by seven lawyers to which he was subjected failed to bring out any serious flaw or infirmity in his perception or recollection of events or destroy the coherence of his narration. That Centeno merely wove such a yarn from his fertile imagination, conflict with a multitude of details, is highly improbable considering that his highest educational attainment was sixth grade in the elementary school.[6]

Similarly, Malabanan displayed a frank, straightforward manner of answering questions and a desire to state all the facts within his knowledge, and his credibility was never shaken on cross-examination; there was no indication of prevarication or evasiveness. Consequently, (his) testimony is entitled to full faith and credit, the honorable Judge observed.[7] Her impressions of these star witnesses for the State bind this Court, for we accord great respect if not finality, to the findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses.[8] They, therefore, ought not to be disturbed.[9] And once the prosecution witnesses are afforded full faith and credit, the defenses version necessarily stands discredited.[10]

To recall, all the appellants relied on the defense of denial/alibi, i.e., they were at their respective homes on the night of the rape-slay. But Centeno and Malabanan confirmed the presence of all the appellants on the night of June 28, 1993 till the early morning of the following day and detailed the exact participation of each in the crime. Positive identification by credible witnesses of the accused as the perpetrators of the crime, as we have consistently held, demolishes the alibi[11] - the much abused sanctuary of felons.[12] Moreover, except for the Mayor who presented Ave Marie Tonee Jimenez Sanchez (his daughter with his mistress Elvira) and Medialdea who presented his neighbor Anastacia Gulay, the other appellants failed to present corroborating testimonial evidence to butress their respective alibis. The defense of alibi is inherently weak especially when wanting in material corroboration. Categorical declarations of witnesses for the prosecution of the details of the crime are more credible than the uncorroborated alibi interposed by the accused.[13] Ave Maries testimony is of no help to the Mayor, since alibi becomes less plausible as a defense when it is invoked and sought to be crafted mainly by the accused himself and his immediate relatives.[14] Anastacia Gulays testimony is likewise worthless since the trial court found her testimony rehearsed. We will not disturb this finding because it touches on credibility.

In fine, the defense of alibi is an issue of fact that hinges on the credibility of witnesses, and the assessment of the trial court, unless patently and clearly inconsistent, must be accepted.[15]

In an attempt to discredit Centeno, appellants principally harp on the contradictions in four (4) Sworn Statements executed by Centeno on August 13, 1993, August 15, 1993, August 17, 1993 and August 30, 1993. The Solicitor Generals Office summarizes appellants asseverations on this point, viz:

Appellants point out that while in his Sworn Statement dated August 13, 1993, Centeno stated that after the victims were seized, they were brought to CPAMMS, in his Sworn Statement dated August 15, 1993, he claimed that the two were brought to Erais Farm (p. 86-96, Sanchez and Medialdea; p. 11-12, Luis Corcolon; p. 38, Ama, Brion and Kawit; p. 10, Rogelio Corcolon). Appellant also point out that in the August 13, 1993 Sworn Statement, Centeno merely referred to a person named Edwin (without stating his family name) and another person he did not know who was in the place where the victims were brought. In his Sworn Statement dated August 17, 1993, Centeno supplied the family name of Edwin as Cosico and the name of the other person whom he did not know as Lito Angeles (pp. 96-97, Sanchez and Medialdea).

Another major contradiction pointed out is that in his August 13, 1993 Sworn Statement, Centeno mentioned that he drove the Corcolon brothers to the house of Edgardo Uod Lavadia in Bangkal Street, Los Baos, Laguna. Upon arriving at the house of Lavadia, Centeno saw Lavadia and Teofilo Kit Alqueza talking. Later Lavadia handed an envelop to Luis Corcolon. In the latest Sworn Statement dated August 30, 1993, Centeno stated that they did not go to the house of Lavadia and that during the whole day of June 26, 1993, Centeno was with Malabanan (pp. 99-102, Sanchez and Medialdea; pp. 37-40, Ama, Brion and Kawit; p. 8, Rogelio Corcolon).[16]

The trial judge found Centenos explanation on these inconsistencies satisfactory, justifying such finding with pertinent jurisprudence. The Court, therefore, affirms and adopts her disquisition on the matter, viz:

With respect to the portion of his sworn statement dated August 13, 1993 which implicated Kit Alqueza, Centeno explained that it was dictated by a CIS agent named Rommel. He feared Rommel because the latter threatened him that he would be hurt if he did not cooperate. Even when his family was already under the custody of the CIS on August 15, 1993, he did not ask for the deletion of the said portion because he was still under the CIS custody. It was only on August 30, 1993 when he was placed under the Witness Protection Program that he found the courage to execute another sworn statement for the specific purpose of deleting the reference to Kit Alqueza. Although he was placed under the Witness Protection Program on August 17, 1993, there was a delay in his retraction of Kit Alquezas involvement due to his inability to reach Fiscal Arellano.

Centenos explanation is quite believable because he had already implicated the accused Sanchez in his sworn statement of August 13, 1993. Thus, the portion implicating Kit Alqueza does not jibe with the main story of Centeno that Eileen Sarmenta was abducted by Medialdea, Ama, the Corcolon brothers, Brion and Kawit to be given as a gift to their boss, Mayor Sanchez.

As to his sworn statement of August 15, 1993 where he stated that the victims were taken to Erais Farm instead of CPAMMS as originally indicated in his August 13, 1993 sworn statement, Centeno explained that when he gave his first statement he was still hoping that Mayor Sanchez would help him. Furthermore, he feared the power and influence of the Mayor. Thus, according to him, he gave the wrong place to mislead his investigators. It was only on August 15, 1993 when the accused Sanchez was already in prison that Centeno decided to correct his previous statements.

This Court is inclined to accept the explanation of Centeno that his earlier attempt to mislead the investigators by saying that the victims were taken to CPAMMS was out of fear of the Mayor. Our Supreme Court has recognized that the inherent fear of reprisal by witnesses who refuse initially to disclose what they know about a crime is quite understandable, especially when the accused is a man of power and influence in the community (People v. Catao, 107 Phil. 861 [1960]).

In a recent case, People v. Pascua (206 SCRA 628 [1992]), the Supreme Court observed that Fear for ones life explains the failure on the part of a witness to immediately notify the authorities of what exactly transpired. And, [o]nce such fear is overcome by a more compelling need to narrate the truth, the Supreme Court went on to say, then the witness must be welcomed by the courts to help dispense justice.

Consequently, this Court will not reject the testimony of Centeno on the basis of inconsistencies in his sworn statements taken by police authorities which have been sufficiently explained. What is more important is that Centeno testified on the witness stand in a categorical, straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner and remained consistent on cross-examination. This Court, therefore, finds Centeno a credible witness.[17]

To further fortify this observation, we advert to that all-too familiar rule that discrepancies between sworn statements and testimonies made at the witness stand do not necessarily discredit the witnesses.[18] Sworn statements/affidavits are generally subordinated in importance to open court declarations because the former are often executed when an affiants mental faculties are not in such a state as to afford him a fair opportunity of narrating in full the incident which has transpired.[19] Testimonies given during trials are mush more exact and elaborate.[20] Thus, testimonial evidence carries more weight than sworn statements/affidavits.

Appellants would also quibble on the following portions of Centenos testimony, to wit:

1) he could not give exactly where the appellants went after sexually abusing Eileen;]

2) he was unsure whether it was Eileens left or right foot that hit the chair of the van when she was struggling;

3) he was unsure of their speed while on their way to the UP compound;

4) he could not give the exact distance between the ambulance he was driving and the van;

5) he said he could see the protruding end of the roof of a kubo when he parked the ambulance in front of the Big J restaurant. Appellants claim that from where Centeno was allegedly standing, there was no way he could see the roof of that kubo;

6) he was able to recall what appellants were wearing on that night of June 28, 1993;

7) he saw Kawit hit Allan at his diaphragm with the butt of an armalite, but the medico-legal finding of Dr. Escueta revealed no injury in the abdominal region of Allan;

8) his testimony that the appellants raped Eileen inside the van which was very limited space, while appellants could have chosen a far more comfortable or remote place to do the crime. With respect to the Mayor, it was very unbelievable for him to commit rape inside his room filled with religious adornments and in the process risk his reputation as mayor and an established man in the community;

9) his testimony to the effect that appellants rolled their pants down to their knees and then climbed the van to rape Eileen. Appellants would consider such testimony impossible, claiming that the narrow circumference of the waistline will impede and obstruct the upward movement of the legs.

10) his admission that he can lie for money, or out fear.

It may be conceded that these inconsistencies marred Centenos testimony, but they refer to trivial details which do not, in actuality, touch upon the whys and wherefores of the crime committed.[21] Equally settled is the rule that inconsistencies in the testimony of witnesses when referring only to minor details and collateral matters do not affect either the substance of their declaration, their veracity, or the weight of their testimony. Although there may be inconsistencies on minor details, the same do not impair the credibility of the witnesses where there is consistency in relating the principal occurrence and positive identification of the assailants,[22] as in this case. Slight contradictions in fact even serve to strengthen the sincerity of a witness and prove that his testimony is not rehearsed.[23] They are fail-safes against memorized perjury.[24] Besides, errorless testimonies cannot be expected especially when a witness is recounting details of a harrowing experience.[25] Even the most truthful witnesses can make mistakes but such innocent lapses do not necessarily affect their credibility.[26] Consequently, Centenos and Malabanans credibility still remains intact notwithstanding these inconsistencies.

Other pieces of evidence further enhance the damaging testimonies of Centeno and Malabanan. For one, a missing belt loop from the pair of white shorts worn by Eileen on the night of the crime was recovered from Erais Farm by prosecution witness Major Lulita Chambers who, together with Col. Gualberto and other officers, went there on August 19, 1993 to effect service of the search warrant issued by RTC Judge Geraldez. Major Chambers, a forensic chemist, conducted a series of laboratory examinations and later concluded that the retrieved beltloop matched in color, size and fiber composition with a beltloop she detached from the white shorts of Eileen which she (Major Chambers) used as a standard.

Another corroborating evidence is the M16 empty bullet shell recovered at the site where Allans body was found. The ballistic examination on the empty shell conducted by FID-PNP Chief Ballistician Vicente de Vera revealed that the striations of the empty shell were the same as those registered by the cartridges from M16 rifle bearing Serial No. 773159 surrendered by Luis Corcolon. Mr. De Vera also found the metallic fragments recovered from Eileens body, after conducting microscopic examinations thereof, to bear the same characteristics as those from a bullet fired from an M16 rifle.

The autopsy and vaginal examination conducted by prosecution witness Dr. Vladimir V. Villaseor, medico-legal officer of the PNP-CIS, on Eileens cadaver buttresses all the more the gang-rape story of the prosecution. Dr. Villaseors findings, in a nutshell, disclosed the presence of multiple contusions on Eileens body, fresh shallow lacerations on her hymen, a congested cervix, a gaping labia majora and oozing whitish fluid (tested positive for spermatozoa) from the vaginal opening. Oozing spermatozoa, Dr. Villaseor explained, means that the amount of semen was much more than the vaginal canal could contain and that there were several seminal ejaculations that occurred therein. He also noted that a great quantity of whitish fluid continued to ooze from Eileens vaginal opening despite her death for several hours. Taking into account all these findings, Dr. Villaseor ruled out the possibility of any consented sexual intercourse. In this connection, appellants would belittle Dr. Villaseors findings by insisting as the more convincing opinion the defenses medical expert witness, Dr. Ernesto Brion who testified to the effect that there can be no multiple rape if there is only one laceration on Eileens hymen as testified to by Dr. Villaseor. We dismiss appellants argument by reiterating anew that the absence of extensive abrasions or contusions on the vaginal wall does not rule out rape because the slightest penetrations enough.[27] It is not an indispensable element for the successful prosecution of said crime.[28] Moreover, Dr. Brion is an uncle by consanguinity and erstwhile counsel of record of the Mayor, thus making his objectivity highly questionable.

Appellants Ama, Kawit and Brion would assail the trial courts finding that they were part of the conspiracy to commit the rape-slay. Their concurrency of sentiment with the other appellants, however, was evident from the time they abducted Eileen and Allan, brought the two to Erais Farm where Eileen was raped by the Mayor and Allan beaten up black and blue, headed for a sugarcane field killing Allan along the way, sexually abused Eileen in rapid succession and finally killed her. In not an instance did any of the three appellants (Ama, Kawit and Brion) desist from that common design.[29] Likewise, the complicity of the Mayor in the crime can be deduced from the following conversations he had with some of the appellants at the Erais Farm (per Centenos testimony), viz.:

LUIS CORCOLON: Mayor, ito po yung regalo namin sa inyo. Ito po yung babae na matagal na po ninyong kursunada.

MAYOR: Aba, and ganda talaga ng babaeng yan. Pero sino yung kasama ninyong lalake?

MEDIALDEA: Boss, kasama ho yan ng babae yung lalake. Isinama na rin ho namin para wala pong bulilyaso.

After raping Eileen, the Mayor had this short exchange with Medialdea:

MAYOR: O sige mga anak, salamat sa regalo ninyo. Salamat sa regalo ninyo sa akin. Tapos na ako, sa inyo na iyan. Bahala na kayo diyan. Ano naman ang gagawin ninyo diyan sa lalake?

MEDIALDEA: Boss, papatayin na rin po namin ito para wala pong bulilyaso.

Finally, on appellants claim that the publicity given to this case impaired their right to a fair trial, we need only to revisit this Courts pronouncements in People v. Teehankee, Jr. (249 SCRA 54), viz:

We cannot sustain appellants claim that he was denied the right to impartial trial due to prejudicial publicity. It is true that the print and broadcast media gave the case at bar pervasive publicity, just like all high profile and high stake criminal trials. Then and now, we rule that the right of an accused to a fair trial is not incompatible to a free press. To be sure, responsible reporting enhances an accuseds right to a fair trial for, as well pointed out, a responsible press has always been regarded as the handmaiden of effective judicial administration, especially in the criminal field x x x. The press does not simply publish information about trials but guards against the miscarriage of justice by subjecting the police, prosecutors, and judicial processes to extensive public scrutiny and criticism.

Pervasive publicity is not per se prejudicial to the right of an accused to fair trial. The mere fact that the trial of appellant was given a day-to-day, gavel-to-gavel coverages does not by itself prove that the publicity so permeated the mind of the trial judge and impaired his impartiality. For one, it is impossible to seal the minds of members of the bench from pre-trial and other off-court publicity of sensational criminal cases. The state of the art of our communication system brings news as they happen straight to out breakfast tables and right to our bedrooms. These news form part of our everyday menu of the facts and fictions of life. For another, our idea of a fair and impartial judge is not that of a hermit who is out of touch with the world. We have not installed the jury system whose members are overly protected from publicity lest they lose their impartiality. Criticisms against the jury system are mounting and Mark Twains wit and wisdom put them all in better perspective when he observed: When a gentleman of high social standing, intelligence, and probity swears that testimony given under the same oath will outweigh with him, street talk and newspaper reports based upon mere hearsay, he is worth a hundred jurymen who will swear to their own ignorance and stupidity x x x. Why could not the jury law be so altered as to give men of brains and honesty an equal chance with fools and miscreants? Our judges are learned in the law and trained to disregard off-court evidence and on-camera performances of parties to a litigation. Their mere exposure to publications and publicity stunts does not per se fatally infect their impartiality.

At best, appellant can only conjure possibility or prejudice on the part of the trial judge due to the barrage of publicity that characterized the investigation and trial of the case. In Martelino, et al. v. Alejsndro, et al., we rejected this standard of possibility of prejudice and adopted the test of actual prejudice as we ruled that to warrant a finding of prejudicial publicity, there must be allegation and proof that the judges have been unduly influenced, not simply that they might be, by the barrage of publicity. In the case at bar, the records do not show that the trial judge developed actual bias against appellant as a consequence of the extensive media coverage of the pre-trial and trial of his case. The totality of circumstances of the case does not prove that the trial judge acquired a fixed opinion as a result of prejudicial publicity which is incapable of change even by evidence presented during the trial. Appellant has the burden to prove this actual bias and he has not discharged the burden.

And so we come to hear another tale of woe, of an infamous public figure and his minions indicted for having raped and killed a young lady and a budding lad, of these victims who had led short obscure lives that earned an equally ignominous end, and of a criminal enterprise so despicable only the unthinking beasts can orchestrate. It was, indeed, a plot seemingly hatched in hell. And let it not be said that the full protection of the law had been deprived appellants. Even a beast cannot deny this.

WHEREFORE, the assailed decision is hereby AFFIRMED in all respects. In addition, each of the appellants having been found guilty of seven (7) counts of rape with homicide and considering that existing jurisprudence pegs the amount of indemnity for the death of the victim at Fifty Thousand (P50,000.00) Pesos, this Court hereby orders each of the appellants to pay the respective heirs of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez the amount of Seven Hundred Thousand (P700,000.00) Pesos as additional indemnity.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., (Chairman), Melo, Kapunan, and Pardo, JJ., concur.



[1] Nor Chairman of the COMELEC.

[2] Atty. Juanito Andrade.

[3] Brief for Appellants Sanchez and Medialdea, p. 4.

[4] People v. Tacipit, 242 SCRA 241; People v. Sarabia, 266 SCRA 471.

[5] People v. Espinosa, 180 SCRA 393.

[6] RTC Decision, pp. 109-110.

[7] RTC Decision, pp. 114-115.

[8] People v. Tayco, 235 SCRA 610.

[9] People v. Apolonia, 235 SCRA 124.

[10] People v. Calegan, 233 SCRA 537.

[11] People v. Tabaco, 270 SCRA 32; People v. Piandong, 268 SCRA 555; People v. Dinglasan, 267 SCRA 26; People v. Navales, 266 SCRA 569; People v. Ferrer, 255 SCRA 19; People v. Abrenica, 252 SCRA 54; People v. Vivar, 235 SCRA 257.

[12] People v. Plandez, 132 SCRA 70.

[13] People v. Villalobos, 209 SCRA 304.

[14] People v. Danao, 253 SCRA 146; People v. Rio, 201 SCRA 702.

[15] People v. Apa-ap, 235 SCRA 468.

[16] Consolidated Brief for the Appellee, pp. 38-39.

[17] RTC Decision, pp. 112-114.

[18] People v. Ferrer, 255 SCRA 19; People v. Sarellana, 233 SCRA 31; People v. Quiming, 222 SCRA 371.

[19] People v. Padao, 267 SCRA 64.

[20] People v. Miranda, 235 SCRA 202.

[21] People v. Muoz, 163 SCRA 730.

[22] Sumalpong v. CA, 268 SCRA 764; People v. Sison, 189 SCRA 643.

[23] People v. Letigio, 268 SCRA 227; People v. Mendoza, 254 SCRA 61.

[24] People v. Roa, 167 SCRA 116.

[25] People v. Ibay, 233 SCRA 15.

[26] People v. Calegan, 233 SCRA 537.

[27] People v. Cervantes, 222 SCRA 365; People v. Tismo, 204 SCRA 535; People v. Cruz, 180 SCRA 765; David v. CA, 182 SCRA 675; People v. Taneo, 284 SCRA 251.

[28] People v. Julian, 270 SCRA 733; People v. Balsacao, 241 SCRA 309.

[29] People v. Peralta, 251 SCRA 6.