SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 106873. October 3, 2000]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. GILBERT GONZALES Y BUHATAN, ARISTON SERRANO Y MAGAT, CHARLES DACANAY Y MARCHADESCH, MICHAEL SALAZAR Y CRIZALDO and VICTOR ORTEGA Y COE, accused-appellants.

D E C I S I O N

BUENA, J.:

Accused-appellants Gilbert Gonzales, Ariston Serrano and Victor Ortega, together with accused Charles Dacanay and Michael Salazar, were charged with the crime of Robbery with Homicide based on an Information[1]which reads:

That on or about the 23rd day of April, 1992 in Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring together and mutually helping one another, by means of force and intimidation employed upon the person of one FARITA PUNZALAN y MARTIN and with intent to gain, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously rob and carry away a bag containing an undetermined amount of cash and jewelry belonging to said FARITA PUNSALAN y MARTIN, to the damage and prejudice of the latter in an undetermined amount; that on the occasion of said Robbery, the above-named accused, in pursuance to their conspiracy, with abuse of superior strength and treachery, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, and with intent to kill, hit said FARITA PUNSALAN with stone and wood, thereby inflicting upon the latter serious physical injuries which injuries caused her death.

Upon arraignment on May 4, 1992, all the accused, assisted by their respective counsels, pleaded not guilty to the crime charged.

After trial, the court rendered its decision dated July 6, 1992, the dispositive portion of which reads, thus:

WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the accused GILBERT GONZALES, VICTOR ORTEGA, and ARISTON SERRANO are hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of ROBBERY WITH HOMICIDE and hereby each sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA; to indemnify the heirs of the victim FARITA PUNZALAN in the sum of P53,000.00; and to pay the costs.

The prosecution having failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of accused MICHAEL SALAZAR and CHARLES DACANAY, these two accused are hereby ACQUITTED of the crime charged with costs de officio.

SO ORDERED.[2]

The prosecutions case was anchored mainly on the testimonies of two alleged eyewitnesses, Lilia Pangilinan and Juanito Navales.

Lilia Pangilinan testified that on April 23, 1992, at around 5:00 oclock in the morning, she went to buy bread at the Cuevas Bakery which is a five minute walk from her residence at Santol St., San Antonio Subd., Dalandanan, Valenzuela, Metro Manila. On her way home, she heard a noise from a hut near the railroad track. Curious, she went to the hut, peeped through the hole and saw a woman, gagged and being clubbed by the accused with a piece of long wood. She did not recognize the woman because her face was covered with blood. Accused Dacanay and Serrano held the hands of the victim while another accused held the feet. Then she heard accused-appellant Ortega say, Sige paluin nyo na and later uttered, Sige, hubaran nyo na. Thereafter, accused-appellant Serrano removed the victims pants and raised her dress. They did not do anything to the victim. Accused-appellant Gonzales hit the victim with a stone on the forehead. They left the hut and went towards MacArthur Highway.[3]

Prosecution witness Juanito Navales, alias Paniki, testified that on April 23, 1992, at about 5:00 oclock in the morning, he went to buy bread. When he reached the railroad track at Dalandanan, he saw accused-appellant Gilbert Gonzales pull Farita Punzalan to a hut located beside the railroad track. He hid himself beside the hut. He saw accused-appellant Ariston Serrano remove Faritas pants. A handkerchief was tied to cover the mouth of the victim. Thereupon, accused-appellant Victor Ortega lifted a big stone, feet in diameter, and struck the head of the victim. Co-accused Michael Salazar acted as the look-out man. The group then ran, carting away the bag of the victim.

The police found the victim unconscious outside the nearby hut with her mouth full of blood. Her pants and panty were rolled down to her knees, and beside her was a piece of stone used in bashing her head.

The autopsy revealed that Farita Punsalan sustained the following injuries:

Pallor, generalized. Contused abrasion, forehead, right side, 3.5 x 5.0 cms.

Abrasion, nose bridge, 1.5 x 2.0 cms.

Contusion, zygomatic area, right side, 2.0 x 2.4 cms., neck, left side, 3.0 x 4.0 cms, breasts area, right side, 5.0 x. 9.0 cms.

Hematoma, periorbital, bilateral, right, 5.0 x 7.0 cms., left, 4.0 x 5.0 cms, prejuricular area, right side, 5.0 x 9.0 cms.

Scalp hematoma, generalized.

Fracture, comminuted, skull, frontal bone and the bones of the anterior and middle fossa.

Genital findings: with fresh deep hymenal lacerations at 9:00, 8:00, 7:00 and 6:00 oclock, position corresponding to the face of a watch, edges of which are edematous and coaptable.

Other visceral organs, congested.

Stomach contains small amount of blackish fluid.

CAUSE OF DEATH: Traumatic head injury.[4]

Accused-appellants professed their innocence claiming that they were elsewhere at the time of the incident.

Accused-appellant Gilbert Gonzales testified that he does not go out with any group because he attends to his work at Caf de Nova as waiter. On April 21, 1992, he did not report for work and asked permission to go on leave. On April 22, 1992, he went to Caloocan. From 7:00 oclock to 10:00 oclock in the evening, he played basketball. He went to bed at 11:00 oclock. The following day, or on April 23, 1992, he was awakened by his mother and brother who informed him that a woman was found dead near their hut. He followed his mother to the hut and found the dead woman covered with newspaper. He does not know the woman.

On April 24, 1992, at about 2:00 oclock in the afternoon, the Valenzuela Police, led by SPO1 Arthur Quiones, without a warrant of arrest, unceremoniously barged inside their house looking for his brother. When they saw him, he was arrested and brought to the Police Station.[5]

Accused-appellant Victor Ortega denied any participation in the crime, maintaining that he was asleep at the time of the incident. He slept at about 10:00 oclock in the evening of April 22, 1992, and woke up at about 9:00 oclock the following day. He stayed at home and had not heard of any news that a dead woman was found along the railroad track. He knew Boy Paniki as a stowaway and often saw him in the hut located along the railroad, but belied Panikis statement that he hit Farita Punzalan on the head with a stone. He was arrested without a warrant on April 26, 1992.[6]

Accused-appellant Ariston Serrano narrated that he was at home on April 22, 1992. He slept at 9:00 oclock and woke up at 4:30 the following morning to cook his baon. He works as a delivery helper at Cosmic Industries. He claims that he does not take drugs, and that he is not a gangmate of Paniki and the other accused-appellants. The scar on his left cheek is the result of the injuries caused by accused-appellant Victor Ortega when the latter hacked him with a bolo.[7]

The trial court found the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses to be inconsistent on material points, but nonetheless, gave credence to Navales narration of facts. Consequently, it found the accused-appellants guilty of the crime charged beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced them to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and to indemnify the heirs of Farita Punzalan in the sum of P53,000.00. Accused Michael Salazar and Charles Dacanay were acquitted.[8]

In disregarding the testimony of Lilia Pangilinan, the trial court opined:

The following were found by the Presiding Judge during the said ocular inspection:

The railroad tracks were nearby the hut. The hut had vertical slats 3 inches apart in front and other side of the said hut and a rectangular hole serving as a window. There were indications of newly cut shrubs or bushes fronting the door of the hut. Between these bushes and the door, the body of Farita Punzalan was said to have been found. The observation of the Court is, that if these slats were not covered at the time of the crime, one does not have to peep in to see what was happening inside the hut. The flooring is of tile slabs which are not permanently attached to the ground. The height from the floor up to ceiling is five (5) feet seven (7) inches only. It can be stated in this regard that a piece of wood as long as 7 feet 7 inches long (Exhs. H, H-1 and H-2) in this case cannot be raised and swang downwards because of the limited height of the ceiling. The width of the hut is 7 feet 5 inches, the length is 7 feet 6 inches. There was no indication of blood stain on the flooring. Inside the hut is a banggera. These facts discredit the testimony of Lilia Pangilinan that the killing was done inside the hut and the wooden club was swung at her inside the hut.

x x x x x x x x x

After hearing the testimony of Lilia Pangilinan and studying her written statements to the police (Exhs. G, G-1, G-2) the Court is disregarding these because these do not reflect the true facts as found by this Court from the other evidences on record. First, her house which is at Santol St., Pacheco Subdivision, Valenzuela, Metro Manila is really far away from the scene of the crime. This Presiding Judge during the ocular inspection even with the use of a car, found that said house was very far from the scene. Lilia Pangilinan could not be at the vicinity of the hut at that early morning 5:10 just to buy milk (according to her statement) or to buy bread (according to her testimony in Court). Secondly, her testimony that she saw the victim in her dream asking for help, and then her further testimony that she woke up and saw the victim was dead in a white dress tugging at her blanket, asking for help is within the realm of the supernatural which no judicial body can believe for purposes of deciding this case or other case for that matter. Third, her testimony that the swinging of the long club and the killing of Farita Punzalan inside the hut could not be possible because the club that long could not be swung inside the hut due to its small size and low ceiling. (Underscoring Supplied)[9]

In giving credence to Juanito Navales testimony, the trial court ratiocinated:

The Court is giving more credence on the testimony of Juanito Navales Jr. alias Paniki on some vital or salient points. After piecing together other evidences presented, especially the ocular inspection, this Court is convinced that Paniki and not Michael Salazar was the look-out man of Victor Ortega, Gilbert Gonzales and Ariston Serrano, whose respective houses are just few steps away from the hut. As found by this Court, the respective addresses of Gilbert Gonzales, Ariston Serrano and Victor Ortega were near Daang Bakal railroad tracks, and at their respective ages and proximity of their respective houses, their (sic) being barkadas as testified to by rebuttal witness Rolando Vergeniza is certainly believable. There is that pool or billiard near the store of Aling Remy where they used to come together to play and to drink, just beside the hut. At that early 5:00 or thereabouts their (sic) being together to perpetrate the crime charged is not impossible to be done. Michael Salazar who resides at Road 3 Lena Subdivision and Charles Dacanay who resides at Malakas St., Lena Subdivision could not be so near to Victor Ortega, Ariston Serrano and Gilbert Gonzales as personally observed by this Court during the ocular inspection at that early morning to be with them to perpetuate the act. Besides from the demeanor of Michael Salazar as he testified, saying that Paniki had a grudge against him that prompted him to implicate him this case, is believed by this Court. The participation of Charles Dacanay in this case was totally not proven.

The testimony of Paniki in Court was corroborated in details such as those portions where Gilbert Gonzales pulled Farita Punzalan towards the hut and hit her nape with the piece of wood that could have prevented her from shouting for help; that Ariston Serrano removed her pants; that Victor Ortega dropped the stone (Exh. 1) on Farita Punzalans head. It must be noted that Michael Salazar appeared in the testimony of Paniki as the look-out man. The Court, as stated above, believes that it was Paniki who was the look out man and not Michael Salazar because it was Paniki who slept in the hut the night before.

The testimony of Paniki that the perpetrators were sabog or appeared drug (sic) is believed by the Court because during his testimony he said they were happy, nagtatawanan as they perpetrated the crime, a heinous crime, which cannot be the object of a laughing spree by persons not drugged.[10]

Accused-appellants now come to us pleading this Court to reverse the trial courts decision. They raise the following errors:

A. VICTOR ORTEGA

I

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF PROSECUTION WITNESS JUANITO BOY NAVALES, ALIAS BOY PANIKI.

II

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF ROBBERY WITH HOMICIDE.

B. ARISTON SERRANO

I

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT TO THE TESTIMONY OF JUANITO NAVALES.

II

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN ITS FINDING THAT JUANITO NAVALES WAS THE LOOK-OUT MAN OF GILBERT GONZALES, VICTOR ORTEGA AND ARISTON SERRANO.

III

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO APPRECIATE THE ULTERIOR MOTIVE OF JUANITO NAVALES IN TESTIFYING AGAINST THE APPELLANT AND HIS CO-ACCUSED NOTWITHSTANDING HIS/THEIR INNOCENCE.

IV

THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO DETECT THE IMPROPER MOTIVE OF THE VALENZUELA POLICE IN THE HASTY SOLUTION OF THE CRIME.

V

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO DETECT THE WEAKNESS OF THE PROSECUTIONS EVIDENCE.

VI

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT ACQUITTING THE APPELLANT.

C. GILBERT GONZALES

I

THE HONORABLE COURT A QUO ERRED IN DENYING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF HIS RIGHT TO COUNSEL AND TO DUE PROCESS.

II

THE HONORABLE COURT A QUO ERRED IN ADMITTING AND APPRECIATING THE SUBSTANTIALLY CONFLICTING TESTIMONIES OF THE TWO ALLEGED PROSECUTION EYEWITNESS.

III

THE HONORABLE COURT A QUO ERRED IN CONVICTING ACCUSED-APPELLANT ON THE BASIS OF PRESUMPTIONS, CONJECTURES, AND MISAPPREHENSION OF FACTS.

IV

THE HONORABLE COURT A QUO ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT FOR ROBBERY WITH HOMICIDE, SENTENCING HIM TO SERVE THE PENALTY OF RECLUSION PERPETUA AND TO INDEMNIFY THE HEIRS OF THE VICTIM IN THE SUM OF P35,000.00 (SHOULD BE P53,000.00) AND TO PAY THE COSTS.

The issue boils down to the credibility of the prosecution witnesses.

Time and again, we have ruled that appellate courts will generally not disturb the assessment of the trial court on matters of credibility, considering that the latter was in a better position to appreciate the same, having heard and observed the witnesses themselves and observed their deportment, as well as their manner of testifying, during the trial. The only exception is when the trial court has plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value which, if considered, may affect the result of the case, or in instances where the evidence fails to support or substantiate the lower courts findings of facts and conclusions, or where the disputed decision is based on a misapprehension of facts.[11]

The case at bar falls under the exceptions.

We have exhaustively dissected the testimony of the prosecution witness, Juanito Navales, and find the same to be incredible. His narration that after accused-appellant Serrano removed Farita Punzalans pants and underwear, accused-appellants did not do anything[12] contravenes the evidence on record. The autopsy report revealed that the victims genital was found with fresh deep hymenal lacerations at 9:00, 8:00, 7:00 and 6:00 oclock positions, corresponding to the face of a watch, edges of which are edematous and coaptable. These lacerations on the genital area, as testified by Dr. Juan B. Zaldarriaga, the Medico Legal, proves that the victim was raped. Thus:

COURT:

So what is the cause of the hymenal lacerations?

A These lacerations could be caused by any instrument that is harder than the hymenal mucosa, your Honor.

COURT:

In your opinion, as a medico legal officer who conducted the autopsy, what does it indicate?

A What I mean, your Honor, hymenal lacerations has caused the pennis (sic) to..

COURT:

There is rape involved, you consider that?

A Considering that we have positive findings.

COURT:

So there is, there could have (sic) a sexual assault to the victim?

A Yes, your Honor.

Q When you said pennis (sic) .

A Considering that we have positive seminal findings, your Honor.[13] (Underscoring Supplied)

His testimony was corroborated by Imelda M. Cirujano, Medical Laboratory Technician of the National Bureau of Investigation who conducted an examination of the presence of human spermatozoa on the victim.[14] Her microscopic examination of the specimen taken from the victims genitalia gave positive result of the presence of human spermatozoa.[15]

Juanito Navales, who claims to have witnessed the crime from its beginning to the end, could not have missed the sexual assault on Farita Punzalan. The amazing lapse in memory of this eyewitness instills disbelief in his testimony.[16]

Navales testimony is likewise riddled with inconsistencies. In his Salaysay, Navales emphatically narrated:

10 T Paano pinatay itong si Farita, isalaysay mo nga sa akin?

S Naglalakad si Farita sa gilid ng kubo nang bigla siyang hilahin ni Gilbert papunta sa loob ng kubo at pagkatapos ay pinalo siya ng kahoy ni Gilbert sa may batok. Tapos nakita kong hinubaran ni Aris si Farita ng kanyang pantalon at panty at narinig kong nagsalita si Vic ng ganito. TIGNAN MO KUNG MAY TAO. Ako naman ay nagtago sa may gilid ng bahay. Tapos noong sabihin ni Tano na WALANG TAO bumalik uli ako at nakita ko si Vic na binagsakan ng bato sa ulo si Farita. Tinakpan naman ni Aris ng panyo iyong bibig ni Farita tapos sinabi ni Vic uli kay Tano na TIGNAN MO KUNG MAY TAO kaya nagtago uli ako sa may gilid ng bahay. Pagkatapos ay nagtakbuhan na sila.[17] (Underscoring Supplied)

However, in his testimony in Court, Navales never mentioned that accused-appellant Gilbert Gonzales hit Farita Punzalan with a piece of wood. He narrated:

COURT:

Q Why, where was Farita Punzalan then when she was pulled?

A She was walking near the hut, your Honor.

ATTY. PAGUIO:

Q Towards what direction was Farita Punzalan pulled?

A Towards MacArthur Highway, your Honor.

x x x x x x x x x

Q You said she was walking. After being pulled by Mr. Gilbert Gonzales what transpired next if any?

A Aris Ariston removed her pants, sir.

x x x x x x x x x

Q After Mr. Gilbert Gonzales yanked or pulled Farita Punzalan, what did Mr. Gonzales do?

A He just stood, sir.

Q And after standing, what did Mr. Gilbert Gonzales do?

A None, sir.[18] (Underscoring Supplied)

Also, in his sworn statement, Navales stated that accused-appellant Serrano pulled down Faritas pants and panty but in his testimony, he claimed that accused-appellant Serrano was not able to pull down the victims pants. Thus:

COURT:

Q Follow. Was Aris Ariston able to remove the pants?

A No, your Honor.

ATTY. PAGUIO:

Q Up to what portion of the legs was it pulled down?

COURT:

He said it was pulled down so totally, it was not pulled?

WITNESS:

No your, Honor.

COURT:

It was not pulled?

WITNESS:

No, your Honor.[19]

His testimony furthermore contradicted the evidence on record. The police found the victim unconscious with her pants and panty rolled down to her knees.

When serious and inexplicable discrepancies are present between a previously executed sworn statement of a witness and his testimonial declaration with respect to a persons participation in a serious imputation, such as the case before us, there is raised a grave doubt on the veracity of the witness account of the incident.[20]

We have likewise noted Navales testimony, in some point, to be perfect, rehearsed and faultless. Navales gave exact distances as found by the trial court during the ocular inspection.

Q Why did you not report to the police?

A I do not know; the police is far. It was Nora who called the police, your Honor.

ATTY. DOMINGO:

Q That Nora is residing where? Or how far in relation to the hut?

A About 10 meters, sir.

Q In the same direction or place where your residence is located?

A No, sir.

Q Where?

A On the other side, sir.

Q Other side of what?

A To the corner, sir.

Q Corner of what?

A Corner of Dalandanan, at the tricycle terminal, sir.

Q Tricycle terminal where? Across MacArthur Highway?

A Right after the road crossing the railroad tract, sir.

Q And the only thing you told Nora was that there was a dead body there?

A Yes, sir.

Q What was Nora doing at that time?

COURT:

Nagsasampay.

WITNESS:

A She was hanging clothes, sir.

ATTY. DOMINGO:

Q How far is the house of Nora from the hut?

A 12 meters, sir.

COURT:

I noticed that he is giving the right distances as found during the ocular inspection.[21]

The prosecutions response to the comment of the Judge was that Navales was familiar with the surroundings having stayed there for a long time. However, when the counsel for the accused asked him in whose house did he hide when he heard accused-appellant Ariston ask accused Michael Salazar if there are people around, Navales could not remember the owner.

COURT:

Q Wait. When you saw Gilbert pull Farita, were you at the side of the railroad track or near the house of Aling Remy?

WITNESS:

A I was at the side of the railroad track, your Honor.

COURT:

Q In whose house did you hide after you saw that?

A Aling Felicing, your Honor.

Q That is the house of Gilbert? Whose house did you hide?

A I do not know, your Honor.

Q Is it not the houses around the hut belong to, one is being occupied or belonging to Aling Remy, and the other, the house near the hut is the house of Aling Felicing. Which of these 2 houses did you hide?

A I do not know, your Honor.

Q How long have you been staying there at Daang Bakal? Why dont you know whose house that is? Or is it really you did not hide?

A I forgot the name, your Honor.[22]

We have also noted from the evidence that it was improbable for Navales to be at the scene of the crime. He testified that he was on his way to buy pandesal when he saw accused-appellant Gilbert Gonzales pull Farita Punzalan. If such were true, he would not have gone to the farthest bakery but to the bakery nearest his house.

ATTY. DOMINGO:

Q You stated that it was on your way to buy pandesal you claimed you saw Gilbert Gonzales, is it not?

A Yes, sir.

Q And since it was your mother who ordered you to buy pandesal, it follows that as you earlier stated, you came from your house which is 100 meters away from the hut, right?

A Yes, sir.

Q Where were you going to buy pandesal?

A Aling Cely, sir.

Q Where is that Aling Celys place located?

A At Lena Subdivision, sir.

Q You mean in the inner portion of Lena Subdivision?

A Yes, sir.

Q Tell me, is it not that the nearest bakery from your house is the bakery along MacArthur Highway, which your house is very near?

A Yes, sir, but it was closed.

Q How many bakeries are there along MacArthur Highway which is near your place of residence?

A Two (2) sir.

Q And all you have to do is cross the railroad track and you will reach that bakery, right?

A Yes, sir.

COURT:

Q And you do not have to go near this hut?

A Yes, your Honor.[23]

If Navales went to buy bread that early morning of April 23, 1992 along MacArthur Highway, he does not have to pass the hut because he needs only to cross the railroad track to reach the same. Thus, it was unlikely that Navales could have seen accused-appellant Gonzales pull Punzalan towards the hut.

Moreover, we do not believe Navales assertion that accused-appellants Serrano and Ortega are gangmates because of the incident where accused-appellant Ortega hacked accused-appellant Serranos face with a bolo, leaving an ugly scar on the left cheek near the left eye of Serrano.[24] The animosity between the two accused-appellants renders Navales' claim dubious.

The prosecutions case, taken in its entirety, cannot stand on the testimonies of supposed eyewitness Lilia Pangilinan whose testimony the trial court disregarded as contrary to the facts found in its ocular inspection. On the other hand, the glaring discrepancies in the testimony of Juanito Navales makes it difficult for us to accept, as sufficient basis, to convict accused-appellants. Verily, even the trial court doubted the veracity of the versions of these so-called eyewitnesses. In the hearing held on May 22, 1992, the trial judge asked:

COURT:

I am asking you if you are still presenting an eyewitness?

ATTY. PAGUIO:

Unless somebody come out, your Honor.

COURT:

Remember, the first testimony of the first witness runs counter to the testimony of the other witness. If you will present another witness, will present another version, that is where you were. (sic)[25]

We have consistently held that to be credible, testimonial evidence should not come only from the mouth of a credible witness but it should also be credible, reasonable and in accord with human experience.[26]

In fine, it is clear that the prosecution failed to dispose of its burden to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence, and to establish accused-appellants guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

It is an established rule that to sustain the conviction of an accused person, his guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt by the State with the prosecution relying on the strength of its evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.[27] Thus, when the circumstances obtained in a case are capable of two or more inferences, such as in the case at bar, one of which is consistent with the presumption of innocence while the other is compatible with guilt, the presumption of innocence must prevail and the court must acquit.[28]

While the accused-appellants invoked the defense of alibi, the weakest of all defenses, this becomes entirely irrelevant in light of the prosecutions failure to establish their guilt with moral certainty and beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution cannot profit from the weakness of accused-appellants alibi, rather, it must rely on the strength of its evidence and establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.[29]

Thus, the conviction of the accused-appellants having been based on very tenuous grounds, our judicial conscience cannot rest easy if we sustain their conviction by the court below. If a life is taken, justice demands that the wrong be redressed, but this same justice that calls for retribution cannot be the same one that would convict the accused, whose guilt has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.[30] For, it is better to acquit a guilty man than to convict an innocent man.

WHEREFORE, premises considered. The decision of the Regional Trial Court is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and the accused-appellants Gilbert Gonzales, Victor Ortega and Ariston Serrano are ACQUITTED of the crime charged and are ordered released, unless they are detained for some other lawful cause. Costs de officio.

The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is DIRECTED to implement this Decision and to report to this Court immediately the action taken hereon but not later than five (5) days from receipt hereof.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, (Chairman), Mendoza, Quisumbing, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1] Record, pp. 1-2.

[2] Rollo pp. 50-51.

[3] TSN, May 13, 1992, May 15, 1992.

[4] Exhibit C.

[5] Appellants Brief of Gilbert Gonzales, Rollo, pp. 11-12.

[6] TSN, June 1, 1992.

[7] TSN, June 24, 1992.

[8] RTC Decision, pp. 24-25.

[9] RTC Decision, pp. 20 & 21.

[10] RTC Decision, 21-22.

[11] People of the Philippines vs. Sixto Limon, 306 SCRA 367 [1999]; People vs. Daganta, 311 SCRA 716 [1999]; People vs. Salazar, 277 SCRA 67 [1997]; People vs. Joemar Quilang, 312 SCRA 314 [1999]; People vs. Domingo, 312 SCRA 487 [1999]; Edwin Cadua vs. Court of Appeals, 312 SCRA 703 [1999].

[12] TSN, May 20,1992, pp. 11, 13-14; May 13, 1992, pp. 11-13.

[13] TSN, May 6, 1992, pp. 33-34.

[14] TSN, May 8, 1992, pp. 12-14.

[15] Exhs. F-1 , F-2

[16] Marco vs. Court of Appeals, 273 SCRA 276 [1997].

[17] Exh. 1 for Salazar, Gonzales and Ortega; Exh. 5 for Serrano and Exh. L for the Prosecution.

[18] TSN, May 20, 1992, 10-11.

[19] TSN, May 20, 1992, pp. 13-15.

[20] People vs. Ortiz, 266 SCRA 641 [1997].

[21] TSN, May 22, 1992, pp. 26-28.

[22] TSN, May 22, 1992, pp. 13-14.

[23] TSN, May 22, 1992, pp. 18-19.

[24] TSN, June 24, 1992, pp. 12-14.

[25] TSN, May 22, 1992, pp. 45-46.

[26] People vs. Atad, 266 SCRA 262 [1997]; People vs. Cayabyab, 274 SCRA 387 [1997]; People vs. Manambit, 271 SCRA 344 [1997]; People vs. Salazar, 272 SCRA 481 [1997].

[27] People vs. Alvario, 275 SCRA 529 [1997].

[28] People vs. Gomez, 270 SCRA 432 [1997]; People vs. Manambit, 271 SCRA 344 [1997].

[29] People vs. Ragay, 277 SCRA 106 [1997].

[30] People vs. Vasquez, 280 SCRA 160 [1997].