SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. No. 119832. October 12, 2000]

RAYMUNDO TAN, JR., and EDUARDO TAN, petitioners, vs. THE COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, respondents.

D E C I S I O N

QUISUMBING, J.:

For review is the decision[1] of the Court of Appeals, dated January 30, 1995 in CA-G.R. CR No. 10680, which affirmed the judgment[2] rendered on September 7, 1990 by Branch 24 of the Regional Trial Court of Maasin, Southern Leyte, in Criminal Case No. 1170, finding petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide. Also for review is the appellate court's resolution dated April 4, 1995, denying petitioners' motion for reconsideration.

The factual backdrop of this case is summed up by the trial court as follows:

Petitioners Raymundo Tan, Jr., and his brother Eduardo were neighbors of victim, Rudolfo[3] Quinanola, in Divisoria, Bontoc, Southern Leyte. At around 5:30 P.M. of March 3, 1986, Eduardo and Raymundo, Jr., arrived in their community in a truck driven by James Todavia, a neighbor. They parked in Todavia's yard. As they alighted from the truck, Tereso Talisaysay suddenly confronted Raymundo, Jr., about a previous incident wherein the former was almost run-over by the latter while driving the truck at a reckless speed. A heated exchange of words between Raymundo, Jr. and Tereso ensued. The argument threatened to get physical, but before the two could exchange blows, Tereso retreated to his house. Raymundo, Jr. was following Tereso when, suddenly, a fistfight ensued between petitioner Eduardo and Renato Talisaysay, a son of Tereso. Virgilio Bersabal rushed to the aid of Renato. Virgilio kicked Eduardo, then ran away. Eduardo gave chase and a fresh exchange of blows followed.

Informed of the melee involving her sons, the petitioners' mother sought the assistance of the victim, Rudolfo Quinanola, to help stop the fight. The latter proceeded to the place of the fray where he immediately confronted James Todavia. James resented Rudolfo's meddling and became belligerent towards the latter. Meanwhile, prosecution witness Guillermo Cinco, who also rushed to help stop the fight, pulled Eduardo away from his adversary and succeeded in pacifying him. Seeing that another fight between James and the victim was threatening, Guillermo stepped in and stopped James from attacking Rudolfo, who then moved behind Guillermo.

At this juncture, Raymundo Tan, Sr., the petitioners' father, arrived at the scene of the incident, carrying a bolo. Seeing Raymundo, Sr. so armed, Guillermo told one of the spectators, Gorgonio Nueve, Jr., to take the bolo from him. Raymundo, Sr. handed his bolo to Gorgonio without resistance.

Meanwhile, petitioner Raymundo, Jr. picked a wooden stool ("bangkito") in front of Tereso's house and tried to hit Rudolfo with it. Rudolfo evaded the blow, while Raymundo, Jr. fell to the ground. Guillermo moved in between the two, helped Raymundo, Jr. get up and held him from further attacking Rudolfo. Without any warning, Raymundo, Sr. approached Rudolfo and boxed him on the right jaw. As Rudolfo turned to face Raymundo, Sr., petitioner Eduardo moved in and struck Rudolfo on the nape with the wooden stool. The blow stunned the victim. With head bent forward, he fell to the ground. Guillermo let go of Raymundo Jr. so he could prevent Eduardo from further hitting the prostrate Rudolfo. Raymundo, Jr. then got hold of a leg of the stool, which had broken off and hit Rudolfo with it. Petitioners then took turns in kicking Rudolfo and stomping on his back until Guillermo managed to hold them. Guillermo then asked them to leave. The duo heeded his advice and hurriedly left the premises.[4]

Guillermo's wife and neighbors rushed Rudolfo to a hospital, but he died on arrival. His corpse was then brought to his father's house, where Dr. Teresita Salvador, Municipal Health Officer of Bontoc, Southern Leyte, conducted a necropsy. Her post-mortem findings were reduced to writing as follows:

"Abrasion, about 3 cm. in diameter at the right temporal area adjacent to the lateral canthus of the eye; Contusion at the left auricular and mastoid regions. Abrasion, about 2.5 cm. at the right elbow. Abrasion about 2.5 cm. at the left elbow; (2-a) blood passed out from nose and right ear;

cause of death: Intracranial Hemorrhage, Traumatic."[5]

The Provincial Prosecutor of Southern Leyte filed an Information with the trial court, docketed as Criminal Case No. 1170, charging Raymundo Tan, Sr., Raymundo Tan, Jr., Eduardo Tan and James Todavia with Murder. The accusatory portion of the charge sheet reads:

"That on or about the 3rd day of March, 1986, at around 5:30 o'clock in the afternoon, along the National Highway of Barangay Divisoria, Municipality of Bontoc, Province of Southern Leyte, xxx, the above-named accused conspiring, confederating and mutually helping each other, with intent to kill, evident premeditation and treachery, and with the use of fistic blows a wooden stall which they provided themselves for the purpose, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault and box one Rodulfo (sic) Carcueva Quianola and beat him with a wooden stall (sic) many times, thereby inflicting upon the latter the following injuries:

'Abrasion, about three cm. in diameter at the right temporal area adjacent to the lateral canthus of the eye; contusion at the left auricular and mastoid regions; abrasion, about 2.5 cm. at the right elbow; abrasion, about 2.5 cm. at the left elbow, blood passed out from the nose and right ear.'

which caused the untimely death of said victim, to the damage and prejudice of his heirs and of social order.

"CONTRARY TO LAW."[6]

Only the three Tans, however, were arraigned and pleaded not guilty to the charge. The fourth accused, James Todavia, remained at large. It was only when the prosecution was about to rest its case against petitioners that the trial court acquired jurisdiction over Todavia. However, the prosecution could no longer establish Todavia's guilt beyond reasonable doubt since the witnesses against him were no longer available. Upon the instance of the prosecution, the case against Todavia was dismissed and he was utilized instead as a witness for the prosecution.

Petitioners raised the defense of denial. Their version of the events of that fatal afternoon, adopted and synthesized by the appellate court from the findings of the trial court reads:

"Evidence for the defense is to the effect that in the afternoon of March 3, 1986, Tereso Talisaysay confronted Raymundo Tan Jr., complaining that the latter was driving the KKK hollow block truck so fast. Both faced each other in a fighting stance. Olimpio Tindugan who came from nowhere, boxed Raymundo Tan, Jr. at the back and immediately ran way. Tereso Talisaysay returned to his house and stayed inside. Raymundo, Jr. followed him. He then took a wooden stool at the stairs of Tereso's house and angrily struck it against the cemented base of the stairs. The wooden stool broke into pieces. Then Raymundo Jr. picked up the leg of the stool and threw it against Tereso's window.

"Thereafter, Raymundo, Jr. assisted his brother Eduardo ganged up by Renato Talisaysay, Virgilio Bersabal and Juan Delima. He noticed that Eduardo's head was bleeding because Renato hit him with a stone. At that time, Raymundo Tan, Sr., who was at the back of his house, clearing his banana plantation, rushed to the aid of his two sons. He brought Eduardo to the nearby hospital for immediate treatment. Later, he and his sons surrendered to the police upon learning that the Talisaysay family would charge them with physical injuries."[7]

The lower court, after trial, rendered its decision as follows:

"WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the Court hereby finds the accused Raymundo Tan, Jr. and Eduardo Tan guilty beyond reasonable doubt, as principals, of the crime of Homicide punishable under Art. 249 of the Revised Penal Code, and appreciating in their favor the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender, hereby sentences each of the said two accused Raymundo Tan, Jr. and Eduardo Tan, to suffer and undergo an indeterminate penalty of from SEVEN (7) YEARS OF prision mayor minimum to FOURTEEN (14) YEARS OF reclusion temporal; the Court also hereby finds the accused Raymundo Tan, Sr., guilty beyond reasonable doubt, as principal, of maltreatment under paragraph numbered 3 of Art. 266 of the Revised Penal Code, hereby sentences said accused to suffer and undergo imprisonment of FIVE (5) DAYS of arresto menor; the two accused Raymundo Tan, Jr. and Eduardo Tan are ordered to pay the heirs of the victim Rodulfo (sic) Quianola the amount of P30,000.00 for the death of the victim, and the three accused to pay the widow of the victim, Norberta G. Quianola, the amount of P20,000.00 by way of moral damages, and to pay the costs of these proceedings proportionately; the three accused are, however, entitled to the full term of their preventive imprisonment in case they agreed to abide by the disciplinary rules and regulations governing convicted prisoners, otherwise, they shall be entitled to only 4/5 thereof.

"SO ORDERED."[8]

Raymundo, Jr., and Eduardo appealed their conviction to the Court of Appeals. The two brothers argued that the prosecution failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

On January 30, 1995, the appellate court ruled as follows:

"WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is hereby AFFIRMED with the modification that the civil indemnity awarded to the heirs of the victim is raised from P30,000.00 to P50,000.00. Costs against accused-appellants.

"SO ORDERED."[9]

The Tan brothers moved for reconsideration of the appellate court's decision, but their motion was denied for having been filed beyond the reglementary period.

Hence, the instant case, with petitioners assigning the following errors:

"I

(THE) COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN TOTALLY DISREGARDING TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE NEGATING PETITIONERS' GUILT.

II

THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN IGNORING FLAGRANT INCONSISTENCIES AND GRAVE IRRECONCILABLE CONTRADICTIONS IN THE PROSECUTION'S VERSION OF THE INCIDENT.

III

IN ANY EVENT, THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN NOT REVERSING THE CONVICTION OF THE PETITIONERS BASED AT THE VERY LEAST ON REASONABLE DOUBT."

The sole issue to be resolved in the instant case is whether the prosecution's evidence suffices to convict petitioners beyond reasonable doubt. Otherwise, the presumption of innocence in favor of petitioners should be upheld.

Crucial in resolving this issue is the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, particularly the positive identification of petitioners as the culprits responsible for the killing of Rudolfo.

In support of the first assignment of error, petitioners insist that it was error for the trial and the appellate courts to have disregarded the testimonies of the defense witnesses exculpating them of the crime charged. They stress that the defense witnesses testified that the victim fell on the side of the motorcab, which caused the fracture at the base of his skull resulting in internal bleeding. Petitioners contend that where the evidence gives rise to two probabilities, one consistent with the accused's innocence and the other indicative of his guilt, the courts should consider that one which is favorable to the accused. They rely on our ruling in People v. Bautista, 81 Phil. 78, 80 (1948), which held that:

"In other words, we shall be charitable enough towards the prosecution if we state that the evidence gives rise to two probabilities, one consistent with appellant's innocence and another indicative of his guilt. Consequently, that which is favorable to the accused should be considered."

With respect to the second assigned error, petitioners contend that the testimonies of the prosecution witness cast doubt on the guilt of the petitioners. The three prosecution witnesses gave three different versions of the alleged stool-hitting incident. Guillermo Cinco testified that it was Eduardo Tan who struck the victim on the nape with the wooden stool, while Alexander Concejos declared that it was Raymundo, Jr. In turn, James Todavia averred that it was Eduardo Tan who did. Petitioners now insist that these inconsistencies clearly and glaringly show that they were merely fabricating the events and putting in serious doubt the very corpus delicti of the charge.

Petitioners' arguments, however, are far from persuasive. To begin with, this Court is not a trier of facts. Absent any showing that the findings of the trial court are unsupported by evidence on record or are arbitrary, we find no reason to depart from the rule that the determination of the credibility of witnesses who testified at the trial of the case is properly within the province of the trial court. Said court occupies the vantage position to observe their demeanor on the witness stand, an opportunity denied appellate courts.[10] Findings of the trial court respecting the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are entitled to great respect and even finality, especially where these findings have been affirmed by the Court of Appeals.[11]

In the present case, we note that the evidence on record does not support petitioners' contention that the deceased died from a fall from a motorcab. Testifying on her necropsy findings, Dr. Salvador declared that a blunt instrument could have caused the victim's fatal injury and this blunt instrument could have been a wooden stool, a piece of wood, or a human fist. The examining doctor's findings on the fatal injury and its most likely cause have not been rebutted successfully by petitioners. Moreover, we are guided by the rule that where the physical evidence on record runs counter to the testimony of witnesses, the primacy of the physical evidence must be upheld.[12] We are not persuaded that the victim's death was not caused by a blunt instrument but by an accidental fall, as stressed by petitioners.

Petitioners also claim that the testimonies of the prosecution's alleged eyewitnesses are riddled with grave and irreconcilable contradictions and inconsistencies. They raise doubts on who really struck the fatal blow, Raymundo or Eduardo. Even assuming that witnesses Cinco, Todavia, and Concejos did not accurately describe the manner in which petitioners attacked the victim, there is no doubt in our minds that these witnesses saw petitioners actually attack the victim. Errorless testimonies cannot be expected, especially where witnesses are recounting details of a harrowing experience, but so long as the testimonies jibe on material points, minor inconsistencies will neither dilute the credibility of the witnesses nor the veracity of their testimony.[13] What is material here is that the prosecution witnesses positively identified the two petitioners as the perpetrators of the offense. Moreover, since the appellate court upheld the findings of the trial court as to the existence of a conspiracy between the two petitioners, it is immaterial as to who between the two petitioners delivered the fatal blow against the victim. In a conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all, and they are liable as principals, regardless of the extent and character of their participation.[14]

In the face of the positive identification made by the prosecution witnesses of petitioners as the authors of the crime, petitioners' defense of mere denial becomes worthless. Denial is intrinsically a weak defense, which cannot prevail over positive testimony of witnesses.[15] We therefore find that petitioners' argument in support of their third assignment of error must fail. Contrary to petitioners' contention, their conviction was not based only on the weakness of their defense, but more on the strength of the evidence for the prosecution. We find the testimonial and medical evidence against petitioners candid and convincing. Competent and credible eyewitnesses, who had no reason to testify falsely against petitioners, positively identified the latter as the principals in the killing of Rudolfo Quinanola. They gave a full account of the commission thereof in great detail, which the petitioners could not belie. In sum, the prosecution has discharged its duty of proving petitioners' guilt beyond reasonable doubt, hence their conviction is in order.

WHEREFORE, the instant petition is DENIED and the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 10680 is AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioners.

SO ORDERED.

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



[1] Rollo, pp. 28-38.

[2] CA Rollo, pp. 24-24-Y.

[3] Also referred to as "Rudy" or "Rod" in the records.

[4] Note 1, at 31-32.

[5] Supra Note 1, pp. 42-43.

[6] Supra Note 2, at 24-24-A.

[7] Id. at 32-33.

[8] Supra Note 2, at 24-X-24-Y.

[9] Supra Note 1, at 38.

[10] People v. Orio, et al., G.R. No. 128821, 12 April 2000, p. 6 citing People v. Barona, et al, G.R, No. 119595, January 25, 2000, p. 4.

[11] Boneng v. People, 304 SCRA 252, 257 (1999).

[12] People v. Roche, et al., G.R. No. 115182, April 6, 2000, p. 17.

[13] People v. Muyco, G.R. No. 132252, April 27, 2000, pp. 5-6.

[14] People v. Adoc, G.R. No. 132079, April 12, 2000, p. 15 citing People v. Gungon, 287 SCRA 618 (1998).

[15] People v. Alagon, G.R. Nos. 126536-37, February 10, 2000, p. 13.