[G.R. NO. 136796. February 19, 2003]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ROMEO DATU, ROLANDO BATUELO, JOHN DOE, PETER DOE, RICHARD DOE, ALLAN DOE, and RICKY DOE, accused.
ROMEO DATU and ROLANDO BATUELO, accused-appellants.
D E C I S I O N
For automatic review is the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Ilagan, Isabela, Branch 16, dated November 18, 1998, in Criminal Case No. 2781, which found appellants Romeo Datu and Rolando Batuelo, guilty of murder, and imposed upon them the penalty of death.
The factual antecedents in this case are as follows:
On September 30, 1997, appellants Datu, Batuelo, and several Does were charged with murder allegedly committed as follows:
That on or about the 17th day of April, 1997, in the municipality of Burgos, province of Isabela, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused ROMEO DATU and ROLANDO BATUELO together with JOHN DOE, PETER DOE, RICHARD DOE, ALLAN DOE, and RICKY DOE, whose identities are still to be determined, conspiring, confederating together and helping one another, with intent to kill and with evident premeditation and treachery, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, assault, attack and use a teargas (sic) upon the person of Antonio Chan, rendering him unconscious, after which, tie a rope on his neck and hang him to a balluster (sic), inflicting upon him confluent hematoma entire circumference of the neck with rope marks and blood streak on the abdominal area which directly caused his death due to cardiorespiratory arrest.
CONTRARY TO LAW.
On October 13, 1997, appellants Datu and Batuelo were arraigned and with assistance of counsel, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
That same day, the trial court directed the prosecution to amend the information to include one Domingo Madayag as an accused, in view of his extrajudicial confession admitting participation in the crime.
On November 20, 1997, the prosecution filed an amended information, naming Domingo Madayag as one of the accused.
On December 4, 1997, Madayag was arraigned with the assistance of counsel de oficio. Due to his refusal to enter a plea, the trial court directed that a plea of not guilty be entered for him.
Trial on the merits then ensued for all the accused, in the course of which, Madayag moved for discharge as a state witness. Madayags testimony was taken before the lower court granted his motion for discharge as a state witness on January 28, 1998.
The documentary and testimonial evidence for the prosecution showed that:
The family of appellant Romeo Datu is engaged in the business of
selling hardware and construction materials in Aurora, Isabela. Appellants
father, Ignacio Datu, owned the business but his children, including appellant,
managed this by turns. The victim, Antonio Chan, was a compadre of Ignacio and likewise operated the same line of business
in Burgos, Isabela. Through appellant Datu, as registered owner, the Datu
family sold an Isuzu dump truck to the victim for
with the latter issuing four (4) postdated checks in payment. Three (3) of said
checks were subsequently encashed, but the victim stopped payment on the fourth
check amounting to P100,000.00. This
was to accommodate the victims friend, Amadeo Yap, a dealer in sawn lumber
from San Mariano, Isabela, for unpaid lumber, which Yap allegedly sold and
delivered to the Datus.
Early in the afternoon of April 4, 1997, appellant Datu went to the victims store to confront him about the dishonored check. Appellant Datu was in a foul mood and refused to entertain the victims explanation. Datu then uttered angrily that Chan would pay a high price for what he did. Datu then boarded his motorcycle, all the while hurling threats against Chans employees.
Late in the afternoon of April 5, 1997, appellant Datu approached one of his workers, state witness Madayag and told him that he had a problem, as somebody in Burgos, Isabela had fooled him and he needed Madayags help. Madayag agreed to help Datu anyway he could. Thereupon, Datu told Madayag that he would be informed when he was needed.
On April 4, 1997, appellant Batuelo applied with the victim as a truck driver. He was immediately accepted and was allowed to stay in the Chans compound as a stay-in employee.
On April 8, 1997, appellant Datu again approached Madayag and
told him that he wanted somebody killed in Burgos, Isabela. Datu revealed that
Madayag would have five or six companions and that he already sent one of his
workers to apply as a driver of the intended victim. Datu told Madayag that
said employee was Enteng whom Madayag later knew to be appellant Batuelo.
Datu promised to pay Madayag
P10,000.00 for his participation in the
On April 14, 1997, appellant Batuelo asked for a partial salary advance and left Chans place on the excuse that he would be attending the ninth day prayer rites for a departed relative.
At around past ten oclock in the evening of April 16, 1997, appellant Datu approached Madayag who was resting in the bunkhouse inside the Datu family compound. Appellant Datu told Madayag to be ready because his companions had arrived and they were going to Burgos, Isabela. Datu instructed Madayag to join appellant Batuelo who would lead the group and unfold the plan on their way to Burgos. Madayag, along with five other persons, then boarded a white Mitsubishi L-300 van parked near the gate of the Datu compound. He sat at the back of the van and as the group left for Burgos, he heard appellant Datu tell Batuelo, Malinis lang, Enteng. (Keep it clean, Enteng.)
Batuelo, Madayag, and their four companions arrived at Burgos at almost one oclock in the morning of April 17, 1997. They alighted from the van and walked through a rice field to the house of the victim, with Batuelo leading the way. Upon reaching the victims house, they scattered on Batuelos order and found hiding places behind the piles of hollow blocks in the Chan compound. They then settled down to wait. Batuelo told them that the victim was an early riser and would be the person to open the backdoor of the house.
The group waited for about an hour until the victim came out of his house. Madayag then rushed to the victim and tried to grab him. The latter, however, saw Madayag and was able to grab a piece of wood. He struck Madayag with the piece of wood, hitting him on the left side of the forehead, causing a bleeding wound. Batuelo and the others then joined Madayag and managed to take hold of their victim. Batuelo then sprayed tear gas directly on the victims face. The latter continued to resist but was finally subdued and thrown to the ground. One of the assailants then strangled him, while another tried to twist his head. Another assailant went inside the house to get rope, tied it around the victims neck, then they carried him inside the house and hung one end of the rope from a railing above the basement of the house. Thereafter, Batuelo took hold of the victims body and forcibly pulled it down. Batuelo then ripped off the victims shirt, which was bloody and soiled, and pocketed it.
Meanwhile the victims wife, Susan Chan, was awakened by the sound of a thud coming from their hardware store. She ignored it and tried to sleep again but was unable to. She then stood up and went to their store where she noticed that a rope rack had fallen on the floor. She righted the rope rack and proceeded to the stairs where she saw four persons, one of whom she recognized as Batuelo. She heard him say, Let us go, his wife might be awakened. His companions then replied, Let us go. He is already dead. Datu will be happy with this. When she sensed that the intruders had left, Susan then proceeded to the stairs where she saw her husband with a rope tied around his neck but with both feet touching the ground. She ran and shouted for help and then collapsed.
The culprits retraced their steps back to the waiting van. They
then drove back to Aurora, reaching the Datu compound shortly before dawn.
Appellant Batuelo told appellant Datu that they had accomplished their mission.
Datu noticed Madayags bleeding forehead and advised him to clean it. Datu then
followed Madayag to the bunkhouse, gave him
P1,000.00 and advised him to
leave Aurora in the meantime. Datu further instructed him to return after his
wound had healed to receive the balance of the P10,000.00 promised as
his payment for his participation.
Later in the morning of April 17, 1997, Dr. Joseph George Razalan, Municipal Health Officer of Burgos, Isabela, examined the corpse of the victim. He found hematoma, rope marks at the neck area and x x x blood streak at the abdominal area and concluded that death was caused by cardio respiratory arrest secondary to strangulation. He placed the time of death at between 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. of that day or six (6) hours before examination. He noted that the hematoma indicated that death was not instantaneous because blood was still circulating when the victim was strangled. He found no other injuries but noted that the victims feet were dirty. Due to lack of facilities, he was unable to perform an autopsy.
On April 28, 1997, Dr. Cleofas C. Antonio of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) performed an autopsy on the victim upon the request of the latters family. Dr. Antonio found that the victim died as a result of asphyxia by hanging. He found no other injuries on the victim.
Sometime in May 1997, after his wound had healed, Madayag who had
gone home to Bugnan, Cabaldo,
Nueva Ecija, recalled that appellant Datu still owed him the balance of the
promised as his pay for participating in the killing of Antonio Chan. He
decided to return to Aurora, Isabela, to collect from Datu. Before going to the
Datu compound, however, he passed by his sister in Alicia, Dupax, Nueva
Vizcaya. The latter told him that 3 men from Aurora came looking for him.
Believing that Datu wanted him killed, Madayag returned to Nueva Ecija.
Bothered by his conscience and unable to concentrate on his work, he disclosed
to his wife that he had participated in the killing of Antonio Chan.
They decided to refer his problem to his wifes second cousin, an Army
intelligence operative, Sgt. Flordelito Sabuyas. The latter sought the advice
of their camps provost marshal, Col. Hernani Acosta, and arranged a meeting
with Susan Chan.
On September 3, 1997, Madayag met with Susan. The latter agreed to forgive him if he would tell the truth. She then accompanied him to the Provincial Prosecutor where he executed a statement implicating both appellants in the killing of Antonio Chan.
Appellant Datu raised the defense of alibi. He denied having had a verbal tussle with Antonio Chan on April 4, 1997, as he was then in Metro Manila with Edgardo Tensingco, a corn dealer with whom he was doing business. Appellant Datu likewise claimed that he was again with Tensingco in Manila on April 15-16, 1997. He further claimed that he was still in Manila on April 17, 1997, visiting his sister-in-law, Maria Teresa Padron Martin, who gave birth on April 13, 1997 at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital. Appellant Datu claimed that he only returned to Isabela on April 18, 1997.
Appellant Datu presented Tensingco to corroborate his claim that he was in Metro Manila on April 4 and April 15-16, 1997. In addition, the two security guards of Tensingco, Nestor Mataverde and Nestor Fabre, both of whom allegedly saw Datu with Tensingco on the aforesaid dates testified on the entries they made in the logbooks for April 1997, which recorded Datus arrival with Tensingco on said dates. The logbooks were likewise presented in evidence. To further bolster his alibi, appellant Datu also presented Maria Teresa Padron Martin, who testified that the former visited her at the UST Hospital on April 16-17, 1997. Dominic Dayrit, a family friend of the Datus, who declared that he met appellant Datu in Manila on April 15, 1997, and that he rode back with him to Isabela on the night of April 17, 1997, also testified for appellant Datu.
Appellant Datu denied knowing both Madayag and his co-accused, Batuelo. He claimed that neither Madayag nor Batuelo were employees or workers of the Datus. He also presented his brother-in-law, Sanny Velasco, to testify that the white Mitsubishi L-300 van, which Madayag claimed was used to transport the killers of Antonio Chan, was in Manila on April 15-18, 1997. Velasco declared that he met appellant in Manila on April 16, 1997.
For his part, appellant Batuelo interposed the defense of denial and alibi. While he admitted having worked in the Chans business as a driver from April 5-12, 1997, he denied any participation in the killing of the victim. He claimed that on the night of the incident, he was already working at a rice mill in Magdalena, Cabatuan, Isabela, where he worked from April 13 to May 3, 1997, and that he never left the said place. He admitted that his nickname was Enteng but denied knowing or having worked for appellant Datu or the Datu family.
To buttress his alibi, appellant Batuelo presented a co-worker at the ricemill in Magdalena, Cabatuan, Isabela, who testified that he was with Batuelo at Cabatuan on April 16-17, 1997 and that the latter never left the place on said dates.
The trial court found the prosecutions version credible and on November 18, 1998 convicted appellants of the charge. The fallo reads:
WHEREFORE, for all the foregoing premises, the prosecution having
established the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt in conspiracy with
one another for the offense charged, the Court finding accused ROMEO DATU
guilty as principal by induction and
accused ROLANDO BATUELO, alias Enteng, by direct
and indispensable participation,
[italics in the original] and with two (2) aggravating circumstances to
consider, that of evident premeditation and dwelling, without any mitigating
circumstance to offset the same, the Court hereby sentences both to the supreme
penalty of death by lethal injection in accordance with Republic Act No. 8177,
with all the accessory penalties provided for by law; to indemnify jointly and
severally the heirs of the deceased victim, Antonio Chan, the sum of SEVEN
MILLION FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND (
P7,500,000.00) PESOS by way of lost
earnings of the deceased, and FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND ( P500,000.00) PESOS
as moral damages, and an additional ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND ( P100,000.00)
PESOS as exemplary damages, and to pay the costs.
On December 10, 1998, appellants moved for reconsideration of the aforequoted judgment, but the trial court in its order of December 22, 1998 denied the motion.
On January 7, 1999, appellants filed a motion for new trial/mistrial on the ground that prosecution witness, Sgt. Flordelito R. Sabuyas, executed an affidavit on December 11, 1998 retracting his previous statements and instead declared that Susan Chan and Domingo Madayag framed up appellants Datu and Batuelo. The prosecution duly opposed the motion. On January 8, 1999, the trial court denied the motion for new trial/mistrial for being pro forma.
On January 11, 1999, appellants filed a supplemental motion for new trial, to which was attached an affidavit executed by one Roosevelt Salvador, who alleged that Madayag lied under oath and was physically manhandled to testify for the prosecution. The trial court denied said supplemental motion on January 18, 1999 on the ground that since the case records had been elevated to this Court for automatic review, the motion had become moot and academic.
Before us, appellants pray for a reversal of the judgment or at the very least, a remand for further proceedings. In their brief, they assign the following errors:
THE TRIAL COURT EFFECTIVELY DEPRIVED ACCUSED-APPELLANTS OF DUE PROCESS WHEN IT REFUSED TO ORDER A NEW TRIAL AND CONDUCT FURTHER PROCEEDINGS BASED ON THE DEFENSES NEWLY DISCOVERED EVIDENCE.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT CONVICTED ACCUSED-APPELLANTS DESPITE THE INSUFFICIENCY AND LACK OF CREDIBILITY OF THE PROSECUTIONS EVIDENCE; ITS CONCLUSIONS BEING BASED PURELY ON CONJECTURES AND SPECULATIONS.
A. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FULL CREDENCE TO SABUYAS TESTIMONY.
B. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FULL CREDENCE TO MADAYAGS TESTIMONY.
C. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FULL CREDENCE TO THE TESTIMONY OF SUSAN CHAN.
D. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THE PROSECUTIONS EVIDENCE SUFFICIENT DESPITE ITS UNEXPLAINED FAILURE TO PRESENT A VERY IMPORTANT WITNESS.
E. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONCLUDING THAT THE PROSECUTION WAS ABLE TO SUFFICIENTLY PROVE ACCUSED-APPELLANT DATUS MOTIVE FOR KILLING ANTONIO CHAN.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DISREGARDING THE STRENGTH OF ACCUSED-APPELLANTS ALIBI.
A. THE TRIAL COURTS FINDINGS WITH REGARD TO ACCUSED-APPELLANT DATUS ALIBI ARE NOT BORNE OUT BY THE EVIDENCE ADDUCED.
B. NO CREDIBLE PROSECUTION EIVDENCE EXISTS TO REBUT ACCUSED-APPELLANT BATUELOS ALIBI.
The principal issue for resolution is whether the guilt of appellants has been proved beyond reasonable doubt. But appellants also challenge the correctness of the trial courts order denying their motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence.
Appellants contend that the trial court effectively deprived them of due process when it perfunctorily denied their supplemental motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, consisting of Roosevelt Salvadors sworn statement. Appellants point out that they only managed to learn of and obtain Salvadors affidavit after the trial court had rendered the decision under automatic review. Apparently, his statement could not be discovered and produced at the trial, despite reasonable diligence on their part. Hence, said statement must be deemed newly discovered evidence that may be properly presented in a new trial. Appellants stress that Salvadors testimony in a new trial will effectively demolish the credibility of the prosecutions star witness and cast reasonable doubt as to the guilt of appellants. By refusing to consider this new evidence of how Madayag was tortured by military men given financial consideration by Susan Chan to feign participation in the killing of her husband and implicate appellants herein, the trial court deprived appellants of their day in court by denying their supplemental motion for new trial. Appellants point out also the recantation by prosecution witness Sgt. Sabuyas of his testimony in open court as a further ground for granting a new trial.
For the State, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) argues that since the profferred affidavit of Salvador assails only the credibility of state witness Domingo Madayag, it would not suffice to justify the holding of new trial. Otherwise put, it would be insufficient to overcome the prosecutions other evidence which show the culpability of appellants. Furthermore, Salvadors affidavit is suspect for being a concoction and prevarication, since it is highly improbable that Sabuyas would cooperate in abducting and torturing Madayag to wrongfully admit complicity in a crime, knowing him to be the husband of a close relative. The claim that Madayags testimony was rehearsed and fabricated is belied by the observation of the trial court that it entertained no doubt as to his credibility, as his testimony was unwavering, straightforward, and bereft of any pretension. With respect to Sabuyas recantation, the OSG takes the position that said recantation evidence is merely impeaching in character and hence, no different from the affidavit of Salvador.
Under Section 2 (b), Rule 121 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, an accused may move for new trial on the ground of newly discovered material evidence. For newly discovered evidence to be a ground for new trial, the following requirements must be met: (1) the evidence is discovered after trial; (2) such evidence could not have been discovered and produced at the trial even with the exercise of reasonable diligence; and (3) the evidence is material, not merely cumulative, corroborative, or impeaching, and of such weight that, if admitted, would probably change the judgment.
In this case, the alleged newly discovered evidence consists of the affidavit of Roosevelt Salvador declaring that he and several military men, including Sgt. Sabuyas, abducted, then manhandled and physically abused Domingo Madayag to admit complicity in the killing of Antonio Chan and, as state witness, implicate appellant Datu. Salvador further declared that Madayag only agreed to cooperate after Susan Chan offered him a more than reasonable financial package in exchange for his testimony in court pinning down appellants herein. Salvador also declared that he would state the rest in court, if required to testify.
It would be easy to characterize Salvador as one of those heroes who emerge when the war is over. But the statement made by Salvador after the trial a quo was finished, is evidence which appellants could not have secured during the trial, such that it must be considered as newly discovered evidence that may be presented in a new trial. More so, as his statement as evidence, while mainly of an impeaching character, is material enough that could change the results.
With respect to Sabuyas recantation, as a rule, we have often regarded a recantation with disfavor as it can be easily secured from a poor and ignorant witness for monetary consideration. But, as appellants correctly point out, Sabuyas is a professional soldier, an intelligence operative who is not ignorant of the actions he took but risked prosecution for perjury when he recanted his testimony. Under the circumstances, the rules governing the matter should be construed and applied liberally on the broader ground of substantial justice. In the present case, moreover, the penalty imposed by the trial court upon appellants is death. Sabuyas testimony in court has been described as worthy of note and the key to the solution of the case. But with his recantation, it is as if that key no longer fits to unlock completely the truth in the case. A trial is primarily a quest for truth, where the parties are given full opportunity to adduce evidence to ferret out the truth. Given the gravity of the offense charged and the severity of the sentence imposed, even a mere shadow of doubt in this case might vitiate the result reached below. Hence, we are favorably disposed to make sure that every piece of pertinent material evidence be adduced before the trial court.
As well said in People vs. Ebias, we cannot in good conscience convict accused-appellant and impose upon him the death penalty when evidence which would possibly exonerate him may be presented by him in a new trial.
WHEREFORE, the assailed decision by the RTC of Ilagan, Isabela, Branch 16, in Criminal Case No. 2781, is VACATED and the case is hereby REMANDED for further proceedings. Both the accused Romeo Datu and Rolando Batuelo (herein appellants) should be allowed to present newly discovered evidence in their defense and such other evidence as the court may, in the interest of justice, allow to be introduced and taken for consideration together with the evidence already in the records. Further, to obviate any delay in the dispensation of justice, the Presiding Judge of Branch 16 of the RTC of Ilagan, Isabela, is hereby directed to report the result thereof and his judgment therein to this Court within fifteen (15) days from the termination of the proceedings.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr. and Azcuna, JJ., concur.
Ynares-Santiago, J., on leave.
 Records, pp. 395-414.
 Id. at 1.
 Id. at 98.
 Id. at 149.
 Id. at 258.
 Id. at 259.
 TSN, December 2, 1997, pp. 14-17; TSN, November 21, 1997, pp. 14-15.
 TSN, November 20, 1997, pp. 10, 15, 20; TSN, November 21, 1997, pp. 12-13.
 TSN, November 21, 1997, pp. 12-13, 61.
 Id. at 62.
 TSN, January 6, 1998, pp. 146-148.
 TSN, February 24, 1998, pp. 258-259; TSN, March 4, 1998, pp. 412-416.
 Supra note 11, at 173-182.
 TSN, February 24, 1998, pp. 260-261, 326.
 TSN, January 5, 1998, pp. 126-135.
 Id. at 139-143; TSN, January 6, 1998, pp. 208-210; TSN, January 8, 1998, pp. 220-229.
 Id. at 143-151; TSN, January 8, 1998, pp. 234-262; TSN, January 9, 1998, pp. 184-186.
 TSN, November 21, 1997, p. 18.
 Id. at 22.
 Id. at 23.
 TSN, January 5, 1998, pp. 153-159.
 Also spelled as Rasalan elsewhere in the records.
 TSN, December 4, 1997, p. 47.
 Id. at 45; Records, p. 273.
 TSN, December 4, 1997, p. 55.
 Id. at 57-58.
 Records, p. 274; TSN, December 17, 1997, pp. 52-53, 55.
 TSN, December 17, 1997, p. 57.
 Also referred as Gabaldon in some parts of the records.
 TSN, January 5, 1998, pp. 163-166.
 TSN, January 20, 1998, pp. 269-272.
 Supra note 30, at 175-177.
 Also spelled as Tengsico in some parts of the records.
 TSN, March 26, 1998, pp. 193-197, 206-209.
 Id. at 220-223, 228-230.
 Id. at 209-210, 219-220; TSN, April 15, 1998, 506-508.
 TSN, April 16, 1998, pp. 292-293.
 Id. at 299-301.
 TSN, June 17, 1998, pp. 524-532, 569-574, 577-587.
 Exhibit 36 and sub-markings; Exhibit 37 and sub-markings.
 TSN, April 17, 1998, pp. 338-340.
 Id. at 351, 353-355.
 TSN, March 26, 1998, pp. 182-184, 198-199, 236-237, 239-241.
 Also spelled as Sonny elsewhere in the records.
 TSN, May 14, 1998, pp. 97-107.
 Id. at 103-104.
 TSN, February 24, 1998, pp. 258-260.
 Id. at 313-316.
 Id. at 325-326.
 TSN, May 13, 1998, pp. 391-393.
 Entitled An Act Designating Death By Lethal Injection As the Method of Carrying Out Capital Punishment, Amending For the Purpose Article 81 of the Revised Penal Code, As Amended By Section 24 of Republic Act No. 7659.
 Rollo, pp. 63-64.
 Records, pp. 454-456.
 Id. at 460.
 Rollo, pp. 209-210.
 Id. at 211-214.
 Id. at 215. (As correctly pointed out by appellants, copies of the motion and the trial courts order are not attached to the records submitted to this Court for automatic review.)
 Id. at 118-119.
 SEC. 2. Grounds for a new trial. The court shall grant a new trial on any of the following grounds:
x x x
(b) That new and material evidence has been discovered which the accused could not with reasonable diligence have discovered and produced at the trial and which if introduced and admitted would probably change the judgment.
 Supra note 55, at 213.
 Records, p. 412.
 People v. Del Mundo, 262 SCRA 266, 273 (1996). See also UN Convention against Torture, Art. 13 and 16. All allegations that statements have been extracted through torture must be promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities, including judges. A1 Index ASA 35/001/2003, p. 18.
 342 SCRA 675, 690 (2000).