G.R. NO. 176389 - ANTONIO LEJANO v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES

 

G.R. NO. 176864 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. HUBERT JEFFREY P. WEBB, ANTONIO LEJANO, ET AL.

 

Promulgated:

 

December 14, 2010

 

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CONCURRING OPINION

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

 

While it should be the common desire of bench and bar that crime is not left unpunished, it is no less important, if not more so, that the innocent be shielded from hasty prosecution and rash conviction. We have nothing but praise for sincerity and zeal in the enforcement of the law. Nevertheless, the undeserved penalties inflicted upon the blameless, and the indelible stain upon their name, which is never quite washed away by time, should caution all concerned to a more careful and conscientious scrutiny of all the facts before the finger is pointed and the stone is cast.[1] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

And so, as in all criminal cases, the very voluminous records of the present cases call for a more careful and conscientious scrutiny in order to determine what the facts are before the accuseds conviction is affirmed.

 

On June 30, 1991, Estrellita Vizconde and her daughters, then 19-year old Carmela and then seven-year old Jennifer, were found dead in their home at No. 80 Vinzons Street, BF Homes Subdivision, Paraaque. They all bore multiple stab wounds on different parts of their bodies. Some of their personal belongings appeared to be missing.

 

An intense and sustained investigation conducted by the police resulted in the arrest of a group of suspects, the Akyat Bahay gang members, some of whom gave detailed confessions to having committed the crimes, hence, their indictment in court.[2] The Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 63 eventually found those suspects to have been victims of police frame-up, however, and were thus ordered discharged.

 

Subsequently, in 1995, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which conducted a parallel investigation announced that it had solved the crime by presenting its star witness in the person of Jessica Alfaro y Mincey (Alfaro), one of its informers or assets, who claimed to have been an eyewitness to the crime. She named the accused Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio Tony Boy Lejano, Artemio Dong Ventura, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio Pyke Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel Ging Rodriguez, and Joey Filart as the culprits. She also tagged Paraaque police officer Gerardo Biong as an accessory after the fact. On the basis of Alfaros account, an Information was filed on August 10, 1995 before the Paraaque RTC against Webb, et al.[3] for rape with homicide, reading as follows:

 

That on or about the evening of June 29 up to the early morning of June 30, 1991, in the municipality of Paraaque, province of Rizal, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, accused Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb conspiring and confederating with accused Antonio Tony Boy Lejano, Artemio Dong Ventura, Michael Gatchalian y Adviento, Hiospicio Pyke Fernandez, Peter Estrada, Miguel Ging Rodriguez and Joey Filart, mutually helping one another, while armed with bladed instruments, with the use of force and intimidation, with lewd design, with abuse of superior strength, nighttime and with the use of motor vehicle, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of the person of Carmela Vizconde against her will and consent.

 

That by reason or on the occasion of the aforesaid rape or immediately thereafter, the above-named accused with intent to kill, conspiring and confederating together, mutually helping one another, did then and there and with evidence premeditation, abuse of superior strength, nighttime, with the use of motor vehicle, assault and stab with bladed instruments Carmela Vizconde, Estrellita Vizconde and Jennifer Vizconde, thereby inflicting upon them numerous stab wounds in different parts of their bodies which caused their instantaneous death.

 

The accused GERARDO BIONG and JOHN DOES having knowledge after the commission of the above-mentioned crime, and without having participated therein as principals or accomplices, took part subsequent to its commission by assisting, with abuse of authority as police officer, the above-named principal accused, to conceal or destroy the effects or instruments thereof by failing to preserve the physical evidence and allowing their destruction in order to prevent the discovery of the crime.

 

The case was, after the Presiding Judge of Branch 258 of the Paraaque RTC inhibited, re-raffled to Branch 274 of the Paraaque RTC. The trial court, then presided over by Judge Amelita G. Tolentino, tried only seven of the accused, Artemio Ventura and Joey Filart having remained at large.[4]

 

At the trial, the prosecution presented Alfaro as its main witness. The other witnesses were Dr. Prospero Cabanayan, the medico-legal officer who autopsied the bodies of the victims; Lolita Carrera Birrer, an ex-lover of Gerardo Biong; Mila Gaviola, former laundrywoman of the Webbs; Normal White and Justo Cabanacan, security personnel of the Pitong Daan Subdivision, BF Homes, Paraaque, and Lauro G. Vizconde, Estrellitas husband.

 

The defense presented testimonial evidence which tended to cast a bad light on Alfaros reputation for truth, as well as on the implausibility of her account.

 

At all events, some of the accused invoked alibi, claiming to have been somewhere else at the time of the commission of the crime. In Webbs case, he presented documentary and testimonial proof that he was in the United States of America from March 1991 to October 1992.

 

The trial court, impressed by Alfaros detailed narration of the events surrounding the commission of the crime, deemed her a credible witness after finding her testimony to have been corroborated by those of the other prosecution witnesses, as well as by the physical evidence. To the trial court, her testimony was categorical, straightforward, spontaneous, and frank, and withstood grueling cross-examinations by the different defense counsel.

 

On the other hand, it belittled the denial and alibi of accused Webb, Lejano, Rodriguez, and Gatchalian in light of their positive identification by Alfaro.

 

And so after a protracted trial, the trial court rendered on January 4, 2000 a 172-page decision finding all the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of rape with homicide.

 

Thus the trial court disposed:

 

WHEREFORE, this Court hereby finds all the principal accused GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF RAPE WITH HOMICIDE AND HEREBY SENTENCES EACH ONE OF THEM TO SUFFER THE PENALTY OF RECLUSION PERPETUA. This Court likewise finds the accused Gerardo Biong GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT AS AN ACCESSORY AFTER THE FACT, AND HEREBY SENTENCES HIM TO SUFFER AN IMPRISONMENT OF ELEVEN (11) YEARS, FOUR (4) MONTHS AND ONE (1) DAY TO TWELVE (12) YEARS. In addition, the Court hereby orders all the accused to jointly and severally pay the victims surviving heir, Mr. Lauro Vizconde, the following sums by way of civil indemnity:

 

1)            The amount of P150,000.00 for wrongful death of the victims;

2)            The amount of P762,450.00 representing actual damages sustained by Mr. Lauro Vizconde;

3)            The amount of P2,000,000.00 as moral damages sustained by Mr. Lauro Vizconde;

4)            The amount of P97,404.55 as attorneys fees.[5]

 

On appeal, the Court of Appeals rendered its challenged Decision of December 15, 2005 affirming with modification the trial courts decision by reducing the penalty imposed on Biong to six years minimum and twelve years maximum and increasing the award of civil indemnity to Lauro Vizconde to P200,000.00.[6] The appellate court found that indeed there was sufficient evidence that Rodriguez, Gatchalian, Fernandez, and Estrada had conspired to rape and kill Carmela as well as to kill Estrellita and Jennifer.

 

On motion for reconsideration by the accused, the appellate courts Special Division of five members, voting three against two, sustained its affirmance of the trial courts decision.[7] Hence, this appeal.

 

On April 20, 2010, as a result of its initial deliberation in this case, the Court issued a Resolution granting the request of Webb to submit for Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) analysis the semen specimen taken from Carmelas cadaver, which specimen was believed to be still under the safekeeping of the NBI. The Court granted the request pursuant to Section 4 of the Rule on DNA Evidence[8] to give the accused and the prosecution access to scientific evidence which could affect the result of the case.

 

On April 27, 2010, however, the NBI informed the Court that it no longer had custody of the specimen which it claimed had been turned over to the trial court. Parenthetically, the trial court records do not show that the specimen was among the object evidence that was offered in evidence in the case by any of the parties. It was in light of this development that accused Webb filed an urgent motion to acquit on the ground that the governments failure to preserve such vital evidence has resulted in the denial of his right to due process.

 

In the draft decision prepared by Justice Martin S. Villarama as a basis of this Courts deliberation, the decision of the appellate court affirming with modification the trial courts decision was affirmed.

 

In discussing why the Decision of the Court of Appeals is being affirmed with modification, the draft decision which was the basis of this Courts deliberations, started by stating a fundamental rule, viz:

 

It is a fundamental rule that findings of the trial courts which are factual in nature and which involve credibility are accorded respect when no glaring errors, gross misapprehensions of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions can be gathered from such findings.[9] When the trial courts findings have been affirmed by the appellate court, said findings are generally conclusive and binding upon this Court.[10]

The draft decision, which was later adopted by the dissenters, found no glaring errors, gross misapprehensions of facts and speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions made by the lower courts. It readily credited the testimony of prosecution star witness Jessica Alfaro (Alfaro) who, it observed, underwent exhaustive and intense cross-examination by eight . . . defense lawyers . . . [and] revealed such details and observations which only a person who was actually with the perpetrators could have known.

 

The trial court banked primarily on Alfaro who claimed to be an eyewitness to the massacre and considered the testimonies of the other prosecution witnesses as merely corroborative of hers.

 

Jurisprudence has consistently summoned, however, that for testimonial evidence to be worthy of belief, it must firstly proceed from the mouth of a credible witness. A person may be credible where he is without previous conviction of a crime; who is not a police character and has no police record; who has not perjured in the past; whose affidavit or testimony is not incredible; who has a good standing in the community; and who is reputed to be trustworthy and reliable.[11] Secondly, the persons testimony must in itself be credible.

 

Daggers v. Van Dyck[12] illuminates:

 

Evidence to be believed, must not only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness, but it must be credible in itself such as the common experience and observation of mankind can approve as probable under the circumstances. We have no test of the truth of human testimony, except its conformity to our knowledge, observation, and experience. Whatever is repugnant to these belongs to the miraculous and is outside of judicial cognizance. (underscoring supplied)

 

 

Alfaro was found both by the trial and appellate courts to be a credible witness. She impressed the trial court which found her to have testified in a categorical, straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner, and [to] ha[ve] remained consistent in her testimony.[13]

 

By Alfaros own admission, she was a habitual drug addict who inhaled and sniffed shabu every other day[14] since December 1990. It was about this time that she met Artemio Dong Ventura who provided her with


 

a regular supply of shabu at the so-called house of shabu in Paraaque.[15] In March 1991, she stopped getting her supply of shabu from Ventura as she instead got it from other sources including Orly Bacquir and Cris Santos and places such as Quezon City, Makati and Tondo.[16]

 

In the afternoon of June 29, 1991, the date of the commission of the crime, before she and accused Peter Estrada, who she claimed was her boyfriend, went to the Alabang Commercial Center, she had taken illegal drugs, and in the evening of even date, she not only smoked shabu but sniffed cocaine as well at the parking lot.[17] It was only in about October 1994 that she stopped taking illegal drugs.

 

The paper of authors Burrus and Marks, Testimonial Reliability of Drug Addicts,[18] teaches:

 

. . . [W]here the prolonged use of drugs has impaired the witness ability to perceive, recall or relate, impeaching testimony is uniformly sustained by the courts. Aside from organic deterioration, however, testimony may be impugned if the witness was under the influence of drugs at the time of perceiving the event about which he is testifying or at the time he is on the stand. This necessarily follows, for even the temporary presence of drugs affects the functioning of the bodys organs, and thus bears directly on the credibility of the witness testimony[19] (underscoring supplied)

 

Evidence derived from the testimony of a witness who was under the influence of drugs during the incident to which he is testifying is indeed very


unreliable.[20] So it has been held that habitual users of narcotics become notorious liars and that their testimony is likely to be affected thereby.[21]

We believe it will be admitted that habitual users of opium, or other like narcotics, become notorious liars. The habit of lying comes doubtless from the fact that the users of those narcotics pass the greater part of their lives in an unreal world, and thus become unable to distinguish between images and facts, between illusions and realities.[22] (underscoring supplied)

 

 

Defense witness Dr. Rey San Pedro, then Deputy Executive Director of the Dangerous Drugs Board, opined that drug addicts or dependents are generally liars who would lie for less than noble objectives, such as for money and/or to satisfy their craving for attention, viz:

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Based on your experience, Doctor, will this dependency of shabu affect the character of a person specifically, for example, the capacity to tell the truth, would that affect?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Our general examination of patients showed that they become liars.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: They become liars. Yes, what would be the usual motivation for a shabu-dependent person to become liars. Why, why do they lie?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: My experience, Sir, is because they are aware that what they are doing is wrong and therefore they want to hide it. Not only from the family, but also from their friends.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Yes. They could lie on the persons they go out with?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: They could lie on the persons they meet?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: They could lie on the persons from whom they allegedly get the drugs?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Is it not correct, Doctor, that the tendency of a drug dependent is to hide the identity of the drug suppliers. Is this correct?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: This is our experience. I have not encountered a patient who would tell you where they get their supply.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Who would tell you the correct name of the drug supplier?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: And who would tell you the correct address of the drug supplier, correct?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Correct.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Their tendency is to give you misleading information, correct?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Now, would a drug dependent on shabu lie for money?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Yes. When I say lie for money so that she could get money?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: She could get money.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: He will, from her relatives, from her friends, or even from third persons?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir. They even sell the family belongings.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: They even sell their personal effects?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Would they sell their honor to get money, like a woman becoming a prostitute?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A I have not encountered a case like that.

 

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: You have not encountered that much. But tell me, Doctor, would they lie in order to get attention?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, they do.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Yes, because they want to be the center of attention to cover up for their drug dependency, correct?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Now, Doctor, if a person were drug dependent on shabu since 1990, 1991, up to and including December, 1994. So, that is a long time, isnt it?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: 90 to 94?

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Yes, drug dependent. What would it take, Doctor, in order that we can cure this patient of his or her dependency on shabu, what would it take?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: They have to be rehabilitated, Sir, treated and rehabilitated.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: Treated and rehabilitated, where?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: In a hospital.

 

Atty. M. Ongkiko:

Q: In a hospital. Does the government provide for such facilities?

 

Witness Dr. Rey San Pedro:

A: Yes, Sir.

 

x x x x[23] (underscoring supplied)

 

 

Former National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Epimaco Velasco had a view similar to that of Dr. San Pedros ─ that any information which is being furnished by a drug addict is not generally reliable and his capacity to lie may be very great.[24]

 

In their earlier mentioned paper, Burrus and Marks write on the peculiar effects upon veracity of the principal types of drugs, like cocaine and amphetamine which were used by Alfaro:

 

x x x x

b. Cocaine ─ Cocaine is a powerful cortical stimulant which causes a state of euphoric excitement and varying degrees of pleasurable hallucinations. Under its influence, a person experiences sensations of great muscular and mental strength and overestimates his capabilities. He is truly, at least while under the drugs influence, in an unreal or dream world, and the majority exception of admitting impeaching testimony where the witness was under the influence of the drug at the time of perception or testifying seems clearly sustainable in medical evidence.

 

Over time, cocaine produces on the addict a degree of physical and mental deterioration not found in connection with the use of opiates. The cocaine addict is not a normal person; many, in fact, become paranoids and suffer from feelings of persecution. Visual, auditory and tactual hallucinations are common, as are digestive tract disorders, and occasionally convulsions.

 

It would seem to follow that, so far as medical evidence is concerned, expert testimony should be admissible to impeach the cocaine addict. Both in its long-run effect of organic deterioration and in its short run influence, the drug severs the users contact with reality, and renders him, to that extent, unreliable. Even the majority admits impeaching testimony in cases of organic deterioration. There are few instances of deterioration more pronounced than that found in the habitual user of cocaine.

 

x x x x

 

e. Amphetamine─ Similar to the barbiturates and bromides, amphetamine operates upon the central nervous system, and its effect on the users ability to perceive and accurately to relate is dependent on the amount of the drug taken. Rather than a depressant however, amphetamine is a potent stimulant, the initial proper dosage promoting wakefulness and alertness, increased initiative, confidence, euphoria and increased motor activity. Thus, the non-addicts sparing use of the drug, would not seem to impair reliability and impeaching testimony to this end should be excluded.

 

Overdosage and repeated medication, however, can prove most harmful. Thus, the addict may suffer vasomotor disturbances, dizziness, agitation, confusion and delirium. The usual dosage taken by the addict is sufficient to cause toxic psychosis characterized by hallucinations and paranoid delusions similar in effect to cocaine. In this state, the amphetamine addicts testimonial capabilities are definitely impaired.

 

The result is that with amphetamine, as well as with barbiturates and bromides, impeachment should depend upon the amount of the drug taken and the extent of its use. Absent excessive use to the extent of organic deterioration, the barbiturate, bromide or amphetamine addict, when not intoxicated by the direct influence of the drug, is apparently perfectly reliable and the majority judicial view, under these circumstances seems sustainable. Also, as with marihuana, its effects vary with the personality make-up of the user, with the result that this, too, should be considered in admitting or excluding the impeaching testimony. This, of course, broadens the inquiry from the physiological-pharmacological effects of drugs upon reliability to the psychological framework of the user in its relation to his ability to tell the truth or proneness to lie.[25] (italics in the original; emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

 

How Alfaro got to be a star witness in this case was narrated by then NBI agent Artemio Sacaguing:

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q All right, Atty. Sacaguing, how did the NBI treat Ms. Alfaro considering the assistance that he was giving your group?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A We gave her very special treatment. So, we consider her already the darling of the group because she was giving us good projects and she loved it.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q What do you mean by she loved it, she loved what?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A She liked being treated that way.

 

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Now tell the Honorable Court, was there ever any time where the group got tired of giving Ms. Alfaro the VIP treatment?

 

x x x x

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

All right, Atty. Sacaguing, how long did you give Ms. Alfaro this VIP treatment?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Well, she was always there and we treated her very nicely, but later on, about . . . after the lapse of about one or two weeks, the boys, I mean, my associates in my team, began teasing her because she could not give us any project anymore.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q What do you mean by projects, leads?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Projects, cases we could work on.

 

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q I see, and what do you mean by teasing?

 

x x x x

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Mr. Sacaguing, after your group teased her because, according to you, she could not give you anymore projects, what was the reaction of Ms. Alfaro, if any?

 

Please look at the judge, please do not look at me.

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A She seemed to have been piqued and she said . . .

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q She seemed to have been what?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Piqued, yes, napikon.

 

 

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q I see, piqued.

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Piqued.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Piqued. Ano yun, napikon?

 

Court:

p i c q u e d. (underscoring in the original)

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q And when she was piqued or napikon, what did she say or what did she do?

x x x x

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

x x x x

 

Q Atty. Sacaguing, how did Jessica Alfaro become a witness in the Vizconde murder case. Will you tell the Honorable Court?

 

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A She told me, she knew somebody who . . .

 

Court:

 

Face the Court.

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A She told me, Your Honor, that she knew somebody who related to her the circumstances, I mean, the details of the massacre of the Vizconde family. Thats what she told us, Your Honor.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q And what did you say?

 

Please look at the Court.

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A I was quite interested and I tried to persuade her to introduce to me that man and she promised that in due time, she will bring to me the man, and together with her, we will try to convince him to act as a state witness and help us in the solution of the case.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Did she ever bring to you or to your office this man that, according to her, knew about the Vizconde murder case?

 

x x x x

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Atty. Sacaguing, were you able to interview this alleged witness?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A No, sir.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

 

Q Why not?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Because Jessica Alfaro was never able to comply with her promise to bring the man to me. She told me later that she could not, and the man does not like to testify.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q All right, and what happened after that?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

A She told me, easy lang kayo, Sir, if I may quote, easy lang, Sir, huwag kayong . . .

 

Court:

Q How was that?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

A Easy lang, Sir. Sir, relax lang, Sir, papapelan ko yan, papapelan ko na lang yan.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q And what did you understand by her statement as you quoted it?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A I thought it . . .

 

Prosecutor Zuo:

Objection, Your Honor, that is asking for the opinion of this witness, Your Honor.

 

Court:

Reform your question.

 

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q All right, and what was your reaction when Ms. Alfaro stated that papapelan ko na lang yan?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

A I said, hindi pwede yan, kasi, hindi ka naman eye witness.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q And what was the reply of Ms. Alfaro?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

 

A Hindi siya nakakibo, until she went away.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q She what?

 

Witness Sacaguing:

A She went away, she went out of my office.

 

Court:

You speak clearly, Mr. Witness, I could hardly get you.

 

Witness Sacaguing:

A She did not answer anymore, Your Honor. She just went out of the office.

 

x x x x[26] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

NBI agent Sacaguing was the special handler of Alfaro, an NBI asset who regularly provided leads on projects or cases being investigated by the NBI, on which account she received special treatment. From Sacaguings above-quoted testimony, Alfaro came forward with her knowledge about the commission of the crimes only after being cajoled by the NBI agents about her lack of productivity and her failure to make good her word that she knew and would bring someone who could shed light on the crimes that occurred close to four years earlier. It is thus hard to fathom how her motives for suddenly developing a first hand account of the commission of the crimes could be treated as anything but suspect. Yet, the lower courts, despite the peculiar circumstances related by Sacaguing, were not put on guard from swallowing Alfaros testimony.

 

Significantly, Alfaro never disputed Sacaguings above-quoted testimoy.

 

The trial court credited as satisfactory and plausible Alfaros explanation for her silence from the time she allegedly witnessed the crimes in June 1991 up to about October 1994 when the numbing effects of drug abuse only began to wear off and she had an earnest desire to reform her life.

 

 

WITNESS JESSICA ALFARO ON CLARIFICATORY QUESTIONS BY THE COURT

 

Court:

Q After that incident, did it not occur to your mind to immediately report the same to the police authorities?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A No, Your Honor, I did not.

 

Court:

Q Why?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: Because at first, I was so scared. I just want to my Dad, but I didnt have a chance to tell him.

 

Court:

Q: No, after the lapse of a reasonable time, after witnessing that incident, did it not also occur to your mind to finally report it to the proper authorities?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: I did not first have that in mind, only recently when I was out on drugs.

 

Court:

Q: When?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: When I got out on drugs.

 

Court:

Q When was that?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: About October of 1994.

 

Court:

Q What prompted you to finally reveal what you have witnessed?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: Well, when I started having these nightmares about my daughter instead of that Jennifer that I see in my dreams. Its my daughter whom I see crying, and that triggered me, and then I got out from drugs, and then it came to the point when I saw them accidentally, so, thats the thing which triggered me, Your Honor.

 

Court:

Q: Any other reason?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: Those are my main reasons.

 

Court:

Q: Is that your principal reason?

 

Witness Alfaro:

A: I wanted to change my life already.[27] (underscoring supplied)

 

Given Alfaros confession of having for years, after the commission of the crimes, been numbed by the effects of drug abuse, would the dissenters take as gospel truth her what they termed vivid and infallible recollection of the minutiae surrounding the commission of the crime in June 1991, and point to the accused as the malefactors, particularly Webb, despite evidence, documentary and testimonial, supporting his alibi?

 

The explanation for this feat of wizardry is within arms-length Alfaro appears to be a rehearsed witness. Prior to her decision to surface and claim to tell what she knew about the crimes, the crimes had already been played out in the media, both print and broadcast, in every gory detail. It was a raging topic that drew intense discussions in both talk shows and informal gatherings, and all sorts of speculations about it were rife. In fact, prior to the arrest of the accused, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) arrested some members of an akyat-bahay gang who were charged accordingly. These gang members were later released upon orders of the Makati Regional Trial Court after it was discovered that their confessions were fabricated by the PNP to conform to the physical evidence found at the crime scene.

 

It is not thus difficult to believe that Alfaro could have become familiar with the evidentiary details of the crimes, given that she was practically a resident at the offices of the NBI which was actively investigating the crimes, not to mention her being an NBI star witness.

 

Sadly, dissenters choose to gloss over the strikingly uncanny similarities between the confessions of the akyat-bahay gang members and Alfaros testimony. The nature and extent of the similarities were amplified by Justice Dacudao in his Dissenting Opinion, which is quoted at length:

 

It also bothers me that Ms. Alfaros narration of the events in the case under review was in many points uncannily similar to that set forth in the extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay executed by certain members of the so-called Akyat Bahay Gang of the Barroso group (the brothers Villardo Datuin Barroso, Jr. and Roberto Datuin Barroso and their several companions Rolando Mendoza y Gomez, Ernesto Cesar, Bienvenido Baydo, Angelito Santos y Bisen, Boy Kulit, Rey Doe and several other John Does). These persons were earlier charged with two cases of robbery with homicide, and one case of rape with homicide that is now the very subject of the case under review. Indeed, I cannot understand why the three criminal cases that were instituted before the Makati City RTC, Brnach 63, (presided over by Judge Julio R. Logarta,) which recited facts and events that are so strikingly akin to those set forth in the information filed in the case under review, hardly commanded the attention of the trial court. The records of these criminal cases, which were introduced in evidence by the accused-appellants during the trial of the case under review, covered the following:

 

(1) Criminal Case No. 91-7135 filed by then Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Aurelio C. Trampe before the sale of Judge Julio R. Logarta of the Makati City RTC, Branch 63, on November 11, 1991 (for robbery with homicide) against Villardo Barroso y Datuin, Roberto Barroso y Datuin Rolando Mendoza y Gomez, Ernesto Cesar, Bienvenido Baydo, Angelito Santos y Bisen, Rey Doe and several other John Does still at large.

 

Crim. Case No. 91-7135

 

That on or about the 30th day of June 1991 at BF Homes Paraaque, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above named accused conspiring and confederating together and helping one another did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and feloniously, by the use of force upon things, to wit, by breaking the glass in the left side of the door to open it and from where they entered the house, and once inside, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and intent to gain and against the consent of the owners thereof, forcibly open cabinet and drawers inside the house, take and carry away therefrom, the following pieces of personal property:

 

P140,000.00 in cash

Four (4) necklace

Five (5) rings

Two (2) bracelets

Two (2) pairs of earings

 

belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lauro Vizconde of the total value of Two Hundred Thousand (P200,000.00) Pesos, Philippine currency to the damage and prejudice of said owners in the said total sum, and that on the occasion of the said Robbery and for the purpose of enabling them to take, steal, and carry away the articles above-mentioned herein accused, in pursuant of their conspiracy, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and with evident premeditation and taking advantage of their superior number and strength and with intent to kill, treacherously attack, assault, stab and use personal violence upon JENNIFER NICOLAS VIZCONDE thereby inflicting upon her multiple stab wounds in different parts of her body thus causing her instantaneous death.

Contrary to law.

 

(2) Criminal case No. 91-7136 (for the rape with homicide of Carmela Nicolas Vizconde filed by ACSP Aurelio C. Trampe with the same RTC, Branch 63, on November 11, 1919) also against the same accused. It alleged:

 

Crim. Case No. 91-7136

 

That on or about the 30th day of June 1991 at BF Homes, Paraaque, Metro Manila, Philippines, and within jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with knives, by means of violence, force and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of CARMELA NICOLAS VIZCONDE (without her) consent, and that on the occasion of the commission of rape, and in pursuance of their conspiracy, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with evident premeditation and taking advantage of their superior number and strength and with intent to kill, treacherously attack, assault, stab and use personal violence upon said CARMELA NICOLAS VIZCONDE, thereby inflicting upon her multiple stab wounds in different parts of her body, thus causing her instantaneous death.

Contrary to law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(3) Criminal Case No. 91-7137 (for robbery, with homicide wherein the victim was ESTRELLITA NICOLAS VISCONDE) likewise filed against the same accused by ACSP Aurelio C. Trampe. It alleged:

 

Crim. Case No. 91-7137

 

That on or about the 30th day of June 1991 at BF Homes Paraaque, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused conspiring and confederating together and helping one another did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, by the use of force upon things, to wit: by breaking the glass in the left side of the door to open it and from where they entered the house and once inside, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and with intent to gain and against the consent of the owners thereof, forcibly open cabinets and drawers inside the house, take and carry away therefrom the following pieces of personal property:

 

 

P140,000.00 in cash

Four (4) necklace

Five (5) rings

Two (2) bracelets

Two (2) pairs of earings

 

belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lauro Vizconde, the total value of which is Two Hundred Thousand (P200,000.00) pesos, Philippine Currency, to the damage and prejudice of said owners in the said total sum; and that on the occasion of the said Robbery and for the purpose of enabling them to take, steal and carry way the articles above-mentioned, herein accused, in pursuance of their conspiracy, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and with evident premeditation and taking advantage of their superior number and strength and with intent to kill, treacherously attack, assault, stab and use personal violence upon ESTRELLITA NICOLAS VIZCONDE thereby inflicting upon her multiple stab wounds causing her instantaneous death.

Contrary to law.

 

Consider this: In the aforementioned cases, one of the accused therein (Angelito Santos y Bisen) who by his account was bothered by his conscience, surrendered and executed an affidavit or sinumpaang salaysay narrating his participation in the gruesome killing of members of the Vizconde family and the rape-killing of a young Vizconde girl. And based on the extrajudicial confessions of the accused in these cases (specifically Angelito Santos y Bisen, Ernesto L. Cesar, the Barroso brothers Villardo, Jr. and Roberto, and Rolando G. Mendoza) it appears that the group conspired to rob the house of the Vizcondes in W. Vinzons Street inside the BF Subdivision; that they used at least two (2) vehicles in going there (a mint green Toyota Corona, and an owners tinted jeepney); that when they entered the subdivision, one of them motioned to the security guards manning the gate that the other vehicles were with him; that when they reached the Vizconde residence at W. Vinzons Street, BF Homes, one of them (Bienvenido Ben Baydo) climbed the fence, and once inside the house opened the gate for the group; that Bienvenido Ben Baydo put-out the light in the garage; that using a stone na binalot sa basahan Ben Baydo broke the glass in the door and opened it; that a woman who had apparently been roused from sleep (apparently referring to Mrs. Estrellita Nicolas Vizconde) came near the door and shouted magnanakaw; that Ben Baydo gagged the woman and dragged her inside the masters bedroom where Ben Baydo, Boy Kulit, Rolando Mendoza and Roberto Barroso stabbed her several times (one knife used in stabbing was described as isang double blade na mga anim na pulgada ang haba nang talim); that when a young girl (apparently referring to Jennifer Nicolas Vizconde) inside started to cry and shout, she too was stabbed to death by Rolando Mendoza, Ernesto Cesar, Villardo Barroso, Jr., Ben Baydo and Boy Kulit; that in one of the rooms they found a young woman (apparently referring to Carmela Nicolas Vizconde) who was raped successively by Roberto Barroso, Rolando Mendoza, Ben Baydo, and Ernesto Cesar and later repeatedly stabbed to death; and that they ransacked the house for valuables and were able to find cash and jewelries which they later on divided among themselves. Some of the pieces of jewelry were pawned by some of the accused at the Tambunting Pawnshop and the La Cebuana Pawnshop at Dart, Paco. Carefully evaluated, it is plain enough that the statements contained in the extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay also overlapped or corroborated each other in their material particulars.

 

Stock must be taken of the fact that the detailed extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay of the several accused (especially Villardo Barroso y Datuin, Jr., Roberto Barroso y Datuin, his Rolando Mendoza y Gomez, Ernesto Cesar y Lizardo, Angelito Santos y Bisen) in the three criminal cases, were acknowledged and ratified before Judge Roberto L. Makalintal, Atty. Luis Matro, Atty. Francis Tolentino and Atty. Salvador B. Aguas, who affirmed that the said extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay were freely and voluntarily given by the affiants, and that no duress violence, intimidation or coercion of any kind was employed against the affiants when the latter gave their statements if they did not want to; and that indeed the affiants were made aware of their constitutional right to have a lawyer of their choice to assist them during the custodial investigation and to remain silent if they wished to. Nevertheless, as seen in the consolidated decision rendered in the three criminal cases, these extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay were declared inadmissible by the Makati City RTC, for having been allegedly obtained through duress, threats, or intimidation. The dismissal of these criminal cases nowithstanding, it does not detract from the fact: (1) that said criminal case had indeed been filed in court, (2) that the criminal indictments were erected on the strength of the extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay executed by the accused therein, (3) that these extrajudicial confessions or sinumpaang salaysay set forth facts and events that are eerily similar to those which found their way into the information was filed in the case under review; (4) that the victims in the three criminal cases are also the victims in the case under review; and (5) that since the accused therein had been duly arraigned, as indeed, criminal proceedings had been commenced thereon before a competent court, the accused therein were in real danger of being convicted of the felonies charged.[28] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

On the questioned inconsistencies between Alfaros April 28, 1995 and May 22, 1995 Affidavits, the dissenters brush them aside as not necessarily affecting her credibility, citing People v. Sanchez[29] which held:

 

. . . [W]e 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. Sworn statement/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. Testimonies given during trials are much more exact and elaborate. Thus, testimonial evidence carries more weight than sworn statements/affidavits. (underscoring supplied)

 

 

It bears emphasis that the questioned inconsistencies in Alfaros Affidavits, and indeed they are too glaring to escape attention, arise not from an affidavit and testimony at the witness stand but from two affidavits.

 

And the dissenters forget that the first Affidavit, dated April 28, 1995, was given about two months shy of four years from the occurrence of the crime in late June 1991 and, therefore, her mental faculties could not have been in such a state as [not] to afford [her] a fair opportunity of narrating in full the incident subject of her tale. The second Affidavit, on the other hand, was executed 24 days after the first Affidavit or on May 22, 1995. Do the dissenters find that Alfaros mental faculties were more refreshed at a date more remote from the occurrence of the crime she claims to have witnessed?

 

Again, as did the lower courts, the dissenters disregard the glaring inconsistencies between Alfaros two affidavits vis--vis her testimony in open court which undeniably detract from credibility ─ of witness and of testimony. Consider these inconsistencies reflected in the tabulation below:

 

April 28, 1995

Affidavit

May 22, 1995

Affidavit

Testimony in Court

Alfaros meeting with Carmela

She has not met Carmela before the night of the crime

She knew Carmela personally and met her in a party sometime in February 1991

She met Carmela in a party sometime in January 1991 and in a disco sometime in February 1991

The number of trips the group made to the Vizconde residence

There were only two trips made. After the first trip, Alfaro went back to the parking lot. The group was about to leave when she arrived. Ventura signaled her to board the Nissan Patrol to take more drugs and asked her to leave her car, but she refused. Thereafter, she was instructed to join the convoy of vehicles. They went around BF Homes for about 15 minutes before they finally proceeded to Vinzons Street.

Alfaro and Peter Estrada made three trips to the Vizconde residence. During their second trip, the other accused stayed behind at the Alabang Commercial Center Parking Lot. Peter Estrada and Alfaro went back to the Vizconde residence after about 30 minutes. This time, Carmela asked Jessica to come back after midnight.

The entire group made three trips to the Vizconde residence. On the second trip, Webb and his companions parked and stayed along Aguirre Avenue. Only Alfaro went to the Vizconde residence.

What Webb said

Alfaro did not hear any instructions from Webb or any member of the group.

Before they left the parking lot, Alfaro overheard Webb say, Pipilahan natin si Carmela, pero ako ang mauuna.

After Webb said Pipilahan, Lejano retorted, Oo pero ako ang susunod. The others responded, Okay, okay.

What Alfaro saw at the scene of the crime

Alfaro did not see what transpired inside the Vizconde residence because she did not go in.

After leaving the accused Webb, Lejano and Ventura inside the Vizconde residence, Alfaro again entered the house through the kitchen door; Ventura was coming out as she was about to enter and once inside, curiosity impelled Alfaro to peep through the first door on the left. Noticing the high volume of the TV set inside the room, she saw two bloodied bodies on top of the bed and on the floor, she saw Webb pumping on top of Carmela who was gagged and in tears.

Before going to the bedroom, Alfaro saw Ventura rummaging through the ladies bag on top of the dining table. She proceeded to the bedroom after hearing the sound of static and peeped through the door. She could not see anything so she stepped inside where she saw Webb pumping Carmela.

Alfaros location in the Vizconde bedroom in relation to what she saw

Alfaro did not see what transpired inside the Vizconde residence because she did not enter it.

Alfaro peeped through the bedroom door and saw two bloodied bodies and Webb pumping Carmela.

Alfaro first peeped through the bedroom door and did not see anything. Since she did not see anything, she walked inside the bedroom where she saw the rape of Carmela.

 

The dissenters approvingly note the trial courts findings that Alfaro had sufficiently explained these discrepancies between her two affidavits as arising from a desire to protect her former boyfriend Estrada and her relative Gatchalian, the absence of a lawyer during the first taking of her statements by the NBI, her distrust of the first investigators who took her statements and prepared her April 28, 1995 affidavit, and her uncertainty if she could obtain adequate support and security for her own life were she to disclose everything she knows about the Vizconde killings. (underscoring supplied)

 

There was, however, no rational basis for Alfaro to mistrust her handler Sacaguing who was present at the execution of the first Affidavit, or the NBI for that matter, she, as stated earlier, having been accorded special treatment precisely because she was one of the more valuable assets of the NBI. Sacaguing himself testified that Alfaro was virtually dependent on them . . . for protection, for sympathy and even for her spiritual needs.[30] Accused Gatchalians father, Atty. Francisco Gatchalian, denied that his family was in any way related to Alfaro. And the lawyer who is mentioned in the first Affidavit to have assisted her, Atty. Arturo Mercader, Jr., took the witness stand and categorically stated that he was present during the taking of such first Affidavit of Alfaro, he claiming that, inter alia:

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q And after the typing of the statement was finished by Agent Tamayo, what happened?

 

Witness Mercader:

A Well, I received the statement and showed it to Jessica and asked her to read it also.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q Did Jessica Alfaro read her statement?

 

Witness Mercader:

A Yes, Your Honor.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q How long did it take her to read the statement?

 

Witness Mercvader:

A Just for few minutes, Your Honor.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q And after she read the statement, what happened next?

 

Witness Mercader:

A Well, she signed the statement and afterwards, I also affixed my signature on it, Your Honor.

x x x x

 

Atty. Aguirre:

Q While assisting Jessica Alfaro, did you notice any action on the part of anybody which pressured Jessica Alfaro to finish her statement?

 

Witness Mercader:

A No, Your Honor, none that I have noticed. If I did, I would have objected to.[31]

 

x x x x

 

Prosecutor Zuno:

Q And that, I believe, to your own perception, at that time she was giving the facts, the answer, in accordance with her recollection?

 

x x x x

 

 

 

Witness Mercader:

A Your Honor, at that time what I noticed only was the spontaneity of the answers of Jessica. Of course, I could not tell whether from where Jessica was basing it. From the recollection or from a memorize script, I do not know, Your Honor, about that. But definitely, whenever she was asked a question, she answers them readily as if she knows the answer personally.[32] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

 

The trial courts order preventing the defense from cross-examining Alfaro on the inconsistencies between her two Affidavits was thus correctly SET ASIDE by the Court of Appeals, to which this Court, by Resolution of January 22, 1996, referred for disposition G.R. Nos. 122466 and 122504, the accuseds petitions assailing, among other orders, the trial courts order denying their right to cross examine Alfaro, for purposes of impeachment, on her conflicting Affidavits. Thus, the appellate court, in its Decision[33] in CA-G.R. SP Nos. 39839 and 39840 of June 21, 1996, held:

 

x x x x

 

[T]he issue of the right of petitioners to cross-examine Jessica Alfaro on the alleged inconsistencies between her first and second affidavits is too crucial to be simply brushed aside with a perfunctory application of the general rule adverted to in the preceding paragraphs. It may bring about a failure of justice. Consequently, we consider the actuations of respondent judge in this regard to be reviewable by certiorari under rule 65 of the Rules of Court. (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

 

Under Section 11, Rule 132 of the Rules of Court, an adverse partys witness may be impeached (1) by contradictory evidence; (2) by evidence that his general reputation for truth, honesty, or integrity is bad; (3) by evidence that he has made at other times statement inconsistent with his present testimony; and (4) by producing the record of his conviction of an offense. Insofar as impeachment by evidence of prior inconsistent statements however, under Section 13 of the same Rule 132, a proper foundation must first be laid, in that, the attention of the witness should first be called to such statements, and he should be asked whether or not he made them, and afforded an opportunity for explanation, or affirmance, or denial of the authenticity of the writing. (emphasis and underscoring in the original)

 

 

 

 

A testimony given four years after the occurrence of crime which gives minute details that even contradict tales earlier given is too incredible as to draw dubiety. The lucid observations of Court of Appeals Justice Renato C. Dacudao in his Dissent[34] for the acquittal of the accused, and the graphic analysis of Justice Roberto Abad in his ponencia on why Alfaros testimony can not be relied upon are thus well taken.

 

It bears stressing that the defenses earnest assertion that the prosecution failed to rebut the pieces of evidence, highlighted by the defense, that seriously dent its (the prosecutions) case has not been controverted.

 

Respecting Alfaros eyewitness identification of Webb as the rapist: As reflected in the tabulations above, she had conflicting claims on whether and where she witnessed the commission of the crime. AT ALL EVENTS, such identification is not as accurate and authoritative as the scientific forms of identification evidence such as Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing,[35] which testing could not now, in the present case, be carried out in view of the information of the NBI that it no longer has custody of the semen specimen from rape victim Carmelas cadaver, claiming that it had turned it over to the trial court. The NBI did not, however, present any documentary proof of such claim. Parenthetically, it does not appear from the records that the specimen was offered in evidence by any of the parties.

 

To Webbs credit, he had asked for the conduct of DNA evidence on October 6, 1997, during the trial on the merits, when he filed a Motion to

Direct NBI to Submit Semen Specimen to DNA Analysis[36] which motion the prosecution opposed.[37] The motion was subsequently denied by the trial court by its November 25, 1997 Order,[38] citing Lim v. Court of Appeals[39] to the effect that DNA, being a relatively new science, it has not as yet been accorded official recognition by our courts. Besides, the trial court believed that no one in the Philippines had as yet the knowledge and expertise to testify on matters involving DNA testing. What is worse, however, is that it believed that DNA testing will not subserve the ends of justice.[40] If the motion had been granted and DNA analysis were carried out, nagging doubts on Webbs culpability for the crimes or lack of it could have been dissipated.

 

FINALLY, even assuming arguendo that the burden of evidence had shifted to the defense, the testimonial and documentary evidence of the defense indubitably establishes that, with respect to accused Webb, he was out of the country when the crime occurred.

 

It is undisputed that accused Webbs travel and immigration documents, which have not been found to be spurious, unquestionably show that he left the Philippines for the United States on March 9, 1991 and returned to the Philippines only on October 26, 1992. In rejecting Webbs alibi, the dissenters point out:

 

These dates [March 9, 1991 and October 26, 1992] are so distant from the time of the commission of the crime, June 29, 1991 and June 30, 1991, and it would not have been impossible during the interregnum for Webb to travel back to the country and again fly to the US several times considering that the travel time on board an airline from the Philippines to San Francisco, and from San Francisco to the Philippines takes only about twelve (12) hours to fourteen (14) hours. Given the financial resources and political influence of his family, it was not unlikely that Webb could have traveled back to the Philippines before June 29-30, 1991 and then departed for the US again, and returning to the Philippines in October 1992. There clearly exists, therefore, such possibility of Webbs presence at the scene of the crime at the time of its commission, and its excuse cannot be deemed airtight. (underscoring and italics supplied)

 

It is now the dissenters reasoning which turns highly speculative and conjectural, one borne out of unfounded suspicion. It suspects that the Webb family may have used its financial resources and political influence to control all the U.S. and Philippine immigration people, thus allowing Webb to secretly travel back to the country and again fly to the U.S. several times between March 9, 1991 and October 26, 1992. It bears noting that the prosecution proffered no evidence to establish that during the interregnum Webb had surreptitiously slipped out of the U.S.A. to the Philippines, and that he subsequently re-entered the U.S.A. by bypassing all immigration controls and protocols in both countries. This is the stuff of which spy novels are made, but not in the real world where the lives of innocent individuals are at stake.

 

Facts decide cases. Conjectures and suspicions are not facts, hence, they have no evidentiary value. They cannot be the bases of conviction as they cannot substitute for the constitutional requirement of proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Suspicions, no matter how strong they are, must never sway judgment.[41]

 

At this juncture, given the evidence on record, it is crucial to heed the Courts caveat that when an accused puts up the defense of alibi, the courts should not at once have a mental prejudice against him. For, taken in the light of all the evidence on record, it may be sufficient to acquit him.[42]

 

While alibi is, indeed, a weak defense because the accused can easily fabricate his story to escape criminal liability,[43] in the present case, Webbs alibi could not have been fabricated with ease. His travel and immigration documents showing his departure from the Philippines and arrival in the U.S.A., not to mention the testimonial and documentary evidence on his activities while in the U.S.A. between March 9, 1991 and October 26, 1992, deserve full credit. If half the world away could not even be considered to be so far removed from the crime scene[44] as to evince the physical impossibility of actual presence, then the defense of alibi can only be appreciated when an accused lands in a different planet.

 

The dissenters cite People v. Larraaga[45] to highlight the weakness of alibi as a defense. That case did not involve foreign and travel immigration documents or even the use of a passport, the accused therein having claimed that he was in Quezon City at the time the crime was committed in Cebu City. Because he was positively identified by several prosecution witnesses whose testimonies, unlike Alfaros, were credible and trustworthy, this Court rejected Larraagas alibi.

 

WHEREFORE, for failure of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the accused, Hubert Jeffrey P. Webb, Antonio Tony Boy Lejano, Michael A. Gatchalian, Hospicio Pyke Fernandez, Peter Estrada, and Miguel Ging Rodriguez, they are ACQUITTED of the crime charged.

 

 

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

Associate Justice



[1] Salvacion v. Sandiganbayan, G.R. No. L-68633, July 11 1986, 142 SCRA 707, 713.

[2] The cases were (1) Criminal Case No. 91-7135 filed by then Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Aurelio C. Trampe before the sala of Judge Julio R. Logarta of the Makati City RTC, Branch 63, on November 11, 1991 (for robbery with homicide) against Villardo Barroso y Datuin, Roberto Barroso y Datuin Rolando Mendoza y Gomez, Ernesto Cesar, Bienvenido Baydo, Angelito Santos y Bisen, Rey Doe and several other John Does still at large; (2) Criminal case No. 91-7136 (for the rape with homicide of Carmela Nicolas Vizconde filed by ACSP Aurelio C. Trampe with the same RTC, Branch 63, on November 11, 1919) also against the same accused and (3) Criminal Case No. 91-7137 (for robbery, with homicide wherein the victim was ESTRELLITA NICOLAS VISCONDE) likewise filed against the same accused by ACSP Aurelio C. Trampe.

[3] Records, Vol. I, pp. 1-3.

[4] Rollo (G.R. No. 176389), pp. 393-399 and rollo (G.R. No. 176864), pp. 80-104.

[5] Decision dated January 4, 2000.

[6] CA rollo, Vol. IV, pp. 3478-3479.

[7] Resolution dated January 26, 2007, rollo (G.R. No. 176839), pp. 197-214. The resolution was penned by Justice Rodrigo V. Cosico, with the concurrence of Justices Regalado E. Maambong and Normandie B. Pizarro. Justices Renato C. Dacudao and Lucenito N. Tagle dissented.

[8] A.M. 06-11-5-SC effective October 15, 2007. Section 4 states:

 

Application for DNA Testing Order. The appropriate court may, at any time, either motu proprio or on application of any person who has a legal interest in the matter in litigation, order a DNA testing. Such order shall issue after due hearing and notice to the parties upon a showing of the following:

a. A biological sample exists that is relevant to the case;

b. The biological sample:

(i) was not previously subjected to the type of DNA testing now requested; or

(ii) was previously subject to DNA testing , but the results may require confirmation for good reasons;

c. The DNA testing uses a scientifically valid technique;

d. The DNA testing has the scientific potential to produce new information that is relevant to the proper resolution of the case; and

e. The existence of other factors, if any, which the court may consider as potentially affecting the accuracy or integrity of the DNA testing.

This rule shall not preclude a DNA testing, without need of a prior court order, at the behest of any party, including law enforcement agencies, before a suit or proceeding is commenced.

[9] People v. Pringas, G.R. No. 175928, August 31, 2007, 531 SCRA 828.

[10] People v. De Guzman, G.R. No. 173197, April 24, 2007, 522 SCRA 207.

[11] Siao Tick Chong v. Republic, No. L-22151, March 30,1970, 32 SCRA 253, 258.

[12] 37 N.J. Eq. 130, 132. Cited in SALONGA, Philippine Law on Evidence, 774 (1964) and VIII Francisco, The Revised Rules Of Court In The Philippines, 458-459 (1997).

[13] January 4, 2000 RTC Decision, p. 74.

[14] Vide TSN, October 18, 1995, pp. 105-106.

[15] TSN, October 23, 1995, pp. 6-9.

[16] Id. at 25-27.

[17] Id. at 35-36; TSN, October 10, 1995, pp. 80-96, 156-163.

[18] 35 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 259 (1960)

[19] Ibid.

[20] Vide 98 C.J.S. 348.

[21] Vide People v. Lewis, 25 Ill. 2d 396, 185 NE 2d 168 where the Supreme Court of Illinois ruled:

The question of whether a witness is a narcotics addict is an important consideration in passing upon the credibility of a witness for, as we have stated, the testimony of a narcotics addict is subject to suspicion due to the fact that habitual users of narcotics become notorious liars. (citations omitted)

 

In People v. Perkins, 26 Ill 2d 2300, 186 NE 2d 330 (1962) , the Supreme Court of Illinois said:

The defendant contends that the trial court erred in finding him guilty on the basis of the uncorroborated testimony of a drug addict who was the only witness to the alleged crime, and further urges that the evidence as a whole does not prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We have repeatedly held that the fact that a witness is a narcotics addict and a police informer has an important bearing upon his credibility and, while his position is not that of an accomplice, the situation is sufficiently similar to that of an accomplice to warrant a close scrutiny of the testimony of such a witness, recognizing the fact that habitual users of narcotics become notorious liars and that their testimony is likely to be affected thereby. (Citations omitted; emphasis supplied)

[22] State v. Fong Loon, 29 Idaho 248, 158 Pac. 233, 236.

[23] TSN, August 7, 1997, 35-45

[24] TSN, June 4, 1997, pp. 47-48.

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q: As an investigator, Governor, will you tell the Honorable Court how did you relate or rather assess the reliability of any information furnished by a drug addict?

 

Witness Velasco:

A: Well, I will consider it, Your Honor, not generally reliable.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q: Why do you say that?

 

Witness Velasco:

A: Well, because, you know, if one is under the influence of drugs or one is considered to be an addict, you could hardly believe his information.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q: Why, why so?

 

Witness Velasco:

A: Because he is not in his state of mind.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q: Well, what about the capacity to lie, Governor?

 

Witness Velasco:

A: Well, the capacity to lie may be very great, Your Honor.

 

Atty. Ongkiko:

Q: Well, because, you know, for maintaining or for in order to get money, they will lie.

(underscoring supplied)

[25] Burrus and Marks Testimonial Reliability of Drug Addicts 35 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 259, 262-263, 269-270, 272-273 (1960).

[26] TSN, May 28, 1996, pp. 49-50, 77-79.

[27] TSN, July 29, 1996, pp. 77-78.

[28] Justice Roberto Abad raised the same points, viz:

 

a. The Barroso gang members said that they got into Carmelas house by breaking the glass panel of the front door using a stone wrapped in cloth to deaden the noise. Alfaro could not use this line since the core of her story was that Webb was Carmelas boyfriend. Webb had no reason to smash her front door to get to see her.

 

Consequently, to explain the smashed door, Alfaro had to settle for claiming that, on the way out of the house, Webb picked up some stone and, out of the blue, hurled it at the glass-paneled front door of the Vizconde residence. His action really made no sense. From Alfaros narration, Webb appeared rational in his decisions. It was past midnight, the house was dark, and they wanted to get away quickly to avoid detection. Hurling a stone at that glass door and causing a tremendous noise was bizarre, like inviting the neighbors to come.

 

b. The crime scene showed that the house had been ransacked. The rejected confessions of the Barroso akyat-bahay gang members said that they tried to rob the house. To explain this physical evidence, Alfaro claimed that at one point Ventura was pulling a kitchen drawer, and at another point, going through a handbag on the dining table. He said he was looking for the front-door key and the car key.

 

Again, this portion of Alfaros story appears tortured to accommodate the physical evidence of the ransacked house. She never mentioned Ventura having taken some valuables with him when they left Carmelas house. And why would Ventura rummage a bag on the table for the front-door key, spilling the contents, when they had already gotten into the house. It is a story made to fit in with the crime scene although robbery was supposedly not the reason Webb and his companions entered that house.

 

c. It is the same thing with the garage light. The police investigators found that the bulb had been loosed to turn off the light. The confessions of the Barroso gang claimed that one of them climbed the parked cars hood to reach up and darken that light. This made sense since they were going to rob the place and they needed time to work in the dark trying to open the front door. Some passersby might look in and see what they were doing.

 

Alfaro had to adjust her testimony to take into account that darkened garage light. So she claimed that Ventura climbed the cars hood, using a chair, to turn the light off. But, unlike the Barroso akyat-bahay gang, Webb and his friends did not have anything to do in a darkened garage. They supposedly knew in advance that Carmela left the doors to the kitchen open for them. It did not make sense for Ventura to risk standing on the cars hood and be seen in such an awkward position instead of going straight into the house.

[29] G.R. Nos. 121039-45, January 25, 1999, 302 SCRA 21.

[30] TSN, October 6, 1997, p. 100.

[31] Vide TSN, July 31, 1996, pp. 20-21, 44.

[32] TSN, August 1, 1996, pp. 10, 15.

[33] CA rollo (CA-G.R. SP No. 51173), pp. 209-225, penned by Associate Justice Ricardo P. Galvez, with the concurrence of Associate Justices Antonio M. Martinez and Hilarion L. Aquino.

[34] Rollo, pp. 254-285, G.R. No. 176389.

[35] People v. Rodrigo, G.R. No. 176159, September 11, 2008, 564 SCRA 584, 586.

[36] Records, Vol. 17, pp. 186-196. Webb argued that:

x x x x

7. Since the semen specimen is still in the custody and possession of the NBI, accused Webb moves for the submission of the semen evidence to a DNA analysis by a US-government or US government accredited forensic laboratory, preferably the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C. If granted, accused Webb reserves his right to be presented at all stages of the DNA typing process and to have access to the results thereof.

x x x x

[37] Id. at 502-529.

[38] Records, Vol. 18, pp. 256-259.

[39] G.R. No. 112229, March 18, 1997, 270 SCRA 1, 3.

 

[41] People v. Tajada, G.R. No. 147200, December 17, 2002, 394 SCRA 159, 166; Monteverde v. People, G.R. No. 139610, August 12, 2002, 387 SCRA 196, 215.

[42] People v. Abellanosa, G.R. No. 121195, November 27, 1996, 264 SCRA 722, 746-747.

[43] People v. Peruelo, No. L-50631, June 29, 1981, 105 SCRA 226-238;

[44] People v. Domingo, G.R. No. 184958, September 17, 2009.

[45] G.R. Nos. 138874-75, February 3, 2004, 421 SCRA 530.