Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court

Manila

 

SECOND DIVISION

 

BENJAMIN JESALVA,

Petitioner,

 

 

 

- versus -

 

 

 

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES,

Respondent.

G.R. No. 187725

Present:

 

CARPIO, J.,

Chairperson,

NACHURA,

PERALTA,

ABAD, and

MENDOZA, JJ.

Promulgated:

January 19, 2011

x------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

 

DECISION

 

NACHURA, J.:

 

Before this Court is a Petition for Review[1] on Certiorari under Rule 45 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking the reversal of the Court of Appeals (CA) Decision[2] dated October 17, 2008, which affirmed with modification the decision[3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Sorsogon, Sorsogon, dated November 18, 1997, finding petitioner Benjamin Jesalva alias Ben Sabaw[4] (petitioner) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide.

The Facts

 

 

On September 11, 1992, the Chief of Police of Sorsogon, Sorsogon, filed a criminal complaint[5] for Frustrated Murder against petitioner. Four days thereafter, or on September 15, 1992, the complaint was amended, charging petitioner with the crime of Murder, as the victim Leticia Aldemo[6] (Leticia) died on September 14, 1992.[7] After conducting a hearing on the bail application of petitioner, the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Sorsogon, Sorsogon, on December 18, 1992, granted him bail.[8] On January 11, 1993, the MTC recommended the filing of Murder against petitioner, and then ordered the transmittal of the records of the case to the Provincial Prosecutor of Sorsogon.[9]

 

Thus, petitioner was charged with the crime of Murder in an Information[10] dated January 26, 1993, which reads:

 

That on or about the 9th day of September, 1992 in the Municipality of Sorsogon, Province of Sorsogon, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to kill, taking advantage of superior strength, with treachery and evident premeditation with the use of motor vehicle and during night time, did then and there [wilfully], unlawfully and feloniously attack, assault, manhandle and use personal violence upon [Leticia] Aldemo, inflicting upon the latter serious and mortal wounds which directly caused her death shortly thereafter, to the damage and prejudice of her legal heirs.

 

CONTRARY TO LAW.

 

 

 

When arraigned on March 1, 1993, petitioner entered a plea of not guilty to the offense charged.[11] Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued. In the course of the trial, two varying versions arose.

 

Version of the Prosecution

 

 

The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are essentially summarized by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as follows:

 

In the evening of September 8, 1992, witness Gloria Haboc, together with the victim Leticia Aldemo, Benjamin Jesalva (petitioner), Elog Ubaldo,[12] Jo Montales and Romy Paladin were at Nenas place playing mahjong. A certain Mrs. Encinas and Atty. Alibanto were also there. At about 10 oclock that night, Glorias group left Nenas place and boarded the Isuzu panel of petitioner. With the exception of Jo Montales, the group proceeded to Bistro Christina to eat and drink. While Gloria had softdrink, Leticia drank two (2) bottles of beer, and the rest consumed beer and [F]undador until 11:30 in the evening.

 

After they ate and drank, the group, with the exception of Elog Ubaldo who flagged down a tricycle, once again boarded petitioners Isuzu panel as it was usually petitioner who drove them home. The victim Leticia Aldemo was seated at the front seat. Petitioner dropped Romy Paladin at his house first, followed by Gloria, who resided some 20 meters away from Leticias house. While at Glorias house, petitioner wanted to drink some more but Gloria told him to defer it until the next day because the stores were already closed. Gloria then gave Leticia three (3) sticks of barbecue and accompanied her and petitioner at the gate. After petitioner and Leticia boarded the Isuzu [panel], the former immediately accelerated his car and went to the direction of 6th Street instead of towards 7th Street where Leticias house was situated.

 

At about 12:20 early morning of September 9, 1992, the group of SPO1 Edgardo Mendoza (SPO1 Mendoza) of the Sorsogon PNP Mobile Patrol Section chanced upon petitioners Isuzu [panel] in St. Rafael Subdivision in [Our Ladys Village] OLV, Pangpang, Sorsogon. The police patrol team approached the vehicle and SPO1 Mendoza focused a flashlight at the front portion of the vehicle to check what was going on. There, SPO1 Mendoza saw petitioner whom he knew since childhood seated in front of the wheel so he called out his name. Instead of heeding his call, however, petitioner did not respond, immediately started the engine and sped away toward Sorsogon town proper which is directly opposite his place of residence which is Ticol, Sorsogon, Sorsogon.

At about the same time that night, Noel Olbes, a driver for the MCST Sisters holding office at the Bishops Compound in Sorsogon, Sorsogon, was also in OLV Pangpang. While he was walking from a certain Leas house, he saw a woman naked from the waist down and lying on her belly on the highway. Her jeans and [panty] were beside her. Because it was raining, Olbes pitied her so he carried her and her things to the shed some 10 meters away. As he was doing so, a tricycle being driven by Eduardo De Vera focused its headlight in his direction. De Vera called out, What is that? Because he received no response from Noel Olbes, he decided to bring his passenger home first and just come back to check the site later.

 

Meanwhile, upon reaching the shed, Olbes noticed that the woman was bleeding that he even got stained with her blood. Afraid that he might be implicated, he hurriedly left the woman at Hazelwood such that when De Vera came back, he no longer found Olbes. De Vera then proceeded to the police station to report the incident to [SPO1] Balaoro.

 

De Vera, SPO1 Balaoro and SPO1 Sincua eventually returned to comb the area but to no avail. On their way back at about 1:15 oclock (sic) in the morning, they met Lt. Caguia talking with Noel Olbes. De Vera lost no time in identifying him to be the man he saw with the woman. At this point, Olbes admitted the allegation but professed innocence. He admitted he left the woman in Hazelwood where the police found her.

 

Eventually, Olbes was investigated by the police and was not released until the next day. However, because the evidence pointed to petitioner as the last person seen with the victim, a search for him was conducted. He surrendered at one (1) oclock in the afternoon accompanied by Fiscal Jose Jayona, his first cousin.[13]

 

 

The prosecution highlighted that, per testimony of Gloria Haboc, Leticia disclosed to her that petitioner was courting Leticia. However, Leticia told petitioner that they should just remain as friends because she was already married, and that she loved her handsome husband.[14] Moreover, the prosecution asseverated that, at around 12:20 a.m. of September 9, 1992, while conducting patrol in St. Rafael Subdivision, [15] together with other police officers, Senior Police Officer 1 Edgardo Mendoza (SPO1 Mendoza), by using his flashlight, saw petitioner on board his vehicle alone. Upon sight, petitioner immediately started his vehicle and drove toward the town proper of Sorsogon, which was directly opposite his residence in Ticol, Sorsogon, disregarding SPO1 Mendozas calls.[16] Lastly, at about 1:00 p.m. of September 9, 1992, petitioner, together with his first cousin Fiscal Jose Jayona (Fiscal Jayona), went to the police station, wherein he voluntarily intimated to SPO4 William Desder (SPO4 Desder) that Leticia jumped out of his vehicle.[17] At about 1:20 p.m. of September 9, 1992, SPO2 Enrique Renoria, together with other police officers, Fiscal Jayona, and petitioner inspected the place, which petitioner identified as the place where he and Leticia sat. They found bloodstains thereat.[18]

 

 

After the prosecution presented twelve (12) witnesses, the defense moved for leave of court to file demurrer to evidence. On February 21, 1994, the defense filed before the RTC, Branch 51, its Demurrer to Evidence,[19] which the RTC, Branch 51, denied in its Order[20] dated July 8, 1994. On August 11, 1994, the defense filed a Motion[21] for Reconsideration of the Order dated July 8, 1994 and Inhibition of Presiding Judge, which the prosecution opposed. The Presiding Judge of the RTC, Branch 51, voluntarily inhibited himself from taking any further action in the case;[22] hence, the case was re-raffled to the RTC, Branch 52. Acting on the pending Motion for Reconsideration of the defense, the Presiding Judge of the RTC, Branch 52, denied the same and set the reception of evidence of the defense.[23]

 

Version of the Defense

 

 

In his relatively short stint on the witness stand, petitioner denied that he killed Leticia. He testified that he did not have any reason to kill her, and that he had many reasons why he should not kill her.[24] The prosecution manifested that it would not conduct a cross-examination on the person of petitioner as his testimony was tantamount to pure denial.[25] To prove that there was a broken chain of circumstantial evidence, the defense presented, as witness, Eduardo de Vera. The CA narrated:

 

12. Eduardo de Vera declared that on September 9, 1992 at about 12:30 a.m., he was driving his tricycle en route to OLV, Pangpang, Sorsogon; upon reaching the junction of the national road or highway, he saw a man and a woman three meters from the edge of the road; he stopped his tricycle and focused the headlight of his tricycle towards the two; he saw the woman leaning on the left arm of the man while the man was on a squatting position; he asked them what is that? and did not get any response; that the man was hiding his face and saw little blood on the clothes of the woman; he saw the woman with clothes, a polo shirt and pants; he decided to bring home his passenger home (sic) first and then returned to the scene but found no one there; he reported the matter to [SPO1] Balaoro, who immediately accompanied him to the place; they searched for the man and woman but they could not find them; they checked the Sorsogon Provincial Hospital but nobody had been brought there; then they proceeded back to the junction and later to the Sorsogon town proper; upon reaching Barangay Tugos, they saw [Lt.] Caguia talking with a man, whom he (De Vera) recognized as the man with the woman; [Lt.] Caguia directed the man to go to Police Sub-Station 1; at the police Sub-Station 1, he came to know the name of the man Noel Olbes; he saw bloodstains on Olbes arms, hands, face and nose; the police interrogated him about it and he replied that he just helped the woman.

 

On cross-examination, he admitted that he has known [petitioner] for a longtime; and he has good relationship with him; [petitioner] was his bondsman in Criminal Case No. 95-3989 for illegal possession of firearms and because of this, he is indebted to him and he thus wants to repay his gratitude to [petitioner]; [petitioner] requested him to be a witness in the case.[26]

 

 

Relative to the subsequent events, the CA summarized the testimonies of SPO1 Eduardo Balaoro and Noel Olbes (Olbes), as follows:

 

6. SPO1 Eduardo Balaoro essayed that at around 1:00 a.m. of September 9, 1992, Eduardo De Vera reported to him at the Police Sub-Station 1 that he saw a man, who was in squatting position, and a woman, who had blood on the upper right breast of her clothes, lean[ing] against the man and that after De Vera brought his tricycle passenger home, he returned to the site but he could not find the two anymore; upon receiving the report, he (SPO1 Balaoro), together with SPO1 Sincua and De Vera, proceeded to the diversion road, at the junction going to the hospital and Pangpang, Sorsogon, Sorsogon to investigate; they searched the place and went to the hospital but found nothing; on their way back, at around 1:15 [a.m.] they saw Noel Olbes talking with Lt. Caguia at Barangay Tugos; De Vera pointed to Olbes as the man he saw with the woman at the crossing so they brought him to Police Sub-Station 1 for investigation; Olbes told them that he saw the woman lying on the side of the road so he tried to lift her up but when he saw the tricycle (De Veras) he became afraid as he might be implicated in the crime so he brought her to Hazelwood, which is five meters away from the highway; at 2:25 a.m. the patrol team found Leticia Aldemo, whom they found naked from the waist down; at the garage of Hazelwood; they found the long pants of the victim lying beside her and noted that her panty was still on one of her knees; the victims body appeared to have been laid down; they did not find any blood in the garage except where the victims body was found outside the garage, they saw the other pair of shoes of a woman and thick bloodstains; he (SPO1 Balaoro) brought Olbes to Balogo station and entrusted him to their investigator.

 

7. Noel Olbes testified that he is a driver for the MCST Sisters who are holding office at the Bishops Compound in Sorsogon, Sorsogon; that on September 8, 1997, he went out with his friends Danny, Oca and Ely in Almendras to drink a bottle of gin; at around 6:30 p.m. he went to downtown Sorsogon and roamed around until 10:30 p.m.; then he went to Bahay Kainan and at about 11:00 or 11:30 p.m., he went to Pena Fast Food and took a bottle of beer; upon the invitation of Lea, he went inside Pena and drank another bottle of beer; he brought Lea to her home at OLV, Pangpang, Sorsogon, Sorsogon; from Leas house, he walked and upon reaching the junction of OLV, he saw a woman lying on her belly naked from the waist down; the woman was just uttering guttural sound; her jeans and panty were just lying beside her; taking pity on the woman and since it was raining that night, he carried the woman to a nearby shed in order that she would not be run over by motor vehicles; he also took the panty and the jeans to the shed; he noticed that a tricycle stopped for a while and focused its headlight on them and proceeded on its way; when he laid down the woman in the shed, he noticed that she was bleeding and he was stained with her blood; after seeing the blood, he got scared and left; he walked towards the Sorsogon town proper and after about forty-five minutes, two policem[e]n apprehended him and brought him to the police station for investigation; while being investigated, he was not apprised of his constitutional rights and made to sign the police blotter; he was detained as he was a suspect for the injuries of the victim; after 7 or 8 hours, he was released; and he executed a Sworn Statement and affirmed its contents.[27]

 

 

Dr. Antonio Dioneda, Jr.[28] and Dr. Wilhelmino Abrantes (Dr. Abrantes) testified on the injuries suffered by Leticia, which eventually caused her death:

 

9. Dr. Antonio Dionedas testified that he encountered on September 9, 1992 a patient by the name of Leticia Aldemo, who was in comatose state; she sustained the following injuries (1) severe cerebral contusion; (2) 2.5 cm punctured wound, occipital area (3) .5 cm punctured wound, parietal left area[;] (4) multiple contusion hematoma antero lateral aspect deltoid left area[;] (5) contusion hematoma 3rd upper left arm; (6) contusion hematoma left elbow[;] (7) abrasion left elbow[;] (8) hematoma, 3rd left thigh[;] (9) abrasion right knee[;] (10) multiple confluent abrasion right foot[;] (11) contusion hematoma right hand[;] (12) abrasion right elbow[;] (13) contusion hematoma right elbow[;] and (14) skull-segmented fracture parietal bone with separation.

 

He explained that the punctured wound in the occipital area (lower back of the skull) was caused by a pebble which they recovered from said area; the punctured wound on the parietal left area was caused by a sharp object and may have been secondary to a fall on a rough surface; the first three findings could also have been caused by the punch made by the perpetrator; the fourth finding could have been caused by a blunt instrument or a punch or a strong grip; the fifth and the sixth findings could have been caused also by some of the above-mentioned means; the eighth finding could have been caused by a fall or rubbing on a hard object; the ninth finding could have been caused by a blunt instrument or a fist blow while the tenth finding could have been caused by a fall on a rough object and the knee rubbing on a rough object; the eleventh finding could have been due to a fall or by being dragged; the twelfth finding could be caused by a blunt instrument or by a fall or by fist blow and the thirteenth finding could also be caused by a fall or fist blow.

 

He stated [that] the victim died despite the operation he performed on her.

 

x x x x

 

14. Dr. Wilhelmino Abrantes He explained the different kinds of injuries sustained by the victim. In addition, he stated that since there were wounds sustained by the victim in the dorsum part of the foot and sustained injuries on both knees, upper portion of the back of the hand, the victim could have been thrown off while unconscious.[29]


The RTCs Ruling

 

 

On November 18, 1997, the RTC ruled in favor of the prosecution, finding petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt based on circumstantial evidence, not of the crime of Murder, but of Homicide. The RTC ratiocinated that, in the absence of any direct evidence or testimonies of eyewitnesses, treachery was not established, and that evident premeditation and abuse of superior strength were not duly proven. Thus, the RTC disposed of the case in this wise:

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds the accused Benjamin Jesalva alias Ben Sabaw guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Homicide penalized under Art. 249 of the Revised Penal Code and considering that there was no aggravating nor mitigating circumstances attendant thereto and taking into consideration the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the court hereby sentences the accused to suffer the indeterminate penalty of eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor as minimum to twelve (12) years and one (1) day of reclusion temporal as maximum and to pay death indemnity of the sum of P50,000.00 to the legal heirs of the victim, plus P42,755.45 for compensatory damages plus P50,000.00 by way of moral damages and P10,000.00 as attorneys fees (People v. Aguiluz, March 11, 1992).

 

SO ORDERED.[30]

 

Aggrieved, petitioner appealed to the CA.[31]

 

 

The CAs Ruling

 

 

On October 17, 2008, the CA pertinently held, among others, that petitioner could not point to Olbes as the culprit because, when Eduardo de Vera saw the former holding on to Leticia in a squatting position, Olbes was in the act of lifting her in order to bring her to the nearby shed. The CA opined that, if any misdeed or omission could be attributed to Olbes, it was his failure to bring Leticia to a nearby hospital, because his fear of being implicated in the crime clouded his better judgment. Thus:

 

All told, We find that the prosecutions evidence suffice to sustain the accused-appellants conviction for homicide.

 

As to the award of attorneys fees, We find the award of P10,000.00 by the trial court meritorious, the records reveal that services of private prosecutor was engaged.

 

Under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code, homicide is punishable by reclusion temporal. With the attendant mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender of accused-appellant, the penalty reclusion temporal is imposed in its minimum period. Accordingly, accused-appellant Benjamin J. Jesalva should suffer the indeterminate penalty of TWELVE (12) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of reclusion temporal as maximum and SIX (6) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of prision mayor as minimum.

 

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Sorsogon, Sorsogon, Branch 52 dated November 18, 1997 in Criminal Case No. 3243 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as to the penalty.

 

Accused-appellant Benjamin J. Jesalva is sentenced to serve the indeterminate penalty of SIX (6) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of prision mayor, as minimum, to TWELVE (12) YEARS and ONE (1) DAY of reclusion temporal, as maximum.

SO ORDERED.[32]

 

Undaunted, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration,[33] which the CA, however, denied in its Resolution[34] dated April 7, 2009 for lack of merit.

 

Hence, this Petition based on the following grounds:

 

A)          THE COURT OF APPEALS AND RTC DECISIONS CONVICTING PETITIONER OF THE CRIME OF HOMICIDE BASED ON PURELY CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE WERE BOTH NOT IN ACCORD WITH ESTABLISHED JURISPRUDENCE REQUIRING THAT SUCH BE ACTED WITH CAUTION AND THAT ALL THE ESSENTIAL FACTS MUST BE CONSISTENT WITH THE HYPOTHESIS OF GUILT; AND

 

B)          THE COURT OF APPEALS, AS WELL AS THE TRIAL COURT, SERIOUSLY ERRED IN RULING THAT STATEMENTS MADE BY PETITIONER IN THE POLICE STATION WERE ADMISSIBLE AS HE WAS THEN NOT UNDER CUSTODIAL INVESTIGATION DESPITE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE ON RECORD THAT HE WOULD HAVE BEEN DETAINED BY THE POLICE HAD HIS FISCAL-COMPANION NOT [TAKEN] HIM UNDER HIS CUSTODY.[35]

 

Petitioner argues that no evidence was ever introduced as to how, when, and where Leticia sustained her injuries. No witness ever testified as to who was responsible for her injuries. He refutes the prosecutions contention that, even if he took the 6th Street, the same could still lead to the 7th Street, where Leticias house is located. Petitioner stresses that Olbes should have been considered as a suspect in this case, considering that he was the last person seen with Leticia when she was still alive. He avers that the statements he made at the police station are not admissible in evidence, considering that he was, technically, under custodial investigation, and that there was no waiver of his right to remain silent.[36] Moreover, petitioner alleges that the fatal injuries sustained by Leticia, per the testimony of Dr. Abrantes, are consistent with a fall, thereby suggesting petitioners innocence. Petitioner claims that the evidence shows that there was more blood in Hazelwood than in the place where Olbes spotted Leticia, thereby suggesting that something worse than her jumping out of the vehicle might have happened.[37]

 

 

On the other hand, respondent People of the Philippines, through the OSG, argues that only questions of law may be entertained by this Court, and that we accord great respect to factual findings of the trial court especially when affirmed by the CA. The OSG insists that the CA, affirming the RTCs ruling, did not err in convicting petitioner on the basis of circumstantial evidence, because the particular circumstances enumerated by both the RTC and the CA satisfactorily meet the requirements of the rules and of jurisprudence for conviction. Moreover, the OSG claims that the statements made by petitioner before SPO4 Desder, in the presence of Fiscal Jayona, were voluntarily given and were not elicited on custodial investigation. Lastly, the OSG counters that petitioner was not deprived of his rights since he was never held for questioning by any police officer upon arriving at the police station and, besides, he was accompanied by his first cousin, Fiscal Jayona.[38]

 

Our Ruling

 

The Petition is bereft of merit.

 

Custodial investigation refers to any questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way. This presupposes that he is suspected of having committed a crime and that the investigator is trying to elicit information or a confession from him.[39] The rule begins to operate at once, as soon as the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime, and direction is aimed upon a particular suspect who has been taken into custody and to whom the police would then direct interrogatory questions which tend to elicit incriminating statements.[40] The assailed statements herein were spontaneously made by petitioner and were not at all elicited through questioning. It was established that petitioner, together with his cousin Fiscal Jayona, personally went to the police station and voluntarily made the statement that Leticia jumped out of his vehicle at around 12:30 a.m. of September 9, 1992.[41] The RTC and the CA did not, therefore, err in holding that the constitutional procedure for custodial investigation is not applicable in the instant case.

 

Be that as it may, even without these statements, petitioner could still be convicted of the crime of Homicide. The prosecution established his complicity in the crime through circumstantial evidence, which were credible and sufficient, and which led to the inescapable conclusion that petitioner committed the said crime. Indeed, when considered in their totality, the circumstances point to petitioner as the culprit.

 

Direct evidence of the commission of the crime charged is not the only matrix wherefrom a court may draw its conclusions and findings of guilt. There are instances when, although a witness may not have actually witnessed the commission of a crime, he may still be able to positively identify a suspect or accused as the perpetrator of a crime as when, for instance, the latter is the person last seen with the victim immediately before and right after the commission of the crime. This is the type of positive identification, which forms part of circumstantial evidence. In the absence of direct evidence, the prosecution may resort to adducing circumstantial evidence to discharge its burden. Crimes are usually committed in secret and under condition where concealment is highly probable. If direct evidence is insisted upon under all circumstances, the guilt of vicious felons who committed heinous crimes in secret or in secluded places will be hard, if not well-nigh impossible, to prove.[42]

 

Thus, there can be a verdict of conviction based on circumstantial evidence when the circumstances proved form an unbroken chain which leads to a fair and reasonable conclusion pinpointing the accused, to the exclusion of all the others, as the perpetrator of the crime. However, in order that circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to convict, the same must comply with these essential requisites, viz.: (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.[43]

 

We accord respect to the following findings of the CA, affirming those of the RTC:

 

After a thorough review of the records of the case, We find that the circumstantial evidence proved by the prosecution, when viewed in its entirety, points unerringly to [petitioner] Benjamin Jesalva as the person responsible for the death of the victim Leticia Aldemo. Truly, the following combination of the circumstances which comprised such evidence forms an unbroken chain that points to [petitioner] and no other, as the perpetrator of the crime, to wit:

 

1. [Petitioner] Benjamin Jesalva (who was previously courting the victim Leticia Aldemo, and whom the latter advised to stop as she was already married) together with Gloria Haboc, and six other individuals left Nena Ables house at 10 p.m. of September 8, 1992 after playing mahjong thereat. They rode in [petitioners] red panel.

 

2. Benjamin Jesalva, Leticia Aldemo, Gloria Haboc and two others proceeded to Bistro Christina. [Petitioner], together with other two male companions, consumed one bottle of Fundador, in addition to the three bottles of beer. At 11:30 p.m., the group left the place.

 

3. After dropping one male companion at his house, Benjamin Jesalva, together with Leticia Aldemo, proceeded to bring Gloria Haboc to her home, which was only twenty meters away from Leticias residence.

 

4. After staying at Gloria Habocs house for five minutes, and denied another drink, Benjamin Jesalva immediately accelerated his vehicle en route to 6th Street instead of the shorter and direct route, the 7th street, where Leticia Aldemos house is located;

 

5. Leticia Aldemo never reached home as testified by her husband Efren Aldemo;

 

6. At around 12:20 a.m. of September 9, 1992, the police patrolling the St. Ra[f]ael Subdivision saw the red panel thereat and when they approached and beamed a flashlight, they saw Benjamin Jesalva behind the wheel, who suddenly drove away in the direction of Sorsogon town proper, opposite to where he lives. SPO1 Eduardo Mendoza told Benjamin Jesalva (whom he had known since his teen-age years) to stop but the latter did not respond or heed his call;

 

7. At 12:30 oclock (sic) of even date, Noel Olbes saw the body of Leticia Aldemo sprawled on her belly at the crossing/junction of OLV, Pangpang Sorsogon, Sorsogon, naked from the waist down. He lifted her up and brought the body at Hazelwood, which is about 10 meters away from the highway.

 

8. The police found the body of the victim at Hazelwood at around 2:15 a.m. of the same day, and brought her to the Sorsogon Provincial Hospital in comatose condition.

 

9. The police proceeded to inform the victims sister, who in turn informed the victims husband of the incident.

 

10. In the morning of September 9, 1992, the police looked for Benjamin Jesalva to invite him at the police station but was not able to find him.

 

11.        At around 1:00 oclock p.m. of September 9, 1992, Benjamin Jesalva, together with his first cousin, Asst. Prosecutor Jose Jayona, presented himself at the PNP Sorsogon, Sorsogon headquarters, where he voluntarily stated that the victim Leticia Aldemo was his passenger in his vehicle at about 12:30 in the early morning of September 9, 1992 at St. Rafael Subdivision but upon reaching the crossing of OLV, Pangpang, Sorsogon, Sorsogon near the Provincial Hospital, she jumped out of his vehicle. These declarations were recorded in the police blotter by PO1 Enrique [Renoria] upon the instruction of SPO4 William Desder, the PNP Sorsogon Chief Investigator.

 

12. At about 1:30 p.m. of the same day, a police team, together with [petitioner] and Asst. Prosecutor Jayona, went to St. Ra[f]ael Subdivision to conduct an ocular inspection. [Petitioner] pointed to the police the place where he and the victim spent their time. The police photographed what appear[ed] to be bloodstains just two meters away from the place pointed by [petitioner].

13. Dr. Antonio Dioneda testified that the punctured wound in the occipital area was caused by a pebble which he recovered from said area; the punctured wound in the parietal left area was caused by a sharp object and may have been secondary to a fall on a rough surface, the cerebral contusion, the punctured wound in the occipital and in the parietal area could also be caused by a punch by the perpetrator. As to the multiple contusion hematoma anterior lateral aspect of the deltoid left area was caused by a blunt instrument or a punch or a strong grip; the contusion hematoma on the upper left arm and left elbow could as well be similarly caused by a blunt instrument or a punch or a strong grip. As to the abrasion on the right knee, the same could have been caused by a blunt instrument or a fist blow. The multiple confluent abrasion[s] on the right foot could have been caused by a fall on a rough object. The abrasions on the right elbow could have been caused by a blunt instrument or by a fall or by a fist blow. The same is true with the contusion hematoma found on the victims right elbow.[44]

 

Petitioners mere denial cannot outweigh the circumstantial evidence clearly establishing his culpability in the crime charged. It is well-settled that the positive declarations of a prosecution witness prevail over the bare denials of an accused. The evidence for the prosecution was found by both the RTC and the CA to be sufficient and credible, while petitioners defense of denial was weak, self-serving, speculative, and uncorroborated. Petitioners silence as to the matters that occurred during the time he was alone with Leticia is deafening. An accused can only be exonerated if the prosecution fails to meet the quantum of proof required to overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence. We find that the prosecution has met this quantum of proof in this case.[45]

 

All told, we find no reversible error in the assailed CA decision which would warrant the modification much less the reversal thereof.

 

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED, and the Court of Appeals Decision dated October 17, 2008 in CA-G.R. CR No. 22126, affirming with modification the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 52, Sorsogon, Sorsogon, in Criminal Case No. 3243, is hereby AFFIRMED. Costs against petitioner.

 

SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson

 

 

 

 

 

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

A T T E S T A T I O N

 

I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

Chairperson, Second Division

 

 

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

 

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairperson's Attestation, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

 

 

 

RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 



[1] Rollo, pp. 9-26.

[2] Penned by Associate Justice Regalado E. Maambong, with Associate Justices Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa and Ramon M. Bato, Jr., concurring; id. at 29-64.

[3] CA rollo, pp. 104-119.

[4] Also referred to as Ben Jesalva in some pleadings and documents.

[5] Records, p. 1.

[6] Also referred to as Letecia Aldemo and Letty Aldemo in some pleadings and documents.

[7] Records, p. 12.

[8] Id. at 101-109.

[9] Id. at 122-123.

[10] Id. at 125.

[11] Id. at 141.

[12] Also referred to as Ilog Ubaldo in some pleadings and documents.

[13] Rollo, pp. 77-80.

[14] TSN, March 20, 1996, pp. 27-28.

[15] Also referred to as St. Raphael Subdivision in some pleadings and documents.

[16] TSN, January 24, 1996, pp. 12-29.

[17] TSN, May 22, 1996, pp. 18-20 and TSN, August 22, 1996, p. 38.

[18] TSN, August 8, 1996, pp. 25-29.

[19] Records, pp. 188-218.

[20] Id. at 229-231.

[21] Id. at 232-234.

[22] Id. at 244.

[23] Id. at 262-263.

[24] TSN, August 23, 1997, p. 7.

[25] Id. at 8-9.

[26] Supra note 2, at 46-48.

[27] Id. at 40-43.

[28] Also referred to as Dr. Antonio Dioneda and Dr. Antonio Dionedas in other pleadings and documents.

[29] Supra note 2, at 44-48.

[30] Supra note 3, at 119.

[31] Records, p. 410.

[32] Supra note 2, at 62-63.

[33] CA rollo, pp. 179-186.

[34] Id. at 221-222.

[35] Supra note 1, at 15.

[36] Supra note 1.

[37] Rollo, pp. 100-102.

[38] Id. at 74-98.

[39] People v. Canton, 442 Phil. 743, 761 (2002).

[40] People v. De la Cruz, 344 Phil. 653, 660-661 (1997).

[41] Supra note 17.

[42] People v. Manalo, G.R. No. 173054, December 6, 2006, 510 SCRA 664, 670.

[43] People v. Matignas, 428 Phil. 834, 869-870 (2002).

 

[44] Supra note 2, at 53-58.

[45] People v. Macabare, G.R. No. 179941, August 25, 2009, 597 SCRA 119, 132.