Criminal Law, Remedial Law

People v. Lobrigas G.R. No. 147649, December 17, 2002 Doctrine of Independently Relevant Statements, Abuse of Superior Strength, Circumstantial Evidence, Res Gestae,

FACTS:

On February 19, 1996, Felix Taylaran, a farmhand of Castor Guden, asked for permission not to work because it was raining and he had to go to the store of Teodorico Mante. At 4:00 p.m., Felix returned to Castor Guden’s house with bruises on his face and injuries all over his body. He told Castor that he was mauled by accused-appellant Frank Lobrigas, accused Marlito Lobrigas and Teodorico Mante at the store. Felix spent the night in Castor’s house. 

Rosa Taylaran Solarte, daughter of the victim, testified that a day after the mauling, her father came to her house and told her that he was beaten up by Frank Lobrigas, Marlito Lobrigas and Teodorico Mante. He told her that he was in pain and felt weak. He then went to the seaside house of Lorie Aguilar, his cousin, to heal his wounds in the saltwater. However, the next day, Felix Taylaran died.

Dr. Tito Miranda conducted an autopsy on the body of the victim and concluded that the immediate cause of death was internal hemorrhage caused by the severe beating and mauling on the chest portion of the victim’s body.

On the other hand, accused-appellant denied the accusation and alleged that he was asleep at the time the incident took place. He admitted that he was at the store of Teodorico Mante having a drinking spree with his companions, and were later joined by the victim, Felix Taylaran. When Felix had too much to drink, he became rowdy and drew his knife. This was snatched from him by Mario Granderos and turned over to Mante, who was a barangay councilman. When Felix left, Mante and Marlito Lobrigas followed him. Accused-appellant stayed behind and lay down on a bench outside the store until he fell asleep. He only learned about the mauling incident later from Mario Granderos.

Frank Lobrigas, Marlito Lobrigas and Teodorico Mante were charged of conspiring, confederating and mutually helping one another in the murder  of one Felix Taylaran, punished under Article 248 of the RPC as amended.

The accused were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged. 

Hence, this appeal.

Accused-appellant contends that there was no direct evidence linking him as one of the assailants.

ISSUE:

Whether or not the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses are sufficient to establish the guilt of accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt.

RULING:

In order to warrant a conviction, direct evidence is not always required. Conviction can be had on the basis of circumstantial evidence if the established circumstances constitute an unbroken chain leading to a fair and reasonable conclusion proving that the appellant is the author of the crime to the exclusion of all others.

The rules on evidence and jurisprudence sustain the conviction of an accused through circumstantial evidence when the following requisites concur: 

(1) there is more than one circumstance; 

(2) the inference must be based on proven facts; and 

(3) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

The circumstances proved by the prosecution and relied upon by the trial court to convict accused-appellant clearly satisfied the foregoing requirements.

The declaration made to Castor Guden are admissible in evidence as part of the res gestae.

A declaration is deemed part of the res gestae and admissible in evidence as an exception to the hearsay rule when the following requisites concur: 

(1) the principal act, the res gestae, is a startling occurrence; 

(2) the statements were made before the declarant had time to contrive or devise; and 

(3) the statements must concern the occurrence in question and its immediately attending circumstances. 

All these requisites concur in the case at bar. The principal act, the mauling of the victim, was a startling occurrence. The declarations were made shortly after the mauling incident while the victim was still under the exciting influence of the startling occurrence, without any prior opportunity to contrive a story implicating accused-appellant. The declaration concerns the circumstances surrounding the mauling of Felix Taylaran.

However, the declaration made by the victim to his daughter does not satisfy the second requirement of spontaneity because they were made a day after the incident and the exciting influence of the startling occurrence was no longer present.

Nevertheless, we hold that Rosa Solarte’s testimony on what her father told her constitutes independent relevant statements distinct from hearsay, and are thus admissible not as to the veracity thereof, but as proof of the fact that they had been uttered.

Under the doctrine of independently relevant statements, only the fact that such statements were made is relevant, and the truth or falsity thereof is immaterial. The hearsay rule does not apply, hence, the statements are admissible as evidence. Evidence as to the making of such statement is not secondary but primary, for the statement itself may constitute a fact in issue or be circumstantially relevant as to the existence of such a fact.

However, we do not agree with the trial court that the crime committed was murder qualified by the aggravating circumstance of abuse of superior strength. To appreciate abuse of superior strength, there must be a deliberate intent on the part of the malefactors to take advantage of their greater number. They must have notoriously selected and made use of superior strength in the commission of the crime. To take advantage of superior strength is to use excessive force that is out of proportion to the means for self-defense available to the person attacked; thus, the prosecution must clearly show the offenders’ deliberate intent to do so. 

There was no clear indication in this case that the accused-appellant and his companions purposely used their joint efforts to consummate the crime. Consequently, the crime committed by accused-appellant was only homicide.

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