PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-appellee,
DANILO FELICIANO, JR., JULIUS VICTOR MEDALLA, CHRISTOPHER SOLIVA, WARREN L. ZINGAPAN, and ROBERT MICHAEL BELTRAN ALVIR, Accused-appellants.
G.R. No. 196735 May 5, 2014
TOPIC: right to be informed of their offenses, disguise, res gestae, treachery
On December 8, 1994, at around 12:30 to 1:00 in the afternoon, seven (7) members of the Sigma Rho fraternity were eating lunch at the Beach House Canteen, near the Main Library of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, when they were attacked by several masked men carrying baseball bats and lead pipes. Some of them sustained injuries that required hospitalization. One of them, Dennis Venturina, died from his injuries.
An information for murder was filed against several members of the Scintilla Juris fraternity and separate informations were also filed against them for the attempted and frustrated murder of Sigma Rho fraternity members.
RTC found Alvir, Feliciano Jr., Soliva, Medalla and Zingapan guilty beyond reasonable doubt of murder and attempted murder. Others were acquitted. The case against Guerrero was ordered archived by the court until his apprehension. CA affirmed RTC’s decision.
- Whether or not accused-appellants’ constitutional rights were violated when the information against them contained the aggravating circumstance of the use of masks despite the prosecution presenting witnesses to prove that the masks fell off
- Whether or not the RTC and CA correctly ruled, on the basis of the evidence, that accused-appellants were sufficiently identified.
FIRST ISSUE: No.
The Court held that an information is sufficient when the accused is fully apprised of the charge against him to enable him to prepare his defense. The argument of appellants that the information filed against them violates their constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against them holds no water. The Court found no merit on the appellants’ arguments that the prosecution should not have included the phrase “wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise” in the information since they were presenting testimonial evidence that not all the accused were wearing masks or that their masks fell off.
It should be remembered that every aggravating circumstance being alleged must be stated in the information. Failure to state an aggravating circumstance, even if duly proven at trial, will not be appreciated as such
It was, therefore, incumbent on the prosecution to state the aggravating circumstance of “wearing masks and/or other forms of disguise” in the information in order for all the evidence, introduced to that effect, to be admissible by the trial court.
In criminal cases, disguise is an aggravating circumstance because, like nighttime, it allows the accused to remain anonymous and unidentifiable as he carries out his crimes.
The introduction of the prosecution of testimonial evidence that tends to prove that the accused were masked but the masks fell off does not prevent them from including disguise as an aggravating circumstance.
What is important in alleging disguise as an aggravating circumstance is that there was a concealment of identity by the accused. The inclusion of disguise in the information was, therefore, enough to sufficiently apprise the accused that in the commission of the offense they were being charged with, they tried to conceal their identity.
The introduction of evidence which shows that some of the accused were not wearing masks is also not violative of their right to be informed of their offenses.
The information charges conspiracy among the accused. Conspiracy presupposes that “the act of one is the act of all.” This would mean all the accused had been one in their plan to conceal their identity even if there was evidence later on to prove that some of them might not have done so.
SECOND ISSUE: Yes.
The Court held that the accused were sufficiently identified by the witnesses for the prosecution. It was held that the trial court, in weighing all the evidence on hand, found the testimonies of the witnesses for the prosecution to be credible. Slight inconsistencies in their statements were immaterial considering the swiftness of the incident.
Evidence as part of the res gestae may be admissible but have little persuasive value in this case
According to the testimony of U.P. Police Officer Salvador, when he arrived at the scene, he interviewed the bystanders who all told him that they could not recognize the attackers since they were all masked. This, it is argued, could be evidence that could be given as part of the res gestae.
There is no doubt that a sudden attack on a group peacefully eating lunch on a school campus is a startling occurrence. Considering that the statements of the bystanders were made immediately after the startling occurrence, they are, in fact, admissible as evidence given in res gestae.
The statements made by the bystanders, although admissible, have little persuasive value since the bystanders could have seen the events transpiring at different vantage points and at different points in time. Even Frisco Capilo, one of the bystanders at the time of the attack, testified that the attackers had their masks on at first, but later on, some remained masked and some were unmasked.
When the bystanders’ testimonies are weighed against those of the victims who witnessed the entirety of the incident from beginning to end at close range, the former become merely corroborative of the fact that an attack occurred. Their account of the incident, therefore, must be given considerably less weight than that of the victims.
Accused-appellants were correctly charged with murder, and there was treachery in the commission of the crime
The victims in this case were eating lunch on campus. They were not at a place where they would be reasonably expected to be on guard for any sudden attack by rival fraternity men.
The victims, who were unarmed, were also attacked with lead pipes and baseball bats. The only way they could parry the blows was with their arms. In a situation where they were unarmed and outnumbered, it would be impossible for them to fight back against the attackers. The attack also happened in less than a minute, which would preclude any possibility of the bystanders being able to help them until after the incident.
The swiftness and the suddenness of the attack gave no opportunity for the victims to retaliate or even to defend themselves. Treachery, therefore, was present in this case.