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Jurisprudence: G.R. No. 172896 April 19, 2010

SECOND DIVISION

ROÑO SEGURITAN y JARA, v. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES

     G.R. No. 172896  April 19, 2010

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

            In a criminal case, factual findings of the trial court are generally accorded great weight and respect on appeal, especially when such findings are supported by substantial evidence on record.[1]  It is only in exceptional circumstances, such as when the trial court overlooked material and relevant matters, that this Court will re-calibrate and evaluate the factual findings of the court below.  In this case, we hold that the trial court did not overlook such factual matters; consequently, we find no necessity to review, much less, overturn its factual findings.

            This petition for review on certiorari assails the Decision[2] of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated February 24, 2006 in CA-G.R. CR No. 25069 which affirmed with modification the Judgment[3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Aparri, Cagayan, Branch 06 in Criminal Case No. VI-892 finding petitioner Roño Seguritan y Jara guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide.  Likewise impugned is the Resolution[4] dated May 23, 2006 which denied the Motion for Reconsideration.[5]

Factual Antecedents

            On October 1, 1996, petitioner was charged with Homicide in an Information, [6] the accusatory portion of which reads as follows: 

That on or about November 25,1995, in the municipality of Gonzaga, province of Cagayan, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, ROÑO SEGURITAN y JARA alias Ranio, with intent to kill, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously assault, attack and box one Lucrecio Seguritan, inflicting upon the latter head injuries which caused his death.

Contrary to law.


            During the arraignment, petitioner entered a plea of not guilty.   Thereafter, trial ensued.

The Version of the Prosecution

            In the afternoon of November 25, 1995, petitioner was having a drinking session with his uncles Lucrecio Seguritan (Lucrecio), Melchor Panis (Melchor) and Baltazar Panis (Baltazar), in the house of Manuel dela Cruz in Barangay Paradise, Gonzaga, Cagayan.   Petitioner, who was seated beside Lucrecio, claimed that Lucrecio’s carabao entered his farm and destroyed his crops.   A heated discussion thereafter ensued, during which petitioner punched Lucrecio twice as the latter was about to stand up.  Petitioner’s punches landed on Lucrecio’s right and left temple, causing him to fall face-up to the ground and hit a hollow block which was being used as an improvised stove.

            Lucrecio lost consciousness but was revived with the assistance of Baltazar.  Thereafter, Lucrecio rode a tricycle and proceeded to his house in the neighboring barangay of Calayan, Cagayan.  Upon his arrival, his wife noticed blood on his forehead. Lucrecio explained that he was stoned, then went directly to his room and slept.

            At around 9 o’clock in the evening, Lucrecio’s wife and daughter noticed that his complexion has darkened and foamy substance was coming out of his mouth.  Attempts were made to revive Lucrecio but to no avail.  He died that same night.

After the burial of Lucrecio on December 4, 1995, his wife learned of petitioner’s involvement in her husband’s death.  Thus, she sought the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).   NBI Medico-Legal Officer Dr. Antonio Vertido (Dr. Vertido) exhumed Lucrecio’s body and performed the autopsy.  Dr. Vertido found hematomas in the scalp located in the right parietal and left occipital areas, a linear fracture in the right middle fossa, and a subdural hemorrhage in the right and left cerebral hemisphere.  Dr. Vertido concluded that Lucrecio’s cause of death was traumatic head injury.[7]

            On May 21, 1996, Melchor executed a sworn statement before the Gonzaga Police Station recounting the events on that fateful day, including the punching of Lucrecio by petitioner.

            At the time of Lucrecio’s death, he was 51 years old and earned an annual income of P14,000.00 as a farmer.

The Version of the Defense

            Petitioner denied hitting Lucrecio and alleged that the latter died of cardiac arrest.  Petitioner claimed that he suddenly stood up during their heated argument with the intent to punch Lucrecio.   However, since the latter was seated at the opposite end of the bench, Lucrecio lost his balance and fell before he could be hit. Lucrecio’s head hit the improvised stove as a result of which he lost consciousness.

            Petitioner presented Joel Cabebe, the Assistant Registration Officer of Gonzaga, Cagayan, and Dr. Corazon Flor, the Municipal Health Officer of Sta. Teresita, Cagayan, to prove that Lucrecio died of a heart attack.  These witnesses identified the Certificate of Death of Lucrecio and the entry therein which reads: “Antecedent cause: T/C cardiovascular disease.”[8]

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

            On February 5, 2001, the trial court rendered a Decision convicting petitioner of homicide.  The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

       WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide and sentences the accused to an indeterminate sentence of 6 years and 1 day of prision mayor as minimum to 17 years and 4 months of reclusion temporal as maximum. The accused is ordered to pay the heirs of the late Lucrecio Seguritan the amount of P30,000.00 as actual damages and the amount of P135,331.00 as loss of earning capacity and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.[9]


The Decision of the Court of Appeals

            On  appeal,  the CA affirmed  with modification  the Judgment  of the RTC.
Thus:

  WHEREFORE, the judgment appealed from is partly AFFIRMED, WITH MODIFICATION, to read as follows:  The Court finds the accused GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide and sentences the accused to an 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. The accused Roño Seguritan is ordered to pay the heirs of the late Lucrecio Seguritan the amount of P 30,000.00 as actual damages, the amount of P135,331.00 as loss of earning capacity, P 50,000.00 as moral damages and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.[10]


Petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration but it was denied by the CA in its Resolution dated May 23, 2006.

Issues

            Thus, this petition for review raising the following issues:                                              

I
The Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s judgment of conviction.

II
The Court of Appeals erred in convicting the accused of the crime of homicide.[11]

Our Ruling

            The petition is denied.

            Petitioner disputes the conclusion that the fracture on the right middle fossa of the skull, beneath the area where a hematoma developed was due to the blow he delivered because according to the testimony of Dr. Vertido, the fracture may also be caused by one falling from a height.   Petitioner also maintains that the punches he threw at Lucrecio had nothing to do with the fatal head injuries the latter suffered.  According to him, Lucrecio sustained the head injuries when he accidentally hit the hollow block that was used as an improvised stove, after falling from the opposite end of the bench.   Petitioner insists that Lucrecio died due to a fatal heart attack.

            In fine, petitioner contends that the appellate court, in affirming the judgment of the trial court, overlooked material and relevant factual matters which, if considered, would change the outcome of the case.

            We are not persuaded. 

It is on record that Lucrecio suffered two external injuries and one internal injury in his head.  The autopsy report showed that Lucrecio died of internal hemorrhage caused by injuries located at the upper right portion of the head, left side of the center of his head, and a “fracture, linear, right middle fossa, hemorrhage, subdural, right and left cerebral hemisphere.” 

            We find no reason to doubt the findings of the trial court, as affirmed by the appellate court, that petitioner punched Lucrecio twice causing him to fall to the ground.  Melchor categorically testified that petitioner punched Lucrecio twice and as a result, Lucrecio fell to the ground and lost consciousness.  Melchor would not have testified falsely against petitioner, who was his nephew.  He even hesitated to testify as shown by his execution of a sworn statement just after the autopsy of Lucrecio which revealed that the cause of death was traumatic head injury attributed to petitioner. 

            Melchor’s eyewitness account of the fist blows delivered by petitioner to Lucrecio and the manner by which the latter fell from the bench and hit his head on the improvised stove is consistent with the autopsy findings prepared and testified to by Dr. Vertido.  Thus:
          
x x x x
              
Court:
                Q:            What is the right parietal area?
                A:            This is the right parietal area, sir.
                                (Witness pointing to the upper right portion of the head).
                   :            And then the left occipital area, this is left occipital area with a hematoma again measuring 5.0 x 4.0 centimeters, sir.
                                (Witness pointing to the back left part, middle back portion)[12]

                x x x x

Fiscal Feril:
                Q:            What about this which reads “Fracture, linear, right middle fossa”, where is this injury located?

x x x x

Court:
                Q:        Will you point that from your head?
                A:        x x x [A]t the base of the brain of the skull, sir.
                            If you look at the head at the cut portion, the fracture is located on the base of the brain, particularly on the right mid-cranial fossa, sir.[13]

x x x x

Fiscal Feril:
                Q:            Could it be possible that the victim suffered the injuries specifically the fracture while he was falling to the ground, hitting solid objects in the process?
                A:            Well, with regard to the hematomas there is a possibility [that it could be caused by] falling from a height  x x x although it produces hematoma, sir.

Court:
                Q:            Falling from a height?
                A:            Yes, sir.

Fiscal Feril:
                Q:            If an external force is administered to such victim, such as x x x fist blow[s] would it accelerate this force and cause these injuries?
                A:            Definitely it could accelerate, sir.[14]      
We find no merit in petitioner’s argument that he could not be held liable for the head fracture suffered by Lucrecio. The height from which he stood to deliver the fist blows to Lucrecio’s head is sufficient to cause the fracture.

The testimony of Dr. Vertido also ruled out petitioner’s contention that Lucrecio died of a heart attack.  The fact that Lucrecio’s cause of death is internal hemorrhage resulting from the head injuries suffered during his encounter with the petitioner and the certainty that he had no heart problem are evident in the following portion of Dr. Vertido’s testimony:

Atty. Antonio:
                Q:            Did you notice anything unusual in the heart of Lucrecio Seguritan?
                A:            Well, with regard to our examination of the heart Your Honor I limit only the examination on the atomic portion, gross findings, when we say gross findings that can be seen by the eyes and so if for example other that the findings on the brain, if I have not seen my injury from the brain then my next examination to contemplate would be to bring a portion of each particular organ to Manila and have it subjected to a hispathologic examination over the microscope.  But then we found out that there is an injury to the brain so why should I now perform a hispathologic examination on the heart, when in fact there is already a gross finding on the brain, meaning that the cause of death now is of course, this traumatic injury, sir.

Court:
                Q:            Supposed the victim had a heart attack first and then fell down later, can you determine then x x x the cause of death?
                A:            Well, your Honor as I said a while ago I opened up the heart, I examined the heart grossly and there was no findings that would find to a heart attach on its function, the heart was okay and coronaries were not thickened so I said well – grossly there was no heart attack.[15]                         

x x x x

Court:
                Q:            Since you were conducting just a cursory examination of the heart, my question again is that, could you have determined by further examination whether the victim suffered a heart attack before the injuries on the head were inflicted?
                A:            That is why sir, I said, I examined the heart and I found out that there was noting wrong with the heart, and why should I insist on further examining the heart.[16]


The notation in the Certificate of Death of Lucrecio that he died of a heart attack has no weight in evidence.   Dr. Corazon Flor, who signed said document testified that she did not examine the cadaver of Lucrecio.  She stated that a circular governing her profession did not require her to conduct an examination of Lucrecio’s corpse, as long as the informant tells her that it is not a medico-legal case.  Renato Sidantes (Renato), the brother-in-law of Lucrecio who applied for the latter’s death certificate, had no knowledge of the real cause of his death.  Thus, Dr. Flor was mistakenly informed by Renato that the cause of Lucrecio’s death was heart attack.

The petitioner belatedly contends that the delay in the autopsy of Lucrecio’s body and its embalming compromised the results thereof.   To substantiate his claim, he quotes the book entitled Legal Medicine authored by Dr. Pedro Solis, viz:

“a dead body must not be embalmed before the autopsy.  The embalming fluid may render the tissue and blood unfit for toxilogical analyses.  The embalming may alter the gross appearance of the tissues or may result to a wide variety of artifacts that tend to destroy or obscure evidence.”

“the body must be autopsied in the same condition when found at the crime scene.  A delay in the performance may fail or modify the possible findings thereby not serving the interest of justice.”[17]


Petitioner’s reliance on this citation is misplaced.  Petitioner failed to adduce evidence that the one month delay in the autopsy indeed modified the possible findings.   He also failed to substantiate his claim that the embalming fluid rendered the tissue and blood of Lucrecio unfit for toxilogical analysis.

Further, it is settled that courts will only consider as evidence that which has been formally offered.[18]  The allegation that the results of the autopsy are unworthy of credence was based on a book that was neither marked for identification nor formally offered in evidence during the hearing of the case.   Thus, the trial court as well as the appellate court correctly disregarded them.  The prosecution was not even given the opportunity to object as the book or a portion thereof was never offered in evidence.[19]  

A formal offer is necessary since judges are required to base their findings of fact and judgment only – and strictly – upon the evidence offered by the parties at the trial.  To rule otherwise would deprive the opposing party of his chance to examine the document and object to its admissibility.  The appellate court will have difficulty reviewing documents not previously scrutinized by the court below.[20]   Any evidence which a party desires to submit to the courts must be offered formally because a judge must base his findings strictly on the evidence offered by the parties at the trial.[21]

We are not impressed with petitioner’s argument that he should be held liable only for reckless imprudence resulting in homicide due to the absence of intent to kill Lucrecio.   When death resulted, even if there was no intent to kill, the crime is homicide, not just physical injuries, since with respect to crimes of personal violence, the penal law looks particularly to the material results following the unlawful act and holds the aggressor responsible for all the consequences thereof.[22]   Accordingly, Article 4 of the Revised Penal Code provides:

Art. 4.  Criminal liability – Criminal liability shall be incurred:

1. By any person committing a felony (delito) although the wrongful act done be different from that which he intended.

x x x x

              
            Petitioner committed an unlawful act by punching Lucrecio, his uncle who was much older than him, and even if he did not intend to cause the death of Lucrecio, he must be held guilty beyond reasonable doubt for killing him pursuant to the above-quoted provision.  He who is the cause of the cause is the cause of the evil caused.[23]

            Considering the foregoing discussion, we find that both the trial court and the appellate court correctly appreciated the evidence presented before them.  Both courts did not overlook facts and circumstances that would warrant a reevaluation of the evidence.   Accordingly, there is no reason to digress from the settled legal principle that the appellate court will generally not disturb the assessment of the trial court on factual matters considering that the latter as a trier of facts, is in a better position to appreciate the same.

            Further, it is settled that findings of fact of the trial court are accorded greatest respect by the appellate court absent any abuse of discretion.[24]   There being no abuse of discretion in this case, we affirm the factual findings of the trial court.

Penalty and Damages

            The penalty for Homicide under Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code is reclusion temporal the range of which is from 12 years and one day to 20 years.  Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the penalty next lower in degree is prision mayor the range of which is from six years and one day to 12 years.  In this case, we find that the mitigating circumstance of no intention to commit so grave a wrong as that committed, attended the commission of the crime.  Thus, the appellate court correctly imposed the indeterminate penalty of six years and one day of prision mayor, as minimum, to 12 years and one day of reclusion temporal, as maximum. 

            As regards the amount of damages, civil indemnity must also be awarded to the heirs of Lucrecio without need of proof other than the fact that a crime was committed resulting in the death of the victim and that petitioner was responsible therefor.[25]     Accordingly, we award the sum of P50,000.00 in line with current jurisprudence.[26]

            The award of P135,331.00 for the loss of earning capacity was also in order.[27]  The prosecution satisfactorily proved that the victim was earning an annual income of P14,000.00 from the harvest of pineapples.  Besides, the defense no longer impugned this award of the trial court.

            However, the other awards of damages must be modified.   It is error for the trial court and the appellate court to award actual damages of P30,000.00 for the expenses incurred for the death of the victim.  We perused the records and did not find evidence to support the plea for actual damages.   The expenses incurred in connection with the death, wake and burial of Lucrecio cannot be sustained without any tangible document to support such claim.   While expenses were incurred in connection with the death of Lucrecio, actual damages cannot be awarded as they are not supported by receipts.[28]

            In lieu of actual damages, the heirs of the victim can still be awarded temperate damages.  When pecuniary loss has been suffered but the amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proven with certainty, temperate damages may be recovered.   Temperate damages may be allowed in cases where from the nature of the case, definite proof of pecuniary loss cannot be adduced, although the court is convinced that the aggrieved party suffered some pecuniary loss.[29]  In this regard, the amount of P25,000.00 is in accordance with recent jurisprudence.[30]

            Moral damages was correctly awarded to the heirs of the victim without need of proof other than the fact that a crime was committed resulting in the death of the victim and that the accused was responsible therefor.[31]  The award of P50,000.00 as moral damages conforms to existing jurisprudence.[32]

            WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.   The Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 25069 finding petitioner Roño Seguritan y Jara guilty of homicide and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of six years and one day of prision mayor as minimum, to 12 years and one day of reclusion temporal as maximum, and to pay the heirs of Lucrecio Seguritan the amounts of P50,000.00 as moral damages and P135,331.00  as loss of earning capacity is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION that petitioner is further ordered to pay P25,000.00 as temperate damages in lieu of actual damages, and P50,000.00 as civil indemnity.

            SO ORDERED.

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