Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Circumstantial evidence not appreciated by the Court- "The question in this case is whether the circumstances from which the trial court drew its conclusion have been duly proven by the prosecution and, if so, whether, taken together, they support a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. If some of the circumstances have not been duly established, the further question is whether the remaining ones are nevertheless sufficient to produce such conviction beyond reasonable doubt."

See - https://lawphil.net/judjuris/juri1999/may1999/gr_129723_1999.html

G.R. No. 129723 May 19, 1999, En Banc.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
DANILO MORADA y TUMLOD, accused-appellant.

"x x x.

In convicting accused-appellant, the trial court relied on the following circumstances as constituting an unbroken chain leading to the conclusion that accused-appellant was the author of the crime:

1. In the scene of the crime the accused's pair of slippers with thumbtacks on them was found. This was positively identified as belonging to the accused by Eric Navidad, a younger brother of the victim and the first person who discovered the victim's body. Alejandro Dela Cruz, likewise, identified the same subject slippers having seen them during a hide-and-seek game in the wake of his dead father while Joel Avenda, accused's half brother, also identified the accused as the owner of the same pair of slippers.

2. Accused was seen by Christopher Saliva coming from the scene of the crime carrying with him a bolo and reacted as if he saw a ghost and turned pale when he saw Saliva. Accused was then wearing a polo shirt with striped design of blue and yellow which matched the blood-stained shirt recovered from a tree beside the nipa house of the accused.

3. From the premises of the accused were recovered a blood-stained yellow and gray striped T-shirt hanging on a tree and one (1) blood-stained bolo about a meter away from the side of the nipa house of the accused. Further, Morada's wife identified the blood-stained T-shirt as belonging to her husband DaniloMorada.

4. The NBI Forensic Chemistry Division laboratory examinations of the blood-stained yellow and gray striped T-shirt and bolo recovered at Danilo Morada's place both gave positive results for human blood.

5. At the police headquarters, accused admitted before barangay captain Edgardo Manimbao that the pair of slippers was actually his and that he was really the one who hacked Jonalyn Navidad because Jonalyn Navidad, according to the jail guard when asked by Manimbao, was very angry at him (Morada) up to the point that she spat on his face.

6. Eric Navidad revealed that Danilo Morada had intimated to him that he (Morada) had an affection for his elder sister when she was still alive even though Morada was a married man. 24

Rule 133, §4 of the Revised Rules on Evidence provides:

Sec. 4. Circumstantial evidence, when sufficient. — Circumstantial evidence is sufficient for conviction if:

(a) There is more than one circumstance;

(b) The facts from which the inference are derived are proven; and

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

The question in this case is whether the circumstances from which the trial court drew its conclusion have been duly proven by the prosecution and, if so, whether, taken together, they support a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. If some of the circumstances have not been duly established, the further question is whether the remaining ones are nevertheless sufficient to produce such conviction beyond reasonable doubt.

First is accused-appellant's alleged confession to Barangay Captain Edgardo Manimbao. Manimbao testified that, after coming from the hospital to see the victim, he returned to the police station and there was told by SPO3 Gomez that accused-appellant wanted to talk to him. Accordingly, he said, he went to see accused-appellant who was then in jail. Accused-appellant allegedly admitted that he had killed the victim. Apparently, the purpose is to show that accused-appellant spontaneously made the confession, that is, not in the course of interrogation by the police. In fact, Manimbao claimed accused-appellant sought him out for a meeting. 25

In People v. Andan, 26 this Court held that the constitutional guarantees during custodial investigation do not apply to spontaneous statements not elicited through questioning by the authorities and given during ordinary conversation or during media interviews, whereby the suspect orally admits the commission of the crime. Our ruling in that case does not, however, authorize the police to obtain confessions they cannot otherwise obtain through media reporters who are acting for the police. The holding in Andan is qualified by the following:

Clearly, appellant's confessions to the news reporters were given free from any undue influence from the police authorities. The news reporters acted as news reporters when they reported when they interviewed appellant. They were not acting under the direction and control of the police. They were to check appellant's confession to the mayor. They did not force appellant to grant them an interview and reenact the commission of the crime. In fact, they asked his permission before interviewing him . . . . 27

In the case at bar, it is doubtful whether, as Manimbao claimed, accused-appellant's confession was given divorced from the police interrogation. In his testimony, SPO3 Gomez stated:

We conducted [oral] interrogation to the suspect. During our [oral] interrogation with the help of Bgy. Captain [Edgardo Manimbao], the suspect admitted to us that he's the one who hacked Jonalyn Navidad. Although we do not reduced [sic] it into writing because of the absen[ce] of [a] lawyer. 28

It would thus appear that Manimbao's conversation with accused-appellant was part of the then ongoing police investigation. In fact, he said it as SPO3 Gomez who told him about the alleged desire of accused-appellant to see him (Manimbao). Since the confession was admittedly given without the safeguards in Art. III, § 12 29 and the additional ones provided in R.A. No. 7438, particularly the requirement that the confession be in writing and duly signed by the suspect in the presence of counsel, we hold that accused-appellant's confession is inadmissible, and it was error for the trial court to use it in convicting accused-appellant.

Moreover, Edgardo Manimbao's testimony as to the circumstances surrounding the confession allegedly given to him is in itself improbable.

First of all, Manimbao did not give a plausible reason why accused-appellant would want to talk to him. He testified that accused-appellant want[ed] to get out of jail. 30 If that were the case, it was very unlikely that accused-appellant would admit his guilt.

Another reason which makes Edgardo Manimbao's account unlikely is his claim that after accused-appellant had confessed to the crime, Manimbao asked the prison guard if accused-appellant had told him (the prison guard) why he killed the victim. 31 Manimbao himself could have asked accused-appellant the question if accused-appellant had really admitted to him the crime. Indeed, if one were to believe the prosecution evidence, it would seem that accused-appellant confessed to the crime to almost everyone: to SPO3 Gomez, to Barangay Captain Manimbao, and to the prison guard. How then could accused-appellant hope to be freed? Manimbao's claim is not only patently improbable; it is even hearsay as far as the alleged information given to him by the prison guard is concerned.

As for the T-shirt and the bolo which SPO3 Gomez and Barangay Captain Edgardo Manimbao said they found near accused-appellant's nipa hut with bloodstains on them, the evidence is doubtful. Accused-appellant admits that the shirt and the bolo are his, but he denies that when they were taken from him on April 13, 1995 they were bloodstained. Indeed, in his testimony in court, Christopher Saliva did not say he saw bloodstains on the shirt which accused-appellant was wearing and the bolo he was carrying. It is improbable that these incriminating pieces of evidence would be left in the premises of accused-appellant's house within public view: the T-shirt, bloodstained, hanging from a tree, and the bolo, also bloodstained, in the yard. The articles in question could only have been left outside the house because, as accused-appellant contends, they had no bloodstains.

Moreover, even if the shirt and the bolo were bloodstained when found by SPO3 Gomez and Barangay Captain Manimbao, it has not been shown that the blood matched the blood type of the victim. As held in People v. Padilla, 32 unless shown that bloodstains on alleged instruments of crime match the blood type of the victim the same cannot sustain conviction of the accused.

The question now is whether, without accused-appellant's alleged confession and the bloodstains on the T-shirt and bolo which were admittedly taken from accused-appellant, there is enough circumstantial evidence to convict him of the killing of Jonalyn Navidad. The remaining evidence consists of circumstances which, according to the trial court, were duly proven, to wit: (1) that accused-appellant was seen near the scene of the crime between 10 and 11 in the morning of the day in question wearing the T-shirt and carrying the bolo which the prosecution presented in evidence and (2) that a pair of slippers was found near the place where the body of the victim was retrieved and the slippers belonged to accused-appellant.

The claim that accused-appellant was near the scene of the crime between 10 and 11 in the morning comes from the testimony of Christopher Saliva. His testimony would be uncorroborated if he did not describe what he allegedly saw accused-appellant wearing and the bolo the latter was supposedly carrying at the time. This part of Saliva's testimony is critical to his claim that he saw accused-appellant because it coincides with the description of the T-shirt 33 and the bolo taken by SPO3 Gomez and Barangay Captain Manimbao from accused-appellant. It appears, however, that Saliva was simply made to say that accused-appellant was wearing the T-shirt and carrying the bolo in question after these articles had been taken from accused-appellant not so much to corroborate Gomez and Manimbao's claim (because after all accused-appellant admits that the articles belonged to him) but rather to give verisimilitude to Saliva's own claim that he had seen accused-appellant near the scene of the crime. Note that Saliva gave his statement to the police only on April 16, 1995, after Gomez and Manimbao had executed a joint statement that they had taken a T-shirt and a bolo, both allegedly bloodstained, from accused-appellant. Saliva said that around 11 in the morning of April 13, 1995 (which means shortly after he had allegedly seen accused-appellant near the scene of the crime), he was told by his cousin, Allan Saquilayan, that Jonalyn Navidad had been killed. Yet, judging by the delay in giving his sworn statement to the police, it appears that it did not immediately occur to him that accused-appellant might have something to do with the killing. This is strange since according to this witness, accused-appellant had a bolo which was bloodstained and turned pale as though surprised while committing something wrong. There is, therefore, doubt whether Christopher Saliva really saw accused-appellant near the scene of the crime at about the time the crime was committed.

It would thus appear that Saliva did not mention in hos sworn statement (Exh. D) that when-accused appellant saw him on April 13, 1995 the latter turned pale and appeared surprised because it is not true Saliva saw accused-appellant, in the same way that Saliva did not mention in his testimony in court that he saw accused-appellant with bloodstained shirt and bloodstained bolo because he really did not see accused-appellant on that day, much less the bloodstain on the shirt and the bolo.

The last piece of evidence mentioned by the trial court constituting a link in a chain of circumstances are the slippers are the slippers (Exhs. B and B-2) which SPO3 Gomez, Barangay Captain Manimbao, and an onlooker, Alejandro de la Cruz, said they found near the place where Jonalyn Navidad was found. These slippers were identified to be those of accused-appellant by Eric Navidad, younger brother of the victim, and Alejandro de la Cruz. Both witnesses said they recognized the slippers because of thumbtacks (Exhs. B-1 and B-3) placed in the middle of the insteps. Actually, the slippers are rubber sandals with Japanese-style straps designed for beachwalk. It is inconceivable why the owner should place thumbtacks in the insteps of his sandals. The thumbtacks could not have been used to hold the straps or fasten them to the sandals because the fact is that the straps had not given way. On the other hand, as accused-appellant pointed out, he would not place the thumbtacks there because they could injure him.

Eric said he saw accused-appellant wearing these sandals while playing basketball and on the occasions he passed by accused-appellant's house. Accuse-appellant would take off his sandals and leave them at the foot of the stairs, and this was how Eric noticed the thumbtacks. Eric Navidad was interviewed at the police station in connection with the killing of his sister. Yet, it does not appear he ever told the police that he recognized the sandals because of the thumbtacks embedded in their insteps. He made this claim only on February 14, 1996 when he testified in court.

On the other hand, Alejandro de la Cruz had an ingenious explanation why he recognized the slippers to be those of accused-appellant because of the thumbtacks embedded in their insteps. He said accused-appellant went to his (Alejandro de la Cruz's) father's wake in January 1995 and, while there, accused-appellant dozed off. In the course of a game, Alejandro de la Cruz said he and his companions hid accused-appellant's sandals. In doing so, he noticed the thumbtacks in question. The story sounds artificial. Alejandro de la Cruz was 33 years old at the time. To drive away boredom would he have played "hide and seek" with other people attending the wake? And did he think it proper to do this (play "hide and seek") even when it was the wake for his own father? The attempt at ingeniousness can only create doubt in his story of how he allegedly came to see thumbtacks embedded in the insteps of accused-appellant's sandals that would later give him away as the author of the crime. Alejandro de la Cruz must be very observant to notice something in otherwise nondescript sandals.

There may indeed be suspicion that accused-appellant is the author of the crime. But our legal culture demands proof beyond reasonable doubt to be established according to law before any person may be deprived of his life, liberty, or even property. We cannot render judgment on the basis of mere guesses, surmises, or suspicion. It is not sufficient for a conviction that the evidence establishes a strong suspicion or a probability of guilt. Before an accused can be convicted, the hypothesis of his guilt must flow naturally from the facts proved and must be consistent with all of them.

x x x."