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Positively identified

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The


Philippine Star) - August 22, 2018 - 12:00am

In the prosecution of crimes, the identity of the accused is important to


prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. There are however some crimes
where the identity of the accused is quite hard to establish because the
eyewitnesses to the event cannot see or have not clearly seen the
assailants. This is true especially in crimes committed during melees or
rumbles between members of warring fraternities which end up in fatal
killings. Sometimes, charges are filed against persons based on mistaken
identity so they still undergo trial, like in this case.
This case involves members of two warring fraternities in a school: the “Lex
Solis,” and “Cinco Estrella.” The incident started at around noontime in the
school canteen near the Main Library. At that time, seven members of
Cinco Estrella fraternity, particularly Glen, Donald, Tim, Martin, Abet, Willy
and Rob were eating lunch there, when a group of 12 men with heads
covered with shirts and handkerchiefs, suddenly charged toward them and
beat them up with baseball bats and lead pipes. Some of the attackers
were seen and identified because their masks fell off. The attack lasted
only for about 45 seconds, but it resulted in serious physical injuries
including the death of Martin who suffered several contusions at the back of
the upper left arm, hematoma on the back of both hands and the skull, and
two lacerations and several fractures at the head that caused intra cranial
hemorrhage. The medico-legal officer who autopsied Martin concluded that
he died of traumatic head injuries.
That same evening, upon advice of the officers of Lex Solis, Glen, Donald,
Tim, Abet and Willy gave their sworn statements before the National
Bureau of Investigation (NBI).  Thereafter, charges were filed against 12
members of the Lex Solis Fraternity, namely, Richard, Jimmy, Vince,
Francis, Chito, Sonny, Noli, Rudy, Bal, Philip, Simon and Peter, for the
murder of Martin; frustrated murder for the injuries sustained by Abet and
Willy; and Attempted murder for the injuries sustained by Donald Tim and
Glen. However only 11 of them were tried as Simon remained at large.

At the trial, Glen, Willy, Abet, Tim and Donald testified for the prosecution
relating what happened to them and pointing to their attackers whom they
saw and identified because their masks fell off or they were not yet wearing
any masks. After the prosecution presented their evidence-in-chief, the
court granted the demurrer to the evidence filed by Peter and dismissed the
charge against him because he was not sufficiently identified and was not
mentioned in any of the documentary evidence of the prosecution.
Then after the trial proper when the accused have likewise testified and
presented their evidence for their defense, Richard, Noli, Rudy, Bal, Philip
and Peter were also acquitted. Only Vince, Francis, Chito, Jimmy and
Sonny were found guilty of murder and attempted murder and sentenced to
suffer imprisonment of reclusion perpetua. They appealed the decision to
the Court of Appeals (CA) which however affirmed it. So they still appealed
to the Supreme Court for review where they contended among others that
both the RTC and the CA’s decision are wrong because they were not
sufficiently identified by the prosecution witnesses. Were they correct?

The SC said no. The trial court correctly held that considering the swiftness
of the incident, there would be slight inconsistencies in the statements of
the witnesses. It is perfectly natural for different witnesses testifying on the
occurrence of a crime to give varying details as there may be some details
which one witness may notice while others may not. The perfect dovetailing
of narration by different witnesses could even mean that their testimonies
were prefabricated and rehearsed. In this case the positive identification of
the accused by the different witnesses of the prosecution was due to the
fact that they either wore no masks or that their masks fell off.
It would be in line with human experience that a victim or an eyewitness to
a crime would endeavor to find ways to identify the assailant so that in the
event that he or she survives, the criminal could be apprehended. It is the
most natural reaction for victims of criminal violence to strive to see the
looks and faces of their assailants and observe the manner in which the
crime was committed. Most often the face of the assailants and their body
movements, create a lasting impression which cannot be easily erased
from memory In the commotion, it is more than likely that the masked
assailants could have lost their masks because it fell off.
Besides, the acquittals made by the trial court of some of the accused
further prove that the decision was made only after a thorough examination
of the evidence presented. The lower court correctly ruled that
inconsistencies and even probabilities are not unusual because there is no
person with perfect faculties or senses.
Furthermore while the general rule is that a witness can testify only on the
facts he personally knows, statements made by him while a startling
occurrence is taking place or immediately prior or subsequent thereto with
respect to circumstances thereof, may be admitted in evidence as part of
the res gestae, or the circumstances, facts and declarations that grow out
of the main fact as to exclude the idea of deliberation and fabrication.
(People vs. Feliciano, Jr. Medalla, Soliva, Zingcapan and Alvir, G.R.
196735, May 5, 2014)