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G.R. No.

204891, September 14, 2016

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. REYNALDO ABAYON Y APONTE, Appellant.

RESOLUTION

BRION, J.:

We resolve the appeal of accused-appellant Reynaldo Abayon y Aponte (Abayon) assailing the July 20,
2012 decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA), docketed as CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 03195. The CA decision
affirmed the July 31, 2007 decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 275, Las Piñas City, and
ordered him to pay death indemnity to the heirs of Lourdes Chokilo, Aiza Delos Angeles, and Zenaida
Velos.

THE CASE

In an information dated July 29, 2002,3 Abayon was formally charged as follows: ChanRobles Vi rtua lawlib rary

"That on or about the 26th day of July 2002, in the City of Las Piñas, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction
of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with intent to cause damage to property, did then and
there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and deliberately burn or set fire to the house and/or dwelling of
ROBERTO IGNACIO Y ANTONIO and TEODORO DELOS ANGELES Y GOIS causing it to be burned and turned
into ashes and as a result of said fire, victims Lourdes Chokilo, Zenaida Velos and Aiza Delos Angeles who
were then sleeping inside the said house were also burned to death.

CONTRARY TO LAW."
Abayon entered a plea of not guilty when he was arraigned on August 20, 2002.

Trial on the merits followed the pre-trial where Abayon entered into stipulations regarding specified
documentary evidence presented by the prosecution.

The evidence for the prosecution showed that in the evening of July 25, 2002, Abayon and his wife, Arlene,
quarreled outside their residence. Since they rented an apartment adjacent to others, their neighbors
witnessed the entire incident. When Arlene shouted for help because Abayon was strangling her, Corazon
Requitillo (Corazon) and her husband pacified them. Thereafter, Corazon took Arlene's two (2) children
and offered them the safety of her apartment as Abayon was still drunk.

At around 11:00 P.M. of the same day, Abayon's neighbors heard a hissing sound and smelled leaking
gas. When they came out of their houses to check, they saw Abayon holding an LPG gas tank outside his
apartment. Robert Ignacio Antonio (Robert), one of his neighbors and his best friend, approached Abayon
to ask what he was doing. He heard Abayon say, "Putang ina, wala pala ako silbi! Inutil pala ako!"4 He
also noticed that Abayon was holding an unlit cigarette inserted between his left index and middle fingers,
that a match was on his left palm, and that his right hand was turning on and off the gas tank. When he
figured out what Abayon was trying to do, Robert scolded him and said, "Putang ina mo, Boy! Magsusunog
ka, idadamay mo pa kami!"5 After that, he turned off the regulator of the gas tank and brought it to
Corazon's house for safekeeping.

At past midnight of July 26, 2002, the house (containing the units where Abayon and his neighbors live)
started to catch fire. The neighbors came out of their respective units because of the thick smoke and the
heat coming from the fire. As a result, the house was completely burned down along with the personal
effects of the residents. Three (3) persons also died because of the fire,-namely: Lourdes Chokilo, the
owner of the house; Aiza Delos Angeles; and Zenaida Velos.

Expectedly, Abayon denied that he had caused the fire and raised the defense of alibi. He admitted that
he had an altercation with his wife and that he had left after he was pacified by his neighbors. When he
came back, Abayon realized that his wife and children were not at home, so he decided to look for them
at his sister-in-law's place at Trece. Before he left, he brought inside his apartment the LPG tank and the
kitchen stove that had been placed outside. When Abayon saw Robert, he asked him to look after his
house while he searched for his family.

Abayon allegedly left for Trece at around 9 p.m. only to find out when he got there that his family was not
there. He then proceeded to his sister's house in Makati at around 4 a.m. Again, he did not find his family
there. He opted to stay at his sister's place until 8:00 p.m. of July 26, 2002. He was arrested later when
he showed up at his residence.

In its July 31, 2007 decision, the RTC found Abayon guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of arson
resulting in multiple homicide, defined and punished under Sec. 1, in relation to Sec. 5 of P.D. No. 1613,
as amended by R.A. No. 7659. The trial court held that the prosecution successfully established the
elements of the crime charged through circumstantial evidence. It gave no credence to Abayon's denial
because his neighbors — especially his best friend — positively identified him as the person who had earlier
attempted to burn his place down using an LPG gas tank; the fire broke out later and razed the rooms
they were renting.

On appeal, Abayon assailed the RTC decision on the ground that there was no direct evidence showing
that he had started the fire that burned down the house.

In its July 20, 2012 decision, the CA upheld Abayon's conviction based on the RTC's appreciation of the
circumstances proven by the prosecution. The CA held that the proven circumstantial evidence sufficiently
pointed to Abayon as the perpetrator of the crime charged. The CA included an award of death indemnity
worth P50,000.00 each in favor of the heirs of the three (3) victims.

Abayon filed the present appeal to challenge the CA decision.

OUR RULING

We affirm the conviction of Abayon and order him to pay civil damages on top of the death indemnity.

There is no complex crime of arson with (multiple) homicide.

In People v. Malngan,6 we held that there is no complex crime of arson with homicide because the crime
of arson absorbs the resultant death or is a separate crime altogether, to wit:

Accordingly, in cases where both burning and death occur, in order to determine what crime/crimes
chanRoble svirtual Lawlib ra ry

was/were perpetrated - whether arson, murder or arson and homicide/murder, it is de rigueur to ascertain
the main objective of the malefactor: (a) if the main objective is the burning of the building or edifice, but
death results by reason or on the occasion of arson, the crime is simply arson, and the resulting homicide
is absorbed; (b) if, on the other hand, the main objective is to kill a particular person who may be in a
building or edifice, when fire is resorted to as the means to accomplish such goal the crime committed
is murder only; lastly, (c) if the objective is, likewise, to kill a particular person, and in fact the offender
has already done so, but fire is resorted to as a means to cover up the killing, then there are two separate
and distinct crimes committed — homicide/murder and arson.

From the body of the information filed, Abayon is charged with the crime of arson because his intent was
merely to destroy his family's apartment through the use of fire. The resulting deaths that occurred,
therefore, should be absorbed by the crime of arson and only increases the imposable penalty to reclusion
perpetua to death, pursuant to Section 5 of P.D. No. 1613.

The prosecution established the elements of the crime of simple arson through circumstantial
evidence.

Simple arson, defined and punished under Section 1 of P.D. No. 1613, is essentially the destruction of
property by fire that is not under the circumstances enumerated under Article 320 of the Revised Penal
Code, as amended by R.A. No. 7659. In prosecuting arson, whether destructive or simple, the corpus
delicti rule is generally satisfied by proof that a fire occurred, and that it was intentionally caused.7 chan roble slaw

We point out that no one among the prosecution's witnesses actually saw Abayon start the fire. The lower
courts had to resort to circumstantial evidence since there was no direct evidence proving his guilt.

It is settled that in the absence of direct evidence, circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to sustain a
conviction provided that: "(a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inferences
are derived have been proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances results in a moral certainty
that the accused, to the exclusion of all others, is the one who has committed the crime. Thus, to justify
a conviction based on circumstantial evidence, the combination of circumstances must be interwoven in a
way that would leave no reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the accused."8 chanroble slaw

In the present case, the RTC enumerated the following circumstances leading to the unavoidable
conclusion that Abayon set the fire that engulfed not only his apartment but his neighbors' as well: ChanRoble sVirt ualawli bra ry

1. The quarrel of the accused with his wife who must have hurt the accused when she told
him that he was good-for-nothing "walang silbi, inutil;" and shouting at him to leave the
house (lumayas ka);
2. His having muttered audibly, "walang silbi pala ako, inutil pala," indicative of his having
harbored intense hatred for his wife against whom he evidently wanted to get back at by
burning the house;

3. While holding a match, and having opened the gas tank, such that leaking gas smelled
strongly, indicating that plenty of it leaked out when he opened the gas tank;

4. His having been berated by his neighbor and best friend about his intention to burn the
house and his fear that his house, too, will be burned;

5. The failure of the accused's sister to corroborate his defense of alibi;

6. The fact that his best friend, Robert Ignacio, not only did not corroborate his claim that
he entrusted his house to Ignacio, but also and most importantly the testimonial of his
best friend that he opened the gas tank while muttering the words already mentioned,
and while holding a match and unlighted cigarette.9

The CA, for its part, enumerated the following circumstances pointing to Abayon's guilt, as follows: ChanRobles Vi rt ualawlib ra ry

1. On July 25, 2002, at about 9:00 in the evening, neighbors/witnesses heard accused
Reynaldo Abayon y Aponte and his wife Arlene by the road of Block 5, Lot 4, Champaca
Street, Paramount Village, Las Piñas, having a heated argument with the latter shouting
at the accused: "Putang ina mo! Walang silbi! Inutil ka! Lumayas ka dito."

2. Neighbors Corazon Requyitillo and her husband Eduardo came to the aid of the distressed
Arlene when she yelled "saklolo!", as the accused began to strangle her.

3. Thereafter, at around 11:00 in the evening, next room-neighbor Roberto Ignacio y


Antonio and his wife Helen heard a hissing sound and sensed a robust stench of
leaking gas indicating that an abundance of such had indeed seeped out.

4. Roberto Ignacio then proceeded to the place of the accused and saw the latter holding
an unlit cigarette and a match at his left hand while twisting on and off the valve of the
gas tank with his right and slurring the words: "Putang ina, wala pala akong silbi! Inutil
pala ako!" Seeing this, Roberto scolded the latter and took the gas tank away.

5. A few moments later, at about twelve o'clock midnight of the same night, a fire broke
out. Said fire began at the room occupied by the accused Reynaldo Abayon. The fire
engulfed the whole house, killing Lourdes Chokilo, Zenaida Veluz and Aiza delos Angeles.

6. During the trial, accused put up an alibi. However, he failed to produce any witnesses to
corroborate his defense notwithstanding the fact that said witness were supposed to be
with his own sister and sister-in-law. To make matters worse, his "supposed best friend",
Roberto Ignacio, testified against him.

x x x x10

We note that these circumstances all point out to the incidents from around 9:00 p.m. (when the quarrel
between Abayon and his wife started) until 11 p.m. (the time when Abayon's alleged attempt to burn the
houses was thwarted). The courts a quo did not mention any circumstance that clearly links Abayon to
the fire that broke out at past midnight.

The records, however, also revealed that Abayon bought a match from Edmund Felipe at around
12:15 a.m. When Edmund asked what the match was for, Abayon uttered, "Wala, may
susunugin lang ako."11 chanrobles law

To our mind, Edmund's statement clinches the case against Abayon insofar as establishing his clear link
to the fire that broke out at past 12 a.m.; it also makes all the more significant the pieces of circumstantial
evidence enumerated by both the RTC and the CA especially in proving the motive for the crime, i.e., what
led Abayon to burn his and his neighbors' houses. The combination of all these circumstances, vis-a-vis
the statement of Edmund, leads to no other conclusion than that Abayon deliberately started the fire that
resulted in the death of three (3) innocent victims. There could be no doubt on this conclusion: Abayon
had the motive (i.e., he was characterized as a 'good-for-nothing husband' by his wife during
a violent quarrel); he had made a previous attempt to start a fire (by turning on and off the gas
tank's regulator, while holding an unlighted cigarette and match); and he bought a match at
past midnight, stating to the vendor that he will use it to burn something.

Denial cannot prevail over positive and categorical identification of the accused.

On the credibility of witnesses, we note the well-settled rule that the trial court is in the best position to
assess the credibility of witnesses. In the absence of any showing of a fact or circumstance of weight and
influence which would appear to have been overlooked and, if considered, could affect the outcome of the
case, the factual findings and assessment on the credibility of a witness made by the trial court remain
binding on an appellate tribunal.12 chan robles law

In People v. Gallarde,13 we distinguished the two types of positive identification of a perpetrator of a crime
and discussed their legal importance, thus: ChanRoblesVi rtualaw lib rary

Positive identification pertains essentially to proof of identity and not per se to that of being an eyewitness
to the very act of commission of the crime. There are two types of positive identification. A witness
may identify a suspect or accused in a criminal case as the perpetrator of the crime as an
eyewitness to the very act of the commission of the crime. This constitutes direct evidence.
There may, however, be instances where, although a witness may not have actually seen the
very act of commission of a crime, he may still be able to positively identify a suspect or accused
as the perpetrator of a crime as for instance when the latter is the person or one of the persons
last seen with the victim immediately before and right after the commission of the crime. This
is the second type of positive identification, which forms part of circumstantial evidence, which,
when taken together with other pieces of evidence constituting an unbroken chain, leads to the
only fair and reasonable conclusion, which is that the accused is the author of the crime to the
exclusion of all others. If the actual eyewitnesses are the only ones allowed to possibly positively
identify a suspect or accused to the exclusion of others, then nobody can ever be convicted unless there
is an eyewitness, because it is basic and elementary that there can be no conviction until and unless an
accused is positively identified. Such a proposition is absolutely absurd, because it is settled that direct
evidence of the commission of a crime is not the only matrix wherefrom a trial court may draw its
conclusion and finding of guilt. If resort to circumstantial evidence would not be allowed to prove
identity of the accused on the absence of direct evidence, then felons would go free and the
community would be denied proper protection. [Emphasis supplied]
Without any showing of ill motive on the part of his neighbors (especially Robert, who is his best friend)
to falsely testify against Abayon, their categorical and positive identification should prevail over alibi and
denial. Corazon testified that he was a neighbor of Abayon and that she saw him fighting with his wife
before seeing him outside her house holding an LPG tank. Robert, who was able to retrieve the LPG tank
from Abayon, actually tried to talk him out of what he was doing. Two (2) other witnesses for the
prosecution, who were likewise his neighbors, corroborated what Corazon and Robert narrated.

As the RTC and the CA did, we view Abayon's denial to be self-serving and undeserving of any credence
in view of the testimonies of the eyewitnesses' categorical, positive, and forthright identification of him
the night the burning incident happened.

The proper penalty and the awarded indemnities

The penalty for arson resulting to death under Section 5 of P.D. No. 1613 is reclusion perpetua to death.
Since there was no aggravating circumstance alleged in the information, the CA correctly sentenced
Abayon to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua only.

We also point out that the CA awarded P50,000.00 death indemnity in favor of the heirs of the three (3)
victims. We increase this award to P75,000.00 pursuant to People v. Jugueta;14 we also direct Abayon to
further pay the victim's heirs P75,000.00 as moral damages and P75,0000.00 as exemplary damages.15 chanrob leslaw

The records show rough estimates of the properties the families lost during the fire.16 In the absence of a
showing that these estimated amounts had been actually expended in a manner capable of substantiation
by any document or receipt, the valuation remains a mere estimate, and could not be the measure of an
award for actual damages.17 The failure to present competent proof of actual damages should not deprive
Abayon's neighbors of some degree of indemnity for the substantial economic damage and prejudice they
had suffered.18 chan roble slaw

According to Article 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages, which are more than nominal but less
than compensatory damages, may be recovered when the court finds that some pecuniary loss has been
suffered but its amount cannot, from the nature of the case, be proved with certainty. For this purpose,
the determination of the temperate damages rests in the sound discretion of the courts.19 chanroble slaw

Thus, we find it proper to award temperate damages to the Chokilo family in the amount of P100,000.00;
to the Ignacio family in the amount of P50,000.00; and to the Balbas family in the amount of P50,000.00.

In addition, the civil indemnity, moral damages, exemplary damages, and temperate damages payable by
the appellant are subject to interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum from the finality of this
decision until fully paid

WHEREFORE, the July 20, 2012 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR.-H.C. No. 03195
is AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS:

chanRoble svirtual Lawlib ra ry (a) the awarded civil indemnity is INCREASED from P50,000.00 to P75,000.00;

(b) Reynaldo Abayon is directed to FURTHER PAY each of the victims' heirs the amounts of P75,000.00
as moral damages and P75,000.00 as exemplary damages;

(c) he is also DIRECTED to PAY temperate damages in the amounts of P100,000.00 to the Chokilo
Family; P50,000.00 to the Ignacio Family; and P50,000.00 to the Balbas Family; and cralawlawlib rary

(d) Reynaldo Abayon is also ORDERED to PAY interest at the rate of six percent (6%) per annum from
the time of finality of this decision until fully paid,

SO ORDERED. chanRoblesvirt ual Lawlib rary

G.R. No. 188708 July 31, 2013

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee,


vs.
ALAMADA MACABANDO, Appellant.

DECISION

BRION, J.:

This is an appeal filed by appellant Alamada Macabando assailing the February 24, 2009
decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 00208-MIN. The CA decision
affirmed in toto the August 26, 1002 judgment2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 25,
Cagayan de Oro City, finding the appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of destructive arson,
and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.

THE CASE

The prosecution's evidence showed that at around 4:00 p.m. on December 21, 2001, the appellant
broke bottles on the road while holding a G.I. pipe, and shouted that he wanted to get even
("manabla ko").3 Afterwards, he uttered that he would burn his house.4

At 6:35 p.m. of the same day, Cornelio Feliciano heard his neighbors shout that there was a fire.
When Cornelio went out of his house to verify, he saw smoke coming from the appellant’s house.
He got a pail of water, and poured its contents into the fire.5 Eric Quilantang, a neighbor whose
house was just 10 meters from that of the appellant, ran to the barangay headquarters to get a fire
extinguisher. When Eric approached the burning house, the appellant, who was carrying a traveling
bag and a gun, told him not to interfere; the appellant then fired three (3) shots in the air.6 The
appellant also told the people around that whoever would put out the fire would be killed.7

Upon hearing the gunshots, Cornelio hurriedly went home to save his nephews and nieces.8 Eric
also returned to his house to save his belongings.9
Fire Officer (FO) II Victor Naive and FOI Reynaldo Maliao conducted a spot investigation of the
incident, and concluded, among others, that the fire started in the appellant’s house; and that it
had been intentional.10 Barangay Chairman Modesto Ligtas stated that the fire gutted many houses
in his barangay, and that he assisted the City Social Welfare and Development Department
personnel in assessing the damage.11

The defense, on the other hand, presented a different version of the events.

The appellant declared on the witness stand that he lived in the twostorey house in Barangay 35,
Limketkai Drive, which was owned by his sister, Madji Muslima Edemal.12 He admitted that he felt
angry at around 2:00 p.m. on December 21, 2001 because one of his radio cassettes for sale had
been stolen.13 The appellant claimed that he went to sleep after looking for his missing radio
cassette, and that the fire had already started when he woke up. He denied making a threat to
burn his house, and maintained that he did not own a gun. He added that the gunshots heard by
his neighbors came from the explosion of firecrackers that he intended to use during the New Year
celebration.14

Lomantong Panandigan, the appellant’s cousin, stated, among others, that he did not see the
appellant carry a revolver or fire a shot on December 21, 2001.15 Dimas Kasubidan, the appellant’s
brother-in-law, stated that he and the appellant lived in the same house, and that the latter was
asleep in his room at the ground floor before the fire broke out.16

The prosecution charged the appellant with the crime of destructive arson under Article 320 of the
Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended, before the RTC.17 The appellant pleaded not guilty to
the charge on arraignment.18 In its judgment dated August 26, 2002, the RTC found the appellant
guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged, and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of
reclusion perpetua.

On appeal, the CA affirmed the RTC judgment in toto. It gave weight to the RTC’s factual findings
since these findings were based on unrebutted testimonial and documentary evidence. The CA
held that the totality of the presented circumstantial evidence led to the conclusion that the
appellant was guilty of the crime charged.

THE COURT’S RULING

We deny the appeal, but modify the crime committed by the appellant and the penalty imposed on
him.

Sufficiency of Prosecution Evidence

We point out at the outset that no one saw the appellant set fire to his house in Barangay 35,
Limketkai Drive, Cagayan de Oro City. The trial and appellate courts thus resorted to circumstantial
evidence since there was no direct evidence to prove the appellant’s culpability to the crime
charged.

It is settled that in the absence of direct evidence, circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to
sustain a conviction provided that: "(a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from
which the inferences are derived have been proven; and (c) the combination of all the
circumstances results in a moral certainty that the accused, to the exclusion of all others, is the
one who has committed the crime. Thus, to justify a conviction based on circumstantial evidence,
the combination of circumstances must be interwoven in such a way as to leave no reasonable
doubt as to the guilt of the accused."19

In the present case, the following circumstances constitute an unbroken chain that leads to an
unavoidable conclusion that the appellant, to the exclusion of others, set fire to his house: first, the
appellant, while holding an iron lead pipe, acted violently and broke bottles near his house at
around 4:00 p.m. of December 21, 2001; second, while he was still in a fit of rage, the appellant
stated that he would get even, and then threatened to burn his own house; third, Judith Quilantang
saw a fire in the appellant’s room approximately two hours after the appellant returned to his house;
fourth, the appellant prevented Cornelio, Eric, and several other people from putting out the fire in
his house; fifth, the appellant fired shots in the air, and then threatened to kill anyone who would
try to put out the fire in his house; sixth, the appellant carried a traveling bag during the fire; and
finally, the investigation conducted by the fire marshals of the Bureau of Fire Protection revealed
that the fire started in the appellant’s house, and that it had been intentional.

The combination of these circumstances, indeed, leads to no other conclusion than that the
appellant set fire to his house. We find it unnatural and highly unusual for the appellant to prevent
his neighbors from putting out the fire in his house, and threaten to kill them if they did, if he had
nothing to do with the crime. The first impulse of an individual whose house is on fire is to save his
loved ones and/or belongings; it is contrary to human nature, reason and natural order of things
for a person to thwart and prevent any effort to put out the fire in his burning property. By carrying
(and firing) a gun during the fire, the appellant showed his determination to repel any efforts to
quell the fire. Important to note, too, is the fact that the appellant carried a traveling bag during the
fire which, to our mind, showed deliberate planning and preparedness on his part to flee the raging
fire; it likewise contradicted his statement that he was asleep inside his house when the fire broke
out, and that the fire was already big when he woke up. Clearly, the appellant’s indifferent attitude
to his burning house and his hostility towards the people who tried to put out the fire, coupled with
his preparedness to flee his burning house, belied his claim of innocence. Notably, the appellant
failed to impute any improper motive against the prosecution witnesses to falsely testify against
him; in fact, he admitted that he had no misunderstanding with them prior to the incident.

The Crime Committed

The CA convicted the appellant of destructive arson under Article 320 of the RPC, as amended,
which reads:

Article 320. Destructive Arson. - The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed upon
any person who shall burn:

1. One (1) or more buildings or edifices, consequent to one single act of burning, or as a
result of simultaneous burnings, committed on several or different occasions.

2. Any building of public or private ownership, devoted to the public in general or where
people usually gather or congregate for a definite purpose such as, but not limited to,
official governmental function or business, private transaction, commerce, trade,
workshop, meetings and conferences, or merely incidental to a definite purpose such as
but not limited to hotels, motels, transient dwellings, public conveyances or stops or
terminals, regardless of whether the offender had knowledge that there are persons in said
building or edifice at the time it is set on fire and regardless also of whether the building is
actually inhabited or not.

3. Any train or locomotive, ship or vessel, airship or airplane, devoted to transportation or


conveyance, or for public use, entertainment or leisure. 1âw phi 1

4. Any building, factory, warehouse installation and any appurtenances thereto, which are
devoted to the service of public utilities.

5. Any building the burning of which is for the purpose of concealing or destroying evidence
of another violation of law, or for the purpose of concealing bankruptcy or defrauding
creditors or to collect from insurance.

xxxx
The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall also be imposed upon any person who shall burn:

1. Any arsenal, shipyard, storehouse or military powder or fireworks factory, ordinance,


storehouse, archives or general museum of the Government.

2. In an inhabited place, any storehouse or factory of inflammable or explosive materials.

In sum, "Article 320 contemplates the malicious burning of structures, both public and private,
hotels, buildings, edifices, trains, vessels, aircraft, factories and other military, government or
commercial establishments by any person or group of persons."20

Presidential Decree (P.D.) No. 1613,21 on the other hand, currently governs simple arson. Section
3 of this law provides:

Section 3. Other Cases of Arson. The penalty of Reclusion Temporal to Reclusion Perpetua shall
be imposed if the property burned is any of the following:

1. Any building used as offices of the government or any of its agencies;

2. Any inhabited house or dwelling;

3. Any industrial establishment, shipyard, oil well or mine shaft, platform or tunnel;

4. Any plantation, farm, pastureland, growing crop, grain field, orchard, bamboo grove or
forest;

5. Any rice mill, sugar mill, cane mill or mill central; and

6. Any railway or bus station, airport, wharf or warehouse. [italics and emphasis ours]

P.D. No. 1613 contemplates the malicious burning of public and private structures, regardless of
size, not included in Article 320 of the RPC, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659. 22 This law
punishes simple arson with a lesser penalty because the acts that constitute it have a lesser degree
of perversity and viciousness. Simple arson contemplates crimes with less significant social,
economic, political, and national security implications than destructive arson.23

The elements of simple arson under Section 3(2) of P.D. No. 1613 are: (a) there is intentional
burning; and (b) what is intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. Both these elements
have been proven in the present case. The Information alleged that the appellant set fire to his
own house, and that the fire spread to other inhabited houses. These allegations were established
during trial through the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses which the trial and appellate courts
found credible and convincing, and through the report of the Bureau of Fire Protection which stated
that damaged houses were residential, and that the fire had been intentional. Moreover, the
certification from the City Social Welfare and Development Department likewise indicated that the
burned houses were used as dwellings. The appellant likewise testified that his burnt two-story
house was used as a residence. That the appellant’s act affected many families will not convert
the crime to destructive arson, since the appellant’s act does not appear to be heinous or
represents a greater degree of perversity and viciousness when compared to those acts punished
under Article 320 of the RPC. The established evidence only showed that the appellant intended
to burn his own house, but the conflagration spread to the neighboring houses.

In this regard, our ruling in Buebos v. People24 is particularly instructive, thus:

The nature of Destructive Arson is distinguished from Simple Arson by the degree of perversity or
viciousness of the criminal offender. The acts committed under Art. 320 of The Revised Penal
Code constituting Destructive Arson are characterized as heinous crimes "for being grievous,
odious and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness,
viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and
norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society." On the other hand, acts
committed under PD 1613 constituting Simple Arson are crimes with a lesser degree of perversity
and viciousness that the law punishes with a lesser penalty. In other words, Simple Arson
contemplates crimes with less significant social, economic, political and national security
implications than Destructive Arson.

The Proper Penalty

Under Section 3, paragraph 2, of P.D. No. 1613, the imposable penalty for simple arson is reclusion
temporal, which has a range of twelve (12) years and one (1) day, to reclusion perpetua. Applying
the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the penalty imposable should be an indeterminate penalty whose
minimum term should be within the range of the penalty next lower in degree, which is prision
mayor, or six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years, and whose maximum should be the
medium period of reclusion temporal to reclusion perpetua, or sixteen (16) years and one (1) day
to twenty (20) years, taking into account the absence of any aggravating or mitigating
circumstances that attended the commission of the crime. Taking these rules into account, we
therefore impose on the appellant the indeterminate penalty of ten (10) years and one (1) day of
prision mayor, as minimum, to sixteen (16) years and one (1) day of reclusion temporal, as
maximum.

As regards the award of damages, we sustain the lower courts' findings that the records do not
adequately reflect any concrete basis for the award of actual damages to the offended parties. To
seek recovery of actual damages, it is necessary to prove the actual amount of loss with a
reasonable degree of certainty, premised upon competent proof and on the best evidence
obtainable.25

WHEREFORE, the assailed February 24, 2009 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR
HC No. 00208-MIN is AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATIONS:

(1) appellant Alamada Macabando is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of simple arson
under Section 3(2) of Presidential Decree No. 1613; and

(2) he is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty often (10) years and one (1) day of
prision mayor, as minimum, to sixteen (16) years and one (1) day of reclusion temporal, as
maximum.

SO ORDERED.

July 3, 2017

G.R. No. 204544

MARLON BACERRA y TABONES, Petitioner


vs.
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent

DECISION

LEONEN, J.:

The identity of the perpetrator of a crime and a finding of guilt may rest solely on the strength of
circumstantial evidence.
This resolves the Petition for Review1 assailing the Decision2 dated August 30, 2012 and the
Resolution3 dated October 22, 2012 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 32923, which
upheld the conviction of Marlon Bacerra y Tabones (Bacerra) for the crime of simple arson
punished underSection 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1613.4

In the Information dated January 12, 2006, Bacerra was charged with violation of Section 1 of
Presidential Decree No. 1613:

That on or about 4:00 o'clock in the morning of November 15, 2005, at Brgy. San Pedro Ili, Alcala,
Pangasinan and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with
intent to cause damage to another, did then and theres [sic], willfully, unlawfully and feloniously
set fire to the rest house of Alfredo Melegrito y Galamay, to his damage and prejudice in the amount
of Php70,000.00, more or less.

Contrary to Sec. 1, 1st par. Of P.D. 1613.5

Bacerra pleaded not guilty to the charge.6

During trial, the prosecution presented private complainant Alfredo Melegrito (Alfredo), Edgar
Melegrito (Edgar), Toni Rose dela Cruz, and P03 Marcos Bautista, Jr. to testify on the alleged
incident.7 Their collective testimonies produced the following facts for the prosecution:

Alfredo and his family8 were sound asleep in their home on

November 15, 2005.9 At about 1:00 a.m., he was roused from sleep by the

sound of stones hitting his house. Alfredo went to the living room10 and

peered through the jalousie window. The terrace light allowed him to recognize his neighbor and
co-worker,11 Bacerra.12

Bacerra threw stones at Alfredo's house while saying, "Vulva of your mother."13 Just as he was
about to leave, Bacerra exclaimed, "[V]ulva of your mother, Old Fred, I'll bum you now."14 Bacerra
then left.15 Alfredo's son, Edgar, also witnessed the incident through a window in his room.16

Troubled by Bacerra's threat, Alfredo waited for him to return. Alfredo sat down beside the
window.17 At around 4:00a.m.,18 he heard dogs barking outside.19 Alfredo looked out the window
and saw Bacerra walking towards their nipa hut,20 which was located around 10 meters from their
house.21

Bacerra paced in front of the nipa hut and shook it.22 Moments later, Alfredo saw the nipa hut
burning.23

Alfredo sought help from his neighbors to smother the fire.24 Edgar contacted the authorities for
assistance25 but it was too late. The nipa hut and its contents were completely destroyed.26 The
local authorities conducted an investigation on the incident.27

The defense presented Bacerra, Alex Dacanay (Dacanay), and Jocelyn Fernandez (Fernandez)
as witnesses. Their collective testimonies yielded the defense's version of the incident:

At around 11:00 p.m. of November 14, 2005, Bacerra was at the house of his friend, Ronald
Valencia. The two (2) engaged in a drinking session with Dacanay and a certain Reyson until 1:00
a.m. of November 15, 2005.28
Bacerra asked Dacanay to take him to his grandmother's house. Dacanay conceded but they found
the gate closed.29 Embarrassed to disturb his grandmother,30 Bacerra asked Dacanay to bring him
to Fernandez's house instead.31 However, Dacanay was already sleepy at that time.32 Hence,
Bacerra requested his brother-in-law, Francisco Sadora (Sadora), to acconwany him to
Fernandez's house, which was located one (1) kilometer away.33

Bacerra and Sadora arrived at Fernandez's house at around 1:30 a.m. Fernandez told Bacerra to
sleep in the living room. She checked on Bacerra every hour.34 At around 7:00 a.m., police officers
who were looking for Bacerra arrived at Fernandez's house.35 Knowing that he did not do anything
wrong,36 Bacerra voluntarily went to the police station with the authorities.37

In the Decision dated October 6, 2009, Branch 50 of the Regional Trial Court in Villasis,
Pangasinan38 found Bacerra guilty beyond reasonable doubt of arson:

WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered finding accused Marlon Bacerra y


Tabones GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Simple Arson defined and penalized in
Section 1 of Presidential Decree No. 1613 and, there being no modifying circumstance, is
sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of six (6) years of prision correccional, as minimum,
to ten (10) years of prision mayor, as maximum, together with all the accessory penalties provided
by law.

The accused is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant ₱50,000.00 as temperate
damages.

SO ORDERED.39 (Emphasis in the original)

Bacerra appealed the Decision of the Regional Trial Court.40 He argued that none of the
prosecution's witnesses had positively identjfied him as the person who burned the nipa hut.41

In the Decision42 dated August 30, 2012, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Decision dated October
6, 2009 of the Regional Trial Court in toto.43

Bacerra moved for reconsideration44 but the Motion was denied in the Resolution45 dated October
22, 2012.

On January 15, 2013, Bacerra filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari46 assailing the Decision
dated August 30, 2012 and Resolution dated October 22, 2012 of the Court of Appeals.

In the Resolution dated January 30, 2013, this Court required the People of the Philippines to
comment on the petition for review.47

On June 18, 2013, the People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General, filed
a Comment on the Petition48 to which petitioner filed a Reply49 on January 27, 2014.

Petitioner argues that the Court of Appeals erred in upholding his conviction based on
circumstantial evidence, which, being merely based on conjecture, falls short of proving his guilt
beyond reasonable doubt.50 No direct evidence was presented to prove that petitioner actually set
fire to private complainant's nipa hut.51 Moreover, there were two (2) incidents that occurred, which
should be taken and analyzed separately.52

Petitioner adds that there were material inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution's
witnesses.53 Petitioner also points out that private complainant acted contrary to normal human
behavior, placing great doubt on his credibility.54 Persons whose properties are being destroyed
should immediately confront the perpetrator.55 Private complainant and his family, however, merely
stayed inside their house throughout the entire incident.56
Petitioner argues in the alternative that the mitigating circumstances of intoxication and voluntary
surrender should have been appreciated by the lower tribunals in computing the imposable
penalty.57 Petitioner was drunk at the time of the alleged incident.58 In addition, he voluntarily
surrendered to the authorities despite the absence of an arrest warrant.59 Lastly, petitioner asserts
that temperate damages should not have been awarded because private complainant could have
proven actual damages during trial.60

In its Comment, respondent asserts that direct evidence is not the only means to establish criminal
liability.61 An accused may be convicted based on circumstantial evidence as long as the
combination of circumstances leads to the conclusion that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable
doubt.62

Respondent argues that the Court of Appeals correctly affirmed the trial court's decision. For
intoxication to be considered as a mitigating circumstance, it must be shown that it is not
habitual.63 The state of drunkenness of the accused must be of such nature as to affect his or her
mental faculties.64 Voluntary surrender cannot likewise be considered as a mitigating circumstance
because there is no showing of spontaneity on the part of the accused.65

Lastly, respondent argues that temperate damages amounting to ₱50,000.00 was properly
awarded because the burning of private complainant's nipa hut brought some pecuniary loss.66

This case presents the following issues for this Court's resolution:

First, whether petitioner's guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt based on the circumstantial
evidence adduced during trial;67

Second, whether the mitigating circumstances of intoxication and voluntary surrender may properly
be appreciated in this case to reduce the imposable penalty;68 and

Finally, whether the award of temperate damages amounting to ₱50,000.00 was proper.69

This Court affirms petitioner's conviction for the crime of simple arson.

Direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are classifications of evidence with legal
consequences.

The difference between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence involves the relationship of
the fact inferred to the facts that constitute the offense. Their difference does not relate to the
probative value of the evidence.

Direct evidence proves a challenged fact without drawing any inference.70 Circumstantial evidence,
on the other hand, "indirectly proves a fact in issue, such that the factfinder must draw an inference
or reason from circumstantial evidence."71

The probative value of direct evidence is generally neither greater than nor superior to
circumstantial evidence.72 The Rules of Court do not distinguish between "direct evidence of fact
and evidence of circumstances from which the existence of a fact may be inferred." 73 The same
quantum of evidence is still required. Courts must be convinced that the accused is guilty beyond
reasonable doubt.74

A number of circumstantial evidence may be so credible to establish a fact from which it may be
inferred, beyond reasonable doubt, that the elements of a crime exist and that the accused is its
perpetrator.75 There is no requirement in our jurisdiction that only direct evidence may
convict.76 After all, evidence is always a matter of reasonable inference from any fact that may be
proven by the prosecution provided the inference is logical and beyond reasonable doubt.

Rule 113, Section 4 of the Rules on Evidence provides three (3) requisites that should be
established to sustain a conviction based on circumstantial evidence:

Section 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 inferences are derived are proven; and

(c) The combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable
doubt.77

The commission of a crime, the identity of the perpetrator,78 and the finding of guilt may all be
established by circumstantial evidence.79 The circumstances must be considered as a whole and
should create an unbroken chain leading to the conclusion that the accused authored the crime.80

The determination of whether circumstantial evidence is sufficient to support a finding of guilt is a


qualitative test not a quantitative one.81 The proven circumstances must be "consistent with each
other, consistent with the hypothesis that the accused is guilty, and at the same time inconsistent
with the hypothesis that he is innocent, and with every other rational hypothesis except that of
guilt."82

The crime of simple arson was proven solely through circumstantial evidence in People v.
Abayon.83 None of the prosecution's witnesses actually saw the accused start the
fire.84 Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence adduced by the prosecution, taken in its entirety,
all pointed to the accused's guilt.85

In People v. Acosta,86 there was also no direct evidence linking the accused to the burning of the
house.87 However, the circumstantial evidence was substantial enough to convict the
accused.88 The accused had motive and previously attempted to set a portion of the victim's house
on fire.89 Moreover, he was present at the scene of the crime before and after the incident.90

Similarly, in this case, no one saw petitioner actually set fire to the nipa hut. Nevertheless, the
prosecution has established multiple circumstances, which, after being considered in their entirety,
support the conclusion that petitioner is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of simple arson.

First, the evidence was credible and sufficient to prove that petitioner stoned private complainant's
house and threatened to bum him.91 Private complainant testified that he saw petitioner throwing
stones at his house and heard petitioner say, "okinam nga Lakay Fred, puuran kayo tad
ta!"92 (Vulva of your mother, Old Fred, I'll bum you now.)93 Petitioner's threats were also heard by
private complainant's son94 and grandchildren.95

Second, the evidence was credible and sufficient to prove that petitioner returned a few hours later
and made his way to private complainant's nipa hut.96 Private complainant testified that at 4:00
a.m.,97 he saw petitioner pass by their house and walk towards their nipa hut.98 This was
corroborated by private complainant's son who testified that he saw petitioner standing in front of
the nipa hut moments before it was burned.99

Third, the evidence was also credible and sufficient to prove that

petitioner was in close proximity to the nipa hut before it caught fire.100
Private complainant testified that he saw petitioner walk to and fro in front

of the nipa hut and shake its posts just before it caught fire.101 Private

complainant's son likewise saw petitioner standing at the side of the nipa hut

before it was burned.102

The stoning incident and the burning incident cannot be taken and analyzed separately. Instead,
they must be viewed and considered as a whole. Circumstantial evidence is like a "tapestry made
1âwphi 1

up of strands which create a pattern when interwoven."103 Each strand cannot be plucked out and
scrutinized individually because it only forms part of the entire picture.104 The events that transpired
prior to the burning incident cannot be disregarded. Petitioner's threat to bum occurred when he
stoned private complainant's house.

Also, there is no other reasonable version of the events which can be held with reasonable
certainty.

Private complainant could have actually seen petitioner bum the nipa hut by stepping outside of
his house. However, behavioral responses of individuals confronted with strange, startling, or
frightful experiences vary.105 Where there is a perceived threat or danger to survival, some may
fight, others might escape.106 Private complainant's act of remaining inside his house during the
incident is not contrary to human behavior. It cannot affect his credibility as a witness.

Furthermore, "the assessment of the credibility of witnesses is a function ... of the trial courts."107 It
is a factual matter that generally cannot be reviewed in a Rule 45 petition.108 Petitioner failed to
prove, much less allege, any of the exceptions to the general rule that only questions of law may
be raised in a petition for review brought under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court.109 Hence, this Court
will not disturb the trial court's findings on the matter.

II

For intoxication to be appreciated as a mitigating circumstance, the intoxication of the accused


must neither be "habitual [n]or subsequent to the plan to commit [a] felony."110

Moreover, it must be shown that the mental faculties and willpower of the accused were impaired
in such a way that would diminish the accused's capacity to understand the wrongful nature of his
or her acts.111 The bare assertion that one is inebriated at the time of the commission of the crime
is insufficient.112 There must be proof of the fact of intoxication and the effect of intoxication on the
accused.113

There is no sufficient evidence in this case that would show that petitioner was intoxicated at the
time of the commission of the crime. A considerable amount of time had lapsed from petitioner's
drinking spree up to the burning of the nipa hut within which he could have regained control of his
actions. Hence, intoxication cannot be appreciated as a mitigating circumstance in this case.

Neither can voluntary surrender be appreciated as a mitigating circumstance.

Voluntary surrender, as a mitigating circumstance, requires an element of spontaneity. The


accused's act of surrendering to the authorities must have been impelled by the acknowledgment
of guilt or a desire to "save the authorities the trouble and expense that may be incurred for his [or
her] search and capture."114

Based on the evidence on record, there is no showing that petitioner's act of submitting his person
to the authorities was motivated by an acknowledgement of his guilt.
Considering that no mitigating circumstances attended the commission of the crime, the
indeterminate sentence of six (6) years of prision correccional, as minimum, to ten (10) years
of prision mayor, as maximum, imposed by the trial court, stands.

III

Under Article 2224 of the Civil Code, temperate damages may be awarded when there is a finding
that "some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount [cannot], from the nature of the case,
be proved with certainty." The amount of temperate damages to be awarded in each case is
discretionary upon the courts115 as long as it is "reasonable under the circumstances."116

Private complainant clearly suffered some pecuniary loss as a result of the burning of his nipa hut.
However, private complainant failed to substantiate the actual damages that he suffered.
Nevertheless, he is entitled to be indemnified for his loss. The award of temperate damages
amounting to ₱50,000.00 is proper and reasonable under the circumstances.

WHEREFORE, the Petition for Review is DENIED. The Decision dated August 30, 2012 and the
Resolution dated October 22, 2012 of theCourt of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 32923, finding
petitioner Marlon Bacerra y Tabones guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of arson
is AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.