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VOL. 274, JUNE 19, 1997 197


People vs. Bernal

*
G.R. No. 113685. June 19, 1997.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,


vs. THEODORE BERNAL, JOHN DOE and PETER DOE,
accused-appellants.

Criminal Law; Kidnapping; Evidence; In kidnapping, what is


important is to determine and prove the fact of seizure, and the
subsequent disappearance of the victim will not exonerate an
accused from prosecution therefor.—The Court notes that up to
this day, neither the victim nor his body has been found. This,
however, does not preclude the Court from ruling on the merits of
the case. In kidnapping, what is important is to determine and
prove the fact of seizure, and the subsequent disappearance of the
victim will not exonerate an accused from prosecution therefor.
Otherwise, kidnappers can easily avoid punishment by the simple
expedient of disposing of their victims’ bodies.

Same; Same; Same; For the charge of kidnapping to prosper,


the deprivation of the victim’s liberty, which is the essential
element of the offense, must be duly proved.—For the charge of
kidnapping to prosper, the deprivation of the victim’s liberty,
which is the essential

_______________

* SECOND DIVISION.

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198 SUPREME COURT REPORTS ANNOTATED

People vs. Bernal

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element of the offense, must be duly proved. In the case at bar,


Bernal indisputably acted in conspiracy with the two other
unknown individuals “as shown by their concerted acts
evidentiary of a unity of thought and community of purpose.”
Proof of conspiracy is perhaps most frequently made by evidence
of a chain of circumstances only. The circumstances present in
this case sufficiently indicate the participation of Bernal in the
disappearance of Openda, Jr.

Same; Same; Same; Motive; Motive is generally irrelevant,


unless it is utilized in establishing the identity of the perpetrator.
—Motive is generally irrelevant, unless it is utilized in
establishing the identity of the perpetrator. Coupled with enough
circumstantial evidence or facts from which it may be reasonably
inferred that the accused was the malefactor, motive may be
sufficient to support a conviction. Openda, Jr.’s revelation to
Enriquez regarding his illicit relationship with Bernal’s wife is
admissible in evidence, pursuant to Section 38, Rule 130 of the
Revised Rules on Evidence.

Same; Same; Same; Declaration Against Interest; Requisites


before a statement may be admissible.—A statement may be
admissible when it complies with the following requisites, to wit:
“(1) that the declarant is dead or unable to testify; (2) that it
relates to a fact against the interest of the declarant; (3) that at
the time he made said declaration the declarant was aware that
the same was contrary to his aforesaid interest; and (4) that the
declarant had no motive to falsify and believed such declaration to
be true.”

Same; Same; Same; Appeals; Findings of fact of a trial court


carry great weight and are entitled to respect on appeal, absent
any strong and cogent reason to the contrary, since it is in a better
position to decide the question of credibility of witnesses.—The
court a quo committed no error in finding the testimonies of
Enriquez, Racasa and Sagarino sufficient to convict Bernal. The
court said that Sagarino’s forthright answers to the questions of
the prosecutor and defense counsel clearly establish the
participation of Bernal in the abduction or kidnapping of Openda,
Jr. Evidence, to be believed, must not only proceed from the
mouth of a credible witness, but must be credible in itself. This
Court once again finds occasion to reiterate the established rule
that the findings of fact of a trial court carry great weight and are
entitled to respect on appeal, absent any strong and cogent reason
to the contrary, since it is in a better position to decide the
question of credibility of witnesses.

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VOL. 274, JUNE 19, 1997 199


People vs. Bernal

APPEAL from a decision of the Regional Trial Court of


Davao City, Br. 10.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.


     The Solicitor General for plaintiff-appellee.
     Johnny P. Landero for accused Theodore Bernal.

ROMERO, J.:

Accused-appellant Theodore Bernal, together with two


other persons whose identities and whereabouts are still
unknown, were charged with the crime of kidnapping in
Criminal Case No. 26658-98 of the Regional Trial
1
Court of
Davao City, Branch 10, under an information dated July
13, 1992, which reads as follows:

“That on or about August 5, 1991, in the City of Davao,


Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court,
the abovementioned accused, armed with hand guns, conspiring,
confederating and cooperating together and helping one another,
and by means of force, violence, intimidation and threat, wilfully,
unlawfully, and feloniously grabbed and kidnapped one
Bienvenido Openda, Jr., while the latter was drinking liquor with
his friends at Bolton Isla, this City and was brought, handcuffed
and carried away using a PU then fled together with Bienvenido
Openda, Jr., thereby depriving the said Bienvenido Openda, Jr. of
his liberty against his will.
CONTRARY TO LAW.”

A plea of not guilty having been entered by Bernal during


his arraignment, 2
trial ensued. The prosecution presented
four witnesses. On the other hand, Theodore Bernal
testified for his defense.

_______________

1 Rollo, p. 5.
2 Namely, Salito Enriquez, a tailor and resident of Kasilac, Bucana,
Davao City; Roberto Racasa, a mason and resident of Kasilac, Bucana,
Davao City; Adonis Sagarino, a student and resident of Boston Isla; and
Teresita Openda, the mother of Bienvenido Openda, Jr.

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People vs. Bernal
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The material facts and events as found by the court a quo


are:
It appears that on August 5, 1991, around 11:30 in the
morning, while Roberto Racasa and Openda, Jr. were
engaged in a drinking spree, they invited Bernal, who was
passing by, to join them.
After a few minutes, Bernal decided to leave both men,
apparently because he was going to fetch his child.
Thereafter, two men arrived, approached
3
Openda, Jr., and
asked the latter if he was “Payat.” When he said yes, one
of them suddenly pulled out a handgun while the other
handcuffed him and told him “not to run because they were
policemen” and because he had an “atraso” or a score to
settle with them. They then hastily took him away. Racasa
immediately went to the house of Openda, Jr. and informed
the latter’s mother of the abduction.
The theory of the prosecution, as culled from the
testimony of a certain Salito Enriquez, tends to establish
that Openda, Jr. had an illicit affair with Bernal’s wife
Naty and this was the motive behind the former’s
kidnapping. Until now, Openda, Jr. is still missing.
On the other hand, the defense asserts that Openda, Jr.
was a drug-pusher arrested by the police
4
on August 5,
1991, and hence, was never kidnapped.
On December
5
10, 1993, the court a quo rendered
judgment finding Bernal “guilty beyond reasonable doubt
of the crime of kidnapping for the abduction and
disappearance of Bienvenido Openda, Jr. under Article 267
of the Revised Penal Code and hereby sentences him to
reclusion perpetua and to indemnify his mother Teresita
Openda in the amount of 6 P50,000.00 for her mental
anguish and moral suffering.”

_______________

3 TSN, May 10, 1993, p. 9.


4 Rollo, p. 9.
5 Penned by Judge Augusto V. Breva.
6 Rollo, p. 24.

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People vs. Bernal

Bernal assails the lower court for giving weight and


credence to the prosecution witnesses’ allegedly illusory
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testimonies and for convicting him when his guilt was not
proved beyond reasonable doubt.
We find no compelling reason to overturn the decision of
the lower court.
The Court notes that up to this day, neither the victim
nor his body has been found. This, however, does not
preclude the Court from ruling on the merits of the case. In
kidnapping, what is important is to determine and prove
the fact of seizure, and the subsequent disappearance of
the victim will not exonerate an accused from prosecution
therefor. Otherwise, kidnappers can easily avoid
punishment by the simple expedient of disposing of their
victims’ bodies.
Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code provides thus:

“ART. 267.—Kidnapping and serious illegal detention.—


Any private individual who shall kidnap or detain another, or
in any other manner deprive him of his liberty, shall suffer the
penalty of reclusion perpetua to death:

1. If the kidnapping or detention shall have lasted more than


five days.
2. If it shall have been committed simulating public
authority.
3. If any serious physical injuries shall have been inflicted
upon the person kidnapped or detained, or if threats to kill
him shall have been made.
4. If the person kidnapped or detained shall be a minor,
female or a public officer.

The penalty shall be death where the kidnapping or detention


was committed for the purpose of extorting ransom from the
victim or any other person, even if none of the circumstances
abovementioned were present in the commission of the offense.”

For the charge of kidnapping to prosper, the deprivation of


the victim’s liberty, which is the essential element of the
offense, must be duly proved. In the case at bar, Bernal
indisputably acted in conspiracy with the two other
unknown individuals “as shown by their concerted acts
evidentiary of a

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People vs. Bernal

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7
unity of thought and community of purpose.” Proof of
conspiracy is perhaps most frequently
8
made by evidence of
a chain of circumstances only. The circumstances present
in this case sufficiently indicate the participation of Bernal
in the disappearance of Openda, Jr.
The prosecution has proffered sufficient evidence to
show that, indeed, Bernal, together with his two
companions, abducted Openda, Jr. on August 5, 1991. A
certain Adonis Sagarino, a childhood friend and neighbor of
the victim, testified that he saw Bernal at the billiard hall
at about 11:00 a.m. with his two companions and overheard
him dispatching one of them to “Tarsing’s Store” to check if
a certain person was still there. This person later turned
out to be Openda, Jr. He added that after the latter’s
presence was confirmed, the three men left the billiard
hall. Minutes later, Openda, Jr., already handcuffed,
passed by the billiard hall with Bernal’s companions.
Equally important is the testimony of Roberto Racasa, a
resident of Bucana, Davao City who knew both Bernal and
the victim, the former being his neighbor and compadre. He
narrated that he and the victim were drinking at “Tarsing’s
Store” on that fateful day when Bernal passed by and had a
drink with them. After a few minutes, Bernal decided to
leave, after which, two men came to the store and asked for
“Payat.” When Openda, Jr. confirmed that he was indeed
“Payat,” he was handcuffed and taken away by the
unidentified men. Likewise, a certain Salito Enriquez, a
tailor and a friend of Openda, Jr., testified that sometime
in January 1991, Openda, Jr. confided to him that he and
Bernal’s wife Naty were having an affair. One time, Naty
even gave Openda, Jr. money which they used to pay for a
motel room. He advised Naty 9
“not to do it again because
she (was) a married woman.

_______________

7 People v. Puno, 219 SCRA 85 (1993).


8 People v. Minanday, 242 SCRA 620 (1995).
9 TSN, May 10, 1993, p. 5.

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VOL. 274, JUNE 19, 1997 203


People vs. Bernal

Undoubtedly, his wife’s infidelity was ample reason for


Bernal to contemplate revenge.

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Motive is generally irrelevant, unless it is utilized in


establishing the identity of the perpetrator. Coupled with
enough circumstantial evidence or facts from which it may
be reasonably inferred that the accused was the malefactor,
10
motive may be sufficient to support a conviction. Openda,
Jr.’s revelation to Enriquez regarding his illicit relationship
with Bernal’s wife is admissible in evidence, pursuant to
Section 38, Rule 130 of the Revised Rules on Evidence, viz.:

“Sec. 38. Declaration against interest.—The declaration made by a


person deceased, or unable to testify, against the interest of the
declarant, if the fact asserted in the declaration was at the time it
was made so far contrary to declarant’s own interest, that a
reasonable man in his position would not have made the
declaration unless he believed it to be true, may be received in
evidence against himself or his successors-in-interest and against
third persons.”

With the deletion of the phrase “pecuniary or moral inter-


est” from the present provision, it is safe to assume that
“declaration against interest” has been expanded to include
all kinds of interest,
11
that is, pecuniary, proprietary, moral
or even penal.
A statement may be admissible when it complies with
the following requisites, to wit: “(1) that the declarant is
dead or unable to testify; (2) that it relates to a fact against
the interest of the declarant; (3) that at the time he made
said declaration the declarant was aware that the same
was contrary to his aforesaid interest; and (4) that the
declarant had no motive 12
to falsify and believed such
declaration to be true.”
Openda, Jr., having been missing since his abduction,
cannot be called upon to testify. His confession to Enriquez,
definitely a declaration against his own interest since his
affair

_______________

10 People v. Evangelista, 256 SCRA 611 (1996).


11 Francisco on Evidence, 1993 edition, p. 275.
12 Regalado, Remedial Law Compendium, 7th Revised Ed., p. 609.

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People vs. Bernal

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13
with Naty Bernal was a crime, is admissible in evidence
because no sane person 14
will be presumed to tell a falsehood
to his own detriment.
In his brief, Bernal highlights supposed inconsistencies
in Sagarino’s testimony. He alleges that the latter could not
have seen the actual handcuffing because “Tarsing’s Store”
could not be seen from the billiard hall. Sagarino’s
testimony shows that after Bernal and two others left the
billiard hall, the latter came back with Openda, Jr., already
handcuffed.

“Q The three of them together?


A Yes, sir.
Q And what about you, where did you stay?
A I just stayed in the billiard hall.
Q While you stay (sic) in the billiard hall, after a while,
what did you see next?
A The two came back.
Q Who were these two whom you said who (sic) came
back?
A The companions of Bernal.
Q And what did these two men do?
15
A They apprehended Jun-jun Openda.”

From this proceeding, Bernal wrongly inferred that


Sagarino actually saw Openda, Jr. arrested. The lower
court correctly rejected this argument by holding that:

“But Sagarino has not said that he saw the actual handcuffing of
Openda, Jr. at the Tarsing or Tarcing store. On the contrary, he
says that he had not known who the person was that Bernal
referred to when he requested one of this two companions to go
see if that person was still there at the store, and that he came to
know that he was Openda, Jr. only after he saw Openda, Jr. pass
by the billiard hall already handcuffed, with the two unidentified
companions
16
of Bernal with him, on their way out to the main
road.”

_______________

13 Rollo, p. 11.
14 People v. Toledo and Holgado, 51 Phil. 825.
15 TSN, July 28, 1993, pp. 7-8.
16 TSN, October 13, 1993, pp. 3-5.

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VOL. 274, JUNE 19, 1997 205


People vs. Bernal

If one had a direct view of “Tarsing’s Store” from the


billiard hall, Bernal would not have requested his
companion to check if Openda, Jr. were still there drinking
with Racasa. Another discrepancy pointed out by Bernal
arose from the testimonies of Racasa and Sagarino. Racasa,
on crossexamination, stated:

“Q After Theodore Bernal left you have seen him also


returned (sic) with his child, is that correct?
17
A Yes, sir, because I was still in the store.”

On the other hand, Sagarino averred that:

“Q When Theodore Bernal left the place, how long (sic)


were you able to see him again?
A Quite a time, sir, because when they left, his two
companions came back and proceeded to Tarcing Store
and arrested Jun-Jun Openda. When these two men
brought out Jun-jun Openda, fifteen minutes later,
Bernal came.
Q Do you know where this Bernal from? (sic)
A He was coming from outside.
Q He has with him his son?
A He was with nobody, sir.
Q Are you sure of that?
A Yes, sir.
Q He was alone?
18
A Yes, sir.”

The testimonies of Racasa and Sagarino are not absolutely


inconsistent with each other as to be irreconcilable.
Considering the proximity of the store from the billiard
hall, there is a possibility that when Racasa saw Bernal
with his son at the store, the latter could have already
brought home his son before proceeding19 alone to the
billiard hall where he was seen by Sagarino.

_______________

17 TSN, May 10, 1993, p. 13.


18 TSN, July 28, 1993, pp. 21-22.
19 Rollo, p. 90.

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People vs. Bernal

Bernal would like the Court to dismiss Sagarino’s


testimony by imputing revenge as his motive for testifying.
He alleges that on July 29, 1991, or six days before the
alleged kidnapping, five policemen arrived at Kasilak,
Bucana on board a patrol car asking for Openda, Jr.,
Sagarino, Joseph Mendoza, Dansoy Madelo and Dagoy
Balagan. He replied that they were residents of the place
and staying at the billiard hall and mahjong house. The
policemen departed and went to the places he mentioned.

“Q Minutes later do you know what happened?


“A They came back.
“Q What did you do after they came back?
“A I asked these police officers if they found these (sic)
persons they were looking (for)?
“Q What was their answer?
“A They answered in the negative.
“Q Since the answer is in the negative, what did you do?
“A I asked the police officers why they were looking for
these persons.(?)
“Q What was the answer of the policemen?
“A The police officer said that those people were wanted
by them because
20
accordingly (sic) they were marijuana
pushers.”

Bernal’s position is that no abduction or kidnapping ever


took place but that an arrest was made by pursuing
policemen. This contention is quite improbable, if not
highly preposterous.
The trial court correctly appreciated the testimony of
Sagarino, it being free from any ill-motive against Bernal.
If the latter’s allegations were true, then Sagarino should
have been arrested by the police at the time he gave his
testimony in court. No such arrest was, however, made.
The court a quo committed no error in finding the
testimonies of Enriquez, Racasa and Sagarino sufficient to
convict Bernal. The court said that Sagarino’s forthright
answers to

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_______________

20 TSN, October 13, 1993, p. 4.

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VOL. 274, JUNE 19, 1997 207


People vs. Bernal

the questions of the prosecutor and defense counsel clearly


establish the participation of Bernal in the abduction or
kidnapping of Openda, Jr. Evidence, to be believed, must
not only proceed from the mouth21
of a credible witness, but
must be credible in itself. This Court once again finds
occasion to reiterate the established rule that the findings
of fact of a trial court carry great weight and are entitled to
respect on appeal, absent any strong and cogent reason to
the contrary, since it is in a better 22
position to decide the
question of credibility of witnesses.
We note that after a lapse of a considerable length of
time, the victim has yet to resurface. Considering the
circumstances, it is safe to assume that Openda, Jr. is
already dead.
Finally, the Solicitor General, pursuant to the
Indeterminate Sentence Law, recommended to this Court
the penalty of seventeen (17) years of reclusion temporal, as
minimum, to reclusion perpetua, as maximum. The
maximum penalty must be determined in accordance with
rules and provisions of the Revised Penal Code. With
respect to the minimum penalty, however, “it is left
entirely within the discretion of the court to fix it anywhere
within the range of the penalty next lower without 23
reference to the periods into which it may be subdivided.”
Consistent with this ruling, this Court imposes reclu-sion
temporal, in its maximum period, as the minimum penalty,
to reclusion perpetua, as maximum.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the instant
appeal is DISMISSED and the appealed decision dated
November 18, 1993, is AFFIRMED in toto.
Costs against accused-appellant Theodore Bernal.

_______________

21 People v. Ulpindo, 256 SCRA 201 (1996).


22 People v. Catoltol, Sr., G.R. No. 122359, November 28, 1996; People
v. Balisnomo, G.R. No. 118990, November 28, 1996; People v. Vallena, 244
SCRA 685 (1995).
23 People v. Ducosin, 59 Phil. 109.

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People vs. Sahagun

SO ORDERED.

     Regalado (Chairman), Puno, Mendoza and Torres,


Jr., JJ., concur.

Appeal dismissed, judgment affirmed in toto.

Note.—For kidnapping to exist, there must be


indubitable proof that the actual intent of the malefactor
was to deprive the offended party of her liberty. (People vs.
Godoy, 250 SCRA 676 [1995])

——o0o——

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