People vs Tulagan (G.R. No. L-68620 July 22, 1986)

People of the Philippines vs Tulagan
G.R. No. L-68620 July 22, 1986

Facts: On the night of May 19, 1979, at about 11 o’clock, Marlon Catungal 19, died a violent death, succumbing to “Shock, due to severe hemorrhage, secondary to stab wound, anterior chest.” (Exh. F-2). The fatal stab wound is described in the autopsy report, as follows:  … stab wound, elliptical in shape, 1 1/2 inches in length, located 1 inch from left para-sternal region at level of 5th intercostal space, directed upward, penetrating the upper portion of anterior lobe of left lung and the ascending portion of the aorta.  No one saw precisely how, where and when that single stab wound was inflicted, or by whom, but there seems to be no question — both prosecution and defense agreeing on this point — that the deceased was killed while attempting to flee from at least two men, Identified as Freddie (or Eding) Tulagan and Valentin “Satsoy” de Guzman. The chase began at or near the public hall of Barangay Don Pedro, Malasiqui, Pangasinan, where a dance was being held on the occasion of the barrio fiesta, and ended, tragically for Catungal, at the porch (azotea) of the house of a certain Cesar Evangelista, some 300 meters away. The deceased appeared to have been carried, after he had been fatally stabbed, from the house of Evangelista to the shoulder of the provincial road about 10 meters away, where his corpse was later found by police investigators and barangay officials.  The only person with any claim to some sort of direct observation of the pursuit and its sanguinary ending is Bonifacio Ulanday, who gave a sworn statement before the provincial Fiscal at Dagupan City on June 6, 1979 and later testified before the Trial Court.

Issue: Whether or not the testimonies of Ulanday and Macaraeg are admissible in evidence as part of res gestae.

Held: No. There is no evidence whatsoever that the statement attributed to Valentin de Guzman was made by him “immediately subsequent” to the startling occurrence which the Trial Court obviously had in mind: the slaying of Marion Catungal. On the contrary, if account be taken of the claim of another prosecution witness, Bonifacio Ulanday, that he had followed the four persons pursuing the deceased for “almost one hour” , it would most certainly have taken Valentin de Guzman and his companions that length of time to return from the crime scene to where the chase had started, or to Natalia’s store. Natalia herself testified that the three (3) accused returned to her store at “about 10:30 PM,” or after “more or less 1 1/2 hours.” More importantly, not every statement made on the occasion of a startling occurrence is admissible as part of the res gestae; only such are admissible as appear to have been involuntarily and spontaneously wrung from an observer by the shock or impact of the occurrence such that, as has aptly been said, it is the event speaking through the witness, not the witness speaking of the event. The startling occurrence must produce so powerful an effect or influence on the observer as to extract from his lips some description of the event practically without being conscious of his utterance. There is no indication in the record that Valentin de Guzman was so affected when he made the statement in question under the circumstances related by Natalia Macaraeg. Indeed, it may reasonably be inferred from Natalia’s testimony that he was in nowise agitated, stunned or shocked but was, on the contrary, calm, imposed, in full possession of his faculties and fully aware of what he was doing and saying. His statement regarding the killing of Marlon Catungal is not admissible as part of the res gestae.

Natalia’s conduct on the night of the killing exhibits a curious mix of interest and apathy. When “Satsoy” de Guzman “confessed” the killing to her, she became disturbed enough to send people to verify if in fact there had been such a killing and the victim was Marion Catungal. But when her worst fears were confirmed, she did nothing, appeared to lose all interest in the affair. She did not even report the crime or what transpired at her store to her father, Barangay Captain Jose B. Macaraeg of the neighboring Barangay Pulong Sur, who received the news from other persons, although the victim was a neighbor and known to her.  

Also by Natalia’s account, Vicente “Satsoy” de Guzman, and his companions first appeared at her store only to announce their intention of going after the man or men who had chase de Guzman’s father, and later returned, also only to proclaim — perhaps “boast” would be the better word — that their purpose had been accomplished. Why de Guzman and his companions should thus needlessly call attention to themselves and their crime impresses this Court as highly unnatural conduct, hardly to be expected of men whose normal instincts would be to conceal, rather than publicly declare, the plotting and execution of a killing. In this context, said account makes little sense and does not merit uncritical acceptance. 

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