G.R. No. 107699. March 21, 1997 (Case Brief / Digest)

### Title:
Alex Jacobo y Sementela vs. Court of Appeals and People of the Philippines

### Facts:
The case commenced with an Information for homicide filed against Alex Jacobo Sementela, herein petitioner, on February 5, 1988, for the killing of Romeo de Jesus on April 14, 1987, in Manila. The petitioner pleaded not guilty and invoked self-defense during the trial. The prosecution presented witnesses, including Edilberto Bermudes and Dr. Marcial Cenedo, to establish the occurrence of the incident during a wake, where Jacobo initiated an argument and subsequently a physical altercation with the deceased, leading to fatal stab wounds. Conversely, the defense argued that Jacobo acted in self-defence after being attacked by the deceased and another person.

After the trial, Judge Inocencio D. Maliaman of the Regional Trial Court of Manila found the petitioner’s self-defense claim inconceivable and convicted him of homicide, imposing an indeterminate penalty. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision but later reconsidered to credit Jacobo with voluntary surrender as a mitigating circumstance, modifying the sentence accordingly. Jacobo then elevated the matter to the Supreme Court, seeking acquittal by contending a misapprehension of his self-defense claim and questioning the credibility of prosecution witnesses.

### Issues:
1. Whether there was unlawful aggression by the deceased warranting self-defense by the petitioner.
2. Whether the testimony of prosecution witness Bermudes was compromised by inconsistencies with his prior sworn statement.
3. The appropriate imposition of penalties in light of the established facts and mitigating circumstances.

### Court’s Decision:
1. **Unlawful Aggression**: The Court ruled that where a fight is mutually agreed upon, no unlawful aggression can beestablished, which is an essential element for a claim of self-defense. The Court found that both the petitioner and the deceased agreed to engage in the altercation, ergo, dismissing the self-defense claim.

2. **Credibility of Witnesses**: The Court upheld the findings of the lower courts on witness credibility, emphasizing the primacy of trial courts in assessing witness demeanor and veracity. The Supreme Court noted that inconsistencies between Bermudes’ affidavit and testimony did not significantly undermine the prosecution’s case, particularly when the overall assertion that both parties consented to the altercation remained unchanged.

3. **Imposition of Penalties**: The Supreme Court modified the appellate court’s decision concerning the penalty based on the mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender. It adjusted the indeterminate sentence to six (6) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as the minimum, to twelve (12) years and one (1) day of reclusion temporal, as the maximum.

### Doctrine:
In a legal battle involving claims of self-defense, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to establish the justifying circumstance convincingly. Further, mutual combat negates the premise of unlawful aggression, thereby invalidating self-defense pleas. Factual findings of lower courts, especially regarding witness credibility, are afforded great respect and are seldom overturned.

### Class Notes:
– **Elements of Self-Defense**: (1) unlawful aggression, (2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it, (3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending themselves.
– **Burden of Proof**: In self-defense claims, the defendant must prove the elements convincingly; failure to do so results in the claim’s dismissal.
– **Mutual Combat**: Agreements to engage in a fight preclude claims of unlawful aggression and self-defense.
– **Witness Credibility**: Trial courts have broad discretion in assessing the credibility of witnesses, which appellate courts usually defer to unless there are compelling reasons for a reevaluation.

### Historical Background:
This case underscores the Philippine legal system’s procedural rigor in adjudicating homicide cases and the intricacies involved in claiming self-defense. It also illustrates the judiciary’s hierarchy in the Philippines, emphasizing the deference paid to lower courts’ factual findings by the appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, except in instances of palpable error or oversight.


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