FACTS:

From the records, it appears that on March 2, 1987, Patricia Villareal, for herself and in behalf of her children, Tricia and Claire Hope Villareal (the Villareals), filed an action for damages against spouses Eliseo and Erna Sevilla (the Sevillas), on account of the killing of her (Patricias) husband, Jose K. Villareal (Jose). It was alleged that Eliseo, said to be a very jealous husband, discovered that his wife, Erna was having an illicit affair with Jose. On the early morning of June 6, 1986, Erna and Jose were caught red-handed having a rendezvous in a parking lot by Eliseo who was just waiting in ambush together with some companions. There, Jose was mauled and shot to death. Because of this incident, the Sevillas started disposing their properties and eventually left for the United States of America with their children. Thereafter, a criminal case for murder was filed against them before the RTC of Makati, but it was archived because they had already left the country. On March 2, 1987, the Villareals filed a civil case for damages against the Sevillas arising from the murder case.

Summons could not be personally served on the Sevillas as they had been residing abroad so service was made by publication in a newspaper of general circulation. The Sevillas failed to file their answer to the complaint and so the trial court declared them in default and allowed the Villareals to present evidence ex parte.

After presenting their evidence ex-parte, the Villareals filed a Motion for Leave to Admit an Amended Complaint and for Extraterritorial Service to implead additional plaintiffs, include additional claims for damages and increase their claims for loss of income and moral and exemplary damages. The RTC admitted their amended complaint and ordered that summons be served anew on the Sevillas. But despite the proper service of summons by publication, the Sevillas failed to file their answer. This prompted the RTC to declare them again in default.

On April 2, 1990, the RTC rendered its decision ordering the Sevillas to pay the Villareals damages, among others, for the death of Jose Villareal. The RTC ruled, among others, that the Villareals were able to establish their cause of action against the Sevillas by preponderance of evidence.

With this adverse ruling, the Sevillas filed a motion to lift order and set aside judgment of default. This was denied by the RTC which prompted them to file a motion for reconsideration and suspension of proceedings while the criminal case against them was pending. Again, the motions were denied by the RTC in its August 10, 1990 order.

Unwilling to accede, the Sevillas elevated the matter to the CA by way of a Petition for Certiorari, Prohibition and Mandamus with Preliminary Injunction.

The CA, on December 23, 1991, set aside the judgment by default and other related orders of the RTC and ordered the admission of the answer of the Sevillas.

On May 22, 2001, the CA rendered a decision affirming the April 2, 1990 RTC decision. The CA ruled, among others, that a chain of factual circumstances all led to the conclusion that the Sevillas, with the help of other men, committed the crime. These were:

1.     The victim was last seen alive with Erna at the 1851 Club located on the 20th floor of the said building;

2.     One of the getaway cars was in fact the same car driven by Erna in going to the scene of the crime;

3.     The car owned by [the Sevillas] was with another car that sped away and attempted to race with a witness car toward the exit of the car park shortly after the shooting;

4.     The cars plate was substituted with the plate number of another car owned by [the Sevillas] upon loading of gasoline;

5.     Despite the close relationship between the victim and the [Sevillas], none of them attended the wake nor offered condolences to the bereaved family;

6.     Erna asked her personal accountant to retrieve her intimate letters to the victim from the victims files;

7.     [The Sevillas] abruptly departed to a foreign country, to the extent of removing their children from school; and

8.     [The Sevillas] failed to appear as they still refuse to appear in the criminal case for the killing of the victim all point to a single conclusion: [The Sevillas] planned and executed the killing and are now in hiding to avoid the legal consequences of their actions.

The Sevillas argue that the CA rendered a decision based on hearsay, incompetent, and inadmissible evidence. They claim that the Villareals failed to prove their case even by circumstantial evidence.

Issue: Whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the Villareals are entitled to an award of damages for the death of Jose Villareal.

HELD:

The Court ruled that the Villareals are entitled to damages.

The Court is convinced that the decision of the courts below are supported by a preponderance of evidence. Section 1, Rule 133 of the Revised Rules of Evidence provides how preponderance of evidence is determined:

Section 1. Preponderance of evidence, how determined. In civil cases, the party having the burden of proof must establish his case by a preponderance of evidence.  In determining where the preponderance or superior weight of evidence on the issues involved lies, the court may consider all the facts and circumstance of the case, the witnesses manner of testifying, their intelligence, their means and opportunity of knowing the facts to which they are testifying, the nature of the facts to which they testify, the probability of their testimony, their interest or want of interest, and also their personal credibility so far as the same may legitimately appear upon the trial.  The court may also consider the number of witnesses, though the preponderance is not necessarily with the greater number.

Preponderance of evidence is the weight, credit, and value of the aggregate evidence on either side and is usually considered to be synonymous with the term greater weight of the evidence or greater weight of the credible evidence. Preponderance of evidence is a phrase which, in the last analysis, means probability of the truth.  It is evidence which is more convincing to the court as worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto. If plaintiff claims a right granted or created by law, he must prove his claim by competent evidence. He must rely on the strength of his own evidence and not upon the weakness of that of his opponent.

Applying said principle in the case at bench, the factual circumstances established by the Villareals through their testimonial and documentary evidences are sufficient and convincing enough to prove that they are entitled to an award of damages for the death of Jose Villareal compared to the bare allegations to the contrary of the Sevillas. These circumstances, which were earlier enumerated, have successfully swayed this Court to believe that indeed the Sevillas are liable for the death of the victim to the exclusion of others except their henchmen.

Furthermore, the Court notes that in the course of their appeal with the CA, the factual conclusions of the RTC were never assailed by the Sevillas. Instead of questioning the facts that would garner them a favorable judgment, what they filed were an urgent motion to resolve one issue that will make all other issues moot and a motion for reconsideration on the sole issue of the extent of the award of unliquidated damages. Consequently, with the filing of these motions, the factual findings of the lower court were deemed admitted.

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