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G.R. No. 172118 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. WARLITO C. FERNANDEZ

G.R. No. 172118 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES v. WARLITO C. FERNANDEZ

PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. NO. 172118 : April 24, 2007]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Appellee, v. WARLITO C. FERNANDEZ, Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

CALLEJO, SR., J.:

This is an automatic appeal from the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR H.C. No. 00637, affirming with modification, the Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 11, Tuao, Cagayan, in Criminal Case No. 699-T convicting appellant Warlito C. Fernandez of rape under Article 335(1) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659 and Republic Act No. 8353.

The Antecedents

The victim (BBB) and the appellant's wife were good friends. They were also partners in a "mango business."

On April 29, 1998, BBB and appellant's wife had just come from Tuguegarao, Cagayan. BBB arrived home at around 8:00 p.m.,3 and by 11:00 p.m., she was already in bed together with her eight-year-old daughter. The two were awakened by the incessant barking of their dog. BBB knew that whoever it was outside, it could not be her husband since he had attended a political rally.4 Suddenly, the appellant, armed with a short gun, entered the room,5 which was illuminated by a kerosene lamp placed on top of a cabinet.6 BBB and her daughter recognized the appellant.

Upon entering the room, the appellant immediately laid on top of BBB. He held her with his left hand, and with his right hand poked the gun at her right temple.7 That night, BBB was wearing only shorts.8 Appellant pushed it down with his foot, and inserted his penis into the victim's vagina.9 BBB did not struggle because she was afraid that appellant would kill her and her daughter if she did so. After around 15 minutes, appellant finished the beastly act10 and immediately left the premises.

BBB's daughter was on the same bed where the act was committed.11 She saw how the appellant positioned himself on top of her mother. Appellant then pointed a gun at the child, who, in her terror, covered herself with a blanket.12

When her husband arrived, the victim tearfully narrated all that transpired and what appellant had done. BBB's husband was angered by what he heard, but he comforted his wife, told her to stop crying, and promised that they would look for the appellant the following day.13

At 7:00 p.m. the next day, April 30, 1998, BBB reported the incident to a barangay councilman, who accompanied her to the barangay captain. On May 2, 1998, BBB reported the matter to the police headquarters where she and her daughter executed their respective sworn statements.14

On May 5, 1998, BBB was physically examined by Municipal Health Officer Dr. Eugenio Dayag. The doctor issued a medical certificate15 stating in part that that there were no signs of bruises or abrasions on the victim.

On May 7, 1998, BBB filed a criminal complaint16 with the Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Piat, Cagayan, and preliminary investigation ensued.17 Presiding Judge Estela B. Lucas ordered the issuance of a warrant for the arrest of the appellant with "no bail recommended."18 Appellant was arrested on June 8, 1998.

On September 24, 1998, the MCTC found probable cause against the appellant for the crime of rape, and ordered that the records of the case be forwarded to the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Cagayan for proper disposition pursuant to law.19 An Information dated October 5, 1998 was then filed before the RTC. The accusatory portion reads:

That on or about April 29, 1998 in the Municipality of Sto. Niño, Province of Cagayan, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, Warlito Fernandez alias Warling armed with a gun, with lewd design and by the use of force, threat and intimidation, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the offended party, [BBB] against her will.

That in the commission of the offense the aggravating circumstance of dwelling was present.20

During the arraignment on April 14, 1999, appellant entered a plea of "not guilty."21 Trial ensued.

The prosecution presented four witnesses: the victim, her daughter, the barangay councilman to whom the incident was first reported, and the barangay captain. The prosecution likewise presented the stipulated testimony of Dr. Dayag that on May 5, 1998, he examined BBB at the Municipal Health Office of Sto. Niño, Cagayan, and issued a medico-legal certificate thereon. Appellant's counsel admitted the proposal that in case the medico-legal certificate is presented, appellant would admit to the examination conducted on BBB and the issuance of the certificate.22 The prosecution formally offered the following documentary evidence before resting its case: the criminal complaint23 and the victim's signature;24 the victim's sworn statement25 and her signature;26 the sworn statement of the victim's daughter27 and the latter's signature;28 the medico-legal certificate29 and the signature of Dr. Dayag.30

The appellant interposed the defense of denial and alibi. He testified that he could not have committed the crime on April 29, 1998 because he was at a political rally in Lattac, Sto Niño, Cagayan; the rally started at 7:00 p.m. and ended at 12:00 midnight.31 He further testified that he was with BBB's husband and the latter's brother-in-law,32 and that after the rally, they accompanied two others to a nearby barrio aboard a culiglig owned by BBB's husband.33 After their companions alighted near the riverbank, he, BBB's husband, and the latter's brother-in-law proceeded to their barrio.34

The appellant further testified that at 6:30 a.m. the next day, April 30, 1998, BBB went to their house and helped pick mangoes for the business.35 He also claimed that BBB's husband suspected that he and BBB were having an affair; every time BBB's husband was drunk, he would tell the appellant that he (appellant) was a traitor ("traidor").36

On June 5, 2002, the defense presented a female witness to corroborate the appellant's alibi. The witness testified that BBB went to her house at 11:00 p.m. on April 29, 1998, and told her that a man had entered her (BBB's) house. BBB did not know who it was.37 BBB looked afraid, and the witness gave her water. However, the witness later retracted this statement, and declared that BBB "was not afraid" and that she was given water because she was thirsty.38 The witness recounted that she did not press BBB any further after she asked who the man was, and then went to BBB's house to get the sleeping child (the victim's daughter). It appears from the witness's testimony that BBB stayed with her (at the witness's house) for two hours before BBB's husband arrived.

After the defense rested its case, the prosecution manifested that it intended to present BBB as rebuttal witness. However, after several failed attempts to present her in court, the trial court declared that the prosecution was deemed to have waived its right to present rebuttal evidence. The case was considered submitted for decision.39

On January 7, 2003, the RTC rendered its Decision convicting the appellant of rape.ςηαñrοblεš  Î½Î¹r†υαl  lαω  lιbrαrÿ

The fallo reads:

WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the Court finds that the guilt of the accused WARLITO FERNANDEZ alias "Warling" for the offense of Rape, defined in Article 266-A and penalized under Article 266-B, both of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act 8353, has been established beyond reasonable doubt and hereby sentences him to suffer the supreme penalty of DEATH by lethal injection.

Furthermore, he is sentenced to pay to the offended party [BBB] the amount of P50,000.00 as indemnity and a further amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages. He is further ordered to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.40

The records of the case were initially transmitted to this Court on automatic review. However, conformably with the ruling in People v. Mateo,41 which modified "Sections 3 and 10 of Rule 122, Section 13 of Rule 124, Section 3 of Rule 125 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, and any other rule insofar as they provide for direct appeals from the RTC to the Supreme Court in cases where the penalty imposed is death, reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment," the Court issued a Resolution42 dated November 16, 2004 referring the case to the CA.

In his brief43 filed before the appellate court, the appellant alleged that the trial court erred as follows:

I.

THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF THE CRIME CHARGED DESPITE THE FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.

II.

THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE INCREDIBLE AND INCONSISTENT TESTIMONY OF THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES.44

The CA rendered the assailed Decision on January 30, 2006.45 Thus, the case is now before this Court on automatic review.

The Court's Ruling

At the outset, it must be stressed that in the review of rape cases, courts are guided by three principles: (1) an accusation for rape can be made with facility, and it is difficult to prove but more difficult for the accused, though innocent, to disprove; (2) in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape where only two persons are usually involved, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme caution; and (3) the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merit, and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.46

Moreover, at the heart of almost all rape cases is the issue of the credibility of the witnesses. This is primarily because the conviction or acquittal of the accused virtually depends entirely on the credibility of the victim's testimony as only the participants can testify to its occurrence.47 In turn, the manner of assigning values to declarations of witnesses on the witness stand is best and most competently performed by the trial judge who had the unmatched opportunity to observe the witnesses and assess their credibility by the various indicia available but not reflected on record; the demeanor of the person on the stand can draw the line between the fact and fancy, or evince if the witness is lying or telling the truth. Thus, when the question arises as to which of the conflicting versions of the prosecution and the defense is worthy of belief, the assessment of trial courts is generally viewed as correct and entitled to great weight. In an appeal where the culpability or innocence of the accused depends on the issue of the credibility of witnesses and the veracity of their testimonies, the findings of the trial court are given the highest degree of respect if not finality.48

It is also settled that the accused may be convicted solely on the basis of the victim's testimony, provided that such testimony is credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things.49 If the victim's testimony meets the test of credibility, this is sufficient to convict the accused. The credibility of the victim is almost always the single most important issue to hurdle.50

The Court finds no reason to disturb the findings of both the RTC and the CA that the victim's testimony passed this test of credibility. The victim categorically stated that it was the appellant who entered their room, laid on top of her, brought down her shorts, and, against her will, satisfied his lustful desire. The pertinent portion of her testimony reads:

Q: Will you tell this Court what happened on that particular time and date?cralaw library

A: Warlito Fernandez entered my house and he went on top of me, Sir.

Q: You stated that it was around 11:00 o'clock in the evening, how do you know that it was Warlito Fernandez who entered your house?cralaw library

A: The kerosene light was bright, Sir.

Q: Where were you sleeping then?cralaw library

A: In our room, Sir.

Q: When Warlito Fernandez entered your room, do you remember what happened next?cralaw library

A: He immediately went on top of me, sir and he held my hands.

Q: What did you notice from Warlito Fernandez when he laid on top of you?cralaw library

A: I noticed the gun he was holding and he poked on (sic) my head, Sir.

Q: What particular hand was he holding the gun?cralaw library

A: Right hand, Sir.

Q: How about the left hand?cralaw library

A: The left hand was holding me, Sir.

Q: What kind of gun is (sic) that?cralaw library

A: A short firearm, Sir.

Q: After the accused laid on top of you and poked his gun on your head, what happened next?cralaw library

A: He used his foot to bring down my shorts, Sir.

Q: After that, what happened next?cralaw library

A: I felt that his penis was inserted on my vagina, Sir.

Q: And how about the gun, where was that gun when he was sexually assaulting you?cralaw library

A: It's just poked on (sic) my head, Sir.51

What further strengthens the victim's credibility is that she had no ill motive to falsely accuse the appellant of rape. While the appellant claimed that BBB's husband suspected that he (appellant) and BBB were having an affair, no evidence was presented to prove this other than the appellant's self-serving testimony. Appellant in fact admitted that his statement was merely his own conclusion52 and was without basis. No evidence was presented to show that there had been a rift between the two families or a misunderstanding between BBB and appellant's wife regarding their business partnership. The victim's daughter also testified that the appellant's family would sometimes eat at their house. There is thus no reason to believe that BBB would concoct a story which would destroy the otherwise harmonious relationship between the families. Indeed, when there is no evidence to show any improper motive on the part of the prosecution witness to falsely testify against or falsely implicate the accused in the commission of the crime, the logical conclusion is that the testimony is worthy of full faith and credence.53

Appellant claims that there are inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses: (1) while BBB claimed that she did not offer resistance because of the gun that was poked at her head, her daughter and the barangay captain testified that she did; (2) BBB did not divulge that the appellant had a firearm that night; (3) the child claimed to have seen the sexual act, but she testified that she covered herself with a thick blanket; (4) BBB failed to mention that she sought someone's help after the incident, and claimed that her husband arrived immediately after the incident; and (5) while BBB testified that after reporting the incident to the barangay councilman, she proceeded to the doctor for examination, the records reveal that Dr. Dayag examined her only May 5, 1998.

As correctly held by the CA, the contentions of the appellant on the credibility of the prosecution witnesses refer only to peripheral and trivial matters; they do not touch on the issue of whether or not the crime of rape was in fact committed.54

Nevertheless, the Court deems it necessary to dwell on the arguments of the appellant.

Physical resistance need not be established in rape when threats and intimidation are employed, and the victim submits herself to her attackers because of fear. Besides, physical resistance is not the sole test to determine whether a woman involuntarily succumbed to the lust of an accused. Rape victims show no uniform reaction. Some may offer strong resistance while others may be too intimidated to offer any resistance at all.55 The use of a weapon, by itself, is strongly suggestive of force or at least intimidation, and threatening the victim with a gun is sufficient to bring her into submission.56 Thus, the law does not impose upon the private complainant the burden of proving resistance.

As testified to by BBB, while appellant was doing the bestial act, he was poking his short firearm at her head.57 He likewise poked the gun at the victim's daughter which caused the latter to cover herself with a blanket.58 These circumstances prevented BBB from resisting the lustful acts of the appellant.

That the appellant was armed that fateful night was sufficiently proven by the testimonies of BBB and her daughter, the only other persons present at the scene of the crime. The failure of BBB to divulge the information to the barangay captain and the barangay councilman is of no moment; as a rape victim, her main concern then was to report the rape incident. What is important is that the possession of firearm was reported to the police authorities, included in the information, and testified to by the witnesses in open court during the hearing of the case.

The testimony of the victim's daughter is likewise credible and corroborated the testimony of BBB. Assuming that she did not see the sexual act, the fact that she saw the appellant enter the room and lay on top of her is enough to strengthen her testimony. What was lacking in her testimony was sufficiently supplied by BBB through her clear and convincing account of how she was ravished by the appellant at gunpoint.

The date when BBB actually reported to the doctor for physical examination is a trivial matter. Whether she went to the doctor immediately or a few days is immaterial. Besides, we have consistently held that a medical examination of the victim is not indispensable to a prosecution for rape - it is merely corroborative in character.59 The important consideration in rape is not the presence of semen or spermatozoa, but the penetration of the male penis into the female genitalia.60

In view of the foregoing, the Court finds no reason to disturb the findings of the RTC as affirmed by the CA. The appellant's bare denials are insufficient to overturn the finding of guilt, and cannot overcome the categorical testimony of the victim.61 Indeed, for alibi to prosper, the following requisites must concur: (a) the presence of appellant at another place at the time of the perpetration of the offense; and (b) it was physically impossible for the accused to be at the scene of the crime.62 Appellant's testimony is bereft of any details on what his role was during the event; neither did he present any of his so-called "companions" to attest that he was at the political rally when the crime was committed.

The Court agrees with the CA that the crime of rape was committed with the use of a deadly weapon, with the aggravating circumstance of having been committed in the dwelling of BBB.63 Were it not for Rep. Act No. 9346 ("An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines"), the Court would impose the penalty of death on the appellant. Since Section 2 (a) of the said law provides that in lieu of the death penalty, the penalty of reclusion perpetua shall be imposed upon the accused (when the law violated makes use of the nomenclature of the penalties of the Revised Penal Code), then the appellant shall be sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.

However, the amounts awarded insofar as the civil indemnity and moral damages are concerned must be modified. This Court has previously ruled that so long as the crime was committed under circumstances that would justify the imposition of the death penalty, the accused shall pay civil indemnity in the amount of P75,000.00.64 This is true even if the death penalty cannot be imposed, as in this case, because said award does not depend on the actual imposition of the death penalty but on the fact that the qualifying circumstances warranting the imposition of the death penalty attended the commission of the offense.65 The victim shall thus be awarded P75,000.00 in moral damages, instead of P50,000.00, in accordance with prevailing jurisprudence.66

The appellate court correctly awarded to the victim P25,000.00 representing exemplary damages, with the objective of deterring other individuals with aberrant sexual behavior.67

IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR H.C. No. 00637, finding appellant Warlito C. Fernandez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape is AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that the penalty is reduced to reclusion perpetua, pursuant to Republic Act No. 9346. The appellant is further ORDERED to pay the victim P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; P75,000.00 as moral damages; and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

SO ORDERED.

Endnotes:


1 Penned by Associate Justice Santiago Javier Ranada (retired), with Associate Justices Roberto A. Barrios (deceased) and Mario L. Guariña III, concurring; rollo, pp. 3-11.

2 Penned by Judge Orlando D. Beltran; CA rollo, pp. 13-16.

3 TSN, February 15, 2000, p. 13.

4 Id. at 12.

5 Id. at 4-5; TSN, June 7, 2000, p. 26.

6 Id. at 4; Id. at 10.

7 Id.

8 Id. at 10.

9 Id. at 5.

10 Id. at 10.

11 Id. at 11.

12 TSN, June 7, 2000, p. 5.

13 TSN, February 15, 2000, p. 17.

14 Exhibit "B" and Exhibit "C."

15 Exhibit "D."

16 Exhibit "A."

17 The transcript of stenographic notes in Records, pp. 7-10.

18 Records, p.5.

19 Id. at 14.

20 Id. at 15.

21 Id. at 22.

22 TSN, August 7, 2000, pp. 54-55.

23 Exhihit "A."

24 Exhibit "A-1."

25 Exhibit "B."

26 Exhibit "B-1."

27 Exhibit "C."

28 Exhibit "C-1."

29 Exhibit "D."

30 Exhibit "D-1."

31 Id. at 4.

32 TSN, August 9, 2001, pp. 3-4.

33 Id.

34 CA rollo, p. 94.

35 TSN, August 9, 2001, pp. 5-6.

36 Id. at 8.

37 TSN, June 5, 2002, p. 3.

38 Id. at 9-11.

39 Records, p. 122.

40 CA rollo, p. 16.

41 G.R. NOS. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640.

42 CA rollo, pp. 89-90.

43 Id. at 35-46.

44 Id. at 37.

45 The dispositive portion reads:

WHEREFORE, the appealed decision is AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION as to the award of damages, in that accused Warlito Fernandez is further ordered to pay [BBB] P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.

SO ORDERED (rollo, p. 10).

46 People v. Corpuz, G.R. No. 168101, February 13, 2006, 482 SCRA 435, 444; see also People v. Sonido, G.R. No. 148815, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 701, 707; People v. Obrique, 465 Phil. 221, 241 (2004); and People v. Pascua, 462 Phil. 245, 251-252 (2003).

47 People v. Sonido, supra, at 708.

48 People v. Rivera, 433 Phil. 343, 352-353 (2002); see also People v. Corpuz, supra note 46, at 445; and People v. Purazo, 450 Phil 651, 673 (2003).

49 People v. Guambor, 465 Phil. 671, 678 (2004); People v. Corpuz, supra note 46, at 448.

50 People v. Corpuz, supra.

51 TSN, February 15, 2000, pp. 4-5.

52 Id. at 8-9.

53 People v. Clidoro, 449 Phil. 142, 150 (2003); People v. Pascua, supra note 46, at 255.

54 CA rollo, p. 96.

55 People v. David, 461 Phil. 364, 385 (2003).

56 People v. Galido, G.R. NOS. 148689-92, March 30, 2004, 426 SCRA 502, 515; People v. David, supra at 680-681; People v. Gutierrez, 451 Phil. 227, 239-240 (2003).

57 TSN, February 15, 2000, p. 5.

58 TSN, June 7, 2000, p. 5.

59 People v. Pascua, supra note 46, at 253-254.

60 People v. Funesto, 449 Phil. 153, 163-164 (2003).

61 People v. Corpuz, supra note 46, at 449; People v. Cachapero, G.R. No. 153008, May 20, 2004, 428 SCRA 744, 757.

62 People v. Funesto, supra note 60, at 163; People v. Pagsanjan, 442 Phil. 667, 686 (2002).

63 CA rollo, p. 98-99.

64 People v. Mangitngit, G.R. No. 171270, September 20, 2006, 502 SCRA 560.

65 People v. Quiachon, G.R. No. 170236, August 31, 2006, 500 SCRA 704.

66 People v. Corpuz, supra; People v. Boromeo, G.R. No. 150501, June 3, 2004, 430 SCRA 533.

67 People v. Barcena, G.R. No. 168737, February 16, 2006, 482 SCRA 543; People v. Cayabyab, G.R. No. 167147, August 3, 2005, 465 SCRA 681, 693; and People v. Boromeo, supra note 66, at 553.

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