[G.R. NO. 185203 : September 17, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DOMINGO ARAOJO, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
VELASCO, JR., J.:
On May 15, 2003, in the Regional Trial Court of Calabanga, Camarines Sur, four separate informations for rape and one for acts of lasciviousness were filed against accused-appellant Domingo Araojo. The informations for rape, docketed as Criminal Case Nos. RTC 03-809, 03-810, 03-811 and 03-812, and that for acts of lasciviousness, docketed as Criminal Case No. RTC 03-813, were eventually raffled to Branch 63 of the court.
The first information for rape in Criminal Case No. RTC 03-809 reads as follows:
That sometime in the year 1997 at Sitio Caltigao, Bgy. Sumaoy, Municipality of Garchitorena, Province of Camarines Sur, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, while armed with a knife, with lewd designs, by means of force and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously [succeeded in] having carnal knowledge with one AAA1, a 7 year old minor, and the niece of the accused, which act of accused debase, degrade and demean the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being and prejudicial to the child's development to her damage and prejudice.
ACTS CONTRARY TO LAW.2
The other informations (Criminal Case Nos. 03-810, 03-811, and 03-812) for rape were worded similarly as above but reflected the dates 1998, 1999, and August 2002, and the corresponding age of AAA as 8, 9, and 12 years old, respectively.
The information for Criminal Case No. RTC 03-813 for acts of lasciviousness reads:
That sometime in the year 2001 at Sitio Caltigao, Bgy. Sumaoy, Municipality of Garchitorena, Province of Camarines Sur, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, while armed with a knife, did then and there criminally abuse, with lewd designs sucking her breast and caressing her vagina of one AAA, a minor girl 11 year old and the niece of the accused, which act of accused debase, degrade and demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being and prejudicial to the child's development to her damage and prejudice.
ACTS CONTRARY TO LAW.3
When arraigned, Araojo pleaded not guilty to all the charges contained in the five (5) separate informations that were read to him in Bicol, a language he understood very well.4
During pre-trial, Araojo acknowledged that AAA's deceased father was his brother. He likewise admitted living in the same house with AAA's family when the alleged incidents happened.5
In the ensuing joint trial, the prosecution presented evidence to prove the following facts:6
AAA was born on December 1, 1989, the third child of BBB and CCC,7 Araojo's brother. When CCC died in 1997, Araojo stayed with BBB and her family. AAA used to fondly call Araojo as "Papay Inggo."
The first rape incident occurred sometime in 1997. On that fateful day in 1997, when BBB was out fishing with one of her sons, Araojo asked AAA to fetch water from a nearby river. AAA obeyed but it took her some time to accomplish her task. When AAA finally reached home, an irate Araojo, with a rope in his hand, reprimanded an apologetic niece. He made it plain that he would forgive her if she sucked his private organ. AAA obeyed out of fear. AAA, as later told, then removed her dress and parted her legs. Araojo then kissed her lips and inserted his finger into her vagina. He then placed himself on top of AAA, put saliva on his penis and started having sexual intercourse with AAA. Despite experiencing pain, AAA did not put up resistance for fear of being harmed. After satisfying his lust, he asked AAA to dress up after which he left the room. Alone in the room, AAA examined herself and noticed blood in her vagina. AAA later related her ordeal to her mother, who merely shrugged the matter off, but nonetheless assured AAA that she would ask Araojo not to do it again.
BBB's exhortation evidently went unheeded as, in 1998, appellant again raped AAA, with threats of physical harm. She reported the incident to her mother but the latter would not believe her.
One day the following year, AAA, now 9 years old, was again alone with her younger sister and Araojo in their small hut. He threatened AAA with a bolo to give in to his advances. What happened next was a virtual repeat of what he did the first and second molestation rounds. When he was done, he asked her if she was satisfied. Fearful of being abused again if she answered "no," AAA said "yes."
In 2001, Araojo again made an attempt to rape AAA. He first kissed AAA on the lips and cheeks and then asked her to undress. He, however, was unable to consummate his lust as BBB arrived at that point, thereby thwarting his evil designs. BBB stared at AAA as she wiped the saliva off her daughter's face. AAA confided anew to her mother, who again promised to talk to Araojo.
On August 16, 2002, Araojo raped AAA again, while BBB, with one of her sons, was out fishing. This time, Araojo poked a knife on AAA's neck before giving vent to his lustful desires, resorting to the same preliminary moves previously employed. After being done with AAA, he went to the basketball court. AAA reported the incident to her unbelieving mother, who tried to deflect her daughter's complaint by saying that Araojo had already promised to stop with his designs against AAA.
As her mother hardly exhibited concern about her plight, AAA decided to leave their house in Brgy. Sumaoy. By motorboat, she proceeded to Tamban, Camarines Sur to ask the help of her "Ate" Susan Fenes. Together, they approached a policeman who suggested that AAA be medically examined. With Fenes, AAA went to the poblacion of Garchitorena where she met social worker, Muriel SeÃ±ar Berunio. Berunio later assisted AAA undergo a medical examination in Naga City.
Dr. Maria Medem Perez, Chief Resident of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Unit of the Bicol Medical Center, testified to the records of AAA's examining physician, who had meanwhile resigned. According to the medical report, AAA's external genitalia showed no visible abnormality, but her internal genitalia had hymenal lacerations. AAA's hymen was not intact and there were old incomplete lacerations at 5 o'clock and 9 o'clock positions. Said lacerations could have been caused by sexual assault or other causes that could have been inflicted months or even years before.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
In lieu of the unavailable documents to establish AAA's birth date, namely her birth certificate, baptismal certificate and scholastic records, the court heard for the purpose the testimony of BBB. According to BBB, she gave birth to AAA on December 1, 1989 in Ibahoy, Lagonoy, Camarines Sur and had her baptized in Azon, Garchitorena.
In the witness box, BBB also admitted not taking AAA's complaints against Araojo for rape seriously in the face of the latter's denial of any wrongdoing. It was only when AAA left home that BBB became convinced of the veracity of AAA's complaints.
Only Araojo testified for the defense. He admitted cohabiting with BBB in 1998, or a year after his brother's death. This relationship, however, lasted only for about a year as he moved in 1999 to Nasugbu, Batangas to work in a sugarcane plantation from 2000 to 2001. He returned to Garchitorena in 2002. He professed innocence of the 1997 rape incident, being then in Manila working. Neither, according to him, could he have raped AAA in 1998 since he was busy taking care of the ailing BBB. In denying the occurrence of the alleged 1999 rape episode, he claimed that AAA stayed with the Barja family in 1999 and later with the family of a certain Willy in Caltigao, Garchitorena.
On rebuttal, AAA stated that the Barja's place in Caltigao, Garchitorena, Camarines Sur and that of Willy are near her house, enabling her to go home in the afternoon after her babysitting chores. She further stated that Araojo came home every month while he was working in Nasugbu in 2000.
On June 15, 2005, the trial court rendered a joint decision finding Araojo guilty as charged and accordingly sentenced him, thus:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the prosecution having proven the guilt of Domingo Araojo beyond reasonable doubt, he is guilty of statutory rape in Crim. Cases Nos. RTC 03-809 and RTC 03-810; rape with the use of a deadly weapon in Crim. Cases Nos. RTC 03-811 and RTC 03-812 and Acts of Lasciviousness in Crim. Case No. RTC 03-813. Thus, he is hereby sentenced to suffer the following penalties:
1. In Crim. Case No. RTC 03-809 for rape, accused Domingo Araojo is meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, AAA the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; P50,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the cost.
2. In Crim. Case No. RTC 03-810 for rape, accused Domingo Araojo is meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, AAA the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; P50,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the cost.
3. In Crim. Case No. RTC 03-811 for rape, accused Domingo Araojo is meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, AAA the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; P50,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the cost.
4. In Crim. Case No. RTC 03-812 for rape, accused Domingo Araojo is meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua. He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, AAA the amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity; P50,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the cost.
5. In Crim. Case No. RTC 03-813 for Acts of Lasciviousness, accused Domingo Araojo is meted the indeterminate penalty of SIX (6) MONTHS of arresto mayor as minimum to FOUR (4) YEARS and TWO (2) MONTHS of prision correccional as maximum. He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, AAA the amount of P30,000.00 as moral damages, and to pay the cost.
Accused is likewise meted the accessory penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification as provided for under Article 41 of the Revised Penal Code.
Considering that accused Domingo Araojo has undergone preventive imprisonment during the pendency of his case, he shall be credited in the services of his sentence with the time he has undergone preventive imprisonment subject to the conditions provided for in Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code.
The Ruling of the CA
From the RTC's decision, Araojo went to the Court of Appeals (CA) on the lone submission that:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING [HIM] OF THE CRIMES CHARGED, WHEN THE GUILT HAS NOT BEEN PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.
Eventually, on July 9, 2008, the CA rendered judgment affirming Araojo's conviction but modified the penalty thus imposed by the trial court. The fallo of the appellant court's decision reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED. The Joint Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Calabanga, Camarines Sur, Branch 63, in Criminal Cases Nos. RTC 03-809, 810, 811, 812 and 813 is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Appellant Domingo Araojo is sentenced to suffer the following:
a) the penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count of Statutory Rape subject of Crim. Case Nos. RTC 03-809 and 810;
b) the penalty of reclusion perpetua for the crime of Statutory Rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon subject of Crim. Case No. RTC 03-811;
c) the penalty of reclusion perpetua for the crime of Simple Rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon subject of Crim. Case No. RTC 03-812;
d) the penalty of imprisonment of Six (6) Months of arresto mayor as minimum to Four (4) Years and Two (2) Months of prision correccional as maximum in Crim. Case No. RTC 03-813.
He is likewise ordered to pay the private complainant, the following:
a) the sum of P75,000.00 as moral damages, P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages for each count of Statutory Rape and Statutory Rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon plus costs in Criminal Case Nos. RTC 03-809, RTC 03-810 and RTC 03-811;
b) the sum of P50,000.00 as moral damages, P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages for the crime of Simple Rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon plus costs in Criminal Case No. RTC 03-812; andcralawlibrary
c) the amount of P30,000.00 as moral damages for the crime of Acts of Lasciviousness in Criminal Case No. RTC 03-813.
Therefrom, appellant filed a notice of appeal to which the CA, per its resolution of July 31, 2008, gave due course.
In response to the Resolution of the Court for them to submit supplemental briefs if they so desired, the parties manifested their willingness to have the case resolved on the basis of the records and pleadings already on file.
As before the CA, Araojo presently urges the Court to acquit him, predicating his plea on the issue of: (1) the credibility of the witnesses for the prosecution; and (2) the sufficiency of its evidence.
Araojo tags AAA's account of the alleged rape incidents, which, for the most part, consisted of the same details, as utterly incredulous. And evidently proceeding on the assumption that rape victims usually put up a struggle, he invites attention to AAA's failure to significantly resist the alleged sexual attack.
Focusing on another angle, Araojo maintains that the physical evidence ran counter to AAA's allegations of rape. If, as AAA alleged, she was raped, then the results of her medical examinations would have yielded complete hymenal lacerations, considering AAA's tender age and the manner of the sexual assault. Araojo theorizes that, since AAA had been hired as a babysitter, it is possible that she was exposed to various forms of exploitation.
The Ruling of the Court
The Court resolves to affirm the CA decision.
Penile or organ rape is committed when the accused has carnal knowledge of the victim by force, threat, or intimidation, or when the victim is deprived of reason or is unconscious, or when the victim is under 12 years of age.10
By the peculiar nature of rape cases, conviction thereon most often rests solely on the basis of the offended party's testimony, if credible, natural, convincing, and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things.11 Accordingly, the Court has consistently adhered to the following guiding principles in the review of similar cases, to wit: (1) an accusation for rape can be made with facility; while the accusation is difficult to prove, it is even more difficult for the accused, albeit innocent, to disprove; (2) considering that, in the nature of things, only two persons are usually involved in the crime of rape, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with extreme care; and (3) the evidence for the prosecution must succeed or fall on its own merits, and cannot be allowed to derive strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.12
Corollary to the foregoing principles is the rule that the credibility of the victim is always the single most important issue in prosecution for rape.13 Withal, in passing upon the credibility of witnesses, the highest degree of respect must be accorded to the findings of the trial court.14
AAA had pointed an accusing finger to Araojo, her "Papay Inggo," as the person who forced himself on her on at least four occasions and who caused her pain when he inserted his sex organ into her vagina. As an indication that she did not acquiesce to his beastly ways, she reported the incident to her mother, but her efforts turned out to be in vain. As determined by the trial court, AAA's testimony on the fact of molestation was positive and credible; there is neither cause nor reason to withhold credence on her testimonies.
As the Court has often repeated, the issue of credibility is a matter best addressed by the trial court which had the chance to observe the demeanor of the witnesses while testifying.http://elibrary.judiciary.gov.ph/documents-dtsearch/SUPREME_COURT/Decisions/2001.zip%3E449,df%7C2001/NOV2001/133910.htm - _edn10 For this reason, the Court, as earlier stressed, accords great weight and even finality to factual findings of the trial court, especially its assessments of the witnesses and their credibility, barring arbitrariness or oversight of some fact or circumstance of weight and substance.http://elibrary.judiciary.gov.ph/documents-dtsearch/SUPREME_COURT/Decisions/2001.zip%3E449,df%7C2001/NOV2001/133910.htm - _edn11 15 Testimonies of child-victims are normally given full weight and credit, since when a girl, particularly if she is a minor, says that she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape has in fact been committed. When the offended party is of tender age and immature, courts are inclined to give credit to her account of what transpired, considering not only her relative vulnerability but also the shame to which she would be exposed if the matter to which she testified is not true.16 Youth and immaturity are generally badges of truth and sincerity.http://elibrary.judiciary.gov.ph/documents-dtsearch/SUPREME_COURT/Decisions/2006.zip%3E4ff,df%7C2006/OCT2006/166401.htm - _ftn 17
Where the victim is below 12 years old, the only subject of inquiry is whether "carnal knowledge" took place. Proof of force, threat or intimidation is unnecessary since none of these is an element of statutory rape. There is statutory rape where, as in this case, the offended party is below 12 years of age.18 In light of this perspective, the absence of a struggle or an outcry from AAA, if this really be the case, vis - Ã -vis the first three, i.e., 1997, 1998 and 1999, dastardly attacks, would not carry the day for Araojo.
Araojo has made much of the report on the medical examination conducted on AAA showing that she suffered incomplete hymenal laceration. To him, what the medical report yielded does not complement AAA's testimony of rape.19
The Court is not convinced. To start with, full penile penetration, which would ordinarily result in hymenal rupture or laceration of the vagina of a girl of tender years, is not a consummating ingredient in the crime of rape. The mere knocking at the door of the pudenda by the accused's penis suffices to constitute the crime of rape.20 And given AAA's unwavering testimony as to her ordeal in the hands of Araojo, the Court cannot accord merit to the argument that the lack of physical manifestation of rape weakens the case against Araojo. The medical report on AAA is only corroborative of the finding of rape. The absence of external signs or physical injuries on the complainant's body does not necessarily negate the commission of rape,21 hymenal laceration not being, to repeat, an element of the crime of rape.22 A healed or fresh laceration would of course be a compelling proof of defloration.23 What is more, the foremost consideration in the prosecution of rape is the victim's testimony and not the findings of the medico-legal officer. In fact, a medical examination of the victim is not indispensable in a prosecution for rape; the victim's testimony alone, if credible, is sufficient to convict.24
Araojo's defense of denial deserves scant consideration. Following his line, AAA virtually proved his case for him, for, as argued, AAA admitted that in 2002 she worked as a babysitter and yet she claimed that sometime in August 2002, he raped her.
Araojo's argument is untenable. The fact that AAA worked as a babysitter for families living within a walking distance from her did not preclude the commission of rape against her. As it were, he had not demolished AAA's positive and consistent testimony about the several rape incidents and about his gestures constituting acts of lasciviousness.
In all then, we find no reason to disturb the ruling of the CA, confirmatory of that of the RTC, and the factual findings holding it together.
The award of PhP 75,000 as civil indemnity ex delicto for the victim and the same amount as moral damages for each count of statutory rape and statutory rape committed with the use of deadly weapon is in line with prevailing case law25 and is accordingly affirmed. The order for Araojo to pay AAA PhP 50,000 as civil indemnity and PhP 50,000 as moral damages for the crime of simple rape subject of Criminal Case No. RTC 03-812 is also proper. And while the award of exemplary damages is also called for to deter other individuals with aberrant sexual tendencies, the amount thus fixed therefor by the CA is increased from PhP 25,000 to PhP 30,000 for each count of statutory rape, pursuant to current jurisprudence.26
The award of moral damages in the amount fixed in the appealed decision to indemnify the offended party for the crime of acts of lasciviousness is in order.
WHEREFORE, the appealed CA Decision dated July 9, 2008 is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that accused-appellant is ordered to pay AAA by way exemplary damages for each count of rape in Criminal Case Nos. RTC 03-809, 03-810, and 03-811 the amount of PhP 30,000. Costs against accused-appellant.
1 The identity of the victims or any information tending to establish or compromise their identities, as well as those of their immediate family or household members, shall be withheld pursuant to Republic Act No. (RA) 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, and for Other Purposes; RA 9262, An Act Defining Violence Against Women and Their Children, Providing for Protective Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes; and Sec. 40 of A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC, known as Rule on Violence Against Women and Their Children effective November 15, 2004; People v. Cabalquinto, G.R. No. 167693, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 419.
2 Rollo, p. 3
3 Id. at 5.
6 CA rollo, pp. 93-108.
7 Identities withheld, supra note 1.
8 CA rollo, pp. 13-35. Penned by Judge Freddie D. Balonzo.
9 Rollo, pp. 2-21. Penned by Associate Justice Arcangelita M. Romilla-Lontok and concurred in by Associate Justices Mariano C. del Castillo (now a member of this Court) and Romeo F. Barza.
10 Revised Penal Code, Art. 266-A; People v. Barangan, G.R. No. 175480, October 2, 2007, 534 SCRA 570, 591-592.
11 People v. Corpuz, G.R. No. 168101, February 13, 2006, 482 SCRA 435, 444.
12 Id.; People v. Bidoc, G.R. No. 169430, October 21, 2006, 506 SCRA 481, 495; People v. Arsayo, G.R. No. 166546, September 26, 2006, 503 SCRA 275, 284; People v. Quiachon, G.R. No. 170236, August 31, 2006, 500 SCRA 704, 714.
13 People v. Ceballos, Jr., G.R. No. 169642, September 14, 2007, 533 SCRA 493, 508.
14 People v. Balonzo, G.R. No. 176153, September 21, 2007, 533 SCRA 760, 768.
15 People v. Virrey, G.R. No. 133910, November 14, 2001, 368 SCRA 623, 630.
16 Llave v. People, G.R. No. 166040, April 26, 2006, 488 SCRA 376, 400.
17 People v. Guambor, G.R. No. 152183, January 22, 2004, 420 SCRA 677, 682.
19 CA rollo, pp. 46-63.
20 People v. Plurad, G.R. NOS. 138361-63, December 2, 2002, 393 SCRA 306.
21 People v. Boromeo, G.R. No. 150501, June 3, 2004, 430 SCRA 533, 546.
22 People v. Espino, Jr., G.R. No. 176742, June 17, 2008, 554 SCRA 682, 700; citing People v. Esteves, 438 Phil. 687, 699 (2002).
23 People v. Sambrano, G.R. No. 143708, February 24, 2003, 398 SCRA 106, 113.
24 Boromeo, supra note 21; People v. Cea, G.R. NOS. 146462-63, January 14, 2004, 419 SCRA 326; People v. Pillas, G.R. NOS. 138716-19, September 23, 2003, 411 SCRA 468; People v. Tamsi, G.R. NOS. 142928-29, September 11, 2002, 388 SCRA 604.
25 People v. Sia, G.R. No. 174059, February 27, 2009.