G.R. No. 202060, December 11, 2013
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FERDINAND BANZUELA, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
That sometime [i]n February 2003, in the City of Mandaluyong, Philippines, a place within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with lewd designs and by means of force and intimidation, did, then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with [AAA3], minor (6 years old), against her will and consent, thus debasing and/or demeaning the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being.4II. For Attempted Rape (Criminal Case No. MC03-918-FC-H)
That sometime in February 2003, in the City of Mandaluyong, Philippines, a place within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously attempt to have carnal knowledge of [BBB], a girl seven (7) years of age, by then and there bringing her to a grassy portion of Mandaluyong Cemetery, made to lie down, undressed her, thus directly by overt acts but failed to perform all acts of execution when a third party helped the victim to get away from the accused.5Banzuela pleaded not guilty to both charges during his arraignment on November 20, 2003.6 After the completion of the pre-trial conference on January 22, 2004,7 trial on the merits ensued.
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, judgment is hereby rendered as follows:In AAA’s charge of rape, the RTC deemed as insignificant the results of the medical examination that AAA’s hymen was still intact. The RTC, invoking established jurisprudence, said that the mere touching of the labia consummates rape, and that a broken hymen is not an essential element of rape. The RTC added that a medical examination, in any event, was not essential in the prosecution of a rape case, being merely corroborative in character.16
1. In Criminal Case No. MC03-919-FC-H, finding accused FERDINAND BANZUELA guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 7659 and is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA and to indemnify the victim, [AAA], of the sum of FIFTY THOUSAND (P50,000.00) PESOS as civil indemnity; [and]
2. In Criminal Case No. MC03-918-FC-H, finding accused FERDINAND BANZUELA guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of ATTEMPTED RAPE, and there being no mitigating or aggravating circumstances and pursuant to Article 51, in relation to Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of pris[i]on correccional as minimum to ten years and one (1) day of prision mayor as maximum and to indemnify the victim, [BBB] of the sum of FIFTEEN THOUSAND (P15,000.00) PESOS.15 (Emphases supplied.)
The testimonies of AAA and BBB are worthy of credence as they were straightforward, spontaneous and “bore the hallmarks of truth.” More notable is that they were able to withstand the rigors of cross-examination without wavering or being caught in inconsistencies. Indeed, it defies belief that these victims, who were below 12 years old, would fabricate a sordid tale of sexual abuse and indict their very own cousin. Their testimonies of the separate incidents of sexual abuse that happened to them recounted vivid details that could not have been concocted by girls of tender age. The testimony of the complainants are consistent, clear and free of serious contradictions.19
FOR THE STATED REASONS, the assailed Decision of the Regional Trial Court (Branch 209) of Mandaluyong City is AFFIRMED with the following MODIFICATION:In agreeing with the RTC’s finding of guilt, the Court of Appeals said that Banzuela failed to destroy the victims’ credibility or taint their straightforward and categorical testimonies.22
1. In Criminal Case No. MC03-919-FC-H, Ferdinand Banzuela is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua without parole and to indemnify AAA the amounts of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity ex delicto, P75,000.00 as moral damages, and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages.
2. In Criminal Case No. MC03-918-FC-H, Ferdinand Banzuela is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of acts of lasciviousness and sentenced to an indeterminate penalty of 12 years, and 1 day of reclusion temporal, as minimum, to 16 years, reclusion temporal, as maximum and to indemnify BBB the amounts of P25,000.00 as moral damages and P10,000.00 as exemplary damages.21 (Citation omitted.)
Banzuela is attacking the credibility of the witnesses for being “highly inconsistent, unusual, doubtful and thus insufficient to sustain a conviction.” Banzuela claimed that AAA’s testimony was full of inconsistencies and contradictions, such as how she managed to remove his hand from her mouth and yet she did not shout for help, how Banzuela managed to blindfold BBB while still carrying her, and more importantly, how confused she was as to whether his penis actually penetrated her or simply touched her groin area. Banzuela argued that the fact that AAA was still a virgin was confirmed by the medico-legal examination, and as the medico legal officer said during his testimony, although the consensus was that it is possible for a woman to remain a virgin physically despite penetration, he himself has had no personal encounter of such a case.26
ASSIGNMENT OF ERRORS I
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING WEIGHT TO THE MATERIALLY INCONSISTENT AND INCREDIBLE TESTIMONIES OF THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES.
THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT DESPITE THE PROSECUTION’S FAILURE TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.25
First, the Court gives the highest respect to the RTC’s evaluation of the testimony of the witnesses, considering its unique position in directly observing the demeanor of a witness on the stand. From its vantage point, the trial court is in the best position to determine the truthfulness of witnesses.It is well-settled in this jurisdiction that the determination of the credibility of the witnesses is correctly assigned to the trial court, which is in the best position to observe the demeanor and bodily movements of all the witnesses.30 Elucidating on the rationale for this rule, this Court, in People v. Sapigao, Jr.,31 said:
Second, absent any substantial reason which would justify the reversal of the RTC’s assessments and conclusions, the reviewing court is generally bound by the lower court’s findings, particularly when no significant facts and circumstances, affecting the outcome of the case, are shown to have been overlooked or disregarded.
And third, the rule is even more stringently applied if the CA concurred with the RTC. (Citations omitted.)
It is well settled that the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies is a matter best undertaken by the trial court because of its unique opportunity to observe the witnesses firsthand and to note their demeanor, conduct, and attitude under grilling examination. These are important in determining the truthfulness of witnesses and in unearthing the truth, especially in the face of conflicting testimonies. For, indeed, the emphasis, gesture, and inflection of the voice are potent aids in ascertaining the witness’ credibility, and the trial court has the opportunity and can take advantage of these aids. These cannot be incorporated in the record so that all that the appellate court can see are the cold words of the witness contained in transcript of testimonies with the risk that some of what the witness actually said may have been lost in the process of transcribing. As correctly stated by an American court, “There is an inherent impossibility of determining with any degree of accuracy what credit is justly due to a witness from merely reading the words spoken by him, even if there were no doubt as to the identity of the words. However artful a corrupt witness may be, there is generally, under the pressure of a skillful cross-examination, something in his manner or bearing on the stand that betrays him, and thereby destroys the force of his testimony. Many of the real tests of truth by which the artful witness is exposed in the very nature of things cannot be transcribed upon the record, and hence they can never be considered by the appellate court.” (Citations omitted.)In the case at bar, both the RTC and the Court of Appeals found the testimonies of the witnesses to be credible. Furthermore, this Court’s own independent examination of the records leads us to the same conclusion.32 As the Court of Appeals said, both AAA’s and BBB’s testimonies were straightforward, detailed, and consistent.33 Their credibility is further strengthened by their clear lack of ill motive to falsify such a charge against their cousin, who shattered their youth and innocence.34
Rape is a painful experience which is oftentimes not remembered in detail. For such an offense is not analogous to a person’s achievement or accomplishment as to be worth recalling or reliving; rather, it is something which causes deep psychological wounds and casts a stigma upon the victim, scarring her psyche for life and which her conscious and subconscious mind would opt to forget. Thus, a rape victim cannot be expected to mechanically keep and then give an accurate account of the traumatic and horrifying experience she had undergone. (Citation omitted.)BBB was likewise candid, straightforward, and detailed in her narration of not only how AAA was raped, but also of how she almost suffered the same fate. Her alleged unusual actions during AAA’s ordeal, and later hers, are not enough to discredit her. It has been established that a victim of a heinous crime such as rape cannot be expected to act with reason or in conformity with society’s expectations. This acquires greater significance where the victim is a child of tender age. The workings of a human mind placed under emotional stress cannot be predicted; and people cannot be expected to act as usual in an unfamiliar situation. Furthermore, it is not accurate to say that there is a standard reaction or norm of behavior among rape victims, as each of them had to deal with different circumstances.38
‘[C]arnal knowledge,’ unlike its ordinary connotation of sexual intercourse, does not necessarily require that the vagina be penetrated or that the hymen be ruptured. The crime of rape is deemed consummated even when the man’s penis merely enters the labia or lips of the female organ or, as once so said in a case, by the ‘mere touching of the external genitalia by a penis capable of consummating the sexual act.43 (Citations omitted.)This element was proven when AAA detailed in open court how Banzuela forcefully inserted his sex organ into her genitalia in February 2003 and how she felt pain during her ordeal.
Proof of hymenal laceration is not an element of rape. An intact hymen does not negate a finding that the victim was raped. To sustain a conviction for rape, full penetration of the female genital organ is not necessary. It is enough that there is proof of entry of the male organ into the labia of the pudendum of the female organ. Penetration of the penis by entry into the lips of the vagina, even without laceration of the hymen, is enough to constitute rape, and even the briefest of contact is deemed rape. As long as the attempt to insert the penis results in contact with the lips of the vagina, even without rupture or laceration of the hymen, the rape is consummated. x x x. (Citations omitted.)Significantly, as this Court has held before,45 the pain that AAA suffered is, in itself, an indicator of the commission of rape. Moreover, AAA’s ordeal was witnessed by BBB, who in fact was the one who told AAA’s mother about the incident. Thus, contrary to Banzuela’s assertions, this Court is convinced that the prosecution was able to establish that he had carnal knowledge of AAA, making him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape.
The offender commences the commission of the felony directly by overt acts;In the crime of rape, penetration, however slight, is an essential act of execution that produces such felony. Thus, for Banzuela to be convicted of the crime of attempted rape, he must have already commenced the act of inserting his sexual organ in the vagina of BBB, but due to some cause or accident, excluding his own spontaneous desistance, he wasn’t able to even slightly penetrate BBB.48
He does not perform all the acts of execution which should produce the felony;
The offender’s act be not stopped by his own spontaneous desistance; and
The non-performance of all acts of execution was due to cause or accident other than his spontaneous desistance.47 (Citation omitted.)
Art. 336. Acts of lasciviousness. — Any person who shall commit any act of lasciviousness upon other persons of either sex, under any of the circumstances mentioned in the preceding article, shall be punished by prision correccional.Its elements are:
(1) That the offender commits any act of lasciviousness or lewdness;The foregoing elements are clearly present in BBB’s case, and were sufficiently established during trial. Although the crime charged against Banzuela was for attempted rape, convicting him for the crime of acts of lasciviousness does not violate any of his rights as such crime is included in the crime of rape.55
(2) That it is done under any of the following circumstances:
By using force or intimidation; or
When the offended party is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious; or
When the offended party is under 12 years of age; and
(3) That the offended party is another person of either sex.54 (Citation omitted.)
Article 266-A. Rape; When and How Committed. – Rape is committed -
1) By a man who shall have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:
x x x
Article 266-B. Penalties. – Rape under paragraph 1 of the next preceding article shall be punished by reclusion perpetua.For having been found guilty of the crime of qualified rape, AAA being a child below seven years of age when the crime occurred, the death penalty should have been imposed on Banzuela. However, Republic Act No. 9346,61 which took effect on June 24, 2006, prohibits the imposition of the death penalty. Under this Act, the lower courts correctly imposed upon Banzuela the penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility for parole62 in lieu of the death penalty.63
x x x
The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following aggravating/qualifying circumstances:
x x x
5) When the victim is a child below seven (7) years old.
(1) The accused commits the act of sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct;A review of the Information filed against Banzuela reveals that there was no allegation of the second element of Section 5, Article III of Republic Act No. 7610 – that the act is performed with a child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse. There was also no attempt to prove that element, as it would have been a violation of Banzuela’s constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. Although the Information stated that the crime being charged was in relation to Republic Act No. 7610, it is a well-settled rule that “the character of the crime is determined neither by the caption or preamble of the information[,] nor by the specification of the provision of law alleged to have been violated, they being conclusions of law, but by the recital of the ultimate facts and circumstances in the information.”66 Therefore, Banzuela can only be punished under Article 336 of the Revised Penal Code.
(2) The said act is performed with a child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other sexual abuse; and
(3) The child, whether male or female, is below 18 years of age.65
1Rollo, pp. 2-19; penned by Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez with Associate Justices Magdangal M. de Leon and Socorro B. Inting, concurring.
2 An Act Providing For Stronger Deterrence And Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation And Discrimination, Providing Penalties For Its Violation, And For Other Purposes.
3 Under Republic Act No. 9262 also known as “Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004” and its implementing rules, the real name of the victim and those of her immediate family members are withheld and fictitious initials are instead used to protect the victim’s privacy.
4 Records, p. 14.
5 Id. at 1.
6 Id. at 50-51.
7 Id. at 59-61.
8Rollo, pp. 3-4; CA rollo, p. 30; records, pp. 410-432; 558-562.
9 CA rollo, p. 30; records, pp. 133-142, 553-565.
10 Records, p. 25.
11 Id. at 266.
12 Id. at 347-350.
13 CA rollo, p. 65; records, pp. 442-456.
14 Id. at 29-40.
15 Id. at 39-40.
16 Id. at 37.
17 Id. at 38.
18 Id. at 39.
19 Id. at 36.
20 Id. at 41.
21Rollo, p. 18.
22 Id. at 13.
23 Id. at 15-16.
24 Id. at 20-22.
25 CA rollo, p. 59.
26 Id. at 67-71.
27 Id. at 71-72.
28 Id. at 72-74.
29 G.R. No. 197815, February 8, 2012, 665 SCRA 639, 643.
30Perez v. Court of Appeals, 431 Phil. 786, 792 (2002).
31 G.R. No. 178485, September 4, 2009, 598 SCRA 416, 425-426.
32People v. Sanchez, supra note 29 at 644.
33Rollo, p. 10.
34People v. Sanchez, supra note 29 at 644.
35 CA rollo, pp. 57-75.
36People v. Sanchez, supra note 29 at 644.
37 G.R. No. 178406, April 6, 2011, 647 SCRA 374, 388.
38 Id. at 394.
39People v. Canares, G.R. No. 174065, February 18, 2009, 579 SCRA 588, 601.
40 Id. at 601-602.
41 Records, p. 264.
42Sinumpaang Salaysay, Records, p. 10; TSN, September 13, 2005, Records, p. 435.
43People v. Tampos, 455 Phil. 844, 857-858 (2003).
44 G.R. No. 150501, June 3, 2004, 430 SCRA 533, 542.
45People v. Tampos, supra note 43 at 859; People v. Canares, supra note 39 at 603; People v. Boromeo, id.
46 REVISED PENAL CODE, Article 6.
47People v. Mendoza, 490 Phil. 737, 743 (2005).
48Perez v. Court of Appeals, supra note 30 at 793.
49People v. Mendoza, supra note 47 at 744.
50People v. Dadulla, G.R. No. 172321, February 9, 2011, 642 SCRA 432, 443.
51People v. Dominguez, Jr., G.R. No. 180914, November 24, 2010, 636 SCRA 134, 155.
52 Id. at 158.
53Rollo, p. 16.
54People v. Dominguez, Jr., supra note 51 at 158.
55Perez v. Court of Appeals, supra note 30 at 797.
56People v. Lazaro, 319 Phil. 352, 360 (1995).
57People v. Palomar, 343 Phil. 628, 663 (1997).
58People v. Del Ayre, 439 Phil. 73, 92-93 (2002).
59 Id. at 93.
60 The Anti-Rape Law of 1997.
61 An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of the Death Penalty, June 24, 2006.
62 Id., Section 3.
63 Id., Section 2.
64Cabila v. People, 563 Phil. 1020, 1027 (2007).
66People v. Anguac, G.R. No. 176744, June 5, 2009, 588 SCRA 716, 725.
67 Republic Act No. 4103, as amended.
68 Id., Section 1.
69 REVISED PENAL CODE, Articles 25 and 27.
70 Id., Article 64(1).
71 Republic Act No. 4103, as amended, Section 1.
72 REVISED PENAL CODE, Article 77.
73People v. Dominguez, Jr., supra note 51 at 163.
74People v. Mangune, G.R. No. 186463, November 14, 2012, 685 SCRA 578, 590-591.
75People v. Poras, G.R. No. 177747, February 16, 2010, 612 SCRA 624, 647.