G.R. No. 217973, July 19, 2017
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. FEDERICO GEROLA Y AMAR ALIAS "FIDEL", Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
This is an Appeal1 filed under Section 13(c), Rule 124 of the Rules of Court from the Decision2 dated September 25, 2014 (questioned Decision) of the Court of Appeals, Special Eighteenth Division (CA), in CA-G.R. CR. HC. No. 01277, which affirmed the Decision3 dated January 28, 2010 of the Regional Trial Court of Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, Branch 55 (RTC) in Criminal Case Nos. 1213, 1214, and 1215, convicting accused-appellant Federico A. Gerola (Federico) for the crimes charged therein.
[CRIMINAL CASE NO. 1213]As culled from the questioned Decision, the antecedent facts are as follows:
That sometime in July of 1999, in the Municipality of Himamaylan, Province of Negros Occidental, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, taking advantage of his moral ascendancy being the step-father of herein victim AAA,5 a minor, 11 years old, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of the latter, against her will.
CONTRARY TO LAW.6
[CRIMINAL CASE NO. 1214]
That sometime in the year 1998, in the Municipality of Himamaylan, Province of Negros Occidental, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, taking advantage of his moral ascendancy being the step-father of herein victim AAA, a minor, 10 years old, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of the latter, against her will.
CONTRARY TO LAW.7
[CRIMINAL CASE NO. 1215]
That on or about the 9th day of January, 2000, in the Municipality of Himamaylan, Province of Negros Occidental, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, taking advantage of his moral ascendancy being the step-father of herein victim AAA, a minor, 12 years old, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of the latter, against her will.
CONTRARY TO LAW.8
Version of the ProsecutionRuling of the RTC
Private complainant AAA was born on July 5, 1987. She was a minor when all three (3) acts of rape were committed. She was 11 years old when the first act of rape occurred sometime in the year 1998. The second act of rape happened sometime in the year 1999 when she was 12 years old and the third time was in January 2000 when she was 12 years and 6 months of age. At the time all three (3) acts of rape occurred, she was living in the same house in Barangay Libacao, City of Himamaylan in San Jose with her full-blood sister, her half-siblings (children of her mother and step-father), her mother MMM and AAA's step-father, accused-appellant Federico Gerola.
Sometime in 1998 at around 8:30 in the evening, AAA and her sisters were sleeping. Her mother was in the hospital tending to her aunt who had just delivered a baby. At that time, appellant crawled towards AAA. Accused-appellant told AAA to keep quiet, lie down and remove her underwear. AAA tried to resist but appellant gestured to box her. AAA tried to shout but he covered her mouth. After removing her underwear, accused also removed his brief and laid on top of AAA. Appellant inserted his penis into her vagina. AAA bled and felt pain. AAA did not tell her mother about the incident because appellant threatened her of maltreating them if she did so.
In July 1999 at around 9:30 in the evening, AAA was raped for the second time. While she was sleeping in bed, appellant sat beside her and removed her underwear. He then inserted his penis into her vagina. The victim felt pain and bled. At that time, AAA's mother was in the Himamaylan hospital tending to her grandmother. Again, she did not tell her mother due to appellant's threat to maltreat her mother.
In January of the year 2000, appellant did the same act of having carnal knowledge with AAA for the third time. This was done at around 2:30 in the morning and lasted for about thirty (30) minutes while everyone else in the house was sleeping. AAA's mother was away from home to tend to the latter's younger sister who gave birth. Like the other incidents, AAA did not tell her mother. Instead, AAA told her friend who advised her to tell their teacher. AAA then narrated the incident to her teacher, Mrs. Rafil, who summoned her mother and told her what happened. When her mother learned of her daughter's ordeal, she cried. AAA's aunt Elen accompanied the victim to the Barangay Captain and reported the rape incidents. Appellant was then fetched by the Barangay Captain and thereafter brought to the police station where the appellant was detained.
On February 7, 2000, AAA was examined by Dr. Medardo Estanda who made a written case report and anatomical sketch of the victim pursuant to the incidents that occurred. The report indicated that there were penetrations on the organ of the victim which had hymenal lacerations at 5, 6 and 12 o'clock positions.
Version of the Appellant
Accused-appellant Federico Gerola y Amar alias Fidel testified that he was married to MMM, the private complainant's mother, in the year 1996 and they begot four (4) children. The family which was composed of his wife and himself, their four children and a child of MMM by her first marriage were living in San Jose Valing, Barangay Libacao, Himamaylan City. The other child of MMM by her first husband, AAA, lived with her aunt Erlita Aguirre.
As a cane laborer, accused-appellant worked in the sugarcane field and sometimes in the rice field. Since 1998 up to 2000, AAA was living with the latter's aunt Erlita Aguirre in a separate house because she was going to school in San Jose.
Accused-appellant testified that he was not in good terms with Dodoy Puertas, the brother-in-law of his wife MMM, because Puertas was not in favor of their marriage. Accused-appellant recalled that when he and MMM asked permission from Dodoy Puertas about their plan to get married, Puertas did not give consent and merely said "I don't know". Appellant further testified that MMM and Dodoy Puertas initiated the filing of the criminal cases against him because MMM and Puertas have an illicit affair and both live together in Mirasol.9
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing, the Court finds the accused Federico Gerola y Amar alias "Fidel" "GUILTY" beyond a (sic) reasonable doubt on the three counts of Rape as charged against him. Since the death penalty is suspended, the Court hereby sentences the accused to three (3) penalties of Reclusion Perpetua, without eligibility of parole.Pleading his innocence, Federico filed a Notice of Appeal on April 28, 2010.11 Briefs were then respectively filed by Federico and plaintiff-appellee on August 15, 2011 and May 28, 2012, pursuant to the Notice to File Brief dated January 14, 2011 issued by the CA.12
The accused is further ordered to pay the private complainant, [AAA], moral damages in the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (Php50,000.00) for each case; civil indemnity in the amount of Seventy-Five Thousand Pesos (Php75,000.00) for each case; and exemplary damages in the amount of Twenty-Five Thousand Pesos (Php25,000.00) for each case.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is hereby DENIED. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental Branch 55 in Criminal Case Nos. 1213, 1214 and 1215 dated January 28, 2010 is hereby AFFIRMED in its entirety.Federico then elevated the case before the Court via Notice of Appeal16 dated October 22, 2014. In lieu of supplemental briefs, plaintiff-appellee filed a Manifestation and Motion (in Lieu of Supplemental Brief)17 dated September 1, 2015, while Federico filed a Manifestation (in Lieu of Supplemental Brief)18 dated September 23, 2015.
Time and again, we have held that when it comes to the issue of credibility of the victim or the prosecution witnesses, the findings of the trial courts carry great weight and respect and, generally, the appellate courts will not overturn the said findings unless the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which will alter the assailed decision or affect the result of the case. This is so because trial courts are in the best position to ascertain and measure the sincerity and spontaneity of witnesses through their actual observation of the witnesses' manner of testifying, their demeanor and behavior in court. Trial judges enjoy the advantage of observing the witness' deportment and manner of testifying, her "furtive glance, blush of conscious shame, hesitation, flippant or sneering tone, calmness, sigh, or the scant or full realization of an oath" - all of which are useful aids for an accurate determination of a witness' honesty and sincerity. Trial judges, therefore, can better determine if such witnesses are telling the truth, being in the ideal position to weigh conflicting testimonies. Again, unless certain facts of substance and value were overlooked which, if considered, might affect the result of the case, its assessment must be respected, for it had the opportunity to observe the conduct and demeanor of the witnesses while testifying and detect if they were lying. The rule finds an even more stringent application where the said findings are sustained by the Court of Appeals.25As well, that a witness' testimony contains inconsistencies or discrepancies does not, by such fact alone, diminish the credibility of such testimony. In People v. Esquila,26 the accused therein similarly cited contradictions and discrepancies in the victim's testimony in questioning his conviction for rape.27 Notably, as in the present Appeal, the purported discrepancies consisted of statements relating to date of the commission of the crime.28 In affirming the findings of the lower courts, the Court brushed aside such inconsistencies and gave full weight and credit to the testimony of the victim, who was likewise a minor29:
Thus, accused-appellant avers that the trial court erred in convicting him because the testimony of the victim, Maribeth, is uncertain, contradictory, and filled with inconsistencies and material discrepancies sufficient to destroy her credibility. He argues that in her direct testimony, Maribeth declared that the crime happened on October 15, 1991 at 12 o'clock midnight x x x while under cross-examination on August 3, 1992, she stated that she left accused-appellant's house on October 11, 1991 for Poblacion, Bansalan to look for work and stayed thereat for 1-1/2 months, from October 11, 1991 x x x. Thereafter she returned to Pananag, Managa, Bansalan but she did not go to accused-appellant's house. Instead she proceeded to her cousin's house x x x.Time and again, the Court has held that the date or time of the commission of rape is not a material ingredient of the crime and need not be stated with absolute accuracy; where the time of commission is not an essential element of the crime charged, conviction may be had on proof of the commission of the crime, even if it appears that the crime was not committed at the precise time alleged.31 It is well to stress that variance in minor details has the net effect of bolstering instead of diminishing the witness' credibility because they discount the possibility of a rehearsed testimony.32 Instead, what remains paramount is the witness' consistency in relating the principal elements of the crime and the positive and categorical identification of the accused as the perpetrator of the same.33
Indeed, the statements are contradictory. However, it should be remembered that the victim, Maribeth, was only 14 years old at the time she testified and, therefore, it is not unnatural should inconsistencies crop into her testimony as she is more prone to error than an adult person. In fact, minor inconsistencies may be expected of persons of such tender years.The minor inconsistencies in Gloria's testimonies are to be expected. Protracted cross-examination of a 16-year old girl not accustomed to public trial would produce contradictions which nevertheless would not destroy her credibility. x x xWe will not deviate from the rule that "testimonies of rape victims who are young and immature are credible; the revelation of an innocent child whose chastity was abused demands full credence." x x x
Too, the inconsistent statements Maribeth made as to the date and place of the commission of the crime are collateral or minor matters which do not at all touch upon the commission of the crime itself x x x nor affect Maribeth's credibility.
This Court has time and again held that inconsistencies in the testimony of witnesses with respect to minor details and collateral matters do not affect either the substance of their declaration, their veracity, or the weight of their testimony x x x.30 (Citations omitted; emphasis supplied)
1 CA rollo, pp. 118-120.
2 Id. at 104-117. Penned by Associate Justice Gabriel T. Ingles, with Associate Justices Renato C. Francisco and Jhosep Y. Lopez concurring.
3 Id. at 51-57. Penned by Presiding Judge Franklin J. Demonteverde.
4 As amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 8353 (The Anti-Rape Law of 1997) in relation to RA No. 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act).
5 Pursuant to RA No. 9262, otherwise known as the "Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004," and its implementing rules, the real name of the victim, as well as those of her immediate family members, is withheld, and fictitious initials instead are used to represent her, to protect her privacy. See People v. Cabalquinto, 533 Phil. 703, 705-709 (2006).
6 CA rollo, p. 105.
8 Id. at 105-106.
9 Id. at 106-108.
10 Id. at 57.
11 Id. at 109.
14 Id. at 110.
15 Id. at 116-117.
16 Id. at 118-120.
17Rollo, pp. 28-30.
18 Id. at 34-37.
19 CA rollo, pp. 45-46.
20 Id. at 46.
21 727 Phil. 642 (2014).
22 Id. at 658.
25 Id., citing People v. Amistoso, 701 Phil. 345, 356-357 (2013), further citing People v. Aguilar, 565 Phil. 233, 247-248 (2007).
26 324 Phil. 366 (1996).
27 Id. at 371.
28 See id.
30 Id. at 371-372.
31People v. Cinco, 622 Phil. 858, 867-868 (2009); People v. Ching, 563 Phil. 433, 444 (2007).
32People v. Gahi, supra note 21, at 659.
33People v. Appegu, 429 Phil. 467, 477 (2002).
34 RULES OF COURT, Rule 133, Sec. 2.
35 See CA rollo, pp. 114-115.
36People v. Vergara, 724 Phil. 702, 712 (2014).
37 Testimony of AAA and her mother; Medical report of Dr. Medardo S. Estanda; Police blotter report; Notebook of AAA; see CA rollo, pp. 51-54.
38 CA rollo, pp. 112-113.
39 See id. at 112.
40 Id. at 114.
41 SEC. 11. Article 335 of the same Code is hereby amended to read as follows:"Art. 335. When and how rape is committed. - Rape is committed by having carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:42 AN ACT TO IMPOSE THE DEATH PENALTY ON CERTAIN HEINOUS CRIMES, AMENDING FOR THAT PURPOSE THE REVISED PENAL CODE, AS AMENDED, OTHER SPECIAL PENAL LAWS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
1. By using force or intimidation;
2. When the woman is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious; and
3. When the woman is under twelve years of age or is demented.
x x x x
The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:
1. when the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law-spouse of the parent of the victim.["] (Emphasis supplied)
43 G.R. No. 202124, April 5, 2016, 788 SCRA 331.
44 AN ACT PROHIBITING THE IMPOSITION OF DEATH PENALTY IN THE PHILIPPINES.