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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

EN BANC

[G.R. No. 143030. March 12, 2002.]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. REYNALDO PORTUGAL Y GALLARDO, Accused-Appellant.

D E C I S I O N


MELO, J.:


Before us on automatic review is the decision dated January 18, 2001 of Branch 40 of the Regional Trial Court of the Fourth Judicial Region stationed in Oriental Mindoro, in its Criminal Case No. C-4739, finding appellant Reynaldo Portugal guilty of rape and sentencing him to suffer the supreme penalty of death.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Appellant’s conviction for said crime arose from an Information reading as follows:chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

That on or about the 4th day of March, 1995, at around 7:00 o’clock in the evening, at Barangay Canubing I, Municipality of Calapan, Province of Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, being then the step-father of the offended party Maricel Abela y Apelado, motivated by diabolical desire and by means of force and intimidation wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously did lie and succeeded in having carnal knowledge of said MARICEL ABELA against her will and consent.

Contrary to Law.

(p. 3, Rollo.)

Appellant pleaded not guilty to the charge and stood trial, resulting in a judgment of conviction, disposing:chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

ACCORDINGLY, finding herein accused Reynaldo Portugal y Gallardo guilty beyond reasonable doubt as principal of the crime of Rape with the qualifying circumstance that the victim was under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense and that the offender is the step-parent of the victim, the Court hereby sentences said accused Reynaldo Portugal y Gallardo to suffer the maximum penalty of death, with all the accessory penalties imposed by law, and to indemnify the victim Maricel Abela y Apelado, the amount of P75,000.00 as civil indemnity, P50,000.00 as moral damages and P50,000.00 as exemplary damages, without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency, and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.

(p. 16, Rollo.)

The prosecution’s version of the events is based principally on the testimony of the victim, Maricel Abela; Dr. Cresencia Gutierrez, the examining resident physician of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Hospital; Angeles Marasigan, barangay captain of Canubing I, Calapan City; and Nelly F. Asturias, Local Civil Registrar of Calapan City.

Maricel testified that on March 4, 1995 at around 7 o’clock in the evening, she was home taking care of her baby brother. Suddenly, appellant Reynaldo approached her and started to undress her. Maricel resisted and earnestly begged appellant to stop, pleading "huwag po", several times. Appellant paid no heed to Maricel’s’ pleas and instead told her not to cry, otherwise, she will be killed.

Maricel could not do anything anymore, and so appellant was able to carry out his vicious plan. Naked as he was, appellant laid himself on top of Maricel and inserted his penis into her vagina. Maricel no longer fought back as she was continuously threatened by him. Thereafter, appellant, with a standing order that she must not report the matter to anyone, left. Maricel, on the other hand, proceeded to her grandmother’s house which is just 5 meters away from theirs and spent the night over. It was her intention to divulge to her uncle, who at that time was in her grandmother’s house, the ordeal she just went through. But she held back as she was haunted by appellant’s fulmination.

The next day, Maricel intimated to her mother her tribulation. However, she was instead accused by her mother of being a liar. This urged her to look for her Uncle Obet, her mother’s brother, to report the incident. Unable to do so, Maricel sought refuge in the solicitude of their barangay captain, Angeles Marasigan. Consequently, Maricel’s mother was summoned by said barangay captain to inform her of Maricel’s condition. Later, Maricel was brought to the hospital for examination.

Prosecution witness Dr. Cresencia Gutierrez, resident physician of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Hospital where Maricel was brought, testified that she conducted a physical examination of Maricel. She revealed that Maricel’s vagina admits the small finger with ease, with an area of erythema around the hymen; and the cervix is closed with multiple old hymenal lacerations at 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 o’clock positions which could have been sustained through sexual intercourse (pp. 11-13, tsn, May 9, 1996).

Nelly F. Asturias, the local Civil Registrar of Calapan City, presented the birth certificate of the victim showing that she was born on May 1, 1982.

Appellant denied the charges leveled against him and claimed that at around 7 o’clock on the evening of March 4, 1995, he was having a drinking spree with his four other companions which lasted until 11 o’clock that same night. He recalled that a week prior to the alleged rape incident, he scolded Maricel for having disobeyed her mother. But instead of showing remorse Maricel displayed animosity and disrespect towards him, for which behavior he slapped her.

Appellant also mentioned an earlier cuffing incident. Allegedly, when he confronted Maricel about her baby brother whom she was supposed to take care of but fell from the crib and sustained an injury, Maricel answered back, "Why don’t you look for someone to take care of the child?"

The trial court did not accord credence to the testimony of appellant, pointing out that denial and alibi are purely self-serving and deserve scant consideration. Further, appellant failed to present any witness to corroborate his alibi. The trial court found the victim’s testimony unbridled and unadulterated. It characterized Maricel’s testimony as categorical, straightforward, spontaneous, and frank.

Aggrieved, appellant is now before us insisting on his innocence, anchoring his plea for reversal upon the following assigned errors:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

I


THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN GIVING FULL FAITH AND CREDENCE TO THE INCREDIBLE TESTIMONY OF THE PRIVATE COMPLAINANT ANENT THE INCIDENT IN QUESTION.

II


THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN NOT GIVING EVIDENTIARY WEIGHT TO THE EVIDENCE ADDUCED BY THE DEFENSE AND IN NOT DISREGARDING THE TESTIMONY OF THE PRIVATE COMPLAINANT CONSIDERING THAT SHE WAS MOTIVATED BY ILL-WILL.

III


THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN RENDERING A VERDICT OF CONVICTION DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT WAS NOT PROVEN BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.

IV


GRANTING FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT THAT THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT IS GUILTY OF RAPE, NONETHELESS, THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN IMPOSING UPON HIM THE DEATH PENALTY NOTWITHSTANDING THE FACT THAT THE QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCE OF MINORITY WAS NOT ALLEGED IN THE INFORMATION, HENCE, THE APPROPRIATE PENALTY SHOULD ONLY BE RECLUSION PERPETUA.

(pp. 29-30, Rollo.)

In a prosecution for rape, the complainant’s credibility becomes the single most important issue. In view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape where only two persons normally are involved, the testimony of the complainant must always be scrutinized with great caution, and the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits and should not be allowed to gain validity from the lack of evidence for the defense.

In the instant case, after a meticulous examination of the evidentiary record, we find it difficult to conceive that Maricel would reveal and admit the sexual abuse she suffered if it were not true. It would be highly improbable for Maricel, against whom no proof of sexual perversity or loose morality has been shown, to fabricate charges.

The Court usually accords confidence and weight to the testimony of a child who is a victim of sexual assault because ordinarily, no person would be willing to undergo the humiliation of a public trial if her motive were not to bring to justice the person who had abused her. Maricel was barely 13 years old, innocent and inexperienced, when subjected to her step-father’s sexual abuse. Nonetheless, her testimony was frank, straightforward, and clear, as observed by the trial court.

Just as often, the Court has relied on the observations of trial courts in the appreciation of testimony, said courts having been given the opportunity, not equally enjoyed by the appellate courts, to observe at first hand the demeanor of the witness on the stand, they, therefore, are in a better position to form accurate impressions and conclusions.

Although it is well-settled that a medical examination of the victim is not indispensable in a prosecution for rape (People v. Salazar, 258 SCRA 55 [1996]), and no law requires a medical examination for the successful prosecution thereof (People v. Julian, 270 SCRA 733 [1997], Dr. Cresencia Gutierrez confirmed Maricel’s claim that she was raped after she examined the latter and testified that the hymenal lacerations could have been sustained by Maricel through sexual intercourse.

In rape cases, the gravamen of the offense is sexual intercourse with a woman against her will or without her consent (People v. Igat, 291 SCRA 100 [1998]). In this case, Maricel narrated that she resisted and protested accused-appellant’s sexual advances. She even begged him to stop and the words "huwag po" were repeatedly spoken by her. Sufficient basis thus exists to warrant a conclusion that the essential requisite of carnal knowledge has thereby been established since the testimony of the victim is consistent with the medical findings (People v. Tabion, 317 SCRA 126 [1999]).

Nonetheless, appellant attempts to discredit Maricel’s testimony by imputing ill-motives to her. Appellant is trying desperately to impress upon the Court that the case was instituted to avenge the physical violence Maricel suffered from him when he slapped her down a number of times. Maricel, in open court, declared that she wanted appellant to be punished. However, Maricel’s honesty in admitting to having a grudge against appellant, and her straightforwardness in declaring that she wanted him to go to jail should be considered in her favor (People v. Ramos, 260 SCRA 402 [1996]). Maricel was raped several times and having been subjected to appellant’s sexual perversion and physical violence, it is but natural and even more believable and within the realm of human experience that she should feel damaged and show animosity against appellant (People v. Lacaba, 318 SCRA 301 [1999]). Too, Maricel regarded appellant, being the husband of her mother, as a true father.

Appellant’s alibi that he was drunk with his brother-in-law when the rape was committed, it is to be noted, remained but a stark, unsupported averment, as verily, the defense neither identified nor presented the alleged drinking partners of appellant, much more his supposed brother-in-law (People v. Mijano, 311 SCRA 81 [1999]).

The crime of rape committed by appellant against his step-daughter is an act highly offensive to decency and morality. It is a violation of the dignity, purity, and privacy of a child who is still innocent and unexposed to the ways of the worldly pleasures (People v. Mahinay, 302 SCRA 455 [1999]). It is a disturbing and detestable experience that destroys Maricel’s future. The unbearable vision of that episode in Maricel’s life will forever remain in her memory.

In sum, the Court finds no serious flaw in the testimony of the prosecution witnesses nor in the conclusions of the trial court which, to the contrary, appear to be properly founded on the direct, positive, and categorical statements made by Maricel and her witnesses in most material points. The mass of physical and testimonial evidence in this case clearly establishes appellant’s guilt of the crime of rape.

While we agree with the trial court that appellant is guilty of rape, we cannot, however, subscribe to the penalty of death imposed. Both the defense and the Office of the Solicitor General are in concurrence. Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, provides that the death penalty shall be imposed if the rape victim is under eighteen years of age and the offender is a step-parent of the victim. Believing that the instant case fell within the said circumstances, the trial court sentenced appellant to death. A reading of the information would, however, reveal that appellant was charged only with simple rape under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, with the additional allegation that he is the step-father of the victim.

Although the rape of a person under 18 years of age by the step-father of the victim is punishable by death, this penalty cannot be imposed on appellant because the minority of the victim is not alleged in the information. The elements of minority of the victim and her relationship to the offender must concur. The penalty of death cannot be automatically imposed on appellant merely because of the trial court’s appreciation of both minority and relationship, no matter how clearly established. Jurisprudence is to the effect that these twin facts be alleged in the information or complaint and thereafter clearly and positively proved before the death penalty may be properly imposed (People v. Ramos, 296 SCRA 559 [1999]; People v. Ilao, 296 SCRA 658 [1999]).

Further, Section 8, Rule 110 of the Revised Rules of Procedure, as amended, provides that the complaint or information shall state the designation of the offense given by the statute, aver the acts or omissions constituting the offense, and specify its qualifying and aggravating circumstances. To be sure, appellant can only be meted out the penalty of reclusion perpetua on account of the information’s failure to specifically allege the minority of the victim.

Finally, we find that the trial court’s award of civil indemnity and exemplary damages must be reduced. If the death penalty is not decreed by the Court, the victim would instead be entitled to P50,000.00 as civil indemnity (People v. Betonio, 279 SCRA 532 [1997]). The amount of P20,000.00 as exemplary damages is more in accord with current jurisprudence.

WHEREFORE, the judgment under review is hereby AFFIRMED, with modifications. Appellant Reynaldo Portugal is hereby found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of simple rape and is consequently sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua. In addition to the trial court’s award of P50,000.00 as moral damages, appellant is further ordered to pay the victim P50,000.00 as civil indemnity, and P20,000.00 as exemplary damages to deter other sex perverts from sexually molesting hapless women. No special pronouncement is made as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Buena, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez and Carpio, JJ., concur.

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