Republic of the Philippines
SUPREME COURT
Manila

FIRST DIVISION

G.R. No. 188901               December 15, 2010

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
vs.
GILBERT CASTRO Y AGUILAR, Accused-Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

Before this Court is an Appeal,1 seeking the reversal and setting aside of the Decision2 dated 11 May 2009 of the Court of Appeals (CA) which affirmed the Decision3 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos City, Bulacan, Branch 12 convicting appellant Gilbert Castro y Aguilar (Castro) of the crime of rape, with modification as to the amount of damages awarded to the victim.

In line with the ruling of this Court in People v. Cabalquinto,4 the real name and identity of the rape victim, is withheld and, instead, fictitious initials are used to represent her. Also, the personal circumstances of the victim or any other information tending to establish or compromise her identity, as well as those of her immediate family, are not disclosed in this decision. Instead, the rape victim shall herein be referred to as AAA; her mother XYZ; and her uncle, BBB.

THE FACTS

The victim in this case is an 18-year old lass with a mental capacity akin to a 5-year old child. Due to her poor learning capacity, she has not even finished Grade 1 and is unable to read and write.

The accused, on the other hand, was then 22 years old and a second cousin of the victim. He testified that he has known the victim for 3 years prior to 5 February 2002, the alleged first rape incident.5 They are neighbors whose residences are just two meters apart.6

On 14 February 2003, Castro was charged with two counts of rape before the RTC in informations7 the accusatory portions of which read:

Criminal Case No. 771-M-2003

That on or about the 5th day of February, 2002, in the municipality of San Ildefonso, province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with the use of bladed weapon, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, by means of force, violence and intimidation and with lewd designs, have carnal knowledge of the said AAA, a mentally retarded, a fact known to the accused, against her will and without her consent.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

Criminal Case No. 772-M-2003

That on or about the 27th day November, 2002, in the municipality of San Ildefonso, province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, by means of force, violence and intimidation and with lewd designs, have carnal knowledge of the said AAA, a mentally retarded, a fact known to the accused, against her will and without her consent.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

Upon arraignment, Castro, with the assistance of counsel, entered separate pleas of not guilty to the charges. Thereafter, the cases were consolidated and trial on the merits ensued. In the course of the trial, two versions arose.

Version of the Prosecution

As summarized by the RTC and adopted for the most part by the CA, the version of the prosecution8 is as follows:

This resolves the alleged rape committed twice on an 18-year old woman named AAA whose IQ & Projected Test concluded at the National Center for Mental Health by psychologist Nimia C. de Guzman resulted to a finding that "Level of intelligence is appraised under the Moderate Level of Mental Retardation (Imbecile) with a numerical IQ of 43 and mental age of 5 years 6 months. xxx Personality profile pictures an immature and inadequate person who has not achieved full development of her learning and social skills." xxx (See Exh. "D," Psychological Report) (at pp. 6-20; TSN, April 14, 2005).

The medico-legal examination conducted on November 29, 2002, to determine the presence of physical signs of sexual abuse has shown that she "is in non-virgin state, physically," although "there are no signs of application of any form of trauma at the time of examination" (See Exh. "A," Medico-Legal Report) (at pp. 2-10; TSN, June 26, 2003).

xxx

The accused, Gilbert Castro y Aguilar, then 22 years old, single, was AAA’s neighbor whose house was just more than two (2) meters away. Despite that proximity between their houses and knowing her for years, he denied on the witness stand ever talking to her or to any member of her family. He was arrested at his house on November 28, 2002, where he contended to be on those dates and time he allegedly had carnal knowledge of the mentally retarded victim (at pp. 3-5, TSN, March 23, 2006; pp. 4-7, TSN, June 22, 2006).

From the witness stand AAA pointed to accused Castro as the man who raped her for two times, first, during the wake for a deceased neighbor or supposedly on February 5, 2002, when he brought her under a mango tree where he made her lie down on banana leaves and stripped her off her clothings before inserting his penis inside her vagina, and, second, on November 27, 2002, when he did same things to her at the same place under the mango tree. She said that before that happened the accused used to frequent her place, giving her peanuts and some money (at pp. 2-7, TSN, April 20, 2004).

What they did on November 27, 2002, was discovered when prosecution witness BBB, their 55-year old neighbor who claimed on the stand to be their uncle and that the two of them were second cousins, caught them in the act of sexual intercourse behind the unoccupied house of her parents at that time under a mango tree, both fully naked. He had been watching them for three (3) days before, suspicious that they were up to doing something bad. So when he saw them from his house by the door outside, he approached them making the accused run off away as soon as he saw him coming. Left behind in her nakedness AAA admitted that she was doing the act with the accused. So, he covered her with her clothings and walked her to her house and left her parents at the market where they were vegetable vendors. As soon as told of what he discovered, her parents went home with him and, together that afternoon of the following day, they reported their complaint to the local police where AAA and witness BBB gave their respective statements on the incident (Exhs. "C" and "E") (at pp. 2-6, TSN, September 29, 2005; pp. 2-13, TSN, October 13, 2005).

Version of the Defense

To exculpate himself from liability, accused Castro offered both denial and alibi as his defense. He denied raping the private complainant. He averred that on 5 February 2002, between 5:00 in the afternoon to 12:00 in the morning, he was attending a funeral wake of a neighbor. During the alleged second rape, he contended that he was inside their house having lunch with his sister. After lunch at around 2:00 in the afternoon, he allegedly went to the field to harvest palay.9

Ruling of the RTC

On 2 January 2007, the RTC rendered a decision acquitting Castro in Criminal Case No. 771-M-2003 for failure of the prosecution to clearly establish that accused, with the use of a bladed weapon, assaulted and had carnal knowledge of AAA on 5 February 2002. The trial court, however, found Castro guilty of the crime of rape in Criminal Case No. 772-M-2003. The dispositive portion of the latter decision reads:

WHEREFORE, finding herein accused Gilbert Castro y Aguilar guilty as principal beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape as charged in Criminal Case No. 772-M-2003, without any circumstance, aggravating or mitigating, found attendant in its commission, he is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, to indemnify victim AAA in the amount of ₱50,000.00, plus another ₱50,000.00 as moral damages subject to the corresponding filing fees as a first lien, and to pay the costs of the proceedings.

xxx

Aggrieved, Castro appealed to the CA,10 assigning the following error:

THE COURT A QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY DESPITE THE PROSECUTION’S FAILURE TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT

Accused-appellant argued that the lower court failed to appreciate the fact that the testimony of private complainant was full of contradictions. The trial court allegedly gave credence to the inconsistent statements made by AAA which when analyzed are highly illogical.

Accused Castro averred that the inconsistent statements of AAA were made apparent during the cross-examination. She allegedly denied that the accused was courting her despite her previous statement in court that she was being courted by accused-appellant. Accused also submitted that the failure of AAA to offer any resistance when she was allegedly being sexually molested belies the charge of rape.

Ruling of the CA

In its decision dated 11 May 2009, the CA affirmed with modification the findings of the RTC, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the assailed Decision of the Regional Trial Court dated January 2, 2007 and its subsequent Order dated March 2, 2007 finding accused-appellant Gilbert Castro guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Rape are hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION as to the damages awarded. Accordingly, accused-appellant is ordered to pay AAA the amounts of ₱75,000.00 as civil indemnity; ₱75,000.00 as moral damages; and ₱25,000.00 as exemplary damages.11

Hence, this appeal.

In a resolution dated 1 February 2010, the Court required the parties to simultaneously file their supplemental briefs, if they so desire, within thirty (30) days from notice. In their respective pleadings, both the appellee, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, and the appellant, represented by the Public Attorney’s Office, manifested that they will no longer be filing any supplemental briefs in support of their respective positions. The appellant merely repleaded and adopted all the defenses and arguments raised in his Appellant’s Brief.

The vital issue before this Court is whether the pieces of evidence adduced by the prosecution is sufficient to convict Castro beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape committed against AAA. In fine, assailed in this recourse are the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses and the adequacy of its evidence.

This Court has painstakingly perused over the records as well as the transcripts of stenographic notes of this case and found no reason to reverse and set aside the findings of the trial court and the CA. We affirm Castro’s conviction.

Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, provides that rape is committed:

1) By a man who shall have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:

a) Through force, threat, or intimidation;

b) When the offended party is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious;

c) By means of fraudulent machination or grave abuse of authority; and

d) When the offended party is under twelve (12) years of age or is demented, even though none of the circumstances mentioned above be present.

xxx

Clearly, "sexual intercourse with a woman who is a mental retardate with the mental age of a child below 12 years old constitutes statutory rape."12 Proof of force or intimidation is not necessary, as a mental retardate is not capable of giving consent to a sexual act. What needs to be proven are the facts of sexual congress between the accused and the victim, and the mental retardation of the latter.13

In the case before us, the prosecution was able to establish through clinical and testimonial evidence that AAA is a mental retardate. It presented and offered the psychological report of Dr. Nimia de Guzman of the National Center for Mental Health stating that AAA was suffering from moderate mental retardation (imbecile) with an IQ of 43 and a mental age equivalent to that of a five and a half year old child.14 Likewise, the testimonies of XYZ15 and the psychologist16 confirmed the victim’s mental retardation.

The aforesaid facts support the allegation in the information that AAA is a mental retardate. It was even noted by the appellate court that the defense admitted the fact that the victim is suffering from mental retardation, as stated in the accused-appellant’s Kontra Salaysay.17

The prosecution has likewise established beyond reasonable doubt that accused-appellant had carnal knowledge of AAA. We have thoroughly examined the testimony of AAA and found no reason to cast doubt on her categorical and positive declarations of the sexual assault committed against her. Her narration of the sexual act was straightforward and categorical. We quote the pertinent portion of her testimony:

Direct examination by Fiscal Geronimo

Q: Do you recall when was the first time that he raped you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Tell us.

A: Long time ago, sir.

Q: And immediately prior to that incident when you said he raped you, tell us what did Castro do?

xxx

A: He laid me down on a banana leaves (sic) on the ground under a mango tree, sir.

xxx

Q: Do you recall when was the second time that you said Castro raped you?

A: I do not know, sir.

Q: When Castro raped you the second time around, before that rape took place, what did Castro do to you?

A: I was stripped of my clothes, sir. (Hinubuan)

Q: And where was that? What place was that?

A: The same place, Your Honor.

Q: And after Castro stripped of your clothes, what did Castro do?

A: Hinipuan po.

Q: What part of your body was touched by Castro?

A: On my breast and my private organ, sir.

Q: After that, what did Castro do?

A: He laid down, sir.

Q: At that time were you also laying down?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: That is also under the mango tree?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: When Castro laid down, what did Castro do?

A: He came on top of me, sir.

Q: Was Castro at that time without clothes?

A: He was wearing his short, sir.

Q: Was that short removed from his body when he went on top of

you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: When he came on top of you, what did you feel?

A: I feel pain, sir.

Court: Are you saying he again inserted his penis inside your vagina?

A: Yes, Your Honor.

Fiscal: After that, what did you do?

A: I was the one who is being pushed, sir.

Q: Would you please show us the manner by which you were

pushed by Castro?

A: His body is being press (sic) over my body, sir.

Q: When you felt pain, after that, what transpired?

A: He left me, sir.

Q: What about you, what did you do?

A: I went home, sir.

Q: After that you said, was that after two days you reported the two incidents to your mother?

A: Two days after I was raped, the second time, I reported the matter to my mother and to the police, sir.18

Appellant’s contention which essentially assails the credibility of the prosecution witnesses’ testimony is untenable. It was observed that on the witness stand AAA remained steadfast and never wavered in her testimony. She maintained even on cross-examination that it was appellant who defiled her. The inconsistencies raised by appellant are insignificant matters which are not material ingredients of the crime of rape. We maintain that inconsistencies on minor details do not lessen a victim’s credibility; are common and may be expected from an uncoached witness.19

On the other hand, We give scant consideration on the defenses proffered by appellant. This Court has consistently ruled that bare denial and alibi are inherently weak defenses because these are self-serving and easy to fabricate. For not being substantiated by sufficient evidence, appellant’s defenses failed to overcome or undermine the positive and categorical declarations of AAA. Notably, appellant contended that on 27 November 2002 at 12 in the afternoon, he was having lunch with his sister. He, however, failed to present his sister to testify on the truthfulness of his allegation. Moreover, the incident in question occurred in a place which was just a few meters from his house. Thus, it was not impossible for him to be at the crime scene during the period alleged by the prosecution witnesses.

We must reiterate that, ultimately, when the issue is one of credibility of witnesses, appellate courts will generally not disturb the finding of the trial court unless it has plainly overlooked certain facts of substance and value that, if considered, might affect the result of the case. This is so because the trial court is in a better position to decide the question, having heard the witnesses and observed their deportment and manner of testifying during the trial.20

This Court likewise affirms the CA’s ruling on the penalty to be imposed on appellant Castro.

Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code as amended by The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 provides:

xxx

The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following aggravating/qualifying circumstances:

xxx

10. When the offender knew of the mental disability, emotional disorder and/or physical handicap of the offended party at the time of the commission of the crime.

The information in this case alleges that AAA is a mental retardate and such fact was known to the appellant at the time of the commission of the crime. These allegations were duly established by the prosecution during trial. The trial court which had the opportunity to observe the demeanor and conduct of the witnesses during the trial ratiocinated the conviction of the accused with the following statement:

The Court is convinced that indeed herein accused on 27 November 2002, had carnal knowledge of AAA, an 18-year-old woman with a weak mind that her mental age was only that of a five and a half (5 ˝) year old child. Her abnormality as a retardate was known to their neighborhood, including the accused, an immediate neighbor. His obstinate denial of ever talking to her and her family is, therefore, a lie.21

We affirm the trial and appellate court’s findings that it was highly improbable for Castro not to have known that AAA was a mental retardate considering that they were cousins and their residences were just two meters apart. The cause of the prosecution was further strengthened by the testimony of XYZ, the uncle of AAA and appellant. Unlike other rape cases where the Court’s evaluation is limited to the testimony of the victim and the accused, the instant case had a witness who testified that he personally saw the commission of the crime. Thus, the imposition of the death penalty would have been proper.1avvphi1

With the enactment of R.A. 934622 on 24 June 2006, however, the imposition of death penalty has been prohibited. Pursuant to Section 2 thereof, the property penalty to be imposed on appellant is reclusion perpetua. RA 9346 should be applied even if the crime was committed prior to the enactment of the law in view of the principle in criminal law that favorabilia sunt amplianda adiosa restrigenda. Penal laws which are favorable to the accused are given retroactive effect.23

In addition, appellant shall not be eligible for parole. Under Section 3 of RA 9346, "persons convicted with reclusion perpetua, or those whose sentences will be reduced to reclusion perpetua, by reason of this Act, shall not be eligible for parole under Act No. 4103, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended."

We likewise affirm the CA’s ruling with regard to the amount of civil indemnity and moral damages awarded. We sustain the amount of ₱75,000.00 as civil indemnity despite the reduction of the penalty imposed on appellant from death to reclusion perpetua. As explained by this Court in People v. Victor,24 the said award does not depend upon the imposition of the death penalty; rather, it is awarded based on the fact that qualifying circumstances warranting the imposition of the death penalty attended the commission of the offense.25

We also find proper the CA’s ruling increasing the award of moral damages from ₱50,000.00 to ₱75,000.00. Moral damages are awarded without need of proof for mental, physical and psychological suffering undeniably sustained by a rape victim because it is assumed that a rape victim has actually suffered moral injuries entitling her to such award.26

We, however, increase the amount of exemplary damages awarded from ₱25,000.00 to ₱30,000.00 in line with prevailing jurisprudence27 on the matter. The Court, in the case of People v. Lorenzo Layco, Sr.,28 awarded exemplary damages to set a public example, to serve as deterrent to elders

who abuse and corrupt the youth, and to protect the latter from sexual abuse.

WHEREFORE, the 11 May 2009 decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 02733 is hereby AFFIRMED WITH MODIFICATION. Appellant Gilbert A. Castro is hereby found GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of qualified rape committed against AAA for which he is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua, without eligibility for parole. He is further ordered to pay AAA the amounts of ₱75,000.00 as civil indemnity ex delicto; ₱75,000.00 as moral damages; and ₱30,000.00 as exemplary damages.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice
Chairperson

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
Associate Justice
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
Associate Justice

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
Associate Justice

C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.

RENATO C. CORONA
Chief Justice


Footnotes

1 CA rollo, pp. 117-118.

2 Particularly docketed as CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 02733, penned by Associate Justice Priscilla J. Baltazar-Padilla, with Associate Justices Juan Q. Enriquez, Jr. and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa, concurring; id. at 104-116.

3 CA rollo, pp. 35-40.

4 G.R. No. 167693, 19 September 2006, 502 SCRA 419.

5 TSN, 22 June 2006, p. 6.

6 TSN, 23 March 2006, p. 4.

7 Records, pp. 1 and 4.

8 CA rollo, pp. 89-91.

9 CA rollo, pp. 68-69.

10 Id.

11 CA rollo, pp. 115-116.

12 People v. Andaya, G. R. No. 126545, 21 April 1999, 306 SCRA 202, 216.

13 People v. Dela Paz, G. R. No. 177294, 19 February 2008, 546 SCRA 363, 376.

14 Records, pp. 119-120, Exhibit "D" for the prosecution.

15 TSN, 26 June 2003, pp. 3-4.

16 TSN, 14 April 2005, pp. 55-74.

17 Records, p. 148, Exhibit "1".

18 TSN, 20 April 2004, pp. 28, 31-33.

19 People v. Barcelona, G.R. No. 82589, 31 October 1990, 191 SCRA 100, 107.

20 People v. Laceste, G.R. No. 127127, 30 July 1998, 293 SCRA 397, 407.

21 RTC Decision, CA rollo, pp. 38-39.

22 An Act Prohibiting the Imposition of Death Penalty in the Philippines.

23 People v. Canuto, G.R. No. 166544, 27 July 2007, 528 SCRA 366, 377.

24 354 Phil 195, 209 (1998).

25 People v. Ortoa, G.R. No. 176266, 8 August 2007, 529 SCRA 555-556.

26 People v. Calongui, G. R. No. 170566, 3 March 2006, 484 SCRA 76, 88.

27 People v. Rante, G.R. No. 184809, 29 March 2010; People v. Dalisay, G. R. No. 188106, 15 November 2009; People v. Peralta, G. R. No. 187531, 16 October 2009.

28 G. R. No. 182191, 8 May 2009, 587 SCRA 803, 808.


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