EN BANC

G.R. No. 133005      April 11, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee,
vs.
PONCIANO BALUYA @ NONONG, accused-appellant.

KAPUNAN, J.:

Before us for automatic review is the decision1 of the Regional Trial Court of San Pablo City, Branch 15, promulgated on February 26, 1998 in Criminal Case No. 10077-SP finding accused-appellant, Ponciano Baluya alias Nonong guilty of rape and sentencing him to suffer the maximum penalty of death.

The Information reads as follows:

That on or about June 7, 1996, in the City of San Pablo, Republic of the Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused above-named, with lewd design, by means of force, violence and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously rape and have sexual knowledge with undersigned complainant EMILY MARTINEZ VDA. DE VALLON, by undressing her and then had sexual intercourse with said offended party against the will of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.2

Upon arraignment on September 17, 1996, the accused-appellant, assisted by counsel pleaded "not guilty."3 Thereafter, trial on the merits ensued.

The facts are as follows:

The victim, Emily Martinez was 24 years old at the time of the rape. She was a widow and a resident of Sitio Mabilog, Brgy. Sta. Catalina, San Pablo City. She has two (2) children, Jimmy Boy, who is seven years old and a daughter, aged three years old. The accused-appellant, Ponciano Baluya was the common-law husband of her eldest sister, Marilyn.1‚wphi1.nÍt

On June 7, 1996 at around ten oíclock in the evening, Emily and her two children were already sleeping, when she heard the accused-appellant calling and asking her to open the door on the pretext that there was somebody outside with him.4 As soon as Emily opened the door, the accused-appellant suddenly grabbed her, poked a knife on her neck and threatened to kill her if she shouted. Thereafter, the accused-appellant kissed her several times, undressed her by removing her duster and panty. While naked, she fearfully sat on the floor with her children on her lap.5 Then the accused-appellant pulled her children away from her and pushed down Emily on the floor. He swiftly removed his shorts, twisted Emilyís arms and mounted on her. He forced her legs apart and forced himself on her while kissing her on the mouth, sucking her tongue and mashing her nipples.6 She shouted for help but the accused-appellant covered her mouth with his hands.7 Unfortunately, the victimís mother, Marcelina Martinez, who just lived next door adjacent to her house was not around at that time as she was attending the wake of a dead sister in Quezon Province. The houses of their other neighbors were quite far from them.

Emily pleaded with the accused-appellant not to continue with his bestial act because it was painful.8 Even the children pleaded to him but he was unmindful of them. After the sexual assault, the accused-appellant pushed away the children, threatened to kill all of them if the matter was reported and then left.9

Fearful of their safety and the thought that the accused-appellant might return to their house, Emily decided to leave the house that night. Together with her children, they went to their nearest neighbor, Felomina Gutierrez. In getting there, they had to pass a creek and climb a hill. She did not tell Felomina of what had transpired because of the accused-appellantís threat on their lives once they reported the incident. They stayed in Felominaís house that night.10

Emily and her children returned to their house the next day. Upon her motherís arrival from Quezon, Emily confided to her about the sexual violation committed by the accused-appellant. Her mother told her to leave their house at Mabilog and go to the house of her younger sister, Myrna at Brgy. Sandig, San Pablo City. She obeyed, and they stayed in her sisterís house for three months. Upon her sisterís advice, the matter was reported to the barangay authorities and then she gave her statement before the police authorities.11

Jimmy Boy, the seven year old son of the victim corroborated the testimony of his mother and pointed to his "Tiyo Nonong" as the rapist. According to him, he heard the voice of his Tiyo Nonong calling from the outside and knocking at their door. The light coming from the gas lamp enabled him to recognize the accused-appellant. He testified that Tiyo Nonong pointed a bolo at the neck of her mother, stretched her legs and laid on top of her. The accused-appellant removed the underwear of her mother ("hinubuan") and he was also naked when he mounted on her. At that time, he and his younger sister were on her motherís lap when they were thrown near the wall by the accused-appellant. Her mother tried to fight him but the accused-appellant was just too big. He saw the private organ of his Tiyo Nonong being inserted into the vagina of his mother for one hour. He saw him also doing the sexual act ("kinanyog"). He pleaded to spare his mother from the dastardly act, but the accused-appellant did not mind him. He heard his uncle threatening his mother not to tell his grandmother about it, otherwise, he will kill her.12 After satisfying his lust, the accused-appellant left them. They too left their house and they went to the house of "Na, Pilar," their neighbor.13 Jimmy Boy added that his Tiyo Nonong likes his mother but her mother does not like him.14

The defense presented a different version.

Ponciano Baluya, testified that on June 7, 1996, at around five oíclock in the afternoon, he was in their house taking care of his child who was about three months old. His wife Marilyn, was just outside of the house gathering bananas. After a while, one of his workers, Rudy Libit came to their house followed by Apolonio Pontiaga. Rudy Libit was requesting for an advance payment for his work which his wife readily gave him. Later, Marilyn asked the accused-appellant to go to the house of Emily to inquire about the date of interment of their dead aunt. She, likewise, requested Rudy and Apolonio to accompany her husband. The three left the house at around seven oíclock in the evening. Emilyís place was located in Sta. Catalina which was about two kilometers away from where they lived.15

When they were more or less six (6) meters away from Emilyís house, the accused-appellant noticed a man running away from the side of her house. Arriving thereat, Emily invited the group for coffee. She informed them that for two nights Fernando Gesmundo "Nanding" alias "Bukol" attempted to enter their house. They could not leave immediately after finishing their errand as Emily prevailed them to stay and help her check her motherís house which she feared was robbed. Upon checking the house, Emily could not, however, say which items were missing. They noticed a mat and pillow laid on the floor. They surmised that Emily had a lover. The group left the place at about midnight, and they went to the house of Rudy to sup.

Ponciano Baluya denied having raped Emily. According to him, Emily filed the case against him because she was mad at him. He caught her having sexual intercourse with his "bilas", one Zosimo Bueno which he reported the matter to his wife and mother-in-law. Aside from that, she caught Emily thrice stealing fruit crops from the landholding he was managing for which she was scolded. He denied the allegations of Jimmy Boy that he likes Emily and that he was the one who raped her.16

Marilyn Baluya, the common-law wife of the appellant for twenty (20) years also testified for the accused-appellant. She added that her relationship with her sister was good. On June 8, 1996, she saw Emily in her house, but they were not able to talk to each other. She saw her again on June 22 and this time, they talked and teased each other but nothing was said about the rape. After June 7, 1996, she also saw her mother but not a word was mentioned about the rape. She only learned about the incident when her husband received the subpoena from the fiscalís office.17

She surmised that Emily had filed the case against her husband because she was angry with him. The accused-appellant used to scold Emily every time the latter took crops from the land he was managing. Otherwise, Marilyn suspected that the case was instigated by her sister Myrna and her mother for they have an axe to grind against her husband. Her sister, Myrna and the accused-appellant were former lovers before she and the accused-appellant eloped and started living-in together. On the other hand, her mother was angry at her because she refused to marry the man whom her stepfather wanted for her,18 and when she brought to her attention that her stepfather attempted to rape her.19

Another witness presented by the defense was Rudy Libit who worked as a grass cutter in the land being leased by the accused-appellant. He corroborated what the accused-appellant testified.20

Norilyn Baluya, the daughter of the accused-appellant was likewise presented. She testified that the victim was her aunt. On June 8, 1996 at around nine oíclock, she saw her aunt gathering coconuts that fell on the ground. They talked for awhile and during their conversation, Emily manifested her dislike for Norilynís father because he was very talkative and "pakialamero sa kanilang pamilya." Emily allegedly told her that she will do something to stop her father from meddling into her affairs.21

Norilyn learned of the rape charge against her father when they received the subpoena on June 17,1996. It was not true that her father raped her aunt. Her cousin, Jimmy Boyís testimony should not be believed because he might just be following the dictates of her mother who is cruel to her children and who is used to spank them.22

The last witness presented by the defense was Apolonio Pontigas who affirmed the contents of the affidavit he executed which merely corroborated the testimony of Rudy Libit.23

On February 26, 1998, the trial court rendered a judgment of conviction. The dispositive portion of which reads:

WHEREFORE, the Court hereby finds the accused PONCIANO BALUYA @ NONONG guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of DEATH AND TO INDEMNIFY THE VICTIM EMILY MARTINEZ VDA. DE BALLON the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages. With costs.

SO ORDERED.24

Dissatisfied with the judgment, the appellant interposed the following assignment of errors:

FIRST ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ACCORDING FULL WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO COMPLAINANTíS TESTIMONY, WHICH IS NOT ONLY INCREDIBLE PER SE BUT ALSO INCONSISTENT WITH THAT OF THE SECOND PROSECUTION WITNESS.

SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THAT THE CRIME OF RAPE HAD BEEN COMMITTED IN THE ABSENCE OF PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF CARNAL KNOWLEDGE AS WELL AS THE EXISTENCE OF FORCE, THREAT OR INTIMIDATION IN OBTAINING SEXUAL CONGRESS.

THIRD ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN IMPOSING THE PENALTY OF DEATH IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY ALLEGATION OF THE QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCE OF "IN THE PRESENCE OF CHILDREN" IN THE INFORMATION.25

In the main, the accused-appellant questions the credibility of the complainant and the sufficiency of evidence to convict him of the crime charged.

As in most criminal cases, this Court is confronted with the issue of credibility in view of the opposing facts established by the prosecution and the defense. This Court however is bound by the prevailing principle founded on a host of jurisprudential rulings that the findings of the trial court on credibility are entitled to the highest degree of respect and will not be disturbed on appeal, absent any clear showing that it overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight or substance which could have affected the result of the case.26 We find no cogent reason to depart from this principle.

In rape cases, the essential element that the prosecution must prove is the absence of the victimís consent to the sexual congress. The gravamen of the crime of rape is sexual congress with a woman by force and without consent.27 Force in rape is relative, depending on the age, size and strength of the parties. In the same manner, intimidation must be viewed in the light of the victimís perception and judgment at the time of the commission of the crime and not by any hard and fast rule.28

The act of holding a knife by itself is strongly suggestive of force or at least intimidation and threatening the victim with a knife is sufficient to bring a woman to submission.29 Even assuming arguendo that Emily did not repel the physical aggression of accused-appellant, this does not preclude a finding that she was raped. It is well-settled that physical resistance need not be established in rape when intimidation is exercised upon a victim and the latter submits herself, against her will, to the rapistís advances because of fear for her life and personal safety.30

Accused-appellant capitalizes on the failure of the victim to escape at the time that he was removing his clothes and not holding any part of the victimís body. This circumstance cannot be taken against her. Not every victim of a crime can be expected to act reasonably and conformably with the expectations of mankind. Different people react to similar situations dissimilarly. While the normal response of a woman about to be defiled may be to shout and put up a wild struggle, others become catatonic because of the mental shock they experience and the fear engendered by the unexpected occurrence. Yet it can never be successfully argued that the latter are any less sexual victims than the former.31

Accused-appellant in an effort to discredit the victim pointed out the absurdity of her account that she was undressed while seated and was holding her children, with appellant poking a knife at her neck and covering her mouth at the same time. Accused-appellant argues that he could not have done all of those things at the same time since he only has two hands. We agree with the Solicitor Generalís observation on this point:

The testimony of the complainant as to how she was undressed, at what point she was carrying her child when the knife was poked at her, and the instance when the appellant covered her mouth, must be taken according to the particular stage or sequence of the incident to which they relate. The unprejudiced or unbiased mind could readily make out the following sequence of events from the complainantís testimony both on direct and cross-examination.32

It is not the first time that the Court is faced with the argument as to the presence of a third hand. In People v. Lamberte,33 the Court considered the defense as sophistic and untenable. Emily in the instant case, did not claim that the accused-appellant pointed a knife on her neck, while undressing her and covered her mouth at the same time. It may be reasonably inferred from her testimony that the series of events took place consequentially.

Accused-appellant further attacks the affirmative answer of Jimmy Boy to the question as to the legs of his mother being intertwined into the hips of the accused-appellant during the sexual violation. This condition was suggested to him and was posed after the lengthy cross-examination. What Jimmy Boy testified was, that his mother was not embracing the accused-appellant nor holding on to his private part. She was all the time trying not to let his Tiyo Nonongís private part enter hers. Jimmy Boy was consistent in testifying that his mother objected to the sexual act.

The accused-appellant may not successfully impugn the credibility of the private complainant based on minor inconsistencies in her testimony that does not even touch on the essential elements of the crime. The credibility of a rape victim is not destroyed by the few minor inconsistencies in her testimony. Paradoxically they may be badges of spontaneity, as they indicate that the witness was unrehearsed.34 Minor lapses of a victimís testimony should be expected when a person recounts details of an experience so humiliating and so painful to recall as rape.35 These lapses do not detract from the overwhelming testimony of a prosecution witness positively identifying the malefactor.36 Furthermore, the testimony of a witness must be considered and calibrated in its entirety and not by truncated portions thereof or isolated passages therein.37

The prosecution witnesses were categorical and consistent in saying that the accused-appellant raped Emily. Their positive declarations prevail over the negative assertions of the accused-appellant and his witnesses. Moreover, they could not have been mistaken about the identity of the accused-appellant considering that he is the common-law husband of Emilyís sister.

While denial is a legitimate defense in rape cases, bare denials cannot overcome the categorical testimony of the victim.38

The defense of alibi by the accused-appellant is unavailing. The same was not corroborated by disinterested and credible witnesses. This Court has consistently held that where the accused-appellant is positively identified by the victim herself who harbored no ill motive against the accused-appellant, such as in the present case the defense of alibi must fail.39 Besides, to establish such, the accused-appellant must show that he was in some other place for such period of time, and that it was impossible for him to have been at the locus criminis or its immediate vicinity at the time of the commission of the crime.40 In this case, accused-appellant, while denying the rape charge, testified that he together with two companions went to complainantís house on that date to inquire about the interment of the aunt of his common-law wife. It was therefore not impossible for the accused-appellant to have been at the place where the crime was committed.1‚wphi1.nÍt

Accused-appellant also failed to impute any improper motive on the part of the complainant except to surmise that she might be having an affair and she was hiding it from them, or that it might be due to his scolding her when she was caught taking crops from his tenanted land. Apart from being a mere speculation, the same is far too shallow to deserve even a scant consideration by this Court. Even granting that the complainant was a woman of loose morals, she could still be the victim of rape. Even a prostitute may be a victim of rape.41 The essence of rape is the carnal knowledge of a woman against her consent. The victimís moral character in rape is immaterial where, as in this case it is shown that intimidation was used to force the victim to have sex with the appellant. Settled is the rule that when there is no showing that private complainant was impelled by improper motive in making the accusation against the accused, her complaint is entitled to full faith and credence.42

Jurisprudence holds that when a woman says she had been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that the rape has been committed and if her testimony meets the test of credibility, the accused-appellant may be convicted on the basis thereof.43

If Emily cried rape to save her reputation, why would she pinpoint to the accused-appellant as the rapist? Absent any circumstance indicating the contrary, she brought the charge against the accused-appellant for she wanted to obtain justice. Her zeal in prosecuting the case evinces the truth that she merely seeks justice for her honor that has been debased.

We cannot, however, impose the death penalty on accused-appellant even if it was claimed that the crime of rape was committed in full view of the son of the victim.

Art. 335 of the Revised Penal Code provides that the death penalty shall 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 or victim;

2. When the victim is under the custody of the police or military authorities;

3. When the rape is committed in full view of the husband, parent, any of the children or other relatives within the third degree of consanguinity;

4. When the victim is a religious engaged in legitimate religious vocation or calling or a child below seven (7) years old;

5. When the offender knows that he is afflicted with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) disease;

6. When committed by any member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police or any law enforcement agency;

7. When by reason or on the occasion of the rape, the victim has suffered permanent physical mutilation.

While Republic Act No. 7659 did not give a legal designation to the crime of rape attended by any of the seven new circumstances introduced in Art. 335, Revised Penal Code, we have already referred to such crime as qualified rape.44 The seven attendant circumstances are in the nature of special qualifying circumstances which, unlike generic aggravating circumstances which may be appreciated and proved even if not alleged, cannot be considered as such unless so alleged in the information even if proved. The special qualifying circumstances increase the penalties by degrees in contrast with aggravating circumstances which affect only the period of penalty but do not increase it to a higher degree.

Hence, the rape committed in full view of the child of the victim, even if proved, but was not alleged in the information will not affect the imposable penalty in this case. As earlier adverted to, appellant can only be held liable for simple rape, which is punishable by the single indivisible penalty of reclusion perpetua. Corollarily, Article 63 of the Code provides that where the law prescribes a single indivisible penalty, it shall be applied by the courts regardless of any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may have attended the commission of the offense.

With respect to the civil liability, in line with current rulings, if in the crime of rape, the death penalty is imposed, the indemnity ex delicto for the victim should be in the amount of ₱75,000.00; if the death penalty is not decreed by the court, the victim would instead be entitled to ₱50,000.00.45 Civil indemnity is mandatory upon the finding of the fact of rape. Also, an additional award of ₱50,000.00 by way of moral damages is automatically granted in rape cases, separate and distinct from the indemnity.1‚wphi1.nÍt

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court, San Pablo City, Branch 15 dated February 26, 1998 convicting accused-appellant, PONCIANO BALUYA of the crime of rape is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the sentence should be reduced from DEATH to reclusion perpetua and aside from the award of ₱50,000.00 moral damages, the accused-appellant should also be ordered to pay ₱50,000.00 as civil indemnity46 to the offended party, Emily Martinez.

SO ORDERED.

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


Footnotes

1 Penned by Judge Marivic T. Balisi-Umali.

2 Original Record, p. 1.

3 Id., at 23.

4 TSN, December 3, 1996, p. 4.

5 Id., at 6.

6 TSN, December 17, 1996, pp. 2-5.

7 TSN, November 11, 1996, pp. 6-8.

8 TSN, December 17, 1996, p. 4.

9 TSN, November 11, 1996, p. 8.

10 Id., at 9-10.

11 Id., at 9-12.

12 TSN, January 21, 1997, pp. 2-11.

13 Id., at 5.

14 Id., at 12-13.

15 TSN, July 14, 1997, pp. 3-4.

16 TSN, July 28, 1997, pp. 6-8.

17 TSN, March 4, 1997, pp. 2-6.

18 Id., at 6-7.

19 TSN, April 14, 1997, p. 2.

20 TSN, June 16, 1997; June 30, 1997

21 TSN, August 18, 1997, pp. 3-4.

22 Id., at 3; 6-8.

23 TSN, August 25, 1997, pp. 3-4.

24 Decision, p. 12, Rollo, p. 34.

25 Appellantís Brief, pp. 5-6, Rollo, pp. 69-70.

26 People v. Pacina, 338 SCRA 195 (2000); People vs. Buendia, 314 SCRA 655 (1999); People v. Flores, 243 SCRA 374 (1995).

27 People v. dela Cruz, 338 SCRA 582 (2000).

28 People v. Yparraguire, 335 SCRA 69 (2000).

29 People v. Buendia, supra note 11.

30 People v. Rabosa, 273 SCRA 142 (1997).

31 Supra.

32 Appelleeís Brief, p. 10, Rollo p. 123.

33 142 SCRA 685 (1986).

34 People v. Guzman, 333 SCRA 269 (2000).

35 People v. Gementiza, 285 SCRA 478 (1998).

36 People v. Baccay, 284 SCRA 296 (1998).

37 People v. Natan, 193 SCRA 355 (1991).

38 People v. Martinez, 325 SCRA 601 (2000).

39 People v. Yparriguire, 335 SCRA 69 (2000); People v. Sta. Ana, 291 SCRA 188, 217.

40 People v. Avilano, 332 SCRA 19 (2000); People v. de Leon, 332 SCRA 37 (2000).

41 People v. Rosales, 313 SCRA 757 (1999).

42 People v. Gementina, 285 SCRA 478, 486.

43 People v. Gonzales, 338 SCRA 678 (2000); People v. Alcartado, 334 SCRA 701 (2000).

44 People v. Ramos, 296 SCRA 559 (1998).

45 People v. Garigadi, 317 SCRA 399 (1999).

46 Pewople v. Maglantay, 304 SCRA 272 (1999); People v. Prades, 293 SCRA 411 (1998).


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