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370 Phil. 84

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 129112, July 23, 1999 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. JIMMY MIJANO Y TAMORA, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

Because a man is poor, uneducated and jobless, and lacks catechetical instruction, should he be exempted from the imposition of the death penalty after it is proved beyond moral certainty that he indeed had sexually abused a five-year old girl?

The Court is burdened, once again, with the heavy task of passing upon, by way of automatic review, a judgment of conviction imposing the death penalty for statutory rape, in this case, alleged to have been perpetrated by accused-appellant Jimmy T. Mijano.

Accused-appellant's conviction for said crime arose from an Information reading as follows:
That on or about the 10th day of May, 1996, in the Municipality of Las Piñas, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, did, then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with one HAZEL RAMIREZ Y ABING, who is a child below seven (7) years old, against her will and consent.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

(p. 7, Rollo.)
Accused-appellant pleaded not guilty to the charge and stood trial, resulting in a judgment of conviction, accordingly disposing:
WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered finding the accused, Jimmy Mijano y Tamora GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of raping Hazel Ramirez y Abing, a child below 7 years of age, which is punished under Art,. 335 (No. 4) of the Revised penal Code, as amended, with death, and in view of Article 63 of the same Code, accused Jimmy Mijano y Tamora is sentenced to die and such accused be put to death by the method or means prescribed by law; to indemnify the victim, Hazel Ramirez, the sum of P100,000.00, and to pay the costs.

SO ORDERED.

(p. 65, Rollo.)
The prosecution's version of the events is based principally on the testimony of victim Hazel Ramirez, her mother Dina Ramirez, and a neighbor by the name of Arnulfo Valiente. The Office of the Solicitor General adopted the summarization by the trial court of its findings, to wit:
Dina Ramirez is the mother of five-year old Hazel Ramirez who was born on 02 April 1991. In the morning of 10 May 1996, she washed clothes while one of her neighbors, Jimmy Mijano, was having a drinking session with some friends. Hazel was then playing together with other children. The children were later brought by the accused to their house at Helen Catral Street. Dina later in the afternoon became suspicious and started looking for Hazel and asked the playmates of Hazel where she was. She was told that the accused was playing with her. She went out to the street but was not able to find her daughter. Instead, she saw one Arnulfo Valiente who informed her that he saw Hazel together with Jimmy at Helen Catral Street. Arnulfo Valiente and Dina proceeded to the said place which was a grassy area beside a river and near Bacoor, Cavite. They reached the said place at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon. It was Arnulfo who first saw Hazel already pale and her vagina was profusely bleeding. She was wearing a dress but her panty and skirt were gone. Hazel also had an abrasion on her right hip. Dina first brought Hazel to the Las Piñas Police Station to report the incident but the police suggested that Hazel be brought to the NBI. The Medico Legal Officer advised them to bring Hazel to the PGH because they cannot examine her vagina which was bleeding profusely. Accused has a reputation for molesting women and even raping them whenever he is drunk. Dina identified the accused in open court. (TSN, July 22, 1996, pp. 2-5).

Arnulfo Valiente corroborated the testimony of Dina Ramirez.

The third witness for the prosecution was the victim herself. Five-year old Hazel Ramirez herself confirmed that the penis of Jimmy Mijano was inserted into her vagina. Hazel identified the accused in open court. (TSN, July 29, 1996, pp. 2-4).

(p. 64; pp. 79-81, Rollo.)
The defense is based on the testimony of its sole witness, accused-appellant. He denied the charges and testified that on May 10, 1996 at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, he was at home quaffing alcoholic drinks with his friends. However, he could not recall how many they were and neither could he give their names. According to him, while they were having a drinking spree, he was suddenly arrested, for what reason he was not aware. Likewise, he could not remember who arrested him and what time he was brought to jail because he was too drunk, and he failed to inquire from the arresting officer why he was jailed (tsn, November 4, 1996, pp. 2-3).

The trial court did not accord credence to the testimony of accused-appellant, pointing out in its decision that the defense of denial and accused-appellant's alibi that he was at home having a drinking spree with alleged friends he could not identify, deserve no serious preoccupation of the mind. Nor yet can his claim that he was too drunk to know what transpired at the time when the rape was committed, be given weight to disprove the charge against him.

Hence, the instant review and appeal, anchored on a single encompassing and catch-all argument that the trial court erred in finding accused-appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged.

Absolute certainty of guilt is not, however, demanded by law for a conviction. It is sufficient that moral certainty as to the presence of the elements constituting the offense, as well as of the identity of the offender be established (People vs. Casinillo, 213 SCRA 777 [1992]).

In the instant case, it does appear that the main issue raised by accused-appellant is the credibility of victim Hazel Ramirez. Accused-appellant claims that the child-witness was too young to know the significance of an oath because she could not answer questions. She should have known that she was supposed to answer all questions and not only those to which answers had been rehearsed, hence, her entire testimony should be stricken off the record for lack of proper answers during cross-examination.

We do not agree.

Many times has this Court said that in reviewing rape cases, it will be guided by the settled realities that an accusation for rape can be made with facility. While the commission of the crime may not be easy to prove, it becomes even more difficult, however, for the person accused, although innocent, to disprove that he did not commit the crime. 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 draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense (People vs. Gabris, 258 SCRA 663 [1996]; People vs. Casinillo, supra).

In the instant appeal, as invariably in almost all rape cases, the issue boils down to the credibility and story of the victim. Just as often, the Court is now constrained to rely on the observations of the trial court in the appreciation of testimony, said court being given the opportunity not equally enjoyed by the appellate courts. It has thus since become doctrinal that the evaluation by the trial court of testimonial evidence is accorded great respect because it has the direct chance to observe first hand the demeanor of the witness on the stand (People vs. De la Cruz, 754 SCRA 229 [1994]) and, therefore, is in a better position to form an accurate impression and conclusion (People vs. Castillo, 261 SCRA 493 [1996]).

The Court has meticulously gone over the testimony of the victim and ultimately reaches the dispiriting conclusion that the act complained of did occur. Hazel's testimony on the rape perpetrated against her is clear and could have only been narrated by a victim subjected to that sexual assault. Thus:
Q: Do you know this person who is the accused in this case by the name of Jimmy Mijano?
A:

(Witness nodding her head.)

  
Q: What do you mean by nodding your head, Hazel?
A:

No answer.

  
Q:

Now, Hazel, if I say that you know Jimmy Mijano and he is inside the courtroom, please stand up and point to him?

A: That person, sir. (Witness crying as she points to a person inside the courtroom who, when asked by the interpreter, answered by the name of Jimmy Mijano)
  
Q:

Why are you crying? Are you angry to Jimmy Mijano?

A: Yes, sir.
  
Q: You said you saw the titi of Kuya Jimmy Mijano, what did he do with his titi to you?
A: Ipinasok niya sa pekpek ko.
  
Q: What happened to your pekpek when Kuya Jimmy Mijano inserted his penis to your vagina?
A: It was bleeding.
  
Q: When Jimmy Mijano inserted his penis into your vagina, what did you feel?
A: I felt very painful, napakasakit po.
  
Q: Will you please elucidate before this Court, I withdraw. Will you please illustrate how Jimmy Mijano inserted his penis into your vagina?
A: (No answer. Instead, witness cries aloud.)
  
 

(tsn, pp. 2-4, July 29, 1996))

Accused-appellant attempts to discredit the victim's testimony by assailing her attitude and behavior during cross-examination. However, it must be borne in mind that the victim is an innocent, wholesome, and naïve 5-year old girl that this Court, or anyone for that matter, can not expect to articulate and verbalize answers to all the questions thrown at her. Being a child and a victim of rape, her testimony should be expected to be accompanied by emotional overtures. Verily, it is not right to judge the actions of a child who has undergone a traumatic experience by the norms of behavior expected under the circumstances from normal and mature people (People vs. Tadulan, 271 SCRA 233 [1997]). In fact, when victim Hazel was asked to illustrate how accused-appellant inserted his penis into her vagina, she could no longer give an answer and instead cried aloud. She was then forthwith cross-examined by the defense, and Hazel was just too dazed and shaken up, due probably to having to recall her traumatic experience, to answer the questions. She just continued to cry. Such scenario evidently strengthens the claim of the victim that she was sexually abused by accused-appellant, and not otherwise. Hazel cannot be expected to remember every ugly detail of the appalling outrage, especially so since she might in fact have been trying not to remember them and to erase them from her mind (People vs. Butron, 272 SCRA 352 [1997]). She cannot be expected to mechanically keep and narrate an accurate account of the horrifying experience she had undergone (People vs. Rabosa, 273 SCRA 142 [1997]). When a woman, more so if she is a minor, says that she has been raped, she says in effect all that is necessary to show that rape was committed (People vs. Cabayron, 278 SCRA 78 [1997]). Thus, Hazel's testimony is given full weight and credit.

Moreover, no rule in criminal jurisprudence is more settled than that alibi is the weakest of all defenses and should be rejected when the identity of the accused has been sufficiently and positively established by eyewitnesses to the crime (People vs. Sancholes, 271 SCRA 527 [1997]).

In the case at bar, accused-appellant's alibi that at the time Hazel was being raped he was at home getting drunk with his friends, cannot possibly be given more probative weight than the clear and positive identification provided by no less than three credible eyewitnesses in the persons of Hazel Ramirez, her mother Dina Ramirez, and their neighbor Arnulfo Valiente.

The testimony of Valiente pointing to accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the crime is clear and positive, thusly:
q And who was the companion if any of Hazel in that area?
a She was with other children and Jimmy Mijano.
  
q What else did you see?
a

Hazel was embraced, sir.

  
q By whom?
a Jimmy, sir.
  
q Could you please stand up and demonstrate before this Honorable Court how Jimmy Mijano embraced Hazel? May we ask the mother supposed she is Hazel?
a Jimmy Mijano embraced the child while the child was facing her back towards the accused and the hands of Jimmy Mijano was pressed at the nipple of Hazel Ramirez.
  

x x x x x x x x x

  
q Where did you find the second time Jimmy Mijano the accused in this case?
a At the grassy area, sir.
  
q And tell this Honorable Court what was Jimmy doing in that grassy portion of Helen Catral?
a He as on top of the child and has no pants.
  
q You are telling us that Jimmy Mijano was also naked?
a

Yes, sir.

  
q And you saw him with your two eyes on top, with naked buttocks?
a Yes, sir.
  
q Did you see if the body of Jimmy Mijano was moving sidewards or up and down?
a I did not notice I saw only he was on top of the child.
  
 
(tsn, pp. 10-11, July 22, 1996)
Valiente's account of the incident finds support in Dina Ramirez' story recounting her daughter's horrifying experience -
q If this Jimmy Mijano y Tamora is inside the court room, please point at him?
a

There, sir. (Witness pointing to a person in yellow T-shirt who stood up and answered to the name of Jimmy Mijano, the accused in this case).

  
q You stated a while ago accused is your neighbor will you please tell us what place are you a neighbor of Jimmy Mijano?
a Inside the Carnival Park - Looban we are neighbors, sir.
  
q

Let me take you back on May 10, 1996, in the afternoon, Madam Witness?

a

Yes, sir.

  
q In the afternoon, could you tell this Honorable Court what were you doing?
a
In the morning of May 10, 1996 I was then washing clothes while accused Jimmy Mijano together with his friends was having a drinking session under our house. My child was then playing and then my child together with her children was brought by Jimmy away from our house called the Helen Castral St.
  
q

Then what happened when you came to know your daughter Hazel was with other children with the accused at Helen Catral?

a
It was like this in the afternoon it was drizzling. I asked my child's playmates the whereabout of Hazel who told me that Jimmy was playing with them and then I became suspicious and started looking for my child. I went out of the street but I was unable to see my child and saw one Arnulfo Valiente standing on the street and asked him if he saw my child and answered "Yes I saw her together with Jimmy at Helen Catral St."
  
q Did you go to the place where you described as Helen Catral?
a Yes, sir.
  
q Who was your companion in going to Helen Catral?
a Arnulfo Valiente, sir.
  
q When you reached Helen Catral what did you observe if any?
a The place is a grassy area and near Bacoor and there is a river.
  
q

When you went to the said Helen Catral where you able to see your daughter Hazel?

a I was not able to see her but it was Arnulfo Valiente who first saw her.
  
q And when was the time you saw your daughter?
a At around 5 o'clock in the afternoon.
  
q In what place did you see Hazel?
a At Helen Catral St., sir.
  
q Will you tell this Honorable Court. Let me clarify Madam witness when you went there after a few minutes also in the place of Helen Catral?
a Yes, sir.
  
q Will you please tell this Honorable Court what was the condition of your daughter when you saw her?
a When I saw my daughter she was pale and when Arnulfo Valiente lifted her we saw her vagina was bleeding.
  
q What else did you see, if any?
a She was bleeding profusely and her vagina was injured.
  
q How about her clothing?
a We were not able to see her clothes except her blouse which she was wearing and she has no panty and skirt.
  
q How about the other part of the body did you observe any injury or contusion?
a She has abrasion on the right hip, sir.
  
q You stated a while you brought your daughter to the police station hereafter you brought your daughter to this police station of Las Pinas, what happened next?
a The police suggested that my daughter be brought to the hospital because of the profuse bleeding and we went directly to the NBI.
  
q What happened at the NBI Madam Witness?
a

We were advised to bring the child to the PGH. They cannot examine the vagina because of the profuse bleeding.

  
 
(TSN, pp. 3-4, July 22, 1996)
Prosecution witness Dr. Stella Guerrero Manalo confirmed the claim of victim Hazel Ramirez that she was raped, to wit:
Q
On your own medical and professional opinion, based on the physical examination you conducted on the person of the victim, what would have caused this laceration? Would it have been caused by a penis?
  
A It is highly probable with the history given. And on the basis of the history that I gathered from the child, I would say that it was a case for rape.
  
 
(TSN, p. 5, Sept. 2, 1996)
Furthermore, the examination of the victim's underwear gave positive result for seminal stains.

Accused-appellant's alibi that he was drunk with his friends when the rape was committed, it is to be noted, remained but a stark, unsupported averment, as verily, the defense neither identified nor presented any of the alleged drinking partners of accused-appellant.

In sum, the Court fails to find any 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 Hazel and her witnesses in most material points.

Finally, accused-appellant in his reply brief contends that the death penalty law is violative of the equal protection clause of the 1987 Constitution because it punishes only people like him, the poor, the uneducated, and the jobless.

The equality the Constitution guarantees is legal equality or, as it is usually put, the equality of all persons before the law. Under this guarantee, each individual is dealt with as an equal person in the law, which does not treat the person differently because of who he is or what he is or what he possesses (Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, A Commentary, 1987 ed., p. 6).

Republic Act No. 7659 specifically provides:
x x x

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

x x x

4. When the victim is a religious or a child below seven (7) years old.

x x x
Apparently, as it should be, the death penalty law makes no distinction. It applies to all persons and to all classes of persons - rich or poor, educated or uneducated, religious or non-religious. No particular person or classes of persons are identified by the law against whom the death penalty shall be exclusively imposed.

We have time and again emphasized that our courts are not the fora for a protracted debate on the morality or propriety of the death penalty where the law itself provides such punishment for specific and well-defined criminal acts (People vs. Echegaray, 267 SCRA 682 [1997]). Further, compassion for the poor is an imperative of every humane society but only when the recipient is not a rascal claiming an undeserved privilege (Cecilleville Realty and Service Corporation vs. CA, 278 SCRA 819 [1997]). The evidence pointing to accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the crime is overwhelming. The law punishes with death a person who shall commit rape against a child below seven years of age. Thus, to answer the query, the perpetration of rape against a 5-year old girl does not absolve or exempt accused-appellant from the imposition of the death penalty by the fact that he is poor, uneducated, jobless, and lacks catechetical instruction. To hold otherwise will not eliminate but promote inequalities.

Although four justices of the Court continue to maintain their adherence to the separate opinions expressed in People vs. Echegaray (supra) that Republic Act no. 7659 is unconstitutional insofar as it prescribes the death penalty, they nonetheless submit to the ruling of the majority that the law is constitutional and that death penalty should herein accordingly be imposed.

Applying the new policy laid down in the case of People vs. Prades (G.R. No. 127569, July 30, 1998), the civil indemnity to be awarded to the offended party is and should be P75,000.00. In addition, moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00 are likewise awarded without need for proof of the basis thereof. Lastly, accused-appellant is liable to pay the victim the sum of P20,000.00 as exemplary damages as a deterrent against or as a negative incentive to curb socially deleterious actions (Del Rosario vs. Court of Appeals, 267 SCRA 158 [1997]).

WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court finding accused-appellant Jimmy T. Mijano guilty of Statutory Rape and sentencing him to suffer the severest penalty of death is hereby AFFIRMED, subject to the modifications above-stated.

In accordance with Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7659, amending Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, upon the finality of this decision, let the records of this case be forthwith forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of the pardoning power. No special pronouncement is made as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, and Ynares-Santiago, JJ., concur.
Davide, Jr., C.J., on leave.

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