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667 Phil. 664

FIRST DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 176740, June 22, 2011 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, APPELLEE, VS. CARLO DUMADAG Y ROMIO, APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

The fact of sexual intercourse in this case is undisputed. What confronts this Court is the question of whether the sexual congress between appellant and the private complainant was done through force and intimidation or was voluntary and consensual.

For review is the July 3, 2006 Decision [1] of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01843 affirming with modification the Decision [2] dated April 16, 2001 [3] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 08, Aparri, Cagayan, finding Carlo Dumadag y Romio (appellant) guilty of the crime of rape.

Factual Antecedents

On June 14, 1999, an Information for rape was filed with the RTC against appellant, which contained the following accusations:

The undersigned Provincial Prosecutor accuses CARLO DUMADAG Y ROMIO, upon complaint filed by the offended party, "AAA", [4] in the Municipal Trial Court of "CCC", "DDD" found on page one (1) of the records of the case and forming an integral part of this Information, of the crime of Rape, defined and penalized under Article 335 [sic], of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 11, of Republic Act No. 7659, committed as follows:

That on or about December 25, 1998, in the Municipality of "CCC", province of "DDD", and within the jurisdiction of the Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with a knife, with lewd design, by use of force or intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of the herein offended party, a woman below eighteen (18) years of age, all against her will and consent.

CONTRARY TO LAW. [5]

During his arraignment on October 26, 1999, appellant, with the assistance of his counsel de officio, entered a negative plea to the charge.  At the pre-trial conference, the prosecution and the defense made stipulation of facts as to the identities of the private complainant and the appellant and that a medical certificate was issued to the former.  Shortly after termination of the conference, trial on merits commenced.

Version of the Prosecution

The evidence for the prosecution established the following facts:

"AAA", a young barrio lass, 16 years of age at the time she testified on February 21, 2000, declared that in the early morning of December 25, 1998, she was on her way home after hearing the midnight mass at "BBB", "CCC", "DDD".  She was a little bit behind Thelma, Carlos and Clarence, all surnamed Dumadag.  All of a sudden, appellant approached her from behind and poked a Batangas knife on her threatening to stab her if she shouts.  He pulled her towards the house of Joel "Boyet" Ursulum (Boyet).  Once inside, she was forced to remove her pants and panty because of fear.  Appellant also removed his pants and brief and pushed her on a bamboo bed.  Pointing the knife at the left portion of her abdomen, appellant ordered her to hold his penis against her vagina.  Appellant succeeded in having carnal knowledge of her.  After appellant was through, they stayed inside the house until six o'clock in the morning of December 25, 1998.  All this time, appellant continued to hold the knife.  Pleading that she be allowed to go home, appellant finally let her go after threatening to kill her if she reports the incident to her parents.  "AAA" decided not to disclose what transpired because of fear.  Nevertheless, "AAA's" uncle, "EEE" learned from appellant himself that the latter had sexual intercourse with her.  Her uncle relayed the information to her father who confronted her about the incident.  After confirming the same from "AAA", they decided to report the matter to the police where she was investigated and her sworn statement taken.

Dr. Jane Toribio-Berona (Dr. Toribio-Berona) conducted a physical examination on "AAA".  She identified the medical certificate [6] issued by her wherein it was indicated that there was laceration on "AAA's" hymen.

Version of the Defense

On the other hand, appellant does not deny having had sexual intercourse with "AAA".  Instead, he claimed that it was voluntary and without the use of force since they were lovers.  To support his claim that "AAA" was his girlfriend, appellant presented Boyet and Nieves Irish Oandasan (Nieves Irish) who both corroborated his sweetheart defense.

Ruling of the Regional Trial Court

After trial, the RTC declared appellant guilty  beyond  reasonable  doubt  of the charge lodged against him after finding "AAA"'s testimony to be credible [7] as it was given in a candid and straightforward manner. [8] It rejected appellant's "sweetheart" defense holding that a sweetheart cannot be forced to have sex against her will. [9] Consequently he was condemned to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and payment of damages, viz:

WHEREFORE, the Court finds accused, CARLO DUMADAG Y ROMIO, guilty beyond reasonable doubt and is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of Reclusion Perpetua and to pay "AAA" the amount of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (p100,000.00) as moral damages and FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00) as civil indemnity.

SO ORDERED. [10]

Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal [11] on April 24, 2001 with the trial court. The records of this case were transmitted to this Court.  Both parties filed their respective Briefs. [12] Consistent however to this Court's pronouncement in People v. Mateo, [13] the case was referred to the CA for appropriate action and disposition. [14]

In his brief, appellant assigned the following errors, viz:

I. The trial court erred in giving weight and credence to the testimony of [the] private complainant that accused poked a knife at the left side of her [abdomen] after she came out from [the] church.

II. The trial court erred in not acquitting accused-appellant on [the] ground of reasonable doubt. [15]

Ruling of the Court of Appeals

Resolving jointly the foregoing imputations against the trial court, the CA affirmed with modification the appealed judgment of conviction. The CA ruled that there is nothing on record which shows that the trial court had overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied a fact or circumstance of weight and substance which would have affected the case.  The CA junked appellant's contentions that he and "AAA" were lovers; that no force or intimidation was employed on "AAA;" and that there was contradiction as to which of his hands was placed around the neck of "AAA."  The CA further held that "AAA's" simple account of her ordeal evinces sincerity and truthfulness.  It disposed of the appeal in its assailed Decision promulgated on July 3, 2006, thus:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the assailed Decision promulgated on April 19, 2001 of the Regional Trial Court of Aparri, Cagayan, Branch 08, in Criminal Case No. 08-1157, finding the accused-appellant Carlo Dumadag y Romio guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that appellant is ordered to pay the victim "AAA" the reduced amount of Php50,000.00 as moral damages, in addition to the Php50,000.00 civil indemnity awarded by the trial court.

SO ORDERED. [16]

Aggrieved, appellant is now before this Court submitting anew for resolution the same matters he argued before the CA.  Per Resolution [17] dated June 4, 2007, the parties were notified that they may file their respective supplemental briefs if they so desire within 30 days from notice.  Appellant informed the Court that he would no longer file a supplemental brief as all relevant matters were already taken up. [18] Appellee, for its part, opted not to file any supplemental brief. [19] Thus, this case was submitted for decision on the basis of their respective briefs filed with the CA.

In his bid for acquittal, appellant points out several circumstances purportedly showing that "AAA's" testimony is not worthy of credence.  According to appellant, it is highly improbable for him to poke a knife on her without being noticed since the members of his (appellant) family were just a little bit ahead of her.  He claims that from a distance of 200 meters from the church to the house of Boyet, it would be impossible that nobody saw them considering that his right arm was allegedly placed around her neck and at the same time a knife was poked on the left side of her body.  He further asserts that she could have made an outcry considering that she was with his (appellant) parents in going home after the midnight mass.

Our Ruling

The appeal is bereft of merit.

The improbabilities alluded to by the appellant hinge on the assessment of the credibility of "AAA".  When credibility is the issue that comes to fore, this Court generally defers to the findings of the trial court which had the first hand opportunity to hear the testimonies of witnesses and observe their demeanor, conduct and attitude during their presentation.  Hence, the trial court's factual findings especially when affirmed by the appellate court are accorded the highest degree of respect and are conclusive and binding on this Court.  A review of such findings by this Court is not warranted save upon a showing of highly meritorious circumstances "such as when the court's evaluation was reached arbitrarily, or when the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied certain facts or circumstances of weight and substance which[, if considered, would] affect the result of the case." [20] Unfortunately for appellant, none of these recognized exceptions necessitating a reversal of the assailed Decision obtains in this instance.

The gravamen of the offense of rape is sexual intercourse with a woman against her will or without her consent. [21] On the basis of the records, the Court finds "AAA" candidly and categorically recounted the manner appellant threatened her and succeeded in having sexual intercourse with her against her will.  "AAA" consistently testified that while she was on her way home after hearing the midnight mass on December 24, 1998, appellant suddenly and unexpectedly grabbed her, placed his right hand around her neck and poked a knife at the left portion of her abdomen, threatening to kill her if she shouts.  He made her walk towards the house of Boyet where she was forced to lie on a bed and with the knife aimed at her side succeeded in having carnal knowledge of her. [22] Reviewing the antecedents of this case, the Court, just as the courts below, is convinced of the truth and sincerity in the account of "AAA".  It bears to stress that "[a]s a rule, testimonies of child victims of rape are given full weight and credit for youth and immaturity are badges of truth." [23]

Neither is it improbable for appellant to employ such criminal design in the presence of his (appellant) own family especially when overcome by lust.  "It is a common judicial experience that rapists are not deterred from committing their odious act by the presence of people nearby." [24]  "[L]ust is no respecter of time and place." [25] As established, "AAA" was silenced by appellant's threat of killing her with a knife. [26]  Thus, the reason for "AAA's" failure to shout or cry for help is because she was overcame by fear.  It has been held that minors, like "AAA", could be easily intimidated and cowed into silence even by the mildest threat against their lives. [27]

Also it is not impossible for them to walk from the church to the house of Boyet unnoticed.  Except for his bare argument, nothing was adduced that church goers passed through that road about the same time as the incident.  In fact, "AAA" testified that she did not encounter other persons on the way to the house of Boyet. [28]

In trying to discredit further "AAA's" testimony, appellant assails her behavior before, during and after the rape incident.  He contends that in all these instances, "AAA" had all the chances to escape but she did not.  He argues that "AAA" had the opportunity to run when they were entering the house of Boyet and during their more or less five hours stay inside the house yet she decided to remain.  He claims that such behavior is unnatural, incredible and beyond human experience.

Appellant's contentions fail to persuade.

The failure of "AAA" to flee despite opportunity does not necessarily deviate from natural human conduct.  It bears emphasis that human reactions vary and are unpredictable when facing a shocking and horrifying experience such as sexual assault.  There is no uniform behavior expected of victims after being raped. [29] Moreover, "[n]ot all rape victims can be expected to act conformably to the usual expectations of everyone." [30] "AAA", being then a minor and subjected to a threat to her life, should not be judged by the norms of behavior expected of mature persons.

The fact that there is no evidence of resistance on the part of "AAA" does not cloud her credibility.  "The failure of a victim to physically resist does not negate rape when intimidation is exercised upon [her] and the latter submits herself, against her will, to the rapist's assault because of fear for life and physical safety." [31]  In this case, "AAA" was dragged by appellant with a knife pointed on her neck and warned not to shout or to reveal the incident to anyone or else she would be killed. That warning was instilled in "AAA's" mind such that even when appellant was just holding his weapon after the intercourse, she did not attempt to flee. The intimidations made by the appellant are sufficient since it instilled fear in her mind that if she would not submit to his bestial demands, something bad would befall her.  "Well-settled is the rule that where the victim is threatened with bodily injury, as when the rapist is armed with a deadly weapon, such as a pistol, knife, ice pick or bolo, such constitutes intimidation sufficient to bring the victim to submission to the lustful desires of the rapist." [32]

There is no question that "AAA" underwent sexual intercourse as admitted by appellant himself and as shown by the medical findings of Dr. Toribio-Berona. [33] However, appellant denies having raped her and instead, claims that he and "AAA" were lovers and the act of sexual intercourse was a free and voluntary act between them.  In short, he interposes the "sweetheart" theory to exculpate himself from the rape charge filed against him.

Appellant's claim that they are lovers is untenable.  For one, such claim was not substantiated by the evidence on the record.  The only evidence adduced by appellant were his testimony and those of his relatives Boyet and Nieves Irish. According to Boyet, he knows of their relationship because they were conversing and writing each other [34] while Nieves Irish saw them once walking in the street. [35] To the mind of the Court, these are not enough evidence to prove that a romantic relationship existed between appellant and "AAA".  In People v. Napudo [36] where the accused likewise invoked the sweetheart defense, this Court held that:

[T]he fact alone that two people were seen seated beside each other, conversing during a jeepney ride, without more, cannot give rise to the inference that they were sweethearts. Intimacies such as loving caresses, cuddling, tender smiles, sweet murmurs or any other affectionate gestures that one bestows upon his or her lover would have been seen and are expected to indicate the presence of the relationship.

Other than his self-serving assertions and those of his witnesses which were rightly discredited by the trial court, nothing supports appellant's claim that he and "AAA" were indeed lovers. "A `sweetheart defense,' to be credible, should be substantiated by some documentary or other evidence of relationship [such as notes, gifts, pictures, mementos] and the like. [37] Appellant failed to discharge this burden.

Besides, even if it were true that appellant and "AAA" were sweethearts, this fact does not necessarily negate rape.  "Definitely, a man cannot demand sexual gratification from a fiancĂ©e and worse, employ violence upon her on the pretext of love. Love is not a license for lust." [38] But what destroyed the veracity of appellant's "sweetheart" defense were the credible declaration of "AAA" that she does not love him [39] and her categorical denial that he is her boyfriend. [40]

With the credibility of "AAA" having been firmly established, the courts below did not err in finding appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of rape committed through force and intimidation. The "sweetheart" theory interposed by appellant was correctly rejected for lack of substantial corroboration.

The Proper Penalty

Under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, whenever the crime of rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or by two or more persons, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death.  At the time of the commission of the offense on December 25, 1998, Republic Act No. 8353 (otherwise known as the "Anti-Rape Law of 1997") was already in effect.  The amendatory law, particularly Article 266-B thereof, provides an identical provision and imposes the same penalty when the crime of rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or by two or more persons. In this case, such circumstance was sufficiently alleged in the Information and established during the trial.  In People v. Macapanas, [41] the Court ruled that "[b]eing in the nature of a qualifying circumstance, `use of a deadly weapon' increases the penalties by degrees, and cannot be treated merely as a generic aggravating circumstance which affects only the period of the penalty.  This so-called qualified form of rape committed with the use of a deadly weapon carries a penalty of reclusion perpetua to death."  Since the Information does not allege and the prosecution failed to prove any other attending circumstance in the commission of the offense, the imposable penalty is reclusion perpetua [42] conformably with Article 63 [43] of the Revised Penal Code. Consequently, the Court sustains the penalty of reclusion perpetua imposed by the courts below on appellant.

As to damages, the Court affirms the grant by the appellate court to "AAA" of civil indemnity in the amount of P50,000.00 and its reduction of the amount of moral damages to P50,000.00 based on prevailing jurisprudence. [44] "Civil indemnity, which is actually in the nature of actual or compensatory damages is mandatory upon the finding of the fact of rape." [45] Moral damages, on the other hand, are automatically granted to the rape victim without presentation of further proof other than the commission of the crime. [46]

The Court notes that both the courts below failed to award exemplary damages.  Exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000.00 should be awarded by reason of the established presence of the qualifying circumstance of use of a deadly weapon as the Court recently ruled in People v. Toriaga. [47]  The Court further held in said case that under Article 2230 of the Civil Code, the rape victim is entitled to recover exemplary damages following the ruling in People v. Catubig. [48]

In addition, interest at the rate of 6% per annum shall be imposed on all damages awarded from the date of finality of this judgment until fully paid likewise pursuant to prevailing jurisprudence. [49]

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01843 is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS that appellant Carlo Dumadag y Romio is ordered to further pay "AAA" P30, 000.00 as exemplary damages and interest at the rate of 6% per annum is imposed on all the damages awarded in this case from the date the finality of this judgment until fully paid.

SO ORDERED.

Corona, C.J., (Chairperson), Leonardo-De Castro, Perez, and Mendoza,* JJ., concur.



* Per Special Order No. 1022 dated June 10, 2011.

[1] CA rollo, pp. 103-147; penned by Associate Justice Celia C. Librea-Leagogo and concurred in by Associate Justices Martin S. Villarama, Jr. and Lucas P. Bersamin, now Members of this Court.

[2] Records, pp. 156-165; penned by Judge Conrado F. Manauis.

[3] Promulgated on April 19, 2001, id. at 166.

[4] The identity of the victim or any information which could establish or compromise her identity, as well as those of her immediate family or household members, shall be withheld pursuant to Republic Act No. 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, and for Other Purposes; Republic Act No. 9262, An Act Defining Violence Against Women and Their Children, Providing for Protective Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes; and Section 40 of A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC, known as the Rule on Violence Against Women and Their Children, effective November 5, 2004.

[5] Records, p. 1.

[6] Exhibit "A", id. at 5.

[7] Id. at 162.

[8] Id. at 163.

[9] Id. at 165.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 169

[12] Appellant's Brief, CA rollo, pp. 38-58; Appellee's Brief, id. at 73-97.

[13] G.R. Nos. 147678-87, July 7, 2004, 433 SCRA 640.

[14] CA rollo, p. 101.

[15] Id. at 40.

[16] Id. at 144.

[17] Rollo, p. 51.

[18] Id. at 52-55.

[19] Id. at 56-58.

[20] People v. Coja, G.R. No. 179277, June 18, 2008, 555 SCRA 176, 186.

[21] People v. Mateo, G.R. No. 170569, September 30, 2008, 567 SCRA 244, 255.

[22] TSN, February 21, 2000, pp. 4-6.

[23] People v. Veluz, G.R. No. 167755, November 28, 2008, 572 SCRA 500, 514.

[24] People v. Rebato, 410 Phil. 470, 479 (2001).

[25] People v. Montesa, G.R. No. 181899, November 27, 2008, 572 SCRA 317, 337.

[26] TSN, February 21, 2000, p. 6.

[27] People v. Canete, G.R. No. 182193, November 7, 2008, 570 SCRA 549, 558-559 citing People v. Santos, 452 Phil. 1046, 1061 (2003).

[28] Supra note 26 at 9.

[29] People v. Crespo, G.R. No. 180500, September 11, 2008, 564 SCRA 613, 637.

[30] People v. Madia, 411 Phil. 666, 673 (2001).

[31] People v. Marcos, 368 Phil.143, 158 (1999).

[32] People v. Oga, G.R. No. 152302, June 8, 2004, 431 SCRA 354, 361.

[33] Supra note 6.

[34] TSN, July 11, 2000, p. 10.

[35] TSN, December 5, 2000, p. 4.

[36] G.R. No. 168448, October 8, 2008, 568 SCRA 213, 225.

[37] People v. Gabelinio, G.R. Nos. 132127-29, March 31, 2004, 426 SCRA 608, 621.

[38] People v. Manallo, 448 Phil 149, 166 (2003).

[39] TSN, February 21, 2000, p. 16.

[40] TSN, March 12, 2001, p. 3.

[41] G.R. No. 187049, March 4, 2010, 620 SCRA 54, 76.

[42] Id.

[43] Article 63.  Rules for the application of indivisible penalties. - In all cases in which 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 deed.

In all cases in which the law prescribes a penalty composed of two indivisible penalties the following rules shall be observed in the application thereof:

x x x x

2.  When there are neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances in the commission of the deed, the lesser penalty shall be applied.

x x x x

[44] People v. Macapanas, supra note 40.

[45] People v. Arivan, G.R. No. 176065, April 22, 2008, 552 SCRA 448, 470.

[46] People v. Diocado. G.R. No. 170567, November 14, 2008, 571 SCRA 123, 139.

[47] G.R. No. 177145, February 9, 2011. See also People v. Macapanas, supra note 40 at 76-77.

[48] 416 Phil. 102, 119-120 (2001).

[49] People v. Galvez, G.R. No. 181827, February 2, 2011; People v. Alverio, G.R. No. 194259, March 16, 2011.

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