682 Phil. 651; 666 SCRA 689

SECOND DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 191365, February 22, 2012 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. EDUARDO NAVARETTE, JR. Y NATO, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

PEREZ, J.:

On appeal is the Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals dated 29 January 2010 in CA-G.R. CR H.C. No. 03344 affirming with modification the Decision[2] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Imus, Cavite, Branch 21, in Criminal Cases No. 10680-03 and No. 10681-03 finding appellant Eduardo Navarette, Jr. y Nato guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua.

On 11 June 2002, appellant was charged in two (2) Informations for rape allegedly committed as follows:

Criminal Case No. 10680-03

That sometime in 1994 in Imus, Cavite, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being the first cousin of the offended party [AAA][3], then eight (8) years old, with lewd designs and by means of threat, force and intimidation did, then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie and had sexual intercourse with private complainant [AAA], against her will and consent, to the damage and prejudice of said minor.[4]

Criminal Case No. 10681-03

That sometime in 1996 in Imus, Cavite, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being the first cousin of the offended party [AAA], then ten (10) years old, with lewd designs and by means of threat, force and intimidation did, then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie and had sexual intercourse with private complainant [AAA], against her will and consent, to the damage and prejudice of said minor.[5]

Appellant pleaded not guilty on arraignment.  Trial then proceeded.

As a backgrounder, AAA is the first cousin of appellant.  AAA’s father, Dominador Navarette (Dominador) is the brother of appellant’s father Eduardo Navarette, Sr. (Eduardo, Sr.)

The prosecution presented the testimonies of the victim, AAA, her mother, BBB,[6] and the medico-legal officer, Dr. Ida C. De Perio-Daniel (Dr. Perio-Daniel).

AAA related that she was raped by appellant twice – the first time, when she was 8 years old in 1994, and the second time, when she was 10 years old in 1996.  On both occasions, AAA claimed that she went to the house of appellant to play with appellant’s brother Emerson.  Appellant apparently suggested that AAA look for Emerson upstairs.  AAA heeded and proceeded to the second floor.  Appellant followed AAA and pulled her towards a room.  Thereat, appellant forced her to the floor and undressed her.  In 1994, appellant tried inserting his penis in AAA, but it merely touched her vagina.  In 1996, however, appellant was able to insert his penis on AAA’s vagina and there was complete penetration.  It took AAA three (3) years before she reported the incident to BBB because appellant allegedly threatened that he would kill AAA’s parents and sister.  AAA was however forced to tell her parents about the rape incident because her sister was being harassed sexually by appellant.[7]

During the cross-examination, it was revealed that on 2 January 2002, Eleazar Navarrette (Eleazar), appellant’s brother was killed by Dominador.  AAA admitted that her father killed Eleazar because the latter allegedly raped her too.  Several days after the murder case was filed against AAA’s father, appellant was charged with rape by AAA.[8]

BBB recalled that in 1999, AAA told her that she was raped by appellant in the years 1994 and 1996.  BBB did not immediately tell her husband out of fear and shame. When appellant allegedly attempted to sexually abuse AAA in 2002, BBB was impelled to inform her husband.[9]

Dr. Perio-Daniel, a medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), conducted an examination on AAA, which findings were contained in Living Case No. MG-02-17, as follow:

GENERAL PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:

x x x x

GENITAL EXAMINATION

Pubic hairs, fully grown, moderate.  Labia majora and minora, coaptated. Fourchette, lax. Vestibular mucosa, pinkish. Hymen, fimbriated, tall, thick with healed laceration, complete at 2:00 o’clock position, edges rounded, non-coaptable.  Vaginal walls, tight. Rugosities, prominent.

CONCLUSION:

1. No evident sign of extragenital physical injuries were noted on the body of the subject at the time of the examination.

2. Healed hymenal laceration, present.[10]

Dr. Perio-Daniel could not exactly tell whether AAA was raped because of the lapse of time between the date of the alleged commission of the crime and the date of the physical examination.[11]

For the defense, appellant claimed that AAA falsely charged him of rape because AAA’s father killed his brother Eleazar.  Dominador wanted to have the case for murder filed against him dismissed in exchange for the dismissal of the rape case.[12]  Appellant’s testimony was corroborated by his aunt, Lualhati Navarette (Lualhati), who happens to be the sister of Dominador and Eduardo, Sr..  Lualhati testified that Dominador planned to file a case against appellant as leverage to the case filed against the former for killing Eleazar.[13]

Dominador passed away sometime in 2002.[14]

On 6 March 2008, the RTC rendered judgment finding appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape. The dispositive portion of the Decision reads:

WHEREFORE, finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of the crime of RAPE as charged in the two informations, said accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua in each of the two cases.

Said accused is ordered to pay private complainant the amount of P75,000.00 for civil indemnity, another P75,000.00 for moral damages and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages for each conviction of rape.

The period of detention while the cases were pending before the Court shall be deducted from the sentence to be served by the accused.[15]

The trial court lent credence to the testimony of AAA that she was raped.  The trial court found her testimony categorical, straightforward and candid.  Moreover, in upholding the credibility of AAA, the trial court relied heavily on established doctrines in rape cases.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of appellant but modified the award of exemplary damages by increasing it from P25,000.00 to P30,000.00.

In his Brief, appellant casts doubt on the testimony of AAA.  He insists that AAA should have at least remembered the month when she was raped considering the traumatic experience she had undergone.  Appellant also questions why AAA still went to the house of appellant despite the fact that she was raped the first time.  The belated reporting of the incident by AAA to BBB may have been justified but the fact that it took BBB another 3 years before she filed a case only confirmed the defense that the charges were fabricated and filed so that Dominador would have a leverage against the murder case lodged against him for allegedly killing appellant’s brother.

On the other hand, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) maintains that the victim’s ability to remember the exact months when the rapes were committed are not necessary to prove appellant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  The OSG vouches for the credibility of AAA’s testimony and adds that AAA’s failure to recall has no bearing on her credibility.  Moreover, the OSG avers that AAA’s act of returning to appellant’s house, by itself, cannot be taken against her nor cast doubt on her credibility because the victim had undergone a traumatic experience which affected her mental disposition.  The OSG maintains that the threats made by appellant on the victim are sufficient to dissuade her from reporting the abuses she suffered.  The OSG refutes the “leverage theory” of the defense by stating that these allegations are unsubstantiated and were categorically denied by AAA.

The primary issue in this case pertains to whether appellant’s guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.  Appellant’s main defense is that the rape charges were concocted to serve as leverage for the murder case filed by appellant’s family against AAA’s father.

For the charge of statutory rape to prosper, the prosecution must prove that: (1) the accused had carnal knowledge of the woman; and, (2) that such woman is under twelve (12) years of age.[16]

In cases of rape, only two (2) persons are normally privy to its occurrence, the complainant and the accused.  Generally, the nature of the offense is such that the only evidence that can prove the guilt of the accused is the testimony of the complainant herself.  Thus, the prosecution of rape cases is anchored mainly on the credibility of the complaining witness.[17]

The general rule is that findings of trial court relative to the credibility of the rape victim are normally respected and not disturbed on appeal, more so, if affirmed by the appellate court.   This rule may be brushed aside in exceptional 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 could affect the result of the case.[18]  After an exhaustive review of the records, we find that there is no sufficient justification to apply the exception.

In recounting her ordeal, AAA narrated that she was raped twice, first in 1994, to wit:

Q:
As far as you can recollect AAA, how did the first rape happened [sic]? What time was it?
A: 
I cannot recall anymore sir.
Q: 
Was it in the afternoon or in the morning?
A: 
In the afternoon.
Q: 
Where did it happen?
A: 
In their house.
Q: 
Why were you there?
A:
Because I was playing there among his siblings because he is my childhood [friend].
Q: 
You went [to] there [sic] house looking for his youngest sibling?
A: 
Yes sir.
Q: 
What was the name of his sibling?
A: 
Emerson.
Q: 
He is a boy?
A: 
Yes sir.
Q: 
And how old is Emerson?
A: 
7 years old.
Q: 
And you were 8 years old?
A: 
Yes sir.
Q: 
You went to the place of Eduardo Navarette looking for Emerson. Did you find Emerson?
A: 
No sir.
Q: 
Who was there in the house of Eduardo Navarette?
A: 
Only Eduardo.
Q: 
What did Eduardo Navarette, Jr. tell you?
A:
According to him Emerson is upstair[s].
Q: 
Did you find [him] there?
A: 
No sir.
Q:
What happened?
A: 
Eduardo also went upstair[s].
Q: 
And then?
A: 
He pulled me towards the room.
Q: 
[Who else was there] at that time?
A: 
Nobody else.
Q: 
What happened once you where [sic] inside the room?
A: 
He laid me on the floor.
Q: 
And then?
A: 
And then he undress[ed] me.
Q:
What particular clothes did he undress you [sic]?
A: 
Short[s].
Q: 
What about the upper clothes?
A: 
No sir.
Q: 
What about your panty?
A: 
Yes sir.
Q: 
Did he remove his brief?
A:
Yes sir.
Q: 
What did he do?
A:
He was trying to insert his penis.
Q: 
Did his penis touch your genitalia?
A: 
Yes sir.
Q: 
Where in particular or what part of your genitalia?
A: 
In the middle.
Q: 
Did he completely able to penetrate?
A: 
No sir.
Q:
Why?
A:
Because it did not fit.
Q: 
While he was doing that to you, what did you react?
A: 
I was just crying sir.
Q: 
And after that what happen[ed] next?
A: 
He told me not to tell anybody.
Q: 
And then?
A:
He threatened me.
Q: 
How did he threaten you?
A: 
He told me that he would kill my parents.
Q: 
How did you feel when he threatened you?
A: 
I was scared and I cried I could not do anything.
Q:
And he let you go?
A: 
Yes sir.[19]

and in 1996, viz:

Q:
When was the next time that he raped you?
A:
It was in 1996.
Q:
Where?
A:
Also in their house.
Q:
In 1996 could you remember the month?
A:
No sir.
Q:
How did the second rape happened?
A:
I was also looking for my playmate his sibling.
Q:
You are referring to Emerson?
A:
Yes, sir.
Q:
At the time you went to the house of Eduardo Navarette, who was inside the house?
A:
Nobody was inside the house.
Q:
Where was Eduardo Navarette?
A:
He was downstair[s].
Q:
So you were looking [for] Emerson?
A:
Yes sir.
Q:
Did you find Emerson there?
A:
No sir, he was not there.
Q:
So what happen[ed]?
A:
The same thing happened sir, I went upstair[s] because that is the place where we play.
Q:
So when you went upstair[s] at the house of Eduardo Navarette, what happened to you there?
A:
He followed me.
Q:
What did he if any do to you?
A:
He [a]gain pulled me inside the room.
Q:
Only the 2 of you were upstairs?
A:
Yes.
Q:
What happened inside the room?
A:
He covered my mouth.
Q:
At that time how old were you?
A:
10 years old.
Q:
So, when he covered your mouth what else did he do to you?
A:
He laid me on the floor.
Q:
And once you were already lying on the floor, what other things did Eduardo do to you?
A:
He removed my shorts, panty and he raised my clothes.
Q:
What were you wearing on top, the upper part of your body?
A:
T-shirt.
Q:
Once he did that to you, what next did he do to you?
A:
He undressed [me].
Q:
What clothes did he remove from his body?
A:
Short[s] and brief?
Q:
And then he mounted you?
A:
Yes.
Q:
While he was on top of you, what did you do?
A:
He was trying to insert his private part.
Q:
Was his penis able to touch your genitalia?
A:
Yes sir.
Q:
In what particular portion of your genitalia?
A:
In the middle sir.
Q:
At that time was he able to penetrate?
A:
Yes sir.
Q:
How did you feel?
A:
It was painful sir. [20]

AAA is consistent and categorical in stating that she was raped and that appellant is the perpetrator.  On two occasions, appellant forced her to lie down, removed her underwear, and tried to insert his penis into her vagina.  Appellant’s penis merely touched AAA’s vagina in 1994 while there was complete penetration in 1996.  AAA did not waver despite the rigorous cross-examination of the defense counsel.  Incidentally, AAA’s testimony before the court corresponds to her sworn statement[21] previously executed on 15 January 2002.  In said statement, AAA told the NBI Special Investigator that in the years 1994 and 1996, she went to the house of appellant to play with the latter’s brother.  In both times, she was dragged into the room.  Thereat, appellant undressed her and forced her to the floor.  Appellant laid on top of her and inserted his penis into her vagina.  AAA reportedly told BBB of the incident in 1999.  In October 2001, appellant again asked her if they could have sex as his birthday gift.  This prompted AAA and BBB to tell Dominador.

According to appellant, AAA’s testimony is fraught with some improbabilities, such as her failure remember the dates of the alleged rape; her return to the house of appellant despite her claims that she was already raped; and the delay in reporting the case.

The Court of Appeals opined that “errorless testimony cannot be expected of a rape victim for she may not be able to remember or recount every ugly detail of the harrowing experience and appalling outrage she went through, especially so since she might in fact be trying not to recall the same, as they are too painful to remember.”  Indeed, it is doctrinal that date or time of the commission of rape is not a material ingredient of the said crime because the gravamen of rape is carnal knowledge of a woman through force and intimidation.  The precise time when the rape took place has no substantial bearing on its commission.[22]  In statutory rape, time is not an essential element.  What is important is that the information alleges that the victim was a minor under twelve years of age and that the accused had carnal knowledge of her, even if the accused did not use force or intimidation on her or deprived her of reason.[23]

In this case, the courts a quo found the Informations stating only the years of the commission of rape as sufficient.  The more pertinent statement relating to the elements of rape, such as carnal knowledge and the age of the victim were adequately proved by the prosecution.  We further consider that at the time of the occurrence of the first incident of rape, AAA was only 8 years old.  She could not be expected to remember with detailed accuracy the exact date of the rape.

In attempting to discredit AAA, appellant harps on the supposed return of AAA to the house of appellant despite her claims of rape.  The Court of Appeals countered that “there is no such thing as ‘normal human behavior’ when a person is faced with an extraordinary circumstance.  Thus, the victim’s having returned to the place where the sexual harassment took place, while seemingly opposed to the manner that most would consider “normal”, should not be readily taken as proof that she is lying.”  In People v. Marcos,[24] we expounded:

x x x Rape victims, especially child victims, should not be expected to act the way mature individuals would when placed in such a situation.  It is not proper to judge the actions of children who have undergone traumatic experience by the norms of behavior expected from adults under similar circumstances.  The range of emotions shown by rape victims is yet to be captured even by calculus.  It is, thus, unrealistic to expect uniform reactions from rape victims.  Certainly the Court has not laid down any rule on how a rape victim should behave immediately after she has been violated.  This experience is relative and may be dealt with in any way by the victim depending on the circumstances, but her credibility should not be tainted with any modicum of doubt.  Indeed, different people act differently to a given stimulus or type of situation, and there is no standard form of behavioral response when one is confronted with a strange or startling or frightful experience.[25]

Regarding the delay in reporting the incident, the Court of Appeals stated that “it is well entrenched that delay in reporting rape cases does not by itself undermine the charge, where the delay is grounded in threats from the accused.”[26]  Delay in revealing the commission of a crime such as rape does not necessarily render such charge unworthy of belief.  This is because the victim may choose to keep quiet rather than expose her defilement to the harsh glare of public scrutiny. Only when the delay is unreasonable or unexplained may it work to discredit the complainant.[27]

In the instant case, it bears noting that on those two occasions that the appellant raped AAA, he threatened to kill her and her family if ever she would tell anyone about what happened. AAA was only 8 years old when she was first ravished by appellant.  Obviously, such threat could easily, as it did, in fact, intimidate her. Thus, the delay in reporting is justified in this case.

The main thrust of the defense is that the rape charges were concocted to serve as leverage for the murder case filed by appellant’s family against AAA’s father.

Motives such as feuds, resentment, hatred or revenge have never swayed this Court from giving full credence to the testimony of a rape victim.  Also, ill motives become inconsequential if there is an affirmative and credible declaration from the rape victim which clearly established the liability of the accused.[28]  In the present case, AAA categorically identified appellant as the one who ravished her. Her account of the rape incidents, as found by the lower courts, was credible.

We agree with the Court of Appeals when it ruled:

In this case, the defense would want us to believe that the complaining witness had brazenly resorted to prevarication and lies only to pressure the family of the accused to drop the murder charge they filed against the father of the supposed rape victim.  Apart from their naked and self-serving say so, however, the defense witnesses failed to tender any specie of evidence that would substantiate this claim to the satisfaction of this Court.  As pointed out by the trial court, no documentary and testimonial evidence were shown to establish that the father of the complainant really murdered the brother of the accused.  In fact, even if we are to indulge the version of the accused, it would seem to benefit still the case of the prosecution since, according to the version of the defense, the father of the complainant murdered Eleazar precisely out of rage because he was informed that his daughter was raped by Eleazar and Eduardo Navarette.[29] [Emphasis supplied]

Assuming arguendo that the instant rape case was only filed as a leverage to the dismissal of Dominador’s case, there exists no more reason on the part of AAA to pursue the charges against appellant because Dominador’s case had already been long dismissed due to the latter’s passing.

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated 29 January 2010 finding appellant Eduardo Navarette, Jr. y Nato guilty beyond reasonable doubt of rape is AFFIRMED in toto.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio, (Chairperson), Villarama, Jr.,* Perez, Mendoza,** and Sereno, JJ., concur.



* Per Special Order No. 1195.

** Per Raffle dated 6 February 2012.

[1] Penned by Associate Justice Bienvenido L. Reyes (now Supreme Court Associate Justice) with Associate Justices Celia C. Librea-Leagogo and Francisco P. Acosta, concurring.  Rollo, pp. 2-8.

[2] Penned by Executive Judge Norberto J. Quisumbing, Jr.  Records, pp. 166-175.

[3] Pursuant to Republic Act No. 9262, otherwise known as the “Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004” and its implementing rules, the real name of the victim, together with that of her immediate family members, is withheld and fictitious initials instead are used to represent her, both to protect her privacy. People v. Cabalquinto, G.R. No. 167693, 19 September 2006, 502 SCRA 419.

[4] Records, p. 4.

[5] Id. at 8.

[6] See note 3.

[7] TSN, 30 November 2005, pp. 3-12.

[8] TSN, 9 February 2006, pp. 8-13.

[9] TSN, 8 June 2006, pp. 5-6.

[10] Records, p. 24.

[11] TSN, 18 April 2005, p. 6.

[12] TSN, 19 September 2007, pp. 4-5.

[13] TSN, 31 October 2007, p. 6.

[14] Records, pp. 170-171 citing testimony of herein accused-appellant, TSN, 19 September 2007, pp. 1-8 and testimony of Lualhati Navarette, TSN, 31 October 2007, pp. 1-7.

[15] CA rollo, p. 28.

[16] People v. Garbida, G.R. No. 188569, 13 July 2010, 625 SCRA 98, 105 citing People v. Lopez, G.R. No. 179714, 2 October 2009, 602 SCRA 517, 527.

[17] People v. Coja, G.R. No. 179277, 18 June 2008, 555 SCRA 176, 186 citing People v. Buenviaje, 408 Phil. 342, 351 (2001); People v. Bares, 407 Phil. 747, 759 (2001).

[18] People v. Bongat, G.R. No. 184170, 2 February 2011.

[19] TSN, 30 November 2005, pp. 5-8.

[20] Id. at 8-11.

[21] Records, p. 21.

[22] People v. Lolos, G.R. No. 189092, 9 August 2010, 627 SCRA 509, 518 citing People v. Ching, G.R. No. 177150, 22 November 2007, 538 SCRA 117, 129.

[23] People v. Dion, G.R. No. 181035, 4 July 2011 citing People v. Escultor, 473 Phil. 717, 727 (2004).

[24] G.R. No. 185380, 18 June 2009, 589 SCRA 661, 673-674.

[25] People v. Remoto, 314 Phil. 432, 450 (1995); People v. Malones, 469 Phil. 301, 326-327 (2004).

[26] Rollo, p. 6.

[27] People v. Ariola, G.R. Nos. 142602-05, 3 October 2001, 418 SCRA 809, 821 citing People v. Baway, 402 Phil. 872, 892 (2001).

[28] People v. Aure, G.R. No. 180451, 17 October 2008, 569 SCRA 836, 864 citing People v. Audine, G.R. No. 168649, 6 December 2006, 510 SCRA 531, 549 and People v. Santos, G.R. No. 172322, 8 September 2006, 501 SCRA 325, 343.

[29] Rollo, pp. 6-7.



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