466 Phil. 808

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 150867, February 05, 2004 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, APPELLEE, VS. SILVENO ESTADO Y AMISTOSO JR., A.K.A. “NONO,” APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Inasmuch as the victim’s alleged age was not proven by the prosecution, appellant may be convicted only of simple rape and penalized with reclusion perpetua, not death.

The Case

For automatic review before this Court is the August 30, 2001 Decision[1] of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Imus, Cavite (Branch 21), in Criminal Case No. 6396-98, finding Silveno Estado y Amistoso Jr., a.k.a. “Nono,” guilty beyond reasonable doubt of rape.  The decretal portion of the Decision reads:
“WHEREFORE, finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the felony of rape, the accused, Silveno Estado y Amistoso, Jr., is sentenced to die by lethal injection and to pay the victim an indemnity of P50,000.00 plus moral damages of another P50,000.00 plus the cost of this suit.”[2]
In an Information dated May 7, 1998,[3] appellant was charged as follows:
“That on or about the 3rd day of February, 1998, at Barangay Binakayan, Municipality of Kawit, Province of Cavite, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused with lewd design, by means of force and intimidation, did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with one RONALYN C. SANBUENAVENTURA, a five (5) year-old minor, against her will and consent.”[4]
During his arraignment on July 22, 1998,[5] appellant, with the assistance of his counsel,[6] pleaded not guilty to the rape charge.

The Facts

Version of the Prosecution

The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) summarizes the factual version of the prosecution in this wise:
“Around 8:30 o’clock in the evening of February 3, 1998, appellant and Noel Villanueva came looking for Ramon Sanbuenaventura at the latter’s residence at Barangay Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite.  Not finding him there, the two men were accompanied by Ronalyn, Ramon’s five year old daughter, to the residence of Candido ‘Bimboy’ Develez some four houses away where a birthday party was being held.

“Upon their arrival at the Develez residence, Noel Villanueva went up to find Ramon while appellant and Ronalyn remained outside to wait.  Fe Develez, wife of Bimboy, saw the child and appellant waiting outside the house.  Ariel Bordaje, a construction worker who lived nearby, was standing near the door of his house when he saw appellant and Ronalyn pass by on their way to the Develez residence.  He also saw the two waiting outside Bimboy’s house.  He noticed that appellant was wearing a black t-shirt.

“After about thirty minutes, Ramon came out of the house and instructed Ronalyn to go home.  Both Ariel Bordaje and Fe Develez saw the child walk away towards the direction of the Boracay Highway followed by appellant some five meters behind.

“Ronalyn was waylaid by appellant and brought to a place on the highway called ‘Tambakan’.  There, appellant took off the child’s panty and then made her lie on a sofa.  Appellant covered Ronalyn’s mouth with his hand to prevent her from making any noise while he raped her.  After he was done, appellant gave the child P2.00.  Ronalyn proceeded to walk home.

“Around 9:30 p.m., Ramon’s wife arrived at the Develez residence looking for Ronalyn.  The child was later found walking along Boracay Highway, crying and in shock.  She was no longer wearing any underwear and blood was dripping down her legs.  Fe Develez went to the place when she heard the commotion caused by the discovery of the victim.  She helped clean up the child.

“Ronalyn was brought to the hospital for a medical examination.  The examining physician, Dr. Anabelle Soliman, found no extra-genital injuries on the child.  However, fresh hymenal lacerations were present.

“In the meantime, Ramon Sanbuenaventura, Noel Villanueva and a barangay tanod proceeded to the appellant’s house.  Appellant ran away when he saw them.  He was later arrested by barangay officials.

“The following day, Ariel Bordaje was requested by Ronalyn’s mother to look for the child’s red shorts and slippers.  He found the items as well as the black t-shirt worn by the appellant the night before along the western portion of the Boracay Highway.  The items were submitted to the NBI for laboratory examination.  Forensic Chemist Juliet Gelacio Mahilum prepared Report No. B-98-124.

“Incidentally, the birth certificate of Ronalyn showing her date of birth as March 11, 1992 that was presented and marked as ‘Exhibit C’ during the direct testimony of her mother, Adulfa Cordello, was inadvertently not offered in evidence by the prosecution.  However, there was an admission made by the defense as to the date of the birth of the child and that the child was five years old at the time of the rape.”[7] (Citations omitted)
Version of the Defense

Appellant narrates his version of the facts in this manner:
“On February 3, 1998, around 9:00 o’clock in the evening, Ronalyn Sanbuenaventura, 5 years old at that time and resident of Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite, was seen by witness Fe M. Develez in the company of Noel (Noel Villanueva) and Nono (Silveno Estado) [arriving] at the house of said witness, whose husband named Bimboy is celebrating his birthday; Noel went up the [stairs] of the house, while Nono was left downstairs together with the child Ronalyn; that the child’s father, Ramon Sanbuenaventura was at said house having a drinking session during said birthday and upon seeing his child downstairs told her to go home as it was already late in the night; that while the child was about to walk for home, she was called by appellant and the two of them (Ronalyn and Nono) walk together away from said house; that after about 30 minutes, the child Ronalyn came bloodied.

“On Preliminary Examination of Complainant Ramon P. Sanbuenaventura, he stated that Nono and Noel went to his house looking for him; that not finding him at his house, Noel and Nono were accompanied by [his] daughter Ronalyn in going to the house of his pareng Bimboy and upon reaching said house, Noel went up the house while Nono was left downstairs; that [he] instructed his daughter to go home and did not know that Nono followed his daughter in going home; a few moments later his wife came looking for their daughter; that at about 10:00 o’clock in the evening, his said daughter Ronalyn came bloodied at her legs and without underwear (salawal) crying; knowing that it was only Nono who is in the company of his daughter, he looked for Nono at their house but upon seeing them, Nono run away prompting him to call for assistance of the barangay and appellant was arrested (nahuli) under the dike of fishpond.

“At the trial conducted by the Regional Trial Court, presided by Honorable Executive Judge Roy S. Del Rosario, Complainant Ramon P. Sanbuenaventura did not testify.

“Prosecution witness Ronalyn Sanbuenaventura testified in court (while being carried [in] the arms of her mother) and the court stenographer who took the stenographic notes can attest to the manner in which the child witness while testifying occasionally is [couched and] convinced by her mother.

“Prosecution witness Fe Develez testified that on February 3, 1998 at 9:00 o’clock in the evening, she saw the child Ronalyn in the company of appellant at her house while attending to her own child [to] go to sleep; that at about 9:30 P.M. on the same date, she again saw Ronalyn along the road called Boracay in Binakayan, Kawit; that said child was crying and there were many persons that time; that she helped in cleaning Ronalyn removing blood on her legs; that the child was shocked.”[8] (Citations omitted)
Ruling of the Trial Court

The trial court ruled that appellant’s alibi could not prevail over the victim’s positive identification of him as the perpetrator of the felony.  It found “no shadow of doubt that the accused raped Ronalyn on February 3, 1998.”  Finding that she was only five (5) years old at the time of the rape, it imposed on him the penalty of death.

Hence, this automatic review before us.[9]

The Issues

Appellant raises for our consideration the following alleged errors of the trial court:
I.

“Both the Municipal Trial Court and the Regional Trial Court erred in not appreciating the fact that accused-appellant was not assisted by a counsel from the time he was arrested and detained, hence, his constitutional right to counsel was violated.

II.

“The lower court erred in convicting the accused based on conflicting and inconsistent testimonies of prosecution witnesses thereby arriving in erroneous findings.

III.

“It is grievous error on the part of the honorable judge below convicting the appellant in the face of a clear reasonable doubt.”[10]
The Court’s Ruling

The appeal is partly meritorious.

First Issue:
Right to Counsel During
Custodial Investigation



Invoking Section 12 of Article III of the Constitution, appellant contends that when he was arrested by the police, he was not accorded his right to counsel.

We are not persuaded.  His reliance on Section 12 (1) of Article III of the Constitution is misplaced.  For clarity, this provision is quoted as follows:
“Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice.  If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one.  These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.”
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a recognized authority on constitutional law, explains that this section may be invoked only during a custodial investigation:
“The criminal process includes the investigation prior to the filing of charges, the preliminary examination and investigation after charges are filed, and the period of trial.  The Miranda rights or the Section 12(1) rights were conceived for the first of these three phases, that is, when the enquiry is under the control of police officers.  It is in this situation that the psychological if not physical atmosphere of custodial investigations, in the absence of proper safeguards, is inherently coercive.  Outside of this situation, Section 12(1) no longer applies.”[11]
To repeat, custodial investigation has been defined as questioning initiated by police officers after a person has been taken into custody or significantly deprived of freedom of action.[12]

In the present case, however, appellant was not subjected to custodial investigation.  The records show that although he was arrested, the law officers neither questioned him on the incident, nor took his statement or confession.  In fact, none was presented before the trial court.  He was convicted on the basis mainly of the victim’s credible testimony, not on any written admission by him.

Second Issue:
Credibility of Prosecution Witnesses


Appellant questions the trial court’s evaluation of the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses.  He alleges inconsistencies in the testimony of Ronalyn regarding what she told her father after she had been found bloodied and without underpants.  He further alleges that her testimony on her mental state after the purported rape contradicted that of Fe Develez.

An examination of the records shows no inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses.  Considering the extreme youth of Ronalyn, her testimony was understandably less detailed than that of Fe Develez.  Moreover, the supposed inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony refer to minor details of the aftermath of the incident.

Time-honored is the doctrine that discrepancies referring only to minor details and collateral matters — not to the central fact of the crime — do not affect the veracity or detract from the essential credibility of witnesses’ declarations, as long as these are coherent and intrinsically believable on the whole.[13] The Court has recognized that even the most candid of witnesses make erroneous, confused or inconsistent statements, especially when they are young and easily overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the courtroom.[14]

Third Issue:
Sufficiency of Evidence


Appellant contends that his guilt has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.  He insists that the charges against him were merely fabricated to separate him from his common-law wife.

We are not convinced.  The clear and straightforward testimony of Ronalyn, who remained steadfast despite rigorous cross-examination, proves how appellant committed the crime.  On direct examination, she testified as follows:
“Q   Do you know Nono?
A     Yes, sir.
  
Q    If he is present in this courtroom today will you point him?
A     Yes, sir.
  
Q    Where is he?
A     That man.  (Witness pointing to a man when asked for his name identified himself as Silveno Estado.)
  
Q    Do you remember if Nono has done something to you?
A     Yes, sir.
  
Q    What did he do to you?
A     Nono took off my panty.
  
Q    Aside from taking off your panty, what else did he do to you?
A     He made me lie down on the sofa.
  
Q    When he laid you down on the sofa, what did he do to you, if any?
A     He placed himself on top of me.
  
Q    When he placed himself on top of you, what did he do to you?
A     He covered my mouth with his hand.
  
Q    After he covered your mouth what did he do next?
A     He gave me P2.00.
  
Q    When he placed himself on top of you, did he do something to your private organ?
A     Yes, sir.  My private part bled.
  
Q    Why did your private part bleed?
A     Because he inserted his penis into my private part.
  
Q    Did it bleed profusely?
A     Just a little blood.
  
Q    After that, what did he do next?
A     He raped me.
  
Q    Were you hurt when he inserted his penis into your private organ?
A     Yes, sir.
  
Q    Do you know where this thing happened?
A     Yes, sir, at the tambakan.
  
Q    Is this tambakan far or near to your home?
A     It is far from our house.
  
Q    Aside from the two of you, were there any other persons present when he did that to you?
A     No other person.
  
Q    What time was it, morning, afternoon or evening?
A     Nigh[t]time.
  
Q    After that incident, what did you do next?
A     I did nothing.”[15]
On cross-examination, Ronalyn declared:
“Q   You said that you were raped by Nono on a sofa, where is this sofa placed or located?
A     I do not know, sir.
  
Q    Was this sofa you mentioned placed inside the house or outside the house?
A     Outside the house.
  
Q    Was the surrounding where the sofa is located totally opened without any house or particular house in that place?
A     The place was dark at that time.
  
Q    Since the place was dark at that time you do not know the person who toyed with your private organ?
A     It was Nono.”[16]
Apart from establishing the commission of the crime, the above testimony also proves beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the perpetrator.

To disprove his guilt, appellant also harps on the absence of extragenital physical injuries allegedly suffered by Ronalyn.  Their absence, however, do not necessarily negate the occurrence of rape, of which proof of injury is not an essential element.[17]  In sustaining a conviction for rape under paragraph 1 of Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code,[18] the important consideration is carnal knowledge or penetration of the victim’s vagina by the perpetrator’s penis under any of the circumstances enumerated in the Code.  Carnal knowledge was proven in the present case.  The medical examination showing fresh hymenal lacerations suffered by Ronalyn, a child less than twelve years old, corroborates her testimony that she was indeed raped.

Proper Penalty

Paragraph 5 of Article 266-B of the Revised Penal Code prescribes the death penalty when the victim of rape is a child below seven (7) years old.  In the instant case, the Information alleged that Ronalyn was five years old when the rape occurred.  The prosecution, however, failed to offer in evidence her birth certificate or any other authentic document proving her age.  That the victim’s age must be proven beyond reasonable doubt was ruled by the Court in People v. Lachica,[19] which we quote:
“x x x Proof of age is critical, considering that the victim, at the time of the rape, was alleged to have been just two years less than seven (7) years.  Given the similarities in physical features and attributes between a five-year-old and a seven-year-old child, courts cannot take judicial notice of this circumstance.  Independent proof of age is necessary to convince this Tribunal that the victim was indeed below seven (7) years of age when she was raped and that, therefore, the imposition of the death penalty was justified.

“The Court here ‘emphasizes that the severity, as well as the irreversible and final nature, of the penalty of death once carried out makes the decision-making process in capital offenses aptly subject to the most exacting rules of procedure and evidence.’  We have consistently ruled that the age of the victim must not only be specifically alleged in the information, but must likewise be established beyond reasonable doubt during trial. x x x.”[20]
Regarding the age of the victim in the present case, on record are merely (1) an admission of appellant’s counsel that she was born on March 11, 1992, “subject to the presentation of the certified copy from the National Census” of her birth certificate; and (2) the testimony[21] of the mother of Ronalyn that the latter was seven (7) years old.  The victim’s certificate of birth was not offered in evidence, though.

Examined in the light of the Court’s ruling in People v. Pruna,[22] the testimony of the mother was grossly inadequate to prove the qualifying circumstance that the offended party was below seven years at the time of the rape.  Hence, appellant can be convicted only of simple rape, the penalty for which is reclusion perpetua.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is PARTLY GRANTED.  The appealed Decision is hereby AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that appellant is found guilty of simple, not qualified, rape and is sentenced to reclusion perpetua.  The civil liabilities imposed by the trial court are AFFIRMED.  Costs de oficio.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Vitug, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., and Tinga, JJ., concur.

Azcuna, J., on official leave – official business.



[1] Rollo, pp. 17-27.  Penned by Judge Norberto J. Quisumbing Jr.

[2] RTC Decision, p. 11; rollo, p. 27.

[3] Rollo, p. 3.  Signed by Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Nestor A. Bautista.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Order dated July 22, 1998; records, p. 31.

[6] Atty. Manolito Y. Gumarang was appointed as counsel de oficio for the purpose of arraignment only.

[7] Appellee’s Brief, pp. 3-7; rollo, pp. 94-98.  Signed by Assistant Solicitors General Carlos N. Ortega and Magdangal M. de Leon and Solicitor Leonor Meliza P. Serrano-Filio.

[8] Appellant’s Brief, pp. 11-13; rollo, pp. 50-52.  Signed by Atty. Bayani G. Diwa.

[9] This case was deemed submitted for decision on July 4, 2003, upon receipt by this Court of appellant’s Reply Brief, received by this Court on October 24, 2002, while appellee’s Brief was filed on April 10, 2003.

[10] Appellant’s Brief, p. 10; rollo, p. 49.  Original in upper case.

[11] Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary, 1996 ed., pp. 417-418.

[12] Marcelo v. Sandiganbayan, 361 Phil. 772, January 26, 1999; People v. Caguioa, 95 SCRA 2, January 17, 1980; Sebastian Sr. v. Garchitorena, 343 SCRA 463, October 18, 2000.

[13] People v. Abundo, 349 SCRA 577, January 18, 2001; People v. Givera, 349 SCRA 513, January 18, 2001.

[14] People v. Amazan, supra.

[15] TSN, November 9, 1998, pp. 2-4.

[16] Id., pp. 7-8.

[17] People v. Vitancur, 345 SCRA 414, November 22, 2000.

[18] “Art. 266-A. Rape; When and How Committed.  —  Rape is committed
    1)  By a man who has carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:
a) Through force, threat or intimidation;
b) When the offended party is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious;
c) By means of fraudulent machination or grave abuse of authority; and
d) When the offended party is under twelve (12) years of age or is demented, even though none of the circumstances mentioned above be present.”
[19] 382 SCRA 162, May 9, 2002.

[20] Id., pp. 178-179, per Panganiban, J.

[21] TSN, June 14, 1999, p. 4.

[22] 390 SCRA 577, October 10, 2002.



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