403 Phil. 125

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 137696, January 24, 2001 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. EDDIE SERNADILLA, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

PER CURIAM:

This is an automatic review of the decision[1] of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 57, San Carlos City, Pangasinan[2] convicting accused-appellant of the crime of rape committed against April Joy L. Peroche, a six (6) year old minor, and imposing on him the supreme penalty of death.

In an information dated November 19, 1998, accused-appellant Eddie V. Sernadilla was accused by April Joy L. Peroche, a six (6) year old child, of the crime of rape. The information[3] reads:
"That sometime in the last week of November, 1997, at Barangay Zone V, Municipality of Bayambang, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force or intimidation, did then and there, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with April Joy L. Peroche, a minor of 6 year old, against her will and consent and to her damage and prejudice.

Contrary to Article 335, Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 7659"
Upon arraignment, accused-appellant, assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty to the crime charged.

The facts of the case, as found by the trial court, are as follows:
"The facts as established by the prosecution culled from the testimonies of Marlene Legaspi, Dr. James Sison, Manuel Peroche and April Joy Peroche are as follows:

That sometime in the month of November, 1997, the accused Eddie V. Sernadilla took the victim April Joy Peroche then six (6) years old to his house located at Barangay Zone V, Bayambang, Pangasinan. The accused then laid the victim down, removed her panty and inserted his penis in her vagina. Result of the medical examination conducted on the victim shows that her hymen was lacerated at 7 o'clock position.

Marlene Legaspi testified that April Joy Peroche is her daughter who is now seven (7) years old was born on April 13, 1991 (Exhibit "X"). In 1997 she resided in Zone V, Bayambang, Pangasinan. On September 14, 1998 she had her daughter April Joy medically examined because the latter reported to her she was sexually abused by the accused in the month of November 1997.

In the cross-examination, she testified that in November 1997, her daughter April Joy used to confine herself inside the room and sometimes chilled and noticed blood in her panty. She did not bring her to the doctor but only gave April some medicines. When she asked April about the blood in her panty, the latter replied she does not know and she was afraid. That sometime in November, 1997, the accused repaired the fence of their house for two (2) days.

James Sison testified that he is a resident physician of the Bayambang District Hospital. He physically examined April Joy Peroche on September 14, 1998 and issued a medico-legal certificate (Exh. "A"). His findings disclosed that April has laceration old, hymen, 7 o'clock which is more than two (2) weeks. The patient told him that she was sexually abused by the accused.

In the cross-examination, he testified that the victim might have been raped more than two (2) weeks ago. The victim has a healed laceration.

Manuel Peroche testified that on September 14, 1998 her daughter April Joy reported to her of the sexual abuse done by the accused. Her daughter was immediately brought to the Bayambang District Hospital for medical examination and then to the Bayambang Police Station.

In the cross-examination, he testified that her daughter reported on September 14, 1998 that the sexual abuse happened sometime in November, 1997 which was ten (10) months after its commission.

April Joy Peroche testified that she is seven (7) years old and Grade II pupil. That sometime in November, 1997, she was abused by the accused in the latter's house. The accused removed her panty and shorts and inserted his penis into her private organ. She had companion namely: Elvie, Tet-Tet, Sha-Sha and Balong when she was sexually abused but left her. She identified her sworn statement (Exh. "C").

In the cross-examination, she testified that the accused called her and that she will be given P10.00. She went to the house of the accused. In the sala of his house the accused removed her panty. When she was abused by the accused, she was alone. Then she Immediately left the house of the accused and ran. She did not tell her parents of the abuse because she might be whipped by her mother. She affirmed that in her statement before the Municipal Trial Court, Judge Bauzon that the sexual abuse was done in the presence of four (4) children, Elvie, Tet-Tet, Sha-Sha and Balong but left her with the accused. When she ran away from the house of the accused she was able to catch up with the aforementioned four (4) children. When she was abused she felt bad but there was no blood in her vagina.

The defense presented the accused Eddie V. Sernadilla, who testified that he did not know that he was accused of the crime of rape when he was arrested in Quezon City. That from October 1997 to May 1998, he was a construction worker in a house in Malasiqui, Pangasinan. In November 1997 he worked for 2 days in the house of the parents of the victim in Bayambang, Pangasinan. He denied committing the crime of rape.

Defense witness Melquisides A. Gutierrez testified that he is a high school teacher and a resident of No.71 Speaker Perez Street, Bayambang, Pangasinan. He is a teacher at the Malasaqui National High School. That the accused is a live-in worker at the Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association (PBMA) chapter in Malasiqui, Pangasinan from February to December 1997. The accused told him that in November 1, 1997, he made a special visit to his family in Bayambang, Pangasinan. That the accused is happy in his work because he has a sweetheart in the PBMA Chapter in Malasiqui, Pangasinan.

In the cross-examination, he stated that he did not come to know that the accused worked in the house of the parents of the victim in Bayambang, Pangasinan.

Another defense witness, Zaldy Sernadilla, testified that he is a tricycle driver. That the accused is his brother and that he saw him in November 1, 1997 in Bayambang, Pangasinan. That he remembered that the parents of April Joy talked to his mother inside a canteen asking the latter if she has a means of settling the case for P200,000.00. His mother replied that they do not have this amount.

In the cross-examination, he testified that there is one house between their house and the house of the parents of April Joy in Bayambang, Pangasinan. That he saw his brother in the road at 8:00 o'clock A.M. in November 1, 1997, and when he arrived home, he was told by his mother that his brother already left for Malasiqui."[4]
In its Decision[5] dated February 8, 1999, the trial court believed what it described as the "very candid, spontaneous, and consistent" testimony of April Joy as against the accused-appellant's mere denial of the crime. It characterized April Joy's narration of the events as clear and free from any serious contradiction. In contrast, the trial court characterized accused-appellant's defense as a mere denial which is self-serving negative evidence. In the light of these observations, the trial court convicted the accused-appellant of the crime of rape and imposed the supreme penalty of death, to wit:
"WHEREFORE, in the light of all the foregoing, the court hereby finds the accused, Eddie V. Sernadilla, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE as defined and penalized under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by Republic Act No.7659 and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of death by lethal injection and to indemnify the victim April Joy L. Peroche the amount of P50,000.00 and to pay the costs."[6]
In accordance with Section 10, Rule 122 of the Rules of Court, the case is now before us for automatic review.

In his lone assignment of error, the accused-appellant contends that:
"THE COURT A-QUO GRAVELY ERRED IN FINDING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT EDDIE V. SERNADILLA GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT OF THE CRIME OF RAPE DEFINED AND PENALIZED UNDER ARTICLE 335 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE, AS AMENDED BY R.A. 7659."[7]
In the appellant's brief, counsel for accused-appellant enumerates three reasons why accused-appellant should not be convicted of the crime of rape. First, he claims that the trial court gravely erred in its findings that the victim April Joy Peroche was very candid, spontaneous and consistent in her testimony. Second, he avers that the allegation that April Joy Peroche was raped by the herein accused in the presence of four (4) other children is repugnant to common experience and observation. And third, he argues that the trial court erred in convicting herein accused-appellant despite failure on the part of the prosecution to establish the actual date of the commission of the rape.

After a meticulous review of the evidence in this case, we find no cogent reason to disturb the findings of the trial court. The evidence clearly establishes the guilt of accused-appellant beyond reasonable doubt.

With respect to accused-appellant's first argument in his appellant's brief, we note the well-established rule that the trial court's evaluation of the credibility of witnesses is given great respect by the appellate court in the absence of proof that it was arrived at capriciously or that the trial court disregarded material facts which might affect the outcome of the case.[8] The rationale behind this rule is that the credibility of a witness can best be determined by the trial court since it is in a position to observe the candor and demeanor of the witnesses.[9] It is only the trial court which has the unique opportunity to observe the elusive and incommunicable evidence of the witness's deportment on the witness stand while testifying, an opportunity denied to the appellate courts which usually rely on the silent records of the case[10]

The Court has closely looked into the case and, like the trial court, it is convinced that the evidence presented by the prosecution satisfies the test of moral certainty required to convict the accused-appellant of the crime charged.

The trial court is correct in giving credence to April Joy's testimony over that of accused-appellant. Her testimony was indeed candid, spontaneous and consistent. Thus:
Q:Some time in November 1997, do you remember if there was any unusual incident that happened to you?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:What was that unusual incident?
A:I was abused, sir.


Q:By whom?
A:Uncle Dongdong, sir.


Q:Where did he abuse you?
A:In their house.


PROS. E. MARNOIS


Q:What time did he abuse you?
A:When the TV program "Isang Linggo Na Po Sila" was being shown, sir.


Q:What time was that?
A:I do not know, sir.


Q:Where in particular did he abuse you in his house?
A:In the farther most portion of their house, sir.


Q:Is that a room?
A:No, sir.


Q:How did Uncle Dongdong abuse you?
A:He removed my panty and my shorts, sir.


Q:After he removed your panty and your shorts, what did he do next, if any?
A:Then he abused me, sir.


Q:How did he abuse you?
A:He inserted his penis into my private organ, sir.


Q:What did you feel?
A:It was painful, sir.


Q:How long did he insert his penis into your private organ?
A:I do not know, sir.


Q:What happened after he inserted his penis to your organ?
A:No more, sir.


Q:And what did you do after finishing his acts of inserting his penis to your organ?
A:I already went home, sir .


Q:After you went home, what did you do next, if any?
A:No more, sir.


PROS. E. MANAOIS



Q:
You referred to one Dongdong as the one who sexually abused you, can you still recognize him if you can see him again?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:Can you still recognize him?
A:Yes, sir.



Q: Kindly look around and point to the person of Dongdong?
A:
(Witness is pointing to a man with a white T-shirt who responded that his name is Eddie Sernadilla when he was asked of his name)"[11]
On cross-examination, April Joy supplied more details of her harrowing experience at the hands of accused-appellant. She testified:
ATTY. VALDEZ


Q:April Joy, you said that you are now 7 years old?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:Do you usually play in the house of uncle Dongdong?
A:No, sir.


Q:Then how come that you were able to go to the house of uncle Dongdong?
A:He called for me, sir.


Q:When you were called by uncle Dongdong, were you with anybody else?
A:No, sir.


Q:When uncle Dongdong called you, you went inside his house?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:What did he tell you upon calling you?
A:He told me that he was going to give me P10.00, sir.


Q:
When Dongdong called you and told you that he will give you P10.00, did he give you P10.00?
A:No, sir.


Q:After Dongdong failed to give you that P10.00 did you not go out at once?
A:I left at once, sir.


Q:Does it mean that when you left nothing happened with you?
A:There was, sir.


Q:What happened to you if any?
A:He abused me, sir.


Q:What do you mean by he abused you?
A:He removed my panty, sir.


ATTY. B. VALDEZ


Q:What part of the house was that done?
A:In their sala, sir.


Q:
You said a while that you were brought to the back portion, why is it now that you are telling that it was in the sala?
A:There is one step. He closed the door and he abused me in the sala, sir.


Q:Do you have any companion when you were called by Dongdong?
A:None, sir.


Q:
How about when you were sexually abused, do you have any companion or witness to the commission of such abused (sic)?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:Who were they?
A:Elvie, sir.


Q:Who else?
A:Tet-tet, Sha-sha and Balong, sir.


Q:When you were being abused and in the presence of those 4 children, what did they do?
A: hey left, sir.


Q:Why did they leave?
A:I do not know, sir.


Q:So are we made to understand that you were left alone when the said alleged sexual abuse was done?
A:None, sir.


ATTY. B. VALDEZ


Q:When you went away from the house of Dongdong, did you walk or did you run?
A:I ran, sir.


Q:You said a while ago, that it was painful, why is it that you still ran?
A:Because I left their house at once, sir.


Q:Was there any blood in your vagina?
A:None, sir.


Q:
When you were going home, did you not see the other children you have just stated who were around when you were abused?
A:Yes, sir.


Q:Where were they?
A:They were walking, sir.


Q:Where?
A:I do not know, sir.


Q:You do not know where they were standing or playing?
A:No, sir.


Q:Why is it that you did not tell your father or mother what happened to you?
A:Because I was afraid, sir.


Q:Why?
A:Because they might whip me, sir.


Q:Who?
A:My mother, sir."[12]
When the testimony of a rape victim is simple and straightforward, unshaken by rigorous cross-examination and unflawed by any serious inconsistency or contradiction, the same must be given full faith and credit.[13] In the case at bench, the victim positively identified accused-appellant, whom she refers to as Uncle Dongdong, as being the culprit who committed the sexual assault upon her. No ulterior motive was offered to explain why the victim would concoct a story charging accused-appellant with the crime of rape.

Moreover, her testimony was supported by the findings of Dr. James M. Sison, the physician who conducted a physical examination on her on September 15, 1998 immediately after she reported the rape incident to the authorities. His findings show that the victim had an old, healed laceration at the 7:00 position on her genitalia.[14] When asked about the healed laceration, Dr. Sison testified that the same was definitely more than two weeks old and that it may have been caused by a stiff, strong penis.[15]

In the face of this positive declaration of the victim, as supported by the findings of her attending physician, the defense of denial interposed by accused- appellant deserves scant consideration. Denials unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence are negative and self-serving which merit no weight in law and cannot be given greater evidentiary value over the testimony of credible witnesses who testified on affirmative matters.[16] In the case at bench, the accused-appellant utterly failed to substantiate his claim that he did not commit the act of rape imputed to him. In fact, accused-appellant even admitted in his testimony that he worked in the house of the parents of the victim for two days in November 1997[17], the month during which the rape allegedly occurred.

Accused-appellant, in support of his argument that the testimony of the victim was not credible or believable, harps on several inconsistencies and contradictions allegedly committed by the victim. First, he claims that the victim contradicted herself when she stated during direct examination that the rape was committed at the farthest portion of the house while during cross-examination, she claimed that the rape occurred in the sala. Second, accused-appellant likewise points out that the victim contradicted herself when she answered that she did not have any companion when she was sexually assaulted. Upon further questioning however, the victim stated that she was with four other children at the time of the sexual abuse.

The alleged inconsistencies cited by accused-appellant are too minor to affect the credibility of the victim April Joy Peroche. A child of tender years cannot be expected to describe perfectly each and every detail of her experience. Moreover, it is well-settled that discrepancies or inconsistencies on minor matters do not impair the essential integrity of the prosecution's evidence as a whole or reflect on the witness's honesty. Such inconsistencies even tend to strengthen rather than weaken the credibility of a witness because they erase any suspicion of rehearsed testimony.[18]

A perusal of the records likewise shows that there really is no conflict or inconsistency in the testimony of the victim. As borne out by the testimony of Zaldy Sernadilla, the brother of the accused-appellant, the house which the victim referred to was quite small as it consisted only of one room and a sala.[19] As such, it may reasonably be inferred that the farthermost portion of accused-appellant's house would also be part of the sala of the house. With respect to the victim's testimony that she was abused by accused-appellant in the presence of four other persons, she later clarified that these persons left her with accused-appellant and accordingly, she was all alone when the alleged sexual abuse was consummated.[20]

Accused-appellant next argues that the allegation that April Joy Peroche was allegedly raped by accused-appellant in the presence of four (4) other children is repugnant to common experience and observation.

The argument deserves scant consideration. As adverted to previously, the victim April Joy Peroche clarified that at the time the actual rape was consummated, she was alone with the victim as the others had already left. Moreover, contrary to accused-appellant's assertions, it is not repugnant to human experience that the rape may have been committed in the presence of other children. This Court has previously held that lust is no respecter of time and place and rape can be committed in places where people congregate: in parks, along the roadside, within the school premises, even inside a house where there are several occupants.[21]

Finally, accused-appellant calls attention to the alleged failure of the prosecution to establish the actual date of the commission of the rape. He claims that a perusal of the records show that the prosecution failed to indicate the actual date of the commission of the crime of rape in the information and neither was it established by the testimony of the victim.

Again, we are not persuaded.

An information charging an accused with an offense is valid for so long as it distinctly states the statutory designation of the offense and the acts or omissions constitutive thereof. With respect to the time and date of the commission of the crime, Rule 110, Section 6 of the Revised Rules in Criminal Procedure states that a complaint or information is sufficient if it states, among others, "the approximate time of the commission of the offense." In this regard, the phrase "sometime in the last week of November 1997" found in the information dated November 19, 1998 is sufficient compliance with the Rule. Moreover, the precise time of the commission of the crime of rape is not an essential element of rape.[22] Even a variance of a few months between the time set out in the indictment and that established by the evidence during trial does not constitute an error so serious as to warrant reversal of a conviction solely on that score.[23] In the case at bar, the prosecution, through the testimony of the victim, was able to prove that the rape occurred sometime in the month of November in the year 1997.[24]

All in all, the evidence on record adequately proves that accused-appellant committed the crime of rape. The victim, April Joy Peroche, categorically identified accused-appellant as the perpetrator of the rape against her. Her testimony was further supported by the findings of the attending physician who examined her after the crime of rape was reported. We, therefore, find no reason to reverse the findings of the trial court.

The trial court is correct in imposing the supreme penalty of death on the accused-appellant. Under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by Section 11 of R.A. 7659 and as further amended by R.A. 8353, the penalty of death shall be imposed if the crime of rape is committed against a child below seven (7) years of age. In the present case, there is no dispute that the victim was six (6) years of age when the accused-appellant had carnal knowledge of her. The victim's age was duly established by the prosecution, through the testimony of the victim's mother, Marlyn Legaspi, who stated that the victim was born on April 13, 1991[25], which would make the victim only six (6) years old when the crime of rape was committed in November 1997. This was further corroborated by the presentation of the victim's Certification of Live Birth[26]which showed her date of birth as April 13, 1991.

With respect to the award of damages, we have previously held that if the commission of rape is effectively qualified by any of the circumstances under which the penalty of death may be imposed, the civil indemnity for the victim shall not be less than seventy-five thousand pesos (P75,000.00).[27] Based on the foregoing, the trial court's award of fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) as civil indemnity should accordingly be increased to seventy-five thousand pesos (P75,000.00). Moreover the victim is entitled to moral damages without the necessity for pleading or proof of the basis thereof.[28] In line with current jurisprudence, accused-appellant's victim is entitled to moral damages in the amount of fifty thousand (P50,000.00)[29]

Four members of the Court maintain their position that Republic Act No. 7659, insofar as it prescribes the death penalty, is unconstitutional; nevertheless they submit to the ruling of the Court, by a majority vote, that the law is constitutional and that the death penalty shall accordingly be imposed.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court finding accused-appellant Eddie V. Sernadilla guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape and sentencing him to suffer the supreme penalty of death is AFFIRMED, with the MODIFICATION that the accused-appellant is ordered to indemnify the victim in the amount of seventy-five thousand pesos (P75,000.00) as civil indemnity and fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) as moral damages.

In accordance with Section 25 of Republic Act No.7659, amending Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, upon finality of this Decision, let the records of the case be forthwith forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of executive clemency or pardoning power.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.



[1] Rollo, pp. 12-17.

[2] Presided by Judge Bienvenido R. Estrada.

[3] Rollo, p. 5.

[4] Rollo, pp. 12-15.

[5] Rollo, pp. 12-17.

[6] Rollo, p. 17.

[7] Rollo, p. 32.

[8] People vs. Balgos, G.R. No. 126115, January 26, 2000; People vs. Larena, 309 SCRA 725; People vs. Akhtar, 308 SCRA 725; People vs. Sandico, 307 SCRA 204; People vs. Manggasin, 306 SCRA 228; People vs. Cantos, 305 SCRA 786.

[9] People vs. Renola, 308 SCRA 145.

[10] People vs. Babera, G.R. No. 130609, 30 May 2000.

[11] T.S.N., January 20, 1999, pp. 10-12.

[12] Id., pp. 13-17.

[13] People vs. Mosqueda, 313 SCRA 694.

[14] Exhibit "A": Records, p. 6.

[15] T.S.N., January 19, 1999, p. 6.

[16] People vs. Tumaob, Jr. 291 SCRA 133.

[17] T.S.N., January 27, 1999, p. 4.

[18] People vs. Cristobal, 252 SCRA 507; People vs. Diaz, 262 SCRA 723.

[19] T.S.N., January 28, 1999, p. 6.

[20] T.S.N., January 20, 1999, p. 15.

[21] People vs. Lusa, 288 SCRA 296; People vs. Agbayani, 284 SCRA 315.

[22] People vs. Reyes-Dizon, 312 SCRA 811.

[23] People vs. Bernaldez, 294 SCRA 317.

[24] T.S.N., January 20, 1999, p. 10.

[25] T.S.N., January 12, 1999, p. 2.

[26] Annex "X"; Records, p. 69.

[27] People vs. Losano, 310 SCRA 707; People vs. Aquino and Catap, 310 SCRA 437; People vs. Alitagtag, 309 SCRA 325.

[28] People vs. Mijano, 311 SCRA 81.

[29] People vs. Flores, 311 SCRA 170.



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