388 Phil. 678

THIRD DIVISION

[ G.R. No. 133921, June 01, 2000 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. JOHNNY DELA CRUZ Y AVENDAÑO, accused-appellant.

D E C I S I O N

VITUG, J.:

JOHNNY DELA CRUZ Y AVENDAÑO appeals from the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 12, of Malolos, Bulacan, in criminal case No. 94-M-97 finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and, with respect to the civil liability, to indemnify private complainant the amount of P30,000.00 by way of moral damages.

Avendaño was charged, on 29 September 1996, in an information that read:
"That on or about the year 1984, in the municipality of Obando, Province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with lewd design, by means of force, threats and intimidation, have carnal knowledge of the offended party Wendellyn C. Rivera, 7 years of age, against her will and consent."[1]
At his arraignment, the accused entered a plea of "not guilty."

The Solicitor General, seeking an affirmance of the judgment of conviction rendered by the trial court, summed up the evidence submitted by the prosecution.
"Private complainant, 20-year old Wendellyn Rivera recounted the details of the assault against her chastity perpetrated by her uncle, herein appellant Johnny de la Cruz, when she was still barely seven (7) years of age.

"Sometime in April of 1984, complainant was peddling native delicacies (pastillas, puto, cuchinta) around their neighborhood in Barangay Dinuangan, Obando, Bulacan to help her mother earn a living during her school vacation (pp. 5-6, tsn, March 25, 1997). When complainant approached appellant's house, she asked him if he would buy. Appellant said 'yes' and told her his money was inside his house. He placed his arm around her shoulder and brought her along with him inside his house, saying 'he would get money.' When they entered a room inside the house, appellant locked the door (p. 7, id.). Complainant felt nervous and suspected something wrong was going to happen to her. (p. 8, id.). Leaving the food on the bed where she had placed it, complainant tried to go out. But appellant held her left arm (id.) and placed his face against her face and on her neck as he slowly made her sit on the bed (id.). She cried `pauwiin nyo na ako' but he forced her to lie down on the bed (p. 9, id.). Despite complainant's pleas, appellant continued kissing her and caressing her private parts as he removed all her clothes (pp. 9 to 12, id.) While complainant was shaking with fear pleading that she be allowed to go home, appellant unzipped his pants, pulled out his penis, laid on top of her, and started a pumping motion (pp. 9, 11 & 13, id.). She cried out that it hurt and he stopped, got a rag and wiped her private parts where she felt something wet (pp. 13 to 15, id.). Appellant gave complainant back her clothes so she could go home but warned her not to tell anybody about the incident otherwise something bad would happen (p. 15, id.). Afraid of the threats, the young complainant decided to keep the incident all to herself (p. 16, id.). For a number of years, she managed to avoid and stay away from appellant (p. 17, id.).

"Twelve years thereafter, sometime in May 1996, while complainant and her younger sister were walking along a church alley, they ran into appellant. The latter grabbed complainant's breast as he passed. She cursed him with the words 'Putang ina mo, hayup ka!", but appellant just laughed and walked away (p. 5, tsn, April 17, 1997). Wendellyn felt fear that appellant might do to her sister what he had done to her in the past (ibid.).

"Every night thereafter, complainant experienced nightmares making her relive appellant's sexual assault on her person a long time ago (pp. 6-7, ibid.). She attempted to commit suicide twice because she found these nightmares unbearable (p. 7, id.)."[2]
The Public Attorney's Office, acting for accused-appellant, gave its version of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
"Complainant Wendellyn Rivera testified that she is now 20 years old. She was born on September 11, 1976. In April 1984, when she was 7 years old, she was raped by the accused in his house. He is the first cousin of her father.

"She was then selling junk food to help her mother earn a living. She was selling pastillas, puto, cochinta. She asked the accused if he would buy food from her and he said, yes. He told her the money was inside his bedroom and he would get it. He placed his arm on her shoulder and brought her along with him to his house particularly to his bedroom. When they were inside the room, suddenly he locked the door.

"She felt nervous. She tried to go out of the room but he prevented her by holding her left arm.

"He started placing his face on her face and her neck. She was standing and he slowly made her sit on the bed. Her junk food, she placed on the edge of the bed because she tried to get out of the room. She was crying and then he forced to lie down on the bed. She begged him, 'Pauwiin ninyo na po ako'. And then he raped her. He even licked her all over her body with his tongue. When she told him she felt hurt, he stopped. He got a piece of rug and wiped her private organ. Afterwards, he gave her clothings to put them on so she could go home. He warned her not to tell anybody what happened or something bad will happen to her. She opened the door and with his hands on her shoulder, he let her go out. She carried her junkfood with her.

"She went out to the barrio and sold all her junk food because she did not want to go home at with her eyes still fresh from crying. She was able to go home lunch time. She did not tell her parents anything. She tried to keep to herself what happened. She was afraid of his threat and of what her father would do to him if she told him what happened.

"From 1984 up to the time the complaint was filed, she saw the accused in their barrio. She saw him outside their yard, sometimes inside their yard drinking with her uncle. Everytime she saw him, she ran away because he had a menacing look at her. Everytime, he was in their yard, she saw to it that she stayed among her friends. This was to prevent him from getting a chance to do what he did to her again. (TSN, March 25, 1997, pp. 1-18).

"She also did not report the incident to her teachers. She did not want them to know something bad happened to her.

"Last May, 1996 when she was with her younger sister walking through an alley, they met him again and he grabbed her breast. She became afraid that he might again do what he did to her before. She was also afraid he would do the same thing to her sister. She told him, 'Putang ina mo, hayup ka'. He just laughed and walked away. Every night she had nightmares of what happened to her.

"After she decided to file this case, she decided to have herself examined by the NBI.

"After the incident, she suffered stomach ache from 1 to 3 days. She also attempted to commit suicide twice last year (1996). It was too hard to have those nightmares and she could not confide to anyone what happened to her. (TSN, April 17, 1997, pp. 1-9).

"When her mother inquired about her nightmare, she just told her that everytime she went to sleep she felt as if somebody was moving beside her. (TSN, May 13, 1997, pp. 1-7).

"Even when she was already of age, she tried to keep it to herself instead of telling her parents. However in 1995 she told two (2) close friends, Suzette de los Reyes and Dulce Manalaysay.

"Her parents did not know about her nightmares. (TSN, June 3, 1997, pp. 1-11).

"She did not know if she suffered any bleeding at that time. She did not notice any blood at that time. She felt a wet feeling in her private part but she did not know if it was blood. She did not notice anything colored red. She does not have a boyfriend because she is a manhater. She did not want to get married because she did not want to experience what she had experienced with the accused (TSN, June 27, 1997, pp. 1-10).

"DR. ANNIE SORETA-UMIL testified that she examined Wendellyn Rivera on September 24, 1996. There were contusions or ' pasa' on the right breast and the forearm. These were caused by a blunt instrument.

"The hymen was intact but distendible as to allow a complete penetration by an adult size male Filipino organ. Distendible means it is elastic. It is similar to a rubber band, even if it is penetrated, it goes back to the original shape. So it is possible she was raped but her hymen was still intact. She could not say if complainant was raped or not raped because there is no medical basis. (TSN, July 25, 1997, pp. 1-15).

"Since she examined the victim on September 24, 1997, the age of the contusion is about 7 to 10 days. A contusion that happened 10 years ago will not appear on September 24, 1996.

"She found no laceration or injury to the genitalia. Since the child was 7 years old at that time and the hymenal organ is small then so if there was a complete penetration, the hymen will rupture or have a laceration. If after 10 years she submitted herself for examination she would still show the rupture of the hymen or its laceration. Once the hymen is ruptured, it will always show the laceration. (TSN, July 28, 1997, pp. 15-23)."[3]
Following the above recital of what it deemed to be a resume of the evidence for the prosecution, the defense gave a brief account of the alibi claimed by accused-appellant.
"Accused Johnny dela Cruz testified that in 1984 he was a fisherman as he still is. They fished from Monday to Saturday. They would leave at 3 a.m. and returned home in the afternoon at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. In 1984, he and his wife had one child. His wife was a plain housewife who usually stayed in the house taking care of their child.

"His house has no bedroom.

"He learned he was being charged with the rape of the complainant only in 1996. He does not remember buying junk food from her in 1984 and inviting her to his bedroom where he raped her. He denied that he threatened her. (TSN, Oct. 17, 1997, pp. 1-7).

"Estrella de la Cruz testified that accused is her husband. In April 1984 they had only one child. At that time she took care of the child at home. Her husband then was a fisherman at sea.

"She did not believe her husband raped Wendellyn in April 1984 because their house is very small. The window is on the same level as the street. Besides she was always in the house taking care of the children. (TSN, Nov. 11, 1997, pp. 1-6).

"Emme Lazaro testified that he has known the accused for 20 years. De la Cruz was a fisherman. In April 1984, they were together fishing. They rode together in the same boat. They went fishing from Monday to Saturday. They would leave at 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. and arrive home at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. The whole period from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. was spent on the high seas. (TSN, Dec. 19, 1997, pp. 1-7).

"Luisa Silvestre testified that she was a neighbor of the accused in 1984. Their houses were parallel to each other. She was then a plain housewife, while the accused was a fisherman on the high seas. From her house she could see the house of the accused particularly his window. She used to visit the wife of the accused in her house. If one was on the street, one can see the interior of the house of the accused if the windows are open. (TSN, Jan. 20, 1998, pp. 1-10)."[4]
In his appeal to this Court from the judgment convicting him, accused-appellant would submit that -
"1. The trial court erred in convicting the accused of the crime of rape under a complaint that is so materially deficient as to deprive the accused of his right to be informed of the nature and cause of accusation against him.

"2. The trial court erred in giving credence to the testimony of the complainant who reported the alleged crime of rape only after twelve (12) years from the date of the incident.

"3. The trial court erred in finding the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape."[5]
Like in all previous rape cases, too numerous to cite, brought up to it on appeal, the Court has been guided by the realities that an accusation of rape can be made with facility and while the accusation is difficult to prove, it is even more difficult for the person accused, although innocent, to disprove the charge; that only two persons are usually involved in the crime of rape which should require the testimony of the complainant to be scrutinized with great care; and that the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits and should never be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.[6]

The conduct of the victim immediately following an alleged sexual assault should prove to be material. Whether her personal behavior would tend to establish the truth or the falsity of the accusation would depend in large measure on whether that conduct, in turn, is expected to be, or would instead be contrary to, the natural reaction of an outraged woman robbed of her honor. In this instance, the Court sees a situation where, after the alleged incident of rape, complainant has gone about her usual chore of peddling her goods. Thus -
"QAnd how were you able to go out from inside the room?
"AI opened the door and with his hands on my shoulder, he let me go out, sir.
"QHow about the junkfoods? What happened?
"AI carried then with me, sir.
"QAnd while the accused was holding your shoulder, did he say something?
"AThat's what he told me. Not to tell to anyone what happened to us, sir.
"QAnd where did you proceed after that?
"AI went out the barrio and sold all my junkfood because I did not want to go home with my eyes still fresh from crying, sir.
"QAnd were you able to go home?
"AYes, sir, after I have sold out the junkfood."[7]

The medical findings of Dr. Annie Soreta-Umil, a medico-legal officer of the National Bureau of Investigation ("NBI"), on the examination conducted by her on complainant some fourteen years after the alleged rape, does not offer much to indicate the commission of the offense. The hymen has appeared to be "intact." The complete medico-legal report reads:
"GENERAL PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:

"Height: 146.5 cms                     Weight: 96 lbs.

"Normally developed, fairly nourished, conscious, coherent, cooperative, ambulatory subject.

"Breasts, developed, hemispherical, doughy, Areolae, light brown, 2.7 cms. in diameter, Nipples, light brown, protruding, 1.2 cms. in diameter.

"No extragenital physical injuries noted.

"EXTRAGENITAL FINDINGS:

"Contusions, purplish with yellowish periphery, breast, right, lower inner quadrant, 2.5 x 1.5 cms. in diameter; forearm, right, antero-lateral aspect, 2.5 x 3.0 cms.

"GENITAL EXAMINATIONS:

"Pubic hair, fully grown, abundant. Labia majora and minora, coaptated. Fourchette, tense. Vestibular mucosa, pinkish. Hymen, moderately tall, moderately thick, intact, distensible. Hymenal orifice admits a tube 2.5 cms. in diameter with moderate resistance. Vaginal wall, tight. Rugosities, prominent.

"CONCLUSION:

"1)....The above extragenital physical injuries were noted on the body of the subject at the time of examination.

"2) Hymen, intact but distensible and its orifice wide (2.5 cms. in diameter) as to allow complete penetration by an average-sized adult Filipino male organ in full erection without producing any genital injury."[8]

In her testimony, Dr. Soreta-Umil has elaborated:
"QDoctor, is it possible if the victim is 7 years of age and she was sexually assaulted, still there will be no laceration of the hymen at that age considering the fact you have stated that when the child is small the hymen also is small?
"ASince the child, sir, was 7 years old at that time they hymenal origin that time is small also so if there was a complete penetration, the hymen will rupture or have a laceration because the hymenal opening is less than 2.5 centimeters in diameter.
"Court:
And if after 10 years, she submitted herself for examination, would that still shows the rupture of the hymen?
"AYes, Your Honor.
"QIncluding any genital injury?
"AExcluding, Your Honor.
"QIf she was young, let's say 7 years old and she had sexual intercourse with an average size adult Filipino man, would her sex organ sustained injury which could be detected after having been examined 10 years after?
"AYes, Your Honor.
"QWhat could those injuries be?
"AThere could be an old healed laceration of the hymen, Your Honor.
"QAnd the hymen if I heard you correctly could have been ruptured so there would be no more hymen (interrupted)
"AThere would still be hymen, Your Honor, but I am explaining that there could have been an old healed hymenal laceration. Laceration is there but the characteristic refers to an old healed laceration.
"QAre you saying that a hymen even if it is ruptured or broken, after sometimes it also gets back to its original shape?
"ANo, Your Honor. [Once] the hymen is ruptured, it will always show the laceration of the hymen wherever it is located."[9]

But what should really be devastating is the fact that it has taken complainant more than 12 years to finally decide to charge (in 1996) accused-appellant for his alleged crime (in 1984). The long delay of complainant in reporting the incident makes it difficult for the Court not to have compelling doubts on the veracity of her episode.[10] Complainant explains that she did not report the matter to her parents or notify the authorities because of fear and the warning to her made by accused-appellant not to tell anybody about the incident unless she would want something terrible to happen to her and her family. Even if this threat were indeed made, it could not have taken complainant 12 long years to recover from the shock or fear of harm.

Although the defense of alibi, like a bare denial, is weak, the prosecution, however, is not released from its burden to establish the guilt of an accused beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution must always rely on its own strength and not by the weakness of the evidence adduced by the defense. It is true that the defense of alibi can easily be fabricated,[11] but it can save the day for an accused when and as it becomes more weighty than the decrepit stance of the prosecution.

It may be true that an absolute guarantee of guilt is not demanded by the law to convict a person of a criminal charge but there must, at least, be moral certainty on each element essential to constitute the offense[12] and on the responsibility of its author. Proof beyond reasonable doubt is meant to be that, all things given, the mind of the Court can rest at ease on its verdict. It is in this fundamental requirement that, in the view of the Court, the prosecution has failed to overturn the presumption of innocence to which every accused is entitled.

WHEREFORE, the decision of the trial court is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accused-appellant Johnny dela Cruz y Avendaño is ACQUITTED on reasonable doubt of the charge of rape and is ordered released from prison immediately unless there are other lawful grounds for his continued detention. Costs de officio.

SO ORDERED.

Melo, (Chairman), Purisima, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.

Panganiban, J., on leave.



[1] Rollo, p. 8.

[2] Rollo, pp. 82-84.

[3] Rollo, pp. 52-55.

[4] Rollo, pp. 55-56.

[5] Rollo, pp. 50-51.

[6] People vs. Sta. Ana, 291 SCRA 188.

[7] TSN, 25 March 1997, p. 16.

[8] Records, p. 10.

[9] TSN, 25 July 1997, pp. 21-22.

[10] See People vs. Relorcasa, 225 SCRA 59; also People vs. Castillon, 217 SCRA 76.

[11] People vs. Lagao, 286 SCRA 610.

[12] People vs. Batis, 216 SCRA 673.



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