727 Phil. 642
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
[Criminal Case No. 4202]When he was arraigned on November 4, 2002, appellant pleaded “NOT GUILTY” to the charges leveled against him. Thereupon, the prosecution and the defense presented their evidence.
That on or about the 11th day of March, 2002, in the Municipality of Capoocan, Province of Leyte, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with deliberate intent and with lewd designs and by use of force and intimidation, armed with a knife, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously had carnal knowledge with (sic) [AAA] against her will and a 16[-]year old girl, to her damage and prejudice.
[Criminal Case No. 4203]
That on or about the 12th day of March, 2002, in the Municipality of Capoocan, Province of Leyte, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with deliberate intent and with lewd designs and by use of force and intimidation, armed with a knife, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously had carnal knowledge with (sic) [AAA] against her will and a 16[-]year old girl, to her damage and prejudice.
The Prosecution’s StoryAt the conclusion of trial, the April 22, 2005 Decision convicting appellant was rendered by the trial court. Dispositively, the said ruling states:
The following witnesses were presented by the prosecution, who testified, as follows:
AAA is sixteen years old and a resident of x x x, Leyte. She testified that she knows accused Mervin Gahi, the latter being the husband of her aunt DDD.
The First Rape
AAA recounted that on March 11, 2002 at about 11:30 in the morning, she was in her grandmother BBB’s house with her epileptic teenage cousin, CCC. At that time BBB was out of the house to collect money from debtors. While she was in the living room mopping the floor, accused Mervin arrived in the house. The latter was a frequent visitor as he used to make charcoal in the premises. When Mervin arrived, AAA was by her lonesome as CCC was out of the house.
AAA recounted that Mervin came near her and instructed her to “Lie down, lie down”. Fearful upon hearing Mervin’s orders, AAA stopped mopping the floor. Mervin, with his right hand, then held AAA’s right arm. He pushed AAA, causing her to lose her balance and fall on the floor. Mervin raised AAA’s skirt and proceeded to take off her underwear. All this time, Mervin was holding a knife with a blade of about 6 inches long, poking it at AAA’s right breast. Fearful for her life, AAA did not resist Mervin’s initial advances. After taking off AAA’s underwear, Mervin went on top of her and while in that position, he took off his shorts, inserted his penis inside her vagina and ejaculated. AAA’s efforts to free herself from Mervin’s hold were unsuccessful. As a result of her struggle, she felt tired and weak. After satisfying his lust, Mervin warned AAA to keep secret what transpired or else he would kill her. Afraid that he would make good his threat, AAA did not mention to anybody what happened, even to her aunt DDD, the wife of the accused.
The Second Rape
AAA recalled that the second rape occurred on March 12, 2002 at about three o’clock in the afternoon. On her way to the field and with a carabao in tow, she was met by Mervin along the foot trail. While on the foot trail, Mervin went near AAA, prompting her to hurriedly scamper to BBB’s house. Mervin followed her. Once in the living room of BBB’s house, Mervin approached AAA, poked a knife at the right side of her body, pushed her and made her lie down. Out of fear, she didn’t resist Mervin’s advances. He threatened and ordered her to “keep quiet, don’t talk”. Then he raised her skirt and took off her underwear, after which, he took off his short pants and his brief, laid himself on top of her, and made pumping motions until he ejaculated. Blood came out of AAA’s vagina. After the rape, AAA cried while the accused left the house. Just like before, she did not mention the incident to anybody, not even to her grandmother and to her aunt DDD, for fear that Mervin might kill them.
AAA narrated that the first person she told about her ordeal was Lynlyn, her employer in Ormoc, where AAA spent three months working, when the former was able to detect her pregnancy. It was also Lynlyn who accompanied her to the Capoocan Police Station to report and file the case. After reporting the matter to the police, AAA did not go back to Ormoc anymore and later gave birth. Instead, she and her baby stayed with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Dr. Bibiana O. Cardente, the Municipal Health Officer of Capoocan, Leyte testified that upon the request of the Chief of Police of Capoocan, Leyte, she attended to AAA, a sixteen[-]year old who was allegedly raped by the husband of her aunt. The findings of Dr. Cardente were reduced in the form of a Medical Certificate issued on August 23, 2002, which she also identified and read the contents thereof in open court, as follows:“Patient claimed that she was allegedly raped by the husband of her aunt. The patient can’t recall the exact date when she was raped.Ofelia Pagay, a Social Welfare Officer III of the DSWD Regional Haven, Pawing, Palo, Leyte testified that she interviewed AAA upon the latter’s admission to their office on August 29, 2002. Also interviewed were her mother, the MSWD of Capoocan, Leyte and the Social Welfare Crisis Unit of the DSWD. In her case study report on AAA, Ofelia recommended the necessary intervention for her because of an existing conflict in their family.
Phernache – at the age of 13 years old,
Pregnancy test done at Carigara District Hospital today at August 23, 2002.
Result: Positive for UGC, LMP-unknown
Findings: Fundal Height-1 inch above the umbilicus compatible with 5 months pregnancy
FHB – RLQ”
The Version of the Defense
BBB, AAA’s 74-year old grandmother, testified that AAA is the daughter of her son DDD and EEE. She took custody of AAA after her parents got separated. Along with AAA her epileptic granddaughter, CCC was also living with them.
BBB recounted that on March 11, 2002, she was at her house doing household chores from morning until noon. She denied that a rape incident ever occurred at the said date as she stayed at home the whole day and did not chance upon Mervin at her house nor did AAA inform her about any rape incident.
BBB also recalled that on March 12, 2002 she stayed at home the whole day. She narrated that after having breakfast at about seven o’clock in the morning, AAA took a bath. She also saw AAA writing notes. At around three o’clock in the afternoon, AAA went to herd the carabao at the uphill portion of the place. Later, AAA returned and stayed in the house the rest of the afternoon. BBB again denied that a rape occurred on that day of March 12, 2002, as she did not see Mervin in her house. Neither did she observe any unusual behavior on the part of AAA nor did she receive a complaint from the latter that she was raped by Mervin.
Filomeno Suson, 51 years old, married, a farmer and a resident of Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte testified that on March 11, 2002 he was with Mervin at the copra kiln dryer situated in Sitio Sandayong, Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte from eight o’clock in the morning until twelve o’clock noon. Mervin was with his wife and two children and never left the place. He recalled that he left the place at 12:30 in the afternoon, and returned at 1:30 in the afternoon. He saw Mervin still processing the copra. He stayed at the dryer until five o’clock in the afternoon and did not see Mervin leave the place. The following day, March 12, 2002, he went back to the dryer at eight o’clock in the morning and saw Mervin near the copra kiln dryer regulating the fire so that the copra will not get burned. He stayed there until past noontime and did not see Mervin leave the place. When he returned at one o’clock in the afternoon, Mervin was already placing the copra inside the sack. He stayed until five o’clock in the afternoon. The following day, March 13, 2002, he saw Mervin hauling the copra. He did not observe any unusual behavior from him.
Jackie Gucela, 18 years old, single, a farm laborer and a resident of Brgy. Lonoy, Kanaga, Leyte testified that he and AAA were sweethearts. Jackie recounted that the first time he got intimate and had sex with AAA was sometime in March 2000. He recalled that the last time he and AAA had sex was sometime in April 2002. He admitted that it was he who got AAA pregnant.
Mervin Gahi, 35 years old, married, a farmer and a resident of Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte denied having been at the place of the alleged rapes on the days asserted by the complainant. He recalled that on March 11, 2002, he was at the area of Sandayong, Sitio Agumayan, Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte processing copra owned by Mrs. Josefina Suson. He started processing copra at six o’clock in the morning until about nine o’clock in the evening. With him were his wife and two children, May Jane and Mervin Jr. His landlord, Filomeno arrived later in the morning, and stayed until twelve o’clock noon. After having lunch at his house, Filomeno returned at one o’clock in the afternoon. Mervin recounted that he stopped working when he had lunch at his nearby house with his family, and during the intervening time, he did not leave the place to watch over the copra. After eating his lunch, he went back to the copra kiln drier to refuel and again watched over the copra. He stayed there and never left the place until nine o’clock in the evening.
On March 12, 2002, Mervin recalled that he was at the copra kiln drier segregating the cooked copra from the uncooked ones until nine o’clock in the morning. When he was finished segregating, he smoked the uncooked copra. With him were his wife and children, and he stayed at the copra kiln dryer until six o’clock in the evening. The only time that he left the said place was when he had his lunch at eleven o’clock in the morning at his house. After having his lunch, he returned to the copra kiln drier. He admitted that he was familiar with Brgy. Sto. Nino, Capoocan, Leyte.
Mervin testified that on March 13, 2002 at twelve o’clock noon, he delivered the copra for weighing to the house of his landlord at Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte. It was his Kuya Noni (Filomino) and Ate Pensi (Maria Esperanza) who actually received the copra, with the latter even recording the delivery. According to him, it was impossible for him to have raped AAA on the alleged dates as he was at Brgy. Visares processing copra. He argued that a mistake was committed by AAA in accusing him considering the similarity between his name Mervin and x x x Jack[ie] Gucela’s nickname, Melvin, who was known to be a suitor of AAA.
Ma. Esperanza V. Villanueva, 48 years old, married, a housewife and a resident of Brgy. Visares, Capoocan, Leyte testified that she knows Mervin. According to her, Mervin was a tenant and has been working as a copra drier for them for a couple of years. Esperanza recalled that on March 13, 2002, Mervin and his wife delivered copra to her house. The delivery, she said, was also recorded by her. (Citations omitted.)
WHEREFORE, premises considered, applying Article 266-A and 266-B of the Revised Penal Code as amended, and the amendatory provisions of R.A. 8353, (The Anti-Rape Law of 1997), in relation to Section 11 of R.A. 7659 (The Death Penalty Law), the Court found accused, MERVIN GAHI, GUILTY, beyond reasonable doubt for two counts of RAPE charged under Criminal Cases No. 4202 and 4203, and sentenced to suffer the maximum penalty of DEATH in both cases and to pay civil indemnity in the amount of Seventy[-]Five Thousand (P75,000.00) Pesos for each case and exemplary damages in the amount of Twenty[-]Five (P25,000.00) Thousand Pesos for each case, to the victim [AAA]; and pay the costs.The case was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeals. After due deliberation, the Court of Appeals affirmed with modification the appealed decision of the trial court in the now assailed August 31, 2011 Decision, the dispositive portion of which is reproduced here:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the assailed Decision dated April 22, 2005 of the Regional Trial Court, Eight Judicial Region, Branch 13 of Carigara, Leyte in Criminal Case Nos. 4202 and 4203, finding appellant Mervin Gahi guilty of two counts of Rape, is hereby AFFIRMED with the modification that accused-appellant is sentenced to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua for each count. Further, he is ordered to pay AAA the amount of Php50,000.00 for each count of rape as moral damages.Having been thwarted twice in his quest for the courts to proclaim his innocence, appellant comes before this Court for one last attempt at achieving that purpose. In his Brief, appellant submits a single assignment of error for consideration, to wit:
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF TWO COUNTS OF RAPE DESPITE FAILURE OF THE PROSECUTION TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.Appellant maintains that AAA’s incredible and inconsistent testimony does not form sufficient basis for him to be convicted of two counts of rape. He argues that his testimony along with that of other defense witnesses should have been accorded greater weight and credibility. He faults the trial court for ignoring the extended time period between the alleged rapes and the birth of AAA’s baby; and for disbelieving Jackie Gucela’s testimony which stated that the latter was AAA’s lover and the father of AAA’s child, contrary to AAA’s claim that the baby was the fruit of appellant’s unlawful carnal congress with her. He also insists that his alibi should have convinced the trial court that he is innocent because he was at another place at the time the rapes were allegedly committed by him. On the strength of these assertions, appellant believes that he is deserving of an acquittal that is long overdue because the prosecution failed miserably to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
Rape is committed –According to the prosecution, appellant used force or intimidation in order to successfully have unlawful carnal knowledge of AAA. To be exact, appellant is alleged to have utilized, on two occasions, a knife and the threat of bodily harm to coerce AAA into submitting to his evil sexual desires. A careful perusal of AAA’s testimony in open court reveals that she was clear and straightforward in her assertion that appellant raped her twice in the manner described by the prosecution. We sustain as proper the appellate court’s reliance on the following portions of AAA’s testimony regarding the first instance of rape:
1) By a man who shall have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:(a) Through force, threat or intimidation;2) By any person who, under any of the circumstances mentioned in paragraph 1 hereof, shall commit an act of sexual assault by inserting his penis into another person’s mouth or anal orifice, or any instrument or object, into the genital or anal orifice of another person.
(b) When the offended party is deprived of reason or is otherwise unconscious;
(c) By means of fraudulent machination or grave abuse of authority;
(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.
As for the second instance of rape, we agree with the lower courts that AAA was likewise clear and straightforward in recounting that:
[PROSECUTOR MERIN] Q And you were alone in the house of your lola? A Yes, sir. Q And when you were alone in your lola’s house at the sala, what did this accused do to you? A He suddenly went inside the sala and at that time I was mopping the floor. Q What did you use in mopping the floor? A Coconut husk. Q And when the accused suddenly appeared [at] the sala, while you were mopping the floor with a coconut husk, what did the accused do next, tell this court? A He said, lie down, lie down. Q You mean he was fronting at (sic) you? A Yes, sir. Q And what did you do with his instruction to let you lie down? A Nothing. Q You mean you stop[ped] mopping the floor? A Yes, sir. Q Now, after you stop[ped] mopping, what next transpired if any, tell this court? A He held me and let me lie down. x x x x Q And after you were laid down by the accused and you already [were lying] on the floor, what next transpired if any, tell the court? A He raised my skirt and took off my panty. Q What did you do when he tried to raise your skirt and took off your panty? A I was trembling. Q Why were you trembling? A Because I was afraid. Q Q Why were you afraid of Mervin Gahi x x x? A Because he held something. Q What was he holding? A A knife. x x x x Q And what did he do with that knife he was holding? A It was poked [at] me. Q What part of your body was poked upon (sic)? A (Witness indicated her right breast) x x x x Q While the accused was on top of you and took off his pants, what did the accused do upon your person? A He inserted his penis. Q You mean his penis was inserted [in]to what? A To my vagina. Q Now, how did you feel when he tried to insert his penis [in]to your vagina? A I became weak.
Appellant questions the weighty trust placed by the trial court on the singular and uncorroborated testimony of AAA as the basis for his conviction. On this point, we would like to remind appellant that it is a fundamental principle in jurisprudence involving rape that the accused may be convicted based solely on the testimony of the victim, provided that such testimony is credible, natural, convincing and consistent with human nature and the normal course of things.
[PROSECUTOR MERIN] Q Where were you on March 12, 2002 when raped again by the accused? A I was tethering a carabao. x x x x Q When you were trying to bring that carabao what happened tell the court? A At that time when I was able to bring the carabao to be fed I saw him. Q Whereat did you see him? A A He was on the foot trail. x x x x Q When you saw the accused on your way to tether the carabao of your lola, what did the accused do [to] you? A He drew nearer to me. Q After he drew nearer to you, what did he do next? A He poked a knife [at] me. x x x x Q After you were poked by that knife by the accused, what else happened? A He said, “Keep quiet, don’t talk.” Q After he said that what next happened? A He made me to (sic) lie. Q Whereat? A When he poked his knife at me he held my upper arms. Q Were you already lying? A He pushed me and I was made to lie. Q You mean on the roadside? A No, at the sala of the house of my grandmother. Q You mean you were led to the house of your Lola? A No sir. Q Where were you brought? A At that time when I was able to bring the carabao to be [fed] when I saw him I ran back to the house of my grandmother. x x x x Q And when you were already inside the house of your Lola what happened, tell the Court? A He was already there. x x x x Q After your skirt was raised up by the accused, what did the accused do next, tell the Court? A He took off my panty. x x x x Q Did you not prevent Mervin from taking off your panty? A No sir. Q Why did you not wrestle out? A I am afraid because of the knife. x x x x Q After he took off his brief, what did accused do, tell the Court? A He laid himself on top of me. Q After he laid himself on top of you, what else did he do? A He inserted his penis [in]to my vagina. x x x x Q Was he successful in inserting his penis [in]to your vagina? A Yes sir. Q After inserting his penis [in]to your vagina, what else did accused do to his penis? A He kept on pumping himself, meaning making a going and out movement. Q You mean he was making in and out movement of (sic) your vagina? A Yes, sir. Q Was he able to reach ejaculation? A Blood. Q You mean blood came out? A Yes, sir. Q From where? A From my vagina.
Time and again, we have held that when it comes to the issue of credibility of the victim or the prosecution witnesses, the findings of the trial courts carry great weight and respect and, generally, the appellate courts will not overturn the said findings unless the trial court overlooked, misunderstood or misapplied some facts or circumstances of weight and substance which will alter the assailed decision or affect the result of the case. This is so because trial courts are in the best position to ascertain and measure the sincerity and spontaneity of witnesses through their actual observation of the witnesses’ manner of testifying, their demeanor and behavior in court. Trial judges enjoy the advantage of observing the witness’ deportment and manner of testifying, her “furtive glance, blush of conscious shame, hesitation, flippant or sneering tone, calmness, sigh, or the scant or full realization of an oath” – all of which are useful aids for an accurate determination of a witness’ honesty and sincerity. Trial judges, therefore, can better determine if such witnesses are telling the truth, being in the ideal position to weigh conflicting testimonies. Again, unless certain facts of substance and value were overlooked which, if considered, might affect the result of the case, its assessment must be respected, for it had the opportunity to observe the conduct and demeanor of the witnesses while testifying and detect if they were lying. The rule finds an even more stringent application where the said findings are sustained by the Court of Appeals.Anent the inconsistent statements made by AAA in her testimony which were pointed out by appellant, we agree with the assessment made by the Court of Appeals that these are but minor discrepancies that do little to affect the central issue of rape which is involved in this case. Instead of diminishing AAA’s credibility, such variance on minor details has the net effect of bolstering the truthfulness of AAA’s accusations. We have constantly declared that a few discrepancies and inconsistencies in the testimonies of witnesses referring to minor details and not in actuality touching upon the central fact of the crime do not impair the credibility of the witnesses because they discount the possibility of their being rehearsed testimony.
It is well-entrenched in our case law that the rape victim’s pregnancy and resultant childbirth are irrelevant in determining whether or not she was raped. Pregnancy is not an essential element of the crime of rape. Whether the child which the rape victim bore was fathered by the accused, or by some unknown individual, is of no moment. What is important and decisive is that the accused had carnal knowledge of the victim against the latter’s will or without her consent, and such fact was testified to by the victim in a truthful manner. (Citation omitted.)Likewise, we assign no significance to the testimony of defense witness Jackie Gucela. Firstly, AAA categorically denied that Jackie Gucela was her boyfriend  or that she had sexual relations with him or any other person other than appellant near the time of the rape incidents at issue. For the sweetheart theory to be believed when invoked by the accused, convincing evidence to prove the existence of the supposed relationship must be presented by the proponent of the theory. We elucidated on this principle in People v. Bayrante, to wit:
For the [“sweetheart”] theory to prosper, the existence of the supposed relationship must be proven by convincing substantial evidence. Failure to adduce such evidence renders his claim to be self-serving and of no probative value. For the satisfaction of the Court, there should be a corroboration by their common friends or, if none, a substantiation by tokens of such a relationship such as love letters, gifts, pictures and the like. (Citation omitted.)In the present case, although it is a person other than the accused who is claiming to be the victim’s sweetheart and the father of her child, such an assertion must nonetheless be believably demonstrated by the evidence.
Like the trial court, We have our reservations on [Jackie]’s credibility. AAA, from the outset, has denied any romantic involvement with [Jackie]. On the other hand, to prove his claim that they were sweethearts, [Jackie] presented three love letters purportedly authored by AAA. An examination of the contents of the letters however fails to indicate any intimate relations between AAA and [Jackie]. Nowhere in the contents of the said letters did AAA even profess her love for [Jackie]. In the first letter, [Jackie] maintained that AAA signed the letter as “SHE” to hide her identity. Other than such assertion, he however failed to establish by any conclusive proof that the “SHE” and AAA were one and the same person. Neither did he explain if he was the “Boy” being alluded to in the first letter. The second letter, which was also unsigned by AAA, was a poem written by Joyce Kilmer entitled Trees, and the third letter although vague as to its contents, does not appear to be a love letter at all. Our inevitable conclusion: the letters are not love letters at all between AAA and [Jackie]. Even if We were to assume for the sake of argument that [Jackie] fathered AAA’s child, We are hard pressed to find malice or any ill motive on the part of AAA to falsely accuse no less than her uncle, if the same was not true. At most, We believe that [Jackie]’s testimony is a desperate attempt on his part to let Mervin off the hook, so to speak. (Citations omitted.)In any event, even assuming for the sake of argument that AAA had a romantic attachment with a person other than the accused at the time of the rape incidents or thereafter, this circumstance would not necessarily negate the truth of AAA’s statement that the appellant, her aunt’s husband, twice had carnal knowledge of her through force and intimidation and without her consent.