Republic of the Philippines
G.R. No. 173798 December 15, 2010
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee,
RENE CELOCELO, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:
For review is the Decision1 of the Court of Appeals dated February 28, 2006, which affirmed with modification the Decision2 rendered by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 275, Las Piñas City, in Criminal Case No. 98-1079, finding accused-appellant Rene Celocelo (Celocelo) guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Rape as defined and penalized under Article 266-A, paragraph 1, in relation to Article 266-B, paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 8353, imposing the penalty of reclusion perpetua, and ordering Celocelo to pay the offended party Fifty Thousand Pesos (₱50,000.00) as civil indemnity and Fifty Thousand Pesos (₱50,000.00) as moral damages.
On September 22, 1998, Celocelo was charged before the RTC for the crime of Rape. The accusatory portion of the Information reads:
That on or about the 26th day of July, 1998, in the City of Las Piñas, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, armed with knife and by means of force, violence and intimidation with lewd designs, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with one [AAA] against her will and consent thereby subjecting her to sexual abuse.3
Celocelo pleaded not guilty to the charge when he was arraigned on December 1, 1999.4 Trial on the merits followed the termination of the pre-trial conference.
The prosecution offered three witnesses: (1) Dr. Aurea P. Villena, Medico Legal Officer II of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), who personally examined AAA;5 (2) Senior Inspector Marilyn N. Samarita, the police investigator who requested the NBI to conduct the medico-legal examination on AAA; and (3) private complainant AAA, the 19-year-old victim. The defense had two witnesses: (1) Rene Celocelo, the accused; and (2) Edgardo de Vera, the accused’s brother in law.
The prosecution first presented Dr. Aurea P. Villena, the Medico Legal Officer II of the NBI who conducted the physical examination on AAA on July 26, 1998. Her findings, as stated in the medico-legal report, are as follows:
x x x x
Contusion, purplish, 0.5 cm x 1.0 cm., right breast.
Pubic hairs, fully grown, abundant. Labia majora and minora, gaping. Fourchette, lax. Vestibular mucosa, pinkish. Hymen, tall, thick, with an old healed complete laceration at 6:00 o’clock position corresponding to the face of a watch, edges rounded, non-coaptable. Hymenal orifice admits a tube 2.0 cm. in diameter. Vaginal walls, lax. Rugosities, shallow.
1. The above-described physical injury was noted on the body of the subject at the time of the examination.
2. Hymenal laceration present.6
Dr. Villena also testified that after conducting a medico-legal examination on AAA, she took three vaginal smears from her and brought it to the laboratory for seminal examination.7 The results were recorded in Laboratory Report No. S-98-267.8 The report indicated that the vaginal smears gave a positive result for the presence of human spermatozoa. When the prosecutor asked Dr. Villena what this meant, she testified that positive semenology is highly indicative of recent sexual intercourse.9
The second witness presented was Marilyn N. Samarita. She was the police investigator who requested the NBI to conduct a medico-legal examination on AAA. She was assigned as Chief of the Women and Children’s desk at the Las Piñas City Police Station at the time AAA went to her office. She testified that she made the request when AAA came to her office to file a complaint.10 She also testified that AAA came back on July 29, 1998 to inform her that the results will be out the following day, July 30, but AAA will just come back on July 31 to give her statement as she was not yet ready.11
The third witness who took the stand was the victim herself, AAA. She testified that on July 26, 1998, at around two o’clock in the morning, while she was sleeping in their house with her siblings, she was awakened by Celocelo, who covered her mouth, and told her "not to make any scandal."12 She testified that Celocelo pulled her by her hair and dragged her out of the bedroom towards the comfort room which was located outside their house. AAA said she pleaded to Celocelo not to abuse her but he ignored her pleas and told her to undress. AAA claimed that Celocelo removed her jogging pants and panty while pointing a lansetang dipindot (automatic knife) at her. She was then forced to sit on top of Celocelo, face to face, who by then positioned himself on the toilet bowl, and while holding a knife with his right hand and holding her arm with his left hand, proceeded to rape her by moving AAA up and down. AAA said that after Celocelo raped her, he told her to dress herself and not to tell anybody or he will come back to kill her. AAA said that after the incident, she found herself on her sister’s doorsteps, inconsolably crying. AAA, together with her sister, her sister’s husband, and one of her brothers, went back to AAA’s house to tell their parents who became hysterical upon learning that AAA was raped. They proceeded to the Barangay office to report the incident, and Celocelo was arrested that morning in his work place.
Celocelo, in his testimony, denied AAA’s claim that he raped her. He said that he had been seeing and courting AAA for three months prior to the incident. On July 25, 1998, he went to AAA’s house at around eight o’clock in the evening. AAA allowed him to enter her house, and it was then when he told her that he liked her. AAA favorably responded to his proposal with "Oo, sinasagot na kita," and when he asked for a kiss, she willingly obliged. However, after about 30 seconds of kissing, Celocelo said that AAA stopped for fear that her mother might catch them as they were in the living room. She then took his hand and led him to the comfort room outside their house. Celocelo said that it was AAA who undressed herself and it was she who sat on top of him to have sexual intercourse. They agreed to meet again the following day as it was his pay day, but when he reported for work, he was arrested for allegedly raping AAA.13
Edgardo de Vera was also presented as a witness for Celocelo. De Vera is Celocelo’s brother-in-law and he testified that he was the one who introduced Celocelo to AAA. He claimed that AAA always watched Celocelo play basketball and she was particularly happy whenever the ball was in Celocelo’s hands. He also claimed that AAA would hold Celocelo’s hands when congratulating him and would ask him to pass by their bench during time-outs.14
On August 31, 2004, the RTC convicted Celocelo for the crime of rape and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to indemnify the offended party the sum of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (₱100,000.00). The dispositive portion of the decision reads:
WHEREFORE, judgment is rendered finding accused Rene Celocelo GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt as charged and hereby sentenced to suffer the prison term of reclusion perpetua and likewise suffer the accessory penalty provided for by law and to pay the complainant, [AAA], the sum of ₱100,000.00 and to pay the costs.15
The RTC, in its decision, said that the issue it was faced with was whether or not the sexual congress was attended with the use of force or intimidation. The RTC resolved the issue in the affirmative and held that it believed that there was indeed force and intimidation when Celocelo poked a knife at AAA while having sexual intercourse with her. The RTC said that it was but natural for AAA to not fight back or even make any noise for fear of what Celocelo might do to her and her family. The RTC found AAA to be a credible witness as it had the opportunity to observe the demeanor of AAA and saw that she was "straightforward in denouncing the accused while [he] appeared [to be] impishly smiling as [AAA] denounced him."16
On intermediate appellate review before the Court of Appeals, Celocelo alleged that the RTC erred in finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt and assigned the following errors:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN GIVING FULL WEIGHT AND CREDENCE TO THE INCREDIBLE TESTIMONY OF THE PRIVATE COMPLAINANT.
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN CONVICTING THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT OF THE CRIME CHARGED DESPITE THE FAILURE OF [THE] PROSECUTION TO PROVE HIS GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT.
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN NOT MAKING A FINDING OF FACTS IN ITS DECISION, WHICH IS A REVERSIBLE ERROR.17
Celocelo alleged that AAA’s "account of how she was raped by [Celocelo] is contrary to human experience"18 when she said that her jogging pants and panty were pulled down to her ankles and yet she was able to sit on top of him. Celocelo also asserted that the RTC was not able to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt as it relied mainly on the testimony of AAA. Moreover, Celocelo claimed that the RTC’s decision was constitutionally and procedurally infirm as it "did not bother to state clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it was based,"19 as required by both the 1987 Constitution20 and the 1997 Rules on Civil Procedure.21
The Court of Appeals sustained Celocelo’s conviction and addressed each of the assigned errors. With regard to the inconsistencies in AAA’s testimony, the Court of Appeals believed that the inconsistency Celocelo was pointing out was fully explained in the same testimony.
Next, the Court of Appeals defended the RTC’s reliance on the testimony of AAA, as the RTC found AAA’s demeanor consistent with her allegation that Celocelo raped her. The Court of Appeals stated that the findings of the RTC "on the credibility of the witnesses and their testimonies are generally accorded great respect by an appellate court,"22 and since Celocelo was unable to present proof of overlooked or misappreciated facts and circumstances that would alter the results of the case, there was no reason to disregard the RTC’s findings of facts.
On the last assignment of error, the Court of Appeals held that the fact that the judgment may not be satisfactory to Celocelo is not enough to convince it that the decision is flawed.23 The Court of Appeals maintained that the conviction was based on facts on record and sound doctrines applicable to the case. The Court of Appeals further noted the Solicitor General’s argument that, while the RTC’s decision may be short, it is neither constitutionally nor procedurally infirm as only the "essential ultimate facts" upon which the court’s conclusion is drawn are required to be stated in the court’s decision.24
In finding that the prosecution was able to establish Celocelo’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, the Court of Appeals, on February 28, 2006, affirmed the RTC with clarification on the award, to wit:
WHEREFORE, the judgment of conviction is AFFIRMED with clarification that the award of "₱100,000.00" should cover the (a) civil indemnity of ₱50,000.00 and (b) moral damages of ₱50,000.00.25
On March 23, 2006, Celocelo filed his Notice of Appeal and subsequently filed a Manifestation that he is adopting the arguments in his Appellant’s Brief in this appeal.
This Court believes that the resolution of this case hinges upon whether or not Celocelo’s guilt for the crime of rape was proven beyond reasonable doubt.
It is doctrinal that the requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in criminal law does not mean such a degree of proof as to exclude the possibility of error and produce absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind. x x x.26
In reviewing rape cases, this Court is guided by three settled principles: (1) 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; (2) considering the intrinsic nature of the crime, only two persons being usually involved, the testimony of the complainant should be scrutinized with great caution; and (3) the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merit, and cannot be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.27
Rape is a serious transgression with grave consequences for both the accused and the complainant. Using the above guiding principles in the review of rape cases, this Court is thus duty-bound to conduct a thorough and exhaustive evaluation of a judgment of conviction for rape. 28
This Court has made a painstaking scrutiny of the entire records of the case, including both parties’ exhibits and the transcript of stenographic notes, and finds no reason to reverse the Courts below.
Celocelo was charged in the information under Article 266-A, paragraph 1, in relation to Article 266-B, paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 8353.29
Carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following instances constitutes rape: (1) when force or intimidation is used; (2) when the woman is deprived of reason or is otherwise unconscious; and (3) when she is under twelve (12) years of age.30 In the case at bar, AAA gave categorical testimony that Celocelo was armed with a knife when he forced himself upon her, to wit:
Q: How did you come to know that he is made, very mad?
A: He pulled my hair.
Q: What else, if any?
A: He is also pointing to me a LANSETANG DIPINDOT on my right side.
Q: Now, after pulling your hair and pointing a knife at the right side of your body, what else did Rene Celocelo do?
A: He told me to undress myself.
Q: What did you do when Rene Celocelo [told] you to undress yourself?
A: Still I pleaded to him, continuosly pleading to him but he did the raped to me.
Q: And what happened after that?
A: And he removed my panty.
Q: How did he remove your panty?
A: While his left hand is pointing to me, at my right side of my body, he uses his other hand in removing the panty.
Q: After removing the panty, what else did he do?
A: GINALAW NA NIYA PO AKO, he inserted his private parts to my genital.31
It is evident from the foregoing that force with the use of a deadly weapon was in fact employed by Celocelo on AAA to accomplish his depraved desires that dawn. AAA pleaded for Celocelo to not abuse her but instead he threatened her and her family, to wit:
Q: Why did you not, at the time that Rene was dragging you towards the bathroom, why did you not shout and ask for help from your housemate?
A: Because, according to him if I will shout, he will not hesitate to kill me.
Q: How did you feel, when he uttered those words to you?
A: So, I kept silent fright and pleading to him.
Q: Why did you cry?
A: I only cried, sir, because I do not want that my brothers who are also inside the bedroom will be affected, or will be involved.
Q: Now, how did you feel when Rene Celocelo uttered those words to you?
A: PURO TAKOT NA PO. I am afraid, sir.
Q: From the time that Rene Celocelo was removing your Jogging Pants, or pulling down your Jogging Pants as well as your panty, why did you not shout and ask for help?
A: Because he is threatening me that he will kill me if I will shout including my brothers and sisters.32
Celocelo insists that both the RTC and the Court of Appeals erred in giving full weight and credence to AAA’s testimony, claiming that her testimony was incredible as the "manner as to how she was allegedly raped by [Celocelo] is patently incredible and contrary to human experience and observation."33
Celocelo makes much of the fact that in one part of AAA’s testimony, she said that during the sexual intercourse, her jogging pants and panty were only pulled down up to her ankles, while she was sitting on top of Celocelo, with her legs spread wide open.34 Celocelo however missed the more important fact that the RTC itself clarified this issue in the same testimony:
Court: By the way, while the accused was pulling you up and down, were you facing him or your face backwards of him?
A: I was facing.
Court: And at that time, you had your jogging pants down to your ankle?
A: Well, it was only the other pair of the jogging pants was not removed, the other one was completely removed.
Court: Do I understand correctly, that while the accused was doing the push and pull movement, you legs were open?
A: Yes, your Honor.35 (Emphasis ours.)
It is only human for AAA to not be able to readily narrate the exact details of her experience when questioned. The Court has in the past observed that "[i]t would not really be unusual for one to recollect a good number of things about an eventful incident but what should be strange is when one can put to mind everything."36 As this Court has time and again declared:
Etched in our jurisprudence is the doctrine that a victim of a savage crime cannot be expected to mechanically retain and then give an accurate account of every lurid detail of a frightening experience - a verity born out of human nature and experience. This is especially true with a rape victim who is required to utilize every fiber of her body and mind to repel an attack from a stronger aggressor. x x x.37
This error cannot impair the credibility of AAA especially since first, the imputed inconsistency or incredible testimony was later explained and clarified by no less than the RTC itself, and second, the RTC, who was in the best position to determine if AAA were indeed credible, believed her to be so, to wit:
The Court had been observant of the demeanor of the complainant and the accused in the course of the trial and found that the complainant was straightforward in denouncing the accused while the accused appeared impishly smiling as the complainant denounced him.38
We once again reiterate the time-honored maxim that the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses is entitled to the highest respect. It was the trial court that had the opportunity to observe the witnesses’ manner of testifying, their furtive glances, calmness, sighs and the scant or full realization of their oath.39
Celocelo also claims that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In rape cases, there are usually only two witnesses: the complainant and the accused. It is a settled rule that rape may be proven by the uncorroborated testimony of the offended victim, as long as her testimony is conclusive, logical and probable.40
As we have ascertained that AAA was a credible witness, it bears stressing that her lone testimony, which was also shown to be conclusive, logical, and probable, is enough to convict Celocelo of the crime of rape.
What is essential is that AAA categorically identified her attacker as Celocelo after she stated in open court and in her sworn statement that Celocelo dragged her by her hair into the comfort room outside her house, threatened her with a knife, undressed her, and then raped her. These are the fundamental points in her testimonies constitutive of the crime of rape.41
What AAA did after the rape is also telling. Immediately after the incident, she mindlessly walked towards the house of her sister and just cried on her doorstep. They then informed their parents about what happened, and without delay, they reported the incident to the Barangay office. On the very same day, AAA subjected herself to a thorough medico-legal examination. The foregoing actions of AAA, subsequent to the rape, overwhelmingly establish the truth of the charge of rape. They were spontaneous, impulsive and unpretentious.
Moreover, Celocelo has not shown any improper motive on the part of AAA for her to accuse him of rape. This Court has in many cases held that no young Filipina would publicly admit that she had been criminally abused and ravished, unless it is the truth, for it is her natural instinct to protect her honor.42
These facts were also found by the RTC, and stated in its decision, however short it may be. Borrowing the Court of Appeals’ words:
The assailed decision may not be the kind of judgment rendered to the satisfaction of the accused. But such is not enough to convince Us that it is flawed.43
The RTC based its decision on the transcript of stenographic notes, and all the documents collected during the course of the trial. It explained why it believed AAA to be a credible witness and even described Celocelo’s demeanor during the trial. It used settled principles, as established by this Court in its evaluation of the evidence and the records. The RTC cannot be faulted for its desire to be brief, concise, and straight to the point in penning its decision.
In fine, the prosecution was able to discharge its burden of proving Celocelo’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt under Article 266-A, paragraph 1, in relation to Article 266-B, paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code.
Civil indemnity ex delicto is mandatory upon a finding of the fact of rape.44 Moral damages are automatically awarded without need of further proof, because it is assumed that a rape victim has actually suffered moral injuries entitling the victim to such award.45 Taking into account the fact that the rape was attended with the use of a deadly weapon, a qualifying circumstance under Article 266-B, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code, an award of Thirty Thousand Pesos (₱30,000.00) as exemplary damages is justified. This kind of damages is intended to serve as deterrent to serious wrongdoings, as a vindication of undue sufferings and wanton invasion of the rights of an injured, or as punishment for those guilty of outrageous conduct. 46
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated February 28, 2006 finding Rene Celocelo GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE is AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Appellant is further ordered to pay private complainant exemplary damages in the amount of ₱30,000.00 plus interest at the rate of 6% per annum on ALL damages from the date of finality of this judgment. No Costs.
TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO
RENATO C. CORONA
|PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.
|MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO
JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ
C E R T I F I C A T I O N
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court’s Division.
RENATO C. CORONA
1 Rollo, pp. 2-20; penned by Associate Justice Vicente S.E. Veloso with Associate Justices Portia Aliño-Hormachuelos and Amelita G. Tolentino, concurring.
2 CA rollo, pp. 37-38; penned by Judge Bonifacio Sanz Maceda.
3 Records, p. 1.
4 Id. at 23.
5 Under Republic Act No. 9262 also known as "Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004" and its implementing rules, the real name of the victim and those of her immediate family members are withheld and fictitious initials are instead used to protect the victim’s privacy.
6 Records, p. 7.
7 TSN, March 9, 2001, p. 15.
8 Records, p. 142.
9 TSN, March 9, 2001, p. 17.
10 TSN, August 3, 2001, pp. 3-7.
11 Id. at 13.
12 TSN, November 7, 2001, pp. 10-11.
13 TSN, August 13, 2003, pp. 3-23.
14 TSN, March 25, 2004, pp. 9-13.
15 CA rollo, p. 38.
17 Id. at 52.
18 Id. at 59.
19 Id. at 61.
20 Article VIII, Section 14.
21 Rule 36, Section 1.
22 Rollo, p. 14.
23 Id. at 15.
24 Id. at 16.
25 Id. at 19.
26 People v. Suarez, 496 Phil. 231, 249 (2005).
27 People v. Antivola, 466 Phil. 394, 408 (2004).
28 People v. Bagaua, 442 Phil. 245, 250 (2002).
29 Records, p. 1.
30 People v. Erese, 346 Phil. 307, 314 (1997).
31 TSN, November 7, 2001, pp. 12-13.
32 Id. at 19-20.
33 CA rollo, p. 60.
34 TSN, December 7, 2001, p. 24.
35 Id. at 33.
36 People v. Mirafuentes, 402 Phil. 233, 242 (2001).
37 People v. Del Rosario, 398 Phil. 292, 301 (2000).
38 Rollo, p. 38.
39 People v. Fernandez, 426 Phil. 169, 173 (2002).
40 People v. Buenviaje, 408 Phil. 342, 354 (2001).
41 People v. Del Rosario, supra note 37.
42 People v. Santiago, 274 Phil. 847, 860 (1991).
43 Rollo, p. 15.
44 People v. Calongui, G.R. No. 170566, March 3, 2006, 484 SCRA 76, 88.
45 People v. Sabardan, G.R. No. 132135, May 21, 2004, 429 SCRA 9, 28-29.
46 People v. Macapanas, G.R. No. 187049, May 4, 2010.
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