G.R. No. 174480 - People of the Philippines v. Reynaldo Albalate, Jr.
[G.R. NO. 174480 : December 18, 2009]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. REYNALDO ALBALATE, JR., Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
DEL CASTILLO, J.:
Appellant Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. was charged with two counts of rape committed against his niece "Maria".1 The accusatory portions of the two Informations read as follows:
Crim. Case No. 3169-C:
That on or about the evening of the 21st day of November 1998, at Barangay _____________, Municipality of Lopez, Province of Quezon, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, an uncle and a relative by consanguinity within the third civil degree of one "Maria", with lewd design, by means of force, threats and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of said "Maria", a minor, 12 years of age against her will.
Contrary to law.2
Crim. Case No. 3170-C:
That on or about the 21st day of November, 1998 at around 8:00 o'clock in the morning, at Barangay ___________, Municipality of Lopez, Province of Quezon, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, an uncle and a relative by consanguinity within the third civil degree of one "Maria", armed with an ice-pick, with lewd design, by means of force, threats and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of one "Maria", a minor, 12 years of age against her will.
Contrary to law.3
Appellant pleaded "not guilty" when arraigned. Trial on the merits thereafter ensued.
Ruling of the Regional Trial Court
On July 24, 2002, the Regional Trial Court of Calauag, Quezon, Branch 63, rendered its Decision4 finding the appellant guilty. The trial court based its judgment of conviction on the following factual findings:
This Court painstakingly scrutinized with great caution the testimony of private complainant x x x and found the same to be clear, straightforward, credible and convincing. At the time when the rape incidents happened [on] November 21, 1998, the victim x x x was, as alleged by the prosecution, just a twelve (12) years old barrio lass living in the house of her paternal grandparents in Barangay x x x, Quezon. It was in the said house where she was forcibly deflowered by her uncle Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. on two separate incidents that transpired on that fateful day of November 21, 1998. "Maria" candidly testified that in the morning of the said day while she was alone in the house of her grandparents, the accused Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. armed with an ice pick forcibly removed her dress and placed himself on top of her. Afterwards, Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. inserted his penis in her private part and at the same time kissed and warned her that if she will tell x x x anybody what he had done to her, he will kill her x x x. She added that on the evening of the same day (November 21, 1998) the accused Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. first boxed her, then undressed her and once again put himself on top of her and proceeded to rape her. "Maria" reported the rape incidents to her grandmother x x x who is also the mother of the accused x x x but her grandmother told her that she x x x was lying x x x. When asked by the Court x x x whether she offered resistance when she was raped by the accused x x x, the victim x x x averred that "nagpapalag po ako" x x x. In the course of the cross-examination conducted by the defense counsel, the victim x x x even disclosed that when she was raped by the accused x x x in the morning of November 21, 1998, she was alone in her grandmother's house because she told her cousin Ruel x x x to tend [to] the carabao. She added that when her cousin Ruel came back, the latter saw that she was being raped by the accused x x x. She also categorically testified that when the accused proceeded to rape her, there was bleeding in her vagina and she was hurt. When she urinated, it was very painful. She pointed out that the subject rape incident was her first sexual experience x x x.
On the other hand, the accused in order to exculpate himself from the crime charged in the two Informations interposed the defense of denial and alibi. Accused x x x denied that he twice raped the victim x x x at about 8:00 o'clock in the morning and about 9:00 o'clock in the evening of November 21, 1998 x x x. He also claimed that the parents of the victim x x x were mad at him that is why they filed the instant cases against him. Reynaldo explained that when they were young, the victim's father was angry with him because of the sharing of copras in their farm. One day, they had a fight and "Maria's" father chased and boxed him so he boxed the former. [The other defense witness, Florentina Escleto, tried to bolster the alleged innocence of the accused of the crimes.] The said witness tried to establish the defense of alibi in favor of the accused x x x. She testified that when the subject incidents of rape happened on November 21, 1998 at Barangay x x x, Quezon, the accused x x x was with her and her son making copra at Barangay Ilayang Ilog-B, Lopez, Quezon. She added that accused x x x arrived at Brgy. Ilayang Ilog-B on November 18, 1998 and only left said Barangay at the end of the month of November 1998 x x x. This Court carefully scrutinized and weighed the defense of denial and alibi proffered by the accused and was not persuaded by the same. The denial and alibi of the accused deserve scant consideration. x x x
In the case at bar, accused x x x was positively identified in a straightforward and categorical manner by the victim x x x as the defiler of her womanhood on two occasions on x x x November 21, 1998. Thus, the denial and alibi interposed by the accused wilted and crumbled in the face of such positive identification. It is also quite interesting x x x that when the accused x x x testified in open court x x x, he only advanced the defense of flat denial. He never mentioned x x x that when the alleged rape incidents happened on November 21, 1998 x x x he was at Brgy. Ilayang Ilog-B, Lopez, Quezon helping Florentina Escleto and her son in making copra. It was only when Florentina Escleto testified x x x that the evidence of alibi cropped up. No other witnesses were presented by the defense to bolster the alibi. Even the son of Florentina Escleto who she claimed was with her and accused x x x in making copra at Brgy. Ilayang Ilog-B, Lopez, Quezon on November 21, 1998 was not presented to shore up the defense of alibi. Thus, it is not hard for this Court to discern that the accused's defenses of denial and alibi were mere concoction, undeserving of any evidentiary weight and value.
It is also [worth noting] that the accused x x x tried to impute ill-motive on the part of the victim x x x and her parents for filing the instant cases against him. He claimed that the parents of the victim particularly the victim's father was mad at him because when they were still young, they had a fight wherein he hacked the former. However, the said allegation of the accused was not fully substantiated by any other evidence that would clearly show the alleged ill-motive on the part of the complainant and her parents. Further, to the mind of this Court, it is inconceivable that the victim x x x and her parents would concoct a story of rape over such alleged quarrel between the victim's father and the accused and thus subject "Maria" to public humiliation and shame. x x x.5
x x x
Again, it is worth repeating that this Court found the testimony of private complainant x x x to be clear, straightforward and convincing thus, worthy of credence. She categorically testified that accused x x x through force and intimidation ha[d] carnal knowledge of her against her will on two separate occasions that occurred in the morning and in the evening of November 21, 1998 x x x.6
The trial court noted that although the prosecution satisfactorily established that appellant was a relative of the victim by consanguinity within the 3rd civil degree, it however failed to prove the victim's minority. It held that while the victim testified that she was only 12 years old when the rape incidents transpired, the same could not be deemed conclusive and binding upon the court because no other evidence such as a birth certificate was presented to corroborate or substantiate the victim's minority.7
The dispositive portion of the Decision of the trial court reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of all the foregoing considerations, this Court hereby finds accused Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE both in Criminal Case No. 3169-C and Criminal Case No. 3170-C and hereby sentences said accused to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA in both cases and to pay the private offended party "Maria" the amount of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (
P50,000.00) as civil indemnity plus the amount of FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS ( P50,000.00) as moral damages in each case.
The accused is to be credited [for] his preventive imprisonment if proper and any pursuant to the provision of Article 29 of the Revised Penal Code as amended by R.A. 6127 and E.O. 214.
Ruling of the Court of Appeals
On appeal, appellant mainly argued that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt and thus the trial court erred in finding him guilty of two counts of rape. Appellant claimed that he could not have raped the victim because the examining physician testified that "Maria" did not suffer any hymenal lacerations. Appellant also alleged that the trial court failed to consider the fact that the victim had ill-motives to testify against him considering that the victim's father had a previous quarrel with the appellant. The defense also argued that the veracity of the victim's testimony was weakened by the prosecution's failure to present the testimony of Ruel, the victim's cousin, to corroborate the testimony of the victim.
The Court of Appeals, however, did not find merit in appellant's contentions. Thus, in its Decision9 dated May 3, 2006, the Court of Appeals affirmed in toto10 the Decision of the trial court.
The appellate court did not dignify appellant's defenses of denial and alibi in view of the fact that he was positively identified by the victim as the perpetrator of the crime. Appellant's imputation of ill-motives was also disregarded. The Court of Appeals opined that "no member of the victim's family would subject the victim to the stigma and embarrassment concomitant with a rape trial, if he or she is not motivated by an honest desire to have the malefactor punished". Anent the findings of the examining physician that the victim suffered no hymenal lacerations, the Court of Appeals opined that the same did not mean that the victim was not raped. It held that a medical examination is not indispensable in rape cases. The perpetrator of the crime may be found guilty based solely on the testimony of the victim if the same is found to be credible. Finally, the Court of Appeals held that the veracity of the prosecution's evidence was not diminished by its failure to present the testimony of Ruel which would only be corroborative.
As regards the penalties imposed by the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that:
With respect to the propriety of the penalty imposed, the Court agrees with the finding of the RTC that there is no concurrence of the aggravating circumstances of the victim's minority and her relationship to the accused-appellant which would warrant the imposition of the death penalty. Hence, accused-appellant was properly meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua in Criminal Case No. 3169-C. On the other hand, the Court noted that the rape under Criminal Case No. 3170-C was committed with the use of an ice pick, which is a deadly weapon. Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code provides that "whenever the rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon x x x, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death". In relation thereto, Article 63 of the same Code prescribes that when a penalty is composed of two (2) indivisible penalties, and there are neither mitigating nor aggravating circumstances in the commission of the deed, as in this case, the lesser penalty shall be applied. Accordingly, no reversible error was likewise committed by the RTC in imposing the penalty of reclusion perpetua against accused-appellant in the latter case.11
On November 20, 2006, we required the parties to submit their respective supplemental briefs12 but both manifested that they are adopting the allegations and arguments in their respective appellant's/appellee's briefs and would thus no longer submit their supplemental briefs.13
We AFFIRM with MODIFICATION the Decision of the Court of Appeals.
Guided by the principles that: "a) an accusation for rape is easy to make, difficult to prove and even more difficult to disprove; b) in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime, the testimony of the complainant must be scrutinized with utmost caution and c) the evidence of the prosecution must stand on its own merits and cannot draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense",14 we hold that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals correctly found appellant guilty of two counts of rape committed on November 21, 1998.
Findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are accorded great weight and respect.
The trial court found the testimony of "Maria" to be clear, straightforward and credible. Thus:
This Court painstakingly scrutinized with great caution the testimony of private complainant "Maria" in the cases at bar and found the same to be clear, straightforward, credible and convincing.15 x x x.
x x x
Again, it is worth repeating that this Court found the testimony of private complainant "Maria" to be clear, straightforward and convincing thus, worthy of credence. She categorically testified that accused Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. through force and intimidation ha[d] carnal knowledge of her against her will on two separate incidents that occurred in the morning and in the evening of November 21, 1998 x x x.16
On appeal, said finding was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
We find no reason to deviate from the said findings. "In rape cases, the evaluation of the credibility of witnesses is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial judge whose conclusion thereon deserves much weight and respect, because the judge has the direct opportunity to observe them on the stand and ascertain whether they are telling the truth or not."17 We have "long adhered to the rule that findings of the trial court on the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are accorded great respect unless it overlooked substantial facts and circumstances, which if considered, would materially affect the result of the case".18
Jurisprudence is replete with rulings that an appellant could justifiably be convicted based solely on the credible testimony of the victim. Besides, there is nothing in the records which would indicate that the trial court and the Court of Appeals overlooked or failed to appreciate some facts which if considered would change the outcome of the case.
The prosecution failed to satisfactorily establish the minority of the victim.
The Informations alleged that "Maria" was a 12-year old minor when she was ravished by her uncle, a relative by consanguinity within the 3rd civil degree. The prosecution's evidence as to the age of the victim constituted merely of the victim's testimony. We find this bare testimony insufficient proof of her age. As we held in People v. Manalili,19 "the minority of the victim and her relationship to the offender must be alleged in the criminal complaint or information and proved conclusively and indubitably as the crime itself". We also ruled in People v. Tabanggay20 that -
x x x there must be independent evidence proving the age of the victim, other than the testimonies of prosecution witnesses and the absence of denial by the accused. x x x
As such, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals correctly held that the minority of the victim was not satisfactorily established. Corollarily, we held in
People v. Lopit21 that:
In the prosecution of criminal cases, especially those involving the extreme penalty of death, nothing but proof beyond reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which an accused is charged must be established. Qualifying circumstances or special qualifying circumstances must be proved with equal certainty and clearness as the crime itself; otherwise, there can be no conviction of the crime in its qualified form. As a qualifying circumstance of the crime of rape, the concurrence of the victim's minority and her relationship to the accused-appellant must be both alleged and proven beyond reasonable doubt.22
We also reiterate the guidelines set forth in People v. Pruna23 in appreciating the age, either as an element of the crime or as a qualifying circumstance, viz:
1. The best evidence to prove the age of the offended party is an original or certified true copy of the certificate of live birth of such party.
2. In the absence of a certificate of live birth, similar authentic documents such as baptismal certificate and school records which show the date of birth of the victim would suffice to prove age.
3. If the certificate of live birth or authentic document is shown to have been lost or destroyed or otherwise unavailable, the testimony, if clear and credible, of the victim's mother or a member of the family either by affinity or consanguinity who is qualified to testify on matters respecting pedigree such as the exact age or date of birth of the offended party pursuant to Section 40, Rule 130 of the Rules on Evidence shall be sufficient under the following circumstances:
A. If the victim is alleged to be below 3 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 7 years old;
b. If the victim is alleged to be below 7 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 12 years old;
c. If the victim is alleged to be below 12 years of age and what is sought to be proved is that she is less than 18 years old.
4. In the absence of a certificate of live birth, authentic document or the testimony of the victim's mother or relatives concerning the victim's age, the complainant's testimony will suffice provided that it is expressly and clearly admitted by the accused.
5. It is the prosecution that has the burden of proving the age of the offended party. The failure of the accused to object to the testimonial evidence regarding age shall not be taken against him.
6. The trial court should always make a categorical finding as to the age of the victim.
Appellant's denial and alibi deserve no consideration at all.
When appellant took the witness stand, he denied that he raped the victim. However, other than his self-serving testimony, he offered no evidence to support his denial. We have held that, "denial, if unsubstantiated by clear and convincing evidence, is a negative and self-serving evidence, which deserves no weight in law and cannot be given greater evidentiary value over the testimonies of credible witnesses who testify on affirmative matters".24 In this case, appellant's denial crumbles under the weight of "Maria's" positive identification of appellant as her lecherous attacker.
Likewise, we afford no evidentiary value to appellant's claim that the filing of the rape charges was orchestrated by the victim's parents, particularly her father who allegedly harbored ill-feelings towards appellant. Other than the fact that this claim was unsubstantiated, we find appellant's claim too general to be believed. He merely claimed that he fought with the victim's father when they were both still young. But he failed to provide any detail as to when this alleged incident happened.
The alibi proffered by the appellant must be rejected. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals correctly noted that appellant failed to make any mention about this alleged alibi when he was placed on the witness stand. It was only when defense witness Florentina Escleto (Escleto) testified that this alibi cropped up. At any rate, the same deserves no consideration at all. Escleto claimed to be a friend of the appellant. It is settled jurisprudence that an alibi "becomes less plausible when it is corroborated by relatives and friends who may not be impartial witnesses".25 Much less in the instant case considering that appellant himself did not proffer any alibi; it was only Escleto who thought of offering this defense of alibi. Besides, the defense failed to establish that it was physically impossible for the appellant to be at the crime scene at the time the rape incidents were committed.
Propriety of the penalties imposed.
The rape incidents were committed on November 21, 1998 and thus are governed by Articles 266-A and 266-B of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 8353 which took effect on October 22, 1997. Articles 266-A and 266-B of the Revised Penal Code read thus:
ART. 266-A. Rape, When and How Committed. - Rape is committed'
1. By a man who shall have carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:
a) Through force, threat or intimidation;
b) When the offended party is deprived of reason or is otherwise unconscious;
c) By means of fraudulent machinations 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 should be present;
x x x
ART. 266-B. Penalties. - Rape under paragraph 1 of the next preceding article shall be punished by reclusion perpetua.
Whenever the rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or by two or more persons, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death.
x x x
The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following aggravating/qualifying circumstances:
1. When the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common law spouse of the parent of the victim.
x x x x.
Due to the failure of the prosecution to prove the qualifying circumstance of minority, appellant could only be held liable for simple rape on two counts. Thus, the trial court and the Court of Appeals correctly sentenced appellant to reclusion perpetua and to pay the amounts of
P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages for each count of rape.26 In addition, the award of exemplary damages in the amount of P30,000.0027 is proper considering the presence of the aggravating circumstance of relationship.28
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Court of Appeals dated May 3, 2006 in CA-G.R. CR No. 00213 finding appellant Reynaldo Albalate, Jr. guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of rape and sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay "Maria" the amounts
P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P50,000.00 as moral damages, for each count, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that appellant is further ordered to pay the amount of P30,000.00 as exemplary damages, for each count of rape.
* Per Special Order No. 775 dated November 3, 2009.
** Additional member per Special Order No. 776 dated November 3, 2009.
1 The identity of the victim or any information to establish or compromise her identity, as well as those of her immediate family or household members, shall be withheld pursuant to Republic Act No. 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, and for Other Purposes; Republic Act No. 9262, An Act Defining Violence Against Women and Their Children, Providing for Protective Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefor, and for Other Purposes; and Section 40 of A.M. No. 04-10-11-SC, known as the rule on Violence Against Women and Their Children, effective November 5, 2004.
2 CA rollo, pp. 16-17.
3 Id. at 18-19.
4 Id. at 25-41; penned by Judge Mariano A. Morales, Jr.
5 Id. at 34-36.
6 Id. at 38.
7 Id. at 39-40.
8 Id. at 40-41.
9 Id. at 131-137; penned by Associate Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and concurred in by Associate Justices Remedios A. Salazar-Fernando and Hakim S. Abdulwahid.
10 The dispositive portion of the Decision of the Court of Appeals reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED and the assailed Decision dated July 24, 2002 of the RTC of Calauag, Quezon, Branch 63, is hereby AFFIRMED in toto.
11 CA rollo, pp. 136-137.
12 Rollo, p. 10.
13 Id. at 11-12 & 13-15.
14 People v. Manalili, G.R. No. 184598, June 23, 2009.
15 CA rollo, p. 34.
16 Id. at 38.
17 People v. Manalili, supra note 14.
20 390 Phil. 67, 91 (2000).
21 G.R. No. 177742, December 17, 2008, 574 SCRA 372.
22 Id. at 383.
23 439 Phil. 440, 471 (2002).
24 People v. Manalili, supra note 14.
26 Id. See People v. Araojo, G.R. No. 185203, September 17, 2009; People v. Arcosiba, G.R. No. 181081, September 4, 2009; People v. Gragasin, G.R. No. 186496, August 25, 2009.
27 People v. Manalili, supra note 14.
28 Article 2230 of the Civil Code provides: In criminal offenses, exemplary damages as a part of the civil liability may be imposed when the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances. Such damages are separate and distinct from fines and shall be paid to the offended party.
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