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SECOND DIVISION

[G.R. Nos. 120437-41. July 16, 1997]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ARMANDO ALVARIO, Accused-Appellant.

D E C I S I O N

ROMERO, J.:

Is there fear so great as to mute a victim of sexual assault and blunt her natural instinct for self-preservation?

On January 21, 1993, Esterlina Quintero, a 29-year old single mother of a two-year old child,1 took time off her job as a housekeeper at Pasong Tirad, Makati, to look for another place of employment. For this purpose, she sought the help of a certain Aling Soling who accompanied her to a friends house at nearby San Miguel Village. While there was no vacancy at the latters residence, they learned from a neighbors maid that someone in Bel-Air Subdivision was looking for a house helper. After the usual introductions, Esterlina agreed to cook for and do the laundry of accused-appellant Armando Alvario for a monthly salary of P800.00. He told her that she could begin that very day, then took her to a big two-story house where the only other occupant was another maid by the name of Alma Barliso, who ushered Esterlina into her designated quarters near the kitchen at the ground floor.2 Alvario was a mere caretaker of the house.3chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

On her first day of employment, Esterlina went to bed on an empty stomach apparently because Alvario did not allow her to eat. The following day, she went through the motions of regular housework by preparing Alvarios meals, washing his clothes and doing other household chores, despite having been allowed to eat a mere two spoonsful of leftover food.4 Before leaving for work at seven oclock in the morning, Alvario gave strict instructions that Esterlina should not leave the house. He went home for lunch, returned to the office at one oclock leaving his new maid with the same directive not to leave the house, and arrived home at five oclock in the afternoon.5 As far as Esterlina could remember, this was his routine6 for the rest of her lonely sojourn in that house; lonely, because commencing that day and almost everyday for the next six days, by eight or nine oclock in the evening, when she had already retired, Alvario would barge into her room and force himself upon her.

His routine was simple: He would enter her room with a gun in his hand, order her to remove her clothes or take them off himself, and rape her for approximately five minutes.7 Esterlina did not make any outcry; neither did she struggle to protect her virtue.8 She did not relate her harrowing experience to the other maid, Alma.9 In fact, they did not speak to each other at all because that was Alvarios instruction. It did not cross her mind to use the telephone in the house to call up her sister,10 or to escape while he was at work because he apparently locked the gate and all the doors, or to even arm herself after the initial assault.11 She was numb with fear and shame because Alvario constantly threatened to file a case against her.12chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Finally mustering enough courage, she rang her sister Merlyn who resided in Malabon on January 28th,13 and the latter managed to come to her older sisters succor. With the help of her own employer, Merlyn informed the Makati Police that her sister was being held captive at No. 6 Hercules St., Bel-Air, Makati by a man who supposedly raped her. In coordination with the Bel-Air security guard, the police went to the said address and pretended that they found a wallet belonging to Esterlina. When Alvario and Esterlina opened the door, she immediately pointed to him as the man who raped her. Alvario was arrested right then and there without a warrant of arrest by the police,14 and was later charged with five counts of rape allegedly committed on January 22, 23, 25, 27 and 28, 1993.15chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Alvario expectedly told a different story. According to him, Esterlina was an aggressive woman who was generous in granting sexual favors in exchange for financial aid. Esterlina was introduced to him by a certain Dang who knew that his employer, Atty. Rogelio San Luis, was looking for a maid for the latters house at Bel-Air. He gave her the address and when he arrived home in the afternoon, Esterlina was already there with her things. When she learned that he was the caretaker of the house, she immediately asked if she could get a two-month advance on her stipulated monthly salary of P1,000.00, patting his thighs as she did so. He promised to take the matter up with his boss.16chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Atty. San Luis did not, however, report for work the following day, but Alvario still gave Esterlina the P2,000.00 she wanted and let her know it came from his own pocket.17 Moved by such generosity and kindness, Esterlina knocked at his door at around ten oclock that evening. Wearing nothing underneath her strapped lingerie,18 she offered him a cup of coffee. She lay the cup on the night table, held his hand, pressed his thighs, embraced him, then kissed him twice. Only then did Alvario respond by kissing back. She caressed his manhood, then ordered him to remove his pants and even assisted him in doing so. They kissed while he fondled her breasts and she groped for his organ. Noticing that he was fully aroused, she mounted and lowered herself upon him. Alvario asked her to slow down because he had hernia. They then shifted positions. After resting awhile, Esterlina engaged in foreplay to arouse him in preparation for their second round of sex. He slept well and when he woke up in the morning, she was no longer beside him.19 This episode was repeated regularly every night for the next six days.20chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Meanwhile, on January 26th, Esterlina gave him as tokens of her affection and gratitude, a panty embroidered with the words ESTER LOVE ARMAN21 and a handkerchief with ESTER22 sewn on it. The next day, Alvario confronted Esterlina and Alma about their use of the telephone, a subject he pursued till the next day. He also asked them about his missing money and necklace, but the two maids just pointed at each other. Later, Esterlina promised him that she would look for the missing items and warned him to leave because she believed Alma might create trouble.23 Bel-Air guards arrived that night and told him about a missing wallet that apparently belonged to Esterlina. He let them in and asked her to give them coffee. In the meantime, he went out to answer a call of nature. That was when four men who identified themselves as Makati policemen grabbed him from behind and told him that there was a complaint against him. They insisted that he come with them peacefully24 even as he kept asking for a warrant of arrest.25 At the police station, he learned that he was being detained on charges of rape; the complainant was, however, willing to settle the case for P350,000.00, but he refused to settle.26chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Merlyn Quintero corroborated in part Esterlinas story, that is, from the time the latter got in touch with her up to the time the police was accordingly notified.27 One of the members of the arresting team, SPO3 Ricardo Reyes, was also called to the witness stand to narrate the events leading to Alvarios arrest and investigation.28 The prosecution presented the findings of the National Bureau of Investigation Medico-Legal officer which showed nothing except that there was no evident sign of extragenital physical injuries.29chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

On January 27, 1995, Judge Arsenio J. Magpale of the Makati Regional Trial Court, Branch 57, rendered judgment finding Alvario guilty of five counts of rape, viz.:

WHEREFORE, finding accused ARMANDO ALVARIO guilty of the crime of Rape as charged in the five (5) separate Informations (Crim. Cases Nos. 93-871 to 93-875) beyond reasonable doubt, the Court sentences him to suffer the afflictive (sic) penalty of reclusion perpetua in each of the said Informations and to indemnify the private complainant the amount of P30,000.00 in each of the said Informations as moral damages. The period within which accused was detained shall be credited in his favor. Costs de oficio.

SO ORDERED.

This Court has declared often enough that, in order to sustain the conviction of an accused person, his guilt must be proven beyond reasonable doubt by the State with the prosecution relying on the strength of its evidence and not on the weakness of the defense.30 And while it is true that the trial courts conclusions as to the credibility of witnesses deserve respect and even finality on appeal, this rule admits of some exceptions, as in this case where the testimony of the complainant herself casts serious doubts on her sincerity and truthfulness.31 (T)o obviate the danger and impiety of falsehood, and to repel any influence that the story may have been a fabrication, every story of defloration must never be received with precipitate credulity.32 After a careful examination of the facts and the evidence in the case at bar, we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that while the defense is not persuasive enough, the prosecution is even less convincing in proving the guilt of Armando Alvario beyond a reasonable doubt. He must, consequently, be exonerated of all the charges against him and be set at liberty.

Rape is penalized in this jurisdiction under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code (the Code), which states thus:

ART. 335. When and how rape is committed. - Rape is committed by having carnal knowledge of a woman under any of the following circumstances:

1. By using force or intimidation:

x x x

In her complaints, Esterlina Quintero claimed that on several occasions in January 1993, she was sexually abused by Armando Alvario with the use of force, violence and intimidation. The latters defense was that they had an understanding and that what transpired between them was purely voluntary. Did the prosecution successfully prove the presence of force and intimidation, as contemplated by Article 335 of the Code? After scrutinizing the records of this case, we rule in the negative.

The only evidence proffered by the prosecution against Alvario are the testimonies of the victim herself and that of her sister and one of the arresting officers. Merlyn Quinteros testimony merely reiterated Esterlinas statement that the latter called her up on January 28, 1993, and sought her aid in the arrest of a man who allegedly raped her older sister. None of Merlyns declarations relating to the actual sexual assaults, as narrated by Esterlina, can be accepted by this Court for being purely hearsay. The same is true with the testimony of SPO3 Ricardo Reyes, who merely responded to a radio message that a certain Esterlina Quintero was raped by a man named Armando Alvario and eventually engineered the latters arrest. The medical report submitted by the prosecution and admitted by both parties reveals nothing that would prove a charge of rape and, in fact, even bolsters the defenses posture of consensual sex because of the finding therein that there was no evident sign of extragenital physical injuries. Thus, the only remaining piece of evidence upon which a conviction may be sustained is the testimony of the victim herself.

Admittedly, (r)ape is a very emotional word, and the natural human reactions to it are categorical: admiration and sympathy for the courageous female publicly seeking retribution for her outrageous violation, and condemnation of the rapist. However, being interpreters of the law and dispensers of justice, judges must look at a rape charge without those proclivities, and deal with it with extreme caution and circumspection. Judges must free themselves of the natural tendency to be overprotective of every woman decrying her having been sexually abused, and demanding punishment for the abuser. While they ought to be cognizant of the anguish and humiliation the rape victim goes through as she demands justice, judges should equally bear in mind that their responsibility is to render justice based on the law.33chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

In the case at bar, there are significant circumstances which, when taken together with the conflicting narration of facts of the protagonists, would greatly erode the credibility of the victim.34chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

First, the only witnesses she presented to corroborate her story were her sister Merlyn and SPO3 Reyes, whose testimonies, as earlier determined, failed to provide the necessary support to her allegations of rape. Although the choice of witnesses to present for trial is a matter of prosecutorial strategy and prerogative, the Court cannot help but wonder why the other maid, Alma Barliso, who by Esterlinas own account was always inside the house while she was allegedly being raped by Alvario, was never utilized as a witness.

Second, the house was not in an isolated place. Located in an exclusive subdivision in Makati surrounded by neighbors where sentinels continuously stood guard at the gate nearby, Esterlina could have easily yelled for help whenever Alvario was out of the house, assuming she could not leave because the gate and the doors were all barred. Even in this regard, her statements are unconvincing, for Alvario would not have repeatedly ordered her to stay in the house if he made sure prior to his leaving the house that escape was not possible.

Third, there is, of course, the element of seeming indifference to her predicament. Denied her supper on her first day of employment and allowed to eat a mere two spoonsful of leftover food the following day, that would have been sufficient warning to her that her employer was, to say the least, inconsiderate. Having been an experienced househelp for six of her twenty-nine years and a single mother for two years, one would expect her to bridle at such kind of treatment. It is not as if she were desperate for a job, as by her own narration, she came from Pasong Tirad where she also worked as a housekeeper when she met Aling Soling on January 21, 1993, supposedly to look for better employment opportunities. She had every chance to escape after the initial assault on January 22, 1993, but she chose to remain a captive. She could have searched for and used anything that could unlock the doors and gate of the house because Alvario was out of the house daily from seven in the morning until lunch time and from one until five in the afternoon. Failing in this, she could have prepared for any further assault from her employer by arming herself with practically anything in the house - a knife, a piece of wood or pipe, or even a frying pan. And what about Alma who was allegedly also victimized by Alvario? Having both been targets of sexual harassment, they could have plotted and devised a way of escaping whenever they were left alone, but they opted to succumb to their fear of Alvario by following his order that they should refrain even from speaking to each other while he was away. As we held in People v. Sinatao:35chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

... (A) ravished woman would instinctively call for help or at best flee from her lecherous captor to safer grounds when opportunities present themselves.

Fourth, she knew how and where to reach her younger sister Merlyn. There was a telephone in the house which she could have used to call anybody outside while Alvario was away, assuming that she was really trapped inside. In fact, it is this very same telephone which she used in contacting her sister Merlyn. But why did she decide to call for help only on January 28, 1993, when she had already been, according to her story, repeatedly raped? Why not earlier?

Finally, while it is difficult to believe that she remained passive through her ordeal, as if granting sexual favors was in her job description, it is much harder to accept that she could be so cowed into silence, submission and inaction by Alvarios threat that he would file a case against her, the nature of which she did not even bother to divulge or elaborate upon. In fact, it is only her dread of this threat that purportedly kept her at bay even in Alvarios absence. What possible cause of action could Alvario have that would make her a veritable martyr? While she did not reveal any ostensible reason, Alvario testified that he confronted Esterlina and Alma about his missing money and necklace, but neither admitted the theft. The threat of criminal prosecution for theft is the only plausible cause for the self-imposed silence of the two girls.

With these facts in mind, as narrated by the victim herself, our query at the outset can finally be resolved with moral certainty. Is there fear so great as to mute a victim of sexual assault and blunt her natural instinct for self-preservation? In Esterlina Quinteros case, the answer indicated is in the negative.

In convicting Alvario, the court a quo totally rejected his claim that he and Esterlina had an understanding and, instead, relied on the presumption that a Filipina of decent repute would not concoct a charge of rape if it were not true and if she had motivations other than to seek justice. As the Court declared in Godoy:36chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

It frequently happens that in a particular case two or more presumptions are involved. Sometimes the presumptions conflict, one tending to demonstrate the guilt of the accused and the other his innocence. In such case, it is necessary to examine the basis for each presumption and determine what logical or social basis exists for each presumption, and then determine which should be regarded as the more important and entitled to prevail over the other. It must, however, be remembered that the existence of a presumption indicating guilt does not in itself destroy the presumption against innocence unless the inculpating presumption, together with all of the evidence, or the lack of any evidence or explanation, is sufficient to overcome the presumption of innocence by proving the defendants guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Until the defendants guilt is shown in this manner, the presumption of innocence continues.

The rationale for the presumption of guilt in rape cases has been explained in this wise:

In rape cases especially, much credence is accorded the testimony of the complaining witness, on the theory that she will not choose to accuse her attacker at all and subject herself to the stigma and indignities her accusation will entail unless she is telling the truth. x x x Whatever the outcome of the case, she will remain a tainted woman, a pariah because her purity has been lost, albeit through no fault of hers. This is why many a rape victim chooses instead to keep quiet, suppressing her helpless indignation rather than denouncing her attacker. This is also the reason why, if a woman decides instead to come out openly and point to her assailant, courts are prone to believe that she is telling the truth regardless of its consequences. x x x.

The presumption of innocence, on the other hand, is founded upon the first principles of justice, and is not a mere form but a substantial part of the law. It is not overcome by mere suspicion or conjecture; a probability that the defendant committed the crime; nor by the fact that he had the opportunity to do so. Its purpose is to balance the scales in what would otherwise be an uneven contest between the lone individual pitted against the People and all the resources at their command. Its inexorable mandate is that, for all the authority and influence of the prosecution, the accused must be acquitted and set free if his guilt cannot be proved beyond the whisper of a doubt. This is in consonance with the rule that conflicts in evidence must be resolved upon the theory of innocence rather then upon a theory of guilt when it is possible to do so. (Underscoring supplied; citations omitted)

In effect, the defense advanced the so-called sweetheart theory, where the accused does not deny the sexual encounter but claims that it is consensual because he has an existing relationship with the supposed victim. Although the Court finds this theory intrinsically weak, there may be instances where the same is applicable, such as if there is a strong possibility that the accused and the victim may, indeed, be intimately related, except that such relationship may have been strained due to extraneous circumstances, for instance, loss of trust and threat of criminal prosecution, as in the case at bar.37 Alvarios claim of innocence is further buttressed by his submission of proofs of affection or understanding between him and Esterlina in the form of her undergarment embroidered with the words ESTER LOVE ARMAN and handkerchief bearing the name of ESTER.38chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Finally, the Court notes that during the trial, Alvario consistently protested his warrantless arrest. Suffice it to say that his arrest falls within the purview of Rule 113, Section 5(b) of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, viz.:

Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. - A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

xxx

(b) When an offense has in fact just been committed, and he has personal knowledge of facts indicating that the person to be arrested has committed it; x x x. (Underscoring supplied)

The personal knowledge of the arresting officers in the case at bar was culled from the information supplied by the victim herself who pointed to Alvario as the man who raped her at the time of his arrest.39chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

WHEREFORE, the assailed judgment of the trial court in Criminal Case Nos. 93-871-875, dated January 27, 1995, is hereby REVERSEDandSET ASIDE. Accused-appellant ARMANDO ALVARIO is hereby ACQUITTED of all charges against him on ground of reasonable doubt, and his IMMEDIATE RELEASE from prison is hereby ORDERED, unless he is otherwise detained for any other lawful or valid cause. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Regalado, (Chairman), Puno, and Mendoza,, JJ., concur.

Torres, Jr., J., on leave.

Endnotes:


1 TSN, May 6, 1994, pp. 15, 17.

2 TSN, February 14, 1994, pp. 3-9.

3 TSN, May 6, 1994, p. 17.

4 TSN, February 14, 1994, pp. 11-13.

5 Ibid., pp. 14-15.

6 Id.; TSN, March 28, 1994, pp. 4, 14-15, 21-22, 30, 32-33.

7 TSN, March 28, 1994, pp. 6-12, 16-20, 29, 33.

8 Ibid., pp. 10, 17.

9 Id., p. 20.

10 Id., p. 22, 31.

11 TSN, May 6, 1994, pp. 29-30; March 28, 1994, p. 23.

12 Ibid., p. 29; pp. 7, 14.

13 TSN, March 28, 1994, p. 34; June 13, 1994, p. 4.

14 TSN, June 13, 1994, pp. 5-17.

15 Records, pp. 1-14; Rollo, pp. 7-11.

16 TSN, July 15, 1994, pp. 5-13.

17 Ibid., pp. 18-21.

18 Id., pp. 22-23.

19 Id., pp. 23-28.

20 Id., pp. 28-43, 48.

21 Exhibit 1.

22 Exhibit 2.

23 TSN, July 15, 1994, pp. 41-47.

24 Ibid., pp. 48-52.

25 Id., pp. 51-52.

26 Id., pp. 53-54.

27 TSN, June 13, 1994, pp. 4-7.

28 Ibid., pp. 14-15.

29 Living Case No. MG-93-112 dated January 29, 1993, by Dr. Ruperto J. Somblon, Jr.; Exhibit B, Records, p. 86.

30 People v. Ulpindo, 256 SCRA 201 (1996); People v. Cartuano, Jr., 255 SCRA 403 (1996).

31 People v. Subido, 253 SCRA 196 (1996); People v. Godoy, 250 SCRA 676 (1996), citing Amante, et al. v. Court of Appeals, et al., 155 SCRA 46 (1987).

32 Ulpindo, supra.

33 Godoy, supra., citing People v. Herrick, 187 SCRA 364 (1990).

34 People v. Tiwaken, 213 SCRA 701 (1992).

35 249 SCRA 554 (1996).

36 Supra.

37 Ibid.

38 Inversely applying People v. Laray, 253 SCRA 654 (1996).

39 People v. Madriaga, 211 SCRA 698 (1992).




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