G. R. Nos. 137297 & 138547-48 - December 11, 2001
THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. RICARDO AGRAVANTE y ZANTUA, Accused-Appellant.
These cases are here on automatic appeal from the decision,1 dated October 16, 1998, of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 40, Daet, Camarines Sur, finding accused-appellant Ricardo Agravante guilty of three counts of rape committed against his daughter Maria and sentencing him in each case to death and to pay the victim the sum of P50,000.00 as moral damages.
The facts are as follows:
On November 26, 1994, the Provincial Prosecutor of Camarines Norte filed three informations for rape against accused-appellant in the RTC, Branch 40 of Daet, Camarines Norte. Except for the allegations of the dates and times of the rapes, the informations in the three cases, docketed as Criminal Case Nos. 8430-32, were similarly worded. They alleged --
Thereafter, the cases were jointly tried. The prosecution presented as its witnesses the complainant, Maria Agravante; Dr. Marcelito Abas, the medico-legal officer of the Camarines Norte Provincial Hospital; and Adelina Racho.
Maria testified that she was born on August 27, 1980, the child of accused-appellant by his wife, Evelyn Vargas.4 In 1994, she was a freshman at the Matacong (San Lorenzo Ruiz National) High School located seven kilometers from their house in Matacong, San Lorenzo Ruiz, Camarines Norte. Because of the distance of their house to the high school, Maria stayed in a boarding house owned by Adelina Racho, going home only on Saturday mornings.
Maria testified that on the night of November 5, 1994, she was home with her father, herein accused-appellant, and the latters ward, Gary Fraga. Accused-appellant and Gary Fraga slept in the living room, while Maria slept in her room. Accused-appellants common-law wife, Virginia Bangayciso, had gone to a dance party. At around 7 oclock in the evening, Maria woke up to find accused-appellant on top of her. She tried to push him, but accused-appellant proved too strong for her. She was slapped and then forced to have sexual intercourse with accused-appellant. After he was through, accused-appellant left. Maria lighted a lamp and went to the kitchen, where she washed off blood and a whitish substance from her private parts. She then returned to her bedroom and went to sleep. At around midnight, however, accused-appellant was back and raped her again. She tried to resist him, but he punched her on the thighs. The following day, Maria returned to her boarding house. She saw the owner, Adelina Racho, but did not tell her what had happened for fear of her father.
On November 19, 1994, Maria came home for the weekend. Because she did not arrive until noon, she was scolded and given some lashes by accused-appellant. After lunch, her fathers common-law wife left to attend a birthday party in a place about a kilometer away from their house. On the pretext that he wanted her to pick lice from his hair, accused-appellant assaulted her when she came to him. Maria pleaded with him, reminding him, "I am your daughter, why are you doing this to me?," but her pleas fell on deaf ears. Accused-appellant just the same raped her. After he was through, accused-appellant left and went to fetch his common-law wife, leaving his daughter sobbing. He returned with his common-law wife at 4 oclock in the afternoon.
Maria did not tell anyone about her misfortune until November 26, 1994, when she told Susan Racho, the daughter of the owner of the boarding house, that she was not going home that weekend because of what had happened to her. Susan told Marias story to her mother, Adelina Racho, who took Maria to Danny Manabat, a minister of the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK). Manabat and Enrico Amor, a police captain, in turn took them to the Philippine National Police headquarters at Camp Wenceslao Q. Vinzons in Dogongan, Daet, Camarines, where she gave a sworn statement (Exh. A).5 Maria was examined at the Camarines Provincial Hospital.6 The results of her examination (Exh. C) showed the following:
According to the examining physician, Dr. Marcelito Abas, the three hymenal lacerations could have been caused by the "forcible penetration" of a "turgid or erected penis." He explained that the "old lacerations" were at least five to seven days old since lacerations heal after three days. As for the absence of sperm, Dr. Abas opined that the same might have been washed away during urination.8
Adelina Racho was the last prosecution witness to testify. She was a day care worker at the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) and Maria was a boarder in their house located near the high school where Maria was studying. According to Adelina Racho, she was told that Maria did not want to go home on November 26, 1994, and that when she inquired about the reason, she was told it was because Maria had been raped by her father. Adelina Racho said she took Maria to the PNP at Camp Wenceslao Q. Vinzons, where they gave their statements. She said it was Marias decision to have a medical examination at the Provincial Hospital. Afterwards, Maria went to live with INK elder Danny Manabat until the DSWD in Sorsogon, Sorsogon took custody of her.9
The defense presented as witnesses Marias high school adviser, Rosalia Merca; the barangay captain of Guinobatan, Bacud, Camarines Norte, Noel Gadil; accused-appellant; and the latters neighbor, Lilia Fraga Medollar.
Rosalia Merca affirmed her certification (Exh. 1),10 dated November 28, 1994, that in 1994, Maria was absent from class six times in September, i.e., September 7, 8, 12, 13, 24, and 26, four times in October, i.e., October 4, 5, 6, and 17, and eight times in November, i.e., November 2, 3, 4, 11, 16, 18, 25, and 28.11
Barangay Captain Noel Gadil affirmed the certification (Exh. 2)12 he issued on January 8, 1997 to the effect that there was no dance party held in his barangay on November 5, 1994.13
Testifying in his behalf, accused-appellant Ricardo Agravante stated that after he and Marias mother, Evelyn Vargas, had separated in 1985, Maria remained in his custody. From February to November 20, 1994, he worked as a laborer of the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) assigned to a job site in the municipality of San Lorenzo Ruiz. He and his common-law wife, Virginia Bangayciso, and Maria lived in a resettlement area 50 kilometers away. Accused-appellant claimed that he stayed at the job site from Monday to Saturday and went home only when shuttle service was available. For this reason, he seldom saw Maria, who came home from the boarding house only on weekends. Accused-appellant estimated the boarding house to be eight kilometers from his house at barangay Matacong.
Accused-appellant denied having raped his daughter. He claimed that she filed rape charges against him because she was given lashes by him on November 19, 1994. He said he did this only because she did not attend school and joined the Iglesia ni Kristo and seldom came home. Accused-appellant claimed that after he had punished Maria, a friend fetched him and his common-law wife to attend a neighbors party. Accused-appellant admitted that in the evening of November 5 and 19, 1994, he slept in their house. He claimed, however, that Maria slept in a separate room which had a lock. He said he only came to know about the charges against him in the evening of November 26, 1994 when the police took him for questioning.14
Lilia Fraga Medollar was a neighbor of the Agravantes. She corroborated accused-appellants claim that in the afternoon of November 19, 1994, she fetched accused-appellant and the latters common-law wife and the three of them went to a birthday party of the child of a neighbor, Pacita Catayon, staying there until 8 oclock in the evening. Lilia Fraga Medollar belied Marias testimony that her (Lilias) son Gary Fraga15 slept in the house of the Agravantes the night of November 5, 1994, because, according to her, she took her son from them on October 25, 1994, after he had run away from home.16
On October 16, 1998, the trial court rendered its decision, the dispositive portion of which reads:
On December 13, 1999, accused-appellant filed a motion for new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence based on an affidavit executed by his niece, Criselda Agravante, on November 27, 1999. In her affidavit, Criselda stated that, like Maria, she was recruited into the INK and persuaded by Adelina Racho to work as a househelp because she might just become the victim of incestuous rape which was the "trend of the times"; that she stayed in Adelina Rachos house until her father Roberto came to take her; that in several conversations, Maria told her how much she enjoyed her membership in the INK and how she hated her "stepmother," who beat her, and her father, who did not protect her from being abused; and that she knew that Maria had been sleeping with her boyfriend Niño.
In its resolution of January 25, 2000, this Court denied accused-appellants motion for new trial on the ground that the affidavit did not constitute newly discovered evidence. It was explained:
Accused-appellant then filed his brief in which he alleged that --
I. The sole issue presented by accused-appellant concerns the credibility of complainant Maria Agravante.
A. Accused-appellant contends that Maria Agravante simply concocted the rape charges against him. He says that his daughter was bitter towards him because he gave her lashes when he learned that she had been skipping classes in order to attend INK activities. Proof of this, he claims, is the fact that it was an INK member, Adelina Racho, who helped his daughter lodge a complaint in the PNP.
We find the contention to be without merit. First of all, as pointed out by the Solicitor General, the members of the INK who helped Maria file charges against accused-appellant are responsible members of the community: Adelina Racho is a day care worker of the DSWD, Danilo Manabat is an INK minister, while Enrico Amor is a police captain. If they helped Maria, it was because, as she said, she did not have any relative to help her.20 Indeed, the claim that Maria had been "brainwashed" into filing the charges is belied by her steadfastness in seeking the prosecution of her father even after she was no longer living in the house of INK minister Danny Manabat and her refusal to give in to pressure from her relatives to desist.21 Second, when Maria was asked by the public prosecutor:
she answered: "Because he raped me, sir."22
No woman, much less one who is of tender age, would concoct a charge of sexual abuse and endure the degradation and humiliation of a public trial, where she would be forced to reveal the lurid details of her misfortune, if she had not really been raped. This is particularly so where, as in these cases, the accused is complainants own father for whom, it may be assumed, every child has the deepest reverence and respect in our culture.23
B. Accused-appellant points out alleged improbabilities and inconsistencies in the testimony of Maria, to wit:
1. It is contended that the fact that Maria went back to sleep after she had been raped on November 5, 1994 as if nothing happened to her cannot be the reaction of one who had just gone through a harrowing experience.
What accused-appellant perceives to be a cavalier reaction (going back to sleep as if nothing happened to her) appears more to be a desperate attempt on her part to deny what had happened. This reaction is consistent with her other actions after the first rape, i.e., the washing of her private parts and changing her underwear. Indeed, there is no standard reaction of a victim to the crime of rape. Rape is both a physical and emotional assault causing tremendous stress on the victim.24 After her harrowing experience, Maria found solace in sleep.
2. It is contended that Marias claim that accused-appellant whipped her on November 19, 1994 because she came home late is improbable because accused-appellant was aware of the distance which Maria had to travel to reach home. According to accused-appellant, what is more probable is that he gave her some lashings because she had been absent from class many times attending INK activities.
But accused-appellant knew even before this incident of Marias absences because, as Marias adviser testified, Marias "stepmother" saw her twice about Marias school attendance.25 As for accused-appellants claimed opposition to Marias joining the INK, Maria testified that in fact she had obtained his permission.26
Thus, it appears that accused-appellant chastised his daughter because the latter did not come home the previous weekend (November 12-13, 1994).27 Accused-appellant himself admitted this when he testified that one of the reasons he whipped Maria is that she seldom came home.28
3. It is contended that Marias claim that she did not miss any class before the rape incidents29 is belied by the certification (Exh. 1) issued by her adviser showing that Maria indeed incurred absences in September and October, 1994.
This inconsistency concerns only a minor collateral matter and does not detract from Marias testimony that she had been raped by accused-appellant in November. For the same reason, accused-appellants claim that the certification (Exh. 2) of Barangay Captain Noel Gadil that there was no dance held on November 5, 1994 contradicts Marias testimony that accused-appellants common-law wife attended the said affair has little relevance to the rape charges. In any case, Gadil himself admitted that he issued the certification only on January 8, 1997, three years after the supposed event, not on the basis of any record kept by him or his office but only from memory.30
4. According to accused-appellant, Marias testimony that Gary Fraga slept in their house on November 5, 1994 is contradicted by the testimony of Lilia Fraga Medollar that earlier, on October 25, 1994, she took her son Gary from the Agravantes.
However, Lilia Fraga Medollar herself testified that it took six months from the time her son Gary ran away sometime in October 1994 before she came to know his whereabouts and subsequently took him from the Agravantes.31
Thus, accused-appellant has not shown any compelling reason for this Court to depart from the trial courts finding that Maria was telling the truth when she accused accused-appellant of raping her. The inconsistencies and improbabilities in her testimony relate to minor, trivial, and inconsequential matters which do not alter the essential fact in the crime of rape, which is carnal knowledge through force or intimidation.32 In fact, they may even be considered a badge of truthfulness which erases any suspicion that Maria is a rehearsed witness.33 On the other hand, Marias claim that she had been raped is corroborated by the medical finding that she suffered hymenal lacerations at the 3, 6, and 9 o clock positions.34
II. Art. 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. No. 7659, provides for the imposition of the death penalty on the offender in rape cases if the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is, among others, a parent of the victim. As a qualifying circumstance which increases the range of the penalty, the concurrence of the minority of the victim and her relationship to the offender must be both alleged and proven.35
In these cases, while the informations allege that complainant was a "minor fourteen years of age" at the time of the commission of the rapes and that accused-appellant is the "father of the offended party," only the relationship of accused-appellant to the complainant has been sufficiently established.36 To be sure, the minority of complainant (14 years of age at the time of the commission of the rapes) was the subject of the parties stipulation of facts.37 However, the stipulation of facts was not signed by accused-appellant as required by Rule 118, 2 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure which provides that "No agreement or admission made or entered during the pre-trial conference shall be used in evidence against the accused unless reduced to writing and signed by him and his counsel." This requirement is mandatory. As held in Fule v. Court of Appeals: 38
The stipulation of facts, therefore, cannot be used as evidence of complainants age at the time of the rapes in question.
Nor is there sufficient evidence of complainants age. The testimonies of complainant concerning her age and that of her father, herein accused-appellant, concerning this matter are insufficient. In People v. Tundag,39 in which the complaints alleged that the victim was 13 years old at the time of the rapes, it was held that it was error for the trial court to take judicial notice of the victims age even if the defense admitted the victims minority. The Court emphasized that there must be independent proof, such as a birth certificate, of the age of the victim. In People v. San Agustin,40 this Court held that the latters minority had not been sufficiently established notwithstanding the appellants admission that the victim was 13 years of age. Judicial notice of the victims age may be taken if the victim is 10 years old or below,41 but not where, as in this case, the victim is alleged to be 14 years old when she was raped.
As no independent evidence was presented by the prosecution to prove the minority of complainant, it was error for the trial court to find accused-appellant guilty of qualified rape and to sentence him to death.
However, the award of moral damages in the amount of P50,000.00 in each case must be sustained. There is no need to prove during trial that the victim suffered mental, physical, and psychological trauma as these are presumed. In addition, an award of P50,000.00 in civil indemnity must also be made in each case in accordance with case law.42 Because of the aggravating circumstance of relationship, an award of exemplary damages in the amount of P25,000.00 should also be given.43
WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 49, Daet, Camarines Sur is MODIFIED by finding accused-appellant Ricardo Agravante y Zantua guilty of three counts of simple rape and accordingly sentencing him in each case to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay complainant Maria Agravante P50,000.00 as civil indemnity and P25,000.00 as exemplary damages in addition to the amount of P50,000.00 awarded by the trial court as moral damages.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, and Carpio, JJ., concur.
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