August 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
G.R. No. 219830, August 03, 2016 - PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ROBERTO O. BATUHAN AND ASHLEY PLANAS LACTURAN, Accused-Appellants.
G.R. No. 219830, August 03, 2016
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ROBERTO O. BATUHAN AND ASHLEY PLANAS LACTURAN, Accused-Appellants.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a Notice of Appeal1 filed by accused-appellants Roberto O. Batuhan and Ashley Planas Lacturan from the Decision2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CEB-CR-HC No. 01366.
The CA affirmed the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Decision 3 convicting Batuhan of robbery with rape and imposing upon him the penalty of reclusion perpetual. 4 It also affirmed the conviction of Lacturan, but modified his sentence to an indeterminate term of four (4) years and two (2) months, of prision correccional as minimum, to eight (8) years of prision mayor as maximum.5 The appellate court, however, imposed individual civil liabilities upon each of the accused-appellants, instead of the joint civil liability meted out by the RTC. Hence, Batuhan was ordered to pay private complainant AAA6 P2,130 as civil indemnity and P50,000 as moral damages. Lacturan, on the other hand, was ordered to pay the other private complainant, Melito Gabutero Bacumo, P2,500 as civil indemnity and P20,000 as moral damages.
On 5 August 2008, Batuhan was charged with robbery with rape under the following Information:
That on or about the 3rd day of August 2008, at about 1:30 o'clock A.M., in the City of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with deliberate intent, and by means of violence or intimidation upon person, to wit: by poking a hunting knife at one [AAA] and at the same time declared a hold-up and ordered her to give her personal belongings, at Archbishop Reyes Ave., Brgy. Camputhaw, Cebu City, and without the consent of the latter, did then and there take, steal and carry away the following:On the same date, Lacturan was indicted under a separate Information for the crime of robbery:a) one (1) bag containing wallet with cashvalued in all at P2,130.00, belonging to said [AAA], to the damage and prejudice of the latter, in the total amount aforestated and in connection therewith or on the occasion thereof, with deliberate intent, said accused, by means of threats and intimidation, did then and there sexually abuse said [AAA] by kissing her ears, touching her breast, and at the same time inserting his finger into her vagina without her consent and against her will.7
b) silver bracelet worth
c) one (1) pair silver earrings worth
d) one (1) silver ring worth
That on or about the 3rd day of August 2008, at about 1:30 A.M., in the City of Cebu, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the said accused, with deliberate intent, and by means of violence and intimidation upon person, to wit: by poking a hunting knife at one Melito Gabutero Bacumo and at the same time declared a hold-up and ordered him to give his personal belongings and without the consent of said Melito Gabutero and with intent to gain, did then and there take, steal, carry away one (1) Seiko wristwatch worth Php 2,500.00 to the damage and prejudice of said Melito Gabutero Bacumo, the owner thereof, in the amount aforestated.8When arraigned, both accused-appellants pleaded "not guilty" to the charges of robbery with rape, and robbery, respectively.9 Since the two cases arose from the same incident, they were jointly tried by the RTC.10chanrobleslaw
Version of the Prosecution
During trial, the Prosecution primarily relied on the testimonies of private complainants AAA and Bacumo, Barangay Tanod Mitchell Lawas (B/T Lawas), Dr. Madeline Amadora (Dr. Amadora), and Vicente Ragde (Ragde). From the combined testimonies of these witnesses, We gathered the following narration of facts:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryOn 3 August 2008, about 1:30 A.M., private complainants were waiting for a jeepney at the Ayala waiting shed on Archbishop Reyes Avenue, Cebu City." A few minutes later, they were each held at knifepoint by two individuals (thereafter identified as the two accused-appellants).
Lacturan proceeded to threaten and rob Bacumo.12 Upon finding out that Bacumo did not have a cellphone, Lacturan took the former's wristwatch, bracelet, and bag. The bag contained a pair of sunglasses, as well as the victim's ID, and uniform.13chanrobleslaw
Meanwhile, Batuhan dragged AAA 100 meters away from Bacumo and Lacturan. He then covered her mouth with his right hand, while poking the left side of her torso with a knife in his left hand. He kissed her neck and touched her breasts for about five (5) minutes. He also demanded that she allow him to insert his finger into her vagina, or he would stab her if she refused. This threat forced the victim to give in to his demand.14chanrobleslaw
Batuhan then tried to escape with the bag of AAA containing her bracelet, earrings, ring, and wallet, but she was able to seek the assistance of B/T Lawas and Ragde, who were on patrol at the area at the time. The two pursued Batuhan and were subsequently able to apprehend him and Lacturan.15chanrobleslaw
Version of the Defense
In his defense, Batuhan averred that around the time of the alleged criminal incident, he was walking near Ayala. There he was confronted by an angry mob of locals who were shouting, "Hold-up, hold-up!" He was allegedly attacked by the crowd and knocked unconscious. When he recovered, he found himself in a police station, where he was interrogated about a robbery that happened that same morning near the area where he was assaulted.
Batuhan denied that he had knowledge of, much less involvement in, the robbery incident. Although he confirmed that he was acquainted with his co-accused, Batuhan reasoned that this was only because the two of them were fellow painters in Cebu. However, he maintained that he had never met the private complainants. During the commotion, AAA allegedly mistook him for the perpetrator of the crime.16chanrobleslaw
Lacturan on the other hand, manifested that he was approached by two members of the barangay tanod while he was at his sister's house on 3 August 2008. He acceded to their request to accompany them, but was surprised when he was handcuffed along the way and taken to the police station. He was then detained with Batuhan and interrogated by police officers. He also alleged that he was hit in the abdomen by one police officer when he denied any participation in the commission of the crime.17chanrobleslaw
After receiving and evaluating the evidence, the RTC declared Batuhan guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of robbery with rape, which was punishable under Article 294(2) 18 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). It also declared Lacturan guilty beyond reasonable doubt of robbery, which was punishable under Article 29319 in relation to Article 294 of the RPC.
In its Decision, the RTC explained that it had found the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses to be straightforward, spontaneous, direct, and devoid of any inconsistency.21 In establishing the legal weight of these testimonies, it cited People v. De Guia,22 and declared that "a detailed ^testimony, if given in a simple and straightforward manner, indicates sincerity in the narration of facts, and may not in the least be considered as concocted."
The trial court also ruled that the positive identifications made by private complainants and their co-witnesses must prevail over mere denials by the accused-appellants, considering the inherent self-serving character of the latter's defenses. It further noted that in the absence of any ill motive on the part of private complainants and the other witnesses, the presumption was that they would not prevaricate.
As to Batuhan, the RTC likewise appreciated the medical findings of Dr. Amadora in concluding that the crime of rape accompanied the robbery. In her report and testimony in open court, she stated that there was a "healed transection"24 in the vagina of AAA when the latter was examined. The doctor explained to the court that this finding was indicative of a prior forced insertion of a finger in the victim's vagina.25cralawredchanrobleslaw
Before the CA, the accused-appellants argued that the prosecution failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In particular, they cited (a) private complainants' inability to identify them as the perpetrators of the offenses because of the poor lighting conditions at the time of the incident; and (b) the doubts created by the admission of AAA that she had intercourse with Bacumo prior to undergoing the medical examination by Dr. Amadora. The accused-appellants argued that there was therefore no legal basis for the RTC to order them to jointly indemnify complainants.
In a Decision26 dated 17 March 2015, the CA sustained the convictions of both accused-appellants. It agreed with the trial court's assessment that the testimonies of private complainants were credible and convincing,27 particularly with respect to their positive identification of Batuhan and Lacturan as the perpetrators of the crime.28 Like the RTC, the appellate court accorded little weight to the denials offered by Batuhan and Lacturan. It likewise gave credence to the testimonies of private complainants that the Ayala area on Reyes Avenue was sufficiently illuminated by street lights,29 which enabled them to identify the perpetrators of the crime without difficulty.
While the CA affirmed the conviction of the accused-appellants, it modified the penalty imposed by the RTC on Lacturan under the Indeterminate Sentence Law. The appellate court agreed with the minimum penalty provided, i.e., a sentence of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional; but it declared that the maximum penalty should be 8 years of prision mayor, rather than the 7 years imposed by the RTC.
The CA also disagreed with the RTC's finding that there should be joint civil liability on the part of the two accused-appellants. It held that the declaration of joint liability had no basis, because Batuhan and Lacturan were not charged as co-principals or co-conspirators, and the case was only jointly tried. Hence, any civil liability must be imposed individually based on the Information instituted against each of the accused-appellants. It likewise deleted the award of exemplary damages because of the absence of an aggravating circumstance.30chanrobleslaw
On 22 April 2015, Batuhan and Lacturan filed a Notice of Appeal31 with the CA. The appeal was given due course in a Resolution dated 26 June 2015.32chanrobleslaw
On 19 October 2015, the Court issued a Resolution requiring the parties to submit supplemental briefs, if they so desired, within 30 days from notice. Instead, the accused-appellants and the People of the Philippines filed separate Manifestations33 informing the Court of their decision to adopt the Briefs34 they had filed with the CA.
The issues resolved by the CA are the same ones submitted to this Court:
|(a)||Whether the trial court erred in finding that the prosecution has proven the guilt of the accused-appellants beyond reasonable doubt|
|(b)||Whether the trial court erred in holding accused-appellants jointly liable to pay damages|
We DENY the appeal.
After reviewing the records of this case, the Court resolves to affirm the conviction of Batuhan for robbery with rape and of Lacturan for robbery. We also agree with the CA's modification of the RTC Decision with respect to the imposition of individual civil liability on each of the accused-appellants. However, we resolve to modify the appellate court's application of the Indeterminate Sentence Law to Lacturan.
The CA correctly ruled that the
positive and coherent testimonies of
the prosecution witnesses must
prevail over the defenses of alibi and
denial presented by the accused-
At the outset, We emphasize the general rule that this Court is bound by the concurrent findings of fact made by the RTC and the CA.35 In this case, both lower courts found the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses credible and trustworthy. We find no reason to deviate from their findings.
The straightforward and coherent narration36 provided by private complainants and B/T Lawas adequately established the events that transpired on the morning of 3 August 2008 at Reyes Avenue, Cebu City; in particular, the commission of the offense and the apprehension of the accused-appellants. The RTC and the CA also justifiably relied on the testimonies of private complainants, who positively identified Batuhan and Lacturan as the perpetrators of the crimes. Applying the criteria laid down by this Court in Lejano v. People,37 We find that the identifications in this case were made by credible witnesses whose stories were inherently believable and not contrived. Here it has been established that private complainants clearly saw the two accused-appellants during the incident. Moreover, the former's testimonies were straightforward and devoid of any inconsistencies.
In their Brief,38 Batuhan and Lacturan attempted to discredit the accuracy of the positive identification. They alleged that because it was dark when the incident transpired, it would not have been possible for complainants to sufficiently make out the faces of their attackers, let alone identify them in court. We are not convinced. The CA correctly cited the previous rulings of this Court on the sufficiency of artificial sources of light in cases in which identification is an issue.39 We declared therein that any form of light – e.g., street lights or light posts – may be considered sufficient to allow the positive identification of a person's appearance for purposes of proving matters in court, so long as visibility is fairly established.40 In this case, the prosecution was able to prove that there were fully functioning street lights when the robbery transpired.41 These lights sufficiently illuminated the area during the incident and allowed private complainants to see the features of the accused-appellants.
With respect to the rape accusation against Batuhan, We agree with the CA and the RTC that the testimony of the victim sufficiently established the commission of the offense. Not only did she positively declare that Batuhan inserted his finger into her vagina without her consent; her statements were likewise supported by the testimony of Dr. Amadora and by a medical report indicating that the assault had inflicted considerable and visible injury to the victim's vagina.
While the reliability of the medical report may have been called into question because of the admission made by AAA that she had sexual intercourse with her boyfriend before she was examined, We find this circumstance insufficient to negate the clear and convincing testimony of the victim herself. It is settled that a medical report is not indispensable to a prosecution for rape, since the credible testimony of the victim is sufficient for a conviction.42 In any event, the medical report submitted by Dr. Amadora was only an evidence of the injuries supposedly sustained by AAA from the sexual assault. Even without that report, rape may still be established. We emphasize that the absence of genital injury does not at all mean that a victim was not sexually assaulted.43chanrobleslaw
This Court likewise affirms the refusal of the CA and the RTC to accord significance to the bare denials offered by the accused-appellants. Lacturan's defense of alibi, for instance, is inherently weak because it is self-serving. In fact, in Lejano v. People,44 this Court declared that the defense of alibi is a hangman's noose in the face of a positive identification made by a witness. With respect to the allegation of Batuhan that he was the victim of a frame–up, We note that the assertion remained unproven. He failed to show any indication of bad faith or ill motive on the part of the members of the barangay tanod and the police officers involved in this case. Hence, these public officers remain entitled to the presumption of regularity.45chanrobleslaw
In view of the foregoing assessment of the evidence presented by both parties, We resolve to affirm the conviction of Batuhan for robbery with rape and of Lacturan for robbery.
The CA properly modified the civil
penalties of both accused-appellants.
The Court upholds the modifications made by the CA with respect to the period of imprisonment of Lacturan and the civil penalties imposed on both accused-appellants.
We agree with the CA that Batuhan and Lacturan cannot be ordered to jointly indemnify the aggregate damages suffered by private complainants. This Court has imposed joint civil liability arising from criminal acts only in specific instances: e.g., in cases in which there was conspiracy among the accused;46 or in prosecutions for illegal recruitment, in which the accused were treated as joint tortfeasors.47 In other words, joint civil liability has been imposed only in criminal actions that were jointly filed. The rule does not apply to this case, in which the actions were filed separately, but jointly tried.
It must also be emphasized that the Informations in this case charged Batuhan and Lacturan with distinct offenses committed against two different victims – Batuhan was accused of committing robbery with rape against AAA, while Lacturan was charged with robbery perpetrated against Bacumo.48 There was no indication of conspiracy, since neither of the accused-appellants was mentioned in the Information filed against the other.
In addition, each Information enumerated the specific items allegedly stolen by the individual accused-appellants. To declare them jointly liable for the aggregate value of the items stolen would clearly violate their right to be informed of the nature and cause of the charges against them. Pursuant to our pronouncement in People v. Ortega that liability should only arise from whatever was charged, neither of the two accused-appellants should be made liable for any part of the crime of the other.
The prison sentence imposed on Lacturan
and the damages awarded to the private
complainants must be modified.
As to the adjustment in the prison term of Lacturan, we deem it proper to modify the maximum penalty of 8 years of prision mayor imposed by the CA.
Although the period is within the maximum of the indeterminate sentence imposable upon Lacturan under Article 7650 in relation to Article 294(5)51 of the RPC, the Court notes the absence of any justification to impose the upper limit of the penalty. Accordingly, we resolve to reduce the maximum of the indeterminate sentence to 6 years, 1 month and 11 days of prision mayor. We maintain the minimum of the indeterminate sentence imposed by the CA i.e. 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional.
Moreover, to conform with recent jurisprudence, the amount of damages awarded by the CA to AAA must be modified. In line with the ruling in People v. Jugueta, 52 Batuhan is liable to pay AAA the following amounts: P2,130 as actual damages; P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; P75,000.00 as moral damages; and P75,000.00 as exemplary damages. Lacturan, on the other hand, must pay Bacumo P2,500, but as actual damages and not as civil indemnity. This amount represents the value of the property stolen from the victim.53 The award of moral damages to Bacumo in the amount of P20,000 is proper54 and must be sustained.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant appeal is DENIED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated 17 March 2015 in CA-G.R. CEB-CR-HC No. 01366 is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION in regard to the period of imprisonment of Ashley Planas Lacturan and the amount of damages to be paid to AAA.
Accused Ashley Planas Lacturan is hereby sentenced to suffer an indeterminate penalty of 4 years and 2 months of prision correccional, as minimum, to 6 years, 1 month and 11 days of prision mayor, as maximum.
Accused-appellant Roberto Batuhan is ordered to pay AAA: (a) P2,130 as actual damages; (b) P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; (c) P75,000.00 as moral damages; and (d) P75,000.00 as exemplary damages. Accused-appellant Ashley Planas Lacturan is ordered to pay Melito Bacumo: (a) P2,500 as actual damages; and (b) P20,000 as moral damages. All the monetary awards for damages shall earn interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of finality of this Resolution until fully paid.
Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, Perlas-Bernabe, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.
1 CA rollo, pp. 128-129.
2 Decision dated 17 March 2015, penned by Associate Justice Marilyn B. Lagura-Yap and concurred in by Associate Justices Gabriel T. Ingles and Jhosep Y. Lopez, rollo, pp. 4-24.
3 Decision dated 29 September 2010, penned by Presiding Judge Soliver C. Peras; CA rollo, pp. 58-69.
4 The case was docketed as RTC Case Nos. CBU-84019 and CBU-84020 before Branch 10, RTC, Cebu City.
5Rollo, p. 22.
6 The real name of the victim is withheld pursuant to Republic Act No. 8505 or the "Rape Victim Assistance and Protection Act of 1998" and Supreme Court Administrative Circular No. 83-15 or the "Protocols and Procedures in the Promulgation, Publication, and Posting on the Websites of Decisions, Final Resolutions, and Final Orders Using Fictitious Names," 27 July 2015.
8 CA rollo, p. 59.
11 Id. at 61.
14 Id. at 62.
15 Id. at 60-62.
16 Id. at 64.
17 Id. at 63-64.
18 Article 294 of the RPC provides, in relevant part: Article 294. Robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons; Penalties. – Any person guilty of robbery with the use of violence against or intimidation of any person shall suffer:
2. The penalty of reclusion temporal in its medium period to reclusion perpetua when the robbery shall have been accompanied by rape xxx.
[19 ]Article 293 of the RPC states: Art. 293. Who are guilty of robbery. – Any person who, with intent to gain, shall take any personal property belonging to another, by means of violence or intimidation of any person, or using force upon anything shall be guilty of robbery.
20 CA rollo, pp. 58-69.
21 Id. at 65.
22People v. de Guiay Quirino, 345 Phil. 360 (1997).
23 CA rollo, p. 65
24 Id. at 67.
25cralawred Id. at 67-68.
26Rollo, pp. 107-127,149-169.
27 CA rollo, p. 158.
28 Id. at 162.
29 Id. at 163-164.
30Rollo, p. 22.
31 CA rollo, pp. 128-129.
32Rollo, pp. 28-32.
33 Manifestation dated 3 March 2016 and 4 April 2016, rollo (unpaginated).
34 See Brief for the Accused-Apellants, CA rollo, pp. 46-56; and Brief for the Plaintiff-Appellee, CA rollo, pp. 90-101.
35People v. Banzuela, G.R. No. 202060, 11 December 2013, 712 SCRA 735.
36Rollo, p. 116; CA rollo, p. 65.
37Lejano v. People, 652 Phil. 612 (2010)
38 CA rollo, pp. 53-55.
39Rollo, p. 19.
40 See People v. Dela Cruz, 461 Phil. 471 (2003); People v. Pueblas, 212 Phil. 688 (1984); and People v. Vacal, 136 Phil. 284 (1969).
41Rollo, p. 19.
42People v. Penillay Francia, 707 Phil. 130 (2013).
43 See People v. Salvador, G.R. No. 207815, 22 June 2015; People v. Pancho, 462 Phil. 193-209 (2003).
44 Supra note 37.
45People v. Agulayy Lopez, G.R. No. 181747, 26 September 2008.
46 See Zafray Cubillo v. City Warden, 186 Phil. 526 (1980) and People v. Borromeo, 60 Phil. 691 (1934) in which the accused were declared conspirators in the commission of the robbery; also see People v. Garcia, 424 Phil. 158 (2002), in which the accused were found guilty of kidnapping for ransom and serious illegal detention
47People v. Inovero, G.R. No. 195668, 25 June 2014, 727 SCRA 257.
48 CA rollo, pp. 58-59.
49 342 Phil. 124 (1997); also see Burgos v. Sandiganbayan, 459 Phil. 794 (2003).
50 Article 76 of the RPC:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibraryArt. 76. Legal period of duration of divisible penalties. —The legal period of duration of divisible penalties shall be considered as divided into three parts, forming three periods, the minimum, the medium, and the maximum in the manner shown in the following table:51 Article 295 of the RPC:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Prision mayor. Time included in its medium period: From 8 years and 1 day to 10 years.Art. 295. Robbery with violence against or intimidation of persons; Penalties. — Any person guilty of robbery with the use of violence against or intimidation of any person shall suffer: x x x 5. The penalty of prision correccional in its maximum period to prision mayor in its medium period in other cases (as amended by R.A. 18).52 G.R. No. 202124, 5 April 2016.
53 CA rollo, p. 59.
54 See Mance v. People, G.R. No. 215567 (Notice), 9 March 2015.