PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. NORBERTO SOLEMA LOPEZ, Accused-Appellant.
D E C I S I O N
This Court is tasked, once again, to pass upon by way of automatic review the judgement of conviction imposing the death penalty1 in an incestuous rape, said to have been perpetrated by the accused, NORBERTO LOPEZ Y SOLEMA, on his own daughter Christine Rose A. Lopez.
The accusatory portion of the indictment against the father of the complainant states
That sometime in September, 1996 at Barangay Carusocan Norte, municipality of Asingan, province of Pangasinan, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being the father of minor CHRISTINE ROSE A. LOPEZ, by means of force and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with said CHRISTINE ROSE A. LOPEZ, a minor, 15 yrs. of age, against her will and without her consent, to her damage and prejudice.2
Lopez pleaded not guilty to the charge and stood trial.3cräläwvirtualibräry
On 04 June 1997, following the reception of evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense, respectively, the Regional Trial Court of Pangasinan, Branch 46,4 found Lopez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged; it held:
WHEREFORE, finding accused NORBERTO @ NESTOR LOPEZ guilty beyond
reasonable doubt of the crime of rape aggravated by relationship and age, the
Court sentences said accused to suffer the penalty of death, to be implemented
in the manner provided by law.
is likewise ordered to pay victim Christine Rose Lopez the amount of
moral damages plus P20,000.00 as exemplary damages.
Norberto Lopez Y Solema is hereby ordered committed to the National Bilibid Prisons fifteen (15) days from today. The Branch Clerk of Court is hereby ordered to transmit the records of this case to the Honorable Supreme Court of the Philippines after fifteen (15) days hereof.
The Solicitor General sums up the prosecutions case against accused-appellant; viz:
Complainant Christine Rose Lopez is the third child of the spouses appellant Norberto (Nestor) Lopez and Cresencia Aguilar Lopez, the others being Francis (21 years old), Enesto (19 years old) and Lovelyn (11 years old). At the time she testified, Christine was 15 years old (tsn, April 23, 1997, p. 11), on her third year of high school and belonged to the top ten of her class (tsn, May 14, 1997, p. 4).
Sadly, on February 11, 1997, Christine stopped going to school, out of shame since her relatives (on her maternal side) and their barangay kagawad and neighbors came to know that she was raped by her own father (tsn, April 23, 1997, p. 13).
Christine narrated that in September 1996, she and her family lived in their one-storey house at Carusocan Norte, Asingan, Pangasinan. As the house is quite small, Christine had to sleep in the sala together with her younger sister Lovelyn, and her parents. Her brother Francis has his own small nook, separated from them by an aparador (Ibid., p. 17). Per their usual sleeping arrangement, Christine occupied the east side of the sala. Next to her is Lovelyn, then her mother and her father. Her father is about 1-1/2 to 2 meters away from her (Ibid., pp. 14-16).
By force of habit, Christines mother would usually get up at about 4:00 in the morning to cook breakfast for the family and feed the carabao at the back of their house (Ibid., p. 17).
Sometime during the first week of September, 1996, at about 4:00 dawn, Christine was suddenly awakened by her father who touched and fondled her breast. Although it was still dark, she could see her fathers form. Her father forcibly removed her short pants and panty (Ibid., pp. 19-20). She tried to resist by pushing her father away but she failed (tsn, April 24, 1997, p. 7).
After divesting her of her short pants and underwear, her father removed his underwear and went on top of her (Ibid., pp. 7-8). He placed his sexual organ inside her sex organ and started a push-and-pull movement. After while, Christine felt him withdraw his organ and a hot substance spilled below her puson. He got a piece of cloth and wiped the hot substance off her puson. Her father put on his brief and short pants, stood up and went to the kitchen (tsn, April 23, 1997, pp. 20-21). At the time her father was doing that odious and dastardly act on her, her mother was at the back of their house feeding the carabao, as was her usual routine (Ibid., p. 22).
This revolting incident came to light only on February 10, 1997. Christine and her mother had just arrived home after a day in the field. Her father was drunk and hurling invectives at them for all the people to hear. Her father was accusing her of carrying on with her brother, Enesto, an incestuous relationship (Ibid., pp. 25-26). Hearing such unsavory remarks, Christine fled to her Uncle George Aguilars house and slept there (Ibid., pp. 26-27). The next morning (February 11, 1997), she went to the house of her Aunt Adelina Delmenguez where barangay kagawad Tagarino found her (Ibid., p. 27). Kgd. Tagarino asked her of her father is doing something wrong to her and she affirmed it (Ibid., p. 28). She was taken to the police station, then to the hospital and thereafter to the Office of the Social Worker where her statement was taken (Ibid., pp. 29-30).
Dr. Gloria Liberato, a physician with the Asingan Community Hospital, testified that she was the one who examined Christine Rose Lopez on February 11, 1997. She found three healed hymenal lacerations at 3:00, 6:00 and 8:00 oclock positions in Christines private part (tsn, April 22, 1997, p. 6). She opined that the lacerations were about 4 to 5 months old (Ibid., p. 8).6
The defense presented the accused himself, who denied the accusation, and his sister, Candida Atuel, who asserted that the complaint had been merely instigated by their aunts and uncle against accused-appellant for his being a drunkard. The Public Attorneys Office, in it brief a drunkard. The Public Attorneys Office, in its brief for accused-appellant, had only this other matter to say of its evidence
In brevity, the accused testified that on the early morning of February 11, 1997, Brgy. Kagawad Tagarino went to his house with his son Ernesto and the latter confronted him about the incident that look pace a night ago wherein he allegedly suspected Ernesto and Christine, both his children, to have an incestuous relationship. There was no truth that he suspected them to have an incestuous relationship. Kagawad Tagarino in return asked him if he was doing something bad to his daughter which he denied. Kagawad Tagarino left together with his son Ernesto. Moments later Kagawad Tagarino returned with some civilian companions and he was brought to the police station at the municipal hall and there, he was incarcerated for allegedly raping his daughter Christine. He denied having raped his own daughter. (TSN, May 14, 1997, pp. 15-19).7
In this appeal, the Public Attorneys Office assigned a single, albeit encompassing. Error supposedly committed by the trial court in its assessment of the evidence; to wit:
The trial court committed grave error in apprehension of facts and appreciation of evidence which lead to its conclusion that the accused had raped his daughter.8
Countless of times, this Court has said that it will be guided in reviewing rape cases by the settled realities that an accusation for rape can be made with facility, and while the commission of the crime may not be easy to prove, it becomes even more difficult, however, for the person accused, although innocent, to disprove; that in view of the intrinsic nature of the crime of rape where only two persons normally are involved, the testimony of the complainant must always be scrutinized with great caution; and that the evidence for the prosecution must stand or fall on its own merits and should not be allowed to draw strength from the weakness of the evidence for the defense.9 In an appeal from a judgment of conviction in these rape cases, the issue boils down, almost invariably, to the credibility and story of the victim and just as often the Court is constrained to rely on the observations given by the trial court, with its vantage, not equally enjoyed by the appellate court, in the reception of testimony. It has thus since become doctrinal that the evaluation of testimonial evidence by the trial court is accorded great respect precisely for its chance to observe first hand the demeanor on the stand of the witness, a matter which is important in determining whether what has been said should be taken to be truth or falsehood.10cräläwvirtualibräry
Like in previous cases, the Court in this instance has meticulously gone over the testimony of the complainant and only thereafter has it ultimately reached the inexorable conclusion that the act complained of did occur. Christines testimony on the rape perpetrated against her is clear and one that could only have been narrated by a victim subjected to that sexual assault. Thus:
Q Nevertheless could you tell us the reason why you were awakened from your sleep?
Q Who awakened you?
A My father, sir.
How were you awakened by your father?
A I was awakened because I felt my father beside me holding me, sir.
Q What part of your body was held by your father?
A From my breast down, sir.
Q After holding you from your breast down, what else did your father do?
x x x
A He himself removed my shortpants and my panty, sir.
Q What did you do when your father pulled your shortpants and panty?
A I tried to fight him but I cannot fight him, sir.
Q At the time your father went near you and pulled your shortpants and panty, where was your mother?
A She went to the kitchen and cooked and fed the carabao at the back of our house.
Q After your father was able to pull down your shortpants and panty, what did he do?
A He went on top of me, sir.
Q After going on top of you, what did you do next?
A He inserted his organ to my organ, sir.
May I place on record, you Honor, that the witness is crying.
Q After your father was able to place his organ inside your organ, what did he do?
A He started pushing up and down, sir.
Q How many times, if you remember?
A About ten (10) times, sir.
Q After he made that push and pull motion, while he was on top of you for about ten times, what happened next?
A He immediately pulled out his organ and hot substance spilled below my stomach (puson).
Q After that what happened?
A He got a cloth and wiped what was spilled on my puson, sir.11
Christine has refused to be shaken by the probings on cross-examination by defense counsel; thus:
Q When you were awaken what was your position when your father went near beside you?
A I was facing upward, sir.
Q And you claimed that your father held your breast down, when your father held your breast down you did not react, isnt it?
A I fought and resisted.
Q What do you mean you fought?
A I pushed him away but I cannot.
Q Madam Witness do you recall . . . I withdraw the question. When your father held your breast down and you said you fought what happened next?
A He went on top of me.
Q Do you recall during the last hearing when you said that your father held your breast down he removed your shortpant and your panty and went on top of you which is which, madam Witness?
A I said that.
Q When your father went on top of you was he already naked?
A When my father removed my shortpant and panty he also removed his underwear.
Q And he was doing this while he was on top of you?
A He was yet on top of me when he removed his underwear.
Q So let us clarify, which came first, the removing of your shortpant and your panty or your father going on top of you then your father removed likewise his brief?
A First, he removed my shortpant and panty.
Q So the chronological order your father removed your shortpant and panty then your father removed his brief, is that correct?
A Yes, sir.12
When the testimony of a rape victim is plain and straightforward, to the point and unflawed by any material or significant inconsistency, it deserves full faith and credit; certainly, it is one that cannot be discarded.13 The concise observation of the lower court is worth mentioning, it said:
The testimony of Christine Rose is full of details and specifics, i.e. her father inserted his organ to her organ; her father went on top of her and started pushing up and down about ten times; then her father pulled out his organ and a hot substance spilled on her puson, stomach. Then her father wiped out the hot substance spilled on her puson with a cloth.14
Accused-appellant would want the Court to doubt the true motive of the complainant in having the case instituted. The crime of rape is an act highly offensive to decency and morality. The prosecution opens the complainant to stigma and public scrutiny. Verily, no woman would want to go through the process, the trouble and the humiliation of trial for such a debasing offense unless she actually has been a victim of abuse and her motive is but a response to the compelling need to seek and obtain justice.15 The rule should be held true in the case of Christine, a fifteen-year old girl, raised in the rural area and evidently yet unexposed to worldly ways. Christine has put it in her own simple and telling words: I kept on crying and crying because everybody have known and I felt ashamed.16cräläwvirtualibräry
Accused-appellant would question the identify of the defiler because of the darkness engulfing the house during the commission of the crime. Accused-appellant ignores the fact that the offender is her own father with whom she had lived with since her birth. It is, in fact, this relationship that has forced her to remain silent for a time before reporting the beastly act perpetrated upon her person.17 The resulting delay in bringing up the matter to the authorities did not, in the least, diminish her credibility;18 if at all, it is indicative of the expected hesitation any daughter would entertain in charging her own father. At all events, there is no standard form, this Court has observed may times before, of the human behavioral response to a startling or frightful experience such as and most particularly, like here, when the crime of rape is perpetrated by the victims own loved one.19cräläwvirtualibräry
The offense of rape is defined and made punishable by Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code; this law, as amended by Section 11 of Republic Act No. 7659,20 reads:
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;
2. When the woman is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious; and
3. When the woman is under twelve years of age or is demented.
The crime of rape shall be punished by reclusion perpetua.
Whenever the crime of rape is committed with the use of a deadly weapon or by two or more persons, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death.
When by reason or on the occasion of the rape, the victim has become insane, the penalty shall be death.
When the rape is attempted or frustrated and a homicide is committed by reason or on the occasion thereof, the penalty shall be reclusion perpetua to death.
When by reason or on the occasion of the rape, a homicide is committed, the penalty shall be death.
The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following attendant circumstances:
1. When the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, stepparent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim.
2. When the victim is under the custody of the police or military authorities.
3. When the rape is committed in full view of the husband, parent, any of the children or other relatives within the third degree of consanguinity.
4. When the victim is a religious or a child below seven (7) years old.
5. When the offender knows that he is afflicted with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) disease.
6. When committed by any member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Philippine National Police or any law enforcement agency.
7. When by reason or on the occasion of the rape, the victim has suffered permanent physical mutilation.
All circumstances considered, the Court is constrained to affirm the death penalty imposed by the trial court. Four Justices of the Court, however, have continued to maintain the unconstitutionality of Republic Act 7659 insofar as it prescribes the death penalty; nevertheless, they submit to the ruling of the majority to the effect that the law is constitutional and that the death penalty can be lawfully imposed in the case at bar.
Relative to the monetary liability
of accused-appellant, the Court finds the award of moral damages (
and exemplary damages ( P20,000.00) to the victim still to be
In People vs. Prades,21 this Court has stated:
On this score, we have to take note of a new policy adopted by the
The recent judicial prescription
is that the indemnification for the victim shall be in the increased amount of
if the crime of rape is committed or effectively qualified by any of the
circumstances under which the death penalty is authorized by the applicable
Applying the foregoing
policy, the civil indemnity to be awarded to the offended party in the case at
bar is and should be P75,000.00.
additional award of
P75,000.00 by way of civil indemnity, therefore,
would be in order.
WHEREFORE, the appealed decision of the trial court, finding
accused-appellant Norberto Solema Lopez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the
crime charged and imposing upon him and penalty of death, is AFFIRMED with the
modification that accused-appellant is ordered to likewise pay an additional
civil indemnity to private complainant Christine Rose Lopez in the amount of
In accordance with Section 25 of Republic Act No. 7659, amending Article 83 of the Revised Penal Code, upon the finality of this decision, let the records of this case be forthwith forwarded to the Office of the President for possible exercise of the pardoning power. No pronouncement on costs.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur.
1 Pursuant to Article 47 of the Revised penal Code, as Amended by Section 22, RA 7659 entitled An Act To Impose Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes, Amending for that Purpose the Revised Penal Code, as amended, Other Special Penal Laws, and for other Purposes. The law took effect on 31 December 1993.
2 Rollo, p. 11.
3 Records, p. 31.
4 Presided by Hon. Modesto G. Juanson.
5 Rollo, pp. 34-35.
6 Brief for the Appellee, pp. 2-5.
7 Rollo, pp. 60-61.
8 Rollo, p. 58.
9 People vs. Gabris, 258 SCRA 663.
10 People vs. Atuel, 261 SCRA 339.
11 TSN, 23 April 1997, pp. 19-21.
12 TSN, 24 April 1997, pp. 7-8.
13 People vs. Saballe, 236 SCRA 365.
14 Rollo, p. 30.
15 People vs. Gaban, 262 SCRA 593.
16 TSN, 23 April 1997, p. 28.
17 People vs. Tan, Jr., 264 SCRA 425.
18 People vs. Catoltol, Sr., 265 SCRA 109.
19 People vs. Miranda, 262 SCRA 351.
20 The amendatory law, Republic Act No. 7659, became effective on 31 December 1993 (People vs. Godoy, 250 SCRA 676). The more recent enactment, Republic Act No. 8353, entitled AN ACT EXPANDING THE DEFINITION IF THE CRIME OF RAPE, RECLASSFYING THE SAME AS A CRIME AGAINST PERSONS, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE ACT NO. 3815, AS AMENDED, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE REVISED PENAL CODE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES, being neither favorable nor unfavorable to the accused, is inconsequential in this instance.
21 GR No. 127569, 30 July 1998.