G. R. No. 131860 - January 16, 2003
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee, vs. MARLON MORALDE, appellant.
Before us is an appeal from the Decision1 dated September 3, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court of Maasin, Southern Leyte, Branch 25, in Criminal Case No. 1726, convicting herein appellant, Marlon Moralde, of the crime of rape, as defined and penalized under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code.
The antecedent facts follow:
On October 7, 1993, at around 10:30 p.m., complainant Salvacion Hitomo, an unwed mother, was sleeping in her house located at Pangi, Libagon, Southern Leyte when she was awakened by the voice of appellant, Marlon Moralde, who was calling her name. The appellant who was completely naked stood in front of her. She recognized appellant because of the illumination coming from the lamp inside her house. She asked appellant what he was doing but the latter told her not to make any noise. Thereafter, appellant pinned down her hands, gagged her mouth with a face towel, pulled her dress upward, removed her panty before finally inserting his penis into her vagina. Appellant threatened to kill her if she made any nose. He even told her "It is better to have sex with (her) before he will (sic) die."2
After consummating his lust, appellant remained on top of the complainant to rest. While in that position, appellant tightly held complainants hands while her mouth remained gagged with a face towel. Appellant attempted to rape her for a second time but failed to penetrate her. Later on, complainant heard the appellant calling somebody by the name of "Sarge," saying it was the latters turn. Appellant stayed in the room, holding complainants hands above her head and his other hand covering the latters mouth, while "Sarge" inserted his finger into her vagina. "Sarge" then told appellant to stay with the complainant for a while and volunteered to go outside and serve as look out. Again, appellant went on top of complainant and ravished her. Before leaving, appellant warned Salvacion not to tell anybody about what happened, otherwise he would kill her.
The following day, Salvacion went to her uncle, Pedro Zapanta, and told the latter of her ordeal the night before. Losing no time, Zapanta accompanied his niece to their barangay captain and then proceeded to the Police Station of Libagon, Southern Leyte to report the rape incident. That same day, Salvacion underwent a physical examination conducted by Dr. Godofredo Espina, Municipal Health Officer of Libagon, Sorsogon, Southern Leyte. His findings were: (1) linear abrasion 2.5 cm. in length, nasal bridge; (2) speculum examination revealed the presence of whitish to yellowish milky discharges along the vaginal canal.
On January 6, 1994, an information3 was filed with the Regional Trial Court of Maasin, Southern Leyte, based on the sworn complaint of Salvacion Hitomo against Moralde, charging the latter with the crime of rape, committed as follows:
Duly arraigned on April 7, 1994, appellant pleaded "not guilty" to the charge.4
During the trial, the prosecution presented as witness the complainant herself. It also presented her uncle Pedro Zapanta, who testified that he knew the appellant for some time as the latter used to go to his house. Two weeks before the rape incident, appellant Moralde came to his house and told him that he (appellant) had good intentions for his niece but the complainant was indifferent. Zapanta told appellant that there was no reason for his niece to be interested in him as he was a married man. Appellant, however, was undeterred and vowed that one day Salvacion would be his.
Dr. Procioso Edillo, Jr., the new Municipal Health Officer of Libagon, Sorsogon, Southern Leyte testified on the contents of the medico-legal examination report of Dr. Godofredo Espina.
For his part, appellant interposed the defense of denial and alibi. He claimed that, on October 7, 1993 he was in the Consolacion PNP Detachment between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m., gathering young coconut leaves to be used as wrapper for the cooked rice which they were bringing with them during the police operation called "Operation Paglilimpyo" that evening. Their mission was to clear the area of Barangay Mahayahay and Maac of rebels who were earlier sighted there. Appellant claimed that he served as a guide for the three police teams involved in the operation from the Consolacion, Libagon and Nahulid police stations, respectively headed by policemen Antonino Domawal, Dulles and Danilo Albero.5
At around 8:00 p.m., the appellant, together with Bani, Oving and Sr. Insp. Rufino Garcia, the Chief of Police of Libagon and the Officer-in-Charge of the 353rd Mobile Force Company based in Sogod, Southern Leyte, went to Libagon Police Station then proceeded to Nahulid Police Station to deliver food to their companions. Sr. Insp. Garcia was the over-all leader of "Operation Paglilimpyo."
At around 9:00 in the evening, appellant and Sr. Insp. Garcia proceeded to Barangay Mahayahay where the three teams from Libagon, Nahulid and Consolacion converged before proceeding to Sitio Banab-on which is 12 kms. from Barangay Mahayahay. They arrived in Sitio Banab-on in the early morning of October 8, 1993. From Sitio Banab-on, the teams proceeded to Sitio Maglimatok of Barangay Maac, then to Sitio Suwa after which they went down to Sitio Maanghit of Barangay Nahaong, arriving thereat at around 5:30 p.m. before finally going back to the Consolacion PNP Detachment.
Upon arrival at the Consolacion PNP Detachment, an officer informed appellant that Sr. Insp. Garcia had sent a radio message, ordering him to proceed to Libagon Police Station to answer the charge of rape filed against him. The following morning, appellant was interrogated at the Libagon Police Station. Appellant claimed that some of his companions tried to intervene for him since he was allegedly with them during the combat operation. None of them, however, executed any affidavit to support appellants claims.
On cross-examination, appellant declared that he came to know the complainant when he and a friend had a drinking spree sometime in October 1993 in complainants store which also served as her house. He found complainant attractive. They bore no ill-feelings against each other.
PO1 Arthur Arcilla,6 SPOI Antonino Dumaoal,7 SPO3 Jacinto Felicio8 and Sr. Insp. Rufino Garcia9 were presented by the defense to corroborate appellants testimony that he was with the group and served as their guide during "Operation Paglilimpyo" from 9:00 p.m. of October 7, 1993 (the time of the alleged rape incident) up to around 5:30 p.m. the following day. It was thus impossible for the appellant to commit the offense charged.
On September 3, 1997, the trial court rendered its decision, convicting appellant Marlon Moralde of rape, the dispositive portion of which reads:
Hence, this appeal, raising the lone assignment of error:
THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN RELYING SOLELY ON THE VERSION OF THE COMPLAINING VICTIM AND DISREGARDING COMPLETELY THE TESTIMONIES OF THE ACCUSED-APPELLANT AND HIS WITNESSES THAT IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR MARLON MORALDE TO HAVE COMMITTED THE OFFENSE CHARGED BECAUSE HE WAS THEN ACTING AS TEAM GUIDE OF THE PNP IMPLEMENTING "OPLAN PAGLILIMPYO" ON THE DATE AND TIME OF THE SUPPOSED RAPE INCIDENT.
The pivotal issue in this case focuses on the credibility of the victim. In this regard, we reiterate the familiar and well-entrenched rule that the factual findings of the trial court should be respected. The judge a quo was in a better position to pass judgment on the credibility of witnesses, having personally heard them when they testified and observed their deportment and manner of testifying. The evaluation of the testimony of the witnesses by the trial court is accorded the highest respect on appeal because the court below had the opportunity to observe the witnesses on the stand and detect if they were telling the truth. This assessment is binding upon the appellate court in the absence of a clear showing that it was reached arbitrarily or that the trial court plainly overlooked certain facts of substance or value that, if considered, might affect the result of the case.10
There is nothing in the records of this case that persuades us to take a different stand. After reviewing the victim-complainants testimony, we find her to be a trustworthy witness. The explicit and unequivocal narration made by the victim was exhaustive. She also stuck to her story and was uncompromising on events and details on cross-examination. The pertinent testimony of complainant is hereunder reproduced:
On cross-examination, complainant had this to say:
Likewise, the conduct of the victim immediately following the assault was of utmost importance to establish the truth or falsity of the charge of rape.13 The acts of complainant in immediately reporting her ordeal to the authorities and her willingness to submit to the medical examination of her private parts did not only demonstrate personal courage but a determination to seek justice for herself.
Appellant casts doubt on complainants ability to identify him considering that she failed to recognize his alleged companion.
We do not agree. Complainant positively recognized appellant because of the illumination of the lamp inside her house and because she knew appellant even before the incident took place. As admitted by appellant himself, they met each other when complainant asked his name when he was having a drinking spree at her (complainants) store sometime in October 1993. Once a person gains familiarity with another, identification becomes an easy task even from a considerable distance.14
Appellant also accuses Judge Loyao of partiality. The latter allegedly commented and ruled on the questions of the defense counsel during the cross-examination of a prosecution witness. This the judge allegedly did despite the absence of objections by the prosecution.
We find no merit in this contention. The judge need not wait for an objection from the opposing counsel to bar immaterial questions. A judge has the duty to see to the expeditious administration of justice. If the opposing counsel does not object to such questions, the judge should not stand idly by and allow the examining counsel to propound endless questions that are clearly irrelevant, immaterial, improper or repetitious.15 The actuation of the judge in this case, therefore, was proper. In Ventura vs. Judge Yatco,16 Justice Labrador opined and we quote:
Having been positively and unmistakably identified by the complainant as her rapist, the appellants defense of alibi cannot prosper. Categorical and consistent positive identification, absent any showing of ill-motive on the part of the eyewitness testifying thereon, prevails over the defenses of denial and alibi which, if not substantiated by clear and convincing proof, constitute self-serving evidence undeserving of weight in law.17 Alibi, like denial, is inherently weak and easily fabricated. For this defense to justify an acquittal, the following must be established: the presence of the appellant in another place at the time of the commission of the offense and the physical impossibility for him to be at the scene of the crime.18 These requisites have not been met.
Appellant tried to demonstrate that he was far from Barangay Pangi, when the rape occurred on October 7, 1993. The defense even presented four of his long-time friends and companions in the detachment who all testified that appellant was with them during their operation. However, instead of corroborating his testimony, their statements created serious doubts because of certain inconsistencies and lapses. They differed in their declarations on the time they left Barangay Mahayahay, the starting point of their combat operation. The four police officers also contradicted each other as to their exact location at a certain time. At one point, appellant, together with SPO1 Antonino Dumaoal, asserted that they arrived early morning of the next day at Sitio Banab-on from Barangay Mahayahay where they had their breakfast. On the other hand, PO1 Arthur Arcilla affirmed that it was already 12:00 noon of the following day when they reached Sitio Banab-on where they ate lunch. These conflicting statements impaired the credibility of the defense witnesses.
Accused failed to show that it was highly impossible for him to be present at the crime scene at the time of its commission. As observed by the trial court, the distance between Barangay Pangi and Barangay Mahayahay (particularly Sitios Banab-on, Maglimatok and Suwa) is negotiable in an hour or two of fast walking. Thus appellant, together with "Sarge," had sufficient time to go to Barangay Pangi to commit the crime and then return to their place of operation unnoticed. Hence, we reject the appellants defense of alibi.
Regarding the amount of damages awarded by the trial court, we note that the trial court awarded civil indemnity in the amount of P30,000 in favor of the victim but failed to award moral damages. Pursuant to prevailing jurisprudence, the civil indemnity granted by the trial court to the complainant in the amount of P30,000 is modified and is hereby increased to P50,000. Furthermore, in rape cases, moral damages should be awarded without need for pleading or proof as to the basis thereof.19
WHEREFORE, the judgment of the Regional Trial Court of Maasin, Southern Leyte, Branch 25, in Criminal Case No. 1726 convicting Marlon Moralde of rape and sentencing him to reclusion perpetua is hereby AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that the civil indemnity is hereby increased to P50,000 and an additional amount of P50,000 as moral damages is hereby awarded. Costs against appellant.
Puno, (Chairman), Panganiban, Sandoval-Gutierrez and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
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