Cunanan v. People (G.R. No. 199230. August 16, 2017)

CASE DIGEST: [G.R. No. 199230, August 16, 2017]. RESTITUTE GANTOY CUNANAN, PETITIONER, V. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, RESPONDENT.

The petitioner was charged with acts of lasciviousness and found guilty of the crime charged by the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC), Branch 80, in Muntinlupa City for mashing the breast of his neighbor's wife in the National Bureau of Prisons Compound in Muntinlupa City. On appeal, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) affirmed the conviction.

The MeTC sentenced petitioner to an indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of one (1) month and one (1) day of arresto mayor as minimum to two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day of prision correccional as maximum.

Through its assailed decision promulgated on July 11, 2011," the Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the affirmance by the RTC and modified the MeTC's decision.
Section 1 of the Indeterminate Sentence Law expressly requires that the court shall sentence the accused to an indeterminate sentence the maximum term of which shall be that which, in view of the attending circumstances, could be properly imposed under the rules of the said Code, and the minimum which shall be within the range of the penalty next lower to that prescribed by the Code for the offense.

The imposable penalty for the crime of acts of lasciviousness under Article 336 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, is prision correccional in its full range. Applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, the minimum of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the full range of arresto mayor which has a range of one (1) month and one (1) day to six (6) months. Absent any modifying circumstances attendant to the crime, the maximum of the indeterminate penalty shall be taken from the medium period of prision correccional or two (2) years, four (4) months and one (1) day to four (4) years and two (2) months. Accordingly, the (petitioner) is hereby meted an indeterminate penalty of six (6) months of arresto mayor, as minimum, to four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional, as maximum. We impose the penalty in its medium period, there being no aggravating or mitigating circumstance alleged and proved.
HELD: The Supreme Court AFFIRMED the decision of the CA.

The CA justifiably accorded faith and credence to the version of the complainant, which was fully corroborated by Antonio Alvarado, a neighbor who had witnessed the commission of the crime. Rejecting the uncorroborated alibi of the petitioner, the CA rendered the following conclusions on the guilt of the petitioner for acts of lasciviousness, to wit:
Jurisprudence dictates that denial and alibi are the common defenses in (acts of lasciviousness) cases. (Acts of lasciviousness are) denied on the allegation that the (petitioner) was somewhere else and could not have physically committed the crime. (The High) Court has always held that these two defenses are inherently weak and must be supported by clear and convincing evidence in order to be believed. As negative defenses, they cannot prevail over the positive testimony of (AAA). Consequently, (petitioner)'s bare denial and alibi must fail against the testimony of (AAA) and her positive identification that he was the perpetrator. In order for alibi to prosper, accused must prove two things: first, that he was present at another place at the time of the perpetration of the crime; and second, that it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime. Physical impossibility is defined as "the distance between the place where the accused was when the crime transpired and the place where it was committed, as well as the facility of access between the two places." Alibi fails "where, owing to the short distance as well as the facility of access between the two places involved, there is least chance for the accused to be present at the crime scene."

In the instant case, petitioner failed to present evidence that he was at another place during the incident. He also admitted that on 05 February 1996, he was just at the "kabilang bakuran" or at the hut of Aida Espinida, Analyn Bustamante and Rosemarie Paduyato which was more or less 30 meters away from the house of AAA. Hence, as it was physically possible for him to be present at the place of the incident, his claim of alibi must fail.[4]
Article 336[5] of the Revised Penal Code punishes acts of lasciviousness with prision correccional. The CA ruled that the penalty to be imposed on the petitioner was the "indeterminate penalty of six (6) months of arresto mayor, as minimum, to four (4) years and two (2) months of prision correccional, as maximum."

Although the minimum and maximum came within the ranges authorized under the Indeterminate Sentence Law, we have to modify the indeterminate sentence as thus imposed. In the absence of any modifying circumstances, the penalty of prision correccional is to be imposed in the medium period (i.e., two years, four months and one day to four years and two months). Interestingly, the CA applied the ceiling of the penalty without specifying the justification for doing so. Such application was legally unwarranted. The specification of the justification was necessary in order to comply with the seventh rule enunciated in Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code on the application of penalties containing three periods. As the Court has stressed in Ladines v. People[6]
xxx although Article 64 of the Revised Penal Code, which has set the rules "for the application of penalties which contain three periods," requires under its first rule that the courts should impose the penalty prescribed by law in the medium period should there be neither aggravating nor mitigating circumstances, its seventh rule expressly demands that "within the limits of each period, the courts shall determine the extent of the penalty according to the number and nature of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and the greater or lesser extent of the evil produced by the crime.'' By not specifying the justification for imposing the ceiling of the period of the imposable penalty, the fixing of the indeterminate sentence became arbitrary, or whimsical, or capricious. In the absence of the specification, the maximum of the indeterminate sentence for the petitioner should be the lowest of the medium period of reclusion temporal, which is 14 years, eight months and one day of reclusion temporal. (Bold underscoring supplied for emphasis; italicized portions are part of the original text)
Accordingly, the correct indeterminate sentence to be meted on the petitioner should be four months of arresto mayor, as the minimum, and the maximum should be two years, four months and one day of prision correccional.

In addition, the lower courts ignored the reality that the victim in acts of lasciviousness suffers moral injury from embarrassment or emotional stress. For this purpose, AAA should be granted moral damages of P10,000.00 because she had undoubtedly suffered such moral injury, which can be assuaged in that amount. The award of moral damages shall earn interest of 6% per annum from the finality of this decision until full satisfaction.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision promulgated on September 8, 2010, subject to the MODIFICATION that the petitioner shall: (a) SUFFER the indeterminate sentence of four months of arresto mayor, as the minimum, to two years, four months and one day of prision correccional, as the maximum; and (b) PAY to AAA the amount of P10,000.00 as moral damages, plus interest of 6% per annum from finality of this resolution until full satisfaction, and the costs of suit.

[1] Article 336. Acts of Lasciviousness. — Any person who shall commit any act of lasciviousness upon other persons of either sex, under any of the circumstances mentioned in the preceding article, shall be punished by prision correccional.
[2] G.R. No. 167333, January 11, 2016, 778 SCRA 83, 93.

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