People v. Lagrimas (G.R. No. 195849. August 16, 2017)

[G.R. No. 195849, August 16, 2017]. PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. ERNESTO LAGRIMAS, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

Under review is the decision promulgated on September 24, 2010,[1] whereby the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the conviction of the accused for two counts of statutory rape handed down on February 20, 2009 by the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 83, in Tanauan City,[2] with modification of the amounts of civil indemnity by decreasing them to P50,000.00 for each count of rape, and in addition granting P30,000.00 as exemplary damages for each count of rape.[3]

The following informations for rape were filed against the accused in theRTC,[4] viz.:
Criminal Case No. P-1060

That sometime in the month of March 1996, at Province of Batangas, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, intimidation and with lewd design, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie with and have carnal knowledge with the undersigned complainant, accused (sic) daughter and then a twelve (12) year old minor, against her will and consent.

Contrary to law.

Criminal Case No. P-1064

That sometime in the month of May 1990, at Province of Batangas, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, intimidation and with lewd design, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously lie with and have carnal knowledge with the undersigned complainant, accused (sic) daughter and then a six (6) year old minor, against her will and consent.

Contrary to law.
Evidence of the Prosecution

The accused was the common-law husband of ABC,[5] the mother of the victim, AAA. ABC had left AAA and her brother - then barely a year old - in the care of the accused. The first rape happened in 1990, very probably in May. At the time, AAA was only six years old, and could only remember that there was an activity known as the Flores de Mayo. AAA and her younger brother were sleeping when the accused arrived home drunk between 7:00 and 8:00 o'clock in the evening of that day. He started touching her legs, thighs and "private part." Shortly thereafter, he removed her underwear and took off his pants, spread her legs and placed them on his pelvis. She tried to move away but he pulled her back. He succeeded in having carnal knowledge of her. He warned her against telling to her playmates about what he had just done because it was bad. Afterwards, he simply told her to go to sleep.[6]

In 1996, the accused committed the second rape. He had meanwhile moved to Barangay Sala in Balete, Batangas together with AAA and her brother. He brought along with them his new partner and the latter's son to live with them. In the latter part of March 1996, AAA was alone cooking in the house when the accused arrived. He closed the door and the window and then called her inside the room. After removing her pants, he carried and placed her on the ledge of the window. He unzipped his pants and inserted, his penis into her "private part." The sexual intercourse happened quickly because of his apprehension that his live-in partner might arrive at anytime. Afterwards, he ate his lunch.[7]

In June 1996, Sr. Maria Aurelia Nunez (Sr. Aurelia) noticed AAA and her brother roaming the streets. Noticing that the boy's eyes were infected, Sr. Aurelia invited them to the foster home. Learning from them that their stepfather, the accused, was in the hospital, Sr. Aurelia visited him and requested his consent for AAA and her brother to stay in Bahay ni Maria. He consented to the request.[8]

In August 2000, the accused wanted to take the children back, but AAA refused to go with him. When Sr. Aurelia asked AAA why she did not want to go with him, the child revealed the rapes he had committed against her.[9] Hence, the nuns reported the rapes to the police station. They also had AAA examined by a physician, whose medico-legal report indicated that AAA had healed lacerated wounds in her vagina.[10]

The accused denied the accusations against him, and claimed that he did not know anything about the rapes. He posited that he could not have raped AAA whom he had treated as his own daughter; and that he surmised as the only reason for his being charged by AAA with the rapes was that she did not anymore want to return to his custody.[11]

After the trial, the RTC convicted the accused as charged,[12] viz.:

WHEREFORE, the Court finds the accused ERNESTO LAGRIMAS GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of two (2) counts of statutory rape. He is hereby sentenced to suffer two (2) counts of reclusion perpetua. He is likewise ordered to pay One Hundred Fifty Thousand Pesos (P150,000.00) as civil indemnity conformably with recent jurisprudence and One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) as moral damages.

The period during which he was under detention shall be considered in his favor.

SO ORDERED.
The accused appealed, contending that the RTC erred in giving credence to AAA's unbelievable story about the rapes; and argued that there were circumstances indicating her version as contrary to human experience.

As mentioned, the CA affirmed the convictions with modifications of the amount of civil indemnity and awarding of exemplary damages, to wit:

WHEREFORE, the assailed Decision dated 20 February 2009 of the Regional Trial Court, Fourth Judicial Region, Tanauan City, Branch 83, in Criminal Case Nos. P-1060 and P-1064, is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS in thar Ernesto Lagrimas is ORDERED to pay (1) the reduced amount of P50,000.00 as civil indemnity for each count of rape, or, the total sum of P100,000.00; and (2) P30,000.00 as exemplary damages for each count of rape, or, the total sum of P60,000.00.

SO ORDERED.
In this appeal, the accused insists that his guilt had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Ruling of the Court

The appeal is without merit.

The trial courts' conclusions on the credibility of witnesses in rape cases are generally accorded great weight and respect, and at times even finality, unless there appear in the record certain facts or circumstances of weight and value which the lower courts overlooked or misappreciated and which, if properly considered, would alter the result of the case. Since the trial judges have the direct and singular opportunity to observe the facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice of the complaining witnesses while testifying, they were truly competent and in the best position to assess whether the witnesses were telling the truth.[13] Basic is the rule, therefore, that factual findings of trial courts, including their assessment of the witnesses' credibility, are entitled to great weight and respect by this Court, particularly when the CA affirms the findings.[14]

There is no reason to deviate from the general rule. The accused has not shown to us how the lower courts erred in appreciating the facts, or if they overlooked any circumstance that could have changed the outcome of the case. On the contrary, the CA correctly concluded that "the prosecution [had] satisfactorily discharged its onus of proving that indeed, appellant committed two counts of rape against AAA."[15] In the assailed decision of September 24, 2010, the CA fully explained:[16]
In a forlorn attempt to impugn AAA's testimony, appellant pokes holes in her version of the facts claiming that she having laughed while recounting her ordeal, the same was unbelievable and contrary to human experience. Indeed, this is unusual for someone who had experienced sexual abuse. What is more, during the alleged molestation, AAA herself admitted that while she had the opportunity to run or shout, she chose not. She even offered no physical resistance while she was being raped. And after the rape, she was still able to do her household chores and even play with her friends. These actuations of AAA evidently create doubts as to her credibility and make one wonder if the sexual abuse really occurred.

We are not persuaded.

To Our mind, AAA's burst of laughter made no dint on her credibility. Noticeably, she laughed only when asked what was inside her panty. Still and all when she was already narrating her harrowing experience with appellant, she was in tears. When asked why she was crying, she replied that she recalled what happened to her. Truly, recalling and relating the heartrending past will trigger copious tears as a consequence. In sooth, AAA's testimony, taken in its entirety, demonstrates that she was raped , xxx

x x x x

Therewithal, it bears accent that intimidation in rape cases includes the moral kind of intimidation or coercion. Intimidation is a relative term, depending on the age, size and strength of the parties and their relationship with each other. It can be addressed to the mind as well. For rape to exist it is not necessary that the force or intimidation employed be so great or of such character as could be resisted. It is only necessary that the force or intimidation be sufficient to consummate the purpose which the accused had in mind. Intimidation must be viewed in the light of the victim's perception and judgment at the time of the rape and not by any hard-and-fast rule. It is therefore enough that it produces fear - fear that if the victim does not yield to the bestial demands of the accused, something would happen to her.

In this case, AAA looked upon the appellant as her father. In the nature of things, the latter's moral ascendancy and influence over the former were sufficient for him to subjugate her will and force her to do whatever he wants. AAA was only six years old then when appellant started raping her. Though her young mind did not fully grasp what appellant was doing to her, such repeated bestial acts instilled in her the feelings of fear and shame. This being so, she had no choice but to keep it to herself and just suffer silence, xxx
The accused's persistence in discrediting AAA is futile. The record showed that her narrative of her experiences was spontaneous, consistent and candid, as the following excerpts of her testimony bear out,[17]viz.:
Q You said that when the accused removed your shorts and panty you were capable of shouting, but you did not shout?
A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you not shout?
A I was afraid, sir.

Q Of whom were you afraid?
A Ernesto Lagrimas, Sr. and neighbors.

Q Why were you afraid of Ernesto Lagrimas?
A I am afraid that he would spank me.


Q Why did you think Ernesto Lagrimas would spank you? 
A Because sometimes when he used me and I feel (sic) the pain and I "umaray", he used to hit me then pull me towards him.

Q And you said also that aside from being afraid of Ernesto Lagrimas, you are afraid of your neighbors. Why would you be afraid of your neighbors?
A Because it is shameful.

Q What is shameful?
A Because if I shout, sir, they will discover something and if ever I shout and if ever they discover something , they will not believe me. Q You said a while ago also that it took time for the accused to remove his own pants. Do you remember having said that?
A Yes, sir.

Q At that juncture you were capable of running but you did not.
A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you not run when the accused was removing his pants?
A If I will run, sir, I have nowhere to go and I have to be back again.

Q You also said that at the time that the accused was removing his pants you also have the capability to shout but you did not. Is that correct?
A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you not shout?
A The same as my previous answer. Neighbors might only know and after that they might not believe me.

Q You also did not kick him? 
A Yes, sir.

Q Why did you not kick him?
A I am afraid he may hit or spank me.

x x x x

Q Why did you not kick him? 
A I was afraid he might hit me.

QYou also said that at that time you were not able to shout.

Why this?

A It is shameful to the neighbors.

Q You said that after the incident you did not cry. Why was this?
A I was already used to that situation "Lagi-lagi nang ganoon."

Q And you did not report to the authorities. Why was this?
A I am afraid that they might not believe me."
 (Emphasis supplied)
AAA's declarations revealed that the accused had intimidated her and that she had been fearful of him. Her intimidation by him could be appreciated in terms of the fact that he had been the only father figure she had known after her mother had left her and her brother to his solo care. He had the moral ascendancy over her, an ascendancy that, in the eyes of the law, sufficed to force her to submit to his bestiality even without violence or actual force.

Her delay in reporting the rapes should not be a factor negating AAA's credibility. This Court has ruled in a number of rulings[18] that delay in reporting the crime does not necessarily detract from the witness' credibility as long as it is satisfactorily explained. AAA was only a child of very tender age then; hence, she could not know any better except that what had happened to her was a shameful thing. She even took time before she confided her sad experiences to the nuns. Moreover, she stated that he had threatened that the nuns would go to jail if they did not return her to him.[19]

We must likewise note that the results of the physical examination of her by Dr. Rhonniel Foronda[20] corroborated the positive testimony of AAA. In that examination, she was found to have healed lacerations in her vagina. Such injury was consistent with the essential requisite of carnal knowledge in rape.

The evidence offered by the State against the accused sufficed to overcome the presumption of innocence in his favor. It then behoved him to support his defense of denial[21] with reliable corroboration. Yet, all he could muster was his unsupported denial, which actually left him with not much considering that denial, due to its negative nature, had little, if any, weight in law especially in the face of the positive testimony of AAA herself that he had violated her.

The rape charged in Criminal Case No. P-1064 was committed in 1990 when AAA was only six years old. Hence, the accused was properly convicted of statutory rape under Article 335, paragraph 3, of the Revised Penal Code. The rape charged in Criminal Case No. P-1060, committed in 1996 when AAA was already over 12 years old, was simple rape inasmuch as the Prosecution did not clearly establish the qualifying circumstance of relationship.[22]

Conformably with People v. Jugueta,[23] the Court awards to AAA P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; P75,000.00 as moral damages; and P75,000.00 as exemplary damages for each count of rape, plus interest of 6% per annum on all such damages from the finality of this decision until full satisfaction.

WHEREFORE, the Court AFFIRMS the decision promulgated on September 24, 2010 in C.A.-G.R. CR-HC No. 03878 finding accused-appellant ERNESTO LAGRIMAS guilty beyond reasonable doubt of two counts of rape and, accordingly, penalizes him with reclusion perpetua for each count, subject to the MODIFICATION that he shall pay to AAA P75,000.00 as civil indemnity; P75,000.00 as moral damages; and P75,000.00 as exemplary damages for each count of rape, plus interest of 6% per annum on all such damages from the finality of this resolution until full satisfaction.

The accused shall further pay the costs of suit.

SO ORDERED.

[1] Rollo, pp. 2-21; penned by Associate Justice Japar B. Dimaampao and concurred in by Presiding Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. (now a Member of the Court) and Associate Justice Jane Aurora C. Lantion.

[2] CA rollo, pp. 12-20; Penned by Judge Hermenegildo M. Lacap.

[3] Rollo, pp. 20-21.

[4] Id. at 2-3.

[5] A fictitious name is hereby used to conceal the victim's identity in line with People v. Cabalquinto (G.R. No. 167693, September 19, 2006, 502 SCRA 419), which requires the real names of the rape victim and of the members of her immediate family and the household members, and other information tending to establish or compromise the identity of the victim not to be disclosed.

[6] Rollo, pp. 3-4.

[7] Id. at 4.

[8] Id. at 4-5.

[9] CA rollo, p. 14.

[10] Id.at 15.

[11] Rollo, p. 5.

[12] CA rollo, pp. 12-20.

[13] People v. Dollano, Jr., G.R. No. 188851, October 19, 2011, 659 SCRA 740, 750; People v. Tejero, G.R. No. 187744, June 20, 2012, 674 SCRA 244, 252.

[14] Lateo v. People, G.R. No. 161651, June 8, 2011, 651 SCRA 262, 272.

[15] Rollo, p. 7.

[16] Id. at 12-16.

[17] Id. at 13-15.

[18] People v. Orande, G.R. Nos. 141724-27, November 12, 2003, 415 SCRA 699, 707; People v. Santos, G.R. No. 135454-56, November 13, 2001, 368 SCRA 535, 543.

[19] CA rollo, p. 14.

[20] Rollo, p. 5.

[21] Id.

[22] Id. at 20.

[23] G.R. No. 202124, April 5, 2016, 788 SCRA 331.

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