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[PEOPLE v. NOEL SANDOVAL](http://lawyerly.ph/juris/view/c902a?user=fbGU2WFpmaitMVEVGZ2lBVW5xZ2RVdz09)
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EN BANC

[ GR Nos. 132625-31, Dec 18, 2000 ]

PEOPLE v. NOEL SANDOVAL +

DECISION

401 Phil. 676

EN BANC

[ G.R. Nos. 132625-31, December 18, 2000 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. NOEL SANDOVAL, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

For ravishing his two (2) minor step-daughters, Noel Sandoval was charged in seven (7) separate Informations with seven (7) counts of Rape, five of which were committed against Teresa Micu, then thirteen (13) years old, and two counts of statutory rape committed against Victoria "Rhea" Micu, then only eleven (11) years old as evidenced by her Birth Certificate.[1] The Informations were filed before the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan, Pangasinan, Branch 42, and allege as follows:
In Criminal Case No. 97-01815-D

That on or about May 5, 1995 at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned complainant TERESA MICU y FERNANDEZ, against her will and consent, to the damage and prejudice of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01816-D

That on or about May 9, 1995 at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned complainant TERESA MICU y FERNANDEZ, against her will and consent to the damage and prejudice of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01817-D

That on or about April 24, 1995 at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned complainant TERESA MICU y FERNANDEZ, against her will and consent, to the damage and prejudice of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01818-D

That on or about April 18, 1995 at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned complainant TERESA MICU y FERNANDEZ, against her will and consent to the damage and prejudice of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01819-D

That on or about May 5, 1995 at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned complainant TERESA MICU y FERNANDEZ, against her will and consent to the damage and prejudice of the latter.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01820-D

That sometime in April 2, 1997 in the evening thereof, at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, being then the stepfather, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse in their conjugal house with VICTORIA "RHEA" F. MICU, who is under twelve (12) years old, against her will and consent, to her damage and prejudice.

CONTRARY to Art. 335, par. 3 of the Revised Penal Code, in relation to R.A. 7659.

In Criminal Case No. 97-01821-D

That sometime in April 5, 1997 in the evening thereof, at barangay Casibong, municipality of San Jacinto, province of Pangasinan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, being then the stepfather, by means of force, threat and intimidation, did, then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse in their conjugal house with VICTORIA "RHEA" F. MICU, who is under twelve (12) years old, against her will and consent, to her damage and prejudice.

CONTRARY to Art. 335, par. 3 of the Revised Penal Code, in relation to R.A. 7659.
Accused-appellant was arraigned on July 23, 1997 for the first five (5) counts of rape, wherein he pleaded NOT GUILTY. The following day, the Public Prosecutor filed a Motion for Leave to Amend the five (5) criminal complaints to allege the relationship of the victim and the accused. On July 31, 1997, accused-appellant was scheduled to be arraigned for the other two (2) counts of rape but he failed to appear because of lack of notice on the Provincial Warden. At this point, the Public Prosecutor called the attention of the Court to the Amended Informations he filed in the first five (5) cases, to which accused-appellant has already been arraigned and has pleaded not guilty on July 23, 1997. Counsel for the defense objected on the ground that the amendment would prejudice the right of accused-appellant.

The court a quo ruled that since there was no evidence yet presented, the matter of amendment should be brought at the proper time after the prosecution has presented its evidence. Thus, the resolution of the Motion to Amend Information in Criminal Cases Nos. 97-01815-D, 97-01816-D, 97-01817-D, 97-01818-D and 97-01819-D was held in abeyance. Meanwhile, on August 7, 1997, accused-appellant was arraigned and pleaded NOT GUILTY to the two (2) counts of statutory rape in Criminal Cases Nos. 97-01820-D and 97-01821-D. Thereafter, a joint trial of all the seven (7) cases was conducted. The prosecution presented five (5) witnesses, including the two (2) complainants while on the other hand, the defense presented three (3) witnesses including the accused-appellant.

On January 9, 1998, the court a quo rendered its decision,[2] the dispositive portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the accused NOEL SANDOVAL is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of six (6) counts of the crime of rape in Criminal Cases Nos. 97-01815-D, 97-01816-D, 97-01817-D, 97-01819-D, 97-01820-D and 97-01821-D and is hereby sentenced to suffer the mandatory penalty of DEATH for each act of rape. In addition, he is ordered to pay P50,000.00 as moral damages for each case or a total of P300,000.00. Also for each count of rape, he is further ordered to pay P5,000.00 as exemplary damages as example for the public good or a total of P30,000.00. He is however acquitted in Criminal Case No. 97-01818-D for insufficiency of evidence.

SO ORDERED.
In view of the penalty imposed, the records were elevated to this Court for automatic review pursuant to Article 47 of the Revised Penal Code and Rule 122, Section 10 of the Rules of Court.

Accused-appellant seeks the reversal of his conviction on the following grounds:

I
The court a quo erred in convicting the accused-appellant of the crime of Rape on the person of Teresa Micu and imposing the death penalty upon him notwithstanding the fact that, at the time of the alleged commission, he was not yet married to the victims' mother.

II

The court a quo erred in convicting the accused-appellant of the crime of Rape over Rhea Micu, considering her lack of credibility which finds support in the medical findings of the physician who examined her.

III

The court a quo erred in awarding damages to the complainants notwithstanding that the latter never testified to establish the same and the only basis of such on record is the testimony of their aunt, Perlita Fernandez, who is not their legal guardian.
After a thorough scrutiny of the records of the case at bar, this Court finds that the trial court did not err in convicting accused-appellant of the crime of rape on the person of Teresa Micu. During her testimony, she clearly and convincingly established before the court a quo the facts and circumstances that transpired during the several occasions when accused-appellant raped her.[3]

The rule has always been that in the matter of credibility of witnesses, factual findings of the trial court should be highly respected. The trial judge is in a better position to pass judgment on the credibility of witnesses, having had the opportunity to personally hear them, observe their deportment and manner of testifying and detect if they were telling the truth.[4] We find no reason to depart from this rule in this particular case. It should be remembered also that courts usually give credence to the testimony of a girl who is a victim of sexual assault because, ordinarily, no person would be willing to undergo the humiliation of a public trial and to testify on the details of her ordeal were it not to condemn an injustice.[5]

However, we cannot agree with the trial court's imposition of the death penalty on accused-appellant for the rape of Teresa Micu. The pertinent law in effect at the time of commission of the crimes in this case, Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 11 of R.A. 7659, provides:
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;

x x x x x x x x x

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, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree, or the common law spouse of the parent of the victim. x x x. (Underscoring ours)
The above-quoted provision states, inter alia, that where the victim of the crime of rape is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a common-law spouse of the parent of the victim, the death penalty shall be imposed. This is one of the seven (7) modes enumerated in Section 11 of R.A. No. 7659 which are considered special circumstances specifically applicable to the crime of rape. In the subsequent cases of People v. Ilao[6] and People v. Medina,[7] it was ruled that the seven new attendant circumstances in Section 11 of R.A. No. 7659 "partake of the nature of qualifying circumstances and not merely aggravating circumstances," since said qualifying circumstances are punishable by the single indivisible penalty of death and not by reclusion perpetua to death. A qualifying circumstance increases it to a higher penalty while an aggravating circumstance affects only the period of the penalty but does not increase it to a higher degree. Unlike a generic aggravating circumstance which may be proved even if not alleged, a qualifying aggravating circumstance cannot be proved as such unless alleged in the information.

A reading of the Information for the rape of Teresa Micu filed against accused-appellant reveals that he was merely charged with the crime of simple rape. The fact that accused-appellant is the common-law spouse of the victim's parent is not alleged in the Information. What was stated therein was only the minority of the victim. As we have emphasized, the elements of minority of the victim and her relationship to the offender must be both alleged.[8] As such, the special qualifying circumstance stated in Section 11 of RA 7659 was not properly pleaded in the Information. Thus, the penalty of death prescribed in RA 7659 can not be imposed on accused-appellant. Indeed, it would be a denial of the right of the accused to be informed of the charges against him and, consequently, a denial of due process if he is charged with simple rape and be convicted of its qualified form punishable with death although the attendant circumstances qualifying the offense and resulting in the capital punishment was not alleged in the indictment on which he was arraigned.[9]

The amendment sought by the prosecution of the five informations, in order to allege the relationship of accused-appellant to the victim, were clearly substantial in character as they had the effect of changing the crime charged, thereby exposing accused-appellant to a higher penalty. Such amendment can no longer be done after accused-appellant has pleaded to the Information for simple rape on July 23, 1997,[10] without violating his constitutional rights. Rule 110, Section 14 of the Rules of Court, provides:
The information or complaint may be amended, in substance or form, without leave of court, at anytime before the accused pleads; and thereafter and during the trial as to all matters of form, by leave and at the discretion of the court, when the same can be done, without prejudice to the rights of the accused. x x x.
In sum, the failure of the prosecution to allege the relationship of the accused to the victim has effectively removed the crime from the ambit of Section 11 of Republic Act No. 7659, which prescribes the death penalty when the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree or the common-law spouse of the parent of the victim.[11] In the recent cases of People v. Calayca,[12] People v. Tabion[13] and People v. Acala,[14] where the prosecution failed to allege the fact of minority of the victim in the Informations, we reduced the penalty imposed from death to reclusion perpetua.

Anent the second assigned error, accused-appellant attempts to discredit Rhea Micu, the second victim, by invoking the findings of the examining physician, Dr. Luisa Cayabyab, to the effect that she could not tell whether force attended the laceration of Rhea's organ and that even the tip of her finger could not reach the said complainant's cervix when she attempted to check the same.[15] According to accused-appellant, this shows that the victim had never experienced sexual intercourse.

Appellant's claim is without merit.

A circumspect scrutiny of Dr. Cayabyab's testimonial declarations discloses that they were not conclusive. As a matter of fact, the medical examination, standing alone, is not sufficient to prove nor disprove the fact of rape. On the contrary, her testimony even tended to clarify the apparent conflict pointed out by accused-appellant, viz:
Q
Likewise one of your findings is that her vagina admits one finger, in this finding of yours, it does not show any force or can be interpreted that there was no force of inserting something on the vagina of the patient, is that right?
A
I cannot say directly that there was no force because the vagina is so elastic like a rubber, sir.
 
Q
And so you can conclude that there was really no force?
A
I cannot say that there was no force because as I have said the vaginal canal is so elastic, sir.
   
COURT
Q There may be force or no force?
A Yes, Your Honor.
   
  Proceed,
   
ATTY. TAMINAYA
Q When you stated in your findings, "admits one finger", could you tell this Court that there was no penis yet or any object that was inserted?
A As I have said, the vaginal canal is so elastic so I cannot say if there was or there was no object that was inserted, sir.
   
COURT
Q Was there something introduced into the vagina or inserted inside?
A Maybe yes, maybe no, sir.
   
Q I think that the hymen can tell you that something was inserted into the vagina because of the laceration?
A It is possible, sir.
   
  Proceed.
   
ATTY. TAMINAYA
   
Q In this case, there was no showing that the hymen was lacerated?
A There was healed laceration, sir.
   
COURT
Q But whether or not the laceration was caused by force or no force, you could not tell?
A Yes, Your Honor.[16]
In the crime of rape, complete or full penetration of the complainant's private part is not necessary. Neither is the rupture of the hymen essential. What is fundamental is that the entrance or at least the introduction of the male organ into the labia of the pudendum is proved. The mere introduction of the male organ into the labia majora of the victim's genitalia and not the full penetration of the complainant's private part consummates the crime.[17] More importantly, it has been ruled in People v. San Juan[18] that in crimes against chastity, the medical examination of the victim is not an indispensable element for the successful prosecution of the crime, as her testimony alone, if credible, is sufficient to convict the accused thereof.

As found by the court a quo, Rhea's testimonies were overwhelmingly straightforward, logical and convincing as to be worthy of belief and impervious to a mere denial by accused-appellant Noel Sandoval, to wit:
Q Sometime in the evening of April 2, 1997, do you remember where you were?
A Yes, sir.
   
Q Where were you?
A I was in Brgy. Casibong, San Jacinto, Pangasinan, sir.
   
Q Where in Brgy. Casibong were you staying?
A In the house of my step-father, sir.
   
Q Your step-father, you are referring to the accused in this case?
A Yes, sir.
   
Q While you were in the house of your step-father in the evening of April 2, 1997, where were you in relation to that house?
A I was inside the house, sir.
   
Q What were you doing at that precise time?
A I was tending the small child to sleep, sir.
   
Q What is the name of that small child?
A John, sir.
   
Q While you were tending the small child by the name of John, what happened next after that?
A While tending, I was able to sleep, sir.
   
Q Were you awakened?
A Yes, sir.
   
Q Why were you awakened, could you explain to the Honorable Court?
A I was awaken because somebody went on top of me, sir.
   
Q When somebody went on top of you, who was that person?
A Noel Sandoval, sir.
   
Q

When Noel Sandoval went on top of you, what happened next after that?

A He removed my shortpant and my pantie, sir.
   
Q After Noel Salvador removed your shortpant and pantie, what did Noel Sandoval do, if he did anything?
A After he removed my shortpant and my pantie, Noel Sandoval also removed his pants and brief and thereafter, he inserted his penis into my vagina, sir.
   
Q After Noel Sandoval inserted his penis to your vagina, what did Noel Sandoval do, if he did anything?
A He kissed me, sir.
   
Q What part of your body did Noel Sandoval kiss you?
A My neck, sir.
   
Q What else?
A Only my neck, sir.
   
Q On April 5, 1997, do you remember where you were?
A I was also in the house of my step-father, sir.
   
Q What were you doing in that precise time of the day?
A I was already asleep then, sir.
   
Q Were you awakened?
A

Yes, sir.

   
Q Why? Could you explain before the Honorable Court why you were awakened on the evening of April 5, 1997?
A I was awakened because I felt pain, sir.
   
Q Why did you feel pain.
A I felt pain inside my vagina, sir.
   
Q Why? Can you explain before the Honorable Court why you felt pain in your vagina?
A Because my step-father inserted his penis inside my vagina, sir.
   
Q What part of the house of your step-father did he insert his penis?
A Inside the house, sir.[19]
It is a well-settled rule that an affirmative testimony is far stronger than a negative testimony, especially so when it comes from the mouth of a credible witness.[20]

We agree with the trial court that the evidence for the prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that Noel Sandoval is guilty of the rape of Rhea Micu. However, as in the other four cases, the death penalty can not be imposed on him. The prosecution failed to prove that accused-appellant was legally married to the victim's mother, in order to substantiate the allegation in the Amended Informations in Criminal Cases Nos. 01820-D and 01821-D that the accused-appellant is the stepfather of the victim. In People v. Brigildo,[21] a stepdaughter was defined as the daughter of one's spouse by a previous marriage or the daughter of one of the spouses by a previous marriage. It is the burden of the prosecution to prove with certainty the fact that the victim was the stepdaughter of the accused-appellant to justify the imposition of the death penalty. Corollarily, the prosecution must establish that accused-appellant is legally married to the victim's mother. In order that the qualifying circumstances under Section 11 of R.A. 7659, which raises the penalty of rape to death, can be appreciated, the circumstances must be both alleged and proved. Accordingly, the proper penalty for the two counts of rape against Rhea Micu is reclusion perpetua.

Finally, we affirm the trial court's award of moral and exemplary damages to the complainants notwithstanding that the latter never testified to establish the same.

The award of moral damages for rape is proper as it is provided in Article 2219 (3) of the Civil Code. In accordance with prevailing jurisprudence, accused-appellant should be made to pay P50,000.00, especially considering that the offended parties were of tender age at the time of the crime.[22] In People v. Prades,[23] it was ruled that the award of moral damages to the victim is proper even if there was no proof presented during the trial as basis therefor. The fact that the complainant suffered the trauma of mental, physical and psychological sufferings which constitute the bases for moral damages are too obvious to still require the recital thereof at the trial by the victim, since the Court itself even assumes and acknowledges such agony on her part as a gauge of her credibility.[24]

On the other hand, exemplary damages may also be awarded in criminal cases as part of the civil liability if the crime was committed with one or more aggravating circumstances.[25] Accused-appellant being the stepfather of the victims, relationship should be appreciated as an aggravating circumstance under Article 15 of the Revised Penal Code.

In addition to moral and exemplary damages, civil indemnity must also be awarded to the victims since it is mandatory upon the finding of the fact of rape.[26] The recent judicial prescription is that the indemnification for the victim shall be in the amount of P50,000.00 for each count of rape if the death penalty is not imposed.[27]

WHEREFORE, the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Dagupan, Pangasinan, Branch 42, is AFFIRMED with the MODIFICATION that accused-appellant Noel Sandoval is found guilty of four (4) counts of simple rape committed against Teresa Micu and two (2) counts of simple rape committed against Victoria "Rhea" Micu, and is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of RECLUSION PERPETUA for each of the six (6) counts.

Further, accused-appellant is ordered to pay P50,000.00 for each of the six (6) counts of rape, or a total of P300,000.00, as moral damages; P10,000.00 for each of the six (6) counts of rape, or a total of P60,000.00, as exemplary damages; and P50,000.00 for each of the six (6) counts of rape, or a total of P300,000.00, as civil indemnity.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.



[1] Exhibit "A".

[2] Penned by Judge Luis M. Fontanilla.

[3] TSN, September 12, 1997, pp. 5-10.

[4] People v. Apongan, 270 SCRA 713, 729 (1997).

[5] People v. Adora, 275 SCRA 441, 467 (1997).

[6] 296 SCRA 658, 670 (1998).

[7] 300 SCRA 98, 116 (1998).

[8] People v. Ramos, 296 SCRA 559, 576 (1998); People v. Arves, G.R. Nos. 134628-30, October 13, 2000.

[9] People v. Masac, G.R. No. 130332, May 31, 2000.

[10] Record, p. 18.

[11] People v. Bayya, G.R. No. 127845, March 10, 2000.

[12] 301 SCRA 192, 210 (1999).

[13] 317 SCRA 126, 145 (1999).

[14] 307 SCRA 330, 359-360 (1999).

[15] TSN, September 9, 1997, p. 11.

[16] TSN, September 9, 1997, pp. 7-8.

[17] People v. Cura, 240 SCRA 234, 242 (1995).

[18] 270 SCRA 693, 709 (1997).

[19] TSN, October 6, 1997, pp. 3-5.

[20] People v. San Juan, supra.

[21] G.R. No. 124129, January 28, 2000, citing People v. Tolentino, G.R. No. 130514, June 17, 1999, p. 8.

[22] People v. Sanchez, 250 SCRA 14, 30 (1995).

[23] People v. Prades, 293 SCRA 411, 430 (1998).

[24] Ibid.

[25] People v. Estares, 282 SCRA 524, 535 (1997).

[26] People v. Prades, supra; People v Caballes, 274 SCRA 83, 100 (1997).

[27] People v. Poñado, 311 SCRA 529, 546 (1999).
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