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Opinion

Deaf-mute witness

Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

All persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make known their perception to others may be witnesses in cases being tried in court. But are deaf mutes competent witnesses? What must be shown so that they can qualify as witnesses? These are among the issues resolved in this case of Erica.

Erica was single and working as a bookkeeper in a Credit Cooperative located in Manila. On the first working day of the year, she reported to the office bringing with her a camera to take pictures of her officemates for souvenir before going back to her hometown on the occasion of their town fiesta. At 5 o’clock, she left the office bringing with her the camera and P3,000 cash money for expenses in the celebration.

She arrived at about 7:30 pm and alighted along the highway about 300 meters from her house. Across the highway was a waiting shed with four persons inside, namely Andy and his brother Tony alias “Baba” because of his elongated chin, Rolly, alias “Boy Tattoo,” and Sergio, alias “Pipi” because he was deaf mute. The four just came from a beer house where they had a drinking spree with four other barkadas since daytime. They left when they got drunk going to a rice field. On the way, they pass by the waiting shed where Andy and Rolly took “Pidol” cough syrup.

Then Andy, Tony and Rolly left the shed when they saw Erica on her way home along a road which was very dark and silent and surrounded by tall trees and grasses. They asked Sergio to leave already. But instead of leaving, Sergio hid behind the bushes and trees, and thus saw the ensuing incident.

He saw his three barkadas caught up with Erica, as Rolly pushed her while Andy got her shoulder bag. Then Tony and Rolly pushed her against a tree and stabbed her several times in the neck. At this point Andy also joined the two and stabbed Erica until she fell down. As Erica was lying on the ground, Rolly pushed the bottle of cough syrup into her private parts aided by Tony. Then Andy hugged Erica who was still alive and resisting the assault. Together, they undressed Erica and successively raped her, starting with Andy, then Rolly and then Tony. As they take their respective turns in raping Erica, the two others were holding her hands.

After raping Erica, Andy took her bag, Rolly got her camera and cash money while Tony got her ring, earrings and watch. Thereafter, Rolly and Tony went to the rice field while Andy proceeded to the opposite direction.

When the already stiffed body of Erica lying on her back was found by the rice field owner the next day, and upon investigation by police investigators, the Provincial Prosecutor filed two Informations for rape with homicide and theft against Andy, Tony and Rolly.

Andy was arrested and arraigned first and pleaded not guilty. His brother Tony went into hiding upon learning of Andy’s arrest and was apprehended only one year later in the course of the trial. He also pleaded not guilty. But Rolly remained at large.

On five different dates of trial over a year, Sergio the deaf-mute eyewitness narrated what he saw through sign language interpreted by an expert who had 22 years of teaching experience in a school for the deaf, exposure in TV programs and had testified in five other previous court proceedings. So after trial, the RTC found the brothers Andy and Tony guilty as charged despite their denial and alibi that they were at home when the crime happened.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, Andy and Tony contended that the RTC should not have given full faith and credit to the eyewitness account of Sergio who had no formal schooling in a special school for deaf mutes so that conjectures, surmises and inconsistencies in his testimony could not be discounted. They also attacked his character, claiming that he is a drunkard and a drug addict with appending case of rape.

But the SC still affirmed the RTC decision. The SC said that deaf mutes are not incompetent witnesses as long as they: (1) can understand and appreciate the sanctity of an oath: (2) can comprehend facts they are going to testify on; and (3) can communicate their ideas through a qualified interpreter. In this case, the interpreter is definitely qualified with a special training and education for interpreting sign language. The imperfections or inconsistencies in Sergio’s testimony do not detract from the credibility of his testimony much less justify its total rejection. What is material is that he personally knew the accused, was with them when the incident happened and had personally witnessed the rape-slay and theft three meters away from the scene. He did not waiver in the identification of the three accused despite the rigorous cross examination and positively pointed to them as the persons who raped and killed Erica and took her personal effects.

The character of Sergio and the pending case against him does not disqualify him from becoming a witness. For the test to measure the value of a witness’ testimony is whether or not such is in conformity to knowledge and consistent with experience of mankind.

The defense of alibi must yield to the positive identification of Andy and Tony by Sergio. Moreover the place where the crimes happened was just ten to fifteen minutes away from the residence of Andy. In the case of Tony his flight should be taken as an admission of guilt. There was also conspiracy among the three accused.

So they are really guilty as charged and sentenced to two death penalties upon each of them for the rape with homicide and imprisonment of 6 months to 2 years, 11 months and 10 days for theft (People vs. Tuangco et.al. G.R. 130331, November 22, 2000)

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Email: attyjosesison@gmail.com

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