Disabled but competent witness
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2020 - 12:00am

This is another case where the main issue raised is the competency and credibility of a child as a witness. The general rule in this regard is that anyone can be a witness if he/she can perceive and perceiving can make known his/her perception to others and of relating truthfully the facts respecting which she/he is examined.  In this case, the issue is on the competency and credibility of the child-witness who is only eight years old and suffering from cerebral palsy that affects her movement. Can her testimony be accepted as credible and competent evidence?

The child in this case is eight years old Sunshine who has been living with her grandmother Nida since she was two years old under the care of a baby sitter. Nida also has a daughter Liezel married to Dennis with a two years old son Kael living in another house some 60 meters away. Since Liezel was still schooling, she also entrusted Kael to Nida also under the care of a baby sitter.  Among Nida’s neighbors is Rikki, also a married man who is often seen drunk and causing trouble in the neighborhood.

The incident happened five days after Nida hired Mira, an attractive young woman, as the new baby sitter of Sunshine and Kael. On that day Liezel decided not to go to school in order to breast feed Kael at Nida’s house. So at past 10 a.m., she proceeded to Nida’s house, and upon entering the house, she went straight to the sala and saw Sunshine lying on her side facing the wall of a room. Sunshine turned to her and tried to tell her something. It was then she saw the exposed legs of Mira inside the bedroom lying naked on her back with blood on the head and body and cut nipples. Lying face down beside Mira was her son Kael already dead with exposed brains and blood oozing from the nose.

So she ran out screaming to call her husband and the two went back to Nida’s house with Liezel still screaming all the way. Two of their neighbors responded and called the police who arrived at 11 a.m. The policemen found and recovered a bottle of coke litro with human semen on the tip and wooden ashtray from the bed where Mira and the baby Kael were found. Autopsy results show that Mira suffered 13 external injuries on her head and different parts of the body inflicted by a blunt instrument with 10 of them fatal. It also revealed that Mira was raped as seminal fluid was found in her vaginal canal which was jabbed by the bottle. Kael on the other hand sustained seven injuries and died due to intracranial hemorrhage. Sunshine was rushed to the hospital where she was confined for 13 days to treat her injuries.

After piecing together the evidence they gathered most especially Sunshine’s identification of Rikki, Butch and Leo on three occasions as the persons who perpetrated the crimes, charges of rape with homicide, murder and frustrated murder were filed against the three.

At the trial Liezel testified on how she discovered the three victims and called for help. Nida also testified corroborating Liezel’s testimony and narrating that when she left her house that morning about 7:30 a.m., she saw Rikki in front of his house drinking and laughing with Butch and Leo. Then later on, she also learned what happened to Mira, Kael and Sunshine. With the aid of experts from a hospital chosen by the trial court and the parties, Sunshine also testified in open court and identified the three accused, Rikki, Butch and Leo from a line-up composed of 10 persons, as the ones who entered their house on the day of the incident. She pointed to Rikki as the one who struck Kael and Butch as the one who went on top of Mira and raped her. Also presented by the prosecution were the policemen who investigated the case and before whom Sunshine identified the accused three times. Even the Fiscal who conducted the preliminary investigation testified about the identification of the culprits by Sunshine.

For their defense, Rikki Butch and Leo claimed that Sunshine was not able to clearly identify them and that they were somewhere else when the crime happened. Rikki said he was in another town with his wife while Butch declared he was at a restaurant eating and drinking with other people. Leo on the other hand said he was at a bar drinking with his three friends the whole day of the incident until the next morning.

The lower court however convicted the three accused of the crimes charged and sentenced them as follows: death sentence for rape with homicide of Mira; reclusion perpetua for murder of Kael; and imprisonment for 13 years minimum up to 17 years and four months maximum for frustrated murder of Sunshine.

On automatic review by the Supreme Court (SC), the case was referred to Court of Appeals which affirmed conviction of the accused but modified the penalties into reclusion perpetua for rape with homicide and murder and for imprisonment of ten years and one day minimum to 17 years and four months as maximum with civil indemnity and moral and exemplary damages.

The SC likewise affirmed the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. The SC said that a child witness is competent to testify unless the trial court determines upon proper showing that the child’s mental maturity is such as to render her incapable of perceiving the facts respecting which she is to be examined and of relating them truthfully. In this case, the trial court invited expert witnesses to testify on Sunshine’s cerebral palsy and her capacity to perceive events occurring around her and to express them. The trial court was able to see the consistency in Sunshine’s testimony especially in the identification of the accused. As a general rule, the SC said that the judgments of the lower court and the Court of Appeals have basis in fact and in law especially when they coincide with each other.

The defense of alibi by the accused cannot be accepted in the face of positive identification made by Sunshine. Besides it is not physically impossible for them to be at the scene of the crime since they were within its vicinity. So the SC affirmed the conviction of the accused and even increased the civil indemnity and damages (People vs. Golidan et.al, G.R. 205307, Jan. 11, 2018)

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