No eyewitnesses
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - October 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Rape is generally committed without any eyewitnesses except the victim herself. Hence it is usually proven by circumstantial evidence or proof of collateral facts and circumstances from which the existence of the main fact that rape has been committed may be inferred according to reason and common experience. It becomes more difficult to prove if the crime is rape with homicide where the victim herself is killed and could no longer testify. This is illustrated in this case of Anita (not her true name).

Anita was an eleven-year-old girl living in a barangay with her father Lauro and her mother Linda. Also staying in the same barangay were her uncle Andres, Lauro’s brother, and the brothers Berting and Lando whose mother is related Lauro.

One dark evening at about 7 p.m., Berting was seen by Andres dragging Anita by the wrist towards the school. Andres presumed nothing was wrong because the two were relatives. He merely reprimanded them as he went on to buy cigarettes then returned home for a drinking spree with his nephews.

The following day news spread that Anita was missing. So Andres searched for her with the help of the barangay officials who eventually found her lifeless, blackened, naked and decomposing body in a bamboo grove near the school. Anita’s identity was verified by SP03 Lozano who ascertained from Andres that Berting was the person last seen with Anita alive. But when they looked for Berting, he was nowhere to be found. So Lozano prepared an investigation report and requested an autopsy on Anita. Four days later he went back to the barangay and found Berting’s brother Lando, who told him that on the night of the incident, he was walking home with Berting and Anita when Berting told him to go home alone.

Based on the autopsy report, Anita died due to traumatic cerebral contusion with dried blood caused by a tear inside the genital area. So, Berting was charged with the crime of rape with homicide for willfully, unlawfully and feloniously striking, assaulting and clubbing Anita which directly caused her death, and for having sexual intercourse with her against her will. Berting was arrested only about six years and four months later and upon arraignment pleaded not guilty of the crime charged.

To prove the events that occurred as above set forth, the prosecution presented Lauro, Andres, SPO3 Lozano and Dra. Mejia, Dr. Mendoza who conducted the autopsy.

For his defense Berting testified that he was only 15 years old when the crime happened and confirmed that he knew Anita as his cousin who resided in the same barangay. He denied the charge and claimed that on the night of the incident, he was at his grandmother’s house watching television with his brother and 20 other people, including Anita. Thereafter he said that he and Lando returned to their sister’s house to sleep but he did not notice if Anita left already; and when Anita was found dead none of the barangay officials and police officers investigated him. So, he said that six days later his stepfather brought him to the province. Lando also testified and retracted what he earlier told the police, claiming that on the night of the incident, he and Berting went home and slept at their sister’s house after watching TV at their grandmother’s house.

After trial the regional trial court (RTC) found Berting guilty as charged and sentenced him to imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and to pay Anita’s heirs actual moral and exemplary damages including civil indemnity. The RTC ruled that the following circumstances prove Berting’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt: (1) he has been the person last seen with Anita before she disappeared; (2) he fled and hid his identity when he learned he was a suspect; (3) the post mortem examination confirmed that the cause of Anita’s death was traumatic cerebral contusion while the dried blood from her vagina was caused by a tear inside the genital area; (4) his alibi that he went home after watching TV did not preclude the possibility that he was at the crime scene. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA). Were the RTC and the CA correct?

Yes, said the Supreme Court (SC). The SC ruled that the circumstances found by the RTC and the CA are enough to prove Berting’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt because circumstantial evidence is sufficient for conviction if (a) there is more than one circumstance; (b) the facts from which the inference are derived are proven; and (c) the combination of all the circumstances is such as to produce a conviction beyond reasonable doubt (Section 4, Rule 133, Rules of Court).Berting’s denial cannot prevail over the prosecution’s evidence. Although the testimony of his brother Lando corroborated his denial, Lando admitted in his initial testimony before the police investigators that he did not go home with Berting on the night of the incident.

Berting also acted with discernment even if he was only 15 years old when he committed the crime. So he cannot be exempted from criminal responsibility for the crime he committed pursuant to Section 6 of R.A. 9344. First, he perfected the crime in a dark and isolated place. Second, after knowing that he had been tagged as a suspect, he fled to the province and concealed his identity. Third, as confirmed by the social worker assigned to him, he knew and understood the consequences of his acts. Lastly, the NBI medico legal officer concluded that Anita was raped by means of force.

Furthermore, considering that he was already over 30 years old when he was convicted, the automatic suspension of his sentence provided by Section 38 in relation to Section 40 of RA 9344 may no longer be applied. But since he was a minor when he committed the crime, the mitigating circumstance of minority under Section 68 (2) of the Revised Penal Code should be applied. So he should suffer imprisonment from 10 years and one day minimum to 17 years and four months maximum. This is the ruling in the case of People vs. ZZZ, G.R. 228828, July 24, 2019)

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