Underaged but still competent as witness

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

This is a 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. Can her testimony be accepted as credible and competent evidence?

The child in this case is Susie, who has been living with her grandmother Dina since she was two years old under the care of a babysitter. Dina also has a daughter, Lisa married to Danny, with a two-year-old son Junel living in another house some 60 meters away. Since Lisa was still schooling, she entrusted Junel to Dina, also under the care of a babysitter.

Among Dina’s neighbors is Rudy, a married man who is often seen drunk and causing trouble in the neighborhood.

The incident happened five days after Dina hired Myrna, an attractive young woman, as the new babysitter of Susie and Junel. On that day, Lisa decided not to go to school in order to breast feed Junel at Dina’s house. At past 10 a.m., she proceeded to Dina’s house, went straight to the sala and saw Susie, who tried to tell her something. It was then she saw the exposed legs of Myrna inside the bedroom and found her lying naked on her back with blood on the head and body and cut nipples. Lying face down beside Myrna was her son Junel, already dead.

She ran out screaming to call her husband and the two went back to Dina’s house. 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.

Autopsy results showed that Myrna suffered 13 external injuries on her head and different parts of the body inflicted by a blunt instrument, 10 of them fatal. It also revealed that Myrna was raped, as seminal fluid was found in her vaginal canal which was jabbed by the bottle.

Junel, on the other hand, sustained seven injuries and died due to intracranial hemorrhage. Susie was rushed to the hospital where she was confined for 13 days.

After piecing together the evidence gathered, most especially Susie’s identification of Rudy, Bobby and Lino on three different 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, Lisa testified on how she discovered the three victims and called for help. Dina also testified, corroborating Lisa’s testimony and narrating that when she left her house that morning about 7:30 a.m., she saw Rudy in front of his house drinking and laughing with Bobby and Lino.

With the aid of experts from a hospital chosen by the trial court and the parties, Susie testified in open court and identified the three accused – Rudy, Bobby and Lino – from a line-up composed of 10 persons, as the ones who entered their house on the day of the incident. She pointed to Rudy as the one who struck Junel and Bobby as the one who went on top of Myrna and raped her.

Also presented by the prosecution were the policemen who investigated the case and before whom Susie identified the accused three times. Even the fiscal who conducted the preliminary investigation testified about the identification of the culprits by Susie.

For their defense, Rudy, Bobby and Lino claimed that Susie was not able to clearly identify them and that they were somewhere else when the crime happened. Rudy said he was in another town with his wife while Bobby declared he was at a restaurant eating and drinking with other people. Lino said he was at a bar drinking with his three friends the whole day 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 Myrna; reclusion perpetua for murder of Junel and imprisonment for 13 years minimum up to 17 years and four months maximum for frustrated murder of Susie.

On automatic review by the Supreme Court, the case was referred to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed conviction but modified the penalties to reclusion perpetua for rape with homicide and murder and for imprisonment of 10 years and one day minimum to 17 years and four months maximum for the crime of frustrated murder of Susie, with civil indemnity and moral and exemplary damages.

The SC 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 Susie’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 Susie’s testimony, especially in the identification of the accused. As a general rule, the SC said 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 Susie. 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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