CASE BRIEF 2019-0010

CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Jordan Batalla [G.R. No. 234323, January 07, 2019]

PONENTE: Peralta, J.:

SUBJECT:

  1. Criminal Law – Rape (Article 266-A of the RPC):Elements
  2. Torts – Exemplary damages

FACTS:        According to the victim, AAA, around 11 o’clock in the evening of August 5, 2011, she was already asleep in the living room when she was awakened by loud knocks on the door made by her cousin Meco De Mayo. She opened the door and went back to sleep. After a while, she was again awakened as she felt compressed by the weight of a person on top of her. When she opened her eyes, she was surprised to see Jordan Batalla, whom she had known to be the friend of her cousin Meco. She could not push him away as he was too strong. AAA narrated that Batalla started to kiss her and warned her not to shout. She became really scared when Batalla threatened to kill her. Thereafter, Batalla rolled up her shirt and mashed her breast. He pulled her pants off, spread her legs apart, and inserted his penis into her vagina, and penetrated her for about 10 minutes. After the incident, AAA recounted that Batalla slept in a sofa near her while she laid exhausted in bed suffering pain in her entire body. After about 30 minutes, Batalla raped her again which caused her to pass out. The following day, AAA noticed blood stains on her bed and panty. Due to fear, however, she did not say a word to anyone. But a few days after, or on August 11, 2016, her mother confronted her about the incident after having read her diary’s entry that she had lost her virginity to Batalla. Consequently, her mother brought her to the Camiling Police Station to report the crime.

Batalla denied the charge and insisted that he was at the birthday party of his mother which was held at their house, attending to the guests all night long.

Jordan Batalla was found guilty by the Regional trial Court for the crime of rape, the dispositive portion of the decision reads:

“WHEREFORE, accused Jordan Batalla is hereby found guilty beyond rqasonable doubt of the offense of rape in relation to RA 7610 and hereby sentences him to a penalty of reclusion perpetua without eligibility of parole.

Accused: Batalla is likewise ordered to pay private complainant the amount of xxx  Php30,000.00 as exemplary damages xxx”


The CA affirmed the judgment of conviction in toto. Hence, Batalla appealed to the Supreme Court.

Batalla argued that the narration of the victim are unworthy of belief because she did not shout for help nor immediately report the rape incident. Also, the victim has not suffered any physical injuries and fresh lacerations as per medical examination report.

ISSUE:

  1. Whether or not the prosecution sufficiently established the presence of the elements of the crime of rape.
  2. Whether the defenses offered by Batalla are sufficient to acquit him.
  3. What must be established for the defense of alibi to prosper?
  4. Whether there is a need for the RTC to qualify the sentence of reclusion perpetua with the phrase “without eligibility for parole in its Decision”
  5. Whether the award of P30, 0000 as exemplary damages is proper.

RULING:
1. Settled is the rule that the trial court’s evaluation and conclusion on the credibility of witnesses in rape cases are generally accorded great weight and respect, and at times even finality, and that its findings are binding and conclusive on the appellate court, unless there is a clear showing that it was reached arbitrarily or it appears from the records that certain facts or circumstances of weight, substance or value were overlooked, misapprehended or misappreciated by the lower court and which, if properly considered, would alter the result of the case. Having seen and heard the witnesses themselves and observed their behavior and manner of testifying, the trial court stood in a much better position to decide the question of credibility. Indeed, trial judges are in the best position to assess whether the witness is telling a truth or lie as they have the direct and singular opportunity to observe the facial expression, gesture and tone of voice of the witness while testifying.

In the instant case, the RTC aptly found that the prosecution sufficiently established the presence of the elements of rape under Article 266-A, paragraph 1(a) of the RPC. During the trial, AAA vividly gave a detailed narration of what transpired in the evening of August 5, 2011. In a sincere and convincing manner, AAA painstakingly recounted how she was suddenly awakened by Batalla who was on top her, how he kissed her very hard, spread her legs, and took away her virginity by inserting his private organ into hers. She re-lived that time when she had to keep the harrowing experience to herself in fear of the threats made to her by Batalla.

2. The claims and defenses of Batalla are bereft of merit. First of all, the fact that AAA failed to shout for help and to immediately report the rape incident does not affect her case. Settled is the rule that delay in reporting the incident does not weaken AAA’s testimony especially in view of the threats Batalla made to kill her. Delay in revealing the commission of a crime such as rape does not necessarily render such charge unworthy of belief. This is because the victim may choose to keep quiet rather than expose her defilement to the harsh glare of public scrutiny. Only when the delay is unreasonable or unexplained may it work to discredit the complainant.

Second, it is settled that the absence of physical injuries or fresh lacerations asserted by Batalla does not negate the rape, and although medical results may not indicate physical abuse, rape can still be established since medical findings or proof of injuries are not among the essential elements in the prosecution for rape. Thus, Batalla may still be convicted of the crime charged even in the absence of physical injuries sustained by AAA.

3.  We have pronounced time and again that both denial and alibi are inherently weak defenses which cannot prevail over the positive and credible testimony of the prosecution witness that the accused committed the crime. Thus, as between a categorical testimony which has a ring of truth on one hand, and a mere denial and alibi on the other, the former is generally held to prevail. For the defense of alibi to prosper, it must be sufficiently convincing as to preclude any doubt on the physical impossibility of the presence of the accused at the locus criminis or its immediate vicinity at the time of the incident. In the case at hand, Batalla insists that he was at the birthday party of his mother which was held at their house, attending to the guests all night long. It bears stressing, however, that said house is only two (2) blocks away from the house where AAA was allegedly raped and can be traversed by foot in just five (5) minutes. Unfortunately for Batalla, therefore, he was clearly in the immediate vicinity of the locus criminis at the time of the commission of the crime.

4. As for the penalty imposed, the Court notes that pursuant to the A.M. No. 15-08-02-SC, in cases where death penalty is not warranted, such as this case, there is no need to qualify the sentence of reclusion perpetua with the phrase “without eligibility for parole,” it being understood that convicted persons penalized with an indivisible penalty are not eligible for parole.

5. Pursuant to People v. Jugueta [783 Phil. 806 (2016)], the amount of exemplary damages awarded by the trial court should be increased to P75,000.00.

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THINGS DECIDED:

A)       The trial court’s evaluation and conclusion on the credibility of witnesses in rape cases are generally accorded great weight and respect, and at times even finality, and that its findings are binding and conclusive on the appellate court, unless there is a clear showing that it was reached arbitrarily or it appears from the records that certain facts or circumstances of weight, substance or value were overlooked, misapprehended or misappreciated by the lower court and which, if properly considered, would alter the result of the case.

B)       Delay in revealing the commission of a crime such as rape does not necessarily render such charge unworthy of belief. This is because the victim may choose to keep quiet rather than expose her defilement to the harsh glare of public scrutiny. Only when the delay is unreasonable or unexplained may it work to discredit the complainant.

C)      For the defense of alibi to prosper, it must be sufficiently convincing as to preclude any doubt on the physical impossibility of the presence of the accused at the locus criminis or its immediate vicinity at the time of the incident.

D) Pursuant to the A.M. No. 15-08-02-SC, in cases where death penalty is not warranted, such as this case, there is no need to qualify the sentence of reclusion perpetua with the phrase “without eligibility for parole,” it being understood that convicted persons penalized with an indivisible penalty are not eligible for parole.

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