SC Uses Clear, Straightforward Language in Discussion of Rape to Ensure Accuracy in Court Judgments
March 31, 2023
“The safety and dignity of all persons are worth the disconcerting conversation that must be had, if [the Court] is to dispense with honest justice.”
Thus, held the Supreme Court En Banc in a landmark ruling where, using straightforward language, it clarified when the crime of rape through penile penetration is considered consummated.
In a 40-page Decision penned by Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa, the Court affirmed the Valenzuela Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) conviction of Efren Agao of two counts of Statutory Rape, as also upheld by the Court of Appeals (CA). The Supreme Court, however, modified the lower courts’ rulings, and found Agao guilty of one count of Statutory Rape and one count of Simple Rape.
In 2014, Agao was charged with two counts of Statutory Rape of minor AAA, the daughter of Agao’s live-in partner, BBB. Agao was convicted by Branch 172, Valenzuela City RTC, which ruled that while Agao’s penis only merely touched the labia of AAA, the crime of rape was nevertheless consummated following the 2014 case of People v. Besmonte, which held that carnal knowledge, as an element of rape, does not require full penetration of the female organ.
On appeal to the CA, Agao’s conviction was affirmed, prompting him to bring his case to the Supreme Court.
In ruling against Agao, the Supreme Court stressed the need to use unambiguous language in the resolution of rape cases.
“The Court now recognizes that there is perhaps no other way to reconcile and refine the current jurisprudence on rape than to peel away the euphemistic shrouds that have been resorted to so far, and instead inform case law with the exact anatomical situs of the pertinent body parts referred to in jurisprudence, which, unlike other matters that attend the crime of rape, are uncolored, self-evident and inarguable in their precision.”
The Court noted that the use in jurisprudence on rape cases of “euphemistic but largely inaccurate descriptions have only so far convoluted matters regarding the act of rape that should have been kept unambiguous and definitive.”
The Court added that “a clarification is overdue given that an error in the appreciation of the exact anatomical situs of the genital contact amounts to the justice system’s complicity in the improper imposition of penalties.”
The Court lamented that the lack of clarification has resulted in cases where, “despite clear testimony of child victims of repeated attempts and degrees of penetration of an erect penis, the accused therein were convicted merely of attempted rape precisely because of the absence of the clear operative definition of penile penetration that qualifies as consummated rape, especially in cases of younger victims, in view of the physical natural resistance of their underdeveloped anatomy.”
“The apparent avoidance in the straightforwardness or clarity [in jurisprudence on rape cases] now presents the Court with the need to reiterate and clarify for the bench and the bar, the biologically accurate definition of what constitutes the slightest penile contact which consummates rape through penile penetration,” stressed the Court.
The Court chose to ensure that “no obscurity either unduly benefits the accused (in that the accused is convicted for attempted rape when in fact the crime was consummated) or unduly burdens the victims with the heartbreaking task of jumping through hoops of propounded questions in order to try and prove the genital assault required which jurisprudence itself has not so far made clear.”
Thus, in laying down the operative definition of the minimum threshold for a finding of consummated rape, the Court proceeded to a brief descriptive discussion, with illustrations, of the parts of the external female genitalia, including “a clear indication of the situs of the pertinent parts, in order to categorically delineate for the bench and the bar which physical threshold, when crossed, constitutes rape in the consummated stage.”
The Court then concluded that “mere introduction, however slight, into the cleft of the labia majora by a penis that is capable of penetration, regardless of whether such penile penetration is thereafter fully achieved, consummates the crime of rape.
Reconciling the diverging rulings in existing jurisprudence, the Court clarified that “mere touch” of the penis on the labia majora legally contemplates not mere surface touch or skin contact, but the slightest penetration of the vulval or pudendal cleft, however minimum in degree.”
The Court stressed that such clarification is necessary, as otherwise any nature and degree of touch of a penis of the female genitalia can be considered consummated rape, effectively resulting in all sexual assaults involving a penis and the vulva to only either be acts of lasciviousness or consummated rape, with no gradation of the attempted stage in between.
The Court also took the opportunity to further clarify the stages of commission of rape for pre-puberty victims.
The Court held that “for child victims in the pre-puberty age, the genital contact threshold for a finding of consummated rape through penile penetration is deemed already met once the entirety of the prosecution evidence establishes a clear physical indication of the inevitability of the minimum genital contact threshold as clarified here, if it were not for the physical immaturity and underdevelopment of the minor victim’s vagina, which may include repeated touching of the accused’s erect penis on the minor victim’s vagina and other indicative acts of penetration.”
Noting the peculiar nature of testimonies of child-rape-victims, and taking into consideration their inherent linguistic limitations, the Supreme Court also enjoined courts to exercise circumspection in their appreciation of testimonies of child victims in rape cases, noting that the following can aid the courts in their determination of the existence of penile penetration: (i) when the victim testifies she felt pain in her genitals; (ii) when there is bleeding in the same; (iii) when the labia minora was observed to be gaping or has redness, or otherwise discolored; (iv) when the hymenal tags are no longer visible; or (v) when the sex organ of the victim has sustained any other type of injury.
“Once the testimony of the victim and/or the above attendance circumstances reveal that the threshold genital contact occurred, the courts have sufficient basis to find for consummation,” the High Court held.
Finally, the Court held that set threshold of genital contact may also be applied by analogy to acts of rape by sexual assault under Article 266-A paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code, such that “a finding that the accused has penetrated the vulval cleft of the victim through the use of any instrument or object warrants a factual finding of consummated rape by sexual assault.”
The Court concluded, “At the risk of testing its strength under the weight of its decisions, the Court must remain honest, clear-sighted and unflinching, for to look away is violence.”
The Court also entreated Congress to re-examine the current inconsistency in the scale of penalties in rape, sexual assault, acts of lasciviousness, and lascivious conduct so they may “most accurately approximate and reflect the penalty that each crime truly merits.”
Applying the clarified threshold in the case of Agao, the Court found that Agao’s erect penis touching AAA’s vulval cleft categorically shows that the minimum penile-vaginal contact between the penis and the vulval cleft needed for a finding of consummate rape was present.
However, Agao should only be convicted of one charge of Statutory Rape, which occurred when AAA was 10 years old. The other charge should be reduced to Simple Rape, as it happened when AAA was 13 years old, ruled the Court.
FULL TEXT OF G.R. No. 248049 dated October 4, 2022 at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/248049-people-of-the-philippines-vs-efren-agao-y-anonuevo/
FULL TEXT OF the Concurring Opinion of Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/248049-concurring-opinion-chief-justice-alexander-g-gesmundo/
FULL TEXT OF the Dissenting and Concurring Opinion of Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/248049-dissenting-and-concurring-opinion-justice-marvic-m-v-f-leonen/
FULL TEXT OF the Separate Concurring Opinion of Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh at: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/248049-separate-concurring-opinion-justice-filomena-d-singh/
(Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)