Thursday, March 08, 2012

People vs. Cañete (2003)

Facts: Alma, a 12 year-old girl, was already sleeping when her uncle, Kakingcio Cañete then inserted his private organ into Alma’s vagina and made a push and pull movement of his body. The next day, Kakingcio attempted to repeat the same, but Alma ran away. She went up the hill to reveal to Alejandra, the common-law wife of Kakingcio, that the latter raped her. 

Alejandra accompanied Alma to the barangay captain and complained against Kakingcio. The medico-legal examination found that she had healed lacerations in her cervix. 

An Information was filed with the RTC of Leyte charging Kakingcio with rape. Kakingcio, assisted by counsel, pleaded not guilty to the crime charged. When he testified, Kakingcio denied having sexually assaulted Alma. He interposed the defense of alibi. 

RTC: rendered a decision finding Kakingcio guilty beyond reasonable doubt of rape and imposing on him the penalty of death. 

Accused: When the prosecution tried to elicit from the offended party how appellant’s penis could have been inserted into her vagina with his pants still on and the appellant’s counsel objected to the question, the presiding judge himself took the cudgels for the prosecution and propounded questions on the private complainant. Worse, the presiding judge posed leading questions to the private complainant. The presiding judge was biased and partial to the prosecution. 

Issue: Whether or not the RTC erred in participating directly and actively in the presentation and reception of the prosecution's evidence. 

Held: NO. A presiding judge enjoys a great deal of latitude in examining witnesses within the course of evidentiary rules. The presiding judge should see to it that a testimony should not be incomplete or obscure. He must be accorded a reasonable leeway in putting such questions to witnesses as may be essential to elicit relevant facts to make the record speak the truth. 

Parenthetically, under Sections 19 to 21 of the Rule on Examination of a Child Witness which took effect on December 15, 2000, child witnesses may testify in a narrative form and leading questions may be allowed by the trial court in all stages of the examination if the same will further the interest of justice. Objections to questions should be couched in a manner so as not to mislead, confuse, frighten and intimidate the child: 

Sec. 19. Mode of questioning. – The court shall exercise control over the questioning of children so as to (1) facilitate the ascertainment of the truth, (2) ensure that questions are stated in a form appropriate to the developmental level of the child, (3) protect children from harassment or undue embarrassment, and (4) avoid waste of time. 

The court may allow the child witness to testify in a narrative form.

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