Maria Gina Avila Mendoza, a mother of three young children, was put to fire in her home in Balasing, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, on 22 November 1989. She suffered extensive second to fourth degree burns and died of hypostatic pneumonia and infected fourth degree burns on 30 November 1989. Her husband, accused-appellant Rolando Mendoza, was charged with the crime of parricide in an information filed on 29 June 1990 with Branch 8 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Malolos, Bulacan. The prosecution presented as its witnesses Paul Michael Mendoza, a five-year old child of the victim and the accused-appellant; Jhun Avila, Teofisto Avila, and Rodora Avila, the victim’s brother, father, and sister, respectively; and Dr. Nieto M. Salvador, the Medico-Legal Officer of the National Bureau of Investigation (NRI). On its part, the defense presented the accused-appellant himself and Erlinda Porciuncula, a childhood friend. As to how Gina was burned, only five-year old Paul Michael could testify thereon. In his testimony during the presentation of the evidence in chief on 18 February 1991, Paul Michael declared that one evening inside their house, his father boxed his mother on her mouth and then tied her up. However, the witness did not answer succeeding questions which sought to elicit what happened thereafter, although he kept on looking at his father throughout this period. He later revealed that he saw matches and kerosene in their house. He likewise declared that his mother was now in heaven because she was dead. During his rebuttal testimony on 12 October 1992, Paul Michael categorically declared that it was his father who “burned” his mother. The accused-appellant, who was drunk at that time, first tied the victim’s hands behind her back, then “poured kerosene” on the front of her body and set her aflame. Paul Michael further declared that his father tied-up his mother because they quarreled when his mother wanted him (Paul Michael) to go with the accused-appellant to the street corner, but his father refused. Finally, many times before, his parents quarreled because his father was always drunk. In giving full credence to the testimony of eyewitness Paul Michael, the trial court observed that:
As provided by Section 20, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court, a person who can perceive, and perceiving, can make known his perception to others, may be a witness. A four-year old boy can already speak clearly, can understand things happening around him, and ready to study, to read and to write. For families who can afford, a four-year old child is already sent to the nursery to begin his/her studies. An intelligent boy is undoubtedly the best observer to be found. He is little influenced by the suggestion of others and describes objects and occurrences as he has really seen them (Pp. vs. Bustos, 45 Phil. 9).
Paul Michael was five months over four years when the incident happened. He could perceive things happening around him. This was the reason why when his grandfather and an uncle found him in the house of a neighbor, he was in a state of shock, or at least dumbfounded (tulala). Because he knew the implication of what had happened to his mother. He knew that the burning of his mother might cause her death. If, indeed, he could not yet perceive things, such happening would pass unnoticed and without impact on him. Unless a child’s testimony is punctured with serious inconsistencies as to lead one to believe that he was coached, if he can perceive and make known his perception, he is considered a competent witness (Pp. vs. Cidro, et al., 56 O.G. 3547). The first time Paul Michael was presented as [a] witness, the only thing substantial he testified on was that his father boxed his mother in the mouth and tied her. On further questions, he refused to answer anymore. The Court noticed the reason for such adamant attitude of the witness. His father, the accused, was directly in his sight and whenever their eyes met, the child could speak no more. The second time the witness was presented, the private prosecutor covered the child from the accused. The Court likewise directed the accused to sit farther away thereby placing the accused out of the direct sight of the witness. As a result, the child was able to testify freely and extensively without hesitation. The accused asked this Court to disregard the testimony of Paul Michael for being “open to serious question and consideration” as it was “often attended [by] unintelligible answers and punctuated by contrary answers to previously given answers”; “[b]esides the child’s tender age, he suffer[s] from [a] lack or inadequacy of sense of duty to tell the truth.” He further claims that per the findings of the Medico-Legal Officer, the victim did not die of burns but of hypostatic pneumonia. After a thorough examination of the records and scrutiny of the evidence, we find no merit in this appeal. The accused-appellant’s seven-page Brief miserably fails to present convincing grounds why the challenged decision should be overturned. The lower court convicted the accused-appellant primarily on the basis of the testimony of eyewitness Paul Michael Mendoza, and it is obvious that the pith of the present appeal is the child’s competency to testify and the credibility of his testimony.
Section 20, Rule 130 of the Rules of Court provides:
Except as provided in the next succeeding section, all persons who can perceive, and perceiving, can make known their perception to others, may be witnesses . . . .
With respect to the disqualification of children to be witnesses, Section 21(b) of the abovementioned rule reads:
The following persons cannot be witnesses:
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(b) Children whose mental maturity is such as to render them incapable of perceiving the facts respecting which they are examined and of relating them truthfully.
It is thus clear that any child, regardless of age, can be a competent witness if he can perceive, and perceiving, can make known his perception to others and of relating truthfully facts respecting which he is examined. In United States vs. Buncad, the Court stated:
The requirements then of a child’s competency as a witness are the: (a) capacity of observation, (b) capacity of recollection, and (c) capacity of communication. 32 And in ascertaining whether a child is of sufficient intelligence according to the foregoing requirements, it is settled that the trial court is called upon to make such determination
ISSUE: W/N the five year old child of the accused and victim is considered a competent witness.
The Supreme Court sustained that the trial court has adjudged Paul Michael competent to testify. A close and careful examination of the testimony of Paul Michael shows that at the time he testified, he could be deemed a child of above average intelligence, i.e., capable of giving responsive answers to the questions asked of him by the trial judge, as well as recalling events and relating them to such recollections. The initial hesitancy of Paul Michael to name his father as the author of the crime was sufficiently explained by the trial court as follows: The first time Paul Michael was presented as [a] witness, the only thing substantial he testified on was that his father boxed his mother in the mouth and tied her. On further questions, he refused to answer anymore. The Court noticed the reason for such adamant attitude of the witness. His father, the accused, was directly in his sight and whenever their eyes met, the child could speak no more. The second time the witness was presented, the private prosecutor covered the child from the accused. The Court likewise directed the accused to sit farther away thereby placing the accused out of the direct sight of the witness. As a result, the child was able to testify freely and extensively without hesitation. The accused-appellant’s contention that Paul Michael’s testimony could have been influenced by the relatives of Gina, who were full of “unwavering anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, revenge,” more so since the child had been in their custody since after 22 November 1989, is unacceptable. The charge is nothing but unmitigated speculation as not a shred of evidence was offered in support thereof. Not even the rigorous cross-examination Paul Michael underwent dented the probative force of his testimony; on the contrary, it merely added strength thereto as it elicited nothing less than the boy’s adherence to truth. We realize how extremely painful it was for Paul Michael to reveal that it was his father who burned his mother. He knew that such a revelation could send his father to jail and thus brand him a son of a killer or a convict. If he did, nevertheless, it was to expose the truth and give justice to his mother who met an excruciatingly painful death. Verily, “from the mouths of children we get the truth.” Neither are we persuaded by the accused-appellant’s claim that the cause of death of his wife was hypostatic pneumonia and not due to the burns she sustained. Such a claim borders on misrepresentation, for as earlier shown, both the Autopsy Report (Exhibit “H-1”) and the Certificate of Post-Mortem Examination (Exhibit “H-1”) indicated the cause of death to be “hypostatic pneumonia; infected fourth degree burns.” Moreover, as testified to by Dr. Nieto Salvador, the proximate cause of the hypostatic pneumonia was Gina’s recumbent position due to the fourth degree burns she suffered.