Under the Rules on Evidence, only “persons who can perceive, and, perceiving, can make known their perception to others, may be witnesses.”
For purposes of testifying in court, the most important points of a witness’ perception are: (a) the appreciation of the events or circumstances as they occur; and (b) his or her ability to testify on his or her perception.
These qualifications and points of perception are easily applied to a witness who is sane and in full control of his mental faculties.
However, if a witness has difficulty perceiving or has a distorted perception of events, circumstances, conditions, or behaviors, then the competency of the witness may be put in question.
It is also possible the witness accurately perceived the events or circumstances but he or she may not be able to effectively communicate his perception in court.
If there is a defect in the perception and recollection of the witness, he or she may be excluded from testifying or the testimony given may be stricken off the records.
For this particular issue, the author will discuss the competency of a mental retardate to testify.
The Webster Dictionary defines mental retardation as a “mild or severe impairment in intellectual ability equivalent to IQ of 70 to 75 or below that is accompanied by significant limitations in social, practical, and conceptual skills necessary for independent daily functioning and that has an onset before age 18.”
While “[t]he terms, ‘mental retardation’ or ‘intellectual disability,’ had been classified under ‘deprived of reason’,… the terms, ‘deprived of reason’ and ‘demented,’ however, should be differentiated from the term, ‘mentally retarded’ or ‘intellectually disabled’” (People v. XXX, G.R. 243988, August 27, 2020).
“An intellectually disabled person is not necessarily deprived of reason or demented. This court had even ruled that they may be credible witnesses. However, his or her maturity is not there despite the physical age” (G.R. 243988, August 27, 2020).
“He or she is deficient in general mental abilities and has an impaired conceptual, social, and practical functioning relative to his or her age, gender, and peers. Because of such impairment, he or she does not meet the “socio-cultural standards of personal independence and social responsibility” (G.R. 243988, August 27, 2020).
“Thus, a person with a chronological age of 7 years and a normal mental age is as capable of making decisions and giving consent as a person with a chronological age of 35 and a mental age of 7. [However], [b]oth are considered incapable of giving rational consent,… especially on matters involving sexuality” (G.R. 243988, August 27, 2020).
In the case of People v. XXX, the 23-year-old victim, AAA, reached only grade six and was suffering from epilepsy and mild mental retardation.
She was raped on two separate occasions by the accused (XXX) because he told her “[AAA] para gumaling ang epilepsy mo, may gagawin lang ako sa iyo” (G.R. 242684, February 17, 2021).
GGG, sister of AAA, testified she noticed AAA’s belly and hips becoming bigger.
Thus, GGG brought AAA to Dr. Lucila Gatchalian (Dr. Gatchalian) who performed a pregnancy test using AAA’s urine sample, which yielded a positive result.
GGG was shocked to discover AAA was actually pregnant (G.R. 242684, February 17, 2021).
During trial, the credibility of the victim, AAA, was questioned.
The appellant argued “that AAA’s competence as a witness, by reason of her mental retardation, is impaired.”
The Supreme Court declared the credibility and competence of AAA cannot be disregarded merely by reason of her mental retardation (G.R. 242684, February 17, 2021).
In the 2010 case of People v. Castillo, the Supreme Court upheld the credibility of a person suffering from mental retardation:
“[Emphasis must be given to the fact] that the competence and credibility of mentally deficient rape victims as witnesses have been upheld by this Court where it is shown that they can communicate their ordeal capably and consistently. Rather than undermine the gravity of the complainant’s accusations, it even lends greater credence to her testimony, that, someone as feeble-minded and guileless could speak so tenaciously and explicitly on the details of the rape if she has not in fact suffered such crime at the hands of the accused…” (cited in G.R. 242684, February 17, 2021)
In the case of People v. de la Paz, the victim, a 31-year-old woman with the mental capacity of a child six years and six months old positively identified the accused.
“That she had sexual intercourse with him was sufficiently established by her testimony… though a mental retardate, was able to describe how she was ravished by the appellant” (G.R. 177294, February 19, 2008).
“[H]aving the mental age level of a six-year-and-six-month-old normal child would even bolster her credibility as a witness, considering that a victim at such tender age would not publicly admit that she had been criminally abused and ravished unless that was the truth.
“For no woman, especially one of tender age,… would concoct a story of defloration,… if she were not motivated solely by the desire to have the culprit apprehended and punished…” (G.R. 177294, February 19, 2008).
“Moreover, the trial judge’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses’ testimonies is, as has repeatedly been held by this Court, accorded great respect on appeal in the absence of grave abuse of discretion on its part, it having had the advantage of actually examining both real and testimonial evidence including the demeanor of the witnesses“ (G.R. 177294, February 19, 2008).
In the case of People v. Rosales, a psychologist working with the National Bureau of Investigation testified on the victim AAA’s mental condition.
She examined AAA, a 39-year-old victim of rape, and concluded in her Neuro-Psychiatric Examination and Evaluation that AAA has been found suffering from moderate mental retardation with a Mental Age of six years and eight months and an IQ of 41 (G.R. 197537, July 24, 2013).
The Supreme Court observed “[t]he fact of AAA’s mental retardation did not impair the credibility of her testimony. Mental retardation per se does not affect credibility.
“A mentally retarded [person] may be a credible witness. The acceptance of her testimony depends on the quality of her perceptions and the manner she can make them known to the court” (G.R. 197537, July 24, 2013).
In the case of People v. Alipio, the Supreme Court said “it is not fair to judge a mentally-retarded person, one who does not have a good grasp of information and who lacks the capacity to make a mental calculation of the events unfolding before her eyes, according to what is natural or unnatural for normal persons” (cited in G.R. 197537, July 24, 2013).