Can Arnold Clavio be held legally accountable for his relationship with a minor 22 years after?
The main characters:
Sarah Balabagan—She shot to notoriety in the mid-’90s when she killed her employer in the UAE after he attempted to rape her. She was imprisoned from 1994 to 1996. She later was returned to the Philippines at 17 years old after the government appealed to the family of the murdered to drop execution demand in exchange for blood money ($41,000)—which was raised by William Gatchalian, a Filipino businessman. Sarah’s case represented the abuse and hard life many domestic workers experienced in the Middle East, and after leaving the Philippines to work abroad at only 14 years old (her recruiters faked her papers), she returned home to a hero’s
Arnold Clavio—A TV reporter (who is now a news anchor and TV host) whose job assignment was to cover Sarah Balabagan upon her return to the Philippines. Clavio made his first appearance as a television news reporter in 1994, when GMA offered him a reporter’s slot in Brigada Siete.
Sarah Balabagan was a media sensation upon her return. She even tried her hand at singing, and even had a collaboration with Spice Girl’s Gerri Haliwell. Immediately upon her return, journalists covered her every move, especially as interest in her was at an all time high with a biopic shown in theaters that starred then popular dramatic actress Vina Morales.
In 1998, or about a year after her return, her career ended after she got pregnant. She would not say who the father was. Stories were rife that it was her supposed beneficiary, William Gatchalian, or the ambassador, Roy Seneres—both of whom helped her survive her ordeal. Twenty-two years later, Sarah Balabagan Serreno, from her home in Las Vegas, reveals that the father of her firstborn child is Arnold Clavio, one of the reporters tasked to shadow her.
Arnold apparently befriended her, and brought her to many places, and got the teen’s confidence. In her personal FB account where she went live, Sarah, who recently gave birth to a one-year-old child, started off by saying that she asked permission from her husband Jun to go live, and thanked him for being a blessing. Then she moved on to explain that a friend shared with her the viral post on Arnold being her firstborn’s father. She knew she had to speak up for the sake of her children. “Paano pag wala na ako dito sa mundo (What if I am not here in in this world anymore)? Baka maging multo pa ito sa mga anak (These might haunt them),” she says.
She continued by dropping names that were thought to have been in a relationship with her back in 1997—and denied that they were the father. Then, she said it—”Si Arnold Clavio. Siya ang ama ng panganay ko (He is the father of my firstborn).” She recounted that they first met on Aug. 1, 1996 when Arnold and a few other reporters dropped in to interview her on the murder she committed when she was a domestic helper in the UAE.
From there, their friendship bloomed with him reminding Sarah to keep quiet about their relationship.
She kept repeating in the video that there was no excuse for what she had done, and she was hoping there would come a time she could ask forgiveness from those she had hurt. “Alam ko po na nagkasala po ako (I know I committed a sin). Saludo po ako sa maybahay niya dahil nung
malaman nya yun totoo, siya po ang nag reach out sa akin sa Messenger, (I salute his wife because when she found out the truth, she was the one who reached out to me on messenger) ‘Sarah, I forgave you.”
She also asked forgiveness from everyone she hurt—her mom, her siblings, her children, and even the wife and children of Arnold. “Sa panganay kong anak, sorry din (To my firstborn, sorry). Lumabas siya sa mundo na ganoon ang sitwasyon (He came into this world in this situation.” She ends by giving thanks to God for giving her the strength to forgive and move on.
The question on everyone’s minds: Is he still legally liable? Apart from the moral issue of a then 32-year-old man (who was supposed to be married) having an illicit relationship with a 17-year-old girl who was still reeling from her trauma, there’s also the question of whether or not Arnold Clavio should be legally held accountable for this relationship, as Sarah was still a minor.
Lawyer Trixie Cruz Angeles, who is not counsel to any of the parties, says Arnold Clavio may no longer be liable to child abuse charges because the prescriptive period is between 12 years and one day and 20 years. “If the child born out of the act is now 21, it’s prescribed (expired),” she says. “If she was 17 when it happened and she filed, there was a crime, but she didn’t, so he gets away with it.”
The criminal charge is Child Abuse according to RA 7610, which defines children as below 18, and not statutory rape, which is for children below 12 years old. Could the state have filed in behalf of Sarah? Yes, but again, the prescriptive period has ended. So Sarah might have felt emboldened to admit this now that her child is 22 years old, as this makes Arnold Clavio no longer legally liable for any crime. If he is morally liable, we leave it up to your judgment. —With reports by MARIE BUENAVENTURA