SC affirms conviction of bar owner for coercing minor into prostitution

Published July 25, 2021, 12:55 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the life imprisonment imposed on a karaoke bar owner who hired a 15-year-old girl in 2009 and coerced her to engage in prostitution in Camalig, Albay.

In a resolution promulgated last June 21 and posted on its website last July 15, affirmed by the SC were the rulings of the trial court and Court of Appeals (CA) which convicted Leny O. Brujas of qualified trafficking in persons under Republic Act No. 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003.

Aside from the prison term, Brujas was ordered to pay a fine of P2 million, and moral and exemplary damages of P600,000. She has been detained at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong City.

“After a judicious study of the case, the Court resolves to DISMISS the appeal for failure to sufficiently show that the CA committed any reversible error in affirming the conviction of accused-appellant Brujas for the crime of Qualified Trafficking in Persons…,” the SC ruled.

The SC said that for a successful prosecution of trafficking in persons cases, the three elements of the crime must be present, namely:

  1. “The act of ‘recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders.’

  1. “The means used which include ‘threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another.’

  1. “The purpose of trafficking is exploitation which includes ‘exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.’”

The SC pointed out that “the crime becomes qualified… when the trafficked person is a child.”

It said that as found by the trial court and the CA, “Brujas hired (the minor) to work in her Kambingan Videoke Bar; she offered a monthly salary in the amount of P2,500; and she recruited her for the purpose of prostitution, as categorically and positively testified to by the minor.”

It added that the victim’s “minority was adequately established by her Certificate of Live Birth showing that she was born on Dec. 12, 1994.”

Based on the CA’s July 16, 2020 decision written by Associate Justice Ramon R. Garcia, the victim, a resident of Sorsogon, was persuaded by her cousin on Dec. 21, 2009 to accompany her to Camalig to consult a physician for her stomach ache.

Once in Camalig, they started looking for a job. They landed in an establishment called “Kambingan Videoke Bar.” The cousin talked to a lady inside the bar. She was referred to “Ate Leny,” who turned out be Brujas, the owner, who did not tell what kind of job the victim and her cousin would do. Brujas just assured them they would earn at least P2,500 a month.

In the evening of Dec. 22, 2009, the victim said she was asked to take a bath first and to wear “a spaghetti-strapped top and short shorts” lent to her by one of the girls working at the bar.

She noticed the place was dimly lit only with male customers who were drinking beer. Later, she said, Brujas, who was also the cashier of the bar, approached her with a male companion. Brujas told the customer the victim was 18 years old.

After drinking beer with the customer, Brujas asked the victim to go with him who had paid P1,500 as bar fine. Left with no choice, she went with the customer.

The victim said they went to a relocation site where a second man was waiting. She said the customer and the other man raped her three times that night. On Dec. 23, 2009, she said she was given P1,000 by Brujas.

She said she could not go home as she did not know how to do so. She said, she was forced to continue working in the bar. She also said she had lost count of the times she was sexually abused, sometimes by several men in one night. She said she received salaries ranging from P700 to P1,000 every night.

Sometime in Feb. 2010, she said she met a woman who advised her to work in a canteen. She hurriedly got things and left the bar.

Later in 2010, she was able to go home and narrated her ordeal to her mother who accompanied her to the police to file a complaint.

She said that after the filing of the complaint, she was approached by the daughter of Brujas to sign an affidavit of desistance and offered P20,000. She said she agreed to sign the document but she confessed she had no idea what she signed. She declared she had no intention of desisting from the prosecution of the case.

She testified in court during the trial of the case.

Brujas interposed a defense of denial. After trial, the regional trial court (RTC), in a decision handed down on Oct. 22, 2018, convicted Brujas.

The trial court’s decision was elevated to the CA and later to the SC.