Protect children’s innocence, vulnerability – Supreme Court

Published September 22, 2021, 4:40 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Supreme Court (SC)

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the conviction of a Batangas resident for human trafficking and exploiting a 14-year-old girl into prostitution in 2011.

Affirmed was the conviction of Wilbert De Leon Brozoto for violations of Republic Act No. 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, and RA 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

The SC, in a decision written by Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez, upgraded the prison term and monetary awards imposed by the regional trial court (RTC) in 2016 as affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2017.

As modified, Brozoto is now sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of P2 million, moral damages of P500,000, and exemplary damages of P100,000 for qualified trafficking of a minor under RA 9208.

For violation of RA 7610 as procurer of a child prostitute, he was sentenced by the SC with a jail term ranging from 14 years and eight months to 20 years and ordered to pay civil indemnity of P50,000.

The SC, citing previous rulings, said:

“A child exploited in prostitution may seem to consent to what is being done to her or him and may appear not to complain. However, we have held that ‘a child x x x is incapable of giving rational consent.’

“Indeed, while ‘the child is one of the most important assets of the nation,’ he/she also remains as one of the most vulnerable. It is for this reason that ‘the child, by reason of his [or her] mental and physical immaturity, needs special safeguard and care,’ and ‘the law will rise in his [ or her] defense with the single-minded purpose of upholding his [or her] best interest’ in case of assault on his or her rights by those who take advantage of his [or her] innocence and vulnerability.

“R.A. 7610 was precisely meant to advance the state’s policy of affording protection to children from all forms of abuse, by providing sanctions for the most abhorrent crimes committed against their persons.

“The Court, as the adjudicative branch of the State, ‘has the incontrovertible mandate under the parens patriae (parent of the country) doctrine to protect’ them. In doing so, we ‘protect the future that rests in the lives of our children.’”

Records showed that the 14-year-old girl had a misunderstanding with her mother and ran away from home. She stayed with friends. It was during her stay with one friend that he met Brozoto who asked her if she was willing to engage in sexual intercourse for money.

Since she had no money and had no one else to depend on but herself, she agreed. Brozoto found a customer for her. After their sexual engagement, she was given P2,000 by the customer for which she got P600 as her share.

She then learned that her sister and some policemen were looking for her. She hid in the house of another friend. Her mother finally located her.

When she narrated her experience, she and her mother filed a complaint against Brozoto who was convicted by the trial court based on her “candid, straightforward, and unequivocal” testimony.

The CA affirmed the trial court’s conviction with a ruling that “the lone uncorroborated testimony of the offended victim, so long as it was clear, positive, and categorical, may prove the crimes as charged”

Brozoto appealed to the SC which denied his petition. Citing its previous rulings on similar cases, the SC said:

“Here, the RTC found the girl’s testimony to be straightforward and consistent, which the CA even affirmed on appeal. While the girl admitted that she acceded with petitioner’s (Brozoto’s) offer to find means to provide for herself, her consent may not be used by petitioner as a valid defense.

“It is well to note that, ‘a child is presumed by law to be incapable of giving rational consent to any sexual intercourse. The victim’s consent is rendered meaningless due to the coercive, abusive, or deceptive means employed by perpetrators of human trafficking. Even without the use of coercive, abusive, or deceptive means, a minor’s consent is not given out of his or her own free will.’

“The Court emphasized that children should not be deemed to have validly consented to adult sexual activity, because they are not capable of fully understanding or knowing the nature or import of their actions. For this reason, they are presumed by law to be incapable of giving consent to any sexual activity and must be protected from the harmful consequences of their attempts at adult sexual behavior.

“Lamentably, the medical findings of the examining physician did corroborate the girl’s claim that she engaged in sexual congress, as borne by the fact that there were lesions found in her hymen.

“Jurisprudence holds that when a victim’s testimony is corroborated by the medical findings of the examining physician, the same is sufficient to sustain a verdict of conviction.

“All told, the girl’s testimony, substantiated by medical findings, confirmed that petitioner persuaded the girl, who was only 14 years old at that time, to have sexual intercourse with a man to earn a commission from such arrangement, which made him liable for qualified trafficking in persons.