SC division orders dismissal of rape, acts of lasciviousness charges vs Vhong Navarro

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC division orders dismissal of rape, acts of lasciviousness charges vs Vhong Navarro
Vhong Navarro confers with his lawyer after he surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation in Quezon City yesterday.
Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:52 p.m.) — The Supreme Court’s Third Division has ordered the dismissal the rape and acts of lasciviousness charges filed against actor-host Vhong Navarro due to lack of probable cause.

The Division, in a 43-paged ruling dated February 8 but made public Monday, granted the Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by Navarro’s legal team.

"Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES the following Informations against Ferdinand 'Vhong' H. Navarro for lack of probable cause," the ruling read.

“The Decision dated July 21, 2022 and the Resolution dated September 20, 2022 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 166222 are reversed and set aside,” it added.

The said CA rulings reversed the Department of Justice resolutions that dismissed the charges against Navarro. The appeals court then ordered the filing of rape and acts of lasciviousness against the actor.

But the SC Division said that the appeals court “erred in finding that the DOJ committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction in dismissing the Third Complaint for rape and attempted rape against Navarro for lack of probable cause.”

Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting penned the ruling, with concurrences from Associate Justices Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa (chairperson of the division), Samuel Gaerlan, Japar Dimaampao and Maria Filomena Singh.

Navarro is currently out on bail.

Inconsistencies in allegations

The SC noted that the determination of probable cause for filing of charges belongs to the public prosecutor, although “judicial intrusion is justified when the exercise of such authority is tainted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.”

This happens when the prosecutor exercised his or her power in an "arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility; and it must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion or to a unilateral refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act in contemplation of law."

In the case against Navarro, the CA held that the DOJ erred when it denied Deniece Cornejo’s petition as her testimonies were inconsistent and incredible, as it added that issues of credibility should be adjudged during trial.

But the SC pressed: What are the matters or evidence that prosecutors evaluate to file charges before court? When faced with inconsistencies of allegations, are prosecutors precluded from making findings? Would such evaluation set the standards too high?

“In the case, the Court finds that the prosecutor's findings of lack of probable cause against Navarro for the imputed crimes proceed from an adherence to the foregoing legal yardsticks, thus negating grave abuse of discretion on the part of the DOJ in denying Comejo's petition for review,” the high court said.

It added that the prosecutor carefully examined the evidence at hand and arrived at the findings objectively. The SC also noted the inconsistencies in Cornejo’s allegations in the three complaints.

In her first complaint filed Jan. 29, 2014, she alleged that she was not raped. In the second rap filed a month later and third complaint filed Oct. 16, 2015, Cornejo alleged rape. In the first and second complaints, she also said she did not take a sip from the glass of wine, which she contradicted in her third complaint.

“Justice and fair play dictate that Cornejo should not be permitted to materially change her theory in her two previous complaints in a deliberate attempt to address or rectify the weaknesses of her theories, as pointed out by the prosecutor in the dismissal thereof, or worse, supplant or add new material allegations,” the SC said.

The high court stressed that inconsistencies in Cornejo’s allegations are not trivial, and the prosecutor had reasons to doubt her accusations.

“Under the circumstances, the CA simply had no basis to reverse the prosecutor's finding of lack of probable cause. On the contrary, it is the CA that disregarded such parameters when it substituted its own judgment for that of the prosecutor's finding of lack of probable cause against Navarro,” the SC said.

It added: “Having determined that the DOJ committed no grave abuse of discretion in affirming the finding of lack of probable cause against Navarro, the Court, in the interest of justice and fair play, is constrained to dismiss the subject Informations against him.”

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