Weak and insufficient proof
A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Atty. Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2020 - 12:00am

Among the essential elements of the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code is that the offender actually confines, detains or restrains another of his liberty; and in the commission of the offense, the person kidnapped or detained is a minor. These elements must be proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt in order to convict the accused. Failure to do so will result in the acquittal. This is illustrated in this case of Lolo Karling Agcaoili who was accused of kidnapping and serious illegal detention.

The case involves Ela, the three years and ten months old child of Joy Macasaet. The case happened at about six p.m. when Ela went to the parlor of her mother Joy and told Joy that an old man invited her to go with him to buy banana and orange. Since she was then attending to a customer, Joy didn’t bother to check on the old man and just told Ela to sit behind her. But a few minutes later, Joy noticed that Ela was nowhere in sight.

After inquiring around and seeking the help of her neighbors, they reported Ela’s disappearance to the police which organized two search teams in two cars. Tricia, a child who lived in the neighborhood informed the searchers that she saw Ela with an old man whom she thought was Ela’s grandfather, walking toward the main road.

The searchers drove through the road until they reached the store of Billy Caeg. Then one of the searchers, Jeffrey entered the store and found Ela with Lolo Karling who just kept silent when asked why he had the child with him. They brought Lolo Karling to the police station even without any warrant of arrest, and after Joy executed a sworn statement, Lolo Karling was charged with kidnapping defined and penalized under Article 267 of the RPC.

Aside from Joy, Billy the storekeeper who helped in the search for Ela and a member of the Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVO) testified and corroborated Joy’s testimony. Jeffrey who was with Billy in the search for Ela also corroborated Joy’s testimony. Sgt Ernesto Camcam the policeman who received the report on the missing Ela also testified that when he approached Lolo Karling, the latter could not give any valid reason with regards to the kidnapping incident and appeared to be drunk. The prosecution also called on Ela to testify. From her responses, the trial court ruled out taking her testimony because at three years old, she had no perception and impression of what really happened.

For his defense, Lolo Karling insisted that he did not kidnap Ela nor did he have any intention to detain her. He said he only wanted to help and secure the safety of the child whom he chanced upon walking on the road. According to him, Ela could not tell him where she lived though she kept pointing to the direction of the road. After failing to get that information from others they ended in the store where the searchers found them.

The trial court however found Lolo Karling guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention sentencing him to suffer the penalty of reclusion perpetua and to pay the costs of the suit. Was the trial court correct?

The Supreme Court (SC) said no. According to the SC, the primary element of the crime of kidnapping is actual confinement, detention and restraint of the victim. A review of the prosecution’s narration of the events shows that this element was not established. The evidence does not adequately prove that the victim was forcefully transported, locked up or restrained. Here there is no indubitable proof of a purposeful or knowing action by the accused to forcibly restrain the victim. Hence there was no taking coupled with intent to complete the commission of the offense. The testimony of Joy the mother of Ela that the latter told her that an old man offered to buy the child some fruits is patently hearsay. Said information allegedly came from the mouth of a three-year-old whom the trial judge had declared incompetent to testify in court. Hearsay testimony is inadmissible as evidence. Thus no credence or weight can be given to Joy’s testimony on the matter of inducement in the commission of the offense. While it is true that factual findings of the trial courts should be respected and upheld especially when they concern the appreciation of the testimony of witnesses and their credibility, an exception is made when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts. So this court may substitute its own findings. Therefore, the findings of the trial court should be reversed and set aside, and Lolo Karling is hereby acquitted and ordered released from confinement immediately unless he is being lawfully detained on other grounds (People vs. Felwa, G.R. 126024, April 20 2001).

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