Vulnerable victims

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Atty. Jose C. Sison (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2020 - 12:00am

This is a case of large scale trafficking of persons or the recruitment, transportation, transfer or receipt of persons within or across national borders by threat, force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power or position, taking advantage of their vulnerability or giving or receiving of payments or benefits for the purpose of sexual exploitation or prostitution. The issue involved here arises from the meaning of “taking advantage of the vulnerability” of the victims; is it necessary that actual indecent shows are performed by the victims?

This is the case of Linda, married to Larry with seven children among whom were Ricky and Sally. When Linda and Larry separated, some members of the family, particularly her son Ricky, left and established his own internet café business. To sustain her family, Linda opened a small store in their home.

Eleven years after her separation from Larry, Linda went back to her hometown together with her daughter Sally, supposedly for a vacation. Instead, however, they started recruiting girls to work at their internet café. They were able to recruit 12 poverty stricken girls who were all minors except one, residing in various barangays.

The first to be recruited was Nancy, 15 years old who was from the same barangay of Linda. Sally told her that she will work as a dancer in an internet café wearing only bra. Thereafter Linda gave Nancy’s mother P2,000 to be deducted from her salary. Next to be recruited were Minda, 16 years old, and Rita, 17 years old. Linda asked them to fetch their mothers so she could talk to them. Then Linda told them about their work in the internet café and to abide with what the foreigner instructed them to do.

Nancy and Minda then travelled on board a pump boat to fetch ten other females, namely: Jenny, 16 years old; Cita, 17 years old; Rita, 17 years old; Gigi, 13 years old; Hilda, 15 years old; Fely, 15 years old; Amor, 16 years old; Nora, 17 years old; Mila, 17 years old and Nita, 18 years old, who previously worked in the internet café of Ricky. All the girls met at the pier, where Emma gave them tickets showing they were all of legal ages. But they were denied entry and prevented from boarding as a man approached them and brought them to the police station, where they were interviewed by policewoman  Regina and social worker Nena.

Thereafter, Linda and Sally were charged with Qualified Trafficking in Persons for conniving and confederating together and mutually helping each other, recruit, transport, transfer, harbor, provide or receive persons for the purpose of prostitution, pornography or sexual exploitation of the above named 11 minor girls and one 18 old woman.

At the trial, the Prosecution presented Nancy, Minda, Rita and Nita, PO2 Regina and social worker Nena to prove the incidents above narrated.

For her defense, Linda testified that she and Sally went to their hometown for a vacation and for the purpose of looking for four housemaids, two for her and two for her son Ricky. Then they also picked up the children of their relatives who would accompany them back to Manila riding a pump boat. They said the young girls were enticed to work with them. Sally, on the other hand, testified that they have no internet café business. She added that except for Gigi who is her niece, she did not know the other girls and that her mother Linda just helped them buy tickets.

After trial, however, the RTC found Linda and Sally guilty beyond reasonable doubt of qualified trafficking in persons in violation of Section 4 in relation to Section 6 of RA 9208 and sentenced them to life imprisonment plus P2-million fine. This was affirmed by the Court of Appeals (CA), which likewise required them to pay moral and exemplary damages. Linda and Sally still appealed to the Supreme Court (SC), insisting that they did not recruit the minors and it was their parents who approached them to bring their daughters to the National Capital Region to find work.

But the SC likewise ruled that they are guilty. According to the SC, the four girls who testified categorically declared that Linda and Sally, whom they fondly called “Tita Linda” and “Ate Sally,” recruited them to work at their internet café. They were consistent in their narration on how they were recruited, which all involved giving payment in advance to be deducted from their salaries. Nita was even previously employed at the internet café of Ricky and was asked to go back to work. This is the first element of the crime.

On the second element, while no force, threat or intimidation was employed, Linda and Sally took advantage of the vulnerability of the victims to secure consent of their parents, considering that all of them came from poverty-stricken families. Being poverty-stricken renders them vulnerable to trafficking.

On the third element, it has been proved that the purpose of trafficking is for prostitution and exploitation. Prostitution refers to any act, transaction or scheme involving the use of person by another for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money profit or other consideration. Nancy and Minda clearly and consistently testified that they were told that they would work in an internet café to undress and perform obscene acts. The fact that there were no indecent shows performed by the victims, except Nita, is immaterial. The material fact here is that the purpose of the perpetrators is to engage the victims in the act of prostitution and sexual exploitation.

The trafficking here is qualified because all the 12 victims except Nita were below 18 years old and therefore considered as children according to Section 6 of the Act. So the RTC and the CA are correct in finding Linda and Sally guilty of the crime charged and sentenced to life imprisonment and fine (People vs. Leocadio and Leocadio, G.R. 237697, July 15, 2020).

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