More credible witness

This is a case of Child Trafficking punishable under Republic Act (RA) 9208 and Child Abuse punishable by Republic Act (RA) 7610. The main issue resolved here is the credibility of the complaining witness who is only 14 years old.

This is the case of Amy who had a misunderstanding with her mother and ran away from home. She stayed with her friends in different barangays until she met Berto through a common friend. Berto asked Amy if she would be willing to engage in sexual intercourse for money, to which Amy agreed because she needed money and had no one else to depend on but herself.

The next day Berto already found her a customer. She met the customer and went with him on board a red car. The man then asked Amy her age so she told him she was 18 years old, as instructed by Berto. About 7 p.m. they arrived at the house where the man had sex with her as he fondled and touched her breast and other parts of her body. After an hour, the man brought her back to Berto’s house and paid her P2,000. Amy in turn paid Berto P600 and then bought some food and went home.

Later Amy told her mother everything she had gone through. So, her mother immediately went to the police station and reported the incident where Amy and her mother executed their sworn statements. The next day Amy was examined by a doctor in a hospital who found lesions in different parts of her hymen.

So Berto was charged in the Regional Trial Court with the crimes of Child Trafficking and Child Abuse penalized under RA 9208 and RA 7610. At the trial, Amy testified and narrated what happened to her as above set forth. On the other hand, Berto denied the accusations and told the court that on the day when the alleged crimes happened, he was at a small-town lottery with his wife until evening. His denial and alibi were corroborated by three other women witnesses.

After trial however, the RTC convicted Berto of the crimes charged based on the sole testimony of Amy, which it found to be candid, straightforward and unequivocal. Her claim that a sexual intercourse between her and a client had transpired was corroborated by the medical findings of the doctor who examined her and found lesions in her sexual organ and labia minora.  So the RTC sentenced Berto to suffer the penalty of 20 years and a fine of P1 million for Child Trafficking and imprisonment of 10 years, two months and 21 days minimum to 17 years, four months and one day maximum for the crime of Child Abuse. This ruling was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which also imposed 6 percent interest on the award of damages. The CA ruled that the lone uncorroborated testimony of the offended victim may prove the crimes as charged because it was clear, positive and categorical.

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Were the RTC and CA correct? Yes, said the Supreme Court. The offense is qualified Trafficking in Person because Amy at that time was a minor, only 14 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense as evidenced by her birth certificate, who is a person below 18 years old and therefore considered as a child.

The SC also ruled that Berto is guilty of Child Abuse because he engaged in or promoted and facilitated or induced child prostitution. A child is exploited in prostitution when the child indulges in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct for money profit or any other consideration or under the coercion or influence of any adult, syndicate or group. Even if the child may seem to consent to what is being done to her and may appear not to complain, said child is still incapable of rational consent because flesh trade with a client requires a level of familiarity with its ways and inner workings that an untrained minor would not have stumbled into on her own.

For qualified Trafficking in Person under RA 9208, Berto is sentenced to life imprisonment and a fine of P2,000,000, plus moral damages of P500,000 and exemplary damages of P100,000.

For Child Abuse under RA 7610, he is sentenced to 14 years, 8 months, minimum to 20 years as maximum and civil indemnity of P50,000.

All the monetary awards shall earn 6 percent per annum interest from finality of judgment until full payment (Brozoto vs. People G.R. 233420, April 28, 2021).        

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