[ G.R. No. 234018. June 06, 2018 ]
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, V. EVANGELINE DE DIOS Y BARRETO, ACCUSED-APPELLANT.
D E C I S I O N
REYES, JR., J:
Before the Court is an appeal from the Decision1 dated May 12, 2017 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 07879, which affirmed the Decision2 dated October 26, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 192 of Marikina City, finding accused-appellant Evangeline De Dios y Barreto (De Dios) guilty for violation of Section 3 (a), in relation to Section 6 (a), of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9208, otherwise known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by R.A. No. 10364.
De Dios was accused of trafficking in persons punishable under Section 4 (a), in relation to Sections 3(a) and 6(a) of R.A. No. 9208, as amended via an Information dated October 14, 2013 with accusatory portion that reads:
That on or about the 29th day of August 2013, in the City of Marikina, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the accused EVANGELINE DE DIOS y BARRETO, by means of coercion, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of their vulnerability, for the purpose of exploitation, such as prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously recruit and harbor, XXX3, 18 years old, YYY, 23 years old, and AAA, a minor (16 years old), to engage in or perform sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct with different customers upon a monetary consideration, to the damage and prejudice of the said victims.
That the crime was attended by the qualifying circumstance of minority, complainant AAA being 16 years of age, and committed in large scale.
CONTRARY TO LAW.4
Upon arraignment, De Dios pleaded not guilty to the charge. After pre-trial, trial on the merits ensued.5
Version of the Prosecution
AAA, who was born on October 21, 19966, was only 16 years old when she was peddled for sexual trade by De Dios on the evening of August 29, 2013 to Rugielito Gay (Gay) and two other male customers in Marikina City, near the Marikina River Park. De Dios approached Gay and as she introduced herself as "Vangie," asked him "kung gusto ko daw ba gumimik?” She explained that "gimik" meant having sex with a girl for P500.00. Negotiations ensued between Gay and De Dios, who claimed to have three girls with her. When De Dios refused to lower the price to P300.00, Gay handed to her the amount of P500.00; De Dios then called three girls who were standing by steel railings. Gay was allowed to choose from among the girls, and then selected AAA.7
It turned out that Gay and his companions were mere poseur customers, and that De Dios was the subject of an entrapment operation of the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Prior to the operation, there was already information received by the NBI-AHTRAD that De Dios was peddling minors for sexual trade under the bridge at the Marikina River Park. The information was validated via a surveillance operation made by members of the agency, which then prompted the conduct of the entrapment operation on August 29, 2013.8
After the entrapment, Gay, who was actually an Intelligence Agent of the Department of Justice (DOJ) – Inter Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), brought AAA to an area where personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) was waiting, and then to the AHTRAD for investigation.9
The accusation against De Dios was confirmed by minor AAA when she testified for the prosecution during the trial. She claimed to have known De Dios through her best friend, one Nicole, who also worked for De Dios in the latter's illegal activity. Sometime in May 2012, AAA had her first "gimik" with De Dios' male customer who brought her to a hotel in Antipolo City and there he had sexual intercourse with her. From then on, AAA worked for De Dios and had sex with several other male customers. She received P400.00 from De Dios for every transaction.10
On the night of the entrapment, De Dios invited AAA for a friend's despedida party at Lola Helen's Panciteria. Also present for the occasion were BBB, XXX, YYY, ZZZ, KKK and MMM. From there, they proceeded to the park under the Marikina bridge, where they saw De Dios approach two men and ask, "Kuya, gigimik kayo?" The men replied, "Nasaan yung babae mo?'' De Dios then pointed at AAA, XXX and YYY. One man chose AAA and then gave P700.00 to De Dios. Thereafter, AAA and her customer took a tricycle to a McDonald's restaurant, where NBI and DSWD personnel took custody of AAA.11
Version of the Defense
Only De Dios testified for the defense. She claimed to have lived near the bridge in Sto Nino, Marikina City since 2008, until she moved to Rodriguez, Rizal in 2011. On August 29, 2013, at around 10:00 o'clock in the evening, she dined at Sienes Panciteria in Barangay Sto. Nino, Marikina City upon the invitation of a friend named Jay. On her way to the restaurant, she saw AAA, XXX, YYY and other companions. AAA told De Dios that she was hungry, and so her group joined De Dios to the restaurant.12
De Dios knew AAA, XXX and YYY as they used to regularly hang out by the bridge, where AAA, XXX and YYY looked for customers. Since her relocation to Rodriguez, Rizal, De Dios stopped hanging out in the area, and would visit Sto. Nino only to visit their old house.13
Ruling of the RTC
On October 26, 2015, the trial court rendered judgment finding De Dios guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of qualified trafficking in persons. The dispositive portion of the RTC Decision reads:
WHEREFORE, the court finds the accused, EVANGELINE DE DIOS y BARRETO, GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT of Qualified Trafficking in Persons under Section 3 (a) in relation to Section 6 (a) of Republic Act 9208 as amended by Republic act 10364. The accused is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and PAY a FINE of TWO MILLION PESOS (P2,000,000.00). The accused is also ORDERED to pay moral damages of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos [(P500,000.00)] and exemplary damages of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) .
Feeling aggrieved, De Dios appealed to the CA.
Ruling of the CA
On May 12, 2017, the CA rendered its Decision that affirmed the conviction of De Dios. The decretal portion of the appellate court's decision reads:
WHEREFORE, foregoing considered, appeal is DENIED. The Decision of the Regional Trial Court dated October 26, 2015 in Criminal Case No. 2013-15282-MK, is hereby AFFIRMED.
The accused-appellant EVANGELINE DEDIOS y BARRETO, is GUILTY BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT of Qualified Trafficking in Persons under Section 3 (a) in relation to Section 6 (a) of Republic Act 9208 as amended by Republic Act 10364 pursuant to Section 10 (c) thereof The accused-appellant is hereby sentenced to suffer the penalty of LIFE IMPRISONMENT and pay a fine of Two Million Pesos (P2,000,000.00). The accused-appellant is also ORDERED to pay moral damages of Five Hundred Thousand Pesos (P500,000.00). Exemplary damages of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) is likewise ORDERED to be paid the private complainant.
Hence, this appeal.
The Present Appeal
In a Resolution16 dated November 29, 2017, the Court required the parties to submit their respective supplemental briefs, should they so desire, within 30 days from notice. Both De Dios and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as counsel of plaintiff-appellee People of the Philippines, however manifested that they would no longer file supplemental briefs and instead asked the Court to consider the briefs17 that they respectively filed with the CA.18
De Dios insists on an acquittal, as she claims that the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she was guilty of the crime of Qualified Trafficking in Persons under Section 3 (a) of R.A. No. 9208. AAA voluntarily peddled herself near the Marikina bridge for sexual services. De Dios was regularly seen in the area but only because her house was situated under the bridge.19 There was no threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power that was established in the case. The activities of AAA were never under the monitor or control of De Dios.20
This Court's Ruling
The Court dismisses the appeal. It affirms the conviction of De Dios for the crime of Qualified Trafficking in Persons under Section 3(a), in relation to Section 6(a), of R.A. No. 9208, as amended by R.A. No. 10364.1âшphi1
Contrary to the contentions of De Dios, the prosecution was able to sufficiently establish the crime's commission. Pertinent provisions of R.A. No. 9208, being the law that defines the crime of Trafficking in Persons, read as follows:
Section 3. Definition of Terms. - As used in this Act:
(a) Trafficking in Persons - refers to the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim's consent or knowledge, within or across national borders by means of threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation which includes at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall also be considered as "trafficking in persons" even if it does not involve any of the means set forth in the preceding paragraph.
(b) Child - refers to a person below eighteen (18) years of age or one who is over eighteen (18) but is unable to fully take care of or protect himself/herself from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation, or discrimination because of a physical or mental disability or condition.
(c) Prostitution - refers to any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person by another, for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money, profit or any other consideration.
Section 6. Qualified Trafficking in Persons. - The following are considered as qualified trafficking:
(a) When the trafficked person is a child;
x x x x
Section 10(c) of the statute sets the applicable penalties for the crime, particularly:
Section 10. Penalties and Sanctions. - The following penalties and sanctions are hereby established for the offenses enumerated in this Act:
x x x x
(c) Any person found guilty of qualified trafficking under Section 6 shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of not less than Two million pesos (P2,000,000.00) but not more than Five million pesos (5,000,000.00)[.]
In People vs. Hirang, the Court reiterated the following elements of the offense, as derived from Section 3(a) of R.A. No. 9208:
(1) The act of "recruitment, transportation, transfer or harbouring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim's consent or knowledge, within or across national borders";
(2) The means used which include "threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power or of position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another"; and
(3) The purpose of trafficking is exploitation which includes "exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs."21
In this case, the trial and appellate courts gave the same factual findings that established the foregoing.(awÞhi( The prosecution witnesses who testified during the trial included the minor child AAA, Special Investigator Doriente Durian of the NBI-AHTRAD and Intelligence Agent Gay of the DOJ-IACAT, whose testimonies matched as to how De Dios committed the crime on the evening of August 29, 2013. AAA, then still a minor, was among the girls offered in the illicit sexual trade upon the promise of financial gain for their services. The conduct of the entrapment operation became the culmination of a surveillance operation that was conducted by the NBI-AHTRAD. It was De Dios who approached and proposed a "gimik" to Gay, and when the latter pretended to accede to the proposal, De Dios readily accepted prepared marked money as consideration for the service.
As against the solid evidence presented by the prosecution, only De Dios testified for her defense. Her denial, however, was uncorroborated and weak. It could not overcome the weight of the prosecution witnesses' testimonies, especially those given by the investigator of NBI-AHTRAD and the agent of DOJ-IACAT. Their respective accounts pertained to the discharge of their official functions presumed under the law to have been regularly performed. They also did not appear to have any motive to falsely testify against De Dios.
AAA directly explained the participation of De Dios in her prostitution even prior to the subject entrapment. De Dios convinced her to join the "gimiks" for the money. She was first lured to prostitution in May 2012, when De Dios offered her to a male customer and paid her P400.00 for the transaction. Several other transactions transpired thereafter. De Dios would transact with the customers and then pay AAA each time for her service.
It did not matter that there was no threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power that was employed by De Dios when she involved AAA in her illicit sexual trade. AAA was still a minor when she was exposed to prostitution by the prodding, promises and acts of De Dios. Trafficking in persons may be committed also by means of taking advantage of the persons' vulnerability as minors, a circumstance that applied to AAA, was sufficiently alleged in the information and proved during the trial. This element was further achieved through the offer of financial gain for the illicit services that were provided by AAA to the customers of De Dios.
WHEREFORE, the appeal is DISMISSED. The Decision dated May 12, 2017 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR HC No. 07879 is AFFIRMED.
Carpio (Chairperson), Peralta, Perlas-Bernabe, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.
1 Penned by Associate Justice Leoncia Real-Dimagiba, with Associate Justices Ramon R. Garcia and Henri Jean Paul B. Inting concurring; rollo, pp. 2-11.
2 CA rollo, pp. 44-53.
3 The real names of the victims are withheld and replaced with fictitious initials to protect their identities as required under Section 6 of R.A. No. 9208.
4 CA rollo, p. 44.
6 Id. at 52; erroneously indicated in some parts of the records as October 21, 2006.
7 Id. at 47-48.
10 Id. at 45.
12 Id. at 48.
14 Id. at 53.
15 Rollo, p. 10.
16 Id. at 18.
17 CA rollo, pp. 30-43, 59-73.
18 Rollo, pp. 25-27, 21-23.
19 CA rollo, pp. 36-37
20 Id. at 37.
21 G.R. No. 223528, January 11, 2017; citing People v. Casio, 749 Phil. 458, 472 (2014).
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