PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee
WILLINGTON RODRIGUEZ y HERMOSA, Accused-Appellant
G.R. No. 211721, September 20, 2017
On August 2006, PO1 Escober was designed to pose as a customer, with PO2 Bereber as back-up, during their Oplan Bugaw for purpose of eliminating prostitution in Quezon Avenue, in Quezon City. While parking their vehicle, PO1 Escober was flagged down by Rodriguez who allegedly offered the sexual services of 3 pickup girls. Escober gave Rodriguez the pre-marked 500 peso-bill as payment and thereafter arrest ensued with the 500 pesos marked bill retrieved and brought Rodriguez and the 3 girls to the police station.
Rodriguez denied he offered sexual services of girls and said he was selling cigarettes. He claimed to only found out that he was being accused of human trafficking after he was brought to the City Hall.
The RTC found Rodriguez guilty of large-scale trafficking after giving more weight to the testimony of Escober, versus the unsubstantiated denial of Rodriguez when he offered Escober by saying “Sir, sir, babae,sir”. Likewise, Escober had no improper motive to falsely testify against the accused. Finally, the absent of ill motive, the presumption of regularity in the performance of duty must prevail. The CA likewise affirmed the RTC’s decision. contending that with respect
to the non-presentation of the request of the barangay officials, the same is not a material element of the offense. Neither should the police operation depend on it. To think otherwise would open the floodgates of abuse as law enforcers will only move if there are requests from the people. They will become passive instead of becoming proactive.
The prosecution did not bother to present the testimonies of the alleged victims. Their testimonies that they were sexually exploited against their will through force, threat or other means of coercion are material to the cause of the prosecution.
Whether Rodriguez is guilty of the crime of qualified trafficking in persons
No. A careful review of the records shows that the prosecution failed to prove the presence of these elements beyond reasonable doubt, nor did we find the second and third elements proven by the prosecution.
The elements of trafficking in persons:
- the act: recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipts of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders;
- the means used: “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; and
- the purpose: 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.”
It is a basic rule that the conviction of the accused must rest not on the weakness of the defense but on the strength of the prosecution. Proof beyond reasonable doubt does not, of course, mean such degree of proof as, excluding the possibility of error, to produce absolute certainty. Only moral certainty is required, or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind. In other words, the conscience must be satisfied that the accused is responsible for the offense charged.
Apart from the deficient testimony of PO1 Escober, the prosecution did not bother to present the testimonies of the alleged victims. It is grossly erroneous to say that “the non-presentation of the three women is not fatal to the prosecution.” Their testimonies that they were sexually exploited against their will through force, threat or other means of coercion are material to the cause of the prosecution. These women would be in the best position to say that Rodriguez had recruited or used these women by giving them payments or benefits in exchange for sexual exploitation. To rely solely on the testimony of PO1 Escober as basis for convicting Rodriguez would run riot against logic and reason, and against the law. To sustain this whimsical reasoning would encourage anyone to accuse a person of “trafficking in persons” or of any other crime.
We must remember that suspicion, no matter how strong, must never sway judgment. It is pivotal in criminal cases that we evaluate the evidence for the prosecution against the required quantum of evidence in criminal cases.
In contrast with People vs Casio, G.R. No. 211465, December 3, 2014:
There were more than one (1) credible witness, the minor victims, were presented in court by the prosecution, and allowed to testify on the circumstances on how they were recruited by the accused and later offered for sex in exchange for money. Significantly, the testimony of PO1 Escober in the case before us lacks the material details to convince us that Rodriguez had committed human trafficking.