The Supreme Court (SC) upheld the 2017 Court of Appeal (CA) decision that upheld the 2016 trial court conviction of a music video bar owner who recruited two minors and sold them for prostitution in 2014.
Upheld was the conviction of Celia Bucaling Dela Cruz who was sentenced to two life terms for two counts of aggravated human trafficking offenses under Section 6 of Republic Act No. 9208, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2003.
The SC also confirmed the sentence of 2 million pesos imposed on Dela Cruz for each count, as well as moral damages of 500,000 pesos and exemplary damages of 100,000 pesos to be paid to each of the two minor victims.
The SC decision, released on January 4, was written by Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez.
The names of the victims, the location where the crimes were committed and the branch of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) that convicted Dela Cruz were redacted in the ruling.
During the trial of the two cases, the prosecution was able to prove that Dela Cruz recruited the two minors, peddled them to two police officers who posed as bar patrons due to reports of prostitution at the establishment, 1 000P was paid to Dela Cruz for the sexual services of each of the two minors.
The RTC said the acts of aggravated trafficking committed by Dela Cruz were established by the testimonies of underage victims as well as police officers posing as clients.
In upholding the conviction with modification on the award of damages, the CA ruled that Dela Cruz executed all elements of the commission of the crime when she peddled the underage victims and offered sexual services in exchange for money .
Dela Cruz took his cases to the SC and pleaded for an acquittal. But the SC rejected his request.
Under RA 9208, acts of “recruiting, transporting, transferring or harboring, or receiving persons with or without the consent or knowledge of the victim, within or across national borders” are punishable. and the means used, including “the threat or use of force, or other forms of coercion, kidnapping, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the person, or, the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to obtain the consent of one person having authority over another.
The law also states that the purpose of trafficking is “exploitation which includes the exploitation or prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or removal or sale of organs”.
The SC said:
“Here, the two victims testified that as part of their job, they were hired by the defendant-appellant (Dela Cruz) to perform VIP service for male clients, which involved having sexual relations with them in exchange for money.
“It is the accused-appellant who deals with the customers and upon payment of the service charge, they are instructed to go to the VIP room located on the 2nd floor of the restaurant bar. When a client wants VIP service, it is already understood that sex will take place between him and the client.
“It should be emphasized that there is no requirement that there was actual sexual intercourse with the victim to support a finding of trafficking.
“The crime is considered consummated even if no sexual intercourse took place since the simple transaction consummates the crime. It is sufficient that the accused lured, enticed or enticed his victims or transported them for the stated purpose of exploitation, which includes prostitution.
“The basis of the crime of trafficking is ‘the act of recruiting or using, with or without consent, another human being for the purpose of sexual exploitation’.
“In truth, although no sexual contact took place between the underage victims and the police officers, this would not affect the criminal responsibility of the accused-appellant. What consummates the crime of trafficking is the fact that the accused-appellant compromised with the police and peddled private complainants for sex in exchange for money.
“The crime is also qualified in view of the established fact that the trafficked persons are children. Taken collectively, all of the foregoing supports the conclusion that the accused-appellant’s guilt on two (2) counts of aggravated human trafficking has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. »
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