CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0050


“Trafficking is considered consummated even if no sexual intercourse had taken place since the mere transaction consummates the crime.


CASE: People of the Philippines vs. Nancy Lasaca Ramirez a.ka. “Zoy” or “Soy” [G.R. No. 217978, January 30, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Mario Victor F. Leonen

SUBJECT:
          A.       SPECIAL LAW:
                   i.        Republic Act No. 9208 (Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003) as amended by Republic Act No. 10364
                             – Elements of the crime

          B.       CIVIL LAW:
                   i.        Torts and Damages
                             – Moral and Exemplary Damages

FACTS:        In an Information, Nancy Lasaca Ramirez a.k.a. “ZOY” or “SOY” (Ramirez)was charged with qualified trafficking of persons in relation to Section 4(e) of Republic Act No. 9208. It reads:

That on the 5th day of December, 2009, at or about 9:45 o’clock (sic) in the evening, in xxx Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines, within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the afore­named accused, did then and there willfully and unlawfully maintain or hire Nica Jean xxx, 20 years old, AAA, 16 year old minor, Cindy xxx, 20 years old and BBB, 15 year old minor, to engage in prostitution and offered them for sex or any form of sexual exploitation to poseur customers.
CONTRARY TO LAW.

The prosecution alleged that on December 5, 2009, police officers and members of the Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force conducted an entrapment operation in a KTV Bar in Lapu-Lapu City. The operation was “based on their surveillance of a widespread sexual service for sale by young girls”in the area.

While in the said bar, two women approached the police officers (who acted as poseur customers) and introduced themselves as AAA and BBB. When they told the girls that they would need two (2) more girls, another woman approached them and introduced herself as Nancy, who was later identified as Ramirez. She told the poseur customers that she could provide the girls. Then, BBB and Ramirez left, and after a while, returned with two (2) more girls.

After Ramirez provided the four (4) girls, the group left and hailed a taxi and headed to a motel. Ramirez had told the girls to accept the money that they would be given. In the taxi, one poseur customer handed P2,400.00 to one (1) of the girls. As soon as the girl received it, they introduced themselves as police officers, and turned the girls over to their team leader in a civilian van parked near them. Later, Ramirez was arrested when BBB pointed to her as the pimp.

In her defense, Ramirez testified that on the day of the entrapment, she and her sister were at the area watching a live band when two (2) men rushed to them, arrested her, and pushed her into a van. In the van, she saw BBB, who told her that police officers were around the area to arrest prostitutes. The men then brought her to a gas station, where they were made to board another van with other women and two (2) gay men.

In 2013, the Regional Trial Court found Ramirez guilty as charged.

Ramirez appealed before the Court of Appeals (CA) arguing that it was BBB who negotiated with the poseur customers about the girls’ prices and received the supposed payment for sexual services. She posits that the advanced payment made to BBB was contrary to human nature and natural course of events since no sexual activity had occurred yet. She insists that she was in the area just to watch a live band.

The CA denied the Appeal and affirmed the Regional Trial Court.

Thereafter, Ramirez appealed to the Supreme Court (SC).

While the case was pending before the SC, Ramirez sent a handwritten letterto the SC, insisting that on the night of the incident, she was merely in the area with her sister to watch a live band. She claims that she only met BBB that night, and that BBB suddenly dragged her to look for two (2) more girls. She further alleges that it was BBB who negotiated with the two (2) customers and that she had no idea what was going on. She submits that BBB pointed to her as a pimp only because the police officers were threatening to detain her instead.


ISSUES:
A. Whether or not the prosecution proved Ramirez’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt of qualified trafficking of persons.
         a.       Define trafficking in persons.
          b.       What are the elements that must be established to successfully prosecute the crime of trafficking of persons?

B.       Whether it can be used as a valid defense the victim’s consent to the transaction, or she/he received the supposed payment for his/her sexual services.

C.       Whether the victims are entitled to moral and exemplary damages, if Ramirez be found guilty.

RULING:
A.       Republic Act No. 9208 defines trafficking in persons as:

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 persons, 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 crime is still considered trafficking if it involves the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation” even if it does not involve any of the means stated under the law. Trafficking is considered qualified when “the trafficked person is a child”.

Republic Act No. 9208 has since been amended by Republic Act No. 10364on February 6, 2013. In recognition of the amendments to the law, People v. Casio [749 Phil. 458 (2014)] clarifies that crimes prosecuted under Republic Act No. 10364 must have the following elements:

 (1)    The act of “recruitment, obtaining, hiring, providing, offering, transportation, transfer, maintaining, harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge, within or across national borders”;

(2)     The means used include “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”;

(3)     The purpose of trafficking includes “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.”

Here, Ramirez was charged with having violated qualified trafficking in relation to Section 4(e) of Republic Act No. 9208, which provides that it is unlawful for anyone “to maintain or hire a person to engage in prostitution or pornography.”

The prosecution established that during the entrapment operation, Ramirez approached the disguised police officer and offered him the sexual services of four (4) girls, two (2) of whom were minors, for P2,400.00. The police operation had been the result of previous surveillance conducted within the area by the Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Both minor victims testified that this incident was not the first time that Ramirez pimped them out to customers, and that any payment to them would include the payment of commission to her.

The SC in People v. Rodriguez(G.R. No. 211721, September 20, 2017) acknowledged that the corroborating testimonies of the arresting officer and the minor victims were sufficient to sustain a conviction under the law. In People v. Spouses Ybanez, et al. [793 Phil. 877 (2016)], the SC likewise affirmed the conviction of traffickers arrested based on a surveillance report on the prostitution of minors within the area. In People v. XXX and YYY (G.R. No. 235652, July 9, 2018), the SC held that the exploitation of minors, through either prostitution or pornography, is explicitly prohibited under the law. Casio also recognizes that the crime is considered consummated even if no sexual intercourse had taken place since the mere transaction consummates the crime.

B.       Ramirez cannot use as a valid defense either BBB’s and AAA’s consent to the transaction, or that BBB received the payment on her behalf. In Casio:

The victim’s consent is rendered meaningless due to the coercive, abusive, or deceptive means employed by perpetrators of human trafficking. Even without the use of coercive, abusive, or deceptive means, a minor’s consent is not given out of his or her own free will.

Similarly, in People v. De Dios (G.R. No. 234018, June 6, 2018):

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.

In this case, Ramirez hired children to engage in prostitution, taking advantage of their vulnerability as minors. AAA’s and BBB’s acquiescence to the illicit transactions cannot be considered as a valid defense.

Ramirez initially used the defense of denial, testifying that she was merely in the area to listen to a live band when the police rushed to her and arrested her. Denial, however, becomes a weak defense against the positive identification by the poseur-buyer and the minor victims [People v. Bandojo, Jr., G.R. No. 234161, October 17, 2018].

Moreover, Ramirez, in her handwritten letter to the SC, seemingly abandoned her earlier statement that she was just in the area to watch a live band when the police rushed to and arrested her. This time, she alleged that it was BBB who approached and dragged her to the police officers, and who also started negotiating prices. This contradicts her earlier statement that she had no knowledge of the transaction. Worse, this appears to corroborate the prosecution witnesses’ testimonies that she was indeed at the transaction.


C.       The SC affirms the trial court and the Court of Appeals’ conviction of Ramirez in violation of Republic Act No. 9208, Section 4(e), as qualified by Section 6(a) and punished under Section 10(c). In Casio, however, the SC held that moral damages and exemplary damages must also be imposed. In People v. Aguirre (G.R. No. 219952, November 20, 2017):

The criminal case of Trafficking in Persons as a Prostitute is an analogous case to the crimes of seduction, abduction, rape, or other lascivious acts. In fact, it is worse, thus, justifying the award of moral damages. Exemplary damages are imposed when the crime is aggravated, as in this case.

Thus, in line with jurisprudence, it proper to impose moral damages of P500,000.00 and exemplary damages of P100,000.00.

Related CASE BRIEFs:
          a)       People v. Casio, 749 Phil. 458 (2014)
          b)       People v. Rodriguez, G.R. No. 211721, September 20, 2017
          c)       People v. Spouses Ybanez, et al., 793 Phil. 877 (2016)
          d)       People v. XXX and YYY, G.R. No. 235652, July 9, 2018
          e)       People v. De Dios, G.R. No. 234018, June 6, 2018
          f)       People v. Bandojo, Jr., G.R. No. 234161, October 17, 2018         
g)       People v. Aguirre, G.R. No. 219952, November 20, 2017

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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       The crime is still considered trafficking if it involves the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation” even if it does not involve any of the means stated under the law.

B.       Trafficking is considered qualified when “the trafficked person is a child”.

C.       Trafficking is considered consummated even if no sexual intercourse had taken place since the mere transaction consummates the crime.

D.      Trafficking in persons may be committed also by means of taking advantage of the persons’ vulnerability as minors

E.       The criminal case of Trafficking in Persons as a Prostitute is an analogous case to the crimes of seduction, abduction, rape, or other lascivious acts. In fact, it is worse, thus, justifying the award of moral damages. Exemplary damages are imposed when the crime is aggravated, as in this case.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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