Saturday, October 05, 2013

When someone hits a minor, should the charge be child abuse under RA 7610 or physical injury under the Revised Penal Code?

Plain Language summary:

Case title: Bongalon v. People of the Philippines (G.R. No. 169533, March 20, 2013)

Ruling: Not every instance of laying of hands on a child constitutes the crime of child abuse under Republic Act No. 7610. If the accused intended to debase, degrade or demean the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being, then the accused can be charged for child abuse. But if that wasn’t the intention, then the accused should be charged under the Revised Penal Code.

Relevant laws and discussions:

Republic Act No. 7610

Duration of penalties

Background facts

[1] On June 26, 2000, the Prosecutor’s Office of Legazpi City charged George Bongalon in the Regional Trial Court with child abuse under Section 10 (a) of Republic Act No. 7610. Bongalon allegedly

(a) struck Jayson de la Cruz, a minor, with his palm hitting Jayson at his back and

(b) slapped Jayson hitting his left cheek.

Jayson’s physical injury required five to seven days of medical attention.

Bongalon also allegedly uttered these derogatory remarks against Jayson’s family: “Mga hayop kamo, para dayo kamo digdi, Iharap mo dito ama mo” (You all animals, you are all strangers here. Bring your father here).

[2] According to Bongalon’s version of the incident, Jayson and his older brother Roldan threw stones at his two minor daughters Mary Ann Rose and Cherrlyn. Jayson also burned Cherrlyn’s hair. Bongalon denied physically abusing or maltreating Jayson.

[3] The RTC found Bongalon guilty as charged and sentenced him to imprisonment of 6 years and 1 day to 8 years of prision mayor in its minimum period.

[4] Bongalon then appealed to the Court of Appeals. He contended that the RTC overlooked or disregarded material facts and circumstances in the records that would have led to a favorable judgment for him. He attacked the lack of credibility of the witnesses presented against him, citing the failure of the complaining brothers to react to the incident, which was unnatural and contrary to human experience.

The CA affirmed the conviction but modified the penalty to an indeterminate penalty of 4 years, 2 months and 1 day of prision correccional, as minimum term, to 6 years, 8 months and 1 day of prision mayor as the maximum.

[5] Bongalon brought his case up to the Supreme Court through a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. He claimed that he was not guilty and that, even assuming that he was guilty, his liability should be mitigated because he had merely acted to protect his two minor daughters.

Supreme Court ruling

[1] As the RTC correctly found, Bongalon struck Jayson at the back with his hand and slapped Jayson on the face. But Bongalon’s acts did not constitute child abuse under RA 7610. He did not intend to debase the “intrinsic worth and dignity” of Jayson as a human being. He also did not intend to humiliate or embarrass Jayson.

Instead of child abuse, Bongalon should be convicted of slight physical injuries under Article 266 (1) of the Revised Penal Code.

[2] Child abuse, the crime charged, is defined by Section 3 (b) of Republic Act No. 7610, as follows:

Section 3. Definition of terms. –
x x x x

(b) “Child Abuse” refers to the maltreatment, whether habitual or not, of the child which includes any of the following:

(1) Psychological and physical abuse, neglect, cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment;

(2) Any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being;

(3) Unreasonable deprivation of his basic needs for survival, such as food and shelter; or

(4) Failure to immediately give medical treatment to an injured child resulting in serious impairment of his growth and development or in his permanent incapacity or death.

[3] The records did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that Bongalon intended to debase the “intrinsic worth and dignity” of Jayson as a human being or that he had intended to humiliate or embarrass Jayson. Bongalon acted on the spur of the moment and in anger, being then overwhelmed by his fatherly concern for the personal safety of his minor daughters who had just suffered harm at the hands of Jayson and his older brother Roldan.

[4] The penalty for slight physical injuries is arresto menor, which ranges from one day to 30 days of imprisonment. Since Bongalon lost his reason and self-control in defending his daughters, he was entitled to the mitigating circumstance of passion. The proper penalty is 10 days imprisonment.

Other highlights of the Supreme Court ruling

[1] Under the well-recognized doctrine of “pro reo,” every doubt is resolved in favor of the accused. Courts should consider all possible circumstances in favor of the accused.

[2] Bongalon used the wrong remedy in questioning the CA’s affirmance of his conviction. His proper remedy was an appeal taken in due course. He should have filed a petition for review on certiorari. Instead, he wrongly brought a petition for certiorari.

Even if Bongalon’s petition is treated as having been brought under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, it would still be defective due to its being filed beyond the period provided by law. Section 2 of Rule 45 requires the filing of the petition within 15 days from the notice of judgment to be appealed. Bongalo received a copy of the CA’s decision on July 15, 2005, but filed the petition only on September 12, 2005.

Despite Bongalon’s procedural mistakes, the Supreme Court did not dismiss his petition outright but treated it as an appeal filed on time. The Court said that it did not want to be seen as “an unfeeling tribunal of last resort willing to sacrifice justice in order to give premium to the rigidity of its rules of procedure.” The Court explained:

“The procedural transgressions of the petitioner notwithstanding, we opt to forego quickly dismissing the petition, and instead set ourselves upon the task of resolving the issues posed by the petition on their merits. We cannot fairly and justly ignore his plea about the sentence imposed on him not being commensurate to the wrong he committed. His plea is worthy of another long and hard look. If, on the other hand, we were to outrightly dismiss his plea because of the procedural lapses he has committed, the Court may be seen as an unfeeling tribunal of last resort willing to sacrifice justice in order to give premium to the rigidity of its rules of procedure. But the Rules of Court has not been intended to be rigidly enforced at all times. Rather, it has been instituted first and foremost to ensure justice to every litigant. Indeed, its announced objective has been to secure a ‘just, speedy and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.’ This objective will be beyond realization here unless the Rules of Court be given liberal construction and application as the noble ends of justice demand. Thereby, we give primacy to substance over form, which, to a temple of justice and equity like the Court, now becomes the ideal ingredient in the dispensation of justice in the case now awaiting our consideration.

“The petitioner’s right to liberty is in jeopardy. He may be entirely deprived of such birthright without due process of law unless we shunt aside the rigidity of the rules of procedure and review his case.”