Friday, April 19, 2024

SC upholds conviction of online child pornographer

Sending a strong message that child pornography, among other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, presents an acute danger worldwide if facilitated through the Internet, the Supreme Court (SC) affirmed the conviction of a child pornographer and sentenced her to imprisonment and a fine of P2,000,000.

This was the ruling of the SC, through associate justice Mario V. Lopez, as it denied the appeal of Luisa Pineda who was convicted by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) and the Court of Appeals (CA) for child pornography qualified with the use of a computer system.

Following a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States of America, the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division conducted a surveillance of Pineda’s house.

With a search warrant, the police officers, together with barangay officials, proceeded to her house where they found, among others, a computer set and cellphone with nude photos and videos of AAA262941, Pineda’s six-year-old niece.

The police officers were also able to rescue three minors: AAA262941, CCC, and DDD, and handed them to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

AAA262941 told police officers that she was left under the custody of Pineda after her parents separated. AAA262941 also narrated that Pineda ordered her to enter a room, remove her clothes, and stand naked in front of a computer monitor with a webcam where her private parts were exposed to an unidentified old man.

Pineda likewise took pictures and videos of AAA262941 in two separate occasions where she was made to touch her genitalia in front of a computer screen.

Pineda was thus charged for violation of Sections 4(a), (b), and (c) of Republic Act No. (RA) 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, in relation to Section 4(c)(2) of RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

The RTC found Pineda guilty, which was affirmed by the CA, prompting the present appeal.

In resolving the appeal, the SC first discussed the effect of the subsequent enactment of RA 11930 or the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse of Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials (CSAEM) Act.

RA 11930, which was passed by Congress during the pendency of the case, expressly repealed RA 9775 and Section 4(c)(1) of RA 10175. The SC hence discussed the legal consequences of such repeal on the criminal liability of Pineda.

Generally, the absolute repeal of a penal law deprives the courts of their authority to punish an accused charged with a violation of the old law prior to its repeal. Under such absolute repeal, the offense no longer exists as if the person who committed it never did so.

An exception to this rule is where the repealing law reenacts the former statute and punishes the act previously penalized under the old law. Under this exception, the act committed before the reenactment continues to be an offense and pending cases are not affected, regardless of whether the new penalty to be imposed is more favorable to the accused.

In the case of Pineda, the crime charged was committed in August 2016, when the prevailing law was RA 9775. The subsequent law, RA 111930 enacted on July 30, 2022, expressly repealed RA 9775, but at the same time reenacted the unlawful acts defined as child pornography.

Thus, even without a saving clause, the reenactment in RA 11930 of prohibited acts considered as child pornography manifests the legislative intent to reserve the right of the State to prosecute and punish offenses in the repealed RA 9775. The courts retain the jurisdiction to decide pending criminal cases involving violations of RA 9775 committed prior to its repeal, including the present case of Pineda.

The SC found all the elements of child pornography under RA 9775 present in Pineda’s case.

Under Sections 4(a), (b), and (c) of RA 9775, the elements of child pornography are:

  1. The victim is below 18 years old or over but unable to fully take care of himself or herself;
  2. The offender either: (i) hires, employs, uses, persuades, induces or coerces a child to perform in the creation or production of any form of child pornography; or (ii) produces, directs, manufactures or creates any form of child pornography; or (iii) publishes, offers, transmits, sells, distributes, broadcasts, advertises, promotes, exports or imports any form of child pornography; and
  3. The child’s sexual activities were represented through visual, audio, or written combination, by electronic, mechanical, digital, optical, magnetic, or any other means.

In the present case, AAA262941 was only six years old at the time of the incident. It was also established that Pineda ordered the child to remove her clothes and stand naked while touching her genitalia in front of a computer exposing her private parts to male customers watching online.

This was supported by AAA262941’s testimony, as well as the results of the digital forensic examination of the computer set and cellphone seized from Pineda’s residence, where the police retrieved multiple naked pictures and explicit video clips of AAA262941.

Also recovered by the police was an online conversation between Pineda and a foreign customer on the sale of AAA262941’s nude photos and videos.

Clearly, Pineda committed the prohibited acts in RA 9775 when she persuaded, induced, and coerced her niece AAA262941 to perform in the creation of nude photos and videos, and when she subsequently offered to sell these child pornographic materials, concluded the court.

Pineda was thus sentenced to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and a fine of P2,000,000. She was also made to pay the victim P300,000 in civil damages.

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