19 Dec 2007

OSG contests Mormon priest’s acquittal in child abuse case

Inquirer - Philippines

December 17, 2007

By Leila Salaverria

MANILA, Philippines -- The Office of the Solicitor General is contesting before the Court of Appeals a regional trial court’s acquittal of a Mormon priest who had sexual relations with a 17-year-old in 2001 and 2002.

The OSG said a minor influenced by an elder cannot validly consent to sexual relations.

The OSG asked the Court of Appeals to convict Gil Anthony Calianga of child abuse and sought to annul the Muntinlupa regional trial court's finding that the 17-year-old and the accused, Gil Anthony Calianga, were sweethearts and their sexual relations were consensual.

The August 27, 2007, RTC decision, penned by Judge Philip Aguinaldo, pointed to evidence showing that the complainant and Calianga had a relationship and were lovers before, during and after the dates when the sexual acts took place.

The RTC also cited the lack of evidence showing that Calianga used his power over the complainant. The court noted that even if he was a Mormon priest, he did not exercise influence in his church.

But according to the OSG, all the elements of child abuse were present: the sexual relations between the 17-year-old complainant and the Mormon priest were established and that Calianga was an elder in his church where the girl used to belong.

"Thus, private complainant was deemed to be a 'child subjected to other sexual abuse' as a result of the private respondent Mormon priest/elder's influence and moral ascendancy," the OSG said in its petition.

The OSG added that Calianga threatened or coerced the girl into having sex with him.

"That the private respondent is a Mormom priest/elder puts him in a situation of moral ascendancy -- an aggravating circumstance in crimes committed against persons. The fact that the private respondent coerced and threatened private complainant is another aggravating circumstance," it said.

The OSG also pointed to a September 2007 Supreme Court decision upholding the child abuse conviction of a former Assumption College professor for having sexual relations with his minor student.

In that decision, the high court ruled that the sweetheart theory could not be invoked in cases of child prostitution and sexual abuse under the anti-child abuse law or Republic Act 7610.

"A child exploited in prostitution or subjected to other (forms of) sexual abuse cannot validly give consent to sexual intercourse with another person," the high court said.

The OSG also said RA 7610 did not make a child guilty or culpable if he or she had sex under the influence or coercion of an adult.

It noted that the regional trial court, as well as the girl, described her sexual abuse as rape, but the court did not upgrade the sexual abuse charge to rape as it should have done.

"Therefore, it is an error, so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law, when respondent judge concluded that the prosecution failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt even if the facts and evidence, on its face, say otherwise," it said.

The OSG contended that while acquittals were generally final and unappealable, rulings could be questioned if the lower court committed grave abuse of discretion, went beyond its jurisdiction or denied parties due process.

In this case, it said, the regional trial court allowed Calianga to present "perjured testimonies and evidence" in violation of the complainant's right to due process.

It said the Muntinlupa court should not have accepted evidence used in relation to the subsequent case of forcible abduction with rape that the girl filed against Calianga, his uncle and father. It added that the RTC allegedly "blatantly and maliciously" disregarded relevant and competent prosecution evidence.

According to the OSG, the lower court disregarded the testimonies of a member of the Mormon Church, as well as that of the girl's and Calianga's, when it ruled that the suspect had no moral ascendancy or influence over the girl.

It said that both the girl and prosecution witness Vilma Clerigo, a member of the Mormon Church for 24 years and the vice principal of a reputable Catholic School, testified that Mormon elders were deemed to have been bestowed with power and authority of God.

They also testified that the elders or priests were esteemed and respected, and were thought to be God's spokespersons by those in the Mormon faith.

The OSG also said that Calianga affirmed, during his testimony, the moral ascendancy and influence, power and authority of Mormon priesthood bearers like him. It pointed out that Calianga blessed the sacrament during Sundays, baptized new converts and visited members at their homes to teach them about the gospel.

"Certainly, moral ascendancy and influence of the priesthood manifests in all their duties and performances, which all the members, especially the women, observe, see, respect, esteem and sustain the whole year through," it said.


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