Forcible Abduction: The Elements And Penalties

Forcible abduction under Article 342 of the Revised Penal Code is defined as "abduction of any woman against her will and with lewd designs." The penalty for this will be reclusion temporal. The elements of forcible abduction are: (a) that the person abducted is a woman, regardless of her age, civil status, or reputation; (b) that the abduction is against her will; and, (c) that the abduction is with lewd designs. 

On 5 May 1999 the trial court rejected the defenses of accused Lito Egan and convicted him of forcible abduction with rape;[45] hence, this appeal.

The only issue before us is the calibration of the competing evidence for the prosecution and the defense - verily, our resolution would hinge on whose version is more credible, more plausible and more trustworthy considering the circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime charged.

Accused-appellant Lito Egan was charged with forcible abduction with rape of twelve (12)-year old Lenie T. Camad.  Although from the records it appears that Lenie was less than twelve (12) years old as shown by her birth certificate (Exh. "B")[46] when the abduction took place on 6 January 1997 and the alleged rape was perpetrated a day after, the criminal liability of accused-appellant would nevertheless be confined only to the crime alleged in the Information.   Hence, a judgment of conviction is proper only where the prosecution was able to prove the elements of the complex crime of forcible abduction with rape -

Article 342 of the Revised Penal Code defines and penalizes the crime of forcible abduction.  The elements of forcible abduction are (a) that the person abducted is a woman, regardless of her age, civil status, or reputation; (b) that the abduction is against her will; and, (c) that the abduction is with lewd designs.   On the other hand, Art. 335 of the same Code defines the crime of rape and provides for its penalty.  The elements of rape pertinent to this case are:  (a) that the offender had carnal knowledge of a woman; and, (b) that such act is accomplished by using force or intimidation.[47]

All the elements of forcible abduction were proved in this case.  The victim, who is a young girl, was taken against her will as shown by the fact that at knife-point she was dragged and taken by accused-appellant to a place far from her abode.  At her tender age, Lenie could not be expected to physically resist considering the fact that even her companion, Jessica Silona, had to run home to escape accused-appellant's wrath as he brandished a hunting knife.  Fear gripped and paralyzed Lenie into helplessness as she was manhandled by accused-appellant who was armed and twenty-four (24) years her senior.  What we held in People v. Rapisora[48] could be said in the case at bar -

Appellant would urge the Court to ignore the testimony of complainant for her alleged failure to call for help.  In People vs. Akhtar, similarly involving the crime of forcible abduction with rape, the same contention was raised.  This Court, rejecting the proposition made by the alleged offender, held that '[c]omplainant's failure to ask for help when she was abducted, or to escape from appellant's house during her detention, should not be construed as a manifestation of consent to the acts done by appellant.  For her life was on the line.  Against the armed threats and physical abuses of appellant, she had no defense.  Moreover, at a time of grave peril, to shout could literally be to court disaster.  Her silence was born out of fear for her safety, to say the least, not a sign of approval'  x x x x  This Court, in several cases, has observed that behavioral psychology would indicate that most people, confronted by unusual events, react dissimilarly to like situations.  Intimidation, more subjective than not, is peculiarly addressed to the mind of the person against whom it may be employed, and its presence is basically incapable of being tested by any hard and fast rule.  Intimidation is normally best viewed in the light of the perception and judgment of the victim at the time and occasion of the crime.

The evidence likewise shows that the taking of the young victim against her will was done con miras deshonestas or in furtherance of lewd and unchaste designs.   The word lewd is defined as obscene, lustful, indecent, lascivious, lecherous.   It signifies that form of immorality which has relation to moral impurity; or that which is carried on in a wanton manner.[49] Such lewd designs were established by the prurient and lustful acts which accused-appellant displayed towards the victim after she was abducted.   This element may also be inferred from the fact that while Lenie was then a naive twelve (12)-year old, accused-appellant was thirty-six (36) years old and although unmarried was much wiser in the ways of the world than she.[50]

Given the straightforward and candid testimony of Lenie and her father Palmones as well as the absence of any motive to testify falsely against accused-appellant, the logical conclusion is that there was no improper motive on their part, and their respective testimonies as to facts proving forcible abduction are worthy of full faith and credit.[51] We generally sustain the factual findings of the trial court on account of its strategic access to circumstances decisive of the question of credibility as it saw and heard the witnesses themselves and observed  their  behavior  and  manner  of  testifying.   In the instant case, there is no reason to depart from the rule since no fact or circumstance of weight and influence proving that accused-appellant had abducted Lenie against her will and with lewd designs has been overlooked or the significance of which has been misinterpreted by the court a quo.[52] Significantly, accused-appellant has not even challenged the unequivocal pronouncement of the trial court that the complainant testified in a spontaneous and straightforward manner which thus leaves no doubt in the mind of this Court that she was telling the truth and that her declarations were positive, clear and convincing.   The best that he could do to assail the conviction was, unfortunately, to state mere speculations of inconsistencies in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses without however substantiating by specific examples such conjecture.   We have no doubt that his studied silence on the evaluation of evidentiary matters unmistakably preserves the integrity of the decision of the trial court.

Accused-appellant would however insist that he and Lenie had been engaged under Manobo rituals to marry each other and that her companionship was willful and voluntary.  Proof of this, he said, was the alleged dowry of one (1) horse, two (2) pigs, ten (10) sacks of palay, and P2,000.00, with two (2) wild horses forthcoming, he had given her father in exchange for her hand in marriage.   In moving from one place to another to look for the horses which the old man Palmones had demanded, it was allegedly only his intention to realize his matrimonial aspiration with Lenie.

The testimony of the victim negated this contrived posture of accused-appellant which in reality is simply a variation of the sweetheart defense.  If they were, surely, Lenie would not have jeopardized their relationship by accusing him of having held her against her will and molesting her and, on top of it all, by filing a criminal charge against him.   If it had been so, Lenie could have easily told her father after the latter had successfully traced their whereabouts that nothing untoward had happened between her and the accused.   Her normal reaction would have been to cover-up for the man she supposedly loved and with whom she had a passionate affair.   But, on the contrary, Lenie lost no time in denouncing accused-appellant and exposing to her family and the authorities the disgrace that had befallen her.   If they had indeed been lovers, Lenie's father would not have shown so much concern for her welfare and safety by searching for the couple for four (4) months, desperately wanting to rescue her from captivity and seeking the intervention of the datus in resolving the matter.

Neither was accused-appellant able to present any convincing evidence to substantiate his claim, like love letters, notes and other symbols of affection attesting to a consensual relationship.[53] In fact, none of the persons he and Lenie supposedly lived with during the period that he was allegedly looking for two (2) wild horses could corroborate his claim of engagement under the traditions of the Manobos.  Imbing Camad was not summoned to testify and Datu Salimbag Paguyan who took the supposed couple under custody would even admit in his testimony that he knew nothing about the relationship  between them.[54] Furthermore, Exh. "2," the letter which allegedly details the matrimonial offer of accused-appellant to Lenie, is inadmissible and otherwise barren of probative value.  For one, the letter is hearsay being as it is an out-of-court statement of a person who did not testify; moreover, it was not authenticated during the trial by either its author or its recipient.  Nor is it in any manner conclusive of any wedding plans prior to the abduction of Lenie on 6 January 1997, as Exh. "2" is explicitly dated 4 February 1997 and significantly coincides with the attempts of the several datus to rescue Lenie from the hands of accused-appellant.  Indubitably, all that was done and said in the letter with reference to marrying the girl was clearly an afterthought.[55]

Verily it is evident that accused-appellant was a rejected suitor of Lenie with no hope of having her in marriage and whose persistent offers of love and marriage had been decidedly spurned.  It was in the sleepy mid-afternoon of 6 January 1997 when he took the girl by force and at that time no marriage was proved to have been offered by accused-appellant much less considered by Lenie or her elders.  The accused dragged the victim to walk with him and to proceed to unknown destinations by warning her of a present and grave danger to her life should she refuse.  In the night which followed, he forcibly embraced, kissed, and handled her against her will.  No protestation of noble intentions can obviate the conclusion that all these acts proved lewd designs.

To be sure, several acts of accused-appellant would betray his criminal intentions.   For one he offered in evidence, partly through Exh. "2" and to a degree by his testimony, the settlement which  he together with Datu Salimbag Paguyan tried to broker with the family of Lenie to suppress the criminal act he had done.  The putative agreement was for the accused to deliver a horse to Lenie's father to settle the matter amicably but the agreement did not push through.  Since this offer of compromise was sponsored by accused-appellant himself, it clearly amounts to an implied admission of guilt which remains uncontested.[56] Moreover, if he were truly engaged to marry the victim he would not have eluded arrest for one (1) year and dodged several warrants for his arrest.  The flight of accused-appellant indubitably proves an awareness of guilt and a consciousness that he had no tenable defense to the crime charged. [57]

Nonetheless even assuming that the accused and the complainant were engaged by virtue of the dowry he had offered, this fact alone would not negate the commission of forcible abduction.   An indigenous ritual of betrothal, like any other love affair, does not justify forcibly banishing the beloved against her will with the intention of molesting her.  It is likewise well-settled that the giving of money does not beget an unbridled license to subject the assumed fiancée to carnal desires.   By asserting the existence of such relationship, the accused seeks to prove that the victim willingly participated in the act.  But, as shown above, she certainly did not.  Lenie was a Manobo with whom the accused ardently fell in love but was never her lover.  The evidence clearly does not speak of consensual love but of criminal lust which could not be disguised by the so-called sweetheart defense or its variant as in the instant case.  Finally, as held in People v. Crisostomo,[58] the intention to marry may constitute unchaste designs not by itself but by the concurring circumstances which may vitiate such an intention, as in the case of abduction of a minor with the latter's consent, in which the male knows that she cannot legally consent to the marriage and yet he elopes with her.   In the case at bar, there is no denying the fact that Lenie was incapacitated to marry accused-appellant under Manobo or Christian rites since she was still a minor[59] thereby demonstrating the existence of lewd designs.

Pinoy Attorney

Written by : Pinoy Attorney