Charges for serious illegal detention and grave coercion to be filed against Deniece Cornejo, Cedric Lee, and others; rape charge against Vhong Navarro dismissed

10 April 2014

In a 42-page Consolidated Resolution bearing the date 04 April 2014, the Panel of Prosecutors composed of Assistant State Prosecutors OLIVIA A.   RREVILLASS, HAZEL DECENA-VALDEZ, and MARl ELVIRA B. HERRERA resolved the three complaints that stemmed from an incident which transpired on the night of 22 January 2014 until the wee hours of 23 January 2014 concerning Ferdinand Navarro, a.k.a. Vhong Navarro (NAVARRO) at the Forbeswood Height Condominium.

The Panel recommended the following actions:

  1. The filing of the following charges:

         1.  Serious Illegal Detention under Art. 267 of the Revised Penal Code  Code (RPC) against Respondents DENIECE MILLINETTE CORNEJO, CEDRIC CUA LEE,        BERNICE CUA LEE a.k.a.MARIE, SIMEON PALMA RAZ, JR. a.k.a. ZIMMER RAZ, JOSE PAOLO GREGORIO A. CALMA, FERDINAND GUERRERO, and SAJED FERNANDEZ ABUHIJLEH a.k.a. JED FERNANDEZ; and

            2.  Grave coercion against same above-named Respondents.

           The charges for serious physical injuries, grave threats and illegal arrest  are deemed absorbed in the charge for serious illegal detention.

B. The dismissal of the following complaints for lack of probable cause:

1. Threatening to Publish and Offer to Prevent Publication for Compensation against same above-named Respondents;

      2. Rape or violation of Article 266-A in relation to Section 3(a) of Republic Act No. 9262 against Respondent FERDINAND HIPOLITO NAVARRO, a.k.a. VHONG NAVARRO;    and

      3. Obstruction of justice against Respondents MAXIMO A. MEREGILDO, ROMEO S. NEVADO, JR., JEFFRY R. VINIEGAS, and RODERICK E. GARBIN.

The Panel found probable cause to indict respondents CORNEJO, CEDRIC LEE, BERNICE LEE, RAZ, JR., CALMA, GUERRERO, and  ABUHIJLEH for the crime of serious illegal detention with demand for money or ransom. From the facts obtained in the case,   the Panel found collective criminal responsibility against the Respondents.

The elements of the crime of kidnapping and serious illegal detention are, as follows: (a) the offender is a private individual; (b) he kidnaps or detains another, or in any manner deprives the latter of his liberty; (c) the act of detention or kidnapping must be illegal; and (d) in the commission of the offense, any of the following circumstances is present: (1) the kidnapping or detention shall have lasted for more than three days; (2) it is committed by simulating public authority; (3) any serious physical injuries shall have been inflicted upon the person kidnapped or detained or threats to kill him are made; or (4) the person kidnapped or detained is a minor, female or public officer. If the victim of kidnapping and serious illegal detention is a minor, the duration of his detention is immaterial. Likewise, if the victim is kidnapped and illegally detained for the purpose of extorting ransom, the duration of his detention is immaterial.

Jurisprudence dictates that the deprivation required by Article 267 of the RPC means not only imprisonment of a person, but also the deprivation of his liberty in whatever form and for whatever length of time. It includes a situation where the victim cannot go out of the place of confinement or detention or is restricted or impeded in his liberty to move.

In this case, the vivid recollection of complainant  NAVARRO of what occurred on 22 January 2014, from the time he entered the condominium unit of Respondent CORNEJO up to the time he was brought out of the said place, clearly shows that NAVARRO was actually restrained or deprived of his liberty against his will. Although complainant voluntarily went to the condominium unit of Respondent CORNEJO, the same does not give the Respondents the right to detain and place the victim at their mercy.During this period, there was no occasion for NAVARRO to free himself from the captors, as they had beaten him up, pointed a gun at him and threatened him, once he was inside  Respondent CORNEJO's unit, and even fled his hands at the back, and was brought to the police station for a blotter to be taken, while all this time, money was being demanded from him by the Respondents.

The Panel, hence, concluded that NAVARRO was detained by the Respondents in a manner that deprived him of his liberty because of the serious physical injuries he sustained in their hands, coupled with the threats to his life and that of his family, including threats affecting his very livelihood as an actor and television host.

The Panel noted that the fact that the severe beatings and mauling inflicted on NAVARRO caused him to suffer both internal and external injury tantamount to serious physical injuries is evident from the result on the Medico-Legal Certificate issued by Dr. Albert D. Rebosa, LlB., the Medico-Legal Consultant of the St. Luke's Medical Center.

Moreover, the Panel observed that the ultimate goal and purpose of the beating and the threats to kill NAVARRO, his family, and to destroy his career or means of livelihood was revealed, when the Respondents started demanding and extorting money or ransom from NAVARRO, while they were still inside the unit of Respondent CORNEJO, until he was brought to the police station by Respondents CORNEJO, BERNICE LEE, CEDRIC LEE, and ABUHIJLEH, which is obviously not the nearest police station where the Forbeswood Condominium is located. Also, there were text messages which were sent to NAVARRO by the Respondents days after the incident, demanding for money from the latter with further threats.

In this light, the Panel ruled that the demand for money made by the Respondents from NAVARRO may be likened to a demand for ransom in exchange for NAVARRO's liberty while he was being unlawfully detained by the Respondents. Under American rulings, the term "ransom" has been held to mean in its ordinary sense as "money, price, or consideration paid or demanded for redemption of a captured person or persons, a payment that releases from captivity". If an accused demanded and received money as a requisite for releasing a person from captivity, whatever other motive may have impelled him to do so, the money is still ransom under the law.

The Panel did not give credit to the defense of the Respondents that NAVARRO was arrested under a valid citizen's arrest because he was caught attempting to rape  CORNEJO and that the demand of money was merely a form of damages. On the contrary, the Panel opined that damages are personal in nature and it can only be negotiated by and between the concerned parties such as Respondent CORNEJO and NAVARRO, and not Respondents CEDRIC LEE and ABUHIJLEH; and that this fact only adds to the probability that the negotiation for damages or the money asked from NAVARRO, in favor of Respondent CORNEJO, was indeed premeditated.

Since serious physical injuries and threats to kill had been employed as a means to or in order to cause deprivation of liberty or detention of an individual, the Panel resolved that such crimes can no longer stand on their own, and shall be absorbed by the more serious offense, and thus, qualifies complainant NAVARRO's detention to SERIOUS ILLEGAL DETENTION or KIDNAPPING WITH DEMAND FOR RANSOM.

As to the charge for grave coercion, the following elements must be established: (1) that a person is prevented by another from doing something not prohibited by law, or compelled to do something against his will, be it right or wrong; (2) that the prevention or compulsion is effected by violence, threats, or intimidation; (3) that the person who restrains the will and liberty of another has no right to do so, or in other words, that the restraint is not made under authority of law or in the exercise of any lawful right.

The Panel found that all elements squarely fit the facts of this case: that NAVARRO was compelled or forced by the Respondents to admit the commission of the crime is evident when he was compelled to sign or affix his name and signature on the police blotter report, which clearly states that there was an attempt to rape Respondent CORNEJO; that the compulsion was effected by the serious physical injuries he had suffered,  including having his hands fled, and grave threats to kill made to him by the Respondents who acted in conspiracy with one another; and that the Respondents have no right to compel NAVARRO to admit a crime, nor had they a right to bring NAVARRO to the police station to admit the commission of a crime.

Anent the charge for illegal or unlawful arrest, the Panel determined that the same can no longer be sustained because as can be deduced from the acts of the Respondents, NAVARRO was brought to the police station to further threaten him, to demand more money amounting to Php2,000,000.00, and to ensure his payment of Php1,000,000.00, which was supposedly to be deposited in the account of Respondent CORNEJO. Therefore, complainant NAVARRO's unlawful arrest forms part of the deprivation of his liberty.

For lack of clear evidence, the Panel dismissed the charge of threatening to publish and offer to present such publication for compensation. Unless and until evidence is sufficiently shown that there exists a video as mentioned in the Complaint, the Panel held that this charge deserves scant consideration.

As to the complaint for rape filed by CORNEJO, it appears that there were two charges for rape committed against Complainant CORNEJO on the same night, one contemplates sexual assault, and the other, with carnal knowledge.

In rape through sexual intercourse, there must be evidence to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the perpetrator's penis touched the labia of the victim or slid into her female organ. On the other hand, rape by sexual assault is committed by a perpetrator by inserting his penis into another person's mouth.

The Panel found that Complainant CORNEJO's narrative that she was pinned down on the bed by Respondent NAVARRO, who had removed his short pants using his hand, and was clutching tightly and painfully pulling Complainant CORNEJO's hair with his other hand, while mashing her face, mouth, nose, and chin on his genitals, where Respondent NAVARRO even kept on pushing his genitals into her mouth, and then Respondent NAVARRO was allegedly able to lift her underwear and expose her vagina, and at that point felt his hard penis towards her private part, demonstrates physical improbability; that it is extremely difficult to comprehend how such scenario of shouting, struggling, and running to the lobby of the Forbeswood Height Condominium could have escaped the ears of the people in the neighboring units or in the halls of the said condominium; and that her actuation after the tormenting experience, when she admitted going out for dinner with friends, is to a certain degree incredible as it is contrary to human frailty.

Since Complainant CORNEJO was unable to provide a logical story, the Panel found no probable cause to indict NAVARRO for commission of the crime of rape. So too, is the charge relative to Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9262, considering that the said law only applies to parties who admit that prior to, during, and after, the commission of the crime or offense, they had a dating relationship. Since by her own admission, Complainant CORNEJO said that she and NAVARRO are just friends, but that the latter had allegedly sexually abused her, NAVARRO could not have committed a violation of R.A. No. 9262.

As to the charge of obstruction of justice against the security personnel of Forbeswood Condominium, the Panel found no probable cause to hold them liable. The Panel noted that the fact that Respondents GARBIN and VENIEGAS gave their respective statements with the NBI betrays the contention of the Complainants that the  Respondents prevented witnesses from  reporting the commission of any offense by means of deceit; that these respondents were the witnesses who gave their respective statements with the NBI which utilized the same  as part of its evidence in the complaints filed;  that the statements of the Respondents and CCTV footages are the very same  evidence adduced by the NBI in referring the case against CEDRIC LEE, et. al., for preliminary investigation with the National Prosecution Service of the Department of Justice; and that the Respondents were not present at the crime scene when the incident took place.

The corresponding criminal Informations for serious illegal detention and grave coercion will be filed with the Regional Trial Court - Taguig City. Serious illegal detention is a non-bailable offense.

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