Supreme Court Rules:
Adult hitting a child without intent to demean child’s dignity has no criminal liability for child abuse
by Toni Umali, Esq.
Petitioner denied having physically abused or maltreated Jayson. He explained that he only talked to Jayson (and the Dad) after petitioner’s minor daughters Mary Ann Rose and Cherrylyn told petitioner about Jayson’s throwing stones at them and about Jayson’s burning of Cherrylyn’s hair. Petitioner denied shouting invectives at and challenging Jayson’s dad to a fight, insisting that he only told Jayon’s father to restrain his sons from harming his daughters.
Regional Trial Court (RTC) declared the petitioner guilty of child abuse as charged and imposed the penalty of six years and one day to eight years of prision mayor in its minimum period. The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the conviction, but modified the penalty by imposing the indeterminate penalty of four years, two months and one day of prision correccional, as minimum term, to six years, eight months and one day of prision mayor as the maximum term.
The law under which the petitioner was charged, tried and found guilty of violating is Section 10 (a), Article VI of Republic Act (RA) 7610, which relevantly states:
“Section 10. Other Acts of Neglect, Abuse, Cruelty or Exploitation and other Conditions Prejudicial to the Child’s Development. – (a) Any person who shall commit any other acts of child abuse, cruelty or exploitation or be responsible for other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development including those covered by Article 59 of Presidential Decree 603, as amended, but not covered by the Revised Penal Code [RPC], as amended, shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period.”
Child abuse is defined by Section 3 (b) of RA 7610, as follows:
“Section 3. Definition of terms
(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.
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that although the SC affirms the factual findings of fact by the RTC and the CA to the effect that the petitioner struck Jayson at the back with his hand and slapped Jayson on the face, the SC disagrees with their holding that his acts constituted child abuse within the purview of the above-quoted provisions. The records did not establish beyond reasonable doubt that his laying of hands on Jayson had been intended to debase the “intrinsic worth and dignity” of Jayson as a human being, or that he had thereby intended to humiliate or embarrass Jayson.
The records showed the laying of hands on Jayson to have been done at the spur of the moment and in anger, indicative of his being then overwhelmed by his fatherly concern for the personal safety of his own minor daughters who had just suffered harm at the hands of Jayson and Roldan. With the loss of his self-control, he lacked that specific intent to debase, degrade or demean the
intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being that was so essential in the crime of child abuse.
Considering that Jayson’s physical injury required five to seven days of medical attention, the SC then said that the petitioner was liable for slight physical injuries under Article 266 (1) of the RPC.
Again,the Bongalon case may only be applied to our aforementioned hypothetical case insofar as the possible criminal liability of the public-school teacher is concerned.
The public-school teacher’s administrative liability should be analyzed in light of DepEd Order 40, Series of 2012, otherwise know as DepEd’s “Child Protection Policy.”
This column should not be taken as a legal advice applicable to any case, as each case is unique and should be construed in light of the attending circumstances surrounding such particular case.
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the Department of Education (DepEd). He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the state of California and some federal courts in the US after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd.
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