Supreme Court rules: Adult hitting a child without intent to demean child’s dignity has no criminal liability for child abuse

toni-umaliFirst of two parts

IN a hypothetical case, a public-school teacher (classroom adviser of a Grade 6 class) saw a Grade 11 senior high-School (SHS) student throwing stones and hitting one of her Grade 6 students. To protect her student, the teacher immediately approached the Grade 11 student and hit the student at his back and shouted: Mga hayop kamo, para dayo kamo digdi. Iharap mo dito ama mo [You all animals, you are all strangers here. Bring your father here].” The Grade 11 SHS student was brought to the hospital as he suffered some contusions at his back. Is the teacher here guilty of the crime of child abuse as defined under Section 3(b) and in relation to Section 10(a) of Republic Act (RA) 7610, otherwise known as Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act?

My answer should be “no” for child abuse under RA 7610, but arguably “yes” for another crime like slight physical injuries and maltreatment punishable under Article 266 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). It may be important to emphasize that my answer here only concerns the possible criminal liability of the public-school teacher in this hypothetical case (and not her possible administrative liability, if any, under the Department of Education’s Child Protection Policy).

The distinction is very critical as the crime of child abuse defined under Section 3(b) of RA 7610 is punishable with imprisonment of six years and one day to eight years (of prison mayor in its minimum period), while slight physical injuries and maltreatment under the RPC is only punishable with arresto menor which ranges from one day to 30 days of imprisonment only.

The jurisprudence applicable to this hypothetical case is the case of George Bongalon v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 169533, March 20, 2013, where it was ruled that “[n]ot every instance of the laying of hands on a child constitutes the crime of child abuse under Section 10 (a) of RA 7610. Only when the laying of hands is shown beyond reasonable doubt to be intended by the accused to debase, degrade or demean the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being should it be punished as child abuse. Otherwise, it is punished under the RPC.”

The petitioner (Bongalon) in this Supreme Court (SC) case was found guilty by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) for violation of RA 7610 for committing “child abuse” against minor Jayson de la Cruz. The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the findings of the RTC but modified the penalty imposed. Petitioner requested the SC to reverse the findings of the RTC and the CA with this petition.

The relevant facts and decision of this 2013 Bongalon case, which is directly (or substantially) quoted or paraphrased from the SC decision, penned by Associate Justice Lucas P. Bersamin are as follows: On June 26, 2000, the Prosecutor’s Office of Legazpi City charged Bongalon in the RTC in Legazpi City with child abuse under Section 10(a) of RA 7610, alleging that “on or about the 11th day of May 2000, in the City of Legazpi, Philippines, Bongalon commit on the person of Jayson de la Cruz, a 12-year-old, Grade 6 pupil of MABA Institute, Legazpi City, acts of physical abuse and/or maltreatment by striking said Jayson de la Cruz with his palm, hitting the latter at his back and by slapping said minor hitting his left cheek and uttering derogatory remarks to the latter’s family to wit: “Mga hayop kamo, para dayo kamo digdi. Iharap mo dito ama mo [You all animals, you are all strangers here. Bring
your father here],” which acts of the accused are prejudicial to the child’s development and which demean the intrinsic worth and dignity of the said child as a human being.”

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. To be continued

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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 United States of America after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004.