SC rules on photos, messages in social media posts as evidence in court cases – Manila Bulletin | #socialmedia


Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that a person cannot invoke his constitutional right to privacy if the photographs and messages from his social media posts, like those in Facebook Messenger, are pieces of evidence obtained by private individuals and not by law enforcers or by other government agents.

With the ruling, the SC affirmed the conviction of Christian C. Cadajas for violation of Republic Act No. 9775, the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

In his petition against the Court of Appeals (CA) decision which affirmed the ruling of the regional trial court (RTC), Cadajas claimed that the photographs presented in evidence against him were taken from his Facebook Messenger account.

He said the evidence violated his right to privacy and “any evidence obtained in violation thereof amounts to a fruit of a poisonous tree….”

The SC said the right to privacy is expressly recognized under Section 3, Article III (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution.

The SC said: “While the (constitutional) provision highlights the importance of the right to privacy and its consequent effect on the rules on admissibility of evidence, one must not lose sight of the fact that the Bill of Rights was intended to protect private individuals against government intrusions. Hence, its provisions are not applicable between and amongst private individuals.”

“At any rate, violation of the right to privacy between individuals is properly governed by the provisions of the Civil Code, the Data Privacy Act (DPA) and other pertinent laws, while its admissibility shall be governed by the rules on relevance, materiality, authentication of documents, and the exclusionary rules under the Rules on Evidence,” it said.

The SC also said:

“In this case, the photographs and conversations in the Facebook Messenger account that were obtained and used as evidence against petitioner (Cadajas), which he considers as fruit of the poisonous tree, were not obtained through the efforts of the police officers or any agent of the State.

“Rather, these were obtained by a private individual. Indeed, the rule governing the admissibility of an evidence under Article III of the Constitution must affect only those pieces of evidence obtained by the State through its agents. It is these individuals who can flex government muscles and use government resources for a possible abuse.

“However, where private individuals are involved, for which their relationship is governed by the New Civil Code, the admissibility of an evidence cannot be determined by the provisions of the Bill of Rights.”

A summary issued by the SC’s public information office (PIO) on the incidents that led to the filing of charges against Cadajas stated:

“In 2016, petitioner, then 24 years old, started a romantic relationship with AAA, a 14-year-old girl. AAA, using the cellphone of her mother, BBB, would converse with petitioner on Facebook Messenger.

“In one of their conversations, petitioner coaxed AAA to send photos of her private parts…. BBB later discovered this conversation when AAA forgot to log out her Facebook account on her mother’s phone, prompting AAA to delete the messages on her account.

“BBB, however, forced AAA to open petitioner’s Facebook messenger account to get a copy of their conversation.”

On Dec. 27, 2016 two criminal charges were filed against Cadajas before the Valenzuela City RTC. One was for violation of Republic Act No. 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, while the other was for violation of RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act, in relation to RA 9775, the Anti-Child Pornography Act.

Under RA 7610, Cadajas was accused of “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously coerced the 14-years-old minor, to send pictures of her (private parts) Facebook Messenger, which circumstances debased, degraded and demeaned the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child as a human being, thereby endangering her youth, normal growth and development….”

For violation of RA 10175 in relation to RA 9775, Cadajas was charged with willfully, unlawfully and feloniously coerced, the 14-year-old minor to send him pictures of her (private parts) through Facebook Messenger using a mobile phone.”

After trial, the RTC, on Aug. 7, 2017, acquitted Cadajas of violation of RA 7610 but convicted him of violation of RA 10175 in relation to RA 9775 for which he was sentenced to reclusion temporal (a prison term ranging from 12 years and one day to 20 years) and a fine of P1 million.

On Sept. 17, 2018, the CA affirmed the RTC’s decision. But the CA modified the jail sentence to 14 years, eight months and one day, as minimum, to 18 years and three months, as maximum. The fine imposed by the trial court was retained.

Cadajas appealed the CA ruling before the SC. His appeal was dismissed in the full court decision written by Associate Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez. The decision was made public last June 16.

The SC said:

“Here, the pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution were properly authenticated when AAA identified them in open court.

“Here, petitioner’s expectation of privacy emanates from the fact that his Facebook Messenger account is password protected, such that no one can access the same except himself. Petitioner never asserted that his Facebook Messenger account was hacked or the photos were taken from his account through unauthorized means.

“Rather, the photos were obtained from his account because AAA, to whom he gave his password, had access to it. Considering that he voluntarily gave his password to AAA, he, in effect, has authorized AAA to access the same. He did not even take steps to exclude AAA from gaining access to his account.

“Having been given authority to access his Facebook Messenger account, petitioner’s reasonable expectation of privacy, in so far as AAA is concerned, had been limited. Thus, there is no violation of privacy to speak of.

“While the messages and photos were taken from the Facebook Messenger of petitioner because AAA was forced by BBB to do so, such does not deviate from the fact that petitioner allowed another person to access his account.

“When he gave his Facebook Messenger password to AAA, he made its contents available to AAA, and the latter would then have the latitude to show to other persons what she could access, whether she be forced to do so or not.

“The availability of accessing these photos limited the scope of his right to privacy, especially that these became essential in pursuing AAA’s claims to protect her rights.

“One can be convicted for committing child pornography upon proof of the following: (1) victim is a child; (2) victim was induced or coerced to perform in the creation or production of any form of child pornography; and (3) child pornography was performed through visual, audio or written combination thereof by · electronic, mechanical, digital, optical, magnetic or any other means.

“This Court finds that the prosecution was able to prove these facts by proof beyond reasonable doubt.

“It is evident that petitioner induced AAA to engage in the lascivious exhibition of her (private parts) through Facebook Messenger. Notably, it was petitioner who was the one giving specific orders to AAA. He even asked AAA to send to him nude photos of her and for the latter to further spread her legs near the camera, so that petitioner can see her (private part).

“In her testimony, AAA further explained that it was because of the continuous prodding of petitioner, that forced her to send her nude photos to the latter,

“Thus, contrary to petitioner’s contention, his act of inducing AAA to send photos of her (private parts) constitutes child pornography and explicit sexual activity under Sections 4(a), 3(b) and (c)(5) of R.A. No. 9775.

“While there was no showing that petitioner intended to sell AAA’s photos to other people, this did not exonerate him from liability under the said provision.

“It also bears emphasis that petitioner obtained the child pornographic materials by inducing AAA to send him photos of the latter’s private parts. He did not come into possession of these photos because it was sent by another person. Rather, he came into possession of AAA’s photos because of inducing AAA to exhibit her private parts to him.

“As the inducement to send photos of AAA’s private parts was committed with the use of a mobile phone through Facebook Messenger, petitioner’s act also falls within the purview of Section 4(c)(2) of R.A. No. 10175, which penalizes child pornography through the use of a computer system. A mobile phone is considered as a computer system under Section 3(g) of R.A. No. 10175.

“WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. Consequently, The Decision dated September 17, 2018 and Resolution dated May 9, 2019 both rendered by the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 40298 are AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION. Petitioner Christian Cadajas y Cabias is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of child pornography under Section 4(c)(2) of R.A. No. 10175, in relation to Sections 4(a) and 3(6) and (c)(5) ofR.A. No. 9775.

“He is sentenced to reclusion perpetua (jail term ranging from 20 years and one day to 40 years) with all its accessory penalties and to pay a fine in the amount of One Million Pesos (Pl,000,000). SO ORDERED.”

 

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