Monday, April 2, 2012

Fernando v CA G.R. No. 159751 December 6, 2006

J. Quisimbing

Acting on reports of sale and distribution of pornographic materials, officers of the Philippine National Police CIDG conducted police surveillance on the store bearing the name of Gaudencio E. Fernando Music Fair (Music Fair). 
On May 5, 1999, Judge Perfecto Laguio of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 19, issued Search Warrant No. 99-1216 for violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code against petitioner Gaudencio E. Fernando and a certain Warren Tingchuy. 
The warrant ordered the search of the store for copies of New Rave, Hustler, IOU magazine, and VHS tapes.
On the same day, police officers of the PNP-CIDG NCR served the warrant on Rudy Estorninos, who, according to the prosecution, introduced himself as the store attendant of Music Fair.  The police searched the premises and confiscated twenty-five (25) VHS tapes and ten (10) different magazines, which they deemed pornographic.
All appellants pled not guilty to the offenses charged. They waived their right to present evidence.  The RTC acquitted Tingchuy for lack of evidence to prove his guilt, but convicted herein petitioners Fernando and Estorninos.
The CA affirmed the decision. The petitioners sought for review in the SC on certiorari and assailed the CA decision.
They assigned the following errors:
I. Respondent court erred in convicting petitioner Fernando even if he was not present at the time of the raid
II. Respondent erred in convicting petitioner Estorninos who was not doing anything illegal at the time of the raid.
Petitioners contend that the prosecution failed to prove that at the time of the search, they were selling pornographic materials.  Fernando contends that since he was not charged as the owner of an establishment selling obscene materials, the prosecution must prove that he was present during the raid and that he was selling the said materials. Estorninos, on the other hand, insists that he was not an attendant in Music Fair, nor did he introduce himself so.
The Solicitor General counters that owners of establishments selling obscene publications are expressly held liable under Article 201, and petitioner Fernando’s ownership was sufficiently proven.  As the owner, according to the Solicitor General, Fernando was naturally a seller of the prohibited materials and liable under the Information.

Issue: Whether the appellate court erred in affirming the petitioners’ conviction.

Held: No. Petition dismissed.

 As obscenity is an unprotected speech which the State has the right to regulate, the State in pursuing its mandate to protect, as parens patriae, the public from obscene, immoral and indecent materials must justify the regulation or limitation.   
One such regulation is Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code.  To be held liable, the prosecution must prove that (a) the materials, publication, picture or literature are obscene; and (b) the offender sold, exhibited, published or gave away such materials. Necessarily, that the confiscated materials are obscene must be proved.
People v. Kottinger-.obscenity as something which is offensive to chastity, decency or delicacy.  The test to determine the existence of obscenity is, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscene, is to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication or other article charged as being obscene may fall.
Also, “that which shocks the ordinary and common sense of men as an indecency.” The disclaimer was whether a picture is obscene or indecent must depend upon the circumstances of the case, and that ultimately, the question is to be decided by the judgment of the aggregate sense of the community reached by it.
Go Pin- If such pictures, sculptures and paintings are shown in art exhibits and art galleries for the cause of art, to be viewed and appreciated by people interested in art, there would be no offense committed.  However, the pictures here in question were used not exactly for art’s sake but rather for commercial purposes.  In other words, the supposed artistic qualities of said pictures were being commercialized so that the cause of art was of secondary or minor importance.  Gain and profit would appear to have been the main, if not the exclusive consideration in their exhibition; and it would not be surprising if the persons who went to see those pictures and paid entrance fees for the privilege of doing so, were not exactly artists and persons interested in art and who generally go to art exhibitions and galleries to satisfy and improve their artistic tastes, but rather people desirous of satisfying their morbid curiosity and taste, and lust, and for love [of] excitement, including the youth who because of their immaturity are not in a position to resist and shield themselves from the ill and perverting effects of these pictures
Padan- An actual exhibition of the sexual act, preceded by acts of lasciviousness, can have no redeeming feature.  In it, there is no room for art.  One can see nothing in it but clear and unmitigated obscenity, indecency, and an offense to public morals, inspiring and causing as it does, nothing but lust and lewdness, and exerting a corrupting influence specially on the youth of the land.
Katigbak- the Court measures obscenity in terms of the “dominant theme” of the material taken as a “whole” rather than in isolated passages.
Pita v. Court of Appeals, concerning alleged pornographic publications, the Court recognized that Kottinger failed to afford a conclusive definition of obscenity, and that both Go Pin and Padan y Alova raised more questions than answers such as, whether the absence or presence of artists and persons interested in art and who generally go to art exhibitions and galleries to satisfy and improve their artistic tastes, determine what art is; or that if they find inspiration in the exhibitions, whether such exhibitions cease to be obscene. Go Pin and Padan y Alova gave too much latitude for judicial arbitrament, which has permitted ad lib of ideas and “two-cents worths” among judges as to what is obscene or what is art.
The Court in Pita also emphasized the difficulty of the question and pointed out how hazy jurisprudence is on obscenity and how jurisprudence actually failed to settle questions on the matter.  Significantly, the dynamism of human civilization does not help at all.  It is evident that individual tastes develop, adapt to wide-ranging influences, and keep in step with the rapid advance of civilization.  It seems futile at this point to formulate a perfect definition of obscenity that shall apply in all cases.
There is no perfect definition of “obscenity” but the latest word is that of Miller v. California which established basic guidelines, to wit: (a) whether to the average person, applying contemporary standards would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
But, it would be a serious misreading of Miller to conclude that the trier of facts has the unbridled discretion in determining what is “patently offensive. No one will be subject to prosecution for the sale or exposure of obscene materials unless these materials depict or describe patently offensive “hard core” sexual conduct. Ie offensive descriptions of sex acts.
What remains clear is that obscenity is an issue proper for judicial determination and should be treated on a case to case basis and on the judge’s sound discretion.
In this case, the trial court found the confiscated materials obscene and the Court of Appeals affirmed such findings. Findings of fact of the Court of Appeals affirming that of the trial court are accorded great respect, even by this Court, unless such findings are patently unsupported by the evidence on record or the judgment itself is based on misapprehension of facts.
   Did petitioners participate in the distribution and exhibition of obscene materials? We emphasize that mere possession of obscene materials, without intention to sell, exhibit, or give them away, is not punishable under Article 201, considering the purpose of the law is to prohibit the dissemination of obscene materials to the public. The offense in any of the forms under Article 201 is committed only when there is publicity. The mayor’s permit shows that Fernando was the owner of the store.
Petitioner Estorninos is likewise liable as the store attendant actively engaged in selling and exhibiting the obscene materials.  Prosecution witness Police Inspector Tababan, who led the PNP-CIDG NCR that conducted the search, identified him as the store attendant upon whom the search warrant was served.

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