CA orders filing of rape, acts of lasciviousness charges vs Vhong Navarro

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2022 12:42 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2022 12:48 PM

MANILA — Despite findings of the Department of Justice that the allegations were inconsistent and incredible, the Court of Appeals has ordered the filing of rape and acts of lasciviousness charges against actor-host-comedian Vhong Navarro over a 2014 incident involving model Deniece Cornejo.

In a decision dated July 21, the CA Fourteenth Division reversed the 2018 and 2020 resolutions of the DOJ which junked Cornejo’s complaints on the ground that the allegations suffered credibility issues.

Cornejo accused Navarro of raping her in her condo unit in BGC in Taguig City on January 17, 2014 and of attempting to rape her on January 22, 2014.

But a CCTV footage showed Navarro stepping out of the elevator to go to Cornejo’s unit at 21:59:50 (actual time: 10:39 pm) while Cornejo stepped inside the elevator at 22:00:53 (actual time: 10:40 pm) or around a minute after Navarro stepped out.

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The CA said the elements of rape were alleged with regard to the January 17 incident and the issue of credibility should be determined during trial in court.

As to the January 22 incident, CA found probable cause only for the filing of acts of lasciviousness.

“Ultimately, it falls upon the trial court to determine who between Navarro and Cornejo speaks the truth. Cornejo decries attempted rape on the night of January 22, 2014 while Navarro denies any wrongdoing on his part. We reiterate once more that the preliminary investigation is not the proper venue to rule on the respondent’s guilt or innocence,” the CA ruling penned by Justice Florencio Mamauag, Jr. said.

“[W]hether the other pieces of documentary or electronic evidence presented at the preliminary investigation level is enough to impeach the credibility of the alleged rape victim so as to exculpate the respondent of the crime imputed against him is a matter best left to the scrutiny of the trial court,” it added.

The January 22, 2014 incident was widely covered by the media because it led to the mauling of Navarro, after Cornejo’s “friends,” Cedric Lee and some companions, beat him up inside Cornejo’s condo unit before tying him up and bringing him to a Southern Police District station.

Navarro claimed Lee, Cornejo and their companions tried to extort up to P2 million from him and forced him to confess to attempting to rape Cornejo by signing a police blotter.

A Taguig court in July 2018 subsequently convicted Lee, Cornejo and Jed Fernandez of grave coercion and sentenced them to up to 3 yeas and 6 months in prison while a case for serious illegal detention is still being tried.

But in ruling in favor of filing of charges against Navarro, the appellate court did not discuss the grave coercion conviction nor the alleged impossibility of rape within one minute, as the National Bureau of Investigation previously pointed out.

A CCTV footage showed Navarro stepping out of the elevator to go to Cornejo’s unit at 21:59:50 (actual time: 10:39 pm) while Cornejo stepped inside the elevator at 22:00:53 (actual time: 10:40 pm) or around a minute after Navarro stepped out.

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In the original complaint, Cornejo claimed the following allegedly took place within that 1-minute period on January 22:
-she offered him juice and refreshments
-he joked and stroked her hair
-he dragged her towards the sofa
-he tried to lay on top of her but she managed to run away
-she tried to grab her phone but he caught up with her 
-he pinned her down and forced her to perform oral sex
-he had sex with her as she tried to push him

According to Cornejo’s claim, her friends “suddenly appeared to her rescue.”

But CCTV footage presented by the NBI showed Cornejo taking the elevator to go down the condo building and was therefore not in the condo unit when Lee and his companions arrived to supposedly rescue her, according to NBI assistant regional director Vicente de Guzman in January 2014.

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These same accusations however were alleged by Cornejo to have happened on January 17, 2014 in her subsequent affidavits.

In 2017, then OIC-Prosecutor General Severino Gaña noted how Cornejo’s allegations supposedly changed in the 3 complaint-affidavits she executed — from claiming she was raped through force on Jan. 22, 2014 in her first complaint-affidavit, to no mention of the incident, to mere attempt to rape her in her subsequent complaint-affidavits.

Cornejo did not claim she was raped on Jan. 17, 2014 in her first complaint-affidavit, but she alleged rape through force in her second complaint-affidavit, to rape being committed by rendering her dizzy and weak due to a drug-laced wine in her third complaint affidavit.

The DOJ, acting on Cornejo’s appeal, said she was not able to explain inconsistencies in her affidavits.

But the CA said the DOJ’s ruling was wrong.

“It was erroneous for the DOJ to deny Cornejo’s petition for review on the ground that her statements in the complaint-affidavits are inconsistent and incredible. In this regard, it bears to stress that the determination of probable cause does not depend on the validity or merits of a party’s accusation or defense or on the admissibility or veracity of testimonies presented,” it said.

Instead, the appellate court ruled that Cornejo’s complaint was able allege the elements of rape — that the offender had sex with the victim and it was done through force or intimidation.

“Cornejo’s claim that she initially managed to escape Navarro’s unwanted advances, but he caught up with her to further his perverse objective satisfies the element of force and intimidation. The element of carnal knowledge is likewise present when she sufficiently alleged that he successfully inserted his fingers in her vagina before proceeding to satiate his lust by forcing his penis in her vagina after she struggled with him as he mashed her breasts and tried to remove her shorts,” the court said.

Acknowledging the sensitivity of a rape case — how it often ends up as a “he said, she said” scenario — CA said this is best decided by a trial court.

In the same ruling, the CA downgraded another allegation of attempted rape that supposedly took place also on Jan. 22, 2014 to acts of lasciviousness while it junked a third complaint because Cornejo merely alleged Navarro pushed her to the living room and pressed his entire weight on her body.

Navarro "will ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider" its decision, said his lawyer Alma Mallonga. 

"He will exercise all the other rights and remedies that are available to him under the law," Mallonga said in a statement. 

ABS-CBN News is still trying to get the reactions of Cornejo and the other individuals involved.