MANILA – A lawyer believes that looting activities in areas severely battered by Typhoon "Yolanda" may not be considered criminal acts.
In a statement, lawyer Sara Jane Suguitan said that there are justifying circumstances and circumstances which exempt someone from criminal liability
Suguitan cited Article 11, paragraph 11 of the Revised Penal Code, which states that "any person who, in order to avoid an evil or injury, does not act which causes damage to another, provided that the following requisites are present: First. That the evil sought to be avoided actually exists; Second. That the injury feared be greater than that done to avoid it; Third. That there be no other practical and less harmful means of preventing it."
The lawyer also cited Article 12 of the Revised Penal Code which states that "any person who acts under the impulse of an uncontrollable fear of an equal or greater injury" amounts to an exempting circumstance from criminal liability.
"As a general rule, stealing of any kind is criminal and punishable by law. There are exceptions as usual, and this is one of them," Suguitan said.
"This is not to justify stealing of any kind. The justifying circumstance stated in our laws is an acknowledgement that the instinct of self-preservation takes priority in case of emergency," she added.
In a recent development, Tacloban City, where much of the looting activities were reported, has already been placed under a state of emergency.
But Suguitan said the declaration of a state of calamity or emergency is no longer needed in order to consider looting a justifiable act, "because the determination of a state of calamity is factual in nature which can be considered by the courts on a case by case basis."
"A state of emergency is fleeting and temporary. Under normal conditions, stealing is criminal, but in this case where a person faces not only an imminent threat but an actual real threat to his or her life, then such acts either fall under the exceptions to criminal liability or outside the realm of criminal laws. It becomes a crime by necessity," she said.
Police deployed in Tacloban
The Philippine National Police sent over 800 policemen to typhoon-devastated areas to maintain peace and order amid the worsening problem of looting.
"Nananawagan po kami na huminahon po sana ang ating mamamayan. Alam namin na hindi masusukat ang kanilang dinaranas ngayon subalit hindi ito dapat maging dahilan para lalo silang maligaw o gumawa ng karasahan na maaring masubukaan din ang kakayahan ng kapulisan," said Senior Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, PNP spokesperson.
"It is not an excuse. This will be handled in a delicate manner but with the firmness of the law pa rin. Hindi natin papayagan magkaroon ng anarkiya doon."
Scenes of looters managing to break into major establishments have shown how big the basic resources problem in the city has become just two days after the typhoon's onslaught.
A DZMM report, citing a police colonel tasked to look after Robinsons Place Tacloban, earlier confirmed that looters managed to enter the mall in Abucay village on Sunday afternoon.
A clip also showed the looting at Gaisano mall in Tacloban City after the onslaught of super typhoon.
There were also reports that people have also resorted to looting automated teller machines (ATMs), and extracting fuel from abandoned vehicles.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), meanwhile, said the death toll from the typhoon has reached 255. The figure is far lower than the estimated 10,000 deaths.
At least 71 were injured while 38 were reported missing.
At least 2,095,262 families or 9,679,059 persons were affected by the typhoon, 91,657 families (433,300 persons) of whom are being served in evacuation centers.
A total of P296,505,629.05 worth of damage (P38,997,500.00 to infrastructure and P257,508,129.05 to agriculture) were reported in MIMAROPA, Bicol Region, Western Visayas and Caraga.