Should gov't punish looters?

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 11 2013 07:31 PM | Updated as of Nov 12 2013 03:31 AM

Looters carry toys and other goods from a local department store. Photo by Rem Zamora for ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila De Lima seems not keen on prosecuting individuals behind the looting of several establishments in Tacloban City, Leyte following the onslaught of super typhoon "Yolanda."

In a text message to reporters, De Lima said that liberality should be applied in the application of laws in cases of natural calamities and disasters, and that what is more important is for state security forces to perform their mandate of maintaining peace and order during these times.

"Strictly enforcing the laws, including penal laws on looting (technically, theft or robbery), during extraordinary times such as in times of calamity, is easier said than done. There's a lot of sensitivities involved here."

"Application of laws should thus be tempered with compassion, mercy or liberality. What is imperative is real and physical presence of authorities, both local and national, to maintain peace and order," De Lima said.

There are, however, those who believe that looting should not be tolerated during these hard times, especially that the Revised Penal Code provides that higher penalties be imposed when theft is committed

"Art. 310. Qualified theft. - The crime of theft shall be punished by the penalties next higher by two degrees... if committed by a domestic servant, or with grave abuse of confidence, or if the property stolen is motor vehicle, mail matter or large cattle or consists of coconuts taken from the premises of the plantation or fish taken from a fishpond or fishery, or if property is taken on the occasion of fire, earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption, or any other calamity, vehicular accident or civil disturbance. (As amended by R.A. 120 and B.P. Blg 71, May 1, 1980)"

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.