Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Maguindanao massacre and Philippine law on terror

Cropped from a defense department photo of Pre...Image via Wikipedia
Maguindanao Massacre

With the unprecedented scale of barbaric violence in the recent Maguindanao massacre, the question arises if the situation calls for the applicability of Republic Act No. 9372 otherwise known as the Human Security Act of 2007 which imposes stiffer penalties than the common crime of murder.

Under Section 2 of the above-named law, it is declared a policy of the State to protect life, liberty, and property from acts of terrorism, to condemn terrorism as inimical and dangerous to the national security of the country and to the welfare of the people, and to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations.

Terrorism is defined under Section 3 thereof as any act of any person who commits an act punishable under any of the following provisions of the Revised Penal Code:

1. Article 122 (Piracy in General and Mutiny in the High Seas or in the Philippine Waters);
2. Article 134 (Rebellion or Insurrection);
3. Article 134-a (Coup d‘Etat), including acts committed by private persons;
4. Article 248 (Murder);
5. Article 267 (Kidnapping and Serious Illegal Detention);
6. Article 324 (Crimes Involving Destruction,

or under

1. Presidential Decree No. 1613 (The Law on Arson);
2. Republic Act No. 6969 (Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Waste Control Act of 1990);
3. Republic Act No. 5207, (Atomic Energy Regulatory and Liability Act of 1968);
4. Republic Act No. 6235 (Anti-Hijacking Law);
5. Presidential Decree No. 532 (Anti-piracy and Anti-highway Robbery Law of 1974); and,
6. Presidential Decree No. 1866, as amended (Decree Codifying the Laws on Illegal and Unlawful Possession, Manufacture, Dealing in, Acquisition or Disposition of Firearms, Ammunitions or Explosives)

thereby sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand shall be guilty of the crime of terrorism and shall suffer the penalty of forty (40) years of imprisonment, without the benefit of parole as provided for under Act No. 4103, otherwise known as the Indeterminate Sentence Law, as amended.

One of the elements of the crime of terrorism is the creation of condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace which clearly the Maguindanao massacre is squarely situated. Unfortunately, the qualifying clause thereof is "in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand" is not applicable, as there was no coercion at all on the government on the part of the perpetrators. In fact, the suspects appeared to be local government leaders, policemen and their armed civilian militias.

The latest moves from government prosecutors appear to be not to prosecute the perpetrators under the anti-terror law, as public pronouncements point to a 36-hour deadline in the filing of case in court in contrast to the 72-hour deadline under Section 18 of the anti-terror law.

Assuming that prosecutors will invoke the anti-terror law, the same will be a costly legal mistake as the move will only help the perpetrators resulting in the latter's possible, if not, inevitable acquittal.

In addition, with the clamor of speedy resolution of the dastardly crime, the invocation of the anti-terror law may be further delayed with the advent of the May 2010 elections as the accused may request for suspension of the proceedings or trial as the provisions of the said anti-terror law are deemed suspended one month before and two (2) month after the holding of any election.

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