The Metro section of the Inquirer, A2, has the strangest tales of the city, many of the stories belonging to the crime and punishment genre, drawn from police blotters.
Last Monday’s Metro news seemed to have more than the usual strange fare. There was this report on a Caloocan councilor who had been going around threatening residents with a gun. Police raided his house, found a 9 mm pistol that was not registered, plus 16 sachets of shabu (crystal meth).
There was also a report from Caloocan about Bishop Virgilio David asking a witness to a crime to come out and testify. Such pastoral calls have become common in our age of extrajudicial killings but there’s a twist to the story here. The Caloocan police (again) had reportedly tried to arrest three men in Barangay 178, two of them reportedly for going around in public without a shirt. You can almost guess the rest of the story: two of the men supposedly resisted and ran away, one of them into his apartment. This last one then fired at the police, who then fired back, killing him. Now, witnesses, as nameless as their barangays, say they heard the shirtless man begging for his life before being shot several times in the chest.
You wonder about this crime of going around shirtless, and how it can lead to an execution, but then the crackdown on this “crime” was one of the specific orders last year with “Oplan Rody” or Rid the Streets of Drunkards and Youths.
Shift down the page and there’s an article about Pateros’ 4th most wanted man being arrested in Bataan, for raping and, on another occasion, molesting a 12-year-old girl. There were also complaints from other residents in his barangay about his “drinking in public and illegal gambling.”
The fugitive denied the allegations, but admitted he was hiding because he faced another rape complaint, this time involving a 10-year-old girl.
It’s frustrating, and infuriating, looking at the energies poured into passing laws and ordinances, and then looking at the twists and turns around enforcement of those statutes, and impunity.
My frustrations peaked that Monday reading one last item about a man who had been charged with “unjust vexation.” I’m sure you and I all had our share of vexations but when would being vexed (na-irita, na-buwisit?) be just, or unjust?
I won’t relate, yet, the details of that story and what the man did to deserve being charged with unjust vexation.
I did some research on this mysterious crime, which led me to our Revised Penal Code enacted on Dec. 8, 1930, a revision of the Spanish Codigo Penal that had been in force since 1886. The revised code retains many unusual laws, some of which I’ve written about (for example absolving a rapist of his crime if he agrees to marry the woman he raped). Looking for the provision on “unjust vexation,” I realized I had missed out on other archaic legal provisions like in Section 155, on “alarms and scandals,” joining a “charivari,” an English term even more archaic than the crime defined by Oxford as a “noisy mock-serenade performed by a group of people to celebrate a marriage or annoy a person.”
That Revised Penal Code has also been expanded over the last 87 years with many additional laws, for example Commonwealth Act 616, an act to punish espionage. And Presidential Decree 90 signed by Ferdinand Marcos on Jan. 6, 1973. Imagine 90 decrees, having the force of law, issued in less than four months of martial law.
Actually, the Revised Penal Code of 1930 already had Article 154 declaring as unlawful the “use of means of publication and unlawful utterances” to spread “false news,” but PD 90 used the term “rumor mongering” to talk about crimes that might “cause panic, divisive effects among the people, discredit of or distrust for the duly constituted authorities, undermine the stability of the Government…” You get the drift.
I don’t know if anyone was ever prosecuted using PD 90, or if the decree has been repealed but the penalties were quite severe: prision correccional (6 months to 6 years). The decree further provides that if the offender is a government official and found guilty for violating PD 90, there is an additional penalty of “absolute perpetual disqualification from holding any public office.”
The crime of unjust vexation was part of the Revised Penal Code’s Article 287, which referred specifically to “light coercions,” where a person uses violence to “seize anything belonging to his debtor for the purpose of applying the same to the payment of the debt.” This is followed by the statement “any other coercions or unjust vexations shall be punished by arresto menor (1 day to 30 days imprisonment) or a fine ranging from 5 pesos to 200 pesos, or both.”
In 2009, a clearly irritated Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed a Senate bill arguing that the section on unjust vexation was so vague it was unconstitutional. She proposed this amendment to the Revised Penal Code, separate from “Light Coercions:” “Article. 287-A. Unjust Vexation—Any person who commits a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such a person and serves no legitimate purpose shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum period or a fine ranging from 500 pesos to 5,000 pesos, or both.”
That bill does not seem to have passed so we’re stuck with the 1930 provision. Actually, even the wise senator’s proposed qualification of “substantial emotional distress” to constitute unjust vexation remains vague. For example, can you bring your noisy karaoke-loving neighbor to court for unjust vexation, or can you use the 1930 provision on alarms and scandals and argue karaokes are modern charivaris? After all, charivari comes from a Greek word “karebaria,” which means headache, something we associate too with karaokes.
Finally, let’s get back to that Metro news article, which had this headline: “Unjust vexation: Exhibitionist arrested inside bus.” The headline doesn’t quite capture what happened because the man wasn’t just showing himself, but showing off what he might have thought to be some consummate skill to his seatmate who, tough luck, turned out to be a policewoman. She shouted to have the bus stopped, got off, found a police car, had the unjust vexer (the word exists!) brought to the police station and charged with Article 287.
A group in India, RVCJ Media, has declared our unjust vexation law as one of the “craziest laws on earth,” sharing the honors with Singapore’s chewing gum law.
I beg your pardon but I think we have foresight. Look at Marcos anticipating fake news and post-truth. Trump would love to have his version of the anti-rumor mongering law.
Look at how, in recent weeks, many high and mighty men have fallen because of publicity around their “sexual misconduct,” yet they haven’t been brought to court because the laws in the United States and Britain don’t seem to be clear about sexual misconduct that isn’t rape.
Maybe the US and Britain should consider an “unjust vexation” law.