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‘Cheaper to kill than to injure’

THERE IS an official price for human life in the Philippines: P50,000 per person.

The amount of P50,000 can buy you a living room set, a secondhand Gucci women’s bag, or a pair of Prada men’s shoes in various online shops like eBay. These are the material equivalent of the value of human life in this country.

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It was Congress that put a peso value on human life when it passed in 1950 the New Civil Code, which states that any person who causes the death of another, by committing either a crime or gross negligence, shall be liable to pay a sum of money for the resulting loss of life.

Notwithstanding all the speeches in Congress and Supreme Court decisions describing life as “priceless,” “invaluable” and “irreplaceable,” human life still has a peso equivalent.

In 1950, the base price fixed by Congress was P3,000 for the wrongful termination of a person’s life. Notwithstanding the huge fall in the value of money in the past 66 years, Congress never adjusted the peso value of life. Until now, Article 2206 of the New Civil Code states that the amount payable for any human life that is killed is P3,000.

It was the Supreme Court that increased the price of life, first to P6,000, then to P9,000, next to P12,000, and eventually, in 1990, to P50,000 (P75,000 if the crime is penalized with death, even if the death penalty is presently suspended).

(It is worthwhile to know the inflation-adjusted peso value of life from the 1950s to the present. The earliest available inflation data are the figures of 1958, and the P3,000 monetary value of life in 1958 is equivalent to P325,000 in 2016. The P50,000 monetary value of life in 1990 is equivalent to P213,000 in 2016. On the other hand, the P50,000 monetary value of life in 2016 was equivalent to P10,500 in 1990, and P500 in 1958.)

For 26 years now, the price of life has not increased and has remained generally fixed at P50,000. Hence, if you are murdered by an enemy or a drunk driver recklessly causes your death, the criminal will only be liable to pay P50,000 as “death indemnity” for the loss of your life.

Of course there will be additional amounts payable for other losses, such as: actual damages for losses due to funeral and burial expenses; compensatory damages for the loss of the deceased’s earning capacity; moral damages for the emotional loss and suffering of the heirs; attorney’s fees for lawyer expenses; and exemplary damages to serve as lesson so that others will not commit the same crime.

The amounts payable for each of these additional damages are almost always higher than the P50,000 payable for the loss of life itself, but such other damages will be measures of how rich, educated and powerful the victim was. And this shows that these mere incidents of life are given more value than life itself. This also shows how our government regards and values “priceless” life.

This cheap valuation of life has given rise to an outrageous mindset among Filipino bus and truck drivers. The absurd belief that is much talked about among drivers is that when a reckless driver causes an accident that results in serious injuries to a pedestrian, the reckless driver will end up paying a lesser amount of damages if the pedestrian ends up dead.

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There are anecdotal stories of a bus or truck driver who ran over and seriously injured a pedestrian, and then backed up to do a second runover in order to deliver death to the injured pedestrian. The motivation to kill the injured pedestrian is reportedly due to the gruesome belief that a dead pedestrian means lower payment of damages.

There is factual basis for the horrifying belief. Almost always, road accident victims have this profile: They are beggars, vendors, and generally poor people who have no documented income; their funeral and burial expenses are at minimum amounts; the emotional loss of their heirs is tempered by the latter’s immediate need for cash; and their heirs will be represented pro bono by public attorneys.

The profile of poverty among road accident victims means that they would be unable to prove substantial damages if the case goes to court trial. Poverty also puts extreme pressure on the victims’ heirs to accept a small amount of compromise settlement.

In contrast, if the pedestrian is seriously injured but survives, the vehicle owner and driver will end up paying substantial medical and rehabilitation expenses. Thus, the grisly belief is that the vehicle owner and driver will be paying less if the pedestrian ends up dead rather than survives with severe injuries.

Even the threat of criminal prosecution for the pedestrian’s death does not create fear. The crime committed by reckless drivers (reckless imprudence resulting in homicide) will lead only to a prison sentence of less than six years. Under the law, a first-time offender sentenced to less than six years of imprisonment can be granted probation. A granted probation means that the convicted driver will not go to prison but will merely report monthly to a government official to show good behavior.

In 2014, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago filed a bill seeking to increase death indemnity to P500,000, noting that it has become “cheaper to kill than to injure.” But Congress has shown no interest in increasing the price of life.

In all these years, what Congress has shown instead is a hyperactive interest in changing the names of streets, schools and buildings. In this hobby of changing names, Congress has spent public funds in the hundreds of millions of pesos—public funds that can be computed and measured in terms of human lives.

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TAGS: Human Life, opinion, peso, price, price of life, value
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