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November 10, 2010


1.         WON Plunder Law is unconstitutional for being vague

No. As long as the law affords some comprehensible guide or rule that would inform those who are subject to it what conduct would render them liable to its penalties, its validity will be sustained. The amended information itself closely tracks the language of law, indicating w/ reasonable certainty the various elements of the offense w/c the petitioner is alleged to have committed.

We discern nothing in the foregoing that is vague or ambiguous that will confuse petitioner in his defense.

Petitioner however bewails the failure of the law to provide for the statutory definition of the terms “combination” and “series” in the key phrase “a combination or series of overt or criminal acts. These omissions, according to the petitioner, render the Plunder Law unconstitutional for being impermissibly vague and overbroad and deny him the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, hence violative of his fundamental right to due process.

A statute is not rendered uncertain and void merely because general terms are used herein, or because of the employment of terms without defining them.

A statute or act may be said to be vague when it lacks comprehensible standards that men of common intelligence most necessarily guess at its meaning and differ in its application. In such instance, the statute is repugnant to the Constitution in two (2) respects – it violates due process for failure to accord persons, especially the parties targeted by it, fair notice of what conduct  to avoid; and, it leaves law enforcers unbridled discretion in carrying out its provisions and becomes an arbitrary flexing of the Government muscle.

A facial challenge is allowed to be made to vague statute and to one which is overbroad because of possible “chilling effect” upon protected speech.  The possible harm to society in permitting some unprotected speech to go unpunished is outweighed by the possibility that the protected speech of other may be deterred and perceived grievances left to fester because of possible inhibitory effects of overly broad statutes. But in criminal law, the law cannot take chances as in the area of free speech.

2.         WON the Plunder Law requires less evidence for providing the predicate crimes of plunder and therefore violates the rights of the accused to due process

No. Sec. 4 (Rule of Evidence) states that: For purposes of establishing the crime of plunder, it shall not be necessary to prove each and every criminal act done by the accused in furtherance of the scheme or conspiracy to amass, accumulate or acquire ill-gotten wealth, it being sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of overt or criminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy.

In a criminal prosecution for plunder, as in all other crimes, the accused always has in his favor the presumption of innocence guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and unless the State succeeds in demonstrating by proof beyond reasonable doubt that culpability lies, the accused is entitled to an acquittal.

The “reasonable doubt” standard has acquired such exalted stature in the realm of constitutional law as it gives life to the Due Process Clause which protects the accused against conviction except upon proof of reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.

Not everything alleged in the information needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. What is required to be proved beyond reasonable doubt is every element of the crime charged—the element of the offense.

Relative to petitioner’s contentions on the purported defect of Sec. 4 is his submission that “pattern” is a “very important element of the crime of plunder;” and that Sec. 4 is “two-pronged, (as) it contains a rule of evidence and a substantive element of the crime, “ such that without it the accused cannot be convicted of plunder –

We do not subscribe to petitioner’s stand. Primarily, all the essential elements of plunder can be culled and understood from its definition in Sec. 2, in relation to sec. 1 par. (d). Sec. 4 purports to do no more than prescribe a rule of procedure for the prosecution of a criminal case for plunder. Being a purely procedural measure, Sec. 4 does not define or establish any substantive right in favor of the accused but only operated in furtherance of a remedy.

What is crucial for the prosecution is to present sufficient evidence to engender that moral certitude exacted by the fundamental law to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.

3.         WON Plunder as defined in RA 7080 is a malum prohibitum, and if so, whether it is within the power of Congress to so classify it.

No. It is malum in se which requires proof of criminal intent. Precisely because the constitutive crimes are mala in se the element of mens rea must be proven in a prosecution for plunder. It is noteworthy that the amended information alleges that the crime of plunder was committed “willfully, unlawfully and criminally.” It thus alleges guilty knowledge on the part of petitioner.

In support of his contention In support of his contention that the statute eliminates the requirement of mens rea and that is the reason he claims the statute is void, petitioner cites the following remarks of Senator Tañada made during the deliberation on S.B. No.733

Senator Tañada was only saying that where the charge is conspiracy to commit plunder, the prosecution need not prove each and every criminal act done to further the scheme or conspiracy, it being enough if it proves beyond reasonable doubt a pattern of overt or criminal acts indicative of the overall unlawful scheme or conspiracy. As far as the acts constituting the pattern are concerned, however, the elements of the crime must be proved and the requisite mens rea must be shown.

The application of mitigating and extenuating circumstances in the Revised Penal Code to prosecutions under the Anti-Plunder Law indicates quite clearly that mens rea is an element of plunder since the degree of responsibility of the offender is determined by his criminal intent.

Finally, any doubt as to whether the crime of plunder is a malum in se must be deemed to have been resolved in the affirmative by the decision of Congress in 1993 to include it among the heinous crimes punishable by reclusion perpetua to death.

The evil of a crime may take various forms. There are crimes that are, by their very nature, despicable, either because life was callously taken or the victim is treated like an animal and utterly dehumanized as to completely disrupt the normal course of his or her growth as a human being.

There are crimes however in which the abomination lies in the significance and implications of the subject criminal acts in the scheme of the larger socio-political and economic context in which the state finds itself to be struggling to develop and provide for its poor and underprivileged masses.

The legislative declaration in R.A. No.7659 that plunder is a heinous offense implies that it is a malum in se. For when the acts punished are inherently immoral or inherently wrong, they are mala in se and it does not matter that such acts are punished in a special law, especially since in the case of plunder the predicate crimes are mainly mala in se.

Held: PREMISES CONSIDERED, this Court holds that RA 7080 otherwise known as the Plunder Law, as amended by RA 7659, is CONSTITUTIONAL. Consequently, the petition to declare the law unconstitutional is DISMISSED for lack of merit

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