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Property rules

Explaining arson

/ 03:16 AM October 05, 2019

After years of providing family-friendly entertainment and Christmas cheer, the popular amusement park Star City went up in flames.

According to Star City’s management, it will be closed this Christmas season after 60 percent of the compound perished from the fire that lasted for hours. News reports cited Atty. Rudolph Steve Juralbal, vice president for legal affairs of Star City’s owner, Elizalde Group of Companies, as saying: “We’re targeting reopening about October [2020]. It’s necessary because importation of rides takes time and the set-up of the park also.”

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The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) inferred that arson could have caused the fire that hit Star City. While BFP initially found that the fire started from the stockroom, it noted that different parts of Star City seemed to have started burning at the same time. Moreover, Lisa Macuja, wife of Fred Elizalde of the Elizalde Group of Companies, reported to the BFP a social media post stating that, “Star City will die.”

In People v. Soriano, the Supreme Court defined arson as the malicious burning of property. It may be in the nature of destructive arson or simple arson, both of which are punishable crimes under the Revised Penal Code, as amended.

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Destructive arson contemplates the malicious burning of private and public structures, hotels, buildings, edifices, trains, vessels, aircraft, factories and other military, government or commercial establishments by any person or group of persons.

It is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death so as to effectively discourage and deter the commission of this dastardly crime. In imposing these severe penalties, the following should be considered: (a) extreme danger to human lives exposed by the malicious burning of these structures; (b) danger to property resulting from the fire; (c) the fact that it is normally difficult to adopt precautions against its commission; (e) the difficulty in pinpointing the perpetrators; and (f) the greater impact on the social, economic, security and political fabric of the nation.

Destructive arson is characterized as a heinous crime for being a grievous, odious and hateful offense and, which by reason of its inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity, is repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized and ordered society.

Meanwhile, simple arson contemplates the malicious burning of private and public structures, regardless of their size, and not otherwise classified in relation to destructive arson. These include houses, dwellings, government buildings, farms, mills, plantations, railways, bus stations, airports, wharves and other industrial establishments.

Unlike in the relevant provisions on destructive arson, the law tempers the penalty to be meted to persons who have committed simple arson. This separate classification recognizes the need to lessen the severity of punishment commensurate to the act or acts committed, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of each case.

The penalty for simple arson shall be imposed in its maximum period if any of the following special aggravating circumstances were present: (a) if committed with intent to gain; (b) if committed for the benefit of another; (c) if the offender is motivated by spite or hatred toward the owner or occupant of the property burned; and (d) if committed by a syndicate or group of three or more persons. Moreover, if by reason, or on occasion of simple arson death results, the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death shall be imposed.

Based on the foregoing definitions, determining whether the crime is destructive or simple arson would depend on the kind, character, and location of the property burned, regardless of the value of the damage caused.

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Likewise, while intent may be an ingredient of the crime of arson, it may be inferred from the acts of accused. Thus, when the offender is shown to have deliberately set fire to a building, the prosecution is not bound to provide further evidence of his wrongful intent. If there is an eyewitness to the crime, he can give in detail the acts of accused. Furthermore, the prosecution may describe the theatre of the crime and the conditions and circumstances surrounding it.

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