EDITORIAL: Intent as element

The City Council measure prohibiting and penalizing the act of leaving an unattended bag in a public place is a passive offense which possibly carries with it so many implications.

There is no problem with the wisdom behind the proposed ordinance which is to address the threat of terrorism by avoiding unattended bags or packages that may contain explosives and threaten the security of the city.

A possible problem area hinges on the two critical provisions on how the offense is committed.

It says that the offense is committed by:

1. Any person who carries, lays down an unattended bag in a public place and walks away from the same even without causing alarm and panic; and

2. Any person who carries, lays down an unattended bag in a public place and walks away from the same, and such act causes alarm and panic.

Under the 1st prohibition, a first offense will be given a warning, 2nd will be charged with an administrative fine P100 and P300 for the 3rd offense. While the 2nd prohibition, 1st offense will be charged with P1,000, P3,000 for 2nd offense and P5,000 or a 1 month imprisonment or both at the discretion of the court for the 3rd offense. Unattended bags will be confiscated and turned over to the police or to the National Bureau of Investigation. If the bag remained unclaimed within seven days, the same shall be disposed in accordance with existing law.

Taking the two provisions into consideration, there seems to be some ambiguity.

For example, in the first provision, is there an offense when it says “xxx…a person carries, lays down an unattended bag in a public place…xxx”. The act of laying down a bag by the bearer of the bag does not make the bag unattended unless he leaves the same where he lays it down. When did the offense commence? Is it when he “walks away from the same even without causing alarm and panic”? Is it not the intent or absence of it that is the reckoning point in this first provision?

In the second offense, it says “Any person who carries, lays down an unattended bag in a public place and walks away from the same, and such act causes alarm and panic” which is practically the same except that this time it causes alarm and panic. Again, there is no indication here that “intent” is the reckoning point.

The proposed ordinance leaves a lot of interpretations and therefore needs some revisiting and further consultations with legal minds. There is a hairline difference in the two provisions and the element of intent not being emphasized here is critical in implementing the law.

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