Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo has suggested that individuals experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) but refusing to go into quarantine should be charged with murder. President Rodrigo Duterte concurred, but Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque disagreed, arguing that the circumstances do not meet the elements of murder.
In separate media interviews on June 9, Roque was asked about Duterte’s inclination to file murder complaints against persons infected with COVID-19 but who still loiter around in public areas while they are supposed to be on isolation.
When interviewed on DZRH, Roque said:
“Iyan po ay iminungkahi ni Sec. Sal Panelo. Pero alam ninyo naman po kaming mga abogado ay mayroon kaming mga isang milyong interpretasyon ng batas. Hindi ko po ina-agree-han iyong interpretation ni Sec. Sal Panelo, kasi kinakailangan po ng murder hindi lang intent pumatay, kinakailangan din po ng qualified circumstances kagaya ng treachery, ng abuse of strength na hindi po natin mapapatunayan doon sa mga taong nagkakalat ng sakit.”
(That was a suggestion of Sec. Sal Panelo. But you know, we lawyers have a million ways of interpreting the law. I don’t agree with the interpretation of Sec. Sal Panelo, because murder needs not only the intent to kill but also qualified circumstances such as treachery, abuse of strength, which we cannot prove with the people spreading [COVID-19] illness.)
In another interview on ANC Headstart, the Palace spokesman again pointed out that murder is not the proper criminal offense to file against quarantine violators:
“I am with the opinion that perhaps reckless imprudence would be more on point rather than murder because murder: No. 1, you need definitely an intent to kill; and, No. 2, you need to have qualifying circumstances such as, you know, treachery, abuse of strength and all of that, which you can’t actually prove when you infect someone with a disease.”
Source: ANC 24/7 YouTube, Roque: Reckless imprudence charge more appropriate for health protocol violators, not murder, June 9, 2021, watch from 0:45 to 1:06
During Duterte’s Talk to the People address on June 7, Panelo laid down four possible criminal offenses that may be filed against quarantine violators and local officials who don’t enforce quarantine rules within their areas of jurisdiction. One of his suggestions was to charge with murder COVID-19 infected persons who go out and consequently spread the virus:
“Pero kung alam niya po, pumunta siya sa isang lugar, alam niyang may sakit siya ng coronavirus at nakahawa siya at namatay, ay ‘yan po ay talagang sadyang pagpatay ‘yan. Papasok po ‘yan sa murder sapagkat intentional.”
(If a person knows [that he has COVID-19] and goes to a place, aware that he is infected with coronavirus and transmits it, [which] results in death, that’s deliberate killing. It will fall under murder because that is intentional.)
Panelo said such acts must be penalized for possibly causing the death of other infected people, especially those with pre-existing health conditions or comorbidities. Health authorities, such as the Department of Health, have cited that people with comorbidities are most at risk of getting the COVID-19 virus.
While he said murder may be the least possible charge that may be filed against COVID-19 spreaders, Duterte nonetheless backed his chief legal counsel’s suggestion, saying:
“Tama ka, Sal … And iyong sabi mo murder, although medyo malayo masyado sa isip ng tao ‘yan, but it is possible. If he knows that he is sick with COVID-19 and he goes about nonchalant, papasyal-pasyal ka lang diyan, you are, maybe if it is intentional, malayo ‘yan pero it could be murder, sabi nga ni Sal. At kung hindi, iyang reckless imprudence would really mas swak doon sa sitwasyon na ‘yon.”
(You’re correct, Sal. What you said about murder, although it seldom crosses an ordinary citizen’s mind, it is possible. If he knows that he is sick with COVID-19 and he goes about it nonchalantly, strolling around, you are [right], maybe if it is intentional, it’s far-fetched but it could be murder. If not, according to Sal, reckless imprudence will be more suitable in that situation.)
Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) defines murder as an act or offense committed by an individual who is guilty of killing another person, except a family member or close relative, with jail time of at least 20 years and one day up to 40 years. For a killing to be considered murder, the following circumstances must be present:
- Evident premeditation (or planning);
- Using means to weaken or avoid defense by the victim;
- With treachery (or betrayal of trust);
- Taking advantage of superior strength, with the aid of armed men, or doing other means to weaken the defense or of means or persons to insure or afford impunity;
- In consideration of a price, reward or promise;
- By means of inundation, fire, poison, explosion, shipwreck, stranding of a vessel, derailment or assault upon a streetcar or locomotive, fall of an airship;
- Using motor vehicles, or with the use of any other means involving great waste and ruin;
- On occasion of any of the calamities enumerated in the preceding paragraph, or of an earthquake, eruption of a volcano, destructive cyclone, epidemic, or any other public calamity; and
- With cruelty, by deliberately and inhumanly augmenting the suffering of the victim, or outraging or scoffing at his person or corpse.
On the other hand, reckless imprudence consists of voluntarily, but without malice, doing or failing to do an act which results in material damage due to inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the individual performing or failing to do such offense. It takes into consideration the offender’s employment or occupation, degree of intelligence, physical condition and other circumstances regarding persons, time and place.
The individual might be imprisoned for at least one month and a day to four years and two months, a penalty less grave than murder.
A week prior, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police released a five-page joint memorandum governing violations of health and safety ordinances and quarantine-related violations, citing local ordinances and laws, including the RPC, as bases.
DZRH News Official Facebook, Damdaming Bayan with Deo Macalma, June 9, 2021
Presidential Communications Operations Office, Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Deo Macalma – Damdaming Bayan, DZRH, June 9, 2021
ANC 24/7 YouTube, Roque: Reckless imprudence charge more appropriate for health protocol violators, not murder, June 9, 2021
Presidential Communications Operations Office, Interview with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque by Karen Davila (ANC – Headstart), DZRH, June 9, 2021
RTVMalacanang, Kumusta Po Mahal Kong Kababayan | Meeting on COVID-19 Concerns and Talk to the People on COVID-19, June 7, 2021
Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), June 7, 2021
Department of Health’s Official Facebook page, Frequently Asked Questions on Priority Eligible Group A3: Controlled comorbidities, April 8, 2021
World Health Organization-Western Pacific, COVID-19: vulnerable and high risk groups, Retrieved on June 15, 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19: Medical Conditions, May 13, 2021
Official Gazette of the Philippines, Act No. 3815: The Revised Penal Code, Art. 248 Murder, Dec. 8, 1930
Department of Justice, Crimes and Penalties : Section 2: Murder
Parole and Probation Administration, FAQ on Parole/Executive
Department of Justice, Joint Memorandum Circular No. 001: Guidelines Governing violations of health and safety ordinances, quarantine-related violations, and other related violations during the Public Health Emergency, May 31, 2021
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)