EXPLAINER: Bomb scares in Cebu City raise anew the problem of not having the right law against pranksters. Bills to fill the vacuum stalled in Congress. Martial law-era Anti-Bomb Joke Law remains a joke.

·4 min read

WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Two persons responsible for the May 26 bomb scare that disrupted court activities at Qimonda Bldg., which houses Cebu City's courts of justice, have been identified, a news report said Tuesday, May 31.

Three other bomb scares were made on the same day that Qimonda was threatened: City Hall, Carbon Market and the third Cebu-Mactan bridge, CCLEX or Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway. It was not reported if the two identified persons also pulled the three other pranks.

POLICE WARNING following the identification of the perpetrators concerned two things: (a) copycats should know that the origin or source could be traced, and (b) people who learn about any such threat should report it to the police, instead of circulating it in text messages to their friends.

No mention was made about arresting and charging the suspected perpetrators whose identities are withheld. Assuming the pranksters were already known and taken into custody under what law would they be prosecuted?

DECREE 1727 DOESN'T COVER PRANKS. The presidential decree against bomb scares -- PD #1727, dated October 8, 1980 -- has long proved to be ineffective in curbing pranks involving the use of false information about bombs or explosives in buildings and other places where people gather.

The martial-law-era decree issued by then president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. punishes the making of the threat through false information by word of mouth, mail, phone, telegraph, printed material and other "instruments of communication," which should cover digital technology. But the threat must be "willful" or "malicious" and related to attempts to kill, destroy or injure individuals or destroy a building, vehicle or any other property.

In short, it does not cover a prank or joke, whose title that many Filipinos give the decree -- "Anti-Bomb Joke Law" -- is itself a joke. [Related reading: "Seares: Let's make Bomb Joke Law clear. Seriously."

SunStar 9/12/2016]

WHY IT'S BEING USED. PD 1727 is not only archaic, as it vests jurisdiction in a military tribunal, it's obviously inadequate. It does not cover a joke or a prank. The prank, to fall under the decree, has to be proved to be part of a plan or design to terrify the populace, which must be accompanied with actual explosions and deaths and injuries to be convincing.

But PD 1727 is the usual tool in the police or prosecutor's bag. It was used in separate arrests of a man and a woman shopping in Cebu City malls in September 2016. Prosecution inevitably failed. Then Agusan del Norte congressman Eripe John Amante filed House Bill #3294 titled "Anti-Threat Jokes Act of 2014," which includes pranks regarding "the false presence or threat of bombs." In pushing his proposal to amend the PD, Amante said conviction under the Marcos Sr. decree is "elusive."

How about the other law on false information under the Revised Penal Code? The old law's Art. 154 punishes any person who by printing or any means of publication "publishes any false news which may endanger the public order or cause damage to the interest or credit of the state." Like PD 1727, the penal code provision does not cover false information relayed by an anonymous text message or phone call, which was used in the May 26 bomb scares. A suspect can get around the law by saying he didn't publish the information within the meaning of the penal code.

SENATE BILL DISREGARDS INTENTION. In the Senate, SB 681 -- called in short "Anti-False Bomb Threat Act" -- author Senator Bong Revilla said his bill (a) "disregards the intention of the person or persons spreading the false information," malicious and willful or otherwise; (b) increases the penalty, and yes (c) repeals PD #1727.

The prohibition part in SB 681 lifts much of the PD #1727 version but modifies the means of communication to include "electronic mail," "cellular phone," "fax machine" and "social media." The bigger change in SB 681, of course, is its removal of "willfully makes any threat" or "maliciously ... communicates..." Being retained is the line that the prankster must know his information is false.

STATUS OF SENATE, HOUSE BILLS. Revilla's SB 681 was referred to the Senate committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on August 13, 2019 and has been lying or sitting there.

A similar bill (HB 05628), filed by Representative Manuel Cabochan III of Magdalo party-list, has been pending with the Committee on Public Order and Safety since December 2, 2019. A second bill of the same intent and content (House Bill 00745) filed by Representative Ruffy Biazon of Muntinlupa City is awaiting action also by the Committee on Public Order and Safety, after it was referred there last July 23, 2019.

Explainer's source in Congress said Tuesday, May 31, that no committee hearing has been held yet on the Senate and House bills. The 18th Congress will end June 3. The bills may be re-filed under the 19th Congress that opens in July.

Meantime, police and prosecutors will have to be content with the Anti-Bomb Joke Law of martial law vintage or Art. 154 of the 92-year-old Revised Penal Code.

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