“The PNP statistics in 2015 that appeared in a leading broadsheet painted a sickening landscape of a ‘crime explosion’ in the country. It is almost a travesty of justice that addressing such a dismal situationof crime has not been given priority in the past Administration.”
— Mr. Dante LA Jimenez in his Ulat sa Bayan during the VACC’s 18th Founding Anniversary on Aug. 29, 2016.
The past Administration’s lack of concern and inaction was not limited to the law and order situation but to almost all aspects of society. Nothing substantial has been done to improve the lives of the people and the society. Their officials refused to act on important matters to avoid the risk of being sued in case they failed. They just wanted for their term to end, doing nothing. But do they know that doing nothing is a crime? It is criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence defined
Black’s Law Dictionary defines negligence as “the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided by those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do, or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. Negligence, in its civil relation, is such an inadvertent imperfection, by a responsible human agent, in the discharge of a legal duty, as immediately produces, in an ordinary and natural sequence, a damage to another.”
From the same dictionary, criminal negligence is “a case of neglect or negligence of such nature that it will be punishable as a crime.”
Hence, in its simplest form, criminal negligence is the failure to do something (omission), in the discharge of one’s duty, which causes damage to another. If a public official fails to perceive the substantial risk, which his inaction (doing nothing) poses to the public, then it is considered criminal negligence on the part of that official. His inaction is deemed a crime and he should be penalized.
For example, nothing was done by the officials concerned with traffic management. Their inaction resulted in great damage to the public – lost wages, unfulfilled appointments, economic losses, pain and suffering, etc. These officials can now be sued for criminal negligence.
Gross negligence, on the other hand, pertains to the “intentional failure to perform a manifest duty in reckless disregard of the consequences as affecting the life or property of another.” This is different from a mere failure to act or simple inadvertence.
Gross negligence consists of a conscious and voluntary act or omission, which is likely to result in grave injury in the face of a clear and present danger. It is criminal in nature when accompanied by acts of commission showing a conscious indifference to the rights and welfare of persons affected by it.
Provisions of the Revised Penal Code
Our Revised Penal Code (RPC) states, that “Acts and omissions punishable by law are felonies. Felonies are committed not only by means of deceit but also by means of fault. There is deceit when the act is performed with deliberate intent, and there is fault when the wrongful act results from imprudence, negligence, lack of foresight, or lack of skill.” By omission, the Code meant inaction, the failure to perform a positive duty, which one is bound to do.
The sole chapter under title Fourteen of the RPC deals with criminal negligence, which is considered a quasi-offense. Quasi means it “resembles” or “having some but not all of the features of” an ordinary crime.
Example: New Jersey lane closure
A good example of a case wherein public officials in charge of traffic management were subsequently found guilty of criminal negligence is the “unannounced” lane closures on a major bridge in New Jersey sometime in 2013.
In the early morning of Sept. 9, 2013, two of the dedicated three toll lanes going to Fort Lee were closed to local use and motorists were redirected to the main highway. The closure order came from David Wildstein, the second highest executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The Fort Lee local government and its police officials were not notified of the closure. The lane closures resulted in the swelling of traffic congestion in the area, considering that the highway in itself normally experiences heavy traffic during rush hours.
The situation led to delays in school transportation and police and emergency responses within Fort Lee.
Newspaper accounts of the incident described traffic jams preventing timely paramedic response to a 911 call from a 91-year old woman, who subsequently died of cardiac arrest. In another emergency call, medical workers were compelled to abandon their ambulance and respond on foot given the heavy traffic congestion. The emergency responders were delayed nearly one hour in rendering assistance to a man experiencing chest pains.
Fort Lee Administrator Peggy Thomas then informed the Port Authority that their police and emergency departments did not receive any advance notice of the closures, and because of that, police and ambulances had difficulty responding to emergencies.
On Sept. 13, 2013 the executive director of the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, ordered the reopening of the lanes. He said the decision to close the lanes was “hasty and ill-advised” and that it “violates Federal Law and the laws of both States.”
The Port Authority’s chairman, David Samson, then found himself in the center of media attention amid allegations of ethical violations and conflict of interest. Samson resigned on March 28, 2014. Thereafter, a grand jury was convened to interview witnesses, and indict, if necessary, the officials involved in the lane closures for criminal liability. Wildstein was indicted by the grand jury and he offered a plea bargain on May 2015.
The trial of the other officials was rescheduled several times, the most recent of which was for Sept. 12, 2016.
The Metro Manila experience
For the last six years, we, Metro Manilans, and in some parts outside the metro, have been experiencing heavy traffic congestion on a daily basis.
The Manila Times reported way back in December 2013 that, “traffic jams do not only drain the patience of motorists and commuters. They drain the economy as well.” It reported that “road congestion in Metro Manila can cost P140 billion a year in lost investment, reduced capital inflow and wastages.” A study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2012 found that time lost by people stuck in traffic and the extra cost of operating vehicles in gridlock in metropolitan Manila and nearby areas amounted to P2.4 billion ($51 million) a day.
Based on this newspaper’s report last year, one sitting senator, whose political party (and uncle’s inaction) was responsible for the traffic mess that we are all in, predicted that “if not immediately and fully addressed, economic losses due to heavy traffic in Metro Manila could balloon to P6 billion a day from the current P2.4 billion by 2030.” The irony of it all.
Protect the people’s rights
In the example discussed above, the resulting persistent traffic jams (only for a week) prompted a grand jury investigation in New Jersey. Here, in the Philippines, commuters and motorists have been suffering the same ordeal for six years, yet the situation has remained unchanged and no public official has been punished for being responsible for the traffic woes inflicted on us all. These public officials are criminally negligent – they caused undue damage to the economy and brought untold sufferings to the motorists and the commuting public.
How come nobody is hauling these former (and some who are still tenaciously clutching to their positions) officials into court? Where are the likes of Sammy Malunes and Elvira Medina? Where are the Makabayans? Where are our “concerned” citizens?
The New Jersey example and the Metro Manila counterpart only dwell on the traffic mess problem that we experience daily. The concept of criminal negligence applies to a wide variety of indiscretions and inactions, not solely to traffic management.
Why is there a proliferation of drug trade? Who are responsible for this? Why was nothing done during the last six years?
Why do we have a flawed judicial system? Who are responsible for this? Why was it not reformed? Why was nothing done during the last six years?
Why do our people remain poor? Why can’t they get out poverty? Who are responsible for this? Why was nothing done during the last six years?
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Congratulations to our newspaper, The Manila Times, for being awarded the Outstanding Newspaper by the VACC on its 18th Founding Anniversary.
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