In a small neighborhood one afternoon during the Christmas season, a man was found on the road holding a lead pipe and breaking bottles. Shouting that he would get even, he also declared that he would burn his house. That same night, a fire broke out in the man’s house. Those living nearby tried to call for help and stop the fire but was prevented by the owner of the house who stood outside his house and fired several gun shots in the air. He also threatened to kill anyone who would try to put out the fire. In the process, other residential homes were also destroyed. Although no one actually saw how the fire started, the Bureau of Fire Protection conducted an investigation and the results revealed that the fire was intentionally started in the man’s home.
The Regional Trial Court found the circumstances of the case constituted an unbroken chain leading to the unavoidable conclusion that the man set fire to his own house, to the exclusion of others. Thus, he was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of destructive arson, punishable under Article 320 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the RTC judgment in toto.
The Supreme Court, on the other hand, modified the crime from destructive arson to simple arson, punishable under Sec. 3(2), P.D. 1613. The Court explained that simple arson was the proper crime committed since destructive arson “contemplates the malicious burning of structures, both public and private, hotels, buildings, edifices, trains, vessels, aircraft, factories and other military, government or commercial establishments by any person or group of persons” while simple arson contemplates “the malicious burning of public and private structures, regardless of size” not punished under destructive arson.
Under Sec. 3(2), two elements are required for simple arson: (a) there is intentional burning; and (b) what is intentionally burned is an inhabited house or dwelling. The Court held that both elements were sufficiently proven in court. All property destroyed in the fire were his own house and several other inhabited homes. Based on the facts, the burning was clearly intentional.
Other cases of simple arson as provided in Sec. 3, P.D. 1613, include the burning of the following property: 1) any building used as offices of the government or any of its agencies; 2) any inhabited house or dwelling; 3) any industrial establishment, shipyard, oil well or mine shaft, platform or tunnel; 4) any plantation, farm, pastureland, growing crop, grain field, orchard, bamboo grove or forest; any rice mill, sugar mill, cane mill or mill central; and 6) any railway or bus station, airport, wharf or warehouse.
Citing Buebos v. People, the Court made a distinction between simple and destructive arson –
The nature of Destructive Arson is distinguished from Simple Arson by the degree of perversity or viciousness of the criminal offender. The acts committed under Art. 320 of the Revised Penal Code constituting Destructive Arson are characterized as heinous crimes “for being grievous, odious, and hateful offenses and which, by reason of their inherent or manifest wickedness, viciousness, atrocity and perversity are repugnant and outrageous to the common standards and norms of decency and morality in a just, civilized, and ordered society.” On the other hand, acts committed under P.D. 1613 constituting Simple Arson are crimes with a lesser degree of perversity and viciousness that the law punishes with a lesser penalty. In other words, Simple Arson contemplates crimes with less significant social, economic, political and national security implications than Destructive Arson (People v. Macabando, G.R. No 188708, 31 July 2013, J. Brion).