November 21, 2013
MIRIAM CALLS FOR DOJ RESPONSE TO REPORTS OF LOOTING, RAPE, AND DISASTER FRAUDS IN YOLANDA-HIT AREAS
In light of recent reports on looting and rape that have become rampant in Yolanda-hit provinces, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago sent a written inquiry to the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking answers on the department's role to preserve law and order in devastated areas.
The written inquiry was sent during Senate deliberations on the proposed budget of the DOJ.
"At the sight of the Typhoon Yolanda devastation, there are three issues that the Department of Justice has to focus on, first, the widespread looting in Yolanda- stricken areas, as well as the legal actions to these, if any; secondly, human rights violations such as cases of rape; and lastly, the risk of disaster frauds, and in general protecting the public from any legal violations in relation to donations and relief operations," the senator said.
Santiago stressed that the risk of disaster frauds were relevant not only to typhoon Yolanda, but to all other disasters, such as the Bohol-Cebu earthquake.
The senator, who hails from Iloilo, one of the provinces gravely damaged by the super typhoon, asked about the department's concrete steps in responding to incidents of looting and rape. She also inquired on how the DOJ is able to ensure that efforts in assisting the victims are organized and fast-tracked.
"After the stage of rehabilitation and stage of just military or police response to these crimes, Yolanda victims would most probably seek for help in dealing with legal issues mentioned, especially if it is these crimes that took the lives of their loved ones instead of the typhoon and floods," Santiago said.
In a letter dated 20 November 2013, the DOJ responded to Santiago's inquiries claiming that the DOJ assumes a zero-tolerance policy for acts of senseless violence and criminality, such as assaults against innocent civilians and rape.
However, with regard to looting, the DOJ claimed that "even our penal laws recognize the existence of a true state of necessity is a justifying circumstance, under which no criminal liability is incurred. Thus, each case of looting...will be carefully examined and resolved according to a case-to-case basis."
The DOJ ensured Santiago that they will prioritize the investigation and prosecution of those who have participated in "big-time" looting, black market activities, and those who systematically and intentionally took advantage of the calamity for financial gain.
Raising the issue of disaster frauds, the senator claimed that in 2005,the United States DOJ established the Disaster Fraud Task Force to "deter, detect, and prosecute instances of fraud" as a response to instances of fraud related to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
"It can be noticed that people, probably because of the Pork Barrel Scam, are all calling for transparency, a factor why the government created a foreign aid transparency portal for the aids given to the country. However, aside from the transparency issue, all those who are willing to help out are advised to get to know well the institution that are going to receive the benefits in behalf of the victims," Santiago said.
Santiago asked if the DOJ has taken on a similar program to that of the United States in response to disaster frauds.
According to the DOJ, the department has existing task forces that handle cases of the same complexion, such as the National Prosecution Service Task Force in Financial Fraud and Business Scams. The department also coordinated with the Department of Trade and Industries for the Task Force on Hoarding and Profiteering.
The DOJ explained, however, that the jurisdiction of cases on disaster frauds belongs more aptly to the National Bureau of Investigation, which has an Anti-Fraud and Action Division, Anti-Graft Division, and Cybercrime Division.
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