Monday, February 18, 2008

Senate OKs on third reading bill decriminalizing vagrancy

The Senate has approved on third and final reading the bill decriminalizing vagrancy.

Senate Bill 1965, submitted jointly by the committees on justice and human rights, and constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws was approved by the body for transmittal to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Vagrants are people who stay out on the streets at night. The existing anti-vagrancy law contained in Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code usually causes the arrests of prostituted women, street children, and homeless people.

The bill removes vagrants in the law, but prostitution remains a crime.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, chairman of the justice committee and author of the bill, together with Senators Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Richard Gordon, and Loren Legarda, said that the existing law on vagrancy failed to see that vagrants were victims of poverty, who don't have the opportunities for employment or access to decent standards of living and quality of life.

"Vagrancy inflicts no harm to society, but if at all, very minimal compared to those grave offenses which cause damage to person, community, and property. This should be addressed with treatment rather than with punishment," Escudero said Wednesday.

The bill, he said, provides equal protection to women, children and men as authorities cannot anymore recklessly and conveniently use vagrancy in arbitrary arrests.

"We see it all the time in the news, when authorities round up people and no definite charges can be made, vagrancy comes in handy. Cases of this nature have already piled up in our justice system,” he said.

Escudero said that with SB 1965, two issues were addressed: A more humane justice system, which prioritizes the rehabilitation of the offender and acknowledges the value of every human life; and the decongestion of the load of the justice system.

By decriminalizing vagrancy, Escudero said law enforcement officers could pay more attention to graver offenses and improve the administration of justice in the country.

The neophyte senator said the Senate was optimistic that their counterparts in the House would approve the same bill once transmitted there. By Veronica Uy -

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