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Passion, a License to Kill?

In September 2011, two separate shooting incidents transpired inside two different malls.  The first involved a distraught wife who shot her estranged husband dead and consequently, killed a security guard who came to her aid as she was about to shoot herself. The second incident involved a 13-year-old boy who killed his alleged 16-year-old lover before shooting himself using a .22 caliber handgun. Besides bringing to the fore the issue of lax mall security, both incidents were tagged as “crimes of passion.”

The website defined crime of passion as a “criminal defendant’s excuse for lacking the premeditation element of a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak.” However, in popular usage, crime of passion refers to any crime committed in the heat of passion. In short, the term loosely refers to any unplanned attack or assault against a spouse or lover out of extreme jealousy or rage.

How then does crime of passion differ from, say, ordinary murder?

Atty. Gemma Parojinog of the Legal and Investigation Office of the Commission on Human Rights distinguished one from the other, “Crime of passion is an act when a person, by reason of his strong sudden impulse of emotion, whether of anger or rage, was able to commit a crime usually, assault or murder. Murder, on the other hand, connotes the presence of certain circumstances or acts, provided for under Article 248 of the Revised Renal Code (RPC). If any of those acts are not present then the crime is simply homicide (has less penalty than murder). When a crime of passion is committed, and a person was killed, it is possible that the crime committed is merely homicide and not murder, since one of the circumstances mentioned in the RPC is ‘evident premeditation’ which is totally inconsistent with sudden surge of anger or rage.”

But Atty. Parojinog clarified that crime of passion isn’t just a criminal act, it is also a legal defense. She explained, “It can be used a defense in court, when the defendant acted immediately upon the rise of passion, without the time for contemplation or allowing for “a cooling of the blood.” It is sometimes termed as “temporary insanity” which in some jurisdiction is an exempting circumstance and exempts the accused from criminal liability, or it may be a justifying circumstance and therefore the accused does not incur criminal liability.”

In the country, there have been several headline-hugging cases of crime of passion besides the two mentioned above. Several accounts were posted in various blogs and websites.

One tale even dates back to the pre-Hispanic era – the death of Gurung-gurong in the hands of Datu Sumakwel, one of the Bornean datus. Based on several accounts online, when Datu Sumakwel took over the leadership of Datu Puti, he made his vassal, Gurung-gurong, oversee his lands. As it turned out, Gurung-gurong was not only watching over Datu Sumakwel’s domain, he was also having an affair with the datu’s wife, Kapinangan. When Datu Sumakwel learned of the affair, he pretended to be away to confirm his wife’s infidelity. He hid in the ceiling of their house and consequently, caught his wife and her lover in the act. Out of rage, he speared Gurung-gurong, killing him instantly.

Asked hypothetically if Datu Sumakwel can cite ‘crime of passion’ as a defense if he were to face trial today, Atty Parojinog has this to say, “In this case, he planned to catch his wife’s infidelity – he hid in the ceiling to purposely catch them in the act. He may have killed his wife’s lover as a spontaneous reaction to what he has seen but he planned on seeing them in the act. The circumstance is not a crime of passion simply because he had time to mull and think things over, there was obviously evident premeditation.”

When a man who found his wife in bed with another fellow, killed the third party the instant he caught them, you would think that he would be penalized gravely for his crime. Under extant Philippine law, however, such is not the case.

Under Article 247 of the Revised Penal Code, which involves death or physical injuries inflicted under exceptional circumstances, it is provided that: “Any legally married person who, having surprised his spouse in the act of committing sexual intercourse with another person shall kill any of them or both of them in the act or immediately thereafter, or shall inflict upon them any serious physical injury shall suffer the penalty of destierro (being prohibited from entering within a radius of at least 25 kilometers of a designated place),  If he shall inflict upon them physical injuries of any other kind, he shall be exempt from punishment. These rules shall be applicable, under the same circumstances, to parents with respect to their daughters under 18 years of age, and their seducer, while the daughters are living with their parents.”

To an ordinary person like me, Article 247 seems to practically allow husbands and parents to kill their wives and daughters caught having sex with another man. What if they’re caught in bed with another woman? Or, in the case of wives, what if they caught their husbands with other men? How about sons caught in the same predicament?

Atty. Parojinog clarified that for Article 247 to apply it must strictly conform to the elements provided for by the law. “The provision says: “surprised his spouse in the act of committing sexual intercourse with another person.” Hence, it doesn’t matter whether the other person is a man or a woman. What is penalized here is the infidelity on the part of the guilty spouse, or the immorality of the minor daughter not the sexual orientation,” she said.

On the other provision, Atty. Parojinog opined, “If the parents caught their daughter with another girl/woman, they cannot be charged under this provision of the law. They can be liable for parricide/homicide. Now, I think the latter circumstance is outdated and needs to be amended.” The amendment of Article 247 has been proposed three years ago by Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares.  In filing House Bill 3475,  he seeks to ditch Article 247 of the Revised Penal Code that imposes a light penalty of “destierro” on a husband who, in a fit of rage, killed or seriously injured his wife and her partner caught in the act of sexual intercourse.

Rep. Colmenares said that, “It is incomprehensible why the above law which essentially allows parents to kill their daughters and the offended spouse to kill the offending spouse remains in our criminal code.” He argued that “passion should never be a license to kill,” citing that his bill is not meant to encourage acts of infidelity but rather to discourage murder.

The said bill is still pending legislation.

In 1995, I recall seeing a girl from junior year crying her lungs out inside the ladies’ room, plotting revenge against a boyfriend who dumped her for a popular senior. Until now I could still remember the sting and chill to her words, “Just you wait, if I only knew how to drive, I’d run you both over.”

Ten years after in 2005, the image of that girl was resurrected in my mind as I learned of the story of Clara Harris, a dentist from Texas who was convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison for running over her husband and killing him in a pit of jealousy.

It puzzles me not that jealousy, rage, and that feeling of betrayal could lead to murder. We’ve seen it in movies, read it on paper, watched it on TV – hideous as it may sound, it is real and it happens. But when emotions surge, scorned lovers can act without thought of the fatal consequence of their spur-of-the-moment transgression.

To me, crimes of passion make victims out of villains and villains out of victims, and us, a willing audience to a salacious and sensational showcase of how relationships can get tainted by blood.