On December 4, 2012, President Benigno S. Aquino III signed into law Republic Act No. 10344 (“RA 10344”) or the Risk Reduction and Preparedness Equipment Protection Act. This law was passed pursuant to the policy of the State under Section 17 of Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution to protect the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.
Under RA 10344, government risk reduction and preparedness equipment (the “equipment”) refer to pieces of equipment, or parts thereof of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) that gather, store, archive or monitor meteorological and seismological data and information which are analyzed and used to warn the public about weather conditions, earthquake, volcanic or tsunami activities and similar natural calamities.
On June 25, 2013, the DOST in coordination with the NDRRMC promulgated the Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 10344 (the “IRR”). Under the IRR, the following are included in the list of equipment by the DOST which will be regularly updated:
(a) Weather Radar Surveillance System
(b) Weather Monitoring System
(c) Flood Monitoring Systems
(d) Oceanographic Monitoring System
(e) Earthquake Monitoring System
(f) Volcano Monitoring System
(g) Tsunami Monitoring and Warning Systems
(h) Landslide Monitoring System
(i) Radionuclide Monitoring Equipment
(j) Hazards and Risk Assessment Equipment
(k) Information, Education and Communication Equipment
RA 10344 declares the following acts as prohibited and unlawful:
(a) Steal, or take, or possess any of the equipment, or any part thereof;
(b) Sell or buy stolen equipment or any part thereof;
(c) Tamper, dismantle, or disassemble equipment or any part thereof;
(d) Attempt to commit any of the abovementioned prohibited acts; and
(e) Benefit from the proceeds or fruits of any of the abovementioned prohibited acts knowing that the proceeds or fruits are derived from the commission of said prohibited acts.
Because of the properties and lives involved, the IRR is strictly construed to attain the efficient and effective implementation of RA 10344. Under the law, the possession of the equipment, by any person without proper authority is prima facie evidence that the equipment is the fruit of the offense. The IRR further states that the burden of proof is on the person to present evidence to establish his defense that the equipment is not a property of the government.
The penalty to be imposed is imprisonment ranging from two (2) to fifteen (15) years or a fine ranging from two hundred thousand pesos (Php 200,000.00) to three million pesos (Php 3,000,000.00), or both fine and imprisonment. In addition, the person found guilty is suffered to pay the full cost of the repair or replacement of the equipment.
If the prohibited acts are committed by a juridical entity, the penalty is imposed on the president, manager and each of the officers who knowingly permitted, failed to prevent or is responsible for the commission of the offense.
If the prohibited acts are committed by government officials or employees, the same penalties apply. In addition, however, the government officials or employees found guilty may be administratively dismissed from service and perpetually disqualified from holding any public office.
RA 10344 and its IRR are very important in light of the many natural calamities that hit the Philippines every year. Over the past ten years, Philippines is one of the top five (5) countries that is most frequently affected by natural disasters. An average of twenty (20) typhoons enters the Philippines every year. Moreover, Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire causing it to feel earthquakes every now and them. Just recently, a 7.2 earthquake hit Bohol and other cities in the Visayas killing at least 198 people. RA 10344 and its IRR seek to ensure that the government risk reduction and preparedness equipment is protected and can readily be accessed to predict natural calamities. With the passage of RA 10344 and its IRR, it is hoped that the preparedness of the Philippines in terms of natural disaster management will increase and the number of fatalities lessened, if not eliminated.
(Imee Manguiat and Roselle Jean L. Nonato co-authored this post.)