May 13, 2023

Arson for Dummies


BECAUSE of uncommon heat and dryness, destructive fires are commonplace. A poet once wondered whether the world would end by fire or ice, but after partaking of desire, he said, he favors those who favor fire. Conflagrations are not always accidental. There are instances when arson becomes a part of State policy.

During the Second World War, burning squads known as Brenn-Kommandos were sent out to burn synagogues and Jewish libraries. Adolf Hitler himself ordered the burning of Paris which fortunately was disobeyed. The "Boxer Codex," a book I consider to be among the most valuable in our history, was almost burned to a crisp when the Germans bombed London before Prof. Charles Boxer purchased it and baptized it with his name. The codex shows in colored illustrations how our ancestors looked during the 16th century.

Arson is deliberately setting fire to property. It is an offense in the Philippines governed by Presidential Decree 1613. Any person who burns or sets fire to another person's property or to his own property and in so doing endangers the life or property of another, is deemed guilty of arson.

The penalty for arson is hefty, from prision mayor which is imprisonment for six years and one day to 12 years for simple arson to reclusion perpetua, which is imprisonment from 20 years and one day to 40 years for destructive arson.

Destructive arson, which carries the heavier penalty, is committed when a person sets on fire an archive, a museum, whether public or private, or any building used or devoted to the propagation of culture, education, and the giving of social services.

Prima facie evidence means that the evidence, if uncontradicted, could establish the commission of the crime. Thus, the presence of any of the following circumstances could make it much easier for the prosecutor to file a case against those being charged with arson. All he has to do is determine whether the fire started simultaneously in more than one part of the building; or if a substantial amount of flammable substances not for the offender's household use were stored in the building when it was consumed by flames.

If there was a demand for money, or for something of value in exchange for the safety of the person or property before it was gutted by fire, there is prima facie evidence of arson. If materials soaked in a flammable substance or any mechanical, electrical, chemical or electronic contrivance designed to start a fire or ashes or traces thereof are found, in the ruins or premises in the burned building or property, then the commission of the crime of arson may legally be inferred. If the building or property was insured for substantially more than its actual value, or if during the lifetime of the fire insurance policy more than two fires had occurred in the same place or in the premises under the control of the person insured, then those too are prima facie evidence of arson. The reason why arson carries a heavy penalty is because fireburn leaves only embers, then ashes, then nothingness in its wake, making theft or robbery a more preferred circumstance for the loss.

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