Published 14 January 2019, The Daily Tribune
Another year has started. For some, it means new struggle, new beginning or new hope. For others, an occasion or justification for new purchase. While buying items from official stores and malls seems to pose no problem, one must exercise prudence in transacting elsewhere though — online sellers, random people, sidewalks, thrift stores (ukay-ukay), among others, especially when the prices are too good to be true since you may incur criminal liability without you actually knowing it. How is this even possible? Have you heard of fencing ?
Back in 1979, the Anti-Fencing Law (Presidential Decree No. 1612) took effect. This special penal law criminalizes the act of buying and/or selling stolen items and was enacted because of rampant robbery and thievery which have become profitable on the part of the lawless elements because of the existence of ready buyers, commonly known as fence, of stolen properties.
Under Section 2 of the said law, fencing is defined as the act of any person who, with intent gain for himself or for another, shall buy, receive, possess, keep, acquire, conceal, sell or dispose of, or shall buy and sell, or in any other manner deal in any article, item, object or anything of value which he knows, or should be known to him, to have been derived from the proceeds of the crime of robbery or theft. On the other hand, fence is defined as any person, firm, association, corporation or partnership or other organization who/which commits the act of fencing.
Given the definition, a person may face criminal charges if the following elements are present: 1) a robbery or theft has been committed; 2) the accused, who took no part in the robbery or theft, “buys, receives, possesses, keeps, acquires, conceals, sells or disposes, or buys and sells, or in any manner deals in any article or object taken” during that robbery or theft; 3) the accused knows or should have known of that the thing was derived from that crime; and 4) by the deal he makes, he intends to gain for himself or for another.
Jurisprudence involving fencing abounds. In one landmark case, a car bearing a suspicious plate number was spotted by the officers of Traffic Management Group. Because of this, they stopped and inspected the vehicle and discovered that its chassis and motor numbers corresponded to a vehicle previously reported as carnapped. The accused in this case feigned ignorance claiming he bought the car in good faith and for value under the corresponding deed of sale (which, however, reflected chassis and engine numbers different from that indicated in the inspected vehicle’s certificate of registration). This notwithstanding, the accused was found guilty of fencing under PD 1612 because the abovementioned elements are present: the vehicle was reported as carnapped and the carnapper sold the same to the accused who did not take part in the crime. The accused should have known that the car was stolen because it was not properly documented (as the deed of sale and registration certificate did not reflect the correct numbers of the vehicle’s engine and chassis and the seller had no documents to show). This should have prompted every cautious buyer to consider that the property subject of the sale could have originated from an illegal source. The accused’s main defense of good faith is also flawed since PD1612 is a special law. The crime is deemed committed once the law is violated despite the absence of criminal intent.
Likewise, it is not a complete defense that the accused has no knowledge that the goods or articles found in his possession had been the subject of robbery since fencing also is committed if the accused “should have known” that the goods or articles had been the subject of the same predicate criminal offenses. Moreover, Section 5 of PD1612 provides for the presumption of fencing — mere possession of any good, article, item, object, or anything of value which has been the subject of robbery or thievery shall be prima facie evidence of fencing. With this legal presumption, lack of knowledge of the commission of theft or robbery does not negate criminal liability. Rather, the accused must sufficiently rebut the presumption provided for by the law.
A penalty of imprisonment of 1 month and 1 day up to 20 years awaits a person convicted for fencing, depending on the value of the property involved. For sure, deprivation of liberty is too high a price to pay in exchange for cheap purchase.
Shopping can be fun if it is non-addicting, particularly if the coveted material items are on bargain. Just remember to take the necessary precautions prior to purchase. A practical advice- shop wisely and earmark a significant part of your 2018 earnings/Christmas bonus for future contingencies.
For comments and questions, please send email to firstname.lastname@example.org