Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, P.D. 532: Explainer

1. Concept and legal basis

a. Legal basis

Presidential Decree No. 532 is known as the Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974 (P.D. 532).

2. Crimes

Under P.D. 532, the following are the crimes:

1) Piracy; and

2) Highway robbery / Brigandage.

NB: Aiding pirates or highway robbers/brigands, or abetting piracy or highway robbery/brigandage makes the person an accomplice.

3. Piracy

“Piracy” – refers to “attack upon or seizure of any vessel, or the taking away of the whole or part thereof or its cargo, equipment, or the personal belongings of its complement or passengers, irrespective of the value thereof, by means of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things, committed by any person, including a passenger or member of the complement of said vessel, in Philippine waters, shall be considered as piracy. The offenders shall be considered as pirates and punished as hereinafter provided”. (P.D. 532, Section 2[d])

Piracy is robbery or forcible depredation on the high seas, without lawful authority and done animo furandi, and in the spirit and intention of universal hostility. (People v. Lol-lo, En Banc, G.R. No. 17958, February 27, 1922, Per Malcolm, J.) 

a. Elements

Elements of piracy:

1) That there is a vessel;

2) That the vessel is in Philippine waters;

3) That the offender either –

 (a) attacks a vessel; or

(b) seizes a vessel; or

(c) takes a whole or part of the vessel or its cargo equipment, or the personal belongings of its complement or passengers, irrespective of the value thereof,

4) By means of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things. (P.D. 532, Section 2[d])

1) Element 1: Vessel

For the 1st element, there is a vessel.

“Vessel” – refers to “any vessel or watercraft used for transport of passengers and cargo from one place to another through Philippine Waters. It shall include all kinds and types of vessels or boats used in fishing”. (Ibid., Section 2[b])

Piracy only applies to vessels and thus it will not apply to aircrafts or land vehicles.

2) Element 2: In Philippine waters

For the 2nd element, the vessel should be in Philippine waters.

“Philippine Waters” – refer to “all bodies of water, such as but not limited to, seas, gulfs, bays around, between and connecting each of the Islands of the Philippine Archipelago, irrespective of its depth, breadth, length or dimension, and all other waters belonging to the Philippines by historic or legal title, including territorial sea, the sea-bed, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction”. (P.D. 532 [1974], Section 2[a])

3) Element 3: Attacks, Seizes, Takes

For the 3rd element, the offender either –

1) Attacks a vessel; or

2) Seizes a vessel; or

3) Takes a whole or part of the vessel or its cargo equipment, or the personal belongings of its complement or passengers, irrespective of the value thereof.

NB: The offender may either be a stranger/third party, or  a passenger or member of the complement of said vessel.  (P.D. 532, Section 2[d])

4) Element 4: Violence or intimidation against things, force upon things  

For the 4th element, the acts (in element 3) were committed by means of violence against or intimidation of persons or force upon things.

People v. Dela Peña, G.R. No. 219581, January 31, 2018, Per Del Castillo, J.:

• In his Appellants Brief, [the Accused] contends that the prosecution failed to prove the elements of piracy under PD 532. He posits that the Information failed to allege the elements of the crime of piracy. [The Accused] maintains that the Information did not state that the vessel in question was in Philippine waters and that its cargo, equipment, or personal belongings of the passengers or complement were seized.

• The Court disagrees.

• The Information charged [the Accused] of the crime of piracy to wit:

That on or about the 24th day of September 2005, at about 1:00 o’clock in the morning, more or less, along the river bank of Barangay San Roque. Municipality of Villareal, Province of Samar, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable court; the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating, and mutually helping one another, with deliberate intent to gain, by means of force and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously take and carry away the following items, to wit:

* 13 sacks of dried coconuts (copra) valued at ₱7.537.00[;]

* 2 pieces automatic watch (Seiko and citizen) valued at ₱6,796.00[;]

* 1 piece ([S]audi gold] valued at ₱4,731.00[;]

* 1 [N]okia cellphone 3350 valued at ₱3,615.00[;]

* 1 unit Briggs and [Stratton] 16 horse power with propeller valued at ₱26,000.00[;]

* Cash money worth [₱]1,000.00.

all in the amount of Forty Nine Thousand Six Hundred Seventy Nine Pesos (₱49,679.00) to the damage and prejudice of the said owner.

CONTRARY TO LAW.

• The Information categorically alleged that the incident happened along the river bank of Brgy. San Roque, Municipality of Villareal, Province of Samar. Under Section 2(a) of PD 532, “Philippine waters” is defined as follows:

[A]ll bodies of water, such as but not limited to, seas, gulfs, bays around, between and connecting each of the Islands of the Philippine Archipelago, irrespective of its depth, breadth, length or dimension, and all other waters belonging to the Philippines by historic or Iegal title, including territorial sea, the sea-bed, the insular shelves, and other submarine areas over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction. (Emphasis supplied)

• From this definition, it is clear that a river is considered part of Philippine waters.

• The Information also clearly alleged that the vessel’s cargo, equipment, and personal belongings of the passengers were taken by [the Accused] and his armed companions. It stated, in no uncertain terms, that 13 sacks of copra were taken by [the Accused] through force and intimidation. Undoubtedly, these sacks of copra were part of the vessel’s cargo. The Information also stated that the vessel’s equipment which consisted of the engine, propeller tube, and tools were taken and carried away by [the Accused]. Furthermore, the Information also stated that the personal belongings of the passengers consisting of two watches, jewelry, cellphone, and cash money were taken by [the Accused] and his armed companions. [The Accused] was able to seize these items when he, along with armed companions, boarded the victims’ pump boat and seized control of the same. Armed with firearms, [the Accused] and his companions tied Jose’s hands, covered his head, and operated their pump boat. They travelled to an island in Samar where they unloaded the sacks of copra. Thereafter, [the Accused] and his armed companions travelled to another island where the engine, propeller tube, and tools of the pump boat were taken out and loaded on [the Accused]’s boat.

• From the foregoing, the Court finds that the prosecution was able to establish that the victims’ pump boat was in Philippine waters when [the Accused] and his armed companions boarded the same and seized its cargo, equipment, and the personal belongings of the passengers.

People v. Lol-lo, En Banc, G.R. No. 17958, February 27, 1922, Per Malcolm, J.:

NB: The case is decided under the Spanish Penal Code (prior to the Revised Penal Code).

• The days when pirates roamed the seas, when picturesque buccaneers like Captain Avery and Captain Kidd and Bartholomew Roberts gripped the imagination, when grostesque brutes like Blackbeard flourished, seem far away in the pages of history and romance. Nevertheless, the record before us tells a tale of twentieth century piracy in the south seas, but stripped of all touches of chivalry or of generosity, so as to present a horrible case of rapine and near murder.

• On or about June 30, 1920, two boats left matuta, a Dutch possession, for Peta, another Dutch possession. In one of the boats was one individual, a Dutch subject, and in the other boat eleven men, women, and children, likewise subjects of Holland. After a number of days of navigation, at about 7 o’clock in the evening, the second boat arrived between the Islands of Buang and Bukid in the Dutch East Indies. There the boat was surrounded by six vintas manned by twenty-four Moros all armed. The Moros first asked for food, but once on the Dutch boat, too for themselves all of the cargo, attacked some of the men, and brutally violated two of the women by methods too horrible to the described. All of the persons on the Dutch boat, with the exception of the two young women, were again placed on it and holes were made in it, the idea that it would submerge, although as a matter of fact, these people, after eleven days of hardship and privation, were succored violating them, the Moros finally arrived at Maruro, a Dutch possession. Two of the Moro marauder were Lol-lo, who also raped one of the women, and Saraw. At Maruro the two women were able to escape.

• Lol-lo and Saraw later returned to their home in South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Philippine Islands. There they were arrested and were charged in the Court of First Instance of Sulu with the crime of piracy. A demurrer was interposed by counsel de officio for the Moros, based on the grounds that the offense charged was not within the jurisdiction of the Court of First Instance, nor of any court of the Philippine Islands, and that the facts did not constitute a public offense, under the laws in force in the Philippine Islands. After the demurrer was overruled by the trial judge, trial was had, and a judgment was rendered finding the two defendants guilty and sentencing each of them to life imprisonment (cadena perpetua), to return together with Kinawalang and Maulanis, defendants in another case, to the offended parties, the thirty-nine sacks of copras which had been robbed, or to indemnify them in the amount of 924 rupees, and to pay a one-half part of the costs.

• The proven facts are not disputed. All of the elements of the crime of piracy are present. Piracy is robbery or forcible depredation on the high seas, without lawful authority and done animo furandi, and in the spirit and intention of universal hostility.

• It cannot be contended with any degree of force as was done in the lower court and as is again done in this court, that the Court of First Instance was without jurisdiction of the case. Pirates are in law hostes humani generis. Piracy is a crime not against any particular state but against all mankind. It may be punished in the competent tribunal of any country where the offender may be found or into which he may be carried. The jurisdiction of piracy unlike all other crimes has no territorial limits. As it is against all so may it be punished by all. Nor does it matter that the crime was committed within the jurisdictional 3-mile limit of a foreign state, “for those limits, though neutral to war, are not neutral to crimes.” (U.S. vs. Furlong [1820], 5 Wheat., 184.)

b. Qualified piracy

Qualifying circumstances for piracy

a. Piracy. The penalty of reclusion temporal in its medium and maximum periods shall be imposed. If physical injuries or other crimes are committed as a result or on the occasion thereof, the penalty of reclusion perpetua shall be imposed. If rape, murder or homicide is committed as a result or on the occasion of piracy, or when the offenders abandoned the victims without means of saving themselves, or when the seizure is accomplished by firing upon or boarding a vessel, the mandatory penalty of death shall be imposed.

(Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, P.D. No. 532)

PiracyReclusion temporal in its medium and maximum periods
Qualified piracyIf physical injuries or other crimes are committed as a result or on the occasion piracyReclusion perpetua
If rape, murder or homicide is committed as a result or on the occasion of piracy, or when the offenders abandoned the victims without means of saving themselves, or when the seizure is accomplished by firing upon or boarding a vesselDeath penalty

NB: R.A. 9346 (2006) prohibited the imposition of the death penalty.

4. Highway Robbery/Brigandage

“Highway Robbery/Brigandage” – refers to “the seizure of any person for ransom, extortion or other unlawful purposes, or the taking away of the property of another by means of violence against or intimidation of person or force upon things of other unlawful means, committed by any person on any Philippine Highway”. (Ibid., Section 2[e])

a. Elements

Elements of highway robbery/brigandage:

1) That the offender either:

a) Seizes any person for ransom, extortion or other unlawful purposes; or

b) Takes away of the property of another by means of violence against or intimidation of person or force upon things of other unlawful means; and

2) That such acts are committed on any Philippine Highway; and

3) That such acts were done indiscriminately against any person.

1) Element 1: Seizure of any person for ransom/etc. or taking another’s property with violence or intimidation

For the 1st element, the offender either:

1) Seizes any person for ransom, extortion or other unlawful purposes; or

2) Takes away of the property of another by means of violence against or intimidation of person or force upon things of other unlawful means.

Presidential Decree No. 532 is not a modification of Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code on kidnapping and serious illegal detention, but of Articles 306 and 307 on brigandage. This is evident from the fact that the relevant portion thereof which treats of “highway robbery” invariably uses this term in the alternative and synonymously with brigandage, that is, as “highway robbery/brigandage.” This is but in line with our previous ruling, and which still holds sway in criminal law, that highway robbers (ladrones) and brigands are synonymous. (People v. Puno, G.R. No. 97471, February 17, 1993, Per Regalado, J.)

No required number of offenders; No presumption of brigands

The number of perpetrators is no longer an essential element of the crime of brigandage as defined by P.D. No. 532. (People v. Mendoza, G.R. No. 104461, February 23, 1996, Per Panganiban, J.)

[P.D. 532] does not require that there be at least four armed persons forming a band of robbers; and the presumption in the Code that said accused are brigands if they use unlicensed firearms no longer obtains under the decree. (People v. Puno [1993], Per Regalado, J.)

2) Element 2: On a Philippine Highway

For the 2nd element, such acts are committed on any Philippine Highway.

“Philippine Highway” – refers to “any road, street, passage, highway and bridges or other parts thereof, or railway or railroad within the Philippines used by persons, or vehicles, or locomotives or trains for the movement or circulation of persons or transportation of goods, articles, or property or both”. (Ibid., Section 2[c])

3) Element 3: Indiscriminately

For the 3rd element, such acts (in Element 1) were done indiscriminately against any person.

[T]he purpose of brigandage is, inter alia, indiscriminate highway robbery. If the purpose is only a particular robbery, the crime is only robbery, or robbery in band if there are at least four armed participants. (People v. Puno [1993], Per Regalado, J.)

Further, that Presidential Decree No. 532 punishes as highway robbery or brigandage only acts of robbery perpetrated by outlaws indiscriminately against any person or persons on Philippine highways as defined therein, and not acts of robbery committed against only a predetermined or particular victim, is evident from the preambular clauses thereof. (People v. Puno [1993], Per Regalado, J.)

[T]he essence of brigandage under the [Revised Penal Code] as a crime of depredation wherein the unlawful acts are directed not only against specific, intended or preconceived victims, but against any and all prospective victims anywhere on the highway and whosoever they may potentially be, is the same as the concept of brigandage which is maintained in Presidential Decree No. 532, in the same manner as it was under its aforementioned precursor in the Code and, for that matter, under the old Brigandage Law. (People v. Puno [1993], Per Regalado, J.)

People v. Laurente, En Banc, G.R. No. 116734, March 29, 1996, Per Davide, Jr., J.:  

• We declare at the outset that even granting ex gratia that the established facts prove beyond reasonable doubt that Laurente and his two co-accused indeed committed the acts charged in the information,4 Laurente cannot be validly convicted for highway robbery with homicide under P.D. No. 532. The object of the decree is to deter and punish lawless elements who commit acts of depredation upon persons and properties of innocent and defenseless inhabitants who travel from one place to another — which acts constitute either piracy or highway robbery/brigandage — thereby disturbing the peace, order, and tranquility of the nation and stunting the economic and social progress of the people. It is directed against acts of robbery perpetrated by outlaws indiscriminately against any person on Philippine highways, as defined therein, and not those committed against a predetermined or particular victim. Accordingly, a robbery committed on a Philippine highway by persons who are not members of the proscribed lawless elements or directed only against a specific, intended, or preconceived victim, is not a violation of P.D. No. 532.

People v. Puno, G.R. No. 97471, February 17, 1993, Per Regalado, J.:

[The trial court convicted the two accused under P.D. 532 for having robbed specifically the complainant, who was a bakeshop owner. The Supreme Court ruled that the crime was simple robbery as P.D. 532 requires that robbery be committed indiscriminately, and not simply due to the fact of it being done on a Philippine highway.]

• Erroneous advertence is nevertheless made by the court below to the fact that the crime of robbery committed by appellants should be covered by the said amendatory decree just because it was committed on a highway. Aside from what has already been stressed regarding the absence of the requisite elements which thereby necessarily puts the offense charged outside the purview and intendment of that presidential issuance, it would be absurd to adopt a literal interpretation that any unlawful taking of property committed on our highways would be covered thereby. It is an elementary rule of statutory construction that the spirit or intent of the law should not be subordinated to the letter thereof. Trite as it may appear, we have perforce to stress the elementary caveat that he who considers merely the letter of an instrument goes but skin deep into its meaning, and the fundamental rule that criminal justice inclines in favor of the milder form of liability in case of doubt.

• If the mere fact that the offense charged was committed on a highway would be the determinant for the application of Presidential Decree No. 532, it would not be farfetched to expect mischievous, if not absurd, effects on the corpus of our substantive criminal law. While we eschew resort to a reductio ad absurdum line of reasoning, we apprehend that the aforestated theory adopted by the trial court falls far short of the desideratum in the interpretation of laws, that is, to avoid absurdities and conflicts. For, if a motor vehicle, either stationary or moving on a highway, is forcibly taken at gun point by the accused who happened to take a fancy thereto, would the location of the vehicle at the time of the unlawful taking necessarily put the offense within the ambit of Presidential Decree No. 532, thus rendering nugatory the categorical provisions of the Anti-Carnapping Act of 1972? And, if the scenario is one where the subject matter of the unlawful asportation is large cattle which are incidentally being herded along and traversing the same highway and are impulsively set upon by the accused, should we apply Presidential Decree No. 532 and completely disregard the explicit prescriptions in the Anti-Cattle Rustling Law of 1974?

• We do not entertain any doubt, therefore, that the coincidental fact that the robbery in the present case was committed inside a car which, in the natural course of things, was casually operating on a highway, is not within the situation envisaged by Section 2(e) of the decree in its definition of terms. Besides, that particular provision precisely defines “highway robbery/brigandage” and, as we have amply demonstrated, the single act of robbery conceived and committed by appellants in this case does not constitute highway robbery or brigandage.

• Accordingly, we hold that the offense committed by appellants is simple robbery defined in Article 293 and punished under Paragraph 5 of Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code…

b. Qualified robbery/brigandage

Qualifying circumstances for highway robbery/brigandage:

b. Highway Robbery/Brigandage. The penalty of reclusion temporal in its minimum period shall be imposed. If physical injuries or other crimes are committed during or on the occasion of the commission of robbery or brigandage, the penalty of reclusion temporal in its medium and maximum periods shall be imposed. If kidnapping for ransom or extortion, or murder or homicide, or rape is committed as a result or on the occasion thereof, the penalty of death shall be imposed.

(Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, P.D. No. 532)

Highway Robbery/Brigandage under P.D. 532Reclusion temporal in its minimum period
Qualified Highway Robbery/Brigandage under P.D. 532If physical injuries or other crimes are committed during or on the occasion of the commission of robbery or brigandageReclusion temporal in its medium and maximum periods
If kidnapping for ransom or extortion, or murder or homicide, or rape is committed as a result or on the occasion thereofDeath penalty

NB: R.A. 9346 (2006) prohibited the imposition of the death penalty.

5. Aiding or abetting

Section 4. Aiding pirates or highway robbers/brigands or abetting piracy or highway robbery/brigandage. Any person who knowingly and in any manner aids or protects pirates or highway robbers/brigands, such as giving them information about the movement of police or other peace officers of the government, or acquires or receives property taken by such pirates or brigands or in any manner derives any benefit therefrom; or any person who directly or indirectly abets the commission of piracy or highway robbery or brigandage, shall be considered as an accomplice of the principal offenders and be punished in accordance with the Rules prescribed by the Revised Penal Code. x x x

(Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, P.D. No. 532)

a. Accomplices

Those who aid or abet the commission of piracy or highway robbery/brigandage are considered as accomplices of the principal offenders. (P.D. 532, Section 4)

6. Presumption

Section 4. x x x
It shall be presumed that any person who does any of the acts provided in this Section has performed knowingly, unless the contrary is proven.

(Anti-Piracy and Anti-Highway Robbery Law of 1974, P.D. No. 532)

References

Title 10 – Crimes Against Property, Book 2, Revised Penal Code

/Updated: November 22, 2023

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