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An Unjustly Vexatious Law

If you are asked to avoid committing unjust vexation in the same way as you
should avoid committing theft, murder, rape or any other crime, would you know
what to avoid? Would you be in a position to know exactly what particular acts or
omissions you should avoid? I guess you wouldnt! Unlike the crimes of theft,
murder and rape that are specifically defined in the Revised Penal Code, one may
search for the definition of the crime of unjust vexation but it is conspicuously
absent. How can you therefore expect a person to avoid something that is not even
defined by our criminal statutes?
Unjust vexation is punished under the 2nd paragraph of Article 287 of the Revised
Penal Code that says:
Any other coercions or unjust vexations shall be punished by arresto menor or a
fine ranging from 5 pesos to 200 pesos, or both.
Professors of Criminal Law justify this apparent lack of definition saying that unjust
vexation is a catch-all crime that applies whenever the act or omission complained
of does not specifically fall under any other provision of the Revised Penal Code. But
we do not even allow common-law crimes, so how could we countenance the
existence of having catch-all crimes in the face of the due process guaranty?
An examination of the annals of our jurisprudence would show that Art. 287, par. 2
of the Revised Penal Code has been used to punish a great variety of different acts:

In People v. Reyes, 60 Phil. 369, August 23, 1934, Art. 287, par. 2 of the
Revised Penal Code was used to punish the defendants for unjust vexation for
the act of disturbing or interrupting a ceremony of a religious character;

In Lino v. Fugoso, 77 Phil. 983, January 30, 1947, it was used to prosecute the
accused of unjust vexation committed by stopping the jeep driven by the
complainant in a threatening attitude and without any just cause therefor and
telling him to stop driving for the City of Manila while the strike of city
laborers was still going on;

In People v. Reyes, 98 Phil. 646, March 23, 1956, it was held that the act of
seizing, taking and holding possession of passenger jeep belonging to
complainant, without the knowledge and consent of the latter, for the
purpose of answering for the debt of the said owner, constitutes unjust
vexation;

In People v. Yanga, 100 Phil. 385, November 28, 1956, accused was convicted
of unjust vexation for the act of compelling the complainant to do something
against his will, by holding the latter around the neck and dragging him from
the latter's residence to the police outpost;

In People v. Abuy, G.R. No. L-17616, May 30, 1962, the accused was
prosecuted for unjust vexation for the act of embracing and taking hold of the
wrist of the complainant;

In People v. Carreon, G.R. No. L-17920, May 30, 1962, accused was convicted
of unjust vexation for the act of threatening the complainant by holding and
pushing his shoulder and uttering to the latter in a threatening tone the
following words: What inspection did you make to my sister in the mountain
when you are not connected with the Bureau of Education?;

In People v. Gilo, G.R. No. L-18202, April 30, 1964, the Court held that the
absence of an allegation of "lewd design" in a complaint for acts of
lasciviousness converts the act into unjust vexation;

In Andal v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. L-29814, March 28, 1969,
accused were found guilty of unjust vexation under an information charging
them with the offense of offending religious feelings, by the performance of
acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful;

In People v. Maravilla, G.R. No. L-47646, September 19, 1988, a accused was
convicted of unjust vexation for the act of grabbing the left breast of the
complainant against her will;

Kwan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113006, November 23, 2000, the act of
abruptly cutting off the electric, water pipe and telephone lines of a business
establishment causing interruption of its business operations during peak
hours was held as unjust vexation.

The aforementioned cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court readily show
that Art. 287, Par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code has not been used to prosecute a
well-defined or specific criminal act. Instead, it was used as a catch-all provision
to prosecute acts which are not expressly made criminal by any other provision of
the Revised Penal Code. Isnt this anathema to criminal due process that
requires notice of what specific act or omission is punished by law?
It will not burn too much brain cells to realize that Article 287, paragraph 2 of the
Revised Penal Code that punishes unjust vexation suffers from congenital defects
and should be declared unconstitutional for the following reasons:

Article 287, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code condemns no


specific or definite act or omission thus failing to define any crime or
felony;

Said penal provision is so indefinite, vague and overbroad as not to


enable it to be known what act is forbidden;

Such vagueness and overbreadth result to violation of the due


process clause and the right to be informed of the nature of the
offense charged; and

Such vagueness and overbreadth likewise amount to an invalid


delegation by Congress of its legislative power to the courts to
determine what acts should be held criminal and punishable.

A CRIMINAL OR PENAL LEGISLATION MUST CLEARLY DEFINE OR SPECIFY


THE PARTICULAR ACT OR ACTS PUNISHED.
It is a well-established doctrine that a criminal or penal legislation must clearly
define or specify the particular acts or omissions punished. As early as 1916, in the
case of UNITED STATES VS. LULING, 34 Phil. 725, the Supreme Court had the
occasion to hold that:
In some of the States, as well as in England, there exist what are known as
common law offenses. In the Philippine Islands no act is a crime unless it is
made so by statute. The state having the right to declare what acts are criminal,

within certain well defined limitations, has a right to specify what act or acts shall
constitute a crime, as well as what act or acts shall constitute a crime, as well as
what proof shall constitute prima facie evidence of guilt, and then to put upon the
defendant the burden of showing that such act or acts are innocent and are not
committed with any criminal intent or intention." (cited in the fairly recent case
of Dizon-Pamintuan v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 111426, July 11, 1994)
(emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Two years later, this was followed by a scholarly exposition by Justice Johnson in the
case of In re: R. MCCULLOCH DICK, 38 Phil. 41, April 16, 1918, where he stated that:
In the Philippine Islands no act is a crime unless it is made so by law. The law
must specify the particular act or acts constituting the crime. If that were
not so, the inhabitants could not know when they would be liable to be arrested,
tried and punished. Otherwise the mandatory provisions of the law, that all criminal
laws shall be prescribed, would prove to be a pitfall and a snare. The inhabitants of
the Philippine Islands, whether citizens, denizens or friendly aliens, have a right to
know, in advance of arrest, trial and punishment, the particular acts for which they
may be so tried. They cannot be arrested and tried, and then be informed for the
first time that their acts have been subsequently made a crime, and be punished
therefor. x x x (emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Justice (later Chief Justice) Fernando in his concurring opinion in PEOPLE v.
CABURAL, G.R. No. L-34105, February 4, 1983, also made a similar observation,
stating that:
The maxim Nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege has its roots in history. It is in
accordance with both centuries of civil law and common law tradition. Moreover, it
is an indispensable corollary to a regime of liberty enshrined in our Constitution. It is
of the essence then that while anti-social acts should be penalized, there must be
a clear definition of the punishable offense as well as the penalty that may be
imposed - a penalty, to repeat, that can be fixed by the legislative body, and the
legislative body alone. So constitutionalism mandates, with its stress on jurisdictio
rather than guvernaculum. The judiciary as the dispenser of justice through law
must be aware of the limitation on its own power. (emphasis and underscoring
supplied)
The rationale of the doctrine that a criminal or penal legislation must clearly define
or specify the particular act or acts punished is ably explained by the United Stated
Supreme Court in the case of LANZETTA v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY, 306 U.S. 451,
where it held that:
It is the statute, not the accusation under it, that prescribes the rule to govern
conduct and warns against transgression. x x x No one may be required at peril of

life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes. All are
entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids. x x x
(emphasis and underscoring supplied)

ARTICLE 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE CONDEMNS NO


SPECIFIC ACT OR OMISSION! THEREFORE, IT DOES NOT DEFINE ANY CRIME
OR FELONY.
Paragraph 2 of Article 287 of the Revised Penal Code does not define, much less
specify, the acts constituting or deemed included in the term unjust vexations
resulting to making the said provision a sort of a catch-all provision patently
offensive to the due process clause.
The right to define and punish crimes is an attribute of sovereignty. Each State has
the authority, under its police power, to define and punish crimes and to lay down
the rules of criminal procedure. Pursuant to this power
todefine and punish crimes, the State may not punish an act as a crime unless it is
first defined in a criminal statute so that the people will be forewarned as to what
act is punishable. The people cannot be left guessing at the meaning of
criminal statutes.
Article 3 of the Revised Penal Code defines FELONIES (delitos) as acts or
omissions punishable by law. Article 287, Par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code
condemns no specific act or omission! THEREFORE, IT DOES NOT DEFINE ANY CRIME
OR FELONY! Instead, any and all kind of acts that are not specifically covered by any
other provision of the Revised Penal Code and which may cause annoyance,
irritation, vexation, torment, distress or disturbance to the mind of the person to
whom it is directed may be punished as unjust vexation.

ART. 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE SUFFERS FROM A


CONGENITAL DEFECT OF VAGUENESS AND MUST BE STRUCK DOWN AS
UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The term "unjust vexation" is a highly imprecise and relative term that has no
common law meaning or settled definition by prior judicial or administrative
precedents. Thus, for its vagueness and overbreadth, said provision violates due
process in that it does not give fair warning or sufficient notice of what it seeks to
penalize.
This kind of challenge to the constitutionality of a penal statute on ground of
vagueness and overbreadth is not entirely novel in our jurisdiction. In anen
banc decision in the case of GONZALES v. COMELEC, G.R. No. L-27833, April 18,

1969, re: Constitutionality of Republic Act No. 4880, the Supreme Court ruled
that the terms election campaign and partisan political activity which are
punished in R.A. 4880 would have been void for their vagueness were it not for the
express enumeration of the acts deemed included in the said terms. The Supreme
Court held:
The limitation on the period of "election campaign" or "partisan political activity"
calls for a more intensive scrutiny. According to Republic Act No. 4880: "It is
unlawful for any person whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any group or
association of persons, whether or not a political party or political committee, to
engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the
period of one hundred twenty days immediately preceding an election involving a
public office voted for at large and ninety days immediately preceding an election
for any other elective public office. The term 'candidate' refers to any person
aspiring for or seeking an elective public office regardless of whether or not said
person has already filed his certificate of candidacy or has been nominated by any
political party as its candidate. The term 'election campaign' of 'partisan political
activity' refers to acts designed to have a candidate elected or not or promote the
candidacy of a person or persons to a public office . . ."
If that is all there is to that provision, it suffers from the fatal
constitutional infirmity of vagueness and may be stricken down. x x x
xxxxxxxxx
There are still constitutional questions of a serious character then to be faced. The
practices which the act identifies with "election campaign" or "partisan political
activity" must be such that they are free from the taint of being violative of free
speech, free press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. What removes
the sting from constitutional objection of vagueness is the enumeration of the acts
deemed included in the terms "election campaign" or "partisan political activity."
(emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Article 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code punishes unjust vexations and that is
all there is to it! As such, applying the incontestable logic of the Supreme Court in
said case of GONZALES v. COMELEC would lead us to the inescapable conclusion
that said penal provision suffers from the fatal constitutional infirmity of vagueness
and must be stricken down as unconstitutional.
In the case of CONNALLY V. GENERAL CONSTRUCTION CO., 269 U.S. 385, cited by
our own Supreme Court en banc in the case of Ermita-Malate Hotel and Motel
Operators Assn., Inc. v. City Mayor of Manila, G.R. No. L-24693, July 31, 1967), the
United States Supreme Court ruled:

That the terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently
explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render
them liable to its penalties is a well-recognized requirement, consonant alike with
ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law; and a statute which
either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men
of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ
as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.
(emphasis and underscoring supplied)
In fact, it is worst in the case of the 2nd Paragraph of Article 287 of the Revised
Penal Code because it punishes unjust vexations without even defining or
enumerating the acts constituting the said crime thus leaving men of common
intelligence necessarily guessing at its meaning and differing as to its application in
complete disregard of constitutional due process.
Our Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. NAG TANG HO, 43 Phil. 1, held that one
cannot be convicted of a violation of a law that fails to set up an ascertainable
standard of guilt. Said ruling cites the landmark case ofU.S. v. L. COHEN GROCERY
CO., 255 U.S. 81, where the United States Supreme Court in striking down Section 4
of the Federal Food Control Act of August 10, 1917, as amended, as
unconstitutional, declared that:
The sole remaining inquiry, therefore, is the certainty or uncertainty of the text in
question, that is, whether the words 'that it is hereby made unlawful for any person
willfully ... to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or
dealing in or with any necessaries,' constituted a fixing by Congress of an
ascertainable standard of guilt and are adequate to inform persons accused of
violation thereof of the nature and cause of the accusation against them. That they
are not, we are of opinion, so clearly results from their mere statement as to render
elaboration on the subject wholly unnecessary. OBSERVE THAT THE SECTION
FORBIDS NO SPECIFIC OR DEFINITE ACT. It confines the subject matter of the
investigation which it authorizes to no element essentially inhering in the
transaction as to which it provides. It leaves open, therefore, the widest conceivable
inquiry, the scope of which no one can foresee and the result of which no one can
foreshadow or adequately guard against. In fact, we see no reason to doubt the
soundness of the observation of the court below in its opinion to the effect that, to
attempt to enforce the section would be the exact equivalent of an effort
to carry out a statute which in terms merely penalized and punished all
acts detrimental to the public interest when unjust and unreasonable in
the estimation of the court x x x (emphasis and underscoring supplied)
In COATES v. CITY OF CINCINNATI, 402 U.S. 611, the United States Supreme Court
passed upon the issue of constitutionality of a Cincinnati, Ohio, ordinance that
provides that:

"It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public
meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths
of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a mannerannoying to persons passing
by, or occupants of adjacent buildings. Whoever violates any of the provisions of
this section shall be fined not exceeding fifty dollars ($50.00), or be imprisoned not
less than one (1) nor more than thirty (30) days or both." Section 901-L6, Code of
Ordinances of the City of Cincinnati. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)
In hammering down the constitutionality of the above-cited Cincinnati, Ohio
ordinance in its landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court held that:
Conduct that annoys some people does not annoy others. Thus, the
ordinance is vague, not in the sense that it requires a person to conform his conduct
to an imprecise but comprehensible normative standard, but rather in the sense
that no standard of conduct is specified at all. As a result, "men of common
intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning."Connally v. General
Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391
It is said that the ordinance is broad enough to encompass many types of conduct
clearly within the city's constitutional power to prohibit. And so, indeed, it is. The
city is free to prevent people from blocking sidewalks, obstructing traffic, littering
streets, committing assaults, or engaging in countless other forms of antisocial
conduct. It can do so through the enactment and enforcement of ordinances
directed with reasonable specificity toward the conduct to be prohibited. It cannot
constitutionally do so through the enactment and enforcement of an ordinance
whose violation may entirely depend upon whether or not a policeman is annoyed.
(emphasis and underscoring supplied)
Same thing can be said of Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes
unjust vexation. As previously shown, the term unjust vexation is broad enough
to encompass many types of acts or conduct. But while these acts of types of
conduct are within the States police power to prohibit and punish, it cannot
however constitutionally do so when its violation may entirely depend upon whether
or not another is vexed or annoyed by said act or conduct and whether or not said
act or conduct is unjust is the estimation of the court.

ARTICLE 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE IS AN INVALID


DELEGATION OF THE LEGISLATIVE POWER TO DEFINE WHAT ACTS SHOULD
BE HELD BE CRIMINAL AND PUNISHABLE
The failure of Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code to define or specify the act
or omission that it punishes likewise amounts to an invalid delegation by Congress

of its legislative power to the courts to determine what acts should be held criminal
and punishable. Potestas delegata non delegare potest. What has been
delegated cannot be delegated. This doctrine is based on the ethical principle that
such delegated power constitutes not only a right but a duty to be performed by the
delegate through the instrumentality of his own judgment and not through the
intervening mind of another (United States v. Barrias, 11 Phil. 327, 330).
Congress alone has power to define crimes. This power as an attribute of
sovereignty may not be delegated to the courts. When a criminal legislation leaves
the halls of Congress, it must be complete in itself in that it must clearly define and
specify the acts or omissions deemed punishable; and when it reaches the courts,
there must be nothing left for the latter to do, except to determine whether person
or persons indicted are guilty of committing the said acts or omissions defined and
made punishable by Congress. Otherwise, borrowing the immortal words of Justice
Isagani Cruz in Ynot v. Intermediate Appellate Court (148 SCRA 659), the law
becomes a roving commission, a wide and sweeping authority that is not
canalized within banks that keep it from overflowing, in short a clearly profligate
and therefore invalid delegation of legislative powers.
Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code fails to set an immutable and
ascertainable standard of guilt, but leaves such standard to the variant and
changing views and notions of different judges or courts which are called upon to
enforce it. Instead of defining the specific acts or omissions punished, it leaves to
the courts the power to determine what acts or types of conduct constitute unjust
vexation. Moreover, liability under the said provision is also made dependent upon
the varying degrees of sensibility and emotions of people. It depends upon whether
or not another is vexed or annoyed by said act or conduct. As previously intimated,
one cannot be convicted of a violation of a law that fails to set up an immutable and
an ascertainable standard of guilt.

CONCLUSION
From the foregoing, it appears that the law that was intended to punish unjust
vexation turns out to be an unjustly vexatious law. Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised
Penal Code that punishes unjust vexations is unconstitutional on its face for its
fatal failure to forbid a specific or definite act or conduct. It suffers from congenital
vagueness and overbreadth which are anathema to constitutional due process and
the right of the accused to be informed of the nature of the offense charged.
Moreover, by leaving it to the judiciary to determine the justness or unjustness
of an act or conduct that is not clearly defined or specified by law constitutes a
fixing by Congress of an unascertainable standard of guilt and therefore an invalid
delegation, if not an abdication, of legislative power.

As such, it is now high time that this unjustly vexatious law be declared
unconstitutional and be wiped out from our statute books. Lawyers defending a
client for unjust vexation should raise this constitutional challenge against this
unjustly vexatious law and they are free to cite the arguments articulated herein.
Art. 287, par. 2 cannot be a basis of any criminal prosecution, much less conviction.
An unspeakable injustice was therefore done to all those who were convicted under
this unjustly vexatious law. If this law is not declared unconstitutional by our
Supreme Court or is not immediately repealed by Congress, many persons would
still fall prey to its snare unaware