Crimes Against Public Morals | Offenses Against Decency
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We shall talk about crimes against public morals, and the offenses against decency and good customs. What do we mean by Public Morals, Decency, and Good Customs. Public morals may refer to moral and ethical norms imposed in a society, whether by law, police action, or societal pressure, and applied to public life, media content, and behavior in public spaces.

Decency entails correct behavior and adherence to the criteria of modesty and good taste. On the other hand, customs are social conventions handed on by tradition and enforced by societal disapproval of any infraction thereof.

What do you mean by Offenses against Decency and Good Customs?

Offenses against decency and good customs are private acts committed in public places which is considered as highly scandalous and offensive to good customs and morals is an offense against decency and good customs.

The Revised Penal Code [RPC] specifies offenses against decency and good customs which includes Grave scandal (Article 200), Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions (Article 201) and Vagrancy and prostitution (Article 202).

What are the Offenses against Decency and Good Customs?

The following are offenses against decency and good customs:

  1. Grave Scandal (Art. 200)
  2. Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions (Art. 201)
  3. Vagrancy and prostitution (Art. 202)

In the Revised Penal Code, Book Two of Reyes, he defined “decency” as the propriety of conduct; proper observance of the requirements of modesty, good taste, etc.; while “customs” means established usage, social conventions carried on by tradition and enforced by social disapproval or violation thereof.[1]The Revised Penal Code, Criminal Law, Book 2, Reyes, 2017, p. 372

Decency and custom might still vary in each region or place. Thus, what might be seen as a normal or usual act for newcomers in a specific location might be taken seriously by the citizens residing to that place if it is not widely accepted.

How is the crime of Grave Scandal committed?

Grave scandal is defined as those which “consists of acts which are offensive to decency and good customs which, having been committed publicly, have given rise to public scandal to persons who have accidentally witnessed the same.”

The crime of grave scandal is committed in the presence of the following elements:

  1. Offender performs an act or acts;[2]Article 200, RPC
  2. Such act or acts be highly scandalous as offending against decency or good customs;[3]Id.
  3. The highly scandalous conduct is not expressly falling within any other article of this Code; and[4]Id.
  4. The act or acts complained of be committed in a public place or within the public knowledge or view.[5]Id.

The acts punishable by Article 200 are those which by their publicity and character can cause public scandal among the person witnessing them, besides being contrary to morals and good customs.[6]People vs. Dumlao, CA, 38 O.G. 3715

The essential element in the crime of grave and scandal is publicity. Hence, individuals who committed an offense against decency and good customs might not be liable under Article 200 of the Revised Penal Code if it was not committed in a public place or within the public knowledge or view.

As illustrated in the 1996 bar exam, an individual, unaware that the business executives holding office at the adjoining tall buildings reported to office every Sunday morning, sunbathed naked in a penthouse of a condominium; business executives used binoculars to gaze at her while she sunbathed. In this case, the individual is not liable for grave scandal since in the first place, it was not done in a public place and within public knowledge or view.

How is the felony of Immoral Doctrines, Obscene Publication and Exhibitions, and Indecent Shows perpetrated?

Under Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, the following are identified as immoral doctrines, obscene publication and exhibitions, and indecent shows:[7]Article 201, RPC

1] Those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals;[8]Id.

2] The authors of obscene literature, published with their knowledge in any form; the editors publishing such literature; and the owners/operators of the establishment selling the same;[9]Id.

3] Those who, in theaters, fairs, cinematographs or any other place, exhibit indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, it being understood that the obscene literature or indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, whether live or in film, which are prescribed by virtue hereof, shall include those which:[10]Id.

(3.1) glorify criminals or condone crimes;[11]Id.

(3.2) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography;[12]Id.

(3.3) offend any race or religion;[13]Id.

(3.4) tend to abet traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and[14]Id.

(3.5) are contrary to law, public order, morals, good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts; and[15]Id.

4] Those who shall sell, give away or exhibit films, prints, engravings, sculpture or literature which are offensive to morals.[16]Id.

Similar to Article 200 of the Revised Penal Code, publicity is also essential in Article 201. The purpose of the law is to protect the morals of the public. The mere possession of obscene literature is not punishable. There must be publishing, selling, exhibiting, or giving away (meaning, distribution) of such literature.[17]Criminal Law Conspectus, Regalado, 2000, page 402

Since distribution is contemplated by this article, it was held that the act of giving copy of the obscene literature to only one person is not punishable under this article (People vs. Tempongko, 1 CA Rep. 317).[18]Ibid., Criminal Law Conspectus

However, the above must be distinguished from the case of a magazine dealer who was caught in possession of several copies of immoral publications, and was consequently convicted under this provision (People vs. Tabao, CA-G. R. No. 16703-R, Jan. 28, 1958).[19]Ibid., Criminal Law Conspectus

Obscenity

In People vs. Kottinger,[20]G. R. No. L-20569, October 29, 1923 “obscene” is defined as something offensive to chastity, decency or delicacy. To assess if a particular item, object, or event is obscene, there is a test of obscenity.[21]Ibid.

Obscenity is defined as the tendency of the matter charged as obscene to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are susceptible to such immoral influences and into whose hands such a publication may fall, as well as whether such publication or act shocks the ordinary and common sense of men as an indecency. “Indecency” is an act against good manners and a proper delicacy.[22]Ibid.

“Indecency” is an act against the good behavior and a just delicacy[23]People vs. Kottinger, 45 Phil 352. Thus, the degree of obscenity to say that it is an indecent act is subject to its gravity or effect on ordinary men. To illustrate, pictures with a slight degree of obscenity which are used for commercial purposes fall under this Article 201 of the RPC.

As elaborated by Reyes, if the pictures were sold or exhibited for people to satisfy their curiosity, taste, and lust, and for love of excitement, including the youth who, because of their immaturity, are not in a position to resist and shield themselves from the ill and perverting effects of the pictures, the said display of pictures for commercial purposes will constitute as a violation of Article 201.

Does being a prostitute a punishable offense? 

Prostitution in the Philippines is committed by women who, for money or profit, engage in sexual intercourse or lewd behavior on a regular basis. This is punishable under Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code. Note that this provision focuses exclusively on women prostitutes.

Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code speaks of prostitutes as women who habitually engage in (1) sexual intercourses or (2) lascivious conduct, for money or profit. The key point to remember here is the engagement in the said acts of a woman for money or profit.[24]Article 202, RPC

Only female prostitutes are covered by this provision and to be liable thereunder, it is required that she engages in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, that it be for consideration, and that such misconduct is habitual.[25]Criminal Law Conspectus, Regalado, 2000, page 404

Vagrancy

Republic Act No. 10158[26]RA 10158, An Act Decriminalizing Vagrancy, Amending for This Purpose Article 202 Of Act No. 3815, As Amended, Otherwise Known as The Revised Penal Code has decriminalized Vagrancy under Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code. It deleted the related provisions of vagrancy, hence, not anymore a punishable act. Thus:

Section 1. Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code is hereby, amended to read as follows:[27]Id.

“Article 202. Prostitutes; Penalty. – For the purposes of this article, women who, for money or profit, habitually indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, are deemed to be prostitutes.[28]Id.

“Any person found guilty of any of the offenses covered by this article shall be punished by arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 200 pesos, and in case of recidivism, by arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correctional in its minimum period or a fine ranging from 200 to 2,000 pesos, or both, in the discretion of the court.”[29]Id.

Section 2. Effect on Pending Cases. – All pending cases under the provisions of Article 202 of the Revised Penal Code on Vagrancy prior to its amendment by this Act shall be dismissed upon effectivity of this Act.[30]Id.

Conclusion

As to decency and good customs, we must always remember that we may have our own choice on what to do with ourselves, but we must always remember that these acts we think that are okay might be traumatizing and against the morals of other people. We must learn how to compromise and act as a decent human being especially in a public space.

References

References
1 The Revised Penal Code, Criminal Law, Book 2, Reyes, 2017, p. 372
2 Article 200, RPC
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 People vs. Dumlao, CA, 38 O.G. 3715
7 Article 201, RPC
8 Id.
9 Id.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id.
14 Id.
15 Id.
16 Id.
17 Criminal Law Conspectus, Regalado, 2000, page 402
18 Ibid., Criminal Law Conspectus
19 Ibid., Criminal Law Conspectus
20 G. R. No. L-20569, October 29, 1923
21 Ibid.
22 Ibid.
23 People vs. Kottinger, 45 Phil 352
24 Article 202, RPC
25 Criminal Law Conspectus, Regalado, 2000, page 404
26 RA 10158, An Act Decriminalizing Vagrancy, Amending for This Purpose Article 202 Of Act No. 3815, As Amended, Otherwise Known as The Revised Penal Code
27 Id.
28 Id.
29 Id.
30 Id.
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