The poor and the law

For all that they say that those who have less in life should have more in law, there are times when the poor are disadvantaged in the eyes of the law (a first year law student’s impression after three months of reading cases. Not enough, not much, I’m the first to admit).
In criminal law, there is one situation where the poor is disadvantaged in terms of the law: the law gives out a harsher penalty when a crime is committed in a victim’s home, but “home” in this case has to be a physical dwelling, excluding those who are too poor to actually live in a house.
“Dwelling is considered an aggravating circumstance primarily because of the sanctity of privacy the law accords to human abode,” said a case cited in retired Justice Reyes’ commentary on the Revised Penal Code.
“The home is a sort of sacred place for its owner. He who goes to another’s house to slander him, hurt him or do him wrong, is more guilty than he who offends him elsewhere,” Viada was cited in the same commentary.
Dwelling, however, is defined as “a building or structure, exclusively used for rest and comfort.” But should we say that the poorest of the poor have no such “sacred place…for rest and comfort”? That they have no “sanctuary worthy of respect” simply because they have no property, and is it their fault that they have to sleep on the streets?
More than a year ago I asked one of the Mapalad farmers, who went to Manila to demand that their land be given back to them through agrarian reform, why she continued to press for justice. The land was declared theirs, and then taken away, on the condition that it would be developed for commercial purposes. But the land remained idle and when the farmers went to Manila to demand that their rights be respected, there was a piggery on the land.
I asked a farmer why she continues to believe in the law when, for so many years, justice has been denied her.
“Because I know there is a law, for the tillers of the land,” she said in the dialect, and I had to ask someone else to translate for me. I cannot fathom the way she believes in the majesty of the law, though it has been used to deprive her of her land.
One day I hope to be a lawyer to people like her.


One Response

  1. Thanks for writing about poverty and the law – RFW

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