SC’s resolute stand on warrantless arrests
I salute the Supreme Court for its resolute stand in favor of the constitutional “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects…” and for striking down with finality the police practice of conducting warrantless arrests and seizures on the basis solely of unverified “tips” from anonymous sources.
The trial court and the Court of Appeals convicted Jerry Sapla of illegal possession of prohibited drugs, and sentenced him to reclusion perpetua and to pay a fine of P5 million.
On appeal, the Supreme Court (People v. Sapla, June 16, 2020, posted on Aug. 17, 2020) acquitted him because the illegal drugs used as evidence was illegally obtained by the policemen who arrested him and searched his “person” while aboard a jeepney on the sole basis of a “text message” from an anonymous, hearsay source. The Bill of Rights bars the use of illegally-obtained evidence “in any proceeding.”
Writing superbly for the Court, Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa explained that “jurisprudence has vacillated over the years” on the question of whether an accused could be convicted on the basis solely of “an unverified tip relayed by an anonymous informant.”
To settle the issue “once and for all,” he carefully discussed jurisprudence here and in the United States, and came to the veritable conclusion that, henceforth, the “prevailing and controlling lines of jurisprudence” are “the cases that adhere to the doctrine that exclusive reliance on an unverified, anonymous tip cannot… [justify] a warrantless search of a moving vehicle…”
The Court, voting decisively 11-3 (one seat was vacant) including its three most senior members—CJ Diosdado M. Peralta and Justices Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe and Marvic M.V.F. Leonen (with a concurring opinion)—gutsily supported him.
I am honored and humbled that in arriving at his conclusion, J Caguioa repeatedly cited several decisions I wrote in my own advocacy to safeguard the liberty of our people from unwelcome intrusions into their constitutional right against unreasonable arrests, searches, and seizures.
To justify why “tipped information alone” is sorely insufficient to empower policemen to search for and/or seize prohibited drugs, J Caguioa quoted this dissenting portion of my separate opinion in People v. Montilla (Jan. 30, 1998), thereby making it the prevailing jurisprudence now:
“…Everyone would be practically at the mercy of so-called informants, reminiscent of the Makapilis during the Japanese occupation. Any one whom they point out to a police officer as a possible violator of the law could then be subject to search and possible arrest. This is placing limitless power upon informants who will no longer be required to affirm under oath their accusations, for they can always delay their giving of tips in order to justify warrantless arrests and searches. Even law enforcers can use this as an oppressive tool to conduct searches without warrants, for they can always claim that they received raw intelligence information only on the day or afternoon before. This would clearly be a circumvention of the legal requisites for validly effecting an arrest or conducting a search and seizure. Indeed, the majority’s ruling would open loopholes that would allow unreasonable arrests, searches and seizures.” (Underscoring and bold types in the Caguioa ponencia)
To end his decision, J Caguioa scintillatingly wrote: “The Court fully recognizes the necessity of adopting a resolute and aggressive stance against the menace of illegal drugs. Our Constitution declares that the maintenance of peace and order and the promotion of the general welfare are essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.
“Nevertheless, by sacrificing the sacred and indelible right against unreasonable searches and seizures for expediency’s sake, the very maintenance of peace and order sought after is rendered wholly nugatory… When the Constitution is disregarded, the battle waged against illegal drugs becomes a self-defeating and self-destructive enterprise. A battle waged against illegal drugs that tramples on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs; it is war against the people.
“The Bill of Rights should never be sacrificed on the altar of convenience. Otherwise, the malevolent mantle of the rule of men dislodges the rule of law.” (Bold types and italics in original)
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