404 Phil. 797

EN BANC

[ G.R. No. 133917, February 19, 2001 ]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE, VS. NASARIO MOLINA Y MANAMAT @ "BOBONG" AND GREGORIO MULA Y MALAGURA @ "BOBOY", ACCUSED-APPELLANTS.

D E C I S I O N

YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

To sanction disrespect and disregard for the Constitution in the name of protecting the society from lawbreakers is to make the government itself lawless and to subvert those values upon which our ultimate freedom and liberty depend.[1]

For automatic review is the Decision[2] of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, in Criminal Case No. 37,264-96, finding accused-appellants Nasario Molina y Manamat alias "Bobong" and Gregorio Mula y Malagura alias "Boboy," guilty beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 8,[3] of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (Republic Act No. 6425), as amended by Republic Act No. 7659,[4] and sentencing them to suffer the supreme penalty of death.

The information against accused-appellants reads:
That on or about August 8, 1996, in the City of Davao, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, in conspiracy with each other, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously was found in their possession 946.9 grams of dried marijuana which are prohibited.

CONTRARY TO LAW.[5]
Upon arraignment on September 4, 1996, accused-appellants pleaded not guilty to the accusation against them.[6] Trial ensued, wherein the prosecution presented Police Superintendent Eriel Mallorca, SPO1 Leonardo Y. Pamplona, Jr., and SPO1 Marino S. Paguidopon, Jr. as witnesses.

The antecedent facts are as follows:

Sometime in June 1996, SPO1 Marino Paguidopon, then a member of the Philippine National Police detailed at Precinct No. 3, Matina, Davao City, received an information regarding the presence of an alleged marijuana pusher in Davao City.[7] The first time he came to see the said marijuana pusher in person was during the first week of July 1996. SPO1 Paguidopon was then with his informer when a motorcycle passed by. His informer pointed to the motorcycle driver, accused-appellant Mula, as the pusher. As to accused-appellant Molina, SPO1 Paguidopon had no occasion to see him before the arrest. Moreover, the names and addresses of the accused-appellants came to the knowledge of SPO1 Paguidopon only after they were arrested.[8]

At about 7:30 in the morning of August 8, 1996, SPO1 Paguidopon received an information that the alleged pusher will be passing at NHA, Ma-a, Davao City any time that morning.[9] Consequently, at around 8:00 A.M. of the same day, he called for assistance at the PNP, Precinct No. 3, Matina, Davao City, which immediately dispatched the team of SPO4 Dionisio Cloribel (team leader), SPO2 Paguidopon (brother of SPO1 Marino Paguidopon), and SPO1 Pamplona, to proceed to the house of SPO1 Marino Paguidopon where they would wait for the alleged pusher to pass by.[10]

At around 9:30 in the morning of August 8, 1996, while the team were positioned in the house of SPO1 Paguidopon, a "trisikad" carrying the accused-appellants passed by. At that instance, SPO1 Paguidopon pointed to the accused-appellants as the pushers. Thereupon, the team boarded their vehicle and overtook the "trisikad."[11] SPO1 Paguidopon was left in his house, thirty meters from where the accused-appellants were accosted.[12]

The police officers then ordered the "trisikad" to stop. At that point, accused-appellant Mula who was holding a black bag handed the same to accused-appellant Molina. Subsequently, SPO1 Pamplona introduced himself as a police officer and asked accused-appellant Molina to open the bag.[13] Molina replied, "Boss, if possible we will settle this."[14] SPO1 Pamplona insisted on opening the bag, which revealed dried marijuana leaves inside. Thereafter, accused-appellants Mula and Molina were handcuffed by the police officers.[15]

On December 6, 1996, accused-appellants, through counsel, jointly filed a Demurrer to Evidence, contending that the marijuana allegedly seized from them is inadmissible as evidence for having been obtained in violation of their constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.[16] The demurrer was denied by the trial court.[17] A motion for reconsideration was filed by accused-appellants, but this was likewise denied. Accused-appellants waived presentation of evidence and opted to file a joint memorandum.

On April 25, 1997, the trial court rendered the assailed decision,[18] the decretal portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, finding the evidence of the prosecution alone without any evidence from both accused who waived presentation of their own evidence through their counsels, more than sufficient to prove the guilt of both accused of the offense charged beyond reasonable doubt, pursuant to Sec. 20, sub. par. 5 of Republic Act 7659, accused NASARIO MOLINA and GREGORIO MULA, are sentenced to suffer a SUPREME PENALTY OF DEATH through lethal injection under Republic Act 8176, to be effected and implemented as therein provided for by law, in relation to Sec. 24 of Rep. Act 7659.

The Branch Clerk of Court of this court, is ordered to immediately elevate the entire records of this case with the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, Manila, for the automatic review of their case by the Supreme Court and its appropriate action as the case may be.

SO ORDERED.[19]
Pursuant to Article 47 of the Revised Penal Code and Rule 122, Section 10 of the Rules of Court, the case was elevated to this Court on automatic review. Accused-appellants contend:

I.
THAT THE MARIJUANA IS INADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE FOR HAVING BEEN SEIZED IN VIOLATION OF APPELLANTS' CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AGAINST UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES;

II.

THAT ASSUMING IT IS ADMISSIBLE IN EVIDENCE, THE GOVERNMENT HAS NOT OTHERWISE PROVED THEIR GUILT BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT; AND

III.

THAT, FINALLY, ASSUMING THEIR GUILT HAS BEEN PROVED BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT, THE IMPOSABLE PENALTY FOR VIOLATION OF SEC. 8 OF RA No. 7659 (sic), IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE, IS LIFE IMPRISONMENT, NOT DEATH.[20]
The Solicitor General filed a Manifestation and Motion (In Lieu of Brief), wherein he prayed for the acquittal of both accused-appellants.

The fundamental law of the land mandates that searches and seizures be carried out in a reasonable fashion, that is, by virtue or on the strength of a search warrant predicated upon the existence of a probable cause. The pertinent provision of the Constitution provides:
SEC. 2. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.[21]
Complementary to the foregoing provision is the exclusionary rule enshrined under Article III, Section 3, paragraph 2, which bolsters and solidifies the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.[22] Thus:
Any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
Without this rule, the right to privacy would be a form of words, valueless and undeserving of mention in a perpetual charter of inestimable human liberties; so too, without this rule, the freedom from state invasions of privacy would be so ephemeral and so neatly severed from its conceptual nexus with the freedom from all brutish means of coercing evidence as not to merit this Court's high regard as a freedom implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.[23]

The foregoing constitutional proscription, however, is not without exceptions. Search and seizure may be made without a warrant and the evidence obtained therefrom may be admissible in the following instances: (1) search incident to a lawful arrest; (2) search of a moving motor vehicle; (3) search in violation of customs laws; (4) seizure of evidence in plain view; (5) when the accused himself waives his right against unreasonable searches and seizures;[24] and (6) stop and frisk situations (Terry search).[25]

The first exception (search incidental to a lawful arrest) includes a valid warrantless search and seizure pursuant to an equally valid warrantless arrest which must precede the search. In this instance, the law requires that there be first a lawful arrest before a search can be made --- the process cannot be reversed.[26] As a rule, an arrest is considered legitimate if effected with a valid warrant of arrest. The Rules of Court, however, recognizes permissible warrantless arrests. Thus, a peace officer or a private person may, without warrant, arrest a person: (a) when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense (arrest in flagrante delicto); (b) when an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it (arrest effected in hot pursuit); and (c) when the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or a place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another (arrest of escaped prisoners).[27]

In the case at bar, the court a quo anchored its judgment of conviction on a finding that the warrantless arrest of accused-appellants, and the subsequent search conducted by the peace officers, are valid because accused-appellants were caught in flagrante delicto in possession of prohibited drugs.[28] This brings us to the issue of whether or not the warrantless arrest, search and seizure in the present case fall within the recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.

In People v. Chua Ho San,[29] the Court held that in cases of in flagrante delicto arrests, a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense. The arresting officer, therefore, must have personal knowledge of such fact or, as recent case law adverts to, personal knowledge of facts or circumstances convincingly indicative or constitutive of probable cause. As discussed in People v. Doria,[30] probable cause means an actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion. The grounds of suspicion are reasonable when, in the absence of actual belief of the arresting officers, the suspicion that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing the offense, is based on actual facts, i.e., supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to create the probable cause of guilt of the person to be arrested. A reasonable suspicion therefore must be founded on probable cause, coupled with good faith on the part of the peace officers making the arrest.

As applied to in flagrante delicto arrests, it is settled that "reliable information" alone, absent any overt act indicative of a felonious enterprise in the presence and within the view of the arresting officers, are not sufficient to constitute probable cause that would justify an in flagrante delicto arrest. Thus, in People v. Aminnudin,[31] it was held that "the accused-appellant was not, at the moment of his arrest, committing a crime nor was it shown that he was about to do so or that he had just done so. What he was doing was descending the gangplank of the M/V Wilcon 9 and there was no outward indication that called for his arrest. To all appearances, he was like any of the other passengers innocently disembarking from the vessel. It was only when the informer pointed to him as the carrier of the marijuana that he suddenly became suspect and so subject to apprehension."

Likewise, in People v. Mengote,[32] the Court did not consider "eyes... darting from side to side ... [while] holding ... [one's] abdomen", in a crowded street at 11:30 in the morning, as overt acts and circumstances sufficient to arouse suspicion and indicative of probable cause. According to the Court, "[b]y no stretch of the imagination could it have been inferred from these acts that an offense had just been committed, or was actually being committed, or was at least being attempted in [the arresting officers'] presence." So also, in People v. Encinada,[33] the Court ruled that no probable cause is gleanable from the act of riding a motorela while holding two plastic baby chairs.

Then, too, in Malacat v. Court of Appeals,[34] the trial court concluded that petitioner was attempting to commit a crime as he was "`standing at the corner of Plaza Miranda and Quezon Boulevard' with his eyes `moving very fast' and `looking at every person that come (sic) nearer (sic) to them.'"[35] In declaring the warrantless arrest therein illegal, the Court said:
Here, there could have been no valid in flagrante delicto ... arrest preceding the search in light of the lack of personal knowledge on the part of Yu, the arresting officer, or an overt physical act, on the part of petitioner, indicating that a crime had just been committed, was being committed or was going to be committed.[36]
It went on to state that -
Second, there was nothing in petitioner's behavior or conduct which could have reasonably elicited even mere suspicion other than that his eyes were "moving very fast" - an observation which leaves us incredulous since Yu and his teammates were nowhere near petitioner and it was already 6:30 p.m., thus presumably dusk. Petitioner and his companions were merely standing at the corner and were not creating any commotion or trouble...

Third, there was at all no ground, probable or otherwise, to believe that petitioner was armed with a deadly weapon. None was visible to Yu, for as he admitted, the alleged grenade was "discovered" "inside the front waistline" of petitioner, and from all indications as to the distance between Yu and petitioner, any telltale bulge, assuming that petitioner was indeed hiding a grenade, could not have been visible to Yu.[37]
Clearly, to constitute a valid in flagrante delicto arrest, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.[38]

In the case at bar, accused-appellants manifested no outward indication that would justify their arrest. In holding a bag on board a trisikad, accused-appellants could not be said to be committing, attempting to commit or have committed a crime. It matters not that accused-appellant Molina responded "Boss, if possible we will settle this" to the request of SPO1 Pamplona to open the bag. Such response which allegedly reinforced the "suspicion" of the arresting officers that accused-appellants were committing a crime, is an equivocal statement which standing alone will not constitute probable cause to effect an inflagrante delicto arrest. Note that were it not for SPO1 Marino Paguidopon (who did not participate in the arrest but merely pointed accused-appellants to the arresting officers), accused-appellants could not be the subject of any suspicion, reasonable or otherwise.

While SPO1 Paguidopon claimed that he and his informer conducted a surveillance of accused-appellant Mula, SPO1 Paguidopon, however, admitted that he only learned Mula's name and address after the arrest. What is more, it is doubtful if SPO1 Paguidopon indeed recognized accused-appellant Mula. It is worthy to note that, before the arrest, he was able to see Mula in person only once, pinpointed to him by his informer while they were on the side of the road. These circumstances could not have afforded SPO1 Paguidopon a closer look at accused-appellant Mula, considering that the latter was then driving a motorcycle when SPO1 Paguidopon caught a glimpse of him. With respect to accused-appellant Molina, SPO1 Paguidopon admitted that he had never seen him before the arrest.

This belies the claim of SPO1 Pamplona that he knew the name of accused-appellants even before the arrest, to wit -
"Q-
When you said that certain Mula handed a black bag to another person and how did you know that it was Mula who handed the black bag to another person?


A-
Because I have already information from Paguidopon, regarding Mula and Molina, when they pass by through the street near the residence of Paguidopon. He told that the one who is big one that is Gregorio Mula and the thin one is Nazario Molina"[39]
The aforecited testimony of SPO1 Pamplona, therefore, is entirely baseless. SPO1 Pamplona could not have learned the name of accused-appellants from SPO1 Paguipodon because Paguipodon himself, who allegedly conducted the surveillance, was not even aware of accused-appellants' name and address prior to the arrest.

Evidently, SPO1 Paguidopon, who acted as informer of the arresting officers, more so the arresting officers themselves, could not have been certain of accused-appellants' identity, and were, from all indications, merely fishing for evidence at the time of the arrest.

Compared to People v. Encinada, the arresting officer in the said case knew appellant Encinada even before the arrest because of the latter's illegal gambling activities, thus, lending at least a semblance of validity on the arrest effected by the peace officers. Nevertheless, the Court declared in said case that the warrantless arrest and the consequent search were illegal, holding that "[t]he prosecution's evidence did not show any suspicious behavior when the appellant disembarked from the ship or while he rode the motorela. No act or fact demonstrating a felonious enterprise could be ascribed to appellant under such bare circumstances."[40]

Moreover, it could not be said that accused-appellants waived their right against unreasonable searches and seizure. Implied acquiescence to the search, if there was any, could not have been more than mere passive conformity given under intimidating or coercive circumstances and is thus considered no consent at all within the purview of the constitutional guarantee.[41]

Withal, the Court holds that the arrest of accused-appellants does not fall under the exceptions allowed by the rules. Hence, the search conducted on their person was likewise illegal. Consequently, the marijuana seized by the peace officers could not be admitted as evidence against accused-appellants, and the Court is thus, left with no choice but to find in favor of accused-appellants.

While the Court strongly supports the campaign of the government against drug addiction and commends the efforts of our law-enforcement officers towards this drive, all efforts for the achievement of a drug-free society must not encroach on the fundamental rights and liberties of individuals as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, which protection extends even to the basest of criminals.

WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Davao City, Branch 17, in Criminal Case No. 37, 264-96, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. For lack of evidence to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt, accused-appellants Nasario Molina y Manamat alias "Bobong" and Gregorio Mula y Malagura alias "Boboy", are ACQUITTED and ordered RELEASED from confinement unless they are validly detained for other offenses. No costs.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.



[1] Dissenting opinion of Justice Brennan in Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465, 96 S. Ct. 3037, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1067, 1105 [1976].

[2] Dated April 25, 1997, Rollo, pp. 11-24.

[3] Sec. 8. - Possession or Use of Prohibited Drugs. - The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos to ten million pesos shall be imposed upon any person who, unless authorized by law, shall possess or use any prohibited drug subject to the provisions of Section 20 hereof.
Sec. 20. Application of Penalties, Confiscation and Forfeiture of the Proceeds or Instruments of the Crime. - The penalties for offenses under Sections 3, 4, 7, 8 and 9 of Article II and Sections 14, 14-A, 15 and 16 of Article III of this Act shall be applied if the dangerous drugs involved is in any of the following quantities:

5) 750 grams or more of indian hemp or marijuana;

x x x x x x x x x

Otherwise, if the quantity involved is less than the forgoing quantities, the penalty shall range from prision correccional to reclusion perpetua depending upon the quantity.
[4]An Act Imposing the Death Penalty on Certain Heinous Crimes.4

[5] Filed on August 10, 1996; Rollo, p. 7.

[6] Records, p. 14.

[7] TSN, November 14, 1996, pp. 2-4.

[8] TSN, November 14, 1996, pp. 7-9.

[9] Id., pp. 10 and 18.

[10] TSN, November 26, 1996, pp. 4-5 (Direct examination of SPO1 Pamplona).

[11] TSN, November 26, 1996, pp. 5-6.

[12] TSN, November 14, 1996, pp. 14-15

[13] TSN, November 26, 1996, pp. 6-8.

[14] Id., p. 14.14

[15] Id., p. 9.

[16] Records, pp. 32-37.

[17] Records, pp. 39-43.

[18] Penned by Judge Renato A. Fuentes.

[19] Decision, Rollo, p. 24

[20] Rollo, p. 40.

[21] Constitution, Article III, Section 2.

[22] People v. Chua Ho San, 308 SCRA 432, 443 [1999].

[23] Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S. Ct. 1684, 6 L. ed. 2d 1081, 1090 [1961].

[24] People v. Doria, 301 SCRA 668, 705 [1999]; citing Hizon v. Court of Appeals, 265 SCRA 517, 527 [1996]; People v. Fernandez, 239 SCRA 174, 182-183 [1994]; Roan v. Gonzales, 145 SCRA 687, 697 [1986]; Bernas, The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, p. 169 [1996]; Cruz, Constitutional Law, pp. 147-153 [1986]; Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, Rule 126, Section 12, and Rule 113, Section 5; People v. Bagista, 214 SCRA 63, 69 [1992]; People v. Lo Ho Wing, 193 SCRA 122, 126-128 [1991]; Roldan, Jr. v. Arca, 65 SCRA 336, 348 [1975]; Papa v. Mago, 22 SCRA 857, 871-874 [1968]; People v. Tabar, 222 SCRA 144, 153 [1993]; Alvarez v. CFI, 64 Phil. 33, 48 [1937]; and People v. Kagui Malasugui, 63 Phil. 221, 226 [1936].

[25] People v. Chua Ho San, supra.; citing Terry v. Ohio, 20 L Ed 2d, 896 adopted in Posadas v. Court of Appeals, 188 SCRA 288 [1990]; and People v. Ramos, 222 SCRA 557 [1993].

[26] Id., at 449; citing Malacat v. Court of Appeals, 283 SCRA 159 , 175 [1997].

[27] Id., at 444; and the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure (as amended), Rule 113, Section 5.

[28] Decision, Rollo, p. 22.

[29] People v. Chua Ho San, supra.; citing People v. Burgos, 144 SCRA 1 [1986]; People v. Encinada, 280 SCRA 72 [1997]; People v. Montilla, 285 SCRA 703 [1998]; People v. Claudio, 160 SCRA 646 [1988]; People v. Maspil, Jr., 188 SCRA 751 [1988]; People v. Lo Ho Wing, 193 SCRA 122 [1991]; People v. Tangliben 184 SCRA 220 [1990]; Posadas v. Court of Appeals, 188 SCRA 288 [1990]; People v. Malmstedt, 198 SCRA 401 [1991].

[30] People v. Doria, supra.; citing Umil v. Ramos, 202 SCRA 251, 263 [1991]; United States v. Santos, 36 Phil. 851 [1917]; People v. Bati, 189 SCRA 97 [1990]; People v. Sucro, 195 SCRA 388 [1990] and People v. Ramos 186 SCRA 184 [1990].

[31] 163 SCRA 402, 409-410 [1988].

[32] 210 SCRA 174, 179-180 [1992]

[33] 280 SCRA 72, 86-87 [1997].

[34] 283 SCRA 159 [1997].

[35] Id., at 169.

[36] Id., at 175

[37] Id., at 178.

[38] Concurring Opinion of Justice Artemio V. Panganiban in People v. Doria, 301 SCRA 668, 720 (1999).

[39] TSN, November 26, 1996, p. 7.

[40] People v. Encinada, supra.

[41] Id., at 91; citing Aniag v. Commission on Elections, 237 SCRA 424, 436-437 [1994].



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