June 4, 2023

I have received a lot of text messages from unknown senders; some good, bad, ugly, and of course, there is no way one could discover the texter’s identity. The result is to ignore them all, but what if it leads to criminal prosecution?
In June, 2014, Jerry Sapla; aboard a jeepney from Tabuk City, Kalinga bound for Roxas, Isabela; was arrested by policemen by virtue of an anonymous tip from an unverified source that he was the owner of a sack containing four bricks of marijuana in the jeep. He was found guilty of illegal possession of prohibited drugs and was sentenced by the Kalinga Regional Trial Court to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment or an equivalent of 40 years and pay a fine of P5 million. The Court of Appeals affirmed the sentence but reduced the fine to P1M. Sapla’s case went up to the Supreme Court for review.
On June 16, the High Court handed a decision whereby it resolved once and for all warrantless arrests, especially those coming from tipsters through SMS.
Sapla was acquitted because the marijuana evidence was “illegally” obtained by the policemen who arrested him and searched his “person” on the sole basis of a text message from hearsay or tsismis.
The ponente was Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa who noted that “jurisprudence has vacillated over the years” on the question of whether an accused could be convicted on the basis of an unverified tip relayed by an anonymous informant. Thus, to settle the issue “once and for all,” he came to the veritable conclusion that 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.”
Former Chief Artemio Panganiban, ruling in People v. Montilla (Jan. 30, 1998), was cited to justify why “tipped information alone” is sorely insufficient to empower policemen to search for and/or seize prohibited drugs.He was quoted thereby making the jurisprudence: “Everyone would be practically at the mercy of so-called informants, reminiscent of the “makapilis” during the Japanese occupation. Anyone 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.”
Caguioa 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.” Penetrates the heart, very well said! Sigh.

Passages : Belated happy birthday to Doc Willy last Sept. 12, who has always been there for us through thick or thin. Although we find ourselves in the opposite corners of the universe brought about by the pandemic, the respect, trust, and friendship continue. Cheers!

Condolences to the family of Gen. Jess Cambay whose father passed on to the happy hunting grounds.
Likewise, to those whose lives have been touched by former Benguet Electric Cooperative general manager Gerry Verzosa whose departure has been blemished by men hiding under the skirt of press freedom. Being a journalist does not give one the freedom to act as one wishes or thinks best, considering the privacy of those left behind.
May their souls rest in peace.

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