SC acquits Cebu drug convict arrested without warrant

THE Supreme Court (SC) has acquitted a convicted drug offender apprehended without arrest warrant in 2007.

In a decision dated August 17, the SC reversed and set aside the resolutions of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated May 20, 2013 and November 26, 2013, which affirmed the March 23, 2009 decision of the Cebu City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 58 that found Gerrjan Manago guilty of violating Section 11, Article II of Republic Act 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Acts of 2002.

In the 11-page decision penned by Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, the SC ruled that the accused-appellant Manago be acquitted as his arrest was "unreasonable and unlawful."

“In fine, Manago’s warrantless arrest, and the search incidental thereto, including that of his moving vehicle were all unreasonable and unlawful. In consequence, the shabu seized from him is rendered inadmissible in evidence pursuant to the exclusionary rule under Section 3 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution. Since the confiscated shabu is the very corpus delicti of the crime charged, Manago must necessarily be acquitted and exonerated from criminal liability,” the Court held.

Section 3, Article III of the 1987 Constitution provides that evidence obtained from unreasonable searches and seizures shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding.

On the evening of March 15, 2007, PO2 Antonio Din, a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Mobile Patrol Group, witnessed Manago, together with other individuals committing a crime of robbery. After the officer's brief shootout with the armed robbers, the latter fled using a motorcycle and a red Toyota Corolla.

Through an investigation and verification by police authorities, they found out that the armed robbers were staying in Barangay Del Rio Pit-os and traced the getaway vehicles to Manago.

On the next day, the police set up a checkpoint in Sitio Panagdait. The vehicle being driven by Manago passed by and was intercepted by the officers. The police then proceeded to search the Toyota Corola and the body of Manago, which yielded the plastic sachet containing shabu.

The SC, in its decision, stated that in the case of Manago, "the police officers had already conducted a thorough investigation and verification proceedings, which yielded, among others: the identities of the robbery suspects; the place where they reside; and the ownership of the getaway vehicles used in the robbery" and these pieces of information were already enough for the authorities to secure the necessary warrants against the suspects.

The SC also said that there is no need to set up a checkpoint as Manago is already identified.

The Court said that one of the recognized exceptions to the needs of a warrant before a search that may be effect is a search incidental to a lawful arrest. In this instance, the SC stressed that the law requires that there first be a lawful arrest before a search can be made and “the process cannot be reversed.”

The Court held that the authorities failed to meet the legal requirements and that the CA erred in ruling that Manago was lawfully arrested.

“In view of the finding that there was no lawful arrest in this case, the CA likewise erred in ruling that the incidental search on Manago’s vehicle and body was valid. In fact, the said search was made even before he was arrested and thus, violated the cardinal rule on searches incidental to lawful arrests that there first be a lawful arrest before a search can be made,” the Court held.

In 2009, Cebu City RTC found Manago guilty of possession of 0.4 grams of shabu and sentenced him to suffer 12 to 15 years imprisonment and payment of a fine amounting to P300,000.

The case was elevated to the CA which affirmed Manago’s conviction, prompting the accused-appellant to further elevate the case to the SC. (Sunnex)
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