Saturday, September 27, 2008

Warrantless arrest

In the recent case of PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES vs. RICARDO ALUNDAY, G.R. No. 181546, September 3, 2008, which involved a violation of Section 9, Republic Act No. 6425, otherwise known as “The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972”, the accused assails his conviction for being improper and illegal and asserts that the court a quo never acquired jurisdiction over his person because he was arrested without a warrant and that his warrantless arrest was not done under any of the circumstances enumerated in Section 5, Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules of Court.

He insists that the arresting officers had three months within which to secure a warrant from the time they received the information about an existing marijuana plantation in Mount Churyon, Sadanga, in May 2000, until they effected his arrest on 3 August 2000. Also, accused maintains that the arresting officers’ failure to secure a warrant can never be justified by the urgency of the situation.

Section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. - A peace officer or a private person may, without a 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;

(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; and

(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or 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.

Section 5(a) provides that 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. Section 5(a) refers to arrest in flagrante delicto. In flagrante delicto means caught in the act of committing a crime. This rule, which warrants the arrest of a person without warrant, requires that the person arrested has just committed a crime, or is committing it, or is about to commit an offense, in the presence or within view of the arresting officer.

In this case, the Intelligence Section of the Provincial Office of the Mountain Province received the information sometime in May 2000, and accused-appellant was arrested during the police raid at the plantation at Mount Churyon, Sadanga, only on 3 August 2000. This is so because the arrest was effected only after a series of validations conducted by the team to verify or confirm the report that indeed a marijuana plantation existed at the area and after an operation plan was formed. As admitted by the accused in his supplemental brief, the information about the existing marijuana plantation was finally confirmed only on 2 August 2000. On 3 August 2000, the arresting team proceeded to the marijuana plantation. It saw the accused personally cutting and gathering marijuana plants. Thus, accused’s arrest on 3 August 2000 was legal, because he was caught in flagrante delicto; that is, the persons arrested were committing a crime in the presence of the arresting officers.

The Court held that when a police officer sees the offense, although at a distance, or hears the disturbances created thereby, and proceeds at once to the scene thereof, he may effect an arrest without a warrant on the basis of Section 5, par. (a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court as the offense is deemed committed in his presence or within his view. In essence, Section 5, par. (a), Rule 113, requires that the accused be caught in flagrante delicto or caught in the act of committing a crime.

The Court held that any objection involving a warrant of arrest or the procedure for the acquisition by the court of jurisdiction over the person of the accused must be made before he enters his plea; otherwise, the objection is deemed waived. An accused may be estopped from assailing the illegality of his arrest if he fails to move for the quashing of the information against him before his arraignment. And since the legality of an arrest affects only the jurisdiction of the court over the person of the accused, any defect in the arrest of the accused may be deemed cured when he voluntarily submits to the jurisdiction of the trial court. The illegal arrest of an accused is not a sufficient cause for setting aside a valid judgment rendered upon a sufficient complaint after a trial free from error; such arrest does not negate the validity of the conviction of the accused.

In this case, the accused went into arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. Thereafter, he actively participated in his trial. He raised the additional issue of irregularity of his arrest only during his appeal to this Court. He is, therefore, deemed to have waived such alleged defect by submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the court by his counsel-assisted plea during his arraignment; by his actively participating in the trial and by not raising the objection before his arraignment.

The Court stated that it was much too late in the day to complain about the warrantless arrest after a valid information has been filed, the accused arraigned, trial commenced and completed, and a judgment of conviction rendered against him.

Accused was not denied due process by virtue of his alleged illegal arrest, because of his voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the trial court, as manifested by the voluntary and counsel-assisted plea he entered during arraignment and by his active participation in the trial thereafter.

As to the issue of credibility of the police witnesses, the Court stated that credence is given to prosecution witnesses who are police officers, for they are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Where there is nothing to indicate that the witnesses for the prosecution were moved by improper motives, the presumption is that they were not so moved and their testimony, therefore, is entitled to full faith and credit. In this case, the records are bereft of any indication which even remotely suggests ill motive on the part of the police officers. The Court supported the following observations of the trial court, thus:

Absent as it is in the record indications of personal interest or improper motive on their part to testify against the accused, the witnesses for the prosecution being government law enforcers and/or officials, actually present during the incident in question in the performance of their duties, are trustworthy sources. And the recollections in open court of such witnesses of the events that transpired on the occasion, given in clear and direct manner, corroborating and complimenting each other on material points, and highly probable in the natural order of things, are easy to believe and thus accorded full credence.

In contrast, the accused himself, his aunt, and his daughter who testified in behalf of the former are obviously biased and unreliable witnesses on account of self-interest and blood kinship. Situated as they are, their inclination to be truthful is highly suspect. And quite aside from being self-serving and dubious, their testimonies are inconsistent, and manifestly concocted or improbable to be seriously considered.

The Court also affirmed the questioned decision of the Court of Appeals, thus:
It is jurisprudential that factual findings of trial courts especially those which revolve on matters of credibility of witnesses deserve to be respected when no glaring errors bordering on a gross misapprehension of the facts, or where no speculative, arbitrary and unsupported conclusions, can be gleaned from such findings. The evaluation of the credibility of witnesses and their testimonies are best undertaken by the trial court because of its unique opportunity to observe the witnesses’ deportment, demeanor, conduct and attitude under grilling examination.

We have carefully scrutinized the record and found no cogent reason to depart from this rule.

x x x x

Indeed, in the case at bench, the prosecution was able to establish the following with conviction:

(1) On 3 August 2000, a police continent raided a marijuana plantation located in Mount Churyon, Sadanga, Mountain Province.

(2) In the course thereof, appellant was seen cutting and gathering marijuana plants from the premises.

(3) There were no other plants except marijuana which were growing in the said area.

(4) There was a hut apparently used by appellant and an old woman as a camp or temporary dwelling which existed alone within the area of the subject plantation.

(5) The samples taken from the said plantation were all found to be positive for marijuana.

On the face of these positive testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, appellant’s bare denials must necessarily fail. Moreover, it is interesting to note that appellant never mentioned his aunt, Wayto Alunday, in his testimony. In fact, she contradicted appellant’s testimony when she said that he ate and slept in her hut. This only bolsters the conclusion that Wayto Alunday was not present when appellant was captured by the police.

X x x.

The Court stated that the defense of denial cannot prevail over the positive identification of the accused. It did not deviate from the Court of Appeals’ valid observation, thus:

Aside from appellant’s preposterous claim that he was looking for squash in the subject area where only marijuana plants were planted, he did not advance any explanation for his presence thereat. Besides, prosecution witness Saipen categorically stated that he caught appellant red-handed harvesting marijuana plants. Thus, We find it facetious that appellant did not even know what a marijuana plant looked like.

Appellant asserts that the plantation in question was maintained by the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army which witness Cayad confirmed likewise. Thus, appellant theorizes that he could not have been the perpetrator of the crime charged.

We find appellant’s assertion specious. A perusal of Section 9, Art. II of R.A. No. 6425 shows that a violation exists when a person shall cultivate, plant or culture on any medium Indian hemp, opium poppy (papaver somniferum) or any other plant which may hereafter be classified as dangerous drug. Indeed, ownership of the land where the marijuana seedlings are planted, cultivated and cultured is not a requisite of the offense.

X x x.


Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.