[G.R. NO. 164815 : September 3, 2009]
SR. INSP. JERRY C. VALEROSO, Petitioner, v. COURT OF APPEALS and PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
For resolution is the Letter-Appeal1 of Senior Inspector (Sr. Insp.) Jerry C. Valeroso (Valeroso) praying that our February 22, 2008 Decision2 and June 30, 2008 Resolution3 be set aside and a new one be entered acquitting him of the crime of illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.
The facts are briefly stated as follows:
Valeroso was charged with violation of Presidential Decree No. 1866, committed as follows:
That on or about the 10th day of July, 1996, in Quezon City, Philippines, the said accused without any authority of law, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and knowingly have in his/her possession and under his/her custody and control
One (1) cal. 38 "Charter Arms" revolver bearing serial no. 52315 with five (5) live ammo.
without first having secured the necessary license/permit issued by the proper authorities.
CONTRARY TO LAW.4
When arraigned, Valeroso pleaded "not guilty."5 Trial on the merits ensued.
During trial, the prosecution presented two witnesses: Senior Police Officer (SPO)2 Antonio Disuanco (Disuanco) of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Central Police District Command; and Epifanio Deriquito (Deriquito), Records Verifier of the Firearms and Explosives Division in Camp Crame. Their testimonies are summarized as follows:
On July 10, 1996, at around 9:30 a.m., Disuanco received a Dispatch Order from the desk officer directing him and three (3) other policemen to serve a Warrant of Arrest, issued by Judge Ignacio Salvador, against Valeroso for a case of kidnapping with ransom.6
After a briefing, the team conducted the necessary surveillance on Valeroso checking his hideouts in Cavite, Caloocan, and Bulacan. Eventually, the team members proceeded to the Integrated National Police (INP) Central Police Station in Culiat, Quezon City, where they saw Valeroso about to board a tricyle. Disuanco and his team approached Valeroso. They put him under arrest, informed him of his constitutional rights, and bodily searched him. They found a Charter Arms revolver, bearing Serial No. 52315, with five (5) pieces of live ammunition, tucked in his waist.7
Valeroso was then brought to the police station for questioning. Upon verification in the Firearms and Explosives Division in Camp Crame, Deriquito presented a certification8 that the subject firearm was not issued to Valeroso, but was licensed in the name of a certain Raul Palencia Salvatierra of Sampaloc, Manila.9
On the other hand, Valeroso, SPO3 Agustin R. Timbol, Jr. (Timbol), and Adrian Yuson testified for the defense. Their testimonies are summarized as follows:
On July 10, 1996, Valeroso was sleeping inside a room in the boarding house of his children located at Sagana Homes, Barangay New Era, Quezon City. He was awakened by four (4) heavily armed men in civilian attire who pointed their guns at him and pulled him out of the room.10 The raiding team tied his hands and placed him near the faucet (outside the room) then went back inside, searched and ransacked the room. Moments later, an operative came out of the room and exclaimed, "Hoy, may nakuha akong baril sa loob!"11
Disuanco informed Valeroso that there was a standing warrant for his arrest. However, the raiding team was not armed with a search warrant.12
On May 6, 1998, the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 97, Quezon City, convicted Valeroso as charged and sentenced him to suffer the indeterminate penalty of four (4) years, two (2) months and one (1) day, as minimum, to six (6) years, as maximum. The gun subject of the case was further ordered confiscated in favor of the government.15
On appeal, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed16 the RTC decision but the minimum term of the indeterminate penalty was lowered to four (4) years and two (2) months.
Valeroso is again before us through this Letter-Appeal20 imploring this Court to once more take a contemplative reflection and deliberation on the case, focusing on his breached constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.21
Meanwhile, as the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) failed to timely file its Comment on Valeroso's Motion for Reconsideration, it instead filed a Manifestation in Lieu of Comment.22
In its Manifestation, the OSG changed its previous position and now recommends Valeroso's acquittal. After a second look at the evidence presented, the OSG considers the testimonies of the witnesses for the defense more credible and thus concludes that Valeroso was arrested in a boarding house. More importantly, the OSG agrees with Valeroso that the subject firearm was obtained by the police officers in violation of Valeroso's constitutional right against illegal search and seizure, and should thus be excluded from the evidence for the prosecution. Lastly, assuming that the subject firearm was admissible in evidence, still, Valeroso could not be convicted of the crime, since he was able to establish his authority to possess the gun through the Memorandum Receipt issued by his superiors.
After considering anew Valeroso's arguments through his Letter-Appeal, together with the OSG's position recommending his acquittal, and keeping in mind that substantial rights must ultimately reign supreme over technicalities, this Court is swayed to reconsider.23
The Letter-Appeal is actually in the nature of a second motion for reconsideration. While a second motion for reconsideration is, as a general rule, a prohibited pleading, it is within the sound discretion of the Court to admit the same, provided it is filed with prior leave whenever substantive justice may be better served thereby.24
This is not the first time that this Court is suspending its own rules or excepting a particular case from the operation of the rules. In De Guzman v. Sandiganbayan,25 despite the denial of De Guzman's motion for reconsideration, we still entertained his Omnibus Motion, which was actually a second motion for reconsideration. Eventually, we reconsidered our earlier decision and remanded the case to the Sandiganbayan for reception and appreciation of petitioner's evidence. In that case, we said that if we would not compassionately bend backwards and flex technicalities, petitioner would surely experience the disgrace and misery of incarceration for a crime which he might not have committed after all.26 Also in Astorga v. People,27 on a second motion for reconsideration, we set aside our earlier decision, re-examined the records of the case, then finally acquitted Benito Astorga of the crime of Arbitrary Detention on the ground of reasonable doubt. And in Sta. Rosa Realty Development Corporation v. Amante,28 by virtue of the January 13, 2004 En Banc Resolution, the Court authorized the Special First Division to suspend the Rules, so as to allow it to consider and resolve respondent's second motion for reconsideration after the motion was heard on oral arguments. After a re-examination of the merits of the case, we granted the second motion for reconsideration and set aside our earlier decision.
Clearly, suspension of the rules of procedure, to pave the way for the re-examination of the findings of fact and conclusions of law earlier made, is not without basis.
We would like to stress that rules of procedure are merely tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice. They are conceived and promulgated to effectively aid the courts in the dispensation of justice. Courts are not slaves to or robots of technical rules, shorn of judicial discretion. In rendering justice, courts have always been, as they ought to be, conscientiously guided by the norm that, on the balance, technicalities take a backseat to substantive rights, and not the other way around. Thus, if the application of the Rules would tend to frustrate rather than to promote justice, it would always be within our power to suspend the rules or except a particular case from its operation.29
Now on the substantive aspect.
The Court notes that the version of the prosecution, as to where Valeroso was arrested, is different from the version of the defense. The prosecution claims that Valeroso was arrested near the INP Central Police Station in Culiat, Quezon City, while he was about to board a tricycle. After placing Valeroso under arrest, the arresting officers bodily searched him, and they found the subject firearm and ammunition. The defense, on the other hand, insists that he was arrested inside the boarding house of his children. After serving the warrant of arrest (allegedly for kidnapping with ransom), some of the police officers searched the boarding house and forcibly opened a cabinet where they discovered the subject firearm.
After a thorough re-examination of the records and consideration of the joint appeal for acquittal by Valeroso and the OSG, we find that we must give more credence to the version of the defense.
Valeroso's appeal for acquittal focuses on his constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure alleged to have been violated by the arresting police officers; and if so, would render the confiscated firearm and ammunition inadmissible in evidence against him.
The right against unreasonable searches and seizures is secured by Section 2, Article III of the Constitution which states:
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.
From this constitutional provision, it can readily be gleaned that, as a general rule, the procurement of a warrant is required before a law enforcer can validly search or seize the person, house, papers, or effects of any individual.30
To underscore the significance the law attaches to the fundamental right of an individual against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Constitution succinctly declares in Article III, Section 3(2), that "any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding."31
The above proscription is not, however, absolute. The following are the well-recognized instances where searches and seizures are allowed even without a valid warrant:
1. Warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest;
2. [Seizure] of evidence in "plain view." The elements are: a) a prior valid intrusion based on the valid warrantless arrest in which the police are legally present in the pursuit of their official duties; b) the evidence was inadvertently discovered by the police who have the right to be where they are; c) the evidence must be immediately apparent; and d) "plain view" justified mere seizure of evidence without further search;
3. Search of a moving vehicle. Highly regulated by the government, the vehicle's inherent mobility reduces expectation of privacy especially when its transit in public thoroughfares furnishes a highly reasonable suspicion amounting to probable cause that the occupant committed a criminal activity;
4. Consented warrantless search;
5. Customs search;
6. Stop and Frisk;
7. Exigent and emergency circumstances.32
8. Search of vessels and aircraft; [and]
9. Inspection of buildings and other premises for the enforcement of fire, sanitary and building regulations.33
In the exceptional instances where a warrant is not necessary to effect a valid search or seizure, what constitutes a reasonable or unreasonable search or seizure is purely a judicial question, determinable from the uniqueness of the circumstances involved, including the purpose of the search or seizure, the presence or absence of probable cause, the manner in which the search and seizure was made, the place or thing searched, and the character of the articles procured.34
In light of the enumerated exceptions, and applying the test of reasonableness laid down above, is the warrantless search and seizure of the firearm and ammunition valid?cralawred
We answer in the negative.
For one, the warrantless search could not be justified as an incident to a lawful arrest. Searches and seizures incident to lawful arrests are governed by Section 13, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, which reads:
SEC. 13. Search incident to lawful arrest. - A person lawfully arrested may be searched for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in the commission of an offense without a search warrant.
We would like to stress that the scope of the warrantless search is not without limitations. In People v. Leangsiri,35 People v. Cubcubin, Jr.,36 and People v. Estella,37 we had the occasion to lay down the parameters of a valid warrantless search and seizure as an incident to a lawful arrest.
When an arrest is made, it is reasonable for the arresting officer to search the person arrested in order to remove any weapon that the latter might use in order to resist arrest or effect his escape. Otherwise, the officer's safety might well be endangered, and the arrest itself frustrated. In addition, it is entirely reasonable for the arresting officer to search for and seize any evidence on the arrestee's person in order to prevent its concealment or destruction.38
Moreover, in lawful arrests, it becomes both the duty and the right of the apprehending officers to conduct a warrantless search not only on the person of the suspect, but also in the permissible area within the latter's reach.39 Otherwise stated, a valid arrest allows the seizure of evidence or dangerous weapons either on the person of the one arrested or within the area of his immediate control.40 The phrase "within the area of his immediate control" means the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.41 A gun on a table or in a drawer in front of one who is arrested can be as dangerous to the arresting officer as one concealed in the clothing of the person arrested.42
In the present case, Valeroso was arrested by virtue of a warrant of arrest allegedly for kidnapping with ransom. At that time, Valeroso was sleeping inside the boarding house of his children. He was awakened by the arresting officers who were heavily armed. They pulled him out of the room, placed him beside the faucet outside the room, tied his hands, and then put him under the care of Disuanco.43 The other police officers remained inside the room and ransacked the locked cabinet44 where they found the subject firearm and ammunition.45 With such discovery, Valeroso was charged with illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.
From the foregoing narration of facts, we can readily conclude that the arresting officers served the warrant of arrest without any resistance from Valeroso. They placed him immediately under their control by pulling him out of the bed, and bringing him out of the room with his hands tied. To be sure, the cabinet which, according to Valeroso, was locked, could no longer be considered as an "area within his immediate control" because there was no way for him to take any weapon or to destroy any evidence that could be used against him.
The arresting officers would have been justified in searching the person of Valeroso, as well as the tables or drawers in front of him, for any concealed weapon that might be used against the former. But under the circumstances obtaining, there was no comparable justification to search through all the desk drawers and cabinets or the other closed or concealed areas in that room itself.46
It is worthy to note that the purpose of the exception (warrantless search as an incident to a lawful arrest) is to protect the arresting officer from being harmed by the person arrested, who might be armed with a concealed weapon, and to prevent the latter from destroying evidence within reach. The exception, therefore, should not be strained beyond what is needed to serve its purpose.47 In the case before us, search was made in the locked cabinet which cannot be said to have been within Valeroso's immediate control. Thus, the search exceeded the bounds of what may be considered as an incident to a lawful arrest.48
Nor can the warrantless search in this case be justified under the "plain view doctrine."
The "plain view doctrine" may not be used to launch unbridled searches and indiscriminate seizures or to extend a general exploratory search made solely to find evidence of defendant's guilt. The doctrine is usually applied where a police officer is not searching for evidence against the accused, but nonetheless inadvertently comes across an incriminating object.49
What the "plain view" cases have in common is that the police officer in each of them had a prior justification for an intrusion in the course of which[,] he came inadvertently across a piece of evidence incriminating the accused. The doctrine serves to supplement the prior justification - whether it be a warrant for another object, hot pursuit, search incident to lawful arrest, or some other legitimate reason for being present unconnected with a search directed against the accused - and permits the warrantless seizure. Of course, the extension of the original justification is legitimate only where it is immediately apparent to the police that they have evidence before them; the "plain view" doctrine may not be used to extend a general exploratory search from one object to another until something incriminating at last emerges.52
Indeed, the police officers were inside the boarding house of Valeroso's children, because they were supposed to serve a warrant of arrest issued against Valeroso. In other words, the police officers had a prior justification for the intrusion. Consequently, any evidence that they would inadvertently discover may be used against Valeroso. However, in this case, the police officers did not just accidentally discover the subject firearm and ammunition; they actually searched for evidence against Valeroso.
Clearly, the search made was illegal, a violation of Valeroso's right against unreasonable search and seizure. Consequently, the evidence obtained in violation of said right is inadmissible in evidence against him.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Unreasonable searches and seizures are the menace against which the constitutional guarantees afford full protection. While the power to search and seize may at times be necessary for public welfare, still it may be exercised and the law enforced without transgressing the constitutional rights of the citizens, for no enforcement of any statute is of sufficient importance to justify indifference to the basic principles of government. Those who are supposed to enforce the law are not justified in disregarding the rights of an individual in the name of order. Order is too high a price to pay for the loss of liberty.53
Because a warrantless search is in derogation of a constitutional right, peace officers who conduct it cannot invoke regularity in the performance of official functions.54
The Bill of Rights is the bedrock of constitutional government. If people are stripped naked of their rights as human beings, democracy cannot survive and government becomes meaningless. This explains why the Bill of Rights, contained as it is in Article III of the Constitution, occupies a position of primacy in the fundamental law way above the articles on governmental power.55
Without the illegally seized firearm, Valeroso's conviction cannot stand. There is simply no sufficient evidence to convict him.56 All told, the guilt of Valeroso was not proven beyond reasonable doubt measured by the required moral certainty for conviction. The evidence presented by the prosecution was not enough to overcome the presumption of innocence as constitutionally ordained. Indeed, it would be better to set free ten men who might probably be guilty of the crime charged than to convict one innocent man for a crime he did not commit.57
With the foregoing disquisition, there is no more need to discuss the other issues raised by Valeroso.
One final note. The Court values liberty and will always insist on the observance of basic constitutional rights as a condition sine qua non against the awesome investigative and prosecutory powers of the government.58
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the February 22, 2008 Decision and June 30, 2008 Resolution are RECONSIDERED and SET ASIDE. Sr. Insp. Jerry Valeroso is hereby ACQUITTED of illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.
1 Rollo, pp. 229-232.
2 Id. at 148-165.
3 Id. at 227.
4 Records, p. 1.
5 Id. at 33.
6 Rollo, p. 149.
8 Exh. "C," Folder of Exhibits.
9 Rollo, pp. 149-150.
10 Id. at 39.
11 Valeroso's testimony was corroborated by Yuson; id. at 151.
12 Rollo, p. 152.
13 Exh. "1," Folder of Exhibits.
14 Rollo, p. 152.
15 The decision was penned by Judge Oscar L. Leviste; id. at 38-45.
16 Embodied in a decision dated May 4, 2004, penned by Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr., with Associate Justices Danilo B. Pine and Edgardo F. Sundiam, concurring; rollo, pp. 16-31.
17 Rollo, pp. 148-165.
18 Id. at 169-177.
19 Id. at 227.
20 Supra note 1.
21 Rollo, p. 230.
22 Id. at 239-270.
23 See De Guzman v. Sandiganbayan, 326 Phil. 182 (1996).
24 Astorga v. People, G.R. No. 154130, August 20, 2004, 437 SCRA 152, 155.
25 Supra note 23.
26 De Guzman v. Sandiganbayan, id. at 191.
27 Supra note 24.
28 G.R. NOS. 112526 and 118838, March 16, 2005, 453 SCRA 432.
29 Astorga v. People, supra note 24, at 155-156.
30 People v. Sevilla, 394 Phil. 125, 139 (2000).
32 People v. Tudtud, G.R. No. 144037, September 26, 2003, 412 SCRA 142, 153-154; Caballes v. Court of Appeals, 424 Phil. 263, 277 (2002); People v. Sevilla, supra note 30, at 139-140; People v. Aruta, 351 Phil. 868, 879-880 (1998).
33 Nachura, Antonio Eduardo B., Outline Reviewer in Political Law, 2009, pp. 139-142.
34 Caballes v. Court of Appeals, supra note 32, at 278.
35 322 Phil. 226 (1996).
36 413 Phil 249 (2001).
37 443 Phil. 669 (2003).
38 People v. Estella, id. at 685.
39 People v. Cueno, 359 Phil. 151, 163 (1998).
40 People v. Cubcubin, Jr., supra note 36, at 271; see People v. Leangsiri, supra note 35.
41 People v. Estella, supra note 37, at 685.
43 TSN, February 19, 1997, pp. 21-25.
44 TSN, March 17, 1997, p. 27.
45 Id. at 3.
46 People v. Estella, supra note 37, at 685.
48 Id. at 686.
49 People v. Cubcubin, Jr., supra note 40, at 271; People v. Leangsiri, supra note 35, at 249.
50 Supra note 40.
51 Supra note 35.
52 People v. Cubcubin, Jr., supra note 36, at 272; People v. Leangsiri, supra note 35, at 249-250.
53 People v. Aruta, supra note 32, at 895.
54 People v. Cubcubin, Jr., supra note 36, at 270-271.
55 People v. Tudtud, supra note 32, at 168.
56 People v. Sarap, 447 Phil. 642, 652 (2003).
57 Id. at 652-653.
58 People v. Januario, 335 Phil. 268, 304 (1997).