G.R. No. 244045 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Search and Seizure – Informant’s Tip Alone Cannot Engender Probable Cause
In the morning of 10 January 2014, an unnamed officer at the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) in Tabuk, Kalinga received a text message from an informant (concerned citizen) that an individual will be transporting marijuana from Kalinga to Isabela. PO2 Jim Mabiasan (not the officer who received the text message) then relayed the information to the deputy commander who coordinated with the PDEA.
About 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day, a follow up information via text message was received by the RPSB this time detailing the description of the drug courier, to wit: male, wearing collared white shirt with green stripes, red ball cap, and carrying a blue sack; he will be boarding a passenger jeepney bearing plate number AYA 270 bound for Roxas, Isabela.
Based on this information, a checkpoint was organized by the PNP.
At around 1:20 o’clock, the jeepney arrived. The police officers stopped the jeepney and inside they saw the person described in the text message they received. They approached said person and asked him if the blue sack in front of him was his. The person answered yes. The police officers then requested the person to open the blue sack. The person hesitated but he eventually complied. The content of the blue sack was four bricks of marijuana. The person was later identified as Jerry Sapla.
In court, Sapla denied the allegations as he claimed that when he boarded the jeep, he did not have any sack with him; that the blue sack was only attributed as belonging to him by the police. Sapla was convicted by the trial court. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and ruled that the informant’s tip was sufficient to engender probable cause upon the minds of the police officers; that it was sufficient to conduct a warrantless search and seizure.
ISSUE: Whether or not an informant’s tip is sufficient to engender probable cause?
HELD: No. In a long line of cases (Pp. vs Aminnudin, Pp. vs Cuizon, Pp. vs Encinada, Pp. vs Aruta, Pp. vs Cogaed, Veridiano vs Pp., Pp. vs Comprado, Pp. vs Yanson, and Pp. vs Gardon-Mentoy), the Supreme Court has always said that a mere informant’s tip is not sufficient to engender probable cause. The police officer receiving the informant’s tip must rely on his senses. The police officer must not adopt the suspicion initiated by another person. The police officer, with his/her personal knowledge, must observe the facts leading to the suspicion of an illicit act and not merely rely on the information passed on to him/her.
Law enforcers cannot act solely on the basis of a tip. A tip is still hearsay no matter how reliable it may be. It is not sufficient to constitute probable cause in the absence of any other circumstance that will arouse suspicion.
The Supreme Court noted that there were two previous decisions (Pp. vs Maspil and Pp. vs Bagista) which ruled that a confidential tip was sufficient to engender probable cause, however, the Supreme Court in this case declared that these two cases are now being abandoned to settle the issue once and for all.
The Supreme Court also found the text message to be double hearsay: (1) the person who actually received the text message was not presented, and (2) the person who received the text message merely relayed it to the officers who conducted the warrantless search and seizure without the latter actually seeing/reading the actual text message. Further, the text message was not preserved. It also appeared that the phone which received the text message was not a government issued one – this belies the claim of the officers that the message was received by their hotline.
ISSUE 2: Whether or not the police officers may justify the search as a search of a moving vehicle.
HELD: No. As a rule, searches and seizures must be done with a court issued warrant. There are exceptions such as search of a moving vehicle where a valid warrantless search and seizure may be effected. But this exception comes with strict parameters which are: a) if the vehicle is parked on public fair grounds, the officer may only draw aside its curtain, b) the officer may only look into the vehicle, c) the officer may only flash a light without opening the vehicle’s doors, d) the occupants of the vehicle are not subjected to physical/body search, e) limited to visual search, f) if done as a routine check, must be conducted in a fixed area.
This case does not fall under search of a moving vehicle because the target of the search was not the jeepney boarded by Sapla but rather the target was the person of Sapla. Based on the testimony of the police officers, their actual target was the person fitting the description provided by the tip which corresponded to Sapla and not the vehicle.
ISSUE 3: Whether or not the police officers may justify the search as consented search.
HELD: No. Based on the testimony of the police officers, Sapla hesitated when he was requested to open the blue sack. This only means that he did not give his consent and that his compliance was vitiated by the presence of the police.
With all the foregoing, the search and seizure conducted was invalid and any evidence obtained therefrom is inadmissible. Sapla was acquitted. The Supreme Court likewise emphasized the need to adhere to strict standards set by the Constitution otherwise “A battle waged against illegal drugs that tramples on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs; it is a war against the people.”