Second DIVISION

June 3, 2019

G.R. No. 238659

FRANKLIN B. VAPOROSO AND JOELREN B. TULILIK, Petitioners
vs.
PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Respondent

D E C I S I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

Before the Court is a petition for review on certiorari1 filed by petitioners Franklin B. Vaporoso (Vaporoso) and Joelren B. Tulilik (Tulilik; collectively, petitioners) assailing the Decision2 dated November 17, 2017 and the Resolution3 dated February 26, 2018 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. CR No. 01414-MIN which affirmed the Decision4 dated December 14, 2015 of the Regional Trial Court of Panabo City, Davao del Norte, Branch 34 (RTC) in Criminal Case Nos. CrC 430-2013 and CrC 431- 2013, finding them guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, defined and penalized under Section 11, Article II of Republic Act No. 9165,5 otherwise known as the "Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002."

The Facts

This case stemmed from two (2) separate Informations6 filed before the RTC charging petitioners of the crime of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs. The prosecution alleged that at around 7:00 in the evening of August 25, 2013, while Police Officer 2 Alexander D. Torculas (PO2 Torculas) was patrolling along National Highway, Barangay Salvacion, Panabo City, he noticed two (2) men - later on identified as petitioners - aboard a motorcycle with the back rider holding a lady bag which appeared to have been taken from a vehicle parked on the side of the road. When PO2 Torculas shouted at petitioners to halt, the latter sped away. At this point, the owner of the vehicle, Narcisa Dombase (Dombase), approached PO2 Torculas and told him that petitioners broke the window of her vehicle and took her belongings. This prompted PO2 Torculas to chase petitioners until the latter entered a dark, secluded area in Bangoy Street, prompting him to call for back-up.7 Shortly after, Police Officer 1 Ryan B. Malibago (PO1 Malibago), together with some Intel Operatives, arrived and joined PO2 Torculas in waiting for petitioners to come out of the aforesaid area.8

About six (6) hours later, or at around 1:00 in the morning of the following day, PO2 Torculas and PO1 Malibago saw petitioners come out and decided to approach them. Petitioners, however, attempted to flee, but PO2 Torculas and PO1 Malibago were able to apprehend them.9 After successfully recovering Dombase's bags and belongings from petitioners,10 the police officers conducted an initial cursory body search on the latter, and thereafter, brought them to the Panabo Police Station. Thereat, the police officers conducted another "more thorough" search on petitioners, which yielded (5) plastic sachets containing white crystalline substance from Vaporoso and four (4) plastic sachets with similar white crystalline substance from Tulilik. PO1 Malibago then marked the said items in the presence of petitioners and conducted the requisite photo-taking and inventory in the presence of Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Ian Dionalo, Kagawad Elpidio Pugata, and media representative Jun Gumban. At around 10:15 in the morning of August 26, 2013, the seized items were turned over to the Provincial Crime Laboratory of Tagum City, where, upon examination, tested positive for the presence of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu, a dangerous drug.11 On December 18, 2013, the subject sachets were delivered to the court.12

During arraignment, or on October 9, 2013, petitioners pleaded not guilty to the charges.13 On September 10, 2015, trial was dispensed with as the parties agreed to simply stipulate on the factual matters of the case.14 On September 16, 2015, they were directed to submit their respective memorandum. 15

The RTC Ruling

In a Decision16 dated December 14, 2015, the RTC found petitioners guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs, and accordingly, sentenced each of them to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of fourteen (14) years, as minimum, to seventeen (17) years, as maximum, and ordered each of them to pay a fine of ₱300,000.00.17 Ultimately, it ruled that the subsequent search conducted at the police station was a justifiable search incidental to a lawful arrest, considering that: (a) petitioners were validly arrested and thereafter placed in custody; (b) their administrative processing was not yet completed when they were searched at the police station; and (c) no substantial time had elapsed between the initial search at the place of the arrest and the subsequent search at the police station.18

Aggrieved, petitioners filed an appeal19 before the CA.

The CA Ruling

In a Decision20 dated November 17, 2017, the CA affirmed in toto the ruling of the RTC that the body search conducted on petitioners at the police station was a valid search incidental to a lawful arrest.21 It held that under Rule 19 of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Handbook (PNPM-DO-DS-3-2-13), a search is permissible and intended to screen contraband items or deadly weapons from suspects before placing them behind bars.22 The CA also noted that the police officers substantially complied with the chain of custody requirement, which was categorically admitted by both parties in their stipulation of facts. On the other hand, it ruled that petitioners neither presented any evidence to support their defenses of denial and frame-up nor provided any explanation as to how they were able to possess the said prohibited drugs.23

Undaunted, petitioners sought reconsideration,24 which was denied in a Resolution25 dated February 26, 2018; hence, this petition.

The Court's Ruling

At the outset, it must be stressed that in criminal cases, an appeal throws the entire case wide open for review and the reviewing tribunal can correct errors, though unassigned in the appealed judgment, or even reverse the trial court's decision based on grounds other than those that the parties raised as errors. The appeal confers the appellate court full jurisdiction over the case and renders such court competent to examine records, revise the judgment appealed from, increase the penalty, and cite the proper provision of the penal law.26

Guided by this parameter and as will be explained hereunder, the Court is of the view that petitioners' conviction must be set aside.

I.

A judicial perusal of the records reveals that the arresting police officers conducted a total of two (2) searches on petitioners, namely: (a) the body search after the police officers apprehended them; and (b) a "more thorough" search conducted at the Panabo Police Station where the seized drugs were allegedly recovered from them. In this regard, petitioners insist that these were illegal searches, and thus, the items supposedly seized therefrom are inadmissible in evidence. On the other hand, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), as representative of the people, maintains that the courts a quo correctly ruled that the drugs seized from petitioners were products of a valid search incidental to a lawful warrantless arrest.27

In view of the foregoing assertions, it behooves the Court to ascertain whether or not the police officers lawfully arrested petitioners without a warrant, as the resolution thereof is determinative of the validity of the consequent search made on them. This is because in searches incidental to a lawful arrest, the law requires that there first be a lawful arrest before a search can be made - the process cannot be reversed.28 At this point, the Court notes that petitioners failed to question the legality of their arrest, and in fact, actively participated in the trial of the case. As such, they are deemed to have waived any objections involving the same.29 Nonetheless, it must be clarified that the foregoing constitutes a waiver only as to any question concerning any defects in their arrest, and not with regard to the inadmissibility of the evidence seized during an illegal warrantless arrest. In Sindac v. People,30 the Court held:

We agree with the respondent that the petitioner did not timely object to the irregularity of his arrest before his arraignment as required by the Rules. In addition, he actively participated in the trial of the case. As a result, the petitioner is deemed to have submitted to the jurisdiction of the trial court, thereby curing any defect in his arrest.

However, this waiver to question an illegal arrest only affects the jurisdiction of the court over his person. It is well-settled that a waiver of an illegal, warrantless arrest does not carry with it a waiver of the inadmissibility of evidence seized during an illegal warrantless arrest.

Since the shabu was seized during an illegal arrest, its inadmissibility as evidence precludes conviction and justifies the acquittal of the petitioner.31 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

In this light, there is a need to determine whether or not the police officers conducted a valid warrantless arrest on petitioners, notwithstanding the latter's waiver to question the same.

II.

Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure provides the general parameters for effecting lawful warrantless arrests, to wit:

Section 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.

In cases falling under paragraphs (a) and (b) above, the person arrested without a warrant shall be forthwith delivered to the nearest police station or jail and shall be proceeded against in accordance with Section 7 of Rule 112.

Based on the foregoing provision, there are three (3) instances when warrantless arrests may be lawfully effected.1шphi1 These are: (a) an arrest of a suspect in flagrante delicto; (b) an arrest of a suspect where, based on personal knowledge of the arresting officer, there is probable cause that said suspect was the perpetrator of a crime which had just been committed; and (c) an arrest of a prisoner who has escaped from custody serving final judgment or temporarily confined during the pendency of his case or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.32

In warrantless arrests made pursuant to Section 5 (b), Rule 113, it is required that at the time of the arrest, an offense had in fact just been committed and the arresting officer had personal knowledge of facts indicating that the accused had committed it.33 Verily, under Section 5 (b), Rule 113, it is essential that the element of personal knowledge must be coupled with the element of immediacy; otherwise, the arrest may be nullified, and resultantly, the items yielded through the search incidental thereto will be rendered inadmissible in consonance with the exclusionary rule of the 1987 Constitution.34 In People v. Manago,35 the Court held:

In other words, the clincher in the element of "personal knowledge of facts or circumstances" is the required element of immediacy within which these facts or circumstances should be gathered. This required time element acts as a safeguard to ensure that the police officers have gathered the facts or perceived the circumstances within a very limited time frame. This guarantees that the police officers would have no time to base their probable cause finding on facts or circumstances obtained after an exhaustive investigation.

The reason for the element of the immediacy is this as the time gap from the commission of the crime to the arrest widens, the pieces of information gathered are prone to become contaminated and subjected to external factors, interpretations and hearsay. On the other hand, with the element of immediacy imposed under Section 5 (b), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, the police officer's determination of probable cause would necessarily be limited to raw or uncontaminated facts or circumstances, gathered as they were within a very limited period of time. The same provision adds another safeguard with the requirement of probable cause as the standard for evaluating these facts of circumstances before the police officer could effect a valid warrantless arrest.36 (Emphases and underscoring supplied)

In this case, a judicious review of the records show that while PO2 Torculas was cruising on his motorcycle, he personally saw petitioners holding a lady bag which appeared to have been taken from a parked vehicle. Suspicious of the incident, PO2 Torculas told petitioners to halt, prompting the latter to speed away aboard their motorcycle. Immediately thereafter, the owner of the vehicle, Dombase, approached PO2 Torculas and sought for his assistance, narrating that petitioners broke the window of her vehicle and took her belongings. To the Court, petitioners' sudden flight37 upon being flagged by a police officer, coupled with Dombase's narration of what had just transpired is enough to provide PO2 Torculas with personal knowledge of facts indicating that a crime had just been committed and that petitioners are the perpetrators thereof. Moreover, upon gaining such personal knowledge, not only did PO2 Torculas chase petitioners until they entered a dark, secluded area, he also called for back-up and conducted a "stake-out" right then and there until they were able to arrest petitioners about six (6) hours later. These circumstances indubitably show that the twin requisites of personal knowledge and immediacy in order to effectuate a valid "hot pursuit" warrantless arrest are present, considering that PO2 Torculas obtained personal knowledge that a crime had just been committed and that he. did not waver in his continuous and unbroken pursuit of petitioners until they were arrested.38 From the foregoing, the Court concludes "that the police officers validly conducted a "hot pursuit" warrantless arrest on petitioners.

III.

Having ascertained that petitioners were validly arrested without a warrant pursuant to the "hot pursuit" doctrine, the Court now examines the two (2) searches made on them, namely: (a) the body search after the police officers apprehended them; and (b) a "more thorough" search conducted at the Panabo Police Station where the seized drugs were allegedly recovered from them, as to whether these may fall within the purview of a valid search incidental to their lawful arrest.

Searches and seizure incident to a lawful arrest are governed by Section 13, Rule 126 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, to wit:

Section 13. Search incident to a 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.

The purpose of allowing a warrantless search and seizure 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. It is therefore a reasonable exercise of the State's police power to protect: (a) law enforcers from the injury that may be inflicted on them by a person they have lawfully arrested; and (b) evidence from being destroyed by the arrestee. It seeks to ensure the safety of the arresting officers and the integrity of the evidence under the control and within the reach of the arrestee.39 In People v. Calantiao,40 the Court reiterated the rationale of a search incidental to a lawful arrest to wit:

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.

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. 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. 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. 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.41 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

On this note, case law requires a strict application of this rule, that is, "to absolutely limit a warrantless search of a person who is lawfully arrested to his or her person at the time of and incident to his or her arrest and to 'dangerous weapons or anything which may be used as proof of the commission of the offense.' Such warrantless search obviously cannot be made in a place other than the place of arrest."42

Applying the foregoing parameters to this case, the Court concludes that the first search made on petitioners, i.e., the cursory body search which, however, did not yield any drugs but only personal belongings of petitioners, may be considered as a search incidental to a lawful arrest as it was done contemporaneous to their arrest and at the place of apprehension. On the other hand, the same cannot be said of the second search which yielded the drugs subject of this case, considering that a substantial amount of time had already elapsed from the time of the arrest to the time of the second search, not to mention the fact that the second search was conducted at a venue other than the place of actual arrest, i.e., the Panabo Police Station.

In sum, the subsequent and second search made on petitioners at the Panabo Police Station is unlawful and unreasonable. Resultantly, the illegal drugs allegedly recovered therefrom constitutes inadmissible evidence pursuant to the exclusionary clause enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Given that said illegal drugs is the very corpus delicti of the crime charged, petitioners must necessarily be acquitted and exonerated from criminal liability.43

WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The Decision dated November 17, 2017 and the Resolution dated February 26, 2018 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR No. 01414-MIN are hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, petitioners Franklin B. Vaporoso and Joelren B. Tulilik are ACQUITTED of the crime charged. The Director of the Bureau of Corrections is ordered to cause their immediate release, unless they are being lawfully held in custody for any other reason.

SO ORDERED.

Carpio (Chairperson), J. Reyes, Jr., and Caguioa, JJ., on official leave.1шphi1

Lazaro-Javier, J., concur.

Footnotes

1 Rollo, pp. 12-31.

2 Id. at 35-51. Penned by Associate Justice Ruben Reynaldo G. Roxas with Associate Justices Romulo V. Borja and Oscar V. Badelles, concurring.

3 Id. at 57-60.

4 Id. at 65-76. Penned by Presiding Judge Dax Gonzaga Xenos.

5 Entitled "AN ACT INSTITUTING THE COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002, REPEALING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6425, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES," approved on June 7, 2002.

6 The Information dated August 27, 2013 in Criminal Case No. CrC 430-2013 was against Vaporoso and the Information dated August 27, 2013 in Criminal Case No. CrC 431-2013 was against Tulilik, both for violation of Section 11, Article II of RA 9165 (Illegal Possession of Dangerous Drugs); records, pp. 1 and 40.

7 Rollo, pp. 42-43.

8 Id.

9 Id. at 43.

10 Id.

11 Id. at 42.

12 Id. at 38.

13 Id. at 66.

14 Id.

15 Id. at 66-67.

16 Id. at 65-76.

17 Id. at 75.

18 Id. at 74.

19 See Notice of Appeal dated February 2, 2016; CA rollo, p. 8.

20 Rollo, pp. 35-51.

21 Id. at 50.

22 Id. at 46-48.

23 Id. at 49.

24 Id. at 52-55-A.

25 Id. at 57-60.

26 See Sindac v. People, 794 Phil. 421, 427 (2016).

27 See Comment, rollo, pp. 168-184.

28 See Trinidad v. People, G.R. No. 239957, February 18, 2019, citing Sindac v. People, 794 Phil. 421, 428 (2016).

29 See People v. Bringcula, G.R. No. 226400, January 24, 2018, 853 SCRA 142, 155, citing People v. Bongalon, 425 Phil. 96, 119 (2002).

30 794 Phil. 421 (2016).

31 Id. at 435-436, citing Homar v. People, 768 Phil. 195, 209 (2015).

32 Sindac v. People, supra note 26, citing Comerciante v. People, 764 Phil. 627, 634-635 (2015).

33 See id. at 429-430.

34 See Section 3 (2), Article III of the 1987 Constitution.

35 793 Phil. 505 (2016).

36 Id. at 517, citing Pestilos v. Generoso, 746 Phil. 301, 331 (2014).

37 "Flight is evidence of a guilty conscience. For as the good book says, the wicked fleeth even when no man pursueth, whereas the righteous are as brave as a lion." (People v. Paoyo, 549 Phil. 430, 438 [2007], citing Sevalle v. CA, 405 Phil. 472, 483 (2001).

38 See People v. Tonog, Jr., G.R. No. 94533, February 4, 1992, 205 SCRA 772; People v. Gerente, G.R. Nos. 95847-48, March 10, 1993, 219 SCRA 756; People v. Alvario, 341 Phil. 526 (1997); People v. Jayson, 346 Phil. 847 (1997); People v. Acol, 302 Phil. 429 (1994); Cadua v. CA, G.R. No. 123123, August 19, 1999, 232 SCRA 412; People v. Doria, G.R. No. 170672, August 14, 2009, 596 SCRA 220; Pestilos v. Generoso, supra note 36.

39 People v. Calantiao, 736 Phil. 661, 670 (2014), citing People v. Valeroso, 614 Phil. 236, 252 (2009).

40 Id.

41 Id. at 671, citing People v. Valeroso, 614 Phil. 236, 251 (2009).

42 Nolasco v. Paño, 231 Phil. 458, 463 (1987); citation omitted.

43 See People v. Manago, supra note 35, at 521, citing Comerciante v. People, supra note 32, at 641.


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