People v. Chua Ho San 308 SCRA 432 (1999) G.R. No. 128222, June 17, 1999

Fact: In response to reports of rampant smuggling of firearms and other contraband, CID began patrolling the Bacnotan coastline with his officers. While monitoring the coastal area he intercepted a radio call from ALMOITE requesting police assistance regarding an unfamiliar speedboat. CID and six of his men. When the speedboat landed, the male passenger alighted, and using both hands, carried what appeared a multicolored strawbag. He then walked towards the road. By this time, ALMOITE, CID and BADUA, the latter two conspicuous in their uniform and issued side-arms, became suspicious of the man as he suddenly changed direction and broke into a run upon seeing the approaching officers. BADUA, however, prevented the man from fleeing by holding on to his right arm. Although CID introduced themselves as police officers, the man appeared impassive. Speaking in English, CID then requested the man to open his bag, but he seem not to understand. CID thus tried speaking Tagalog, then Ilocano, but still to no avail. CID then resorted to what he termed “sign language;” he motioned with his hands for the man to open the bag. This time, the man apparently understood and acceded to the request. A search of the bag yielded several transparent plastic packets containing yellowish crystalline substances. which was later found out that it was Shabu. CID then gestured to the man to close the bag, which he did. As CID wished to proceed to the police station, he signaled the man to follow, but the latter did not to comprehend. Hence, CID placed his arm around the shoulders of the man and escorted the latter to the police headquarters. CHUA was initially charged with illegal possession of methaphetamine hydrochloride before the RTC. The RTC convicted Chua Ho San guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Chua Ho San prays for his acquitttal and the reversal of the judgment of the RTC.

Issue: Whether the accused who was acting suspiciously constitute Probable Cause impelling the police officers from effecting an in flagrante delicto arrest.

Held: No, the Court, finds that these do not constitute “probable cause.” None of the telltale clues, e.g., bag or package emanating the pungent odor of marijuana or other prohibited drug, confidential report and/or positive identification by informers of courier(s) of prohibited drug and/or the time and place where they will transport/deliver the same, suspicious demeanor or behavior and suspicious bulge in the waist — accepted by this Court as sufficient to justify a warrantless arrest exists in this case. The term probable cause had been understood to mean a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man’s belief that the person accused is guilty of the offense with which he is charged. Specifically with respect to arrests, it is such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed by the person sought to be arrested. In cases of in fragrante delicto, arrests, 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. The arresting officer, therefore, must have personal knowledge of such facts or as recent case law adverts to, personal knowledge of facts or circumstances convincingly indicative or constitutive of probable cause.

The search cannot therefore be denominated as incidental to an arrest. While a contemporaneous search of a person arrested may be effected to deliver dangerous weapons or proofs or implements used in the commission of the crime and which search may extend to the area within his immediate control where he might gain possession of a weapon or evidence he can destroy, a valid arrest must precede the search. The process cannot be reversed. In a search incidental to a lawful arrest, as the precedent arrest determines the validity of the incidental search, the legality of the arrest is questioned in a large majority of these cases, e.g., whether an arrest was merely used as a pretext for conducting a search. In this instance, the law requires that there be first a lawful arrest before a search can be made — the process cannot be reversed.

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