PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES  vs. JERRY SAPLA Y GUERRERO, G.R. No. 244045, June 16, 2020

Facts:
On 10 January 2014, at around 11:30 in the morning, an officer on duty at the RPSB office received a phone call from a concerned citizen, who informed the said office that a certain male individual [would] be transpiring marijuana from Kalinga and into the Province of Isabela. The information to their deputy commander, PSI Ngoslab, who subsequently called for a possible joint operation. Thereafter, as a standard operating procedure in drug operations, coordinated with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

At around 1:00 in the afternoon, the RPSB hotline received a text message which stated that the subject male person who [would] transport marijuana [was] wearing a collared white shirt with green stripes, red ball cap, and [was] carrying a blue sack on board a passenger jeepney, with plate number AYA 270 bound for Roxas, Isabela. Subsequently, a joint checkpoint was strategically organized at the Talaca command post.

The passenger jeepney then arrived at around 1:20 in the afternoon, wherein the police officers at the Talaca checkpoint flagged down the said vehicle and told its driver to park on the side of the road. Officers Labbutan and Mabiasan approached the jeepney and saw [accused-appellant Sapla] seated at the rear side of the vehicle. The police officers asked [accused-appellant Sapla] if he [was] the owner of the blue sack in front of him, which the latter answered in the affirmative. The said officers then requested [accused-appellant Sapla] to open the blue sack. After [accused-appellant Sapla] opened the sack, officers Labbutan and Mabiasan saw four (4) bricks of suspected dried marijuana leaves, wrapped in newspaper and an old calendar. PO3 Labbutan subsequently arrested [accused-appellant Sapla], informed him of the cause of his arrest and his constitutional rights in [the] Ilocano dialect. PO2 Mabiasan further searched [accused-appellant Sapla] and found one (I) LG cellular phone unit. Thereafter, PO2 Mabiasan seized the four (4) bricks of suspected dried marijuana leaves and brought [them] to their office at the Talaca detachment for proper markings.

The next day, or on 15 January 2014, [accused-appellant Sapla] was committed to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) at Tabuk City, Kalinga. Upon his arraignment on 29 January 2014, [accused-appellant Sapla] pleaded “not guilty” to the crime charged against him. In the court a quo’s Pre-Trial Order dated 11 March 2014, the Prosecution and the Defense stipulated their respective legal issues to be resolved by the court a quo. Also, the Prosecution identified and marked its pieces of evidence, while the Defense made no proposals nor pre-mark[ed] any exhibits. Trial ensued thereafter.

On January 9, 2017, the RTC rendered its Decision convicting accused-appellant Sapla for violating Section 5 of R.A. 9165. Feeling aggrieved, accused-appellant Sapla filed an appeal before the CA.

The CA denied accused-appellant Sapla’s appeal and affirmed the RTC ‘s Decision, Hence, the instant appeal.

The Issues
1. Whether there was probable cause for the police to arrest the accused?
2. Whether the police can conduct a warrantless intrusive search of a vehicle on the sole basis of an unverified tip relayed by an anonymous informant?

Held:
1. No, probable cause means that there is the existence of such facts and circumstances which could lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed and that the items, articles or objects sought in connection with said offense or subject to seizure and destruction by law is in the place to be searched. 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; or the existence of such facts and circumstances which could lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed and that the items, articles or objects sought in connection with said offense or subject to seizure and destruction by law is in the place to be searched. The required probable cause that will justify a warrantless search and seizure is not determined by a fixed formula but is resolved according to the facts of each case.

2. Sheer Unverified Information from an Anonymous Informant does not engender Probable Cause on the part of the Authorities that warrants an Extensive and Intrusive Search of a Moving Vehicle. In determining whether there is probable cause that warrants an extensive or intrusive warrantless searches of a moving vehicle, “bare suspicion is never enough. While probable cause does not demand moral certainty, or evidence sufficient to justify conviction, it requires the existence of ‘a reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a cautious man to believe that the person accused is guilty of the offense with which he is charged.

The Court explained that in prior cases wherein the Court validated warrantless searches and seizures on the basis of tipped information, “the seizures and arrests were not merely and exclusively based on the initial tips. Rather, they were prompted by other attendant circumstances. Whatever initial suspicion they had from being tipped was progressively heightened by other factors, such as the accused’s failure to produce identifying documents, papers pertinent to the items they were carrying, or their display of suspicious behavior upon being approached.”In such cases, the finding of probable cause was premised “on more than just the initial information relayed by assets. It was the confluence of initial tips and a myriad of other occurrences that ultimately sustained probable cause.”

Valid Warrantless Searches and Seizures
There are, however, instances wherein searches are reasonable even in the absence of a search warrant, taking into account the “uniqueness of 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.”

The known jurisprudential instances of reasonable warrantless searches and seizures are:
(1) warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest;
(2) seizure of evidence in plain view;
(3) search of a moving vehicle;
(4) consented warrantless search;
(5) customs search;
(6) stop and frisk; and
(7) exigent and emergency circumstances.

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