A fifty-eight-year-old American citizen was leaving the Philippines after visiting her son and his family in Calamba, Laguna. Upon her arrival at the departure area of the international airport for her return flight, the airport employee tasked to frisk departing passengers for illegal or prohibited paraphernalia frisked the American and felt something hard in her abdomen area. She simply explained that she had just undergone an operation and needed to wear two (2) girdle panties.
The frisker was suspicious of the explanation and reported the incident to her superior, who directed her to further inspect the American in the rest room. When brought to the rest room, the American stayed true to her story but when she was asked to “bring out the thing under her girdle” she obliged and brought out three (3) plastic packs of methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu) weighing a total of 580 grams.
The American argued that she was framed by the police and was illegally arrested and detained, violating her constitutional rights. As a result, the confiscation and use of the shabu as evidence against her should have been inadmissible in court. The Supreme Court (SC), however, ruled on the validity of the American’s arrest holding that the situation involved an arrest in flagrante delicto pursuant to a valid search made on her person.
Section 5 of Rule 113 of the Rules of Court provides that a peace officer or a private person may arrest a person without a warrant when any of the following circumstances are present: 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 in fact just been committed, and he has personal knowledge of facts indicating 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.
The SC also held that the shabu seized during the routine frisk in the airport was pursuant to a legitimate and reasonable search based on airport security procedures –
With increased concern over airplane hijacking and terrorism has come increased security at the nation’s airports. Passengers attempting to board an aircraft routinely pass through metal detectors; their carry-on baggage as well as checked luggage are routinely subjected to x-ray scans. Should these procedures suggest the presence of suspicious objects, physical searches are conducted to determine what the objects are. There is little question that such searches are reasonable, given their minimal intrusiveness, the gravity of the safety interests involved, and the reduced privacy expectations associated with airline travel. Indeed, travelers are often notified through airport public address systems, signs, and notices in their airline tickets that they are subject to search and, if any prohibited materials or substances are found, such would be subject to seizure. These announcements place passengers on notice that ordinary constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures do not apply to routine airport procedures.
The Court likewise reminded that Rule 126, Section 2 of the Rules of Court authorize seizure of only the following personal property: (a) subject of the offense; (b) stolen or embezzled and other proceeds or fruits of the offense; and (c) used or intended to be used as the means of committing an offense (People v. Johnson, G.R. No. 138881, 18 December 2000, J. Mendoza).