Exigencies justifying warrantless search and seizure


At the height of the December 1989 coup d’etat staged against the Government, the members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement-Soldiers of the Filipino People (RAM-SFP) bombarded various establishments and military camps in Metro Manila with their “tora-tora” planes and took over the Villamor Air Base, the Headquarters of the Philippine Army, the Army Operations Center, the government television station, and the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan.

The accused in this case was charged with the crime of illegal possession of ammunition and explosives in furtherance of rebellion.

According to the military officers involved, the Intelligence Division of the National Capital Region Defense Command conducted a surveillance of a European automobile sales office along EDSA pursuant to an intelligence report that said establishment was being used as a communication command post by the RAM-SFP. However, when they neared the establishment, they were attacked and fired upon by a group of men. This resulted in the subsequent raid of the sales office, wherein the military officers discovered and confiscated six cartons of M-16 ammunition, five bundles of C-4 dynamites, M-shells of different calibers, and “Molotov” bombs inside one of the offices belonging to a certain Colonel.

The officer who first entered the building alleged that he saw the accused inside the office of the Colonel holding a C-4 while suspiciously peeping through the door. The accused was arrested and was made to sign an inventory of the explosives and ammunition confiscated by the raiding team.

The team, however, failed to secure a search warrant prior to the raid. They attributed this failure to the disorderly circumstances at the time, i.e., the attack of the nearby Camp Aguinaldo by rebel forces with the simultaneous firing within the vicinity of the sales office, coupled with the fact that the courts were consequently closed.

In his defense, the accused gave an entirely different version of what transpired. He claimed that he worked as a “boy” for the Colonel and was tasked to guard his office. When the raiding team arrived, he was not in the office but rather in his nipa house, which was adjacent to the building. He was ordered to get out of his house and was made to lie on the ground face down. He averred that he knew nothing about the explosives, which were already there when he was ordered to get up.

The trial court found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. On appeal, one of the issues tackled by the Supreme Court was whether there was a valid search and seizure in this case. Answering in the affirmative, the High Court held –
Under the foregoing circumstances, it is our considered opinion that the instant case falls under one of the exceptions to the prohibition against a warrantless search. In the first place, the military operatives, taking into account the facts obtaining in this case, had reasonable ground to believe that a crime was being committed. There was consequently more than sufficient probable cause to warrant their action. Furthermore, under the situation then prevailing, the raiding team had no opportunity to apply for and secure a search warrant from the courts. The trial judge himself manifested . . . when the raid was conducted, his court was closed. Under such urgency and exigency of the moment, a search warrant could lawfully be dispensed with (People of the Philippines v. De Gracia, G.R. Nos. 102009-10, 6 July 1994, J. Regalado).


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