Warrantless search incidental to lawful arrest


A suspected high-ranking officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines was accused of rebellion and still at large. After almost a month of round-the-clock surveillance, the police were able to arrest her in the intersection of Mayon and P. Margall Streets in Quezon City. Within 30 minutes from her apprehension, they proceeded to her home at 239-B Mayon Street, Quezon City, where they seized 431 items containing 428 documents and written materials, a portable typewriter, and 2 wooden boxes, all pursuant to a search warrant obtained that same day.

The search warrant provided the following information on what items to seize :

Documents, papers and other records of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New Peoples Army and/or the National Democratic Front, such as Minutes of the Party Meetings, Plans of these groups, Programs, List of possible supporters, subversive books and instructions, manuals not otherwise available to the public, and support money from foreign or local sources.

In court, the accused asserted that her right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated when a general warrant was served upon the premises.

The Supreme Court agreed and declared the warrant void for being a general warrant that did not sufficiently describe with particularity the things subject of the search and seizure –

It is at once evident that the foregoing Search Warrant authorizes the seizure of personal properties vaguely described and not particularized. It is an all-embracing description which includes everything conceivable regarding the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front. It does not specify what the subversive books and instructions are; what the manuals not otherwise available to the public contain to make them subversive or to enable them to be used for the crime of rebellion. There is absent a definite guideline to the searching team as to what items might be lawfully seized thus giving the officers of the law discretion regarding what articles they should seize . . . It is thus in the nature of a general warrant and infringes on the constitutional mandate requiring particular description of the things to be seized.

Despite the invalidity of the warrant, however, the Supreme Court recognized that there are certain exceptions where a search may be done without the need of the required warrant. One of these is a warrantless search incidental to a lawful arrest, which was found applicable to the present case. Section 13, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court provides that “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.” Held the Court –

It is also a general rule that, as an incident of an arrest, the place or premises where the arrest was made can also be searched without a search warrant . . . The extent and reasonableness of the search must be decided on its own facts and circumstances . . . What must be considered is the balancing of the individual’s right to privacy and the public’s interest in the prevention of crime and the apprehension of criminals.

Considering that AGUILAR-ROQUE has been charged with Rebellion, which is a crime against public order; that the warrant for her arrest has not been served for a considerable period of time; that she was arrested within the general vicinity of her dwelling; and that the search of her dwelling was made within a half hour of her arrest, we are of the opinion that in her respect, the search at No. 239-B Mayon Street, Quezon City, did not need a search warrant; this, for possible effective results in the interest of public order (Nolasco v. Pano, G.R. No. 69803, 8 October 1985, J. Melencio-Herrera).


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