MANILA (UPDATE) - The warrantless arrest of a 25-year-old teacher over a Twitter post was invalid according to prosecutors, but his media confession cured the defect, a copy of the inquest resolution showed Friday.
Ronnel Mas was arrested on May 11 in Zambales after he offered a bounty of P50 million to anyone who could kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
NBI operatives who tracked him down did not have a warrant but took him in custody and brought him to their headquarters in Manila where he confessed and apologized for his post.
In a 7-page resolution, Assistant State Prosecutor Jeannette Dacpano said the arrest was invalid as it did not fall under any of the situations where a warrantless arrest is allowed.
Under the Rules of Court, warrantless arrest is valid only on 3 occasions:
1- suspect is caught in the act of committing crime
2- hot pursuit (offense has just been committed and police has probable cause based on personal knowledge to believe person committed it)
3- arrest of prisoner who escaped
Dacpano said that for a warrantless arrest to be valid under hot pursuit, the offense should have just been committed. "Just," she said, indicates proximity in time between the commission of the crime and the arrest.
"It is worthy to point out that the text was posted by the respondent on May 5, 2020. Several days have passed from the time of posting to the time of arrest made by NBI-Dagupan which happened on May 11, 2020 or 6 days later," she said.
"Inciting to sedition is not a continuous crime for which the offender may be arrested without a warrant duly issued by the proper authority," she explained.
Dacpano also said the arresting officers should have probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances, that the person to be arrested committed it.
"[T]he arresting officer, at the time of the arrest, had no personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has indeed committed the crime. Being a cybercrime, the arresting officer must have conclusive evidence that the person who wrote the text in the Twitter account @RonPrince_ is indeed Ronnel Mas and not someone impersonating him."
Several rights groups have questioned Mas' arrests, which started a string of arrests against those who post negative comments on social media against the President.
His lawyer Dino de Leon wrote the NBI demanding his release after being shown a copy of the inquest resolution declaring his arrest invalid.
But the resolution said Mas' subsequent confession to the media cured the defect of his arrest.
"[T]he defect of Mas's warrantless arrest was ultimately cured when Mas extra-judicially admitted to the media that he indeed personally posted the provocative text in his own Twitter account @RonPrince_," she said.
Dacpano cited a 2002 Supreme Court case which ruled: "Such a confession did not form part of custodial investigation. It was not given to police officers but to a media man in an apparent attempt to elicit sympathy... Besides, if he had indeed been forced into confessing, he could have easily asked help from the newsman."
What the resolution did not discuss was that an NBI operative posted on Facebook that they applied "reverse psychology" on Mas while inside an NBI vehicle which led to his confession without a lawyer. He was accompanied only by his parents.
PROBABLE CAUSE FOR INCITING TO SEDITION
Dacpano also ruled there was probable cause to charge Mas with inciting to sedition as his Twitter post "clearly suggests violent means to topple the Duterte administration."
Mas tweeted: "I will give 50 million reward kung sino makakapatay kay Duterte."
Dacpano compared Mas' words to a 1951 case (Espuelas v. People) where a person was punished for claiming to commit suicide because he was unable to put the then President and his men under "juez de cuchillo" or under the knife, suggesting the assassination of the President, which the court said was intended to rouse commotion or disturbance and is punishable under Art. 142 of the Revised Penal Code on inciting to sedition.
Dacpano, however, deferred to the Civil Service Commission the resolution on whether Mas, a public school teacher, also violated the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, or RA 6713 for "grave misconduct."
Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento said the inciting to sedition charge against Mas will be filed in Zambales "likely first thing next week."
Prosecutors recommended bail of P72,000, according to Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete.
"Under the Rules of Court, an accused may still petition the court to lower the bail," he said.
Mas had earlier apologized, saying he did not really have P50 million but only wanted social media clout.
But Guevarra said his apology will not absolve him of criminal liability.
Mas' arrest was followed by the detention of a construction worker in Boracay who posted about a bounty offer of P100 million for the death of the President.
On Wednesday, police arrested a sales agent in Agusan del Norte after he called the President "crazy" and an "asshole" in a Facebook post.
Amid the arrests, Guevarra issued a warning to social media users.
"Inducing others to kill or cause physical harm to someone, whether the latter be the President of the Republic or an ordinary citizen, will give rise to criminal liability. Let's think before we tweet," he said.