Human rights lawyers to DOJ: Media confession can't cure defective warrantless arrest

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 16 2020 05:15 PM

MANILA -- Human rights lawyers on Saturday scored a Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution, which declared the invalid arrest of a teacher "cured" after he confessed to the media.

DOJ Assistant State Prosecutor Jeannette Dacpano ruled that Ronnel Mas, the 25-year-old teacher who was arrested for offering a P50-million bounty to anyone who can kill the President, was wrongly arrested without a warrant because his Twitter post was made 6 days before his arrest and the arresting officers did not have personal knowledge if he was indeed the same person who made the tweet.

NBI operatives arrested Mas in Zambales on May 11. He was taken to the NBI Headquarters in Manila where he faced the media and apologized for his tweet.

Dacpano said that admission to the media "cured" the defect in his warrantless arrest.

But human rights lawyers disagree.

"The confession cannot 'cure' the defective warrantless arrest. It appears to be a case of 'mixing metaphors,'" former Supreme Court spokesperson and Free Legal Assistance Group lawyer Theodore Te said in his social media posts.

Te pointed out that while there are Philippine Supreme Court rulings allowing the admissibility of confessions made through media interviews without the presence of a lawyer, these rulings need to be weighed against a 54-year-old United States case which laid down the Miranda warnings.

The Miranda v. Arizona case required authorities to tell anyone arrested:

  • You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions
  • Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish
  • If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney
  • Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?

Te said the Miranda warnings were a preemptive measure to avoid confessions made during custodial investigation under a coercive atmosphere at police stations and have now been used as part of the test to determine whether a valid arrest was made.

He warned against resorting to a dangerous syllogism: using admissibility of evidence to justify validity of an arrest.

"This being said, the alleged 'voluntariness' and consequent admissibility of the uncounseled extrajudicial confession to media while captive (under the exact same conditions described in Miranda v. Arizona) have no effect on a clearly unwarranted warrantless arrest," he said.

"The arrest remains defective despite the supposed admissibility of the confession and remains a basis for criminal liability under Article 124 of the Revised Penal Code for the arresting officers. The DOJ ought to have made that clear in its Resolution, and, in fact should have made such a finding," he added, referring to the offense of arbitrary detention.

Te noted that even in Philippine cases where confessions made to the media without their lawyers were admitted in evidence, the Court "appreciated the atmosphere to be free of coercion."

In one case, the Supreme Court said: "Our ruling in that case does not, however, authorize the police to obtain confessions they cannot otherwise obtain through media reporters who are actually acting for the police."

Te appealed to the media to be "sensitive" to the Court's warning "that the 'presentation' of suspects to media without counsel might be a strategy to obtain an extrajudicial confession without counsel, which law enforcement would otherwise not be able to obtain."

And because the constitutional right of Mas was violated, Te argued the DOJ should not have proceeded beyond the unwarranted arrest.

National Union of Peoples' Lawyer President Edre Olalia, for his part, pointed out several irregularities in Mas' confession, which he argued, should not be used against the social studies teacher:

"Does it not stand to reason that any so-called confession or admission,

"1. by an arrested or “invited” person suspected, accused or charged with a supposed crime,

"2. under physical custody or within the complete control or coercive power especially of burly, armed, aggressive and intimidating police or military,

"3. while in a hostile and stressful situation or environment,

"4. unaware, mistaken or does not fully understand the legal consequences of anything he/she says,

"5. with or without media presence,

"6. when asked or solicited by or “volunteered” to anybody, whether police, military or media,

"7. more so without the presence and correct advise of a competent, trustworthy and independent lawyer preferably of one’s choice or option, must not be legally used or taken against him/her in any forum at any time?" he asked.

Several rights groups have questioned Mas' arrest, which started a string of warrantless arrests against those who post negative comments on social media against the President.

They point out that under the Rules of Court, a warrantless arrest is valid only on 3 occasions:
1) 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) prisoner who escaped from prison