MANILA (UPDATE) - An Olongapo City court has dismissed the inciting to sedition charge against teacher Ronnel Mas who was arrested without a warrant last month for allegedly offering P50 million to anyone who could kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
Judge Richard Paradeza of Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 72, in an order Wednesday, quashed the information against Mas, saying the latter was illegally arrested and his subsequent media confession did not cure the invalidity of the arrest.
Operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation arrested Mas without a warrant on May 11 in Zambales after a co-teacher identified him as the owner of a Twitter account that carried the now-deleted tweet about the P50 million reward for anyone who can kill Duterte.
Mas was brought to the NBI headquarters in Manila where he confessed to the media and apologized for his social media post.
In indicting Mas, Department of Justice Assistant State Prosecutor Jeanette Dacpano said that while Mas' arrest was illegal, it was cured by his subsequent admission to the media.
Paradeza agreed with Dacpano that the arrest was unlawful, citing the NBI's own narration of facts showing that its operatives arrested Mas six days after the tweet was posted on May 5, even without personal knowledge on whether Mas committed the alleged crime.
"[M]ere intelligence information that the suspect committed the crime will not suffice," the judge said.
Under Rule 113 of the Rules of Court, warrantless arrest is valid only on 3 occasions:
- caught in the act of committing crime
- hot pursuit (offense has just been committed and police has probable cause based on personal knowledge to believe person committed it)
- prisoner who escaped from prison
Paradeza said the basis for NBI's conclusion that Mas owned the Twitter account @RonPrince_ was the statement given by his co-teacher Julius Hallado, who was "not certain" if Mas indeed owned the account, based on his affidavit.
Because the arrest was illegal, the court also said it did not acquire jurisdiction over the person of the accused.
MEDIA CONFESSION DID NOT CURE INVALID ARREST
The Olongapo court ruled that the supposed confession to the media did not cure the invalidity of the arrest because "evidence gathered as a consequence of said unlawful arrest is inadmissible in evidence."
An extrajudicial confession to be valid, according to the court, must not violate the following rights of the accused under custodial investigation:
- to remain silent
- to have an independent and competent counsel preferably of their own choice
- to be provided with counsel if they are unable to secure one
- to be assisted by such counsel during the investigation
- to have such counsel present when they decide to waive these rights
- to be informed of all these rights and of the fact that anything they say can and will be used against them in court
"Even if the confession is gospel truth, if it was made without the assistance of counsel, it is inadmissible in evidence regardless of the absence of coercion or even if it had been voluntarily given," the Olongapo court said, adding that there is no doubt the alleged extrajudicial confession was made during custodial investigation.
Contradicting the DOJ prosecutor's inquest resolution, the court ruled that the warrantless arrest of Mas was not cured by his supposed extrajudicial confession to the media.
"Illegality in the arrest of the accused can be cured only when the accused waived objection thereto," it said, noting that Mas raised his objection to his illegal arrest before arraignment.
Human rights lawyers have expressed concern over the DOJ's ruling that admission to the media "cured" the defect of Mas' warrantless arrest.
The court also faulted the NBI for not submitting evidence of Mas' extrajudicial confession. It was not among the documents included in the referral-complaint filed by NBI-Dagupan to the inquest prosecutor, and neither was it included in the documents attached to the inquest resolution.
The prosecution, according to Paradeza, should have submitted the affidavit of the person who interviewed Mas or the video clips of the interview.
"Absence of the vital pieces of evidence showing that indeed the accused made the extra-judicial admission on the subject matter, the court cannot surmise that there was indeed an extra-judicial admission on the matter made by the accused. This court cannot take judicial notice of the existence of the alleged extra-judicial admission of the accused made during an interview," he said.
REMINDER TO AUTHORITIES
In concluding his 15-page ruling, Paradeza took time to remind authorities that while the Twitter post may have been "despicable and provocative" as it tends to undermine lawful authorities and disturb peace and order, the rights of the accused should still be respected.
"The author/s of the said post should be made liable and punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, no matter how contemptible or reprehensible the post is, the person or persons suspected to be responsible [for] the posting of the subject provocative text should be afforded their constitutional rights." he said.
"Even the worst criminals have constitutional rights too," he added.