NBI’s rap vs teacher over Duterte bounty offer junked for 3rd time

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 29 2021 11:23 AM

NBI’s rap vs teacher over Duterte bounty offer junked for 3rd time 1
Teacher Ronnel Mas upon his release in May 2020. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office has junked yet again the National Bureau of Investigation’s inciting to sedition complaint against Ronnel Mas, the teacher who was arrested without a warrant last year for allegedly offering on social media P50 million to anyone who could kill President Rodrigo Duterte. 

In a resolution dated June 22, Olongapo City Assistant City Prosecutor and Zambales Acting Provincial Prosecutor JT Leonardo Santos denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the NBI which aimed to further prove that it was Mas who tweeted the controversial post.

“To be clear, it is not that a crime has not been committed that the case has been dismissed. It is the insufficiency of evidence to prove that indeed the respondent is the perpetrator of the crime, i.e., he owns the twitter account and that he is the one who posted it,” Santos said.

“The complainant has failed the required quantum of evidence required in a preliminary investigation, i.e., probable cause,” he added.

Probable cause is defined in Supreme Court cases as the “set of facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent person to believe that the offense charged in the information… has been committed by the person sought to be arrested.”

This is the 3rd time the NBI lost its case against Mas. 

An Olongapo court last year quashed the information against Mas, saying the latter was illegally arrested and his subsequent media confession did not cure the invalidity of the arrest.

In February this year, the same prosecutor junked a new complaint filed by the NBI due to its failure to present additional evidence that it was Mas who tweeted the controversial post. 

The NBI also failed to provide a recording of Mas’ supposed confession to the media.

The Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office, however, said the NBI can still re-file the inciting to sedition complaint vs Mas.

REASONS FOR DENIAL OF MR

In denying the NBI’s motion for reconsideration, Santos said the NBI failed to prove the identity of the perpetrator since he is only known by the username “@RonPrince_.”

The Olongapo court had previously pointed out that the only basis for the NBI’s arrest of Mas was the statement given by his co-teacher Julius Hallado, who was "not certain" if Mas indeed owned the account, based on his affidavit.

To remedy the gaps in their evidence, the NBI secured an affidavit of an ABS-CBN News cameraman who recorded Mas’ interview, but the NBI failed to submit a copy of the video recording when the complaint was re-filed at the prosecutor’s office.

The NBI submitted the CD containing the video of Mas’ media confession with its motion for reconsideration, along with a supplemental affidavit by a certain Roland Allan Sison, to whom Mas allegedly confessed.

But Santos said this is “unprocedural.”

“Instead of filing of anew with sufficient evidence, including the said affidavit, the complainant seeks to shortcut the proceedings by introducing new evidence,” he said. 

“The affidavit of Sison merely reiterates that he has conducted the interview on the respondent who admitted to him his crime. He has not authenticated the contents of the CD nor any person who downloaded and copied the same on the CD has executed to affirm its source, genuineness and authenticity,” he added.

Rules on evidence require that electronic evidence such as videos should be authenticated.

The prosecutor also stressed there is no rule on “prosecutorial notice on evidence publicly posted,” as the NBI had suggested in arguing that information it had gathered through open sources are publicly available on social media.

“It is not for the undersigned to be curious to search in the social media the evidence of admission of guilt by the respondent. It is a common knowledge that digital evidence may even be altered or edited. Hence, the complainant must submit the same and authenticate, validate and affirm that it is copied from the original source and has not been altered, edited or tampered,” he said.

The prosecutor clarified that contrary to NBI’s understanding, the complaint against Mas was not junked due to the absence of a cyberwarrant but that his arrest was illegal because it did not comply with section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court on warrantless arrests.

“It is categorically unequivocal that at the time of the arrest, the respondent is not committing nor has just committed a crime. Even the inquest prosecutor in her resolution…has found the arrest not in accordance with the said rule on warrantless arrest,” he said.

FLAG: STOP HARASSING MAS

Mas’ lawyer from FLAG, Dino de Leon, said he hopes the NBI can accept defeat and “should stop harassing” the teacher.

“The officers concerned should be reminded that President Duterte's term is about to end, but their administrative and criminal accountabilities for their illegal actions remain,” he said in a statement.

“I urge them to observe the rule of law and to move on. They should allow a simple person like Teacher Ronnel to continue living his life in peace,” he added.

The arrest and prosecution of Mas, who was critical of the President, became controversial as it proceeded swiftly compared to the prolonged investigation and lack of arrests of those harassing opposition critics.

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