CA excludes firearms, ammunitions recovered from evidence vs Angel Manalo
MANILA — The Court of Appeals has declared illegal the 2017 warrantless search on the house of Lottie Manalo-Hemedez, the estranged sister of Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) executive minister Eduardo Manalo.
In a 16-page decision dated September 13, 2022, the CA Fourteenth Division said there was no basis for the police to seize weapons, ammunitions and explosives allegedly recovered from a “secret room” inside Lottie’s house.
“It is evident that the police officers entered the residence of Lottie without a search warrant…The petitioners were neither in flagrante delicto nor was there urgency shown by the police officers to warrant a warrantless search and seizure,” CA Associate Justice Mary Charlene Hernandez-Azura said in the ruling, concurred in by CA associate justices Victoria Isabel Paredes and Florencio Mamauag, Jr.
“Worse, no search warrant was even applied for by the police officers before a judge,” she added.
The search on Lottie's house inside the INC compound on March 4, 2017 was based on the alleged discovery by INC security department of a "secret" room in her house.
The police supposedly recovered 74 firearms, 46 magazines, 17,491 rounds of ammunition and 89 explosives.
But the CA said the PNP should have verified or conducted a follow-up surveillance instead of relying on the information from the INC security department, which could only be treated as a "tip.”
“Hearsay information or tips from confidential informants could very well serve as basis for the issuance of a search warrant, if such information or tip was followed-up personally by the recipient and validated. Such follow-up or surveillance without the need of a warrant is allowed by law,” it explained.
“Surveillance per se, whether physical or audio-visual, is the gathering of information as part of intelligence work. The purpose is for law enforcers to establish personal knowledge of information that would support an application for a search warrant,” it added.
The CA rejected the argument that the items were seized in "plain view" because the police were not in a lawful position to discover them and the incriminating character of the seized items was not immediately apparent to the police as they were “kept in wooden and plastic boxes/containers.”
The plain view doctrine requires that an item seized reasonably appears to be a contraband or evidence of a crime to a law enforcer, based on “attending facts and surrounding circumstances.”
The CA also said that the ejectment case filed by the INC against Lottie and Angel Manalo, another estranged sibling, did not make INC the lawful occupant of Lottie's house.
Ironically, CA pointed out, this argument negated the claim that Lottie and Angel had constructive possession over the seized items.
As a result of the illegal search, the appellate court excluded the items allegedly seized from being used as evidence in illegal possession of firearms case lodged against Angel.
Angel and 2 others were arrested 2 days earlier, on March 2, 2017, when his house was searched by the police on the basis of a search warrant, which supposedly led to the recovery of firearms and ammunitions.
The Manalo siblings were embroiled in a public controversy in 2015 when Angel and his mother, Christina “Tenny” Manalo, appealed for help claiming harassment and kidnapping of some ministers within INC.
Eduardo, the executive minister, expelled them from the religious organization “for creating divisions in the church.”
In 2016, Lottie filed estafa and falsification of public records complaints against Eduardo over the sale of her house.