A case of illegal arrest and a trumped-up charge

Almost a year after their warrantless arrest, detention and prosecution for alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives, on Jan. 15 Rafael Baylosis and Roque Guillermo were ordered freed by a Quezon City court. Baylosis is a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the GRP-NDFP peace talks, which President Duterte unilaterally “terminated” in November 2017.

Asserting their innocence, the two accused filed a plea to dismiss the case, without submitting evidence in their defense, because the allegations of their police accusers could not prove their guilt; in legal parlance, it’s called a demurrer to evidence.

Judge Editha Mina-Aguba of QC-RTC Branch 100 granted the demurrer to evidence because, she said, the state prosecutors had failed “to meet (the state’s) burden of proving their guilt beyond reasonable doubt.” Not only did she acquit the two, she also ruled their arrest was illegal.

This is a case typical of many police-military arrests where it has become “normal” practice to plant firearms and explosives, for use as evidence against the arrested persons. This case exposes how crudely the state security forces have been doing this with impunity – and how it can be foiled by any judge who scrupulously upholds the law and justice.

I believe that knowing about our rights under the law is essential to being good citizens of this country. Thus, reading about how the judge arrived at her decision is instructive.

In dismissing the case, the trial court followed a Supreme Court ruling which states:

“…[A] finding of guilt must rest on the evidence of the prosecution, not on the weakness or even absence of evidence for the defense. Thus, it is required that every circumstance favoring the innocence of the accused must be duly taken into account. The proof against them must survive the test of reason and the strongest suspicion must not be permitted to sway judgment.”

The law demands that “the evidence for the prosecution [must] pass the exacting test of moral certainty,” the Supreme Court said in the landmark ruling, People vs. Fernandez. Further : ”It is better to liberate a guilty man than to unjustly keep in prison one whose guilt has not been proven by the required quantum of evidence. [….W]hen the People’s evidence fails to prove indubitably the accused’s authorship of the crime of which they stand accused, it is the Court’s duty – and the accused’s right – to proclaim their innocence.”

In her decision, Judge Mina-Aguba focuses on the hard-to-believe narrative of the three police officers involved in the surveillance and arrest of Baylosis and Guillermo on Jan. 31, 2018. From the Ramon Magsaysay Blvd. Manila-Quezon City boundary they were followed and then arrested at the corner of Aurora Blvd. and Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. The three officers were Police Chief Inspector Nino Lope Briones, head of the CIDG-Manila, Police Officer 3 Jeffrey Padilla, and Sr. Police Officer 3 Juan Fernando, of CIDG-Manila.

“[For] evidence to be believed,” the decision says, “it must not only proceed from the mouth of a credible witness, but it must be credible in itself, such as the common experience and observation of mankind can approve as probable under the circumstances.”

In particular, the decision says it was improbable for PO3 Padilla to have seen – as he alone claimed he did, among seven policemen surveilling the two accused – handguns tucked into the waists of Baylosis and Guillermo as they boarded a jeepney in Sta. Mesa, from a distance of 10-15 meters at 3 p.m. “It is believed that what PO3 Padilla saw was more imagined than real,” the ruling notes. “It was made solely to justify their police operations against the accused.”

It backs up such a conclusion with this Supreme Court ruling:

“The time-honored test in determining the value of the testimony of a witness is its compatibility with human knowledge, observation and common experience of man. Thus, whatever is repugnant to the standards of human knowledge, observation and experience becomes incredible and must be outside judicial cognizance.”

Judge Mina-Aguba finds the statements in court of the three police officers “peppered with inconsistencies.” “Their contradictory individual claims are not so inconsequential or minor,” she notes, “but a discrepancy touching on substantial and significant matters, which could well affect their credibility as witnesses.” She cites four inconsistencies that “patently destroyed the credibility of the arresting officers” and rendered their testimonies unreliable.

“As such,” she declares, “this Court cannot attach the presumption of regularity of performance of their functions.” Besides, she adds, “the same cannot prevail over the presumption of innocence of the two accused.”

Again, she quotes the following Supreme Court jurisprudence to backstop her decision:

• “The burden of proving the guilt of an accused rests with the prosecution which must rely on the strength of its own evidence and not on the weakness of the defense. When moral certainty as to culpability hangs in the balance, acquittal on reasonable doubt becomes a matter of right, irrespective of the reputation of the accused who enjoys the right to be presumed innocent until the contrary is shown.

• “It is the primordial duty of the prosecution to present its side with clarity and persuasion, so that conviction becomes the only logical and inevitable conclusion. What is required of it is to justify the conviction of the accused with moral certainty. Failing to meet this test, acquittal becomes the constitutional duty of the Court, lest its mind be tortured with the thought that it has imprisoned an innocent man for the rest of his life.”

What about regards the warrantless arrest of Baylosis and Guillermo? Judge Mina-Aguba avers it wasn’t done in accordance with the Rules of Court, which allows such arrests only under two circumstances: 1) when, in the presence of the arresting officer, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; and 2) when an offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has “probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts and circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it.”

Moreover, the Supreme Court has also ruled that a lawful arrest “must precede the search of a person and his belongings, the process cannot be reversed.” In this case the reverse sequence happened, and so the alleged items confiscated from the accused could not be used as evidence against them.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

Published in Philippine Star
Jan. 19, 2019

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