'Drug war that tramples rights is war vs people,' says SC in reversing man's 2014 drug conviction | Inquirer News
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‘Drug war that tramples rights is war vs people,’ says SC in reversing man’s 2014 drug conviction

/ 05:38 PM August 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – “A battle waged against illegal drugs that trample on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs; it is a war against the people,” the Supreme Court said in a decision that acquitted a person of drug charges.

The high court en banc, through Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, has ordered the immediate release of Jerry Sapla who was acquitted of drug charges.

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Sapla was arrested on Jan. 10, 2014. Seized from him are 4 bricks of marijuana leaves. The arrest was made based on an anonymous call and text message about the transport of marijuana from Kalinga and the description of the person carrying it and the vehicle he was in.

After seeing the vehicle, the police flagged it down. Upon seeing Sapla who fits the description based on the text message, authorities asked about the sack in front of him. Sapla admitted it was his. He opened it upon instructions from the police leading to the discovery of the marijuana bricks.

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Sapla was arrested and eventually convicted by the Tabuk City Regional Trial Court. The lower court’s decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, thus it went to the Supreme Court.

In reversing the lower court and Court of Appeals, the high court said the police cannot rely on anonymous text messages to conduct an extensive and intrusive search without a search warrant.

“A tip is still hearsay no matter how reliable it may be,” the high court said.

By solely relying on tips from informants, the high court said such practice would open ” the floodgates to unfounded searches, seizures, and arrests that may be initiated by sly informants.”

In the case of Sapla, the “invalid and unlawful search of a moving vehicle” cannot be cured by the supposed “consent” given by Sapla when he opened his sack that led to the discovery of the marijuana bricks.

A waiver of rights against unreasonable searches and seizures must have the following requisites: 1. it must appear that the rights exist; 2. the person involved had knowledge, actual or constructive of the existence of such right, and’ said person had an actual intention to relinquish the right.

“Sapla’s apparent consent to the search conducted by the police was not unequivocal, specific, intelligently given, and unattended by duress or coercion. It cannot be seriously denied that accused-appellant Sapla was subjected to a coercive environment, considering that he was confronted by several armed police officers in a checkpoint,” the high court said.

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The high court said that while they recognize the need to adopt an aggressive stand against illegal drugs, the indelible right against constitutional searches and seizures must not be sacrificed.

“By disregarding basic constitutional rights as a means to curtail the proliferation of illegal drugs, instead of protecting the general welfare, oppositely, the general welfare is viciously assaulted,” the high court said. [ac]

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TAGS: acquittal, Illegal Searches and Seizures, marijuana, Moving Vehicle, Police, Supreme Court, war on drugs
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