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People vs.

Estrella [GR 138539-40, 21 January 2003]

Facts: Prior to 20 November 1996, Executive Judge Romulo Estrada of the Regional
Trial Court of Zambales
issued a warrant for the conduct of a search and seizure in the residence of Antonio C.
Estella at Purok Yakal,
Barangay Baloganon, Masinloc, Zambales. In the morning of 20 November 1996,
Senior Police Officer 1
(SPO1) Antonio Buloron, then Intelligence and Investigation Officer, together with
SPO1 Jose Arca and
several other members of the Provincial Special Operation Group based in Burgos, San
Marcelino, Zambales
proceeded to Masinloc. They coordinated with the members of the Philippine National
Police (PNP) in
Masinloc and sought the assistance of Barangay Captain Rey Barnachea of Baloganon,
Masinloc for the
enforcement of the search warrant. Barangay Captain Barnachea accompanied the
police officers to Purok
Yakal, Barangay Baloganon, Masinloc, the place mentioned in the search warrant. On
their way to Purok
Yakal, SPO1 Buloron saw Estrella sitting on a rocking chair located about 2 meters
away from a hut owned
by Narding Estella, the latter's brother, and being rented by Estrella's live-in partner,
named Eva. They
approached Estrella and introduced themselves as police officers. They showed
Estrella the search warrant
and explained the contents to him. SPO1 Buloron asked Estrella if indeed he had in his
possession prohibited
drug and if so, to surrender the same so he would deserve a lesser penalty. While
inside the hut, Estrella
surrendered to the team 2 cans containing dried marijuana fruiting tops. One can
contained 20 bricks of
fruiting tops. The team searched the hut in the presence of Estrella and his live-in
partner. They found a
Constitutional Law II, 2005 ( 52 )
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plastic container under the kitchen table, which contained 4 big bricks of dried
marijuana leaves and a .38
caliber revolver with four live ammunitions. The team seized the prohibited drug, the
revolver and
ammunitions. The team seized and signed a receipt for the seized items. Barangay
Captain Barnachea and
SPO1 Edgar Bermudez of the Masinloc Police Station also signed the receipt as
witnesses. SPO1 Buloron and
his companions arrested Estrella and brought him to San Marcelino, Zambales. The
defense, however, alleged
otherwise and claimed that on 20 November 1996 between 10:30 and 11:00 a.m.,
while Estrella was talking
with his friends Rael Tapado and Victor de Leon at a vacant lot just outside the house
of Camillo Torres and
about 70 meters away from his house, a group of men approached them. The group
introduced themselves as
policemen and told them that they were looking for Antonio Estella because they
have a search warrant issued
against him. Estrella identified himself to them. The policemen inquired from Estrella
as to where his house is
located and Estrella told them that his house is located across the road. The police did
not believe him and
insisted that Estrella's house is that house located about 58 meters away from them.
Estrella told the
policemen to inquire from the Barangay Captain Barnachea as to where his house is
and heard the latter
telling the policemen that his house is located near the Abokabar junk shop. After
about half an hour, the
policemen went inside the house nearby and when they came out, they had with
them a bulk of plastic and
had it shown to Estrella. They photographed Estrella and brought him to their office at
San Marcelino,
Zambales. Estella was investigated at San Marcelino, Zambales where he informed the
police officers of the
fact that the house they searched was occupied by Spouses Vicente and Fely
Bakdangan. Still, Estrella was
charged for possession of prohibited drugs and unlicensed firearms. The Regional Trial
Court (RTC) of Iba,
Zambales (Branch 69), in Criminal Case RTC 2143-I and on 25 August 1998, found
Estrella guilty of
violating Section 8, Article II of RA 6425, as amended by RA 7659, and sentenced him
to reclusion perpetua.
The 8.320 kilograms of dried marijuana was ordered confiscated in favor of the
government, and the Sheriff
was directed to deliver the subject marijuana to the Dangerous Drugs Board for its
proper disposition. On the
other hand, Estrella was acquitted from the charge of violation of PD 1866 The .38
caliber revolver without
serial number and 4 live ammunitions, subject of the offense, were however ordered
delivered to any
authorized representative of the Philippine National Police, Firearms and Explosives
Division, Camp Crame,
Quezon City. Estrella appealed said decision.
Issue: Whether the search undertaken inside the hut during which the
incriminating evidence was
allegedly recovered was legal.
Held: There is no convincing proof that Estrella indeed surrendered the prohibited
drug, whether voluntarily
or otherwise. In fact, the testimony of Prosecution Witness Barnachea clouds rather
than clarifies the
prosecution's story. Given this backdrop, the police authorities cannot claim that the
search was incident to a
lawful arrest. Such a search presupposes a lawful or valid arrest and can only be
invoked through Section 5
(Arrest without warrant; when lawful), Rule 113 of the Revised Rules on Criminal
Procedure, which provides
that "A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person: (a)
when, in his presence, the
person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to
commit an offense; (b) When
an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on
personal knowledge of
facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and (c) When
the person to be arrested
is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving
final judgment or is
temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred
from one confinement
to another. In cases falling under paragraphs (a) and (b) above, the person arrested
without a warrant shall be
forthwith delivered to the nearest police station or jail and shall be proceeded against
in accordance with
Section 7 Rule 112." Never was it proven that Estrella, who was the person to be
arrested, was in possession
of the subject prohibited drug during the search. It follows, therefore, that there was
no way of knowing if he
had committed or was actually committing an offense in the presence of the arresting
officers. Without that
knowledge, there could have been no search incident to a lawful arrest. Assuming
arguendo that appellant was
indeed committing an offense in the presence of the arresting officers, and that the
arrest without a warrant
was lawful, it still cannot be said that the search conducted was within the confines of
the law. Searches and
seizures incident to lawful arrests are governed by Section 12 (Search incident to
lawful arrest), Rule 126 of
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Narratives (Berne Guerrero)
the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which provides that "A person lawfully
arrested may be searched
for dangerous weapons or anything which may have been used or constitute proof in
the commission of an
offense without a search warrant." However, the scope of the search should be limited
to the area within
which the person to be arrested can reach for a weapon or for evidence that he or she
can destroy. The
prevailing rule is that the arresting officer may take from the arrested individual any
money or property found
upon the latter's person that which was used in the commission of the crime or was
the fruit of the crime,
or which may provide the prisoner with the means of committing violence or
escaping, or which may be used
in evidence in the trial of the case. The purpose of the exception in Chimel v. California
is to protect the
arresting officer from being harmed by the person being arrested, who might be
armed with a concealed
weapon, and to prevent the latter from destroying evidence within reach. The
exception, therefore, should not
be strained beyond what is needed to serve its purpose. Herein, searched was the
entire hut, which cannot be
said to have been within Estrela's immediate control. Thus, the search exceeded the
bounds of that which may
be considered to be incident to a lawful arrest.