“THE STATE’S steadfastness in eliminating the drug menace must be equally matched by its determination to uphold and defend the Constitution. The Court will not sit idly by and allow the Constitution to be added to the mounting body count in the State’s war on illegal drugs.”
Thus, the Supreme Court’s stinging rebuke of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs in its decision acquitting a drug suspect on July 16 but only made public recently.
“When the Constitution is disregarded, the battle waged against illegal drugs becomes a self-defeating and self-destructive enterprise. A battle waged against illegal drugs that tramples on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs; it is a war against the people,”added the decision penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa concurred in by ten other justices.
Acquitted was one Jerry Sapla who was caught in Jan.2014 with four bricks or nearly four kilograms of marijuana while on board a jeepney in Kalinga. The RTC of Tabuk City had convicted him of transportation of illegal drugs, a decision which the Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal, the SC acquitted Sapla because of the manner by which he was arrested.
Sapla was caught based on information from an anonymous caller, and later, texter, informing the police in Tabuk City of drugs being transported on board a jeepney from Kalinga to Isabela.
“Law enforcers cannot act solely on the basis of confidential or tipped information. A tip is still hearsay no matter how reliable it may be. It is not sufficient to constitute probable cause in the absence of any other circumstance that will arouse suspicion,” the court said.
And warned that “the citizen’s sanctified and heavily-protected right against unreasonable search and seizure will be at the mercy of phony tips” if it ruled to honor anonymous tips, recalling former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban’s comparison to Makapilis during the Japanese occupation.
In her dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier expressed concern that the ruling might “dishearten the legitimate enthusiasm” of police forces.
But the majority warned of the repercussions of ignoring basic rights, to wit: “The Court fully recognizes the necessity of adopting a resolute and aggressive stance against the menace of illegal drugs…Nevertheless, by sacrificing the sacred and indelible right against unreasonable searches and seizures for expediency’s sake, the very maintenance of peace and order sought after is rendered wholly nugatory.”
Standing up to the rule of law as well as to the right, the High Court has renewed the hope, if not the faith,of the citizens of an independent co-equal branch in government, and democracy’s last refuge.
That, aptly articulated by National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia thus: “In principle, it is a most welcome majority decision for its unequivocal boldness in indicting abuse of power dressing up the demagogic narrative in the ‘drug war’… It is a pleasant surprise and gives some kind of hope for the people that the judiciary will indeed uphold the Constitution and protect basic rights in relation to draconian measures such as the Terror Law.” —With ABS-CBN report