August 2012 Philippine Supreme Court Decisions on Political Law

Here are select August 2012 rulings of the Supreme Court of the Philippines on political law:

Constitutional law

Bill of rights; due process.  Due process, as a constitutional precept, does not always and in all situations require a trial-type proceeding.  It is satisfied when a person is notified of the charge against him and given an opportunity to explain or defend himself.  In administrative proceedings, the filing of charges and giving reasonable opportunity for the person so charged to answer the accusations against him constitute the minimum requirements of due process.  More often, this opportunity is conferred through written pleadings that the parties submit to present their charges and defenses.  But as long as a party is given the opportunity to defend his or her interests in due course, said party is not denied due process.  …  Since petitioner was given the opportunity to defend himself from the charges against him, as in fact he submitted a Counter-Affidavit with the PAGC, though he failed to comply with the order for the submission of position paper, he cannot complain of denial of due process.  Dr. Fernando A. Melendres M.D., Executive Director of the Lung Center of the Philippines [LCP] vs. President Anti-Graft Commission, et al., G.R. No. 163859, August 15, 2012.

Bill of rights; unreasonable searches; exclusionary rule Section 2, Article III of the Constitution mandates that a search and seizure must be carried out through or on the strength of a judicial warrant predicated upon the existence of probable cause, absent which such search and seizure becomes “unreasonable” within the meaning of said constitutional provision.  Evidence obtained and confiscated on the occasion of such an unreasonable search and seizure is tainted and should be excluded for being the proverbial fruit of a poisonous tree.  In the language of the fundamental law, it shall be inadmissible in evidence for any purpose in any proceeding.  Margarita Ambre Y Cayuni v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191532, August 15, 2012.

Bill of rights; warrantless arrests; flagrante delictoSection 5[ of Rule 113 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure] provides three (3) instances when warrantless arrest may be lawfully effected: (a) arrest of a suspect in flagrante delicto; (b) arrest of a suspect where, based on personal knowledge of the arresting officer, there is probable cause that said suspect was the perpetrator of a crime which had just been committed; (c) arrest of a prisoner who has escaped from custody serving final judgment or temporarily confined during the pendency of his case or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

In arrest in flagrante delicto, the accused is apprehended at the very moment he is committing or attempting to commit or has just committed an offense in the presence of the arresting officer.  Clearly, to constitute a valid in flagrante delicto arrest, two requisites must concur: (1) the person to be arrested must execute an overt act indicating that he has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a crime; and (2) such overt act is done in the presence or within the view of the arresting officer.

In the case at bench, there is no gainsaying that Ambre was caught by the police officers in the act of using shabu and, thus, can be lawfully arrested without a warrant.  PO1 Mateo positively identified Ambre sniffing suspected shabu from an aluminum foil being held by Castro.  Ambre, however, made much of the fact that there was no prior valid intrusion in the residence of Sultan.  The argument is specious.

Suffice it to state that prior justification for intrusion or prior lawful intrusion is not an element of an arrest in flagrante delicto.  Thus, even granting arguendo that the apprehending officers had no legal right to be present in the dwelling of Sultan, it would not render unlawful the arrest of Ambre, who was seen sniffing shabu with Castro and Mendoza in a pot session by the police officers.  Accordingly, PO2 Masi and PO1 Mateo were not only authorized but were also duty-bound to arrest Ambre together with Castro and Mendoza for illegal use of methamphetamine hydrochloride in violation of Section 15, Article II of R.A. No. 9165.  …

Considering that the warrantless arrest of Ambre was valid, the subsequent search and seizure done on her person was likewise lawful.  After all, a legitimate warrantless arrest necessarily cloaks the arresting police officer with authority to validly search and seize from the offender (1) dangerous weapons, and (2) those that may be used as proof of the commission of an offense.  Margarita Ambre Y Cayuni v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 191532, August 15, 2012.

Public officers

Public officers; three-fold responsibility.  We have ruled that dismissal of a criminal action does not foreclose institution of an administrative proceeding against the same respondent, nor carry with it the relief from administrative liability.  It is a basic rule in administrative law that public officials are under a three-fold responsibility for a violation of their duty or for a wrongful act or omission, such that they may be held civilly, criminally and administratively liable for the same act.  Administrative liability is thus separate and distinct from penal and civil liability.

Moreover, the fact that the administrative case and the case filed before the Ombudsman are based on the same subject matter is of no moment.  It is a fundamental principle of administrative law that the administrative case may generally proceed against a respondent independently of a criminal action for the same act or omission and requires only a preponderance of evidence to establish administrative guilt as against proof beyond reasonable doubt of the criminal charge.  Accordingly, the dismissal of two criminal cases by the Sandiganbayan and of several criminal complaints by the Ombudsman did not result in the absolution of petitioner from the administrative charges.  Dr. Fernando A. Melendres M.D., Executive Director of the Lung Center of the Philippines [LCP] vs. President Anti-Graft Commission, et al., G.R. No. 163859, August 15, 2012.

Public officers; three-fold responsibility.  Under the ”threefold liability rule,” any act or omission of any public official or employee can result in criminal, civil, or administrative liability, each of which is independent of the other.  Ernesto A. Fajardo vs. Office of the Ombudsman, et al., G.R. No. 173268, August 23, 2012.

Ombudsman; power to dismiss erring public officials As a last ditch effort to save himself, petitioner now puts in issue the power of the Ombudsman to order his dismissal from service.  Petitioner contends that the Ombudsman in dismissing him from service disregarded Section 13, subparagraph 3, Article XI of the Constitution as well as Section 15(3) of RA No.  6770, which only vests in the Ombudsman the power to recommend the removal of a public official or employee.  …

It is already well-settled that “the power of the Ombudsman to determine and impose administrative liability is not merely recommendatory but actually mandatory.”  As we have explained in Atty. Ledesma v. Court of Appeals [503 Phil. 396 (2003)], “the fact ‘[t]hat the refusal, without just cause, of any officer to comply with [the] order of the Ombudsman to penalize an erring officer or employee is a ground for disciplinary action [under Section 15(3) of RA No. 6770]; is a strong indication that the Ombudsman’s ‘recommendation’ is not merely advisory in nature but is actually mandatory within the bounds of law.”  Ernesto A. Fajardo vs. Office of the Ombudsman, et al., G.R. No. 173268, August 23, 2012.