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De Villa v. Belmonte, GR 83988, 24 May 1990
On 20 January 1987, the National Capital Region District Command (NCRDC) was activated pursuant to Letter of Instruction 02/87 of the Philippine General Headquarters, AFP, with the mission of conducting security operations within its area of responsibility and peripheral areas, for the purpose of establishing an effective territorial defense, maintaining peace and order, and providing an atmosphere conducive to the social, economic and political development of the National Capital Region. 1 As part of its duty to maintain peace and order, the NCRDC installed checkpoints in various parts of Valenzuela, Metro Manila. Ricardo C. Valmonte and the Union of Lawyers and Advocates for People's Right (ULAP) filed a petition for prohibition with preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order witht the Supreme Court, seeking the declaration of checkpoints in Valenzuela, Metro Manila or elsewhere, as unconstitutional and the dismantling and banning of the same or, in the alternative, to direct the respondents to formulate guidelines in the implementation of checkpoints, for the protection of the people. They aver that, because of the installation of said checkpoints, the residents of Valenzuela are worried of being harassed and of their safety being placed at the arbitrary, capricious and whimsical disposition of the military manning the checkpoints, considering that their cars and vehicles are being subjected to regular searches and check-ups, especially at night or at dawn, without the benefit of a search warrant and/or court order. Their alleged fear for their safety increased when, at dawn of 9 July 1988, Benjamin Parpon, a supply officer of the Municipality of Valenzuela, Bulacan, was gunned down allegedly in cold blood by the members of the NCRDC manning the checkpoint along McArthur Highway at Malinta, Valenzuela, for ignoring and/or refusing to submit himself to the checkpoint and for continuing to speed off inspire of warning shots fired in the air. Valmonte also claims that, on several occasions, he had gone thru these checkpoints where he was stopped and his car subjected to search/check-up without a court order or search warrant. They further contend that the said checkpoints give Gen. Renato de Villa and the National Capital Region District Command a blanket authority to make searches and/or seizures without search warrant or court order in violation of the Constitution. In the Supreme Court's decision dated 29 September 1989, Valmonte’s and ULAP’s petition for prohibition, seeking the declaration of the checkpoints as unconstitutional and their dismantling and/or banning, was dismissed. Valmonte and ULAP filed the motion and supplemental motion for reconsideration of said decision.
Whether or not checkpoints serve as a blanket authority for government officials for warrantless search and seizure and, thus, are violative of the Constitution.
Nowhere in the Supreme Court's decision of May 24, 1990 did the Court legalize all checkpoints, i.e. at all times and under all circumstances. What the Court declared is, that checkpoints are not illegal per se. Thus, under exceptional circumstances, as where the survival of organized government is on the balance, or where the lives and safety of the people are in grave peril, checkpoints may be allowed and installed by the government. Implicit in this proposition is, that when the situation clears and such grave perils are removed, checkpoints will have absolutely no reason to remain. Recent and on-going events have pointed to the continuing validity and need for checkpoints manned by either military or police forces. Although no one can be compelled, under our libertarian system, to share with the present government its ideological beliefs and practices, or commend its political, social and economic policies or performance; one must concede to it the basic right to defend itself from its enemies and, while in power, to pursue its program of government intended for public welfare; and in the pursuit of those objectives, the government has the equal right, under its police power, to select the reasonable means and methods for best achieving them. The checkpoint is evidently one of such means it has selected. Admittedly, the routine checkpoint stop does intrude, to a certain extent, on motorist's right to "free passage without interruption", but it cannot be denied that, as a rule, it involves only a brief detention of travellers during which the vehicle's occupants are required to answer a brief question or two. For as long as the vehicle is neither searched nor its occupants subjected to a body search, and the inspection of the vehicle is limited to a visual search, said routine checks cannot be regarded as violative of an individual's right against unreasonable search. These routine checks, when conducted in a fixed area, are even less intrusive. Further, vehicles are generally allowed to pass these checkpoints after a routine inspection and a few questions. If vehicles are stopped and extensively searched, it is because of some probable cause which justifies a reasonable belief of the men at the checkpoints that either the motorist is a law-offender or the contents of the vehicle are or have been instruments of some offense. By the same token, a warrantless search of incoming and outgoing passengers, at the arrival and departure areas of an international airport, is a practice not constitutionally objectionable because it is founded on public interest, safety, and necessity.