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Dela Cruz v. People, GR 209387, 11 January 2016
· Dela Cruz was an on-the-job trainee of an inter-island vessel. He frequently traveled, coming back and forth taking a vessel.
· While buying a ticket, he allegedly left his bag on the floor with a porter.
· Dela Cruz then proceeded to the entrance of the terminal and placed his bag on the x-ray scanning machine for inspection.
· The operator of the x-ray machine saw firearms inside Dela Cruz’s bag.
· Dela Cruz was then arrested and informed of his violation of a crime punishable by law and was charged with violation of Republic Act No. 8294 for illegal possession of firearms.
· Respondent argues that there was a valid waiver of Dela Cruz’s right to unreasonable search and seizure, thus warranting his conviction.
· The firearms were seized during a routine baggage x-ray at the port of Cebu, a common seaport security procedure.
Whether or not routine baggage inspections conducted by port authorities, although done without warrant, is valid.
Yes. The Court finds the search conducted by the port authorities reasonable and, therefore, not violative of the accused’s constitutional rights. Hence, when the search of the bag of the accused revealed the firearms and ammunitions, accused is deemed to have been caught in flagrante delicto, justifying his arrest even without a warrant under Section 5(a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure. The firearms and ammunitions obtained in the course of such valid search are thus admissible as evidence against the accused.
The consented search conducted on petitioner’s bag is different from a customs search.
Customs searches, as exception to the requirement of a valid search warrant, are allowed when "persons exercising police authority under the customs law . . . effect search and seizure . . . in the enforcement of customs laws." The Tariff and Customs Code provides the authority for such warrantless search, as this court ruled in Papa, et al. v. Mago, et al.:
The Code authorizes persons having police authority under Section 2203 of the Tariff and Customs Code to enter, pass through or search any land, enclosure, warehouse, store or building, not being a dwelling house; and also to inspect, search and examine any vessel or aircraft and any trunk, package, box or envelope or any person on board, or stop and search and examine any vehicle, beast or person suspected of holding or conveying any dutiable or prohibited article introduced into the Philippines contrary to law, without mentioning the need of a search warrant in said cases.
The ruling in Papa was echoed in Salvador v. People, in that the state’s policy to combat smuggling must not lose to the difficulties posed by the debate on whether the state has the duty to accord constitutional protection to dutiable articles on which duty has not been paid, as with a person’s papers and/or effects.
Hence, to be a valid customs search, the requirements are: (1) the person/s conducting the search was/were exercising police authority under customs law; (2) the search was for the enforcement of customs law; and (3) the place searched is not a dwelling place or house. Here, the facts reveal that the search was part of routine port security measures. The search was not conducted by persons authorized under customs law. It was also not motivated by the provisions of the Tariff and Customs Code or other customs laws. Although customs searches usually occur within ports or terminals, it is important that the search must be for the enforcement of customs laws.
The Petition is DENIED. The Court of Appeals Decision dated September 8, 2012 and the Resolution dated August 23, 2013 in CA-GR CEB CR No. 01606 are AFFIRMED with MODIFICATIONS.