People vs. Gatward, 267 SCRA 785 (1997)
On 30 August 1994, U Aung Win, a Passenger of TG Flight 620 of the Thai Airways which had just arrived from Bangkok, Thailand, presented his luggage, a travelling bag for examination to Customs Examiner Busran Tawano, who was assigned at the Arrival Area of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City. U Aung Win also handed to Tawano his Customs Declaration 128417 stating that he had no articles to declare. When Tawano was about to inspect his luggage, U Aung Win suddenly left, proceeding towards the direction of Carousel 1, the conveyor for the pieces of luggage of the passengers of Flight 620, as if to retrieve another baggage from it. After having inspected the luggages of the other incoming passengers, Tawano became alarmed by the failure of U Aung Win to return and suspected that the bag of U Aung Win contained illegal articles. The Customs Examiner reported the matter to his superiors. Upon their instructions, the bag was turned over to the office of the Customs Police in the NAIA for x-ray examination where it was detected that it contained some powdery substance. When opened, the bag revealed two packages containing the substance neatly hidden in between its partitions. Representative samples of the substance were examined by Elizabeth Ayonon, a chemist of the Crime Laboratory Service of the Philippine National Police (PNP) assigned at the Arrival Area of the NAIA, and by Tita Advincula, another chemist of the PNP Crime Laboratory Service at Camp Crame, and found to be positive for heroin. The two chemists concluded that the entire substance, with a total weight of 5,579.80 grams, contained in the two packages found in the bag of U Aung Win, is heroin. A manhunt was conducted to locate U Aung Win. At about 7:45 p.m. of the same date, Rey Espinosa, an employee of the Lufthansa Airlines, notified the commander of the NAIA Customs Police District Command that a certain Burmese national by the name of U Aung Win appeared at the check-in counter of the airline as a departing passenger. Immediately, a team of law enforcers proceeded to the Departure Area and apprehended the accused after he had been identified through his signatures in his Customs Declaration and in his Bureau of Immigration and Deportation Arrival Card. Customs Examiner Tawano also positively identified U Aung Win as the person who left his bag with him at the Arrival Area of the NAIA. During the investigation of U Aung Win, the agents of the Customs Police and the Narcotics Command (NARCOM) gathered the information that U Aung Win had a contact in Bangkok and that there were other drug couriers in the Philippines. Following the lead, a team of lawmen, together with U Aung Win, was dispatched to the City Garden Hotel in Mabini St., Ermita, Manila, to enable U Aung Win to communicate with his contact in Bangkok for further instructions. While the police officers were standing by, they noticed two persons, a Caucasian and an oriental, alight from a car and enter the hotel. U Aung Win whispered to Customs Police Special Agent Edgar Quiñones that he recognized the two as drug couriers whom he saw talking with his contact in Bangkok named Mau Mau. The members of the team were able to establish the identity of the two persons as Nigel Richard Gatward and one Zaw Win Naing, a Thailander, from the driver of the hotel service car used by the two when they arrived in the hotel. It was gathered by the law enforcers that Gatward and Zaw Win Naing were scheduled to leave for Bangkok on board a KLM flight. On 31 August 1994, operatives of the NAIA Customs Police mounted a surveillance operation at the Departure Area for Gatward and Zaw Win Naing who might be leaving the country. At about 7:45 p.m., Special Agent Gino Minguillan of the Customs Police made a verification on the passenger manifest of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Flight 806, bound for Amsterdam via Bangkok, which was scheduled to depart at about 7:55 p.m. He found the name "GATWARD/NRMR" listed therein as a passenger for Amsterdam and accordingly informed his teammates who responded immediately Customs Police Captain Juanito Algenio requested Victorio Erece, manager of the KLM airline at the NAIA, to let passenger Gatward disembark from the aircraft and to have his checked-in luggage, if any, unloaded. The manager acceded to the request to off-load Gatward but not to the unloading of his check-in bag as the plane was about to depart and to do so would unduly delay the flight. However, Erece made an assurance that the bag would be returned immediately to the Philippines on the first available flight from Bangkok. Upon his disembarkment. Gatward was invited by the police officers for investigation. At about 3:00 p.m. of 1 September 1994, Gatward's luggage, was brought back to the NAIA from Bangkok through the Thai airways, pursuant to the request of Erece. Upon its retrieval, the law enforcers subjected the bag to x-ray examinations in the presence of Gatward and some Customs officials. It was observed to contain some powdery substance. Inside the bag were two improvised envelopes made of cardboard each containing the powdery substance, together with many clothes. The envelopes were hidden inside the bag, one at the side in between a double-wall, the other inside a partition in the middle. Upon its examination by Chemists Ayonon and Advincula pursuant to the request of Police Senior Inspector John Campos of the NARCOM, the powdery substance contained in the two cardboard envelopes, with a net weight of 5,237.70 grams, was found to be heroin. Nigel Richard Gatward was charged with violating Section 4 of Republic Act 6425, the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (transporting); while U Aung Win was charged for transgressing Section 3 of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 (importing). Gatward pleaded not guilty of the charge when arraigned, while U Aung Win pleaded guilty of the crime charged upon his arraignment. On 3 March 1995, the trial court found both guilty of the crime charged.
Whether Gatward’s and U Aung Win’s suitcases may be searched without warrant.
While no search warrant had been obtained for that purpose, when Gatward checked in his bag as his personal luggage as a passenger of KLM Flight 806 he thereby agreed to the inspection thereof in accordance with customs rules and regulations, an international practice of strict observance, and waived any objection to a warrantless search. His subsequent arrest, although likewise without a warrant, was justified since it was effected upon the discovery and recovery of the heroin in his bag, or in flagrante delicto. The conviction of U Aung Win is likewise unassailable. His culpability was not based only upon his plea of guilty but also upon the evidence of the prosecution, the presentation of which was required by the lower court despite said plea. The evidence thus presented convincingly proved his having imported into this country the heroin found in his luggage which he presented for customs examination upon his arrival at the international airport. There was, of course, no showing that he was authorized by law to import such dangerous drug, nor did he claim or present any authority to do so.