People v. Suzuki, GR 120670, 23 October 2003
Sometime in November 1993, the PNP Narcotics Command issued a directive to all Chiefs of Narcotics Regional Field Units to cover all domestic airport terminals within their respective areas of responsibility, following reports that drug trafficking is prevalent in domestic airports; and to coordinate with local airport authorities and the PASCOM. In the morning of 12 April 1994, Hedishi Suzuki and Takeshi Koketsu, both Japanese nationals, entered the pre-departure area of the Bacolod Airport Terminal. Suzuki was bound for Manila via Philippine Airlines and was carrying a small traveling bag and a box marked “Bongbong’s piaya.”
At the pre-departure area, upon the advice of Corazon Sinosa, a civilian personnel of the PASCOM, Suzuki proceeded to the “walk-through metal detector,” a machine which produces a red light and an alarm once it detects the presence of metallic substance or object. Thereupon, the red light switched on and the alarm sounded, signifying the presence of metallic substance either in his person or in the box he was carrying. This prompted PO3 Rhodelin Poyugao of the Police Aviation Security Command (PASCOM) to frisk him bodily. Finding no metallic object in his body, PO3 Poyugao picked up the box of piaya and passed it through the machine. Again, the machine was activated. PO3 Poyugao then ordered Suzuki to go to the hand-carried luggage inspection counter where several PASCOM and NARCOM personnel were present. SPO1 Arturo Casugod, Sr. requested Suzuki to open the box.
He appeared tense and reluctant and started to leave, but SPO1 Casugod called him. Eventually he consented, saying in faltering English, “open, open.” SPO1 Casugod opened the box and found therein 18 small packs, 17 of which were wrapped in aluminum foil. SPO1 Casugod opened one pack. Inside were dried fruiting tops which looked like marijuana. Upon seeing this, Suzuki ran outside the pre-departure area but he was chased by PO3 Poyugao, SPO1 Gilbert Linda of the Narcotics Command (NARCOM) and Donato Barnezo of the PASCOM. They apprehended Suzuki near the entrance of the terminal and brought him to the PASCOM office. They also brought Takeshi and his wife, Lourdes Linsangan, to the office, being suspects as conspirators with Suzuki in drug trafficking.
Lourdes asked permission to call Atty. Silvestre Tayson. When he arrived, the police apprised Suzuki of his constitutional rights. Meanwhile, SPO1 Casugod weighed the contents of the box and inventoried the same. The total weight of the suspected marijuana fruiting tops was 1.9 kilograms or 1,900 grams. He then drafted a “confiscation receipt” which Suzuki, upon the advice of Atty. Tayson, refused to acknowledge. SPO1 Casugod turned over Suzuki to SPO1 Linda for investigation. Subsequently, Suzuki and his companions were brought to the prosecutor’s office for inquest and placed under the custody of C/Inspector Ernesto Alcantara at the NARCOM office. The box with its contents was brought to the PNP Crime Laboratory. P/Inspector Rea Abastillas Villavicencio, the forensic chemist of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory, conducted three tests on the specimen samples which proved positive for marijuana. Suzuki was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana, a prohibited drug, in violation of the Dangerous Drug Act. Suzuki entered a plea of not guilty, and trial followed thereafter. The Regional Trial Court, Branch 45, Bacolod City in Criminal Case 94-16100 convicted Hedishi Suzuki of illegal possession of marijuana, defined and penalized under Section 8, Article II of RA 6425, as amended, and sentenced him to suffer the penalty of death and to pay a fine of P10,000,000.00. Hence, the automatic review.
Whether the PASCOM has the authority to inspect luggage or hand-carried bags
YES. PASCOM has authority and the warrantless search is valid.
The Police Aviation Security Command (PASCOM) is the implementing arm of the National Action Committee on Anti-Hijacking (NACAH), which is a creation of Presidential Letter of Instruction (LOI) 399, dated 28 April 1976. On 18 February 1978, a Memorandum of Understanding among the Secretary of National Defense, the Secretary of Public Works, Transportation and Communication, the Secretary of Justice, the Director General, National Intelligence and Security Authority and the Secretary of Finance was signed. Under the said Memorandum of Understanding the then AVSECOM (now PASCOM) shall have the following functions and responsibilities:
(1) Secure all airports against offensive and terroristic acts that threaten civil aviation;
(2) Undertake aircraft anti-hijacking operations;
(3) Exercise operational control and supervision over all agencies involved in airport security operations; (4) Take all necessary preventive measures to maintain peace and order, and provide other pertinent public safety services within the airports; xxx.
Based upon the Memorandum of Understanding, pursuant to President LOI 399, in relation to RA 6235, the PASCOM had the legal authority to be at the Bacolod Airport, Bacolod City and to inspect luggages hand-carried bags. This is not the first time that the Court recognizes a search conducted pursuant to routine airport security procedure as an exception to the proscription against warrantless searches. In People vs. Canton, and People vs. Johnson, the Court validated the search conducted on the departing passengers and the consequent seizure of the shabu found in their persons. Clearly, the PASCOM agents have the right under the law to conduct search of prohibited materials or substances. To simply refuse passengers carrying suspected illegal items to enter the pre-departure area is to deprive the authorities of their duty to conduct search, thus sanctioning impotence and ineffectivity of the law enforcers, to the detriment of society. It should be stressed, however, that whenever the right against unreasonable search and seizure is challenged, an individual may choose between invoking the constitutional protection or waiving his right by giving consent to the search or seizure.
Here, Suzuki voluntarily gave his consent to the search conducted by the PASCOM agents.