Warrantless arrest

People v. Alunday (G.R. No. 181546; September 3, 2008): Accused-appellant further assails his conviction for being improper and illegal asserting that the court a quo never acquired jurisdiction over his person because he was arrested without a warrant and that his warrantless arrest was not done under any of the circumstances enumerated in Section 5, Rule 113 of the 1985 Rules of Court. He insists that the arresting officers had three months within which to secure a warrant from the time they received the information about an existing marijuana plantation in Mount Churyon, Sadanga, in May 2000, until they effected accused-appellants arrest on 3 August 2000. Also, accused maintains that the arresting officers failure to secure a warrant can never be justified by the urgency of the situation.

Accused-appellants claim of irregularity in his arrest is, at the most, limp.Section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules of Court provides:

Sec. 5. Arrest without warrant; when lawful. - A peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person:

(a) When, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense;

(b) When an offense has just been committed and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and

(c) When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment or place where he is serving final judgment or is temporarily confined while his case is pending, or has escaped while being transferred from one confinement to another.

Section 5(a) provides that a peace officer or a private person may, without a warrant, arrest a person when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit, an offense. Section 5(a) refers to arrest in flagrante delicto. In flagrante delicto means caught in the act of committing a crime. This rule, which warrants the arrest of a person without warrant, requires that the person arrested has just committed a crime, or is committing it, or is about to commit an offense, in the presence or within view of the arresting officer.

It must be recalled that the Intelligence Section of the Provincial Office of the Mountain Province received the information sometime in May 2000, and accused-appellant was arrested by SPO1 Saipen during the police raid at the plantation at Mount Churyon, Sadanga, only on 3 August 2000. This is so because the arrest was effected only after a series of validations conducted by the team to verify or confirm the report that indeed a marijuana plantation existed at the area and after an operation plan was formed. As admitted by the accused in his supplemental brief, the information about the existing marijuana plantation was finally confirmed only on 2 August 2000. On 3 August 2000, the arresting team of SPO1 Saipen proceeded to the marijuana plantation. SPO1 Saipen saw accused-appellant personally cutting and gathering marijuana plants. Thus, accused-appellants arrest on 3 August 2000 was legal, because he was caught in flagrante delicto; that is, the persons arrested were committing a crime in the presence of the arresting officers.

In People v. Sucro, we held that when a police officer sees the offense, although at a distance, or hears the disturbances created thereby, and proceeds at once to the scene thereof, he may effect an arrest without a warrant on the basis of Section 5, par. (a), Rule 113 of the Rules of Court as the offense is deemed committed in his presence or within his view. In essence, Section 5, par. (a), Rule 113, requires that the accused be caught in flagrante delicto or caught in the act of committing a crime.

The Court has consistently ruled that any objection involving a warrant of arrest or the procedure for the acquisition by the court of jurisdiction over the person of the accused must be made before he enters his plea; otherwise, the objection is deemed waived. We have also ruled that an accused may be estopped from assailing the illegality of his arrest if he fails to move for the quashing of the information against him before his arraignment. And since the legality of an arrest affects only the jurisdiction of the court over the person of the accused, any defect in the arrest of the accused may be deemed cured when he voluntarily submits to the jurisdiction of the trial court. We have also held in a number of cases that the illegal arrest of an accused is not a sufficient cause for setting aside a valid judgment rendered upon a sufficient complaint after a trial free from error; such arrest does not negate the validity of the conviction of the accused.

Herein, accused-appellant went into arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. Thereafter, he actively participated in his trial. He raised the additional issue of irregularity of his arrest only during his appeal to this Court. He is, therefore, deemed to have waived such alleged defect by submitting himself to the jurisdiction of the court by his counsel-assisted plea during his arraignment; by his actively participating in the trial and by not raising the objection before his arraignment.

It is much too late in the day to complain about the warrantless arrest after a valid information has been filed, the accused arraigned, trial commenced and completed, and a judgment of conviction rendered against him.

Accused-appellant was not even denied due process by virtue of his alleged illegal arrest, because of his voluntary submission to the jurisdiction of the trial court, as manifested by the voluntary and counsel-assisted plea he entered during arraignment and by his active participation in the trial thereafter.

In challenging the existence of a legitimate buy-bust operation, appellant casts questionable, if not improper, motive on the part of the police officers. Unfortunately for appellant, jurisprudence instructs us that in cases involving illegal drugs, credence is given to prosecution witnesses who are police officers, for they are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Where there is nothing to indicate that the witnesses for the prosecution were moved by improper motives, the presumption is that they were not so moved and their testimony, therefore, is entitled to full faith and credit. In this case, the records are bereft of any indication which even remotely suggests ill motive on the part of the police officers. The following observations of the trial court are, indeed, appropriate, thus:

Absent as it is in the record indications of personal interest or improper motive on their part to testify against the accused, the witnesses for the prosecution being government law enforcers and/or officials, actually present during the incident in question in the performance of their duties, are trustworthy sources. And the recollections in open court of such witnesses of the events that transpired on the occasion, given in clear and direct manner, corroborating and complimenting each other on material points, and highly probable in the natural order of things, are easy to believe and thus accorded full credence.

In contrast, the accused himself, his aunt, and his daughter who testified in behalf of the former are obviously biased and unreliable witnesses on account of self-interest and blood kinship. Situated as they are, their inclination to be truthful is highly suspect. And quite aside from being self-serving and dubious, their testimonies are inconsistent, and manifestly concocted or improbable to be seriously considered.

All told, the cultivation of marijuana fruiting tops by accused-appellant having been established beyond reasonable doubt, we are constrained to uphold appellants conviction. The penalty imposed by the RTC, as affirmed by the Court of Appeals, being in accord with law, is likewise affirmed.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Decision dated 9 October 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-H.C. No. 01164, affirming in toto the Decision of the Regional Trial Court, First Judicial Region, Branch 35, Bontoc, Mountain Province, in Criminal Case No. 1528, is hereby AFFIRMED.