Determination of probable cause; Issuance of warrants

It is likewise well to reiterate here that probable cause, as far as the issuance of a search warrant is concerned, has been uniformly defined as such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonable, discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed, and that the objects sought in connection with the offense are in the place sought to be searched. Equally important is our declaration in Microsoft Corporation and Lotus Development Corporation v. Maxicorp, Inc. that "The determination of probable cause does not call for the application of rules and standards of proof that a judgment of conviction requires after trial on the merits. As implied by the words themselves, probable cause is concerned with probability, not absolute or even moral certainty. The prosecution need not present at this stage reasonable doubt. The standards of judgment are those of a reasonably prudent man, not the exacting calibrations of a judge after a full-blown trial."
Applying these standards, we hold that the trial court overstepped its boundaries as far as determination of probable cause is concerned when it ratiocinated in its Order dated 20 February 2004 that

With respect to the other units seized by the NBI, their immediate release is likewise proper since there is no showing of probable cause that justified the issuance of the search warrant.The (herein respondents) claims (sic) that the (herein petitioners) are guilty of Unfair Competition because of the alleged similarities between its motorcycle units and those of the (petitioners). There maybe similarities as claimed by the (respondents) but the differences far outweigh the similarities that any confusion to the consumer is remote and speculative. These differences are quite evident from the very comparative pictures attached by the (petitioners) in its (sic) application for Search Warrant as well as in the Opposition filed relative to the pending Joint Motion to Quash Search Warrants and to Return Illegally Seized Items.

Aside from the differences in features, the motorcycle units sold by the (petitioners) prominently bear the distinct trade name DRAGON SPIRIT. This is not the same trade name of the (respondents), which is Honda. The fact alone would practically eliminate any possible confusion on the part of the public that the motorcycle units they would be buying from the (petitioners) are those manufactured and/or sold by (respondents).

Such pronouncement by the RTC is utterly premature for, at that point, all that was presented before it by respondents was evidence, which to their minds, was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause. The trial courts above-cited declaration unmistakably conveys the message that no unfair competition exists in this case a conclusion that is not within its competence to make, for its task is merely confined to the preliminary matter of determination of probable cause and nothing more. The evidence it requires to dispense this function is, as stated before, far less stringent than that required in the trial on the merits of the charge involving unfair competition.

Petitioners also argue that the search warrants in question partook the nature of general search warrants in that they included motorcycles bearing the model name WAVE. They insist that word WAVE is generic and that it fails to pass the requirement of particularity of the items to be seized. They also maintain that had the word WAVE been enough, there would have been no need for petitioners to state in their application for search warrants the specific motorcycle models, i.e., DSM WAVE, DSM SUPERWAVE 110, and WAVE R 125.

It is elemental that in order to be valid, a search warrant must particularly describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized. The constitutional requirement of reasonable particularity of description of the things to be seized is primarily meant to enable the law enforcers serving the warrant to: (1) readily identify the properties to be seized and thus prevent them from seizing the wrong items; and (2) leave said peace officers with no discretion regarding the articles to be seized and thus prevent unreasonable searches and seizures. It is not, however, required that the things to be seized must be described in precise and minute detail as to leave no room for doubt on the part of the searching authorities. (G.R. No. 172775; December 19, 2007)