Court junks case vs Ronnel Mas: Constitution trumps ‘despicable, provocative’ tweet on P50-M ‘bounty’

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SAYING the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) had “unlawfully” arrested Ronnel Mas, accused of offering a “50-million” bounty to kill President Duterte, the

Regional Trial Court of Olongapo City has thrown out the case of sedition and cybercrime case against the teacher.

As a consequence of the arrest — which failed to meet the standards of a lawful warrantless arrest — Olongapo City RTC Branch 72 presiding Judge Richard Paradeza said the court “failed to acquire jurisdiction” over Mas, warranting the dismissal of the sedition charges in relation to the Cybercrime Prevention Action of 2012 filed against him. 

Mas was supposed to be arraigned last May 28 before the Olongapo RTC, but this was deferred after the teacher filed a motion to quash. 

“Considering that the accused Mas had timely raised objection to the legality of his arrest before arraignment, and with the findings of this court that accused Mas was indeed unlawfully arrested, this court failed to acquire jurisdiction over his person,” Judge Paradeza said in a 13-page order dated June 24, 2020.

“With the quashal of the criminal information for violation of Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to RA 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2020), this case is now considered dismissed,” the trial court added. 

The court held that NBI operatives failed to comply with Section 5, Rule 113 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, listing the occasions when a law enforcer or a private person may lawfully arrest even in the absence of warrant. 

The trial court noted that the subject tweet of Mas was posted on May 5 but his arrest took place only after six days, and was based solely on a sworn statement made by a certain Julius Hallado.

The judge noted that the NBI did not exert effort to gather evidence to determine real ownership of the account but merely relied on the statements of Hallado.

Section 5, Rule 113, the judge pointed out, requires that the arresting officers have personal knowledge of the crime or offense allegedly committed. 

At the time Mas was arrested, the NBI-Dagupan operatives had no personal knowledge of the facts and circumstances that the person to be arrested indeed committed a crime, the court noted.

The court observed that Hallado was not even sure that the owner of the account @RonPrince which posted the subject tweet was Mas.

“Owing to the appreciable lapse of time between the arrest of the accused and the commission of the crime charged, it is safe to conclude that the arrest of the accused is unlawful,” the trial court said. 

The RTC continued: “It is crystal clear that when the NBI operatives arrested accused who was not committing any criminal act that time, the operatives already violated the right of the accused against illegal arrest.”

The prosecution had asserted that the invalidity of the warrantless arrest is cured by Mas’s subsequent admission to the media that he owns the Twitter account, but the court gave no weight to this.

Extrajudicial confessions, to be acceptable, must conform to constitutional rights of the person under custodial investigation, such as the right to remain silent, to have independent and competent counsel of their own choice, to be provided with counsel if they are unable to secure one and to have a counsel present when they decide to waive these rights, Paradeza said. 

In the case of Mas, even if he indeed made the extrajudicial admission, such was made without the presence of a counsel, the judge noted. “This admission cannot be used against the accused for he was not assisted by any counsel then,” said the court.

The RTC further noted that the supposed extrajudicial confession of Mas before the media was not made part of the record of the case. 

Finally, the trial court said while it found the text posted in the Twitter account “despicable and provocative” which tends to undermine lawful authorities and disturb peace, the person allegedly responsible for such should still be afforded his constitutional rights. 

“Even the worst criminals have constitutional rights too,” the trial court declared. 

Mas was detained at the NBI main headquarters in Manila for a week before the court ordered his release after he paid bail of P72,000.

The Department of Justice had earlier ruled that the NBI’s warrantless arrest of Mas was “invalid” but that the defect was cured by an interview he gave to the media, where he admitted posting the tweet.

That matter had given rise to concern among media experts that journalists must always be aware they do not become unwitting players in violating constitutional rights as they carry out their job.


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