Labor activist acquitted of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition charges
The Court of Appeals (CA) has reversed the conviction of a labor activist for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition due to lapses committed by the police during his arrest.
In a decision dated September 15, the CA Tenth Division granted Kilusang Mayo Uno member Marklen Maojo Maga’s appeal, resulting in the reversal of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of San Mateo, Rizal, Branch 76’s decision in May 2019 and the January 2020 resolution of the RTC of San Mateo, Branch 75, denying the motion for reconsideration.
The appellate court ordered the director general of the Bureau of Corrections and the superintendent of the New Bilibid Prison to immediately release Maga from detention “unless he is being held for other lawful cause/s.”
Maga was earlier sentenced to eight to 14 years in prison.
In February 2018, Maga was watching a basketball game at Greenland Newtown Subdivision, San Mateo, Rizal when a group of policemen arrested him due to a pending murder case before a court in Cabadbaran City, Agusan Del Norte.
Police said Maga tried to escape while holding his backpack, which allegedly contained a caliber.45 pistol with an inserted magazine loaded with seven live ammunition.
In his judicial affidavit, Maga said that the seized firearms and ammunition were planted by his arresting officers.
He said at the time of his arrest, his backpack was nowhere near him since he hung it on his bicycle, which was parked beside the basketball court.
Based on the CA decision, a warrantless search cannot be conducted in a place other than the place of arrest.
“In the present case, it is undisputed that the warrantless search was conducted in a place other than the place of arrest. The prosecution witnesses were clear that [Maga] was arrested at the basketball court, while the search of Maga’s backpack took place after they had all boarded their private vehicle,” it said.
It was also not established that Maga was armed at the time of his arrest.
“The arresting officers did not testify to any circumstances indicating the presence or use of a weapon. In fact, the accused-appellant was inside the basketball court watching a basketball game. Similarly, they did not allege that they feared for their safety, public safety, or for the integrity of any indestructible evidence at the time they were about to execute the arrest warrant against Maga,” the decision read.
The court said: "It bears to reiterate that when the search of the backpack was conducted, the accused-appellant had already been handcuffed and no apparent danger could be inferred from the testimony of the arresting officers."
“In sum, the search of the accused-appellant’s backpack inside the vehicle is unlawful and unreasonable. Resultantly, the firearms and live ammunition allegedly recovered therefrom constitute inadmissible evidence pursuant to the exclusionary clause enshrined in the 1987 Constitution for being the proverbial fruit of the poisonous tree."
The decision was written by Associate Justice Jaime Fortunato Caringal and concurred in by Associate Justices Ramon Cruz and Louis Acosta. — VBL, GMA News