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Court junks inciting to sedition charge vs teacher Ronnel Mas due to illegal arrest

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Court junks inciting to sedition charge vs teacher Ronnel Mas due to illegal arrest
Agents of National Bureau Investigation, Dagupan office arrested public school teacher Ronnel Mas over his tweet offering P50 million as reward to anyone who could kill President Rodrigo Duterte.
National Bureau of Investigation Public Information Office

MANILA, Philippines (Update 1, 11:14 a.m.) — An Olongapo Regional Trial Court judge rejected the inciting to sedition charge against public school teacher Ronnel Mas who offered a P50 million reward for President Rodrigo Duterte’s killing on a tweet.

Olongapo RTC Judge Richard Paradeza granted Mas' Motion to Quash — where the accused raised the illegality of his arrest — and ordered the dismissal of the inciting to sedition charge against the public school teacher.

Mas was arrested over his tweet, posted May 5, that read: “I will give P50 million reward kung sino makakapatay kay Duterte.”

National Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Mas on a “hot pursuit” operation on May 11, but Assistant State Prosecutor Jeanette Dacpano ruled that the arrest “does not fall within the ambit of warrantless arrest contemplated by the law.”

The inquest prosecutor held: “Inciting to sedition is not a continuous crime for which the offender may be arrested without a warrant duly issued by the proper authority.” 

Dacpano also said that this defective warrantless arrest was “immaculately cured” by Mas’ confession to members of the media.

On warrantless arrest on case assailing a tweet

The court found that Mas’ arrest as illegal, and that it is “disturbing” that NBI agents accosted Mas based merely on a statement on the ownership of the twitter account that was given six days later.

“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,” it held.

The court also stressed that under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, a warrantless arrest is valid if the offense had just been committed and there is probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts that the person to be arrested committed it.

The court said that following this rule, the arresting officers of the NBI must have personal knowledge of the crime, or is a witness of the crime. 

“[W]hile the law enforcers may not actually witness the execution of acts constituting the offense, they must have direct knowledge or view of the crime right after its commission,” the ruling read.

“Mere intelligence information that the suspect committed the crime will not suffice,” it added.

Confession cannot cure an illegal arrest

The court also said that a confession is not valid and admissible as evidence when it is obtained in violation of rights of persons under custodial investigation. This includes having an “independent and competent counsel... during investigation.”

RELATED: Media urged to be mindful of suspects' rights during interviews

The prosecutor noted that Mas was quoted in media interviews where he admitted to writing the tweet and asking for forgiveness from the president.

The court, however, stressed: “Verbal admissions made without the assistance of counsel are inadmissible.”

Judge Paradeza also said that there is rule that states that an extra-judicial admission cures an illegal arrest, such “can be cured only when the accused waived objection thereto.”

The court also said that while the assailed content of the tweet is “despicable and provocative,” constitutional rights must still be upheld.

“No matter how contemptible or reprehensible the post is, the person or persons suspected to be responsible to the posting of the subject provocative text should be afforded their constitutional rights,” Judge Paradeza stressed.

“Even the worst criminals have constitutional rights,” he added.

“Considering that 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,” the court also held.

ACT welcomes case dismissal

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers welcomed the dismissal of the case against Mas.

“The dismissal of the case is a forceful slap in the face of repressive law enforcers who try to twist the law, abuse their authority and violate our rights and freedoms to silence and terrorize the people who criticize the wrongdoings of this regime,” ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.

ACT previously slammed the arrest of Mas as it pointed out that “improbability” of Mas’ reward offer due to the dire economic state of public school teachers.

Basilio added: “Our freedom of expression and our right against wrongful arrest are our potent weapons against repression and tyranny.”

INCITING TO SEDITION

RONNEL MAS

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