“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.” – WIlliam Pitt

One of the most cherished rights that are enshrined in our Constitution is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of one’s person, houses, belongings, and personal effects, impliedly the right to privacy. No one, not even a king, can barge into someone’s place uninvited by the occupant, unless he gets the invitation or he secures a valid search warrant for the purpose. Otherwise, the uninvited guest opens himself up to a list of criminal, civil, and administrative suits especially for public officers such as the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and composite military units forming part of the raiding team.

A valid search warrant is generally issued by the court which covers the place to be searched. However, the executive judges of Quezon City and Manila are authorized to issue search warrants that may be implemented in all parts of the country in cases of alleged illegal possession of firearms and explosives. That, however, must be endorsed by the head of the government agency that applied for the search warrant. In all instances, the judge must personally ask and carefully examine the testimonies of the police and the witnesses that they may have. He must be satisfied that an offense, such as illegal possession of firearms or prohibited drugs, is most likely being committed. The search warrant must describe with particularity, the place to be searched and the alleged illegal items that are to be seized.

Despite the stringent requirements and measures in place to avoid abuses, there are still incidents when applications for search warrants are apparently abused and twisted to brazenly disregard rights and “weaponize” criminal laws against the innocent. After securing and implementing search warrants and allegedly seizing illegal items, persons accused of possessing unlawful objects decry planting of evidence more often than not. This story is commonly heard of in most of the “illegal possession” cases filed against human rights defenders and even in the infamous “nanlaban” drug-related incidents.

Planting of evidence is actually punished under Philippine laws on illegal possession of firearms and explosives, as well as, on dangerous drugs. The penalty of forty years imprisonment awaits any person found guilty of planting of evidence. However, like in any other criminal cases, the accuser has the burden of proving that the pieces of evidence are merely planted and therefore should not be considered by the court in resolving the accusations against him.

Under the law, the person must prove that the search was illegal from the beginning. Either the search warrant that was used by the raiding team was issued by the judge without conducting a careful examination of the witnesses, or the search is not among those instances that allow a reasonable warrantless search. These instances include seizure of illegal items that can be readily seen, searches after being lawfully arrested and “stop and frisk” searches which are used to prevent crimes. All things seized following the illegal search cannot be used to pin down the accused. In legal parlance, these are the so-called “fruits of the poisonous tree” as they came from an unlawful act.

This may sound easy but in reality, the allegation of planted evidence is merely a defense that a person charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives or prohibited drugs and paraphernalia may invoke. In other words, trial in most cases proceeds while the person charged is put behind bars. The fact that one remains in detention while judicial proceedings are taking place is one harrowing experience for an innocent accused, who is forced under the circumstances to prove his innocence. The emotional, psychological and physical toll such loaded accusations place upon the accused and their families is beyond adjectives. Questions of how long will it take for the judicial proceedings to culminate and the uncertainties of what the court’s resolution would be in the end, boggle the mind of an innocent accused.

While it may be argued that charges of illegal possession of firearm alone, or prohibited drugs and paraphernalia are bailable, the amount of bail fixed could reach thousands of pesos. For a pauper and indigent litigant and victim of planted evidence, said amount could be difficult to be raised especially so as one struggles to make both ends meet.

Hence, the fear of planting evidence is real and not just a mere product of one’s wild imagination because such circumstances happen. The evils this dastardly scheme bring, spell the difference between freedom and unjust deprivation of liberty. The anguish and anxieties felt by human rights defenders over false accusations that they possess and harbor illegal firearms and explosives within their offices or within their dwelling places or within their sanctuaries are not supposed to be taken lightly considering the dangers such lame allegations carry with them. (davaotoday.com)

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