Olongapo court clears teacher over post on reward to kill Duterte

An Olongapo court has cleared teacher Ronnel Mas of the charge of inciting to sedition, ruling as inadmissible evidence his extrajudicial confession that he was behind the tweet offering a "reward" to kill President Rodrigo Duterte.

Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 72 Judge Richard Paradeza granted Mas' Motion To Quash and dismissed the charge in an order on Wednesday, June 24, which Mas' lawyers received on Thursday, June 25.

Paradeza refuted the findings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that Mas' confession "cured" an invalid warrantless arrest.

The DOJ prosecutor had ruled that the National Bureau of Investigation's warrantless arrest of Mas was illegal, but that Mas' later confession to the media owning up to the tweet has "cured" the problem.

"There is no rule which provides that an extrajudicial admission cures the illegality of an arrest," said  Paradeza.

Paradeza further ruled that the confession was, in fact, inadmissible evidence.

"Even assuming that accused Mas indeed made the extrajudicial admission, there is no doubt that the same were made by him during custodial investigation and without the assistance of counsel.... Verbal admissions made without the assistance of counsel are inadmissible," he said.

The Bill of Rights provides for rights of persons under custodial investigation, including the right to have a laywer present in the proceedings.

Paradeza said the extrajudicial admission was not even included in case records. (READ: With indictment of teacher, media told be careful when interviewing suspects)

Tweet does not fall under warrantless arrest

NBI agents – following a DOJ theory that an online post counts as a continuing crime – arrested Mas on May 1.

In the DOJ indictmentAssistant State Prosecutor Jeanette Dacpano already said that inciting to sedition is not a continuing crime.

Paradeza took that further and said "mere intelligence information that the suspect committed the crime will not suffice."

Under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, warrantless arrests are only valid if:
1. The person was caught in the act

2. There's probable cause to believe a crime has just been committed

3. A prisoner escaping from jail

"Personal knowledge means actual belief or reasonable grounds of suspicion, based on actual facts, that the person to be arrested is probably guilty of committing the crime,"  Paradeza said.

The judge said that the NBI's witness, a certain Julius Hallado, "was not certain whether the accused Ronnel Mas is indeed the owner of said account."

Tweet is 'despicable'

Still, Paradeza said the tweet is "despicable and provocative."

"It tends to undermine lawful authorities and disturb the peace and order of the community, as no other than the President of the Republic was the target of said post," the judge said.

The phrase "disturb the peace of the community" is among the definitions of inciting to sedition under Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code.

"The authors of the said post should be made liable and punished to the fullest extent of the law," said the judge.

"However, 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," Paradeza said.

Mas' lawyers are Dino de Leon and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

In a statement, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said, "We will continue to fight the attacks on free speech and the state's efforts to censor the people." – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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