NBI refuses to release teacher who posted about reward to ‘kill Duterte’

Lian Buan

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NBI refuses to release teacher who posted about reward to ‘kill Duterte’
NBI agents are waiting for a release order even though charges are not yet filed. Differing interpretations of the validity of a warrantless arrest compound the problem.

MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has refused to release public school teacher Ronnel Mas, who was arrested for posting about a P50-million reward to “kill” President Rodrigo Duterte, his lawyers reported on Friday, May 15.

The lawyers argue there is no valid ground to detain Mas.

NBI agents are waiting for a release order for Mas, who is being detained at the NBI headquarters in Manila, his lawyer Dino de Leon of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) told Rappler. As of writing, De Leon is still trying to get his client freed.

The problem is being compounded by confusion on how to interpret the validity of a warrantless arrest.

Mas was arrested May 11 by NBI Dagupan agents without a warrant. The complaint that was eventually filed was for inciting to sedition.

In a 7-page resolution, Assistant State Prosecutor Jeanette Dacpano of the Department of Justice (DOJ) said the warrantless arrest was invalid.

“It is undeniable that the arrest of Ronnel Mas made by the NBI-Dagupan operative does not fall within the ambit of warrantless arrest contemplated by law,” said Dacpano.

As Dacpano explained, warrantless arrests are only valid if: 
1) the person is caught in the act
2) there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed
3) a prisoner is escaping from jail

Continuous crime?

In the past, the DOJ had upheld the warrantless arrest of Rodel Jayme, the Bikoy video uploader, saying that the online posts count as a continuing crime. 

In legal jusrisprudence, continuing crime usually refers to crimes of rebellion or kidnapping, which would allow the police to “catch in the act” and arrest without a warrant a rebel on the loose, even though the said rebel was not doing an unlawful act at the moment of arrest. 

But Dacpano said: “Inciting to sedition is not a continuous crime for which the offender may be arrested without a warrant duly issued by the proper authority.”

“Moreover, the arresting officer, at the time of the arrest, had no personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has indeed committed the crime,” said Dacpano.

De Leon said that with an invalid warrantless arrest, “unless the NBI has any other valid court order to continue with the detention of Mr Mas, we submit that the NBI’s continued deprivation of his liberty has no valid legal and factual basis.”

Invalid or valid?

However, Dacpano eventually said in her ruling that “the defect of Mas’ warrantless arrest was ultimately cured when Mas extra-judicially admitted to the media that he indeed personally posted the provocative text in his own Twitter account.”

Dacpano said the admission made to media inside the NBI headquarters means it did not amount to a custodial investigation. In a custodial investigation, a person has rights, including the right to have a lawyer.

Dacpano’s ruling, however, did not tackle an earlier admission, made inside the car of the NBI agents immediately after his arrest, where the agents pressed him without the presence of counsel.

With all these, is the warrantless arrest valid or invalid?

In an earlier text to Rappler, Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento said the warrantless arrest was valid. Malcontento approved Dacpano’s resolution.

Dacpano found probable cause to charge Mas with inciting to sedition, but charges will be filed next week.

Without a charge, and with an invalid warrantless arrest, FLAG’s De Leon maintains there is no legal ground to keep Mas detained.

Asked why Mas cannot be charged sooner given the limitations of the lockdown on courts, Malcontento said: “Courts are open for bail purposes.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.