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[ GR No. 7284, Aug 28, 1912 ]



23 Phil. 46

[ G. R. No. 7284, August 28, 1912 ]




The defendants in this case were  charged with the crime of detencion ilegal by the  fiscal of the Province of Laguna. The  information  charging the offense  is  as  follows: 

"The  undersigned charges Jose Batallones, Maximo Cuadro and  Isaac Demo with  the crime of illegal detention, committed as follows:
"On or about  December 5, 1909, in the municipality of Cabuyao, Province of Laguna, the accused Jose Batallones, justice of the peace, and the accused Maximo  Cuadro and Isaac Demo, policemen of the said municipality, all of them acting in such capacities,  did willfully, maliciously and criminally arrest Apolonio Gumarang and Inocencio Reyes and detain them from that night to the morning of the 6th of the said month and year, although they had not committed any crime or misdemeanor to warrant  such detention and although the accused were not authorized by any law or ordinance to detain  said persons in violation of law."

  The  trial  judge found all  and each of the defendants guilty of  the crime of detencion arbitraria, as  defined and penalized in article 200  of the Penal Code, and sentenced each of them to a fine of 3,250 pesetas, that being the maximum penalty prescribed  by law.
  It appears that on the 5th of December, 1909, Apolonio Gumarang and Inocencio Reyes, two  secret service agents connected with the  Bureau of Internal Revenue,  were in the municipality of Cabuyao on official business; that while there they were arrested by the appellants Maximo Cuadro and Isaac Demo,  members  of the  local police, and  were taken by them before the appellant Jose Batallones, a justice of the peace, who directed that they be detained in the municipal jail until further orders; and that in compliance with that order they were detained in  the  municipal jail until the next morning, when they were released upon information as to their identity furnished by the municipal treasurer.
  We think that the evidence of record  sufficiently establishes the  following additional facts in connection with the incident.  Some time prior to the arrest several thefts and robberies  had been committed  in the municipality  of Cabuyao.  The  two secret  service agents,  strangers  in the municipality, were seen spying about  in the neighborhood of  the  market place,  and acting generally  in a manner calculated to arouse the suspicions of anyone  not advised as  to the duty in which they were engaged.   A woman named  Restituta  Catindig, having had her attention  attracted by the peculiar conduct of the men,  approached them between 6 and 7 o'clock in the evening in a  dark corner where they were  apparently  attempting to secrete  themselves.  When she approached they slipped  away, apparently desiring to avoid observation.  She complained to the two accused  policemen on duty in the neighborhood, and charged the  strangers with  being suspicious  characters. The policemen called upon the secret service agents to give an  account of themselves, and to  explain their suspicious conduct, and  at the same time demanded that they produce their cedulas.  This the secret service agents were unable to do, claiming that they had forgotten them in the neighboring  town  of   Calamba.  They  undertook  to  identify themselves by producing  certain documents in English to show just  what was their business.  The police officers, who did not know  English, were unable to read  these documents, and believing that their conduct and their inability satisfactorily to account for themselves justified the suspicion  that they  were in some way  connected with  the recent robberies, or that they were about to commit theft or robbery, placed  the two men under arrest and took them forthwith to the house of the justice of the peace informing them that the justice of the peace  would be able to understand the documents produced by them and to decide what was proper to do under all the circumstances. The justice of the peace  came down from his  house, glanced over the papers,  and without further attempt  to verify the truth of the claims of the secret service  agents, ordered them to be taken to the municipal jail and there to be searched and detained until further orders.   The justice of the peace, at the trial, denied that he had given any order directing their detention, but we  think the  evidence conclusively establishes  not only that he did so, but that the order was issued  by him without making any effort  to  verify  the truth of the claims of the secret service agents, and without  giving  them  any reasonable opportunity to  explain their suspicious conduct or to  produce evidence to relieve themselves of the suspicions aroused by their peculiar conduct  in  and about the market place.  Indeed, the proof shows that  he apparently wholly failed to appreciate the obligation which rested upon  him to make a reasonable attempt  to satisfy himself as to the grounds upon which the suspicions of the policemen were based, before issuing a  judicial order for the detention of the men arrested by the policemen.

So far as the conduct of the  two policemen is concerned, we are wholly unable to agree with the trial judge that there was anything reprehensible in their action in making the arrest, and certain it is that in view of the facts above set out a criminal  charge of detencion arbitraria cannot be maintained against them.

In  a former case we held that officials in  these Islands, who,  "by direct provisions of  law or by appointment of competent authority are charged with the maintenance of public order and the protection  and security of life and property," have authority to make arrests without warrant substantially similar to the authority generally conferred upon "peace officers" in the United States,  and  more especially that class of "peace officers" known to American and  English law as constables;  and that "the provisions of section 37 of Act No. 183" (the Charter of Manila) "quite clearly set forth the  powers usually conferred by American and English law upon 'peace officers' including 'constables' in making arrests without warrants," and provide that they "may pursue and arrest without  warrant,  any person found in suspicious places or under suspicious circumstances, reasonably tending to show that such person has committed or is about to commit any crime or breach of the peace; may arrest, or cause to be  arrested without warrant, any offender,  when the offense is  committed in the presence of a  peace officer or within his view."   (U. S. vs. Fortaleza, 12 Phil. Rep.,  472, 479.)
In the light of after events  it is of course very clear that the suspicion directed against the secret service agents was not well founded; but viewing the facts as they must have presented themselves to the woman who complained to the policemen,  and to  the policemen themselves, at the time of the  arrest, we think that  they  must be  held to have had  reasonable grounds upon which  to  base their suspicions as to the arrested  men.  One  readily sees that the  conduct  of  these secret  service agents, engaged, as presumably they were, in an attempt to surprise violators of  the  Internal  Revenue  Law,  might well give  rise to suspicions as to their real object and intentions in the mind of one who was not advised as to the real object which they had in  view; and their inability satisfactorily to  account for themselves and to  produce  their cedulas undoubtedly tended to confirm the suspicions already aroused.

We must not be understood,  however, as holding that under the law as it now exists the mere fact that a citizen is unable to produce his  cedula  upon demand  would in itself justify his arrest and detention without a warrant. There is no authority in law for  the making of such arrests upon such grounds.  But the conduct of these strangers in a frroyincial town in these Islands having already aroused the suspicion that they may have been guilty of a grave offense  or were  about to  commit one, their failure or inability to produce  their cedulas, or to satisfactorily account for their failure so to  do, naturally impressed the local policemen as  in some sort confirmatory  of the  suspicion already aroused.   The failure to produce their cedulas on demand was not  in itself an offense, but in the minds of the two policemen in  the case at  bar it was  undoubtedly calculated  to confirm their suspicions already aroused.

Under all the  circumstances we think that the action of the poiice officers  in promptly bringing the suspected persons before the local judicial officer  clearly  indicated that, on their part, their acts were wholly inspired by a genuine desire to faithfully perform their duties  as guardians of the law and of the good order of the community.  And we conclude, therefore,  that though the suspicions on  which they based the arrest were not well founded, they are in no wise criminally responsible for their action in making the arrest; the facts, as they appeared to them at the time, having furnished reasonable grounds for their  suspicions under all the circumstances.

But the facts as developed by the evidence of record do not in our opinion  sustain  the  defense  offered by Jose Batallones,  the justice  of  the peace,  and wholly fail to justify his conduct in arbitrarily issuing the order for the confinement  of the  suspected secret service agents.  He himself denied that he had directed that they be detained, but we think that the evidence of record shows conclusively that he did in fact issue a verbal order to that effect.  Indeed, the suspected persons having been brought before him by the police officers, it would seem that  it was his duty as the local judicial officer, either to order their discharge or to direct that they be detained.
  The suspected  persons were brought before him about 6 or 7 o'clock in the evening at his own house.  There was plenty of opportunity for the verification of their claim that they were not suspicious characters, and that such suspicion as might have arisen in the minds of the policemen and of the  woman who complained against them was founded upon acts the meaning of which was satisfactorily explained by the fact that they were engaged in the performance of their duties as secret service agents.   The papers in their possession, had they been examined carefully by the justice of the peace, who is presumably a man of some intelligence and education, were entirely sufficient to dispel any doubt as to the true character of these men.  The testimony of the justice of the peace himself would seem to  indicate that he was able to understand  the  contents of these  documents; and even if the fact that they were prepared in English rendered them unintelligible to him,  he could easily  have verified the nature of their contents with the aid  of one or other of  the local officials or of some other person in the  municipality who could read English.  As a matter of fact, the municipal treasurer on the following morning secured the prompt discharge of the prisoners by furnishing information as to their status and employment.  The justice of the peace made no effort whatever to verify the grounds upon which the police officers based their arrest, but arbitrarily and without investigation, without taking any evidence or making any effort  to verify the  claims of  the arrested persons, issued his judicial order for their detention, and we are satisfied that in doing so he acted without reasonable grounds upon which to base his action.   If  the police officers were to make the arrests at all, it was necessary for  them to  act promptly upon  such information as they had at hand; but there was no such urgent necessity upon the part of the justice of the peace to order the continued detention of the arrested persons without  making some investigation.  Indeed, he seems to have acted  without the  slightest  regard  to his obligations as a judicial officer or to the rights of the arrested persons to be set at liberty in the absence of reasonable grounds for their  detention.   No reason suggests  itself why,  at the hour at which they were brought before him, he could not have at least made some effort to verify the truth of their claims.

There is no ground for the belief that in  acting as he did, the justice  of the peace was actuated by any special malice or illwill toward the prisoners, and the only explanation  of his  conduct is that he  was willfully negligent of their rights, and willing arbitrarily to detain them rather than to take any trouble to verify their claims.

We think the judgment  of conviction of the trial court should be affirmed, but we think that the fine, imposed by the trial court in  its maximum degree, should be reduced from the sum of 3,250 pesetas to 325 pesetas.

The judgment of conviction, together with the sentences imposed by the  trial court in the cases of the appellants Maximo Cuadro and Isaac Demo, is hereby  reversed, and these appellants are hereby acquitted of the crime  with which they are charged, and, if in detention, will be set at liberty forthwith; if  at  liberty under  bail, their bond is hereby exonerated.

The judgment of conviction of the appellant Jose Batallones is affirmed, but the sentence imposed upon him should be, and is hereby modified by substituting for the fine imposed by the trial court,  a fine of 325 pesetas,  with subsidiary imprisonment  in accordance  with law, in the event of insolvency and failure to pay the  fine.  One-third of the costs of these proceedings in the trial court will be taxed to this defendant.  All  other costs are hereby  declared  de oficio.  So ordered.

Arellano, C. J., Mapa, Johnson, and Trent, JJ., concur.