Cybercrimes and Warrantless Arrests: The Case of Ronnel Mas

A cybercrime may refer to an offense defined and penalized under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act No 10175), or crimes/offenses defined and penalized in other laws committed through an information and communications system (ICT). A warrantless arrest, on the other hand, may be valid under certain circumstances (see Warrant of arrest in cybercrimes). We see the combination of both topics discussed in this Forum, cybercrimes and valid warrantless arrests, in the recent resolution of the Department of Justice (DOJ) relating to the warrantless arrest of a teacher, Ronnel Mas.

Today, the DOJ made available the Inquest Resolution dated 13 May 2020 in NPS Docket No. XVI-INQ-20E-00036 entitled “National Bureau of Investigation – Dagupan District Office vs. Ronnel Mas y Aranda“, for violation of Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Republic Act No. 10175, violation of Republic Act No. 6713, Grave Misconduct. The DOJ ordered the filing of a criminal case for inciting to sedition (Article 142), in relation to RA 10175, but concluded that the warrantless arrest is not valid. 

Valid warrantless arrests are provided under Rule 113(b) of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure (see discussion in Valid Warrantless Arrests in the Philippines). To be a valid warrantless arrest, according to the DOJ, it is required that the offense has just been committed and the arresting officer has probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it. The work “just” connotes proximity in time between the commission of the crime and the arrest. 

The DOJ pointed out that 6 days have passed between the posting by Mas, on 5 May 2020, and the arrest made by NBI-Dagupan, on 11 May 2020. While it is true that an offender may be arrested at any time in continuing crimes, inciting to sedition is not a continuous crime. The warrantless arrest does not qualify as a “hot pursuit” arrest provided in Section 113(b), which requires the presence of two elements to be valid:

  • 1. An offense has just been committed; and 
  • 2. The arresting officer has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it.

Moreover, at the time of the arrest, the arresting officer had no personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has indeed committed the crime. Being a cybercrime, the arresting officer must have conclusive proof that the person who wrote the text in the Twitter account @RonPrince_ is indeed Ronnel Mas and not someone impersonating him. 

P&L Law

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