Valid Warrantless Searches in the Philippines

People have the constitutional right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath or affirmation of the complainant and the witnesses he may produce, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized” (Constitution, Article III, Section 2). There are, however, exceptions to the requirement of a search warrant. The following are instances of valid warrantless searches:

Valid Warrantless Search in the Philippines

[See also: Valid Warrantless Arrests and Checkpoints and the Right Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure]


This is recognized under Section 12, Rule 126 of the Rules of Court, and by prevailing jurisprudence. In searches incident to a lawful arrest, the arrest must precede the search; generally, the process cannot be reversed. Nevertheless, a search substantially contemporaneous with an arrest can precede the arrest if the police have probable cause to make the arrest at the outset of the search.


Under the plain view doctrine, objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be presented as evidence. The plain view doctrine applies when the following requisites concur: 

  • (1) law enforcement officers in search of evidence have a prior justification for an intrusion or are in a position from which they can view a particular area; 
  • (2) the discovery of the evidence in plain view is inadvertent; and 
  • (3) it is immediately apparent to the officers that the item they observed may be evidence of a crime, a contraband or is otherwise subject to seizure.


The rules governing search of a moving vehicle have over the years been steadily liberalized whenever a moving vehicle is the object of the search on the basis of practicality. This is so considering that before a warrant can be obtained, the place, things and persons to be searched must be described to the satisfaction of the issuing judge – a requirement that borders on the impossible in the case of smuggling effected by the use of a moving vehicle that can transport contraband from one place to another with impunity.Further, a warrantless search of a moving vehicle is justified on the ground that it is not practicable to secure a warrant, because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant is sought. The mere mobility of these vehicles, however, does not give the police officers unlimited discretion to conduct indiscriminate searches without warrants if made within the interior of the territory and in the absence of probable cause; still and all, the important thing is that there is probable cause to conduct the warrantless search.


It is fundamental that to constitute a waiver, it must first appear that (1) the right exists; (2) the person involved had knowledge, either actual or constructive, of the existence of this right; and (3) that person had an actual intention to relinquish the right.


It has been traditionally understood that persons exercising police authority under the customs law may effect search and seizure without a search warrant in the enforcement of customs laws.


A “stop and frisk” situation, also known as the Terry search, refers to a case in which a police officer approaches a person who is acting suspiciously for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior, in line with the general interest of effective crime prevention and detection.128 The objective of a stop and frisk search is either to determine the identity of a suspicious individual or to maintain the status quo momentarily while the police officer seeks to obtain more information. A basic criterion is that the police officers, with their personal knowledge, must observe the facts leading to the suspicion of an illicit act. The concept of “suspiciousness” must be present in the situation in which the police officers find themselves in.


The doctrine of “exigent circumstance” was applied in People v. De Gracia which was decided during a time of general chaos and disorder brought about by the coup d’etat attempts of certain rightist elements. Appellant was convicted of illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion. He was arrested during a warrantless raid conducted by the military operatives inside the Eurocar building, wherein they were able to find and confiscate high-powered bombs, firearms, and other ammunition. According to the military, they were not able to secure a search warrant due to ongoing disorder, with Camp Aguinaldo being “mopped up” by the rebel forces and the simultaneous firing within the vicinity of the Eurocar building, aside from the fact that the courts were consequently closed.

Admittedly, the absence of a search warrant was not squarely put into issue. Nevertheless, the Court proceeded to delve into the legality of the raid due to the gravity of the offense involved. The Court then analyzed the context, taking into consideration the following facts: (1) the raid was precipitated by intelligence reports and surveillance on the ongoing rebel activities in the building; (2) the presence of an unusual quantity of high-powered firearms and explosives in a automobile sales office could not be justified; (3) there was an ongoing chaos at that time because of the simultaneous and intense firing within the vicinity of the office and in the nearby Camp Aguinaldo which was under attack by rebel forces; and (4) the courts in the surrounding areas were obviously closed and, for that matter, the building and houses therein were deserted.

The Court ruled that the “case falls under one of the exceptions to the prohibition against a warrantless search. In the first place, the military operatives, taking into account the facts obtaining in this case, had reasonable ground to believe that a crime was being committed. There was consequently more than sufficient probable cause to warrant their action. Furthermore, under the situation then prevailing, the raiding team had no opportunity to apply for and secure a search warrant from the courts. The trial judge himself manifested that on December 5, 1989 when the raid was conducted, his court was closed. Under such urgency and exigency of the moment, a search warrant could lawfully be dispensed with.”

[The enumeration is provided in People vs. Aruta, G.R. No. 120915, 3 April 1998. The discussion is a reproduction of the dissenting opinion, Sereno, in Lagman vs. Medialdea, G.R. No. 231658/G.R. No. 231771/G.R. No. 231774, 4 July 2017]

P&L Law

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