Was the arrest of murder suspect Jordan Gera legal?
The director of the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) on Saturday raised concerns over the validity of the warrantless arrest made on Gera, the alleged second shooter in the ambush-slay of Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta, who was nabbed eight days after the Cebu City village chief was killed .
Lawyer Arvin Odron, CHR-7 director, said the arrest made under the pretext of a “hot pursuit” operation was questionable.
“I understand that our law enforcement officers arrested Jordan Gera without a warrant (of arrest) through the theory of a hot pursuit,” he said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.
“But guided by the human rights standards, which is protected by the law, I’m afraid such warrantless arrest that took effect about eight days after the crime was committed, fell short of the standard,” he added.
In order for a hot pursuit arrest to be considered valid, Odron said there must be a “large measure of immediacy” from the time the offense was committed and the time when the suspect is taken into police custody.
“What I am afraid of is that the efforts of our policemen may be wasted (if the arrest will eventually be deemed illegal and the case will be dismissed),” he said.
Odron cited the case of businessman Rolito Go, who was accused of shooting college student Eldon Maguan over a traffic altercation in San Juan City in Metro Manila on July 2, 1991.
Go presented himself to the police station six days after the incident to verify news reports that he was involved in the crime. The police, however,
detained him. Go argued that he was not lawfully arrested without warrant because he went to the police station six days after the shooting.
The court eventually ruled that the warrantless arrest effected on Go was illegal. The case against the accused was eventually dismissed.
“If the police insist on the legality of their action, the suspect (Gera) may file a petition in court to question the validity of the arrest,” said Odron.
Within legal bounds
But Senior Supt. Jonathan Cabal, chief of the Regional Intelligence Division, said they would not release Gera.
He maintained that the hot pursuit operation they conducted to arrest Gera was within the bounds of law.
“Kahit umabot pa ng two months basta continuous ang paghabol ng police and as long as continuing ang investigation, tuloy-tuloy ang hot pursuit.
(Even if the pursuit for the suspect reaches two months, it is still considered a hot pursuit as long as the investigation is continuous),” Cabal said in an interview.
Under Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, a warrantless arrest can be lawfully effected either: 1) when the suspect is caught in the very act of committing a crime, 2) based on personal knowledge of the arresting officer, 3) and there is probable cause that said suspect was the perpetrator of a crime.
However, two other Cebu lawyers shared the same opinion with Odron and urged the police to follow the right procedure even as they hoped to give justice to the family of Rupinta.
Veteran human rights lawyer Democrito Barcenas said the element of personal knowledge must be coupled with the “element of immediacy,” otherwise the arrest may be nullified.
“Hot pursuit must not go beyond 48 hours,” he said in a phone interview.
Barcenas advised the police to go through the regular filing of the case against Gera so that the case against the suspect won’t be dismissed.
“The police must proceed with the regular filing of the case before the fiscal’s office,” he said.
Under a regular filing, the suspect remains free while he answers the accusations hurled against him.
Another trial lawyer, Inocencio de la Cerna Jr., said Gera’s arrest does not fall under a valid warrantless arrest.
“When you say hot pursuit, it is usually lasts for one to four hours after the crime was committed. Beyond that it is questionable and borderline illegal,” he said.
“If the police did it, they are walking on a very thin ice,” he said.
Gera was arrested in his residence in Barangay Jugan in Consolacion town on Friday, or eight days after Rupinta was waylaid and killed in Liloan town on November 23.
He and another suspect Jimmy Largo were pointed to by witnesses as the same persons who killed the barangay captain.
Largo was arrested in his residence in Barangay Ermita a day after the crime.
Murder charges were filed in court against Largo, who is now detained at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.
Like Largo, Gera also denied any involvement in Rupinta’s death.
“Wa koy rason nga patyon si Kap. (There’s no reason for me to kill Kap),” he said in an interview at the Fuente Police Station stockade on Saturday.
Gera, one of the vegetable vendors at the Carbon Public Market, said he knew Rupinta being the barangay captain of Ermita.
“Wa koy ikasulti niya nga bati ana niya. Maayo ra siya nga tawo. (I have nothing ill to say about him. He is a good person),” he said.
Although he was among the vendors affected by the clearing operations implemented by Rupinta last October, Gera said that it was not enough reason for him to kill the barangay captain.
Gera appealed to Rupinta’s common-law wife Jocelyn Mendoza to be careful about her testimonies.
“Bag-o pa man gyud ang panghitabo, i-clarify unta niya kung kinsa gyud nga tawo nga mamumuo. (Since the incident just happened recently, she should be sure in identifying the gunmen),” he said as tears flowed from his eyes.
Gera and Largo were positively identified by Mendoza as the same persons on board two motorcycles who killed Rupinta.
Evidences negate alibi
Rupinta, in the company of Mendoza, was driving his pickup on their way home to a subdivision in Liloan town, about 15 kilometers north of Cebu City, when waylaid and gunned down by unidentified assailants riding in two motorcycles as he was traversing the road in Barangay Tayud of the town.
Rupinta was shot four times, including one in the head, and died before reaching the hospital. Mendoza survived the incident.
Gera insisted he was at his residence in Barangay Jugan, Consolacion — a town next to Liloan — when the barangay captain was killed.
But Cabal said Gera’s alibi was refuted by evidences so far gathered by the police.
“We have enough evidence and testimonies of witnesses against him. Alibi is the weakest defense,” the police official said.
Rupinta’s body lies in state at the Barangay Ermita gym. He will be buried on December 9.