Friday, January 29, 2010

A day at the Laurels

Last Saturday something extraordinary happened in my life. I believe it was destiny that brought me there. Not to be melodramatic or anything, but that specific occasion is certainly one for the books. It may not be that of a big deal to some, but for a probisyano who takes interest in Philippine politics by heart, it was definitely a dream come true.

Late last year, I have written a piece about the late Salvador H. Laurel. I offered his side of the story because I felt that this man deserves a fair treatment before the bar of history. With the death of former President Cory Aquino and the consequent decision of Senator Noy Aquino to run for the presidency, the timing was just perfect. People would surely be talking about the legacy of the former president and again, the role of the obscure Vice-President Laurel could be reexamined for the younger readers. I got frustrated when my article did not generate any comment. I thought, maybe most people don’t seem to care who Doy Laurel was, and more importantly, what he did for the country. I don’t get it, how could anyone possibly think that EDSA is Cory and Cory is EDSA? She was the symbol alright, but without the moving forces that stood behind her amidst this political strife, she was just that…a symbol. Consequently, the February revolution to me, was a direct result of a long arduous process rather than a miracle from heaven. It could not have been possible had the opposition, led by Doy Laurel, remained reticent in the heat of the “protracted” political struggle. Practically alone in the wilderness, Doy stirred up the emotions of the people. Doy kept the flame burning so to speak. He valiantly fought dictatorial rule using all possible and “legal” means to help sustain the dissent and anger of the people against the rampant injustices and oppression. Never Again, was his battlecry! Now, could this be a hoax or perhaps an overstatement? I don’t think so. These are facts supported by history writers and scholars. To look the other way around just because you happen to be a devout believer of Ninoy and Cory, is outright preposterous and a narrow minded look at history. And so that article proved to be useless for quite sometime. For the longest time, that article remained unread, untouched and archived until I received an email from a person named Steve Bascos.

Steve works as staff for special projects of Madame Celia Diaz-Laurel, widow of the late Vice-president, for more than ten years now. In his email, he asked permission to re-post my article in the official website of Doy Laurel. At first I didn’t buy it. As a fledgling writer, I highly value exclusivity in all of my writings… for the simple reason that even up to this very moment, I’ve got little confidence on my written rhetoric. However, after a few exchanges, Steve finally told me that Madame Celia liked my article. My eyes suddenly grew bigger as I read the e-mail. All I could mutter was, “Is this for real?” Then a follow up, “By Celia, he meant Celia Diaz-Laurel?” My initial response was expected because Madame Celia is not only the dutiful wife of Doy but she also happens to be the author of Doy’s coffee table biography. All of a sudden, I suddenly felt edgy. I was worried that I wasn’t able to deliver Doy’s side of the story with utmost accuracy. How could this be? But it appears that Steve was telling the truth. There is indeed an official website under construction in honor of the forgotten statesman. Steve further informed me that I just earned a ticket to visit the Laurel mansion in Shaw Blvd. in Mandaluyong. I could not believe what I have just read. And so, my slightly filled calendar for the month was all suddenly marked as cancelled, as if always welcoming a new reminder: VISIT TO THE LAURELS. And so, the day did actually came.

First stop was the historic mansion built by the “Grand old man from Batangas,” Jose P. Laurel. I was told that some of the most important political decisions, be it affecting the country or Batangas, were made within the confines of the mansion. As we were approaching the main entrance of the compound, I could see an imposing 15-foot tall gate with an arbor inscribed words on top of it which reads, “Villa Paciencia.” Old balete and royal palm trees, bare witnesses to the stories of the past surround the rustic mansion. Steve then escorted me inside the mansion where supporters of Nacionalista presidential candidate were holding a luncheon meeting. At our designated table, I was surrounded by Manny Villar’s high school classmates. These not so old fellows entertained me in so many ways. Their insights on politics, business and life in general made me forget the unfamiliar and not so comfortable moment I had. They rescued me from social vultures. (By the way, I love talking to older people on social gatherings which happens not too often.)

Sitting on the left side of our table was Lorenzo Diaz Laurel, son of Doy Laurel. Larry, as friends would call him, has certainly the looks and the beguiling smile of his old man. After a brief introduction from Steve, Larry whispered to me and said, “Brod, thank you for the kind words you said about my dad.” To which I replied almost stuttering, “Oh no Larry, the Filipino people should thank your dad. We owe him a lot.” Larry nodded with a smile. Honestly, I was about to really get emotional by then. I felt Doy was the one talking to me in the person of Larry. That specific moment, I would like to believe that it was destiny taking its course. And after getting a signal from Steve, telling me it is time to go, I know it was the moment I have been waiting all day. I took no time to bid goodbye to my new found friends and let go of my brewed coffee.

Doy Laurel’s house is not far from “Villa Pacencia.” Unmindful of the endless chitchat of Larry, Steve and Miriam, this stranger was busy savoring the every little step towards what I really came for that day. And it was not too long till I found myself standing in front of the house…in flesh and bone. As soon as I stepped on the footsteps of the door, I began to imagine the faces of key political players who were Doy’s frequent visitors in this mansion. The moment I touched the door knob, I wondered if Ferdinand Marcos too touched it. My mind was really in a full circle. All these and more running in my head, I wasted no time and asked Steve to take me to Doy’s study room, as in now na! Steve, like an obedient soldier, immediately complied. Believe me, the crisp study room is far more beautiful than what you see in Doy’s official website. The pictures and paintings accentuate the wide collection of Doy. There, his book collection. I was nailed for a while. I could still not believe all of these are happening. As a book enthusiast myself, I was practically overwhelmed by his collection. His wide variety of interest undoubtedly depicts the legal scholar that he was. I saw a handful of hard-to-find Filipiniana books in his collection like Mijares’ Conjugal Dictatorship, Burton’s Impossible Dream, Ninoy Aquino’s Testament from the Prison Cell and a host of others. As I observed the entire room, it made me remember a remarkable passage from Doy’s book that struck me up to this very day as unbelievable. To all those uninformed, it was in that very room where Doy asked Cory if she intends to run for the presidency for the upcoming snap elections. Cory, as history has recorded, refused to give a definite answer. Days later, Cory eventually announced her decision to challenge President Marcos. Soon negotiations were in progress coming from both camps. Cory would sometimes deploy her emissaries to convince Doy to slide down in order to have a solid opposition. Doy’s study room, far from the prying eyes of the public, has been a living witness to all these events. If only the walls could talk as they say, history would have changed its course. I was practically in the midst of picturing all these events when Larry pulled me back to present. It was easy to pull me back…simple words such as “I saw it all.” Being the unofficial liason officer of his father during those trying times, Larry threshed out answers for the questions which are completely left out by fence sitting scholars of history. Candidly, the scenario is more like a documentary video where I get to play the role of Probe’s Che-che Lazaro, the male version, I suppose. And I would entitle said documentary, EDSA Betrayed!

Overwhelming the stories are, I, out of desperation, uttered, “Sana buhay pa si sir Doy.” Steve suddenly made a gesture pointing to a huge ancestral-type jar displayed near the window. Yes, it was Doy’s final destination…the urn which homes the ashes of the honorable statesman who could have been the 11th President of the Republic. Realizing that I was standing right in front of a great Filipino who brought a new understanding to the words, “Ang Bayan Higit sa Lahat.” Inside that urn, I said to myself, lay the remains of a man who, like his great father, lived his life for the sake of his country and his people.

I left the study room with my spirit overflowing with a new sense of patriotism. Friends have encouraged me to make money out of my writings. Or try to submit my articles in newspapers so that I may be able to gain proper recognition. Now I say to them, is this not a proper recognition? Certainly, I think it is, at least by my standards.

I was about to call it a day when I was informed that Madame Celia wishes to see me. Handing me the pre-signed coffee-table biographical book of her late husband which she wrote, was indeed icing on the cake! She wrote: To dear Chris, best wishes…I know Doy will want you to have this book. It was too much, way too much. The experience was already too unbearable for this humble follower of her husband. And so I thought, ok Pey, end of your dream. Go home. But before reality even bit me, I was lured to utopia again when I heard Madame Celia asked Steve to accompany me to the archive. At the end of the day, while going back to my reality, I was embracing a dozen of books mostly authored by no less than Doy Laurel himself. I walked out of Doy's mansion having more pride in myself than ever before. Thank you, Steve, Larry and Madame Celia… till we meet again.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Featured Article: Cellphones as close container in search and seizure analysis

This month, Discourses of a Free Mind will be featuring a timely article on the constitutional right of individuals against illegal searches and seizure. Usually hailed as highly technical and legal, the issue on searches and seizure has recently tapped a medium we all can relate to and we all should be aware of-cellphones. Albeit what is being discussed in this article is a landmark American case, time and again the Philippine Supreme Court has, in numerous occasions, relied on American Supreme Court decisions when it comes to constitutional issues. Ergo, the need to fully examine the ramifications on the controversial case of State v. Smith.

The author, my brother, Atty. Ernani Diaz Bonoan is a partner of the Rebolos, Sanchez & Bonoan Law Office in Cagayan de Oro City.

The decision of the Supreme Court of Ohio in State v. Smith (Slip Opinion No. 2009-Ohio-6426) brings to the fore the issue whether the search and seizure clause of the American Constitution (Fourth Amendment) prohibits the warrantless search of data found in a cell phone when the phone is lawfully seized incident to an arrest. Considering that our own search and seizure clause (Article III, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution) is rooted in American constitution law and our penchant for mobile phones, State v. Smith deserves consideration.

The factual antecedent reveals that a certain Wendy Thomas Northern was transported to Miami Valley Hospital after a reported drug overdose. After questioning by the police, Northern then agreed to call her drug dealer, whom she identified as, Antwaun Smith, to arrange for the purchase of crack cocaine at her (Northern) residence. Consequently the Smith was arrested at Northern’s residence. During the arrest, police searched Smith and found a cell phone on his person. The arresting officer put the cell phone in his pocket and placed Smith in a cruiser, then searched the scene for evidence. Later, police recovered bags containing crack cocaine at the scene. While the record does not show when the police first searched Smith’s cell phone, it was however discovered that the call records and phone numbers confirmed that Smith’s cell phone had been used to speak with Northern. There was testimony that at least a portion of the search took place when officers returned to the police station and were booking into evidence the items seized from the crime scene. The police did not have either a warrant or Smith’s consent to search the phone.

Smith moved to suppress, objecting to the warrantless search of his cell phone. Relying on United States v. Finley ([C.A.5, 2007], 477 F. 3d 250.), the trial court denied Smith’s motion on the ground that cell phones were akin to closed containers found on an arrestee’s person and subject to search for the preservation of evidence for use at trial. Eventually Smith was convicted of trafficking cocaine, possession of criminal tools and tampering of evidence. Smith appealed arguing, inter alia, that the trial court had erred in refusing to suppress the evidence found on his cell phone. Unfortunately for Smith, the appellate court overruled the assignment of error, holding that the trial court had not erred in refusing to grant the motion to suppress.

The Supreme Court of Ohio upheld Smith and reversed the rulings of the trial court and court of appeals. In approaching the issue, the Court initially laid down the settled rule that searches conducted without a warrant are per se unreasonable, subject to certain “jealously and carefully drawn” exceptions. And one of those “jealously and carefully dawn” exception is the search incident to arrest, which allows officers to conduct a search an arrestee’s person and the area within the arrestee’s immediate control. Hence search of arrestee’s purse, shoulder bag, any container or any article in his person was considered reasonable. The raison d'être for the said exception derives from interests in officer safety and evidence preservation. Worth noting here is the pronouncement that these searches need not necessarily be conducted at the moment of arrest. The search can be conducted later when the arrestee arrives at the place of detention. The Court was however quick to caution that when the interests in officer safety and evidence preservation are minimized, this exception no longer applies.

In rejecting the view that a cell phone is akin to a close container the Ohio High Court hammered on the fact that objects falling under the banner of “closed container” have traditionally been physical objects capable of holding other physical objects. Since a cell phone does not contain physical objects or capable of holding other physical objects, then it cannot be considered a closed container for purposes of search and seizure analysis. Moreover, modern trend in search and seizure scrutiny recognize that it serves to protect an individual's subjective expectation of privacy if that expectation is reasonable and justifiable. The Supreme Court of Ohio proceeded and said:

Given their unique nature as multifunctional tools, cell phones defy easy categorization. On one hand, they contain digital address books very much akin to traditional address books carried on the person, which are entitled to a lower expectation of privacy in a search incident to an arrest. On the other hand, they have the ability to transmit large amounts of data in various forms, likening them to laptop computers, which are entitled to a higher expectation of privacy.

But cell phones are neither address books nor laptop computers. They are more intricate and multifunctional than traditional address books, yet they are still, in essence, phones, which makes them distinguishable from laptop computers. Although cell phones cannot be equated with laptop computers, their ability to store large amounts of private data gives their users a reasonable and justifiable expectation of a higher level of privacy in the information they contain. Once the cell phone is in police custody, the state has satisfied its immediate interest in collecting and preserving evidence and can take preventive steps to ensure that the data found on the phone is neither lost nor erased. But because a person has a high expectation of privacy in a cell phone’s contents, police must then obtain a warrant before intruding into the phone’s contents.

So, in view of the so called “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard, there can be no valid search in a cell phone’s contents unless a judicial warrant is obtained.

While Smith can be considered enlightening in resolving search and seizure issue in this jurisdiction, its relevance is somewhat doubtful in view of the acceptability of the reasonable expectation of privacy standard in Philippine constitutional law.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NEWS FLASH: Launching of Vice President Doy Laurel's Official Website

To mark the 6th death anniversary of former Vice-President Salvador “Doy” Laurel, on January 27, his official website will be formally launched. It is dedicated to the youth of the land in fulfillment of his fervent desire to impart to them the legacy of a proud history. He once wrote:

“History belongs to the youth, the largest and most idealistic and
energetic segment of our population.”

“If I were to summarize the forces that brought about the birth of this nation, I would readily
attribute it to the freedom fighters and the visionaries who were all young. It
was the idealism, the daring, the pugnacity, the determination and the genius
of Rizal, Bonifacio, Gregorio del Pilar and the legions of young
heroes that brought forth the emergence of our nation a hundred years ago.

“A nation is only as strong or as weak as the memory of its people as
to who they are, where they came from, and what their forebears stood for and
fought for. If the history of a nation is blurred or vague, we cannot expect
our people to fight in defense of the motherland when she is threatened. They
may even decide to abandon it and begin anew.

“But if, like a lambent flame, we are able to keep the pride, the spirit, the love,
the vision and the memory steadily burning in the hearts of our people for the
next one hundred years, then our generation would have fulfilled its task.”

Unfolding via a medium cognizable by a sector which may not have been born
at the time of his glorious political flight, the website will give us the
opportunity to know the statesman, his life, his advocacies, his faith in our
people, his love for the country and his great belief in the Filipino youth. It
celebrates the life of a man who could have been the 11th President of the Republic.

Visit his official website at