Supreme Court rules that a mayor is not authorized to conduct a warrantless inspection of mining sites [Pilapil v. Cu, G.R. No. 228608 (27 August 2020)]
In the recent case of Pilapil v. Cu, G.R. No. 228608 (27 August 2020) (“Pilapil”), the Supreme Court ruled that a mayor did not have the statutory authority to conduct a warrantless inspection of mining sites. Hence, any evidence collected during such inspection is illegally obtained and barred by the exclusionary rule.
Pilapil stemmed from a warrantless ocular inspection of the mining site located in Barangay Himagtocon, Lagonoy, Camarines Sur, which was operated by Bicol Chromite and Manganese Corporation (“BCMC”) and Prime Rock Philippines Company (“Prime Rock”). The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (“MGB”) – Regional Office V had issued a Cease and Desist Order (“CDO”) against Prime Rock, enjoining the latter from engaging in any mining activities. After the issuance of the CDO, Mayor Delfin R. Pilapil, Jr., then the Mayor of Lagonoy, received reports about the existence of an illegal mining operation in Barangay Himagtocon. To verify these reports and to ensure that the CDO was not being violated, Mayor Pilapil decided to conduct an ocular inspection of said mining site, where the mayor and his team seized several explosives.
On the basis of the seized explosives, a criminal case for illegal possession of explosives was lodged against the officers and employees of BCMC and Prime Rock in the Regional Trial Court (“RTC”) of Camarines Sur. The RTC issued warrants of arrests against the accused, who then questioned the issuance of the warrants on the ground that the explosives had been seized by Mayor Pilapil in violation of the constitutional proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures, and therefore, inadmissible. While the RTC initially held the implementation of the warrants in abeyance, it eventually issued an Order reinstating the same. Cu, one of the accused, then filed a petition for certiorari against said Order in the Court of Appeals, which set aside the Order and quashed the warrants of arrest.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the latter confirmed that Mayor Pilapil had no statutory authority to conduct a warrantless inspection of the mining site, whether under Republic Act (“RA”) No. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 (“LGC”); RA No. 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 (“Mining Act”); or the Mining Act’s Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (“IRR”). The Supreme Court found that Section 444(b)(3)(iv) of the LGC on the power of a mayor to inspect private commercial establishments for violations of their business licenses and permits could not extend to searches of mining sites, in view of the unique inspection scheme over such sites established under the Mining Act and its IRR. On the other hand, the Mining Act generally granted the authority to conduct administrative inspections exclusively to the MGB, a national regulator, and not the local government units and local officials. Hence, the inspection conducted by Mayor Pilapil was illegal for being beyond his authority.
Considering this and in keeping with the exclusionary rule set forth in Section 3(b), Article III of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court affirmed the quashal of the warrant of arrest by the Court of Appeals and held that the explosives were seized in violation of the constitutional proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.