Guidelines for Checkpoints

This article appeared 3 years ago on Since there is a current proposal to increase the number of checkpoints, by popular request, we reproduce it here for reference):If you encounter a checkpoint:

1. The Rule is: The PNP manning the check point are limited only to a VISUAL SEARCH. They are not authorized to open your trunk, compartment, or bags(unless you are stupid enough to consent voluntarily). If they make motions to search your person (body), open your glove compartment or trunk, NEVER VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO OPEN ANYTHING OR ALLOW THEM TO SEARCH YOU. ALWAYS OBJECT.

If the police insist on searching against your will, then the search will be rendered ILLEGAL and can be questioned later, and may be the basis for RETURN or your things, if taken.If you think that you are being subject to an illegal search, discreetly take a video or pictures of the incident with your cell phone camera. This will be VITAL EVIDENCE later on, should you decide to question the search. Also insist on getting the NAMES of the officers, their unit, and their team leader. This is needed later on for IDENTIFICATION PURPOSES should there be a legal proceeding.2. Only ILLEGAL items in PLAIN VIEW can be seized. LEGITIMATE ITEMS cannot not seized. So always HIDE your guns carefully in bags or better in the trunk and make sure they are OUT OF PLAIN SIGHT. Try to cover the gun cases with cloth or other similar item.

3.  Nevertheless, bear in mind that the SUPREME COURT has ruled in Valmonte vs. De Villa 178 SCRA 211 (1989) that checkpoints are valid PROVIDED THAT neither the vehicle must be searched or its occupant subjected to a body search. Nevertheless, only a VISUAL SEARCH from OUTSIDE the vehicle may be done.

However if you take public transportation or commute, please be aware that in the infamous case of People vs. Mikhail Malmstedt, 198 SCRA 410 (1991), a mere "suspicious bag" was upheld as probable cause to conduct a search of pssangers inside a bus, in which case the drugs found during such search were upheld to be addmissible as evidence.

4. Practical pointers for checkpoints:

a. Do not panic. b. Be courteous, but cordial, with the PNP. Maintain a distance and avoid cracking jokes or name dropping with them. Just shut up unless asked questions. The sooner you get away, the better.c. Be sure to object if they ask you to get out of the car and search the vehicle and its compartments. Always ask what the charge is before they proceed. Never voluntarily consent to a search. Video the event if possible.d. WATCH CAREFULLY the police when they conduct their search and make sure that they DO NOT PLANT ANY ILLEGAL ITEM IN YOUR CAR. This may sound absurd, but this is a common practice.e. If you feel that your rights are being violated or are detained for more than 1 hour call your relatives or a lawyer immediately.f. If you are arrested do not volunteer any information or give any statement until your lawyer or relatives arrive.

5. If your guns are discovered:

a. Stay Calm and produce your papersb. Always make sure that you have photocopies of your license and PTCFOR SOMEWHERE ELSE, just in case they confiscate your license and PTCFOR cards for verification and they do not return them.c. if they insist on detaining you or confiscating your weapons, call your relatives or a lawyer.

6. The worst case scenario if you get caught at a checkpoint is they will confiscate your guns. As what happened in makati recently, the guns could be returned when things are explained and sorted out with the PNP and the proper verifications are made. 

7. Try to avoid known checkpoint areas. Also NEVER ride tandem (angkas) on a motorcycle with your guns. You are surely going to be stopped and body-searched since tandem riders are a known modus operandi of assassins. REMEMBER: Checkpoints are considered as potentially dangerous encounters since they are subject to much abuse. A lot of people get shot and killed and/or illegally detained at checkpoints. It is not  Joke. So be as couteous as possible, but maintain your alertness and PRESENCE OF MIND, and COMMON SENSE.


Searched while walking in public?

Can you be legally searched while simply walking in public? In other words, are there different rules for vehicle checkpoints and being in a public place on foot? What is the procedure if you are approached by a policeman while walking around town?

In the UK, there seems to be a trend for police to randomly stop, search and generally harass people, especially photographers, under supposed anti-terrorism laws. This is a violation of rights but it doesn't prevent them from trying anyway. Oftentimes, the citizens being stopped know more about the law than the officers themselves, leading to tense standoffs. The problem became so bad that photographers groups started issuing their members 'rights cards' that stated the law.

Terry Frisk

Yes. IN Manalili vs. COurt of Appeals, 9 OCtober 1997, the Philippine Supreme Court adopted the United States' Terry vs. Ohio doctrine wherein the police may conduct a body search for concealed weapons of a suspicious person who is at close range. This is known as a "Terry frisk" in criminal procedure. However, this is much abused by the police in that if they merely think you look suspicious, then they can conduct a body search of you for weapons, BUT  ANYTHING ELSE WHICH THEY FIND ON YOU WHICH IS CONTRABAND IS ADMISSIBLE AS EVIDENCE.

The exact words of the case are: " Where a police officer observes an unusual conduct which leads him to reasonably conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and where in the course of investigating this behavior, he identified himself as a policeman and makes reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others' safety, he is entitled for protection of himself or others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might beused to assault him. Such search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and any weapon seized may be introduced in evidence against the person from whom they were taken."

The problem with the foregoing doctrine is that it is much abused by the police. You will notice that there is a very GENERAL STANDARD by which the police can determine "reasonable fear" or "suspicious behavior", which can be twisted by just about anyone. For example in the Philippines you will see in the news that police conduct "SONA" such as when they enter into private pubs, restaurants, or drinking establishments, and frisk every male inside for weapons. This is outightly ILLEGAL, since there is no cause to believe that anyone inside a resturant is committing a crime or is a threat to the public. The problem is nobody is questioning this practice in court.

As you mentioned, I would imagine that in the UK where people are more cognizant of their rights and freedoms, they would have raised bloody hell with this kind of behavior by the police.


Safer inside a vehicle & other questions...

So from what you're saying, the only time a body-search is illegal would be when you are traveling inside your private vehicle, correct?

A few other questions:

  1. Are you legally obliged to give your name and provide ID when requested?
  2. Are police officers legally obliged to give their name and ID?
  3. Can the police legally confiscate recording equipment that you are using to document the search? (e.g. camera phone, video camera, notepad.)
  4. Does consenting to one type of search mean that you have implicitly volunteered to a full search? For example, some drivers automatically open the trunk or glove box. Does this mean they have thus also consented to a full search of bags, clothing and other belongings?
  5. What powers to private security guards have? I notice that checkpoints in Makati are sometimes manned by security guards with no police officer present.
  6. Do military personnel have different powers to police?

Body searches

Not really. The issue of validity of a body search is very complex. I could write a whole book on it. However, to simplify matters:

a. A Terry frisk is limited to suspicious persons who are being investigated or questioned at close range. The police cannot just go around and frisk or body search anyone they want.

b. Distinguish between a PRIVATE PERSON and a LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER. The Constitutional prohibition against illegal searches and seizures applies only to LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS OR PUBLIC OFFICIALS. It does not apply to private persons (People vs. Marti)

To answer your questions:

1. Yes

2. Yes. But oftentimes they do not.

3. No.

4. No

5. As stated above, private persons are NOT covered by the prohibition on illegal searches and seizures. Hence the security guards may validly search you, especially if you are entering a private establishment such as a mall or bank.

6. Insofar as checkpoints are concerned, no.