Guidelines in the Conduct of Bus Searches

Marcelo Saluday vs. People of the Philippines; G.R. No. 215305

Law and Jurisprudence

While the Supreme ruled in Saluday vs. People that the inspection of public transport buses is a reasonable search, which is beyond the ambit of the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Court laid down certain guidelines that must be observed.

Guidelines in the Conduct of Bus Searches

Whenever compliant with these guidelines, a routine inspection at the terminal or of the vehicle while in transit constitutes a reasonable search. Otherwise, the intrusion becomes unreasonable, thereby triggering the constitutional guarantee under Section 2, Article III of the Constitution…

Prior Entry

Passengers and their bags and luggages can be subjected to a routine inspection akin to airport and seaport security protocol.

In this regard, metal detectors and x-ray machines can be installed at  bus terminals. Passengers can be frisked. In lieu of electronic scanners, passengers can be required instead to open their bags and luggages for inspection, which inspection must be made in the passenger’s presence. Should the passenger object, he or she can validly be refused entry into the terminal.

While in Transit

A bus can still be searched by government agents or the security personnel of the bus owner in the following three instances:

First, upon receipt of information that a passenger carries contraband or illegal articles, the bus where the passenger is aboard can be stopped en route to allow for an inspection of the person and his or her effects. This is no different from an airplane that is forced to land upon receipt of information about contraband or illegal articles carried by a passenger onboard.

Second, whenever a bus picks a passenger en route, the prospective passenger can be frisked and his or her bag or luggage be subjected to the same routine inspection by government agents or private security personnel as though the person boarded the bus at the terminal. This is because unlike an airplane, a bus is able to stop and pick passengers along the way, making it possible for these passengers to evade routine search at the bus terminal.

Third, a bus can be flagged down at designated military or police checkpoints where State agents can board the vehicle for a routine inspection of the passengers and their bags or luggages.

Conditions for Validity of Search

The inspection of passengers and their effects prior to entry at the bus terminal and the search of the bus in transit must satisfy the following conditions to qualify as a valid reasonable search:

First, as to the manner of search, it must be the least intrusive and must uphold the dignity of the person or persons being searched, minimizing, if not altogether eradicating, any cause for public embarrassment, humiliation or ridicule.

Second, neither can the search result from any discriminatory motive such as insidious profiling, stereotyping and other similar motives. In all instances, the fundamental rights of vulnerable identities, persons with disabilities, children and other similar groups should be protected.

Third, as to the purpose of the search, it must be confined to ensuring public safety.

Fourth, as to the evidence seized from the reasonable search, courts must be convinced that precautionary measures were in place to ensure that no evidence was planted against the accused.

The search of persons in a public place is valid because the safety of others may be put at risk. Given the present circumstance, the Court takes judicial notice that public transport buses and their terminals, just like passenger ships, are in that category.

Aside from transport buses, any moving vehicle that similarly accepts passengers at the terminal and along its route is likewise covered by these guidelines. Hence, whenever compliant with these guidelines, a routine inspection at the terminal or of the vehicle while in transit constitutes a reasonable search. Otherwise, the intrusion becomes unreasonable, thereby triggering the constitutional guarantee under Section 2, Article III of the Constitution.

Not Applicable to Private Vehicles

It is emphasized, however, that the guidelines do not apply to privately-owned cars. Neither are they applicable to moving vehicles dedicated for private or personal use, as in the case of taxis, which are hired by only one or a group of passengers such that the vehicle can no longer be flagged down by any other person until the passengers on board alight from the vehicle.