Law News

Admissibility of a confession made to media personnel

Dear PAO,
Is an admission of a suspect or an accused before a media personnel admissible in our courts in the event that his/her case will be elevated to such tribunal? I remember from my Philippine Constitution class in college that the accused has certain rights such as the right to a counsel and the right to remain silent. However, I noticed that these rights are not faithfully observed. This is especially true when it is the media personnel himself/herself who is asking the incriminating questions and the unmindful accused answers without the benefit of a counsel. I am honestly quite alarmed of this practice since it undermines a fundamental right in the guise of news reporting. Thus, I hope to be enlightened by you.

Jon Nel

Dear Jon Nel,
The answer to your question depends upon the underlying circumstances which lead to the confession. To elucidate, allow me to lead your attention to some of the pertinent Supreme Court decisions discussing the nature and admissibility of a confession made to some media personnel

To begin with, in People vs Dacanay (GR 216064, Nov. 7, 2016), ponencia of Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa of the Supreme Court, citing People vs Andan, it held that confessions made to news reporters are admissible when freely given and without any undue influence from police authorities:

“On this score, our pronouncements in People v[s] Andanare instructive. In said case, we held that a confession made before news reporters, absent any showing of undue influence from the police authorities, is sufficient to sustain a conviction for the crime confessed to by the accused:

“Clearly, appellant’s confessions to the news reporters were given free from any undue influence from the police authorities. The news reporters acted as news reporters when they interviewed appellant. They were not acting under the direction and control of the police. They were there to check appellant’s confession to the mayor. They did not force appellant to grant them an interview and reenact the commission of the crime. In fact, they asked his permission before interviewing him. They interviewed him on separate days not once did appellant protest his innocence. Instead, he repeatedly confessed his guilt to them. He even supplied all the details in the commission of the crime, and consented to its reenactment. All his confessions to the news reporters were witnessed by his family and other relatives. There was no coercive atmosphere in the interview of appellant by the news reporters.

“We rule that appellant’s verbal confessions to the newsmen are not covered by Section 12 (1) and (3) of Article III of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights does not concern itself with the relation between a private individual and another individual. It governs the relationship between the individual and the State.The prohibitions therein are primarily addressed to the State and its agents. They confirm that certain rights of the individual exist without need of any governmental grant, rights that may not be taken away by government, rights that government has the duty to protect.” (Emphasis supplied)

Similarly, in the earlier case of People vs Domantay (GR 130612. May 11, 1999), penned by Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza, the fact that while the confession was made by the accused inside the detention cell, this did not automatically render the verbal confession inadmissible, viz:

“Accused-appellant claims, however, that the atmosphere in the jail when he was interviewed was tense and intimidating and was similar to that which prevails in a custodial investigation. We are not persuaded. Accused-appellant was interviewed while he was inside his cell. The interviewer stayed outside the cell and the only person besides him was an uncle of the victim. Accused-appellant could have refused to be interviewed, but instead, he agreed. He answered questions freely and spontaneously. xxx,
“We do not think the presence of the police officers exerted any undue pressure or influence on accused-appellant and coerced him into giving his confession.”

Nevertheless, as can be gleaned from these pronouncements, the only time that these admissions would be rendered inadmissible is when the confession or admission made before the news reporters are tainted with undue influence from the police authorities.

Thus, in People vs Morada (GR 129723 May 19, 1999), also penned by Associate Justice Mendoza, jurisprudence is instructive that the media reporters cannot act for and in behalf of the police, viz:

“Our ruling in that case does not, however, authorize the police to obtain confessions they cannot otherwise obtain through media reporters who are acting for the police.”

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. This advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

By: Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta

This article was first published by The Manila Times.