Several electronic devices including desktop computer CPUs and softwares were seized by virtue of a search warrant in violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended in relation to R.A. No. 8972.The RTC issued an order to keep the seized items in the NBI evidence room with the undertaking to make said confiscated items available whenever the court would require them. Aggrieved by the issuance of the said order, the named persons in the search warrant filed a Motion to Quash Search Warrant and Return Seized Properties, but were denied.
The Court of Appeals, in resolving the petition for certiorari filed with it against the RTC judge, ordered the release of the seized CPUs and softwares with the condition that the hard disk be removed from the CPUs and be destroyed, and if the softwares are determined to be unlicensed or pirated copies, they shall be destroyed in the manner allowed by law.
Petitioners argue that there is no evidence showing that they were the source of pornographic printouts presented by the NBI to the RTC or to the City Prosecutor of Manila. Since the hard disks in their computers are not illegal per se unlike shabu, opium, counterfeit money, or pornographic magazines, said merchandise are lawful as they are being used in the ordinary course of business, the destruction of which would violate not only procedural, but substantive due process.
Whether or not the removal and destruction of the hard disks containing the pornographic and obscene materials violates the property rights of its owner, considering the criminal case for violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code was dismissed.
The argument of petitioners is totally misplaced considering the undisputed fact that the seized computer units contained obscene materials or pornographic files. Had it been otherwise, then, petitioners argument would have been meritorious as there could be no basis for destroying the hard disks of petitioners computer units.
While it may be true that the criminal case for violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code was dismissed as there was no concrete and strong evidence pointing to them as the direct source of the subject pornographic materials, it cannot be used as basis to recover the confiscated hard disks. At the risk of being repetitious, it appears undisputed that the seized computer units belonging to them contained obscene materials or pornographic files. Clearly, petitioners had no legitimate expectation of protection of their supposed property rights.
[T]he Court holds that the destruction of the hard disks and the softwares used in any way in the violation of the subject law (Article 201, RPC) addresses the purpose of minimizing if not totally eradicating pornography. This will serve as a lesson for those engaged in any way in the proliferation of pornography or obscenity in this country. The Court is not unmindful of the concerns of petitioners but their supposed property rights must be balanced with the welfare of the public in general.