QUOTED FROM MANILA TIMES, AUG. 3, 2006 A TIMELY TIP FOR ALL BOGs Checkpoints checklist By Geronimo L. Sy IT is an essential part of our democratic setup to know and assert our rights. Our civil liberties can be breached or ignored if we are ignorant. Knowledge is indeed power in the new information age, but most important in law. We ought to study our Constitution, our legal regime and our espousal of the rule of law notwithstanding a lack of interest or weak implementation. This article is a checklist for checkpoints and is the first in a know-your-rights campaign series that will collate, synthesize and present basic legal principles for easy understanding and application by any citizen. The rules of engagement at a checkpoint encounter become especially relevant in these times when the police and military establishments are overreacting to perceived threats and security issues. Abuses happen and those committed deep in the night against solitary drivers hurrying home to their families are condemnable for they are generally helpless and there is no effective recourse to check violations and go after violators. In brief: 1. Checkpoints must be well-lighted, properly identified and manned by uniformed personnel. Be alert. 2. Upon approach, dim your headlights. If pulled over, open window three-fourths down. Greet police officer, note nameplate and maintain eye contact. 3. Lock all doors. Talk to police officers only on one side of the vehicle. 4. Ordinary/routine questions may be asked. Be courteous but firm with answers. 5. Only a visual search is legal. A flashlight is allowed or cabin lights may be turned on. You are not obliged to open glove compartment, trunk or bags. 6. Do not step out of your vehicle. 7. Keep your drivers license and car registration papers handy and within reach. 8. Avoid argument. Use common sense. Assert your rights but comply if you can. 9. Be ready to use your cell phone at any time. Speed dial emergency numbers. 10. Report violations as soon as possible. Your action may save others. These ten points are grounded on fundamental legal principles and are anchored on our Bill of Rights and enshrined in our criminal justice system to protect the innocent. In fact, even those who are guilty as hell are entitled to the same level of protection. It cannot be otherwisethe law applies to all or none at all. A visual search means that a police officer can only look to see if there is suspicious stuff. He cannot intrude inside the vehicle and all covered containers are off-limits. Thus, your handbag may not be searched; he cannot reach inside the car to frisk you. An SM plastic bag is ordinary and is not subject to search too. (It makes good sense to organize things in your car before the journey home.) Though armed with legal knowledge, it is not a substitute for common sense or the use of reason or logic when confronted by law officers at checkpoints. There is no need to be defensive, or pilosopo either. Police officers are not all bad and are certainly subject to human vicissitudes. Of course it helps a lot if you are a law-abiding citizen. For example, you may have the right to remain inside your vehicle as it is akin to your residence. However, what are you to do if the military man with long firearms barks at you to step out? You have no choice but to obey for the consequences of noncompliance may be worse. Justice Isagani Cruz was right on the evils of checkpoints. What you can do is to make sure your cell phone has enough battery or credits left and for someone to know where you are. Finally, get in touch with lawyers groups to report violations. An example is the Libertas-Lawyers League for Liberty where yours truly is a member. Only by systematic feedback can we hope to gather evidence and fight the good fight. If you or your organization wishes to take up this cause and do a joint project to preserve our basic rights and enhance our civil liberties, or if you simply have a story or experience to share, please drop a line. Vigilance is ours and it is the eternal price for our democracy.