Asaali vs Commissioner (GR No. L-24170 December 16, 1978)

Asaali vs Commissioner of Customs
GR No. L-24170 December 16, 1978

Facts: On September 10, 1950, at about noon time, a customs patrol team on board Patrol Boat ST-23 intercepted the five (5) sailing vessels in question on the high seas, between British North Borneo and Sulu while they were heading towards Tawi-tawi, Sulu. After ordering the vessels to stop, the customs officers boarded and found on board, 181 cases of ‘Herald’ cigarettes, 9 cases of ‘Camel’ cigarettes, and some pieces of rattan chairs. The sailing vessels are all of Philippine registry, owned and manned by Filipino residents of Sulu, and of less than thirty (30) tons burden. They came from Sandakan, British North Borneo, but did not possess any permit from the Commissioner of Customs to engage in the importation of merchandise into any port of the Sulu sea, as required by Section 1363(a) of the Revised Administrative Code. Their cargoes were not covered by the required import license under Republic Act No. 426, otherwise known as the Import Control Law. Respondent Commissioner of Customs, as noted at the outset, affirmed the decision rendered by the Collector of Customs of Jolo, who found cause for forfeiture under the law of the vessels and the cargo contained therein. He was, as also already made known, sustained by the Court of Tax Appeals. Hence this petition for review.

Issue: Whether or not the forfeiture and seizure made by the collector at the high seas is proper.

Held: Yes. It is unquestioned that all vessels seized are of Philippine registry. The Revised Penal Code leaves no doubt as to its applicability and enforceability not only within the Philippines, its interior waters and maritime zone, but also outside of its jurisdiction against those committing offense while on a Philippine ship. The principle of law that sustains the validity of such a provision equally supplies a firm foundation for the seizure of the five sailing vessels found thereafter to have violated the applicable provisions of the Revised Administrative Code.

Moreover, it is a well settled doctrine of International Law that goes back to Chief Justice Marshall’s opinion in Church v. Hubbart, an 1804 decision, that a state has the right to protect itself and its revenues, a right not limited to its own territory but extending to the high seas. In the language of Chief Justice Marshall: “The authority of a nation within its own territory is absolute and exclusive. The seizure of a vessel within the range of its cannon by a foreign force is an invasion of that territory, and is a hostile act which it is its duty to repel. But its power to secure itself from injury may certainly be exercised beyond the limits of its territory.”

The question asked in the brief of petitioners-appellants as to whether the seizure of the vessels in question and the cargoes on the high seas and thus beyond the territorial waters of the Philippines was legal must be answered in the affirmative.

Such expiration of the period of effectivity of Republic Act No. 650 did not have the effect of depriving the Commissioner of Customs of the jurisdiction, acquired by him prior thereto, to act on cases of forfeiture pending before him, which are in the nature of proceeding in rem.

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