In convicting an accused who has pleaded "guilty," the trial court should not be satisfied by his admission of guilt of the crime charged. By the same token, the defense counsel is duty bound to defend his client, protect his rights and fulfill the stringent standard set by the Constitution and the Rules of Court on due process. For the rank failure of both the trial court and the defense counsel to observe appellant’s right to due process, this Court cannot affirm his conviction. A remand to the trial court is thus in order.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
For automatic review by this Court is the Decision 1 dated May 28, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court of Cabanatuan City, Branch 27, finding Angeles Sta. Teresa guilty beyond reasonable doubt of raping his 12-year old daughter and imposing upon him the supreme penalty of death. The decretal portion of said Decision is worded as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds, and so holds, that the accused ANGELES STA. TERESA y PROTESTA is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of [r]ape and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of DEATH, and for him to indemnify the offended party in the amount of P50,000.00, as moral and exemplary damages, and to pay the costs of this suit.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
SO ORDERED." 2
Upon a complaint filed by his daughter, Lorna Sta. Teresa, appellant was charged with rape on March 10, 1997, in an Information which reads as follows:jgc:chanrobles.com.ph
"That sometime in the month of October, 1996, at Brgy. Soledad, Municipality of Sta. Rosa, Province of Nueva Ecija, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, with lewd design, and by means of force, violence and intimidation, did then and there willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge of his own minor daughter LORNA STA. TERESA, who is about 12 years old, taking advantage of her tender age and innocence, against her will and without her consent, to her damage and prejudice.
CONTRARY TO LAW." 3
When arraigned on May 7, 1997, appellant with the assistance of his counsel de oficio 4 pleaded "not guilty." 5 But after the prosecution presented its witnesses — Dr. Maria Lorraine De Guzman, medico-legal officer, and the rape victim — appellant, on May 16, 1997, withdrew his plea of "not guilty" and changed it to a plea of "guilty." 6 He said that he "had no intention to commit such act at the time but because I was drunk, I was not on my right mind . . ." 7 He then asked that he be pardoned for his deed. 8
After such manifestation, the prosecution decided to dispense with the presentation of other testimonial evidence and formally offered their exhibits to the trial court. When asked for comment by the trial court, appellant’s counsel de oficio responded," [c]onsidering that the accused openly admits his guilt, I am not anymore in a position to oppose the said formal offer of exhibits." 9
The trial court then admitted all the documentary exhibits offered by the prosecution without any comment and/or objection from the defense counsel. It granted the motion of appellant to change his plea to one of guilt. Thereafter, it re-read to the accused the complaint filed against him, interpreted it and explained it in a language which he understood — all these with the assistance of his counsel de oficio.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The trial court then called appellant to the witness stand. There, he testified how the rape occurred. After testifying, he asked for pardon and, if not forthcoming, then leniency because he was not in his right mind and senses when the rape incident occurred. 10
Version of the Prosecution
The solicitor general summarizes the evidence for the prosecution in this wise: 11
"One night in October 1996, appellant brought complainant, her [sic] daughter, in a hut belonging to his cousin in Barangay Soledad, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija. While she was sleeping, she was awakened when she felt that someone was removing her short pants and panties. She saw appellant. When he had disrobed her, appellant also removed his clothes. Appellant inserted his penis into the vagina of complainant. Her private organ bled and she felt something slippery come out of her organ.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
"Complainant narrated to her employer Marites Eugenio that she was raped by her own father. Eugenio accompanied complainant to the Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center, where she was examined by Dr. Ma. Lorraine de Guzman at about 2:20 p.m. of February 28, 1997. Dr. de Guzman examined complainant and found in her organ, ‘multiple old healed laceration at 3, 5, 6, and 9 o’clock.’ The ‘vaginal opening admits 1, 2 fingers easily’." (Citations omitted
Version of the Defense
On the other hand, appellant’s version of the incident is as follows: 12
"1. The accused-appellant is a resident of Pasakaw, Camarines Sur. He has a wife by the name of Virgie Sta. Teresa. They have five children. The complainant is the eldest.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
"2. Sometime in October 1996, Accused
-appellant accompanied complainant to Nueva Ecija to be employed as helper in the house of Marites Eugenio.
"3. While in Nueva Ecija, the accused-appellant temporarily resided at the hut owned by accused-appellant’s cousin situated in Soledad, Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija.
"4. One night sometime in October 1996, the accused-appellant got so drunk that he was not conscious of what he was doing. He did not recognize who he was with. Out of instinct, he made advances to make love with the person he was with who happened to be his daughter. The complainant freely and voluntarily consented. She was over twelve (12) years old at that time.
"5. The following day, the accused-appellant accompanied the complainant to the house of Marites Eugenio situated [at] Barangay Burgos, Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija to be employed as helper."cralaw virtua1aw library
Ruling of the Trial Court
The trial court, after evaluating the prosecution evidence and considering appellant’s admission of the crime, convicted him of rape and sentenced him to death. Wrote the trial judge: 13
"Therefore, after a careful evaluation of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense, this Court is morally convinced, and so holds, that there is not a shred of doubt that the prosecution’s case was duly proven by direct evidence which taken collectively, in essence and in all respects led to the logical conclusion that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged in the complaint.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
"It is [a] tough task imposing the death penalty, and this Presiding Judge finds it not an easy task to do so and is pained no end whenever the opportunity arises. While it is true that humans should be compassionate of their fellows, the situation with judges, however, requires of them to be discriminating in this regard. For, ‘[w]hile compassion is, in itself a virtue, it cannot and should not replace justice under law, in this particular case, justice to the victim.’ It should be stressed here that our present society has long since advanced from that dark age of man’s history where might and brute force had ruled supreme and absolute. Our present time is now ruled by law and moral persuasions; where the greater interest of the greater number of people is held high in the balance of justice. . . ."cralaw virtua1aw library
Thus, this automatic review before us. 14
In his Brief, appellant submits that the court a quo committed the following errors: 15
The ‘plea of guilty’ made by the accused-appellant was qualified and conditional. Thus, the court a quo gravely erred in not entering a plea of not guilty for the accused-appellant and in not affording the latter the opportunity to adduce controverting evidence in blatant violation of his right to due process.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
The court a quo gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellant in spite of the material inconsistencies and improbabilities that tainted the testimony of the private complainant.
The court a quo gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellant in spite of the fact that the testimony of the private complainant is contrary to the common knowledge and experience of mankind.
The court a quo gravely erred in convicting the accused-appellant in spite of complainant’s failure to offer any resistance prior to and even during her alleged rape[.]"
The Court’s Ruling
We find that the stringent constitutional standards impelled by due process have not been complied with in the court a quo, thus necessitating the remand of this case for further proceedings.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
First Issue:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Appellant’s Qualified and Conditional Plea
The imposition of the death penalty obligates this Court to review closely the judgment of conviction, not only on whether appellant committed the crime of rape against his own minor daughter, but also whether his constitutional rights have been duly observed and protected before and during his trial.
As aforediscussed, appellant initially entered a plea of "not guilty." However, after the victim and the medico-legal officer testified against him, his counsel de oficio manifested that his client wanted to change his plea of "not guilty" to one of "guilty."cralaw virtua1aw library
The trial judge then conducted an inquiry into the voluntariness of the change of plea and appellant’s full comprehension of its consequences. However, we believe that the trial judge fell short of the exacting standards set forth in Section 3, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, as follows:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
SEC. 3. Plea of guilty to capital offense; reception of evidence. — When the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, the court shall conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea and shall require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may present evidence in his behalf.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
As can be gleaned from this Rule, the trial court must, if the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, first, conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness of the plea and the accused’s full comprehension of the consequences thereof; second, require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and third, ask the accused if he desires to present evidence on his behalf and allow him to do so if he desires.
The trial court asserts that it has conducted a searching inquiry into the voluntariness of his plea of "guilty." We are not persuaded.
As explained in People v. Alicando, 16 a searching inquiry occurs when the plea of guilt is based on a free and informed judgment, focusing on the voluntariness of the plea and the full comprehension of the consequences.
As shown in the records of the case, the trial court, after a brief exchange of remarks with appellant’s counsel de oficio, and finally with appellant himself, issued the following Order dated May 16, 1997, or nine (9) days after the accused was initially arraigned, as follows: 17
"After the prosecution rested its case, the accused, instead of presenting defense evidence, through his counsel de oficio Atty. Angelito Adriano, manifested that he is withdrawing his former plea of not guilty to a plea of guilty.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
"The Court granted said motion and the complaint was again read, interpreted and explained to the accused in a language which he speaks and with the assistance of his counsel and he pleaded guilty and said plea was accordingly entered into the records.
"Furthermore, he was called to the witness stand and he testified that all he wants is for her [sic] daughter and the Court to pardon him and if the same is not possible, that leniency be extended to him because he was only so drunk at the time of the incident and he was not then on his right mind and senses.
x x x"
We hold that the abbreviated and aborted presentation of the prosecution evidence and appellant’s improvident plea of guilty, with the scanty and lackluster performance of his counsel de oficio, are just too exiguous to accept as being the standard constitutional due process at work enough to snuff out the life of a human being. As exemplified in People v. Bermas: 18
". . . The right to counsel proceeds from the fundamental principle of due process which basically means that a person must be heard before being condemned. The due process requirement is a part of a person’s basic rights; it is not a mere formality that may be dispensed with or performed perfunctorily.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
"The right to counsel must be more than just the presence of a lawyer in the courtroom or the mere propounding of standard questions and objections. The right to counsel means that the accused is amply accorded legal assistance extended by a counsel who commits himself to the cause for the defense and acts accordingly. The right assumes an active involvement by the lawyer in the proceedings, particularly at the trial of the case, his bearing constantly in mind of the basic rights of the accused, his being well-versed on the case, and his knowing the fundamental procedures, essential laws and existing jurisprudence. The right of an accused to counsel finds substance in the performance by the lawyer of his sworn duty of fidelity to his client. Tersely put, it means an efficient and truly decisive legal assistance and not a simple perfunctory representation." 19
Using this standard, we believe that the defense counsel’s conduct falls short of the commitment and zeal required of him as appellant’s attorney. Barely nine (9) days after appellant pleaded "not guilty" to the crime charged, his counsel de oficio made a manifestation in open court that his client is changing his plea to that of "guilty." chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Considering the gravity of the offense charged and the finality of the penalty, we find Atty. Adriano’s performance as counsel de oficio utterly wanting. As a lawyer sworn to uphold justice and the law, he had the bounden duty to exert utmost efforts to defend his client and protect his rights, no matter how guilty or evil he appears to be. This duty becomes more compelling if his client is accused of a grave crime and is in danger of forfeiting his life if he is convicted.
To buttress the lack of zeal shown in defending appellant, Atty. Adriano failed to appear during the promulgation of the assailed RTC Decision. In fact, the trial judge appointed another counsel de oficio, Atty. Bayani Dalangin, for the purpose of promulgating the aforesaid Decision. 20
As the proceedings in the court a quo failed to observe the exacting standards of constitutional due process, we have no other choice but to remand the case to the court a quo for further and appropriate proceedings conformably with what we have heretofore expressed. The other assigned errors committed by the Court a quo will no longer be addressed because of the order of remand.
During the remand proceedings, the trial court, the prosecutors and the defense counsel would be well-advised to read and observe this Court’s pronouncements in, among others, People v. Bello, 21 People v. Tizon, 22 People v. Nadera Jr., 23 People v. Abapo, 24 aside from People v. Durango 25 and People v. Bermas. 26
WHEREFORE, the Decision dated May 28, 1997 of the Regional Trial Court of Cabanatuan City, Branch 27, is hereby SET ASIDE and Criminal Case No. 7411 is remanded to it for further proceedings, with all deliberate speed, in accordance with this Decision.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary
Davide, Jr., C.J.
, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ.
, on leave.
1. Penned by Judge Feliciano V. Buenaventura.
2. Assailed Decision, p. 26; rollo, p. 37; records, p. 64.
3. Information dated March 10, 1997; rollo, p. 6; records, p. 2.
4. Atty. Angelito Adriano.
5. Certificate of Arraignment dated May 7, 1997; records, p. 28.
6. Order dated May 16, 1997; records p. 36.
7. TSN, May 16, 1997, p. 3.
8. Ibid., p. 4.
9. Ibid., p. 2.
10. Ibid., p. 4.
11. Appellee’s Brief, pp. 4-5; rollo, pp. 126 et. seq. The brief was signed by Asst. Solicitor General Carlos N. Ortega (Officer-in-charge), Asst. Solicitor General Nestor J. Ballacillo and Solicitor Penafrancia C. Carpio Devesa.
12. Appellant’s Brief, pp. 3-4, rollo, pp. 60-61. This Brief was signed Atty. Rogelio A. Vinluan, his new counsel in this appeal.
13. Assailed Decision, pp. 24-25; rollo, pp. 35-36.
14. This case was deemed submitted for resolution on May 28, 1999, upon receipt by this Court of the appellant’s Reply Brief.
15. Appellant’s Brief, p. 6; rollo, p. 63.
16. 251 SCRA 293, December 12, 1995. See also People v. Durango, GR Nos. 135438-39, April 5, 2000.
17. Order dated May 16, 1997, records, p. 36.
18. 306 SCRA 135, 147, April 21, 1999, per Vitug, J . as cited in People v. Durango, supra.
19. As cited in People v. Durango, supra.
20. Order dated May 28, 1997; records, p. 65.
21. 316 SCRA 804, October 13, 1999.
22. 317 SCRA 632, October 28, 1999.
23. 324 SCRA 490, February 2, 2000.
24. GR No. 133387, March 31, 2000.