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A.M. No.

MTJ-08-1699

March 17, 2009 (Formerly OCA IPI No. 04-1610-MTJ)

RODOLFO B. BAYGAR, Sr., Complainant, vs. Judge LILIAN D. PANONTONGAN and Process Server ALADINO V. TIRAA, both of The Municipal Trial Court, Binangonan, Rizal Respondents. CHICO-NAZARIO, J.: This is an administrative complaint for violation of Republic Act No. 3019 filed by complainant Rodolfo B. Baygar, Sr., against respondents Judge Lilian D. Panontongan (Judge Panontongan) and Process Server Aladino V. Tiraa (Process Server Tiraa), both of the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Binangonan, Rizal. On 11 August 2002, complainant and a certain Arsenio Larga (Larga) were apprehended for violation of Presidential Decree No. 449 (Cockfighting Law of 1974), in relation to Presidential Decree No. 1602 (Prescribing Stiffer Penalties on Illegal Gambling), by three policemen, namely, Senior Police Officer 1 (SPO1) Arnel Anore, Police Officer (PO) Oligario Salvador, and Ian Gatchalian Voluntad. The criminal complaint against complainant was docketed as Criminal Case No. 02-0843 and raffled to MTC, Branch 1 of Binangonan, Rizal. Complainant and Larga were brought to the Police Precinct of Binangonan, Rizal, for detention. Larga was released in the morning of 12 August 2002 allegedly after payment of bail in the aggregate amount of P2,300.00 to PO Reynaldo Gonzaga.1 Complainant was released only in the afternoon of the same day after his wife Wilfreda Baygar (Wilfreda), upon the instructions of PO Joaquin Arcilla (Arcilla), paid P3,020.002 to respondent Process Server Tiraa. It so happened that in the afternoon of the same day, 12 August 2002, respondent Judge Panontongan already promulgated her Decision in Criminal Case No. 02-0843, the dispositive portion of which reads: WHEREFORE, finding accused Rodolfo Bactol Baygar guilty beyond reasonable doubt and appreciating in his favor voluntary plea of guilt, accused is hereby sentenced to pay a fine of THREE HUNDRED (P300.00) PESOS each and the Jail Warden of Binangonan Municipal Jail, Binangonan, Rizal is hereby directed to release the accused, Rodolfo Bactol Baygar unless he should be detained further for some other legal cause/s.3 Following his release from police custody, complainant filed on 17 September 2002 before the Office of the Ombudsman a complaint for arbitrary detention and violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, against five police officers; Atty. Fernando B. Mendoza, a lawyer from the Public Attorneys Office (PAO); and respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa of the MTC. The complaint was docketed as OMB-P-C-02-0984-I. In a Memorandum4 dated 14 April 2004, the Office of the Ombudsman held in abeyance the filing of criminal charges against all the respondents in OMB-P-C-02-0984-I pending the determination by this Court of the administrative liability of respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa. The Office of the Ombudsman then referred certified true copies of the case records of OMB-P-C-02-0984-I to this Court. On 9 August 2009, complainant filed a final complaint against Presiding Judge Lilian G. Dinulos-Panontongan for illegal, improper and unethical conduct.

According to complainant, respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa of the MTC, in conspiracy with PO Arcilla and Atty. Mendoza of PAO, "orchestrated and made it appear that he pleaded guilty to a crime for which he was detained, during the simulated arraignment in the sala of [respondent Judge Panontongan], when in truth and in fact he did not attend any proceeding." Complainant further averred that his wife Wilfreda gave P3,020.00 to respondent Tiraa in what they understood to be bail for his temporary liberty; only to find out later that he was released because respondent Judge Panontongan had already rendered a Decision dated 12 August 2002 in Criminal Case No. 02-0843 finding him guilty beyond reasonable doubt, appreciating in his favor his voluntary plea of guilt, and sentencing him to pay a fine in the amount of P300.00. On 9 September 2004, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) required5 respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa to file their comment on the complaint within 10 days from receipt of notice. In her Counter-Affidavit,6 respondent Judge Panontongan substantially denied the allegations of complainant and his wife, averring that they were false and untrue and intended only to harass her. The arraignment of complainant actually took place on 12 August 2002 and Atty. Mendoza of PAO, complainants counsel, participated therein. Respondent Judge Panontongan, together with co-respondent Process Server Tiraa, were at a loss as to why they were impleaded in OMB-P-C-02-0984-I considering that complainant was questioning only his alleged illegal detention by the arresting police officers after he was apprehended for engaging in illegal cockfighting. Respondent Judge Panontongans only involvement was the exercise of her official function as judge in entertaining complainants plea of guilt and imposing upon the latter the penalty of a fine. Respondent Process Server Tiraa in his Comment adopted the afore-mentioned CounterAffidavit of his co-respondent Judge Panontongan. He also categorically denied the allegation that he received P3,020.00 as bail of complainant. After initial evaluation of the pleadings filed by the parties, the Court referred7 the administrative matter against respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa to the Executive Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Rizal for investigation, report, and recommendation. Investigating Judge Bernelito R. Fernandez (Judge Fernandez) reported: During the initial hearing of the Complaint before the undersigned, both parties agreed that they would just submit the matter for resolution considering that there were no new matters that need to be ventilated and that all documents and pleadings already form part of the records of this complaint. x x x.8 So without further hearings, Investigating Judge Fernandez evaluated the pleadings, affidavits, and other documents submitted by the parties, as well as the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman, and found that respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa should be held administratively accountable for what happened to complainant. Investigating Judge Fernandez submitted the following recommendations9: WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF THE FOREGOING, the undersigned Investigating Judge hereby respectfully recommends the following ---

For respondent Judge Lilian G. Dinulos-Panontongan a REPRIMAND and to pay a fine of Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00); and, For respondent Process Server Aladino Tiraa DISMISSAL from the service. Further, let the appropriate Criminal Information be filed against said respondent for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, otherwise known as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.10 On 21 January 2008, the OCA submitted its Report11 affirming the administrative liability of respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa, recommending thus: In view thereof, it is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that: 1. Judge Lilian G. Dinulos-Panontongan, Acting Presiding Judge, MTC, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal, be SUSPENDED from office for one (1) month with a STERN WARNING that a similar infraction in the future shall be dealt with more severely;1awphi1 2. Aladino Tiraa, Process Server, MTC, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal be DISMISSED from the service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations; 3. Call the attention of Agnes S. Mechilina, Clerk of Court of the Municipal Trial Court, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal (1) for being too lax in the supervision of court personnel in their failure to complete the entries required of (sic) in the Minutes of the hearing and other court records; and (2) failure to ensure the reliability of court records reflecting court proceedings with a STERN WARNING that a similar infraction in the future shall be dealt with more severely. 4. As requested, the Office of the Ombudsman be furnished with a copy of the Decision in this administrative matter for its information and appropriate action.12 On 27 February 2008, the Court directed13 the parties to manifest within ten days from notice if they were willing to submit the administrative matter for resolution based on the pleadings filed. Complainant submitted such a manifestation14 on 25 April 2008; while respondents Judge Panontongan and Process Server Tiraa failed to file their manifestations despite receipt of the notices sent to them and were deemed to have waived the filing of the same. 15 Resultantly, the matter was submitted for decision based on the pleadings previously filed by the parties. After an examination of the records, the Court affirms the findings and conclusions of the OCA, but modifies the recommended penalties. As to the liability of respondent Process Server Tiraa: There is no reason for this Court to disturb the findings of Investigating Judge Fernandez, affirmed by the OCA, as regards respondent Process Server Tiraa. Respondent Process Server Tiraas plain denial of the acts imputed to him cannot overcome the categorical and positive declarations made by complainant and his wife, Wilfreda, that said respondent demanded money from Wilfreda with the promise that he would assist in

facilitating complainants release from jail. In her Affidavit,16 Wilfreda clearly established the participation of respondent Process Server Tiraa in the corrupt scheme. To quote: 9. Na pagkaraan nito, na sinabi sa akin ni Police Officer Joaquin Arcilla na puwede daw na P3,000.00 na lamang ang aking ibayad, at matapos na ako ay pumayag, kaagad nilang ginawa and ilang papel at ito ay ipinadala niya sa akin sa Municipal Trial Court ng Binangonan Branch 1 at doon ko daw ibayad and pera; 10. Na pagdating ko sa korte mga bandang alas 11:30 ng umaga, pinakita ko kay G. Allan Terana ang papel na ibinigay sa akin ni Police Officer Joaquin Arcilla at ako ay bumalik na lang sa hapon dahil wala pa ang kanilang clerk of court. 11. Na pagbalik ko ng hapon, hiningi na ni Allan Terana ang pera na may halagang P3,000.00. Bukod pa dito, ako ay hiningian pa niya ng karagdagang P20.00 kung kayat P3,020.00 ang kabuuang perang naibigay ko sa kanya. 12. Na matapos kong maghintay na may dalawang oras, binigay na sa akin ni Allan Terana ang kopya ng Desisyon na dapat kong dalhin sa jail para makalabas na ang aking mister ko.17 The statements made by complainant and his wife, Wilfreda, in their Affidavits present a consistent and coherent narration of the events which immediately preceded complainants release from jail. These constitute substantial evidence against respondent Process Server Tiraa. In an administrative proceeding, such as this case, only substantial evidence, or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, is required.18 In comparison, respondent Process Server Tiraa merely denied the allegations against him but failed to set forth in his Comment19 the substance of the matters upon which he relies to support his denial. It is settled that denial is inherently a weak defense. To be believed, it must be buttressed by strong evidence of non-culpability; otherwise, such denial is purely selfserving and is with nil evidentiary value.20 Respondent Process Server Tiraa clearly stepped beyond the bounds of propriety when he asked for and received from complainants wife, Wilfreda, the amount of P3,020.00, and then gave her the assurance that complainant would be released from jail. In so doing, respondent Process Server Tiraa created the impression that he had the power and authority to discharge complainant from detention. Worse still, the MTC Decision, which declared complainant guilty after entering a plea of guilty during the arraignment, merely imposed a fine of P300.00 against complainant. The said decision was handed down in the afternoon of 12 August 2002. When respondent Process Server Tiraa asked complainants wife to return after two hours, he actually knew that a decision would be released on that day; thus, there was really no need for bail and complainant was actually free to leave the prison already. Complainant reasonably concluded that respondent Process Server Tiraa merely pocketed the money. The latters claim that he did not benefit from the transaction does not exculpate him from administrative liability. At the very least, he should have known that, as a court employee, the mere act of asking for and receiving money from a party to a pending case to facilitate the issuance of a court process would be inappropriate and highly suspect.

The Court cannot overemphasize that the conduct required of court personnel must always be beyond reproach and circumscribed with the heavy burden of responsibility as to free them from any suspicion that may taint the judiciary. They shall endeavor to discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage. As a court employee, it therefore behooves respondent Process Server Tiraa to act with more circumspection and to steer clear of any situation which may cast the slightest suspicion on his conduct. Respondent Process Server Tiraas solicitation of money from complainant and his wife Wilfreda in exchange for complainants liberty violates Canon I of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel which took effect on 1 June 2004 pursuant to A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC. Sections 1 and 2, Canon I of the said Code, expressly provide that: SECTION 1. Court personnel shall not use their official position to secure unwarranted benefits, privileges or exemption for themselves or for others. SECTION 2. Court personnel shall not solicit or accept any gift, favor or benefit based on any explicit or implicit understanding that such gift, favor or benefit shall influence their official actions." (Underscoring supplied.) By demanding and receiving P3,020.00 from complainants wife, Wilfreda, respondent committed an act of impropriety which immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the judiciary and the peoples confidence in it. A public office is a public trust, public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice and lead modest lives. Indeed, the image of the court of justice is necessarily mirrored in the conduct even of minor employees; thus, they must preserve the judiciarys good name and standing as a true temple of justice. This Court has often reminded its personnel of the high norm of public service it requires: [W]e condemn and would never countenance any conduct, act, or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary. Every one connected in the task of delivery of justice, from the lowliest employee to the highest official, must at all times be fully aware of the sacramental nature of their function.21 Respondent Process Server Tiraa clearly failed to observe the standard of conduct and behavior required of an employee in the judiciary, and he cannot avoid responsibility for his acts. However, the Court finds the recommendation of dismissal by the OCA to be too harsh, it appearing that this is respondent Process Server Tiraas first offense in his 21 years in government service. Suspension for one year without pay is already sufficient penalty given the circumstances. Liability of Respondent Judge Panontongan The Court likewise agrees in the conclusion made by both Investigating Judge Fernandez and the OCA that respondent Judge Panontongan had no direct participation "in what appears to be manipulation or misrepresentation of the records of proceedings during the session of 12 August 2000 other than merely preparing the Decision which eventually resulted in the release

of complainant." Asserting that Judge Panontongan was also in on the scheme, complainant presented (1) the Counter-Affidavit of Atty. Mendoza, the PAO lawyer assigned to represent complainant in Criminal Case No. 02-0843, in which he attested that he had no personal knowledge of the alleged arraignment of complainant held on 12 August 2002; (2) Atty. Mendozas copy of the 12 August 2002 court calendar which showed that Criminal Case No. 02-0843 was not included among those scheduled for arraignment; and (3) Certification22 of the Jail Warden of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Region IV, stating that he escorted seven detainees to their court hearings on 12 August 2002 but complainant was not one of them. Complainant also pointed out that Criminal Case No. 02-0843 appeared to have been merely added on the third (3rd) page of the calendar of cases for hearing on 12 August 2002. Respondent Judge Panontongan, however, asserted that complainants arraignment did take place on 12 August 2002 and offered the following explanation as to why such fact was not properly supported by court documents: [J]udicial notice can be had to the effect that Trial Calendars were usually prepared and distributed to the Prosecutors Office and Public Attorneys Office day(s) ahead of the scheduled hearings, and if there be any case(s) omitted thereto or been requested to be included in the court calendar for the day, all the same were naturally included/inserted by handwritten note in the type written court calendar. Criminal Case No. 02-0843 x x x was filed in the morning of August 12, 2002, and therefore, it was naturally not among those typewritten cases scheduled for hearing on that day because the court calendar has already been prepared, and its inclusion x x x was merely prompted by the request made. Thus, x x x the absence of the same in the trial calendar in the possession of the Public Attorneys Office x x x which has already been given day ahead thereof. xxxx [T]hat judicial notice can also [be] had to the effect that Minutes of Hearing were likewise prepared ahead of the scheduled date of hearing, and were based on the already typewritten court calendar. Thus, as the said case against complainant below was merely and urgently included in the court calendar as requested, the Minutes of Hearing for the same must hurriedly be prepared and of course, any variance will be observable. [N]ot in all instances had counsels been able to sign minutes of hearing nor certificates of arraignment, for any reason, and such omission which may have also been happening in other places cannot and should not be a cause to hold the court at fault.23 The burden of substantiating the charges in an administrative proceeding against court employees falls on complainant, who must be able to prove the allegations in the complaint with substantial evidence. Complainant failed to substantiate the allegation in his complaint that respondent Judge Panontongan maneuvered and orchestrated the proceedings including, but not limited to, the proceedings resulting in the release of complainant from detention. Complainant did not present any proof directly connecting respondent Judge Panontongan to the demand for and receipt of money in exchange for complainants release from jail. The basic rule is that mere allegation is not evidence, and is not equivalent to proof.24

Complainants presentation of Atty. Mendozas copy of the 12 August 2002 court calendar which did not include complainants arraignment on said date is not sufficient evidence that no such arraignment took place. As explained by respondent Judge Panontongan, the court calendar was prepared and distributed to the Prosecutors Office and the PAO days ahead; and, upon request, complainants arraignment was merely included and inserted in the schedule of the court for 12 August 2002. Moreover, the Minutes of Hearing and Certificate of Arraignment dated 12 August 2002 were signed by complainant; and complainant did not refute his signature thereon. This would mean that complainant was present during his arraignment on 12 August 2002. It is also worthy to note that the Decision dated 12 August 2002 of respondent Judge Panontongan recounts that complainant was properly arraigned, to wit: When arraigned in a language known to him, assisted by counsel de officio Atty. Fernando Mendoza, accused Rodolfo Bactol Baygar entered a plea of guilty to the charge.25 In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the presumption that respondent Judge Panontongan regularly performed her duties will prevail. In the absence of cogent proof, bare allegations of misconduct cannot prevail over the presumption of regularity in the performance of official functions. Administrative complaints leveled against judges must always be examined with a discriminating eye, for their consequential effects are, by their nature, highly penal, such that respondents stand to face the sanction of dismissal and/or disbarment.26 A judge enjoys the presumption of regularity in the performance of his function no less than any other public officer.27 The presumption of regularity of official acts may be rebutted by affirmative evidence of irregularity or failure to perform a duty.28 The presumption, however, prevails until it is overcome by no less than clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. Unless the presumption is rebutted, it becomes conclusive. Every reasonable intendment will be made in support of the presumption and in case of doubt as to an officers act being lawful or unlawful, construction should be in favor of its lawfulness.29 Thus, the Court cannot give credence to charges based on mere suspicion and speculation. The Court further quotes with approval the following observations of the OCA: [R]espondent Judge presides over Municipal Trial Court, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal merely in an acting capacity, she being the presiding judge of Branch 2, same court. Further, records with the Statistical Reports Division, this Office, reveal that there were nine hundred twenty-six (926) and six hundred twenty-four (624) cases pending with Branches 1 and 2, respectively, as of August 2002. Taking the workload into consideration, it would be humanely impossible for a judge to remember the respective dates when each of the accused and/or parties to the cases pending before the two (2) salas took place. Corrolarily, a judge will have to rely on the records of the case when signing orders and/or decisions similar to that in issue (i.e., a simple decision issued on the basis of a plea of guilty of the accused appearing on the certificate of arraignment).30 Nonetheless, judges must not only be fully cognizant of the state of their dockets; likewise, they must keep a watchful eye on the level of performance and conduct of the court personnel under their immediate supervision who are primarily employed to aid in the administration of justice. The leniency of a judge in the administrative supervision of his employees is an

undesirable trait. It is therefore necessary that judges should exercise close supervision over court personnel.31 Respondent Judge Panontongan must therefore be warned to be more circumspect in her supervision of court personnel, such as respondent Process Server Tiraa. As to the liability of Clerk of Court Agnes S. Mechilina The Court deems it imperative to call the attention of Agnes S. Mechilina, Clerk of Court of the MTC, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal, for being too lax in the supervision of court personnel which resulted in incomplete entries in the following documents: 1. The Certificate of Arraignment lacks the following entries: name of the prosecutor; name and signature of the counsel for the accused; and signature of the Clerk of Court who issued the very Certificate of Arraignment. 2. Minutes of August 12, 2002 lacks the following entries: name and signature of the public prosecutor and the private prosecutor; remarks as to what transpired in the proceedings; and signature of the personnel-in-charge who prepared the Minutes [merely typewritten at the bottom of the Minutes is the name of the clerk of court]; and 3. Certificate of Notice which does not bear the signature of the prosecutor and the counsel for the accused. As what happened in this case, incomplete entries in court records and documents can easily cause confusion and raise doubts on the facts contained therein and, consequently, undermine the reliability of said records and documents. Ultimately, it is the Clerk of Courts responsibility to ensure that such records and documents are complete and well-kept. The Clerk of Court is an essential officer in any judicial system. His office is the nucleus of activities, adjudicative and administrative. As such, he must be reminded that his administrative functions are just as vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice. He is charged with the efficient recording, filing and management of court records, besides having administrative supervision over court personnel. Clerks of Court play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another.32 WHEREFORE, the Court hereby RESOLVES to: 1. SUSPEND for a period of ONE (1) YEAR without pay respondent process server Aladino V. Tiraa, commencing upon notice of this Decision; 2. WARN Judge Lilian D. Panontongan to be more circumspect in her duties; 3. CALL THE ATTENTION of Agnes S. Mechilina, Clerk of Court of the Municipal Trial Court, Branch 1, Binangonan, Rizal for (1) being too lax in the supervision of court personnel for their failure to complete the entries required in the Minutes of the Hearing and other court records; and (2) failing to ensure the reliability of court records reflecting court proceedings, with a STERN WARNING that a similar infraction in the future shall be dealt with more severely; and 4. FURNISH the Office of the Ombudsman with a copy of the Decision in this administrative matter for its information and appropriate action. SO ORDERED.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. MELCHOR ESTOMACA y GARQUE, accused-appellant. REGALADO, J.: With our recent adjudgment in People vs. Alicando[1] as a backdrop, even an initial perusal of the records of these cases now before us on appeal and/or automatic review gives a sense of paramnesia or, in the French term more often used, deja vu. One cannot escape the illusion of remembering events when experienced for the first time, or of something overly or unpleasantly familiar in the present appellate review. Indeed, the courtroom dramatis personae in the cases at bar are the same as in Alicando, that is, the presiding judge,[2] the government counsel de oficio,[3] and the substitute counsel de parte.[4] The cases likewise involve the heinous crime of rape and were repressed by the sentence of death. The crux of the controversy in both is identically the validity vel non of the arraignment conducted by the same trial court which followed closely equivalent procedures in conducting the questioned proceedings. Hence, as will hereafter be demonstrated, the observations of this Court will also inevitably converge and move along the same channels of thought. On May 24, 1994, consequent to five separate complaints, Criminal Cases Nos. 43567,43568,43569,43570 and 43571 were filed in the Regional Trial Court, Branch 38, Iloilo City charging herein appellant, an illiterate laborer, with rape committed on five separate occasions against his own daughter, complainant Estelita Estomaca. The trial court detailed its findings and the prosecutions contentions on the multiple incestuous rapes, as follows: Melita is the eldest daughter of the accused, the second husband of Melitas mother. Melita has a full-blood younger brother around twelve (12) years old. She has two (2) halfblood sisters (from) the first marriage of her mother who are residing in Manila. Melita claims that she was first raped in July 1993, at their residence at Barangay Tiolas, San Joaquin, Iloilo. This is now the subject of Criminal Case No. 43567. The offense was repeated by her father before Christmas of December, 1993 (Criminal Case No. 43568); January 1994 (Criminal Case No. 43569); February 1994 (Criminal Case No. 43570); and on March 6, 1994 (Criminal Case No. 43571).[5] There is some inconsistency in the statements on record as to what actually took place on June 14, 1994 during the arraignment of appellant, assisted by his government counsel de oficio, Atty. Rogelio Antiquiera. The decision of the court below, dated July 15, 1994, declares that he entered a plea of guilty to Criminal Cases Nos. 43568 and 43571, and a plea of not guilty to Criminal Cases Nos. 43567,43569 and 43570.[6] Obviously engendered by the insufficiency of the proceedings conducted and the imprecision of the notes taken at this stage, this matter will be further discussed hereafter. The two criminal complaints, both subscribed by the offended party on April29, 1994 and which are the subject of the joint judgment of the lower court challenged in this appellate review, respectively allege:

That sometime in the month of December, 1993, in the Municipality of San Joaquin, Province of Iloilo, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the abovenamed accused, taking advantage of his superior strength, abuse of confidence and trust, he being the father of the undersigned, with deliberate intent and by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse with the undersigned who, at that time, (was) 15 years of age.[7]

Criminal Case No. 43571

That on or about March 6, 1994, in the Municipality of San Joaquin, Province of Iloilo, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, being the father of the undersigned complainant, with deliberate intent and by means of force, threat and intimidation, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have sexual intercourse (with) the undersigned, who, at that time, (was) 15 years of age.[8] Proceeding upon the capital nature of the offenses involved, the trial court, after appellant ostensibly waived the presentation of evidence for his defense, required the prosecution to adduce evidence purportedly to establish appellants guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, on June 29, 1994, the complainant herself, Melita Estomaca, appeared in court and testified that she was raped by her father once in December, 1993 and, again, on March 6, 1994. Both incidents, according to her, took place inside their residence at Sitio Tan-agan, Barangay Tiolas in San Joaquin, Iloilo at nighttime and that, on those two occasions, she tried to resist her fathers assaults to no avail. After the last rape, she gathered enough courage to flee from their home, and thereafter she reported the incidents to her mother who was then living separately from them. Apparently, appellant was later apprehended and has since been under detention.[9] On the authority of Republic Act No. 7659 which took effect on December 31, 1993, the lower court imposed upon appellant the penalty of reclusion perpetua for the sexual assault supposedly perpetrated in December, 1993, and the supreme penalty of death with respect to the rape allegedly committed on March 6, 1994. In each of the said cases, he was further ordered to indemnify the offended party in the amount of P50,000.00 and to pay the costs.[10] What disconcerts this Court, however, is the alarming consistency of non-compliance by the court a quo of the procedural rules to be observed for the validity of the arraignment of an accused. Indeed, the importance of this particular stage of a criminal proceeding, especially when capital offenses are involved, cannot be over-emphasized. Hence, we pause at this juncture to once again briefly expound on this vital procedural aspect which the trial court, once in Alicando and again in the case at bar, appears to have treated with cavalier disregard or frustrating misapprehension. 1. In People vs. Albert,[11] we traced the developmental antecedents which culminated and found expression in reglementary form in Section 3, Rule 116 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure governing a plea of guilty to a capital offense. We there pointed out that the rationale behind the rule is that courts must proceed with more care where the possible punishment is in its severest form - death - for the reason that the execution of such a sentence is irrevocable and experience has shown that innocent persons have at times pleaded guilty.[12] We stressed the need to avoid improvident pleas of guilt since the accused may thereby forfeit his life and liberty without having fully understood the meaning, significance and consequences of his plea.[13] We lamented the confused application adopted or the

Criminal Case No. 43568

apathetic indifference in the application of said rule considering the paramount importance of a valid arraignment, it being the stage where the issues are joined in the criminal action and without which the proceedings cannot advance further or, if held, will otherwise be void. We then enjoined the trial courts to review and reflect upon the jurisprudential and statutory rules which evolved over time in response to the injustice created by improvident pleas acknowledging guilt, at times belatedly discovered under the judicial rug, if at all. With exacting certitude, Section 1(a) of Rule 116 requires that the arraignment should be made in open court by the judge himself or by the clerk of court furnishing the accused a copy of the complaint or information with the list of witnesses stated therein, then reading the same in the language or dialect that is known to him, and asking him what his plea is to the charge. The requirement that the reading be made in a language or dialect that the accused Pros. Nelson : For the prosecution. Geduspan Atty. Antiquiera Court Interpreter Rogelio : For the accused. Ready for arraignment. : The offended party is the daughter. : (Reading the information/ complaint to the accused

understands and knows is a mandatory requirement, just as the whole of said Section 1 should be strictly followed by trial courts. This the law affords the accused by way of implementation of the all-important constitutional mandate regarding the right of an accused to be informed of the precise nature of the accusation leveled at him and is, therefore, really an avenue for him to be able to hoist the necessary defense in rebuttal thereof.[14] It is an integral aspect of the due process clause under the Constitution. 2. For a more graphic illustration, and thereby a clearer appreciation of what actually transpired in the so-called arraignment of appellant in the court below, we quote at length the pertinent transcripts of the stenographic notes taken at that stage, with emphasis on significant portions: of guilty in these five cases? Interpreter Court Accused Court Accused Court : According to him, he performed only two (2) acts. : When (were) these two acts performed? : December 1993 and March 1994. : The other cases charged against you (are) not true? : It is not true maybe it was committed by her

in Ilongo/local dialect).

: For Crim. Case No. 43567, the accused, pleads Guilty. For Crim. Case No. 43568, the accused, pleads Guilty For Crim. Case No. 43569, the accused, pleads Guilty. For Crim. Case No. 43570, the accused, pleads Guilty. For Crim. Case No. 43571, the accused, pleads Guilty. Court Witness Court : What is your educational attainment? : I was not able to finish Grade I. : The court would like to explain to you in your plea of Guilty. If you plead Guilty to these five (5) offenses,

boyfriend then it was charged against me.

: In so far as . . . What is not included in the plea therefore, is the month of July 1993, January 1994 and the month of February 1994. You did not commit these? Why is it that when you were asked you

entered a plea of guilty?


Accused Court Accused Court

: Because I committed two acts only.


: Why is it that when you were asked you entered a plea of guilty? : Because what I recall is that I just committed two

definitely, you will have five (5) sentences.


Accused Court Accused Court Accused Court Accused Court : Yes, your honor.

acts of rape.

: Under the New Law the least most probably would

be life sentence.

: Not Guilty in the three (3) charges and Guilty in two (2) charges. Does counsel and accused agree to pretrial conference?

: Yes, your honor. : How old are you now? : Forty two. : Because of this fact you have no chance to get back

Atty. Antiquiera Court

: We dispense (with) the pre-trial conference.


: For the two charges (to) which he pleads guilty, the court will receive evidence in order to impose the proper penalty and on the other charges, the court will receive evidence for the prosecution.[15] (Italics and corrections in parentheses ours.)

to the new society and your rights will be affected.


: I know. Thats what they told to me.

: Despite of (sic) this fact you still insist on your plea

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At the subsequent hearing, just like what happened in Alicando, the presiding judge went through the same formality of having appellant stand again before him, and this is what Court : Before the court allows the prosecution to present evidence, accused, please come here again. (At this juncture, the accused came near to the court) Court : The court informs you as accused that you are charged (with) the crime of rape; under the new law which if you plead guilty, you will be sentence(d) to death penalty, did you understand that? : Yes, Your Honor. : Despite this warning for the second time by the court to you, do you still insist (o)n your plea of guilty? : Yes, Your Honor. : Is this plea your voluntary will without force or intimidation from anyone else to include the complaining witness or the family? : No, Your Honor. : So, therefore, the court will allow you to present evidence if you wis(h) to because you insist (o)n your plea of guilty. Do you intend to present evidence. : No, I will not present evidence. : Okey, because of this the court will receive evidence of the prosecution. In another case, the last time when arraigned, you admitted that sometime in December, 1993, you likewise raped your daughter, do you still confirm and affirm this? : Yes, Your Honor. : In this case, because this was committed (i)n December 1993, the penalty here is reclusion perpetua. After learning this as informed to you by the court, do still insist on your plea of guilty? : Yes, I will admit. I did it. : Do you admit this voluntarily without force, intimidation or physical injuries or mauling on you by anyone whomsoever? : No, Sir. : In connection with this, therefore, definitely you will be

transpired: Q A Q A Q A Court Q A Court : What is your educational attainment? : Grade I.

:Being Grade I, the court emphasized that you are swayed by your own fashion because of your low education?
: I am not. : In other words, you still insist on your plea of guilty? : Yes, sir. : Okey, proceed with the presentation of prosecution evidence. : In this Criminal Case No. 43568, do you intend to present evidence? : No, Your Honor. : Okey, proceed.

Q
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A Court

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3. At threshold, what strikes this Court as peculiar is that the arraignment appears to have consisted merely of the bare reading of the five complaints, synthetically and cryptically reported in the transcript, thus: (Reading the information/complaint to the accused in Ilonggo/local dialect). Since what was supposed to have been read was stated in the singular, but there were five criminal complaints against appellant, this Court is then left to speculate on whether all five criminal complaints were actually read, translated or explained to appellant on a level within his comprehension, considering his limited education. Again, on the presumption of correctness, since this Court has no other bearings to steer by, it may be assumed that all five complaints were read since the clerk is supposed to have thereafter announced in cadence and in the consecutive order of cases that appellant pleaded guilty to all the charges. What, however, punctures this possible bubble of regularity is that appellant subsequently declared, and the clerk consequently contradicted her previous recital, that he was not pleading guilty to three of the complaints. This is hardly a respectable and credthle performance in the solemnity of a court trial of five capital offenses. We cannot, therefore, be persuaded that on this very basic procedure alone, involving just the mechanical process of arraignment outlined in Section 1, there was the necessary degree of compliance by the court below. Other considerations reveal how flawed the supposed arraignment actually was. For instance, there is no showing whether or not appellant or his counsel de oficio was furnished a copy of each complaint with the list of witnesses against him, in order that the latter may duly prepare and comply with his

A Q

A Q A

convicted in both cases?


: Yes, your honor.

responsibilities. Of more troublous concern is the fact that appellant was not specifically warned that on his plea of guilty, he would definitely and in any event be given the death penalty under the New Law, as the trial court calls Republic Act No. 7659. He was also not categorically advised that his plea of guilty would not under any circumstance affect or reduce the death sentence as he may have believed or may have been erroneously advised. Such an erroneous notion on the part of appellant which may have impelled him to plead guilty is not improbable or conjectural, especially when we consider his mental state and the environmental situation. This is precisely what People vs. Dayot[17] cautioned against, thus: A searching inquiry, under the Rules, means more than informing cursorily the accused that he faces a jail term (because the accused is aware of that) but so also, the exact length of imprisonment under the law and the certainty that he will serve time at the national penitentiary or a penal colony. Not infrequently indeed, an accused pleads guilty in the hope,

fully discharge its duty to conduct the requisite searching inquiry in such a way as would indubitably show that appellant had made not only a clear, definite and unconditional plea, but that he did so with a well-informed understanding and full realization of the consequences thereof. To ask an accused about his educational attainment and then warn him that he might have admitted the crime because of his poor intelligence is certainly not the logical approach in assaying the sufficiency of his plea of guilty. In the same manner, a mere warning to him that he could possibly face extreme retribution in the form of death or face a life sentence in jail is not even enough.[20] The trial judge should ascertain and be totally convinced that, for all intents and purposes, the plea recorded has all the earmarks of a valid and acceptable confession upon which an eventual judgment of conviction can stand.[21] Although there is no definite and concrete rule as to how a trial judge may go about the matter of a proper searching inquiry, it would be well for the court, for instance, to require the accused to fully narrate the incident that spawned the charges against him, or by making him reenact the manner in which he perpetrated the crime, or by causing him to furnish and explain to the court missing details of significance.[22] The trial court should also be convinced that the accused has not been coerced or placed under a state of duress either by actual threats of physical harm coming from malevolent or avenging quarters and this it can do, such as by ascertaining from the accused himself the manner in which he was subsequently brought into the custody of the law; or whether he had the assistance of competent counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations; and, ascertaining from him the conditions under which he was detained and interrogated during the aforestated investigations. Likewise, a series of questions directed at defense counsel as to whether or not said counsel had conferred with, and completely explained to the accused the meaning of a plea and its consequences, would be a well-taken step along those lines.[23] Questions of these nature are undoubtedly crucial and no truer is this than in the case of appellant for, again, the original records and rollo of this case now under review are

as we said, of a lenient treatment, or upon a bad advice or promises of the authorities or parties of a lighter penalty should he admit guilt or express remorse. It is the duty of the
judge to see to it that he does not labor under these. mistaken impressions, x x x. (Italics supplied)

Likewise of very serious importance and consequence is the fact that the complaints were supposedly read to appellant in Ilonggo/local dialect. Parenthetically, there was no statement of record that appellant fully understood that medium of expression. This assumes added significance since Ilonggo, or properly called Hiligaynon, is a regional language,[18] spoken in a major part of Iloilo province, Negros Occidental and, with variations, in Capiz. Within a province or major geographical area using a basic regional language, there may be other local dialects spoken in certain parts thereof. If said indication in the aforequoted portion of the transcript intended to convey that Ilonggo is merely a local dialect and was also the idiom referred to, the same is egregious error; it would be different if local dialect was used to denote an alternative and different medium but, inexplicably, without identifying what it was. The significance of this distinction is found right in the provisions of Section 1(a) of Rule 116 which, cognizant of the aforestated linguistic variations, deliberately required that the complaint or information be read to the accused in the language or the dialect known to him, to ensure his comprehension of the charges. The Court takes judicial notice, because it is either of public knowledge or readily capable of unquestionable demonstration,[19] that in the central and northwestern part of Iloilo province and all the way up to and throughout Antique, including necessarily San Joaquin where the offenses were committed and of which appellant and his family are natives, the local dialect is known as kinaray-a. Barring previous exposure to or as a consequence of extended social or commercial intercourse, kinaray-a is not readily understandable to nor spoken by those born to the Hiligaynon regional language or who have lived in the areas under its sway for an appreciable period of time. The converse is true for those whose native tongue is the dialect of kinaraya, since they are generally not well-versed in Ilonggo, or Hiligaynon. Since all the complaints are not only in English but in technical legal language, we are again at sea as to whether and how the indictments were translated to Ilonggo and/or to kinaray-a, or that the appellant was truly and honestly made of the charges and, especially, the consequences of his guilty plea thereto. The records are silent and do not reveal anything on this point, nor how the dialogue between the presiding judge and appellant was translated. Yet a mans life is at stake while this Court wrestles with that dilemma created by an omission of official duty. 4. The foregoing discussion brings us to the strict injunction that the trial court must

completely bereft of any document or record concerning his apprehension, detention and prior investigation, whether custodial or preliminary. The foregoing circumstances must be taken in

addition to the appropriate forewarnings of the consequences of a plea of guilty, as well as the questions by the court regarding the age, educational attainment and socio-economic status of the accused which may reveal contributory insights for a proper verdict in the case. And, on this latter aspect, we are inclined to quote from Alicando since, as stated in limine the defective arraignment in the cases now before us is virtually a reprise of what the same trial court with its presiding judge did or did not do in that previous case: Section 3 of Rule 116 which the trial court violated is not a new rule for it merely incorporated the decision of this Court in People vs. Apduhan Jr. and reiterated in an unbroken line of cases. The bottom line of the rule is that a plea of guilt must be based on a free and informed judgment. Thus, the searching inquiry of the trial court must be focused on: (1) the voluntariness of the plea; and (2) the full comprehension of the consequences of the plea. The questions of the trial court failed to show the voluntariness of the plea of guilt of the appellant nor did the questions demonstrate appellants full comprehension of the consequences of the plea. The records do not reveal any information about the personality profile of the appellant which can serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed plea of guilt. The age, socio-economic status, and educational background of the appellant were not plumbed by the trial court. x x x. (Citations omitted).

It will be readily observed, if one would analyze appellants responses during his irregular arraignment, that his low intelligence quotient and lack of education combined to deprive him of fully understanding what obviously appeared to him as mysterious rituals and unfamiliarjargons. This was also what happened, and what we duly noted, in People vs.

Albert, supra.

In the transcripts of said proceeding which are earlier quoted extensively, there are italicized portions showing not only the grossly inadequate or ambiguous, if not indifferent, questions of the lower court but also the erratic answers of appellant which are neither responsive nor rational. There is no need to belabor them here since they speak for themselves, but we are not impressed by the formulary questions posed by the lower court while going through the motions of interviewing appellant. The Court would want to stress here, therefore, that the judicial conscience cannot accept as valid a plea of guilty to a charge with a mandatory death penalty when entered by an accused with a befuddled state of mind at an arraignment with reversible lapses in law. 5. Adverting once again to Alicando, we reiterated therein that pursuant to Binabay vs. People, et al.,[24] no valid judgment can be rendered upon an invalid arraignment. Since in Alicando the arraignment of appellant therein was void, the judgment of conviction rendered against him was likewise void, hence in fairness to him and injustice to the offended party that case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. The case at bar being on all fours with the aforementioned cases on the particular determinant issue, we have perforce to yield to the same doctrine and disposition.

Let it be clearly understood, however, especially by the censorious: This court will not hesitate to impose the capital punishment when all the requisites therefor have been met in accordance with the law of the land. It cannot, therefore, hold a life forfeit, no matter how despicable the offender, when effective protection for his basic rights was denied because of poverty or ignorance. Nor will the Court render a death sentence just to make a meretricious obeisance to the vengeful call for blood. Judicious verdicts evolve from the privacy of reasoned reflection in chambers and not from the publicity of emotional acclaim on the podium. WHEREFORE, the judgment of the court a quo in Criminal Cases Nos. 43568 and 43571 convicting accused-appellant Melchor Estomaca y Garque of two crimes of rape is hereby SET ASIDE. Said cases are REMANDED to the trial court for further and appropriate proceedings, with instructions that the same be given appropriate priority and the proceedings therein be conducted with deliberate dispatch and circumspection. SO ORDERED.

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Hermosisima, Jr., and Panganiban, JJ., concur. Kapunan and Mendoza, JJ., in the result. Torres, Jr., J., took no part. Francisco, J., on leave.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. BONIFACIO DURANGO y CARCEDO, accused-appellant. DECISION VITUG, J.: Before this Court, for automatic review, is the decision of the Regional Trial Court of Malabon, Branch 170, in Criminal Case No. 18897-MN and Criminal Case No. 18898-MN, jointly tried, which has found herein accused-appellant Bonifacio Durango y Carcedo guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape on two counts. The complaints charging accused-appellant with the crime of rape, allegedly twice committed on the same victim, read: Esmmis "CRIMINAL CASE NO. 18897-MN "'That on or about the 21st day of August, 1997, in the Municipality of Malabon, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being a father of Noniebeth Durango y Ferolino, with lewd design and by means of force and intimidation, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously did then and there have sexual intercourse with NONIEBETH DURANGO Y FEROLINO, a minor of 12 years of age against her will and without her consent. CONTRARY TO LAW. "CRIMINAL CASE NO. 18898-MN "'That on or about the 21st day of September, 1996, in the Municipality of Malabon, Metro Manila, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused being a father of Noniebeth Durango y Ferolino, with lewd design and by means of force and intimidation, wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously did then and there have sexual intercourse with NONIEBETH DURANGO Y FEROLINO, a minor of 12 years of age against her will and without her consent. CONTRARY TO LAW."[1] During the arraignment on 22 January 1998, the public prosecutor moved for a joint trial of the two cases. Accused Bonifacio Durango, with the assistance of counsel and after having been informed, in a language and dialect known to him, of the nature and cause of the indictment, voluntarily entered a plea of not guilty to the criminal complaints. On 14 May 1998, after the prosecution had barely started with the presentation at the witness stand of private complainant, the defense counsel manifested to the court that the accused wanted to withdraw his earlier plea of not guilty and to substitute it with a plea of guilty to the crimes charged. On the basis of the manifestation, accused was re-arraigned, and this time accused pleaded guilty. The trial court thereupon proceeded to hear the testimony of private complainant. Esmso

On 11 August 1998, after the prosecution had concluded its presentation, the trial court rendered the now questioned decision, the pertinent portions of which read "As established by the testimony of Noniebeth Durango, the first charge of rape was committed on the night of September 21, 1996 while she was already sleeping inside their house located at 214 Hernandez Street, Catmon, Malabon Metro Manila. She was with her seven (7) years old sister Zeny but then the latter was also sound asleep on the floor. Her father at that instant went beside her and forced her to undress. In fact, it was the accused who removed her clothings, after which, stripped himself of his apparels before allowing his penis to touch the private part of Noniebeth. On the following night, the accused finally penetrated his daughter. Noniebeth felt his penis inside her genital during which moment the accused threatened her not to tell her mother about the incident otherwise they would be killed. That initial sexual coupling was repeated for several times while the mother of Noniebeth was still working in Taiwan. "The second charge of rape was committed August 21, 1997. This time it happened at around 10:00 a.m. and the mother of Noniebeth was around after returning home in July, 1997. Noniebeth was in her room and her mother was then cooking. The accused went inside and begun to violate her daughter under practically the same circumstances as the first. But this time the threat did not work because Noniebeth by now had gained enough courage to inform her mother about the ordeal she went through in the hands of the accused. Finding it to be an easy way in order to get out of their house, Noniebeth and her mother went to Mindanao to visit her sick grandmother. And upon their return, Noniebeth was examined by a doctor in Manila."[2] The trial court then adjudged: "WHEREFORE, premises considered, judgment is hereby rendered as follows: "1. In Criminal Case No. 18897-MN, the Court finds accused Bonifacio Durango y Carcedo guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of DEATH; "2. In Criminal Case No. 18898-MN, the Court finds accused Bonifacio Durango y Carcedo guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of RAPE and hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of DEATH. "Likewise, the accused is hereby ordered to indemnify Noniebeth Durango in the amount of P50,000.00, the additional sums of P50,000.00 as moral damages, P30,000.00 as exemplary damages and cost of the suit in each of the crime charged. Msesm "SO ORDERED."[3] In his appeal brief, accused-appellant submitted a lone assignment of error, to wit:

"The Court a quo manifestly erred in convicting accused-appellant of the crimes charged despite his improvident plea of guilty."[4] The imposition of the death penalty tasks anew this Court to closely review the judgment of conviction not only whether or not an accused did commit the Crime imputed against him but also whether or not his constitutional rights have been duly protected before and during his trial. Initially, the accused entered a plea of "not guilty." Just as Noniebeth was called to the witness stand, the defense manifested its intention to substitute the plea of "not guilty" to one of "guilty." When an accused enters such a plea of "guilty," the trial court is mandated to see to it that the exacting standards laid down by the rules therefor are strictly observed. Rule 116 of the Rules of Court, in part, provides: "Section 1. Arraignment and plea; how made. - (a) The accused must be arraigned before the court where the complaint or information has been filed or assigned for trial. The arraignment must be made in open court by the judge or clerk by furnishing the accused a copy of the complaint or information with the list of witnesses, reading the same in the language or dialect known to him and asking him whether he pleads guilty or not guilty. The prosecution may, however, call at the trial witnesses other than those named in the complaint or information. "(b) The accused must be present at the arraignment and must personally enter his plea. Both arraignment and plea shall be made of record, but a failure to enter of record shall not affect the validity of the proceedings. Exsm "(c) If the accused refuses to plead, or makes a conditional plea of guilty, a plea of not guilty shall be entered for him." "Section 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 require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may also present evidence in his behalf." This Court, in the recent case of People vs. Tizon,[5] has expressed the rationale behind the rule and it is, at bottom "x x x that no accused is wrongly convicted or erroneously sentenced. It constantly behooves the courts to proceed with utmost care in each and every case before them but perhaps nothing can be more demanding of judges in that respect than when the punishment is in its severest form - death - a penalty that, once carried out, is irreversible and irreparable. It cannot be said that when a person pleads guilty to a crime there is no chance at all that he could, in fact, be innocent. Statistics (See People vs. Estomaca, 256 SCRA 421, citing People vs. Albert, 251 SCRA 136, and 14 Am. Jur., Criminal Law, Section 251, p. 951) can easily dispel that

notion." The records of the case at bar would disclose that the trial court issued a curt joint order, dated 14 May 1998, to the following effect; viz: "J O I N T...O R D E R "At the hearing today, defense counsel manifested that the accused is intending to withdraw his former plea of not guilty and substitute the same with that of guilty to the offenses charged, to which manifestation the Trial Prosecutor interposed no objection. "Accordingly, the accused withdrew his former plea and was re-arraigned in these two (2) complaints in the language and dialect known to him. With the assistance of his counsel from the PAO, the accused voluntarily entered a plea of guilty in these two (2) complaints. "Considering that the charges are capital offenses, the Trial Prosecutor was directed to present the complainant, whose testimony was terminated. Thereafter, Trial Prosecutor formally offered his evidence. "WHEREFORE, these cases are now submitted for decision. Kyle "SO ORDERED. "Malabon, Metro Manila, May 14, 1998. The order was preceded by a brief and abbreviated exchange of remarks between the defense counsel and the trial judge hereunder fully quoted; viz: "ATTY. DE LAS ALAS For the accused Your Honor "FISCAL ALIPOSA For the people Your Honor, we are ready to present the victim, Noniebeth Durango, whose testimony is being offered to establish the allegations in the Informations and particularly to the fact that she is the victim Your Honor. "COURT Duly noted. Swear in the witness.

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x "ON THE WITNESS STAND: NONIEBETH DURANGO, 12 years of age, single, a student, and residing at No. 214 Hernandez Street, Catmon, Malabon, Metro Manila, after having been duly sworn to in accordance with law, testified: x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x "FISCAL ALIPOSA Kycalr Considering the nature of the offense Your Honor, may we request that the public be excluded except the accused and the mother of the victim. "COURT Yes, exclude the public except the accused and the mother of the victim. "COURT "ATTY. DE LAS ALAS If your Honor please, a while ago the accused intimated to me that he intends to withdraw his former plea not guilty and substitute the same with that of guilty to these two cases Your Honor. "COURT Mr. Durango, according to your counsel you are intending to withdraw your former plea of not guilty in these 2 cases and substitute the same with that of guilty, do you confirm that? "ACCUSED Yes Your Honor. "ATTY. DE LAS ALAS In view of this development Your Honor, the accused is now withdrawing his former plea of not guilty to be substituted with guilty Your Honor.

"COURT Alright, re-arraign the accused. (Accordingly, the accused was re-arraigned in these 2 complaints in the language and dialect known to him. With the assistance of his counsel from the PAO, the accused pleaded guilty in these two complaints.) Even though the accused has already pleaded guilty to the offenses charged, I will require you to continue presenting your evidence Fiscal."[7] The records would show that thenceforth defense counsel spoke not one word. Nor would it appear that the trial court gave defense counsel or the accused any chance to talk for when the prosecutor ended his direct examination of Noniebeth, the latter was thereupon simply excused and the court forthwith declared the case submitted for decision. Thus - Calrky "FISCAL ALIPOSA No further question Your Honor.

You are excused. "FISCAL ALIPOSA We are now ready to formally offer the following exhibits: Exhibits A, A-1, the medico-legal report, to establish the fact of examination on victim Noniebeth Durango; Exhibits 'B' and 'B-1,' sworn statement of the victim, as part of the testimony of the witness; Exhibit 'C,' request for examination; Exhibit 'C-1,' stamp mark of the PNP Crime Laboratory, to establish the fact that the police intervened to have the victim examined? Exhibit 'D,' preliminary interview made by the doctor showing that the victim was sexually molested; Exhibit 'E,' consent for examination upon the request of the mother of the victim;

Exhibit F, birth certificate of the victim showing that she is a minor below 12 years of age at the time of the incident; Exhibit 'G,' complaint in Crim. Case No. 18897-MN Mesm Exhibit 'G-1, signatures of the victim and her mother; Exhibit 'H,' complaint in Crim. Case No. 18898-MN and Exhibit 'H-1," signatures of the victim and her mother, as part of the testimony of the witness. "COURT Alright, these cases are now submitted for decision."[8] The improvident plea, followed by an abbreviated proceeding, with practically no role at all played by the defense, is just too meager to accept as being the standard constitutional due process at work enough to forfeit a human life. It may be opportune to invite attention to the disquisition of the Court in People vs. Bermas,[9] thus: "x x x 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. "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 wellversed 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." Slx Of most troublous concern is the fact that the accused has not been apprised at all of the consequences of the plea, let alone specifically warned that, given his plea of guilt, the death sentence decreed under Republic Act 7659 would nevertheless have to be imposed, contrary to what he might have entertained or been advised. It is essential that a searching inquiry is conducted after the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, and it must focus on: (1) the voluntariness of the plea and (2) a complete comprehension of the legal effects of the plea so

that the plea of guilt can be truly said as being based on a free and informed judgment. So indispensable is this requirement that a plea of guilt to a capital offense can be held null and void where the trial court has inadequately discharged the duty of conducting the prescribed "searching inquiry."[10] The trial court should also be convinced that the accused has not been coerced or placed under a state of duress either by actual threats or physical harm coming from malevolent or avenging quarters, and this it can do either by eliciting from the accused himself the manner in which he has been brought into the custody of the law and whether he had the assistance of competent counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations or by ascertaining from him the conditions of his detention and interrogation during the investigation. Likewise, a series of questions directed at defense counsel on whether or not counsel has conferred with the accused and has completely explained to him the meaning of a plea of guilt are well-taken steps along those lines.[11] Similarly, just as in People vs. Estomaca,[12] which has ruled that no valid judgment can be rendered upon an invalid arraignment, there is here no showing that appellant or his counsel de oficio has been furnished with a copy of each complaint with the list of witnesses against him. All things considered, the Court is left with little recourse except to remand the case to the court a quo for further and appropriate proceedings conformably with the opinion heretofore expressed. WHEREFORE, the judgment in Criminal Case No. 18897-MN and No. 18898-MN convicting accused-appellant Bonifacio Durango y Carcedo of two crimes of rape and imposing upon him the penalty of death is SET ASIDE. Said cases are REMANDED to the trial court for further and appropriate proceedings. SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ALBERTO CHUA alias BERT, accused-appellant. DECISION PUNO, J.: This is an automatic review of the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Third Judicial Region, Malolos, Bulacan, Branch 78[1] in Criminal Case No. 514-M-98 imposing on accusedappellant Alberto Chua alias Bert the penalty of death. In a criminal complaint dated April 13, 1998, accused-appellant was charged with the crime of rape as follows: The undersigned complainant, assisted by her mother, Esterlita A. Chua, hereby accuses Alberto Chua alias Bert of the crime of rape, penalized under the provisions of Art. 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by RA 7659, committed as follows: That on or about the 28th day of March 1998, in the municipality of Malolos, province of Bulacan, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, father of the offended party, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, by means of force, threats and intimidation and with lewd designs, have carnal knowledge of the said offended party, Chenny A. Chua, a minor, against her will Contrary to law. Malolos, Bulacan, April 13, 1998. (SGD.)CHENNY CHUA Complainant. Assisted by: (SGD.)ESTERLITA CHUA (Mother) SUBSCRIBED AND SWORN to before me this 13th day of April 1998 at Malolos, Bulacan. (

Sec. 7, Rule 112 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, considering that the herein accused, who is under custody of the law without warrant of arrest has refused to sign a written waiver of his rights under Art. 125 of the Revised Penal Code, and finding a prima facie against the accused , the undersigned is filing this information with the approval of the Provincial Prosecutor. (SGD.)RENATO T. SANTIAGO 3rd Asst. Provl. Prosecutor xxx xxx x x x.[2]

On April 20, 1998, appellant was arraigned and he pleaded not guilty.[3] At the pretrial conference on May 8, 1998, however, appellant, through counsel, manifested that he was withdrawing his plea and changing it to guilty as charged. As prayed for by counsel for appellant, the trial court reset the pretrial to May 13, 1998. On May 13, 1998, the trial court propounded several questions on appellant inquiring into the voluntariness of his change of plea and his comprehension of its consequences. Satisfied with appellants response, the court ordered his rearraignment. Appellant, with the assistance of counsel, withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty as charged.[4] Thereafter, the court ordered the prosecution to present its evidence. The prosecution presented the testimony of private complainant, Chenny Chua. It also presented Chennys sworn statement before the Malolos police investigators[5] and the medico-legal report of the Philippine National Police Crime Laboratory on the girls physical condition.[6] From these evidence, the following facts were established: On March 28, 1998, at around 2:00 in the afternoon in Canalate, Malolos, Bulacan, Chenny Chua, thirteen (13) years of age, and her father, herein accused-appellant, were watching television in the house of her aunt, Salvacion Ardenio Niegas. At about 2:15, Chenny stood up and went to her familys rented room adjacent to her aunts house. Chenny entered the room and laid down on the floor to sleep. Beside her slept two of her younger sisters. Some fifteen (15) minutes later, Chenny woke up and saw her father, herein appellant, shaking her and calling her name. Then, she saw him remove her short pants. Chenny stared at him. She knew what her father was going to do but did not resist him because he had been sexually molesting her since July 1996. She resisted the very first time it happened, but he forced himself on her and told her not to say anything about the incident. He said that if her mother would find out, her mother would surely kill him, and she would be imprisoned and no one would take care of Chenny and her seven (7) little brothers and sisters. So Chenny bore everything in silence. And that fateful day, Chenny just closed her eyes as he peeled off her short pants. Appellant went on top of the girl and parted her thighs. He inserted his penis into her vagina and made a push and pull movement for some five minutes. After he was through, appellant told Chenny not to report the incident to her mother. Appellant got up and suddenly sensed that someone was watching them. He turned around and saw the gaping hole in the wall divider. The hole was not covered by the wall calendar as it used to be. Earlier, when appellant was on top of Chenny, the girl saw someone peeping through the hole in the divider. It was her aunt, Salvacion Ardenio Niegas, and Chenny heard her exclaim Nakita ko! Nakita ko! Chenny did not cry out for help because she was afraid. She then saw another person peering through the hole. It was her little cousin. When appellant realized that someone was watching them, he got up and said O, Gene! and pretended to fix something at the door. Softly, appellant again warned Chenny not to tell her mother about what he did to her.

SGD.) RENATO T. SANTIAGO

rd

3 Asst. Provl. Prosecutor

I hereby certify that I have conducted proceedings in this case pursuant to the provisions of

Five days later, on April 2, 1998, Chennys mother, Esterlita, arrived. She had just come from work in Taytay, Rizal. Chennys aunt lost no time in reporting to Esterlita what she witnessed. Fuming mad, Esterlita roused her daughter from sleep and asked her about the incident. Chenny denied it. By Esterlitas persistent questioning, however, Chenny finally admitted her fathers dastardly act. Forthwith, Esterlita brought her daughter to the police station where Chenny executed a sworn statement and submitted herself to a physical and medical examination. Dr. Manuel C. Aves, the medico-legal officer at the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Crime Laboratory Office found the following: GENERAL AND EXTRA-GENITAL PHYSICAL BUILD: lean built MENTAL STATUS: coherent female BREAST: conical ABDOMEN: flat PHYSICAL INJURIES: No sign of physical injury GENITAL PUBIC HAIR: scanty LABIA MAJORA: coaptated LABIA MINORA: light pink HYMEN: Multiple healed lacerations at 12, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 oclock EXTERNAL VAGINAL ORIFICE: With moderate resistance upon inserting examining finger. VAGINAL CANAL: prominent rugosities CERVIX: smooth PERI-URETHRAL AND VAGINAL SMEARS: REMARKS: Multiple healed lacerations at 12, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 oclock. xxx xxx x x x.[7]

On May 22, 1998, the trial court found appellant guilty of the offense and sentenced him to death. The court held: WHEREFORE, the foregoing considered, this Court hereby finds accused ALBERTO CHUA alias Bert GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape defined and penalized under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Republic Act No. 7659, and sentences him to suffer the penalty of Death and to pay private complainant Chenny Chua the amount of Fifty Thousand Pesos (P50,000.00) as moral damages and Twenty Thousand Pesos (P20,000.00) as exemplary damages. With costs. SO ORDERED.[8] Hence this recourse. Appellant assigns the following errors: I THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN METING OUT THE DEATH PENALTY ON THE ACCUSED DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCE OF MINORITY WAS NOT PROPERLY ALLEGED IN THE INFORMATION. THE FACT THAT COMPLAINANT DAUGHTER WAS DESCRIBED AS A MINOR IN THE INFORMATION IS A CONCLUSION OF LAW AND NOT A STATEMENT OF FACT. II THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN ACCEPTING WITH ALACRITY ACCUSEDS PLEA OF GUILTY TO THE OFFENSE CHARGED.[9] When the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, Rule 116, Section 3 of the Rules on Criminal Procedure provides the following procedure: 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 require the prosecution to prove his guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may also present evidence in his behalf.[10] When the accused enters a plea of guilty to a capital offense, the trial court must do the following: (1) conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness of the plea and the accuseds full comprehension of the consequences thereof; (2) require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and (3) ask the accused if he desires to present evidence in his behalf and allow him to do so if he desires.[11] This procedure is mandatory and a judge who fails to observe it commits grave abuse of discretion.[12] The essence of a plea of guilty is that the accused admits his guilt freely, voluntarily and with full knowledge of the consequences and meaning of his act and with a clear understanding of the precise nature of the crime charged in the complaint or information.[13] Thus, when the accused enters a plea of guilt, the trial court must, first of all, determine the voluntariness of the said plea and accuseds comprehension of its consequences. In making such determination, the court must conduct a searching inquiry. The inquiry is not a simple question and answer exercise; it must be searching. To search means to look into or over carefully or thoroughly in an effort to find something.[14] This looking into carefully and thoroughly, in the matter under consideration, must be focused on: (1) the voluntariness of the plea; and (2) the full comprehension of the consequences of said plea.[15]

There is no hard and fast rule as to the number and type of questions the judge may put to the accused, or as to the earnestness with which he may conduct the inquiry. What is essential is that the judge should, first of all, consider the age, personality, educational background, socio-economic status and other personal circumstances of the accused confessing his guilt.[16] The trial judge should determine whether the accused had been coerced or placed under a state of duress either by actual threats of physical harm coming from malevolent or avenging quarters, or by mistaken impressions given, wittingly or unwittingly, by authorities or parties; whether the accused had the assistance of competent counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations; and whether he understood the charges against him.[17] The court should inquire if the accused knows the crime with which he is charged and explain to him the elements of the crime and the corresponding penalty therefor. The court may require the accused to fully narrate the incident that spawned the charges against him, or make him reenact the manner in which he perpetrated the crime, or cause him to furnish and explain missing details of significance[18] about his personal circumstances, about the commission of the crime and events during the custodial and preliminary investigation. In doing so, all questions posed by the judge to the accused should be in a language known and understood by the latter.[19] Still, the inquiry need not stop with the accused. The court may also propound questions to accuseds counsel to determine whether or not said counsel had conferred with, and completely explained to accused the meaning of a plea and its consequences.[20] In all cases, the bottom line is that the judge must fully convince himself that: (1) the accused, in pleading guilty, is doing so voluntarily; and (2) he, in so doing, is truly guilty, and that there exists a rational basis for a finding of guilt, based on his testimony.[21] In the case at bar, appellant claims that the trial court accepted his plea of guilt without following the procedure laid down in the Rules of Court. He alleges that the court should have placed him on the witness stand to find out if he actually understood the effect of his action and to hear his version of the events.[22] We agree. The following transpired at the pretrial: SECOND CALL PROS. SANTIAGO: Same appearance for the State, your honor. ATTY. LADERAS: Same appearance for the accused. Your honor, may I request for a fiveminute recess to confer with the accused because he is intending to change his plea. ON THE THIRD CALL PROS. SANTIAGO: Same appearance, your honor. ATTY. LADERAS: For the accused, your honor. COURT: Is he willing to change his plea? ATTY. LADERAS: Yes, your honor. COURT: Do you understand that by withdrawing your former plea and entering a plea of guilty, you will be sentenced by this court to the penalty of death?

ACCUSED: (After having conferred with counsel) Yes, your honor. COURT: And despite that fact, you will still insist on withdrawing your former plea of NOT GUILTY and change it to one GUILTY as charged? ACCUSED: Not anymore, your honor. ATTY. LADERAS: He will accept whatever will be the punishment of the court. COURT: In other words, you are determined to admit that you are guilty as charged? ACCUSED: Yes, your honor. COURT: Despite the fact that the penalty of the charge carries with it the penalty of death? ACCUSED: I cannot do anything, your honor. If that will be the verdict, your honor. COURT: You are not being forced to admit the charge. But if you admit and enter the plea of guilty to the charge, the court will impose the penalty of death. ACCUSED: Yes, your honor. COURT: You will not change your mind? ACCUSED: Mahirap kalabanin ang pamilya ko. COURT: You are sure of your decision? ACCUSED: Yes, your honor. COURT: Rearraign the accused. (After the arraignment) COURT: When this case was called for pretrial conference, accused Alberto Chua, through counsel, manifested that he is withdrawing his former plea of NOT GUILTY and he is changing it to one of GUILTY as charged. Rearraigned, the accused, assisted by Atty. Ma. Cristine Laderas of the Public Attorneys Office entered a plea of GUILTY as charged. After conducting searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea, the accused voluntarily manifested to the Court that he understood all the consequences of his change of plea and that he is willing to face the verdict of death. Considering the accuseds plea of guilty to a capital offense, the prosecution was required to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability. SO ORDERED. xxx xxx x x x.[23]

From the foregoing, it is clear that the court a quo did not probe carefully and thoroughly into the reasons for appellants change of plea and his comprehension of the consequences of said plea. First of all, there was no determination of appellants age, personality, educational background and socio-economic status. All questions the court propounded were couched in English and yet there is nothing in the records to show that appellant had a good comprehension, or at least, a nodding acquaintance with the English

language. As to whether the judge translated and explained his questions to appellant in a language or dialect known and understood by the latter is not likewise borne by the records. It is not insignificant that appellant revealed to the trial judge that it was difficult to go against his family. This statement should have led the trial judge to inquire into the family background and the voluntariness of appellants guilty plea. But no questions were asked. It would have been well for the court to go over appellants relationship with the victim and the other family members, the specific reason why appellant decided to change his plea, the effect of his guilty plea on his family, and the fact that despite said plea, if his family knew that he was still to be put to death. Further, the trial court did not bother to explain the essential elements of the crime with which appellant was charged. Appellant was convicted by the court a quo of incestuous rape under the first qualifying circumstance of Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 7659. The information charged him with rape penalized under the provisions of Art. 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by R.A. 7659. It did not specify under what particular paragraph of Article 335 the charge was made. Nothing in the record shows that appellant was aware as to what specific paragraph of the law he was being charged. As regards the penalty, the court may have repeatedly informed appellant that his penalty was death, notwithstanding his guilty plea, but it did not disclose the indemnity he was to pay the victim. The decision of the court ordered appellant to pay Chenny the amount of P50,000.00 as moral damages and P20,000.00 as exemplary damages. As a result of the courts failure to fully explain the basis of appellants indictment, appellant was not accorded his fundamental right to be informed of the precise nature of the accusation against him, and was therefore denied due process.[24] The trial court did not only neglect to make the searching inquiry, it also failed to inquire from appellant whether he desired to present evidence in his behalf. This is the third requirement under Section 3, Rule 116. The prosecution presented the victims testimony, her sworn statement and medico-legal report as its evidence. But when cross-examination came, appellants counsel declined to do so. The court merely accepted this and did not inquire into the reason why they waived cross-examination. Given this disinterest, the court should have, at least, informed appellant that he could present his own evidence and ask him if he desired to do so. Courts must proceed with meticulous care wherever the punishment for the crime is in its severest form. The execution of a death sentence is irrevocable and experience has shown that innocent persons have, at times, pleaded guilty.[25] In capital offenses, the essence of judicial review is anchored on the principle that while society allows violent retribution for heinous crimes committed against it, it always must make certain that the blood of the innocent is not spilled, or that the guilty are not made to suffer more than their just measure of punishment and retribution.[26] The prudent course to follow is to take testimony not only to satisfy the trial judge but also to aid the Supreme Court in determining whether the accused understood the significance and consequences of his plea.[27] This is to preclude any room for reasonable doubt in the mind of the trial court, or this Court on review, as to the possibility that there might have been some misunderstanding by the accused of the nature of the charge to which he pleaded guilty, and to ascertain the circumstances attendant to the commission of the crime which justify or require the exercise of a greater or lesser degree of severity in the imposition of the prescribed penalties.[28] There is also another element of the crime overlooked by the trial court. Chenny testified that on that day subject of the complaint-information, when appellant started peeling off her short pants, she did not resist him. She just stared at her father knowing what he was going to do to her. She fought back the very first time he molested her, but he forced himself on her. Since then, she did not resist him; and that day was like the rest. Appellant was able to satisfy his lust on the girl without exerting force or intimidation on her. In incestuous rape cases, the victims lack of resistance has been explained as a

product of the moral ascendancy parents exercise over their children, viz: x x x. A rape victims actions are oftentimes overwhelmed by fear rather than by reason. It is this fear, springing from the initial rape, that the perpetrator hopes to build a climate of extreme psychological terror, which would, he hopes, numb his victim into silence and submissiveness. Incestuous rape magnifies this terror, because the perpetrator is a person normally expected to give solace and protection to the victim. Furthermore, in incest, access to the victim is guaranteed by the blood relationship, proximity magnifying the sense of helplessness and degree of fear. xxx xxx xxx

x x x. [T]he rapist perverts whatever moral ascendancy and influence he has over his victim in order to intimidate and force the latter to submit to repeated acts of rape over a period of time. In many instances, he succeeds and the crime is forever kept on a lid. In a few cases, the victim suddenly finds the will to summon unknown sources of courage to cry out for help and bring her depraved malefactor to justice. x x x. The perpetrator takes full advantage of his blood relationship, ascendancy and influence over his victim, both to commit the sexual assault and to intimidate the victim into silence. Unfortunately for some perpetrators of incestuous rape, their victims manage to break out from the cycle of fear and terror. x x x.[29] In Philippine society, the father is considered the head of the family, and the children are taught not to defy the fathers authority even when this is abused. They are taught to respect the sanctity of marriage and to value the family above everything else. Hence, when the abuse begins, the victim sees no reason or need to question the righteousness of the father whom she had trusted right from the start.[30] The value of respect and obedience to parents instilled among Filipino children is transferred into the very same value that exposes them to risks of exploitation by their own parents.[31] The sexual relationship could begin so subtly that the child does not realize that it is abnormal. Physical force then becomes unnecessary. The perpetrator takes full advantage of this blood relationship. Most daughters cooperate and this is one reason why they suffer tremendous guilt later on. It is almost impossible for a daughter to reject her fathers advances, for children seldom question what grown-ups tell them to do.[32] But incest, no matter how despicable, hateful and revolting it is both to the victim and society, is not a crime in our statute books. There is no law that specifically defines and penalizes incest. The case at bar involves rape. Rape, under Article 335 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, is committed by having carnal knowledge of a woman: (1) by using force or intimidation; (2) when the woman is deprived of reason or otherwise unconscious; or (3) when the woman is under twelve years of age or is demented.[33] In the instant case, the victim was not under twelve years of age or demented when her father abused her. Neither was she deprived of reason or rendered unconscious. No force or violence was used on her, she herself testified. As to whether there was intimidation, this element must be viewed in the light of the victims perception and judgment at the time of the commission of the crime. It is addressed to the mind of the victim and is, therefore, subjective.[34] There is nothing in Chennys testimony that shows how appellant intimidated her into giving him her body. Intimidation breaks down the victims moral resistance and makes her submit to the evil in order to escape what she conceives to be a greater evil.[35] There is no proof of what greater evil Chenny had to escape that made her submit to her fathers carnal desires. The mere fact that appellant is her father and therefore exercises moral ascendancy

over his daughter cannot ipso facto lead this Court to conclude that there was intimidation. There must be some evidence of the intimidation employed on the victim as to indubitably show how vitiated the victims consent was to the violation of her womanhood. After all, rape is committed against or without the consent of the victim.[36] The very first time appellant violated Chenny, he did not use any weapon to threaten her into submission. Neither did appellant threaten her with blackmail or words of terror. He warned her not to tell her mother because if she did, her mother will surely kill him and she will land in jail and no one will take care of Chenny and her younger brothers and sisters. These words of doom may give the reason why Chenny did not report the incident or incidents to her mother, her aunt or other people; but they do not show how they brainwashed her into giving in to appellants lustful desires. The doomsday scenario is not per se sufficient to establish the psychological terror that made the girl submit to her father. The court cannot rely on presumptions of moral ascendancy,[37] for in this new century where mores change, it could well be that in certain cases, the traditional moral ascendancy of a parent over children is a myth. Presumptions of moral ascendancy cannot and should not prevail over the constitutional presumption of innocence. Force or intimidation is an element of the crime of rape. There must, therefore, be proof beyond reasonable doubt that the victim did not resist her defloration due to the moral ascendancy of the accused. IN VIEW WHEREOF, the judgment appealed from is set aside. The case is remanded to the trial court for rearraignment and thereafter, should the accused-appellant enter a plea of guilty, for reception of evidence for the prosecution, and should the accused appellant so desire, for reception likewise of evidence on his part, all in accord with the guidelines set forth in this Decision. SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo, Buena, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

PEOPLE

OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. DANILO ESPIDOL y VILLANUEVA (Deceased), SAGRADO DALACAT y SANTOS, ALFREDO TOMAS, y LIMOS (At-large), AND ARMANDO ANIASCO, accused,

SAGRADO DALACAT y SANTOS, accused-appellant. DECISION CHICO-NAZARIO, J.:

On direct examination, 29-year old Virgilio Espiritu Corpuz a.k.a. bILLY testified that he was employed as a driver of a car rental shop owned by one Genaro de la Cruz of San Nicolas, Tarlac City. In his narrative, on 13 October 1998, he was assigned to chauffeur for four (4) men, including herein appellant, to Vigan, Ilocos Sur, for two days. At 2:00 p.m. that day, Corpuz and his passengers headed off to Vigan aboard an L-300 van with Plate No. CME 337.[9]

Courts must be careful to avoid improvident pleas of guilt and, where grave crimes are involved, the proper course is to take down evidence to determine guilt and avoid doubts.[1]
In a rather atypical case, both the defense and the State, in the case at bar, are enthused by a common clamor the remand of this case to the court a quo on the argument that the accused now stands on death row because of a plea of guilty improvidently made. For automatic review is the decision[2] dated 22 August 2001 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Branch 20, in Criminal Case No. 4333-V, finding appellant Sagrado Dalacat guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the complex crime of robbery in band with homicide and sentencing him to death. Appellant was ordered to pay the heirs of the victim, Hipolito Bagay, the sum of P50,000 as civil indemnity, P1,200,000 as actual damages, and the costs. The information charging appellant Sagrado Dalacat and his co-accused, Danilo Espidol, Alfredo Tomas, Virgilio Corpuz, and Armando Aniasco with Robbery in Band with Homicide reads: That on or about the 14th day of October, 1998, in the municipality of Vigan, province of Ilocos Sur, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring and confederating together and mutually helping one another, all armed with illegally possessed firearms (unrecovered) with intent to gain, in band, did then and there stage a hold-up at the business establishment of the family of Hipolito Bagay, by wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously and with violence and intimidation, pointing their firearms at Hipolito Bagay, Erlinda Sabado Bagay and Johanna Go, and shot Hipolito Bagay thereby inflicting mortal gunshot wounds on him which caused his death a few days thereafter, and then wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously and with intent to gain, the above-named malefactors took, stole and carried away the amount of ONE MILLION TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P1,200,000.00), Philippine Currency, belonging to Hipolito Bagay on board a get-away vehicle, a Mitsubishi L-300 van bearing plate no. CME-337, to the damage and prejudice of the heirs of the late Hipolito Bagay.[3] On 06 April 1999, the case against Virgilio Corpuz was dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence[4] and accordingly, his name was stricken out from the information.[5] Corpuz later became state witness. In the interregnum, accused Danilo Espidol died in jail while Alfredo Limos fled from prison on 08 March 1999 and has remained at-large.[6] As for Armando Aniasco, the trial court issued an order for his arrest on 17 July 2001 upon learning that he was detained in the Cabanatuan City Jail in Nueva Ecija for another offense.[7] On 08 March 1999, appellant was arraigned and with the assistance of his counsel, Atty. Hermilo Barrios, he pleaded not guilty.[8] At the ensuing trial, the prosecution presented its two witnesses, namely: Virgilio Espiritu Corpuz and Johanna Go.

En route to Vigan, at about 10:00 p.m., Aniasco ordered Corpuz to park the van in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, at the house of a man whom the group addressed as Barangay Captain (or Captain), allegedly to collect the sum of P50,000, which the latter owed to Aniasco. Aniasco had a brief conversation with said Barangay Captain after which they proceeded to a beach resort where they spent the night.[10]
The following day, Aniasco directed Corpuz towards a house near the basketball court to fetch a certain Gadong who went with them to the Captains house, purportedly to collect the amount of P50,000 from the latter. Gadong and Aniasco entered the Captains house, but shortly, Aniasco returned to the van to wait. According to him, the Captain, who was then cash-strapped, will mortgage his motorcycle to come up with the cash. Later, a mestizolooking man emerged from the Captains house, driving a motorcycle and left. When the mestizo returned, Aniasco spoke with him briefly then the group headed off to Vigan, Ilocos Sur.[11] In Vigan, Corpuz was ordered to park near the El Juliana Hotel near a bridge, under the pretext that Aniascos group will go on sight-seeing of the Vigan Church, famous for its tower. But Corpuz recalled that the group did not actually take a look at the said tower as they left the van briefly.[12] Upon their return to the van, Corpuz was instructed to proceed to Puro, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur, where the group haggled for motorcycles totalling P95,000. They were, however, unable to purchase any vehicle because according to Aniascos group, the cash they had was in dollars, which they must first exchange to pesos.[13] For this purpose, they proceeded to the commercial establishment owned by Hipolito Bagay and his family, who have a money exchange store in the same building.[14] Corpuz was directed to park the vehicle in front of the building and to keep the engine on as they will just exchange their dollars in a jiffy.[15] The group then alighted from the van and entered the store of the Bagays. Shortly, Corpuz heard something broke. This noise was followed by a womans scream. The noise, according to Corpuz, did not emanate from the place where the group entered so he looked around the place for anything odd, but found none, so he relaxed. The four men returned momentarily and boarded the van in haste. Corpuz sensed something was amiss as the men were fidgeting and one of them even let slip three times that they made a mistake (Kagkamalan kami putang ina).[16] Corpuz noticed that Aniasco was holding a green folder, which he wrapped in his jacket. Aniasco gave directions to Corpuz on which way to go and upon reaching Bantay, Ilocos Sur, he alighted, carrying with him the green folder, bid the rest of them goodbye, and uttered, We will see each other at the Captains or go straight [ahead].[17] Alfredo Limos then transferred to the front seat. He patted Corpuz by the shoulder and asked him to remain calm. He explained that they were members of sparrow unit and were just following orders from their Chief. After hearing those words, Corpuz begged the group to spare him, as he was a family man with four children to support.[18] Upon reaching a checkpoint in Santa, Ilocos Sur, on the way to Manila, the group asked Corpuz to turn right and to proceed slowly because Dalacat and Espidol will get off. The duo left P500 with Limos for gasoline. After Dalacat and Espidol left, Limos and Corpuz went

on with their trip for Manila with Limos warning Corpuz that if they pass by a checkpoint, the latter should remain tight-lipped about the incident. As they were negotiating a turn in the national high-way, Corpuz eyed some policemen blocking the road, so he stopped the van. When he saw an opportunity to alight from the van, he rushed to the law enforcers, raised his hands and blurted out, Im only the driver, sir! [19] Corpuz then pointed to the van and tipped the police that Alfredo Limos was inside it. The apprehending officers later brought Corpuz to the municipal building where he was incarcerated until his release on 06 April 1999.[20] 24-year old Johanna Go, next witness for the prosecution, was the fiance of Edward Bagay, brother of the victim Hipolito Bagay. Go recalled, on direct examination, that on 14 October 1998, she was cross-stitching at the porch of the commercial establishment owned by the family of Hipolito Bagay located at the corner of Plaridel and Mabini Streets in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Hipolito Bagay was then manning the money exchange office inside said building. At about 11:30 a.m., she spotted two men, whom she later identified as Limos and Espidol, alight from the van. Out of the blue, Limos pointed a revolver at Johanna from a distance of one meter and pushed her towards Erlinda Bagay, wife of the victim Hipolito Bagay. Limos then announced a heist. As Limos was pushing Johanna and Erlinda towards the inner small door leading to the adjoining money exchange office, Johanna heard a sudden gunburst. She knelt down near a table and while in this position, saw two men coming out of the money exchange office. One of them, whom she later identified as Espidol, was holding a green bag and the other, whom she identified as appellant Dalacat, opened the table drawer next to her and took the money in it. The men hurriedly left the building with their loot, passing through the back door. After the ruckus, Johanna caught sight of Hipolito Bagay, bathed in blood. Johanna called the hotel where Edward, her fianc and Hipolitos brother, was in order to apprise him of the mayhem. When Edward Bagay arrived, Hipolito Bagay was rushed to the Saint James Hospital, Vigan, Ilocos Sur. A few days later, Hipolito expired.[21] On 13 June 2001, shortly after the prosecutions third witness was sworn in, appellant changed his tune. Atty. Fatima Vitamog, appellants new counsel, manifested in open court about appellants desire to change his plea to guilty. Appellant was re-arraigned, with the information read to him in the local dialect. To the charge of Robbery with Homicide in a Band, he pleaded guilty.[22] The trial court set another hearing on 26 July 2001 to assess appellants comprehension of his plea. At said hearing, appellant was represented by Atty. Ligaya Ascao vice Atty. Vitamog. Thereat, the trial court inquired from appellant if his new counsel clearly explained to him the legal effects and consequences of his plea of guilty. He answered in the affirmative. Without much ado, the trial court deemed the case submitted for decision and on 22 August 2001 rendered the assailed decision, the fallo of which readConsidering that no mitigating circumstance could be considered in favour of the accused in view of the fact that the prosecution has already started to present two (2) of its witnesses against the accused, and considering the voluntariness of the plea of guilty of the accused, the Court accepts the plea of guilty and hereby finds accused SAGRADO DALACAT guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the complex crime of Robbery in Band with Homicide, punished by Article 294 of the Revised Penal Code in relation to Article 296 of the same code as charged in the information, with no extenuating circumstance hereby sentences him to suffer the penalty of DEATH, and to indemnify the heirs of the deceased, HIPOLITO BAGAY the sum of P50,000.00 and the further amount of ONE MILLION TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND PESOS (P1,200,000.00),

with all the accessory penalties provided for by law and no subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency and to pay the costs. Let the entire records of the case together with the documentary evidence and transcribed stenographic notes be forwarded to the Honorable SUPREME COURT for automatic review.[23] In light of the imposition of the death penalty upon appellant, the records of the case were elevated to this Court for automatic review. Appellant assigns the following errors for the Courts consideration: I. THE TRIAL COURT SERIOUSLY ERRED IN FAILING TO CONSIDER APPELLANTS PLEA OF GUILTY AS IMPROVIDENT; II. THE TRIAL COURT GRAVELY ERRED IN FAILING TO CONTINUE WITH THE TRIAL AND RECEPTION OF EVIDENCE AFTER ACCUSED SAGRADO DALACAT CHANGED HIS PLEA TO A PLEA OF GUILTY; III. SUPPOSING, WITHOUT ADMITTING, THAT APPELLANTS PLEA OF GUILTY WAS VALIDLY MADE, THE TRIAL COURT SERIOUSLY ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE OFFENSE OF ROBBERY WAS COMMITTED BY A BAND; IV. THE TRIAL COURT SERIOUSLY ERRED IN CONSIDERING BAND AND USE OF UNLICENSED FIREARMS AS a QUALIFYING CIRCUMSTANCES IN THE COMMISSION OF THE OFFENSE OF ROBBERY WITH HOMICIDE TO WARRANT THE IMPOSITION OF THE MAXIMUM PENALTY OF DEATH.[24] At bottom is the issue of whether or not the plea of guilty by appellant was validly made to convict him of a capital offense. Ancillary to this are the issues of: (1) whether the prosecution evidence was sufficient to merit conviction of appellant, and (2) whether the penalty of death was properly imposed. On the first issue, appellant, in his Brief, waxes lyrical on the lower courts imposition of the penalty of death upon him on the basis of his plea of guilty sans his full comprehension of its sense and substance. He bemoans the trial courts failure to propound sufficient questions to ascertain if he had indeed intelligently understood such plea. He remonstrates that the trial court did not proceed with the reception of his evidence, which he says was in flagrant violation of law and jurisprudence concerning a plea of guilt to a capital offense.[25] The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), in lieu of a brief, filed a manifestation,[26] fusing with appellant in his prayer that the case be remanded to the court a quo for further proceedings.

Appellants contention, as adopted by the OSG, is imbued with merit. The crime of robbery with homicide is punishable by reclusion perpetua to death under Article 294(1) of the Revised Penal Code, which provides: Article 294 Robbery with violence against or intimidations of persons Penalties. Any person guilty of robbery with the use of violence against or any person shall suffer: 1. The penalty of reclusion perpetua to death, when by reason or on occasion of the robbery, the crime of homicide shall have been committed, or when the robbery shall have been accompanied by rape or intentional mutilation or arson. xxx The information, to which Dalacat pleaded guilty, alleged that the robbery with homicide was committed in a band, which if proved would warrant the penalty of death. Apropos the plea of guilt, Section 3, Rule 116 of the 2000 Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure provides: 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. This provision was a reproduction of its precursor prior to the amendment of the Rules of Court. Based on this rule, there are three (3) conditions that the trial court should kowtow to in order to forestall the entry of an improvident plea of guilty by the accused, namely: 1. The court must conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness x x x and full comprehension [by the accused] of the consequences [of his plea]; 2. The court must require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability; and 3. The court must ask the accused [whether] he desires to present evidence on his behalf, and allow him to do so if he [so] desires. (Emphasis supplied.)[27] The mandatory nature of these three requisites for a valid plea of guilty to a capital offense is easily deducible from the letter of the law. Lamentably, the court a quo failed to play the rules of the game. For a vivid exposition, herewith reproduced is the transcript of stenographic notes (TSNs) illustrating the trial courts treatment of appellants change of plea, viz: ATTY. VITAMOG: For the record, Your Honor, I have just conferred with the accused, Your Honor and he really desires to change his plea of not guilty to guilty

COURT: What is the name of the accused? ATTY. VITAMOG: Accused Sagrado Dalacat, Your Honor. COURT: Will you call the accused to come here? xxx xxx

Q. Are you really willing to change your plea of not guilty to guilty? A. Q A. Yes, Your Honor. Do you know the legal consequences of your plea of guilt? Yes, Your Honor.

COURT: What can you say Fiscal? PUBLIC PROSECUTOR CABLAYAN: That the accused should be informed that the decision of this Honorable Court will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court, Your Honor. Probably, the penalty is reclusion perpetua to death, Your Honor. COURT: You explained to the accused. PUBLIC PROSECUTOR CABLAYAN: Yes, Your Honor. COURT: ORDER:/ When this case was called for hearing, the defense counsel Atty. Fatima Vitamog manifested in open Court that the accused Sagrado Dalacat is now willing to change his plea of not guilty to that of guilty.

and I conferred thoroughly and explained the consequences of his plea of guilt, but still, he insisted to change his plea of not guilty to that of guilty, Your Honor.

When the accused was confronted that the legal effect of his plea of guilty will not change the facts of the case considering that the prosecution had already presented three (3) witnesses and that the penalty of the crime of Robbery in Band with Homicide is Reclusion Perpetua to death and the accused was asked of his willingness to change his former plea of not guilty to guilty. Whereupon, the prosecution also informed the accused Sagrado Dalacat that the case will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court and that his penalty will be affirmed or lowered by the Supreme Court which was understood by the accused. Whereupon, the accused was rearraigned,

and he pleaded guilty to the crime charged against him. In view thereof, the case is submitted for decision. SO ORDERED.[28]
(Emphasis supplied.) The transcript of the hearing on 26 July 2001 is further set forth below for a clearer illustration, to wit: COURT:

Q. And that by reason of your pleading guilty, you maybe imposed the penalty of the capital offense being a heinous crime? (sic) A. Yes, Your Honor.

Q. The Branch Fiscal informed that the decision of this Court will be automatically reviewed by the Supreme Court. Did you understand the explanation of the Branch Public Prosecutor? (sic) A. It was the Court Interpreter who explained, Your Honor.

Atty. Ascao, can you not represent Atty. Vitamog? It is only the Court who will ask questions to the accused.
ATTY. ASCAO: For the accused in collaboration with Atty. Fatima Vitamog, Your Honor. COURT: [Alright], you call the accused in the witness stand. COURT INTERPRETER: Calls the accused Sagrado Dalacat in the witness stand. (sic) TO THE WITNESS: Please stand up, raise your right hand to take your oath. Q. Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth and nothing but the whole truth? A. Yes, sir I do.

Q. And after being re-informed of the legal effect and consequence of your plea of guilty, do you still affirm to your plea of guilty on June 13, 2001? A. Yes, Your Honor.

COURT: Do you have any questions Atty. Ascao? ATTY. ASCAO:

No more, Your Honor.


COURT: How about the Provincial Prosecutor? PROVINCIAL PROSECUTOR VILORIA: No more, Your Honor. COURT: ORDER:/ When this case was called for hearing today, Provincial Prosecutor Jessica G. Viloria and Atty. Arnulfo Manzano appeared for the prosecution while Atty. Ligaya Ascao appeared for the accused Sagrado Dalacat in collaboration with Atty. Fatima Vitamog. In the

Q. Please state your name, age and other personal circumstances? A. xxx SAGRADO DALACAT, 29 years old, single, jobless and a resident of Cabanatuan City. xxx QUESTIONS FOR THE COURT: Q. On June 13, 2001, you withdrew your plea of not guilty and instead with the assistance of Atty. Fatima Vitamog, you pleaded guilty to the offense charged? A. Yes, Your Honor. xxx

Q. Before you pleaded guilty with your counsel Atty. Vitamog, Atty. Vitamog explained the legal effect and consequences of your plea of guilt? (sic) A. Yes, Your Honor.

course of the proceedings, accused Sagrado Dalacat was placed in the witness stand wherein the Court asked if he affirms and confirms to change his former plea of not guilty to guilty and the accused answered in the affirmative. Wherefore, and there being no objection on the part of the Provincial Prosecutor as well as the private prosecutor, the above-entitled case with respect to accused Sagrado Dalacat is hereby submitted for resolution.

SO ORDERED.[29] (Emphasis supplied.) On the first requisite of Section 3, Rule 116,[30] we held in a spate of cases that a searching inquiry must focus on the voluntariness of the plea and the full comprehension of the consequences of the plea so that the plea of guilty can be truly said to be based on a free and informed judgment.[31] As far back as the 1968 case of People v. Apduhan,[32] the Court under the ponencia of former Mr. Chief Justice Castro, had explained the importance of an in-depth searching

Q. And Atty. Vitamog explained that by pleading guilty to the information filed against you, you admitted all the allegations in the information? A. Yes, Your Honor.

inquiry to avert improvident pleas of guilty. Thusx x x. [T]rial judges x x x must refrain from accepting with alacrity an accuseds plea of guilty, for while justice demands a speedy administration, judges are duty bound to be extra solicitous in seeing to it that when an accused pleads guilty he understands fully the meaning of his plea and the import of an inevitable conviction. While there is no cast-iron rule as to how a judge may conduct a searching inquiry, we outlined the following guidelines in a throng of cases: (1) Ascertain from the accused himself (a) how he was brought into the custody of the law; (b) whether he had the assistance of a competent counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations; and (c) under what conditions he was detained and interrogated during the investigations. These the court shall do in order to rule out the possibility that the accused has been coerced or placed under a state of duress by actual threats of physical harm coming from malevolent or avenging quarters.[33] (2) Ask the defense counsel a series of questions as to whether he had conferred with, and completely explained to, the accused the meaning and consequences of a plea of guilty.[34] (3) Elicit information about the personality profile of the accused, such as his age, socioeconomic status, and educational background, which may serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed plea of guilty.[35] (4) Inform the accused the exact length of imprisonment or nature of the penalty under the law and the certainty that he will serve such sentence. Not infrequently indeed an accused pleads guilty in the hope of a lenient treatment or upon bad advice or because of promises of the authorities or parties of a lighter penalty should he admit guilt or express remorse. It is the duty of the judge to see to it that the accused does not labor under these mistaken impressions.[36] (5) Require the accused to fully narrate the incident that spawned the charges against him or make him reenact the manner in which he perpetrated the crime, or cause him to supply missing details of significance.[37] In the case at bar, a cursory look at the transcripts easily reveal the fact that appellants plea of guilty was far from spontaneous and persistent as envisioned by Section 3, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial court not only failed to probe into the spontaneity of appellants plea, it made no effort to apprise him of the impact of his change of plea as the accused herein was merely told that he could face the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death. A mere warning that the accused faces the supreme penalty of death is insufficient, for more often than not, an accused pleads guilty upon bad advice or because he hopes for a lenient treatment or a lighter penalty.[38] On the second and third indispensable requirements of the Rule, earlier in People v. Camay,[39] we cautioned trial judges on the importance of requiring the prosecution to present evidence on the accuseds culpability, thus: The amended rule is a capsulization of the provisions of the old rule and pertinent jurisprudence. We had several occasions to issue the caveat that even if the trial court is satisfied that the plea of guilty was entered with full knowledge of its meaning and

consequences, the Court must still require the introduction of evidence for the purpose of establishing the guilt and the degree of culpability of the defendant. (Emphasis supplied.) Recently, in People v. Besonia,[40] this Court, with Mr. Chief Justice Davide as ponente, echoed the caveat in People v. Camay, viz: It must be stressed that a plea of guilty is only a supporting evidence or secondary basis for a finding of culpability, the main proof being the evidence presented by the prosecution to prove the accuseds guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Once an accused charged with a capital offense enters a plea of guilty, a regular trial shall be conducted just the same as if no such plea was entered. The court cannot, and should not, relieve the prosecution of its duty to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability by the requisite quantum of evidence. The reason for such rule is to preclude any room for reasonable doubt in the mind of the trial court, or the Supreme Court on review, as to the possibility that the accused might have misunderstood the nature of the charge to which he pleaded guilty, and to ascertain the circumstances attendant to the commission of the crime which may justify or require either a greater or lesser degree of severity in the imposition of the prescribed penalties. Like the first requirement of a searching inquiry, the second and third indispensable requirements under Section 3, Rule 116 of the Rules as aforecited have, likewise, remained intact through the years. Given the unchanging state of the three-tiered requisites in Section 3, Rule 116,[41] there is, indeed, no justification for the trial courts failure to observe them. Thus, we purge the decision under review of its errors and remand the case to the trial court for further re-arraignment, a more incisive searching inquiry and the reception of evidence for the prosecution and the defense, if the latter so desires, in accordance with the foregoing guideposts. Given our disquisition, we find no further need to belabor the ancillary issues on the sufficiency of evidence and on the propriety of the capital punishment. But, one last observation. As bared by both appellant and the OSG, the Court cannot feign a blind eye on the lackadaisical attitude exuded by Atty. Hermilo Barrios, appellants counsel. His disregard of his duty as an advocate to his clients cause is patent in the admissions of facts he propounded during the pre-trial conference, which, to our mind, were detrimental to appellants case, i.e., his admission that appellant was with his co-accused, Danilo Espidol, Alfredo Tomas, Virgilio Corpuz, and Armando Aniasco on the day of the incident in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, and his proposed stipulation that there was no unanimity of intent among the four accused in the commission of the crime.[42] Such declarations had practically pinned appellant to the crime charged and had, in effect, laid down the groundwork for his eventual admission of guilt. Adding insult to the injury, Atty. Barrios, repeatedly failed to appear during the trial despite his receipt of no less than four notices from the trial court.[43] Worse, Atty. Barrios had withdrawn from representing appellant sans any written explanation of his withdrawal or a written conformity from the accused filed in court, which is in flagrant disdain of Section 26, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.[44] Things went from bad to worse for appellant in the hands of Atty. Fatima Vitamog, counsel de oficio vice Atty. Barrios. As observed by the OSG with alacrity, Atty. Vitamog took appellants plea of guilt line, hook, and sinker, devoid of the slightest effort to extract from him any piece of information that could perhaps mitigate, if not extricate him from the severe

penalty of death. And, like her predecessors, Atty. Ligaya Ascao, third counsel for appellant in lieu of Atty. Vitamog,[45] did not lift a finger to safeguard her clients interest. Astonishingly, the court initially referred appellant to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Legal Aid,[46] and subsequently, to the Public Attorneys Office, as counsels de oficio. Given the dearth of advocates willing to take the cudgels for him, it was no surprise that appellant soon took matters in his hand as he attempted, but failed to escape from captivity.[47] And when this stab at freedom was thwarted, appellant ostensibly defeated, admitted authorship of the crime charged, oblivious of the fact that such admission could cost him his life.[48] Incessantly, this Court has endeavoured to strike a chord among the members of the bar that a lawyers sworn duty of fidelity to his client means an efficient and truly decisive legal assistance and not a simple perfunctory representation. Thus, in People v. Nadera, [49] the Court held: Only faithful performance by counsel of his duty towards his client can give meaning and substance to the accused's right to due process and to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Hence, a lawyer's duty, especially that of a defense counsel, must not be taken lightly. It must be performed with all the zeal and vigor at his command to protect and safeguard the accused's fundamental rights. Irrefragably, the performance of Attys. Hermilo Barrios, Fatima Vitamog, and Ligaya Ascao were below par of the advocacy demanded of them specially given the gravity of the offense charged and the severity of the imposable penalty. Accordingly, they are hereby ADMONISHED for their sloppiness in protecting appellants rights with a WARNING that a repetition of similar acts shall be dealt with more severely. WHEREFORE, the decision dated 22 August 2001 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Branch 20, in Criminal Case No. 4333-V is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. The case is REMANDED to said court for trial against appellant SAGRADO DALACAT in accordance with law and pertinent jurisprudence. The trial court is enjoined to conduct the proper trial of accused-appellant with all deliberate speed upon receipt of the records of the cases.[50] The appropriate law enforcement officers are directed to TRANSFER appellant from the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa City where he is presently detained to the Provincial Jail of Vigan, Ilocos Sur for the duration of the proceedings in the trial court and to report to this Court the action taken herein within fifteen (15) days from receipt hereof. Conformably with Section 16, Rule 119 of the 2000 Rules of Criminal Procedure,[51] the trial court is ordered to conduct a joint trial against appellant and his co-accused ARMANDO ANIASCO, it appearing that the latter is now in detention. No pronouncement as to costs. SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, and Garcia, JJ., concur. Puno, J., on official leave. Corona, and Tinga, JJ., on leave.

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ARNEL ALCALDE y PASCASIO,

accused-appellant.

University of Sto. Tomas Hospital in Manila from 1993 up to 1997. However, she did not know whether he was treated for a mental illness.[12] After the prosecution rested its case and formally offered its exhibits, the defense filed a motion for leave of court to file a demurrer to evidence,[13] which was granted. On 27 April 1998, the defense, through counsel de parte Atty. Renato B. Vasquez, Sr., filed a demurrer to evidence[14] based on the following grounds: (a) The accused has not been adequately informed of the nature and cause of accusation against him during the arraignment; (b) Not an iota of incriminatory evidence, direct or circumstantial, has been adduced and presented by the prosecution during the trial; and (c) The constitutional presumption of innocence of the accused has not been overcome by any evidence or contrary presumption. In support thereof, the defense alleged that ARNEL was afflicted with psychosis and could not comprehend, and that despite his strange behavior characterized by his deafening silence, motionless appearance, and single direction blank stare the trial court insisted on his arraignment. Thus, ARNEL was not adequately apprised of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. Moreover, no concrete evidence pointing to ARNEL as the culprit was presented by the prosecution. Hence, the constitutional presumption of innocence of an accused prevails. In its Order of 22 May 1998,[15] the trial court denied the demurrer to evidence and set the dates for the presentation of the evidence for the defense. However, in a Manifestation dated 4 June 1998,[16] Atty. Vasquez informed the court that the defense opted not to present evidence for ARNELs defense, as the prosecution failed to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. On 16 July 1998, the prosecution filed its Comment[17] on the manifestation and prayed for the re-opening of the presentation of prosecutions evidence for the purpose of proving that ARNEL was at the scene of the crime. In its Order of 21 August 1998,[18] the trial court allowed the prosecution to present additional evidence. The defense questioned the propriety of the said order before the Court of Appeals in a petition for certiorari. In its resolution of 17 December 1998,[19] the Court of Appeals dismissed the petition for non-compliance with Section 1, Rule 65, Rules of Court, and for the further reason that the order sought to be set aside was interlocutory in character and could not, therefore, be the subject of a petition for certiorari; and that even granting that the exception applied, the trial court committed no capriciousness in issuing the assailed order. The prosecution thereafter presented SPO1 Neptali de la Cruz and Jose Alcalde as additional witnesses. SPO1 Neptali dela Cruz, testified that at around 1:30 p.m. of 29 August 1997, while he was on duty at the Police Assistance Center Base, Barangay Bubukal, Santa Cruz, Laguna, he received a report of a killing incident at the house of ARNEL. He proceeded to the place with SPO2 Edilberto Apuada. There, he saw ARNEL seated outside the house while being held by two persons. He and Apuada entered the house and saw the dead bodies of WENDY and ARWIN. He noticed that ARNEL was motionless and silent when the dead bodies were being brought out of their house.[20] Jose Alcalde, father of ARNEL, testified that at 1:30 p.m. of 29 August 1997 he heard

DECISION DAVIDE, JR., C.J.: For automatic review[1] is the Consolidated Judgment[2] of 30 April 1999 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 28, Santa Cruz, Laguna, in Criminal Cases Nos. SC-6651 to SC6654, convicting accused-appellant Arnel Alcalde y Pascasio (hereafter ARNEL) of two counts of parricide committed against his wife WENDY and his 11-month-old son ARWIN and two counts of frustrated parricide committed against his two daughters BERNALYN and ERICA. On 24 September 1997, the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Laguna filed before the trial court two informations for parricide and two informations for frustrated parricide.

de parte, refused to speak. Pursuant to Section 1(c) of Rule 116 of the Rules of Court, the trial

Upon his arraignment on 22 October 1997,[3] ARNEL, who was assisted by a counsel

court entered for him a plea of not guilty in each of the cases. On the same occasion, the defense waived pre-trial. The cases were then consolidated and jointly tried. The witnesses initially presented by the prosecution were SPO2 Nicanor Avendao, Dr. Nilo Pempengco, Dr. June Mendoza, and Salud Suillan. SPO2 Nicanor Avendao testified that upon his arrival at the house of ARNEL in Barangay Bubukal, Santa Cruz, Laguna, at about 1:00 p.m. of 29 August 1997, he found the house in disarray. He saw a naked woman lying dead on a wooden bed with both hands and feet tied from behind, as well as a dead child on a crib. The dead woman was WENDY, and the dead child was ARWIN. Some clothes and a puppy were also burned. Avendao and his team recovered a piece of steel near WENDYs face and empty bottles of gin and Royal TruOrange on top of the cabinet. They took pictures of the dead bodies and caused the entry of the incident in the police blotter. He learned later that ARNEL's two daughters, BERNALYN and ERICA, had been rushed to the provincial hospital for treatment before he and his team arrived at the crime scene.[4] Dr. Nilo Pempengco, the physician who conducted an examination of the dead bodies of WENDY and ARWIN, testified that the cause of their death was cardio-respiratory arrest due to severe traumatic head injury and multiple contusion hematoma.[5] The injuries could have been caused by any hard and blunt object like a piece of metal, piece of wood, or even a hand. Dr. June Mendoza, a physician-surgeon of the Laguna Provincial Hospital, testified that he treated BERNALYN and ERIKA on 29 August 1997. He found in BERNALYN multiple contusion hematoma,[6] which could have been inflicted by a blunt and hard object and by a rope but which would not have caused immediate death even if not properly treated.[7] He found in ERIKA contusions and lacerated and incised wounds,[8] which would not have caused death even if no immediate medical attention had been given.[9] Salud Suillan, WENDYs mother, declared that WENDY and ARNEL lived with her at her residence in Banca-Banca, Victoria, Laguna, for nine months after their marriage and that during their sojourn at her house she noticed ARNELs uncontrollable jealousy. ARNEL used drugs, which frequently caused his tantrums.[10] When asked whether she knew who killed WENDY and ARWIN, Salud answered that according to Jose Alcalde, ARNEL was the killer.[11] On cross-examination, she admitted that ARNEL had been continuously treated at the

the news that ARNELs house was burning. Along with one Martin, his carpenter, Jose proceeded to ARNELs house. Upon entering the house, he saw ARNEL with raging eyes, holding a kitchen knife and a hammer. Jose tried to pacify and convince ARNEL to surrender his weapons to him. Joses effort proved futile. It was only upon the intervention of ARNELs two brothers that ARNEL was successfully disarmed. Jose left ARNEL to the care of his brothers because he had to bring to the hospital the almost lifeless bodies of BERNALYN and ERIKA.[21] After the prosecution finally rested its case, the trial court set on 8 October 1998 the presentation of the evidence for the defense. However, on 7 October 1998, counsel for ARNEL, Atty. Vasquez Sr., informed the trial court of his inability to communicate with ARNEL because of ARNELs out of touch of the world behavior. Atty. Vasquez manifested that the defense was constrained to submit the case for decision.[22] In its decision of 30 April 1999,[23] the trial court found that the prosecutions evidence has duly established a succession of circumstantial evidence that leads to the inescapable conclusion that ARNEL committed the crimes charged. It gave due credence to the testimony of Jose Alcalde. It found significant the fact that right from the start of the investigation of the incident up to the time the cases were submitted for decision, no other person was suspected of having anything to do with the gruesome family massacre. The trial court added that ARNELs culpability was further bolstered by his failure to offer any evidence for his defense despite ample opportunity to do so. In determining the appropriate penalty in Criminal Case Nos. SC-6651 and SC-6654 for the killing of WENDY and ARWIN, the trial court applied Article 246 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended by Section 5, R.A. No. 7659, which reads: ART. 246. Parricide. -- Any person who shall kill his father, mother, or child, whether legitimate or illegitimate, or any of his ascendants, or descendants, or his spouse, shall be guilty of parricide and shall be punished by the penalty of reclusion perpetua to death. Taking into account the two aggravating circumstances of treachery and abuse of superior strength, it imposed the death penalty in both cases. As for Criminal Cases Nos. SC-6652 and SC-6653, the trial court found ARNEL guilty of the crime of frustrated parricide after considering the severity of the wounds suffered by his daughters BERNALYN and ERIKA, which clearly showed his intent to kill them. In the Appellants Brief, the defense, through a new counsel, Atty. Eduardo A. Cagandahan, states that the trial court committed the following errors: 1. in proceeding with the case against the accused who had not been duly informed of the nature and cause of accusation against him during the arraignment or trial. 2. when it failed to have the accused medically examined to ascertain whether he was in possession of his mental faculties when he allegedly committed the acts imputed to him, or that he was suffering from mental aberration at the time the crime was committed, and when he entered the plea and during the trial on the merits despite the observation of the court a quo, as contained in the order dated August 21, 1998. In support thereof, the defense assails the validity of ARNELs arraignment, and asserts that with ARNELs questionable mental state he could not have understood the proceedings. It

then cites the trial courts Order dated 21 August 1998, wherein the trial court made its own observation regarding ARNELs strange behavior at the time of arraignment. The Order reads in part: Finally, it is worthwhile to recall that when the accused was arraigned in all the four cases, the Court was constrained to enter for him a PLEA OF NOT GUILTY in all said cases as the accused acted strangely in a manner as if he [was] out of touch with the world and would not utter any word. But since the defense opted not to present any evidence, no defense whatsoever could be entertained for the accused. Furthermore, the defense calls our attention to the Medical Certificate[24] issued by Dr. Ramon S. Javier, M.D., FPPA, FPNA, of Sto. Tomas University Hospital, stating that ARNEL was first brought to his clinic on 3 December 1993, and was confined at the psychiatric ward several times for bipolar mood disorder (manic-depressive psychosis). His last confinement in that hospital was from 12 to 24 February 1997, or six months before the family massacre. The medical abstract[25] issued by Dr. Ma. Corazon S. Alvarez, which was also submitted by the defense, likewise shows the several hospitalizations of ARNEL while in detention at the Bureau of Corrections, Muntinlupa City, and the finding that ARNEL was suffering from bipolar mood disorder with psychotic features. The defense then prays for ARNELs acquittal or, in the alternative, the remand of the case to the lower court for further proceedings and for the determination of ARNELs mental state. In the Brief for the Appellee, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) maintains that under Section 11, paragraph (a), Rule 116 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure, suspension of arraignment on the ground that accused appears to be suffering from an unsound mental condition, which effectively renders him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto, may be granted upon motion by the party. In these cases neither accused nor his counsel de parte asked for the suspension of the arraignment on that ground. Such failure was tantamount to an admission that ARNEL was not suffering from any mental disorder or to a waiver of the right to move for suspension of arraignment. Besides, for the defense of insanity to prosper, it must be proved that the accused was insane at the very moment when the crime was committed. The trial court was not duty-bound to initiate the determination of ARNELs alleged mental incapacity. Finally, the OSG agrees with the trial court that the chain of circumstances in these cases proved beyond reasonable doubt that ARNEL committed the crimes charged. It, however, submits that ARNEL should be meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua only, instead of death, in Criminal Cases Nos. SC-6651 and SC-6654 because the aggravating circumstances of treachery and abuse of superior strength cannot be appreciated against ARNEL. It agreed with the trial court insofar as Criminal Cases Nos. SC-6652 and SC-6653 are concerned. After a painstaking scrutiny of the records of these cases, we rule for ARNEL. We cannot subscribe to the claim of the OSG that the failure of ARNELs counsel de parte to ask for the suspension of his arraignment on the ground that ARNEL was suffering from an unsound mental health amounted to a waiver of such right. It must be recalled that ARNELs arraignment was on 22 October 1997. At the time, what was applicable was Section 12(a) of Rule 116 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure, which reads: SEC. 12. Suspension of arraignment. The arraignment shall be suspended, if at the time thereof: (a) The accused appears to be suffering from an unsound mental condition which effectively renders him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently

thereto. In such case, the court shall order his mental examination and, if necessary, his confinement for such purpose. Nowhere in that Section was it required that a motion by the accused be filed for the suspension of arraignment. Hence, the absence of such motion could not be considered a waiver of the right to a suspension of arraignment. True, Section 11(a) of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which was invoked by the OSG, requires a motion by the proper party, thus: SEC. 11. Suspension of arraignment. -- Upon motion by the proper party, the arraignment shall be suspended in the following cases: (a) The accused appears to be suffering from an unsound mental condition which effectively renders him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto. In such case, the court shall order his mental examination and, if necessary, his confinement for such purpose. [Emphasis supplied]. This new requirement of motion by the proper party could not be applied to these cases because the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, which prescribes such requirement, took effect only on 1 December 2000. Besides, a waiver must be knowingly and intelligently made by the person possessing such right.[26] Unfortunately, ARNEL was apparently deprived of such mental faculties. Thus, no waiver, impliedly or expressly, could have been made by ARNEL at the time of his arraignment by reason of his mental condition.[27] Settled is the rule that when a judge is informed or discovers that an accused is apparently in a present condition of insanity or imbecility, it is within his discretion to investigate the matter. If it be found that by reason of such affliction the accused could not, with the aid of counsel, make a proper defense, it is the duty of the court to suspend the proceedings and commit the accused to a proper place of detention until his faculties are recovered.[28] Moreover, the aforementioned Section 12(a) of Rule 116 mandates the suspension of the arraignment and the mental examination of the accused should it appear that he is of unsound mind. In these cases, the trial court should have ascertained ARNELs mental state instead of proceeding with his arraignment and its subsequent proceedings. The following were enough for the trial court to take seriously the issue of whether ARNEL was in full possession of his mental faculties at the time of the arraignment and trial: (a) At his arraignment, the trial court observed that ARNEL acted strangely in a manner as if he [was] out of touch with the world and would not utter any word.[29] (b) In its Motion and Waiver of Presence [of the Accused] During the Trial,[30] the defense expressed its apprehension that ARNEL might explode into another violence while in transit to attend his trial or while in the courtroom. (c) ARNELs continued strange behavior characterized by his deafening silence, motionless behavior and blank stares was raised as an issue by the defense in its demurrer to evidence.[31]

(d) The persistent out of touch with the world behavior of ARNEL, which prevented his counsel from effectively communicating with him for his defense was pointed out in the Manifestation and Motion submitted by the defense.[32] (e) ARNELs questionable mental state was reiterated by the defense in its memorandum.[33] The physical and outward manifestations of ARNEL at the time of his arraignment, which were brought to the attention of the trial court, indicated substantial demonstration of a mental disorder that rendered ARNEL unfit to be arraigned or tried in the four criminal cases at bar. The trial court failed to exercise utmost circumspection in assuming that ARNEL was in full possession of his mental faculties and understood the proceedings against him. The constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him under the Bill of Rights[34] carries with it the correlative obligation to effectively convey to the accused the information to enable him to effectively prepare for his defense.[35] At the bottom is the issue of fair trial. While not every aberration of the mind or exhibition of mental deficiency on the part of the accused is sufficient to justify suspension of the proceedings, the trial court must be fully satisfied that the accused would have a fair trial with the assistance the law secures or gives.[36] Under the circumstances in these cases, the trial court gravely failed in this regard. While at first glance, the remarkable enthusiasm by which the trial court adjudicated these cases should earn emulation, it however cannot be countenanced considering its disregard of the constitutional rights of ARNEL. Courts should be mindful of their responsibility to see to it that the paramount interests of justice are not sacrificed for the sake of speed and efficiency.[37] It is also worthy to mention Atty. Vasquezs apparent lackadaisical attitude in these cases which amounted to disregard of the strict demands of fidelity to his oath as a lawyer, duty to his client, and responsibility as an officer of the court.[38] He knew, or ought to know, from the very beginning that ARNEL was hospitalized for mental disorder. The latters strange appearance at his arraignment was enough reason for a counsel to ask for the deferment of arraignment and for leave of court to have ARNEL subjected to psychological examination and psychiatric evaluation. Then, too, he should have, at the very least, presented the doctor who treated ARNEL in the University of Santo Tomas Hospital for his recurring mental illness. Irrefutably, Atty. Vasquezs behavior in the defense of ARNEL fell short of the demanding duty to present every defense that the law permits to the end that no person may be deprived of life or liberty but by due process of law.[39] Even if Atty. Vasquezs zeal for ARNELs cause fell short of that required of him, that is, for him to have asked the court to suspend the arraignment of ARNEL on the ground of the latters unsound mental health, the greater demand of due process overwhelms such inadequate zeal. Solemn and inflexible is the constitutional behest that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Absolute heedfulness of this constitutional injunction is most pronounced in criminal cases where the accused is in the gravest jeopardy of losing his life. It constantly behooves every court to proceed with utmost care in each of such cases before it, and nothing can be more demanding of judges in that respect than when the possible punishment would be in its severest form like death -- a penalty that, once carried out, is irreversible and irreparable.[40] In light of the foregoing fatal infirmities committed by the trial court, as well as by the

defense counsel, we have no other alternative except to set aside the joint decision in question and remand the cases to the trial court for further proceedings to allow the defense to present evidence to prove that ARNEL was either unfit for arraignment and trial or was insane at the time the crimes charged were committed. WHEREFORE, IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, the Consolidated Judgment of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 28, Santa Cruz, Laguna, in Criminal Cases Nos. SC-6651 to SC6654 promulgated on 30 April 1999 is hereby SET ASIDE. These cases are ordered REMANDED to the trial court for further and appropriate proceedings in accordance with the foregoing observations. Costs de oficio. SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, and Corona, JJ., concur.

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ROBERTO ESTRADA,

accused-appellant.

DECISION PUNO, J.: This is an automatic review of the death penalty imposed on accused-appellant by the Regional Trial Court, Branch 44, Dagupan City in Criminal Case No. 94-00860-D.[1] We nullify the proceedings in the court a quo and remand the case for proper disposition. In an Information dated December 29, 1994, accused-appellant Roberto Estrada y Lopez was charged with the crime of murder for the killing of one Rogelio P. Mararac, a security guard. The Information reads: That on or about the 27th day of December 1994 in the City of Dagupan, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, ROBERTO ESTRADA Y LOPEZ, being then armed with a butchers knife, with intent to kill one ROGELIO P. MARARAC with treachery and committed in a holy place of worship, did then and there, wilfully, unlawfully and criminally, attack, assault and use personal violence upon the latter by stabbing him, hitting him on vital parts of his body with the said weapon, thereby causing his death shortly thereafter due to Cardiorespiratory Arrest, Massive Intrathoracic Hemorrhage, Stab Wound as per Autopsy Report and Certificate of Death both issued by Dr. Tomas G. Cornel, Assistant City Health Officer, this City, to the damage and prejudice of the legal heirs of said deceased ROGELIO P. MARARAC in the amount of not less than FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P50,000.00), Philippine currency, and other consequential damages. Contrary to Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code. Dagupan City, Philippines, December 29, 1994.[2] At the arraignment on January 6, 1995, accused-appellants counsel, the Public Attorneys Office, filed an Urgent Motion to Suspend Arraignment and to Commit Accused to Psychiatric Ward at Baguio General Hospital. It was alleged that accused-appellant could not properly and intelligently enter a plea because he was suffering from a mental defect; that before the commission of the crime, he was confined at the psychiatric ward of the Baguio General Hospital in Baguio City. He prayed for the suspension of his arraignment and the issuance of an order confining him at the said hospital.[3] The motion was opposed by the City Prosecutor. The trial court, motu proprio, propounded several questions on accused-appellant. Finding that the questions were understood and answered by him intelligently, the court denied the motion that same day.[4] The arraignment proceeded and a plea of not guilty was entered by the court on accusedappellants behalf.[5] The prosecution presented four (4) witnesses, namely: (1) Dr. Tomas Cornel, the Assistant Health Officer of Dagupan City who issued the death certificate and conducted the autopsy on the victim; (2) Crisanto Santillan, an eyewitness to the incident; (3) SPO1 Conrado Francisco, one of the policemen who apprehended accused-appellant; and (4) Rosalinda Sobremonte, the victims sister. The prosecution established the following facts: In the morning of December 27, 1994, at the St. Johns Cathedral, Dagupan City, the sacrament of confirmation was being performed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dagupan City on the children of Dagupan. The cathedral was filled with more than a thousand people. At 11:00 A.M., nearing the close of the rites, the Bishop went down the altar to give his final blessing to the children in the front rows. While the Bishop was giving his blessing, a man from the crowd went up and walked towards the center of the altar. He stopped beside the

Bishops chair, turned around and, in full view of the Catholic faithful, sat on the Bishops chair. The man was accused-appellant. Crisanto Santillan, who was assisting the Bishop at the rites, saw accused-appellant. Santillan approached accused-appellant and requested him to vacate the Bishops chair. Gripping the chairs armrest, accused-appellant replied in Pangasinese: No matter what will happen, I will not move out! Hearing this, Santillan moved away.[6] Some of the churchgoers summoned Rogelio Mararac, the security guard at the cathedral. Mararac went near accused-appellant and told him to vacate the Bishops chair. Accusedappellant stared intensely at the guard. Mararac grabbed his nightstick and used it to tap accused-appellants hand on the armrest. Appellant did not budge. Again, Mararac tapped the latters hand. Still no reaction. Mararac was about to strike again when suddenly accusedappellant drew a knife from his back, lunged at Mararac and stabbed him, hitting him below his left throat. Mararac fell. Accused-appellant went over the victim and tried to stab him again but Mararac parried his thrust. Accused-appellant looked up and around him. He got up, went to the microphone and shouted: Anggapuy nayan dia! (No one can beat me here!). He returned to the Bishops chair and sat on it again. Mararac, wounded and bleeding, slowly dragged himself down the altar.[7] Meanwhile, SPO1 Conrado Francisco, who was directing traffic outside, received a report of a commotion inside the cathedral. Rushing to the cathedral, SPO1 Francisco saw a man, accused-appellant, with red stains on his shirt and a knife in one hand sitting on a chair at the center of the altar. He ran to accused-appellant and advised him to drop the knife. Accusedappellant obeyed. He dropped the knife and raised his hands. Thereupon, Chief Inspector Wendy Rosario, Deputy Police Chief, Dagupan City, who was attending the confirmation rites at the Cathedral, went near accused-appellant to pick up the knife. Suddenly, accusedappellant embraced Chief Inspector Rosario and the two wrestled with each other. Chief Inspector Rosario was able to subdue accused-appellant. The police came and when they frisked appellant, they found a leather scabbard tucked around his waist.[8] He was brought to the police station and placed in jail. In the meantime, Mararac, the security guard, was brought to the hospital where he expired a few minutes upon arrival. He died of cardio-respiratory arrest, massive, intra-thoracic hemorrhage, stab wound.[9] He was found to have sustained two (2) stab wounds: one just below the left throat and the other on the left arm. The autopsy reported the following findings: EXTERNAL FINDINGS 1. Stab wound, along the parasternal line, level of the 2nd intercostal space, left, 1 x 1 penetrating. The edge of one side of the wound is sharp and pointed. 2. Stab wound, antero-lateral aspect, distal 3rd, arm, left, x x . The edge of one side of the wound is sharp and pointed. INTERNAL FINDINGS Massive intrathoracic, left, hemorrhage with perforation of the upper and lower lobe of the left lung. The left pulmonary blood vessel was severely cut.[10] After the prosecution rested its case, accused-appellant, with leave of court, filed a Demurrer to Evidence. He claimed that the prosecution failed to prove the crime of murder beca use there was no evidence of the qualifying circumstance of treachery; that there was unlawful aggression by the victim when he tapped accused-appellants hand with his nightstick; and that accused-appellant did not have sufficient ability to calculate his defensive acts because he was of unsound mind.[11] The Demurrer to Evidence was opposed by the public prosecutor. He alleged that the

accused pretended to be weak, tame and of unsound mind; that after he made the first stab, he furiously continued stabbing and slashing the victim to finish him off undeterred by the fact that he was in a holy place where a religious ceremony was being conducted; and the plea of unsound mind had already been ruled upon by the trial court in its order of January 6, 1995.[12] On February 21, 1995, a letter was sent by Inspector Wilfredo F. Valdez, Jail Warden of Dagupan City to the trial court. Inspector Valdez requested the court to allow accusedappellant, who was confined at the city jail, to be treated at the Baguio General Hospital to determine whether he should remain in jail or be transferred to some other institution. The other prisoners were allegedly not comfortable with appellant because he had been exhibiting unusual behavior. He tried to climb up the jail roof so he could escape and see his family.[13] As ordered by the trial court, the public prosecutor filed a Comment to the jail wardens letter. He reiterated that the mental condition of accused-appellant to stand trial had already been determined; unless a competent government agency certifies otherwise, the trial should proceed; and the city jail warden was not the proper person to determine whether accusedappellant was mentally ill or not.[14] In an order dated August 21, 1995, the trial court denied the Demurrer to Evidence.[15] Accused-appellant moved for reconsideration. While the motion for reconsideration was pending, on February 26, 1996, counsel for accusedappellant filed a Motion to Confine Accused for Physical, Mental and Psychiatric Examination. Appellants counsel informed the court that accused-appellant had been exhibiting abnormal behavior for the past weeks; he would shout at the top of his voice and cause panic among the jail inmates and personnel; that appellant had not been eating and sleeping; that his coinmates had been complaining of not getting enough sleep for fear of being attacked by him while asleep; that once, while they were sleeping, appellant took out all his personal effects and waste matter and burned them inside the cell which again caused panic among the inmates. Appellants counsel prayed that his client be confined at the National Center for Mental Health in Manila or at the Baguio General Hospital.[16] Attached to the motion were two (2) letters. One, dated February 19, 1996, was from Inspector Pedrito Llopis, Jail Warden, Dagupan City, addressed to the trial court judge informing him of appellants irrational behavior and seeking the issuance of a court order for the immediate psychiatric and mental examination of accused-appellant.[17] The second letter, dated February 21, 1996, was addressed to Inspector Llopis from the Bukang Liwayway Association, an association of inmates in the Dagupan City Jail. The letter, signed by the president, secretary and adviser of said association, informed the jail warden of appellants unusual behavior and requested that immediate action be taken against him to avoid future violent incidents in the jail.[18] On September 18, 1996, the trial court denied reconsideration of the order denying the Demurrer to Evidence. The court ordered accused-appellant to present his evidence on October 15, 1996.[19] Accused-appellant did not take the witness stand. Instead, his counsel presented the testimony of Dr. Maria Soledad Gawidan,[20] a resident physician in the Department of Psychiatry at the Baguio General Hospital, and accused-appellants medical and clinical records at the said hospital.[21] Dr. Gawidan testified that appellant had been confined at the BGH from February 18, 1993 to February 22, 1993 and that he suffered from Schizophrenic Psychosis, Paranoid Typeschizophrenia, paranoid, chronic, paranoid type;[22] and after four (4) days of confinement, he was discharged in improved physical and mental condition.[23] The medical and clinical records consisted of the following: (1) letter of Dr. Alfredo Sy, Municipal Health Officer, Calasiao, Pangasinan to Dr. Jesus del Prado, Director, BGH referring accused-appellant for admission and treatment after a relapse of his violent behavior;[24] (2) the clinical cover sheet of appellant at the BGH;[25] (3) the consent slip of appellants wife voluntarily entrusting appellant to the BGH;[26] (4) the Patients Record;[27] (5) the Consent for Discharge signed by appellants wife;[28] (6) the Summary and Discharges of appellant;[29] (7) appellants clinical case history;[30] (8) the admitting notes;[31] (9) Physicians Order Form;[32] (10) the Treatment Form/ medication sheet;[33] and (11) Nurses

Notes.[34] The trial court rendered a decision on June 23, 1997. It upheld the prosecution evidence and found accused-appellant guilty of the crime charged and thereby sentenced him to death, viz: WHEREFORE, the court finds accused Roberto Estrada y Lopez guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Murder and in view of the presence of the aggravating circumstance of cruelty which is not offset by any mitigating circumstance, the accused is sentenced to suffer the Death Penalty and to indemnify the heirs of the deceased in the amount of P50,000.00. The accused is ordered to pay the sum of P18,870.00 representing actual expenses and P100,000.00 as moral damages. SO ORDERED.[35] In this appeal, accused-appellant assigns the following errors: I THE LOWER COURT ERRED IN FINDING ACCUSED-APPELLANT GUILTY OF THE CRIME CHARGED, DESPITE CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE ON RECORD, SUPPORTING HIS PLEA OF INSANITY. II THE LOWER COURT LIKEWISE ERRED IN HOLDING THAT THE STABBING TO DEATH OF ROGELIO MARARAC WAS ATTENDED WITH TREACHERY AND AGGRAVATED BY CRUELTY, GRANTING ARGUENDO THAT ACCUSED-APPELLANTS PLEA OF INSANITY CANNOT BE CONSIDERED AN EXEMPTING CIRCUMSTANCE.[36] The basic principle in our criminal law is that a person is criminally liable for a felony committed by him.[37] Under the classical theory on which our penal code is mainly based, the basis of criminal liability is human free will.[38] Man is essentially a moral creature with an absolutely free will to choose between good and evil.[39] When he commits a felonious or criminal act (delito doloso), the act is presumed to have been done voluntarily,[40] i.e., with freedom, intelligence and intent.[41] Man, therefore, should be adjudged or held accountable for wrongful acts so long as free will appears unimpaired.[42] In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the law presumes that every person is of sound mind[43] and that all acts are voluntary.[44] The moral and legal presumption under our law is that freedom and intelligence constitute the normal condition of a person.[45] This presumption, however, may be overthrown by other factors; and one of these is insanity which exempts the actor from criminal liability.[46] The Revised Penal Code in Article 12 (1) provides: ART. 12. Circumstances which exempt from criminal liability.The following are exempt from criminal liability: 1. An imbecile or an insane person, unless the latter has acted during a lucid interval. When the imbecile or an insane person has committed an act which the law defines as a felony (delito), the court shall order his confinement in one of the hospitals or asylums established for persons thus afflicted, which he shall not be permitted to leave without first obtaining the permission of the same court.

An insane person is exempt from criminal liability unless he has acted during a lucid interval. If the court therefore finds the accused insane when the alleged crime was committed, he shall be acquitted but the court shall order his confinement in a hospital or asylum for treatment until he may be released without danger. An acquittal of the accused does not result in his outright release, but rather in a verdict which is followed by commitment of the accused to a mental institution.[47] In the eyes of the law, insanity exists when there is a complete deprivation of intelligence in committing the act. Mere abnormality of the mental faculties will not exclude imputability.[48] The accused must be so insane as to be incapable of entertaining a criminal intent.[49] He must be deprived of reason and act without the least discernment because there is a complete absence of the power to discern or a total deprivation of freedom of the will.[50] Since the presumption is always in favor of sanity, he who invokes insanity as an exempting circumstance must prove it by clear and positive evidence.[51] And the evidence on this point must refer to the time preceding the act under prosecution or to the very moment of its execution.[52] To ascertain a persons mental condition at the time of the act, it is permissible to receive evidence of the condition of his mind within a reasonable period both before and after that time.[53] Direct testimony is not required.[54] Neither are specific acts of derangement essential to establish insanity as a defense.[55] Circumstantial evidence, if clear and convincing, suffices; for the unfathomable mind can only be known by overt acts. A persons thoughts, motives, and emotions may be evaluated only by outward acts to determine whether these conform to the practice of people of sound mind.[56] In the case at bar, there is no direct proof that accused-appellant was afflicted with insanity at the time he killed Mararac. The absence of direct proof, nevertheless, does not entirely discount the probability that appellant was not of sound mind at that time. From the affidavit of Crisanto Santillan[57] attached to the Information, there are certain circumstances that should have placed the trial court on notice that appellant may not have been in full possession of his mental faculties when he attacked Mararac. It was highly unusual for a sane person to go up to the altar and sit on the Bishops chair while the Bishop was administering the Holy Sacrament of Confirmation to children in a jampacked cathedral. It goes against normal and ordinary behavior for appellant, without sufficient provocation from the security guard, to stab the latter at the altar, during sacramental rites and in front of all the Catholic faithful to witness. Appellant did not flee, or at least attempt to flee after the stabbing. He nonchalantly approached the microphone and, over the public address system, uttered words to the faithful which no rational person would have made. He then returned to the Bishops chair and sat there as if nothing happened. Accused-appellants history of mental illness was brought to the courts attention on the day of the arraignment. Counsel for accused-appellant moved for suspension of the arraignment on the ground that his client could not properly and intelligently enter a plea due to his mental condition. The Motion for Suspension is authorized under Section 12, Rule 116 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure which provides: Sec. 12. Suspension of arraignment.The arraignment shall be suspended, if at the time thereof: (a) The accused appears to be suffering from an unsound mental condition which effectively renders him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto. In such case, the court shall order his mental examination and, if necessary, his confinement for such purpose. (b) x x x. The arraignment of an accused shall be suspended if at the time thereof he appears to be

suffering from an unsound mental condition of such nature as to render him unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto. Under these circumstances, the court must suspend the proceedings and order the mental examination of the accused, and if confinement be necessary for examination, order such confinement and examination. If the accused is not in full possession of his mental faculties at the time he is informed at the arraignment of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, the process is itself a felo de se, for he can neither comprehend the full import of the charge nor can he give an intelligent plea thereto.[58] The question of suspending the arraignment lies within the discretion of the trial court.[59]And the test to determine whether the proceedings will be suspended depends on the question of whether the accused, even with the assistance of counsel, would have a fair trial. This rule was laid down as early as 1917, thus: In passing on the question of the propriety of suspending the proceedings against an accused person on the ground of present insanity, the judges should bear in mind that not every aberration of the mind or exhibition of mental deficiency is sufficient to justify such suspension. The test is to be found in the question whether the accused would have a fair trial, with the assistance which the law secures or gives; and it is obvious that under a system of procedure like ours where every accused person has legal counsel, it is not necessary to be so particular as it used to be in England where the accused had no advocate but himself.[60] In the American jurisdiction, the issue of the accuseds present insanity or insanity at the time of the court proceedings is separate and distinct from his criminal responsibility at the time of commission of the act. The defense of insanity in a criminal trial concerns the defendants mental condition at the time of the crimes commission. Present insanity is commonly referred to as competency to stand trial[61] and relates to the appropriateness of conducting the criminal proceeding in light of the defendants present inability to participate meaningfully and effectively.[62] In competency cases, the accused may have been sane or insane during the commission of the offense which relates to a determination of his guilt. However, if he is found incompetent to stand trial, the trial is simply postponed until such time as he may be found competent. Incompetency to stand trial is not a defense; it merely postpones the trial.[63] In determining a defendants competency to stand trial, the test is whether he has the capacity to comprehend his position, understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to conduct his defense in a rational manner, and to cooperate, communicate with, and assist his counsel to the end that any available defense may be interposed.[64] This test is prescribed by state law but it exists generally as a statutory recognition of the rule at common law.[65] Thus: [I]t is not enough for the x x x judge to find that the defendant [is] oriented to time and place, and [has] some recollection of events, but that the test must be whether he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understandingand whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.[66] There are two distinct matters to be determined under this test: (1) whether the defendant is sufficiently coherent to provide his counsel with information necessary or relevant to constructing a defense; and (2) whether he is able to comprehend the significance of the trial and his relation to it.[67] The first requisite is the relation between the defendant and his counsel such that the defendant must be able to confer coherently with his counsel. The second is the relation of the defendant vis-a-vis the court proceedings, i.e., that he must have a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings.[68] The rule barring trial or sentence of an insane person is for the protection of the accused, rather than of the public.[69] It has been held that it is inhuman to require an accused disabled by act of God to make a just defense for his life or liberty.[70] To put a legally incompetent person on trial or to convict and sentence him is a violation of the constitutional rights to a fair trial[71] and due process of law;[72] and this has several reasons underlying

it.[73] For one, the accuracy of the proceedings may not be assured, as an incompetent defendant who cannot comprehend the proceedings may not appreciate what information is relevant to the proof of his innocence. Moreover, he is not in a position to exercise many of the rights afforded a defendant in a criminal case, e.g., the right to effectively consult with counsel, the right to testify in his own behalf, and the right to confront opposing witnesses, which rights are safeguards for the accuracy of the trial result. Second, the fairness of the proceedings may be questioned, as there are certain basic decisions in the course of a criminal proceeding which a defendant is expected to make for himself, and one of these is his plea. Third, the dignity of the proceedings may be disrupted, for an incompetent defendant is likely to conduct himself in the courtroom in a manner which may destroy the decorum of the court. Even if the defendant remains passive, his lack of comprehension fundamentally impairs the functioning of the trial process. A criminal proceeding is essentially an adversarial proceeding. If the defendant is not a conscious and intelligent participant, the adjudication loses its character as a reasoned interaction between an individual and his community and becomes an invective against an insensible object. Fourth, it is important that the defendant knows why he is being punished, a comprehension which is greatly dependent upon his understanding of what occurs at trial. An incompetent defendant may not realize the moral reprehensibility of his conduct. The societal goal of institutionalized retribution may be frustrated when the force of the state is brought to bear against one who cannot comprehend its significance.[74] The determination of whether a sanity investigation or hearing should be ordered rests generally in the discretion of the trial court.[75] Mere allegation of insanity is insufficient. There must be evidence or circumstances that raise a reasonable doubt[76] or a bona fide doubt[77] as to defendants competence to stand trial. Among the factors a judge may consider is evidence of the defendants irrational behavior, history of mental illness or behavioral abnormalities, previous confinement for mental disturbance, demeanor of the defendant, and psychiatric or even lay testimony bearing on the issue of competency in a particular case.[78] In the case at bar, when accused-appellant moved for suspension of the arraignment on the ground of accuseds mental condition, the trial court denied the motion after finding that the questions propounded on appellant were intelligently answered by him. The court declared:: x x x It should be noted that when this case was called, the Presiding Judge asked questions on the accused, and he (accused) answered intelligently. As a matter of fact, when asked where he was born, he answered, in Tayug. The accused could answer intelligently. He could understand the questions asked of him. WHEREFORE, for lack of merit, the Urgent Motion to Suspend Arraignment and to Commit Accused to Psychiatric Ward at Baguio General Hospital, is hereby DENIED. SO ORDERED.[79] The fact that accused-appellant was able to answer the questions asked by the trial court is not conclusive evidence that he was competent enough to stand trial and assist in his defense. Section 12, Rule 116 speaks of an unsound mental condition that effectively renders [the accused] unable to fully understand the charge against him and to plead intelligently thereto. It is not clear whether accused-appellant was of such sound mind as to fully understand the charge against him. It is also not certain whether his plea was made intelligently. The plea of not guilty was not made by accused-appellant but by the trial court because of his refusal to plead.[80] The trial court took it solely upon itself to determine the sanity of accused-appellant.

The trial judge is not a psychiatrist or psychologist or some other expert equipped with the specialized knowledge of determining the state of a persons mental health. To determine the accused-appellants competency to stand trial, the court, in the instant case, should have at least ordered the examination of accused-appellant, especially in the light of the latters history of mental illness. If the medical history was not enough to create a reasonable doubt in the judges mind of accused-appellants competency to stand trial, subsequent events should have done so. One month after the prosecution rested its case, the Jail Warden of Dagupan City wrote the trial judge informing him of accused-appellants unusual behavior and requesting that he be examined at the hospital to determine whether he should remain in jail or be placed in some other institution. The trial judge ignored this letter. One year later, accused-appellants counsel filed a Motion to Confine Accused for Physical, Mental and Psychiatric Examination. Attached to this motion was a second letter by the new Jail Warden of Dagupan City accompanied by a letter-complaint of the members of the Bukang Liwayway Association of the city jail. Despite the two (2) attached letters,[81] the judge ignored the Motion to Confine Accused for Physical, Mental and Psychiatric Examination. The records are barren of any order disposing of the said motion. The trial court instead ordered accused-appellant to present his evidence.[82] Dr. Gawidan testified that the illness of accused-appellant, i.e., schizophrenia, paranoid type, is a lifetime illness and that this requires maintenance medication to avoid relapses.[83] After accused-appellant was discharged on February 22, 1993, he never returned to the hospital, not even for a check-up.[84] Accused-appellant did not take the witness stand. His counsel manifested that accusedappellant was waiving the right to testify in his own behalf because he was suffering from mental illness.[85] This manifestation was made in open court more than two (2) years after the crime, and still, the claim of mental illness was ignored by the trial court. And despite all the overwhelming indications of accused-appellants state of mind, the judge persisted in his personal assessment and never even considered subjecting accused-appellant to a medical examination. To top it all, the judge found appellant guilty and sentenced him to death! Section 12, Rule 116 of the 1985 Rules on Criminal Procedure speaks of a mental examination.[86] The human mind is an entity, and understanding it is not purely an intellectual process but depends to a large degree upon emotional and psychological appreciation.[87] Thus, an intelligent determination of an accuseds capacity for rational understanding ought to rest on a deeper and more comprehensive diagnosis of his mental condition than laymen can make through observation of his overt behavior. Once a medical or psychiatric diagnosis is made, then can the legal question of incompetency be determined by the trial court. By this time, the accuseds abilities may be measured against the specific demands a trial will make upon him.[88] If the mental examination on accused-appellant had been promptly and properly made, it may have served a dual purpose[89] by determining both his competency to stand trial and his sanity at the time of the offense. In some Philippine cases, the medical and clinical findings of insanity made immediately after the commission of the crime served as one of the bases for the acquittal of the accused.[90] The crime in the instant case was committed way back in December 1994, almost six (6) years ago. At this late hour, a medical finding alone may make it impossible for us to evaluate appellants mental condition at the time of the crimes commission for him to avail of the exempting circumstance of insanity.[91] Nonetheless, under the present circumstances, accused-appellants competence to stand trial must be properly ascertained to enable him to participate in his trial meaningfully. By depriving appellant of a mental examination, the trial court effectively deprived appellant of a fair trial. The trial courts negligence was a violation of the basic requirements of due process; and for this reason, the proceedings before the said court must be nullified. In People v. Serafica,[92] we ordered that the joint decision of the trial court be vacated and the cases remanded to the court a quo for proper proceeding. The accused, who was charged with two

(2) counts of murder and one (1) count of frustrated murder, entered a plea of guilty to all three charges and was sentenced to death. We found that the accuseds plea was not an unconditional admission of guilt because he was not in full possession of his mental faculties when he killed the victim; and thereby ordered that he be subjected to the necessary medical examination to determine his degree of insanity at the time of commission of the crime.[93] IN VIEW WHEREOF, the decision of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 44, Dagupan City in Criminal Case No. 94-00860-D convicting accused-appellant Roberto Estrada and sentencing him to death is vacated and the case is remanded to the court a quo for the conduct of a proper mental examination on accused-appellant, a determination of his competency to stand trial, and for further proceedings. SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Bellosillo, Melo, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Purisima, Pardo, Buena, Gonzaga-Reyes, Ynares-Santiago, and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur. Vitug, J., on official leave.