Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lenido Lumanog, et al. vs. People of the Philippines/Cesar Fortuna vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. SPO2 Cesar Fortuna y Abudo, et al. G.R. Nos. 182555/G.R. No. 185123/G.R. No. 187745, September 7, 2010.

Court decisions; statement of fact and law. The Constitution commands that “[n]o decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.” Judges are expected to make complete findings of fact in their decisions and scrutinize closely the legal aspects of the case in the light of the evidence presented. They should avoid the tendency to generalize and form conclusions without detailing the facts from which such conclusions are deduced. The Court has sustained decisions of lower courts as having substantially or sufficiently complied with the constitutional injunction, notwithstanding the laconic and terse manner in which they were written; and even if “there (was left) much to be desired in terms of (their) clarity, coherence and comprehensibility,” provided that they eventually set out the facts and the law on which they were based, as when they stated the legal qualifications of the offense constituted by the facts proved, the modifying circumstances, the participation of the accused, the penalty imposed and the civil liability; or discussed the facts comprising the elements of the offense that was charged in the information, and accordingly rendered a verdict and imposed the corresponding penalty; or quoted the facts narrated in the prosecution’s memorandum, but made their own findings and assessment of evidence, before finally agreeing with the prosecution’s evaluation of the case. On the other hand, the Court has expressed concern over the possible denial of due process when an appellate court failed to provide the appeal the attention it rightfully deserved, thus depriving the appellant of a fair opportunity to be heard by a fair and responsible magistrate. The parties to a litigation should be informed of how it was decided, with an explanation of the factual and legal reasons that led to the conclusions of the trial court. The losing party is entitled to know why he lost, so he may appeal to the higher court, if permitted, should he believe that the decision should be reversed. A decision that does not clearly and distinctly state the facts and the law on which it is based leaves the parties in the dark as to how it was reached and is precisely prejudicial to the losing party, who is unable to pinpoint the possible errors of the court for review by a higher tribunal. 

The Court of Appeals (CA) decision in this case cannot be deemed constitutionally infirm, as it clearly stated the facts and law on which the ruling was based, and while it did not specifically address each and every assigned error raised by appellants, it cannot be said that the appellants were left in the dark as to how the CA reached its ruling affirming the trial court’s judgment of conviction. The principal arguments raised in their Memorandum submitted before the Supreme Court actually referred to the main points of the CA rulings, such as the alleged sufficiency of prosecution evidence, their common defense of alibi, allegations of torture, probative value of ballistic and fingerprint test results, circumstances qualifying the offense and modification of penalty imposed by the trial court. 

Custodial investigation; right to counsel. Custodial investigation refers to the critical pre-trial stage when the investigation is no longer a general inquiry into an unsolved crime, but has begun to focus on a particular person as a suspect. The police officers here claimed that upon arresting one of the accused and before questioning him, they informed him of his constitutional rights to remain silent, that any information he would give could be used against him, and that he had the right to a competent and independent counsel, preferably of his own choice, and if he cannot afford the services of counsel he will be provided with one. However, since these rights can only be waived in writing and with the assistance of counsel, there could not have been such a valid waiver by the accused, who was presented by the police investigators to the lawyer of the IBP Office, Quezon City Hall, for the taking of his formal statement only the following day and stayed overnight at the police station before he was brought to said counsel. Thus, the constitutional requirement had not been observed. Settled is the rule that the moment a police officer tries to elicit admissions or confessions or even plain information from a suspect, the latter should, at that juncture, be assisted by counsel, unless he waives this right in writing and in the presence of counsel. 

However, the Court rejected the appellants’ contention that the accused was not given a counsel of his own choice, as he never objected to the IBP lawyer when the latter was presented to him to be his counsel for the taking down of his statement. The phrase “preferably of his own choice” does not convey the message that the choice of a lawyer by a person under investigation is exclusive as to preclude other equally competent and independent attorneys from handling the defense; otherwise the tempo of custodial investigation would be solely in the hands of the accused who can impede or obstruct the progress of the interrogation by simply selecting a lawyer who, for one reason or another, is not available to protect his interest. Thus, while the choice of a lawyer in cases where the person under custodial interrogation cannot afford the services of counsel – or where the preferred lawyer is not available – is naturally lodged in the police investigators, the suspect has the final choice, as he may reject the counsel chosen for him and ask for another one. A lawyer provided by the investigators is deemed engaged by the accused when he does not raise any objection against the counsel’s appointment during the course of the investigation, and the accused thereafter subscribes to the veracity of the statement before the swearing officer. 

The Constitution gives the person under custodial investigation the right to a competent and independent counsel. The modifier “competent and independent” is not an empty rhetoric. It stresses the need to accord the accused, under the uniquely stressful conditions of a custodial investigation, an informed judgment on the choices explained to him by a diligent and capable lawyer. An effective and vigilant counsel necessarily and logically requires that the lawyer be present and able to advise and assist his client from the time the confessant answers the first question asked by the investigating officer until the signing of the extrajudicial confession. Moreover, the lawyer should ascertain that the confession is made voluntarily and that the person under investigation fully understands the nature and the consequence of his extrajudicial confession in relation to his constitutional rights. A contrary rule would undoubtedly be antagonistic to the constitutional rights to remain silent, to counsel and to be presumed innocent. The right to counsel has been written into the Constitution in order to prevent the use of duress and other undue influence in extracting confessions from a suspect in a crime. The lawyer’s role cannot be reduced to being that of a mere witness to the signing of a pre-prepared confession, even if it indicated compliance with the constitutional rights of the accused. The accused is entitled to effective, vigilant and independent counsel. Where the prosecution failed to discharge the State’s burden of proving with clear and convincing evidence that the accused had enjoyed effective and vigilant counsel before he extrajudicially admitted his guilt, the extrajudicial confession cannot be given any probative value. 

Right to speedy disposition of cases. Section 16, Article III of the Constitution provides that “all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative bodies.” This protection extends to all citizens and covers the periods before, during and after trial, affording broader protection than Section 14(2), which guarantees merely the right to a speedy trial. However, just like the constitutional guarantee of “speedy trial,” “speedy disposition of cases” is a flexible concept. It is consistent with delays and depends upon the circumstances. What the Constitution prohibits are unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive delays, which render rights nugatory. The determination of whether the right to speedy disposition of cases has been violated, particular regard must be taken of the facts and circumstances peculiar to each case. A mere mathematical reckoning of the time involved would not be sufficient. Under the circumstances of this case, the Court held that the delay of four years during which the case remained pending with the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court was not unreasonable, arbitrary or oppressive. Lenido Lumanog, et al. vs. People of the Philippines/Cesar Fortuna vs. People of the Philippines/People of the Philippines vs. SPO2 Cesar Fortuna y Abudo, et al. G.R. Nos. 182555/G.R. No. 185123/G.R. No. 187745, September 7, 2010.

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