Monday, February 20, 2012

People vs. Santocildes, Jr. [G.R. No. 109149. December 21, 1999.]

Facts: On February 17, 1992, appellant was charged with the crime of rape of a girl less than 9 years old. Appellant contends that he was represented during trial by a person named Gualberto C. Ompong, who for all intents and purposes acted as his counsel and even conducted the direct examination and cross-examinations of the witnesses. On appeal, however, appellant secured the services of a new lawyer, Atty. Igmedio S. Prado, Jr., who discovered that Gualberto C. Ompong is actually not a member of the bar. Appellant therefore argues that his deprivation of the right to counsel should necessarily result in his acquittal of the crime charged. 

The Office of the Solicitor General, on the other hand, maintains that notwithstanding the fact that appellant's counsel during trial was not a member of the bar, appellant was afforded due process since he has been given an opportunity to be heard and the records reveal that said person "presented the evidence for the defense with the ability of a seasoned lawyer and in general handled the case of appellant in a professional and skillful manner." 

Issue: Whether or not the accused was deprived, though no fault of his own, to be defended by a person authorized to practice law amounting to denial of due process. 

Held: The right to counsel of an accused is enshrined in Article III, Sections 12 and 14 (2) of the 1987 Constitution. Such right is guaranteed to minimize the imbalance in the adversarial system where the accused is pitted against the awesome prosecutory machinery of the State. Such a right 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. 

Hence, the Supreme Court set aside the judgment of conviction and ordered the remand of the case to the trial court for new trial. 

The Supreme Court also directed the IBP to investigate Ompong's unauthorized practice of law.

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