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[G.R. No. 130026. May 31, 2000] PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. ANTONIO MAGAT y LONDONIO, accused-appellant.

PER CURIAM: FACTS: Accused-appellant Antonio Magat was charged of raping his daughter, Ann Fideli L. Magat, on two occasions. Upon arraignment, accused-appellant pleaded guilty but bargained for a lesser penalty for each case. Complainant's mother and the public prosecutor agreed with the plea bargain. The court issued an order finding accused guilty for the crime charged and sentenced to suffer (10) years imprisonment for each case. After three months, the cases were revived at the instance of the complainant on the ground that the penalty imposed was "too light." As a consequence, accused-appellant was re-arraigned where he entered a plea of not guilty. Trial on the merits ensued. Consequently, accused-appellant entered anew a plea of guilty. The court read to him the Informations in English and Tagalog and repeatedly asked whether he understood his change of plea and propounded questions as to his understanding of the consequences of his plea. The accused-appellant did not present any evidence. The trial court rendered judgment finding the accused guilty as charged. Hence, this automatic review. ISSUE: Whether or not the plea bargaining made during the pre-trial is the plea bargaining contemplated in Rule 118 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. RULING: The order of the trial court convicting the accused-appellant on his own plea of guilt is void ab initio on the ground that accused-appellant's plea is not the plea bargaining contemplated and allowed by law and the rules of procedure. The only instance where a plea bargaining is allowed under the Rules is when an accused pleads guilty to a lesser offense. "A conviction under this plea shall be equivalent to a conviction of the offense charged for purposes of double jeopardy." Here, the reduction of the penalty is only a consequence of the plea of guilt to a lesser penalty. It must be emphasized that accused-appellant did not plead to a lesser offense but pleaded guilty to the rape charges and only bargained for a lesser penalty. In short, as aptly observed by the Solicitor General, he did not plea bargain but made conditions on the penalty to be imposed. This is erroneous because by pleading guilty to the offense charged, accused-appellant should be sentenced to the penalty to which he pleaded.

It is the essence of a plea of guilty that the accused admits absolutely and unconditionally his guilt and responsibility for the offense imputed to him. Hence, an accused may not foist a conditional plea of guilty on the court by admitting his guilt provided that a certain penalty will be meted unto him. Accused-appellant's plea of guilty is undoubtedly a conditional plea. Hence, the trial court should have vacated such a plea and entered a plea of not guilty for a conditional plea of guilty, or one subject to the proviso that a certain penalty be imposed upon him, is equivalent to a plea of not guilty and would, therefore, require a full-blown trial before judgment may be rendered. In effect, the judgment rendered by the trial court which was based on a void plea bargaining is also void ab initio and can not be considered to have attained finality for the simple reason that a void judgment has no legality from its inception. Thus, since the judgment of conviction rendered against accused-appellant is void, double jeopardy will not lie. Nonetheless, whatever procedural infirmity in the arraignment of the accused-appellant was rectified when he was re-arraigned and entered a new plea. Accused-appellant did not question the procedural errors in the first arraignment and having failed to do so, he is deemed to have abandoned his right to question the same and waived the errors in procedure. Accused-appellant also maintains that assuming that there was proper basis for setting aside the Order of January 10,1997, the trial court erred in not finding that he made an improvident plea of guilty. He faults the trial court in not complying with the procedure laid down in the Section 3, Rule 116 of the Revised Rules of Court. He claims that the record of the case fails to support the trial court's assertion that it conducted a searching inquiry to determine that the accused-appellant voluntarily entered his plea of guilty with full understanding of the consequences of his plea. He claims that there is no evidence that the trial court conducted searching inquiry in accordance with the rules. This Court, in a long line of decisions imposed upon trial judges to comply with the procedure laid down in the rules of arraignment, particularly the rules governing a plea of guilty to a capital offense in order to preclude any room for reasonable doubt in the mind of either the trial court or of this Court, on review, as to the possibility that there might have been some misunderstanding on the part of the accused as to the nature of the charges 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. Apart from the circumstances that such procedure may remove any doubt that the accused fully understood the consequences of his plea is the fact that the evidence taken thereon is essential to the fulfillment by this Court of its duty of review of automatic appeals from death sentences.

G.R. No. 108028. July 30, 1996]

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, plaintiff-appellee, vs. CRISTINA M. HERNANDEZ, accused-appellant.

FRANCISCO, J.:

FACTS: Accused-appellant Cristina Hernandez was charged with the crime of illegal recruitment committed in large scale in violation of Article 38 (a) and (b) in relation to Article 13 (b) and (c) of the New Labor Code. Upon arraignment, appellant pleaded not guilty and trial on the merits ensued. Of the fourteen (14) private complainants, four (4) were presented as witnesses for the prosecution. They were in concert in testifying that accused introduced herself as the general manager of Philippine-Thai, appellant asserted that her company recruited workers for placement abroad and asked private complainants if they wanted to work as factory workers in Taipeh. Enticed by the assurance of immediate employment private complainants applied. Appellant required placement and passport fees. But contrary to appellant's promise, complainants-witnesses were unable to leave for abroad. They demanded for the return of their money but to no avail. After careful calibration of the evidence, the court rendered a decision finding guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Accused contends that the prosecution failed to prove one of the essential elements of the crime of illegal recruitment -- that the offender is a non-licensee or non-holder of authority to lawfully engage in the recruitment and placement of workers. The aforementioned element, specifically the fact that neither appellant nor Philippine-Thai was licensed or authorized to recruit workers as shown by the records of the POEA, was the subject of a stipulation proposed by the prosecution and admitted by the defense during trial. ISSUE: Whether or not Section 4 of Rule 118 -- requiring an agreement or admission made or entered during the pre-trial conference to be reduced in writing and signed by the accused and his counsel before the same may be used in evidence against the accused, equally applies to a stipulation of facts made during trial RULING: A stipulation of facts entered into by the prosecution and defense counsel during trial in open court is automatically reduced into writing and contained in the official transcript of the proceedings had in court. The conformity of the accused in the form of his signature affixed thereto is unnecessary in view of the fact that: "x xx an attorney who is employed to manage a party's conduct of a lawsuit x xx has prima facie authority to make relevant admissions by pleadings, by oral or written stipulation, x xx which unless allowed to be withdrawn are conclusive." (underscoring supplied.) In fact, "judicial

admissions are frequently those of counsel or of the attorney of record, who is, for the purpose of the trial, the agent of his client. When such admissions are made x xx for the purpose of dispensing with proof of some fact, x xx they bind the client, whether made during, or even after, the trial." The abovementioned doctrine is squarely applicable to the case at bar. Appellant was never prevented from presenting evidence contrary to the stipulation of facts. If appellant believed that the testimony of the Chief Licensing Officer of the POEA would be beneficial to her case, then it is the defense who should have presented him. Her continuous failure to do so during trial was a waiver of her right to present the pertinent evidence to contradict the stipulation of facts and establish her defense.

G. R. No. 146854

April 28, 2004

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, appellee, vs. PASCUAL BALBARONA, appellant.

CARPIO MORALES, J.: FACTS: Pascual B. Balbarona was charged of raping his minor daughter. Appellant pleaded not guilty to the accusation. The prosecution and defense subsequently entered into a stipulation of facts where it was admitted that the victim, Odette M. Balbarona, was appellants daughter and was fifteen at the time of the alleged rape; and that appellant was then living with the victim and his two other daughters. Except for the bare testimonies of the parties, no birth certificate exists in the records to prove that the victim was fifteen (15) years old at the time she was raped by appellant. And yet there was no showing that her birth certificate was lost or destroyed or was unavailable without the prosecutions fault. After presentation of evidence, the trial court convicted the accused and sentenced him to suffer death penalty. Hence, this automatic review.

ISSUE: May a stipulation as to the age of the offended party sufficient proof of minority as would qualify the crime and increase the penalty to death? RULING: Rape is punished with death when the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent of the victim.

The death penalty shall also be imposed if the crime of rape is committed with any of the following aggravating/qualifying circumstances: 1. When the victim is under eighteen (18) years of age and the offender is a parent, ascendant, step-parent, guardian, relative by consanguinity or affinity within the third civil degree or the common law spouse of the parent of the victim.xxx To prove a rape victims minority, the prosecution must adduce in evidence her birth certificate for it is the best evidence to prove her age at the time of the commission of the crime. Substitutionary evidence, absent proof of loss or destruction of the original of the birth certificate or the unavailability thereof without fault of the prosecution, will not suffice. Likewise, the relationship of the accused to the victim cannot be established by mere testimony or even by the accuseds very own admission of such relationship. Except for the bare testimonies of the parties, no birth certificate exists in the records to prove that the victim was fifteen (15) years old at the time she was raped by appellant. And yet there was no showing that her birth certificate was lost or destroyed or was unavailable without the prosecutions fault. Thus, substitutionary evidence the victims and appellants testimonies was inadmissible. Much reliance is had on the stipulation of facts embodied in the trial courts June 22, 2000 Pretrial Order whereby appellant admitted to the victim being his daughter and her being fifteen (15) years old at the time of the rape incident. This Court in People v. Sitao rejected stipulation of facts as a specie of evidence to prove the qualifying circumstances of rape: Neither can a stipulation of the parties with respect to the victims age be considered sufficient proof of minority. Circumstances that qualify a crime and increase its penalty to death cannot be the subject of stipulation. An accused cannot be condemned to suffer the extreme penalty of death on the basis of stipulations or his own admissions. This strict rule is warranted by the seriousness of the penalty of death.

G.R. No. 148000. February 27, 2003]

THE PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, petitioner, vs. HON. JUDGE PATERNO V. TAC-AN (in his capacity as Presiding Judge of the RTC, Fourth Judicial Region, Branch 84, Batangas City) and MARIO N. AUSTRIA, respondents. CALLEJO, SR., J.:

FACTS: An information was filed against Mario N. Austria for falsification of public official document. There were at least eleven witnesses listed in the Information as witnesses for prosecution. The trial court set the arraignment of the accused and the initial pre-trial. Out of the eleven witnesses listed in the Information, only the first three witnesses were notified of said arraignment and pre-trial. When the case was called for pre-trial, the trial court discovered that none of the three witnesses who were notified by the court was in attendance. On motion of the accused and over the objection of the public prosecutor, the trial court issued an order dismissing the case for failure of said witnesses to appear before it. The prosecutor filed a motion for reconsideration contending that dismissal of the case was not authorized under Republic Act No. 8493 but the same was denied. The trial court posits that under R.A. No. 8493 pre-trial is mandatory and the presence of the complaining witnesses is likewise required during the trial for the parties to participate in the plea bargaining and stipulation of facts during said proceedings. If the complaining witnesses are absent, the principal purpose of the pre-trial cannot be achieved. The People of the Philippines, through the Office of the Solicitor General, filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals, for the nullification of the orders of the trial court. The Court of Appeals rendered a decision dismissing the petition. Petitioner contends that R.A. 8493 does not contain any provision which mandates a trial court to dismiss a criminal case for failure of the witnesses of the prosecution to appear at the pre-trial. ISSUE: Whether or not absence of said witness for the offended party or the complaining witness, is a valid ground for the dismissal of a criminal case. RULING: Under R.A. 8493, the absence during pre-trial of any witness for the prosecution listed in the Information, whether or not said witness is the offended party or the complaining witness, is not a valid ground for the dismissal of a criminal case. Although under the law, pre-trial is mandatory in criminal cases, the presence of the private complainant or the complaining witness is however not required. Even the presence of the accused is not required unless directed by the trial court. It is enough that the accused is represented by his counsel. Indeed, even if none of the witnesses listed in the information for the State appeared for the pre-trial, the same can and should proceed. After all, the public prosecutor appeared for the State. The public prosecutor is vested with authority to consider those matters catalogued in Section 2 of R.A. 8493.

The trial court thus acted without jurisdiction when it dismissed the case merely because none of the witnesses notified by the trial court appeared for the pre-trial. The State, like the accused is also entitled to due process in criminal cases. The order of the trial court dismissing the criminal case deprived the State of its right to prosecute and prove its case. Said order is, therefore, void for lack of jurisdiction, and is of no effect.