The sad saga of Dr. Iggy Agbayani
A leading orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Benigno “Iggy” Agbayani Jr., was convicted, as charged, of “reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries” for “voluntarily but without malice, conduct[ing] an operation (arthroscopy) [on the left knee of] complainant [Atty. Saul Q. Hofileña Jr.] in a reckless manner by using a medical instrument (arthroscope) that was not sterilized without taking the necessary precaution to avoid injury to said complainant …”
STILL PASSIONATELY PROFESSING HIS INNOCENCE and still lamenting what he, his family, his colleagues in the medical profession, and his friends consider a “travesty of justice,” he died in jail of cardiac arrest last Oct. 5, four and a half months into his confinement.
Before he died, he composed a wrenching, handwritten poem in Pilipino last June 15, which I quote, “Mahirap isulat ang kalungkutan; mahapdi at malalim ang abot niya sa puso at isipan. Sa edad ko na 58 di ka naghahanda para makulong. Ginawa ko lahat para maghanda ng katawan, puso at isip, pero hindi maiwasan magulat sa kinahinatnan. Masuerte pa rin at ako’y doktor. May likas na respeto ang mga kapwa ko at mga gwardiya. Minsan, nagising ako sa magandang panaginip. Lumalangoy sa tabing dagat, kasama mga mahal ko sa buhay. Para akong nalunod sa kalungkutan. Lasapin ang buhay laya. Mahalin lalo ang mga minamahal nyo.”
Sad and wrenching the pain and plight of Doctor Agbayani may have been, yet I will look at his saga from a jurist’s perspective never “[to] vie for popularity instead of independence, surrender to the mob instead of to the truth based on a fair trial, and judge wickedly to gain fame and favors instead of rendering justice though the heavens may fall,” per my column on Oct. 16.
LET ME CONTINUE WITH THE UNCONTESTED FACTS. On July 29, 2013, the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila found him guilty as charged. His appeal to the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila was dismissed for his lawyer’s “failure to file an appeal memorandum within the reglementary period” of 15 days, despite an extension granted him.
The Court of Appeals (CA) junked his appeal from the RTC for his “failure to append to his petition” therein several documents—as required by the Rules of Court—that are necessary for the CA to understand and review his case, like “…(c) witnesses’ affidavits; (d) evidence of the prosecution… and (k) all other pleadings filed before the lower courts.”
For its part, the Supreme Court (Third Division) likewise denied his petition for review via an unsigned extended resolution (UER) issued on June 23, 2021, for his counsel’s failure again (!) to submit the documents required by the Rules. However, it shortened his imprisonment to “one month and one day of arresto mayor, as minimum, to one year and one day of prison coreccional, as maximum.”
The Court held that “these documents [are required by the Rules to enable] the reviewing courts (to resolve) whether to give due course to the petition. Hence, they should not be perfunctorily ignored or violated. Failure to comply with these Rules hinders the review of cases on the merits and deprives the appellate court of definitive bases for its rulings … Concededly, any infirmity on the form of the petition may be waived (to render substantial justice) [but his counsel’s] excuse of ‘heavy workload’ does not persuade.”
AT ALL EVENTS, THE PETITIONER’S ASSERTIONS on “the issue of the non-sterilization of the arthroscope he inserted on Hofileña, Jr.’s knee during the operation which may have caused the growth of bacterial infection… [are barred by the] well-settled rule… that a petition for review [in the Supreme Court] only dwells on questions of law, and not [on] questions of facts…”
I am not surprised that the Court based its UER on a strict reading of the laws and rules. As I observed in my column on Nov. 6, the Court’s majority uses “the strict or verba legis method of interpretation.” Since I belong to the liberal school of jurisprudence, I would have voted, if still an incumbent, to remand the case to the trial courts to determine whether there was indeed “reckless imprudence” on the non-sterilization issue; and if so, whether it should be factually attributed to him, or the operating room nurse, or the hospital itself, or all of them.
Though Doctor Agbayani has expired, his family, I was told—(I have not met him or his kins)—recently retained my good friend, super lawyer Estelito P. Mendoza, to clear the name of their departed patriarch. If he could resuscitate the dead cases of his celebrated clients, he should be able to do the same with this case without unduly prejudicing the rights of the offended party, who himself deserves justice (not vengeance) in equal measure.
Finally, to heal and dissipate the anxiety of the medical professionals, IMHO, the UER—in its present form and language—did not create a precedent on the criminal liability of doctors for “reckless imprudence.” Notably, the Court denied the petition pursuant only to existing jurisprudence governing errors or negligence of counsels. Moreover, as a rule, UERs do not create precedents; only signed decisions and resolutions do.