Dispenser of justice, not just of rules | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Dispenser of justice, not just of rules

The sad saga of Dr. Iggy Agbayani, taken up in this space on Nov. 13, was followed on Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 by a discussion of the new Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) with the aim of giving readers a glimpse of the lapses of Agbayani’s lawyer for the seemingly unjust conviction, unfair incarceration, and sudden death (due to heart attack) of the respected orthopedic surgeon.

THE SUPREME COURT HAS TAKEN COGNIZANCE OF HIS PLIGHT. In a press briefing a few days ago, on Dec. 13, Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo said, “We (referring to the justices) will check what really happened … we will review it and based on the results, we may establish new instructions or new rules so that we can avoid a repeat of the same situation … apparently there were some lapses committed by the lawyer …”

Obviously, the esteemed Chief Justice was referring to the disciplinary responsibility of the unnamed lawyer under the strict provisions of the CPRA and the penalty that can and should be meted out to him/her, after due process. Obviously also, this is something that, under the CPRA, the Court could motu proprio undertake on its own initiative without need of any complaint by anyone.


In my said column on Nov. 13, I wrote that the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila convicted Agbayani of “reckless imprudence resulting in serious physical injuries” and that his appeal was denied by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC-Third Division) based on the same ground: The lawyer’s failure to “file an appeal memorandum” (in the RTC) and to append the documents required by the Rules of Court to enable the CA and the Supreme Court to understand his appeal.


LAUDABLE AS THE COURT’S MOTU PROPRIO ACTION MAY BE, yet it falls short of what the Agbayani family yearns for: a reversal of his conviction and a judicial pronouncement of his innocence. To be fair, however, this desideratum cannot be taken motu proprio by the Court because there is an adverse party that equally deserves objective justice, lawyer Saul Q. Hofileña Jr., the offended party.

Thus, IMHO, the family of Agbayani needs to initiate a petition, with due notice to the offended party and to the Office of the Solicitor General (the counsel of the plaintiff “People of the Philippines”) to reopen the case. The overarching question is: May a decision that had become final and had been executed via the actual incarceration of the accused be reopened? The normal answer of jurisprudence is “No, decisions that have become final are irrevocable, despite occasional errors.”

UNDENIABLY, HOWEVER, SEVERAL “FINAL AND IRREVOCABLE” JUDGMENTS HAVE BEEN REVOKED. The most glaring example is the Dec. 2, 1985 decision of the Sandiganbayan, penned by Justice Manuel Pamaran, acquitting all the accused, including then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian Ver, of the daring broad daylight murder of former senator Ninoy Aquino at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983.

However, after Cory Aquino took over the presidency in 1986, the Supreme Court reopened the final Pamaran verdict, found the trial to be a “sham,” and authorized a retrial. In the 177-page decision penned by Justice Regino C. Hermosisima Jr., the Sandiganbayan found conspiracy among the 16 accused-soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, and held them guilty of the double murder of Ninoy and Rolando Galman. While Ver was indicted, he could not be included in the guilty verdict because he fled the country, could not be served with court processes, and was therefore beyond the local courts’ jurisdiction.

True, the example referred to the accused who were freed of criminal responsibility and subsequently found guilty despite the finality of their prior acquittal. This is really the more uncommon example. The more common ones are convictions which were later reversed, and the accused acquitted because of subsequent proof showing the impossibility of their guilt. The most common of these are rapes in which subsequent DNA evidence conclusively established that the accused could not have been the culprit because the semen found inside the vagina of the victim belonged to a man other than the accused.

Also, while the writ of habeas corpus is not normally used to free those detained by reason of a valid court order, the extraordinary writ had been allowed in cases where the ordering court (1) had not acquired jurisdiction over the person of the accused or the subject of the case, or (2) imposed an excessive penalty, or (3) deprived the accused of constitutional rights.


To conclude, I believe the Supreme Court is both a court of law and a court of equity. Rules of procedure should never be used as stumbling blocks to common sense, fairness, and equity. The Court cannot be constrained by technicalities and procedural niceties. It is a dispenser of liberating justice, not of suffocating rules. It is neither a machine nor a robot. It is human and humane. Being compassionate and just, it cannot be replaced by the computing power of technology and artificial intelligence.

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