SC not an enemy of doctors | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

SC not an enemy of doctors

By upholding the acquittal of Dr. Henry Daz, an anesthesiologist, and by freeing him from paying damages, the Supreme Court (in Nuñez v. Daz, Jan. 29, 2024, per J Maria Filomena D. Singh, Third Division) has shown it is not an enemy of medical doctors though in an earlier case (Agbayani v. People, June 23, 2021, an unsigned extended resolution or UER, Third Division), it affirmed the conviction of the late Dr. Benigno Agbayani Jr. on a similar charge of “reckless imprudence.” Let me explain the difference.

FIRST, LET US RECALL WHAT HAPPENED IN THE AGBAYANI CASE. Per my column on Nov. 13, 2023, the Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) of Manila found him guilty as charged on July 29, 2013. 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” 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.”

The Supreme Court likewise “denied his petition for review for his counsel’s failure again (!) to submit the documents required by the Rules. However, it shortened his imprisonment …”


The high court explained 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.”

NOW, LET US SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO DOCTOR DAZ. On Sept. 17, 2014, the RTC of Baguio found Daz “not guilty of reckless imprudence resulting in the death of 2-year-old John Ray Nuñez” allegedly caused by the bursting of a hot water bag placed on the boy’s legs (to address the patient’s hypothermia). The hot water scalded various parts of the boy’s body that necessitated the surgery of his third degree burns that, in turn, delayed the chemotherapy needed by the boy’s earlier cancer surgery. While the burns were being treated, his brain tumor recurred and necessitated another operation. During the second surgery, the boy succumbed.

The RTC “found, among other things, that the prosecution failed to prove the … alleged negligence of Dr. Daz as to the bursting of the hot water bag. Moreover … the prosecution failed to prove the (alleged) connection between such incident and the death of John Ray.” Though acquitted, Daz was ordered by the RTC to pay moral damages of P200,000, exemplary damages of P300,000, and actual damages of P25,000.

The Court of Appeals (CA) denied the appeal of the boy’s parents. Instead, it held that the acquittal of Daz was immediately final and unappealable. However, it granted Daz’s separate appeal and set aside the award of moral, exemplary, and actual damages the RTC imposed on him.


The Supreme Court affirmed the CA’s decision. It held, and I agree, that “Dr. Daz could not be blamed [for] the mere fact that the hot water bag gave way or would have been raptured. Worse, the prosecutor failed to offer any evidence that a hot water bag broke …” On this basis, the high court sighed, “How can a doctor be responsible for the usability of an instrument that can be safely assumed to be that of the hospital’s?”

The death of John Ray “occurred during the second operation. The first cause, i.e., the bursting of the hot water bag, did not set the other events in motion, such that the subsequent events constitute[d] a natural and continuous chain, each having a close causal connection with its immediate predecessor. The final event of the chain, i.e., the death of John Ray, could not be deemed as the natural and probable result of the first cause …”


CLEAR ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO CASES. Agbayani was convicted by the MeTC. His appeal was rejected by the RTC, the CA, and the Supreme Court because his lawyer miserably and repeatedly failed to produce the “documents [that are required by the Rules of Court to enable] the reviewing courts (to resolve) whether to give due course to the petition …” Indeed, I wonder why the well-known physician did not replace his lawyer in the wake of his series of convictions due to his counsel’s palpable negligence. In contrast, Daz was acquitted. His counsel was competent and diligent. His acquittal was simply affirmed by the CA and the Supreme Court.

Finally, the UER in the Agbayani case did not create a precedent on the criminal liability of doctors for reckless imprudence. As a rule, UERs do not create precedents. Only signed decisions and resolutions—like the well-written 15-page Singh ponencia in the Daz case—do.


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