Can accused escape jail when PAO slept for 7 years on CA ruling denying appeal?

Can accused escape jail when PAO slept 
for 7 years on CA ruling denying appeal?

The author sings legal issues out in this party with his Alcothans brods

By BERTENI "TOTO" CATALUÑA CAUSING
Editor-in-chief, Dyaryo Magdalo

Is there hope if PAO lawyers slept from adverse appeal ruling and did not notify the client-accused for 7 years?

This is a true-to-life story about the siblings who appealed to the Court of Appeals through the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) after having been convicted by a Regional Trial Court branch in the northern Philippines.

Already seven (7) years had passed when they knew that the CA already decided denying their appeal. They knew of the decision only when a friend tipped them off about the motion for execution filed in the RTC to imprison them. 

They immediately inquired from the PAO in the province but even until that time the PAO there did not know yet about the CA decision denying their appeal.

The PAO lawyer who handled their trial in the province swore to God he did not receive any notice from the main office of the PAO as to any decision of the CA.

The siblings then inquired from the PAO main office that handled their appeal.  It was found out that there was a record in its logbook that a copy of the CA decision was logged as having been received.  However, not one copy of the decision was found.  Actually, even one record of the case can no longer be found.  Then the PAO issued a certificate that guessed that the case files of the siblings must have been among those damaged by a typhoon.  

Adding to their worry, the PAO lawyers who handled their case had already resigned long ago and there was no record they filed a motion for reconsideration for the siblings.

With this dilemma, these pro bono clients came to us through fellow mediaman and kumpare Joel Sy Egco and we took the issues on, although seeing little hope.

We formulated a theory that the siblings cannot be bound by the CA decision even if 7 years had already passed.

So we filed three motions. One was to ask the CA to allow us to file a motion for leave to file a motion for reconsideration from the same decision of the Appellate Court.  The second motion was asking for leave to admit the motion for reconsideration.  The third motion was the motion for reconsideration.

We stood by the position that the siblings cannot be bound by the said decision because they were actually not notified of the same, no matter how many years had passed.

The Court of Appeals denied the motion.  

The CA accepted the proposition that the PAO counsels must have not received the decision because the record showed only a logbook that the PAO received it but there is no evidence to prove that the same decision was received by the actual PAO counsels.

But the CA faulted the siblings because they should have been diligent in making followups to know the status of their appeal from the PAO.  The CA cited at least five case laws decided by the Supreme Court faulting the litigants for failing to be diligent and leaving it all up to their lawyers.

We filed a motion for reconsideration, and we asserted our position that the decision cannot bind the siblings so that their motion for reconsideration must be admitted.

This time, we strengthened our arguments that: 

(a) the case laws cited by the Court of Appeals were civil cases and not criminal; 

(b) since the instant case is a criminal case, the doctrine of pro reo gives favor to the accused in case of doubt that the rulings of the Supreme Court in those civil cases should not be applied to the criminal case of the siblings because loss of liberty is harsher than loss of property; 

(c) the case of the siblings is far different because their counsel was the PAO and not private counsels as were in the five cited cases; and 

(d) the State has the duty--not merely power or discretion--to ensure due process before depriving any person of his right to life, liberty or property and that in this case it was like the State participated in depriving due process through its agent that was the PAO in depriving the siblings of their right by the PAO's negligence.

The Office of the Solicitor General took the easy arguments, citing again the five civil cases used by the  CA in turning down our motion.

We are confident this time we can overcome the improbable obstacles.

If you wish to read, the following are our arguments:

No less than the Constitution declares that the State has the duty – not mere power that may not be exercised – to give every person the right to due process before he or she can be deprived of his or her right to liberty.

The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) was the one that acted as the appellants’ counsel up to the filing of the Appellants’ Brief and all other pleadings incidental or necessary thereby.

Being a government agency, the PAO is actually one of the agents of the State tasked with the duty to ensure that due process of law is observed before its clients can be allowed to be deprived of life, liberty or property.

This means that the burden of the State is heavier in performing the duty to ensure due process observance if it is the State that accuses through the prosecutors and the Office of the Solicitor General and it is also the State that assumed the duty to defend the accused at the same time through the PAO.

Now, the State’s duty to ensure compliance with due process in defending the accused includes the State’s duty to ensure that notices of adverse orders must be given to the State’s clients who are the clients of the PAO.  And if one notice is neglected by the PAO handling lawyer, it also means that by the law of agency it is also the State that is also neglecting the same notice that it can be faulted not to the clients but to the State.

To bind the PAO clients to the indiscretions or negligence of PAO counsels is therefore absurd.

Because PAO counsels perform their duties to the State to defend poor litigants, all their acts were done by the State. So that if a PAO counsel neglects the duty of informing the clients he or she handles, and if the Courts will bind the accused by that negligence, it is like the State is manipulating to kill its own people.

As stated before, it is totally a different matter if the counsel were a private counsel.  In this case, the negligence or indiscretions of the private counsel cannot be taken as an act of the State.

One thing more, the matters involved here are the liberties of the appellants, not merely properties as is common in all case laws cited by the Honorable Court.

In this case, there is no issue that there is no evidence that the PAO of the province where the appellants were convicted notified them of the decision affirming the convictions.

The PAO office in Quezon City that actually handled the appeal of the appellants had the duty to the State to call its PAO office in the province to notify the accused of the adverse decision.

But there is also no evidence to show that the PAO in Quezon City notified the appellants of the adverse decision.

Now, the only justification by the Honorable Court to deny the motion for leave to admit all the other motions is that it is faulting the appellants for not verifying diligently their case with the PAO in Quezon City.

This blame, with due respect, is unfair.

To begin with, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO SHOW THAT THE APPELLANTS DID NOT DILIGENTLY FOLLOW UP THEIR CASE.  So that, it is illogical to state and rule that the appellants did not act diligently.

Rather, since this is a criminal case that any doubt is resolved in favor of the accused, whose burden should it be to prove that the appellants were not diligent?   Is it not that it is the burden of the accuser, here represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, to submit proofs that the appellants were not diligent?

Of course, it is the burden of the State to prove that the appellants were negligent.

As such, in the absence of proof to determine whether the accused were negligent, it is a question that cannot be answered.

And if it cannot be answered that the appellants were negligent, then it cannot be said that the reglementary period to file a motion for reconsideration can begin to run until the earliest date that the appellants received the decision.

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