CASE BRIEF NO. 2019-0051


Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code has made the dissolution of marriage dependent not only upon the personal belief of parties, but upon certain objective facts easily capable of accurate judicial cognizance, namely, a judgment of the presumptive death of the absent spouse.”


CASE: Jacinto J. Bagaporo vs. People of the Philippines [G.R. No. 211829, January 30, 2019]

PONENTE: Justice Jose C. Reyes, Jr.

SUBJECT:
          A.       CRIMINAL LAW:
                   i.        Article 349/Bigamy – judicial declaration of presumptive death

          B.       REMEDIAL LAW:
                   i.        Nature of Action – How determined
                  ii.       Rule 38/Petition for Relief from Judgement

          C.       ETHICS:
                i.        Gross negligence of counsel        

FACTS:        Jacinto Bagaporo (Petitioner) was indicted for Bigamy for contracting a second marriage without securing first a judicial declaration of a disputable presumption (of death of the absent spouse). After trial, the RTC found petitioner guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Bigamy.

Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals (CA). Allegedly, his then counsel of record, Atty. Angelo Cerdon (Atty. Cerdon), broached the idea that he might want to engage a new lawyer based near in Manila to handle the appeal. This allegedly prompted the petitioner to consult his present counsel, Atty. Berteni Cataluna Causing (Atty. Causing).

Atty. Causing advised the petitioner to secure first Atty. Cerdon’s formal withdrawal as counsel. Nonetheless, upon Atty. Causing’s advice and assistance, ostensibly as collaborating counsel, petitioner filed two (2) motions, namely: (1) Motion to Withdraw Notice of Appeal; and (2) Motion for Reconsideration before the RTC. Copies of both motions were allegedly furnished to Atty. Cerdon when the petitioner visited the former’s office. It was then that petitioner supposedly clarified with Atty. Cerdon’s secretary that Atty. Cerdon remained to be his counsel of record to take charge of the appeal before the CA, notwithstanding Atty. Causing’s engagement to pursue post-judgment remedies before the RTC.

Meanwhile, the appeal before the CA proceeded. Petitioner was, thus, required by the CA to file an appeal brief. The notice was received by Atty. Cerdon on April 8, 2013.

On July 31, 2013, the CA dismissed petitioner’s appeal for failure to file the required appellant’s brief. Entry of Judgment then followed after the dismissal became final on August 31, 2013.

Aggrieved, petitioner filed in the same case a “Petition for Relief from Resolution or Judgment in Case Entry was Already Ordered” alleging gross negligence on the part of Atty. Cerdon. The Petition was treated by the CA as a petition for relief under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court. The same was denied by the CA.

Undeterred, petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsiderationwhich the CA denied for utter lack of merit. Hence, petitioner filed a Petition for Review on Certiorari before the Supreme Court.

The petition essentially seeks the reopening of petitioner’s lost appeal and reasserts the merits of his case. Petitioner argues that Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code, particularly the last clause, violates the equal protection clause and the due process clause. Article 349 provides:

Bigamy. – The penalty of prision mayor shall be imposed upon any person who shall contract a second or subsequent marriage before the former marriage has been legally dissolved, or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered in the proper proceedings. (Emphasis supplied)

On procedural grounds, petitioner asserts that he could still withdraw his appeal before the CA and substitute the same with a motion for reconsideration before the RTC. Petitioner claim that the CA unjustly and incorrectly treated his petition as one under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court. Contending that there are compelling reasons to give due course to his appeal, petitioner claims that he was a victim of gross ignorance of the law and that there exists a “gross negligence of counsel” remedy established by jurisprudence, under which his petition for relief should have been recognized by the CA.

ISSUE:
A.       Whether the CA’s treatment of Bagaporo’s petition as Petition for Relief under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court proper.
          a. Nature of an action; how to determine.
          b. Whether a petition for relief from judgment is an available remedy in the Court of Appeals.
          c. Whether petitioner is correct in insisting that his petition for relief is different from that under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court as his petition was based on the alleged gross negligence of his counsel, citing APEX Mining, Inc. v. Court of Appeals and Legarda v. Court of Appeals.

B.       Whether petitioner should not be bound by the negligence of his counsel.

C.       Whether petitioner can successfully invoke gross negligence of counsel to reinstate his lost appeal.

D.      What is the rationale in securing judgment of the presumptive death of the absent spouse before contracting a subsequent marriage?

RULING:    
A.       The nature of an action, as well as which court or body has jurisdiction over it, is determined based on the allegations contained in the complaint of the plaintiff, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon all or some of the claims asserted therein [City of Dumaguete vs. Philippine Ports Authority, 671 Phil .610 (2011)].

Notably, the petition for relief was filed in the same case, which resolution had already become final. An examination of petitioner’s averments and relief sought, i.e., the setting aside of a final and executory resolution denying an appeal, leads to no other conclusion than that it is the mode provided under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court. The CA cannot, thus, be faulted for treating the petition as one which sought the relief provided by Rule 38, and consequently dismissing it. It is settled that a petition for relief from judgment is not an available remedy in the Court of Appeals [Purcon, Jr. v. MRM Philippines, Inc., 588 Phil. 308, 314 (2008)].

Petitioner nonetheless insists that his petition for relief is different from that under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court. As his petition was based on the alleged gross negligence of his counsel, he asserts that there exists a distinct remedy provided by jurisprudence and not by the Rules of Court. There is, however, no such mode that is independent of the Rules.

While the Court indeed provides relief to litigants when gross negligence of counsel is manifest, in such cases, petitioners go to court through modes specifically provided by law and the Rules. In both APEX Mining, Inc. v. Court of Appeals 377 Phil. 482 (1999) and Legarda v. Court of Appeals, 272-A Phil. 394 (1991), cited by petitioner, the remedy availed of before the CA was a petition for annulment of judgment under Rule 47 of the Rules of Court. In Callangan v. People of the Philippines 526 Phil. 239 (2006), the petitioner resorted to a Rule 45 petition on a pure question of law before this Court, which assailed the RTC’s dismissal of a Rule 65 petition questioning the MTC’s denial of a motion for new trial in a criminal case. This Court, thus, confounded by what mode of relief petitioner is referring to in his contention that the CA erred in treating his petition before it as one filed under Rule 38 of the Rules of Court.

B.       Even if we were to presume good faith, petitioner cannot avoid responsibility for any confusion caused by his engagement of a new lawyer without securing the written withdrawal or conforme of the lawyer who handled his case during the trial stage. Furthermore, on petitioner’s averments alone, this Court does not have sufficient basis to conclude that Atty. Cerdon was grossly negligent, especially without having heard Atty. Cerdon’s side on the matter. Petitioner must, therefore, bear the loss of his appeal.

To emphasize:

Jurisprudence is replete with pronouncements that clients are bound by the actions of their counsel in the conduct of their case. If it were otherwise, and a lawyer’s mistake or negligence was admitted as a reason for the opening of the case, there would be no end to litigation so long as counsel had not been sufficiently diligent or experienced or learned. The only exception to the general rule is when the counsel’s actuations are gross or palpable, resulting in serious injustice to client, that courts should accord relief to the party. Indeed, if the error or negligence of the counsel did not result in the deprivation of due process to the client, nullification of the decision grounded on grave abuse of discretion is not warranted. The instant case does not fall within the exception since petitioners were duly given their day in court.

C.       Petitioner cannot successfully invoke gross negligence of counsel to reinstate his lost appeal, it cannot be said that he was deprived of due process. It is beyond question that the petitioner had his day in court. His case was tried on the merits and he was ably represented during the trial stage. Furthermore, the merits of the petitioner’s case deserve scant consideration.

The right to appeal is neither a natural right nor is it a component of due process. It is a mere statutory privilege, and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law.  Indeed, any liberality in the application of the rules of procedure may be properly invoked only in cases of some excusable formal deficiency or error in a pleading, but definitely not in cases like now where a liberal application would directly subvert the essence of the proceedings or results in the utter disregard of the Rules of Court [Heirs of Arturo Garcia I v. Municipality of Iba, Zambales, 764 Phil. 408, 416-417 (2015)].

D.      Petitioner does not deny that he contracted a second marriage without a judicial declaration that his absent spouse from a prior marriage may be legally presumed dead. The gist of petitioner’s claim is alleged good faith and that there is no need for a judicial declaration of a disputable presumption (of death of the absent spouse) that has already been provided by law.

According to petitioner, it was the prosecution’s burden to prove that his absent wife was still alive when he contracted his second marriage. Petitioner essentially asks, what if his absent spouse was in fact already dead, which is undeniably possible? He argued that there is no substantial distinction between such a situation and that of a present spouse who contracts a subsequent marriage with the knowledge that the absent spouse is already dead.

The legal questions raised are not novel. As discussed in Manuel v. People of the Philippines [512 Phil. 818, 836-838 (2005)]:

x x x Such judicial declaration also constitutes proof that the petitioner acted in good faith, and would negate criminal intent on his part when he married the private complainant and, as a consequence, he could not be held guilty of bigamy in such case. The petitioner, however, failed to discharge his burden.

The phrase “or before the absent spouse has been declared presumptively dead by means of a judgment rendered on the proceedings” in Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code was not an aggroupment of empty or useless words. The requirement for a judgment of the presumptive death of the absent spouse is for the benefit of the spouse present, as protection from the pains and the consequences of a second marriage, precisely because he/she could be charged and convicted of bigamy if the defense of good faith based on mere testimony is found incredible.

The requirement of judicial declaration is also for the benefit of the State. Under Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution, “the State shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.” Marriage is a social institution of the highest importance. Public policy, good morals and the interest of society require that the marital relation should be surrounded with every safeguard and its severance only in the manner prescribed and the causes specified by law. The laws regulating civil marriages are necessary to serve the interest, safety, good order, comfort or general welfare of the community and the parties can waive nothing essential to the validity of the proceedings.

A civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones; it enhances the welfare of the community.

In a real sense, there are three parties to every civil marriage; two willing spouses and an approving State. On marriage, the parties assume new relations to each other and the State touching nearly on every aspect of life and death. The consequences of an invalid marriage to the parties, to innocent parties and to society, are so serious that the law may well take means calculated to ensure the procurement of the most positive evidence of death of the first spouse or of the presumptive death of the absent spouse after the lapse of the period provided for under the law. One such means is the requirement of the declaration by a competent court of the presumptive death of an absent spouse as proof that the present spouse contracts a subsequent marriage on a well-grounded belief of the death of the first spouse. Indeed, “men readily believe what they wish to be true,” is a maxim of the old jurists. To sustain a second marriage and to vacate a first because one of the parties believed the other to be dead would make the existence of the marital relation determinable, not by certain extrinsic facts, easily capable of forensic ascertainment and proof, but by the subjective condition of individuals. Only with such proof can marriage be treated as so dissolved as to permit second marriages. Thus, Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code has made the dissolution of marriage dependent not only upon the personal belief of parties, but upon certain objective facts easily capable of accurate judicial cognizance, namely, a judgment of the presumptive death of the absent spouse.

Related Case Briefs:
a)       City of Dumaguete vs. Philippine Ports Authority, 671 Phil .610 (2011)
b)       Purcon, Jr. v. MRM Philippines, Inc., 588 Phil. 308, 314 (2008)
c)       APEX Mining, Inc. v. Court of Appeals 377 Phil. 482
d)       Legarda v. Court of Appeals, 272-A Phil. 394 (1991)
e)       Callangan v. People of the Philippines 526 Phil. 239 (2006)
f)       Heirs of Arturo Garcia I v. Municipality of Iba, Zambales, 764 Phil. 408
g)       Manuel v. People of the Philippines [512 Phil. 818, 836-838 (2005)
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THINGS DECIDED:

A.       The nature of an action, as well as which court or body has jurisdiction over it, is determined based on the allegations contained in the complaint of the plaintiff, irrespective of whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to recover upon all or some of the claims asserted therein.

B.       Clients are bound by the actions of their counsel in the conduct of their case. If it were otherwise, and a lawyer’s mistake or negligence was admitted as a reason for the opening of the case, there would be no end to litigation so long as counsel had not been sufficiently diligent or experienced or learned. The only exception to the general rule is when the counsel’s actuations are gross or palpable, resulting in serious injustice to client, that courts should accord relief to the party.

C.       The right to appeal is neither a natural right nor is it a component of due process. It is a mere statutory privilege, and may be exercised only in the manner and in accordance with the provisions of law.

D.      Judicial declaration also constitutes proof that the petitioner acted in good faith, and would negate criminal intent on his part when he married the private complainant and, as a consequence, he could not be held guilty of bigamy in such case.

E.       Article 349 of the Revised Penal Code has made the dissolution of marriage dependent not only upon the personal belief of parties, but upon certain objective facts easily capable of accurate judicial cognizance, namely, a judgment of the presumptive death of the absent spouse.

‘Stand by things decided’ ~ Stare Decisis


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