475 PHIL. 568
CALLEJO, SR., J.:
That on or about the early morning of August 15, 1993, at night time purposely sought to better accomplish their end and facilitate the commission of their offense, at Barangay Uddiawan, Municipality of Solano, Province of Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines, and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, conspiring, confederating together and mutually helping each other, and with the use of motor vehicles, more particularly two six-by-six trucks bearing plate numbers BAW-150 and BBP-606, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously, with intent of gain, gather, collect, remove, possess, smuggle and transport three hundred fifty-seven pieces of sawn timber of various sizes of the common hardwood species with a total volume of four thousand seven hundred fifty-one (4,751) board feet valued at fifty-seven thousand and twelve pesos (P57,012.00), Philippine currency, plus imposable forest charges, surcharges and other penalties, without having first secured and obtained from the proper authorities the necessary permit and/or supporting legal documents as required under existing forestry laws, rules and regulations, to the damage and prejudice of the Republic of the Philippines in the aforesaid amount.After due proceedings, the trial court set the promulgation of its decision on September 8, 1998. When the case was called, Atty. Rodolfo Lorenzo, the counsel of the respondents, informed the trial court that Almuete and Lloren were ill, and that Ila was not in court because he was not notified of the scheduled promulgation. The counsel presented to the court a medical certificate attesting to the illness of respondents Lloren and Almuete. The trial court found the absence of the respondents unjustified and proceeded with the promulgation of its decision, finding them guilty of the crime charged. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
CONTRARY TO LAW.
WHEREFORE, finding the accused, namely, Efren S. Almuete, Johnny Ila y Ramel and Joel Lloren y dela Cruz GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of violation of Section 68, P.D. No. 705, as amended, they are each sentenced to suffer the penalty of 18 years, 2 months and 21 days of reclusion temporal as minimum period to 40 years of reclusion perpetua as maximum period. Costs against the said accused.The court also cancelled the bail bonds of the respondents. The latter filed a motion for the reconsideration of the decision on the following grounds: (a) they were deprived of their right to be present at the promulgation of the trial court’s decision; (b) lack of factual and legal basis for their conviction of the crime charged; and, (c) the penalty imposed by the court was excessive. The respondents prayed, thus:
WHEREFORE, premises well considered, it is most respectfully prayed that the promulgation be set aside as being null and void and the bail posted by them reinstated. In the event that the Court refuses to set aside the promulgation that the Decision be reconsidered and order the acquittal of the accused; that in the event the Court denies the reconsideration that the accused be allowed to be free under their own bail and/or be required to post additional bail for their provisional liberty during the pendency of this case. Further, accused prays for other reliefs which are just and proper under the circumstances.On October 12, 1998, the trial court issued an Order denying the motion of the respondents for lack of merit.
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed:On May 19, 2000, the Court of Appeals (CA) rendered judgment granting the petition. The appellate court ordered a re-promulgation of the decision of the trial court against Ila and Lloren, but acquitted petitioner Almuete, the head (deacon) of the Iglesia ni Cristo, on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt for the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt. The decretal portion of the decision reads:
a) That the promulgation of the decision be set aside as having been done with undue haste and, therefore, is void ab initio;
b) To declare the decision as null and void as the decision is not based on competent clear and convincing evidence;
c) That in the alternative that the decision be modified and/or amended in accordance with law;
d) That in the meantime, a temporary restraining order is prayed for to prevent further damage and injuries to the accused-petitioners;
e) To issue an injunction against the respondent judge pending the resolution of this case;
f) To restore the bail of the accused which have been ordered cancelled by respondent judge in the meanwhile that the case is pending.
Petitioners pray for other reliefs which are just and proper under the circumstances.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the present petition is hereby GRANTED. On the basis of the evidence on record, accused Efren S. Almuete should be, as he is hereby ACQUITTED of the charge against him.Respondents Lloren and Ila filed a motion for the reconsideration of the decision of the appellate court, praying that they also be acquitted, on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove their guilt for the crime charged. The appellate court denied the said motion.
The court a quo is ORDERED to re-promulgate the decision in the presence of the accused Ila and Lloren, duly assisted by counsel of their own choice, after notice and allow them to appeal. Let the complete records of this case be remanded to the court a quo.
This Court further finds the promulgation of the decision by the trial court on September 8, 1998 and the denial of the motion for reconsideration thereof on September 22, 1998 as being issued with grave abuse of discretion. The accused Almuete and Ila during the promulgation were not present as they were then sick. A medical certificate was issued to attest to their sickness. In the case of Lloren, he was not duly notified of the date of the promulgation.In contrast to the curt ratiocinations of the CA, the trial court amply explained why it proceeded to promulgate its decision despite the presentation of a medical certificate by Ila and Almuete:
Under Section 6, Rule 120 of the Rules of Court, the presence in person of the accused at the promulgation of judgment is MANDATORY in all cases except where the conviction is for a light offense (Florendo v. Court of Appeals, 239 SCRA 325 ).
The accused were, therefore, denied their right to be present during the promulgation of the decision since they have not waived their rights thereto.
With respect to the first ground, the pertinent rule is Section 6, par. 3, Rule 120 of the Revised Rules of Court, properly quoted in the Opposition to the Motion for Reconsideration filed by Atty. Arthur P. Castillo, Special DENR Prosecutor.We agree with the trial court. We do not discern any abuse of discretion in the trial court’s promulgation of its decision in the absence of respondents Lloren and Ila, despite the presentation of a medical certificate thereon.
It is clear from the said rule that if the accused failed to appear without justifiable cause, the judgment of conviction may be promulgated. The question, therefore, is, was the non-appearance of the accused during the promulgation of sentence justified or not?
It will be assumed that the accused were duly notified because (1) their counsel, Atty. Rodolfo Cornejo, appeared; and (2) Atty. Cornejo submitted medical certificates for accused Efren Almuete and Joel Lloren. Accused Johnny Ila did not appear anymore after arraignment. He was duly notified through accused Almuete. Atty. Cornejo moved for the cancellation of the promulgation of sentence averring that Almuete and Lloren were sick as evidenced by medical certificates. Atty. Arthur Castillo and Asst. Provincial Prosecutor Albert Castillo opposed the motion on the ground that the medical certificates were not verified.
Upon examining the medical certificates submitted, the Court decided by (sic) proceed with the promulgation of the sentence. Atty. Cornejo, defense counsel, moved that only the dispositive portion of the sentence be read; he did not move for the reconsideration of the denial of his motion to cancel promulgation. The Court directed the Court Interpreter to read the decision from that portion explaining the penalty being imposed up to the dispositive portion.
When the court examined the medical certificates of accused Almuete and Lloren before the promulgation of sentence, it noticed and could sense that the same were being used as a play to delay the promulgation.
Firstly, the medical certificates were not verified. Any person can produce such unverified medical certificate from any physician even when he is not sick or may even fake the same. Hence, the need to verify the certificate or place the physician under oath. This step will insure that the patient really appeared before the physician and that he was really sick of the ailment described therein.
Secondly, a reading of the medical certificate of accused Almuete would show that his alleged ailment was one that needed no bed rest and is natural to anyone who was about to be sentenced by court. Nowhere in said certificate is the statement that he should stay in bed. The medical certificate states “To Whom It May Concern: This is to certify that Mr. Efren Almuete consulted the undersigned due to stress, anxiety and some physiological disturbance. He is advised to take some tranquilizers and rest. Issued for general purpose.” It was signed by Dr. Ferdinand T. Tolentino. It is dated September 7, 1998, the day before the promulgation. If every accused who suffers the same ailment a day before the promulgation will be allowed to stay away from such promulgation, then no one will be sentenced as such condition is common among those who are about to be sentenced. It must bear emphasis that the medical certificate was dated a day before the actual promulgation. Had Almuete taken the advise of the physician, he would have been fit to appear the following day to hear the sentence. Moreover, the wordings of the certificate were such that one senses the reluctance of the physician to issue the certificate but had to do so out of consideration of friendship or insistence of the “patient.” Hence, when accused Almuete failed to appear to hear the promulgation of his sentence, his absence was unjustifiable.
With respect to Lloren, aside from the fact that his medical certificate was unverified, the same was not issued by a Government Physician; hence, unreliable. By actual practice, only government physicians, by virtue of their oath as civil service officials, are competent to examine persons and issue medical certificates which will be used by the government. Since the examination of Lloren was performed in a private medical clinic, it can be assumed that the physician, if the medical certificate is really genuine, is a private practitioner who is not a government physician.
As regards Johnny Ila, he did not justify his absence. Hence, promulgation could be validly made against him.
It is interesting to note that right after the promulgation of sentence to the accused on September 8, 1998, the Court cancelled the bail bonds put up by the accused and issued warrants of arrest against them in accordance with the above-mentioned rule. Almuete who was suffering from “stress, anxiety and some physiological disturbance” and Lloren who was suffering from “influenza” could not be found in their respective residence. From this evasion, it can be deduced that they did not appear because they wanted to know the tenor of the decision so that if it is adverse, they could dig deeper to hide. As a matter of fact, two days before the promulgation, Almuete was asking the tenor of the decision of the court from one of the stenographers who feigned ignorance. Up to the present, Almuete, et al., have not surfaced to surrender despite broadcast and print media announcements that they are wanted. The accused could have shown their respect for the court and its processes by surrendering to authorities. They have not in defiance of this Court.