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People vs Bernas

When the accused pleads guilty to the charge, both the trial judge and the defense counsel must observe the stringent requirements of the
Rules of Court and applicable jurisprudence in order to safeguard the constitutional rights of the accused. In the present case, the defense
counsel not only failed to protect the rights of his client; worse, he even advised him to plead guilty to the Information that had failed to allege the
essential elements of qualified rape. As a consequence, appellant was wrongly sentenced to death.

Facts:
• For automatic review by this Court are two related Decisions, (A) Criminal Case No. L-1889 and (B) Criminal Cases Nos. L-1893 and L-
1896
o Criminal Case No. L-1889
 Court is morally convinced that the accused Roberto Bernas is GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape
o Criminal Case Nos. L-1893 to L-1896
 Criminal Case No. L-1894 and in Criminal Case No. L-1895, respectively, the prosecution having failed to establish
sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the accused Roberto Bernas is
ACQUITTED of the crime as charged
 In Criminal Case No. L-1893 and Criminal Case No. L-1896, the Court is morally convinced that the accused Roberto
Bernas is GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of rape
• Assistant Provincial Prosecutor Esperidion R. Solano charged appellant with rape in seven separate Informations. The latter was
acquitted under four Informations and convicted under the other three
o Crim Case No. L-188[9]

“That on or about the [1st] day of July, 1996 at about 8:00 o’clock in the evening in
Barangay Tible, Municipality of Sipocot, Province of Camarines Sur, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-
named accused who is the father of herein private complainant, with lewd and unchaste design, did then and there wilfully, unlawfully and
feloniously have carnal knowledge of Evelyn Bernas y Tolentino, his 12 year old daughter, and to her damage and prejudice

o Crim. Case No. L-1893

“That on or about May 7, 1996, more or less 10:00 o’clock in the evening, at Barangay Tible, Municipality of Sipocot, Province of Camarines Sur,
Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, did then and there
willfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with his daughter Mary Jane Bernas y Tolentino, a minor against her will and consent
and to her damage and prejudice.

o Crim. Case No. L-1896


“That on or about June 10, 1996, more or less 9:00 o’clock in the evening, at Barangay Tible, Municipality of Sipocot, Province of Camarines
Sur, Philippines and within the jurisdiction of this Honorable Court, the above-named accused, by means of force and intimidation, did then and
there wilfully, unlawfully and feloniously have carnal knowledge with his daughter Mary Jane Bernas y Tolentino, a minor, against her will and
consent and to her damage and prejudice.”

• When arraigned on the charges, appellant, with the assistance of counsel, pleaded not guilty.
• Thereafter, the prosecution presented its evidence
• After the prosecution rested its case, appellant -- through his counsel -- manifested that he did not want to present any evidence and
was submitting the case for decision, based on the evidence presented by the prosecution.
• After being satisfied that the waiver was voluntary and intelligent, the RTC considered the cases submitted for decision
• Thereafter, the prosecution moved to reopen the case, it reasoned that it had failed to present the Birth Certificate of the victim, Evelyn
Bernas, necessary to prove the minority of the victim
• The court a quo granted the Motion to Reopen the case
• In Criminal Cases Nos. L-1893 and L-1896, before the prosecution presented its evidence, appellant -- through his counsel -- moved for
the change of his former plea of not guilty to that of guilty, a Motion which the RTC granted
• Appellant was thus re-arraigned, and he pleaded guilty to the criminal charges.
• The trial court held that appellant, through force and intimidation, had carnal knowledge of his two daughters: Evelyn (then 13 years
old) on July 1, 1996 and May 7, 1996, and Marigen (then 15 years old) on June 10, 1996.
• Hence, this automatic review before us

Issue: W/N court a-quo gravely erred in accepting accused-appellant’s improvident pleas of guilty to a capital offense and in failing to conduct
a searching inquiry as to whether the accused-appellant fully understood the consequences of his plea.

Held: Yes, decisions are set aside

Ratio:

There was an improvident plea of guilty due to an insufficient search inquiry


Appellant argues that the trial court improvidently accepted his pleas of guilt to capital offenses without first conducting a searching inquiry on
whether he had fully understood the consequences of his pleas. We agree. The Court observes that, indeed, sorely insufficient was the manner
in which the trial judge conducted the inquiry into the voluntariness of the change to a plea of guilt and of appellant’s comprehension thereof.
From the foregoing (see stenographer’s notes), it is clear that the trial court did not satisfactorily conduct a searching inquiry into the
voluntariness of the change of plea by appellant and into his full comprehension of it. Worse, the trial judge advised the accused that “[i]f we
proceed with the trial, and if it is proven that you had committed the crime as charged, the penalty would be x x x death sentences.”

Section 3, Rule 116 of the Rules of Court mandates:


“SEC. 3. Plea of guilty to a capital offense; reception of evidence. -- When the accused pleads guilty to a capital offense, the court shall conduct
a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of his plea and shall require the prosecution to prove his
guilt and the precise degree of culpability. The accused may also present evidence in his behalf.”

People v. Aranzado
The Court reiterated the rules a trial court must observe when an accused desires to plead guilty to a capital offense:
1. The court must conduct a searching inquiry into the voluntariness and full comprehension of the consequences of the plea
2. The court must require the prosecution to present evidence to prove the guilt of the accused and the precise degree of his culpability
3. The court must ask the accused if he desires to present evidence in his behalf and allow him to do so if he desires.

Moreover, in Aranzado, the Court explained how the first requirement -- a “searching inquiry” -- should be conducted, as follows:

“(1) Ascertain from the accused himself (a) how he was brought into the custody of the law; (b) whether he had the assistance of a competent
counsel during the custodial and preliminary investigations; and (c) under what conditions he was detained and interrogated during the
investigations. These the court shall do in order to rule out the possibility that the accused has been coerced or placed under a state of duress
either by actual threats or physical harm coming from malevolent or avenging quarters.

“(2) Ask the defense counsel a series of questions as to whether he had conferred with, and completely explained to the accused the meaning
and consequences of a plea of guilty.

“(3) Elicit information about the personality profile of the accused, such as his age, socio-economic status, and educational background, which
may serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed plea of guilty.

“(4) Inform the accused [of] the exact length of imprisonment or nature of the penalty under the law and the certainty that he will serve such
sentence. Not infrequently indeed an accused pleads guilty in the hope of a lenient treatment or upon bad advice or because of bad promises of
the authorities or parties of a lighter penalty should [h]e admit guilt or express remorse. It is the duty of the judge to see to it that the accused
does not labor under these mistaken impressions.

“(5) Require the accused to fully narrate the incident that spawned the charges against him or make him reenact the manner in which he
perpetrated the crime, or cause him to supply missing details of significance.”

It is clear that the court a quo failed to meet these exacting guidelines
First, the records do not show whether the defense counsel was asked a series of questions on whether he had explained the meaning and the
consequences of appellant’s change of plea. Second, no information was elicited by the trial court about the personality profile of appellant that
may serve as a trustworthy index of his capacity to give a free and informed plea of guilt. Third, the trial court erroneously told him that: “[i]f we
proceed with the trial, and if it is proven that you had committed the crime as charged, the penalty would be x x x death sentences.” This implied
that it would be better for him not to proceed with the trial, because if it was going to be proven that he committed the crimes charged, then the
death penalty would surely be meted out to him. Finally, the RTC did not require him to fully narrate the “rape incidents” or reenact the manner
in which he had perpetrated the crimes.

The defense counsel was careless, if not outrightly incompetent, in protecting the rights of appellant.
First, he failed to object to the sufficiency of the Information in Criminal Case No. 1889 (this will be explained further below). Worse, he advised
the latter to plead guilty to an Information that did not sufficiently state all the elements of qualified rape. Second, despite the initial Motion of the
defense counsel to have a pretrial of the aforesaid cases, he later moved to waive this right after the hearing was postponed several times.

The Information in Criminal Case No. L-1889 does not charge the heinous crime of rape
Other than the allegation of carnal knowledge, no other element of rape as defined by law is alleged in the Information. More to the point, it does
not state that the rape was committed through force, violence, intimidation, threat or even through moral ascendancy. It does not even allege
that the carnal knowledge was without the consent or against the will of Evelyn. The real nature of the criminal charge is determined by the
actual recital of facts in the complaint or information

People v. Mendoza
“It is well settled that the real nature of the criminal charge is determined not from the caption or preamble of the Information nor from the
specification of the provision of law alleged to have been violated, they being conclusions of law, but by the actual recital of facts in the complaint
or information.”

The Court explained that the purpose of the information was to inform the accused of the nature and cause of the charge against him so as to
enable him to prepare a suitable defense. Equally important, he cannot be convicted of an offense higher than that with which he is charged

In sum
Since the Information in Criminal Case No. L-1889 fails to allege the essential elements of qualified rape, appellant should not have been
convicted of that crime. Otherwise, his constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him would be
violated. And yet, counsel advised him to plead guilty of qualified rape, and the trial court convicted him accordingly.
Because in its proceedings the RTC failed to observe the exacting guidelines on how to conduct a “searching inquiry,” and because the defense
counsel failed to protect the right of appellant to due process, we have no other choice but to remand the case to the court a quo for further
proceedings that would conform with what we have heretofore expressed