The Court adopted in toto the Decision dated January 29, 2014 of the CA, the pertinent portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, the Court ADOPTS the findings of fact and conclusions of law in the January 29, 2014 Decision of the CA in CA-G.R. [CR-H.C.] No. 05383 and AFFIRMS said Decision finding accused appellant Ariel Layag GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of committing one (1) count of Qualified Rape by Sexual Intercourse, as defined and penalized under Article 266-A paragraph 1 in relation to Article 266-B (1) of the RPC, two counts of Qualified Rape by Sexual Assault, as defined and penalized under paragraph 2, Article 266-A in relation to Article 266-B (1) of the RPC, and one count of Acts of Lasciviousness, as defined and penalized under Article 336 of the RPC, WITH MODIFICATION as to the award of damages.
Subsequently, the Court issued an Entry of Judgment dated October 14, 2015 declaring that the aforesaid Resolution had already become final and executory. However, the Court received a Letter dated July 18, 2016 from the Bureau of Corrections informing us of the death of accused appellant on July 30, 2015, as evidenced by the Certificate of Death attached thereto.
May the Court reopen the case despite the finality of the August 3, 2015 Resolution?
In Bigler v. People, the Court explained that it has the power to relax the doctrine of immutability of judgment if, inter alia, there exists a special or compelling circumstance warranting the same, viz.:
Under the doctrine of finality of judgment or immutability of judgment, a decision that has acquired finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law, and whether it be made by the court that rendered it or by the Highest Court of the land.
Any act which violates this principle must immediately be struck down. Nonetheless, the immutability of final judgment is not a hard and fast rule as the Court has the power and prerogative to relax the same in order to serve the demands of substantial justice considering:
(a) matters of life, liberty, honor, or property; (b) the existence of special or compelling circumstances; (c) the merits of the case; (d) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules; (e) the lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory; and (j) that the other party will not be unjustly prejudiced thereby.
In this case, Layag’s death which occurred prior to the promulgation of the Resolution dated August 3, 2015 – a matter which the Court was belatedly informed of – clearly shows that there indeed exists a special or compelling circumstance warranting the re-examination of the case despite its finality.
There is a need to reconsider and set aside said Resolution and enter a new one dismissing the criminal cases against Layag.
Under prevailing law and jurisprudence, Layag’s death prior to his final conviction by the Court renders dismissible the criminal cases against him.
Article 89 (1) of the Revised Penal Code provides that criminal liability is totally extinguished by the death of the accused, to wit:
Article 89. How criminal liability is totally extinguished. – Criminal liability is totally extinguished:
1. By the death of the convict, as to the personal penalties; and as to pecuniary penalties, liability therefor is extinguished only when the death of the offender occurs before final judgment;
Thus, upon Layag’s death pending appeal of his conviction, the criminal action is extinguished inasmuch as there is no longer a defendant to stand as the accused; the civil action instituted therein for the recovery of the civil liability ex delicto is ipso facto extinguished, grounded as it is on the criminal action. However, it is well to clarify that Layag’s civil liability in connection with his acts against the victim, AAA, may be based on sources other than delicts; in which case, AAA may file a separate civil action against the estate of Layag, as may be warranted by law and procedural rules.By reason of the death of accused-appellant Ariel Layag, the Court DECLARE the instant case CLOSED and TERMINATED.