The accused-appellants Juan Nabaluna and Edgardo Empuerto, were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of Robbery with Homicide and were sentenced to suffer the penalty of death.
The uniform and main thrust of appellants’ principal argument is that, their extra-judicial statements were improperly admitted as evidence against them as these were obtained in violation of the Constitution, particularly because they were not then assisted by counsel when they were undergoing investigation. Appellants aver that while their extra-judicial statements carry a foreword that the accused were respectively advised of their constitutional rights, nevertheless, they were never informed that if they cannot afford a lawyer to assist them in the investigation the State will provide them with one, free of charge.
Can the voluntariness test in the Galit doctrine be applied retroactively?
No. The Court is mindful of the structures and pronouncements found in the case of Morales vs. Ponce Enrile, G.R. Nos. 61106 and 61107, promulgated on April 26, 1983, 121 SCRA 538, which was quoted and reiterated in the case of People vs. Galit, L-51770, March 20, 1985 particularly as to the requisite steps before a person under custodial investigation may be deemed to have properly waived his right to counsel such, as a counsel being present to assist him when the accused manifests such waiver.
However, the stated requirements were laid down in the said cases, to serve as governing guidelines, only after the judgment in this case had already been rendered by the trial court. Consequently, no error should attach to the admission by the trial court of the extra-judicial statements given by the accused as evidence in this case. The trial court was then sufficiently convinced that the accused had waived assistance of counsel and there was at that time no pronounced guidelines requiring that the waiver of counsel by accused can be properly made only with the presence and assistance of a counsel. It may also be added that the facts of the present case can be differentiated from those stated in the cited case of People vs. Galit, where the acquittal therein was due to absence of any other evidence aside from the supposed confession of the accused.
What stands out, however, is that, in both extrajudicial statements given by appellants Empuerto and Nabaluna it is therein duly acknowledged by herein appellants that they were duly informed of their constitutional rights to remain silent and to be assisted by counsel. Of added significance is the fact that when the second set of extra-judicial statements were later given by the accused Juan Nabaluna on before special Counsel Gabriel Trocio, Jr., the latter again informed him of his constitutional rights and even told said accused that he, could recommend said accused to the Citizens’ Legal Assistance Office (CLAO) if the latter could not afford to hire the services of counsel. However, appellant Juan Nabaluna waived his right to be assisted by counsel.