Mayor “Jong” Amado Corpus Jr., vs. Hon. Judge Ramon D. Pamular – G.R. No. 186403, September 05, 2018

Facts:

Angelito Espinosa (Angelito) was shot by Carlito Samonte (Samonte) at Corpuz Street, Cuyapo, Nueva Ecjia on June 4, 2008, causing his death. Samonte was caught in flagrante delicto and thereafter was arrested. After the inquest proceedings, an Information for murder was filed against him.

Upon arraignment, Samonte admitted the killing but pleaded self-defense. Trial on the merits ensued.

The wife of the deceased, Mrs. Priscilla Alcantara-Espinosa (Priscilla), filed a complaint-affidavit captioned as Reply-Affidavit after the prosecution presented its second witness. She also filed an unsworn but signed Reply to the Affidavit of Witnesses before First Assistant Provincial Prosecutor and Officer-in-Charge Floro F. Florendo (Florendo).

Based on the affidavit executed by Alexander Lozano (Lozano) on June 30, 2008, Mayor Amado “Jong” Corpus (Corpus) was the one who instructed Samonte to kill Angelito.

In response to Priscilla’s Reply-Affidavit, Corpuz filed a Rejoinder Affidavit. He also filed a Counter-Affidavit against witness Lozano’s affidavit.

In its October 7, 2008 Resolution, the Regional Trial Court dismissed Priscilla’s complaint and the attached affidavits of witnesses.

Priscilla filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which was opposed by Corpus. Florendo reconsidered and set aside the October 7, 2008 Resolution.

In his January 26, 2009 Resolution, Florendo found probable cause to indict Corpus for Angelit0’s murder. He directed the filing of an amended information before the Regional Trial Court.

Despite Florendo taking over the case, Bonifacio still issued a Review Resolution dated January 26, 2009, where he reinstated the Regional Trial Court October 7, 2008 Resolution and affirmed the dismissal of the murder complaint against Corpus.

Meanwhile, Florendo filed an undated Motion to Amend Information, praying for the admission of the amended information. Corpus and Samonte opposed this Motion by filing a Joint Urgent Manifestation/Opposition dated February 2, 2009.

The prosecution filed a Motion for Reconsideration. Samonte and Corpus opposed this through a Vehement Opposition and Omnibus Motion dated February 4, 2009. They averred that Judge Pamular’s action was premature considering that the Motion to Amend Information has yet to be scheduled for hearing. Moreover, Samonte was already arraigned. Samonte and Corpus also claimed that the issuance of a warrant of arrest should be suspended because the latter intended to appeal through a Petition for Review before the Department of Justice.

Samonte and Corpus jointly filed a Petition for Review dated February 9, 2009 before the Department of Justice. They also filed a Manifestation and Motion dated February 9, 2009 with the Regional Trial Court, asking it to desist from acting further on the Amended Information in view of the Petition for Review filed with the Department of Justice.

However, despite the manifestation, Judge Pamular granted the motion to amend the information and to admit the attached amended information. The assailed Order also directed, among others, the issuance of a warrant of arrest against Corpus.

Hence, a direct recourse before this Court, through a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 with a prayer for an immediate issuance of a temporary restraining order, was filed by Corpus and Samonte.

Issue:
whether the inclusion of Corpus and the insertion of the phrase “conspiring and confederating together” in the amended information violates Rule 110, Section 14 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibits substantial amendment of information that is prejudicial to the rights of the accused after his or her arraignment.

Held:
No. Before an accused enters his or her plea, either formal or substantial amendment of the complaint or information may be made without leave of court. After an entry of plea, only a formal amendment can be made provided it is with leave of court and it does not prejudice the rights of the accused. After arraignment, there can be no substantial amendment except if it is beneficial to the accused.

Since only petitioner Samonte has been arraigned, only he can invoke this rule. Petitioner Corpus cannot invoke this argument because he has not yet been arraigned.

Once an accused is arraigned and enters his or her plea, Section 14 prohibits any substantial amendment especially those that may prejudice his or her rights. One of these rights includes the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against him or her, which is given life during arraignment.

Arraignment is necessary to bring an accused in court and in notifying him or her of the cause and accusations against him or her. “Procedural due process requires that the accused be arraigned so that he [or she] may be informed of the reason for his [or her] indictment, the specific charges he [or she] is bound to face, and the corresponding penalty that could be possibly meted against him [or her].”

It is during arraignment that an accused is given the chance to know the particular charge against him or her for the first time. There can be no substantial amendment after plea because it is expected that the accused will collate his or her defenses based on the contents of the information. “The theory in law is that since the accused officially begins to prepare his [or her] defense against the accusation on the basis of the recitals in the information read to him [or her] during arraignment, then the prosecution must establish its case on the basis of the same information.” Aside from violating the accused’s right to due process, any substantial amendment in the information will burden the accused in preparing for his or her defense.

An allegation of conspiracy to add a new accused without changing the prosecution’s theory that the accused willfully shot the victim is merely a formal amendment. However, the rule provides that only formal amendments not prejudicial to the rights of the accused are allowed after plea. The test of whether an accused is prejudiced by an amendment is to determine whether a defense under the original information will still be available even after the amendment is made and if any evidence that an accused might have would remain applicable even in the amended information.

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