Records also bear out that the earlier civil case against Armando, the petitioner’s husband, was also finally resolved in his favor since the obligation had already been settled. This civil case is also intertwined with the administrative and criminal cases filed against petitioner.
Thus, it appears that the filing of the criminal case against petitioner was merely an afterthought considering that the civil case against her husband and the administrative case against her were resolved in the couple’s favor.
In light of what has been shown, the Court is inclined to suspend the rules to give the petitioner a chance to seek relief from the Sandiganbayan. The Court likewise makes exception to the general rule that the mistakes and negligence of counsel bind the client. Doubtless, the filing of the appeal before the CA by the petitioner’s former counsel was not simple negligence. It constituted gross negligence.
It bears stressing at this point, that the rule which states that the mistakes of counsel bind the client may not be strictly followed where observance of it would result in outright deprivation of the client’s liberty or property, or where the interests of justice so require. In rendering justice, procedural infirmities take a backseat against substantive rights of litigants. Corollarily, if the strict application of the rules would tend to frustrate rather than promote justice, this Court is not without power to exercise its judicial discretion in relaxing the rules of procedure. The Court takes note of settled jurisprudence which holds that:
The function of the rule that negligence or mistake of counsel in procedure is imputed to and binding upon the client, as any other procedural rule, is to serve as an instrument to advance the ends of justice. When in the circumstances of each case the rule desert[s] its proper office as an aid to justice and becomes its great hindrance and chief enemy, its rigors must be relaxed to admit exceptions thereto and to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice.
x x x x x x x x x
The court has the power to except a particular case from the operation of the rule whenever the purposes of justice require it.
The Court also takes note that the petitioner has no participatory negligence. The resulting dismissal by the CA was utterly attributable to the gross negligence of her counsel. For said reason, the Court is not averse to suspending its own rules in the pursuit of justice. “Where reckless or gross negligence of counsel deprives the client of due process of law, or when its application will result in outright deprivation of the client’s liberty or property or where the interests of justice so require, relief is accorded to the client who suffered by reason of the lawyer’s gross or palpable mistake or negligence.”
“Aside from matters of life, liberty, honor or property which would warrant the suspension of the rules of the most mandatory character and an examination and review by the appellate court of the lower court’s findings of fact, the other elements that are to be considered are the following: (1) the existence of special or compelling circumstances, (2) the merits of the case, (3) a cause not entirely attributable to the fault or negligence of the party favored by the suspension of the rules, (4) a lack of any showing that the review sought is merely frivolous and dilatory, (5) the other party will not be unjustly prejudiced thereby.” All these factors are attendant in this case. In the case of Tiangco v. Land Bank of the Philippines, it was written:
Dismissal of appeals on purely technical grounds is not encouraged. The rules of procedure ought not to be applied in a very rigid and technical sense, for they have been adopted to help secure, not override, substantial justice. Judicial action must be guided by the principle that a party-litigant should be given the fullest opportunity to establish the merits of his complaint or defense rather than for him to lose life, liberty, honor or property on technicalities. When a rigid application of the rules tends to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, this Court is empowered to suspend their operation.
Petitioner’s liberty here is at stake. The MCTC convicted her and imposed upon her the penalty of five (5) years imprisonment and the disqualification to hold office. This MCTC decision was affirmed by the RTC. If she has to suffer in prison, her guilt must be established beyond reasonable doubt, availing all the remedies provided for under the law to protect her right. It is highly unjust for her to lose her liberty only because of the gross negligence of her former counsel.