Mario Gumabon vs Director of the Bureau of Prisons

November 6, 2010
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37 SCRA 420 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Bill of Rights – Equal Protection – Hernandez Doctrine

Mario Gumabon et al were charged with rebellion punished under Art. 134 of the Revised Penal Code. Their offense was complexed with multiple murder, robbery, arson, and kidnapping. They were all sentenced to reclusion perpetua. Their sentence had become final and executory when the Hernandez Doctrine was promulgated by the Supreme Court. The Hernandez Doctrine simply states that murder cannot be complexed with rebellion because murder, a regular crime, is necessarily absorbed by rebellion. Hence, without such complexion, the penalty must be lower than reclusion perpetua. Gumabon asserted that a non-application of the Hernandez Doctrine will lead to a deprivation of a constitutional right, namely, the denial of equal protection. Gumabon et al, nonetheless, were convicted by Court of First Instance but they were convicted for the very same rebellion for which Hernandez and others were convicted – (The law under which they [Gumabon et al] were convicted is the very same law under which the latter [Hernandez et al] were convicted.) It had not and has not been changed. For the same crime, committed under the same law, how can the SC, in conscience, allow Gumabon et al to suffer life imprisonment, while others can suffer only prision mayor?

ISSUE: Whether or not Gumabon et al is entitled to the effects of the Hernandez Doctrine.

HELD:  Yes. The SC ruled in favor of Gumabon et al. The continued incarceration after the twelve-year period when such is the maximum length of imprisonment in accordance with the controlling doctrine, when others similarly convicted have been freed, is fraught with implications at war with equal protection. That is not to give it life. On the contrary, it would render it nugatory. Otherwise, what would happen is that for an identical offense, the only distinction lying in the finality of the conviction of one being before the Hernandez ruling and the other after, a person duly sentenced for the same crime would be made to suffer different penalties. If Gumabon et al would continue to endure imprisonment, then this would be repugnant to equal protection, people similarly situated were not similarly dealt with.

What is required under this constitutional guarantee is the uniform operation of legal norms so that all persons under similar circumstances would be accorded the same treatment both in the privileges conferred and the liabilities imposed. As was noted in a recent decision: Favoritism and undue preference cannot be allowed. For the principle is that equal protection and security shall be given to every person under circumstances, which if not identical are analogous. If law be looked upon in terms of burden or charges, those that fall within a class should be treated in the same fashion, whatever restrictions cast on some in the group equally binding on the rest.

 

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