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SECOND DIVISION ROLLY PENTECOSTES, Complainant, A.M. No. P-07-2337 [Formerly A.M. OCA IPI No.

04-2060-P] Present: - versus QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson, CARPIO, CARPIO MORALES, TINGA, and VELASCO, JR., JJ. Promulgated:

ATTY. HERMENEGILDO MARASIGAN, Clerk of Court VI, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Kabacan,North Cotabato, Respondent.

August 3, 2007 x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

DECISION
CARPIO MORALES, J.: Atty. Hermenegildo Marasigan (respondent), Clerk of Court VI of the Office of the Clerk of Court of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Kabacan, North Cotabato, stands administratively charged with grave misconduct and conduct unbecoming a public officer for the loss of a motorcycle-subject matter of a criminal case which was placed under his care and custody. The administrative case against respondent stemmed from a sworn affidavitcomplaint[1] filed on November 11, 2004 by Rolly Pentecostes (Pentecostes), the owner of a Kawasaki motorcycle, which was recovered by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) of Mlang, North Cotabato from suspected carnappers against whom a criminal case for carnapping, Criminal Case No. 1010, was lodged at Branch 22, RTC, Kabacan, North Cotabato.

On the order of the trial court, the chief of police of Mlang, North Cotabato turned over the motorcycle to respondent who acknowledged receipt thereof on August 1, 1995. After the conduct of hearings to determine the true owner of the motorcycle, the trial court issued an Order[2] of November 15, 2000 for its release to Pentecostes. Pentecostes immediately asked respondent to release the motorcycle to him. Respondent, however, told him to wait and come back repeatedly from 2001 up to the filing of the complaint. In his Comment[3] filed on February 9, 2005, respondent gave the following explanation: After the motorcycle was delivered to him by the Mlang chief of police on August 1, 1995, he requested Alex Pedroso, a utility worker, to inspect the engine, chassis, and make, after which he issued an acknowledgement receipt thereof. He thereafter instructed Pedroso to bring the motorcycle to the Kabacan police station for which he (respondent) prepared a receipt. He and Pedroso visited and inspected the motorcycle every time a hearing on the criminal case was conducted. When the court finally ordered the release of the motorcycle to Pentecostes on November 15, 2000, the latter refused to receive it, claiming that it was already cannibalized and unserviceable. From that time on until 2003, Pentecostes harassed him, demanding that he be responsible for reconditioning the vehicle. During the latter part of 2004, upon the advice of the executive judge, he accompanied Pentecostes to the Kabacan police station only to discover that the motorcycle was missing. As no explanation could be offered by then Kabacan police chief Nestor Bastareche for the loss, he prepared a letter-complaint requesting for assistance in the recovery of the

motorcycle and for the conduct of an investigation. Pentecostes refused to sign the letter, however. He later discovered that the turnover receipt attached to the record of the criminal case and the page of the blotter where the turnover was recorded were missing. Hence, he submitted the sworn statements of Pedroso[4] and SPO4 Alex Ocampo[5] who confirmed the transfer of the vehicle from his custody to that of the Kabacan chief of police. Belying respondents averments, Pentecostes, in his Rejoinder,[6] contended as follows: The vehicle was in good running condition when it was delivered to respondent by police operatives[7] of Mlang. Respondents act of passing the blame to the PNP of Kabacan was a clear case of hand washing as the records showed that respondent was responsible for the safekeeping of the motorcycle. It was for this reason that he (Pentecostes) refused to sign the letter to the chief of police of Kabacan protesting the loss. Moreover, the police blotter of PNP Kabacan has no entry or record of the alleged turn over. By Resolution of October 19, 2005,[8] this Court referred the case to the Executive Judge of RTC, Kabacan, North Cotabato, for investigation, report and recommendation. Then Executive Judge Francisco G. Rabang, Jr. of the RTC, Kabacan,

North Cotabato submitted on January 16, 2006 his findings and recommendation for the dismissal of the administrative complaint against respondent.[9] In his report, Judge Rabang noted that Pentecostes denied any knowledge about the turnover of the motorcycle to the PNP ofKabacan. On the evidence for the defense, the investigating judge found that the motorcycle was delivered by the PNP of Mlang, NorthCotabato to respondent who in turn transferred it to the PNP of Kabacan.

To Judge Rabang, what remained an issue was the actual physical condition of the motorcycle when it was turned over to the PNP of Kabacan. The judge noted that there was no proof of Pentecostes claim that the vehicle was cannibalized from the time it was under respondents custody until its transfer to the PNP of Kabacan. In light of the peace and order situation in Kabacan in the late 1990s and in the early part of 2000 and the absence of a suitable courthouse then, Judge Rabang believed that respondent had made a wise decision in turning over the custody of the vehicle to the PNP of Kabacan. To Judge Rabangs report and recommendation, Pentecostes filed a Motion for Reconsideration[10] in which he assailed the conclusion that the motorcycle was no longer roadworthy and was already cannibalized when it was delivered to the office of the clerk of court from the Mlang police station. Moreover, Pentecostes maintained that the alleged turnover of the motorcycle to the police station of Kabacan was irrelevant because the proper custodian of the vehicle was respondent who should be held responsible for its eventual loss. The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) found the investigating judges recommendation to be sufficiently supported by the evidence.[11] The OCA thus concurred with Judge Rabangs recommendation for the dismissal of the complaint against respondent, subject to certain qualifications with respect to the physical condition of the vehicle upon its delivery to respondent and the latters lack of authority for the turn over of the vehicle to the PNP of Kabacan. While the investigating judge found no evidence to show the actual condition of the motorcycle at the time it was turned over to respondent, the OCA observed that the evidence presented during the investigation supported a finding that the vehicle had missing parts when it was delivered to respondent.

From the testimony of Pentecostes witness SPO2 Servando Guadalupe, the OCA noted, the motorcycle was loaded into a service vehicle for delivery to respondent. This fact, according to the OCA, could only mean that the vehicle could not run by itself. Although the OCA agreed with the investigating judge that the evidence sufficiently proved that the vehicle was turned over to the PNP of Kabacan where it got lost, it noted that respondent failed to ask prior authority from the trial court to transfer its custody. Only when respondent was having problems with Pentecostes did he bring the matter to the attention of the executive judge, the OCA added. Accordingly, the OCA recommended that respondent be reminded to secure prior authority from the court before evidence is turned over to any authorized government office or agency and that he be warned to be more careful to prevent any similar incident from arising in the future. The finding of the OCA insofar as respondents lack of authority to transfer the motorcycle is well taken, on account of which respondent is administratively liable for simple misconduct. It is the duty of the clerk of court to keep safely all records, papers, files, exhibits and public property committed to his charge.[12] Section D (4), Chapter VII of the 1991 Manual For Clerks of Court (now Section E[2], paragraph 2.2.3, Chapter VI of the 2002 Revised Manual for Clerks of Court) provides:
All exhibits used as evidence and turned over to the court and before the case/s involving such evidence shall have been terminated shall be under the custody and safekeeping of the Clerk of Court.

Similarly, Section 7 of Rule 136 of the Rules of Court, provides:


SEC. 7. Safekeeping of property. The clerk shall safely keep all record, papers, files, exhibits and public property committed to his charge, including the library of the court, and the seals and furniture belonging to his office.

From the above provisions, it is clear that as clerk of court of the RTC, Kabacan, respondent was charged with the custody and safekeeping of Pentecostes motorcycle, and to keep it until the termination of the case, barring circumstances that would justify its safekeeping elsewhere, and upon the prior authority of the trial court. No explanation was offered by respondent, however, for turning over the motorcycle. But whatever the reason was, respondent was mandated to secure prior consultations with and approval of the trial court. Moreover disconcerting is the fact that the acknowledgment receipt evidencing the turnover of the motorcycle from the trial court to the Kabacan police station was lost from the records of Criminal Case No. 1010,[13] with nary a lead as to who was responsible for it. This circumstance is viewed with disfavor as it reflects badly on the safekeeping of court records, a duty entrusted to respondent as clerk of court. With regard to the condition of the vehicle upon its delivery to respondent, the evidence indicates that it was still serviceable when it was delivered by the Mlang police to respondent and at the time it was turned over by respondent to the Kabacan police station. The Joint Affidavit[14] of SPO2 Guadalupe and Police Inspector Romeo Banaybanay categorically stated that the motorcycle was in good running condition when they delivered it to respondent. Later during his testimony, Guadalupe narrated that he was the the driver of the service jeep while Chief Banaybanay was on board the motorcycle when the vehicle was turned over to respondent on August 1, 1995.[15] Even respondents following testimony that:
x x x when x x x [he] received the motorcycle for safekeeping, he immediately delivered together with Alex Pedroso [sic] because it could be notedthat respondent do[es] not know how to drive a motorcycle, I requested x x x Alex Pedroso to accompany me and deliver [it] to [the] chief of police of Kabacan[16] (Italics supplied)

suggests that the vehicle was in running condition when respondent took and subsequently transferred its custody to the Kabacan police. This Court has repeatedly emphasized that clerks of court are essential and ranking officers of our judicial system who perform delicate functions vital to the prompt and proper administration of justice.[17] Their duties include the efficient recording, filing and management of court records and, as previously pointed out, the safekeeping of exhibits and public property committed to their charge. Clearly, they play a key role in the complement of the court and cannot be permitted to slacken on their jobs under one pretext or another.[18] They cannot err without affecting the integrity of the court or the efficient administration of justice.[19] The same responsibility bears upon all court personnel in view of their exalted positions as keepers of public faith.[20] The exacting standards of ethics and morality imposed upon court employees are reflective of the premium placed on the image of the court of justice, and that image is necessarily mirrored in the conduct, official or otherwise, of court personnel. [21] It becomes the imperative and sacred duty of everyone charged with the dispensation of justice, from the judge to the lowliest clerk, to maintain the courts good name and standing as true temples of justice.[22] By transferring Pentecostes motorcycle without authority, respondent failed to give premium to his avowed duty of keeping it under his care and possession. He must, therefore, suffer the consequences of his act or omission, which is akin to misconduct. Misconduct is a transgression of some established or definite rule of action; more particularly, it is an unlawful behavior by the public officer.[23] The misconduct is grave if it involves any of the additional elements of corruption, willful intent to violate the law or to disregard established rules, which must be proved by substantial evidence. Otherwise, the misconduct is only simple, as in this case.

The Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (Memorandum Circular No. 19, Series of 1999) classifies simple misconduct as a less grave offense, punishable by suspension of One Month and One Day to Six Months. Considering that this is respondents first offense and no taint of bad faith has been shown by his actuations, a 15-day suspension without pay is deemed appropriate.

WHEREFORE, respondent, Clerk of Court Hermenegildo Marasigan, is found guilty of Simple Misconduct. He isSUSPENDED for 15 days without pay, with a stern WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely. SO ORDERED.

CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:

LEONARDO A. QUISUMBINGAssociate Justice

ANTONIO T. CARPIO Associate Justice

-*

DANTE O. TINGA Associate Justice

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR. Associate Justice

EN BANC

Father RANHILIO C. AQUINO, LINA M. GARAN, ESTRELLA C. LOZADA, POLICARPIO L. MABBORANG, DEXTER R. MUNAR, MONICO U. TENEDRO, ANDY R. QUEBRAL, NESTOR T. RIVERA, EDUARDO C. RICAMORA, ARTHUR G. IBAEZ, AURELIO C. CALDEZ and DENU A. AGATEP, Complainants,

A.C. No. 5095

Present:
*

- versus -

PUNO, C.J. * QUISUMBING, ** YNARES-SANTIAGO, SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, and REYES, JJ. Promulgated:

Atty. EDWIN PASCUA, Respondent.

November 28, 2007

x -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x DECISION SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, J.:

For our resolution is the letter-complaint dated August 3, 1999 of Father Ranhilio C. Aquino, then Academic Head of the Philippine Judicial Academy, joined by Lina M. Garan and the other above-named complainants, against Atty. Edwin Pascua, a Notary Public in Cagayan. In his letter-complaint, Father Aquino alleged that Atty. Pascua falsified two documents committed as follows:

(1) He made it appear that he had notarized the Affidavit-Complaint of one Joseph B. Acorda entering the same as Doc. No. 1213, Page No. 243, Book III, Series of 1998, dated December 10, 1998. (2) He also made it appear that he had notarized the Affidavit-Complaint of one Remigio B. Domingo entering the same as Doc. No. 1214, Page 243, Book III, Series of 1998, dated December 10, 1998.

Father Aquino further alleged that on June 23 and July 26, 1999, Atty. Angel Beltran, Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Tuguegarao, certified that none of the above entries appear in the Notarial Register of Atty. Pascua; that the last entry therein was Document No. 1200 executed on December 28, 1998; and that, therefore, he could not have notarized Documents Nos. 1213 and 1214 on December 10, 1998.

In his comment on the letter-complaint dated September 4, 1999, Atty. Pascua admitted having notarized the two documents on December 10, 1998, but they were not entered in his Notarial Register due to the oversight of his legal secretary, Lyn Elsie C.Patli, whose affidavit was attached to his comment.

The affidavit-complaints referred to in the notarized documents were filed by Atty. Pascua with the Civil Service Commission. Impleaded as respondents therein were Lina M. Garan and the other above-named complainants. They filed with this Court a Motion to Join the Complaint and Reply to Respondents Comment. They maintain that Atty. Pascuas omission was not due to inadvertence but a clear case of falsification.[1] On November 16, 1999, we granted their motion.[2]

Thereafter, we referred the case to the Office of the Bar Confidant for investigation, report and recommendation.

On April 21, 2003, the Office of the Bar Confidant issued its Report and Recommendation partly reproduced as follows:

A notarial document is by law entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. For this reason, notaries public must observe the utmost care to comply with the formalities and the basic requirement in the performance of their duties (Realino v. Villamor, 87 SCRA 318). Under the notarial law, the notary public shall enter in such register, in chronological order, the nature of each instrument executed, sworn to, or acknowledged before him, the person executing, swearing to, or acknowledging the instrument, xxx xxx. The notary shall give to each instrument executed, sworn to, or acknowledged before him a number corresponding to the one in his register, and shall also state on the instrument the page or pages of his register on which the same is recorded. No blank line shall be left between entries (Sec. 246, Article V, Title IV, Chapter II of the Revised Administrative Code). Failure of the notary to make the proper entry or entries in his notarial register touching his notarial acts in the manner required by law is a ground for revocation of his commission (Sec. 249, Article VI). In the instant case, there is no question that the subject documents allegedly notarized by Atty. Pascua were not recorded in his notarialregister. Atty. Pascua claims that the omission was not intentional but due to oversight of his staff. Whichever is the case, Atty. Pascua cannot escape liability. His failure to enter into his notarial register the documents that he admittedly notarized is a dereliction of duty on his part as a notary public and he is bound by the acts of his staff. The claim of Atty. Pascua that it was simple inadvertence is far from true. The photocopy of his notarial register shows that the last entry which he notarized on December 28, 1998 is Document No. 1200 on Page 240. On the other hand, the two affidavit-complaints allegedly notarized on December 10, 1998 are Document Nos. 1213 and 1214, respectively, under Page No. 243, Book III. Thus, Fr. Ranhilio and the other complainants are, therefore, correct in maintaining that Atty. Pascua falsely assigned fictitious numbers to the questioned affidavitcomplaints, a clear dishonesty on his part not only as a Notary Public, but also as a member of the Bar. This is not to mention that the only supporting evidence of the claim of inadvertence by Atty. Pascua is the affidavit of his own secretary which is hardly credible since the latter cannot be considered a disinterested witness or party. Noteworthy also is the fact that the questioned affidavit of Acorda (Doc. No. 1213) was submitted only when Domingos affidavit (Doc. No. 1214) was withdrawn in the administrative case filed by Atty. Pascua against Lina Garan, et al. with the CSC. This circumstance lends credence to the submission of herein complainants that Atty. Pascua ante-dated another affidavit-complaint making it appear as notarized on December 10, 1998 and entered as Document No. 1213. It may not be sheer

coincidence then that both documents are dated December 10, 1998 and numbered as 1213 and 1214. A member of the legal fraternity should refrain from doing any act which might lessen in any degree the confidence and trust reposed by the public in the fidelity, honesty and integrity of the legal profession (Maligsa v. Cabanting, 272 SCRA 409). As a lawyer commissioned to be a notary public, Atty. Pascua is mandated to subscribe to the sacred duties appertaining to his office, such duties being dictated by public policy and impressed with public interest. A member of the Bar may be disciplined or disbarred for any misconduct in his professional or private capacity. The Court has invariably imposed a penalty for notaries public who were found guilty of dishonesty or misconduct in the performance of their duties. In Villarin v. Sabate, Jr. (325 SCRA 123), respondent lawyer was suspended from his Commission as Notary Public for a period of one year for notarizing a document without affiants appearing before him, and for notarizing the same instrument of which he was one of the signatories. The Court held that respondent lawyer failed to exercise due diligence in upholding his duties as a notary public. In Arrieta v. Llosa (282 SCRA 248), respondent lawyer who certified under oath a Deed of Absolute Sale knowing that some of the vendors were dead was suspended from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, with a warning that another infraction would be dealt with more severely. In said case, the Court did not impose the supreme penalty of disbarment, it being the respondents first offense. In Maligsa v. Cabanting (272 SCRA 409), respondent lawyer was disbarred from the practice of law, after being found guilty of notarizing a fictitious or spurious document. The Court considered the seriousness of the offense and his previous misconduct for which he was suspended for six months from the practice of law. It appearing that this is the first offense of Atty. Pascua, a suspension from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months may be considered enough penalty for him as a lawyer. Considering that his offense is also a ground for revocation of notarial commission, the same should also be imposed upon him. PREMISES CONSIDERED, it is most respectfully recommended that the notarial commission of Atty. EDWIN V. PASCUA, if still existing, be REVOKED and that he be SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months.[3]

After a close review of the records of this case, we resolve to adopt the findings of facts and conclusion of law by the Office of the Bar Confidant. We find Atty. Pascua guilty of

misconduct in the performance of his duties for failing to register in hisNotarial Register the affidavit-complaints of Joseph B. Acorda and Remigio B. Domingo.

Misconduct generally means wrongful, improper or unlawful conduct motivated by a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose.[4] The term, however, does not necessarily imply corruption or criminal intent.[5]

The penalty to be imposed for such act of misconduct committed by a lawyer is addressed to the sound discretion of the Court. In Arrieta v. Llosa,[6] wherein Atty. Joel A. Llosa notarized a Deed of Absolute Sale knowing that some of the vendors were already dead, this Court held that such wrongful act constitutes misconduct and thus imposed upon him the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for six months, this being his first administrative offense. Also, in Vda. de Rosales v. Ramos,[7] we revoked the notarial commission of Atty. Mario G. Ramos and suspended him from the practice of law for six monthsfor violating the Notarial Law in not registering in his notarial book the Deed of Absolute Sale he notarized. In Mondejar v.Rubia,[8] however, a lesser penalty of one month suspension from the practice of law was imposed on Atty. Vivian G. Rubia for making a false declaration in the document she notarized.

In the present case, considering that this is Atty. Pascuas first offense, we believe that the imposition of a three-month suspension from the practice of law upon him is in order. Likewise, since his offense is a ground for revocation of notarialcommission, the same should also be imposed upon him.

WHEREFORE, Atty.

Edwin Pascua is

declared GUILTY of

misconduct

and

is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) months with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely. Hisnotarial commission, if still existing, is ordered REVOKED.

SO ORDERED.
Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila EN BANC Adm. Case No. 2984 August 31, 2007

RODOLFO M. BERNARDO, Complainant, vs. ATTY. ISMAEL F. MEJIA, Respondent. RESOLUTION NACHURA, J.: Before the Court is a petition for review of Administrative Case No. 2984 with plea for reinstatement in the practice of law filed by Ismael F. Mejia (Mejia) who is already seventyone years old and barred from the practice of law for fifteen years. The antecedent facts that led to Mejias disbarment are as follows. On January 23, 1987, Rodolfo M. Bernardo, Jr. accused his retained attorney, Ismael F. Mejia, of the following administrative offenses: 1) misappropriating and converting to his personal use: a) part of the sum of P27,710.00 entrusted to him for payment of real estate taxes on property belonging to Bernardo, situated in a subdivision known as Valle Verde I; and b) part of another sum of P40,000.00 entrusted to him for payment of taxes and expenses in connection with the registration of title of Bernardo to another property in a subdivision known as Valle Verde V; 2) falsification of certain documents, to wit: a) a special power of attorney dated March 16, 1985, purportedly executed in his favor by Bernardo (Annex P, par. 51, complainants affidavit dates October 4, 1989); b) a deed of sale dated October 22, 1982 (Annex O, par. 48, id.); and c) a deed of assignment purportedly executed by the spouses Tomas and Remedios Pastor, in Bernardos favor (Annex Q, par. 52, id.);

3) issuing a check, knowing that he was without funds in the bank, in payment of a loan obtained from Bernardo in the amount of P50,000.00, and thereafter, replacing said check with others known also to be insufficiently funded.1 On July 29, 1992, the Supreme Court En Banc rendered a Decision Per Curiam, the dispositive portion of which reads: WHEREFORE, the Court DECLARES the [sic] respondent, Atty. Ismael F. Mejia, guilty of all the charges against him and hereby imposes on him the penalty of DISBARMENT. Pending finality of this judgment, and effective immediately, Atty. Ismael F. Mejia is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law. Let a copy of this Decision be spread in his record in the Bar Confidants Office, and notice thereof furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, as well as the Court Administrator who is DIRECTED to inform all the Courts concerned of this Decision. SO ORDERED. On June 1, 1999, Mejia filed a Petition praying that he be allowed to reengage in the practice of law. On July 6, 1999, the Supreme Court En Banc issued a Resolution denying the petition for reinstatement. On January 23, 2007, Mejia filed the present petition for review of Administrative Case No. 2984 with a plea for reinstatement in the practice of law. No comment or opposition was filed against the petition.2 Whether the applicant shall be reinstated in the Roll of Attorneys rests to a great extent on the sound discretion of the Court. The action will depend on whether or not the Court decides that the public interest in the orderly and impartial administration of justice will continue to be preserved even with the applicants reentry as a counselor at law. The applicant must, like a candidate for admission to the bar, satisfy the Court that he is a person of good moral character, a fit and proper person to practice law. The Court will take into consideration the applicants character and standing prior to the disbarment, the nature and character of the charge/s for which he was disbarred, his conduct subsequent to the disbarment, and the time that has elapsed between the disbarment and the application for reinstatement.3 In the petition, Mejia acknowledged his indiscretions in the law profession. Fifteen years had already elapsed since Mejias name was dropped from the Roll of Attorneys. At the age of seventy-one, he is begging for forgiveness and pleading for reinstatement. According to him, he has long repented and he has suffered enough. Through his reinstatement, he wants to leave a legacy to his children and redeem the indignity that they have suffered due to his disbarment.
1avvphi1

After his disbarment, he put up the Mejia Law Journal, a publication containing his religious and social writings. He also organized a religious organization and named it "El Cristo Movement and Crusade on Miracle of Heart and Mind." The Court is inclined to grant the present petition. Fifteen years has passed since Mejia was punished with the severe penalty of disbarment. Although the Court does not lightly take the

bases for Mejias disbarment, it also cannot close its eyes to the fact that Mejia is already of advanced years. While the age of the petitioner and the length of time during which he has endured the ignominy of disbarment are not the sole measure in allowing a petition for reinstatement, the Court takes cognizance of the rehabilitation of Mejia. Since his disbarment in 1992, no other transgression has been attributed to him, and he has shown remorse. Obviously, he has learned his lesson from this experience, and his punishment has lasted long enough. Thus, while the Court is ever mindful of its duty to discipline its erring officers, it also knows how to show compassion when the penalty imposed has already served its purpose. After all, penalties, such as disbarment, are imposed not to punish but to correct offenders. We reiterate, however, and remind petitioner that the practice of law is a privilege burdened with conditions. Adherence to the rigid standards of mental fitness, maintenance of the highest degree of morality and faithful compliance with the rules of the legal profession are the continuing requirements for enjoying the privilege to practice law.4 WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, the petition for reinstatement in the Roll of Attorneys by Ismael F. Mejia is hereby GRANTED. SO ORDERED. ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA Associate Justice

Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court
Manila

THIRD DIVISION JESSIE R. DE LEON, Complainant, A.C. No. 8620 Present: CARPIO MORALES, Chairperson, BRION, BERSAMIN, VILLARAMA, JR., and SERENO, JJ.

-versus -

Promulgated: ATTY. EDUARDO G. CASTELO, Respondent. January 12, 2011 x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.: This administrative case, which Jessie R. De Leon initiated on April 29, 2010, concerns respondent attorneys alleged dishonesty and falsification committed in the pleadings he filed in behalf of the defendants in the civil action in which De Leon intervened. Antecedents On January 2, 2006, the Government brought suit for the purpose of correcting the transfer certificates of title (TCTs) covering two parcels of land located in Malabon City then registered in the names of defendants Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu due to their encroaching on a public callejon and on a portion of the Malabon-Navotas River shoreline to the extent, respectively, of an area of 45 square meters and of about 600 square meters. The suit, entitled Republic of the Philippines, represented by the Regional Executive Director, Department of Environment and Natural Resources v. Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu, Gorgonia Flores, and the Registrar of Deeds of Malabon City, was docketed as Civil Case No. 4674MN of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 74, in Malabon City.[1] De Leon, having joined Civil Case No. 4674MN as a voluntary intervenor two years later (April 21, 2008), now accuses the respondent, the counsel of record of the defendants in Civil Case No. 4674MN, with the serious administrative offenses of dishonesty and falsification warranting his disbarment or suspension as an attorney. The respondents sin was allegedly committed by his filing for defendants Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu of various pleadings (that is, answer with counterclaim and cross-claim in relation to the main complaint; and answer to the complaint in intervention with counterclaim and crossclaim) despite said spouses being already deceased at the time of filing.[2] De Leon avers that the respondent committed dishonesty and falsification as follows:

xxx in causing it (to) appear that persons (spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu) have participated in an act or proceeding (the making and filing of the Answers) when they did not in fact so participate; in fact, they could not have so participated because they were already dead as of that time, which is punishable under Article 172, in relation to Article 171, paragraph 2, of the Revised Penal Code. Respondent also committed the crime of Use of Falsified Documents, by submitting the said falsified Answers in the judicial proceedings, Civil Case No. 4674MN; Respondent also made a mockery of the aforesaid judicial proceedings by representing dead persons therein who, he falsely made to appear, as contesting the complaints, counter-suing and cross-suing the adverse parties. 12. That, as a consequence of the above criminal acts, complainant respectfully submits that respondent likewise violated: (a) His Lawyers Oath: xxx (b) The Code of Professional Responsibility:[3] xxx

On June 23, 2010, the Court directed the respondent to comment on De Leons administrative complaint.[4] In due course, or on August 2, 2010,[5] the respondent rendered the following explanations in his comment, to wit: 1. The persons who had engaged him as attorney to represent the Lim family in Civil Case No. 4674MN were William and Leonardo Lim, the children of Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu; 2. Upon his (Atty. Castelo) initial queries relevant to the material allegations of the Governments complaint in Civil Case No. 4674MN, William Lim, the representative of the Lim Family, informed him: a. That the Lim family had acquired the properties from Georgina Flores; b. That William and Leonardo Lim were already actively managing the family business, and now co-owned the properties by virtue of the deed

of absolute sale their parents, Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu, had executed in their favor; and c. That because of the execution of the deed of absolute sale, William and Leonardo Lim had since honestly assumed that their parents had already caused the transfer of the TCTs to their names. 3. Considering that William and Leonardo Lim themselves were the ones who had engaged his services, he (Atty. Castelo) consequently truthfully stated in the motion seeking an extension to file responsive pleading dated February 3, 2006 the fact that it was the family of the defendants that had engaged him, and that he had then advised the children of the defendants to seek the assistance as well of a licensed geodetic surveyor and engineer; 4. He (Atty. Castelo) prepared the initial pleadings based on his honest belief that Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu were then still living. Had he known that they were already deceased, he would have most welcomed the information and would have moved to substitute Leonardo and William Lim as defendants for that reason; 5. He (Atty. Castelo) had no intention to commit either a falsehood or a falsification, for he in fact submitted the death certificates of Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu in order to apprise the trial court of that fact; and 6. The Office of the Prosecutor for Malabon City even dismissed the criminal complaint for falsification brought against him (Atty. Castelo) through the resolution dated February 11, 2010. The same office denied the complainantsmotion for reconsideration on May 17, 2010. On September 3, 2010, the complainant submitted a reply,[6] whereby he asserted that the respondents claim in his commentthat he had represented the Lim family was a deception, because the subject of the complaint against the respondent was his filing of the answers in behalf of Spouses Lim Hio and Dolores Chu despite their being already deceased at the time of the filing. The complainant regarded as baseless the justifications of the Office of the City Prosecutor for Malabon City in dismissing the criminal complaint against the respondent and in denying his motion for reconsideration. The Court usually first refers administrative complaints against members of the Philippine Bar to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation and appropriate recommendations. For the present case, however, we forego the prior referral of the complaint

to the IBP, in view of the facts being uncomplicated and based on the pleadings in Civil Case No. 4674MN. Thus, we decide the complaint on its merits. Ruling We find that the respondent, as attorney, did not commit any falsehood or falsification in his pleadings in Civil Case No. 4674MN. Accordingly, we dismiss the patently frivolous complaint. I Attorneys Obligation to tell the truth All attorneys in the Philippines, including the respondent, have sworn to the vows embodied in following Lawyers Oath,[7]viz:
I, ___________________, do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines; I will support its Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court; I will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor give aid nor consent to the same. I will delay no man for money or malice, and will conduct myself as
Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila EN BANC A.C. No. 6697 July 25, 2006

ZOILO ANTONIO VELEZ, complainant, vs. ATTY. LEONARD S. DE VERA, respondent. x-------------------------x Bar Matter No. 1227 July 25, 2006

RE: OATH-TAKING OF ATTY. LEONARD S. DE VERA, INCOMING PRESIDENT OF THE INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES. x-------------------------x

A.M. No. 05-5-15-SC

July 25, 2006

IN THE MATTER OF THE REMOVAL OF ATTY. LEONARD S. DE VERA FROM THE IBP BOARD OF GOVERNORS AS EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND GOVERNOR. IN THE MATTER OF THE LETTER-COMPLAINT OF ATTY. LEONARD S. DE VERA DATED MAY 18, 2005 TO FORTHWITH DENY/DISAPPROVE THE IBP RESOLUTION UNJUSTLY, ILLEGALLY, ARBITRARILY, AND ABRUPTLY REMOVING HIM FROM THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE IBP FOR ABSOLUTE LACK OF BASIS AND FOR FLAGRANT DENIAL OF DUE PROCESS. DECISION Per Curiam: Before Us are three consolidated cases revolving around Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Governor and Executive Vice-President (EVP) Atty. Leonard de Vera. The first pertains to a disbarment case questioning Atty. de Vera's moral fitness to remain as a member of the Philippine Bar, the second refers to Atty. de Vera's letter-request to schedule his oath taking as IBP National President, and the third case concerns the validity of his removal as Governor and EVP of the IBP by the IBP Board. The resolution of these cases will determine the national presidency of the IBP for the term 2005-2007. A.C. No. 6697 The Office of the Bar Confidant, which this Court tasked to make an investigation, report and recommendation on subject case,1 summarized the antecedents thereof as follows: In a Complaint dated 11 April 2005, complainant Zoilo Antonio Velez moved for the suspension and/or disbarment of respondent Atty. Leonard de Vera based on the following grounds: 1) respondent's alleged misrepresentation in concealing the suspension order rendered against him by the State Bar of California; and 2) respondent's alleged violation of the so-called "rotation rule" enunciated in Administrative Matter No. 491 dated 06 October 1989 (in the Matter: 1989 IBP Elections). Complainant averred that the respondent, in appropriating for his own benefit funds due his client, was found to have performed an act constituting moral turpitude by the Hearing Referee Bill Dozier, Hearing Department San Francisco, State Bar of California in Administrative Case No. 86-0-18429. Complainant alleged that the respondent was then forced to resign or surrender his license to practice law in the said state in order to evade the recommended three (3) year suspension. Complainant asserted that the respondent lacks the moral competence necessary to lead the country's most noble profession.

Complainant, likewise, contended that the respondent violated the so-called "rotation rule" provided for in Administrative Matter No. 491 when he transferred to IBP Agusan del Sur Chapter. He claimed that the respondent failed to meet the requirements outlined in the IBP By-Laws pertaining to transfer of Chapter Membership. He surmised that the respondent's transfer was intended only for the purpose of becoming the next IBP National President. Complainant prayed that the respondent be enjoined from assuming office as IBP National President. Meanwhile, in his Comment dated 2 May 2005, respondent stated that the issues raised in above-mentioned Complaint were the very issues raised in an earlier administrative case filed by the same complainant against him. In fact, according to him, the said issues were already extensively discussed and categorically ruled upon by this Court in its Decision dated 11 December 2005 in Administrative Case No. 6052 (In Re: Petition to Disqualify Atty. Leonard De Vera). Respondent prayed that the instant administrative complaint be dismissed following the principle of res judicata. On 15 June 2005, both parties appeared before the Office of the Bar Confidant for presentation of evidence in support of their respective allegations. Subsequently, in a Memorandum dated 20 June 2005, complainant maintained that there is substantial evidence showing respondent's moral baseness, vileness and depravity, which could be used as a basis for his disbarment. Complainant stressed that the respondent never denied that he used his client's money. Complainant argued that the respondent failed to present evidence that the Supreme Court of California accepted the latter's resignation and even if such was accepted, complainant posited that this should not absolve the respondent from liability. Moreover, complainant added that the principle of res judicata would not apply in the case at bar. He asserted that the first administrative case filed against the respondent was one for his disqualification. x x x. Bar Matter No. 1227 A.M. No. 05-5-15-SC As earlier adverted to, Bar Matter No. 1227 refers to Atty. de Vera's letter-request to this Court to schedule his oath taking as IBP National President. A.M. No. 05-5-15-SC, on the other hand, is a letter-report dated 19 May 2005 of IBP National President Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz (IBP President Cadiz) furnishing this Court with the IBP's Resolution, dated 13 May 2005, removing Atty. De Vera as member of the IBP Board and as IBP EVP, for committing acts inimical to the IBP Board and the IBP in general.2 The controversy in Bar Matter No. 1227 and A.M. No. 05-5-15-SC arose from the regular meeting of the IBP Board of Governors held on 14 January 2005. In said meeting, by 2/3 vote (6 voting in favor and 2 against), the IBP Board approved the withdrawal of the Petition filed before this Court docketed as "Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, et al. vs. Senate of the Philippines, et al. Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition with Prayer for the Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order or Writ of Preliminary Injunction, SC-R165108." The Petition was intended to question the legality and/or constitutionality of Republic Act No.

9227, authorizing the increase in the salaries of judges and justices, and to increase filing fees.3 The two IBP Governors who opposed the said Resolution approving the withdrawal of the above-described Petition were herein respondent Governor and EVP de Vera and Governor Carlos L. Valdez.4 On 19 January 2005, IBP President Cadiz informed this Court of the decision taken by the IBP Board to withdraw the afore-mentioned Petition. Attached to his letter was a copy of the IBP Board's 14 January 2005 Resolution.5 On 15 April 2005, Bar Matter No. 1227, pertaining to Atty. de Vera's request for oathtaking as National President, was filed. The same was subsequently consolidated with A.C. No. 6697, the disbarment case filed against Atty. de Vera.6 On 22 April 2005, a plenary session was held at the 10th National IBP Convention at the CAP-Camp John Hay Convention Center, Baguio City. It was at this forum where Atty. de Vera allegedly made some untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies in connection with the IBP Board's Resolution to withdraw the Petition questioning the legality of Republic Act No. 9227.7 On 10 May 2005, this Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enjoining Atty. de Vera from assuming office as IBP National President.8 On 12 May 2005, IBP Gov. Romulo A. Rivera wrote IBP National President Cadiz a letter wherein he prayed for the removal of Atty. de Vera as member of the IBP Board for having committed acts which were inimical to the IBP Board and the IBP.9 On 13 May 2005, in the 20th Regular Meeting of the Board held at the Waterfront Hotel, Cebu City, the IBP Board, by 2/3 vote, resolved to remove Atty. de Vera as member of the IBP Board of Governors and as IBP Executive Vice President.10 Quoted hereunder is the dispositive portion of said Resolution: NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, AS IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED, that Governor Leonard S. de Vera is REMOVED as a member of the IBP Board of Governors and Executive Vice President for committing acts inimical to the IBP Board of Governors and the IBP, to wit: 1. For making untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies in public about the Supreme Court and members of the IBP Board of Governors, during the Plenary Session of the IBP 10th National Convention of Lawyers, held at CAPCamp John Hay Convention Center on 22 April 2005, making it appear that the decision of the IBP Board of Governors to withdraw the PETITION docketed as "Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, et al. vs. The Senate of the Philippines, et al., Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition With Prayer for the Issuance of A Temporary Restraining Order or Writ of Preliminary Injunction, S.C.-R. 165108", was due to influence and pressure from the Supreme Court of the Philippines;

2. For making said untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies that brought the IBP Board of Governors and the IBP as a whole in public contempt and disrepute; 3. For violating Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers which mandates that "A lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers and should insist on similar conduct by others", by making untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies during the Plenary Session of the IBP 10th National Convention of Lawyers in Baguio City; 4. For instigating and provoking some IBP chapters to embarrass and humiliate the IBP Board of Governors in order to coerce and compel the latter to pursue the aforesaid PETITION; 5. For falsely accusing the IBP National President, Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, during the Plenary Session of the 10th National Convention in Baguio City of withholding from him a copy of Supreme Court Resolution, dated 25 January 2005, granting the withdrawal of the PETITION, thereby creating the wrong impression that the IBP National President deliberately prevented him from taking the appropriate remedies with respect thereto, thus compromising the reputation and integrity of the IBP National President and the IBP as a whole.11 On 18 May 2005, Atty. de Vera aired his sentiments to this Court by writing the then Hon. Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. a letter captioned as "Urgent Plea to Correct a Glaring Injustice of the IBP Board of Governors; Vehement Protest to the Board Resolution Abruptly Removing Atty. Leonard de Vera from the Board of Governors in Patent Violation of Due Process; Petition to Deny/Disapprove the Completely Unjustified and Highly Arbitrary Resolution Precipitately Ousting Atty. de Vera from the Board of Governors in Less Than Twenty Four (24) Hours from Notice and Judgment Without Formal Investigation."12 In the said letter, Atty. de Vera strongly and categorically denied having committed acts inimical to the IBP and its Board. He alleged that on the basis of an unverified letter-complaint filed by IBP Governor Rivera, the IBP Board voted to expel him posthaste, without just cause and in complete disregard of even the minimum standards of due process. Pertinent portions of his letter read: It is evident that the Board of Governors has committed a grave and serious injustice against me especially when, as the incumbent Executive Vice President of the IBP, I am scheduled to assume my position as National President of the IBP on July 1, 2005. xxx I was denied the very basic rights of due process recognized by the Supreme Court even in administrative cases: 1. The denial of the right to answer the charges formally or in writing. The complaint against me was in writing.

2. The denial of the right to answer the charges within a reasonable period of time after receipt of the complaint. 3. The denial of the right to a fair hearing. 4. The denial of the right to confront the accuser and the witnesses against me. I challenged Gov. Rivera to testify under oath so I could question him. He refused. I offered to testify under oath so I could be questioned. My request was denied. 5. The denial of my right to present witnesses on my behalf. 6. The denial of my right to an impartial judge. Governor Rivera was my accuser, prosecutor, and judge all at the same time. 7. Gov. Rivera's prejudgment of my case becomes even more evident because when his motion to expel me was lost in a 5-3 votes (due to his inhibition to vote), Gov. Rivera asked for another round of voting so he can vote to support his own complaint and motion to expel me.13 (Emphasis and underscoring in original.) On 27 May 2005, the IBP Board responded to the 18 May 2005 letter of Atty. de Vera.14 In their Reply, the IBP Board explained to this Court that their decision to remove Atty. de Vera was based on valid grounds and was intended to protect itself from a recalcitrant member. Among the grounds cited and elucidated by the IBP Board were the following: (i) Atty. de Vera engaged himself in a negative media campaign and solicited resolutions from IBP Chapters to condemn the IBP Board of Governors for its decision to withdraw the Petition, all with the end in view of compelling or coercing the IBP Board of Governors to reconsider the decision to withdraw the Petition. (ii) Atty. de Vera embarrassed, humiliated and maligned the IBP Board of Governors and the IBP National President in public or during the Plenary Session at the 10th National Convention of Lawyers. (iii) Rather than pacify the already agitated 'solicited' speakers (at the plenary session), Atty. de Vera "fanned the fire", so to speak, and went to the extent of making untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies about the Supreme Court and some members of the IBP Board of Governors. He deliberately and intentionally did so to provoke the members of the IBP Board of Governors to engage him in an acrimonious public debate and expose the IBP Board of Governors to public ridicule. (iv) Atty. de Vera uttered untruthful statements, innuendos and blatant lies, e.g., that some of the members of the IBP Board of Governors voted in favor of the withdrawal of the petition (without mentioning names) because "nakakahiya kasi sa Supreme Court, nakakaawa kasi ang Supreme Court, kasi may mga kaibigan tayo sa Court." He made it appear that the IBP Board of Governors approved the resolution, withdrawing the petition, due to "influence" or "pressure" from the Supreme Court.15

The IBP Board explained that Atty. de Vera's actuation during the Plenary Session was "the last straw that broke the camel's back." He committed acts inimical to the interest of the IBP Board and the IBP; hence, the IBP Board decided to remove him. On 3 June 2005, Atty. de Vera furnished the Court with copies of resolutions and a position paper coming from various IBP Chapters all condemning his expulsion from the IBP Board and as IBP EVP.16 On 15 June 2005, IBP President Cadiz informed Chief Justice Davide that in a special meeting of the IBP Board held at the EDSA Shangri-la Plaza on 13 June 2005, the IBP Board took note of the vacancy in the position of the IBP EVP brought about by Atty. de Vera's removal. In his stead, IBP Governor Pura Angelica Y. Santiago was formally elected and declared as IBP EVP.17 On 17 June 2005, Atty. de Vera protested against the election of Atty. Santiago.18 On 20 June 2005, Atty. Santiago voluntarily relinquished the EVP position through a letter addressed to the IBP Board.19 Thus, on 25 June 2005, during its last regular meeting, the IBP Board elected a new EVP in the person of IBP Governor Jose Vicente B. Salazar to replace Atty. Santiago. On 28 June 2005, IBP National President Cadiz, through a letter addressed to Chief Justice Davide, reported to this Court Atty. Salazar's election.20 IBP National President Cadiz also requested, among other things, that Atty. Salazar's election be approved and that he be allowed to assume as National President in the event that Atty. de Vera is disbarred or suspended from the practice of law or should his removal from the 2003-2005 Board of Governors and as EVP is approved by this Court.21 Also on 28 June 2005, Atty. de Vera protested the election of Atty. Salazar.22 In his Extended Comment23 dated 25 July 2005, Atty. de Vera maintained that there was absolutely no factual or legal basis to sustain the motion to remove him from the IBP Board because he violated no law. He argued that if the basis for his removal as EVP was based on the same grounds as his removal from the IBP Board, then his removal as EVP was likewise executed without due notice and without the least compliance with the minimum standards of due process of law. Atty. de Vera strongly averred that, contrary to the utterly false and malicious charges filed against him, the speakers at the Plenary Session of the Baguio Convention, although undeniably impassioned and articulate, were respectful in their language and exhortations, not once undermining the stature of the IBP in general and the IBP Board of Governors in particular. He posited that speaking in disagreement with the Resolution of the Board during the Convention's Plenary Session is not a valid cause to remove or expel a duly-elected member of the IBP Board of Governors; and the decision to remove him only shows that the right to freedom of speech or the right to dissent is not recognized by the incumbent IBP Board. Anent the charges that he accused the National President of withholding a copy of this Court's Resolution granting the withdrawal of the Petition questioning the legality of Republic Act No. 9227, Atty. de Vera avowed that he made no such remarks. As regards the election of

a new IBP EVP, Atty. de Vera contended that the said election was illegal as it was contrary to the provisions of the IBP By-Laws concerning national officers, to wit: Section. 49. Term of office. - The President and the Executive Vice President shall hold office for a term of two years from July 1 following their election until 30 June of their second year in office and until their successors shall have been duly chosen and qualified. In the event the President is absent or unable to act, his functions and duties shall be performed by the Executive Vice President, and in the event of death, resignation, or removal of the President, the Executive Vice President shall serve as Acting President for the unexpired portion of the term. In the event of death, resignation, removal or disability of both the President and the Executive Vice President, the Board of Governors shall elect an Acting President to hold office for the unexpired portion of the term or during the period of disability. Unless otherwise provided in these By-Laws, all other officers and employees appointed by the President with the consent of the Board shall hold office at the pleasure of the Board or for such term as the Board may fix.24 To bolster his position, Atty. de Vera stressed that when both the President and the EVP die, resign, are removed, or are disabled, the IBP By-Laws only provides for the election of an Acting President and that no mention for an election for EVP was made. Thus, when such election for EVP occurs, such is contrary to the express provision of the IBP By-Laws. Atty. de Vera also argued that even if he were validly removed as IBP EVP, his replacement should come from Eastern Mindanao and not from any other region, due to the Rotation Rule embodied in par. 2, Section 47, Article VII of the IBP By-Laws. In response to Atty. de Vera's averments, the 2003-2005 IBP Board, through its counsel, submitted a Reply dated 27 January 2006 and clarified as follows: (i) The IBP Board of Governors is vested with sufficient power and authority to protect itself from an intractable member by virtue of Article VI, Section 44 of the IBP By-Laws; (ii) Atty. de Vera was removed as a member of the IBP Board and as IBP EVP not because of his disagreement with the IBP Board's position but because of the various acts that he committed which the IBP Board determined to be inimical to the IBP Board and the IBP as a whole; (iii) Atty. de Vera cannot exculpate himself from liability by invoking his constitutional right to Free Speech because, as a member of the Bar, it is his sworn duty to observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers and to insist on similar conduct by others; (iv) The IBP Board, in effecting the removal of Atty. de Vera, observed the fundamental principles of due process. As the records would bear, Atty. de Vera was duly notified of the Regular Meeting of the IBP Board held on 13 May 2004; was furnished a copy of

Governor Rivera's Letter-Complaint the day before the said meeting; was furnished a copy of the said Meeting's Agenda; and was allowed to personally defend himself and his accuser, Gov. Rivera; (v) Atty. de Vera was validly removed because the required number of votes under Section 44 of the IBP By-Laws to remove Atty. de Vera as a member of the IBP Board and as IBP EVP was duly complied with; (vi) Atty. de Vera's replacement as IBP EVP need not come from Eastern Mindanao Region because: (a) the rotation rule under Article VII, Section 47, par. 2 of the IBP ByLaws had already been complied with when Atty. de Vera, who hails from Eastern Mindanao, was elected IBP EVP; and (b) the rotation rule need not be enforced if the same will not be practicable, possible, feasible, doable or viable; and, finally, that (vii) Atty. Salazar was validly elected as IBP EVP and, thus, should now be allowed to take his oath as IBP National President.25 The Court's Ruling AC No. 6697 In his Memorandum26 dated 20 June 2005, complainant tendered the following issues for the consideration of the Court: I. WHETHER OR NOT RESPONDENT ATTORNEY LEONARD S. DEVERA (sic) COMMITED MALPRACTICE WHICH AMOUNTED TO MORAL T[U]RPITUDE IN THE STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA AND IN THE PHILIPPINES, IN THE COURSE OF HIS PRACTICE OF LAW. II. WHETHER OR NOT THE OATH OF OFFICE AS LAWYER IS ATTACHED TO THE PERSON OF ATTORNEY LEONARD S. DEVERA (sic) WHEREVER HE MAY GO AND NOT NECESSARILY BOUND BY THE TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF THE PHILIPPINES. III. WHETHER OR NOT THERE IS SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE TO PROVE THE MORAL T[U]RPITUDE, AS BASIS FOR DISBARMENT OF RESPONDENT IN AN ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDING. IV. WHETHER OR NOT RES JUDICATA APPLIES IN THIS CASE, DUE TO ADMIN. CASE NO. [6052]27

The disposition of the first three related issues hinges on the resolution of the fourth issue. Consequently, we will start with the last issue. A.C. No. 6052 is not a bar to the filing of the present administrative case. In disposing of the question of res judicata, the Bar Confidant opined: To reiterate, the instant case for suspension and/or disbarment against respondent Leonard De Vera is grounded on the following: 1) respondent's alleged misrepresentation in concealing the suspension order rendered against him by the State Bar in California; and 2) respondent's alleged violation of the so-called "rotation rule" enunciated in Administrative Matter No. 491 dated 06 October 1989 (In the Matter: 1989 IBP Elections). It appears that the complainant already raised the said issues in an earlier administrative case against the respondent. Verily, these issues were already argued upon by the parties in their respective pleadings, and discussed and ruled upon by this Court in its Decision dated 11 December 2003 in Administrative Matter No. 6052 (In Re: Petition to Disqualify Atty. Leonard de Vera). As such, with respect to the first issue, this Court held that: "As for the administrative complaint filed against him by one of his clients when he was practicing law in California, which in turn compelled him to surrender his California license to practice law, he maintains that it cannot serve as basis for determining his moral qualification (or lack of it) to run for the position he is aspiring for. He explains that there is as yet no final judgment finding him guilty of the administrative charge, as the records relied upon by the petitioners are mere preliminary findings of a hearing referee which are recommendatory findings of an IBP Commissioner on Bar Discipline which are subject to the review of and the final decision of the Supreme Court. He also stresses that the complainant in the California administrative case has retracted the accusation that he misappropriated the complainant's money, but unfortunately the retraction was not considered by the investigating officer. xxx" "On the administrative complaint that was filed against respondent De Vera while he was still practicing law in California, he explained that no final judgment was rendered by the California Supreme Court finding him guilty of the charge. He surrendered his license to protest the discrimination he suffered at the hands of the investigator and he found it impractical to pursue the case to the end. We find these explanations satisfactory in the absence of contrary proof. It is a basic rule on evidence that he who alleges a fact has the burden to prove the same. In this case, the petitioners have not shown how the administrative complaint affects respondent De Vera's moral fitness to run for governor.

On the other hand, as regards the second issue: "Petitioners contend that respondent de Vera is disqualified for the post because he is not really from Eastern Mindanao. His place of residence is in Paraaque and he was originally a member of the PPLM IBP Chapter. He only changed his IBP Chapter membership to pave the way for his ultimate goal of attaining the highest IBP post, which is the national presidency. Petitioners aver that in changing his IBP membership, respondent De Vera violated the domicile rule. The contention has no merit. Under the last paragraph of Section 19, Article II, a lawyer included in the Roll of Attorneys of the Supreme Court can register with the particular IBP Chapter of his preference or choice, thus: xxx It is clearly stated in the aforequoted section of the By-Laws that it is not automatic that a lawyer will become a member of the chapter where his place of residence or work is located. He has the discretion to choose the particular chapter where he wishes to gain membership. Only when he does not register his preference that he will become a member of the Chapter of the place where he resides or maintains office. The only proscription in registering one's preference is that a lawyer cannot be a member of more than one chapter at the same time. The same is provided in Section 29-2 of the IBP By-Laws. In fact, under this Section, transfer of IBP membership is allowed as long as the lawyer complies with the conditions set forth therein, thus: xxx The only condition required under the foregoing rule is that the transfer must be made not less than three months prior to the election of officers in the chapter to which the lawyer wishes to transfer. In the case at bar, respondent De Vera requested the transfer of his IBP membership to Agusan del Sur on 1 August 2001. One month thereafter, IBP National Secretary Jaime M. Vibar wrote a letter addressed to Atty. Amador Z. Tolentino, Jr., Secretary of IBP PPLM Chapter and Atty. Lyndon J. Romero, Secretary of IBP Agusan del Sur Chapter, informing them of respondent de Vera's transfer and advising them to make the necessary notation in their respective records. This letter is a substantial compliance with the certification mentioned in Section 29-2 as aforequoted. Note that de Vera's transfer was made effective sometime between 1 August 2001 and 3 September 2001. On 27 February 2003, the elections of the IBP Chapter Officers were simultaneously held all over the Philippines, as mandated by Section 29.a of the IBP By-Laws which provides that elections of Chapter Officers and Directors shall be held on the last Saturday of February of every other year. Between 3 September 2001 and 27 February 2003, seventeen months had elapsed. This makes respondent

de Vera's transfer valid as it was done more than three months ahead of the chapter elections held on 27 February 2003. In the case of Romulo G. Dinsay vs. Atty. Leopoldo D. Cioco (Administrative Case No. 2995, 27 November 1996), this Court declared that: "The doctrine of res judicata applies only to judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings and not to the exercise of the [Court's] administrative powers." In the said case, respondent Clerk of Court Cioco was dismissed from service for grave misconduct highly prejudicial to the service for surreptitiously substituting the bid price in a Certificate of Sale from P3,263,182.67 to only P730,000.00. Thereafter a complaint for disbarment was filed against the respondent on the basis of the same incident. Respondent, interposing res judicata, argued that he may no longer be charged on the basis of the same incident. This Court held that while the respondent is in effect being indicted twice for the same misconduct, this does not amount to double jeopardy as both proceedings are admittedly administrative in nature. This Court qualified that, in the first case, the respondent was proceeded against as an erring court personnel under the Court's supervisory power over courts while, in the second case, he was disciplined as a lawyer under the Court's plenary authority over membersof the legal profession. In subsequent decisions of this Court, however, it appears that res judicata still applies in administrative cases. Thus, in the case of Atty. Eduardo C. De Vera vs. Judge William Layague (Administrastive Matter No. RTJ-93-986), this Court ruled that: "While double jeopardy does not lie in administrative cases, it would be contrary to equity and substantial justice to penalize respondent judge a second time for an act which he had already answered for."; Likewise, in the recent case of Executive Judge Henry B. Basilia vs. Judge Amado L. Becamon, Lolita Delos Reyes and Eddie Delos Reyes (Administrative Matter No. MTJ02-1404, 14 December 2004), this Court held that: "Applying the principle of res judicata or bar by prior judgment, the present administrative case becomes dismissible. xxx Under the said doctrine, a matter that has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction must be deemed to have been finally and conclusively settled if it arises in any subsequent litigation between the same parties and for the same cause. It provides that [a] final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive as to the rights of the parties and their privies; and constitutes an absolute bar to subsequent actions involving the same claim, demand, or cause of action. Res judicata is based on the ground that the party to be affected, or

some other with whom he is in privity, has litigated the same matter in the former action in a court of competent jurisdiction, and should not be permitted to litigate it again. This principle frees the parties from undergoing all over again the rigors of unnecessary suits and repetitious trials. At the same time, it prevents the clogging of court dockets. Equally important, res judicata stabilizes rights and promotes the rule of law." In the instant administrative case, it is clear that the issues raised by the complainant had already been resolved by this Court in an earlier administrative case. The complainant's contention that the principle ofres judicata would not apply in the case at bar as the first administrative case was one for disqualification while the instant administrative complaint is one for suspension and/or disbarment should be given least credence. It is worthy to note that while the instant administrative complaint is denominated as one for suspension and/or disbarment, it prayed neither the suspension nor the disbarment of the respondent but instead merely sought to enjoin the respondent from assuming office as IBP National President.28 Contrary to the findings of the Bar Confidant, Adm. Case No. 6052 entitled, "In Re: Petition to Disqualify Atty. Leonard de Vera, on Legal and Moral Grounds, From Being Elected IBP Governor for Eastern Mindanao in the May 31 IBP Election" and promulgated on 11 December 2003 does not constitute a bar to the filing of Adm. Case No. 6697. Although the parties in the present administrative case and in Adm. Case No. 6052 are identical, their capacities in these cases and the issues presented therein are not the same, thereby barring the application ofres judicata. In order that the principle of res judicata may be made to apply, four essential conditions must concur, namely: (1) the judgment sought to bar the new action must be final; (2) the decision must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction over the subject matter and the parties; (3) the disposition of the case must be a judgment or order on the merits, and (4) there must be between the first and second action identity of parties, identity of subject matter, and identity of causes of action.29 In the absence of any one of these elements, Atty. de Vera cannot argue res judicata in his favor. It is noteworthy that the two administrative cases involve different subject matters and causes of action. In Adm. Case No. 6052, the subject matter was the qualification of Atty. de Vera to run as a candidate for the position of IBP Governor for Eastern Mindanao. In the present administrative complaint, the subject matter is his privilege to practice law. In the first administrative case, complainants' cause of action was Atty. de Vera's alleged violation or circumvention of the IBP By-laws. In the present administrative case, the primary cause of action is Atty. de Vera's alleged violation of lawyer's oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility. Finally, the two administrative cases do not seek the same relief. In the first case, the complainants sought to prevent Atty. de Vera from assuming his post as IBP Governor for Eastern Mindanao. In the present case, as clarified by complainant in his Memorandum, what is being principally sought is Atty. de Vera's suspension or disbarment.

The distinctions between the two cases are far from trivial. The previous case was resolved on the basis of the parties' rights and obligations under the IBP By-laws. We held therein that Atty. de Vera cannot be disqualified from running as Regional Governor as there is nothing in the present IBP By-laws that sanctions the disqualification of candidates for IBP governors. Consequently, we stressed that the petition had no firm ground to stand on. Likewise, we held that the complainants therein were not the proper parties to bring the suit as the IBP By-laws prescribes that only nominees - which the complainants were not - can file with the IBP President a written protest against the candidate. The Court's statement, therefore, that Atty. de Vera cannot be disqualified on the ground that he was not morally fit was mere obiter dictum. Precisely, the IBP By-laws do not allow for pre-election disqualification proceedings; hence, Atty. de Vera cannot be disqualified on the basis of the administrative findings of a hearing officer of the State Bar of California suspending him from the practice of law for three years. We held in that case that There is nothing in the By-Laws which explicitly provides that one must be morally fit before he can run for IBP governorship. For one, this is so because the determination of moral fitness of a candidate lies in the individual judgment of the members of the House of Delegates. Indeed, based on each member's standard of morality, he is free to nominate and elect any member, so long as the latter possesses the basic requirements under the law. For another, basically the disqualification of a candidate involving lack of moral fitness should emanate from his disbarment or suspension from the practice of law by this Court, or conviction by final judgment of an offense which involves moral turpitude.30 What this simply means is that absent a final judgment by the Supreme Court in a proper case declaring otherwise, every lawyer aspiring to hold the position of IBP Regional Director is presumed morally fit. Any person who begs to disagree will not be able to find a receptive audience in the IBP through a petition for disqualification but must first file the necessary disbarment or suspension proceeding against the lawyer concerned. And this is precisely what complainant has chosen to do in the instant case. As his petition is sufficient in form and substance, we have given it due course pursuant to Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. And, considering that this case is not barred by the prior judgment in Adm. Case No. 6052, the only issue left for consideration is whether or not Atty. de Vera can be suspended or disbarred under the facts of the case and the evidence submitted by complainant. The recommendation of the hearing officer of the State Bar of California, standing alone, is not proof of malpractice. In the case of the Suspension From The Practice of Law In The Territory of Guam of Atty. Leon G. Maquera,31 we were confronted with the question of whether or not a member of the Philippine Bar, who is concomitantly an attorney in a foreign jurisdiction and who was suspended from the practice of law in said foreign jurisdiction, can be sanctioned as member of the Philippine Bar for the same infraction committed in the foreign jurisdiction. We take the issue in Atty. Maquera one notch higher in the case of Atty. de Vera who was admitted to the practice of law in a foreign jurisdiction (State Bar of California, U.S.A.) and

against whom charges were filed in connection with his practice in said jurisdiction. However, unlike the case of Atty. Maquera, no final judgment for suspension or disbarment was meted against Atty. de Vera despite a recommendation of suspension of three years as he surrendered his license to practice law before his case could be taken up by the Supreme Court of California. In Maquera, we emphasized that the judgment of suspension against a Filipino lawyer in a foreign jurisdiction does not automatically result in his suspension or disbarment in the Philippines as the acts giving rise to his suspension are not grounds for disbarment and suspension in this jurisdiction. Judgment of suspension against a Filipino lawyer may transmute into a similar judgment of suspension in the Philippines only if the basis of the foreign court's action includes any of the grounds for disbarment or suspension in this jurisdiction. We likewise held that the judgment of the foreign court merely constitutes prima facie evidence of unethical acts as lawyer. The Maquera ruling is consistent with Rule 39, Section 48, of the Rules of Court which provides: Sec. 48. Effect of foreign judgments or final orders. - The effect of a judgment or final order of a tribunal of a foreign country, having jurisdiction to render the judgment or final order is as follows: xxxx (b) In case of a judgment or final order against a person, the judgment or final order is presumptive evidence of a right as between the parties and their successors in interest by a subsequent title. In either case, the judgment or final order may be repelled by evidence of a want of jurisdiction, want of notice to the party, collusion, fraud, or clear mistake of law or fact. In Philippine Aluminum Wheels, Inc. v. Fasgi Enterprises, Inc.,32 we explained that "[a] foreign judgment is presumed to be valid and binding in the country from which it comes, until a contrary showing, on the basis of a presumption of regularity of proceedings and the giving of due notice in the foreign forum." In herein case, considering that there is technically no foreign judgment to speak of, the recommendation by the hearing officer of the State Bar of California does not constitute prima facie evidence of unethical behavior by Atty. de Vera. Complainant must prove by substantial evidence the facts upon which the recommendation by the hearing officer was based. If he is successful in this, he must then prove that these acts are likewise unethical under Philippine law. There is substantial evidence of malpractice on the part of Atty. de Vera independent of the recommendation of suspension by the hearing officer of the State Bar of California Section 27 of Rule 138 of our Rules of Court states:

SEC. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or wilfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice. The disbarment or suspension of a member of the Philippine Bar by a competent court or other disciplinary agency in a foreign jurisdiction where he has also been admitted as an attorney is a ground for his disbarment or suspension if the basis of such action includes any of the acts hereinabove enumerated. The judgment, resolution or order of the foreign court or disciplinary agency shall be prima facie evidence of the ground for disbarment or suspension.33 Disciplinary action against a lawyer is intended to protect the court and the public from the misconduct of officers of the court and to protect the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this important function shall be competent, honorable and reliable men in whom courts and clients may repose confidence.34 The statutory enunciation of the grounds for disbarment on suspension is not to be taken as a limitation on the general power of courts to suspend or disbar a lawyer. The inherent power of the court over its officers cannot be restricted.35 Malpractice ordinarily refers to any malfeasance or dereliction of duty committed by a lawyer. Section 27 gives a special and technical meaning to the term "Malpractice."36 That meaning is in consonance with the elementary notion that the practice of law is a profession, not a business.37 Unprofessional conduct in an attorney is that which violates the rules on ethical code of his profession or which is unbecoming a member of that profession.38 Now, the undisputed facts: 1. An administrative case against Atty. de Vera was filed before the State Bar of California, docketed then as Adm. Case No. 86-0-18429. It arose from an insurance case Atty. de Vera handled involving Julius Willis, III who figured in an automobile accident in 1986. Atty. de Vera was authorized by the elder Willis (father of Julius who was given authority by the son to control the case because the latter was then studying in San Diego California) for the release of the funds in settlement of the case. Atty. de Vera received a check in settlement of the case which he then deposited to his personal account;39 2. The Hearing referee in the said administrative case recommended that Atty. de Vera be suspended from the practice of law for three years;40 and

3. Atty. de Vera resigned from the California Bar which resignation was accepted by the Supreme Court of California.41 Atty. de Vera vehemently insists that the foregoing facts do not prove that he misappropriated his client's funds as the latter's father (the elder Willis) gave him authority to use the same and that, unfortunately, the hearing officer did not consider this explanation notwithstanding the fact that the elder Willis testified under oath that he "expected de Vera might use the money for a few days." By insisting that he was authorized by his client's father and attorney-in-fact to use the funds, Atty. de Vera has impliedly admitted the use of the Willis funds for his own personal use. In fact, Atty. de Vera did not deny complainant's allegation in the latter's memorandum that he (de Vera) received US$12,000.00 intended for his client and that he deposited said amount in his personal account and not in a separate trust account and that, finally, he spent the amount for personal purposes.42 At this point, it bears stressing that in cases filed before administrative and quasi-judicial bodies, a fact may be deemed established if it is supported by substantial evidence or that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.43 It means such evidence which affords a substantial basis from which the fact in issue can be reasonably inferred.44 Beyond doubt, the unauthorized use by a lawyer of his client's funds is highly unethical. Canon 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility is emphatic about this, thus: CANON 16. A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENT THAT MAY COME TO HIS POSSESSION. Rule 16.01. A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client. Rule 16.02. A lawyer shall keep the funds of each client separate and apart from his own and those of others kept by him. In Espiritu v. Ulep45 we held that The relation between attorney and client is highly fiduciary in nature. Being such, it requires utmost good faith, loyalty, fidelity and disinterestedness on the part of the attorney. Its fiduciary nature is intended for the protection of the client. The Code of Professional Responsibility mandates every lawyer to hold in trust all money and properties of his client that may come into his possession. Accordingly, he shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client. Even more specific is the Canon of Professional Ethics:

The lawyer should refrain from any action whereby for his personal benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client. Money of the client or collected for the client or other trust property coming into the possession of the lawyer should be reported and accounted for promptly and should not under any circumstances be commingled with his own or be used by him. Consequently, a lawyer's failure to return upon demand the funds or property held by him on behalf of his client gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use to the prejudice of, and in violation of the trust reposed in him by, his client. It is a gross violation of general morality as well as of professional ethics; it impairs the public confidence in the legal profession and deserves punishment. Lawyers who misappropriate the funds entrusted to them are in gross violation of professional ethics and are guilty of betrayal of public confidence in the legal profession. Those who are guilty of such infraction may be disbarred or suspended indefinitely from the practice of law. (Emphases supplied.) In herein case, as it is admitted by Atty. de Vera himself that he used his client's money for personal use, he has unwittingly sealed his own fate since this admission constitutes more than substantial evidence of malpractice. Consequently, Atty. de Vera now has the burden of rebutting the evidence which he himself supplied. In his defense, Atty. de Vera claims that he was duly authorized by the elder Willis to use the funds intended for the latter's son. Atty. de Vera also points out that he had restituted the full amount of US$12,000.00 even before the filing of the administrative case against him in the State Bar of California.46 Aside from these self-serving statements, however, we cannot find anywhere in the records of this case proof that indeed Atty. de Vera was duly authorized to use the funds of his client. In Radjaie v. Atty. Alovera47 we declared that When the integrity of a member of the bar is challenged, it is not enough that he denies the charges against him; he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence against him. He must show proof that he still maintains that degree of morality and integrity which at all times is expected of him. Atty. de Vera cannot rely on the statement made by the hearing officer that the elder Willis had indeed testified that he "expected de Vera might use the money for a few days." As Atty. de Vera had vigorously objected to the admissibility of the document containing this statement, he is now estopped from relying thereon. Besides, that the elder Willis "expected de Vera might use the money for a few days" was not so much an acknowledgment of consent to the use by Atty. de Vera of his client's funds as it was an acceptance of the probability that Atty. de Vera might, indeed, use his client's funds, which by itself did not speak well of the character of Atty. de Vera or the way such character was perceived.

In the instant case, the act of Atty. de Vera in holding on to his client's money without the latter's acquiescence is conduct indicative of lack of integrity and propriety. It is clear that Atty. de Vera, by depositing the check in his own account and using the same for his own benefit is guilty of deceit, malpractice, gross misconduct and unethical behavior. He caused dishonor, not only to himself but to the noble profession to which he belongs. For, it cannot be denied that the respect of litigants to the profession is inexorably diminished whenever a member of the profession betrays their trust and confidence.48 Respondent violated his oath to conduct himself with all good fidelity to his client. Nevertheless, we do not agree with complainant's plea to disbar respondent from the practice of law. The power to disbar must be exercised with great caution.49 Where any lesser penalty can accomplish the end desired, disbarment should not be decreed. In Mortera v. Pagatpatan,50 we imposed upon Atty. Pagatpatan two years suspension from his practice of law for depositing the funds meant for his client to his personal account without the latter's knowledge. In Reyes v. Maglaya;51 Castillo v. Taguines;52 Espiritu v. Atty. Cabredo IV,53 the respondents were meted one year suspension each for failing to remit to their clients monies in the amounts of P1,500.00; P500.00, and P51,161.00, respectively, received by them for their clients without the latter's permission. In Dumadag v. Atty. Lumaya,54 we indefinitely suspended respondent for failure to remit to his client the amount of the measly sum of P4,344.00 representing the amount received pursuant to a writ of execution. Considering the amount involved here US$12,000.00, we believe that the penalty of suspension for two (2) years is appropriate. Transferring IBP membership to a chapter where the lawyer is not a resident of is not a ground for his suspension or disbarment Complainant insists that Atty. de Vera's transfer of membership from the Pasay, Paraaque, Las Pias and Muntinlupa (PPLM) Chapter to the Agusan del Sur IBP Chapter is a circumvention of the rotation rule as it was made for the sole purpose of becoming IBP National President. Complainant stresses that Atty. de Vera is not a resident of Agusan del Sur nor does he hold office therein. In Adm. Case No. 6052, we held that Atty. de Vera's act of transferring to another IBP Chapter is not a ground for his disqualification for the post of IBP Governor as the same is allowed under Section 19 of the IBP By-Laws with the qualification only that the transfer be made not less than three months immediately preceding any chapter election. As it was perfectly within Atty. de Vera's right to transfer his membership, it cannot be said that he is guilty of unethical conduct or behavior. And while one may incessantly argue that a legal act may not necessarily be ethical, in herein case, we do not see anything wrong in transferring to an IBP chapter that -- based on the rotation rule will produce the next IBP EVP who will automatically succeed to the National Presidency for the next term. Our Code of Professional Responsibility as well as the Lawyer's Oath do not prohibit nor punish lawyers from aspiring to be IBP National President and from doing perfectly legal acts in accomplishing such goal.

Bar Matter No. 1227 Administrative Matter No. 05-5-15-SC To resolve Bar Matter No. 1227 and Administrative Matter No. 05-5- 15-SC, the following issues must be addressed: I. Whether the IBP Board of Governors acted with grave abuse of discretion in removing Atty. de Vera as Governor and EVP of the IBP on 13 May 2005. i. Whether the IBP Board of Governors complied with administrative due process in removing Atty. de Vera. ii. Whether the IBP removed Atty. De Vera for just and valid cause. II. Whether Governor Salazar was validly elected as EVP of the IBP on 25 June 2005, and can consequently assume the Presidency of the IBP for the term 2005-2007. The IBP Board observed due process in its removal of Atty. de Vera as IBP Governor We start the discussion with the veritable fact that the IBP Board is vested with the power to remove any of its members pursuant to Section 44, Article VI of the IBP By-Laws, which states: Sec. 44. Removal of members. If the Board of Governors should determine after proper inquiry that any of its members, elective or otherwise, has for any reason become unable to perform his duties, the Board, by resolution of the Majority of the remaining members, may declare his position vacant, subject to the approval of the Supreme Court. Any member of the Board, elective or otherwise, may be removed for cause, including three consecutive absences from Board meetings without justifiable excuse, by resolution adopted by two-thirds of the remaining members of the Board, subject to the approval of the Supreme Court. In case of any vacancy in the office of Governor for whatever cause, the delegates from the region shall by majority vote, elect a successor from among the members of the Chapter to which the resigned governor is a member to serve as governor for the unexpired portion of the term. (Emphasis supplied) Under the aforementioned section, a member of the IBP Board may be removed for cause by resolution adopted by two-thirds (2/3) of the remaining members of the Board, subject to the approval of this Court. In the main, Atty. de Vera questions his removal from the Board of Governors on procedural and substantive grounds. He argues that he was denied "very basic rights of due process recognized by the Honorable Court even in administrative cases" like the right to answer formally or in writing and within reasonable time, the right to present witnesses in his behalf, the right to a fair hearing. Atty. de Vera protests the fact that he was not able to cross-

examine the complainant, IBP Gov. Romulo H. Rivera (Atty. Rivera) and that Atty. Rivera voted as well for his expulsion which made him accuser, prosecutor and judge at the same time. Atty. de Vera emphasized the fact that Atty. Rivera initially inhibited himself from voting on his own motion. However, when his inhibition resulted in the defeat of his motion as the necessary 2/3 votes could not be mustered, Atty. Rivera asked for another round of voting so he could vote to support his own motion. The IBP Board counters that since its members were present during the plenary session, and personally witnessed and heard Atty. de Vera's actuations, an evidentiary or formal hearing was no longer necessary. Since they all witnessed and heard Atty. de Vera, it was enough that he was given an opportunity to refute and answer all the charges imputed against him. They emphasized that Atty. de Vera was given a copy of the complaint and that he was present at the Board Meeting on 13 May 2005 wherein the letter-complaint against him was part of the agenda. Therein, he was given the opportunity to be heard and that, in fact, Atty. de Vera did argue his case. We are in agreement with the IBP Board. First, it needs stressing that the constitutional provision on due process safeguards life, liberty and property.55 It cannot be said that the position of EVP of the IBP is property within the constitutional sense especially since there is no right to security of tenure over said position as, in fact, all that is required to remove any member of the board of governors for cause is a resolution adopted by 2/3 of the remaining members of the board. Secondly, even if the right of due process could be rightfully invoked, still, in administrative proceedings, the essence of due process is simply the opportunity to explain one's side.56 At the outset, it is here emphasized that the term "due process of law" as used in the Constitution has no fixed meaning for all purposes due "to the very nature of the doctrine which, asserting a fundamental principle of justice rather than a specific rule of law, is not susceptible of more than one general statement."57 The phrase is so elusive of exact apprehension,58 because it depends on circumstances and varies with the subject matter and the necessities of the situation.59 Due process of law in administrative cases is not identical with "judicial process" for a trial in court is not always essential to due process. While a day in court is a matter of right in judicial proceedings, it is otherwise in administrative proceedings since they rest upon different principles. The due process clause guarantees no particular form of procedure and its requirements are not technical. Thus, in certain proceedings of administrative character, the right to a notice or hearing are not essential to due process of law. The constitutional requirement of due process is met by a fair hearing before a regularly established administrative agency or tribunal. It is not essential that hearings be had before the making of a determination if thereafter, there is available trial and tribunal before which all objections and defenses to the making of such determination may be raised and considered. One adequate hearing is all that due process requires. What is required for "hearing" may differ as the functions of the administrative bodies differ.60 The right to cross-examine is not an indispensable aspect of due process.61 Nor is an actual hearing always essential62 especially under the factual milieu of this case where the members

of the IBP Board -- upon whose shoulders the determination of the cause for removal of an IBP governor is placed subject to the approval of the Supreme Court all witnessed Atty. de Vera's actuations in the IBP National Convention in question. It is undisputed that Atty. de Vera received a copy of the complaint against him and that he was present when the matter was taken up. From the transcript of the stenographic notes of the 13 May 2005 meeting wherein Atty. de Vera was removed, it is patent that Atty. de Vera was given fair opportunity to defend himself against the accusations made by Atty. Rivera. Atty. de Vera, however, additionally questions the fact that Atty. Rivera, who authored the complaint against him, also voted for his expulsion making him accuser, prosecutor and judge at the same time. Atty. de Vera likewise laments the fact that Atty. Rivera initially inhibited himself from voting but when this resulted in the defeat of his motion for lack of the necessary 2/3 vote, he agreed to another round of voting and that, this time, he voted in favor of his motion. For the record, of the nine governors comprising the IBP Board, six voted for Atty. de Vera's expulsion (including Atty. Rivera) while 3 voted against it (including Atty. de Vera). Section 44 (second paragraph) of the IBP By-Laws provides: Any member of the Board, elective or otherwise, may be removed for cause, including three consecutive absences from Board meetings without justifiable excuse, by resolution adopted by two-thirds of theremaining members of the Board, subject to the approval of the Supreme Court. (Emphasis supplied.) Under the rules, a resolution for expulsion of an IBP Governor is done via a resolution adopted by 2/3 of the remaining members. The phrase "remaining members" refers to the members exclusive of the complainant member and the respondent member. The reason therefore is that such members are interested parties and are thus presumed to be unable to resolve said motion impartially. This being the case, the votes of Attys. Rivera and de Vera should be stricken-off which means that only the votes of the seven remaining members are to be counted. Of the seven remaining members, five voted for expulsion while two voted against it which still adds up to the 2/3 vote requirement for expulsion. The IBP Board removed Atty. de Vera as IBP Governor for just and valid cause All the concerned parties to this case agree that what constitutes cause for the removal of an IBP Governor has not been defined by Section 44 of the IBP By-Laws albeit it includes three consecutive absences from Board meetings without justifiable excuse. Thus, the IBP Board argues that it is vested with sufficient power and authority to protect itself from an intractable member whose removal was caused not by his disagreement with the IBP Board but due to various acts committed by him which the IBP Board considered as inimical to the IBP Board in particular and the IBP in general. Atty. de Vera, on the other hand, insists that speaking in disagreement with the Resolution of the Board during the Convention's Plenary Session is not a valid cause to remove or expel a duly-elected member of the IBP Board of Governors and the decision to remove him only

shows that the right to freedom of speech or the right to dissent is not recognized by the IBP Board. After weighing the arguments of the parties and in keeping with the fundamental objective of the IBP to discharge its public responsibility more effectively, we hereby find that Atty. de Vera's removal from the IBP Board was not capricious or arbitrary. Indubitably, conflicts and disagreements of varying degrees of intensity, if not animosity, are inherent in the internal life of an organization, but especially of the IBP since lawyers are said to disagree before they agree. However, the effectiveness of the IBP, like any other organization, is diluted if the conflicts are brought outside its governing body for then there would be the impression that the IBP, which speaks through the Board of Governors, does not and cannot speak for its members in an authoritative fashion. It would accordingly diminish the IBP's prestige and repute with the lawyers as well as with the general public. As a means of self-preservation, internecine conflicts must thus be adjusted within the governing board itself so as to free it from the stresses that invariably arise when internal cleavages are made public. The doctrine of majority rule is almost universally used as a mechanism for adjusting and resolving conflicts and disagreements within the group after the members have been given an opportunity to be heard. While it does not efface conflicts, nonetheless, once a decision on a contentious matter is reached by a majority vote, the dissenting minority is bound thereby so that the board can speak with one voice, for those elected to the governing board are deemed to implicitly contract that the will of the majority shall govern in matters within the authority of the board.63 The IBP Board, therefore, was well within its right in removing Atty. de Vera as the latter's actuations during the 10th National IBP Convention were detrimental to the role of the IBP Board as the governing body of the IBP. When the IBP Board is not seen by the bar and the public as a cohesive unit, it cannot effectively perform its duty of helping the Supreme Court enforce the code of legal ethics and the standards of legal practice as well as improve the administration of justice. In view of the importance of retaining group cohesiveness and unity, the expulsion of a member of the board who insists on bringing to the public his disagreement with a policy/resolution approved by the majority after due discussion, cannot be faulted. The effectiveness of the board as a governing body will be negated if its pronouncements are resisted in public by a board member. Indeed, when a member of a governing body cannot accept the voice of the majority, he should resign therefrom so that he could criticize in public the majority opinion/decision to his heart's content; otherwise, he subjects himself to disciplinary action by the body. The removal of Atty. de Vera as member of the Board of Governors ipso facto meant his removal as EVP as well

The removal of Atty. de Vera as member of the Board of Governors ipso facto meant his removal as EVP as well. Section 47, Article VII of the By-Laws of the IBP provides: SEC. 47. National Officers. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines shall have a President and Executive Vice President to be chosen by the Board of Governors from among nine (9) regional governors, as much as practicable, on a rotation basis. x x x Thus, to be EVP of the IBP, one must necessarily be a member of IBP Board of Governors. Atty. de Vera's removal from the Board of Governors, automatically disqualified him from acting as IBP EVP. To insist otherwise would be contrary to Section 47 of the IBP By-Laws. The Court will not interfere with the Resolution of the IBP Board to remove Atty. de Vera since it was rendered without grave abuse of discretion While it is true that the Supreme Court has been granted an extensive power of supervision over the IBP,64 it is axiomatic that such power should be exercised prudently. The power of supervision of the Supreme Court over the IBP should not preclude the IBP from exercising its reasonable discretion especially in the administration of its internal affairs governed by the provisions of its By-Laws. The IBP By-Laws were precisely drafted and promulgated so as to define the powers and functions of the IBP and its officers, establish its organizational structure, and govern relations and transactions among its officers and members. With these By-Laws in place, the Supreme Court could be assured that the IBP shall be able to carry on its day-to-day affairs, without the Court's interference. It should be noted that the general charge of the affairs and activities of the IBP has been vested in the Board of Governors. The members of the Board are elective and representative of each of the nine regions of the IBP as delineated in its By-Laws.65 The Board acts as a collegiate body and decides in accordance with the will of the majority. The foregoing rules serve to negate the possibility of the IBP Board acting on the basis of personal interest or malice of its individual members. Hence, the actions and resolutions of the IBP Board deserve to be accorded the disputable presumption66 of validity, which shall continue, until and unless it is overcome by substantial evidence and actually declared invalid by the Supreme Court. In the absence of any allegation and substantial proof that the IBP Board has acted without or in excess of its authority or with grave abuse of discretion, we shall not be persuaded to overturn and set aside the Board's action or resolution. There is no question that the IBP Board has the authority to remove its members as provided in Article VI, Section 4467 of the IBP By-Laws. Issue arises only as to whether the IBP Board abused its authority and discretion in resolving to remove Atty. de Vera from his post as an IBP Governor and EVP. As has been previously established herein, Atty. de Vera's removal from the IBP Board was in accordance with due process and the IBP Board acted well within the authority and discretion granted to it by its By-Laws. There being no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the IBP Board, we find no reason to interfere in the Board's resolution to remove Atty. de Vera. The election of Atty. Salazar by the IBP Board as IBP EVP in replacement of Atty. De Vera was conducted in accordance with the authority granted to the Board by the IBP By-Laws

In the same manner, we find no reason to disturb the action taken by the 2003-2005 IBP Board of Governors in holding a special election to fill-in the vacant post resulting from the removal of Atty. de Vera as EVP of the IBP since the same is a purely internal matter, done without grave abuse of discretion, and implemented without violating the Rules and By-Laws of the IBP. With the removal of Atty. de Vera from the Board, by virtue of the IBP Board Resolution dated 13 May 2005, he was also removed from his post as EVP; thus, there was a resultant vacancy in the position of IBP EVP. Article VI, Section 41(g) of the IBP By-Laws expressly grants to the Board the authority to fill vacancies, however arising, in the IBP positions, subject to the provisions of Section 8 of the Integration Rule,68 and Section 11 (Vacancies),69 Section 44 (Removal of members),70 Section 47 (National officers),71 Section 48 (other officers),72and Section 49 (Terms of Office)73 of the By-Laws. The IBP Board has specific and sufficient guidelines in its Rules and By-Laws on how to fill-in the vacancies after the removal of Atty. de Vera. We have faith and confidence in the intellectual, emotional and ethical competencies of the remaining members of the 20052007 Board in dealing with the situation within the bounds of the IBP Rules and By-Laws. The election by the 2003-2005 IBP Board of Governors of a new EVP, who will assume the Presidency for the term 2005-2007, was well within the authority and prerogative granted to the Board by the IBP By-Laws, particularly Article VII, Section 47, which provides that "[t]he EVP shall automatically become President for the next succeeding term." The phrase "for the next succeeding term" necessarily implies that the EVP that should succeed Atty. Cadiz as IBP President for the next succeeding term (i.e., 2005-2007) should come from the members of the 2003-2005 IBP Board of Governors. Hence, in A.M. No. 05-7-19-SC, we restrained now IBP EVP Feliciano Bautista from assuming the position of Acting President because we have yet to resolve the question as to who shall succeed Atty. Cadiz from the 2003-2005 IBP Board of Governors. Accordingly, the elections of Governor Santiago on 13 June 2005 as IBP EVP, and thereafter, Governor Salazar on 25 June 2005, as the new IBP EVP, upon the relinquishment of Gov. Santiago of the position, were valid. Neither can this Court give credence to the argument of Atty. De Vera that, assuming his removal as IBP Governor and EVP was valid, his replacement as IBP EVP should come from Eastern Mindanao Region pursuant to the rotation rule set forth in Article VII, Section 47, of the IBP By-Laws. According to Article VII, Section 47, of the IBP By-Laws, the EVP shall be chosen by the Board of Governors from among the nine Regional Governors, as much as practicable, on a rotation basis. This is based on our pronouncements in Bar Matter 491, wherein we ruled: "ORDER xxxx

3. The former system of having the IBP President and Executive Vice-President elected by the Board of Governors (composed of the governors of the nine [9] IBP regions) from among themselves (as provided in Sec. 47, Art. VII, Original IBP By-Laws) should be restored. The right of automatic succession by the Executive Vice-President to the presidency upon the expiration of their two-year term (which was abolished by this Court's resolution dated July 9, 1985 in Bar Matter No. 287) should be as it is hereby restored. 4. At the end of the President's two-year term, the Executive Vice-President shall automatically succeed to the office of president. The incoming board of governors shall then elect an Executive Vice-President from among themselves. The position of Executive Vice-President shall be rotated among the nine (9) IBP regions. One who has served as president may not run for election as Executive Vice-President in a succeeding election until after the rotation of the presidency among the nine (9) regions shall have been completed; whereupon, the rotation shall begin anew. xxxx (Emphasis Supplied)" In Bar Matter 491, it is clear that it is the position of IBP EVP which is actually rotated among the nine Regional Governors. The rotation with respect to the Presidency is merely a result of the automatic succession rule of the IBP EVP to the Presidency. Thus, the rotation rule pertains in particular to the position of IBP EVP, while the automatic succession rule pertains to the Presidency. The rotation with respect to the Presidency is but a consequence of the automatic succession rule provided in Section 47 of the IBP By-Laws. In the case at bar, the rotation rule was duly complied with since upon the election of Atty. De Vera as IBP EVP, each of the nine IBP regions had already produced an EVP and, thus, the rotation was completed. It is only unfortunate that the supervening event of Atty. de Vera's removal as IBP Governor and EVP rendered it impossible for him to assume the IBP Presidency. The fact remains, however, that the rotation rule had been completed despite the non-assumption by Atty. de Vera to the IBP Presidency. Moreover, the application of the rotation rule is not a license to disregard the spirit and purpose of the automatic succession rule, but should be applied in harmony with the latter. The automatic succession rule affords the IBP leadership transition seamless and enables the new IBP National President to attend to pressing and urgent matters without having to expend valuable time for the usual adjustment and leadership consolidation period. The time that an IBP EVP spends assisting a sitting IBP President on matters national in scope is in fact a valuable and indispensable preparation for the eventual succession. It should also be pointed out that this wisdom is further underscored by the fact that an IBP EVP is elected from among the members of the IBP Board of Governors, who are serving in a national capacity, and not from the members at large. It is intrinsic in the IBP By-Laws that one who is to assume the highest position in the IBP must have been exposed to the demands and responsibilities of national leadership.

It would therefore be consistent with the purpose and spirit of the automatic succession rule for Governor Salazar to assume the post of IBP President. By electing the replacement EVP from among the members of the 2003-2005 Board of Governors, the IBP benefits from the experience of the IBP EVP of 2003-2005 in this case, Governor Salazar who would have served in a national capacity prior to his assumption of the highest position. It will also be inconsistent with the purpose and spirit of the automatic succession rule if the EVP for the term 2003-2005 will be elected exclusively by the members of the House of Delegates of the Eastern Mindanao region. This Court notes that the removal of Atty. De Vera in 13 May 2005 was about a month before the expiration of the term of office of the 20032005 Board of Governors. Hence, the replacement Governor would not have been able to serve in a national capacity for two years prior to assuming the IBP Presidency. In any case, Section 47 of the IBP Rules uses the phrase "as much as practicable" to clearly indicate that the rotation rule is not a rigid and inflexible rule as to bar exceptions in compelling and exceptional circumstances. It is in view of the foregoing that the argument advanced by Atty. De Vera that the IBP national presidency should be assumed by a nominee from Eastern Mindanao region from where he comes, can not hold water. It would go against the intent of the IBP By-Laws for such a nominee would be bereft of the wealth of experience and the perspective that only one who is honed in service while serving in a national post in the IBP would have. We therefore rule that the IBP Board of Governors acted in accordance with the IBP By-Laws, in electing Atty. Salazar as IBP EVP and in ensuring a succession in the leadership of the IBP. Had the Board of Governors not done so, there would have been no one qualified to assume the Presidency of the IBP on 1 July 2005, pursuant to Section 47 of the IBP By-Laws. WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, we rule as follows: 1) SUSPEND Atty. Leonard de Vera in A.C. No. 6697 from the practice of law for TWO (2) YEARS, effective from the finality of this Resolution. Let a copy of this Resolution be attached to the personal record of Atty. Leonard de Vera and copies furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts; 2) DISMISS the letter-complaint of Atty. Leonard de Vera, dated 18 May 2005, in A.M. No. 05-5-15-SC, praying for the disapproval of the Resolution, dated 13 May 2005, of the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines removing him from his posts as Governor and Executive Vice President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the said Resolution having been rendered without grave abuse of discretion; 3) AFFIRM the election by the Board of Governors of Atty. Jose Vicente B. Salazar as Executive Vice President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for the remainder of the term 2003-2005, such having been conducted in accordance with its By-Laws and absent any showing of grave abuse of discretion; and

4) DIRECT Atty. Jose Vicente B. Salazar to immediately take his oath of office and assume the Presidency of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for the term 2005-2007 in accordance with the automatic succession rule in Article VII, Section 47 of the IBP By-Laws, upon receipt of this Resolution. SO ORDERED. Panganiban, C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, AustriaMartinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Garcia, Velasco, Jr., J.J., concur. Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila THIRD DIVISION A.C. No. 7204 March 7, 2007

CYNTHIA ADVINCULA, Complainant, vs. ATTY. ERNESTO M. MACABATA, Respondent. RESOLUTION CHICO-NAZARIO, J.: Before Us is a complaint1 for disbarment filed by Cynthia Advincula against respondent Atty. Ernesto M. Macabata, charging the latter with Gross Immorality. Complainant alleged the following: Sometime on 1st week of December 2004 complainant [Cynthia Advincula] seek the legal advice of the respondent [Atty. Macabata], regarding her collectibles from Queensway Travel and Tours. As promised, he sent Demand Letter dated December 11, 2004 (copy attached as Annex "I") to the concerned parties. On February 10, 2005, met (sic) at Zensho Restaurant in Tomas Morato, Quezon City to discuss the possibility of filing the complaint against Queensway Travel and Tours because they did not settle their accounts as demanded. After the dinner, respondent sent complainant home and while she is about to step out of the car, respondent hold (sic) her arm and kissed her on the cheek and embraced her very tightly. Again, on March 6, 2005, at about past 10:00 in the morning, she met respondent at Starbucks coffee shop in West Avenue, Quezon City to finalize the draft of the complaint to be filed in Court. After the meeting, respondent offered again a ride, which he usually did every time they met. Along the way, complainant was wandering (sic) why she felt so sleepy where in fact she just got up from bed a few hours ago. At along Roosevelt Avenue immediately

after corner of Felipe St., in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City when she was almost restless respondent stopped his car and forcefully hold (sic) her face and kissed her lips while the other hand was holding her breast. Complainant even in a state of shocked (sic) succeeded in resisting his criminal attempt and immediately manage (sic) to go (sic) out of the car. In the late afternoon, complainant sent a text message to respondent informing him that she decided to refer the case with another lawyer and needs (sic) to get back the case folder from him. The communications transpired was recorded in her cellular phone and read as follows: Sent by complainant At 5:33:46 pm replied by respondent at 6:16:11 pm sent by complainant at 6:17:59 pm Follow-up message Sent by complainant At 6:29:30 pm Replied by respondent At 6:32:43 pm - forget the case. I decided to refer it with other lawyer - "does this mean I can not c u anymore" (Does this mean I cannot see you anymore) - I feel bad. I cant expect that u will take advantage of the situation. - wrong to kiss a girl especially in the lips if you dont have relationship with her. - "Im veri sri. Its not tking advantage of the situation, 2 put it rightly it s an expression of feeling. S sri" (Im very sorry. Its not taking advantage of the situation, to put it rightly it is an expression of feeling) - Im s sri. Il not do it again. Wil u stil c me s I can show u my sincerity" (Im so sorry. Ill not do it again. Will you still see me so I can show you my sincerity)

Follow up message by respondent at 6:42:25 pm

On the following day, March 7, 2005 respondent sent another message to complainant at 3:55:32 pm saying "I dont know wat 2 do s u may 4give me. "Im realy sri. Puede bati na tyo." (I dont know what to do so you may forgive me. Im really sorry. Puede bati na tayo). Respondent replied "talk to my lawyer in due time." Then another message was received by her at 4:06:33 pm saying "Ano k ba. Im really sri. Pls. Nxt ime bhave n me." (Ano ka ba. Im really sorry. Please next time behave na ko), which is a clear manifestation of admission of guilt.2 In his answer,3 respondent admitted that he agreed to provide legal services to the complainant; that he met with complainant on 10 February 2005 and 6 March 2005, to discuss the relevant matters relative to the case which complainant was intending to file against the owners of Queensway Travel and Tours for collection of a sum of money; that on both occasions, complainant rode with him in his car where he held and kissed complainant on the lips as the former offered her lips to him; and, that the corner of Cooper Street and

Roosevelt Avenue, where he dropped off the complainant, was a busy street teeming with people, thus, it would have been impossible to commit the acts imputed to him. By way of defense, respondent further elucidated that: 1) there was a criminal case for Acts of Lasciviousness filed by complainant against respondent pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor in Quezon City; 2) the legal name of complainant is Cynthia Advincula Toriana since she remains married to a certain Jinky Toriana because the civil case for the nullification of their marriage was archived pursuant to the Order dated 6 December 2000 issued by the Regional Trial Court of Maburao, Occidental Mindoro; 3) the complainant was living with a man not her husband; and 4) the complainant never bothered to discuss respondents fees and it was respondent who always paid for their bills every time they met and ate at a restaurant. A hearing was conducted by the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) at the IBP Building, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, on 26 July 2005. On 30 September 2005, Investigating Commissioner Dennis A. B. Funa submitted his Report and Recommendation,4 recommending the imposition of the penalty of one (1) month suspension on respondent for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Thereafter, the IBP passed Resolution No. XVII-2006-117 dated 20 March 2006, approving and adopting, with modification, the recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, thus: RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A"; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering the behavior of Respondent went beyond the norms of conduct required of a lawyer when dealing with or relating with a client, Atty. Ernesto A. Macabata is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) months.5 The issue to be resolved in this case is: whether respondent committed acts that are grossly immoral or which constitute serious moral depravity that would warrant his disbarment or suspension from the practice of law. Simple as the facts of the case may be, the manner by which we deal with respondents actuations shall have a rippling effect on how the standard norms of our legal practitioners should be defined. Perhaps morality in our liberal society today is a far cry from what it used to be. This permissiveness notwithstanding, lawyers, as keepers of public faith, are burdened with a high degree of social responsibility and, hence, must handle their personal affairs with greater caution. The Code of Professional Responsibility provides: CANON I x x x Rule 1.01-- A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

CANON 7-- A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the Integrated Bar. xxxx Rule 7.03-- A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession. As may be gleaned from above, the Code of Professional Responsibility forbids lawyers from engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. Lawyers have been repeatedly reminded that their possession of good moral character is a continuing condition to preserve their membership in the Bar in good standing. The continued possession of good moral character is a requisite condition for remaining in the practice of law.6 In Aldovino v. Pujalte, Jr.,7 we emphasized that: This Court has been exacting in its demand for integrity and good moral character of members of the Bar. They are expected at all times to uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and refrain from any act or omission which might lessen the trust and confidence reposed by the public in the fidelity, honesty, and integrity of the legal profession. Membership in the legal profession is a privilege. And whenever it is made to appear that an attorney is no longer worthy of the trust and confidence of the public, it becomes not only the right but also the duty of this Court, which made him one of its officers and gave him the privilege of ministering within its Bar, to withdraw the privilege. It is the bounden duty of lawyers to adhere unwaveringly to the highest standards of morality. The legal profession exacts from its members nothing less. Lawyers are called upon to safeguard the integrity of the Bar, free from misdeeds and acts constitutive of malpractice. Their exalted positions as officers of the court demand no less than the highest degree of morality.8 We explained in Barrientos v. Daarol9 that, "as officers of the court, lawyers must not only in fact be of good moral character but must also be seen to be of good moral character and leading lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community." Lawyers are expected to abide by the tenets of morality, not only upon admission to the Bar but also throughout their legal career, in order to maintain their good standing in this exclusive and honored fraternity. They may be suspended from the practice of law or disbarred for any misconduct, even if it pertains to his private activities, as long as it shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity or good demeanor.10 In Bar Matter No. 1154,11 good moral character was defined as what a person really is, as distinguished from good reputation, or from the opinion generally entertained of him, or the estimate in which he is held by the public in the place where he is known. Moral character is not a subjective term but one which corresponds to objective reality.

It should be noted that the requirement of good moral character has four ostensible purposes, namely: (1) to protect the public; (2) to protect the public image of lawyers; (3) to protect prospective clients; and (4) to protect errant lawyers from themselves.12 In the case at bar, respondent admitted kissing complainant on the lips. In his Answer,13 respondent confessed, thus: 27. When she was about to get off the car, I said can I kiss you goodnight. She offered her left cheek and I kissed it and with my left hand slightly pulled her right face towards me and kissed her gently on the lips. We said goodnight and she got off the car. xxxx 35. When I stopped my car I said okay. I saw her offered (sic) her left cheek and I lightly kissed it and with my right hand slightly pulled her right cheek towards me and plant (sic) a light kiss on her lips. There was no force used. No intimidation made, no lewd designs displayed. No breast holding was done. Everything happened very spontaneously with no reaction from her except saying "sexual harassment." During the hearing held on 26 July 2005 at the 3rd floor, IBP Building, Dona Julia Vargas Avenue, Ortigas City, respondent candidly recalled the following events: ATTY. MACABATA: That time in February, we met I fetched her I should say, somewhere along the corner of Edsa and Kamuning because it was then raining so we are texting each other. So I parked my car somewhere along the corner of Edsa and Kamuning and I was there about ten to fifteen minutes then she arrived. And so I said she opened my car and then she went inside so I said, would you like that we have a Japanese dinner? And she said yes, okay. So I brought her to Zensho which is along Tomas Morato. When we were there, we discussed about her case, we ordered food and then a little while I told her, would it be okay for you of I (sic) order wine? She said yes so I ordered two glasses of red wine. After that, after discussing matters about her case, so I said its about 9:00 or beyond that time already, so I said okay, lets go. So when I said lets go so I stood up and then I went to the car. I went ahead of my car and she followed me then she rode on (sic) it. So I told her where to? She told me just drop me at the same place where you have been dropping me for the last meetings that we had and that was at the corner of Morato and Roosevelt Avenue. So, before she went down, I told her can I kiss you goodnight? She offered her left cheek and I kissed it and with the slight use of my right hand, I ... should I say tilted her face towards me and when shes already facing me I lightly kissed her on the lips. And then I said good night. She went down the car, thats it. COMM. FUNA: February 10 iyan. xxxx

ATTY. MACABATA: Okay. After that were through so I said lets go because I have an appointment. So we went out, we went inside my car and I said where to? Same place, she said, so then at the same corner. So before she went down , before she opened the door of the car, I saw her offered her left cheek. So I kissed her again. COMM. FUNA: Pardon? ATTY. MACABATA: I saw her offered her left cheek like that, so I kissed her again and then with the use of my left hand, pushed a little bit her face and then kissed her again softly on the lips and thats it. x x x.14 (Emphases supplied.) It is difficult to state with precision and to fix an inflexible standard as to what is "grossly immoral conduct" or to specify the moral delinquency and obliquity which render a lawyer unworthy of continuing as a member of the bar. The rule implies that what appears to be unconventional behavior to the straight-laced may not be the immoral conduct that warrants disbarment.15 In Zaguirre v. Castillo,16 we reiterated the definition of immoral conduct, as such conduct which is so willful, flagrant, or shameless as to show indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. Furthermore, for such conduct to warrant disciplinary action, the same must not simply be immoral, but grossly immoral. It must be so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree or committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the common sense of decency. The following cases were considered by this Court as constitutive of grossly immoral conduct: In Toledo v. Toledo,17 a lawyer was disbarred from the practice of law, when he abandoned his lawful wife and cohabited with another woman who had borne him a child. In Obusan v. Obusan, Jr.,18 a lawyer was disbarred after complainant proved that he had abandoned her and maintained an adulterous relationship with a married woman. This court declared that respondent failed to maintain the highest degree of morality expected and required of a member of the bar. In Dantes v. Dantes,19 respondents act of engaging in illicit relationships with two different women during the subsistence of his marriage to the complainant constitutes grossly immoral conduct warranting the imposition of appropriate sanctions. Complainants testimony, taken in conjunction with the documentary evidence, sufficiently established that respondent breached the high and exacting moral standards set for members of the law profession.

In Delos Reyes v. Aznar,20 it was ruled that it was highly immoral of respondent, a married man with children, to have taken advantage of his position as chairman of the college of medicine in asking complainant, a student in said college, to go with him to Manila where he had carnal knowledge of her under the threat that she would flank in all her subjects in case she refused. In Cojuangco, Jr. v. Palma,21 respondent lawyer was disbarred when he abandoned his lawful wife and three children, lured an innocent woman into marrying him and misrepresented himself as a "bachelor" so he could contract marriage in a foreign land. In Macarrubo v. Macarrubo,22 respondent entered into multiple marriages and then resorted to legal remedies to sever them. There, we ruled that "[s]uch pattern of misconduct by respondent undermines the institutions of marriage and family, institutions that this society looks to for the rearing of our children, for the development of values essential to the survival and well-being of our communities, and for the strengthening of our nation as a whole." As such, "there can be no other fate that awaits respondent than to be disbarred." In Tucay v. Tucay,23 respondent contracted marriage with another married woman and left complainant with whom he has been married for thirty years. We ruled that such acts constitute "a grossly immoral conduct and only indicative of an extremely low regard for the fundamental ethics of his profession," warranting respondents disbarment. In Villasanta v. Peralta,24 respondent married complainant while his first wife was still alive, their marriage still valid and subsisting. We held that "the act of respondent of contracting the second marriage is contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality." Thus, lacking the good moral character required by the Rules of Court, respondent was disqualified from being admitted to the bar. In Cabrera v. Agustin,25 respondent lured an innocent woman into a simulated marriage and thereafter satisfied his lust. We held that respondent failed to maintain that degree of morality and integrity which, at all times, is expected of members of the bar. He is, therefore, disbarred from the practice of law. Immorality has not been confined to sexual matters, but includes conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant, or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.26 Guided by the definitions above, we perceived acts of kissing or beso-beso on the cheeks as mere gestures of friendship and camaraderie,27 forms of greetings, casual and customary. The acts of respondent, though, in turning the head of complainant towards him and kissing her on the lips are distasteful. However, such act, even if considered offensive and undesirable, cannot be considered grossly immoral. Complainants bare allegation that respondent made use and took advantage of his position as a lawyer to lure her to agree to have sexual relations with him, deserves no credit. The burden of proof rests on the complainant, and she must establish the case against the

respondent by clear, convincing and satisfactory proof,28 disclosing a case that is free from doubt as to compel the exercise by the Court of its disciplinary power.29 Thus, the adage that "he who asserts not he who denies, must prove."30 As a basic rule in evidence, the burden of proof lies on the party who makes the allegationsei incumbit probation, qui decit, non qui negat; cum per rerum naturam factum negantis probation nulla sit.31 In the case at bar, complainant miserably failed to comply with the burden of proof required of her. A mere charge or allegation of wrongdoing does not suffice. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt.32 Moreover, while respondent admitted having kissed complainant on the lips, the same was not motivated by malice. We come to this conclusion because right after the complainant expressed her annoyance at being kissed by the respondent through a cellular phone text message, respondent immediately extended an apology to complainant also via cellular phone text message. The exchange of text messages between complainant and respondent bears this out. Be it noted also that the incident happened in a place where there were several people in the vicinity considering that Roosevelt Avenue is a major jeepney route for 24 hours. If respondent truly had malicious designs on complainant, he could have brought her to a private place or a more remote place where he could freely accomplish the same. All told, as shown by the above circumstances, respondents acts are not grossly immoral nor highly reprehensible to warrant disbarment or suspension. The question as to what disciplinary sanction should be imposed against a lawyer found guilty of misconduct requires consideration of a number of factors.33 When deciding upon the appropriate sanction, the Court must consider that the primary purposes of disciplinary proceedings are to protect the public; to foster public confidence in the Bar; to preserve the integrity of the profession; and to deter other lawyers from similar misconduct.34Disciplinary proceedings are means of protecting the administration of justice by requiring those who carry out this important function to be competent, honorable and reliable men in whom courts and clients may repose confidence.35 While it is discretionary upon the Court to impose a particular sanction that it may deem proper against an erring lawyer, it should neither be arbitrary and despotic nor motivated by personal animosity or prejudice, but should ever be controlled by the imperative need to scrupulously guard the purity and independence of the bar and to exact from the lawyer strict compliance with his duties to the court, to his client, to his brethren in the profession and to the public. The power to disbar or suspend ought always to be exercised on the preservative and not on the vindictive principle, with great caution and only for the most weighty reasons and only on clear cases of misconduct which seriously affect the standing and character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the Bar. Only those acts which cause loss of moral character should merit disbarment or suspension, while those acts which neither affect nor erode the moral character of the lawyer should only justify a lesser sanction unless they are of such nature and to such extent as to clearly show the lawyers unfitness to continue in the practice of law. The dubious character of the act charged as well as the motivation which induced the lawyer to commit it must be clearly demonstrated before suspension or

disbarment is meted out. The mitigating or aggravating circumstances that attended the commission of the offense should also be considered.36 Censure or reprimand is usually meted out for an isolated act of misconduct of a lesser nature. It is also imposed for some minor infraction of the lawyers duty to the court or the client.37 In the Matter of Darell Adams,38 a lawyer was publicly reprimanded for grabbing a female client, kissing her, and raising her blouse which constituted illegal conduct involving moral turpitude and conduct which adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law. Based on the circumstances of the case as discussed and considering that this is respondents first offense, reprimand would suffice. We laud complainants effort to seek redress for what she honestly believed to be an affront to her honor. Surely, it was difficult and agonizing on her part to come out in the open and accuse her lawyer of gross immoral conduct. However, her own assessment of the incidents is highly subjective and partial, and surely needs to be corroborated or supported by more objective evidence. WHEREFORE, the complaint for disbarment against respondent Atty. Ernesto Macabata, for alleged immorality, is hereby DISMISSED. However, respondent is hereby REPRIMANDED to be more prudent and cautious in his dealing with his clients with a STERN WARNING that a more severe sanction will be imposed on him for any repetition of the same or similar offense in the future. SO ORDERED. MINITA V. CHICO-NAZARIO Associate Justice

Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila

EN BANC REBECCA B. ARNOBIT, Complainant, A.C. No. 1481 Present: PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA,

- versus -

ATTY. PONCIANO P. ARNOBIT, Respondent.

TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, REYES, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, and BRION, JJ. Promulgated:

October 17, 2008 x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x DECISION PER CURIAM:

Rebecca B. Arnobit, in her affidavit-complaint[1] dated May 11, 1975, prays that the Court exercise its disciplinary power over her husband, respondent Atty. Ponciano Arnobit, on the grounds of Immorality and Abandonment. In her complaint, Rebecca alleged that she and respondent were married on August 20, 1942. Twelve children were born out of this union. Rebecca further alleged seeing respondent through law school, continuously supporting him until he passed the bar examinations and became a member of the Philippine bar. Several years after, however, or in 1968, respondent left the conjugal home and started cohabiting with one Benita Buenafe Navarro who later bore him four more children. Respondents infidelity, according to Rebecca, impelled her to file a complaint for legal separation and support. A criminal case for adultery against Benita and respondent later followed. In his Answer[2] dated July 31, 1975, respondent admitted that Rebecca is his wedded wife and the mother of their 12 children. He denied, however, having cohabited with Benita. And he pointed to his complaining wife as the cause of their separation, stating the observation that she was always traveling all over the country, ostensibly for business purposes, without his knowledge and consent, x x x thereby neglecting her obligations toward her family.[3]

Issues having been joined, hearings were conducted before the Office of the Solicitor General and, subsequently, before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Commission on Bar Discipline (Commission). At the hearings, Rebecca presented both oral and documentary evidence to support her allegations of abandonment and immorality. Aside from her testimony, Rebecca presented two other witnesses, viz: Venancia M. Barrientos, her sister, who identified a letter dated August 28, 1970 written by respondent to her, addressing her as Vending (Exhibit B-1), therein asking for forgiveness for the unhappiness he caused his family; and Melecio Navarro, husband of Benita, who testified about how respondent took his wife Benita as a mistress, knowing fully well of their lawful marriage.

Rebecca also presented the affidavits of National Bureau of Investigation agents Eladio C. Velasco and Jose C. Vicente (Exhibits H-1 and H-2) to show the existence of a prima facie case for adultery. The pictures and baptismal and birth certificates of Mary Ann, Ma. Luisa, Caridad, and Ponciano Jr., all surnamed Arnobit, were submitted to prove the fact that respondent sired four illegitimate children out of his illicit cohabitation with Benita.[4] According to the investigating commissioner, respondent, despite due notice, repeatedly absented himself when it was his turn to present evidence, adding that scheduled hearings had to be postponed just to afford respondent ample opportunity to present his side of the controversy. The investigating commissioner also stated that, in most cases, respondent would seek postponement, pleading illness, on the very date of the hearing. And according to the Commission, its several directives for respondent to send by mail his affidavits and documentary exhibits in lieu of personal appearance so that the commission could finish with the investigation proved futile. In its Report dated June 21, 1995, the Commission found respondent liable for abandonment and recommended his suspension from the practice of law for three (3) months. The recommendation portion of the report reads, as follows:

WHEREFORE, it is respectfully recommended to the Board of Governors that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three (3) months as a lesson for him to change his ways. An indefinite suspension is not recommended because it has been gathered from complainant herself that respondent supports himself through the practice of law which would be cruel for us to curtail at this time when he is already advanced in age the penalty of three (3) months suspension and recording of such penalty in his record being sufficient to berate him as to his lack of responsibility as evidenced by his abandonment of the children. [Report and Recommendation rendered by Commissioner Vicente Q. Roxas]

On January 27, 1996, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XII-96-43 adopting and approving the Commission report aforementioned. While the Court concurs with the inculpatory findings of the IBP on the charge of abandonment, it cannot bring itself to agree that respondent is liable only for that offense. As it were, the charge for gross immoral conduct has sufficiently been proven. Following established jurisprudence, respondent deserves to be disbarred. The Code of Professional Responsibility provides:
Rule 1.01- A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct: CANON 7 A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the Integrated Bar. Rule 7.03- A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

As this Court often reminds members of the bar, the requirement of good moral character is of much greater import, as far as the general public is concerned, than the possession of legal learning. Good moral character is not only a condition precedent for admission to the legal profession, but it must also remain intact in order to maintain ones good standing in that exclusive and honored fraternity. Good moral character is more than just the absence of bad character. Such character expresses itself in the will to do the unpleasant thing if it is right and

the resolve not to do the pleasant thing if it is wrong. This must be so because vast interests are committed to his care; he is the recipient of unbounded trust and confidence; he deals with his clients property, reputation, his life, his all.[5] Immoral conduct has been described as that conduct which is so willful, flagrant, or shameless as to show indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. To be the basis of disciplinary action, such conduct must not only be immoral, but grossly immoral. That is, it must be so corrupt as to virtually constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree or committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the common sense of decency.[6] As officers of the court, lawyers must not only in fact be of good moral character but must also be seen to be of good moral character and leading lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community.[7] A member of the bar and an officer of the court is not only required to refrain from adulterous relationships or keeping a mistress but must also so behave himself as to avoid scandalizing the public by creating the impression that he is flouting those moral standards. A review of the records readily reveals that despite the protracted delay in the hearings mainly caused by respondents failure to appear, complainant relentlessly pursued this administrative case against her husband. She was, to be sure, able to establish by clear, convincing, and preponderant evidence his commission of marital infidelity and abandonment of his family. Although respondent in his answer denied abandoning complainant and their children and offered an explanation as to the cause of his and his wifes separation, he opted not to take the witness stand and be cross- examined on his sworn answer. Neither did he bother to call and present his alleged paramour, Benita, who could have had disproved an existing adulterous relationship between them, or, at least, confirm his protestation about the paternity of her four children. Significantly, Benitas husband, no less, risked personal ridicule by testifying on the illicit liaison between his wife and respondent.

The fact that respondents philandering ways are far removed from the exercise of his profession would not save the day for him. For a lawyer may be suspended or disbarred for any misconduct which, albeit unrelated to the actual practice of his profession, would show him to be unfit for the office and unworthy of the privileges with which his license and the law invest him.[8] To borrow from Orbe v. Adaza, [t]he grounds expressed in Section 27, Rule 138,[9] of the Rules of Court are not limitative and are broad enough to cover any misconduct x x x of a lawyer in his professional or private capacity.[10] To reiterate, possession of good moral character is not only a condition precedent to the practice of law, but a continuing qualification for all members of the bar. While the onus rests on the complainant proffering the charges to prove the same, respondent owes himself and the Court the duty to show that he is morally fit to remain a member of the bar. Mere denial of wrongdoing would not suffice in the face of clear evidence demonstrating unfitness. When ones moral character is assailed, such that his right to continue practicing his cherished profession is imperiled, it behooves the individual concerned to meet the charges squarely and present evidence, to the satisfaction of the investigating body and this Court, that he is morally fit to keep his name in the Roll of Attorneys.[11] Respondent has not discharged the burden in this regard. Although duly notified, he never attended the hearings to rebut the serious charges brought against him, irresistibly suggesting that the charges are true.

Undoubtedly, respondents act of leaving his wife and 12 children to cohabit and have children with another woman constitutes grossly immoral conduct. And to add insult to injury, there seems to be little attempt on the part of respondent to be discreet about his liaison with the other woman. As we have already ruled, disbarment is warranted against a lawyer who abandons his lawful wife to maintain an illicit relationship with another woman who had borne him a child.[12] In the instant case, respondents grossly immoral conduct compels the Court to wield its power to disbar. The penalty is most appropriate under the premises.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Ponciano P. Arnobit is hereby DISBARRED. Let a copy of this Decision be entered into the records of respondent in the Office of the Bar Confidant and his name stricken from the Roll of Attorneys. Likewise, copies of this Decision shall be furnished the IBP and circulated by the Court Administrator to all appellate and trial courts. This Decision takes effect immediately. SO ORDERED.

SECOND DIVISION

HEIRS OF THE LATE SPOUSES LUCAS and FRANCISCA VILLANUEVA, Complainants,

A.C. No. 6270 Present: QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson, CARPIO, CARPIO MORALES, TINGA, and VELASCO, JR., JJ.

- versus -

ATTY. SALUD P. BERADIO, Respondent.

Promulgated: January 22, 2007

x--------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

CARPIO, J.: The Case

This is a disbarment case against Atty. Salud P. Beradio (respondent), filed by the heirs of the late spouses Lucas and Francisca Villanueva (spouses Villanueva), namely: Ardenio M. Fonacier, Araceli M. Fonacier, Alano M. Fonacier, Eusebio M.Fonacier, Jr., Rolando V. Nazarro, Alejandro V. Nazarro, Margarita V. Collado, Felisa Collado, and Herminigildo Ylhi(complainants).

The Facts During their lifetime, the spouses Villanueva acquired several parcels of land in Pangasinan, one of which was covered by Original Certificate of Title (OCT) No. 2522. Francisca died in 1968, and Lucas in 1974. Their five children, namely, Simeona, Susana, Maria, Alfonso, and Florencia, survived them. On 22 May 1984, Alfonso executed an Affidavit of Adjudication[1] (affidavit of adjudication) stating that as the only surviving son and sole heirs (sic) of the spouses Villanueva, he was adjudicating to himself the parcel of land under OCT No. 2522. Alfonso then executed a Deed of Absolute Sale[2] (deed of sale) on 5 July 1984, conveying the property to Adriano Villanueva. Respondent appeared as notary public on both the affidavit of adjudication and the deed of sale. Contrary to the misrepresentations of Alfonso, his sister Florencia was still alive at the time he executed the affidavit of adjudication and the deed of sale, as were descendants of the other children of the spouses Villanueva. Complainants claimed that respondent was aware of this fact, as respondent had been their neighbor in Balungao, Pangasinan, from the time of their birth, and respondent constantly mingled with their family. Complainants accused respondent of knowing the true facts and surrounding circumstances regarding the properties of the spouses

Villanueva, yet conspiring with Alfonso to deprive his co-heirs of their rightful shares in the property.

In a resolution dated 11 February 2004, this Court required respondent to comment on the complaint. In her Comment,[3] respondent admitted that she notarized the affidavit of adjudication and the deed of sale executed by Alfonso in 1984. However, respondent denied that she conspired with Alfonso to dispose of fraudulently the property. Respondent alleged that Alfonso executed the two documents under the following circumstances:
That the properties of the late spouses [Villanueva] have been divided equally among their compulsory heirs, but said old couple left for themselves one titled lot, the subject now of the complaint x x x That said titled property was the only property left by the old couple, to answer for their needs while they are still alive until their deaths x x x. Alfonso [and his wife] were tasked to take care of the old couple, as they were the ones living in the same compound with their late parents. This fact was and is known by the other compulsory heirs, and they never questioned the said act of their parents, as they already had their own share on the estate of the late [spouses Villanueva]. This fact was also known to me because [Lucas] and [Alfonso] lived across the street from our house and I was requested to the house of the old man when he gave said title to [Alfonso and Tomasa, his wife]. The other compulsory heirs who were still alive at the time just made visits to their parents and never stayed in their old house to help in the care of their parents. Even [when] the parents died, it was [Alfonso and his wife] who took charge of the funeral and all other acts relative thereto. xxxx That said title remain[ed] in the custody of [Alfonso] and after the death of the old man, when the spouses Alfonso [and Tomasa] needed money to finance the schooling of their children, it was then that they thought of disposing the land x x x and said land was sold by them to one Adriano Villanueva of which in both documents, I notarized the same (sic). xxxx

I can say with all clean and good intentions, that if ever I notarized said documents, it was done in good faith, to do my job as expected of me, to help, assist and to guide people who come to me for legal assistance, as contained in my oath as a lawyer when I passed the bar. x x x[4](Emphasis supplied)

According to respondent, the fact that none of Alfonsos co-heirs filed their objections at the time he executed the affidavit of adjudication proved that most of the properties of the spouses Villanueva had earlier been distributed to the other heirs. It also proved that the heirs had agreed to abide by the intention of the spouses Villanueva to leave the property to Alfonso. Respondent asserted that the personal appearances and acknowledgment by the party to the document are the core of the ritual that effectively convert a private document into a public document x x x. On 26 May 2004, we resolved to refer the complaint to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), which designated Commissioner Leland R. Villadolid, Jr. (IBP Commissioner Villadolid) to investigate, and submit his report and recommendation on, the complaint.

The IBPs Findings In his Report dated 16 September 2005, IBP Commissioner Villadolid found that respondent violated the provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the spirit and intent of the notarial law when she notarized the affidavit knowing that Alfonso was not the sole compulsory heir of the spouses Villanueva. Although he found no evidence of fraudulent intent on respondents part, IBP Commissioner Villadolid held that respondent engaged in conduct that lessened confidence in the legal system. Thus, he recommended suspension of respondents notarial commission for one year. He further recommended that respondent be reprimanded or suspended from the practice of law for up to six months.

The Courts Ruling

We sustain partly the IBPs findings and recommendations. A notary public is empowered to perform a variety of notarial acts, most common of which are the acknowledgment and affirmation of a document or instrument. In the performance of such notarial acts, the notary public must be mindful of the significance of the notarial seal as affixed on a document. The notarial seal converts the document from private to public, after which it may be presented as evidence without need for proof of its genuineness and due execution.[5] Thus, notarization should not be treated as an empty, meaningless, or routinary act.[6] As early as Panganiban v. Borromeo,[7] we held that notaries public must inform themselves of the facts to which they intend to certify and to take no part in illegal transactions. They must guard against any illegal or immoral arrangements.[8] On its face, Alfonsos affidavit does not appear to contain any illegal or immoral declaration. However, respondent herself admitted that she knew of the falsity of Alfonsos statement that he was the sole heir of the spouses Villanueva. Respondent therefore notarized a document while fully aware that it contained a material falsehood, i.e., Alfonsos assertion of status as sole heir. The affidavit of adjudication is premised on this very assertion. By this instrument, Alfonso claimed a portion of his parents estate all to himself, to the exclusion of his co-heirs. Shortly afterwards, respondent notarized the deed of sale, knowing that the deed took basis from the unlawful affidavit of adjudication. Respondent never disputed complainants allegation of her close relationship with the Villanueva family spanning several decades. Respondent even underscored this closeness by claiming that Lucas himself requested her to come to his house the day Lucas handed to Alfonso a copy of OCT No. 2522, allegedly so she could hear the conversation between them. Respondent claims she is not administratively liable because at the time Alfonso executed the affidavit, his co-heirs had already received their respective shares from the estate of the spouses Villanueva. However, we are not concerned here with the proper distribution of the spouses Villanuevas estates. Rather, respondents liability springs from her failure to discharge properly her duties as a notary public and as a member of the bar.

Where admittedly the notary public has personal knowledge of a false statement or information contained in the instrument to be notarized, yet proceeds to affix his or her notarial seal on it, the Court must not hesitate to discipline the notary public accordingly as the circumstances of the case may dictate. Otherwise, the integrity and sanctity of the notarization process may be undermined and public confidence on notarial documents diminished. In this case, respondents conduct amounted to a breach of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which requires lawyers to obey the laws of the land and promote respect for the law and legal processes. Respondent also violated Rule 1.01 of the Code which proscribes lawyers from engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral, or deceitful conduct.

We also view with disfavor respondents lack of candor before the IBP proceedings. The transcript of hearings shows that respondent denied preparing or notarizing the deed of sale,[9] when she already admitted having done so in her Comment. WHEREFORE, for violation of Canon 1 and Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, we REVOKE the commission of respondent Atty. Salud P. Beradio as Notary Public, if still existing, and DISQUALIFY her from being commissioned a notary public for one (1) year. We further SUSPEND respondent from the practice of law for six (6) months effective upon finality of this decision.

Let copies of this decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to respondents personal record as attorney. Likewise, copies shall be furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and all courts in the country for their information and guidance. SO ORDERED.
Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila THIRD DIVISION

ATTY. FLORITA S. LINCO,Complainant,

A.C. No. 7241


[Formerly CBD Case No. 05-1506]

Present: - versus VELASCO, JR., J., Chairperson, PERALTA, ABAD, MENDOZA, and PERLAS-BERNABE, JJ. Promulgated: October 17, 2011

ATTY. JIMMY D. LACEBAL, Respondent.

x--------------------------------------------------x

DECISION
PERALTA, J.: The instant case stemmed from an Administrative Complaint dated June 6, 2005 filed by
1

Atty. Florita S. Linco (complainant) before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) against Atty. Jimmy D. Lacebal for disciplinary action for his failure to perform his duty as a notary public, which resulted in the violation of their rights over their property. The antecedent facts are as follows: Complainant claimed that she is the widow of the late Atty. Alberto Linco (Atty. Linco), the registered owner of a parcel of land with improvements, consisting of 126 square meters, located at No. 8, Macopa St., Phase I-A, B, C & D, Valley View Executive Village,Cainta, Rizal and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 259001. Complainant alleged that Atty. Jimmy D. Lacebal (respondent), a notary public for Mandaluyong City, notarized a deed of donation allegedly executed by her husband in favor of
2

Alexander David T. Linco, a minor. The notarial acknowledgment thereof also stated that Atty. Linco and Lina P. Toledo (Toledo), mother of the donee, allegedly personally appeared

before respondent on July 30, 2003, despite the fact that complainants husband died on July 29, 2003.
3

Consequently, by virtue of the purported deed of donation, the Register of Deeds of Antipolo City cancelled TCT No. 259001 on March 28, 2005 and issued a new TCT No. 29251 in the name of
4 5

Alexander David T. Linco. Aggrieved, complainant filed the instant complaint. She claimed that respondent's reprehensible act in connivance with Toledo was not only violative of her and her children's rights but also in violation of the law. Respondent's lack of honesty and candor is unbecoming of a member of the Philippine Bar. In his Answer, respondent admitted having notarized and acknowledged a deed of donation
6

executed by the donor, Atty. Linco, in favor of his son, Alexander David T. Linco, as represented by Lina P. Toledo. Respondent narrated that on July 8, 2003, he was invited by Atty. Linco, through an emissary in the person of Claire Juele-Algodon(Algodon), to see him at his residence located at Guenventille II D31-B, Libertad Street, Mandaluyong City. Respondent was then informed that Atty. Linco was sick and wanted to discuss something with him. Respondent pointed out that Atty. Linco appeared to be physically weak and sickly, but was articulate and in full control of his faculties. Atty. Linco showed him a deed of donation and the TCT of the property subject of the donation. Respondent claimed that Atty. Lincoasked him a favor of notarizing the deed of donation in his presence along with the witnesses. However, respondent explained that since he had no idea that he would be notarizing a document, he did not bring his notarial book and seal with him. Thus, he instead told Algodon and Toledo to bring to his office the signed deed of donation anytime at their convenience so that he could formally notarize and acknowledge the same. On July 30, 2003, respondent claimed that Toledo and Algodon went to his law office and informed him that Atty. Linco had passed away on July 29, 2003. Respondent was then asked to notarize the

deed of donation. Respondent admitted to have consented as he found it to be his commitment to a fellow lawyer. Thus, he notarized the subject deed of donation, which was actually signed in his presence on July 8, 2003. During the mandatory conference/hearing on September 7, 2005, it was established that indeed the deed of donation was presented to respondent on July 8, 2003. Respondent, likewise, admitted that
7

while he was not the one who prepared the deed of donation, he, however, performed the notarization of the deed of donation only on July 30, 2003, a day after Atty. Linco died.
8

On November 23, 2005, in its Report and Recommendation, the IBP-Commission on Bar
9

Discipline (IBP-CBD) found respondent guilty of violating the Notarial Law and the Code of Professional Responsibility. The IBP-CBD observed that respondent wanted it to appear that because the donor appeared before him and signed the deed of donation on July 8, 2003, it was just ministerial duty on his part to notarize the deed of donation on July 30, 2003, a day after Atty. Linco died. The IBP-CBD pointed out that respondent should know that the parties who signed the deed of donation on July 8, 2003, binds only the signatories to the deed and it was not yet a public instrument. Moreover, since the deed of donation was notarized only on July 30, 2003, a day after Atty. Linco died, the acknowledgement portion of the said deed of donation where respondent acknowledged that Atty. Lincopersonally came and appeared before me is false. This act of respondent is also violative of the Attorney's Oath to obey the laws and do no falsehood. The IBP-CBD, thus, recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year, and that hisnotarial commission be revoked and he be disqualified from reappointment as notary public for a period of two (2) years. On April 27, 2006, in Resolution No. XVII-2006-215, the IBP-Board of Governors resolved to
10

adopt and approve the report and recommendation of the IBP-CBD. Respondent moved for reconsideration, but was denied.

11

On July 29, 2009, considering respondent's petition for review dated May 19, 2009 of IBP Resolution No. XVII-2006-215 dated April 27, 2006 and IBP Resolution No. XVIII-2008-678 dated December 11, 2008, denying complainant's motion for reconsideration and affirming the assailed resolution, the Court resolved to require complainant to file her comment.
12

In her Compliance, complainant maintained that respondent has not stated anything new in his
13

motion for reconsideration that would warrant the reversal of the recommendation of the IBP. She maintained that respondent violated the Notarial Law and is unfit to continue being commissioned as notary public; thus, should be sanctioned for his infractions. On August 16, 2011, in view of the denial of respondent's motion for reconsideration, the Office of the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court, recommended that the instant complaint is now ripe for judicial adjudication. RULING The findings and recommendations of the IBP are well taken. There is no question as to respondent's guilt. The records sufficiently established that Atty. Linco was already dead when respondent notarized the deed of donation on July 30, 2003. Respondent likewise admitted that he knew that Atty. Linco died a day before he notarized the deed of donation. We take note that respondent notarized the document after the lapse of more than 20 days from July 8, 2003, when he was allegedly asked to notarize the deed of donation. The sufficient lapse of time from the time he last saw Atty. Lincoshould have put him on guard and deterred him from proceeding with the notarization of the deed of donation. However, respondent chose to ignore the basics of notarial procedure in order to accommodate the alleged need of a colleague. The fact that respondent previously appeared before him in person does not justify his act of notarizing the deed of donation, considering the affiant's absence on the very day the document was notarized. In the notarial acknowledgment of the deed of donation, respondent attested that Atty. Linco personally came and appeared before him on July 30, 2003. Yet obviously, Atty. Linco could not have appeared before him on July 30, 2003, because the latter

died on July 29, 2003. Clearly, respondent made a false statement and violated Rule 10.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and his oath as a lawyer. We will reiterate that faithful observance and utmost respect of the legal solemnity of the oath in an acknowledgment or jurat is sacrosanct. Respondent should not notarize a document unless the
14

persons who signed the same are the very same persons who executed and personally appeared before him to attest to the contents and truth of what are stated therein.
15

Time and again, we have repeatedly reminded notaries public of the importance attached to the act of notarization. Notarization is not an empty, meaningless, routinary act. It is invested with substantive public interest, such that only those who are qualified or authorized may act as notaries public. Notarization converts a private document into a public document; thus, making that document admissible in evidence without further proof of its authenticity. A notarial document is by law entitled to full faith and credit upon its face. Courts, administrative agencies and the public at large must be able to rely upon the acknowledgment executed by a notary public and appended to a private instrument.
16

For this reason, notaries public must observe with utmost care the basic requirements in the performance of their duties. Otherwise, the confidence of the public in the integrity of this form of conveyance would be undermined. Hence, again, a notary public should not notarize a document
17

unless the persons who signed the same are the very same persons who executed and personally appeared before him to attest to the contents and truth of what are stated therein. This responsibility is more pronounced when the notary public is a lawyer. A graver responsibility is placed upon him by reason of his solemn oath to obey the laws and to do no falsehood or consent to the doing of any. He is mandated to the sacred duties appertaining to his office, such duties, being dictated by public policy and impressed with public interest. Respondent's failure to perform
18

his duty as a notary public resulted not only in damaging complainant's rights over the property subject of the donation but also in undermining the integrity of a notary public. He should, therefore, be held liable for his acts, not only as a notary public but also as a lawyer. In Lanuzo v. Atty. Bongon, respondent having failed to discharge his duties as a notary public, the
19

revocation of his notarial commission, disqualification from being commissioned as a notary public

for a period of two years and suspension from the practice of law for one year were imposed. We deem it proper to impose the same penalty.

WHEREFORE, for breach of the Notarial Law and Code of Professional Responsibility,

the notarial commission of respondent ATTY. JIMMY D. LACEBAL, is REVOKED. He is DISQUALIFIED from reappointment as Notary Public for a period of two years. He is also SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one year, effective immediately. He is further WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely. He is DIRECTED to report the date of receipt of this Decision in order to determine when his suspension shall take effect. Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and all courts all over the country. Let a copy of this Decision likewise be attached to the personal records of the respondent. SO ORDERED. Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila

SECOND DIVISION SPS. AMADOR and ROSITA TEJADA, Petitioners, A.C. No. 7434 Present: QUISUMBING, J., Chairperson, CARPIO, CARPIO MORALES, TINGA, and VELASCO, JR., JJ. Promulgated: ATTY. ANTONIUTTI K. PALAA, Respondent. August 23, 2007

- versus -

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x DECISION VELASCO, JR., J.: Petitioners-spouses Rosita and Amador Tejada filed a Complaint Affidavit before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to initiate disbarment proceedings against respondent Atty. Antoniutti K. Palaa for his continued refusal to settle his long overdue loan obligation to the complainants, in violation of his sworn duty as a lawyer to do justice to every man and Rule 7.03 of Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. More specifically, the complaint alleges that:
3. Sometime on January, 2001, respondent lawyer Antoniutti K. Palana taking advantage of his special knowledge as a lawyer represented to the petitioners that he has an alleged parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. (73196) 16789 and that he needs an amount of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00) so that he could reconstitute the torrens title on the same; 4. Respondent then induced by sweet promises and assurances petitioners spouses to finance such undertaking with a solemn commitment on his part that after he has already reconstituted such torrens title, he will deliver the same to the petitioners spouses as security for the amount they had financed; Thereafter, petitioner spouses shall earn an amount of P70,000.00 from the P100,000.00 they had financed or all and [sic] all, respondent lawyer shall pay petitioner spouses a total amount of P170,000.00; 5. The agreement between the petitioner spouses and respondent lawyer, Antoniutti K. Palana in this regard is being partly evidenced by their written agreement thereon dated January 12, 2001, a xerox copy of which is hereto attached as Annex A. Likewise, the receipt by the respondent of the P100,000.00 is being evidenced in the bottom part of page 1 of the agreement; 6. Under the clear terms of their agreement, respondent lawyer Antoniutti K. Palana solemnly assured petitioner spouses that he will reconstitute, deliver the reconstituted title and give the P170,000.00 to the petitioners spouses all within a period of three months reckoned from their execution of their written agreement dated January 12, 2001;

7. However, after respondent lawyer, Antoniutti K. Palana had gotten the P100,000.00 amount from the petitioner spouses, respondent from that time on up to the present had intentionally evaded the performance of his due, just, legal and demandable obligations to petitioner spouses. It turned out that all his assurances that he had a torrens title, he will reconstitute the same and deliver an amount of P170,000.00 to petitioner spouses were all fraudulent representations on his part or else were only fictitious in character to defraud petitioner spouses of their hard owned monies; xxxx 9. Legal demands had already been made to respondent lawyer to fulfill all his moral and legal responsibilities to petitioner spouses but all of said demands simply went unheeded. A xerox copy of the two legal demand letters to respondent lawyer in this regard is hereto attached as Annex B and C.[1]

Despite due notice, respondent failed to file his answer to the complaint as required by the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP. Respondent likewise failed to appear on the scheduled date of the mandatory conference despite due notice. Thus, on March 10, 2005, the IBP declared respondent to have waived his right to submit evidence and to participate further in the proceedings of the case. After a careful consideration of the pleadings and evidence submitted by the complainants ex parte, Investigating Commissioner Elpidio G. Soriano III submitted his February 1, 2006 Report to the IBP Board of Governors, recommending respondent's suspension from the practice of law for three (3) months. Based on said Report, petitioners were able to satisfactorily prove the following: that Rosita Tejada and respondent and his companion executed a written agreement (Annex A); that respondent received the amount of one hundred thousand pesos (PhP 100,000) from Rosita Tejada pursuant to said agreement; and that petitioners sent a demand letter to respondent (Annex C), but, until now, respondent has failed to settle his obligation. Petitioners, however, failed to present evidence to show that respondent fraudulently represented himself to be the owner of the aforesaid lot. Noting respondents indifference to the proceedings of the case, the

Investigating Commissioner cited Ngayan v. Tugade,[2] where the Supreme Court considered respondents failure to answer the complaint and his failure to appear in four hearings below as evidence of his flouting resistance to a lawful order of the court, and illustrate his despiciency to his oath of office in violation of Section 3, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Thus, for respondents misconduct, the Investigating Commissioner recommended respondents suspension for a period of three (3) months, guided by Supreme Court rulings in analogous cases, viz: Sanchez v. Somoso,[3] where the lawyer was suspended for six (6) months for having issued personal checks from a closed bank account and subsequently refused to pay for his medical expenses despite demand after the checks were dishonored; Constantino v. Saludares,[4] where the lawyer was suspended for three (3) months for his unwarranted refusal to pay a personal loan despite demand; and Lizaso v. Amante,[5] where the lawyer was suspended indefinitely for his failure to return and account for the money delivered to him for investment purposes.[6] In its November 18, 2006 Resolution, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved said report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, considering Respondent's continued refusal to settle his obligation to the complainants and for his failure to participate in the proceedings before the Commission of Bar Discipline.[7] After a review of the records and especially sans the submittal of any response or evidence from respondent, we find no reason to disturb the findings of Commissioner Soriano. Respondent, like all other members of the bar, is expected to always live up to the standards embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly the following Canons, viz:
CANON 1 A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and for legal processes. Rule 1.01 A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

Rule 1.02 A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system. CANON 7 A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession, and support the activities of the Integrated Bar. Rule 7.03 A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

Membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions. A high sense of morality, honesty, and fair dealing is expected and required of a member of the bar. Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. The nature of the office of a lawyer requires that s/he shall be of good moral character. This qualification is not only a condition precedent to the admission to the legal profession, but its continued possession is essential to maintain ones good standing in the profession.[8] Indeed, the strength of the legal profession lies in the dignity and integrity of its members. As previously explained in Sipin-Nabor v. Baterina:
A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession. The trust and confidence necessarily reposed by clients requires in the attorney a high standard and appreciation of his duty to his clients, his profession, the courts and the public. The bar must maintain a high standard of legal proficiency as well as of honesty and fair dealing. Generally speaking, a lawyer can do honor to the legal profession by faithfully performing his duties to society, to the bar, to the courts and to his clients. To this end, members of the legal fraternity can do nothing that might tend to lessen in any degree the confidence of the public in the fidelity, honesty and integrity of the profession.[9]

In the instant case, respondents unjustified withholding of petitioners money years after it became due and demandable demonstrates his lack of integrity and fairness, and this is further highlighted by his lack of regard for the charges brought against him. Instead of meeting the charges head on, respondent did not bother to file an answer nor did he participate in the proceedings to offer a valid explanation for his conduct.

The Court has emphatically stated that when the integrity of a member of the bar is challenged, it is not enough that s/he denies the charges against him; s/he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence against him/her. S/he must show proof that s/he still maintains that degree of morality and integrity which at all times is expected of him/her.[10] Finally, respondents acts, which violated the Lawyer's Oath to delay no man for money or malice as well as the Code of Professional Responsibility, warrant the imposition of disciplinary sanctions against him. With respect to the recommendation to suspend respondent Palaa for three (3) months, we find that the sanction is not commensurate to the breach committed and disrespect to the Court exhibited by the erring member of the bar. We increase the suspension to six (6) months in view of our ruling in Barrientos v. Libiran-Meteoro.[11] We find that the complainants could not have been defrauded without the representations of respondent that he can easily have the torrens title of his lot reconstituted with his special knowledge as a legal practitioner as long as he is provided PhP 100,000 to finance the reconstitution. Respondent knew that his representations were false since the filing fee for a petition for reconstitution in 2001 was only PhP 3,145, and other expenses including the publication of the filing of the petition could not have cost more than PhP 20,000. It is clear that he employed deceit in convincing complainants to part with their hard earned money and the latter could not have been easily swayed to lend the money were it not for his misrepresentations and failed promises as a member of the bar. Moreover, when he failed to pay his just and legal obligation, he disobeyed the provisions of the Civil Code which is one of the substantive laws he vowed to uphold when he took his oath as a lawyer. Lastly, to aggravate his misconduct, he totally ignored the directives of the IBP to answer the complaint when he fully knew as a lawyer that the compulsory bar organization was merely deputized by this Court to undertake the investigation of complaints against lawyers, among which is the instant complaint. In short, his disobedience to the IBP is in reality a gross and blatant disrespect to the Court. Lawyers fully know, as respondent is aware or at least is assumed to know, that lawyers like him cannot disobey the orders and resolutions of the Court. Failing in this duty as a

member of the bar which is being supervised by the Court under the Constitution, we find that a heavier sanction should fall on respondent. WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Antoniutti K. Palaa is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months and is ordered to settle his loan obligation to petitioners-spouses Amador and Rosita Tejada within two (2) months from the date of this Decisions promulgation. This Decision is immediately executory. SO ORDERED. EN BANC CATHERINE & HENRY YU, Complainants, A.C. No. 7747 Present: PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO,* VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, REYES, DE CASTRO, and BRION, JJ.

- versus -

Promulgated: ATTY. ANTONIUTTI K. PALAA, Respondent. July 14, 2008 x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

On November 16, 2006, complainants Henry and Catherine Yu filed a complaint[1] for disbarment against respondent Atty. Antoniutti K. Palaa for alleged acts of defraudation, before the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).[2] Complainants attached therewith their Consolidated Complaint-Affidavit[3] which they earlier filed before the City Prosecutors Office of Makati, charging the respondent and his coaccused (in the criminal case), with syndicated estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 (BP 22). The facts, as found by the CBD, are as follows: Sometime in 2004, complainants met a certain Mr. Mark Anthony U. Uy (Mr. Uy) who introduced himself as the Division Manager of Wealth Marketing and General Services Corporation (Wealth Marketing), a corporation engaged in spot currency trading.[4] Mr. Uy persuaded the complainants, together with other investors, to invest a minimum amount of P100,000.00 or its dollar equivalent with said company. They were made to believe that the said company had the so-called stop-loss mechanism that enabled it to stop trading once the maximum allowable loss fixed at 3%-9% of the total contributions, would be reached. If, on the other hand, the company would suffer loss, Wealth Marketing would return to the investors the principal amount including the monthly guaranteed interests. Further, Wealth Marketing promised to issue, as it had in fact issued, postdated checks covering the principal investments.[5] It turned out, however, that Wealth Marketings promises were false and fraudulent, and that the checks earlier issued were dishonored for the reason account closed. The investors, including the complainants, thus went to Wealth Marketings office. There, they discovered that Wealth Marketing had already ceased its operation and a new corporation was formed named

Ur-Link Corporation (Ur-Link) which supposedly assumed the rights and obligations of the former. Complainants proceeded to Ur-Link office where they met the respondent. As Wealth Marketings Chairman of the Board of Directors, respondent assured the complainants that UrLink would assume the obligations of the former company.[6] To put a semblance of validity to such representation, respondent signed an Agreement[7] to that effect which, again, turned out to be another ploy to further deceive the investors.[8] This prompted the complainants to send demand letters to Wealth Marketings officers and directors which remained unheeded. They likewise lodged a criminal complaint for syndicated estafa against the respondent and his coaccused.[9] Despite the standing warrant for his arrest, respondent went into hiding and has been successful in defying the law, to this date. In an Order[10] dated November 17, 2006, Director for Bar Discipline Rogelio B. Vinluan required respondent to submit his Answer to the complaint but the latter failed to comply. Hence, the motion to declare him in default filed by the complainants.[11] The case was thereafter referred to Commissioner Jose I. De la Rama, Jr. (the Commissioner) for investigation. In his continued defiance of the lawful orders of the Commission, respondent failed to attend the mandatory conference and to file his position paper. Respondent was thereafter declared in default and the case was heard ex parte. In his report,[12] the Commissioner concluded that Wealth Marketings executives (which included respondent herein) conspired with one another in defrauding the complainants by engaging in an unlawful network of recruiting innocent investors to invest in foreign currency trading business where, in fact, no such business existed, as Wealth Marketing was not duly licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to engage in such undertaking. This was bolstered by the fact that Wealth Marketings financial status could not support the investors demands involving millions of pesos. It also appears, said the Commissioner, that Ur-Link was created only to perpetuate fraud and to avoid obligations. The Commissioner likewise found that respondent had been previously suspended by this Court for committing similar acts of defraudation.[13] Considering the gravity of the acts committed, as well as his previous administrative case and defiance of lawful orders, the

Commissioner recommended that respondent be disbarred from the practice of law, the pertinent portion of which reads:
WHEREFORE, in view of the foregoing, after a careful evaluation of the documents presented, including the jurisprudence laid down by the complainants involving the same respondent, and said decision of the Supreme Court forms part of the law of the land, the undersigned commissioner is recommending that respondent Atty. Antoniutti K. Palaa be disbarred and his name be stricken off the Roll of Attorneys upon the approval of the Board of Governors and the Honorable Supreme Court.[14]

In its Resolution dated August 17, 2007, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Commissioners report and recommendation.[15] This Court agrees with the IBP Board of Governors. Lawyers are instruments in the administration of justice. As vanguards of our legal system, they are expected to maintain not only legal proficiency but also a high standard of morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing. In so doing, the peoples faith and confidence in the judicial system is ensured. Lawyers may be disciplined whether in their professional or in their private capacity for any conduct that is wanting in morality, honesty, probity and good demeanor.[16] In the present case, two corporations were created where the respondent played a vital role, being Wealth Marketings Chairman of the Board and Ur-Links representative. We quote with approval the Commissioners findings, thus:
As correctly pointed out by the City Prosecutors Office of Makati, it appears that the executive officers of Wealth Marketing Corporation conspired with each (sic) other to defraud the investors by engaging in unlawful network of recruiting innocent investors to invest in foreign currency trading business. The truth of the matter is that there was no actual foreign currency trading since said corporation is not duly licensed or authorized by the Securities and Exchange Commission to perform such task.

In the General Information Sheet (Annex I) of Wealth Marketing and General Services Corporation, the authorized capital stock is onlyP9,680,000.00 and the paid up capital, at the time of [in]corporation is (sic) only P605,000.00. Said corporation, as the records will show, has been dealing with investors with millions of pesos on hand, with the hope that their money would earn interests as promised. However, their company resources and financial status will show that they are not in the position to meet these demands if a situation such as this would arise. xxxx Furthermore, in order to evade the investors who were then asking for the return of their investments, said respondent even formed and made him part of a new company, Ur-Link Corporation, which according to the complainants, when they met the respondent, would assume the obligations of the defunct Wealth Marketing Corporation. It is also evident that respondent is frolicking with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the purpose of employing fraud.[17]

To be sure, respondents conduct falls short of the exacting standards expected of him as a vanguard of the legal profession. The fact that the criminal case against the respondent involving the same set of facts is still pending in court is of no moment. Respondent, being a member of the bar, should note that administrative cases against lawyers belong to a class of their own. They are distinct from and they may proceed independently of criminal cases. A criminal prosecution will not constitute a prejudicial question even if the same facts and circumstances are attendant in the administrative proceedings.[18] Besides, it is not sound judicial policy to await the final resolution of a criminal case before a complaint against a lawyer may be acted upon; otherwise, this Court will be rendered helpless to apply the rules on admission to, and continuing membership in, the legal profession during the whole period that the criminal case is pending final disposition, when the objectives of the two proceedings are vastly disparate.[19] Disciplinary proceedings involve no private interest and afford no redress for private grievance. They are undertaken and prosecuted solely for the public welfare and for preserving courts of justice from the official ministration of persons unfit to practice law.[20] The attorney is called to answer to the court for his conduct as an officer of the court.[21] As to the recommended penalty of disbarment, we find the same to be in order.

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:


A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. x x x.

Time and again, we have stated that disbarment is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction, and, as such, the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution for only the most imperative reasons and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and a member of the bar.[22] The Court notes that this is not the first time that respondent is facing an administrative case, for he had been previously suspended from the practice of law in Samala v. Palaa[23] and Sps. Amador and Rosita Tejada v. Palaa.[24] In Samala, respondent also played an important role in a corporation known as First Imperial Resources Incorporated (FIRI), being its legal officer. As in this case, respondent committed the same offense by making himself part of the money trading business when, in fact, said business was not among the purposes for which FIRI was created. Respondent was thus meted the penalty of suspension for three (3) years with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts would be dealt with more severely.[25] Likewise, in Tejada, he was suspended for six (6) months for his continued refusal to settle his loan obligations.[26] The fact that respondent went into hiding in order to avoid service upon him of the warrant of arrest issued by the court (where his criminal case is pending) exacerbates his offense.[27] Finally, we note that respondents case is further highlighted by his lack of regard for the charges brought against him. As inTejada, instead of meeting the charges head on, respondent did not bother to file an answer and verified position paper, nor did he participate in the proceedings to offer a valid explanation for his conduct.[28] The Court has emphatically stated

that when the integrity of a member of the bar is challenged, it is not enough that he denies the charges against him; he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence against him. He must show proof that he still maintains that degree of morality and integrity which at all times is expected of him.[29] Verily, respondents failure to comply with the orders of the IBP without justifiable reason manifests his disrespect of judicial authorities.[30] As a lawyer, he ought to know that the compulsory bar organization was merely deputized by this Court to undertake the investigation of complaints against lawyers. In short, his disobedience to the IBP is in reality a gross and blatant disrespect of the Court.[31] By his repeated cavalier conduct, the respondent exhibited an unpardonable lack of respect for the authority of the Court.[32] Considering the serious nature of the instant offense and in light of his prior misconduct herein-before mentioned for which he was penalized with a three-year suspension with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts would be dealt with more severely; and another six-month suspension thereafter, the contumacious behavior of respondent in the instant case which grossly degrades the legal profession indeed warrants the imposition of a much graver penalty --- disbarment.[33] Of all classes and professions, the lawyer is most sacredly bound to uphold the laws. He is their sworn servant; and for him, of all men in the world, to repudiate and override the laws, to trample them underfoot and to ignore the very bonds of society, argues recreancy to his position and office, and sets a pernicious example to the insubordinate and dangerous elements of the body politic.[34] WHEREFORE, respondent Antoniutti K. Palaa is hereby DISBARRED, and his name is ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in his record as a member of the Bar; and let notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country. SO ORDERED.
SECOND DIVISION

NEMESIO FLORAN and CARIDAD FLORAN, Complainants,

A.C. No. 5325

Present:

CARPIO, J., Chairperson, BRION, - versus SERENO, REYES, and PERLAS-BERNABE,* JJ.

ATTY. ROY PRULE EDIZA, Respondent.

Promulgated: October 19, 2011

x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - x

DECISION

CARPIO, J.:

The Case

This administrative case arose from an Affidavit/Complaint filed by spouses Nemesio (Nemesio) and Caridad (Caridad) Floran against Atty. Roy Prule Ediza (Atty. Ediza) for unethical conduct. The Facts Spouses Floran own an unregistered 3.5525 hectare parcel of land, particularly described as Cad. Lot No. 422-A, Pls-923 and situated in San Martin, Villanueva, Misamis Oriental. The land is covered by a tax declaration in the name of Sartiga Epal (Epal), a relative, who gave the property to the Spouses Floran.

On 9 August 1996, a certain Esteban Valera filed an action1 for judicial foreclosure of mortgage on the house situated on the land owned by the Spouses Floran with the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Cagayan de Oro City, Branch 41. The action for foreclosure involved an amount of P7,500.

Spouses Floran sought the assistance of Atty. Ediza. On 24 September 1996, Atty. Ediza filed a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and cause of action. On 23 October 1996, the RTC granted the motion to dismiss the case without prejudice based on non-compliance with barangay conciliation procedures under the Revised Katarungang Pambarangay Law.

Sometime in 1997, the Spouses Floran sold a hectare or 10,910 square meters of their 3.5525 hectare land to Phividec Industrial Authority (Phividec) for P25 per square meter totaling to the amount of P272,750, payable in three installments (1) P55,132; (2)P120,000, and (3) P97,618. The installments were paid and released within the months of June to July 1997. The sale was evidenced by a Deed of Undertaking of Lot Owner executed by Nemesio and Phividecs representative and notarized by Atty. Ediza on 31 March 1997.

Phividec then required the couple to execute a waiver in Phividecs favor. The Spouses Floran again sought the help of Atty. Ediza for the preparation and notarization of the waiver. Atty. Ediza informed the Spouses Floran to have the original owner of the land, Epal, sign a Deed of Absolute Sale in their favor. Atty. Ediza gave the Spouses Floran several documents for Epal to sign. Caridad visited Epal inBunawan, Agusan del Sur and acquired her approval and expressed assent to the conveyance, as evidenced by a Deed of Absolute Sale made by Epal in favor of Nemesio for P2,000.

On 11 June 1998, Nemesio and Phividec executed the Deed of Absolute Sale of Unregistered Land. Out of the total amount ofP272,750, which Phividec paid and released to the Spouses Floran,

Atty. Ediza received the amount of P125,463.38 for the titling of the remaining portion of the land, other expenses and attorneys fees.

Spouses Floran went back to Atty. Ediza several times to follow-up on the title. However, Atty. Ediza failed to fulfill his promises. After the lapse of two years, with the land still unregistered, the Spouses Floran asked Atty. Ediza for the return of their money. Atty. Edizarefused. Thus, Spouses Floran presented their complaint before the chapter president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)Misamis Oriental.

The IBP called the Spouses Floran and Atty. Ediza to a conference. During the dialogue, Atty. Ediza refused to return the money but promised to tear a document evidencing sale by the Spouses Floran to him of one hectare land of their property for P50,000. The Spouses Floran claimed that they had no knowledge that they executed such document in favor of Atty. Ediza and suspected that they might have signed a document earlier which Atty. Ediza told them not to read. Afterwards, the Spouses Floran filed their formal complaint before the Supreme Court.

In the Complaint/Affidavit dated 8 September 2000, Caridad alleged that Atty. Ediza gave them certain documents, including a Deed of Absolute Sale, for Epal to sign in order to transfer the land in their name. However, the Spouses Floran later discovered that one of the documents given by Atty. Ediza is a deed of sale for a one hectare land in the same property executed by Epal in favor of Atty. Ediza for a consideration of P2,000. When the Spouses Floran confronted Atty. Ediza, he initially denied the document but then later promised to tear and destroy it. In his Comment dated 23 January 2001, Atty. Ediza claimed that the Spouses Floran voluntarily gave him one hectare of the 3.5525 hectare land as payment for handling and winning the civil case for foreclosure of mortgage. Atty. Ediza explained that the SpousesFloran did not find the lot interesting, lacking in good topography. He also stated that the property only had an assessed value of P23,700at the time it was presented to him.

Thereafter, towards the end of 1996, when Atty. Ediza learned that Phividec was interested to buy a hectare of the Spouses Floransland, and considering that he has a hectare of undivided portion in the property, he suggested to the Spouses Floran that both of them sell half a hectare each and equally share in the proceeds of the sale. After Phividec made its full payment, Atty. Ediza gave fifty percent of the proceeds to the Spouses Floran and he kept the other half. Thereafter, Atty. Ediza wanted his remaining share in the land consisting of 4,545 square meters be titled in his name. Atty. Ediza conveyed this to the Spouses Floran and volunteered to take care of titling the land, including the Spouses Florans remaining share, with no cost to them.

Atty. Ediza stated that since Phividec had not yet applied for a separate tax declaration which would segregate its portion from the remainder of the property, he thought of holding in abeyance the separate survey on the remainder of the land. Also, Atty. Ediza was in a hurry to have the land titled with the intention of selling it so he informed the Spouses Floran to just follow up with Phividec. At the IBP conference, Atty. Ediza stated that he only agreed to return the 4,545 square meter portion of the land to amicably settle the case with the Spouses Floran. He asserted that the Deed of Sale signed by the Spouses Floran in his favor served as payment for the dismissal of the case he handled for the Spouses Floran. Atty. Ediza denied that the money he received was intended for the titling of the remaining portion of the land. Atty. Ediza claimed that the complaint against him stemmed from a case where he represented a certain Robert Sabuclalao for recovery of land. The land was being occupied by the Church of the Assembly of God where Nemesio Floranserves as pastor.

In a Resolution dated 7 March 2001, the Court resolved to refer the case to the IBP for investigation, report and recommendation.

The IBPs Report and Recommendation On 14 August 2008, the investigating commissioner of the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP submitted his Report and found that Atty. Ediza (1) failed to meet the standards prescribed by Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 and Canon 15, and (2) violated Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The IBP recommended that Atty. Ediza be imposed the penalty of six months suspension from the practice of law.

In finding Atty. Ediza guilty of violating the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Investigating Commissioner opined:

After careful evaluation of the claims of the parties vis-a-vis the documents available, the version of the complainants appear to be credible while that of the respondent is shot through with inconsistencies.

xxx

b. The foreclosure case of complainants involved only P7,500.00 and respondent Ediza filed only a single motion and attended only two hearings. Thus, it is highly incredible [that] complainants whom respondent Ediza claims were destitute will voluntarily and generously donate to him 1 hectare of their land valued at P50,000.00. As it turned out, the 1 hectare portion is worth not only P50,000.00 [but] more than P200,000.00.

c. The deed of sale of a portion of complainants land to respondent Ediza is admittedly simulated because while it states that the consideration for the sale isP50,000.00, neither party claims that any money was paid by respondent Ediza to complainants.

d.

As a lawyer, Atty. Ediza must be aware that a deed of sale involving real property must be notarized to be enforceable. The document was unexplainably never notarized.

Thus, this Commission finds that respondent Ediza must have caused the complainants to unknowingly sign the deed of sale of a portion of their property in his favor. It may further be noted that in their complaint, complainants allege that they saw in the files of respondent Ediza a copy of deed of sale of a property executed by Sartiga Epal in favor of Atty. Ediza which he promised to destroy when confronted about it by complainants. This was never denied by Atty.Ediza.

Such conduct fails to come up to the standard prescribed by Canon 1.01 that A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral and deceitful conduct and Canon 15 that A lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transaction with his client.

On the second issue, x x x the claim of the complainants that they agreed to give P125,000.00 of the proceeds of the sale of their property to respondentEdiza to register the remaining portion also appears to be more credible for the following reasons:

1.

There is no credible reason for complainants to expect and demand that respondent Ediza undertake the registration of their property except that they have paid for it. If they were aware that they gave 1 hectare of their property to respondent Ediza for handling their civil case and that they are not paying respondent Ediza to register their property, it is not likely that simple folks like them would be so bold to demand for such valuable service from him for free.

2.

There is no credible reason for respondent to willingly undertake for free for complainants the not so simple task of registering an untitled property.

3. As previously stated, the P125,000.00 given

to respondent Ediza by complainants is obviously too generous for simply having handled the civil case involving only P7,500.00. There must have been another reason for complainants to willingly pay the said amount to respondent and the registration for their remaining property appears to be a credible reason.

It should also be noted that respondent Atty. Ediza does not even allege that he has taken any step towards accomplishing the registration of the property of the complainants prior to the filing of this complaint. Whether or not he agreed to do it for free or for a fee, respondent Ediza should have complied with his promise to register the property of complainants unless he has valid reasons not to do so. He has not also given any credible explanation why he failed to do so.

Such conduct of respondent Ediza violates Canon 18.03 that A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.

Atty. Ediza filed a Motion for Reconsideration. On 26 June 2011, in Resolution No. XIX-2011433, the Board of Governors of the IBP affirmed the findings of the investigating commissioner. The resolution states:

RESOLVED to unanimously DENY Respondents Motion for Reconsideration, there being no cogent reason to reverse the findings of the Board and it being a mere reiteration of the matters which had already been threshed out and taken into consideration. Thus, for lack of substantial ground or reason to disturb it, the Board of Governors Resolution No. XVIII2008-401 dated August 14, 2008 is hereby AFFIRMED.

The Courts Ruling

After a careful review of the records of the case, we agree with the findings of the IBP and find reasonable grounds to hold respondent Atty. Ediza administratively liable. The practice of law is a privilege bestowed by the State on those who show that they possess the legal qualifications for it. Lawyers are expected to maintain at all times a high standard of legal proficiency and morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing. They must perform their fourfold duty to society, the legal profession, the courts and their clients, in accordance with the values and norms of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.2 Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provide:

CANON 1

A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW OF AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. x x x CANON 15 A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS. CANON 18

A LAWYER SHALL SERVE HIS CLIENT WITH COMPETENCE AND DILIGENCE.

Rule 18.03 - A lawyer shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall render him liable.

In the present case, the Spouses Floran assert that they had no knowledge that they signed a deed of sale to transfer a portion of their land in favor of Atty. Ediza. They also insist that Atty. Ediza failed to comply with his promise to register their property despite receiving the amount of P125,463.38. On the other hand, Atty. Ediza maintains that he acquired the land from the Spouses Floran because of their deep gratitude to him in the dismissal of the civil case for foreclosure of mortgage. Atty. Ediza further claims that the amount ofP125,463.38 which he received was his rightful share from the sale of the land.

It is clear from the records that Atty. Ediza deceived the Spouses Floran when he asked them to unknowingly sign a deed of sale transferring a portion of their land to Atty. Ediza. Atty. Ediza also did the same to Epal when he gave Caridad several documents for Epalto sign. Atty. Ediza made it appear that Epal conveyed her rights to the land to him and not to the Spouses Floran. Moreover, when the sale of the Spouses Florans land pushed through, Atty. Ediza received half of the amount from the proceeds given by the buyer and falsely misled the Spouses Floran into thinking that he will register the remaining portion of the land.

Lamentably, Atty. Ediza played on the navet of the Spouses Floran to deprive them of their valued property. This is an unsavory behavior from a member of the legal profession. Aside from giving adequate attention, care and time to his clients case, a lawyer is also expected to be truthful, fair and honest in protecting his clients rights. Once a lawyer fails in this duty, he is not true to his oath as a lawyer.

In Santos v. Lazaro3 and Dalisay v. Mauricio,4 we held that Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility is a basic postulate in legal ethics. Indeed, when a lawyer takes a clients cause, he covenants that he will exercise due diligence in protecting the latters rights. Failure to exercise that degree of vigilance and attention expected of a good father of a family makes the lawyer unworthy of the trust reposed in him by his client and makes him answerable not just to his client but also to the legal profession, the courts and society.

The Supreme Court, as guardian of the legal profession, has ultimate disciplinary power over attorneys. This authority to discipline its members is not only a right, but a moral and legal obligation as well. The Court will not tolerate such action from a member of the legal profession who deliberately and maliciously did not protect his clients interests.

In view of the foregoing, we find that suspension from the practice of law for six months is warranted. Atty. Ediza is directed to return to the Spouses Floran the two (2) sets of documents that he misled the spouses and Epal to sign. Atty. Ediza is also directed to return the amount

of P125,463.38, representing the amount he received from the proceeds of the sale of the land belonging to the Spouses Floran, with legal interest from the time of the filing of the administrative complaint until fully paid. WHEREFORE, we find respondent Atty. Roy Prule Ediza administratively liable for violating Rule 1.01 of Canon 1, Canon 15, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six months, effective upon receipt of this Decision. He is DIRECTED to return to the Spouses Nemesio and Caridad Floran the two (2) sets of documents that he misled the spouses and Sartiga Epal to sign. He is further ORDERED to pay Spouses Nemesio and Caridad Floran, within 30 days from receipt of this Decision, the amount of P125,463.38, with legal interest from 8 September 2000 until fully paid. He is warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Decision be entered in the record of respondent as attorney. Further, let other copies be served on the IBP and the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to circulate them to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila EN BANC

MARITES FREEMAN, Complainant,

E.

A.C. No. 6246


[Formerly CBD No. 00730]

Present: CORONA, C.J.,


*

- versus -

ATTY. ZENAIDA P. REYES, Respondent.

CARPIO, VELASCO, JR.,* LEONARDODE CASTRO,** BRION, PERALTA, BERSAMIN,* DEL CASTILLO,** ABAD, VILLARAMA, JR., PEREZ, MENDOZA, SERENO, REYES, and PERLASBERNABE, JJ. Promulgated: November 15, 2011

x---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x DECISION

PER CURIAM: Before this Court is an administrative complaint, filed by complainant Marites E. Freeman, seeking the disbarment of respondent Atty. Zenaida P. Reyes, for gross dishonesty in obtaining money from her, without rendering proper legal services, and appropriating the

proceeds of the insurance policies of her deceased husband. Complainant also seeks recovery of all the amounts she had given to respondent and the insurance proceeds, which was remitted to the latter, with prayer for payment of moral and exemplary damages. In her sworn Complaint-Affidavit[1] dated April 7, 2000, filed on May 10, 2000, complainant alleged that her husband Robert Keith Freeman, a British national, died in London on October 18, 1998. She and her son, Frank Lawrence applied for visas, to enable them to attend the wake and funeral, but their visa applications were denied. Complainant engaged the services of respondent who, in turn, assured her that she would help her secure the visas and obtain the death benefits and other insurance claims due her. Respondent told complainant that she had to personally go to London to facilitate the processing of the claims, and demanded that the latter bear all expenses for the trip. On December 4, 1998, she gave respondent the amount of P50,000.00. As acknowledgment for the receipt of P47,500.00 for service charge, tax, and one round trip ticket to London, respondent gave her a Cash/Check Voucher,[2] issued by Broadway Travel, Inc., but on the right margin thereof, the notations in the amount of P50,000.00 and the date 12-5-98 were written and duly initialled. On December 9, 1998, she acceded into giving respondent the amount of P20,000.00 for legal costs in securing the visas, as shown by the Temporary Receipt[3] bearing said date, issued by Z.P. Reyes Law Office (respondent's law firm). On December 18, 1998, she went to see respondent to follow-up the visa applications, but the latter asked for the additional amount of P10,000.00 for travel expenses, per Temporary Receipt[4] bearing said date, issued by respondents law firm. After several phone calls inquiring about the status of the visa applications, respondent told her, Mahirap gapangin ang pagkuha ng visa, kasi blacklisted at banned ka sa Embassy. (It is difficult to railroad the process of securing visa, because you are blacklisted and banned by the Embassy). Sometime in February 1999, respondent told her that to lift the travel ban on her, she should shell out P18,000.00 as panlagay or grease money to bribe some staff of the British Embassy. After a week, respondent informed her that the ban was lifted, but the visas would be issued on a later date, as she had convinced the British Embassy to issue resident visas instead of tourist visas. Respondent told her that to expedite the release of the resident visas, she should again giveP20,000.00 and a bottle of wine, worth P5,000.00, as grease money to bribe the British Embassy personnel. After several weeks, respondent told her that the period for visa applications had lapsed, and that another amount of P18,000.00 was needed to reinstate

the same. Later, respondent asked for P30,000.00 as legal costs, per Temporary Receipt,[5] dated April 19, 1999, to be used for booking the former's flight to London, and P39,000.00 for legal costs, per Temporary Receipt[6] dated May 13, 1999, to cover the expenses for the plane tickets. Both temporary receipts were issued by respondents law firm. Complainant said that despite repeated follow-ups with respondent, nothing came out. Instead, she received a picture of her husband's burial, sent by one Stanley Grist, a friend of the deceased. She later learned that respondent left for London alone, without informing her about it. Respondent explained that she needed to go to London to follow-up the insurance claims, and warned her not to communicate with Grist who allegedly pocketed the proceeds of her husband's insurance policy. She told respondent that she received a letter[7] dated March 9, 1999 from one Martin Leigh, an Officer of H.M. Coroner's Court, London, informing her about the arrangements for the funeral and that her late husband was covered by three insurance policies, to wit: Nationwide Building Society (Account Number 0231/471 833 630), Lincoln Assurance Company (British National Life Policy No. PP/85/00137851), and Scottish Equitable PLC (Policy No. 2779512).[8] Respondent offered to help and assured her that representations with the insurance companies had earlier been made, so that the latter would be receiving the insurance proceeds soon. According to the complainant, respondent required her to affix her signature in a Special Power of Attorney (SPA),[9] dated November 6, 1998 [first SPA], which would authorize the respondent to follow-up the insurance claims. However, she found out that the SPA [first SPA] she signed was not notarized, but another SPA,[10] dated April 6, 1999, was notarized on April 30, 1999 [second SPA], and that her signature therein was forged. Later, she came across a similar copy of the SPA,[11] dated April 6, 1999, also notarized on April 30, 1999 [third SPA], but this time, additionally bearing the signatures of two witnesses. She said that without her knowledge and consent, respondent used the third SPA, notarized on April 30, 1999, in her correspondence with the insurance companies in London. Complainant discovered that in an undated letter,[12] addressed to one Lynn O. Wilson of Scottish Equitable PLC (Policy No. 2779512), respondent made representations that her husband left no will and that she had no verified information as to the total value of her

husband's estate and the existence of any property in London that would be subjected to Grant of Representation. Said letter requested that complainant be advised on the value for probate in the amount of 5231.35 and the procedure for its entitlement. Respondent added therein that As to the matter of the installments due, as guaranteed by Mr. Freeman's policy, Mrs. Freeman requests that the remittance be sent directly to Account No. 0148-27377-7 Far East Bank, Diliman Branch, with business address at Malakas St. Barangay Central District, Quezon City, Philippines under the account name: Reyes/Mendiola, which serves as her temporary account until further notice. Subsequently, in a letter[13] dated July 29, 1999, addressed to one Andrea Ransom of Lincoln Financial Group (PP/8500137851), respondent, declaring that she is the Counsel/Authorized Representative [of the complainant], per SPA dated April 20, 1999 [should be April 30, 1999], replied that she had appended the documents required (i.e., marriage certificate and birth certificate), in her previous letter,[14] dated April 20, 1999, to the said insurance company; that pursuant to an SPA[15] executed in her favor, all communications pertaining to complainant should be forwarded to her law firm; that she sought clarification on whether complainant is entitled to death benefits under the policy and, if so, the amount due and the requirements to be complied with; and that in the absence of a Grant of Probate (i.e., the deceased having left no will), she enclosed an alternative document [referring to the Extrajudicial Settlement[16] dated June 1, 1999, notarized by respondent] in support of the claim of the surviving spouse (Mrs. Freeman) and their sole child (Frank Lawrence Freeman). In the same letter, respondent reiterated that complainant requests that any amount of monies due or benefits accruing, be directly deposited to Account No. 0148-27377-7 at Far East Bank, Diliman Branch, Malakas St., Quezon City, Philippines under Reyes/Mendiola, which serves as her temporary account until further notice. Complainant declared that in November 1999, she made a demand upon the respondent to return her passport and the total amount of P200,000.00 which she gave for the processing of the visa applications. Not heeding her demand, respondent asked her to attend a meeting with the Consul of the British Embassy, purportedly to discuss about the visa applications, but she purposely did not show up as she got disgusted with the turn of events. On the supposed rescheduled appointment with the British Consul, respondent, instead, brought her to Airtech

Travel and Tours, and introduced her to one Dr. Sonny Marquez, the travel agency's owner, who assured her that he would help her secure the visas within a week. Marquez made her sign an application for visa and demanded the amount of P3,000.00. After a week, she talked to one Marinez Patao, the office secretary of respondent's law firm, who advised her to ask respondent to return the total amount of P200,000.00. In her Counter-Affidavit/Answer[17] dated June 20, 2000, respondent countered that in 1998, complainant, accompanied by former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Commissioner Josefina Bauzon and another woman whose identity was not ascertained, sought legal advice regarding the inheritance of her deceased husband, a British national. [18] She told complainant to submit proof of her marriage to the deceased, birth certificate of their son, and other documents to support her claim for the insurance proceeds. She averred that before she accepted the case, she explained to complainant that she would be charging the following amounts: acceptance fee of P50,000.00, P20,000.00 for initial expenses, and additional amount of P50,000.00 on a contingent basis. She said complainant agreed to these rates and, in fact, readily paid her the said amounts. With an SPA,[19] dated April 6, 1999 and notarized on April 30, 1999 [second SPA], having been executed in her favor, she made preliminary communications with the insurance companies in London regarding complainant's claims. Having received communications from said insurance companies, she stated that complainant offered, which she accepted, to shoulder her plane ticket and the hotel accommodation, so that she can personally attend to the matter. She left for London in May 1999 and, upon her return, she updated the complainant about the status of her claims. As to the visa arrangements, respondent said that when she met with complainant, she asked her why she had not left for London, and the latter replied that her contacts with the embassy had duped her. She explained to complainant that she could refer her to a travel consultant who would handle the visa arrangements for a fee, to which the latter agreed. She stated that when complainant acceded to such arrangement, she accompanied her, in December 1999, to a travel consultant of Airtech Travel and Tours, who found out that complainant's previous visa applications had been denied four times, on the ground of falsity of information. Thereafter, complainant was able to secure a visa through the help of the travel consultant, who charged her a professional fee of P50,000.00. She added that she had no

participation in the foregoing transactions, other than referring complainant to the said travel consultant. With regard to the alleged falsified documents, respondent denied knowledge about the existence of the same, and declared that the SPA,[20] dated April 6, 1999, which was notarized on April 30, 1999 [second SPA], was her basis for communications with the insurance companies in London. She stated that in her absence, complainant, through wily representations, was able to obtain the case folder from Leah Buama, her office secretary, and never returned the same, despite repeated demands. She said that she was unaware of the loss of the case folder as she then had no immediate need of it. She also said that her secretary failed to immediately report about the missing case folder prior to taking a leave of absence, so as to attend to the financial obligations brought about by her mother's lingering ailment and consequent death.[21] Despite repeated requests, complainant failed to return the case folder and, thus, the law firm was prevented from pursuing the complainant's insurance claims. She maintained that through complainant's own criminal acts and machinations, her law office was prevented from effectively pursuing her claims. Between January to February 2000, she sent complainant a billing statement which indicated the expenses incurred[22] by the law firm, as of July 1999; however, instead of settling the amount, the latter filed a malicious suit against her to evade payment of her obligations.

On January 19, 2001, complainant filed a Motion Submitting the Instant Case for Immediate Resolution with Comments on Respondent's Answer, alleging, among others, that upon seeing the letter[23] dated March 9, 1999 of the Coroner's Court, respondent began to show interest and volunteered to arrange for the insurance claims; that no acceptance fee was agreed upon between the parties, as the amounts earlier mentioned represented the legal fees and expenses to be incurred attendant to the London trip; that the parties verbally agreed to a 20% contingent fee out of the total amount to be recovered; that she obtained the visas with the assistance of a travel consultant recommended by respondent; that upon return from abroad, respondent never informed her about the arrangements with the insurance companies in London that remittances would be made directly to the respondent's personal account at Far East Bank;

that the reason why respondent went to London was primarily to attend the International Law Conference, not solely for her insurance claims, which explained why the receipt for the P50,000.00, which she gave, bore the letterhead of Broadway Travel, Inc. (in the amount of P47,500.00) and that she merely made a handwritten marginal note regarding the receipt of the amount of P50,000.00; that with the use of an SPA [referring to the second SPA] in favor of the respondent, bearing her forged signature, the amount of 10,546.7 [should be 10,960.63],[24] or approximately equivalent to P700,000.00, was remitted to the personal bank account of respondent, but the same was never turned over to her, nor was she ever informed about it; and that she clarified that she never executed any SPA that would authorize respondent to receive any money or check due her, but that the only SPA [first SPA] she executed was for the purpose of representing her in court proceedings. Meanwhile, respondent filed a criminal complaint[25] for malicious mischief, under Article 327 of the Revised Penal Code, against complainant and one Pacita Mamaril (a former client of respondent), for allegedly barging into the law office of the former and, with the use of a pair of scissors, cut-off the cords of two office computer keyboards and the line connections for the refrigerator, air conditioning unit, and electric fan, resulting in damage to office equipment in an estimated amount of P200,000.00. In the Resolution,[26] dated July 31, 2000, the Assistant City Prosecutor of Quezon City recommended that the complaint be dismissed for insufficiency of evidence. The case was subsequently dismissed due to lack of evidence and for failure of respondent to appear during the preliminary investigation of the case.[27] Thereafter, complainant filed a criminal case for estafa, under Article 315, paragraph 2 (a) of the Revised Penal Code, against respondent, docketed as Criminal Case No. Q-02-108181, before the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City, Branch 83. On Motion for Reinvestigation by respondent, the City Prosecutor of Quezon City, in the Resolution[28] dated October 21, 2002, recommended that the information, dated February 8, 2002, for estafa be withdrawn, and that the case be dismissed, for insufficiency of evidence. On November 6, 2002, the Assistant City Prosecutor filed a Motion to Withdraw Information.[29] Consequently, in the Order[30]dated November 27, 2002, the trial court granted the withdrawal of the information, and dismissed the case.

In the Report and Recommendation[31] dated August 28, 2003, Investigating Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Commission on Bar Discipline found respondent to have betrayed the trust of complainant as her client, for being dishonest in her dealings and appropriating for herself the insurance proceeds intended for complainant. The Investigating Commissioner pointed out that despite receipt of the approximate amount of P200,000.00, respondent failed to secure the visas for complainant and her son, and that through deceitful means, she was able to appropriate for herself the proceeds of the insurance policies of complainant's husband. Accordingly, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for the maximum period allowed under the law, and that she be ordered to turn over to complainant the amounts she received from the London insurance companies. On September 27, 2003, the IBP Board of Governors, in Resolution No. XVI-2003166,[32] adopted and approved the recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, with modification that respondent be disbarred. The Court agrees with the observation of the Investigating Commissioner that complainant had sufficiently substantiated the charge of gross dishonesty against respondent, for having appropriated the insurance proceeds of the complainant's deceased husband, and the recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors that respondent should be disbarred. The object of a disbarment proceeding is not so much to punish the individual attorney himself, as to safeguard the administration of justice by protecting the court and the public from the misconduct of officers of the court, and to remove from the profession of law persons whose disregard for their oath of office have proved them unfit to continue discharging the trust reposed in them as members of the bar.[33] A disciplinary proceeding against a lawyer is sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, it does not involve a trial of an action or a suit, but rather an investigation by the Court into the conduct of one of its officers. Not being intended to inflict punishment, it is in no sense a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, there is neither a plaintiff nor a prosecutor therein. It may be initiated by the Court motu proprio. Public interest is its primary objective, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still fit to be allowed the privileges

as such. Hence, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court, with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice, by purging the profession of members who, by their misconduct, have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney.[34] Being a sui generis proceeding, the main disposition of this Court is the determination of the respondent's administrative liability. This does not include the grant of affirmative reliefs, such as moral and exemplary damages as prayed for by the complainant, which may very well be the subject of a separate civil suit for damages arising from the respondent's wrongful acts, to be filed in the regular courts. In the absence of a formal contract, complainant engaged the legal services of respondent to assist her in securing visa applications and claiming the insurance proceeds of her deceased husband. There are conflicting allegations as to the scope of authority of respondent to represent the complainant. A perusal of the [first] SPA,[35] dated November 6, 1998, which was not notarized, showed that complainant merely authorized respondent to represent her and her son, in order to protect their rights and interests, in the extrajudicial and/or judicial proceeding and the possibility of any amicable settlement, relating to the estate of her deceased husband, both in the Philippines and United Kingdom. The [second] SPA,[36] dated April 6, 1999 and notarized on April 30, 1999, allegedly bearing the forged signature of complainant, in addition to the foregoing representations, authorized respondent to appear and represent the complainant, in connection with her insurance claims, and to receive monies and/or encash treasury warrants, checks arising from said claims, deposit the same, and dispose of such funds as may be necessary for the successful pursuit of the claims. The [third] SPA,[37] also dated April 6, 1999 and notarized on April 30, 1999, allegedly bearing the forged signature of complainant, but additionally bearing the signatures of two witnesses, was a faithful reproduction of the second SPA, with exactly the same stipulations. The three SPAs, attached to the pleadings of the parties and made integral parts of the records of the case, were not certified true copies and no proof was adduced to verify their genuineness and authenticity. Complainant repudiates the representation of respondent in her behalf with regard to the insurance claims; however, the

admission of respondent herself, as lawyer, that she received payment from complainant, her client, constitutes sufficient evidence to establish a lawyer-client relationship.[38] Be that as it may, assuming that respondent acted within the scope of her authority to represent the complainant in pursuing the insurance claims, she should never deviate from the benchmarks set by Canon 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which mandates that a lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession. Specifically, Rule 16.01 states that a lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client, and Rule 16.03 thereof requires that a lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of a client when due or upon demand. When a lawyer receives money from the client for a particular purpose, the lawyer is bound to render an accounting to the client showing that the money was spent for a particular purpose. And if he does not use the money for the intended purpose, the lawyer must immediately return the money to his client.[39] In the present case, the cash/check voucher and the temporary receipts issued by respondent, with the letterhead of her law firm, Z.P. Reyes Law Office, indubitably showed that she received the total amount of P167,000.00[40] from the complainant, in connection with the handling of the latter's case. Respondent admitted having received money from the complainant, but claimed that the total amount of P120,000.00[41] she received was in accordance with their agreement. Nowhere was it shown that respondent rendered an accounting or, at least, apprised the complainant of the actual expenses incurred. This leaves a quandary as to the discrepancy in the actual amount that respondent should receive, supposedly pursuant to an agreement of engaging respondent to be her counsel, as there was absence of a formal contract of legal services. Further, on December 4, 1998, complainant gave P50,000.00 to the respondent for the purpose of assisting her in claiming the insurance proceeds; however, per Application for United Kingdom Entry Clearance,[42] dated December 8, 1998, it showed that respondent's primary purpose in traveling to London was to attend the International Law Conference in Russell Square, London. It is appalling that respondent had the gall to take advantage of the benevolence of the complainant, then grieving for the loss of her husband, and mislead her into believing that she needed to go to London to assist in recovering the proceeds of the insurance

policies. Worse, respondent even inculcated in the mind of the complainant that she had to adhere to the nefarious culture of giving grease money or lagay, in the total amount of P43,000.00,[43] to the British Embassy personnel, as if it was an ordinary occurrence in the normal course of conducting official business transactions, as a means to expedite the visa applications. This runs afoul the dictum in Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which states that a lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. More importantly, apart from her bare denials that no remittance was made to her personal bank account, as shown by the monthly transaction report (covering January to December for the years 2000-2001),[44] respondent never attempted to reconcile the discrepancy, or give a satisfactory explanation, as to why she failed to render an accounting, on the proceeds of the insurance policies that should rightfully belong to the complainant vis--vis the correspondence by the insurance companies based in London, pertaining to the remittance of the following amounts to the respondent's personal bank account, to wit: Per letter[45] dated November 23, 2000, from one Rupesh Majithia, Administrator, Customer Services Department of Lincoln Financial Group, addressed to complainant, stating, among others, that An amount of 10,489.57 was paid out under the Power of Attorney on 27 thSeptember 2000), and per letter,[46] dated April 28, 2000, from one Jeff Hawkes, Customer Services Claims (CLD), of the Eagle Star Life Assurance Company Limited, addressed to one Andrea Ransom of the Lincoln Financial Group, The Quays, stating, among others, that I can confirm that a death claim was made on the policy on 13 October 1999 when an amount of 471.06 was sent by International Moneymover to the client's legal representative, ZP Reyes Law Office of Quezon City, Philippines. Clearly, there is no doubt that the amounts of 10,489.57 and 471.06 were remitted to respondent through other means of international transactions, such as the International Moneymover, which explains why no direct remittance from the insurance companies in London could be traced to the personal bank account of respondent, per monthly transaction report, covering January to December for the years 2000-2001.

A criminal case is different from an administrative case, and each must be disposed of according to the facts and the law applicable to each case.[47] Section 5, in relation to Sections 1[48] and 2,[49] Rule 133, Rules of Court states that in administrative cases, only substantial evidence is required, not proof beyond reasonable doubt as in criminal cases, or preponderance of evidence as in civil cases. Substantial evidence is that amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion. Applying the rule to the present case, the dismissal of a criminal case does not preclude the continuance of a separate and independent action for administrative liability, as the weight of evidence necessary to establish the culpability is merely substantial evidence. Respondent's defense that the criminal complaint for estafa against her was already dismissed is of no consequence. An administrative case can proceed independently, even if there was a full-blown trial wherein, based on both prosecution and defense evidence, the trial court eventually rendered a judgment of acquittal, on the ground either that the prosecution failed to prove the respondent's guilt beyond reasonable doubt, or that no crime was committed. More so, in the present administrative case, wherein the ground for the dismissal of the criminal case was because the trial court granted the prosecution's motion to withdraw the information and, a fortiori, dismissed the case for insufficiency of evidence. In Velez v. De Vera,[50] the Court ruled that the relation between attorney and client is highly fiduciary in nature. Being such, it requires utmost good faith, loyalty, fidelity, and disinterestedness on the part of the attorney. Its fiduciary nature is intended for the protection of the client. The Canon of Professional Ethics provides that the lawyer should refrain from any action whereby for his personal benefit or gain, he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client. Money of the client or collected for the client, or other trust property coming into the possession of the lawyer, should be reported and accounted for promptly and should not, under any circumstances, be commingled with his own or be used by him. Consequently, a lawyer's failure to return upon demand the funds or property held by him on behalf of his client gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use to the prejudice of, and in violation of the trust reposed in him by, his client. It is a gross violation of general morality as well as of professional ethics; it impairs the public confidence in the legal profession and deserves punishment. Lawyers who misappropriate the funds entrusted to them are in gross violation of professional ethics and are guilty of betrayal of

public confidence in the legal profession. Those who are guilty of such infraction may be disbarred or suspended indefinitely from the practice of law.[51] Indeed, lawyering is not a business. It is a profession in which duty to public service, not money, is the primary consideration.[52] In some cases, the Court stripped lawyers of the privilege to practice their profession for breach of trust and confidence pertaining to their clients' moneys and properties. In Manzano v. Soriano,[53] therein respondent, found guilty of grave misconduct (misappropriating the funds belonging to his client) and malpractice, represented therein complainant in a collection suit, but failed to turn over the amount of P50,000.00 as stipulated in their agreement and, to conceal the misdeed, executed a simulated deed of sale, with himself as the vendor and, at the same time, the notary public. In Lemoine v. Balon, Jr.,[54] therein respondent, found guilty of malpractice, deceit, and gross misconduct, received the check corresponding to his client's insurance claim, falsified the check and made it payable to himself, encashed the same, and appropriated the proceeds. Law advocacy, it has been stressed, is not capital that yields profits. The returns it births are simple rewards for a job done or service rendered. It is a calling that, unlike mercantile pursuits which enjoy a greater deal of freedom from government interference, is impressed with public interest, for which it is subject to State regulation.[55] Respondent's repeated reprehensible acts of employing chicanery and unbecoming conduct to conceal her web of lies, to the extent of milking complainant's finances dry, and deceitfully arrogating upon herself the insurance proceeds that should rightfully belong to complainant, in the guise of rendering legitimate legal services, clearly transgressed the norms of honesty and integrity required in the practice of law. This being so, respondent should be purged from the privilege of exercising the noble legal profession. WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Zenaida P. Reyes is found guilty of gross misconduct and DISBARRED from the practice of law. Let her name be stricken off the Roll of Attorneys. This Decision is immediately executory.

Let all the courts, through the Office of the Court Administrator, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the Office of the Bar Confidant, be notified of this Decision and be it duly recorded in the personal file of the respondent. Respondent is ORDERED to turn over to complainant Marites E. Freeman the proceeds of the insurance policies remitted to her by Lincoln Financial Group, in the amount of 10,489.57, and Eagle Star Life Assurance Company Limited, 471.06, or in the total amount of 10,960.63, which is approximately equivalent to P700,000.00, pursuant to the prevailing exchange rate at the time of the subject transaction. SO ORDERED.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court


Manila EN BANC
EUGENIA MENDOZA, Complainant, A.C. No. 5338 Present: PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, Jr., NACHURA, DE CASTRO, BRION, and PERALTA, JJ.

- versus -

Promulgated: ATTY. VICTOR V. DECIEMBRE, Respondent. February 23, 2009 x----------------------------------------------------------- x

RESOLUTION
PER CURIAM:
Any departure from the path which a lawyer must follow as demanded by the virtues of his profession shall not be tolerated by this Court as the disciplining authority for there is perhaps no profession after that of the sacred ministry in which a high-toned morality is more imperative than that of law.[1]

Before the Court is the Petition filed by Eugenia Mendoza (complainant) dated September 19, 2000, seeking the disbarment of Atty. Victor V. Deciembre (respondent) for his acts of fraudulently filling up blank postdated checks without her authority and using the same for filing unfounded criminal suits against her. Complainant, a mail sorter at the Central Post Office Manila, averred that: On October 13, 1998, she borrowed from Rodela Loans, Inc., through respondent, the amount of P20,000.00 payable in six months at 20% interest, secured by 12 blank checks, with numbers 47253, 47256 to 47266, drawn against the Postal Bank. Although she was unable to faithfully pay her obligations on their due dates, she made remittances, however, to respondent's Metrobank account from November 11, 1998 to March 15, 1999 in the total sum of P12,910.00.[2] Claiming that the amounts remitted were not enough to cover the penalties, interests and other charges, respondent warned complainant that he would deposit Postal Check No. 47253 filled up by him on March 30, 1999 in the amount ofP16,000.00. Afraid that respondent might sue her in court, complainant made good said check and respondent was able to encash the same on March 30, 1999. Thereafter, complainant made subsequent payments to the Metrobank account of respondent fromApril 13, 1999 to October 15, 1999,[3] thereby paying respondent the total sum of P35,690.00.[4] Complainant further claimed that, later, respondent filled up two of the postal checks she issued in blank, Check Nos. 47261 and 47262 with the amount of P50,000.00 each and with the dates January 15,

2000 and January 20, 2000 respectively, which respondent claims was in exchange for the P100,000.00 cash that complainant received on November 15, 1999. Complainant insisted however that she never borrowed P100,000.00 from respondent and that it was unlikely that respondent would lend her, a mail sorter with a basic monthly salary of less than P6,000.00, such amount. Complainant also claimed that respondent victimized other employees of the Postal Office by filling up, without authorization, blank checks issued to him as condition for loans.[5] In his Comment dated January 18, 2000, respondent averred that his dealings with complainant were done in his private capacity and not as a lawyer, and that when he filed a complaint for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. (B.P. Blg.) 22 against complainant, he was only vindicating his rights as a private citizen. He alleged further that: it was complainant who deliberately deceived him by not honoring her commitment to their November 15, 1999 transaction involving P100,000.00 and covered by two checks which bounced for the reason account closed; the October 13, 1999 transaction was a separate and distinct transaction; complainant filed the disbarment case against him to get even with him for filing the estafa and B.P. Blg. 22 case against the former; complainant's claim that respondent filled up the blank checks issued by complainant is a complete lie; the truth was that the checks referred to were already filled up when complainant affixed her signature thereto; it was unbelievable that complainant would issue blank checks, and that she was a mere low-salaried employee, since she was able to maintain several checking accounts; and if he really intended to defraud complainant, he would have written a higher amount on the checks instead of only P50,000.00.[6] The case was referred to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines[7] (IBP), and the parties were required to file their position papers.[8] In her Position Paper, complainant, apart from reiterating her earlier claims, alleged that respondent, after the hearing on the disbarment case before the IBP on September 5, 2001, again filled up three of her blank checks, Check Nos. 47263, 47264 and 47265, totaling P100,000.00, to serve as basis for another criminal complaint, since the earlier estafa and B.P. Blg. 22 case filed by respondent against her before the Office of the Prosecutor of Pasig City was dismissed on August 14, 2000.[9]

Respondent insisted in his Position Paper, however, that complainant borrowed P100,000.00 in exchange for two postdated checks, and that since he had known complainant for quite some time, he accepted said checks on complainant's assurance that they were good as cash.[10] Investigating Commissioner Wilfredo E.J.E. Reyes submitted his Report dated September 6, 2002, finding respondent guilty of dishonesty and recommended respondent's suspension from the practice of law for one year.[11] The Report was adopted and approved by the IBP Board of Governors in its Resolution dated October 19, 2002.[12] Respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied, however, by the IBP Board of Governors on January 25, 2003 on the ground that it no longer had jurisdiction on the matter, as the same was already endorsed to the Supreme Court.[13] On June 9, 2003 this Court's Second Division issued a Resolution remanding the case to the IBP for the conduct of formal investigation, as the Report of Commissioner Reyes was based merely on the pleadings submitted.[14] After hearings were conducted,[15] Investigating Commissioner Dennis A. B. Funa submitted his Report dated December 5, 2006 finding respondent guilty of gross misconduct and violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, and recommended respondent's suspension for three years.[16] Commissioner Funa held that while it was difficult at first to determine who between complainant and respondent was telling the truth, in the end, respondent himself, with his own contradicting allegations, showed that complainant's version should be given more credence.[17] Commissioner Funa noted that although complainant's total obligation to respondent was only P24,000.00, since the loan obtained by complainant on October 13, 1998 was P20,000.00 at 20% interest payable in six months, by April 13, 1999, however, complainant had actually paid respondent the total amount of P30,240.00. Thus, even though the payment was irregularly given, respondent actually earned more than the agreed upon 20% interest. Moreover, the amounts of P50,000.00 as well as the name of the payee in the subject checks were all typewritten[18]

Commissioner Funa also gave credence to complainant's claim that it was respondent's modus operandi to demand a certain amount as settlement for the dropping of estafa complaints against his borrowers. As Commissioner Funa explains:
[A] complaint for estafa/violation of BP 22 was filed against [complainant] before the Prosecutor's Office in Pasig City on June 21, 2000. On August 14, 2000, the Prosecutor's Office dismissed the complaint. On October 2, 2000, Complainant filed this disbarment case. About one year later, or on September 5, 2001, Complainant was surprised to receive a demand letter demanding payment once again for another P100,000.00 corresponding to another three checks, Check Nos. 0047263, 0047264 and 0047265. Furthermore, Respondent filed another criminal complaint for estafa/violation of BP 22 dated October 17, 2001, this time before the QC Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor's office recommended the filing of the criminal case for one of the checks. xxxx Respondent's version, on the other hand, is that Check Nos. 0047261 and 0047262 were given to him for loans (rediscounting) contacted on November 15, 1999 and not for a loan contracted on October 13, 1998. x x x He claims that the October 13, 1998 transaction is an earlier and different transaction. x x x On the very next day, or on November 16, 1999, Complainant again allegedly contracted another loan for anotherP100,000.00 for which Complainant allegedly issued the following Postal Bank checks [Check No. 0047263 dated May 16, 2001 for P20,000.00; Check No. 0047264 dated May 30, 2001 for P30,000.00 and Check No. 0047265 dated June 15, 2001 for P50,000.00]. xxxx Oddly though, Respondent never narrated that Complainant obtained a second loan on November 16, 1999 in his Answer [dated January 18, 2000] and in his Position Paper [dated October 8, 2001]. He did not even discuss it in his Motion for Reconsideration dated December 20, 2002, although he attached the Resolution of the QC Prosecutor's Office. Clearly, the November 16, 1999 transaction was a mere concoction that did not actually occur. It was a mere afterthought. Respondent once again filled-up three of the other checks in his possession (checks dated May 16, 2001, May 30, 2001 and June 15, 2001) so that he can again file another estafa/BP 22 case against Complainant (October 17, 2001) AFTER the earlier complaint he had filed before the Pasig City Prosecutor's Office had been dismissed (August 14, 2000) and AFTER herein Complainant had filed this disbarment case (October 2, 2000). More telling, and this is where Respondent gets caught, are the circumstances attending this second loan of November 16, 1999. In addition to not mentioning it at all in his Answer, his Position Paper, and his Motion for Reconsideration, which makes it very strange, is that fact that he alleges that the loan was contracted on November 16, 1999 for which Complainant supposedly issued checks dated May 16, 2001, May 30, 2001 and June 15, 2001. Note

that May 16, 2001 is eighteen (18 months), or 1 year and 6 months, from November 16, 1999. This is strangely a long period for loans of this nature. This loan was supposedly not made in writing, only verbally. With no collaterals and no guarantors. Clearly, this is a nonexistent transaction. It was merely concocted by Respondent. More importantly, and this is where Respondent commits his fatal blunder thus exposing his illegal machinations, Complainant allegedly received P100,000.00 in cash on November 16, 1999 for which Complainant gave Respondent, in return, checks also amounting to P100,000.00. The checks were supposedly dated May 16, 2001, May 30, 2001 and June 15, 2001 x x x. Now then, would not Respondent suffer a financial loss if he gave away P100,000.00 on November 16, 1999 and then also receiveP100,000.00 on May 16, 2001 or 1 year and 6 months later? A person engaged in lending business would want to earn interest. The same also with a person re-discounting checks. In this instance, in his haste to concoct a story, Respondent forgot to factor in the interest. At 20% interest, assuming that it is per annum, for 1 years, Respondent should have collected from Complainant at least P130,000.00. And yet the checks he filled up totaled only P100,000.00. The same is true in re-discounting a check. If Complainant gave Respondent P100,000.00 in checks, Respondent should be giving Complainant an amount less than P100,000.00. This exposes his story as a fabrication. The same observations can be made of the first loan of P100,000.00 secured by Check Nos. 0047261 and 0047262. More strangely, during the course of the entire investigation, Respondent never touched on what transpired on the dates of November 15 and 16, 1999. Consider that Complainant's position is that no such transaction took place on November 15 and 16. And yet, Respondent never made any effort to establish that Complainant borrowed P100,000.00 on November 15 and then another P100,000.00 again on November 16. Respondent merely focused on establishing that Complainant's checks bounced --- a fact already admitted several times by the Complainant --- and the reasons for which were already explained by Complainant. This only shows the lack of candor of Respondent.[19] xxxx We take note further that Complainant is a mere mail sorter earning less than P6,000.00 per month. Who would lend P200,000.00 to an employee earning such a salary, nowadays, and not even secure such a loan with a written document or a collateral? It defies realities of finance, economy and business. It even defies common sense.[20]

Commissioner Funa also took note that the instant case had practically the same set of facts as in Olbes v. Deciembre[21] andAcosta v. Deciembre.[22] In Olbes, complainants therein, who were also postal employees, averred that respondent without authority filled up a total of four checks to represent a total of P200,000.00. In Acosta, the complainant therein, another postal employee, averred that

respondent filled up two blank checks for a total of P100,000.00. Acosta, however, was dismissed by Commissioner Lydia Navarro on the ground that it did not involve any lawyer-client relationship, which ground, Commissioner Funa believes, is erroneous.[23] On May 31, 2007, the IBP Board of Governors issued a resolution adopting and approving Commissoner Funa's Report, but modifying the penalty, as follows:
RESOLUTION NO. XVII-2007-219 Adm. Case No. 5338 Eugenia Mendoza vs. Atty. Victor V. Deciembre RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex A; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering Respondent's gross misconduct and for practically found guilty of committing the same set of facts alleged in AC 5365, Atty. Victor V. Deciembre is herebySUSPENDED INDEFINITELY from the practice of law to be served successively after the lifting of Respondent's Indefinite Suspension.[24]

Although no motion for reconsideration was filed before the IBP Board of Governors, nor a petition for review before this Court as reported by IBP and Office of the Bar Confidant, the Court considers the IBP Resolution merely recommendatory and therefore would not attain finality, pursuant to par. (b), Section 12, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court. The IBP elevated to this Court the entire records of the case for appropriate action. The Court agrees with the findings of the IBP, but finds that disbarment and not just indefinite suspension is in order. The practice of law is not a right but merely a privilege bestowed by the State upon those who show that they possess, and continue to possess, the qualifications required by law for the conferment of such privilege.[25] A high sense of morality, honesty and fair dealing is expected and required of members of the bar.[26] They must conduct themselves with great propriety, and their behavior must be beyond reproach anywhere and at all times.[27]

The fact that there is no attorney-client relationship in this case and the transactions entered into by respondent were done in his private capacity cannot shield respondent, as a lawyer, from liability. A lawyer may be disciplined for acts committed even in his private capacity for acts which tend to bring reproach on the legal profession or to injure it in the favorable opinion of the public.[28] Indeed, there is no distinction as to whether the transgression is committed in a lawyer's private life or in his professional capacity, for a lawyer may not divide his personality as an attorney at one time and a mere citizen at another.[29] In this case, evidence abounds that respondent has failed to live up to the standards required of members of the legal profession. Specifically, respondent has transgressed provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility, to wit:
CANON 1 A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes. Rule 1.01. - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. xxxx CANON 7 A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and support the activities of the integrated bar. xxxx Rule 7.03. A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

As correctly observed by IBP Investigating Commissioner Funa, respondent failed to mention in his Comment dated January 18, 2000, in his Position Paper dated October 8, 2001 and in his Motion for Reconsideration dated December 20, 2002, theP100,000.00 loan which complainant supposedly contracted on November 16, 1999. It is also questionable why the checks dated May 16, 2001, May 30, 2001 and June 15, 2001 which were supposedly issued to secure a loan contracted about 18 months earlier,i.e. November 16, 1999, were made without any interest. The same is true with the checks dated January 15 and 20, 2000 in the total sum of P100,000.00, which were supposed to secure a loan

contracted on November 15, 1999, for the same amount. Considering these circumstances and the sequence of dates when respondent filed his criminal cases against complainant, and complainant her disbarment case against respondent, what truly appears more believable is complainant's claim that respondent was merely utilizing the blank checks, filling them up, and using them as bases for criminal cases in order to harass complainant. The Court also notes that the checks being refuted by complainant, dated January 15 and 20, 2000, May 16, 2001, May 30, 2001 and June 15, 2001[30] had its dates, amounts and payee's name all typewritten, while the blanks on the check for P16,000.00 dated March 30, 1999 which complainant used to pay part of her original loan, were all filled up in her handwriting.[31] It is also observed that the present case was not the only instance when respondent committed his wrongful acts. InOlbes,[32] complainants therein contracted a loan from respondent in the amount of P10,000.00 on July 1, 1999, for which they issued five blank checks as collateral. Notwithstanding their full payment of the loan, respondent filled up four of the blank checks with the amount of P50,000.00 each with different dates of maturity and used the same in filing estafa and B.P. Blg. 22 cases against complainants. The Court, in imposing the penalty of indefinite suspension on respondent, found his propensity for employing deceit and misrepresentation as reprehensible and his misuse of the filled up checks, loathsome.[33] In Acosta,[34] complainant therein also averred that on August 1, 1998, she borrowed P20,000.00 from respondent with an interest of 20% payable in six months and guaranteed by twelve blank checks. Although she had already paid the total amount ofP33,300.00, respondent still demanded payments from her, and for her failure to comply therewith, respondent filed a case against her before the City Prosecutor of Marikina City, using two of her blank checks which respondent filled up with the total amount ofP100,000.00. Unfortunately, the complaint was dismissed by IBP Investigating Commissioner Navarro on October 2, 2001 on the ground that the said transaction did not involve any lawyer-client relationship.[35] As correctly observed by Commissioner Funa, such conclusion is erroneous, for a lawyer may be disciplined even for acts not involving any attorney-client relationship. As manifested by these cases, respondent's offenses are manifold. First, he demands excessive payments from his borrowers; then he fills up his borrowers' blank checks with fictitious amounts,

falsifying commercial documents for his material gain; and then he uses said checks as bases for filing unfounded criminal suits against his borrowers in order to harass them. Such acts manifest respondent's perversity of character, meriting his severance from the legal profession. While the power to disbar is exercised with great caution and is withheld whenever a lesser penalty could accomplish the end desired,[36] the seriousness of respondent's offense compels the Court to wield its supreme power of disbarment. Indeed, the Court will not hestitate to remove an erring attorney from the esteemed brotherhood of lawyers where the evidence calls for it.[37] This is because in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court, with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney.[38] As respondent's misconduct brings intolerable dishonor to the legal profession, the severance of his privilege to practice law for life is in order. WHEREFORE, Atty. Victor V. Deciembre is hereby found GUILTY of GROSS MISCONDUCT and VIOLATION of Canon 1, Rule 1.01 and Canon 7, Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is DISBARRED from the practice of law and his name is ordered stricken off the Roll of Attorneys effective immediately. Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant which shall forthwith record it in the personal files of respondent; all the courts of the Philippines; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, which shall disseminate copies thereof to all its Chapters; and all administrative and quasijudicial agencies of the Republic of the Philippines. SO ORDERED.

EN BANC DIANA RAMOS, Complainant, A. C. No. 6788


(Formerly, CBD 382)

Present: PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, SANDOVAL-GUTIERREZ, CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA, TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO,* GARCIA, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA and REYES, JJ.

-versus-

ATTY. JOSE R. IMBANG, Respondent.

Promulgated: August 23, 2007

x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x RESOLUTION

PER CURIAM:

This is a complaint for disbarment or suspension[1] against Atty. Jose R. Imbang for multiple violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

THE COMPLAINT

In 1992, the complainant Diana Ramos sought the assistance of respondent Atty. Jose R. Imbang in filing civil and criminal actions against the spouses Roque and Elenita Jovellanos.[2] She gave respondent P8,500 as attorney's fees but the latter issued a receipt for P5,000 only.[3] The complainant tried to attend the scheduled hearings of her cases against the Jovellanoses. Oddly, respondent never allowed her to enter the courtroom and always told her to wait outside. He would then come out after several hours to inform her that the hearing had been cancelled and rescheduled.[4] This happened six times and for each appearance in court, respondent charged herP350. After six consecutive postponements, the complainant became suspicious. She personally inquired about the status of her cases in the trial courts of Bian and San Pedro, Laguna. She was shocked to learn that respondent never filed any case against the Jovellanoses and that he was in fact employed in the Public Attorney's Office (PAO).[5]

RESPONDENT'S DEFENSE

According to respondent, the complainant knew that he was in the government service from the very start. In fact, he first met the complainant when he was still a district attorney in the Citizen's Legal Assistance Office (predecessor of PAO) of Bian, Laguna and was assigned as counsel for the complainant's daughter.[6]

In 1992, the complainant requested him to help her file an action for damages against the Jovellanoses.[7] Because he was with the PAO and aware that the complainant was not an indigent, he declined.[8] Nevertheless, he advised the complainant to consult Atty. Tim Ungson, a relative who was a private practitioner.[9] Atty. Ungson, however, did not accept the complainant's case as she was unable to come up with the acceptance fee agreed upon.[10] Notwithstanding Atty. Ungson's refusal, the complainant allegedly remained adamant. She insisted on suing the Jovellanoses. Afraid that she might spend the cash on hand, the complainant asked respondent to keep the P5,000 while she raised the balance of Atty. Ungson's acceptance fee.[11] A year later, the complainant requested respondent to issue an antedated receipt because one of her daughters asked her to account for the P5,000 she had previously given the respondent for safekeeping.[12] Because the complainant was a friend, he agreed and issued a receipt dated July 15, 1992.[13] On April 15, 1994, respondent resigned from the PAO.[14] A few months later or in September 1994, the complainant again asked respondent to assist her in suing the Jovellanoses. Inasmuch as he was now a private practitioner, respondent agreed to prepare the complaint. However, he was unable to finalize it as he lost contact with the complainant.[15]

RECOMMENDATION OF THE IBP

Acting on the complaint, the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) where the complaint was filed, received evidence from the parties. On

November 22, 2004, the CBD submitted its report and recommendation to the IBP Board of Governors.[16] The CBD noted that the receipt[17] was issued on July 15, 1992 when respondent was still with the PAO.[18] It also noted that respondent described the complainant as a shrewd businesswoman and that respondent was a seasoned trial lawyer. For these reasons, the complainant would not have accepted a spurious receipt nor would respondent have issued one. The CBD rejected respondent's claim that he issued the receipt to accommodate a friend's request.[19] It found respondent guilty of violating the prohibitions on government lawyers from accepting private cases and receiving lawyer's fees other than their salaries. [20] The CBD concluded that respondent violated the following provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
Rule 1.01. A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. Rule 16.01. A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from a client. Rule 18.01. A lawyer should not undertake a legal service which he knows or should know that he is not qualified to render. However, he may render such service if, with the consent of his client, he can obtain as collaborating counsel a lawyer who is competent on the matter.

Thus, it recommended respondent's suspension from the practice of law for three years and ordered him to immediately return to the complainant the amount of P5,000 which was substantiated by the receipt.[21] The IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the findings of the CBD that respondent violated Rules 1.01, 16.01 and 18.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. It,

however, modified the CBD's recommendation with regard to the restitution ofP5,000 by imposing interest at the legal rate, reckoned from 1995 or, in case of respondent's failure to return the total amount, an additional suspension of six months.[22]

THE COURT'S RULING

We adopt the findings of the IBP with modifications. Lawyers are expected to conduct themselves with honesty and integrity.[23] More specifically, lawyers in government service are expected to be more conscientious of their actuations as they are subject to public scrutiny. They are not only members of the bar but also public servants who owe utmost fidelity to public service.[24] Government employees are expected to devote themselves completely to public service. For this reason, the private practice of profession is prohibited. Section 7(b)(2) of the Code of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees provides:
Section 7. Prohibited Acts and Transactions. -- In addition to acts and omissions of public officials and employees now prescribed in the Constitution and existing laws, the following constitute prohibited acts and transactions of any public official and employee and are hereby declared unlawful:
xxx xxx xxx

(b) Outside employment and other activities related thereto, public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not: xxx xxx xxx

(1) Engage in the private practice of profession unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practice will not conflict with their official function.[25]

Thus, lawyers in government service cannot handle private cases for they are expected to devote themselves full-time to the work of their respective offices. In this instance, respondent received P5,000 from the complainant and issued a receipt on July 15, 1992 while he was still connected with the PAO. Acceptance of money from a client establishes an attorney-client relationship.[26] Respondent's admission that he accepted money from the complainant and the receipt confirmed the presence of an attorney-client relationship between him and the complainant. Moreover, the receipt showed that he accepted the complainant's case while he was still a government lawyer. Respondent clearly violated the prohibition on private practice of profession. Aggravating respondent's wrongdoing was his receipt of attorney's fees. The PAO was created for the purpose of providing free legal assistance to indigent litigants.[27] Section 14(3), Chapter 5, Title III, Book V of the Revised Administrative Code provides:
Sec. 14. xxx The PAO shall be the principal law office of the Government in extending free legal assistance to indigent persons in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasijudicial cases.[28]

As a PAO lawyer, respondent should not have accepted attorney's fees from the complainant as this was inconsistent with the office's mission.[29] Respondent violated the prohibition against accepting legal fees other than his salary. Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

CANON 1. A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR THE LAW AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

Every lawyer is obligated to uphold the law.[30] This undertaking includes the observance of the above-mentioned prohibitions blatantly violated by respondent when he accepted the complainant's cases and received attorney's fees in consideration of his legal services. Consequently, respondent's acceptance of the cases was also a breach of Rule 18.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility because the prohibition on the private practice of profession disqualified him from acting as the complainant's counsel. Aside from disregarding the prohibitions against handling private cases and accepting attorney's fees, respondent also surreptitiously deceived the complainant. Not only did he fail to file a complaint against the Jovellanoses (which in the first place he should not have done), respondent also led the complainant to believe that he really filed an action against the Jovellanoses. He even made it appear that the cases were being tried and asked the complainant to pay his appearance fees for hearings that never took place. These acts constituted dishonesty, a violation of the lawyer's oath not to do any falsehood.[31] Respondent's conduct in office fell short of the integrity and good moral character required of all lawyers, specially one occupying a public office. Lawyers in public office are expected not only to refrain from any act or omission which tend to lessen the trust and confidence of the citizenry in government but also uphold the dignity of the legal profession at all times and observe a high standard of honesty and fair dealing. A government lawyer is a keeper of public faith and is burdened with a high degree of social responsibility, higher than his brethren in private practice.[32]

There is, however, insufficient basis to find respondent guilty of violating Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Respondent did not hold the money for the benefit of the complainant but accepted it as his attorney's fees. He neither held the amount in trust for the complainant (such as an amount delivered by the sheriff in satisfaction of a judgment obligation in favor of the client)[33] nor was it given to him for a specific purpose (such as amounts given for filing fees and bail bond).[34] Nevertheless, respondent should return the P5,000 as he, a government lawyer, was not entitled to attorney's fees and not allowed to accept them. [35] WHEREFORE, Atty. Jose R. Imbang is found guilty of violating the lawyers oath, Canon 1, Rule 1.01 and Canon 18, Rule 18.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Accordingly, he is hereby DISBARRED from the practice of law and his name isORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. He is also ordered to return to complainant the amount of P5,000 with interest at the legal rate, reckoned from 1995, within 10 days from receipt of this resolution. Let a copy of this resolution be attached to the personal records of respondent in the Office of the Bar Confidant and notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country. SO ORDERED.

Republic of the Philippines

Supreme Court Manila

SECOND DIVISION MARTIN LAHM III and JAMES P. CONCEPCION, Complainants, A.C. No. 7430 Present: CARPIO, J., Chairperson, VILLARAMA, JR.,* PEREZ, SERENO, and REYES, JJ. Promulgated: February 15, 2012

- versus -

LABOR ARBITER JOVENCIO Ll. MAYOR, JR., Respondent.

x--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x RESOLUTION REYES, J.: Before us is a verified complaint[1] filed by Martin Lahm III and James P. Concepcion (complainants) praying for the disbarment of Labor Arbiter Jovencio Ll. Mayor, Jr. (respondent) for alleged gross misconduct and violation of lawyers oath. On June 27, 2007, the respondent filed his Comment[2] to the complaint. In a Resolution[3] dated July 18, 2007, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation. The antecedent facts, as summarized in the Report and Recommendation[4] dated September 19, 2008 of Commissioner Romualdo A. Din, Jr. of the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, are as follows:

On September 5, 2006 a certain David Edward Toze filed a complaint for illegal dismissal before the Labor Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission against the members of the Board of Trustees of the International School, Manila. The same was docketed as NLRC-NCR Case No. 00-07381-06 and raffled to the sala of the respondent. Impleaded as among the partyrespondents are the complainants in the instant case. On September 7, 2006, David Edward Toze filed a Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents. The said Motion was set for hearing on September 12, 2006 at 10:00 in the morning. A day after, on September 8, 2006, the counsel for the complainants herein entered its appearance and asked for additional time to oppose and make a comment to the Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents of David Edward Toze. Thereafter, the respondent issued an Order dated September 14, 2006 that directs the parties in the said case to maintain the status quo ante. The complainants herein sought the reconsideration of the Order dated September 14, 200[6] x x x. xxxx On account of the Order dated September 14, 2006, David Edward Toze was immediately reinstated and assumed his former position as superintendent of the International School Manila. The pending incidents with the above-mentioned illegal dismissal case were not resolved, however, the scheduled hearing for the issuance of a preliminary injunction on September 20, 2006 and September 27, 2006 was postponed. On January 19, 2007, the co-respondents of the complainants herein in the said illegal dismissal case filed a motion for an early resolution of their motion to dismiss the said case, but the respondent instead issued an Order dated February 6, 2007 requiring the parties to appear in his Office on February 27, 2007 at 10:00 in the morning in order to thresh out David Edward Toze claim of moral and exemplary damages. xxxx The respondent on the other maintains that the Order dated September 14, 2006 was issued by him on account of [the] Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents that was filed by David Edward Toze, and of the Entry of Appearance with Motion for Additional Time to File Comment that was thereafter filed by the counsel for the herein complainants in the illegal dismissal case pending before the respondent.

The respondent maintains that in order to prevent irreparable damage on the person of David Edward Toze, and on account of the urgency of [the] Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents of David Edward Toze, and that the counsel for respondents in the illegal dismissal case have asked for a relatively long period of fifteen days for a resetting, he (respondent) found merit in issuing the Order dated September 14, 2006 that requires the parties to maintain the status quo ante. xxx The respondent argues that [the] instant case should be dismissed for being premature since the aforementioned illegal dismissal case is still pending before the Labor Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission, that the instant case is a subterfuge in order to compel the respondent to inhibit himself in resolving the said illegal dismissal case because the complainants did not assail the Order dated September 14, 2006 before the Court of Appeals under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court.[5]

Based on the foregoing, the Investigating Commissioner concluded that: (1) the grounds cited by the respondent to justify his issuance of the status quo ante order lacks factual basis and is speculative; (2) the respondent does not have the authority to issue a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction; and (3) the inordinate delay in the resolution of the motion for reconsideration directed against the September 14, 2006 Order showed an orchestrated effort to keep the status quo ante until the expiration of David Edward Tozes employment contract. Accordingly, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that:
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully recommended that the respondent be SUSPENDED for a period of six (6) months with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar incident will be dealt with more severe penalty.[6]

On December 11, 2008, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XVIII-2008644[7] which adopted and approved the recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner. The said resolution further pointed out that the Board of Governors had previously recommended the respondents suspension from the practice of law for three years in

Administrative Case (A.C.) No. 7314 entitled Mary Ann T. Flores v. Atty. Jovencio Ll. Mayor, Jr.. The respondent sought to reconsider the foregoing disposition,[8] but it was denied by the IBP Board of Governors in its Resolution No. XIX-2011-476 dated June 26, 2011. The case is now before us for confirmation. We agree with the IBP Board of Governors that the respondent should be sanctioned. Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides that a lawyer may be removed or suspended from the practice of law,inter alia, for gross misconduct and violation of the lawyers oath. Thus:
Section 27. Attorneys removed or suspended by Supreme Court on what grounds. A member of the bar may be removed or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or wilful appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice. (emphasis supplied)

A lawyer may be suspended or disbarred for any misconduct showing any fault or deficiency in his moral character, honesty, probity or good demeanor.[9] Gross misconduct is

any inexcusable, shameful or flagrant unlawful conduct on the part of a person concerned with the administration of justice; i.e., conduct prejudicial to the rights of the parties or to the right determination of the cause. The motive behind this conduct is generally a premeditated, obstinate or intentional purpose.[10]
Intrinsically, the instant petition wants this Court to impose disciplinary sanction against the respondent as a member of the bar. However, the grounds asserted by the complainants in

support of the administrative charges against the respondent are intrinsically connected with the discharge of the respondents quasi-judicial functions. Nonetheless, it cannot be discounted that the respondent, as a labor arbiter, is a public officer entrusted to resolve labor controversies. It is well settled that the Court may suspend or disbar a lawyer for any conduct on his part showing his unfitness for the confidence and trust which characterize the attorney and client relations, and the practice of law before the courts, or showing such a lack of personal honesty or of good moral character as to render him unworthy of public confidence.[11] Thus, the fact that the charges against the respondent were based on his acts committed in the discharge of his functions as a labor arbiter would not hinder this Court from imposing disciplinary sanctions against him. The Code of Professional Responsibility does not cease to apply to a lawyer simply because he has joined the government service. In fact, by the express provision of Canon 6 thereof, the rules governing the conduct of lawyers shall apply to lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official tasks. Thus, where a lawyers misconduct as a government official is of such nature as to affect his qualification as a lawyer or to show moral delinquency, then he may be disciplined as a member of the bar on such grounds.[12] In Atty. Vitriolo v. Atty. Dasig,[13] we stressed that:
Generally speaking, a lawyer who holds a government office may not be disciplined as a member of the Bar for misconduct in the discharge of his duties as a government official. However, if said misconduct as a government official also constitutes a violation of his oath as a lawyer, then he may be disciplined by this Court as a member of the Bar. In this case, the record shows that the respondent, on various occasions, during her tenure as OIC, Legal Services, CHED, attempted to extort from Betty C. Mangohon, Rosalie B. Dela Torre, Rocella G. Eje, and Jacqueline N. Ng sums of money as consideration for her favorable action on their pending applications or requests before her office. The evidence remains unrefuted, given the respondents failure, despite the opportunities afforded her by this Court and the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline to comment on the charges. We find that respondents misconduct

as a lawyer of the CHED is of such a character as to affect her qualification as a member of the Bar, for as a lawyer, she ought to have known that it was patently unethical and illegal for her to demand sums of money as consideration for the approval of applications and requests awaiting action by her office. xxx A member of the Bar who assumes public office does not shed his professional obligations. Hence, the Code of Professional Responsibility, promulgated on June 21, 1988, was not meant to govern the conduct of private practitioners alone, but of all lawyers including those in government service. This is clear from Canon 6 of said Code. Lawyers in government are public servants who owe the utmost fidelity to the public service. Thus, they should be more sensitive in the performance of their professional obligations, as their conduct is subject to the ever-constant scrutiny of the public. For a lawyer in public office is expected not only to refrain from any act or omission which might tend to lessen the trust and confidence of the citizenry in government, she must also uphold the dignity of the legal profession at all times and observe a high standard of honesty and fair dealing.Otherwise said, a lawyer in government service is a keeper of the public faith and is burdened with high degree of social responsibility, perhaps higher than her brethren in private practice.[14] (emphasis supplied and citations omitted)

In Tadlip v. Atty. Borres, Jr.,[15] we ruled that an administrative case against a lawyer for acts committed in his capacity as provincial adjudicator of the Department of Agrarian Reform Regional Arbitration Board may be likened to administrative cases against judges considering that he is part of the quasi-judicial system of our government. This Court made a similar pronouncement in Buehs v. Bacatan[16] where the respondentlawyer was suspended from the practice of law for acts he committed in his capacity as an accredited Voluntary Arbitrator of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board. Here, the respondent, being part of the quasi-judicial system of our government, performs official functions that are akin to those of judges. Accordingly, the present controversy may be approximated to administrative cases of judges whose decisions, including the manner of rendering the same, were made subject of administrative cases.

As a matter of public policy, not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of his official duties renders him liable. In the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a judge in his official capacity do not always constitute misconduct although the same acts may be erroneous. True, a judge may not be disciplined for error of judgment absent proof that such error was made with a conscious and deliberate intent to cause an injustice.[17] While a judge may not always be held liable for ignorance of the law for every erroneous order that he renders, it is also axiomatic that when the legal principle involved is sufficiently basic, lack of conversance with it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Indeed, even though a judge may not always be subjected to disciplinary action for every erroneous order or decision he renders, that relative immunity is not a license to be negligent or abusive and arbitrary in performing his adjudicatory prerogatives.[18] When the law is sufficiently basic, a judge owes it to his office to know and to simply apply it. Anything less would be constitutive of gross ignorance of the law.[19] In the case at bench, we find the respondent guilty of gross ignorance of the law. Acting on the motion for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction, the respondent issued the September 14, 2006 Order requiring the parties to maintain the status quo ante until the said motion had been resolved. It should be stressed, however, that at the time the said motion was filed, the 2005 Rules of Procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) is already in effect. Admittedly, under the 1990 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC, the labor arbiter has, in proper cases, the authority to issue writs of preliminary injunction and/or restraining orders. Section 1, Rule XI of the 1990 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC provides that:
Section 1. Injunction in Ordinary Labor Disputes. A preliminary injunction or restraining order may be granted by the Commission through its Divisions pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (e) of Article 218 of the Labor Code, as amended, when it is established on the basis of the sworn allegations in the petition that the acts complained of involving or arising from any labor dispute before the Commission,

which, if not restrained or performed forthwith, may cause grave or irreparable damage to any party or render ineffectual any decision in favor of such party. If necessary, the Commission may require the petitioner to post a bond and writ of preliminary injunction or restraining order shall become effective only upon the approval of the bond which shall answer for any damage that may be suffered by the party enjoined, if it is finally determined that the petitioner is not entitled thereto. The foregoing ancillary power may be exercised by the Labor Arbiters only as an incident to the cases pending before them in order to preserve the rights of the parties during the pendency of the case, but excluding labor disputes involving strike or lockout.(emphasis supplied)

Nevertheless, under the 2005 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC, the labor arbiters no longer has the authority to issue writs of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining orders. Under Section 1, Rule X of the 2005 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC, only the NLRC, through its Divisions, may issue writs of preliminary injunction and temporary restraining orders. Thus:
Section 1. Injunction in Ordinary Labor Disputes. - A preliminary injunction or restraining order may be granted by the Commission through its Divisions pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (e) of Article 218 of the Labor Code, as amended, when it is established on the basis of the sworn allegations in the petition that the acts complained of involving or arising from any labor dispute before the Commission, which, if not restrained or performed forthwith, may cause grave or irreparable damage to any party or render ineffectual any decision in favor of such party. (emphasis supplied)

The role of the labor arbiters, with regard to the issuance of writs of preliminary injunctions and/or writ of preliminary injunction, at present, is limited to reception of evidence as may be delegated by the NLRC. Thus, Section 4, Rule X of the 2005 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC provides that:
Section 4. Reception of Evidence; Delegation. - The reception of evidence for the application of a writ of injunction may be delegated by the Commission to any of its Labor Arbiters who shall conduct such hearings in such places as he may determine to be accessible to the parties and their witnesses, and shall thereafter submit his report and recommendation to the Commission within fifteen (15) days from such delegation. (emphasis supplied)

The foregoing rule is clear and leaves no room for interpretation. However, the respondent, in violation of the said rule, vehemently insist that he has the authority to issue writs of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order. On this point, the Investigating Commissioner aptly ruled that:
The respondent should, in the first place, not entertained Edward Tozes Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents. He should have denied it outright on the basis of Section 1, Rule X of the 2005 Revised Rules of Procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission. xxxx The respondent, being a Labor Arbiter of the Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission, should have been familiar with Sections 1 and 4 of the 2005 Revised Rules of procedure of the National Labor Relations Commission. The first, states that it is the Commission of the [NLRC] that may grant a preliminary injunction or restraining order. While the second, states [that] Labor Arbiters [may] conduct hearings on the application of preliminary injunction or restraining order only in a delegated capacity.[20]

What made matters worse is the unnecessary delay on the part of the respondent in resolving the motion for reconsideration of the September 14, 2006 Order. The unfounded insistence of the respondent on his supposed authority to issue writs of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order, taken together with the delay in the resolution of the said motion for reconsideration, would clearly show that the respondent deliberately intended to cause prejudice to the complainants. On this score, the Investigating Commissioner keenly observed that:
The Commission is very much disturbed with the effect of the Order dated September 14, 2006 and the delay in the resolution of the pending incidents in the illegal dismissal case before the respondent. Conspicuously, Section 3 (Term of Contract) of the Employment Contract between David Edward Toze and International School Manila provides that David

Edward Toze will render work as a superintendent for the school years August 2005July 2006 and August 2006-July 2007. The Order dated September 14, 2006 in effect reinstates David Edward Toze as superintendent of International School of Manila until the resolution of the formers Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents. Since the Employment Contract between David Edward Toze and International School Manila is about to expire or end on August 2007, prudence dictates that the respondent expediently resolved [sic] the merits of David Edward Tozes Verified Motion for the Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction Against the Respondents because any delay in the resolution thereof would result to undue benefit in favor of David Edward Toze and unwarranted prejudice to International School Manila. xxxx At the time the respondent inhibited himself from resolving the illegal dismissal case before him, there are barely four (4) months left with the Employment Contract between David Edward Toze and International School Manila. From the foregoing, there is an inordinate delay in the resolution of the reconsideration of the Order dated September 14, 2006 that does not escape the attention of this Commission. There appears an orchestrated effort to delay the resolution of the reconsideration of the Order dated September 14, 2006 and keep status quo ante until expiration of David Edward Tozes Employment Contract with International School Manila come August 2007, thereby rendering the illegal dismissal case moot and academic. xxxx Furthermore, the procrastination exhibited by the respondent in the resolution of [the] assailed Order x x x should not be countenanced, specially, under the circumstance that is attendant with the term of the Employment Contract between David Edward Toze and International School Manila. The respondents lackadaisical attitude in sitting over the pending incident before him for more than five (5) months only to thereafter inhibit himself therefrom, shows the respondents disregard to settled rules and jurisprudence. Failure to decide a case or resolve a motion within the reglementary period constitutes gross inefficiency and warrants the imposition of administrative sanction against the erring magistrate x x x. The respondent, being a Labor Arbiter, is akin to judges, and enjoined to decide a case with dispatch. Any delay, no matter how short, in the disposition of cases undermine the peoples faith and confidence in the judiciary x x x. [21]

Indubitably, the respondent failed to live up to his duties as a lawyer in consonance with the strictures of the lawyers oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility, thereby occasioning sanction from this Court. In stubbornly insisting that he has the authority to issue writs of preliminary injunction and/or temporary restraining order contrary to the clear import of the 2005 Rules of Procedure of the NLRC, the respondent violated Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which mandates lawyers to obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes. All told, we find the respondent to have committed gross ignorance of the law, his acts as a labor arbiter in the case belowbeing inexcusable thus unquestionably resulting into

prejudice to the rights of the parties therein.


Having established the foregoing, we now proceed to determine the appropriate penalty to be imposed. Under Rule 140[22] of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, gross ignorance of the law is a serious charge,[23] punishable by a fine of more than P20,000.00, but not exceeding P40,000.00, suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three but not exceeding six months, or dismissal from the service.[24] In Tadlip v. Atty. Borres, Jr., the respondent-lawyer and provincial adjudicator, found guilty of gross ignorance of the law, was suspended from the practice of law for six months. Additionally, in parallel cases,[25] a judge found guilty of gross ignorance of the law was meted the penalty of suspension for six months. Here, the IBP Board of Governors recommended that the respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar incident would be dealt with more severe penalty. We adopt the foregoing recommendation.

This Court notes that the IBP Board of Governors had previously recommended the respondents suspension from the practice of law for three years in A.C. No. 7314, entitled Mary Ann T. Flores v. Atty. Jovencio Ll. Mayor, Jr.. This case, however, is still pending. It cannot be gainsaid that since public office is a public trust, the ethical conduct demanded upon lawyers in the government service is more exacting than the standards for those in private practice. Lawyers in the government service are subject to constant public scrutiny under norms of public accountability. They also bear the heavy burden of having to put aside their private interest in favor of the interest of the public; their private activities should not interfere with the discharge of their official functions.[26] At this point, the respondent should be reminded of our exhortation in Republic of the Philippines v. Judge Caguioa,[27]thus:
Ignorance of the law is the mainspring of injustice. Judges are called upon to exhibit more than just a cursory acquaintance with statutes and procedural rules. Basic rules should be at the palm of their hands. Their inexcusable failure to observe basic laws and rules will render them administratively liable. Where the law involved is simple and elementary, lack of conversance with it constitutes gross ignorance of the law. Verily, for transgressing the elementary jurisdictional limits of his court, respondent should be administratively liable for gross ignorance of the law. When the inefficiency springs from a failure to consider so basic and elemental a rule, a law or a principle in the discharge of his functions, a judge is either too incompetent and undeserving of the position and title he holds or he is too vicious that the oversight or omission was deliberately done in bad faith and in grave abuse of judicial authority.[28] (citations omitted)

WHEREFORE, finding respondent Atty. Jovencio Ll. Mayor, Jr. guilty of gross ignorance of the law in violation of his lawyers oath and of the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Court resolved to SUSPEND respondent from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months, with a WARNING that commission of the same or similar offense in the future will result in the imposition of a more severe penalty.

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the IBP, as well as the Office of the Bar Confidant and the Court Administrator who shall circulate it to all courts for their information and guidance and likewise be entered in the record of the respondent as attorney. SO ORDERED.

EN BANC TANU REDDI, Complainant, Present: PUNO,* C.J., QUISUMBING,** Acting C.J., YNARES-SANTIAGO,* CARPIO, AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, AZCUNA,* TINGA, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR.,* NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, BRION, & PERALTA, JJ. Promulgated: January 30, 2009 x--------------------------------------------------x DECISION PER CURIAM: A.C. No. 7027

- versus -

ATTY. DIOSDADO C. SEBRIO, JR., Respondent.

Tanu Reddi (complainant), an American citizen of Indian descent and a practicing endodontist in New York, seeks the disbarment of Atty. Diosdado C. Sebrio, Jr. (respondent) for allegedly deceiving her into giving him a total of US$ 3,000,000 for the purpose of, among other things, purchasing several real estate properties for resale. From the records of the case, the following facts are gathered: Taking after her parents who had been involved in various charitable activities in India, complainant nurtured philanthropic desires of her own consisting primarily in opening a hospital with modern facilities in an underdeveloped part of Asia.[1] Together with Immaculada Luistro (Immaculada), a Filipino citizen,[2] who was her assistant of over 10 years, complainant visited the Philippines for the first time in 2000. Noting the level of poverty in the country and the lack of medical services for the poor, [3] she decided to put up a hospital.[4] Immaculada suggested to complainant to consider engaging in the real estate business in the Philippines in order to speed up the generation of funds.[5] Heeding the suggestion, complainant returned to the Philippines in 2003 to explore opportunities in the real estate business.[6] Complainant was introduced to respondent who would help her acquire real properties for development and/or resale. Since she could not acquire ownership of lands in the Philippines, respondent advised her to use corporate vehicles to effect the purchases. Three corporations were thus formed Tagaytay Twins, Inc., Manila Chic Twins, Inc., and Tanu, Inc.[7] By complainants account, respondent cajoled her into buying several parcels of land located at Tagaytay City, Las Pias City, Makati City, Quezon City, and Pasay City. She related the details surrounding the intended acquisition of property as follows: Re the Tagaytay City Property

Respondent represented to complainant that his client Teresita Monzon (Teresita) owned an untitled 27-hectare property located at Tagaytay City. Through the Tagaytay Twins, Inc., complainant and Teresita executed a Memorandum of Agreement dated March 21, 2003 (Tagaytay MOA)[8] prepared by respondent under which she agreed to finance the titling of the property in the total amount of P20,000,000, and that once titled, the property would be offered for sale, the proceeds of which would be divided equally between her and Teresita. Complainant thereupon made staggered payments of US$1,000, P2,000,000, and US$36,360 to Teresita.[9] Complainant was later to discover that 996 square meters of the 27-hectare property had been purchased by Aldio Properties, Inc. in an extrajudicial foreclosure sale, which sale Teresita challenged in an action for annulment before the Regional Trial Court ofTagaytay City. In said action, respondent was Teresitas counsel of record.[10] Re the Las Pias City Property Respondent offered to complainant the option to purchase a house and lot located at Las Pias City, which were encumbered by a mortgage, and which respondent represented as owned and being sold by one Francisca Parales (Francisca)[11] to finance an urgently needed heart surgery of her daughter.[12] On respondents advice, complainant obtained a franchise to operate a Jollibee food outlet, with the agreement that out of the profits that its operation would generate, she would get 50% while respondent and Immaculada would share the remaining 50%.[13] Complainant thus sent respondent sums of money for the acquisition of both the Las Pias property and a franchise to operate a Jollibee outlet.[14] Re the Makati City Property Respondent introduced complainant to a certain Mario C. Mangco (Mangco), alleged legal officer of the intestate estate of one Faustino Ramos (Ramos), which estate was alleged to be the owner of a real property located at the consular area adjacent

to ForbesPark in Makati City.[15] Complainant having been interested in acquiring the property, respondent prepared a Memorandum of Agreement (Makati MOA) which she, together with Mangco, forged on March 20, 2004.[16] Under the Makati MOA, complainant agreed to, as she did, release P10,000,000 representing the cost of development and titling of the property, and payment of back taxes; and an additional P2,000,000 for the execution of the Makati MOA. Complainant was later to learn that the property was neither owned by the intestate estate of Ramos nor for sale. Re the Quezon City Property Respondent broached to complainant the idea of buying the land on which SM North Mall in Quezon City stands, he representing that it belongs to his client, purportedly a retired US Navy employee who resides in Mindanao.[17] Complainant assented and transmitted large sums of money to respondent for the purpose of, among other things, filing a petition for injunction against SM North Mall, paying back taxes, and titling of the land.[18] Re the Pasay City Property Complainant sent respondent hefty amounts of money for the purchase of a vacant lot located along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City, alleged to belong to Florenda Estrada (Florenda) and Alma Mallari (Alma), but which was mortgaged to one Atty. Go to secure a loan of P5,000,000.[19] She also defrayed expenses, on the strength of respondents representations, to secure title to the lot, settle the mortgage obligation, relocate squatters on the lot, and bribe a judge to close the transaction.[20] Complainant subsequently discovered that there was no such vacant lot along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City; instead, she found out that the vacant lot referred to was titled in the names of Philippine Bank of Communications (PBC) and Banco De Oro Universal Bank (BDO).[21]

In light of the foregoing developments, complainants counsel, by letter dated December 19, 2005,[22] demanded from respondent the return of the amount of US$3,000,000, claimed to be part of the total sum of money she had sent to him for all the transactions that did not come about. No amount has been returned to complainant. Hence, spawned the filing on January 27, 2006[23] of the present complaint for disbarment against respondent. By his Comment, respondent admits receiving a total of US$544,828 from complainant[24] which amount he claims was used not only for the purchase of the Las Pias property and discharge of the mortgage thereon, but also for the setting up of the earlier mentioned corporations, as well as for the downpayment on the Makati property and related expenses.[25] Respondent likewise admits having represented to complainant that the Las Pias City property belonged to one Francisca,[26]certificate of title to which and the corresponding deed of sale signed by Francisca, by his claim, are in his possession; but the title has not been transferred to Tanu, Inc., as agreed, in view of complainants failure to provide the money needed therefor, he adding that he is also exercising his retaining lien over the Las Pias documents.[27] Specifically with respect to the Makati property, respondent claims having paid P500,000 to Mangco representing initial payment[28] thereof. Regarding the Tagaytay City property, respondent admits that the Tagaytay MOA exists, and avers that it is complainant who wants to get out of a perfected sale in order to recover her partial payment amounting to approximately P4,000,000.[29] With respect to the Quezon City property, respondent states that he is willing to surrender all the documents pertaining thereto, but would do so only if complainant is first ordered to pay him his professional fees.[30]

As for the Pasay City property, respondent denies complainants claims thereon as mere preposterous allegations. Following the filing by complainant of her Reply, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation/decision by Resolution of January 22, 2007.[31] At the mandatory conference scheduled by the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline on September 13, 2007 before Commissioner Lolita A. Quisumbing (the Commissioner),[32] respondent failed to appear despite notice. He instead sent a representative who sought a resetting as, allegedly, respondent was in Ilocos attending to an important family matter.[33] The Commissioner, finding respondents absence inexcusable, given that he had ample time to file a motion for resetting but he did not, considered respondent to have waived his right to participate in the proceedings.[34] Complainant thereupon presented evidence exparte and submitted her position paper.[35] In her Report and Recommendation[36] submitted to the IBP Board of Governors on December 14, 2007, the Commissioner found respondent to have committed fraudulent acts which constitute violations of the lawyers oath and numerous provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR), viz:
1. Respondent violated CANON 1 which states: A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for the law and for legal processes. Respondent committed estafa punishable under Art. 315 of the Revised Penal Code. With unfaithfulness and abuse of confidence, he misappropriated millions of pesos which was [sic] given to him on his misrepresentation that such were needed for the acquisition of the aforementioned properties. Respondent also committed an unlawful act (i.e., falsification as part of his fraudulent scheme) when he tampered with the Articles of Incorporation of Tanu, Inc.. A perusal of the Articles of Incorporation given by respondent to complainant shows that the incorporators are Tanu Reddi, Michael Lee, Prasuna Reddy, Ahalya Devi, and Robert Juntilla. When complainant obtained a copy of the same in

September 2005, she discovered that other names were inserted. The names of respondent, Clarito D. Cardozo, Brian Pellazar, and Michael Angelo Lopez were intercalated. (Exhibit W) 2. He likewise violated Rule 1.01 of the CPR which provides: A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. He engaged in unlawful, dishonest and deceitful conduct when he offered properties for sale to complainant on the misrepresentation that complainant was dealing with the true owners thereof. This is very clear from the documents he asked complainant to sign; namely, the Memorandum of Agreement (Exhibit D) for the Tagaytay property, Deed of Conditional Sale (Exhibit U) for the Pasay City property, and Memorandum of Agreement (Exhibit M) for the Makati City property. The certificates of title, tax declaration and other documents obtained by complainant from the various government agencies reveal that all these properties aforementioned were either fictitious, not susceptible to sale, simulated, or inexistent. 3. Respondent violated Canon 16 and Rule 16.01 of the CPR which state: CANON 16 A lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession. Rule 16.01 A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client. He failed to account for the sums of money he received from complainant and failed to return the same upon demand. (Copy of demand letter dated 19 December 2005, Exhibit T) 4. Respondent violated Rule 15.06 of the CPR which provides: A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence any public official, tribunal or legislative body. He convinced complainant to pay bribe money to our judges since, he claims, that it is a common practice in the Philippines.[37] (Underscoring supplied)

The Commissioner thus recommended that respondent be disbarred; that his name be ordered stricken from the roll of attorneys; and that he be ordered to return the total amount of US$3,000,000 to complainant.

By Resolution of January 17, 2008,[38] the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation of the Commissioner, with the modification that respondent was ordered to return only the admitted amount he received from complainant (US$544,828), without prejudice to complainants recovery of the other amounts claimed in the appropriate forum. The Court sustains the IBP Board of Governors, except its findings/conclusion that respondent committed estafa and falsification. This is not the proper forum to determine whether he committed these offenses. The Court finds, however, that respondents dishonest and deceitful conduct with respect to the intended transactions, real property acquisitions which turned out to be bogus, is sufficiently established. It bears emphasis that respondent admits having received from complainant at least US$544,828. He claims, however, that the amount was used for the purchase of the Las Pias property and the discharge of the mortgage thereon, the setting up of the corporations earlier mentioned, and the downpayment on the Makati property and related representation expenses therefor. The Court finds that the claim does not lie. All that respondent presented to account for the money is a handwritten acknowledgment of a supposed partial payment ofP500,000 for the Makati property, purportedly executed by one Mangco.[39] By any standard, this document is a mere piece of paper, Mangco not having been presented, if he exists at all, to confirm that he indeed issued the receipt. Since respondent failed to credibly account, upon demand, for the money held by him in trust an element of misappropriation[40] complainants claim that respondent employed deceit on her is established. Respondents culpability is further highlighted by his utter lack of regard for the seriousness of the charges against him. His defenses raised in his Comment consist mainly in bare denials. When the integrity of a member of the bar is challenged, it is not enough that he denies the charges against him; he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence against

him.[41] He must show proof that he still maintains that degree of morality and integrity which at all times is expected of him.[42] This, respondent miserably failed to do. Respondents justification for his non-presentation of any documents to substantiate the so-called property acquisitions that he is exercising his retaining lien over them as, allegedly, his professional fees have not been paid is incredible. If those documents actually exist, and considering that his license to practice law is on the line, respondent could have readily attached even photocopies thereof to his Comment in order to lend a semblance of credibility to his claim. His retaining lien claim remains just that. Worse, it only amounts to an admission that he acted as counsel for complainant; yet, he completely failed to show that in his dealings on her behalf, he put her interests before his. As to the recommended penalty of disbarment, the Court finds the same to be in order. Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:
A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. x x x.

To reiterate, by his own admission, respondent received a total of US$544,828 from complainant, which he could not properly account for. The orchestrated manner in which he carried out his fraudulent scheme, in connivance with other persons, and by taking advantage of complainants naivete in the workings of the real estate business in the Philippines, depict a man whose character falls way, way short of the exacting standards required of him as a member of the bar and an officer of the court. Thus, respondent is no longer fit to remain as such.

The Court is mindful that disbarment is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction and, as such, the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution, and only for the most imperative reasons and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and a member of the bar.[43] If the practice of law, however, is to remain an honorable profession and attain its basic ideals, those enrolled in its ranks should not only master its tenets and principles but should also, in their lives, accord continuing fidelity to them.[44] The requirement of good moral character is, in fact, of much greater import, as far as the general public is concerned, than the possession of legal learning.[45] The Court also sustains the order of the IBP for respondent to return only the amount of US$544,828. While complainant submitted documents showing her bank remittances involving different sums of money, some of these remittances were not made in the name of respondent.[46] And as complainant herself declares, the amount of US$3,000,000 is a mere estimate of her total claim.[47] Thus, only the return of the admitted amount of US$544,828 is in order. As reflected above, complainant is not precluded from litigating her claim for any balance due her in the proper forum. WHEREFORE, respondent Diosdado C. Sebrio, Jr. is DISBARRED, and his name is ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. He is ORDERED TO RETURN to complainant the amount of US$544,828. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in his record as a member of the Bar; and let notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country. SO ORDERED. EN BANC KELD STEMMERIK, represented by ATTYS. HERMINIO A. LIWANAG and WINSTON P.L. ESGUERRA, A.C. No. 8010

Complainant,

Present: PUNO, C.J., QUISUMBING, YNARES-SANTIAGO, CARPIO, CORONA,

- versus -

CARPIO MORALES, CHICO-NAZARIO, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, BRION, PERALTA and BERSAMIN, JJ.

ATTY. LEONUEL N. MAS, Respondent.

Promulgated: June 16, 2009

x--------------------------------------------------x

RESOLUTION Per Curiam:

Complainant Keld Stemmerik is a citizen and resident of Denmark. In one of his trips to the Philippines, he was introduced to respondent Atty. Leonuel N. Mas. That was his misfortune.

In one visit to the Philippines, complainant marveled at the beauty of the country and expressed his interest in acquiring real property in the Philippines. He consulted respondent who advised him that he could legally acquire and own real property in the Philippines. Respondent even suggested an 86,998 sq.m. property in Quarry, Agusuin, Cawag, Subic, Zambales with the assurance that the property was alienable. Trusting respondent, complainant agreed to purchase the property through respondent as his representative or attorney-in-fact. Complainant also engaged the services of respondent for the preparation of the necessary documents. For this purpose, respondent demanded and received a P400,000 fee. Confident that respondent would faithfully carry out his task, complainant returned to Denmark, entrusting the processing of the necessary paperwork to respondent. Thereafter, respondent prepared a contract to sell the property between complainant, represented by respondent, and a certain Bonifacio de Mesa, the purported owner of the property.[1] Subsequently, respondent prepared and notarized a deed of sale in which de Mesa sold and conveyed the property to a certain Ailyn Gonzales for P3.8 million.[2] Respondent also drafted and notarized an agreement between complainant and Gonzales stating that it was complainant who provided the funds for the purchase of the property. [3] Complainant then gave respondent the full amount of the purchase price (P3.8 million) for which respondent issued an acknowledgment receipt.[4] After the various contracts and agreements were executed, complainant tried to get in touch with respondent to inquire about when the property could be registered in his name.

However, respondent suddenly became scarce and refused to answer complainants calls and email messages. When complainant visited the Philippines again in January 2005, he engaged the services of the Jimenez Gonzales Liwanag Bello Valdez Caluya & Fernandez Law Office to ascertain the status of the property he supposedly bought. He was devastated to learn that aliens could not own land under Philippine laws. Moreover, verification at the Community Environment & Natural Resources Office (CENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Olongapo City revealed that the property was inalienable as it was situated within the former US Military Reservation.[5] The CENRO also stated that the property was not subject to disposition or acquisition under Republic Act No. 141.[6] Thereafter, complainant, through his attorneys-in-fact,[7] exerted diligent efforts to locate respondent for purposes of holding him accountable for his fraudulent acts. Inquiry with the Olongapo Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) disclosed that respondent was in arrears in his annual dues and that he had already abandoned his law office in Olongapo City.[8] Search of court records of cases handled by respondent only yielded his abandoned office address in Olongapo City. Complainant filed a complaint for disbarment against respondent in the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the IBP.[9]He deplored respondents acts of serious misconduct. In particular, he sought the expulsion of respondent from the legal profession for gravely misrepresenting that a foreigner could legally acquire land in the Philippines and for maliciously absconding with complainants P3.8 million.[10]

Respondent failed to file his answer and position paper despite service of notice at his last known address. Neither did he appear in the scheduled mandatory conference. In this connection, the CBD found that respondent abandoned his law practice in Olongapo City after his transaction with complainant and that he did not see it fit to contest the charges against him.[11] The CBD ruled that respondent used his position as a lawyer to mislead complainant on the matter of land ownership by a foreigner.[12] He even went through the motion of preparing falsified and fictitious contracts, deeds and agreements. And for all these shameless acts, he collected P400,000 from complainant. Worse, he pocketed the P3.8 million and absconded with it.[13] The CBD found respondent to be nothing more than an embezzler who misused his professional status as an attorney as a tool for deceiving complainant and absconding with complainants money.[14] Respondent was dishonest and deceitful. He abused the trust and confidence reposed by complainant in him. The CBD recommended the disbarment of respondent.[15] The Board of Governors of the IBP adopted the findings and recommendation of the CBD with the modification that respondent was further required to return the amount of P4.2 million to respondent.[16] We agree with the IBP.
SUFFICIENCY OF NOTICE OF THE DISBARMENT PROCEEDINGS

We shall first address a threshold issue: was respondent properly given notice of the disbarment proceedings against him? Yes. The respondent did not file any answer or position paper, nor did he appear during the scheduled mandatory conference. Respondent in fact abandoned his last known address, his law office in Olongapo City, after he committed the embezzlement. Respondent should not be allowed to benefit from his disappearing act. He can neither defeat this Courts jurisdiction over him as a member of the bar nor evade administrative liability by the mere ruse of concealing his whereabouts. Thus, service of the complaint and other orders and processes on respondents office was sufficient notice to him. Indeed, since he himself rendered the service of notice on him impossible, the notice requirement cannot apply to him and he is thus considered to have waived it. The law does not require that the impossible be done. Nemo tenetur ad impossibile.[17] The law obliges no one to perform an impossibility. Laws and rules must be interpreted in a way that they are in accordance with logic, common sense, reason and practicality.[18] In this connection, lawyers must update their records with the IBP by informing the IBP National Office or their respective chapters[19] of any change in office or residential address and other contact details.[20] In case such change is not duly updated, service of notice on the office or residential address appearing in the records of the IBP National Office shall constitute sufficient notice to a lawyer for purposes of administrative proceedings against him.

RESPONDENTS ADMINISTRATIVE INFRACTIONS AND HIS LIABILITY THEREFOR

Lawyers, as members of a noble profession, have the duty to promote respect for the law and uphold the integrity of the bar. As men and women entrusted with the law, they must ensure that the law functions to protect liberty and not as an instrument of oppression or deception. Respondent has been weighed by the exacting standards of the legal profession and has been found wanting. Respondent committed a serious breach of his oath as a lawyer. He is also guilty of culpable violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, the code of ethics of the legal profession. All lawyers take an oath to support the Constitution, to obey the laws and to do no falsehood.[21] That oath is neither mere formal ceremony nor hollow words. It is a sacred trust that should be upheld and kept inviolable at all times.[22] Lawyers are servants of the law[23] and the law is their master. They should not simply obey the laws, they should also inspire respect for and obedience thereto by serving as exemplars worthy of emulation. Indeed, that is the first precept of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
CANON 1 A LAWYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW AND LEGAL PROCESSES.

Section 7, Article XII of the Constitution provides:

SEC. 7. Save in cases of hereditary succession, no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.

This Court has interpreted this provision, as early as the 1947 case Krivenko v. Register of Deeds,[24] to mean that under the Constitution, aliens may not acquire private or agricultural lands, including residential lands. The provision is a declaration of imperative constitutional policy.[25] Respondent, in giving advice that directly contradicted a fundamental constitutional policy, showed disrespect for the Constitution and gross ignorance of basic law. Worse, he prepared spurious documents that he knew were void and illegal. By making it appear that de Mesa undertook to sell the property to complainant and that de Mesa thereafter sold the property to Gonzales who made the purchase for and in behalf of complainant, he falsified public documents and knowingly violated the Anti-Dummy Law.[26] Respondents misconduct did not end there. By advising complainant that a foreigner could legally and validly acquire real estate in the Philippines and by assuring complainant that the property was alienable, respondent deliberately foisted a falsehood on his client. He did not give due regard to the trust and confidence reposed in him by complainant. Instead, he deceived complainant and misled him into parting with P400,000 for services that were both illegal and unprofessional. Moreover, by pocketing and misappropriating the P3.8 million given by complainant for the purchase of the property, respondent committed a fraudulent act that was criminal in nature.

Respondent spun an intricate web of lies. In the process, he committed unethical act after unethical act, wantonly violating laws and professional standards. For all this, respondent violated not only the lawyers oath and Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He also transgressed the following provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
Rule 1.01. A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. Rule 1.02. A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system. CANON 7 A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSIONAND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE INTEGRATED BAR. CANON 15 A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENT. CANON 16 A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENT THAT MAY COME INTO HIS POSSESSION. CANON 17 A LAWYER OWES FIDELITY TO THE CAUSE OF HIS CLIENT AND HE SHALL BE MINDFUL OF THE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE REPOSED IN HIM. (emphasis supplied)

A lawyer who resorts to nefarious schemes to circumvent the law and uses his legal knowledge to further his selfish ends to the great prejudice of others, poses a clear and present danger to the rule of law and to the legal system. He does not only tarnish the image of the bar and degrade the integrity and dignity of the legal profession, he also betrays everything that the legal profession stands for.

It is respondent and his kind that give lawyering a bad name and make laymen support Dick the Butchers call, Kill all lawyers![27] A disgrace to their professional brethren, they must be purged from the bar. WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Leonuel N. Mas is hereby DISBARRED. The Clerk of Court is directed to immediately strike out the name of respondent from the Roll of Attorneys. Respondent is hereby ORDERED to return to complainant Keld Stemmerik the total amount of P4.2 million with interest at 12% per annum from the date of promulgation of this resolution until full payment. Respondent is further DIRECTED to submit to the Court proof of payment of the amount within ten days from payment. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is ORDERED to locate Atty. Mas and file the appropriate criminal charges against him. The NBI is further DIRECTED to regularly report the progress of its action in this case to this Court through the Bar Confidant. Let copies of this resolution be furnished the Bar Confidant who shall forthwith record it in the personal file of respondent, the Court Administrator who shall inform all courts of the Philippines, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines which shall disseminate copies to all its chapters and members and all administrative and quasi-judicial agencies of the Republic of the Philippines. SO ORDERED.

FIRST DIVISION

TOMAS P. TAN, JR., Complainant,

A.C. No. 9000 Presen t:

- versus -

ATTY. HAIDE V. GUMBA, Respondent.

CORO NA,C.J., C hairperson, LEON ARDO-DE CASTRO, BERS AMIN, DELC ASTILLO, and VILLA RAMA, JR., JJ. Promul gated: Octobe r 5, 2011

x- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -x

RESOLUTION
VILLARAMA, JR., J.: Before us is an administrative complaint for disbarment filed by complainant Tomas P. Tan, Jr. against respondent Atty. Haide B. Vista-Gumba for gross unethical conduct. The facts are as follows. Complainant, a self-made businessman with a tailoring shop in Naga City, filed a verified Complaint[1] against respondent, also a resident of Naga City, before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Camarines Sur Chapter. Pursuant to Section 1, Paragraph 3,[2] Rule 139-B of

the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, the said Chapter forwarded the complaint to the IBP Board of Governors for proper disposition. Complainant narrated that sometime in August 2000, respondent asked to be lent 350,000.00. Respondent assured him that she would pay the principal plus 12% interest per annum after one year. She likewise offered by way of security a 105-square-meter parcel of land located in Naga City, covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. 2055 [3] and registered in her fathers name. Respondent showed complainant a Special Power of Attorney[4] (SPA) executed by respondents parents, and verbally assured complainant that she was authorized to sell or encumber the entire property. Complainant consulted one Atty. Raquel Payte and was assured that the documents provided by respondent were valid. Thus, complainant agreed to lend money to respondent. With the help of Atty. Payte, respondent executed in complainants favor an open Deed of Absolute Sale over the said parcel of land, attaching thereto the SPA. Complainant was made to believe that if respondent fails to pay the full amount of the loan with interest on due date, the deed of sale may be registered. Accordingly, he gave the amount of 350,000.00 to respondent. Respondent, however, defaulted on her loan obligation and failed to pay the same despite complainants repeated demands. Left with no recourse, complainant went to the Register of Deeds to register the sale, only to find out that respondent deceived him since the SPA did not give respondent the power to sell the property but only empowered respondent to mortgage the property solely to banks. Complainant manifested that he had lent money before to other people albeit for insignificant amounts, but this was the first time that he extended a loan to a lawyer and it bore disastrous results. He submitted that respondent committed fraud and deceit or conduct unbecoming of a lawyer. Upon being ordered by the IBP to answer the above allegations, respondent filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Responsive Pleading[5] but no answer or comment was ever filed by her before the IBP-Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD). Likewise, the IBP-CBD allowed respondent to answer the Amended Complaint subsequently filed by complainant but she did not file any answer thereto.[6] She also chose not to attend the mandatory conference

hearings set on July 18, 2006, June 13, 2007 and January 25, 2008 despite due notice. Thus, she was deemed to have waived her right to participate in the proceedings. On February 9, 2009, IBP Commissioner Jose I. De La Rama, Jr. rendered his report[7] finding respondent guilty of violating Canon 1, [8] Rule 1.01[9] and Canon 7[10] of the Code of Professional Responsibility and recommending that she be suspended from the practice of law for one year. Commissioner De La Rama opined that while respondent appears to be a co-owner of the property as evidenced by an annotation on the back of TCT No. 2055 showing that half of the property has been sold to her, it was evident that she employed deceit and dishonest means to make complainant believe, by virtue of the SPA, that she was duly authorized to sell the entire property. On August 28, 2010, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the report and recommendation of Commissioner De La Rama, Jr. in its Resolution No. XIX-2010-446:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby unanimously ADOPTED and APPROVED the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the above entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex A; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering Respondents violation of Canon 1, Rule 1.01 and Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and for her failure to submit verified Answer and did not even participate in the mandatory conference, Atty. Haide V. Gumba is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one (1) year. [11]

We agree with the findings and conclusion of the IBP, but find that a reduction of the recommended penalty is called for, pursuant to the principle that the appropriate penalty for an errant lawyer depends on the exercise of sound judicial discretion based on the surrounding facts.[12] Well entrenched in this jurisdiction is the rule that a lawyer may be disciplined for misconduct committed either in his professional or private capacity. The test is whether his conduct shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, and good demeanor, or whether it renders him unworthy to continue as an officer of the court. [13] Verily, Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility mandates all lawyers to uphold at all times the dignity

and integrity of the legal profession. Lawyers are similarly required, under Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the same Code, not to engage in any unlawful, dishonest and immoral or deceitful conduct. Here, respondents actions clearly show that she deceived complainant into lending money to her through the use of documents and false representations and taking advantage of her education and complainants ignorance in legal matters. As manifested by complainant, he would have never granted the loan to respondent were it not for respondents misrepresentation that she was authorized to sell the property and if respondent had not led him to believe that he could register the open deed of sale if she fails to pay the loan. [14] By her misdeed, respondent has eroded not only complainants perception of the legal profession but the publics perception as well. Her actions constitute gross misconduct for which she may be disciplined, following Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court, as amended, which provides:
SEC. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor. A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a wilful disobedience appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice. xxxx

We further note that after filing a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Responsive Pleading, respondent wantonly disregarded the lawful orders of the IBP-CBD to file her answer and to appear for the mandatory conferences despite due notice. Respondent should bear in mind that she must acknowledge the orders of the IBP-CBD in deference to its authority over her as a member of the IBP.[15] Complainant now asks that respondent be disbarred. We find, however, that suspension from the practice of law is sufficient to discipline respondent. It is worth stressing that the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution. Disbarment will be imposed as a penalty only in a clear case of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and the character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and a member of the bar. Where any lesser penalty can

accomplish the end desired, disbarment should not be decreed.[16] In this case, the Court finds the penalty of suspension more appropriate but finds the recommended penalty of suspension for one year too severe. Considering the circumstances of this case, the Court believes that a suspension of six months is sufficient. After all, suspension is not primarily intended as a punishment, but as a means to protect the public and the legal profession.[17] WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Haide B. Vista-Gumba is found administratively liable for grave misconduct. She isSUSPENDED from the practice of law for SIX (6) MONTHS, effective immediately, with a warning that a repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely. Let notice of this Resolution be spread in respondents record as an attorney in this Court, and notice thereof be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts concerned. SO ORDERED.

Republic of the Philippines Supreme Court Manila

EN BANC

MAELOTISEA S. GARRIDO, Complainant,

A.C. No. 6593 Present: PUNO, C.J., CARPIO, CORONA, CARPIO MORALES, VELASCO, JR., NACHURA, LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, BRION, PERALTA, BERSAMIN, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, VILLARAMA, JR., PEREZ, and MENDOZA, JJ. Promulgated: ______________

versus

ATTYS. ANGEL E. GARRIDO and ROMANA P. VALENCIA, Respondents.

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

DECISION
PER CURIAM:

Maelotisea Sipin Garrido filed a complaint-affidavit[1] and a supplemental affidavit[2] for disbarment against the respondents Atty. Angel E. Garrido (Atty. Garrido) and Atty. Romana P.Valencia (Atty. Valencia) before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Committee on Discipline charging them with gross immorality. The complaint-affidavit states:
1. That I am the legal wife of Atty. Angel E. Garrido by virtue of our marriage on June 23, 1962 at San Marcelino Church, Ermita, Manila which was solemnized by Msgr. Daniel Cortes x x x 2. That our marriage blossomed into having us blessed with six (6) children, namely, Mat Elizabeth, Arnel Angelito, Madeleine Eloiza, Arnel Angelo, Arnel Victorino and Madonna Angeline, all surnamed Garrido;

3. x x x x 4. That on May, 1991, during my light moments with our children, one of my daughters, Madeleine confided to me that sometime on the later part of 1987, an unknown caller talked with her claiming that the former is a child of my husband. I ignored it and dismissed it as a mere joke. But when May Elizabeth, also one of my daughters told me that sometime on August 1990, she saw my husband strolling at the Robinsons Department Store at Ermita, Manila together with a woman and a child who was later identified as Atty. Ramona Paguida Valencia and Angeli Ramona Valencia Garrido, respectively x x x 5. x x x x 6. That I did not stop from unearthing the truth until I was able to secure the Certificate of Live Birth of the child, stating among others that the said child is their daughter and that Atty. Angel Escobar Garrido and Atty. Romana Paguida Valencia were married at Hongkong sometime on 1978. 7. That on June 1993, my husband left our conjugal home and joined Atty. Ramona Paguida Valencia at their residence x x x 8. That since he left our conjugal home he failed and still failing to give us our needed financial support to the prejudice of our children who stopped schooling because of financial constraints. x x x x That I am also filing a disbarment proceedings against his mistress as alleged in the same affidavit, Atty. Romana P. Valencia considering that out of their immoral acts I suffered not only mental anguish but also besmirch reputation, wounded feelings and sleepless nights; x x x

In

his

Counter-Affidavit,[3] Atty.

Garrido

denied

Maelotiseas

charges

and

imputations. By way of defense, he alleged that Maelotisea was not his legal wife, as he was already married to Constancia David (Constancia) when he married Maelotisea. He claimed he married Maelotisea after he and Constancia parted ways. He further alleged that Maelotisea knew all his escapades and understood his bad boy image before she married him in 1962. As he and Maelotisea grew apart over the years due to financial problems, Atty. Garrido met Atty. Valencia. He became close to Atty. Valencia to whom he confided his difficulties. Together, they resolved his personal problems and his financial difficulties with his second family. Atty. Garrido denied that he failed to give financial support to his children with

Maelotisea, emphasizing that all his six (6) children were educated in private schools; all graduated from college except for Arnel Victorino, who finished a special secondary course.[4] Atty. Garrido alleged that Maelotisea had not been employed and had not practiced her profession for the past ten (10) years.

Atty. Garrido emphasized that all his marriages were contracted before he became a member of the bar on May 11, 1979, with the third marriage contracted after the death of Constancia on December 26, 1977. Likewise, his children with Maelotisea were born before he became a lawyer.

In her Counter-Affidavit,[5] Atty. Valencia denied that she was the mistress of Atty. Garrido. She explained that Maelotisea was not the legal wife of Atty. Garrido since the marriage between them was void from the beginning due to the then existing marriage of Atty. Garrido with Constancia. Atty. Valencia claimed that Maelotisea knew of the romantic relationship between her and Atty. Garrido, as they (Maelotisea and Atty. Valencia) met in 1978. Maelotisea kept silent about her relationship with Atty. Garrido and had maintained this silence when she (Atty. Valencia) financially helped Atty. Garrido build a house for his second family. Atty. Valencia alleged that Maelotisea was not a proper party to this suit because of her silence; she kept silent when things were favorable and beneficial to her. Atty. Valencia also alleged that Maelotisea had no cause of action against her.

In the course of the hearings, the parties filed the following motions before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline:

First, the respondents filed a Motion for Suspension of Proceedings[6] in view of the criminal complaint for concubinage Maelotisea filed against them, and the Petition for

Declaration of Nullity[7] (of marriage) Atty. Garrido filed to nullify his marriage to Maelotisea. The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline denied this motion for lack of merit.

Second, the respondents filed a Motion to Dismiss[8] the complaints after the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City declared the marriage between Atty. Garrido and Maelotisea an absolute nullity. Since Maelotisea was never the legal wife of Atty. Garrido, the respondents argued that she had no personality to file her complaints against them. The respondents also alleged that they had not committed any immoral act since they married when Atty. Garrido was already a widower, and the acts complained of were committed before his admission to the bar. The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline also denied this motion.[9]

Third, Maelotisea filed a motion for the dismissal of the complaints she filed against the respondents, arguing that she wanted to maintain friendly relations with Atty. Garrido, who is the father of her six (6) children.[10] The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline likewise denied this motion.[11]

On April 13, 2004, Investigating Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan (Investigating Commissioner San Juan) submitted her Report and Recommendation for the respondents disbarment.[12] The Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP Board of Governors (IBP Board of Governors) approved and adopted this recommendation with modification under Resolution No. XVI-2004-375 dated July 30, 2004. This resolution in part states:
x x x finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, and considering that Atty. Garrido exhibited conduct which lacks the degree of morality required as members of the bar, Atty. Angel E. Garrido is hereby DISBARRED for gross immorality. However, the case against Atty. Romana P. Valencia is hereby DISMISSED for lack of merit of the complaint.

Atty. Garrido moved to reconsider this resolution, but the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline denied his motion under Resolution No. XVII-2007-038 dated January 18, 2007.

Atty. Garrido now seeks relief with this Court through the present petition for review. He submits that under the circumstances, he did not commit any gross immorality that would warrant his disbarment. He also argues that the offenses charged have prescribed under the IBP rules.

Additionally, Atty. Garrido pleads that he be allowed on humanitarian considerations to retain his profession; he is already in the twilight of his life, and has kept his promise to lead an upright and irreproachable life notwithstanding his situation.

In compliance with our Resolution dated August 25, 2009, Atty. Alicia A. Risos-Vidal (Atty. Risos-Vidal), Director of the Commission on Bar Discipline, filed her Comment on the petition. She recommends a modification of the penalty from disbarment to reprimand, advancing the view that disbarment is very harsh considering that the 77-year old Atty. Garrido took responsibility for his acts and tried to mend his ways by filing a petition for declaration of nullity of his bigamous marriage. Atty. Risos-Vidal also notes that no other administrative case has ever been filed against Atty. Garrido. THE COURTS RULING

After due consideration, we resolve to adopt the findings of the IBP Board of Governors against Atty. Garrido, and to reject its recommendation with respect to Atty. Valencia.

General Considerations Laws dealing with double jeopardy or with procedure such as the verification of pleadings and prejudicial questions, or in this case, prescription of offenses or the filing of

affidavits of desistance by the complainant do not apply in the determination of a lawyers qualifications and fitness for membership in the Bar.[13] We have so ruled in the past and we see no reason to depart from this ruling.[14] First, admission to the practice of law is a component of the administration of justice and is a matter of public interest because it involves service to the public.[15] The admission qualifications are also qualifications for the continued enjoyment of the privilege to practice law. Second, lack of qualifications or the violation of the standards for the practice of law, like criminal cases, is a matter of public concern that the State may inquire into through this Court. In this sense, the complainant in a disbarment case is not a direct party whose interest in the outcome of the charge is wholly his or her own;[16] effectively, his or her participation is that of a witness who brought the matter to the attention of the Court. As applied to the present case, the time that elapsed between the immoral acts charged and the filing of the complaint is not material in considering the qualification of Atty. Garrido when he applied for admission to the practice of law, and his continuing qualification to be a member of the legal profession. From this perspective, it is not important that the acts complained of were committed before Atty. Garrido was admitted to the practice of law. As we explained in Zaguirre v. Castillo,[17] the possession of good moral character is both a condition precedent and a continuing requirement to warrant admission to the bar and to retain membership in the legal profession. Admission to the bar does not preclude a subsequent judicial inquiry, upon proper complaint, into any question concerning the mental or moral fitness of the respondent before he became a lawyer.[18] Admission to the practice only creates the rebuttable presumption that the applicant has all the qualifications to become a lawyer; this may be refuted by clear and convincing evidence to the contrary even after admission to the Bar.[19] Parenthetically, Article VIII Section 5(5) of the Constitution recognizes the disciplinary authority of the Court over the members of the Bar to be merely incidental to the Court's exclusive power to admit applicants to the practice of law. Reinforcing the implementation of this constitutional authority is Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court which expressly states that a member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for, among others, any deceit, grossly immoral conduct, or violation of the oath that he is required to take before admission to the practice of law. In light of the public service character of the practice of law and the nature of disbarment proceedings as a public interest concern, Maelotiseas affidavit of desistance cannot have the effect of discontinuing or abating the disbarment proceedings. As we have stated, Maelotisea is more of a witness than a complainant in these proceedings. We note further that she filed her affidavits of withdrawal only after she had presented her evidence; her evidence are now available for the Courts examination and consideration, and their merits are not affected by her desistance. We cannot fail to note, too, that Mealotisea filed her affidavit of desistance, not to

disown or refute the evidence she had submitted, but solely becuase of compassion (and, impliedly, out of concern for her personal financial interest in continuing friendly relations with Atty. Garrido). Immoral conduct involves acts that are willful, flagrant, or shameless, and that show a moral indifference to the opinion of the upright and respectable members of the community.[20] Immoral conduct is gross when it is so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree, or when committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the communitys sense of decency. [21] We make these distinctions as the supreme penalty of disbarment arising from conduct requires grossly immoral, not simply immoral, conduct.[22] In several cases, we applied the above standard in considering lawyers who contracted an unlawful second marriage or multiple marriages.

In Macarrubo v. Macarrubo,[23] the respondent lawyer entered into multiple marriages and subsequently used legal remedies to sever them. We ruled that the respondents pattern of misconduct undermined the institutions of marriage and family institutions that this society looks up to for the rearing of our children, for the development of values essential to the survival and well-being of our communities, and for the strengthening of our nation as a whole. In this light, no fate other than disbarment awaited the wayward respondent.

In Villasanta v. Peralta,[24] the respondent lawyer married the complainant while his marriage with his first wife was subsisting. We held that the respondents act of contracting the second marriage was contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality. The lack of good moral character required by the Rules of Court disqualified the respondent from admission to the Bar.

Similar to Villasanta was the case of Conjuangco, Jr. v. Palma,[25] where the respondent secretly contracted a second marriage with the daughter of his client in Hongkong. We found that the respondent exhibited a deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of members

of the Bar. In particular, he made a mockery of marriage a sacred institution that demands respect and dignity. We also declared his act of contracting a second marriage contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality. In this case, the undisputed facts gathered from the evidence and the admissions of Atty. Garrido established a pattern of gross immoral conduct that warrants his disbarment. His conduct was not only corrupt or unprincipled; it was reprehensible to the highest degree. First, Atty. Garrido admitted that he left Constancia to pursue his law studies; thereafter and during the marriage, he had romantic relationships with other women. He had the gall to represent to this Court that the study of law was his reason for leaving his wife; marriage and the study of law are not mutually exclusive. Second, he misrepresented himself to Maelotisea as a bachelor, when in truth he was already married to Constancia.[26] This was a misrepresentation given as an excuse to lure a woman into a prohibited relationship. Third, Atty. Garrido contracted his second marriage with Maelotisea notwithstanding the subsistence of his first marriage. This was an open admission, not only of an illegal liaison, but of the commission of a crime. Fourth, Atty. Garrido engaged in an extra-marital affair with Atty. Valencia while his two marriages were in place and without taking into consideration the moral and emotional implications of his actions on the two women he took as wives and on his six (6) children by his second marriage. Fifth, instead of making legal amends to validate his marriage with Maelotisea upon the death of Constancia, Atty. Garrido married Atty. Valencia who bore him a daughter. Sixth, Atty. Garrido misused his legal knowledge and convinced Atty. Valencia (who was not then a lawyer) that he was free to marry, considering that his marriage with Maelotisea was not valid. Seventh, as the evidence on record implies, Atty. Garrido married Atty. Valencia in Hongkong in an apparent attempt to accord legitimacy to a union entered into while another marriage was in place.

Eighth, after admission to the practice of law, Atty. Garrido simultaneously cohabited and had sexual relations with two (2) women who at one point were both his wedded wives. He also led a double life with two (2) families for a period of more than ten (10) years. Lastly, Atty. Garrido petitioned for the nullity of his marriage to Maelotisea. Contrary to the position advanced by Atty. Alicia A. Risos-Vidal, this was not an act of facing up to his responsibility or an act of mending his ways. This was an attempt, using his legal knowledge, to escape liability for his past actions by having his second marriage declared void after the present complaint was filed against him. By his actions, Garrido committed multiple violations relating to the legal profession, specifically, violations of the bar admission rules, of his lawyers oath, and of the ethical rules of the profession. He did not possess the good moral character required of a lawyer at the time of his admission to the Bar.[27] As a lawyer, he violated his lawyers oath,[28] Section 20(a) of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court,[29] and Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility,[30] all of which commonly require him to obey the laws of the land. In marrying Maelotisea, he committed the crime of bigamy, as he entered this second marriage while his first marriage with Constancia was subsisting. He openly admitted his bigamy when he filed his petition to nullify his marriage to Maelotisea. He violated ethical rules of the profession, specifically, Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which commands that he shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct; Canon 7 of the same Code, which demands that [a] lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession; Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides that, [a] lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

As a lawyer, his community looked up to Atty. Garrido with the expectation and that he would set a good example in promoting obedience to the Constitution and the laws. When he violated the law and distorted it to cater to his own personal needs and selfish motives, he

discredited the legal profession and created the public impression that laws are mere tools of convenience that can be used, bended and abused to satisfy personal whims and desires. In this case, he also used the law to free him from unwanted relationships.

The Court has often reminded the members of the bar to live up to the standards and norms expected of the legal profession by upholding the ideals and principles embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility.[31] Lawyers are bound to maintain not only a high standard of legal proficiency, but also of morality, including honesty, integrity and fair dealing.[32] Lawyers are at all times subject to the watchful public eye and community approbation.[33] Needless to state, those whose conduct both public and private fail this scrutiny have to be disciplined and, after appropriate proceedings, accordingly penalized.[34]

Atty. Valencia

We agree with the findings of Investigating Commissioner San Juan that Atty. Valencia should be administratively liable under the circumstances for gross immorality:
x x x The contention of respondent that they were not yet lawyers in March 27, 1978 when they got married shall not afford them exemption from sanctions, for good moral character is required as a condition precedent to admission to the Bar. Likewise there is no distinction whether the misconduct was committed in the lawyers professional capacity or in his private life. Again, the claim that his marriage to complainant was void ab initio shall not relieve respondents from responsibility x x x Although the second marriage of the respondent was subsequently declared null and void the fact remains that respondents exhibited conduct which lacks that degree of morality required of them as members of the Bar.[35]

Moral character is not a subjective term but one that corresponds to objective reality.[36] To have good moral character, a person must have the personal characteristics of being good. It is not enough that he or she has a good reputation, i.e., the opinion generally entertained about a person or the estimate in which he or she is held by the public in the place where she is known.[37] The requirement of good moral character has four general purposes,

namely: (1) to protect the public; (2) to protect the public image of lawyers; (3) to protect prospective clients; and (4) to protect errant lawyers from themselves.[38] Each purpose is as important as the other.

Under the circumstances, we cannot overlook that prior to becoming a lawyer, Atty. Valencia already knew that Atty. Garrido was a married man (either to Constancia or to Maelotisea), and that he already had a family. As Atty. Garridos admitted confidante, she was under the moral duty to give him proper advice; instead, she entered into a romantic relationship with him for about six (6) years during the subsistence of his two marriages. In 1978, she married Atty. Garrido with the knowledge that he had an outstanding second marriage. These circumstances, to our mind, support the conclusion that she lacked good moral character; even without being a lawyer, a person possessed of high moral values, whose confidential advice was sought by another with respect to the latters family problems, would not aggravate the situation by entering into a romantic liaison with the person seeking advice, thereby effectively alienating the other persons feelings and affection from his wife and family.

While Atty. Valencia contends that Atty. Garridos marriage with Maelotisea was null and void, the fact remains that he took a man away from a woman who bore him six (6) children. Ordinary decency would have required her to ward off Atty. Garridos advances, as he was a married man, in fact a twice-married man with both marriages subsisting at that time; she should have said no to Atty. Garrido from the very start. Instead, she continued her liaison with Atty. Garrido, driving him, upon the death of Constancia, away from legitimizing his relationship with Maelotisea and their children. Worse than this, because of Atty. Valencias presence and willingness, Atty. Garrido even left his second family and six children for a third marriage with her. This scenario smacks of immorality even if viewed outside of the prism of law.

We are not unmindful of Atty. Valencias expressed belief that Atty. Garridos second marriage to Maelotisea was invalid; hence, she felt free to marry Atty. Garrido. While this may be correct in the strict legal sense and was later on confirmed by the declaration of the nullity of Atty. Garridos marriage to Maelotisea, we do not believe at all in the honesty of this expressed belief.

The records show that Atty. Valencia consented to be married in Hongkong, not within the country. Given that this marriage transpired before the declaration of the nullity of Atty. Garridos second marriage, we can only call this Hongkong marriage a clandestine marriage, contrary to the Filipino tradition of celebrating a marriage together with family. Despite Atty. Valencias claim that she agreed to marry Atty. Garrido only after he showed her proof of his capacity to enter into a subsequent valid marriage, the celebration of their marriage in Hongkong[39] leads us to the opposite conclusion; they wanted to marry in Hongkong for the added security of avoiding any charge of bigamy by entering into the subsequent marriage outside Philippine jurisdiction. In this regard, we cannot help but note that

Atty. Valencia afterwards opted to retain and use her surname instead of using the surname of her husband. Atty. Valencia, too, did not appear to mind that her husband did not live and cohabit with her under one roof, but with his second wife and the family of this marriage. Apparently, Atty. Valencia did not mind at all sharing her husband with another woman. This, to us, is a clear demonstration of Atty. Valencias perverse sense of moral values.

Measured against the definition of gross immorality, we find Atty. Valencias actions grossly immoral. Her actions were so corrupt as to approximate a criminal act, for she married a man who, in all appearances, was married to another and with whom he has a family. Her actions were also unprincipled and reprehensible to a high degree; as the confidante of Atty. Garrido, she preyed on his vulnerability and engaged in a romantic relationship with him during

the subsistence of his two previous marriages. As already mentioned, Atty. Valencias conduct could not but be scandalous and revolting to the point of shocking the communitys sense of decency; while she professed to be the lawfully wedded wife, she helped the second family build a house prior to her marriage to Atty. Garrido, and did not object to sharing her husband with the woman of his second marriage.

We find that Atty. Valencia violated Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as her behavior demeaned the dignity of and discredited the legal profession. She simply failed in her duty as a lawyer to adhere unwaveringly to the highest standards of morality.[40] In Barrientos v. Daarol,[41] we held that lawyers, as officers of the court, must not only be of good moral character but must also be seen to be of good moral character and must lead lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community. Atty. Valencia failed to live up to these standards before she was admitted to the bar and after she became a member of the legal profession. Conclusion Membership in the Bar is a privilege burdened with conditions. As a privilege bestowed by law through the Supreme Court, membership in the Bar can be withdrawn where circumstances concretely show the lawyers lack of the essential qualifications required of lawyers. We resolve to withdraw this privilege from Atty. Angel E. Garrido and Atty. Rowena P. Valencia for this reason. In imposing the penalty of disbarment upon the respondents, we are aware that the power to disbar is one to be exercised with great caution and only in clear cases of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and character of the lawyer as a legal professional and as an officer of the Court.[42] We are convinced from the totality of the evidence on hand that the present case is one of them. The records show the parties pattern of grave and immoral misconduct that demonstrates their lack of mental and emotional fitness and moral character to qualify them for the responsibilities and duties imposed on lawyers as professionals and as officers of the court.

While we are keenly aware of Atty. Garridos plea for compassion and his act of supporting his children with Maelotisea after their separation, we cannot grant his plea. The extent of his demonstrated violations of his oath, the Rules of Court and of the Code of Professional Responsibility overrides what under other circumstances are commendable traits of character. In like manner, Atty. Valencias behavior over a long period of time unequivocally demonstrates a basic and serious flaw in her character, which we cannot simply brush aside without undermining the dignity of the legal profession and without placing the integrity of the administration of justice into question. She was not an on-looker victimized by the circumstances, but a willing and knowing full participant in a love triangle whose incidents crossed into the illicit. WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court resolves to: (1) DISBAR Atty. Angel E. Garrido from the practice of law for gross immorality, violation of the Lawyers Oath; and violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility; and (2) DISBAR Atty. Romana P. Valencia from the practice of law for gross immorality, violation of Canon 7 and Rule 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Let a copy of this Decision be attached to the personal records of Atty. Angel E. Garrido and Atty. Romana P. Valencia in the Office of the Bar Confidant, and another copy furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. The Clerk of Court is directed to strike out the names of Angel E. Garrido and Rowena P. Valencia from the Roll of Attorneys. SO ORDERED.

SECOND DIVISION
ATTY. BONIFACIO T. BARANDON, JR., Complainant, A.C. No. 5768 Present: CARPIO, J., Chairperson,

- versus -

BRION, DEL CASTILLO, ABAD, and PEREZ, JJ. Promulgated:

ATTY. EDWIN Z. FERRER, SR., Respondent.

March 26, 2010 x --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- x

DECISION
ABAD, J.:

This administrative case concerns a lawyer who is claimed to have hurled invectives upon another lawyer and filed a baseless suit against him.

The Facts and the Case

On January 11, 2001 complainant Atty. Bonifacio T. Barandon, Jr. filed a complaintaffidavit[1] with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) seeking the disbarment, suspension from the practice of law, or imposition of appropriate disciplinary action against respondent Atty. Edwin Z. Ferrer, Sr. for the following offenses:

1.

On November 22, 2000 Atty. Ferrer, as plaintiffs counsel in Civil

Case 7040, filed a reply with opposition to motion to dismiss that contained abusive, offensive, and improper language which insinuated that

Atty. Barandonpresented a falsified document in court.

2.

Atty. Ferrer filed a fabricated charge against Atty. Barandon in Civil

Case 7040 for alleged falsification of public document when the document

allegedly falsified was a notarized document executed on February 23, 1994, at a date when Atty. Barandon was not yet a lawyer nor was assigned

in Camarines Norte. The latter was not even a signatory to the document.

3.

On December 19, 2000, at the courtroom of Municipal Trial Court

(MTC) Daet before the start of hearing, Atty. Ferrer, evidently drunk, threatened Atty. Barandon saying, Laban kung laban, patayan kung patayan, kasamaang lahat ng pamilya. Wala na palang magaling na abogado sa Camarines Norte, ang abogado na rito ay mgatag a-Camarines Sur, umuwi na kayo sa Camarines Sur, hindi kayo taga-rito.

4.

Atty. Ferrer made his accusation of falsification of public document

without bothering to check the copy with the Office of the Clerk of Court and, with gross ignorance of the law, failed to consider that a notarized document is presumed to be genuine and authentic until proven otherwise.

5.

The Court had warned Atty. Ferrer in his first disbarment case against

repeating his unethical act; yet he faces a disbarment charge for sexual harassment of an office secretary of the IBP Chapter in Camarines Norte; a related criminal case for acts of lasciviousness; and criminal cases for libel and grave threats that Atty. Barandon filed against him. In October 2000, Atty. Ferrer asked

Atty. Barandon to falsify the daily time record of his son who worked with the Commission on Settlement of Land Problems, Department of Justice. When Atty. Barandon declined, Atty. Ferrerrepeatedly harassed him with inflammatory language.

Atty. Ferrer raised the following defenses in his answer with motion to dismiss:

1.

Instead of having the alleged forged document submitted for

examination, Atty. Barandon filed charges of libel and grave threats against him. These charges came about because Atty. Ferrers clients filed a case for falsification of public document against Atty. Barandon.

2.

The offended party in the falsification case, Imelda Palatolon,

vouchsafed that her thumbmark in the waiver document had been falsified.

3.

At the time Atty. Ferrer allegedly uttered the threatening remarks

against Atty. Barandon, the MTC Daetwas already in session. It was improbable that the court did not take steps to stop, admonish, or cite Atty. Ferrer in direct contempt for his behavior.

4.

Atty. Barandon presented no evidence in support of his allegations

that Atty. Ferrer was drunk on December 19, 2000 and that he degraded the law profession. The latter had received various citations that speak well of his character.

5.

The cases of libel and grave threats that Atty. Barandon filed against

Atty. Ferrer were still pending. Their mere filing did not make the latter guilty of the charges. Atty. Barandon was forum shopping when he filed this disbarment case since it referred to the same libel and grave threats subject of the criminal cases.

In his reply affidavit,[2] Atty. Barandon brought up a sixth ground for disbarment. He alleged that on December 29, 2000 at about 1:30 p.m., while Atty. Ferrer was on board his sons

taxi, it figured in a collision with a tricycle, resulting in serious injuries to the tricycles passengers.[3] But neither Atty. Ferrer nor any of his co-passengers helped the victims and, during the police investigation, he denied knowing the taxi driver and blamed the tricycle driver for being drunk. Atty. Ferrer also prevented an eyewitness from reporting the accident to the authorities.[4]

Atty. Barandon claimed that the falsification case against him had already been dismissed. He belittled the citations Atty.Ferrer allegedly received. On the contrary, in its Resolution 00-1,[5] the IBP-Camarines Norte Chapter opposed his application to serve as judge of the MTC of Mercedes, Camarines Sur, on the ground that he did not have the qualifications, integrity, intelligence, industry and character of a trial judge and that he was facing a criminal charge for acts of lasciviousness and a disbarment case filed by an employee of the same IBP chapter.

On October 10, 2001 Investigating Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan of the IBP-CBD submitted to this Court a Report, recommending the suspension for two years of Atty. Ferrer. The Investigating Commissioner found enough evidence on record to prove Atty. Ferrers violation of Canons 8.01 and 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He attributed to Atty. Barandon, as counsel in Civil Case 7040, the falsification of the plaintiffs affidavit despite the absence of evidence that the document had in fact been falsified and that Atty. Barandon was a party to it. The Investigating Commissioner also found that Atty. Ferrer uttered the threatening remarks imputed to him in the presence of other counsels, court personnel, and litigants before the start of hearing.

On June 29, 2002 the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution XV-2002225,[6] adopting and approving the Investigating Commissioners recommendation but reduced the penalty of suspension to only one year.

Atty. Ferrer filed a motion for reconsideration but the Board denied it in its Resolution[7] of October 19, 2002 on the ground that it had already endorsed the matter to the Supreme Court. On February 5, 2003, however, the Court referred back the case to the IBP for resolution of Atty. Ferrers motion for reconsideration.[8] On May 22, 2008 the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation[9] of the Investigating Commissioner that denied Atty. Ferrers motion for reconsideration.[10]

On February 17, 2009, Atty. Ferrer filed a Comment on Board of Governors IBP Notice of Resolution No. XVIII-2008.[11] On August 12, 2009 the Court resolved to treat Atty. Ferrers comment as a petition for review under Rule 139 of the Revised Rules of Court. Atty. Barandon filed his comment,[12] reiterating his arguments before the IBP. Further, he presented certified copies of orders issued by courts in Camarines Norte that warned Atty. Ferrer against appearing in court drunk.[13]

The Issues Presented

The issues presented in this case are:

1.

Whether or not the IBP Board of Governors and the IBP Investigating

Commissioner erred in finding respondent Atty.Ferrer guilty of the charges against him; and

2.

If in the affirmative, whether or not the penalty imposed on him is justified.

The Courts Ruling

We have examined the records of this case and find no reason to disagree with the findings and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors and the Investigating Commissioner.

The practice of law is a privilege given to lawyers who meet the high standards of legal proficiency and morality. Any violation of these standards exposes the lawyer to administrative liability.[14]

Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility commands all lawyers to conduct themselves with courtesy, fairness and candor towards their fellow lawyers and avoid harassing tactics against opposing counsel. Specifically, in Rule 8.01, the Code provides:
Rule 8.01. A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper.

Atty. Ferrers actions do not measure up to this Canon. The evidence shows that he imputed to Atty. Barandon the falsification of the Salaysay Affidavit of the plaintiff in Civil Case 7040. He made this imputation with pure malice for he had no evidence that the affidavit had been falsified and that Atty. Barandon authored the same.

Moreover, Atty. Ferrer could have aired his charge of falsification in a proper forum and without using offensive and abusive language against a fellow lawyer. To quote portions of what he said in his reply with motion to dismiss:
1. That the answer is fraught with grave and culpable misrepresentation and FALSIFICATION of documents, committed to mislead this Honorable Court, but with concomitant grave responsibility of counsel for Defendants, for distortion and serious misrepresentation to the court, for presenting a grossly FALSIFIED document, in violation of his oath of office as a government employee and as member of the Bar, for the reason, that, Plaintiff, IMELDA PALATOLON, has never executed the SALAYSAY AFFIDAVIT, wherein her fingerprint has been falsified, in view whereof, hereby DENY the same including the affirmative defenses, there being no knowledge or information to

form a belief as to the truth of the same, from pars. (1) to par. (15) which are all lies and mere fabrications, sufficient ground for DISBARMENT of the one responsible for said falsification and distortions.[15]

The Court has constantly reminded lawyers to use dignified language in their pleadings despite the adversarial nature of our legal system.[16]

Atty. Ferrer had likewise violated Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which enjoins lawyers to uphold the dignity and integrity of the legal profession at all times. Rule 7.03 of the Code provides:
Rule 7.03. A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflect on his fitness to practice law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life behave in scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.

Several

disinterested

persons

confirmed

Atty. Ferrers drunken

invectives

at

Atty. Barandon shortly before the start of a court hearing. Atty. Ferrer did not present convincing evidence to support his denial of this particular charge. He merely presented a certification from the police that its blotter for the day did not report the threat he supposedly made. Atty. Barandon presented, however, the police blotter on a subsequent date that recorded his complaint against Atty. Ferrer.

Atty. Ferrer said, Laban kung laban, patayan kung patayan, kasama ang lahat ng pamilya. Wala na palang mag alingna abogado sa Camarines Norte, ang abogado na rito ay mga tagaCamarines Sur, umuwi na kayo sa Camarines Sur, hindikayo taga-rito. Evidently, he uttered

these with intent to annoy, humiliate, incriminate, and discredit Atty. Barandon in the presence of lawyers, court personnel, and litigants waiting for the start of hearing in court. These language is unbecoming a member of the legal profession. The Court cannot countenance it.

Though a lawyers language may be forceful and emphatic, it should always be dignified and respectful, befitting the dignity of the legal profession. The use of intemperate language and unkind ascriptions has no place in the dignity of judicial forum.[17] Atty.Ferrer ought to have realized that this sort of public behavior can only bring down the legal profession in the public estimation and erode public respect for it. Whatever moral righteousness Atty. Ferrer had was negated by the way he chose to express his indignation.

Contrary to Atty. Ferrers allegation, the Court finds that he has been accorded due process. The essence of due process is to be found in the reasonable opportunity to be heard and submit any evidence one may have in support of ones defense.[18] So long as the parties are given the opportunity to explain their side, the requirements of due process are satisfactorily complied with.[19] Here, the IBP Investigating Commissioner gave Atty. Ferrer all the opportunities to file countless pleadings and refute all the allegations of Atty. Barandon.

All lawyers should take heed that they are licensed officers of the courts who are mandated to maintain the dignity of the legal profession, hence they must conduct themselves honorably and fairly.[20] Atty. Ferrers display of improper attitude, arrogance, misbehavior, and misconduct in the performance of his duties both as a lawyer and officer of the court, before the public and the court, was a patent transgression of the very ethics that lawyers are sworn to uphold.

ACCORDINGLY, the Court AFFIRMS the May 22, 2008 Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors in CBD Case 01-809 and ORDERS the suspension of Atty. Edwin Z. Ferrer, Sr. from the practice of law for one year effective upon his receipt of this Decision.

Let a copy of this Decision be entered in Atty. Ferrers personal record as an attorney with the Office of the Bar Confidant and a copy of the same be served to the IBP and to the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts in the land.

SO ORDERED