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Republic of the Philippines

SUPREME COURT
Manila

A.C. No. 9317 June 4, 2014


(Formerly CBD Case No. 12-3615)

ADELIA V. QUIACHON, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. JOSEPH ADORA. RAMOS, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

SERENO, CJ:

This is a disbarment case filed by Adelia V. Quiachon (complainant), against her lawyer, Atty. Joseph
Ador A. Ramos (respondent). The latter represented complainant, who was then the plaintiff in a labor
case filed before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and in a special proceeding case filed
before the Regional Trial Court (R TC).1 Complainant charges respondent with gross negligence and
deceit in violation of Canon Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.2

The Labor Arbiter (LA) granted complainant a favorable decision on 26 November 2007. Upon appeal, it
was reversed and set aside by the NLRC in its Decision dated 25 July 2008.3 On 24 October 2008, the
NLRC also denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by respondent on complainant's behalf. A
Petition for Certiorari was filed before the Court of Appeals (CA), but it affirmed the NLRC's reversal of
the LA's Decision. The Notice of the CA Decision was received by respondent on 23 November 2010.

After the Petition was filed before the CA, complainant would always ask respondent about the status of
her case. The latter always told her that there was no decision yet.

Sometime in August 2011, while complainant was in respondents office waiting for him to arrive, she
noticed a mailman delivering an envelope with the title of her labor case printed thereon.4

Complainant asked the secretary of respondent to open the envelope and was surprised to discover that
it contained the Entry of Judgment of the CAs Decision. Thereafter, complainant tried repeatedly to
contact respondent, but to no avail. When she finally got to talk to him, respondent assured her that "it
was alright" as they still had six months to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. After that final
meeting, no updates on the labor case were ever communicated to complainant.

With respect to the special proceeding case, the RTC of Roxas City dismissed it for lack of jurisdiction. A
Motion for Reconsideration was filed, but it was also denied. Once again, respondent did nothing to
reverse the RTC Decision. Consequently, the Entry of Judgment was received on 28 October 2008.

On 28 November 2011, complainant filed the instant disbarment Complaint5 against respondent.
In his Comment,6 respondent averred that complainant was informed of the status of the case. He
claimed that he had told complainant that he "cannot cite any error of law or abuse of discretion on the
part of the Court of Appeals decision that necessitates a Petition for Review with the Supreme
Court;"7 thus, he supposedly advised her to "respect the decision of the Court of Appeals."8 Respondent
prayed that a Decision be rendered dismissing the instant disbarment Complaint for lack of merit.

In a Resolution9 dated 13 June 2012, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
(IBP) for investigation, report, and recommendation.

During the pendency of the proceedings, specifically on 5 February 2013, complainant filed a Motion to
Withdraw Complaint.10

In his Report and Recommendation dated 23 April 2013, IBP Commissioner Hector B. Almeyda
(Almeyda) declared:

True enough, it seems clear that respondent had been remiss in failing to update complainant in what
had happened to the cases being handled by respondent in behalf of complainant. There was a failure to
inform complainant (the client) of the status of the cases that thereafter prevented the client from
exercising her options. There was neglect in that regard.11

However, in spite of finding neglect on respondents part, he recommended the dismissal of the case
against him, stating that "with the decision to withdraw the complaint, there does not appear basis to
go ahead with the proceedings since without the complaint, there will be no basis to make any finding of
liability."12

On 11 May 2013, a Resolution was passed by the Board of Governors of the IBP resolving to adopt and
approve the Report and Recommendation of investigation commissioner Almeyda. The case against
respondent was dismissed with a warning that a repetition of the same act shall be dealt with more
severely.

This Court finds this to be an opportune time to remind the investigating commissioners and the
members of the Board of Governors of the IBP that the withdrawal of a disbarment case against a
lawyer does not terminate or abate the jurisdiction of the IBP and of this Court to continue an
administrative proceeding against a lawyer-respondent as a member of the Philippine Bar.13

In the present case, Almeyda recommended the dismissal of the case against respondent, even after
finding that the latter had been negligent. On the basis of this finding, the latter was declared to have
"been remiss in failing to update complainant in what had happened to the cases being handled by him
in behalf of complainant."14 Still, Almeyda recommended the dismissal of the case, because "without the
complaint, there will be no basis to make any finding of liability."15

The Board of Governors of the IBP affirmed the recommendation.

The IBP Board of Governors should not have supported Almeydas stance.
The complainant in a disbarment case is not a direct party to the case, but a witness who brought the
matter to the attention of the Court.16 There is neither a plaintiff nor a prosecutor in disciplinary
proceedings against lawyers. The real question for determination in these proceedings is whether or not
the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges of a member of the bar.17 Public interest is
the primary objective. We explained why in Rayos-Ombac v. Rayos,18 viz.:

The affidavit of withdrawal of the disbarment case allegedly executed by complainant does not, in any
way, exonerate the respondent. A case of suspension or disbarment may proceed regardless of interest
or lack of interest of the complainant. What matters is whether, on the basis of the facts borne out by
the record, the charge of deceit and grossly immoral conduct has been duly proven x x x. The
complainant or the person who called the attention of the court to the attorney's alleged misconduct is
in no sense a party, and has generally no interest in the outcome except as all good citizens may have in
the proper administration of justice. Hence, if the evidence on record warrants, the respondent may be
suspended or disbarred despite the desistance of complainant or his withdrawal of the charges x x x.

In this case, the IBP found that respondent violated Canon Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility.1wphi1 Thus, it should have imposed the appropriate penalty despite the
desistance of complainant or the withdrawal of the charges.

The failure of respondent to file an appeal from the CA Decision without any justifiable reason deserves
sanction. Lawyers who disagree with the pursuit of an appeal should properly withdraw their
appearance and allow their client to retain another counsel.19

In Abay v. Montesino,20 the respondent-lawyer and his client disagreed on the legal course to be taken
regarding the appealed case. The lawyer therein strongly advised the client to abandon the appeal and
to consider the other available remedies. The client, on the other hand, wanted to pursue it. Without
obtaining the assent of his client, the respondent-lawyer deemed it wise to abandon the appeal without
informing the former. In finding the respondent-lawyer guilty of negligence, the Court explained:

Not filing an appellant's brief is prejudicial because, as happened in this case, such failure could result in
the dismissal of the appeal. The conduct of respondent shows that he failed to exercise due diligence,
and that he had a cavalier attitude towards the cause of his client. The abandonment by the former of
the latter's cause made him unworthy of the trust that his client reposed in him. Even if respondent was
"honestly and sincerely" protecting the interests of complainant, the former still had no right to waive
the appeal without the latter's knowledge and consent. If indeed respondent felt unable or unwilling to
continue his retainership, he should have properly withdrawn his appearance and allowed the client to
appoint another lawyer.21

In the present case, respondent failed not only to keep the client informed of the status of the case, but
also to avail of the proper legal remedy that would promote the client's cause. It is clear that respondent
neglected the case entrusted to him.

All lawyers owe fidelity to their client's cause.22 Regardless of their personal views, they must present
every remedy or defense within the authority of the law in support of that cause.23
Whenever lawyers take on their clients' cause/s, they covenant that they will exercise due diligence in
protecting the client's rights; their failure to exercise that degree of vigilance and attention expected of
a good father of a family makes them unworthy of the trust reposed in them by their client/s and make
them answerable to the client, the courts and society.24

In Pilapil v. Carillo,25 this Court upheld the recommendation of the IBP to suspend a lawyer from the
practice of law for six months after finding that he had failed to file a petition for certiorari of the
adverse decision rendered in the case of his client despite the latter's repeated follow-ups.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Joseph Ador A. Ramos is found GUILTY of negligence and is hereby SUSPENDED from
the practice of law for six months, effective upon receipt of this Decision. He is WARNED that a
repetition of the same or a similar act will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Decision be entered in the record of respondent as attorney. Further, let copies of this
Decision be served on the IBP as well as on the court administrator, who is directed to circulate these
copies to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.

No costs.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO


Chief Justice, Chairperson

A.C. No. 9881 June 4, 2014


(Formerly CBD 10-2607)

ATTY. ALAN F. PAGUIA, Petitioner,


vs.
ATTY. MANUEL T. MOLINA, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

SERENO, CJ:

For resolution by this Court is the dismissal by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Board of
Governors of the administrative Complaint for DISHONESTY against respondent, Atty. Manuel Molina.
Atty. Molina allegedly advised his clients to enforce a contract on the complainant's client who had
never been a party to the agreement.

The facts are as follows:


The case involves a conflict between neighbors in a four-unit compound named "Times Square" at Times
Street, Quezon City. The neighbors are the following: 1) Mr. And Mrs. Gregorio M. Abreu, clients of Atty.
Paguia; 2) Mr. And Mrs. Wilson Lim, clients of respondent Molina; 3) Dr. and Mrs. Eduardo Yap; and Dr.
Belinda San Juan.

The clients of Atty. Molina entered into a contract with the other unit owners save for Mr. Abreu. The
agreement, covered by a document titled "Times Square Preamble," establishes a set of internal rules
for the neighbors on matters such as the use of the common right of way to the exit gate, assignment of
parking areas, and security. Mr. Abreu, the client of complainant, Atty. Paguia, was not a party to the
contract since the former did not agree with the terms concerning the parking arrangements.

On 4 February 2010, Atty. Paguia filed a Complaint for Dishonesty1 with the IBP Commission on Bar
Discipline against Atty. Molina2 for allegedly giving legal advice to the latters clients to the effect that
the Times Square Preamble was binding on Mr. Abreu, who was never a party to the contract.

In his Answer,3 Atty. Molina downplayed the case as a petty quarrel among neighbors. He maintained
that the Times Square Preamble4 was entered into for purposes of maintaining order in the residential
compound. All homeowners, except Mr. Abreu, signed the document.5

Respondent further stated in his Answer that Mr. and Mrs. Gregorio Abreu filed two cases against his
clients, Mr. And Mrs. William Lim, on the belief that Mr. Abreu was not bound by the Times Square
Preamble. The first case, was filed with the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB), which was
an action to declare the Times Square Preamble invalid. The second suit was an action for declaratory
relief. Both cases, according to respondent, were dismissed.6

Respondent further claimed that another case had been filed in court, this time by his client, the Lims.
They were prompted to file a suit since Mr. Abreu had allegedly taken matters into his own hands by
placing two vehicles directly in front of the gate of the Lims, thus blocking the latters egress to Times
Street. The Lims filed with the Regional Trial Court, Branch 96, Quezon City, a Complaint for Injunction
and Damages, coupled with a prayer for the immediate issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order
and/or Preliminary Injunction, which was docketed as Civil Case No. Q-08-63579. According to
respondent, the RTC granted the relief prayed for in an Order dated 12 December 2008.7

Atty. Molina concluded that the above facts sufficiently served as his answer to the Complaint.

On 3 August 2010, Investigating Commissioner Victor C. Fernandez rendered a Report and


Recommendation. He recommended dismissal for lack of merit, based on the following grounds: 1) the
complaint consisted only of bare allegations; and 2) even assuming that respondent Molina gave an
erroneous legal advice, he could not be held accountable in the absence of proof of malice or bad faith.8

On 14 May 2011, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XIX-2011-210, adopting and
approving the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.9
Atty. Paguia filed a Motion for Reconsideration dated 2 August 2011, but was denied by the IBP Board of
Governors on 29 December 2012.10 Notices of the denial were received by the parties on 21 March
2013.11

No petition for review has been filed with this Court.

It is worth noting that a case is deemed terminated if the complainant does not file a petition with the
Supreme Court within fifteen (15) days from notice of the Boards resolution. This rule is derived from
Section 12(c) of Rule 139-B, which states:

(c) If the respondent is exonerated by the Board or the disciplinary sanction imposed by it is less than
suspension or disbarment (such as admonition, reprimand, or fine) it shall issue a decision exonerating
respondent or imposing such sanction. The case shall be deemed terminated unless upon petition of the
complainant or other interested party filed with the Supreme Court within fifteen (15) days from notice
of the Boards resolution, the Supreme Court orders otherwise. (Underscoring supplied)

In this case, Atty. Paguia received notice of the Boards resolution on 21 March 2013, as evidenced by a
registry return receipt. To this date, this Court has yet to receive a petition for review from Atty. Paguia.
Thus, for his failure to file a petition for review with the Court within 15 days, this case is deemed
terminated pursuant to the above mentioned Section 12(c).

Nevertheless, we have gone over the records but we have no reason to deviate from the findings of the
IBP Board of Governors.

When it comes to administrative cases against lawyers, two things are to be considered: quantum of
proof, which requires clearly preponderant evidence; and burden of proof, which is on the
complainant.12

In the present case, we find that the Complaint is without factual basis. Complainant Atty. Paguia
charges Atty. Molina with providing legal advice to the latters clients to the effect that the Times Square
Preamble is binding on complainants client, Mr. Abreu, who was not a signatory to the agreement. The
allegation of giving legal advice, however, was not substantiated in this case, either in the complaint or
in the corresponding hearings. Nowhere do the records state that Atty. Paguia saw respondent giving
the legal advice to the clients of the latter. Bare allegations are not proof.13

Even if we assume that Atty. Molina did provide his clients legal advice, he still cannot be held
administratively liable without any showing that his act was attended with bad faith or malice. The rule
on mistakes committed by lawyers in the exercise of their profession is as follows:

An attorney-at-law is not expected to know all the law. For an honest mistake or error, an attorney is
not liable. Chief Justice Abbott said that, no attorney is bound to know all the law; God forbid that it
should be imagined that an attorney or a counsel, or even a judge, is bound to know all the law. x x x.14

The default rule is presumption of good faith. On the other hand, bad faith is never
presumed.1wphi1 It is a conclusion to be drawn from facts. Its determination is thus a question of fact
and is evidentiary.15 There is no evidence, though, to show that the legal advice, assuming it was indeed
given, was coupled with bad faith, malice, or ill-will. The presumption of good faith, therefore, stands in
this case.

The foregoing considered, complainant failed to prove his case by clear preponderance of evidence.

WHEREFORE, the Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors adopting and approving the Decision of the
Investigating Commissioner is hereby AFFIRMED.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO


Chief Justice, Chairperson

A.M. No. P-13-3132 June 4, 2014


(Formerly A.M. No. 12-3-54-RTC)

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant,


vs.
SARAH P. AMPONG, COURT INTERPRETER III, REGIONAL TRIAL COURT OF ALABEL, SARAN GANI
PROVINCE, BRANCH 38, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

This administrative case arose from the letter1 dated March 15, 2011 of Executive Judge Jaime L. Infante
(Judge Infante) of the Regional Trial Court of Alabel, Sarangani Province, "Branch 38. (RTC), addressed to
complainant the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA),2 inquiring about the employment status of
respondent Sarah P. Ampong (Ampong), a Court Interpreter III of the said RTC since August 3, 1993. In
the aforementioned letter, Judge Infante informed the OCA that despite Ampong's dismissal from
service by the Civil Service Commission (CSC), which dismissal was affirmed by the Court, the RTC never
received any official information or directive from the OCA on the matter. As such, Ampong remains
employed in the RTC and has been continuously receiving all her monthly salary, benefits, allowances,
and the like.

The Facts

Sometime in August 1994, the CSC instituted an administrative case against Ampong for Dishonesty,
Grave Misconduct, and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service for having impersonated
or taken the November 1991 Civil Service Eligibility Examination for Teachers on behalf of one Evelyn B.
Junio-Decir (Decir). On March 21, 1996, after Ampong herself admitted to having committed the charges
against her, the CSC rendered a resolution3 dismissing her from service, imposing all accessory penalties
attendant to such dismissal, and revoking her Professional Board Examination for Teachers (PBET)
rating. Ampong moved for reconsideration on the ground that when the said administrative case was
filed, she was already appointed to the judiciary; as such, she posited that the CSC no longer had any
jurisdiction over her. Ampongs motion was later denied, thus, prompting her to file a petition for review
before the Court of Appeals (CA).4

On November 30, 2004, the CA denied Ampongs petition and affirmed her dismissal from service on the
ground that she never raised the issue of jurisdiction until after the CSC ruled against her and, thus, she
is estopped from assailing the same.5 Similarly, on August 26, 2008, the Court En Banc denied her
petition for review on certiorari and, thus, affirmed her dismissal from service in G.R. No. 167916,
entitled "Sarah P. Ampong v. Civil Service Commission, CSC-Regional Office No. 11"6 (August 26, 2008
Decision).

Notwithstanding said Decision, the Financial Management Office (FMO) of the OCA, which did not
receive any official directive regarding Ampongs dismissal, continued to release her salaries and
allowances. However, in view of Judge Infantes letter notifying the OCA of such situation, the FMO
issued a Memorandum7 dated September 7, 2011 informing the OCA that starting June 2011, it had
started to withhold Ampongs salaries and allowances.8

In her Comment9 dated September 25, 2012, Ampong prayed that the Court revisit its ruling in G.R. No.
167916 despite its finality because it might lead to unwarranted complications in its
enforcement.10 Moreover, Ampong reiterated her argument that the CSC did not have any jurisdiction
over the case against her.11

The Action and Recommendation of the OCA

In a Memorandum12 dated March 27, 2013,the OCA recommended that Ampong be found guilty of
Dishonesty for impersonating and taking the November 1991 Civil Service Eligibility Examination for
Teachers in behalf of Decir and, thus, be dismissed from the service on the ground that she no longer
possesses the appropriate eligibility required for her position, with forfeiture of retirement and other
benefits except accrued leave credits and with perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any
government agency or instrumentality, including any government-owned and controlled corporation or
government financial institution.13

The OCA found that Ampongs act of impersonating and taking the November 1991 Civil Service
Eligibility Examination for Teachers for and on behalf of another person indeed constitutes dishonesty, a
grave offense which carries the corresponding penalty of dismissal from service. It added that the fact
that the offense was not connected with her office or was committed prior to her appointment in the
judiciary does not in any way exonerate her from administrative liability as an employee of the court.14

Further, the OCA found that Ampongs appointment as Court Interpreter III did not divest the CSC of its
inherent power to discipline employees from all branches and agencies of the government in order to
protect the integrity of the civil service. Consequently, the CSC could validly impose the administrative
penalty of dismissal against her, which carries with it that of cancellation of civil service eligibility,
forfeiture of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification for re-employment in the government
service, unless otherwise provided. In this relation, the OCA emphasized that the CSC ruling effectively
stripped Ampong of her civil service eligibility and, hence, could no longer hold the position of Court
Interpreter III.15

The Issue Before the Court

The issue raised for the Courts resolution is whether or not Ampong had been dismissed from her
employment as Court Interpreter III of the RTC.

The Courts Ruling

The Court resolves the issue in the affirmative.

As the records show, in the August 26, 2008 Decision, the Court had already held Ampong
administratively liable for dishonesty in impersonating and taking the November 1991 Civil Service
Eligibility Examination for Teachers on behalf of Decir, viz.:

The CSC found [Ampong] guilty of dishonesty. It is categorized as "an act which includes the
procurement and/or use of fake/spurious civil service eligibility, the giving of assistance to ensure the
commission or procurement of the same, cheating, collusion, impersonation, or any other anomalous
act which amounts to any violation of the Civil Service examination." [Ampong] impersonated Decir in
the PBET exam, to ensure that the latter would obtain a passing mark. By intentionally practicing a
deception to secure a passing mark, their acts undeniably involve dishonesty.

This Court has defined dishonesty as the "(d)isposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud;
untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and
straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray." *Ampongs+ dishonest act as a civil
servant renders her unfit to be a judicial employee. Indeed, We take note that [Ampong] should not
have been appointed as a judicial employee had this Court been made aware of the cheating that she
committed in the civil service examinations. Be that as it may, *Ampongs+ present status as a judicial
employee is not a hindrance to her getting the penalty she deserves.16(Emphases and underscoring
supplied).

Notably, the Court also addressed Ampongs misgivings on the issue of jurisdiction in the same case, viz.:

It is true that the CSC has administrative jurisdiction over the civil service. As defined under the
Constitution and the Administrative Code, the civil service embraces every branch, agency, subdivision,
and instrumentality of the government, and government-owned or controlled corporations. Pursuant to
its administrative authority, the CSC is granted the power to "control, supervise, and coordinate the Civil
Service examinations." This authority grants to the CSC the right to take cognizance of any irregularity or
anomaly connected with the examinations.
However, the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court is given exclusive administrative supervision
over all courts and judicial personnel. By virtue of this power, it is only the Supreme Court that can
oversee the judges and court personnels compliance with all laws, rules and regulations. It may take
the proper administrative action against them if they commit any violation. No other branch of
government may intrude into this power, without running afoul of the doctrine of separation of powers.
Thus, this Court ruled that the Ombudsman cannot justify its investigation of a judge on the powers
granted to it by the Constitution. It violates the specific mandate of the Constitution granting to the
Supreme Court supervisory powers over all courts and their personnel; it undermines the independence
of the judiciary.

In Civil Service Commission v. Sta. Ana, this Court held that impersonating an examinee of a civil service
examination is an act of dishonesty. But because the offender involved a judicial employee under the
administrative supervision of the Supreme Court, the CSC filed the necessary charges before the Office
of the Court Administrator (OCA), a procedure which this Court validated.

A similar fate befell judicial personnel in Bartolata v. Julaton, involving judicial employees who also
impersonated civil service examinees.1wphi1 As in Sta. Ana, the CSC likewise filed the necessary
charges before the OCA because respondents were judicial employees. Finding respondents guilty of
dishonesty and meting the penalty of dismissal, this Court held that "respondents machinations reflect
their dishonesty and lack of integrity, rendering them unfit to maintain their positions as public servants
and employees of the judiciary."

Compared to Sta. Anaand Bartolata, the present case involves a similar violation of the Civil Service Law
by a judicial employee. But this case is slightly different in that petitioner committed the offense before
her appointment to the judicial branch. At the time of commission, petitioner was a public school
teacher under the administrative supervision of the DECS and, in taking the civil service examinations,
under the CSC. Petitioner surreptitiously took the CSC-supervised PBET exam in place of another person.
When she did that, she became a party to cheating or dishonesty in a civil service-supervised
examination.

That she committed the dishonest act before she joined the RTC does not take her case out of the
administrative reach of the Supreme Court.

The bottom line is administrative jurisdiction over a court employee belongs to the Supreme Court,
regardless of whether the offense was committed before or after employment in the
judiciary.17 (Emphases in the original; citations omitted)

Pursuant to the doctrine of immutability of judgment, which states that "a decision that has acquired
finality becomes immutable and unalterable, and may no longer be modified in any respect, even if the
modification is meant to correct erroneous conclusions of fact and law,"18 Ampong could no longer seek
the August 26, 2008 Decisions modification and reversal. Consequently, the penalty of dismissal from
service on account of Ampongs Dishonesty should be enforced in its full course. In line with Section
58(a)19 of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service (URACCS), the penalty of
dismissal carries with it the following administrative disabilities: (a) cancellation of civil service eligibility;
(b) forfeiture of retirement benefits; and (c) perpetual disqualification from reemployment in any
government agency or instrumentality, including any government-owned and controlled corporation or
government financial institution. Ampong should be made to similarly suffer the same.

To clarify, however, despite Ampongs dismissal on the ground of dishonesty, she should nevertheless
been titled to receive her accrued leave credits, if any, pursuant to the aforementioned provision of the
URACCS, which does not include the forfeiture of the same. It is a standing rule that despite their
dismissal from the service, government employees are entitled to the leave credits that they have
earned during the period of their employment. As a matter of fairness and law, they may not be
deprived of such remuneration, which they have earned prior to their dismissal.20

It must be stressed that every employee of the Judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness,
and honesty. Like any public servant, she must exhibit the highest sense of honesty and integrity not
only in the performance of her official duties but also in her personal and private dealings with other
people, to preserve the courts good name and standing. The image of a court of justice is mirrored in
the conduct, official and otherwise, of the personnel who work thereat, from the judge to the lowest of
its personnel. Court personnel have been enjoined to adhere to the exacting standards of morality and
decency in their professional and private conduct in order to preserve the good name and integrity of
the courts of justice. Here, Ampong failed to meet these stringent standards set for a judicial employee
and does not, therefore, deserve to remain with the Judiciary.21

WHEREFORE, the Court SUSTAINS the dismissal of respondent Sarah P. Ampong, Court Interpreter III of
the Regional Trial Court of Alabel, Sarangani Province, Branch 38, on the ground of Dishonesty.
Accordingly, her retirement and other benefits are forfeited except accrued leave credits, and she is
perpetually disqualified from re-employment in any government agency or instrumentality, including
any government-owned and controlled corporation or government financial institution, effective
immediately.

SO ORDERED.

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNAE
Associate Justice

A.M. No. P-14-3222 August 12, 2014


(Formerly AM. OCA IPI NO. 11-3609-P)

PRESIDING JUDGE JOSE B. LAGADO and CLERK OF COURT II JOSEFINA C. EMPUESTO, both of the
MUNICIPAL TRIAL COURT, MAHAPLAG, LEYTE, Complainants,
vs.
CLERK II BRYAN ANTONIO C. LEONIDO, Respondent.
RESOLUTION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

Before the Court is a Letter-Complaint1 dated March 3, 2011 filed by complainants Presiding Judge Jose
B. Lagado (Judge Lagado) and Clerk of Court II Josefina C. Empuesto (Empuesto ), both of the Municipal
Trial Court of Mahaplag, Leyte (MTC), charging respondent Clerk II Bryan Antonio C. Leonido (Leonido)
of the same court with Dishonesty and Misconduct.

The Facts

In their Letter-Complaint, complainants alleged that on February 22, 2011, Leonido intercepted and
withdrewchecks representing their second quincena salary as well as their share inthe Judiciary
Development Fund and Special Allowance for Judges Fund(subject checks) from the Mail Distribution
Center, Postal Office of Tacloban, Leyte without their authority and knowledge. According
tocomplainants, Leonido was able to claim the subject checks from the postal office bysubmitting a
forged authorization letter2 dated February 22, 2011 purportedly from Empuesto and presenting a
photocopy of his Supreme Court identification card.3 Thereafter, Leonido allegedly kept the subject
checks inhis possession without informing complainants of such fact.1wphi1 Learning about whathad
transpired, Judge Lagado repeatedly tried contacting Leonido, but to no avail. Eventually, on February
25, 2011, complainants were able to recover the subject checks through Leonidos wife who turned
them over to a certain Edgar M. Miralles, a court aide of the MTC. As complainants averred, this was not
the first time that Leonido fraudulently intercepted checks of other MTC employees.4

In a 1st Indorsement5 dated March 17, 2011, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed
Leonido to comment on the charges against him within ten (10) days from receipt of notice. Upon his
failure to comply, the OCA sent him a Tracer Letter6 dated August 1, 2011 reiterating its prior directive
and warning him that the matter would be submitted for the Courts resolution with or without his
comment. To date, Leonido has yet to file his comment.7 Meanwhile, in a Resolution8 dated September
7, 2011 in A.M. No. 11-7-79-MTC,9 the Court dropped Leonido from the rolls effective January 3, 2011
for his absences without officialleave, without prejudice to the outcome of the instant case.

The Report and Recommendation of the OCA

In a Report and Recommendation10 dated August 27, 2013, the OCA found Leonido guilty of Gross
Misconductand Dishonesty, and accordingly, imposed the penalty of dismissal from service against him.
However, in view of his having been dropped from the rolls effective January 3, 2011, the OCA instead
recommended: (a) the forfeiture of all the remaining benefits due him, except accrued leave credits; and
(b) his disqualification from reemployment in any branch, agency, orinstrumentality of the government,
including government-owned and controlled corporations.11

The OCA found that Leonidos acts ofcollecting the subject checks, forging a letter purportedly
authorizing him to claim the same, and keeping such checks in his possession instead of immediately
coordinating with the complainants, which remain undisputedby his failure to comment on the charges
against him, constitute Gross Misconduct and Dishonesty for which he should be held administratively
liable. The OCA also maintained that even if Leonido had been dropped from the rolls, the Court is not
precluded from imposing upon him the accessory penalties of dismissal from service, i.e., forfeiture of
benefits and disqualification from re-employment in the government service as well as ingovernment-
owned and controlled corporations.12

The Issue Before the Court

The essential issue in this case iswhether or not Leonido should be held administratively liable for
Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct.

The Courts Ruling

The Court concurs with the OCAs findings and recommendation.

Dishonesty is the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, defraud, or betray; unworthiness; lack of integrity;
lackof honesty, probity, or integrity in principle; and lack of fairness and straightforwardness.13 It is a
malevolent act that makes people unfit to serve the judiciary.14

Misconduct, on the other hand, is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more
particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by the public officer. To warrant dismissal from the
service, the misconduct must be grave, serious, important, weighty, momentous, and not trifling. The
misconduct must imply wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment and must also have a
direct relation to and be connected with the performance of the public officers official duties
amounting either to maladministration or willful, intentional neglect, or failureto discharge the duties of
the office.15 In order to differentiategross misconduct from simple misconduct, the elements of
corruption, clear intent to violate the law, or flagrant disregard of established rule, must be manifest in
the former.16

In this case, the OCA correctly found Leonido guilty of Dishonesty and Gross Misconduct for
fraudulentlyintercepting the subject checks through the use of a falsified authorization letter
purportedly signed by Empuesto and keeping such checks in his possession without the complainants
knowledge and authority. The subsequent return of the subject checks to their lawful owners is of no
moment as it did not change the unlawful nature of Leonidos acts which is tantamount to stealing.
Thievery, no matter how petty, has no place in the judiciary.17

As to the proper penalty to be imposed on Leonido, the Court notes that Dishonesty and Grave
Misconduct are classified as grave offenses punishable by dismissal for the first offense.18 Corollary
thereto, the penalty of dismissal from service carries with it the following administrative disabilities: (a)
cancellation of civil service eligibility; (b) forfeiture of retirement and other benefits, except accrued
leave credits, if any; and (c) perpetual disqualification from re-employment in any government agency or
instrumentality, including any government-owned and controlled corporation or government financial
institution.19
In this instance, since Leonido had already been dropped from the rolls pursuant to the Court's
Resolution dated September 7, 2011 in A.M. No. 11-7-79-MTC, the penalty of dismissal from service can
no longer be imposed upon him. Nevertheless, such penalty should be enforced in its full course by
imposing the aforesaid administrative disabilities upon him.20

It must be emphasized that those in the Judiciary serve as sentinels of justice, and any act of impropriety
on their part immeasurably affects the honor and dignity of the Judiciary and the people's confidence in
it. The Institution demands the best possible individuals in the service and it had never and will never
tolerate nor condone any conduct which would violate the norms of public accountability, and diminish,
or even tend to diminish, the faith of the people in the justice system. As such, the Court will not
hesitate to rid its ranks of undesirables who undermine its efforts towards an effective and efficient
administration of justice, thus tainting its image in the eyes of the public.21

WHEREFORE, respondent Clerk II Bryan Antonio C. Leonido of the Municipal Trial Court of Mahaplag,
Leyte, is found GUILTY of Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct and would have been DISMISSED from
service, had he not been earlier dropped from the rolls effective January 3, 2011. Accordingly, his
retirement and other benefits, except accrued leave credits, are hereby FORFEITED and he is
PERPETUALLY DISQUALIFIED from re-employment in any government agency or instrumentality,
including any government-owned and controlled corporation or government financial institution.

SO ORDERED.

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

A.M. No. P-13-3123 June 10, 2014

ALBERTO VALDEZ, Complainant,


vs.
DESIDERIO W. MACUSI, JR., Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court, Branch 25, Tabuk, Kalinga, Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter refers to the failure of respondent Desiderio W. Macusi, Jr., Sheriff IV,
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Tabuk, Kalinga, Branch 25, to act on a writ of execution issued by the
Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Tabuk, Kalinga on 3 December 2003 in Criminal Case No. 4050,
entitled "People v. Jorge Macusi y Wayet," for reckless imprudence and negligence resulting in
homicide. Sheriff Macusi was charged with misfeasance, nonfeasance or conduct prejudicial to the best
interest of the service.
In a letter-complaint1 dated 12 May 2009 sent to Judge Victor Dalanao (Judge Dalanao), presiding judge
of the MTCC of Tabuk, Kalinga, complainant Alberto Valdez (Valdez) alleged that Sheriff Macusi failed to
act on the writ of execution issued by the MTCC in violation of Section 14, Rule 39 of the 1997 Rules of
Civil Procedure.

In his Comment2 dated 14 July 2009, Sheriff Macusi stated that he was appointed as Sheriff IV in the
Province of Kalinga on 24 May 2004. Sheriff Macusi explained that in a Report3 dated 6 January 2004, his
predecessor, Francisco C. Mabazza, served on accused Jorge Macusi the writ of execution issued by the
MTCC on 5 December 2003. However, the accused replied that he had no money to pay for the
execution. Thus, the notation in the writ of execution was "unsatisfactory (sic) served. "Thereafter,
Sheriff Macusi stated that he tried to serve the order again by entering the residence of defendant
looking for personal properties that could be confiscated on account of the writ but to no avail. Sheriff
Macusi then asked accused to voluntarily comply with his legal obligation but found out that accused
had suffered a stroke and could no longer fend for himself and his family and resorted to accepting
charity from his sister.

In a Partial Report4 dated 3 May 2006, Sheriff Macusi filed a return of the writ of execution stating that it
was still unserved. The relevant portions of the Report state:

1. That the accused because of the incident suffered a stroke and therefrom could no longer find a
livelihood for himself and his children and as stated in the order of the Honorable Court is now living on
the charity of his sister. His sister is also tending to the needs of their mother who also suffered the
same fate because of illness that befell her son;

xxxx

3. That the court battle begun armed with the hope that the accused was never given his day in court (in
fact an ocular inspection was done to determine the seriousness of the illness of the accused and at that
time he could hardly speak and walk yet the court continued hearing his case; thus, his right to be
present in all the stages of the court proceedings of his case was denied) will be imprisoned should the
decision of the Hon. Court will (sic) be against him;

xxxx

Sheriff Macusi averred that he could not be held liable for misfeasance, nonfeasance or conduct
prejudicial to the best interest of the service since he carried out all the possible legal remedies on
execution and satisfaction of judgment under the rules.

On 19 June 2006, Judge Dalanao issued an Order5 stating that the Partial Report dated 3 May 2006 of
Sheriff Macusi was an improper and inadequate report as required under the Rules. The relevant
portions of the Order state:

It appears therefrom that the said report is not the report contemplated by law, which should be
submitted monthly to the Court (Section 14, Rule 39, 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure).
Instead, the Sheriff appears to be lawyering for accused, even going to the extent of accusing the Court
of having denied the accused his day in Court. Certainly, this comment, from a responsible officer of the
Court is unwarranted or without any justification at all. Not only that, it will certainly diminish the good
image of the Court, and worst, tarnish the faith and confidence of the litigants in our judicial processes.

The Court just came to know that the accused in this case is the brother of Sheriff Desiderio Macusi. The
least that he should have done was to inhibit himself from handling this case.

Furnish a copy of this Order to the Executive Judge for his information and/or appropriate action
without prejudice for this Court to take measures appropriate under the premises, where warranted.

SO ORDERED.

Valdez, in the letter-complaint, added that Sheriff Macusi did not submit another report to the court
since the time the MTCC issued the Order dated 19 June 2006. Acting on the letter-complaint, Judge
Dalanao issued an Order dated 13 May 2009 endorsing the letter-complaint to the Office of the Court
Administrator (OCA) for appropriate action.

In a Report dated 1 June 2010,the OCA recommended that the administrative complaint be referred
tothe Executive Judge of the RTC of Bulanao, Tabuk City, Kalinga, Branch 25, for investigation, report and
recommendation within 60 days from receipt of notice. In a Resolution6 dated 28 July 2010, this Court
adopted the recommendation of the OCA and referred the matter to Executive Judge Marcelino K.
Wacas (Judge Wacas).

In an Investigation Report7 dated 20 April 2012, Judge Wacas found no substantial evidence to hold
Sheriff Macusi for the offense charged and recommended the dismissal of the complaint. In a
Resolution8 dated 4 July 2012, this Court referred the Investigation Report to the OCA.

In its Report9 dated 23 April 2013, the OCA disagreed with the recommendation of Judge Wacas and
found Sheriff Macusi liable for (1) simple neglect of duty for his failure to submit the proper returns, and
(2) violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel for his failure to disclose that the accused in
"People v. Jorge Macusi y Wayet"is his brother. The OCA recommended that Sheriff Macusi be
suspended from office for two months without pay. The recommendation of the OCA states:

1. The instant administrative complaint be RE-DOCKETED as a regular administrative matter;

2. Desiderio W. Macusi, Jr., Sheriff IV, Branch 25, Regional Trial Court, Tabuk, Kalinga, be held LIABLE for
Simple Neglect of Duty and Violation of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel; and

3. Sheriff Macusi be SUSPENDED from office for two (2) months without pay, with a WARNING that a
repetition of the same or a similar act shall be dealt with more severely.10

We adopt the findings of the OCA but modify its recommendation on the penalty.

Section 14, Rule 39 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure states:


Section 14. Return of writ of execution. The writ of execution shall be returnable to the court issuing
it immediately after the judgment has been satisfied in part or in full. If the judgment cannot be satisfied
in full within thirty (30) days after his receipt of the writ, the officer shall report to the court and state
the reason therefor. Such writ shall continue in effect during the period within which the judgment may
be enforced by motion. The officer shall make a report to the court every thirty (30) days on the
proceedings taken thereon until the judgment is satisfied in full, or its effectivity expires. The returns or
periodic reports shall set forth the whole of the proceedings taken, and shall be filed with the court and
copies thereof promptly furnished the parties.

The 30-day period imposed for the execution of the writ after the judgment has been received by the
sheriff, as well as the periodic report every 30 days, is mandatory under the rule. In Aquino v.
Martin,11 we held that it is mandatory for the sheriff to execute the judgment and make a return on the
writ of execution within the period provided by the Rules of Court. Also, the sheriff must make periodic
reports on partially satisfied or unsatisfied writs in accordance with the rule in order that the court and
the litigants are apprised of the proceedings undertaken. Such periodic reporting on the status of the
writs must be done by the sheriff regularly and consistently every 30 days until they are returned fully
satisfied.

In the present case, the records show that Sheriff Macusi submitted only one return of writ of execution
in his Partial Report dated 3 May 2006 and did not file any other report to the court. Sheriff Macusi
failed to implement the court order and failed to submit periodic reports of the actions he had taken on
the writ "every 30 days until the judgment is satisfied in full, or its effectivity expires," as required by the
Rules. In Dilan v. Dulfo,12 we held that sheriffs play an important part in the administration of justice
because they are tasked to execute the final judgment of courts. If not enforced, such decisions are
empty victories on the part of the prevailing parties. Clearly, Sheriff Macusi was remiss in his duties and
is thus liable for simple neglect of duty.

Simple neglect of duty is the failure to give attention to a task, or the disregard of a duty due to
carelessness or indifference. Under the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil
Service,13 simple neglect of duty is a less grave offense punishable with suspension of one month and
one day to six months for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.14

Further, aside from Sheriff Macusis long delay in the enforcement of the writ, it has also been verified
by the OCA that Sheriff Macusi is the brother of the accused Jorge Macusi in Criminal Case No. 4050.
Section 1(a)(i) of Canon III of the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel provides:

Section 1. Court personnel shall avoid conflicts of interest in performing official duties.1wphi1 Every
court personnel is required to exercise utmost diligence in being aware of conflicts of interest, disclosing
conflicts of interest to the designated authority, and terminating them as they arise.

(a) A conflict of interest exists when:

(i) The court personnels objective ability or independence of judgment in performing official duties is
impaired or may reasonably appear to be impaired; x x x
As an officer of the court, Sheriff Macusi should have informed the court and inhibited himself from
enforcing the writ knowing fully well that there is a conflict of interest since the accused is his brother. It
is incumbent upon him, as an agent of the law, to adhere to high ethical standards in order to preserve
the good name and standing of the court. In Office of the Court Administrator v. Sheriff IV Cabe,15 we
emphasized the heavy burden and responsibility which court personnel bear in view of their exalted
positions as keepers of public faith. They must be constantly reminded that any impression of
impropriety, misdeed or negligence in the performance of official functions must be avoided. We agree
with the OCA that Sheriff Macusi violated the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel for his failure to
disclose that the accused in "People v. Jorge Macusi y Wayet"is his brother. The Rules classify this
violation of existing Civil Service Law and rules a serious offense punishable with suspension of one
month and one day to six months for the first offense and dismissal for the second offense.16

We disagree with the penalty of suspension for two months without pay as recommended by the OCA.
This is the second time that Sheriff Macusi was found guilty of simple neglect of duty. In the 2013 case
of Office of the Court Administrator v. Macusi, Jr.,17 this Court found Sheriff Macusi liable for simple
neglect of duty for his "failure to file periodic reports on the Writ of Execution dated 10 September 2008
in Civil Case No. 429-06, as well as on the writs of execution in the other cases in Judge Dalanaos
inventory." However, instead of imposing on him the penalty of suspension from service in accordance
with the Rules, the Court imposed on him the penalty of fine ofP4,000 since he was deemed resigned
from government service after filing his certificate of candidacy for the 2010 local elections.

Here, respondent is found guilty of committing two offenses: (1) simple neglect of duty (second
offense), and (2) violation of civil service law and rules of a serious nature (first offense). Thus, the
penalty for the more serious offense must be imposed. This is expressly laid down under Section 55,
Rule IV of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service which states:

Section 55. Penalty for the Most Serious Offense. If the respondent is found guilty of two or more
charges or counts, the penalty to be imposed should be that corresponding to the most serious charge
or count and the rest shall be considered as aggravating circumstances.

In view of the circumstances, the penalty that should be imposed is dismissal from the government
service. However, considering that Sheriff Macusi was deemed resigned after filing his certificate of
candidacy making the penalty of dismissal no longer feasible, we impose on him the penalty of forfeiture
of retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or
instrumentality of the government, including government owned and controlled corporations, since he
had been previously warned that a repetition of the same or similar act would be dealt with more
severely.18

WHEREFORE, we find respondent Desiderio W. Macusi, Jr., Sheriff IV, Regional Trial Court of Tabuk,
Kalinga, Branch 25, GUILTY of SIMPLE NEGLECT OF DUTY and VIOLATION OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT
FOR COURT PERSONNEL and impose on him the penalty of forfeiture of retirement benefits, except
accrued leave credits, with prejudice to reemployment in any branch or instrumentality of the
government, including government-owned and controlled corporations.
SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO


Chief Justice

A.M. No. MTJ-14-1841 June 2, 2014


(Formerly OCA IPI No. 11-2388-MTJ)

GERSHON N. DULANG, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE MARY JOCYLEN1 G. REGENCIA, MUNICIPAL CIRCUIT TRIAL COURT (MCTC), ASTURIAS-
BALAMBAN, CEBU, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

This is an administrative case for gross inefficiency, gross ignorance of the. law, gross incompetence,
serious misconduct, and serious dereliction of duty against respondent Judge Mary Jocylen G. Regencia
(Judge Regencia) of the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Asturias-Balamban, Cebu (MCTC), commenced
thru a Verified Complaint2 dated May 28, 2011 filed by complainant Gershon N. Dulang (Dulang) before
the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA).

The Facts

The instant case stemmed from an ejectment complaint with prayer for the issuance of a writ of
preliminary injunction, docketed as Civil Case No. 212-B, entitled "Spouses Gershon Dulang and
Luzviminda Dulang, represented by Reynaldo Moldez v. Emmanuel Flores," which was filed before the
MCTC on Februrary 2, 2000 (ejectment case).

In the Verified Complaint, Dulang alleged that on May 4, 2009, he moved3 for the resolution of the
above-mentioned ejectment case, given that the same had been filed as early as year 2000 and had
already been submitted for resolution.4 Notwithstanding the summary nature of the ejectment
proceedings, Judge Regencia rendered a Judgment5 dismissing the ejectment case only on February 18,
2011(February 18, 2011 Judgment), or more than 11 years since its filing. Consequently, the Notice of
Judgment was issued only on March 7, 2011 and mailed on March 15, 2011.6

Dulang likewise noted that Judge Regencia was previously found administratively liable for gross
inefficiency in Tam v. Judge Regencia7 and was thereby ordered to pay a fine of 5,000.00 and warned
that a repetition of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more severely.8
On September 1, 2011, Dulang filed a Verified Supplemental Complaint to the Verified Complaint dated
May 28, 2011 (supplemental complaint)9 before the OCA, alleging that despite the filing of a notice of
appeal from Judge Regencias February 18, 2011 Judgment, the latter nevertheless issued an
Order10 dated August 1, 2011 (August 1, 2011 Order) directing the postmaster and postal carrier of the
Cebu Central Post Office, Cebu City to certify Dulangs receipt of a copy of the said Judgment. In this
regard, Dulang accused Judge Regencia ofgross ignorance of the law, gross incompetence, serious
misconduct, and serious dereliction of duty, contending that by filing his appeal, the latter was already
stripped of her (Judge Regencia) jurisdiction over the case and should not have issued the said order.
Dulang claimed that this effectively stalled the administration of justice, much to his prejudice.11

In her Comments (to the Verified Complaint)12 dated August 7, 2011, Judge Regencia maintained that no
trial was held in Civil Case No. 212-B as the parties merely filed their respective position papers and that
she could have easily resolved the said case if not for another case pending before the Regional Trial
Court of Toledo City, Branch 59 (Toledo City RTC), i.e., Civil Case No. T-862, entitled "Spouses Emmanuel
Flores and Daisy Flores v. Spouses Jose G. Paulin and Eleodora Ganhinhin, et al.," which was closely
intertwined with the former.13

As such, she found it prudent to defer the resolution of Civil Case No. 212-B until Civil Case No. T-862
was decided. She also averred that she should not be faulted for the long delay in resolving the
ejectment case as she assumed her post as MCTC judge only in November 2002 and, thereafter, began
presiding over the same starting on November 15, 2007.14

In opposition to the accusations contained in the supplemental complaint, Judge Regencia commented
that she issued the August 1, 2011 Order because the defendant in the ejectment case, Emmanuel
Flores (Flores), opposed Dulangs notice of appeal. She explained that this order was merely intended to
determine whether or not Dulang filed his appeal within the reglementary period.15

Pursuant to the Courts Resolution16 dated July 30, 2012, the administrative case was referred to the
Executive Judge of the Toledo City RTC for investigation, report, and recommendation. Consequently, in
his Report and Recommendation17 dated December 20, 2012, Executive Judge Hermes B. Montero
(Judge Montero) found Judge Regencia administratively liable for gross inefficiency, gross ignorance of
the law, gross incompetence, serious misconduct, and serious dereliction of duty in handling the
ejectment case, and thereby recommended that she be dismissed from service.18Judge Montero opined
that Judge Regencia failed to observe the Rules on Summary Procedure as she did not resolve said case
with dispatch; despite the case having been submitted for resolution on October 17, 2008, she only
rendered judgment on February18, 2011, or after more than 11 years since the case was filed. Judge
Montero also pointed out that contrary to Judge Regencias contentions, there was no suspension of the
proceedings that was agreed upon by the parties and that no prejudicial question ever existed to
warrant a discontinuance of the same.19

Meanwhile, Judge Regencia filed a Motion for Reconsideration20 of the Courts Resolution dated July 30,
2012 referring her administrative case to Judge Montero for investigation, report, and recommendation.
She argued that Judge Montero cannot be expected to make an impartial investigation of her case as he
is the "compadre" of Dulangs lawyer and that he had constantly shown a hostile attitude towards her.
Judge Regencia also sent two (2) letters,21 both dated April 10, 2013, informing the Court that Dulang
was reportedly killed and that she had verified this information with Flores. In view of Dulangs death,
Judge Regencia prayed that the administrative case against her be dismissed.22

The Action and Recommendation of the OCA

In a Memorandum23 dated November 22, 2013, the OCA recommended that Judge Regencia be held
administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision, and thereby fined her in the amount of
20,000.00 with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more
severely. It agreed with the findings of Judge Montero that there is no justifiable excuse for Judge
Regencia not to render judgment in the ejectment case within the 30-day reglementary period
mandated by the Rules on Summary Procedure. In this relation, the OCA brushed aside Judge Regencias
charge of partiality against Judge Montero for lack of factual support and equally disregarded the fact of
Dulangs death, holding that such circumstance does not automatically result in the dismissal of his
administrative complaint.24

However, the OCA no longer determined Judge Regencias administrative liability with respect to the
charges of gross inefficiency, gross ignorance of the law, gross incompetence, serious misconduct, and
serious dereliction of duty. Hence, in due deference to her right to be afforded due process, said charges
shall no longer be tackled herein.

The Issue Before the Court

The sole issue raised for the Courts resolution is whether or not Judge Regencia may be held
administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision.

The Courts Ruling

The Court agrees with the findings and conclusions of the OCA, with the modification, however, as to
the penalty imposed on Judge Regencia.

Prompt disposition of cases is attained basically through the efficiency and dedication to duty of judges.
If judges do not possess those traits, delay in the disposition of cases is inevitable to the prejudice of the
litigants. Accordingly, judges should be imbued with a high sense of duty and responsibility in the
discharge of their obligation to administer justice promptly.25 This is embodied in Rule 3.05, Canon 3 of
the Code of Judicial Conduct which states that "[a] judge shall dispose of the courts business promptly
and decide cases within the required periods" and echoed in Section 5, Canon 6 of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary26which provides that "[j]udges shall perform all judicial
duties, including the delivery of reserved decisions, efficiently, fairly, and with reasonable promptness."

Here, it is undisputed that Civil Case No. 212-B was already submitted for resolution on October 17,
2008. Being an ejectment case, it is governed by the Rules of Summary Procedure which clearly sets a
period of thirty (30) days from the submission of the last affidavit or position paper within which a
decision thereon must be issued.27Despite this, Judge Regencia rendered judgment only about two (2)
years and four (4) months later, or on February 18,2011. While rules prescribing the time within which
certain acts must be done are indispensable to prevent needless delays in the orderly and speedy
disposition of cases and, thus, should be regarded as mandatory,28 the Court has nevertheless been
mindful of the plight of judges and has been understanding of circumstances that may hinder them from
promptly disposing of their businesses and, as such, has allowed extensions of time due to justifiable
reasons.29

However, Judge Regencia failed to proffer any acceptable reason in delaying the disposition of the
ejectment case, thus, making her administratively liable for undue delay in rendering a decision.

Further, as adverted to earlier, Judge Regencia tried to justify the delay in resolving Civil Case No. 212-B
by claiming, inter alia, that there exists a prejudicial question brought about by the existence of a
pending case in the Toledo RTC and that the parties agreed on the suspension of the proceedings.
However, Judge Montero found that there was neither a prejudicial question nor an agreement
between the litigants that would warrant substantial delays in the proceedings a finding which is
subscribed to by the OCA.30 Verily, Judge Regencias clear and blatant attempt to mislead the Court is
deplorable and should never be countenanced.1wphi1

Undue delay in rendering a decision is classified as a less serious charge, punishable either by: (a)
suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one nor more than three
months; or ( b) a fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.31 In imposing the proper
sanction on Judge Regencia, the Court notes that aside from her aforementioned misrepresentation, she
was also previously found administratively liable for gross inefficiency where she was ordered to pay a
fine of PS,000.00 and warned that a repetition of the same or similar offense will be dealt with more
severely.32 Moreover, as correctly observed by Justice Arturo D. Brion during the deliberations of this
case, her length of service of more .than 17 years should be taken against her instead of being
considered a mitigating factor as she should have already known that Civil Case No. 212-B, being an
ejectment case, is a summary proceeding and, thus, ought to be expeditiously resolved.33 Hence, a fine
of P40,000.00, instead of suspension, should be the appropriate penalty for Judge Regencia' s
misconduct.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Judge Mary Jocylen G. Regencia of the Municipal Circuit Trial
Court of Asturias-Balamban, Cebu, GUILTY of undue delay in rendering a decision. Accordingly, she is
ordered to pay a fine of P40,000.00 and is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts
in the future shall be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice
A.C. No. 9116 March 12, 2014

NESTOR B. FIGUERAS and BIENVENIDO VICTORIA, JR., Complainants,


vs.
ATTY. DIOSDADO B. JIMENEZ, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:

Before us is a petition for review filed by Atty. Diosdado B. Jimenez assailing the February 19, 2009
Resolution1 of the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) suspending him from
the practice of law for a period of six months for breach of Rule 12.03,2 Canon 12,3 Canon 17,4 Rule
18.03,5 and Canon 186 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He likewise assails the June 26, 2011
Resolution7 of the IBP Board of Governors denying his motion for reconsideration.

The facts are as follows:

Congressional Village Homeowners Association, Inc. is the entity in charge of the affairs of the
homeowners of Congressional Village in Quezon City. On January 7, 1993, the Spouses Federico and
Victoria Santander filed a civil suit for damages against the Association and Ely Mabanag8 before the
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City, Branch 104 for building a concrete wall which abutted their
property and denied them of their right of way. The spouses Santander likewise alleged that said
concrete wall was built in violation of Quezon City Ordinance No. 8633, S-71 which prohibits the closing,
obstructing, preventing or otherwise refusing to the public or vehicular traffic the use of or free access
to any subdivision or community street.9 The Law Firm of Gonzalez Sinense Jimenez and Associates was
the legal counsel for the Association, with respondent as the counsel of record and handling lawyer.
After trial and hearing, the RTC rendered a decision10 on October 4, 1996 in favor of the Spouses
Santander. The Association, represented by said law firm, appealed to the Court of Appeals (CA). On
February 5, 1999, the CA issued a Resolution11 in CA-G.R. CV No. 55577 dismissing the appeal on the
ground that the original period to file the appellants brief had expired 95 days even before the first
motion for extension of time to file said brief was filed. The CA also stated that the grounds adduced for
the said motion as well as the six subsequent motions for extension of time to file brief were not
meritorious. The CA resolution became final.

Eight years later or on April 11, 2007, complainants Nestor Figueras and Bienvenido Victoria, Jr., as
members of the Association, filed a Complaint12 for Disbarment against respondent before the IBP
Committee on Bar Discipline (CBD) for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly
Rule 12.03, Canon 12; Canon 17; and Rule 18.03, Canon 18 thereof for his negligence in handling the
appeal and willful violation of his duties as an officer of the court.

In his Verified Answer with Counter Complaint,13 respondent denied administrative liability. He claimed
that although his law firm represented the homeowners association in CA-G.R. CV No. 55577, the case
was actually handled by an associate lawyer in his law office. As the partner in charge of the case, he
exercised general supervision over the handling counsel and signed the pleadings prepared by said
handling lawyer. Upon discovery of the omissions of the handling lawyer, appropriate sanctions were
imposed on the handling lawyer and he thereafter personally took responsibility and spent personal
funds to negotiate a settlement with Federico Santander at no cost to the Association. No damage
whatsoever was caused to the Association.

Respondent likewise alleged that after he defeated complainant Figueras in the election for President of
the homeowners association in 1996, Figueras and his compadre, complainant Victoria, stopped paying
their association dues and other assessments. Complainants and other delinquent members of the
association were sanctioned by the Board of Directors and were sued by the association before the
Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB). In retaliation, complainants filed the present
disbarment case against him and several other cases against him and other officers of the association
before the HLURB to question, among others, the legitimacy of the Association, the election of its
officers, and the sanctions imposed by the Association. Thus, he concluded that the disbarment case
was filed to harass him. Respondent added that complainants have no personality to file the disbarment
complaint as they were not his clients; hence, there was likewise no jurisdiction over the complaint on
the part of the IBP-CBD.

As counterclaim, respondent prayed for the outright dismissal of the disbarment case for lack of merit,
the imposition of sanctions on complainants, and the payment of damages for the filing of the baseless
complaint for disbarment.

On October 3, 2008, the Investigating Commissioner of the IBP-CBD found respondent liable for
violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly Rule 12.03 of Canon 12, Canon 17, Rule
18.03, and Canon 18 thereof, and recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law
for a period of three to six months, with warning that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be
dealt with more severely.14

On February 19, 2009, the Board of Governors of the IBP issued Resolution No. XVIII-2009-1415 adopting
the recommendation with modifications as follows:

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 Respondents breach of Rule
12.03, Canon 12, Canon 17, Rule 18.03 and Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, Atty.
Diosdado B. Jimenez is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for six (6) months. The Warning
imposed against respondent is hereby deleted.

Respondent sought reconsideration of the resolution but his motion was denied in IBP Resolution No.
XIX-2011-480 dated June 26, 2011.16 The IBP Board of Governors noted that respondents motion was a
mere reiteration of matters already discussed and there were no substantial grounds to disturb the
February 19, 2009 Resolution.
Respondent now comes to this Court essentially raising the issue whether the IBP correctly found him
administratively liable for violation of Rule 12.03, Canon 12, Canon 17, Rule 18.03, and Canon 18 of the
Code of Professional Responsibility.

After careful consideration of the records of the case, the Court finds that the suspension of respondent
from the practice of law is proper.

The Court finds no merit in respondents contention that complainants have no personality to file a
disbarment case against him as they were not his clients and that the present suit was merely instituted
to harass him.

The procedural requirement observed in ordinary civil proceedings that only the real party-in-interest
must initiate the suit does not apply in disbarment cases. In fact, the person who called the attention of
the court to a lawyers misconduct "is in no sense a party, and generally has no interest in the
outcome."17

In Heck v. Judge Santos,18 the Court held that "[a]ny interested person or the court motu proprio may
initiate disciplinary proceedings." The right to institute disbarment proceedings is not confined to clients
nor is it necessary that the person complaining suffered injury from the alleged wrongdoing. Disbarment
proceedings are matters of public interest and the only basis for the judgment is the proof or failure of
proof of the charges.

The Court agrees with the IBP that respondent had been remiss in the performance of his duties as
counsel for Congressional Village Homeowners Association, Inc. Records show that respondent filed the
first motion for extension of time to file appellants brief 95 days after the expiration of the
reglementary period to file said brief, thus causing the dismissal of the appeal of the homeowners
association. To justify his inexcusable negligence, respondent alleges that he was merely the supervising
lawyer and that the fault lies with the handling lawyer. His contention, however, is belied by the records
for we note that respondent had filed with the CA an Urgent Motion for Extension, which he himself
signed on behalf of the law firm, stating that a previous motion had been filed but "due to the health
condition of the undersigned counselhe was not able to finish said Appellants Brief within the fifteen
(15) day period earlier requested by him."19 Thus, it is clear that respondent was personally in charge of
the case.

A lawyer engaged to represent a client in a case bears the responsibility of protecting the latters
interest with utmost diligence. In failing to file the appellants brief on behalf of his client, respondent
had fallen far short of his duties as counsel as set forth in Rule 12.04,20 Canon 12 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility which exhorts every member of the Bar not to unduly delay a case and to
exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.
Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the same Code also states that:

Canon 18A 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 In Re: Atty. Santiago F. Marcos21 the Court considered a lawyers failure to file brief for his client as
amounting to inexcusable negligence. The Court held:

An attorney is bound to protect his clients interest to the best of his ability and with utmost
diligence.1wphi1 (Del Rosario vs. Court of Appeals, 114 SCRA 159) A failure to file brief for his client
certainly constitutes inexcusable negligence on his part. (People vs. Villar, 46 SCRA 107) The respondent
has indeed committed a serious lapse in the duty owed by him to his client as well as to the Court not to
delay litigation and to aid in the speedy administration of justice. (Canons 21 and 22, Canons of
Professional Ethics; People vs. Daban, 43 SCRA 185; People vs. Estocada, 43 SCRA 515).

It has been stressed that the determination of whether an attorney should be disbarred or merely
suspended for a period involves the exercise of sound judicial discretion.22 The penalties for a lawyers
failure to file a brief or other pleading range from reprimand,23 warning with fine,24 suspension25 and, in
grave cases, disbarment.26 In the present case, we find too harsh the recommendation of the IBP Board
of Governors that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months. Under
the circumstances, we deem the penalty of suspension for one month from the practice of law to be
more commensurate with the extent of respondents violation.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. Atty. Diosdado B. Jimenez is found administratively liable for
violation of Rule 12.04, Canon 12 and Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
He is suspended from the practice of law for one (1) month effective from finality of this Resolution,
with warning that a repetition of the same or similar violation shall be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished, upon its finality, to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and
all the courts in the Philippines, and spread on the personal record of respondent lawyer in the Office of
the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court of the Philippines.

SO ORDERED.

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.


Associate Justice

A.C. No. 8000 August 5, 2014

CHAMELYN A. AGOT, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. LUIS P. RIVERA, Respondent.

DECISION
PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

For the Court's resolution is a Complaint-Affidavit1 dated August 30, 2008 filed by complainant
Chamelyn A. Agot (complainant) against respondent Atty. Luis P. Rivera (respondent), charging him of
violating the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR) and the lawyer's oath for misrepresentation,
deceit, and failure to account for and return her money despite several demands.

The Facts

In her Complaint-Affidavit, complainant alleged that she was invited as maid of honor in her best
friends wedding on December 9, 2007 at the United States of America. To facilitate the issuance of her
United States (US) visa, complainant sought the services of respondent who represented himself as an
immigration lawyer. Thus, on November 17, 2007, they entered into a Contract of Legal Services
(Contract),2 whereby respondent undertook to facilitate and secure the release of a US immigrant visa in
complainants favor prior to the scheduled wedding. In consideration therefor, complainant paid
respondent the amount of P350,000.00 as downpayment and undertook to pay the balance
of P350,000.00 after the issuance of the US visa.3 The parties likewise stipulated that should
complainants visa application be denied for any reason other than her absence on the day of the
interview and/or for records of criminal conviction and/or any court-issued hold departure order,
respondent is obligated to return the said downpayment.4 However, respondent failed to perform his
undertaking within the agreed period. Worse, complainant was not even scheduled for interview in the
US Embassy. As the demand for refund of the downpayment was not heeded, complainant filed a
criminal complaint for estafa and the instant administrative complaint against respondent.5

In his Comment6 dated December 5, 2008, respondent claimed that his failure to comply with his
obligation under the Contract was due to the false pretenses of a certain Rico Pineda (Pineda), who he
had believed to be a consul for the US Embassy and to whom he delivered the amount given by the
complainant. Respondent elaborated that he had a business relationship with Pineda on the matter of
facilitating the issuance of US visas to his friends and family, including himself. He happened to disclose
this to a certain Joseph Peralta, who in turn referred his friend, the complainant, whose previous US visa
application had been denied, resulting in the execution of the Contract. Respondent claimed that Pineda
reneged on his commitments and could no longer be located but, nonetheless, assumed the
responsibility to return the said amount to complainant.7 To buttress his claims, respondent attached
pictures supposedly of his friends and family with Pineda as well as electronic mail messages (e-mails)
purportedly coming from the latter.8

The IBPs Report and Recommendation

In a Report and Recommendation9 dated April 17, 2010, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)
Investigating Commissioner found respondent administratively liable, and accordingly, recommended
that he be meted the penalty of suspension for a period of four (4) months, with a warning that a
repetition of the same would invite a stiffer penalty.10
The Investigating Commissioner found respondent guilty of engaging in deceitful conduct for: (a)
misrepresenting himself as an immigration lawyer; (b) failing to deliver the services he contracted; and
(c) being remiss in returning complainants downpayment of P350,000.00. The Investigating
Commissioner did not lend credence to respondents defense anent his purported transactions with
Pineda considering that the latters identity was not proven and in light of respondents self-serving
evidence, i.e., photographs and e-mails, which were bereft of any probative value.11

In a Resolution dated December 14, 2012, the IBP Board of Governors unanimously adopted and
approved the aforesaid report and recommendation with the modification increasing the period of
suspension to six (6) months and ordering respondent to return the amount of P350,000.0012 to
complainant within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice, with legal interest from the date of demand.13

The Issue Before the Court

The essential issue in this case is whether or not respondent should be held administratively liable for
violating the CPR.

The Courts Ruling

After a judicious perusal of the records, the Court concurs with the IBPs findings, subject to the
modification of the recommended penalty to be imposed upon respondent.

As officers of the court, lawyers are bound to maintain not only a high standard of legal proficiency, but
also of morality, honesty, integrity, and fair dealing.14 In this regard, Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the CPR,
provides:

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

Rule 1.01 A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

In the instant case, respondent misrepresented himself as an immigration lawyer, which resulted to
complainant seeking his assistance to facilitate the issuance of her US visa and paying him the amount
of P350,000.00 as downpayment for his legal services. In truth, however, respondent has no
specialization in immigration law but merely had a contact allegedly with Pineda, a purported US consul,
who supposedly processes US visa applications for him. However, respondent failed to prove Pinedas
identity considering that the photographs and e-mails he submitted were all self-serving and thus, as
correctly observed by the Investigating Commissioner, bereft of any probative value and consequently
cannot be given any credence. Undoubtedly, respondents deception is not only unacceptable,
disgraceful, and dishonorable to the legal profession; it reveals a basic moral flaw that makes him unfit
to practice law.15

Corollary to such deception, respondent likewise failed to perform his obligations under the Contract,
which is to facilitate and secure the issuance of a US visa in favor of complainant. This constitutes a
flagrant violation of Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the CPR, to wit:
CANON 18 A LAWYER SHALL SERVE HIS CLIENT WITH COMPETENCE AND DILIGENCE. Rule 18.03 A
lawyer shall not neglecta legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in connection therewith shall
render him liable.

Under Rule 18.03, Canon 18 of the CPR, once a lawyer takes up the cause of his client, he is duty-bound
to serve the latter with competence, and to attend to such clients cause with diligence, care, and
devotion whether he accepts it for a fee or for free. He owes fidelity to such cause and must always be
mindful of the trust and confidence reposed upon him.16 Therefore, a lawyers neglect of a legal matter
entrusted to him by his client constitutes inexcusable negligence for which he must be held
administratively liable,17 as in this case.

Furthermore, respondent violated Rules 16.01 and 16.03, Canon 16 of the CPR when he failed to refund
the amount of P350,000.00 that complainant paid him, viz.:

CANON 16 A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENTTHAT 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.

xxxx

Rule 16.03 A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand. x x x.

Verily, the relationship between a lawyer and his client is highly fiduciary and prescribes on a lawyer a
great fidelity and good faith.18 The highly fiduciary nature of this relationship imposes upon the lawyer
the duty to account for the money or property collected or received for or from his client.19 Thus, a
lawyers failure to return upon demand the funds held by him on behalf of his client, as in this case,
gives rise to the presumption that he has appropriated the same for his own use in violation of the trust
reposed in him by his client. Such act is a gross violation of general morality as well as of professional
ethics.20

Anent the proper penalty for respondents acts, jurisprudence provides that in similar cases where
lawyers neglected their clients affairs and, at the same time, failed to return the latters money and/or
property despite demand, the Court imposed upon them the penalty of suspension from the practice of
law. In Segovia-Ribaya v. Lawsin,21 the Court suspended the lawyer for a period of one (1) year for his
failure to perform his undertaking under his retainership agreement with his client and to return the
money given to him by the latter. Also, in Jinon v. Jiz,22 the Court suspended the lawyer for a period of
two (2) years for his failure to return the amount his client gave him for his legal services which he never
performed. In this case, not only did respondent fail to facilitate the issuance of complainants US visa
and return her money, he likewise committed deceitful acts in misrepresenting himself as an
immigration lawyer, resulting in undue prejudice to his client. Under these circumstances, a graver
penalty should be imposed upon him. In view of the foregoing, the Court deems it appropriate to
increase the period of suspension from the practice of law of respondent from six (6) months, as
recommended by the IBP, to two (2) years.
Finally, the Court sustains the IBP's recommendation ordering respondent to return the amount
of P350,000.00 he received from complainant as downpayment. It is well to note that "while the Court
has previously held that disciplinary proceedings should only revolve around the determination of the
respondent-lawyer's administrative and not his civil liability, it must be clarified that this rule remains
applicable only to claimed liabilities which are purely civil in nature - for instance, when the claim
involves moneys received by the lawyer from his client in a transaction separate and distinct [from] and
not intrinsically linked to his professional engagement."23 Hence, since respondent received the
aforesaid amount as part of his legal fees, the Court finds the return thereof to be in order.

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Luis P. Rivera (respondent) is found guilty of violating Rule 1.01 of Canon
1, Rules 16.01 and 16.03 of Canon 16, and Rule 18.03 of Canon 18 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility. Accordingly, he is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of two (2)
years, effective upon the finality of this Decision, with a stem warning that a repetition of the same or
similar acts will be dealt with more severely.1wphi1

Furthermore, respondent is ORDERED to return to complainant Chamelyn A. Agot the legal fees he
received from the latter in the amount of P350,000.00 within ninety (90) days from the finality of this
Decision. Failure to comply with the foregoing directive will warrant the imposition of a more severe
penalty.

Let a copy of this Decision be attached to respondent's record in this Court as attorney. Further, let
copies of this Decision be furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines 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.

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

A.C. No. 10164 March 10, 2014

STEPHAN BRUNET and VIRGINIA ROMANILLOS BRUNET, Complainants,


vs.
ATTY. RONALD L. GUAREN, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

MENDOZA, J.:
On August 9, 2002, complainant spouses Stephan and Virginia Brunet (complainants) filed a complaint
against respondent Atty. Ronald L. Guaren (Atty. Guaren) before the Commission on Bar Discipline
(CED), Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

Complainants alleged that in February 1997, they engaged the services of Atty. Guaren for the titling of
a residential lot they acquired in Bonbon, Nueva Caseres; that Atty. Guaren asked for a fee of Ten
Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) including expenses relative to its proceeding; that it was agreed that full
payment of the fee shall be made after the delivery of the title; that Atty. Guaren asked for an advance
fee of One Thousand Pesos (Pl,000.00) which they gave; that Atty. Guaren took all the pertinent
documents relative to the titling of their lot-certified true copy of the tax declaration, original copy of
the deed of exchange, sketch plan, deed of donation, survey plan, and original copy of the waiver; that
on March 10, 1997, Atty. Guaren asked for additional payment of Six Thousand Pesos (P6,000.00) which
they dutifully gave; that from 1997 to 2001, they always reminded Atty. Guaren about the case and each
time he would say that the titling was in progress; that they became bothered by the slow progress of
the case so they demanded the return of the money they paid; and that respondent agreed to return
the same provided that the amount of Five Thousand Pesos (P5,000.00) be deducted to answer for his
professional fees.

Complainants further alleged that despite the existence of an attorney-client relationship between
them, Atty. Guaren made a special appearance against them in a case pending before the Metropolitan
Circuit Trial Court, Oslob, Cebu (MCTC).

Atty. Guaren admitted that he indeed charged complainants an acceptance fee of P10,000.00, but
denied that the amount was inclusive of expenses for the titling of the lot. He claimed, however, that he
received the payment ofP1,000.00 and P6,000.00; that their agreement was that the case would be filed
in court after the complainants fully paid his acceptance fee; that he did not take the documents relative
to the titling of the lot except for the photocopy of the tax declaration; and that he did not commit
betrayal of trust and confidence when he participated in a case filed against the complainants in MCTC
explaining that his appearance was for and in behalf of Atty. Ervin Estandante, the counsel on record,
who failed to appear in the said hearing.

In the Report and Recommendation,1 dated August 24, 2012, the Investigating Commissioner found
Atty. Guaren to have violated the Canon of Professional Responsibility when he accepted the titling of
complainants lot and despite the acceptance of P7,000.00, he failed to perform his obligation and
allowed 5 long years to elapse without any progress in the titling of the lot. Atty. Guaren should also be
disciplined for appearing in a case against complainants without a written consent from the latter. The
CBD recommended that he be suspended for six (6) months.

In its May 20, 2013 Resolution,2 the IBP Board of Governors, adopted and approved with modification
the Report and Recommendation of the CBD, suspending Atty. Guaren from the practice of law for three
(3) months only.

The Court adopts the findings of the IBP Board of Governors on the unethical conduct of Atty. Guaren,
except as to the penalty.
The practice of law is not a business. It is a profession in which duty to public service, not money, is the
primary consideration. Lawyering is not primarily meant to be a money-making venture, and law
advocacy is not a capital that necessarily yields profits. The gaining of a livelihood should be a secondary
consideration. The duty to public service and to the administration of justice should be the primary
consideration of lawyers, who must subordinate their personal interests or what they owe to
themselves.3

Canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that:

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.

CANON 18 - A lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence.

In the present case, Atty. Guaren admitted that he accepted the amount of P7,000.00 as partial
payment of his acceptance fee. He, however, failed to perform his obligation to file the case for the
titling of complainants' lot despite the lapse of 5 years. Atty. Guaren breached his duty to serve his client
with competence and diligence when he neglected a legal matter entrusted to him.1wphi1

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Ronald L. Guaren is found GUILTY of having violated Canons 17 and 18 of
the Code of Professional Responsibility and is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period
of SIX (6) MONTHS effective from receipt of this Resolution, with a warning that a similar infraction in
the future shall be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this resolution be furnished the Bar Confidant to be included in the records of the
respondent; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for distribution to all its chapters; and the Office of the
Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts throughout the country.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA


Associate Justice

A.C. No. 5359 March 10, 2014

ERMELINDA LAD VOA. DE DOMINGUEZ, represented by her Attorney-in-Fact, VICENTE A.


PICHON,Complainant,
vs.
ATTY. ARNULFO M. AGLERON, SR., Respondent.

RESOLUTION

MENDOZA, J.:
Complainant Ermelinda Lad Vda. De Dominguez (complainant) was the widow of the late Felipe
Domiguez who died in a vehicular accident in Caraga, Davao Oriental, on October 18, 1995, involving a
dump truck owned by the Municipality of Caraga. Aggrieved, complainant decided to file charges against
the Municipality of Caraga and engaged the services of respondent Atty. Arnulfo M. Agleron, Sr. (Atty.
Agleron). On three (3) occasions, Atty. Agleron requested and received from complainant the following
amounts for the payment of filing fees and sheriffs fees, to wit: (1) June 3, 1996 -P3,000.00; (2) June 7,
1996 -Pl,800.00; and September 2, 1996 -P5,250.00 or a total of P10,050.00. After the lapse of four (4)
years, however, no complaint was filed by Atty. Agleron against the Municipality of Caraga.1

Atty. Agleron admitted that complainant engaged his professional service and received the amount
of P10,050.00. He, however, explained that their agreement was that complainant would pay the filing
fees and other incidental expenses and as soon as the complaint was prepared and ready for filing,
complainant would pay 30% of the agreed attorneys fees of P100,000.00. On June 7, 1996, after the
signing of the complaint, he advised complainant to pay in full the amount of the filing fee and sheriffs
fees and the 30% of the attorneys fee, but complainant failed to do so. Atty. Agleron averred that since
the complaint could not be filed in court, the amount of P10,050.00 was deposited in a bank while
awaiting the payment of the balance of the filing fee and attorneys fee.2

In reply,3 complainant denied that she did not give the full payment of the filing fee and asserted that
the filing fee at that time amounted only to P7,836.60.

In the Report and Recommendation,4 dated January 12, 2012, the Investigating Commissioner found
Atty. Agleron to have violated the Code of Professional Responsibility when he neglected a legal matter
entrusted to him, and recommended that he be suspended from the practice of law for a period of four
(4) months.

In its April 16, 2013 Resolution,5 the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Board of Governors adopted
and approved the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner with modification that
Atty. Agleron be suspended from the practice of law for a period of only one (1) month.

The Court agrees with the recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors except as to the penalty
imposed.

Atty. Agleron violated Rule 18.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides that:

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

Once a lawyer takes up the cause of his client, he is duty bound to serve his client with competence, and
to attend to his clients cause with diligence, care and devotion regardless of whether he accepts it for a
fee or for free.6 He owes fidelity to such cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence
reposed on him.7

In the present case, Atty. Agleron admitted his failure to file the complaint against the Municipality of
Caraga, Davao Oriental, despite the fact that it was already prepared and signed. He attributed his non-
filing of the appropriate charges on the failure of complainant to remit the full payment of the filing fee
and pay the 30% of the attorney's fee. Such justification, however, is not a valid excuse that would
exonerate him from liability. As stated, every case that is entrusted to a lawyer deserves his full
attention whether he accepts this for a fee or free. Even assuming that complainant had not remitted
the full payment of the filing fee, he should have found a way to speak to his client and inform him
about the insufficiency of the filing fee so he could file the complaint. Atty. Agleron obviously lacked
professionalism in dealing with complainant and showed incompetence when he failed to file the
appropriate charges.1wphi1

In a number of cases,8 the Court held that a lawyer should never neglect a legal matter entrusted to him,
otherwise his negligence renders him liable for disciplinary action such as suspension ranging from three
months to two years. In this case, the Court finds the suspension of Atty. Agleron from the practice of
law for a period of three (3) months sufficient.

WHEREFORE, the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors is hereby AFFIRMED with MODIFICATION.
Accordingly, respondent ATTY. ARNULFO M. AGLERON, SR. is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of
law for a period of THREE (3) MONTHS, with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar
wrongdoing will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this resolution be furnished the Bar Confidant to be included in the records of the
respondent; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for distribution to all its chapters; and the Office of the
Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts throughout the country.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA


Associate Justice

A.C. No. 10185 March 12, 2014

LICERIO DIZON, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. MARCELINO CABUCANA, JR., Respondent.

RESOLUTION

MENDOZA, J.:

On May 14, 2004, complainant Licerio Dizon (complainant) filed a petition against Atty. Marcelino
Cabucana, Jr. (Atty. Cabucana), before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), praying for the
disbarment of the latter for falsification of public document.
In his petition, complainant alleged that he was one of the would-be-buyers of a parcel of land owned
by the heirs of the late Florentino Callangan, namely, Susana, Jun and Angeleta, all surnamed Callangan
who were parties in Civil Case No. 1-689 filed before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Branch I,
Santiago City (MTCC); that on November 6, 2003, a compromise agreement was executed by the parties
in the said case and notarized before Atty. Cabucana on the same date it was signed at the MTCC; that
at the hearing conducted on December 11, 2003 regarding the due execution and the veracity of the
compromise agreement, the signatories therein testified that they signed the instrument in the court
room of MTCC but not in the presence of Atty. Cabucana as Notary Public; that because of the
irregularity in the due execution of the Compromise Agreement, there was undue delay in the
resolution/decision of Civil Case No. 1-689 which caused damage and injury to complainant; that Atty.
Cabucana violated the Notarial Law in notarizing the document in the absence of most of the
signatories/affiants; and that he should be sanctioned in accordance with Rule 138, Section 27 of the
Rules of Code and Code of Professional Responsibility. Complainant further alleged that Atty. Cabucana
uttered grave threats against him on July 20, 2004 after the hearing of the said case in MTCC.

In his Answer, Atty. Cabucana averred that the complaint was intended to harass him because he was
the private prosecutor in a criminal case filed against complainant before the MTCC; that complainant
had no cause of action as his right was not violated because he was just a "would be" buyer and not a
party to the compromise agreement; and that complainant would not suffer any damage by the
pendency of the case or by any defects obtaining in the notarization of the compromise agreement.

In its Report and Recommendation,1 dated January 22, 2007, the Investigating Commissioner found that
Atty. Cabucana violated Rule 1.01, Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility when he notarized
the compromise agreement without the presence of all the parties, and recommended that he be
suspended as Notary Public for a period of two (2) years and from the practice of law for six (6) months.

In its Resolution,2 dated May 31, 2007, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Report
and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner with modification that Atty. Cabucana be
suspended for only six (6) months for violation of his obligation as Notary Public.

On motion for reconsideration, the IBP Board of Governors, in a Resolution,3 modified its earlier
resolution and suspended Atty. Cabucana from the practice of law for one (1) month and disqualified
him from re-appointment as notary public for one (1) year.

The Court agrees with the recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors except as to the penalty.

Section 1, Public Act No. 2103, otherwise known as the Notarial Law states:

The acknowledgment shall be before a notary public or an officer duly authorized by law of the country
to take acknowledgments of instruments or documents in the place where the act is done. The notary
public or the officer taking the acknowledgment shall certify that the person acknowledging the
instrument or document is known to him and that he is the same person who executed it,
acknowledged that the same is his free act and deed. The certificate shall be made under the official
seal, if he is required by law to keep a seal, and if not, his certificate shall so state.
The requirement of affiant's personal appearance was further emphasized in Section 2 (b) of Rule IV of
the Rules on Notarial Practice of 2004 which provides that:

A person shall not perform a notarial act if the person involved as signatory to the instrument or
document

(1) is not in the notary's presence personally at the time of the notarization; and

(2) is not personally known to the notary public or otherwise identified by the notary public through
competent evidence of identity as defined by these Rules.

As a notary public, Atty. Cabucana should not notarize a document unless the person who signs it is the
same person executing it and personally appearing before him to attest to the truth of its contents. This
is to enable him to verify the genuineness of the signature of the acknowledging party and to ascertain
that the document is the party's free and voluntary act and deed.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Atty. Marcelino Cabucana, Jr. GUILTY of violating Rule 1.01,
Canon l of the Code of Professional Responsibility.1wphi1 Accordingly, the Court SUSPENDS him from
the practice of law for three (3) months, REVOKES his incumbent notarial commission, if any, and
PROHIBITS him from being commissioned as a notary public for two (2) years, effective immediately,
with a stern WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.

Let copies of this resolution be furnished the Bar Confidant to be included in the records of the
respondent; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for distribution to all its chapters; and the Office of the
Court Administrator for dissemination to all cou1is throughout the country.

SO ORDERED.

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA


Associate Justice

A.M. No. RTJ-08-2151 March 11, 2014

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Petitioner,


vs.
JUDGE EDWIN C. LARIDA, JR., RTC, Branch 18, Tagaytay City, Respondent.

DECISION

BERSAMIN, J.:

A mysterious early Sunday morning fire in the records room of a courthouse set off a series of red flags
pointing to anomalous acts allegedly committed by its inhabitants. It led to the resignation of a clerk of
court after he had formally denounced the Presiding Judge for committing various anomalies and
irregularities that are now the subjects of this administrative case against the Presiding Judge.

Antecedents

At around 7:50 a.m. on October 12, 2008, a Sunday, a fire occurred at the records room of Branch 18 of
the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Tagaytay City. The fire, although declared under control by 8:10 a.m.,
was extinguished only ten minutes later. Recovered from the records room were a 1.5 liter plastic bottle
containing gasoline, a container of glue, and a candle.1 Atty. Stanlee D.C. Calma, the Branch Clerk of
Court of Branch 18, immediately reported the fire as a clear case of arson to the Office of the Court
Administrator (OCA).2 On October 13, 2008, then Court Administrator Jose Portugal Perez, now a
Member of the Court, formed and dispatched an investigative team consisting of lawyers from the OCA
to conduct an investigation upon the instructions of Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno. The investigative
team started interviewing the personnel of Branch 18, including Atty. Calma, in the afternoon of
October 13, 2008, and their declarations aided the review starting on October 14, 2008 of the records of
the cases decided and pending in Branch 18.

In the course of its investigation, the investigative team uncovered anomalies supposedly committed by
Presiding Judge Edwin G. Larida (Judge Larida), namely:

1. violation of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008, in authorizing the detail of locally-funded employees
to his court without obtaining permission from the Supreme Court, and in allowing them to take custody
of court records and to draft court orders and decisions for him;

2. knowingly allowing detailed employees Jason Marticio, Larry Laggui and Napoleon Cabanizas to
demand commissions from bonding companies in exchange for the issuance of release orders;

3. extorting money from detained accused Raymund Wang, with the help of Jason Marticio and Larry
Laggui;

4. defying the directive of the Supreme Court in Administrative Order No. 132-2008, dated 15
September 2008, to stop from trying and hearing cases and to instead, decide cases already submitted
for decision;

5. releasing the accused on bail in Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03 for Violation of Section 8, Article II, RA
9165 (Manufacturing or Engaging in the Manufacture of, in a Clandestine Laboratory, Large Quantity of
Metamphetamine Hydrochloride, Commonly Known as Shabu) despite their positive identification as the
perpetrators of the crime;

6. granting a motion to quash the information in Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06 without a case record
and without requiring a comment from the prosecutor; and

7. granting a petition for the issuance of owner's duplicate copies of various titles in LRC case No. TG-06-
1183 under questionable circumstances.3
Upon recommendation of the OCA, and on the basis of the investigation report, the Court resolved on
November 18, 2008 to:

a) x x x

b) DIRECT Judge Larida to cease and desist from hearing and deciding cases at RTC, Branch 18, Tagaytay
City;

c) DESIGNATE Judge Larida as Assting Judge of RTC, Branch 74, Malabon City to decide inherited cases
submitted for decision and already beyond the reglementary period to decide in the aforesaid court;

d) DIRECT Messrs. Jayson A. Marticio and Larry G. Laggui to report back to the City Government of
Tagaytay, effective immediately;

e) PROHIBIT Messrs. Marticio, Laggui and Napoleon Cabanizas, Jr., from entering the premises of RTC,
Branch 18, Tagaytay City;

xxxx

i) REVOKE the designation of Judge Emma S. Young, RTC, Branch 36, Manila, as Assisting Judge of RTC,
Branch 18, Tagaytay City, pursuant to Administrative Order No. 132-2008 dated September 15, 2008,
and instead, DESIGNATE Judge Young as Acting Presiding Judge thereat effective immediately and to
continue until further orders from the Court. x x x

The Court further Resolved to REFER the instant administrative complaint against Judge Larida to (a) the
Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals for RAFFLE among the justices thereat within five (5) days from
notice hereof and (b) the Court of Appeals Justice to whom the complaint will be raffled for
INVESTIGATION, REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION thereon within sixty (60) days from the date of the
raffle.4

In the meantime, Jayson A. Marticio, a locally-funded employee formerly detailed in Branch 18, and who
was among those barred by the Court from entering the RTCs premises in the aftermath of the arson
incident, presented a letter-complaint dated October 20, 20085 whereby he denounced the following
anomalies and irregularities committed by the RTC staff of Branch 18, to wit:

1. That the court staff are practicing the "duty system" wherein a court employee will be assigned to
report early in order to punch in their daily time cards;

2. That a certain "Rommel" and other court employees were asking commissions from bondsmen,
specifically, the Monarch Insurance Company which he avers has connections with the Office of the
Clerk of Court;

3. That Clerk of Court Stanlee Calma and Legal Researcher Diana Ruiz are soliciting monetary
considerations from litigants in exchange for fast and favorable decisions;
4. That Clerk of Court Calma received a huge amount of money and a Pajero from a certain "Norma" in
exchange for a favorable decision in an election protest; and

5. That there are court employees who seek his assistance in drafting decisions/orders and use the same
to ask for considerations from litigants.6

Marticios letter-complaint was consolidated with A.M. RTJ-08-2151, the case involving Judge
Larida.7 The consolidated cases were assigned to Associate Justice Ricardo R. Rosario of the Court of
Appeals (CA) for investigation, report and recommendation.

On February 20, 2009, Investigating Justice Rosario re-set the pre-trial of the cases to March 5, 2009,
with a specific order for Marticio to personally appear on that date.8 On March 5, 2009, Marticio did not
appear at the pre-trial. The Process Servers Return showed,9 however, that the order for Marticio to
personally appear before the Investigating Justice was not served on him because he had meanwhile
ceased to be connected with the City Government of Tagaytay City, and could not also be found at his
last known address. Whereupon, the staff members of Branch 18 whom Marticio had denounced sought
the immediate dismissal of his letter complaint.10Deeming Marticios failure to inform the Investigating
Justice and the OCA of his whereabouts as a manifestation of his lack of interest to pursue the matter,
the Investigating Justice recommended the dismissal of his letter-complaint.11

The representatives of the OCA and Judge Larida appeared before the Investigating Justice and
presented their evidence.

The Investigating Justice thereafter submitted a report on his findings to the Court, and recommended
as follows:

1. for failing to strictly comply with the provisions of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008, it is
recommended that respondent Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr. be STERNLY WARNED that the commission of
a similar act will be dealt with more severely;

2. for failing to supervise and control his subordinates diligently, it is recommended that respondent
Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr. be REPRIMANDED with warning that a commission of a similar act will be dealt
with more severely;

3. for immediately granting Jayson Espiritu's motion to quash in Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06 without
giving the prosecution a chance to comment thereon or file an opposition thereto, it is recommended
that respondent Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr. be STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of a similar act will
warrant a more severe penalty.

There being no substantial evidence to support the charges of

a) extorting money from detained accused Raymund Wang;

b) defying the directive of Supreme Court in Administrative Order No. 132-2008;

c) improperly granting bail in Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03;


d) receiving a bribe in exchange for granting Jayson Espiritu's motion to quash the information in
Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06;

e) granting a petition for the issuance of owner's duplicate copies of various titles in LRC Case No. TG-06-
1183 under questionable circumstances; and

f) involvement in the fire that razed RTC, Branch 18, Tagaytay City;

it is recommended that the foregoing charges be DISMISSED and respondent Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr.,
be ABSOLVED of liability for the same.12

Ruling

The Court partly adopts the findings and recommendations of the Investigating Justice.

1.

Violation of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 by authorizing the detail of locally-funded employees to
Branch 18 without obtaining permission from the Court, and by allowing them to take custody of court
records and to draft court orders and rulings for him Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 dated March
11, 2008 (Guidelines in the Detail of Locally-Funded Employees to the Lower Courts)13 relevantly stated
as follows:

The Presiding Judge/Executive Judge shall submit to the SC through the OCA, within one (1) month from
receipt of this administrative circular, an inventory of all locally-funded employees detailed in their
respective court branches including the OCC, specifying their names, position titles, assigned duties and
duration of the detail. In addition, the Presiding Judge/Executive Judge shall regularly review the
necessity for such details as well as the performance of the locally-funded employees, and recommend
to the SC through the OCA the revocation of the detail for those whose services are no longer necessary
in the lower courts or those with unsatisfactory or poor performance.

As of October 14, 2008, the locally-funded employees detailed in Branch 18 were Ofelia Parasdas, Myrna
Lontoc, Jayson Marticio, Larry Laggui and Jaime Apaga.14 However, Judge Larida did not submit or cause
to be submitted to the Court within one month from receipt of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 an
inventory of all locally-funded employees detailed in Branch 18.

Atty. Calma claimed further that Judge Larida had allowed Marticio to draft orders and decisions for
Branch 18 in contravention of paragraph 3 of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008,15 viz:

Considering the confidentiality of court records and proceedings, locally-funded employees shall simply
assist in the performance of clerical works, such as receiving of letters and other communications for the
office concerned, typing of address in envelopes for mailing, typing of certificate of appearance, and
typing of monthly reports. They shall not be given duties involving custody of court records,
implementation of judicial processes, and such other duties involving court proceedings. However, they
may perform functions appertaining to that of a messenger, janitor and driver, if these positions are
provided in the plantilla of the Local Government Unit (LGU).16

To support Atty. Calmas claim, the OCA presented copies of the court orders drafted by Marticio in the
period from February 4 to February 15, 2008 bearing Marticios initials and signatures on which Judge
Larida had either written the word "Finalize" or signed in other instances.17

Likewise, Atty. Calma attested that Judge Larida had allowed Laggui to handle confidential court records
in violation also of paragraph 3 of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008.18

In his judicial affidavit, Judge Larida asserted that he had tasked Atty. Calma to make and send to the
Court the inventory of the detailed locally-funded employees, but the latter did not comply.19 He denied
that Marticio had continued drafting court orders after the effectivity of Administrative Circular No. 28-
2008 on March 11, 2008, because Marticio had been limited to doing legal research afterwards.20 He
admitted that Laggui had handled court records at his behest, but insisted that such handling had been
limited to the physical carrying of records between his chambers and the staff room for only a fleeting
moment.21

The Investigating Justice rendered the following evaluation of the charges and the corresponding
explanations of Judge Larida, to wit:

Based on the foregoing evidence, this Investigating Justice finds that although respondent Judge failed
to comply with the submission of an inventory of locally-funded personnel detailed to his office,
pursuant to Administrative Circular No. 28-2008, it cannot be said that such failure was entirely his fault.

In the first place, the preparation of such inventory is an administrative function that properly pertains
to the Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Calma. Since it was Atty. Calma who first read about Administrative
Circular No. 28-2008 in the newspaper and even brought the same to the attention of respondent Judge,
he should have prepared the required inventory for respondent Judge's signature. The record is bereft
of any evidence or allegation that despite a prepared inventory ready for his signature, respondent
Judge willfully refused to sign and submit the same to the Supreme Court.

Second, aside from the orders prepared by Jayson Marticio between 4 and 15 February 2008, there is no
showing that he continued to draft court orders after the effectivity of Administrative Circular No. 28-
2008 on 11 March 2008.

Third, Larry Lagguis act of physically carrying court records to and from respondent Judges chambers
and the staff room appears to be a messengerial activity allowed by Administrative Circular No. 28-2008.
Laggui can hardly be said to have exercised "custody" over the court records since he had no
participation in their safekeeping.

Nevertheless, respondent Judges act of not submitting the required inventory, allowing detailed
employees to draft court orders and/or have access to court records evinces laxity in respondent Judges
control and supervision over his office. A judge is tasked with the administrative supervision over his
personnel and he should always see to it that his orders are promptly enforced and that case records are
properly stored. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the judge to see to it that the personnel of the court
perform their duties well and to call the attention of the clerk of court when they fail to do so.

Having failed to strictly comply with the provisions of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008, it is
recommended that respondent Judge be STERNLY WARNED that the commission of a similar act will be
dealt with more severely.22

We find Judge Larida to have committed several lapses, specifically the non-submission to the Court of
the required inventory of locally-funded employees, and his allowing Marticio to draft court orders. Such
lapses manifested a wrong attitude towards administrative rules and regulations issued for the
governance and administration of the lower courts, to the extent of disregarding them, as well as a
laxity in the control of his Branch and in the supervision of its functioning staff.

The omission to submit the inventory should not be blamed on Atty. Calma as the Branch Clerk of
Court.1avvphi1Although it was very likely that Judge Larida had tasked Atty. Calma to do and submit the
inventory in his behalf, Judge Larida as the Presiding Judge himself remained to be the officer directly
burdened with the responsibility for doing so. The basis for saying so is the text of Administrative
Circular No. 28-2008 itself. Judge Larida could neither shirk from, nor avoid, nor evade the responsibility
of submitting the inventory within one month from notice under any guise or reason. This meant that if
Atty. Calma did not comply with his instruction, Judge Larida should have himself assumed the
responsibility of compliance. With Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 being effective on March 11,
2008 yet, his failure to send the inventory as late as October 2008 definitely established his non-
compliance with its directive.

Paragraph 3 of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 also confined the service of locally-funded
employees to giving assistance in the performance of clerical works, like receiving letters and other
communications for the Branch, typing of addresses on envelopes for mailing, typing of certificates of
appearance, and typing of monthly reports. Such employees were not to have the custody of court
records, or to have anything to do with the implementation of judicial processes, or to discharge other
duties involving court proceedings beyond the merely clerical. The prohibition was intended to preserve
the confidentiality of court records and proceedings, because such employees were not employed in the
Judiciary.

Judge Larida admitted in his judicial affidavit that Marticio had drafted court orders and had done legal
research in Branch 18. Under the circumstances, his claim of discontinuing Marticios drafting activities
upon the effectivity of Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 on March 11, 2008, assuming it to be true,
did not diminish or excuse his violation if he still permitted Marticio to do legal research work
thereafter. Legal research was an activity that was more than clerical. Clearly, Judge Larida did not
comply with Administrative Circular No. 28-2008, which was a less serious charge under Section 9 of
Rule 140, Rules of Court, as amended.23

Section 11 of Rule 140, Rules of Court, as amended, delineates the sanctions to be meted out for a less
serious charge, as follows:
Section 11. Sanctions. x x x

xxxx

B. If the respondent is guilty of a less serious charge, any of the following sanctions shall be imposed:

1. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for not less than one (1) nor more than
three (3) months; or

2. A fine of more than P10,000.00 but not exceeding P20,000.00.

xxxx

However, Judge Laridas unrebutted explanation that he had instructed Atty. Calma to prepare and send
the inventory, while not entirely absolving him, evinced his intention to comply. Trial judges have usually
delegated various reporting tasks to their clerks of court or other members of their staff in order to gain
more time for their adjudications and other important written work. We should presume, therefore,
that malice had not motivated his non-compliance with Administrative Circular No. 28-2008. His
explanation to that effect merited treating his lack of malice as a mitigating circumstance in his favor.

2.

Knowingly allowing detailed employees


to solicit commissions from bonding companies

Regarding this charge, the Investigating Justice found thusly:

The OCA next charges respondent Judge with having allowed detailed employees, Jayson Marticio and
Larry Laggui, and respondent Judge's personal driver, Napoleon Cabanizas, Jr., to solicit commissions
from bonding and surety companies.

According to the judicial affidavit of former Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Stanlee D.C. Calma, the manager
of Monarch Insurance Company, Inc. complained to him that despite the proper filing of the bail bond
policy and the payment of legal fees, there would be a delay of up to 3 days in the issuance of release
orders for the accused unless the bonding company gave the "commission" solicited by Jayson Marticio,
Larry Laggui and Napoleon Cabanizas, Jr. Monarch Insurance Insurance and other bonding companies
supposedly told Atty. Calma that Jayson Marticio, Larry Laggui and Napoleon Cabanizas, Jr. solicited
"commissions" ranging from P500.00 up to 2% of the amount of bail imposed.

By way of illustration, the OCA presented Criminal Case No. TG-5955-08 entitled People vs. Benito Bobis.
In said case, Monarch Insurance posted the bail bond on 17 June 2008, respondent Judge signed the
release order of the accused on 18 June 2008, but the release order was issued only on 20 June 2008.

In accordance with his duties as Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Calma reported the improper solicitation to
respondent Judge, who allegedly remarked, "Sabi ko nga sa kanila mag 'lie low muna."
Thereafter, respondent Judge confronted Jayson Marticio, Larry Laggui and Napoleon Cabanizas, Jr. in
the presence of the representative of Monarch Insurance and told them to stop asking for commissions.
However, according to Atty. Calma, what respondent Judge really said was that Marticio et al. should
refrain from demanding "commissions" and it was up to the bonding companies to give them any
amount.24

Based on the foregoing, Judge Larida was not unaware of the solicitations by Marticio, Laggui and
Cabanizas from the complaining bonding company. The solicitations were surely irregular and improper
activities undertaken by persons visibly working for the courts. Considering that such activities were
committed with his knowledge, Judge Larida should have done more than merely confronting them in
the presence of the representative of the complaining bonding company, and then and there merely
telling them to stop the solicitations. He should have instead immediately caused or called for their
investigation and, if the evidence warranted, seen to their proper criminal prosecution. The firmer
action by him would have avoided the undesirable impression that he had perversely acquiesced to their
activities. He thus contravened the Code of Judicial Conduct, which imposed on him the duty to take or
initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against court personnel for unprofessional conduct of which
he would have become aware, to wit:

Rule 3.10 A judge should take or initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against lawyers or court
personnel for unprofessional conduct of which the judge may have become aware.

Accordingly, Judge Larida was guilty of unbecoming conduct, a light charge under Section 10, Rule 140 of
the Rules of Court, as amended.25

3.

Charge of soliciting money from the accused


in Criminal Case No. TG-2969-98.

On this charge, the Investigating Justice found and recommended as follows:

In Criminal Case No. TG-2969-98, the accused, Raymund Wang, was charged with selling 275.9665 grams
of shabu. According to former Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Calma, a certain Necita Ramos (kumare of
Raymund Wang) called him up to ask if there was already a decision in the case. Further, Necita Ramos
informed Atty. Calma that a certain "Jake" or "James" had visited Wang in the Trece Martirez Provincial
Jail to ask P100,000.00 allegedly "pang birthday ni Judge." Wang gave "Jake" or "James" the cellphone
number of Necita Ramos and the two purportedly negotiated the amount down to P50,000.00.
However, Necita Ramos did not pay the amount solicited.

After receiving the information, Atty. Calma supposedly informed respondent Judge that certain people
might be using his name but the latter only said that the problem is that people are accusing others but
are afraid to show up.

Thereafter, Atty. Calma did his own investigation and found out that the cellphone number calling
Necita Ramos belonged to Jayson Marticio. Armed with this information, Atty. Calma and Necita Ramos
went to the Office of the City Prosecutor. However, no statements were taken and no action was done.
Upon verification by the audit team of the OCA, the Office of the City Prosecutor opined that the
suspicion of Atty. Calma and Necita Ramos would not prosper since their bases were all hearsay.

For his part, respondent Judge denied that Atty. Calma informed him of this incident. In his Judicial
Affidavit, respondent Judge averred that he had asked his legal researcher, Diana Ruiz, to prepare a
digest of the case but she prepared, instead a decision acquitting Wang. This allegedly triggered a
suspicion in respondent Judge that Diana Ruiz and Atty. Calma were selectively preparing decisions and
placing them inside his chambers, but before he could investigate, a fire gutted the court.

Based on the foregoing testimonies on record, it is apparent that the charge against respondent Judge
of soliciting money from accused Wang has not been proved. Apart from the hearsay testimony of Atty.
Calma, there is no legal or factual basis to conclude that "James" or "Jake" is actually Jayson Marticio
and that "James" or "Jake" solicited money from Wang with the authority of respondent Judge.
Therefore, it is recommended that this charge against respondent Judge be DISMISSED.26

We adopt the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice, and dismiss the charge for lack
of evidence proving that Judge Larida solicited a bribe from the accused in Criminal Case No. TG-2969-
98.

It is truly proper to emphasize at this point that a charge of bribery against a judge is easy to concoct
and difficult to disprove; hence, the Court always demands that the complainant present a panoply of
evidence in support of the accusation.27 A mere affidavit attesting that a judge demanded a bribe in
exchange for the exoneration of an accused being tried before him is not sufficient. In order that an
accusation of this nature is not to be considered a fairy tale, competent and reliable evidence other than
the testimony of a lone witness needs to be adduced. Every administrative complaint levelled against a
sitting judge must be examined with a discriminating eye, therefore, because its consequential effects
are by their nature highly penal, to the extent that the respondent judge may face the sanction of
dismissal from the service. Indeed, no judge should be disciplined for misconduct unless the evidence
against him is competent and sufficient.28 Accordingly, the Court rightfully rejects any imputation of
judicial misconduct in the absence of sufficient proof to sustain it.

4.

Defying Administrative Order No. 132-2008

In Administrative Order No. 132-2008, promulgated on September 15, 2008, the Court directed Judge
Larida: (1) to cease and desist from trying cases; (2) to concentrate on deciding the cases submitted for
decision, whether before him or before his predecessors; and (3) to give priority to cases submitted for
decision for more than five years already. The administrative order designated Judge Emma S. Young as
the Assisting Judge for Branch 18, with authority to conduct hearings.

The OCA charged Judge Larida with wilfully violating Administrative Order No. 132-2008 by antedating
several orders in order to anticipate or circumvent the effectivity of the administrative order.
Anent this charge, the Investigating Justice has reported:

In his Judicial Affidavit, former Branch Clerk of Court, Atty. Calma, accused respondent Judge of
continuing to issue interlocutory orders in certain cases even after the effectivity of Administrative
Order No. 132-2008 on 15 September 2008. Atty. Calmas testimony is supported by the Judicial
Affidavit of civil docket clerk, Anita Goboy. Together, they enumerate the orders issued by respondent
Judge allegedly in violation of the Administrative Order, to wit:

1. Order dated 15 August 2008, granting the motions to consolidate and set for pre-trial Civil Case Nos.
TG-07-2588 entitled Tagaytay Properties & Holdings Corp. vs. Sps. Pascua, TG-07-2589 entitled Tagaytay
Properties & Holdings Corp. vs dela Vega; TG-07-2590 entitled Tagaytay Properties & Holdings Corp. vs.
Sps. Catolico; and TG-07-2592 entitled Tagaytay Properties & Holdings Corp. vs. Sps. Mirandilla; but
denying consolidation of TG-07-2591 entitled Tagaytay Properties & Holdings Corp. vs. Sps. Lomerio, Sr.
with said cases;

2. Order, dated 15 September 2008, granting Urgent Ex-Parte Motion (to resolve motion to cancel
notice of lis pendens) in Civil Case No. TG-08-2743 entitled Osato-Agro Industrial Development
Corporation vs. AB Capital & Investment Corporation;

3. Order, dated 18 September 2008, granting plaintiff's prayer for the issuance of a writ of preliminary
injunction in SP No. TG-05-2519 entitled Metro Alliance vs. Phil. Trust Co.; and,

4. Order, dated 19 September 2008, denying defendant's motion to dismiss in SCA-TG-08-2593 entitled
Tagaytay Resort Development Corporation vs. Nazareno.

It is Atty. Calmas conclusion that said orders were intentionally ante-dated by respondent Judge based
on the fact that the latter, through Larry Laggui, gave such orders to civil docket clerk Anita Goboy only
on 26 September 2008 although they all appear to have been signed or promulgated on earlier dates, as
above-enumerated. Since Administrative Order No. 132-2008 was already in effect by then, Atty. Calma
reasoned that the sole purpose of ante-dating the orders could only be the circumvention of said
Administrative Order.

For his part, respondent Judge declared that he signed the orders in question on the dates indicated
thereon and released them to the civil docket clerk on the same day. Respondent Judge, thus, was
surprised to find out that said orders were all uniformly released by Larry Laggui to the civil docket clerk
only on 26 September 2008. In any event, respondent Judge pointed out that since the civil docket clerk
had brought the matter to Atty. Calma's attention, the latter-being aware of the effectivity of
Administrative Order No. 132-2008should have informed him about it and stopped the promulgation
on said date to avoid a violation of the Administrative Order.29

We declare that the interlocutory orders concerned were signed on the dates indicated therein. The
claim of Atty. Calma and Anita Goboy to the effect that the foregoing orders had been antedated to
circumvent the mandate of Administrative Order No.132-200 was improbable in light of the following
relevant observations of the Investigating Justice, viz:
x x x. If it were true that Atty. Calma believed that their release on a date different from the date of their
signing amounted to an anomaly, then he should have immediately brought the same to the attention
of the presiding Judge. Atty. Calmas act of instructing civil docket clerk Anita Goboy to merely indicate
at the back of said orders the date when she actually received them evinces a certain degree of malice
incongruent with his key and noble position in the court.30

It is worth noting that only two of the affected orders were issued after the effectivity of Administrative
Order No. 132-2008, to wit:

1. the Order, dated 18 September 2008, granting plaintiff's prayer for the issuance of a writ of
preliminary injunction in SP No. TG-05-2519 entitled Metro Alliance vs. Phil Trust Co.; and

2. the Order, dated 19 September 2008, denying private defendant's motion to dismiss in SCA-TG-08-
2593 entitled Tagaytay Resort Development Corporation vs. Nazareno.31

The two orders were issued by Judge Larida two and three days after the effectivity of Administrative
Order No. 132-2008. Even if the administrative order had taken effect immediately, the time when he
acquired actual notice of Administrative Order No. 132-2008 was not shown. On the other hand, that
our administrative circulars and issuances take time to reach the lower courts is a matter proper for
judicial notice. As such, his intent to violate or circumvent Administrative Order No. 132-2008 was not
proved.

Moreover, the Investigating Justices following observations are cogent, to wit:

According to the Memorandum submitted by the OCA to the Hon. Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, "the
administrative order was issued in view of the 139 cases submitted for decision in RTC, Branch 18,
Tagaytay City which are already beyond the reglementary period to decide as reflected in the monthly
report of cases submitted by the aforesaid court for the month of April 2008."

Given the purpose of Administrative Order No. 132-2008, it would appear that the mandate given to
respondent Judge to "cease and desist from trying cases" was not meant to penalize him but was given
only as a remedial measure to ensure that he will spend his time writing the decisions of the long-
pending 139 undecided cases instead of trying and hearing other cases.

Hence, respondent Judges issuance of the 2 orders in question, on 18 and 19 September 2008,
respectively, while not in strict compliance with the letter of the Administrative Order, also do not
prevent the attainment of its purpose. Indeed, there is nothing on record to even hint at an improper
motive on the part of respondent Judge in issuing said orders apart from the obvious reason that they
were necessary in the disposition of interlocutory matters in these cases.32

Hence, we dismiss the charge of circumventing Administrative Order No. 132-2008.

5.
Releasing the accused in Criminal Case
No. TG-432-03 on bail despite their being
positively identified as the perpetrators of the crime

The Investigating Justice found and recommended on this charge thuswise:

In Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03, the accused Leandro Go y Ling, Wen Li Chen, Daniel Co, Wilson Li,
Michael Fandag and Arnel Villaser were charged with Violation of Section 8, Article II, RA 9165
(Manufacturing or Engaging in the Manufacture of, in a Clandestine Laboratory, Large Quantity of
Metamphetamine Hydrochloride, Commonly Known as Shabu).

From the Memorandum of the OCA to the Hon. Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, it appears that
arraignment proceeded on 7 December 2004; pre-trial commenced on 8 August 2005; and trial ensued
on 19 October 2005. On 24 March 2006, the Chinese accused (Go, Li Chen, Co and Li) filed a petition to
fix bail for their provisional liberty. The prosecution did not object thereto, and, instead filed a formal
offer of evidence on 3 May 2007, as it had, by then, finished with its presentation of evidence. On 1 June
2007, the Chinese accused filed a memorandum in support of their petition for bail. On June 14, 2007,
respondent Judge granted the petition for bail of the accused.

In this administrative charge against respondent Judge, the OCA questions his grant of bail to the
accused for the reasons that: (1) the crime they are accused of is a capital offense, and the transcript of
stenographic notes taken during the presentation of the evidence for the prosecution indicates that 2
witnesses positively identified the accused as the perpetrators of the crime; and (2) there are suspicious
circumstances surrounding the release of the resolution granting bail to the accused.33

xxxx

In this case, after the prosecution finished presenting its evidence, respondent Judge came to the
conclusion that the evidence of the accused's guilt was not strong and so granted their petition for bail.

However, the OCA disputes respondent Judges assessment of the guilt of the accused based on the
evaluation made by Branch Clerk of Court Atty. Stanlee D.C. Calma of the transcript of stenographic
notes on the case that 2 witnesses for the prosecution had positively identified the accused as the
perpetrators of the crime.34

xxxx

On the other hand, respondent Judge defends his grant of bail in his Judicial Affidavit as follows:

Q: OCA was faulting you for stating in your resolution that there was no positive identification of the
accused when the transcript of stenographic notes say otherwise. What can you say to this?

A: The lack or the improper identification of the accused was just one of the grounds I cited to grant the
petition. My assessment of the evidence on this matter was arrived at on two grounds: 1. failure of
police officer Eusebio to positively identify the accused in his direct testimony, and 2. the failure of
another prosecution witness Mr. Basilio to positively identify the accused taking his entire testimony
into consideration, the direct and cross.

xxxx

52. Q: What can you say to the allegations of Atty. Calma that you had a meeting together with some
concerned court personnel in your chamber purposely to discuss the resolution specifically on the
matter of positive identification?

A: Indeed it transpired but I stood pat on my decision.

The matter of determining whether or not the evidence is strong is a matter of judicial discretion that
remains with the judge. Such discretion must be sound and exercised within reasonable bounds. In this
case, it appears that respondent Judge gave a lot of thought to the petition for bail before granting it,
even going to the extent of consulting with some of his court personnel on the matter after receiving
the evidence of the prosecution. After much cogitation, respondent Judge exercised his judicial
discretion and came to the conclusion that the evidence against the accused was not strong and they
were not positively identified as the perpetrators of the crime.

Respondent Judges appreciation of the evidence against the accused lies within his sound discretion.
This mandated duty to exercise discretion has never been reposed on the Branch Clerk of Court, who
cannot be allowed to supplant his personal opinions for that of the judge.

As long as there was no irregularity in the proceedings adopted in the grant of bail, judicial discretion
must be respected and considered to have been rendered within reasonable bounds.

Respondent Judges lack of malice or bad faith in granting bail to the accused in Criminal Case No. TG-
4382-03 is underscored by the proceedings that transpired thereafter. According to the Memorandum
of the OCA to the Hon. Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, on 2 July 2007, the prosecution filed a motion for
reconsideration of the 14 June 2007 resolution granting bail. The motion was set for hearing and the
accused were mandated to appear before the court. Upon failure of the accused (except Li and Li Chen)
to attend the hearing, respondent Judge canceled their cash bail and issued warrants for their arrest.
Further, upon motion of the prosecution, respondent Judge issued a hold-departure order against the
accused on 23 July 2007.35

We concur with the foregoing findings and recommendation of the Investigating Justice.

Verily, the determination of whether or not the evidence of guilt of the accused in Criminal Case No. TG-
4382-03 was strong for purposes of resolving the petition for bail was a matter of judicial discretion for
Judge Larida as the trial judge. Only he could competently resolve the matter of bail. His exercise of
discretion must be sound and reasonable. In the view of the Investigating Justice, Judge Larida, having
given a lot of thought to the petition for bail before granting it, soundly and reasonably exercised his
discretion thereon. Unless an appropriate judicial review would show him to have acted arbitrarily,
capriciously, or whimsically in doing so, his granting of the petition for bail should be upheld and
respected.
This administrative investigation could not be the occasion to review Judge Laridas granting of bail. Only
the proper superior court could say whether his exercise of discretion in resolving the petition for bail
was sound and reasonable. Thus, Atty. Calmas adverse conclusion based on the transcript of the
proceedings to the effect that the Prosecutions witnesses had positively identified the accused could
not effectively contradict Judge Laridas determination of the issue of bail.

Whether the identification in Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03 was positively made or not was a matter for
the judicial perception of Judge Larida only. In these proceedings, he explained his reasons for granting
bail. We must respect his explanation. The accused in Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03 were charged with
the manufacture of methamphetamine hydrochloride. The relevant testimony of the Prosecutions
witnesses was to the effect that at the time the police arrested them on July 12, 2003 the accused were
loading boxes unto various trucks and vans, with the boxes being later on determined to contain illegal
substances.36 As such, the testimony did not establish the manufacture of methamphetamine
hydrochloride, the non-bailable offense charged, but a bailable lesser offense. Judge Laridas June 14,
2007 resolution granting the petition for bail reflected the distinction, viz:

In the ensuing enforcement of the search warrant issued by the Municipal Trial Court of Silang, Cavite,
several containers and sacks were found in the house described therein which were suspected to be
essential chemicals in the manufacture of methamphetamine hydrochloride, a prohibited drug. But
there was no evidence to establish that the accused had something to do with the presence of these
alleged illegal substances in the house subject of the search warrant. The accused were not caught
inside the house which the prosecution claims to be a clandestine shabu laboratory. But the "Chinese-
looking persons" were apprehended outside the clandestine laboratory, outside its gates. They were
arrested in flagrante delicto loading the containers of illegal substances onto the vans/trucks outside the
house. Loading them onto a motor vehicle does not fall within the purview of the word "manufacture"
of prohibited drugs otherwise, we are stretching the meaning of the term a bit too far.37

Aside from assailing the resolution granting the petition for bail, Atty. Calma maintained that the
resolution had been released under suspicious circumstances considering that the defense counsel,
Atty. Albert T. Villaseca, had already gone to the RTC ready to post the cash bail of P200,000.00 for each
of the accused even prior to the release of the June 14, 2007 resolution granting bail.38

Anent this, Atty. Villaseca explained his presence in Branch 18 in the following manner:

2. Q: On June 18, 2007 at about 9:00 o'clock in the morning, where were you?

A: I was at the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Imus, Cavite before the Honorable Judge Norberto J.
Quisumbing, Jr. I just came from the Regional Trial Court, Branch 19, Bacoor, Cavite as I initially attended
the hearing of Criminal Case No. B-2002-623 titled "People of the Philippines, Plaintiff, versus, Benedicto
Baraquilles Maliksi, Accused," for Homicide. The case was postponed as the Prosecutor in said case was
sick. I have with me a "Certified True Copy" of the "Minutes" which I signed together with the "Order" of
the Honorable Judge Eduardo Israel Tanguangco both dated June 18, 2007.
3. Q: What were you doing at that time before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Imus, Cavite at the
sala of the Honorable Judge Norberto J. Quisumbing, Jr.?

A: I attended the hearing and appeared as counsel for both of the accused in the case of People of the
Philippines, Plaintiff, versus, Guillermo Silla y Legaspi and Paulino Silla y Purificacion, Accused, docketed
as Criminal Case No. 10242-02 for Homicide.

4. Q: What document or documents, if any, do you have to show before this Honorable Court that on
June 18, 2007 at about 9:00 o'clock in the morning you attended and appeared before a criminal case at
the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Imus, Cavite before the sale (sic) of Honorable Judge Norberto J.
Quisumbing, Jr.?

A: I have with me the "Original Copy" of the Honorable Court's "Order" dated June 18, 2007 together
with a "Certified True Copy of my "Appearance" indicated by my two signatures therein and the
"Minutes of the Proceedings" in the case of People of the Philippines, Plaintiff, versus, Guillermo Silla y
Legaspi and Paulino Silla y Purificacion, Accused, docketed as Criminal Case No. 10242-02 for Homicide.

5. Q: At about what time did you leave the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Imus, Cavite after you
attended and appeared in the case you are handling?

A: I left the courtroom at around 10:30 oclock in the morning after my case was called.

6. Q: What did you [do] after you left the Regional Trial Court, Branch 21, Imus, Cavite at around 10:30
oclock in the morning of June 18, 2007?

A: I went to my office to get the records of another case I was handling that day in the afternoon and
briefly prepared for its afternoon hearing.

7. Q: what is this case all about?

A: It is a civil case for Annulment of Deed of Sale, Annulment of Title and Damages docketed as Civil Case
No. TG-2209 titled Benjamin Q. Diwa, et. al., Plaintiffs, versus, Maxima R. Matias and International
Exchange Bank, Defendants, pending before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay City at the
sala of the Honorable Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr. which is scheduled to be heard in the afternoon of June
18, 2007 at around 1:30 o'clock in the afternoon.

8. Q: What happened next after you arrived at your office to get the records and prepared (sic) for this
other case that you are handling in the afternoon of June 18, 2007?

A: At around 11:30 o'clock in the morning, I left my office in Imus, Cavite and together with my driver
and one of my office personnel, proceeded [to] Tagaytay City to attend to the hearing of my case.

9. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I arrived at the parking ground of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay City at around 12:30
o'clock in the afternoon.
10. Q: Then, what happened next?

A: Upon arriving at the office of the personnel and staff of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay
City, I was informed by my clients and a court personnel that all the cases scheduled in the afternoon
would be rescheduled to another date as there was an unusual incident which transpired inside the
courtroom earlier.

11. Q: What is that unusual incident which transpired earlier in the courtroom of the Regional Trial
Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay City?

A: I was informed that one of the accused in a rape case from the Provincial Jail of the Province of Cavite
took hostage of one of the court employees and that is the reason why all the cases scheduled to be
heard in the afternoon were rescheduled to another date.

12: Q: What document, if any, do you have to show before this Honorable Court that there was a
hostage taking incident that transpired in the morning of June 18, 2007 in side(sic) the courtroom of the
Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay City?

A: I have with me a "Certified True Copy" of the Police Blotter issued by SPO4 Samuel Baybay of the
Tagaytay City Police Station.

13. Q: What did you do after that?

A: I provided the court personnel with my available date, briefly talked to my clients and knowing that
our case was already postponed I inquired about the status of my other cases pending before the
Regional Trial Court, Branch 18, Tagaytay City.

14. Q: What happened next, after that?

A: As I (was) browsing upon the records of Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03 titled The People of the
Philippines, Plaintiff, versus, Leandro Go y Lim, et al, Accused, for Violation of Sec. 8, Art. 2, RA 9165, I
came across the resolution of the Honorable Court in our petition for bail.

15. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I personally received a copy of the Honorable Court's Resolution and, thereafter, immediately and
excitedly informed the aunt of one of my clients as I know she would be very happy about it as my
clients have been innocently lingering in jail for almost four years and have already lost faith and hope of
ever having temporary liberty.

16. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I informed the aunt of one of my clients the amount of the bond required to (be) posted in cash and
she told me to meet her at the Provincial Jail at Trece Martires City, Province of Cavite and give her a
copy of the Honorable Court's Resolution and she would provide for the amount of the cash bond
required by the Honorable Court.
17. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I inquired from one of the court personnel that if we could post a cash bail bond that afternoon, could
my clients be ordered released, and what other documents the court requires to immediately avail of
the "order of Release."

18. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: After I was informed by one of the court personnel that since there are no cases to be heard that
afternoon and since all the cases will just be rescheduled to another date, they have a lot of time to take
care of the "Order of Release" of my clients as long as all the other court requirements for the posting of
the cash bail bond are complied with. I wasted no time and hurriedly left the Regional Trial Court,
Branch 18, Tagaytay City. Proceeded to the Provincial Jail at Trece Martires City, Province of Cavite to
inform my clients about the Honorable Court's Resolution and to meet the aunt of one of my clients who
will take care of the cash bail bond required. On my way, I informed the aunt of my client about the
other requirements for the posting of the cash bail bond and prepared the Cash Bond Undertaking of my
clients in my laptop computer.

19. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I arrived at the Provincial Jail at Trece Martires City, Province of Cavite before 2:00 o'clock in the
afternoon. Delivered a copy of the Honorable Court's Resolution to the Provincial Jail Warden and met
the aunt of one of my clients who provided me with the cash in the amount of P400,000.00 for the cash
bail bond required, pictures of the accused together with the other requirements for the cash bail bond.
I explained the consequences of a Cash Bond Undertaking to my clients, have (sic) them sign and
subscribe to it and then notarized it.

20. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: I wasted no time and hurriedly left for Tagaytay City. Thereafter, I posted the cash bail bond and
submitted all the requirements to secure an "Order of Release" for my clients.

21. Q: What happened next, if any?

A: All documents I submitted were found in order by the personnel in charge. I was able to secure an
"Order of Release" for my clients. Thereafter, I again proceeded to the Provincial Jail at Trece Martires
City, Province of Cavite and delivered to the Provincial Jail Warden an copy of the "Order of Release."39

Atty. Calmas bare allegations, which were obviously based on surmise and speculation, cannot be
preferred because Atty. Villasecas foregoing explanation of his presence in Branch 18 was supported by
authentic documents. Accordingly, we dismiss the charge of Judge Laridas having improperly granted
bail in Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03.

6.

Charge of granting the motion to quash the


information in Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06

without a case record and without requiring a

comment from the public prosecutor

The Investigating Justice said regarding this charge:

In Criminal case No. TG-5307-06, Jayson Espiritu, among others, was charged with Murder and was
arrested on 6 August 2008 and detained at the Provincial Jail. On 22 August 2008, Jayson Espiritu filed a
motion to quash/dismiss information on the ground that he was a minor at the time of the commission
of the offense.

In an Order, dated 5 September 2008, respondent Judge set the motion to quash for hearing on October
3, 2008 and gave the prosecution 15 days to file its comment/opposition thereto. However, without
waiting for the 15-day period to expire, respondent Judge granted Jayson Espiritu's motion to quash on
15 September 2008.

According to the Judicial Affidavit of former Branch Clerk of Court Atty. Stanlee D.C. Calma, aside from
not giving the prosecution a chance to oppose Jayson Espiritu's motion to quash, respondent Judge
personally drafted the Order granting said motion without access to the records of the case. Moreover,
respondent Judge allegedly gave an advance copy of the Order granting the motion to quash to the
father of Jayson Espiritu, who, in turn, showed the same to the warden of the Provincial Jail even before
the court had personally served the same upon said warden on 26 September 2008. According to Atty.
Calma, he was informed by the widow of the victim in said criminal case that respondent Judge had
been paid off to quash the information against Jayson Espiritu.

In his defense, respondent Judge explained that he granted Jayson Espiritus motion to quash pursuant
to RA 9344 because Jayson Espiritu was only a minor at the time of the commission of the offense, as
proved by his birth certificate attached to the motion. Respondent Judge denied having received a pay-
off to quash the information against Jayson Espiritu, and explained that he did not wait for the
comment/opposition of the prosecution because he followed the substance of the law and acted swiftly
in the best interests of the minor accused. Respondent Judge asserts that he personally prepared the
order on 15 September 2008.40

Jayson Espiritu, the accused in Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06, was a minor of 15 years and 11 months at
the time of the commission of the offense charged as borne out by the copy of his birth certificate
attached to the motion to quash. He was for that reason entitled to the quashal of the information filed
against him for being exempt from criminal liability based on Section 6 of Republic Act No. 9344
(Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006), which states as follows:

Section 6. Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility. - A child fifteen (15) years of age or under at the
time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. However, the child shall be
subjected to an intervention program pursuant to Section 20 of this Act.
A child above fifteen (15) years but below eighteen (18) years of age shall likewise be exempt from
criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless he/she has acted with
discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance
with this Act.

The exemption from criminal liability herein established does not include exemption from civil liability,
which shall be enforced in accordance with existing laws. (Emphasis supplied)

The foregoing notwithstanding, Judge Larida should not have acted on Espiritus motion to quash
without first giving the public prosecutor the opportunity to comment on the motion. That opportunity
was demanded by due process.41 As a judge, he should exercise patience and circumspection to ensure
that the opposing sides are allowed the opportunity to be present and to be heard.42 Only thereby could
he preclude any suspicion on the impartiality of his actuations.43 But he cannot now be sanctioned
because it is a matter of public policy that in the absence of fraud, dishonesty or corruption, the acts of a
judge done in his judicial capacity are not subject to disciplinary action although they are
erroneous.44 Considering that there was no fraud, dishonesty or corruption that attended the omission
of prior notice, we simply caution him against a repetition of the omission of prior notice.

The Investigating Justice found the charge of bribery against Judge Larida unsupported by competent
evidence.45We concur. The records are bereft of the evidence that would establish the charge. Innuendo
and hearsay will not establish the accusation. We insist that any accusation of bribery against a judicial
officer should be made upon hard and firm evidence of it. Hence, we dismiss the charge of bribery.

7.

Charge of granting under questionable circumstances


the petition for the issuance of owners duplicate copies
of various TCTs in LRC Case No. TG-06-1183

In its report, the investigating team from the OCA made the following observations with respect to LRC
Case No. TG-06-1183, to wit:

1. There was no hearing conducted to establish the jurisdiction of the court and subsequent referral of
the reception of evidence ex parte to Clerk of Court Desiree Macaraeg as commissioner;

2. There was no proof to establish that the Register [of] Deeds of Tagaytay City, although furnished with
a copy of the petition, had actually received it;

3. There was no commissioner's report attached to the record relative to the reception of evidence ex
parte conducted on 5 & 10 May 2006;

4. The affidavit of loss of titles was presented by petitioner Santos to the Register of Deeds only on 5
May 2006 at the same time the petition was allegedly heard by the commissioner;
5. Per minutes dated 10 May 2006, there appears the name [of] Fiscal Manuel D. Noche, for the
government, yet the TSN state[s] that there was no appearance of Fiscal Noche on 10 May 2006 or even
the 5 May 2006 ex-parte hearing.

6. Petitioner's formal offer of evidence was admitted on 10 May 2007 when the same was filed only on
11 May 2007. The order also made it appear that there is no objection interposed by the City Prosecutor
despite non-appearance thereof.

7. The comment of the Register of Deeds on petitioner's Urgent Manifestation alleging that the Register
of Deeds delivered the TCTs to Marie Cruz although stated 4 September 2006 was filed in court only on
4 December 2006.46

The Investigating Justice recommended the dismissal of the charge of irregularity for lack of evidence
and substantiation, thusly:

Although the Investigation Report details the legal proceedings in LRC Case No. TG-06-1183, and certain
documents from the case were offered in evidence for the complainant, the OCA did not fully elaborate
on the exact nature of this charge against respondent Judge. Moreover, during the cross-examination of
Diana Ruiz, the latter manifested a lack of knowledge over the events that transpired in said LRC case.
No other witnesses were presented to substantiate this charge. Therefore, it is recommended that this
charge against respondent Judge be DISMISSED.47

The finding and recommendation by the Investigating Justice are well-taken.1wphi1 The mere
specification of accusations against Judge Larida could not demonstrate the veracity of the accusations
notwithstanding the attachment of all the documents allegedly in support of the accusations. Evidence
that was relevant and competent must have been adduced to support the accusation. Diana Ruizs
judicial affidavit attesting that the corresponding documents in support of the investigating teams
accusations were faithful reproductions of the originals that formed part of LRC Case No. TG-06-1183,
without more, did not suffice to establish the commission of irregularities in the disposition of the case.
It is important to stress that the proceedings upon administrative charges made against judicial officers
should be viewed with utmost care, and such proceedings are governed by the rules of law applicable to
criminal cases, with the charges to be proved beyond reasonable doubt, by virtue of their nature as
highly penal in character.48

8.

Charge of liability for the fire


that occurred on October 12, 2008

Anent the fire that occurred in the records room of Branch 18, we absolve Judge Larida because no
evidence directly linking him to the arson incident was presented.49 It further appears that at the time of
the occurrence of the fire, Judge Larida was hospitalized for a kidney injury that he had sustained from a
fall on the night of October 9, 2008.50
Nevertheless, the OCA insisted on Judge Laridas responsibility for the fire based on certain
circumstances, namely: (a) the report of the Bureau of Fire Protection revealed that access to the
courthouse was through the rear entrance,51 and he admitted that such entrance was his access to the
courthouse;52 (b) despite his being the Presiding Judge of Branch 18, he did not actively take part in the
investigation of the arson incident, thereby manifesting his lack of interest in or concern over the
burning of the courthouse;53 and (c) he had a motive to burn the courthouse in order to destroy the
courts case records that would reveal his wrongdoings.54

However, Atty. Calma disclosed that aside from Judge Larida, utility workers Ofelia Parasdas and
Romelito Fernando, Judge Young, and Marticio all had keys to the entrance doors of the courthouse
(i.e., two front doors and one back door),55 and that he (Atty. Calma), along with the clerk-in-charge of
the civil docket Anita Goboy and criminal docket clerk Romelito Fernando, were the only ones who had
access to the records room because only they knew the location of the key to the records room.56

Equally notable is that the forensic report denominated as Dactyloscopy Report No. F-129-08 issued by
the Philippine National Police Cavite Provincial Crime Laboratory Office on November 21, 200857 showed
that one of the latent prints lifted from the crime scene belonged to Romelito Fernando, a personnel
who had testified against Judge Larida during the investigation.

Judge Larida denied his supposed lack of interest in the investigation of the arson incident by reminding
that he had immediately requested the NBI to investigate the arson incident upon learning about it.58 He
explained that he had refrained from further actively participating in the investigation because he had
been barred by the OCA from reporting for work;59 that unlike the staff members of RTC Branch 18 who
had continued to report for work and had been interviewed by the investigating team, he had not been
summoned for any interview; and that he also learned from the NBI agents themselves that they had
been ordered to cease from further investigating the fire upon the entry of the OCA in the
investigation.60

Imputing to Judge Larida the motive to burn the courthouse in order to destroy case records that could
expose his wrongdoings was baseless and speculative. We reject the imputation. Before any judge
should be disciplined for any offense, the evidence presented against him must be competent and
derived from personal knowledge. The judge ought not to be sanctioned except upon a proper charge,
and only after due investigation and with competent proof.61

9.

Consolidated Penalty for Judge Larida

Judge Larida has been found guilty of a less serious charge for not complying with the directive of
Administrative Circular No. 28-2008 to send an inventory of locally-funded employees to the Supreme
Court within one month from notice of the circular, and of allowing locally funded employees to
perform more than merely clerical tasks; and of a light charge for unbecoming conduct for not causing
the investigation of the solicitations of commission from a bonding company committed by three
employees assigned to his court.
It is the sense of the Court to consolidate the imposable sanctions on Judge Larida into a single penalty
of suspension from office without pay for a period of two months, to be effective immediately upon
notice.

10.

Letter-complaint of Jayson Marticio

Pursuant to the recommendation of the Investigating Justice, we dismiss the letter complaint of Marticio
for lack of substantiation by him.

WHEREFORE, the Court:

1. IMPOSES ON Judge Edwin G. Larida, Jr. the penalty of SUSPENSION FROM OFFICE WITHOUT PAY FOR
A PERIOD OF TWO MONTHS, to be effective immediately upon notice, with a warning that sterner
sanctions will be meted out to him upon his commission of similar acts or omissions;

2. DISMISSES the following charges against Judge Larida, Jr. for lack of evidence to support them,
namely: (a) Extorting money from detained accused Raymund Wang; (b) Defying the directive of the
Supreme Court in Administrative Order No. 132-2008; (c) Improperly granting bail to the accused in
Criminal Case No. TG-4382-03; (d) Receiving a bribe in exchange for granting Jayson Espiritu' s motion to
quash the information in Criminal Case No. TG-5307-06; (e) Granting under questionable circumstances
the petition for the issuance of owner's duplicate copies of various certificates of title in LRC Case No.
TG-06-1183; and (j) Involvement in the fire that razed the records room of Branch 18 of the Regional
Trial Court in Tagaytay City; and

3. DISMISSES the letter-complaint of Jayson Marticio dated October 20, 2008 due to his lack of interest
to prosecute it.

SO ORDERED.

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN
Associate Justice

A.M. No. RTJ-14-2376 March 5, 2014


[Formerly OCA LP.I. No. 11-3625-RTJ]

MA. LIZA M. JORDA, City Prosecutor's Office, Tacloban City, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE CRISOLOGO S. BITAS, Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Tacloban City, Respondent.

x-----------------------x
A.M. No. RTJ-14-2377
[Formerly OCA LP.I. No. 11-3645-RTJ]

PROSECUTOR LEO C. TABAO, Complainant,


vs.
JUDGE CRISOLOGO S. BITAS, Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Tacloban City, Respondent.

DECISION

PERALTA, J.:

Before this Court are Consolidated Complaints dated March 29, 20111 and March 25, 20112 filed by
Prosecutor Leo C. Tabao, Office of the City Prosecutor, Tacloban City and Ma. Liza M. Jorda, Associate
City Prosecutor, Tacloban City, respectively, against respondent Judge Crisologo S. Bitas (respondent
judge), Presiding Judge, Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 7, Tacloban City, for Grave Abuse of
Authority, Irregularity in the Performance of Official Duties, Bias and Partiality, relative to Criminal Case
Nos. 2009-11-537,3 2009-11-538, 2009-11-539 entitled People v. Danilo Miralles, et al.

The antecedent facts of the case, as culled from the records, are as follows:

A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3645-RTJ


City Prosecutor Leo C. Tabao,
Tacloban City v. Judge Crisologo S.
Bitas, RTC, Branch 7, Tacloban City

The complaint stemmed from Criminal Case Nos. 2009-11-537; 2009-11-538 and 2009-11-5394 for
Qualified Trafficking and Violation of Article VI, Section 10 of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7610, which were
filed against Danilo Miralles (Miralles), et al. before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 7, Tacloban City
where respondent Judge Bitas presides.

Complainant alleged that on January 15, 2010, accused Miralles, through counsel, filed a Motion for
Judicial Determination of Probable Cause with Motion to Hold in Abeyance the Issuance of a Warrant of
Arrest. On the same day, respondent Judge issued an order taking cognizance of the same and directed
Prosecutor Anthea G. Macalalag to file her comment on the motion. The prosecution then filed its
comment/opposition and moved for the issuance of the required warrant for the arrest of Miralles. No
warrant of arrest was issued against Miralles.

On February 2, 2011, respondent judge issued an Order which states:

After the prosecution presented their witnesses, the Court finds that there is probable cause to hold the
accused for trial for Violation of 4 (a & e) of R.A. 9208 and, therefore, the court orders Lynna Brito y
Obligar to file a bail bond of Forty Thousand Pesos (PhpP40,000.00) for her temporary liberty. Danilo
Miralles is, likewise, ordered to put up a bail bond of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) for each of the
three (3) cases.
Subsequently, on February 4, 2011, Sheriff Jose Cabcabin of the Office of the RTC Clerk of Court issued a
certification that Miralles surrendered to him to avail of his right to bail. The cash bail bond in the
amount ofP120,000.00 was approved by respondent judge on the same day.

Complainant lamented that respondent judge disregarded his duties and violated mandatory provisions
of the Rules of Court when he did not issue a warrant of arrest against the accused Miralles, who was
charged with two (2) non-bailable criminal offenses. As early as November 19, 2009, criminal complaints
against Miralles for Qualified Trafficking were already filed, yet respondent judge never issued a warrant
of arrest for Miralles despite accused's presence during the court hearings.

Moreover, respondent judge granted a reduced bail of P40,000.00 for accused Miralles even without
any petition for the fixing of bail. In fact, complainant reiterated that even after respondent judge found
probable cause to hold accused Miralles for trial, he did not order the arrest of the accused. Instead,
respondent judge summarily granted a reduced bail in the absence of a motion to fix bail and the
prosecution was not given the opportunity to interpose its objections. Complainant claimed that such
acts of respondent judge were evident of his bias towards accused Miralles.

In his Answer, respondent judge reasoned that it was wrong to arrest Miralles, because the court was
still in the process of determining whether there is sufficient evidence to hold the accused for trial. He
explained that Miralles had always made himself available during the hearings for the determination of
probable cause; thus, the court already acquired jurisdiction over the person of the accused.

After the hearing for the determination of probable cause, the court ruled that there is no strong
evidence presented by the prosecution. On February 4, 2011, accused Danilo Miralles surrendered to
Sheriff Jose Cabcabin and posted P40,000.00 bail for each of the three (3) cases, or a total
of P120,000.00.

Respondent judge claimed that there was no more need for a petition for bail, because in the judicial
determination of probable cause the court found that the evidence against accused was weak.5

Respondent judge further averred that complainant did not know the facts of the case and whether the
evidence for the prosecution is strong, yet he was faulted for granting bail and for not issuing a warrant
of arrest. He stressed that when the court has acquired jurisdiction over the person of the accused,
there is no more need to issue a warrant of arrest. Respondent judge pointed out that Miralles always
made himself available, hence, he believed that the ends of justice had not been frustrated. He insisted
that there is no anomaly in the procedure because a warrant of arrest will be issued only upon the
finding of probable cause. In this case, however, he was able to post his bail bond before a warrant of
arrest can be issued against him. Thus, the warrant of arrest had become fait accompli.

A.M. OCA IPI No. 11-3625-RTJ


Ma. Liza M. Jorda, Associate City
Prosecutor, Tacloban City v. Judge
Crisologo S. Bitas, RTC, Branch 7,
Tacloban City
This complaint, borne from the same criminal cases, has substantially the same facts involving accused
Danilo Miralles referred to in A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3645-RTJ.

Complainant, Prosecutor Liza M. Jorda, Associate City Prosecutor, alleged that during the hearing on the
Petition for Involuntary Commitment of the minor victim Margie Baldoza, to the Department of Social
Welfare and Development (DSWD), respondent judge propounded a series of questions which appeared
to mitigate Miralles' role in the crime charged. The pertinent portion of which is quoted as follows:

Q. Did you see Danny shouting at you and get angry as what you have stated in the record of the court?

A. No.

xxxx

Q. In other words, you are only for a presumption that it is Danny who is getting angry where in fact you
have seen him at anytime?

A. It was Lynna whom he was [scolding] because the women under her are stubborn.

Q. You have seen him scolding to (sic) your nanay Lynna?

A. She would be called to the room in the Office and there she would be scolded.

Q. You have not seen nanay Lynna and Danny Miralles in the office, you have not seen them?

A. No.

Q. Never have you (sic) seen them?

A. No.

Q. So did you come to the conclusion that she [was] being scolded by Danny Miralles?

A. Yes.6

Complainant pointed out that respondent judge's line of questions went beyond judicial authority and
discretion. Upon investigation, complainant claimed to have discovered that the family members of
respondent judge are close associates of Miralles.

Prompted by said events, complainant filed a motion for inhibition on December 14, 2009 against
respondent judge. Respondent judge denied the motion. During the hearing on December 15, 2009,
complainant alleged that respondent judge publicly humiliated her and exhibited his anger and
animosity towards her for filing the motion for inhibition.7 Respondent judge was quoted saying, among
others things, that:

"I dont want to see your face! Why did you file the motion for inhibition when it should have been
Attorney Sionne Gaspay who should have filed the same[?]"
"You better transfer to another court! You are being influenced by politicians. I am not a close family
friend of the Miralles(es), it is my sister who is now in the United States who was close to the
Miralles(es)."

"So you are questioning the integrity of this court, you better transfer to another court."

"I dont want to see your face."8

Complainant added that when she was supposed to conduct the cross-examination, respondent judge
stated off-the-record: "I dont want you to participate anymore," and refused to allow her to do the
cross-examination.

In support of her allegation, complainant presented the Joint Affidavit9 of Carmela D. Bastes and Marilou
S. Nacilla, social workers who were present during the December 15, 2009 hearing of the subject case,
and corroborated that indeed respondent judge uttered the abovementioned statements to
complainant in open court in the presence of court personnel and the lawyers of the parties.

Due to the continued hostility of respondent judge towards complainant during the subsequent hearings
of the case, complainant opted to transfer to another court, pursuant to an office order issued by City
Prosecutor Ruperto Golong.

In a Supplemental Complaint-Affidavit10 dated April 8, 2011, complainant raised the possibility of


"misrepresentation." She alleged that it was made to appear that a hearing on the subject case was
conducted on February 2, 2011, when in fact there was none. She claimed that the Order dated
February 2, 2011 appeared to have been inserted in the records of the case, when in fact no hearing
transpired that day.

On April 7, 2011, the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) directed respondent judge to comment on
the complaint against him.11

In his Answer and Comment12 dated May 10, 2011, respondent judge denied the allegations in the
complaint and contended that complainant was piqued when he blamed her for making baseless
assumptions. He claimed that complainant was incompetent as showed by the lack of evidence against
Miralles.

Respondent judge further averred that, contrary to complainant's allegation that it was her option to
transfer to another court, it was he who caused her transfer. He accused complainant of lacking in
knowledge of the law and that she appeared for politicians and not for the Republic of the Philippines.

Regarding complainant's accusation that he was close to the Miralleses, respondent judge explained
that it was his sister who was a classmate of one Nora Miralles. He claimed that he is unaware of any
personal relation between Nora Miralles and the accused Danilo Miralles. He insisted that complainant
merely assumed things even if she has no evidence that he knew Danilo Miralles.
Respondent judge also admitted that he indeed stopped complainant from conducting a cross-
examination on the witness during the hearing for involuntary commitment, because the lawyer for
petitioner DSWD should be the one actively participating in the case, and not the prosecutors. He,
however, added that the court had already ordered that minor Margie Baldoza be committed to the
DSWD Home for Girls pending resolution of the criminal cases.

As to the other allegations in the Complaint, respondent judge commented that these were mere rehash
of the complaint filed in A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3645-RTJ and reiterated that the evidence found against
accused Miralles during the judicial determination of the existence of probable cause in the trafficking
case was weak. Therefore, he ordered the posting of P40,000.00 bail by the accused. Respondent judge
claimed that he merely acted upon the evidence presented and made a resolution on what was right for
the case.

In her Reply13 dated May 21, 2011, complainant refuted respondent judge's allegation of incompetence
against her and insisted on respondent's apparent bias in favor of Miralles. She argued that respondent
judge granted bail to the accused even when there was no motion to fix bail and no hearing was
conducted thereon. Despite the finding of probable cause, respondent judge did not issue a warrant of
arrest against the accused. Complainant also reiterated the controversy surrounding the appearance of
an Order dated February 2, 2011, when in fact no hearing transpired that day.

In his 2nd Indorsement14 dated June 14, 2011, respondent judge denied that he falsified any document.
He explained that his stenographer made a mistake in placing the date as February 2, 2011 instead of
February 3, 2011, the date when the hearing was conducted. He attached the affidavits15 of his court
stenographer and court interpreter in support of his explanation.

On May 11, 2001, the OCA directed Judge Bitas to file his Comment on the instant complaint.

In a Resolution16 dated September 12, 2011, upon the recommendation of the OCA, the Court referred
A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3625-RTJ to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals, Cebu City, for
investigation, report and recommendation.

On October 12, 2011, the Court, in a Resolution,17 resolved to consolidate A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3645-
RTJ (Prosecutor Leo C. Tabao v. Judge Crisologo S. Bitas, RTC, Branch 7, Tacloban City) with A.M. OCA
I.P.I. No. 11-3625-RTJ (Ma. Liza M. Jorda v. Judge Crisologo S. Bitas, Regional Trial Court, Branch 7,
Tacloban City).

In its Report and Recommendation18 dated February 14, 2013, Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan-
Manahan, Court of Appeals, Cebu City, found respondent judge guilty of grave abuse of authority and
gross ignorance of the law, and recommended that respondent judge be fined in the amount
of P20,000.00 for A.M. OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3645-RTJ and fined anew in the amount of P20,000.00 for A.M.
OCA I.P.I. No. 11-3625-RTJ.

RULING

We adopt the findings of the Investigating Justice, except as to the recommended penalty.
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. This does not mean, however, that a judge need
not observe propriety, discreetness and due care in the performance of his official functions.

In the instant case, Miralles was charged with Qualified Trafficking, which under Section 10 (C) of R.A.
No. 9208 is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of not less than Two Million Pesos
(P2,000,000.00) but not more than Five Million Pesos (P5,000,000.00). Thus, by reason of the penalty
prescribed by law, the grant of bail is a matter of discretion which can be exercised only by respondent
judge after the evidence is submitted in a hearing. The hearing of the application for bail in capital
offenses is absolutely indispensable before a judge can properly determine whether the prosecutions
evidence is weak or strong.19

As correctly found by the Investigating Justice, with life imprisonment as one of the penalties prescribed
for the offense charged against Miralles, he cannot be admitted to bail when evidence of guilt is strong,
in accordance with Section 7, Rule 114 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure.20

Here, what is appalling is not only did respondent judge deviate from the requirement of a hearing
where there is an application for bail, respondent judge granted bail to Miralles without neither
conducting a hearing nor a motion for application for bail. Respondent judge's justification that he
granted bail, because he found the evidence of the prosecution weak, cannot be sustained because the
records show that no such hearing for that purpose transpired. What the records show is a hearing to
determine the existence of probable cause, not a hearing for a petition for bail. The hearing for bail is
different from the determination of the existence of probable cause. The latter takes place prior to all
proceedings, so that if the court is not satisfied with the existence of a probable cause, it may either
dismiss the case or deny the issuance of the warrant of arrest or conduct a hearing to satisfy itself of the
existence of probable cause. If the court finds the existence of probable cause, the court is mandated to
issue a warrant of arrest or commitment order if the accused is already under custody, as when he was
validly arrested without a warrant. It is only after this proceeding that the court can entertain a petition
for bail where a subsequent hearing is conducted to determine if the evidence of guilt is weak or not.
Hence, in granting bail and fixing it at P20,000.00 motu proprio, without allowing the prosecution to
present its evidence, respondent judge denied the prosecution of due process. This Court had said so in
many cases and had imposed sanctions on judges who granted applications for bail in capital offenses
and in offenses punishable by reclusion perpetua, or life imprisonment, without giving the prosecution
the opportunity to prove that the evidence of guilt is strong.21

Clearly, in the instant case, respondent judge's act of fixing the accused's bail and reducing the same
motu proprio is not mere deficiency in prudence, discretion and judgment on the part of respondent
judge, but a patent disregard of well-known rules. When an error is so gross and patent, such error
produces an inference of bad faith, making the judge liable for gross ignorance of the law.22
Likewise, we are convinced that respondent judges actuations in the court premises during the hearing
of the petition for commitment to the DSWD constitute abuse of authority and manifest partiality to the
accused. Indeed, respondent judges utterance of: "I dont want to see your face!";

"You better transfer to another court!; You are being influenced by politicians" was improper and does
not speak well his stature as an officer of the Court. We note the improper language of respondent
judge directed towards complainants in his Answers and Comments where he criticized them for their
incompetence in handling the subject case. Respondent Bitas' use of abusive and insulting words,
tending to project complainants ignorance of the laws and procedure, prompted by his belief that the
latter mishandled the cause of his client is obviously and clearly insensitive, distasteful, and inexcusable.
Complainants, likewise, cannot be blamed for being suspicious of respondents bias to the accused
considering that the former can be associated with the accused following his admission that his sister
was a classmate of one Nora Miralles. Considering the apprehension and reservation of the
complainants, prudence dictates that respondent should have inhibited himself from hearing the case.
Such abuse of power and authority could only invite disrespect from counsels and from the public.23

In pending or prospective litigations before them, judges should be scrupulously careful to avoid
anything that may tend to awaken the suspicion that their personal, social or sundry relations could
influence their objectivity. Not only must judges possess proficiency in law, they must also act and
behave in such manner that would assure litigants and their counsel of the judges competence,
integrity and independence.24 Even on the face of boorish behavior from those he deals with, he ought
to conduct himself in a manner befitting a gentleman and a high officer of the court.25

The use of intemperate language is included in the proscription provided by Section 1, Canon 4 of the
New Code of Judicial Conduct, thus: "Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety
in all the activities of a judge." It bears stressing that as a dispenser of justice, respondent should
exercise judicial temperament at all times, avoiding vulgar and insulting language. He must maintain
composure and equanimity.

This Court has long held that court officials and employees are placed with a heavy burden and
responsibility of keeping the faith of the public. Any impression of impropriety, misdeed or negligence in
the performance of official functions must be avoided. This Court shall not countenance any conduct,
act or omission on the part of all those involved in the administration of justice which would violate the
norm of public accountability and diminish the faith of the people in the Judiciary.

We come to the imposable penalty.

Under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, gross ignorance of
the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge. Under Section 11 (A) of the same Rule, as
amended, if respondent judge is found guilty of a serious charge, any of the following sanctions may be
imposed:

1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and
disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned
or controlled corporations; Provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include
accrued leave credits;

2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3) but not exceeding
six (6) months; or

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00 but not exceeding P40,000.00.

This is not the first time that respondent judge was found guilty of the offense charged. In the case of
Valmores-Salinas v. Judge Crisologo Bitas,26 the Court had previously imposed a fine of P10,000.00 on
respondent judge for disregarding the basic procedural requirements in instituting an indirect contempt
charge, with a stem warning that a repetition of the same or similar act shall be dealt with more
severely.

The provisions of the Revised Penal Code on bail are so clear and unmistakable that there can be no
room for doubt or even interpretation. There can, therefore, be no excuse for respondent judge's error
of law. It hardly speaks well of the legal background of respondent judge, considering his length of
service when he failed to observe procedural requirements before granting bail. To top it all, the
actuations of respondent judge towards the complainants, as shown by his use of abusive and insulting
words against complainants in open court, and his correspondence with the Court, are evident of his
partiality to the accused. All these taken into consideration, respondent judge deserves a penalty of
suspension of three (3) months and one (1) day for the two (2) cases, instead of P20,000.00 fine for each
of the cases, as recommended by the Investigating Justice.

WHEREFORE, respondent JUDGE CRISOLOGO BITAS, Presiding Judge of the Regional Trial Court, Branch
7, Tacloban City, is hereby SUSPENDED from the service for a period of THREE (3) MONTHS and ONE (1)
DAY without pay, and WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar offense will warrant the
imposition of a more severe penalty.

SO ORDERED.

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA
Associate Justice

B.M. No. 2482 April 1, 2014

RE: MELCHOR TIONGSON, HEAD WATCHER, DURING THE 2011 BAR EXAMINATIONS

RESOLUTION

CARPIO, J.:
This is an administrative case filed against Melchor Tiongson (Tiongson), head watcher of the 2011 bar
examinations held at the University of Santo Tomas, Manila (UST), for bringing a digital camera inside
the bar examination room, in violation of the Instructions to Head Watchers.

The Facts

The Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) designated Tiongson, an employee of the Court of Appeals (CA), to
serve as head watcher for the 2011 Bar Examinations on 6, 13, 20 and 27 November 2011. Tiongson,
together with the designated watchers, namely, Eleonor V. Padilla (Padilla), Christian Jay S. Puruganan
(Puruganan) and Aleli M. Padre (Padre), were assigned to Room No. 314 of St. Martin De Porres Building
in UST.

On 13 November 2011 or during the second Sunday of the bar examinations, Tiongson brought his
digital camera inside Room No. 314. Padilla, Puruganan and Padre alleged that after the morning
examination in Civil Law, while they were counting the pages of the questionnaire, Tiongson took
pictures of the Civil Law questionnaire using his digital camera. Tiongson allegedly repeated the same
act and took pictures of the Mercantile Law questionnaire after the afternoon examination.

On the same day, Padilla reported Tiongsons actions to Deputy Clerk of Court and Bar Confidant Atty.
Ma. Cristina B. Layusa, who immediately investigated the report. Padilla, Puruganan and Padre
subsequently executed separate affidavits confirming Tiongsons actions. Upon demand by the OBC to
explain, Tiongson admitted that he brought his digital camera inside the bar examination room. He
explained that he did not surrender his new digital camera to the badge counter personnel because the
counter personnel might be negligent in handling his camera.

In a Memorandum dated 16 November 2011 addressed to the CA Clerk of Court Atty. Teresita R.
Marigomen, the OBC revoked and cancelled Tiongsons designation as head watcher for the remaining
Sundays of the bar examinations.

In a Resolution dated 10 April 2012, the Court, upon recommendation of the Committee on Continuing
Legal Education and Bar Matters, required Tiongson to file his comment.

In his Comment dated 25 May 2012, Tiongson restated his admission that he brought his digital camera
inside the bar examination room. Tiongson reiterated his explanation for bringing his camera and
apologized for his infraction.

The Report and Recommendation of the OBC

In a Report and Recommendation dated 19 February 2014, the OBC recommended that Tiongson be
disqualified indefinitely from serving as bar personnel, in any capacity, in succeeding bar
examinations.1 The OBC found Tiongson guilty of dishonesty and gross misconduct for violating a specific
provision in the Instructions to Head Watchers prohibiting the bringing of cameras to the bar
examination rooms. The OBC explained that:
During the conduct of the Annual Bar Examinations, the Office of the Bar Confidant meticulously
processes the selections of qualified applicants preferably employees and officers from the Court of
Appeals, Lower Courts and Outsiders. Qualified applicants who are considered and designated as bar
personnel to serve the bar examinations are required to attend the scheduled briefing for them to be
able to know their respective actual functions during the bar examinations, otherwise, their names
would be deleted from the lists and would no longer be allowed to serve the bar examinations. During
the briefing, the Bar Confidant explained well all the provisions in the instructions for them to be
familiarized with and to understand their respective rules in the conduct of the Bar Examinations. They
are given the Instructions setting forth their respective actual functions as well as the provisions on the
causes for disqualification, revocation and cancellation of their designation/ appointment as bar
personnel to serve the bar examinations.

x x x Tiongson attended the required briefing. He cannot, thus, pose any reason at all bringing his digital
camera inside the bar examinations room. This is [a] crystal clear violation of the provisions in the Bar
Personnel Instructions for the 2011 Bar Examinations. x x x.2

The Ruling of the Court

We adopt the findings of the OBC, with modification as to the penalty.

In administrative proceedings, substantial evidence is the quantum of proof required for a finding of
guilt,3 and this requirement is satisfied if the employer has reasonable ground to believe that the
employee is responsible for the misconduct.4 Misconduct means transgression of some established and
definite rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by an employee.5 Any
transgression or deviation from the established norm of conduct, work related or not, amounts to a
misconduct.6

In the present case, the OBC has proven with substantial evidence that Tiongson committed a
misconduct by violating the Instructions to Head Watchers for the bar examinations. The Instructions to
Head Watchers issued by the OBC clearly provide that "bringing of cellphones and other communication
gadgets, deadly weapons, cameras, tape recorders, other radio or stereo equipment or any other
electronic device is strictly prohibited."7Padilla, Puruganan and Padre, who were the watchers present in
the same examination room, attested that they witnessed Tiongsons violation of this provision during
the second Sunday of the bar examinations. Upon being called by the OBC, Tiongson admitted that he
indeed brought a digital camera inside the bar examination room. Thus, we find that Tiongsons
transgression of the rules issued by the OBC amounts to misconduct.

We, however, disagree with the OBCs recommendation that Tiongsons infraction amounted to gross
misconduct and dishonesty.

Misconduct is grave if corruption, clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of an established
rule is present; otherwise, the misconduct is only simple.8 If any of the elements to qualify the
misconduct as grave is not manifest and is not proven by substantial evidence, a person charged with
grave misconduct may be held liable for simple misconduct.9 On the other hand, dishonesty refers to a
persons disposition "to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of
honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to
defraud, deceive or betray."10

We hold Tiongson liable for simple misconduct only, because the elements of grave misconduct were
not proven with substantial evidence, and Tiongson admitted his infraction before the OBC.

The Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service11 classify simple misconduct as a less grave
offense punishable by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense. Under
the same Rules,12 we can consider Tiongsons length of service in the CA of 14 years, more than ten
years of service in the bar examinations and his first time to commit an infraction as mitigating
circumstances in the imposition of penalty. Accordingly, we impose upon Tiongson the penalty of
suspension of one month and one day with a warning that a repetition of the same or similar act in the
future shall be dealt with more severely.

As a CA employee, Tiongson disregarded his duty to uphold the strict standards required of every court
employee, that is, to be an example of integrity, uprightness and obedience to the judiciary. Thus, he
must be reminded that his infraction was unbecoming of a court employee amounting to simple
misconduct.1wphi1

Finally, the Instructions to Head Watchers provide that any violation of the instructions shall be a
sufficient cause for disqualification from serving for the remainder of the examinations and in future
examinations. Thus, we modify the recommended penalty of the OBC from indefinite disqualification to
permanent disqualification from serving as bar personnel, in any capacity, in succeeding bar
examinations.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds MELCHOR TIONGSON, Clerk IV of the Court of Appeals, GUILTY of SIMPLE
MISCONDUCT for violating the Instructions to Head Watchers issued by the Office of the Bar Confidant.
He is SUSPENDED for one month and one day with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar
act in the future shall be dealt with more severely. He is also PERMANENTLY DISQUALIFIED from serving
as bar personnel, in any capacity, in succeeding bar examinations.

SO ORDERED.

ANTONIO T. CARPIO
Associate Justice

A.M. No. RTJ-09-2200 April 2, 2014


(formerly OCA I.P.I. No. 08-2834-RTJ)
ANTONIO M. LORENZANA, Complainant,
vs.
JUDGE MA. CECILIA I. AUSTRIA, Regional Trial Court, Branch 2, Batangas City, Respondent.

DECISION

BRION, J.:

We resolve in this Decision the administrative complaints1 filed by Antonio M. Lorenzana (complainant)
against Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria (respondent), Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 2, Batangas City.

The records show that the administrative complaints arose from the case "In the Matter of the Petition
to have Steel Corporation of the Philippines Placed under Corporate Rehabilitation with Prayer for the
Approval of the Proposed Rehabilitation Plan," docketed as SP. Proc. No. 06-7993, where the
respondent was the presiding judge. The complainant was the Executive Vice President and Chief
Operating Officer of Steel Corporation of the Philippines (SCP), a company then under rehabilitation
proceedings.

i. Complaint

In his verified complaint dated January 21, 2008, the complainant alleged that in the course of SP. Proc.
No. 06-7993, the respondent committed Gross Ignorance of the Law, Grave Abuse of Authority, Gross
Misconduct, Grave Incompetence, Irregularity in the Performance of Duty, Grave Bias and Partiality,
Lack of Circumspection, Conduct Unbecoming of a Judge, Failure to Observe the Reglementary Period
and Violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as shown by the following instances:

1. The respondent appointed Atty. Santiago T. Gabionza, Jr. as rehabilitation receiver over SCPs
objections and despite serious conflict of interest in being the duly appointed rehabilitation receiver for
SCP and, at the same time, the external legal counsel of most of SCPs creditors; he is also a partner of
the law firm that he engaged as legal adviser.

2. The respondent conducted informal meetings (which she termed as "consultative meetings" in her
Order2 dated May 11, 2007) in places outside her official jurisdiction (i.e., a first class golf club, a hotel
and sports club facilities in Metro Manila) and where she arbitrarily dictated the terms, parameters and
features of the rehabilitation plan she wanted to approve for SCP. She also announced in the meetings
that she would prepare the rehabilitation plan for SCP.

3. The modified rehabilitation plan submitted by Atty. Gabionza is a replica of what the respondent
dictated to him. Thus, the respondent exceeded the limits of her authority and effectively usurped and
pre-empted the rehabilitation receivers exercise of functions.

4. The respondent ordered that the proceedings of the informal meetings be off-record so that there
would be no record that she had favored Equitable-PCI Bank (EPCIB).
5. The respondent had secret meetings and communications with EPCIB to discuss the case without the
knowledge and presence of SCP and its creditors.

6. The respondent appointed Gerardo Anonas (Anonas) as Atty. Gabionzas financial adviser and, at the
same time, as her financial adviser to guide her in the formulation and development of the rehabilitation
plan, for a fee of P3.5M at SCPs expense. Anonas is also the cousin-in-law of the managing partner of
Atty. Gabionzas law firm.

7. The respondent encouraged EPCIB to raise complaints or accusations against SCP, leading to EPCIBs
filing of a motion to create a management committee.

8. When requested to conduct an evidentiary meeting and to issue a subpoena (so that SCP could
confront EPCIBs witnesses to prove the allegation that there was a need for the creation of a
management committee), the respondent denied SCPs requests and delayed the issuance of the order
until the last minute.

9. At the hearing of September 14, 2007, the respondent intimidated SCPs counsel, Atty. Ferdinand
Topacio; blocked his every attempt to speak; refused to recognize his appearances in court; and made
condescending and snide remarks.

10. The respondent failed to observe the reglementary period prescribed by the Interim Rules of
Procedure on Corporate Rehabilitation (Rules). She approved the rehabilitation plan beyond the 180
days given to her in the Rules, without asking for permission to extend the period from the Supreme
Court (SC).

11. The respondent erroneously interpreted and applied Section 23, Rule 4 of the Rules (the courts
power to approve the rehabilitation plan) to include the power to amend, modify and alter it.

12. The respondent took a personal interest and commitment to decide the matter in EPCIBs favor and
made comments and rulings in the proceedings that raised concerns regarding her impartiality.

13. The respondent adamantly refused to inhibit herself and showed special interest and personal
involvement in the case.

ii. Supplemental Complaint

The complainant likewise filed a supplemental complaint3 dated April 14, 2008 where he alleged that
the respondent committed an act of impropriety when she displayed her photographs in a social
networking website called "Friendster" and posted her personal details as an RTC Judge, allegedly for
the purpose of finding a compatible partner. She also posed with her upper body barely covered by a
shawl, allegedly suggesting that nothing was worn underneath except probably a brassiere.

The Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) in its 1st Indorsement4 dated March 18, 2008, referred the
complaints to the respondent for comment.

a. Comment to January 21, 2008 Complaint


The respondent vehemently denied the allegations against her. While she admitted that she crafted a
workable, feasible rehabilitation plan best suited for SCP, she maintained that she did so only to render
fairness and equity to all the parties to the rehabilitation proceedings. She also submitted that if indeed
she erred in modifying the rehabilitation plan, hers was a mere error of judgment that does not call for
an administrative disciplinary action. Accordingly, she claimed that the administrative complaints were
premature because judicial remedies were still available.5

The respondent also argued that the rules do not prohibit informal meetings and conferences. On the
contrary, she argued that informal meetings are even encouraged in view of the summary and non-
adversarial nature of rehabilitation proceedings. Since Section 21, Rule 4 of the Rules6 gives the
rehabilitation receiver the power to meet with the creditors, then there is all the more reason for the
rehabilitation judge, who has the authority to approve the plan, to call and hold meetings with the
parties. She also pointed out that it was SCP which suggested that informal meetings be called and that
she only agreed to hold these meetings on the condition that all the parties would attend.

As to her alleged failure to observe the reglementary period, she contended that she approved the
rehabilitation plan within the period prescribed by law. She argued that the matter of granting extension
of time under Section 11, Rule 4 of the Rules7 pertains not to the SC, but to the rehabilitation court.

The respondent likewise refuted the allegations of bias and partiality. First, she claimed that her denial
of the complainants motion for inhibition was not due to any bias or prejudice on her part but due to
lack of basis. Second, she argued that her decision was not orchestrated to favor EPCIB, as evidenced by
the fact that EPCIP itself (as some other creditors did) promptly appealed her decision to the Court of
Appeals (CA). Third, she did not remove Atty. Gabionza as SCPs rehabilitation receiver because she
disagreed that the grounds the complainant raised warranted his removal.

She also found no merit to the allegation of conflict of interest. Lastly, she maintained that the rest of
the complainants allegations were not substantiated and corroborated by evidence.

The respondent further alleged that she did not gravely abuse her authority in not issuing a subpoena as
Section 1, Rule 3 of the Interim Rules on Corporate Rehabilitation of the Rules specifically states that the
court may decide matters on the basis of affidavits and other documentary evidence.

On the allegation of conflict of interest, she maintained that the allegations were not proven and
substantiated by evidence. Finally, the respondent also believed that there was nothing improper in
expressing her ideas during the informal meetings.

b. Comment to April 14, 2008 Supplemental Complaint

In her comment8 on the supplemental complaint, the respondent submitted that the photos she posted
in the social networking website "Friendster" could hardly be considered vulgar or lewd. She added that
an "off-shouldered" attire is an acceptable social outfit under contemporary standards and is not
forbidden. She further stated that there is no prohibition against attractive ladies being judges; she is
proud of her photo for having been aesthetically made. Lastly, she submitted that the ruling of the Court
in the case of Impao v. Judge Makilala9 should not be applied to her case since the facts are different.

On July 4, 2008, the complainant filed a reply,10 insisting that the respondents acts of posting
"seductive" pictures and maintaining a "Friendster" account constituted acts of impropriety, in violation
of Rules 2.01,11 2.0212 and 2.03,13 Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In a Resolution14 dated September 9, 2009, the Court re-docketed the complaints as regular
administrative matters, and referred them to the CA for investigation, report and recommendation.

The CAs Report and Recommendation

On November 13, 2009, Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison, the Investigating Justice, conducted a hearing,
followed by the submission of memoranda by both parties. In her January 4, 2010 Report and
Recommendation,15 Justice Gonzales-Sison ruled that the complaints were partly meritorious. She found
that the issues raised were judicial in nature since these involved the respondents appreciation of
evidence.

She also added that while the CA resolved to set aside the respondents decision in the rehabilitation
proceedings, it was not by reason of her ignorance of the law or abuse of authority, but because the
rehabilitation plan could no longer be implemented in view of SCPs financial predicament.

On the allegation of grave bias and partiality in handling the rehabilitation proceedings, Justice
Gonzales-Sison ruled that the complainant failed to present any clear and convincing proof that the
respondent intentionally and deliberately acted against SCPs interests; the complaint merely relied on
his opinions and surmises.

On the matter of the respondents inhibition, she noted that in cases not covered by the rule on
mandatory inhibition, the decision to inhibit lies within the discretion of the sitting judge and is primarily
a matter of conscience.

With respect to the respondents informal meetings, Justice Gonzales-Sison found nothing irregular
despite the out-of-court meetings as these were agreed upon by all the parties, including SCPs
creditors. She also found satisfactory the respondents explanation in approving the rehabilitation plan
beyond the 180-day period prescribed by the Rules.

The foregoing notwithstanding, Justice Gonzales-Sison noted the respondents unnecessary bickering
with SCPs legal counsel and ruled that her exchanges and utterances were reflective of arrogance and
superiority. In the words of the Justice Gonzales-Sison:

Rather than rule on the manifestations of counsels, she instead brushed off the matter with what would
appear to be a conceited show of a prerogative of her office, a conduct that falls below the standard of
decorum expected of a judge. Her statements appear to be done recklessly and were uncalled for. xxx.
Section 6[,] Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary states that: judges
shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court and be patient, dignified and
courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others whom the judge deals in an official
capacity. Judicial decorum requires judges to be temperate in their language at all times. Failure on this
regard amounts to a conduct unbecoming of a judge, for which Judge Austria should be held liable.16

On the respondents Friendster account, she believes that her act of maintaining a personal social
networking account (displaying photos of herself and disclosing personal details as a magistrate in the
account) even during these changing times when social networking websites seem to be the trend
constitutes an act of impropriety which cannot be legally justified by the publics acceptance of this type
of conduct. She explained that propriety and the appearance of propriety are essential to the
performance of all the activities of a judge and that judges shall conduct themselves in a manner
consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

Finally, Justice Gonzales-Sison noted the CAs May 16, 2006 Decision17 in CA-G.R. SP No. 100941 finding
that the respondent committed grave abuse of discretion in ordering the creation of a management
committee without first conducting an evidentiary hearing in accordance with the procedures
prescribed under the Rules. She ruled that such professional incompetence was tantamount to gross
ignorance of the law and procedure, and recommended a fine of P20,000.00. She also recommended
that the respondent be admonished for failing to observe strict propriety and judicial decorum required
by her office.

The Action and Recommendation of the OCA

In its Memorandum18 dated September 4, 2013, the OCA recommended the following:

RECOMMENDATION: It is respectfully recommended for the consideration of the Honorable Court that:

1) the Report dated January 4, 2010 of Investigating Justice Marlene Gonzales-Sison be NOTED;

2) respondent Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria, Branch 2, Regional Trial Court, Batangas City, Batangas, be
found GUILTY of conduct unbecoming a judge and for violation of Section 6, Canon 4 of the New Code of
Judicial Conduct;

3) respondent Judge Austria be FINED in the amount of Twenty Thousand Pesos (Php20,000.00); and

4) respondent Judge Austria be ADMONISHED to refrain from further acts of impropriety with a stern
warning that a repetition of the same or any similar act will be dealt with more severely.19

In arriving at its recommendation the OCA found that the respondent was not guilty of gross ignorance
of the law as the complainant failed to prove that her orders were motivated by bad faith, fraud,
dishonesty or corruption.

The OCA also found that the charges of bias and partiality in handling the rehabilitation proceedings
were not supported by evidence. It accepted the respondents explanation in the charge of failure to
observe the reglementary period.
Lastly, the OCA maintained that the allegations of grave abuse of authority and gross incompetence are
judicial in nature, hence, they should not be the subject of disciplinary action. On the other hand, on
allegations of conduct unbecoming of a judge, violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility
(Code), lack of circumspection and impropriety, the OCA shared Justice Gonzales-Sisons observations
that the respondents act of posting seductive photos in her Friendster account contravened the
standard of propriety set forth by the Code.

The Courts Ruling

We agree with the recommendation of both Justice Gonzales-Sison and the OCA for the imposition of a
fine on the respondent but modify the amount as indicated below. We sustain Justice Gonzales-Sisons
finding of gross ignorance of the law in so far as the respondent ordered the creation of a management
committee without conducting an evidentiary hearing. The absence of a hearing was a matter of basic
due process that no magistrate should be forgetful or careless about.

On the Charges of Grave Abuse of Authority;


Irregularity in the Performance of Duty; Grave
Bias and Partiality; and Lack of Circumspection

It is well settled that in administrative cases, the complainant bears the onus of proving the averments
of his complaint by substantial evidence.20 In the present case, the allegations of grave abuse of
authority, irregularity in the performance of duty, grave bias and partiality, and lack of circumspection
are devoid of merit because the complainant failed to establish the respondents bad faith, malice or ill
will. The complainant merely pointed to circumstances based on mere conjectures and suppositions.
These, by themselves, however, are not sufficient to prove the accusations. "[M]ere allegation is not
evidence and is not equivalent to proof."21

"[U]nless the acts were committed with fraud, dishonesty, corruption, malice or ill-will, bad faith, or
deliberate intent to do an injustice, [the] respondent judge may not be held administratively liable for
gross misconduct, ignorance of the law or incompetence of official acts in the exercise of judicial
functions and duties, particularly in the adjudication of cases."22

Even granting that the respondent indeed erred in the exercise of her judicial functions, these are, at
best, legal errors correctible not by a disciplinary action, but by judicial remedies that are readily
available to the complainant. "An administrative complaint is not the appropriate remedy for every
irregular or erroneous order or decision issued by a judge where a judicial remedy is available, such as a
motion for reconsideration or an appeal."23Errors committed by him/her in the exercise of adjudicative
functions cannot be corrected through administrative proceedings but should be assailed instead
through judicial remedies.24

On the Charges of Grave Bias and Partiality

We likewise find the allegations of bias and partiality on the part of the respondent baseless. The truth
about the respondents alleged partiality cannot be determined by simply relying on the complainants
verified complaint. Bias and prejudice cannot be presumed, in light especially of a judges sacred
obligation under his oath of office to administer justice without respect to the person, and to give equal
right to the poor and rich.25 There should be clear and convincing evidence to prove the charge; mere
suspicion of partiality is not enough.26

In the present case, aside from being speculative and judicial in character, the circumstances cited by
the complainant were grounded on mere opinion and surmises. The complainant, too, failed to adduce
proof indicating the respondents predisposition to decide the case in favor of one party. This kind of
evidence would have helped its cause. The bare allegations of the complainant cannot overturn the
presumption that the respondent acted regularly and impartially. We thus conclude that due to the
complainants failure to establish with clear, solid, and convincing proof, the allegations of bias and
partiality must fail.

On the Charges of Grave Incompetence


and Gross Ignorance of the Law

We agree with the findings of the OCA that not every error or mistake of a judge in the performance of
his official duties renders him liable.27 "[A]s a matter of policy, in the absence of fraud, dishonesty or
corruption, the acts of a judge in his judicial capacity are not subject to disciplinary action even though
such acts are erroneous."28

In the present case, what was involved was the respondents application of Section 23, Rule 4 of the
Rules, which provides:

Sec. 23. Approval of the Rehabilitation Plan. - The court may approve a rehabilitation plan even over the
opposition of creditors holding a majority of the total liabilities of the debtor if, in its judgment, the
rehabilitation of the debtor is feasible and the opposition of the creditors is manifestly unreasonable.29

The respondent approved the rehabilitation plan submitted by Atty. Gabionza, subject to the
modifications she found necessary to make the plan viable. The complainant alleged that in modifying
the plan, she exceeded her authority and effectively usurped the functions of a rehabilitation receiver.
We find, however, that in failing to show that the respondent was motivated by bad faith or ill motives
in rendering the assailed decision, the charge of gross ignorance of the law against her should be
dismissed. "To [rule] otherwise would be to render judicial office untenable, for no one called upon to
try the facts or interpret the law in the process of administering justice can be infallible in his
judgment."30

To constitute gross ignorance of the law, it is not enough that the decision, order or actuation of the
judge in the performance of his official duties is contrary to existing law and jurisprudence. It must also
be proven that he was moved by bad faith, fraud, dishonesty or corruption31 or had committed an error
so egregious that it amounted to bad faith.

In the present case, nothing in the records suggests that the respondent was motivated by bad faith,
fraud, corruption, dishonesty or egregious error in rendering her decision approving the modified
rehabilitation plan. Besides his bare accusations, the complainant failed to substantiate his allegations
with competent proof. Bad faith cannot be presumed32 and this Court cannot conclude that bad faith
intervened when none was actually proven.

With respect to the action of the respondent in ordering the creation of a management committee
without first conducting an evidentiary hearing for the purpose, however, we find the error to be so
egregious as to amount to bad faith, leading to the conclusion of gross ignorance of the law, as charged.

Due process and fair play are basic requirements that no less than the Constitution demands. In
rehabilitation proceedings, the parties must first be given an opportunity to prove (or disprove) the
existence of an imminent danger of dissipation, loss, wastage or destruction of the debtor-companys
assets and properties that are or may be prejudicial to the interest of minority stockholders, parties-
litigants or the general public.33 The rehabilitation court should hear both sides, allow them to present
proof and conscientiously deliberate, based on their submissions, on whether the appointment of a
management receiver is justified. This is a very basic requirement in every adversarial proceeding that
no judge or magistrate can disregard.

In SCPs rehabilitation proceedings, SCP was not given at all the opportunity to present its evidence, nor
to confront the EPCIB witnesses. Significantly, the CA, in its May 16, 2006 decision, found that the
respondents act of denying SCP the opportunity to disprove the grounds for the appointment of a
management committee was tantamount to grave abuse of discretion. As aptly observed by Justice
Gonzales-Sison:

[T]he acts of the respondent judge (Judge Austria) in creating a MANCOM without observing the
procedures prescribed under the IRPGICC clearly constitute grave abuse of discretion amounting to
excess of jurisdiction.34

Indeed, while a judge may not be held liable for gross ignorance of the law for every erroneous order
that he renders, this does not mean that a judge need not observe due care in the performance of
his/her official functions.35 When a basic principle of law is involved and when an error is so gross and
patent, error can produce an inference of bad faith, making the judge liable for gross ignorance of the
law.36 On this basis, we conclude that the respondents act of promptly ordering the creation of a
management committee, without the benefit of a hearing and despite the demand for one, was
tantamount to punishable professional incompetence and gross ignorance of the law.

On the Ground of Failure to Observe


the Reglementary Period

On the respondents failure to observe the reglementary period prescribed by the Rules, we find the
respondents explanation to be satisfactory.

Section 11, Rule 4 of the previous Rules provides:

Sec. 11. Period of the Stay Order. xxx


The petition shall be dismissed if no rehabilitation plan is approved by the court upon the lapse of one
hundred eighty (180) days from the date of the initial hearing. The court may grant an extension beyond
this period only if it appears by convincing and compelling evidence that the debtor may successfully be
rehabilitated. In no instance, however, shall the period for approving or disapproving a rehabilitation
plan exceed eighteen (18) months from the date of filing of the petition.37

Under this provision, the matter of who would grant the extension beyond the 180-day period carried a
good measure of ambiguity as it did not indicate with particularity whether the rehabilitation court
could act by itself or whether Supreme Court approval was still required. Only recently was this
uncertainty clarified when A.M. No. 00-8-10-SC, the 2008 Rules of Procedure on Corporate
Rehabilitation, took effect.

Section 12, Rule 4 of the Rules provides:

Section 12. Period to Decide Petition. - The court shall decide the petition within one (1) year from the
date of filing of the petition, unless the court, for good cause shown, is able to secure an extension of
the period from the Supreme Court.38

Since the new Rules only took effect on January 16, 2009 (long after the respondents approval of the
rehabilitation plan on December 3, 2007), we find no basis to hold the respondent liable for the
extension she granted and for the consequent delay.

On the Ground of Conduct


Unbecoming of a Judge

On the allegation of conduct unbecoming of a judge, Section 6, Canon 6 of the New Code of Judicial
Conduct states that:

SECTION 6. Judges shall maintain order and decorum in all proceedings before the court and be patient,
dignified and courteous in relation to litigants, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals
in an official capacity. Judges shall require similar conduct of legal representatives, court staff and others
subject to their influence, direction or control.39

A judge should always conduct himself in a manner that would preserve the dignity, independence and
respect for himself/herself, the Court and the Judiciary as a whole. He must exhibit the hallmark judicial
temperament of utmost sobriety and self-restraint.40 He should choose his words and exercise more
caution and control in expressing himself. In other words, a judge should possess the virtue of gravitas.41

As held in De la Cruz (Concerned Citizen of Legazpi City) v. Judge Carretas,42 a judge should be
considerate, courteous and civil to all persons who come to his court; he should always keep his passion
guarded. He can never allow it to run loose and overcome his reason. Furthermore, a magistrate should
not descend to the level of a sharp-tongued, ill-mannered petty tyrant by uttering harsh words, snide
remarks and sarcastic comments.
Similarly in Attys. Guanzon and Montesino v. Judge Rufon,43 the Court declared that "although
respondent judge may attribute his intemperate language to human frailty, his noble position in the
bench nevertheless demands from him courteous speech in and out of court.

Judges are required to always be temperate, patient and courteous, both in conduct and in language."

Accordingly, the respondents unnecessary bickering with SCPs legal counsel, her expressions of
exasperation over trivial procedural and negligible lapses, her snide remarks, as well as her
condescending attitude, are conduct that the Court cannot allow. They are displays of arrogance and air
of superiority that the Code abhors.

Records and transcripts of the proceedings bear out that the respondent failed to observe judicial
temperament and to conduct herself irreproachably. She also failed to maintain the decorum required
by the Code and to use temperate language befitting a magistrate. "As a judge, [she] should ensure that
[her] conduct is always above reproach and perceived to be so by a reasonable observer. [She] must
never show conceit or even an appearance thereof, or any kind of impropriety."44

Section 1, Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct states that:

SECTION 1. Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach, but that it is perceived to
be so in the view of a reasonable observer.

In these lights, the respondent exhibited conduct unbecoming of a judge and thus violated Section 6,
Canon 6 and Section 1, Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

On the Ground of Impropriety

We are not unaware of the increasing prevalence of social networking sites in the Internet a new
medium through which more and more Filipinos communicate with each other.45 While judges are not
prohibited from becoming members of and from taking part in social networking activities, we remind
them that they do not thereby shed off their status as judges. They carry with them in cyberspace the
same ethical responsibilities and duties that every judge is expected to follow in his/her everyday
activities. It is in this light that we judge the respondent in the charge of impropriety when she posted
her pictures in a manner viewable by the public.

Lest this rule be misunderstood, the New Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a judge from joining
or maintaining an account in a social networking site such as Friendster. Section 6, Canon 4 of the New
Code of Judicial Conduct recognizes that judges, like any other citizen, are entitled to freedom of
expression. This right "includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and impart
information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."46 Joining a social networking site is an
exercise of ones freedom of expression. The respondent judges act of joining Friendster is, therefore,
per se not violative of the New Code of Judicial Conduct.

Section 6, Canon 4 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct, however, also imposes a correlative restriction
on judges: in the exercise of their freedom of expression, they should always conduct themselves in a
manner that preserves the dignity of the judicial office and the impartiality and independence of the
Judiciary.

This rule reflects the general principle of propriety expected of judges in all of their activities, whether it
be in the course of their judicial office or in their personal lives. In particular, Sections 1 and 2 of Canon 4
of the New Code of Judicial Conduct prohibit impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety in all
of their activities:

SECTION 1. Judges shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.

SECTION 2. As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that might
be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In particular,
judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.

Based on this provision, we hold that the respondent disregarded the propriety and appearance of
propriety required of her when she posted Friendster photos of herself wearing an "off-shouldered"
suggestive dress and made this available for public viewing.

To restate the rule: in communicating and socializing through social networks, judges must bear in mind
that what they communicate regardless of whether it is a personal matter or part of his or her judicial
duties creates and contributes to the peoples opinion not just of the judge but of the entire Judiciary
of which he or she is a part. This is especially true when the posts the judge makes are viewable not only
by his or her family and close friends, but by acquaintances and the general public.

Thus, it may be acceptable for the respondent to show a picture of herself in the attire she wore to her
family and close friends, but when she made this picture available for public consumption, she placed
herself in a situation where she, and the status she holds as a judge, may be the object of the publics
criticism and ridicule. The nature of cyber communications, particularly its speedy and wide-scale
character, renders this rule necessary.

We are not also unaware that the respondents act of posting her photos would seem harmless and
inoffensive had this act been done by an ordinary member of the public. As the visible personification of
law and justice, however, judges are held to higher standards of conduct and thus must accordingly
comport themselves.47

This exacting standard applies both to acts involving the judicial office and personal
matters.1wphi1 The very nature of their functions requires behavior under exacting standards of
morality, decency and propriety; both in the performance of their duties and their daily personal lives,
they should be beyond reproach.48 Judges necessarily accept this standard of conduct when they take
their oath of office as magistrates.

Imposable Penalty
Under Section 8, Rule 140 of the Rules of Court, as amended by A.M. No. 01-8-10-SC, gross ignorance of
the law or procedure is classified as a serious charge. Under Section 11(A) of the same Rule, a serious
charge merits any of the following sanctions:

1. Dismissal from the service, forfeiture of all or part of the benefits as the Court may determine, and
disqualification from reinstatement or appointment to any public office, including government-owned
or controlled corporations; provided, however, that the forfeiture of benefits shall in no case include
accrued leave credits;

2. Suspension from office without salary and other benefits for more than three (3), but not exceeding
six (6), months; or

3. A fine of more than P20,000.00, but not exceeding P40,000.00.

On the other hand, conduct unbecoming of a judge is classified as a light offense under Section 10, Rule
140 of the Rules of Court. It is penalized under Section 11(C) thereof by any of the following: (1) A fine of
not less thanP1,000.00 but not exceeding P10,000.00; (2) Censure; (3) Reprimand; and ( 4) Admonition
with warning.

Judge Austria's record shows that she had never been administratively charged or found liable for any
wrongdoing in the past. Since this is her first offense, the Court finds it fair and proper to temper the
penalty for her offenses.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Judge Ma. Cecilia I. Austria guilty of GROSS IGNORANCE OF THE LAW for
which she is FINED Twenty-One Thousand Pesos (P21,000,00). Judge Austria is likewise hereby
ADMONISHED to refrain from further acts of IMPROPRIETY and to refrain from CONDUCT UNBECOMING
OF A JUDGE, with the STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with
more severely.

SO ORDERED.

ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice

A.C. No. 7944 June 03, 2013

REX POLINAR DAGOHOY, COMPLAINANT,


vs.
ATTY. ARTEMIO V. SAN JUAN, RESPONDENT.

DECISION

BRION, J.:
For consideration are: (1) the letter1 dated August 28, 2012 of respondent Atty. Artemio V. San Juan
informing the Court of his compliance with the Courts Resolution2 dated April 16, 2012; and (2) the
Report and Recommendation3 dated January 14, 2013 of the Office of the Bar Confidant.

The Facts

Atty. San Juan was administratively charged for gross negligence, in connection with the dismissal of his
clients appeal filed before the Court of Appeals (CA). Tomas Dagohoy (Tomas), his client and the father
of complainant Rex Polinar Dagohoy, was charged with and convicted of theft by the Regional Trial
Court, Branch 34, of Panabo City, Davao del Norte.4 According to the complainant, the CA dismissed the
appeal for Atty. San Juans failure to file the appellants brief.5 He further alleged that Atty. San Juan did
not file a motion for reconsideration against the CAs order of dismissal.6

The complainant also accused Atty. San Juan of being untruthful in dealing with him and Tomas. The
complainant, in this regard, alleged that Atty. San Juan failed to inform him and Tomas of the real status
of Tomas appeal and did not disclose to them the real reason for its dismissal.7

In his comment,8 Atty. San Juan denied the charge. He imputed fault on Tomas for failing to furnish him
a copy of the case records to enable him to prepare and file the appellants brief. He claimed that he
tried to save the situation but a rich niece of Tomas dismissed him and prevented him from further
acting on the case.

The IBPs Report and Recommendation

After receipt of Atty. San Juans comment, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.9

On September 15, 2009, Investigating Commissioner Salvador B. Hababag found Atty. San Juan negligent
and recommended the penalty of three (3) months suspension from the practice of law.10 The
Investigating Commissioner opined:

Under Section 7, Rule 44 of the same Rules, the period within which Appellant should file his Brief is
limited only to forty five (45) days, unless an extension of time to file briefs has been granted by the
Court upon good and sufficient cause, and only if the motion for extension is filed before the expiration
of the time sought to be extended. However, up to the present or for a period of almost one (1) year,
Accused Appellant neither moved for extension of time to file nor filed his brief.11

In Resolution No. XIX-2011-305 dated May 15, 2011, the IBP Board of Governors unanimously approved
the findings of the Investigating Commissioner.12

The IBP refers its findings to the Court

The complainant and Atty. San Juan did not file a motion for reconsideration against Resolution No. XIX-
2011-305 dated May 15, 2011. The IBP thereafter submitted its findings to the Court.

In our Resolution dated April 16, 2012, we resolved:


A.C. No. 7944 (Rex Polinar Dagohoy vs. Artemio V. San Juan). The Court NOTES the Notice of
Resolution No. XIX-2011-305 dated 15 May 2011 of the IBP Board of Governors which adopted and
approved the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner finding the same to be
fully supported by the evidence on record and applicable laws and rules, and finding respondent guilty
of gross negligence, ordered the suspension of Atty. Artemio V. San Juan from the practice of law for
three (3) months; transmitted by letter dated 16 January 2012 of Acting Director Dennis A.B. Funa, IBP
Commission on Bar Discipline, together with the records of the case and the notation that no motion for
reconsideration was filed by either party.13 (emphases and italics supplied)

Atty. San Juans letter dated August 28, 2012

and motion to lift suspension from the practice of law

In a letter dated August 28, 2012, Atty. San Juan manifested his compliance with the April 16, 2002
Resolution and prayed for the lifting of his suspension. He stated that:

This will please confirm receipt on May 31, 2012 of a Resolution dated 16 April 2012, by the Hon.
Supreme Court, Second Division, Baguio City, ordering my suspension from the practice of law for three
(3) months. Upon receipt of the notice on May 31, 2012, I personally informed the Presiding Judge of
the [c]ourts where I have been handling cases by showing to them the above-mentioned notice from the
High Court.14

In its Report and Recommendation dated January 14, 2013, the Office of the Bar Confidant
recommended:

A resolution, whether to adopt or modify the penalty imposed on the respondent as recommended by
the IBP, be now issued;

For purposes of determining the effectivity of the order of suspension, respondent be REQUIRED to
notify the Court of the date of x x x the said resolution;

After the lapse of the entire duration of the order of suspension, the respondent be REQUIRED to file a
sworn manifestation, with attachment of certifications from the IBP Local Chapter where he belongs and
the Office of the Executive Judge of the court where he practices his profession, all stating that he has
ceased and desisted from the practice of law (stating the date of the start of suspension up to the end of
the period of suspension).15

The Courts Ruling

Except for the recommended penalty, we adopt the findings of the IBP.

In Dalisay Capili v. Atty. Alfredo L. Bentulan,16 we held that the failure to file a brief resulting in the
dismissal of an appeal constitutes inexcusable negligence. In this case, Atty. San Juans negligence in
handling his clients appeal was duly established by the records and by his own admission. We cannot
accept as an excuse the alleged lapse committed by his client in failing to provide him a copy of the case
records.

In the first place, securing a copy of the case records was within Atty. San Juans control and is a task
that the lawyer undertakes. We note that Atty. San Juan received a notice dated April 19, 200517 from
CA Clerk of Court Beverly S. Beja informing him that the case records were already complete and at his
disposal for the preparation of the brief.

Second, Atty. San Juan, unlike his client, knows or should have known, that filing an appellants brief
within the reglementary period is critical in the perfection of an appeal. In this case, Atty. San Juan was
directed to file an appellants brief within thirty (30) days from receipt of the notice dated April 19, 2005
sent by CA Clerk of Court Beja.

The preparation and the filing of the appellants brief are matters of procedure that fully fell within the
exclusive control and responsibility of Atty. San Juan. It was incumbent upon him to execute all acts and
procedures necessary and incidental to the perfection of his clients appeal.

Third, the records also disclose Atty. San Juans lack of candor in dealing with his client. He omitted to
inform Tomas of the progress of his appeal with the CA.18 Worse, he did not disclose to Tomas the real
reason for the CAs dismissal of the appeal.19 Neither did Atty. San Juan file a motion for reconsideration
to address the CAs order of dismissal, or otherwise resort to available legal remedies that might have
protected his clients interest.

Atty. San Juans negligence undoubtedly violates the Lawyers Oath that requires him to "conduct
[himself] as a lawyer according to the best of (his) knowledge and discretion, with all good fidelity as
well to the courts as to (his) clients[.]" He also violated Rule 18.03 and Rule 18.04, Canon 18 of the Code
of Professional Responsibility, which provide:

CANON 18 A LAWYER SHALL SERVE HIS CLIENT WITH COMPETENCE AND DILIGENCE.

xxxx

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

Rule 18.04 - A lawyer shall keep the client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a
reasonable time to the client's request for information.

"It is a fundamental rule of ethics that an attorney who undertakes to conduct an action impliedly
stipulates to carry it to its conclusion."20 It was Atty. San Juans bounden duty to see his cases through
until proper completion; he could not abandon or neglect them in midstream,21 in the way he did with
the complainants case.

In light of these considerations, we find the IBPs recommended penalty of three (3) months suspension
from the practice of law not commensurate to the gravity of the infractions committed; as described
above, these infractions warrant the imposition of a stiffer sanction. We take into account the following
acts, omissions, and consequence attendant to Atty. San Juans inadequacies: first, the negligence in
handling his clients appeal; second, his failure to act candidly and effectively in communicating
information to his client; and more importantly, third, the serious and irreparable consequence of his
admitted negligence which deprived his client of legal remedies in addressing his conviction.

In Pineda v. Atty. Macapagal,22 we imposed a one (1) year suspension from the practice of law on a
lawyer who, like Atty. San Juan, had been found guilty of gross negligence in handling his clients case.
With this case as the norm, we hold that Atty. San Juan should be meted a suspension of one (1) year
from the practice of law for his negligence and inadequacies in handling his clients case.

Finally, we deny Atty. San Juans motion to lift the order of suspension.1wphi1 Atty. San Juans self-
imposed compliance with the IBPs recommended penalty of three (3) months suspension was
premature. The wordings of the Resolution dated April 16, 2012 show that the Court merely noted: (1)
the IBPs findings and the recommended penalty against Atty. San Juan; and (2) the IBP referral of the
case back to the Court for its proper disposition. The IBP findings and the stated penalty thereon are
merely recommendatory; only the Supreme Court has the power to discipline erring lawyers and to
impose against them penalties for unethical conduct.23 Until finally acted upon by the Supreme Court,
the IBP findings and the recommended penalty imposed cannot attain finality until adopted by the Court
as its own. Thus, the IBP findings, by themselves, cannot be a proper subject of implementation or
compliance.24

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court resolves to:

NOTE the Report and Recommendation dated January 14, 2013 of the Office of the Bar Confidant;

SUSPEND from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year Atty. Artemio V. San Juan for violating his
Lawyers Oath and Rules 18.03 and Rule 18.04, Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, with
a WARNING that the commission of the same or similar act or acts shall be dealt with more severely;
and

DENY the motion filed by Atty. Artemio V. San Juan in the letter dated August 28, 2012 that he be
allowed to return to the practice of law.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished to all courts. The Office of the Bar Confidant is instructed to
include a copy of this Decision in Atty. San Juans file.

SO ORDERED.

Del Castillo, Perez, Perlas-Bernabe, and Leonen,** JJ., concur.


Brion,* J., (Acting Chairperson).
A.M. No. SCC-08-11-P June 18, 2013

CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, Complainant,


vs.
ISMAEL A. HADJI ALI, Court Stenographer I, Shari'a Circuit Court, Tubod, Lanao del Norte [Formerly
A.M. No. 04-9-03-SCC] (Re: Formal Charge by the Civil Service Commission vs. Ismael A. Hadji Ali,
Court Stenographer I, Shari'a Circuit Court, Tubod, Lanao del Norte) Respondent.

RESOLUTION

PER CURIAM:

Before the Court is an administrative case for Dishonesty against respondent Ismael A. Hadji Ali, Court
Stenographer I at the Shari'a Circuit Court of Tubod, Lanao del Norte.

In connection with the respondents appointment as Court Stenographer I at the Tubod, Lanao del Norte
Shari'a Circuit Court, Arturo SJ. Panaligan, Director II of the Civil Service Commission (referred here as
the CSC) Field Office at the Supreme Court, sent a formal request on September 12, 2001 to Macybel
Alfaro-Sahi, Director IV of the CSC Regional Office No. IX at Cabantagan, Zamboanga City, for the
confirmation of respondents civil service eligibility. Respondent had represented that he took and
passed the Civil Service Professional Examination held on May 11, 2001 in Zamboanga City (referred
here as the The director received the following reply:2

Dear Director Panaligan:

This refers to your request for verification of the Career Service (Professional) eligibility of Mr. ISMAEL A.
HADJI ALI, taken on May 11, 2000.

A perusal of the Picture Seat Plan (Copy enclosed for your reference) of the room where he took the
examination reveals that his picture and signature are different from the one appearing in the Personal
Data Sheet (PDS) attached to your request.

We therefore, do not confirm Mr. Hadji Ali's eligibility and shall take appropriate legal action against
him.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.)
MACYBEL ALFARO-SAHI
Director IV

On July 6, 2004, respondent was charged with Dishonesty:3

FORMAL CHARGE

Sir:
After thorough preliminary investigation, this Office finds that a prima facie case of Dishonesty exists
against you, committed as follows:

That you (true Ismael A. Hadji Ali), knowingly and unlawfully allowed somebody else to take the 11 May
2000 Career Service Examination (Professional) through the Computer-Assisted Test given in Zamboanga
City, for and in your behalf, as shown in the attached machine copies of the Picture Seat Plan used
during the aforesaid examination and your Personal Data Sheet accomplished on 22 February 2000.

CONTRARY TO CIVIL SERVICE LAW AND RULES.

xxxx

(Sgd.)
ROGELIO C. LIMARE
Director IV

The CSC furnished the Office of the Chief Justice (referred here as OCJ) with a copy of the formal charge
docketed as CSC Administrative Case No. D-04-15.

In a 1st Indorsement dated August 31, 2004, the OCJ referred the formal charge to the Office of the
Court Administrator (referred here as OCA) for appropriate action.4 The OCA docketed the charge as
Administrative Matter No. 04-9-03-SCC, or Civil Service Commission v. Ismael A. Ali, and required
respondent to file a Comment.5

In lieu of a Comment, respondent filed before the OCA a copy of the Answer6 that he had submitted to
the CSC Regional Office No. IX. He requested that it be treated as his Comment in Administrative Matter
No. 04-9-03-SCC.7

Respondent denied he allowed another person to take the Civil Service Examination in his behalf. He
insisted he himself took the test and obtained a passing grade of 86.76%. He pointed out that the test
was supervised by CSC personnel and that before he was allowed to take the test, a supervisor had
received and checked his written application and supporting documents that included his identification
photographs. While he admitted that his Personal Data Sheet contained his true photo, he insinuated
that his "true" photo on the Picture Seat Plan for the test had been replaced with that of another
persons.8 He argued that the CSC was already estopped from questioning his Civil Service eligibility as it
had confirmed and approved his appointment as Court Stenographer I.9

On the Recommendation of the OCA,10 the Court referred the case to the Executive Judge of the
Regional Trial Court of Zamboanga City for investigation, report, and recommendation. The Court
further instructed the Executive Judge to require the CSC Regional Office No. IX to submit a report on its
investigation in CSC Administrative Case No. D-04-15.11

Executive Judge Reynerio G. Estacio (referred here as Judge Estacio) set hearings on September 25,
2007; October 30, 2007; and November 27, 2007. Incidentally, he reported that the CSC no longer
conducted an investigation in CSC Administrative Case No. D-04-15 on jurisdictional grounds.12 During
the hearings, Atty. Fitzgerald Robert Tan and Noemi Cunting of the CSC Regional Office No. IX appeared
and testified for the CSC. Despite notice, respondent failed to appear.13

On June 30, 2008, the Court received Judge Estacio's Report and Recommendation.14 The investigating
judge found substantial evidence for respondent's dismissal from the service. He stated:

xxxx

It is clear that the picture of the person and signature appearing on the Picture Seat Plan (Exhibit "A,"
Rollo, p. 35) do not resemble the picture and signature of the respondent as appearing in his Personal
Data Sheet (Exhibit "B" and "B-3," Rollo, pp. 36-37). And the respondent does not really dispute this fact
more so, in light of his allegation and which respondent would want us to believe that the picture pasted
on the Picture Seat Plan must have been replaced by someone who wanted him removed. However, the
undersigned has carefully examined the Picture Seat Plan, particularly the picture appearing on the
space provided for the respondent, and found no indication whatsoever that the same has been
tampered. As with the pictures of other examinees pasted thereon, the picture pasted on the space
provided for the respondent, was found by the undersigned, neatly intact.

According to Ms. Cunting, the Chief of the Examination Services Division, the examinees are the ones
who paste their respective pictures on the Picture Seat Plan (TSN, November 27, 2007, p. 8). Before they
allow them to take the examination, they have to accomplish among others, the attendance sheet and
the picture seat plan and they have to paste their respective pictures on the Picture Seat Plan (TSN,
November 27, 2007, pp. 5-6).

The conclusion therefore, [sic] is inescapable that contrary to the respondent's assertion that it was he
who took the subject examination, it was someone else who took the subject examination for him. And
it is significant to note that even the signature affixed on the Examinee Attendance Sheet (Rollo, p. 27)
and on the Picture Seat Plan (Exhibit "A"), is strikingly different from the respondent's signature affixed
on his Personal Data Sheet (Exhibit "B" and "B-1"). The respondent never contested this finding. And he
cannot now pretend that he was not given the opportunity to examine the questioned documents. He
was notified of the scheduled hearings to afford him the opportunity to examine for himself the subject
Picture Seat Plan, but as earlier stated, despite notice, he failed to appear, thereby bolstering his
desperate position on the matter of the finding of the Civil Service Commission that the picture
appearing and the signature affixed on the Picture Seat Plan are not really his and the conclusion that
someone else (not the respondent) took the subject examination. The respondent even failed to point
to anyone who could have been so excessively interested in his position that he or she had to resort to
framing him up.

That there might have been mixing up of the pictures and signatures of the examinees, or that
respondent might have submitted the wrong picture as he would also want to impress, was unlikely in
light of the strict procedures observed by the supervising Civil Service Commission officials during
examination. Thus, in Cruz and Paitim v. CSC (G.R. No. 144464, November 27, 2001), the Hon. Supreme
Court sustained the findings of the Civil Service Commission regarding the procedures being observed
during examinations:
It should be stressed that as a matter of procedure, the room examiners assigned to supervise the
conduct of a Civil Service examination closely examine the picture submitted and affixed on the Picture
Seat Plan (CSC Resolution No. 95-3694, Obedencio, Jaime A.) The examiners carefully compare the
appearance of each of the examinees with the person in the picture submitted and affixed on the PSP. In
cases where the examinee does not look like the person in the picture submitted and attached on the
PSP, the examiner will not allow the said person to take the examination (CSC Resolution No. 95-5195,
Taguinay, Ma. Theresa).15

The Court referred the Report and Recommendation to the OCA for evaluation.16 In a
Memorandum17 dated October 3, 2008, then Court Administrator Jose P. Perez made a separate
appreciation of the evidence on record and agreed with the findings and recommendation of the
investigating judge.18

We accept the recommendation of the Executive Judge and the OCA.

The distinct differences between respondent's identification photos and signatures on his Personal Data
Sheet and the Picture Seat Plan for the test give rise to the reasonable conclusion that another person
had taken the Civil Service Examination in respondents behalf.

Unfortunately for respondent, his claim that his "true" photo on the Picture Seat Plan was replaced
subsequently carries no persuasive weight. As the OCA noted, he failed to submit evidence to
substantiate this claim. Thus, the claim remains speculative and also unlikely. The investigating judge
observed no indication that the Picture Seat Plan had been tampered with. We consider also that
respondent offered no motive for unknown persons to meddle with his Civil Service eligibility.

As Judge Estacio pointed out, the incident in the present case is not new. In Civil Service Commission v.
Zenaida T. Sta. Ana,19 the Court found that Sta. Ana, Court Stenographer 1 at the Municipal Circuit Trial
Court of Quezon-Licab, Nueva Ecija, had taken and passed the Career Service Professional Examination
Computer Assisted Test on September 16, 1998 when, in fact, someone else had taken the test for her.
Sta. Ana's administrative case arose when the CSC found out that her photo and signature on her
Personal Data Sheet were different from those on the Picture Seat Plan. As with respondent, Sta. Ana
sought to explain the disparity by saying that an unknown person had replaced her photo on the Picture
Seat Plan. The Court rejected this explanation for the following reason:

x x x However, this Court agrees with the observation of the executive judge that the irregularity should
not be attributed to the CSC which had no motive in tampering with such documents. Even if such
irregularity was attributable to error or oversight, respondent did not present any proof that it occurred
during the examination and, thus, the CSC officials who supervised the exam enjoyed the presumption
of regularity in the performance of their official duty. Besides, for the CSC to commit such a mistake
mixing up the pictures and signatures of examinees was unlikely due to the strict procedures it follows
during civil service examinations.20

Thus, we dismissed Sta. Ana from the service for Dishonesty.


Respondent's representation that he himself took the Civil Service Examination when someone else took
it for him constitutes Dishonesty. It bears noting that per CSC Memorandum Circular No. 15, Series of
1991, the use of spurious Civil Service eligibility constitutes Dishonesty, among others:

An act which includes the procurement and/or use of fake/spurious civil service eligibility, the giving of
assistance to ensure the commission or procurement of the same, cheating, collusion, impersonation, or
any other anomalous act which amounts to any violation of the Civil Service examination, has been
categorized as a grave offense of Dishonesty, Grave Misconduct or Conduct Prejudicial to the Best
Interest of the Service.21

Time and again, we have stated that Dishonesty is a malevolent act that has no place in the
judiciary.1wphi1 No other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral
righteousness from an employee than a position in the judiciary.22

Respondent failed to observe the strict standards and behavior required of an employee in the judiciary.
He has shown his unfitness for public office. Under the Civil Service Rules, Dishonesty is a grave offense
punishable by dismissal that carries the accessory penalties of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of
retirement benefits [except leave credits pursuant to Rule 140, Section 11 (1)] and disqualification from
re-employment in the government service.23

WHEREFORE, respondent ISMAEL A. HADJI ALI is found guilty of Dishonesty. He is DISMISSED from the
service with forfeiture of retirement and other benefits, except accrued leave credits, and with prejudice
to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned
and controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO


Chief Justice

A.M. No. P-01-1448 June 25, 2013


(Formerly OCA IPI No. 99-664-P)

RODOLFO C. SABIDONG, Complainant,


vs.
NICOLASITO S. SOLAS (Clerk of Court IV), Respondent.

DECISION

VILLARAMA, JR., J.:


The present administrative case stemmed from a sworn letter-complaint1 dated May 29, 1999 filed
before this Court by Rodolfo C. Sabidong (complainant) charging respondent Nicolasito S. Solas, Clerk of
Court IV, Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC), Iloilo City with grave and serious misconduct,
dishonesty, oppression and abuse of authority.

The Facts

Trinidad Sabidong, complainants mother, is one of the longtime occupants of a parcel of land,
designated as Lot 11 (Lot 1280-D-4-11 of consolidation-subdivision plan [LRC] Pcs-483) originally
registered in the name of C. N. Hodges and situated at Barangay San Vicente, Jaro, Iloilo City.2 The
Sabidongs are in possession of one-half portion of Lot 11 of the said Estate (Hodges Estate), as the other
half-portion was occupied by Priscila Saplagio. Lot 11 was the subject of an ejectment suit filed by the
Hodges Estate, docketed as Civil Case No. 14706 of the MTCC Iloilo City, Branch 4 ("Rosita R. Natividad in
her capacity as Administratrix of C.N. Hodges Estate, plaintiff vs. Priscila Saplagio, defendant"). On May
31, 1983, a decision was rendered in said case ordering the defendant to immediately vacate the portion
of Lot 11 leased to her and to pay the plaintiff rentals due, attorneys fees, expenses and costs.3 At the
time, respondent was the Clerk of Court III of MTCC, Branch 3, Iloilo City.

Sometime in October 1984, respondent submitted an Offer to Purchase on installment Lots 11 and 12.
In a letter dated January 7, 1986, the Administratrix of the Hodges Estate rejected respondents offer in
view of an application to purchase already filed by the actual occupant of Lot 12, "in line with the policy
of the Probate Court to give priority to the actual occupants in awarding approval of Offers". While the
check for initial down payment tendered by respondent was returned to him, he was nevertheless
informed that he may file an offer to purchase Lot 11 and that if he could put up a sufficient down
payment, the Estate could immediately endorse it for approval of the Probate Court so that the property
can be awarded to him "should the occupant fail to avail of the priority given to them."4

The following day, January 8, 1986, respondent again submitted an Offer to Purchase Lot 11 with an
area of 234 square meters for the amount of P35,100. Under the Order dated November 18, 1986 issued
by the probate court (Regional Trial Court of Iloilo, Branch 27) in Special Proceedings No. 1672 ("Testate
Estate of the Late Charles Newton Hodges, Rosita R. Natividad, Administratrix"), respondents Offer to
Purchase Lot 11 was approved upon the courts observation that the occupants of the subject lots "have
not manifested their desire to purchase the lots they are occupying up to this date and considering time
restraint and considering further, that the sales in favor of the x x x offerors are most beneficial to the
estate x x x". On January 21, 1987, the probate court issued another Order granting respondents
motion for issuance of a writ of possession in his favor. The writ of possession over Lot 11 was
eventually issued on June 27, 1989.5

On November 21, 1994, a Deed of Sale With Mortgage covering Lot 11 was executed between
respondent and the Hodges Estate represented by its Administratrix, Mrs. Ruth R. Diocares. Lot 11 was
thereby conveyed to respondent on installment for the total purchase price of P50,000.

Consequently, Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-11836 in the name of C. N. Hodges was cancelled
and a new certificate of title, TCT No. T-107519 in the name of respondent was issued on December 5,
1994. Lot 11 was later subdivided into two lots, Lots 11-A and 11-B for which the corresponding titles
(TCT Nos. T-116467 and T-116468), also in the name of respondent, were issued on February 28, 1997.6

On motion of Ernesto Pe Benito, Administrator of the Hodges Estate, a writ of demolition was issued on
March 3, 1998 by the probate court in favor of respondent and against all adverse occupants of Lot 11.7

On June 14, 1999, this Court received the sworn letter-complaint asserting that as court employee
respondent cannot buy property in litigation (consequently he is not a buyer in good faith), commit
deception, dishonesty, oppression and grave abuse of authority. Complainant specifically alleged the
following:

3. Complainant and his siblings, are possessors and occupants of a parcel of land situated at Brgy. San
Vicente, Jaro, Iloilo City, then identified as Lot No. 1280-D-4-11, later consolidated and subdivided and
became known as Lot 11, then registered and titled in the name of Charles Newton Hodges. The
Sabidong family started occupying this lot in 1948 and paid their monthly rentals until sometime in 1979
when the Estate of Hodges stopped accepting rentals. x x x

4. Upon knowing sometime in 1987 that the property over which their house is standing, was being
offered for sale by the Estate, the mother of complainant, TRINIDAD CLAVERIO SABIDONG (now
deceased), took interest in buying said property, Lot 11;

5. TRINIDAD CLAVERIO SABIDONG, was then an ordinary housekeeper and a laundrywoman, who never
received any formal education, and did not even know how to read and write. When Trinidad Claverio
Sabidong, together with her children and the complainant in this case, tried to negotiate with the Estate
for the sale of the subject property, they were informed that all papers for transaction must pass
through the respondent in this case, Nicolasito Solas. This is unusual, so they made inquiries and they
learned that, Nicolasito Solas was then the Clerk of Court 111, Branch 3, Municipal Trial Court in Cities,
Iloilo City and presently, the City Sheriff of Iloilo City;

6. The respondent Nicolasito Solas, then Clerk of Court III, MTCC, Iloilo City, has knowledge, by reason of
his position that in 1983 Hodges Estate was ejecting occupants of its land. x x x Taking advantage of this
inside information that the land subject of an ejectment case in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities, Iloilo
City, whom respondent is a Clerk of Court III, the respondent surreptitiously offered to buy the said lot
in litigation. x x x

7. Complainant nor any member of his family did not know that as early as 1984, the respondent had
offered to purchase the subject lot from the estate x x x. After receiving the notice of denial of his offer
to purchase, dated January 7, 1986, respondent made a second offer to purchase the subject property
the following day, January 8, 1986, knowing fully well that the subject property was being occupied. x x x

8. Because of this denial, respondent met with the family of the complainant and negotiated for the sale
of the property and transfer of the title in favor of the latter. Respondent made the complainant and his
family believed that he is the representative of the estate and that he needed a downpayment right
away. All the while, the Sabidong family (who were carpenters, laundrywomen, a janitor, persons who
belong to the underprivileged) relied on the representations of the respondent that he was authorized
to facilitate the sale, with more reason that respondent represented himself as the City Sheriff;

9. That between 1992-1993, a sister of the complainant who was fortunate to have worked abroad, sent
the amount of Ten Thousand (P10,000.00) Pesos to complainants mother, to be given to respondent
Nicolasito Solas. x x x After receiving the money, respondent assured the Sabidong family that they will
not be ejected from the lot, he being the City Sheriff will take care of everything, and taking advantage
of the illiteracy of Trinidad Claverio Sabidong, he did not issue any receipt;

10. True enough, they were not ejected instead it took the respondent some time to see them again and
demanded additional payment. In the meanwhile, the complainant waited for the papers of the
supposed sale and transfer of title, which respondent had promised after receiving the downpayment
of P10,000.00;

11. That sometime again in 1995, respondent again received from the mother of complainant the
amount of Two Thousand (P2,000.00) Pesos, allegedly for the expenses of the documentation of sale
and transfer of title, and again respondent promised that the Sabidong family will not be ejected;

12. To the prejudice and surprise of the complainant and his family, respondent was able to secure an
order for the approval of his offer to purchase x x x in Special Proceedings No. 1672 x x x;

13. Worse, respondent moved for the issuance of a Writ of Possession in his favor, which the probate
court acted favorably x x x. A writ of possession was issued on June 27, 1989 x x x;

14. x x x respondent took advantage of the trust and confidence which the Sabidong family has shown,
considering that respondent was an officer of the court and a City Sheriff at that. The complainant and
his family thought that respondent, being a City Sheriff, could help them in the transfer of the title in
their favor. Never had they ever imagined that while respondent had been receiving from them hard-
earned monies purportedly for the sale of the subject property, respondent was also exercising acts of
ownership adverse to the interest of the complainant and his family;

15. Being an officer of the court and supposed to be an embodiment of fairness and justice, respondent
acted with malice, with grave abuse of confidence and deceit when he represented that he can facilitate
the sale and titling of the subject property in favor of the complainant and his family;

16. That when several thousands of pesos were given to the respondent as payment for the same and
incidental expenses relative thereto, he was able to cause the transfer of the title in his favor. x x x;

17. After the death of Trinidad Claverio Sabidong x x x the respondent received from the complainant
the amount of Five Thousand (P5,000.00) Pesos x x x When a receipt was demanded, respondent
refused to issue one, and instead promised and assured the complainant that they will not be ejected;

xxxx
19. The complainant again, through his sister-in-law, Socorro Sabidong, delivered and gave to the
respondent the amount of Three Thousand (P3,000.00) Pesos as expenses for the subdivision of the
subject lot. The respondent facilitated the subdivision and after the same was approved, the
complainant did not know that two (2) titles were issued in the name of the respondent. x x x;

20. Meanwhile, respondent prepared a Contract to Sell, for the complainant and his neighbor Norberto
Saplagio to affix their signatures, pursuant to their previous agreement for the buyers to avail of a
housing loan with the Home Development Mutual Fund (PAG-IBIG). Complainant attended the seminar
of the HDMF for seven (7) times, in his desire to consummate the sale. However, when the complainant
affixed his signature in the contract, he was surprised that the owner of the subject property was the
respondent. When complainant raised a question about this, respondent assured complainant that
everything was alright and that sooner complainant will be the owner of the property. Complainant and
his family, all these years, had believed and continued to believe that the owner was the estate of
Hodges and that respondent was only the representative of the estate;

21. The Contract to Sell, appeared to have been notarized on June 3, 1996, however, no copy thereof
was given to the complainant by the respondent. Respondent then, took the papers and documents
required by the HDMF to be completed, from the complainant allegedly for the purpose of personally
filing the same with the HDMF. Complainant freely and voluntarily delivered all pertinent documents to
the respondent, thinking that respondent was helping in the fast and easy release of the loan. While the
said documents were in the possession of the respondent, he never made any transaction with the
HDMF, worse, when complainant tried to secure a copy of the Contract to Sell, the copy given was not
signed by the Notary Public, x x x;

22. The complainant [was] shocked to learn that respondent had canceled the sale and that respondent
refused to return the documents required by the HDMF. Respondent claimed that as Sheriff, he can
cause the demolition of the house of the complainant and of his family. Respondent threatened the
complainant and he is capable of pursuing a demolition order and serve the same with the assistance of
the military. x x x;

23. After learning of the demolition order, complainant attempted to settle the matter with the
respondent, however, the same proved futile as respondent boasted that the property would now cost
at Four Thousand Five Hundred (P4,500.00) Pesos;

24. The threats of demolition is imminent. Clearly, complainant and his family were duped by the
respondent and are helpless victims of an officer of the court who took advantage of their good faith
and trust. Complainant later was informed that the subject property was awarded to the respondent as
his Sheriffs Fees, considering that respondent executed the decisions in ejectment cases filed by the
Hodges estate against the adverse occupants of its vast properties;

25. A civil case for the Annulment of Title of the respondent over the subject property is pending before
the Regional Trial Court of Iloilo, Branch 37 and a criminal complaint for Estafa is also pending
preliminary investigation before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Iloilo City, known as I.S. No. 1559-
99, both filed [by] the complainant against the respondent.8
Acting on the complaint, Court Administrator Alfredo L. Benipayo issued a 1st Indorsement9 dated July 8,
1999, requiring respondent to file his comment on the Complaint dated May 29, 1999. On October 21,
1999, respondent submitted his Comment.10

In a Resolution11 dated July 19, 1999, Public Prosecutor Constantino C. Tubilleja dismissed the Estafa
charge against respondent for insufficiency of evidence.

On November 29, 2000, Court Administrator Benipayo issued an Evaluation and


Recommendation12 finding respondent guilty of violating Article 149113 of the Civil Code. Said rule
prohibits the purchase by certain court officers of property and rights in litigation within their
jurisdiction. Court Administrator Benipayo recommended that:

1. this administrative complaint be treated as an administrative matter;

2. respondent Nicolasito S. Solas, Clerk of Court IV, OCC, MTCC, Iloilo City be SUSPENDED for six (6)
months, with warning that a repetition of the same offense in the future will be dealt with more
severely;

3. inasmuch as there are factual issues regarding the delivery of substantial amounts which complainant
alleged and which defendant denied, this issue should be investigated and the Executive Judge of the
Regional Trial Court of Iloilo City should be designated to hear the evidence and to make a report and
recommendation within sixty (60) days from receipt.14

In a Resolution15 dated January 22, 2001, this Court adopted the recommendation of the Court
Administrator to treat the present administrative action as a regular administrative matter and to
designate the Executive Judge of the RTC of Iloilo City to hear the evidence of the parties.

The Court, however, noted without action the Court Administrators recommendation to suspend
respondent for six months.

On March 13, 2001, Acting Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepao forwarded the records of this case to
Executive Judge Tito G. Gustilo of the Iloilo City RTC.16 In a Resolution17 dated July 18, 2001, the Court
referred this case to the Executive Judge of the RTC of Iloilo City for investigation, report and
recommendation within 60 days from notice. By Order18 dated August 30, 2001, Executive Judge Gustilo
set the case for reception of evidence.

On March 19, 2004, the RTC of Iloilo, Branch 37, dismissed the case for annulment of title, damages and
injunction against respondent for lack of merit.19

In a Resolution20 dated June 15, 2005, the Court resolved to reassign the instant administrative case to
Executive Judge Rene S. Hortillo for investigation, report and recommendation within 60 days from
notice. In a Letter21dated September 15, 2005, Executive Judge Hortillo informed the Court that per the
records, the parties have presented their testimonial and documentary evidence before retired
Executive Judge Tito G. Gustilo.
On September 12, 2005, Executive Judge Hortillo required the parties to file their respective memoranda
within 60 days from notice, upon submission of which the case shall be deemed submitted for
resolution.22

In his Memorandum,23 respondent maintained that his purchase of the subject land is not covered by
the prohibition in paragraph 5, Article 1491 of the Civil Code. He pointed out that he bought Lot 11-A a
decade after the MTCC of Iloilo, Branch 3, had ordered the ejectment of Priscila Saplagio and Trinidad
Sabidong from the subject lot. He insisted that public trust was observed when complainant was
accorded his right of first refusal in the purchase of Lot 11-A, albeit the latter failed to avail said right.
Asserting that he is a buyer in good faith and for value, respondent cited the dismissal of the cases for
Estafa and annulment of title and damages which complainant filed against him.

On September 10, 2007, respondent compulsorily retired from service. Prior to this, he wrote then
Senior Deputy Court Administrator Zenaida N. Elepao, requesting for the release of his retirement
benefits pending resolution of the administrative cases against him.24 In a Memorandum25 dated
September 24, 2007, Senior Deputy Court Administrator Elepao made the following recommendations:

a) The request of Nicolasito S. Solas, former Clerk of Court, MTCC, Iloilo City for partial release of his
retirement benefits be GRANTED; and

b) Atty. Lilian Barribal Co, Chief, Financial Management Office, Office of the Court Administrator be
DIRECTED to (1) WITHHOLD the amount of Two Hundred Thousand Pesos (P200,000.00) from the
retirement benefits of Nicolasito S. Solas to answer for any administrative liability that the Court may
find against him in A.M. No. P-01-1448 (Formerly Administrative Matter OCA IPI No. 99-664-P); OCA IPI
No. 99-659-P; OCA IPI No. 99-670-P; and OCA IPI No. 99-753-P; and (2) RELEASE the balance of his
retirement benefits.26

Eventually, the case was assigned to Judge Roger B. Patricio, the new Executive Judge of the Iloilo City
RTC for investigation, report and recommendation.

On June 2, 2008, Judge Patricio submitted his final Report and Recommendation27 finding respondent
liable for grave misconduct and dishonesty under A.M. No. 03-06-13-SC or the Code of Conduct for
Court Personnel. Based on the evidence presented, Judge Patricio concluded that respondent
misappropriated the money which he received for the filing of complainants loan application. Such
money could not have been used for the partition of Lot No. 1280-D-4-11 since the same was already
subdivided into Lots 11-A and 11-B when respondent presented the Contract to Sell to complainant. And
despite respondents promise to keep complainant and his family in peaceful possession of the subject
property, respondent caused the issuance of a writ of demolition against them. Thus, Judge Patricio
recommended the forfeiture of respondents salary for six months to be deducted from his retirement
benefits.

In a Resolution28 dated September 29, 2008, the Court noted Judge Patricios Investigation Report and
referred the same to the Office of the Court Administrator (OCA) for evaluation, report and
recommendation.
Findings and Recommendation of the OCA

In a Memorandum29 dated January 16, 2009, then Court Administrator Jose P. Perez found respondent
liable for serious and grave misconduct and dishonesty and recommended the forfeiture of
respondents salary for six months, which shall be deducted from his retirement benefits.

The Court Administrator held that by his unilateral acts of extinguishing the contract to sell and
forfeiting the amounts he received from complainant and Saplagio without due notice, respondent
failed to act with justice and equity. He found respondents denial to be anchored merely on the fact
that he had not issued receipts which was belied by his admission that he had asked money for the
expenses of partitioning Lot 11 from complainant and Saplagio. Since their PAG-IBIG loan applications
did not materialize, complainant should have returned the amounts given to him by complainant and
Saplagio.

On February 11, 2009, the Court issued a Resolution30 requiring the parties to manifest whether they are
willing to submit the case for decision on the basis of the pleadings and records already filed with the
Court. However, the copy of the Resolution dated February 11, 2009 which was sent to complainant was
returned unserved with the postal carriers notation "RTS-Deceased." Meanwhile, in a
Compliance31 dated August 24, 2009, respondent expressed his willingness to submit the case for
decision and prayed for an early resolution of the case.

Our Ruling

Article 1491, paragraph 5 of the Civil Code prohibits court officers such as clerks of court from acquiring
property involved in litigation within the jurisdiction or territory of their courts. Said provision reads:

Article 1491. The following persons cannot acquire by purchase, even at a public or judicial auction,
either in person or through the mediation of another:

xxxx

(5) Justices, judges, prosecuting attorneys, clerks of superior and inferior courts, and other officers and
employees connected with the administration of justice, the property and rights in litigation or levied
upon an execution before the court within whose jurisdiction or territory they exercise their respective
functions; this prohibition includes the act of acquiring by assignment and shall apply to lawyers, with
respect to the property and rights which may be the object of any litigation in which they may take part
by virtue of their profession.

x x x x (Emphasis supplied.)

The rationale advanced for the prohibition is that public policy disallows the transactions in view of the
fiduciary relationship involved, i.e., the relation of trust and confidence and the peculiar control
exercised by these persons.32 "In so providing, the Code tends to prevent fraud, or more precisely, tends
not to give occasion for fraud, which is what can and must be done."33
For the prohibition to apply, the sale or assignment of the property must take place during the pendency
of the litigation involving the property.34 Where the property is acquired after the termination of the
case, no violation of paragraph 5, Article 1491 of the Civil Code attaches.35

In the case at bar, when respondent purchased Lot 11-A on November 21, 1994, the Decision in Civil
Case No. 14706 which was promulgated on May 31, 1983 had long become final. Be that as it may, it can
not be said that the property is no longer "in litigation" at that time considering that it was part of the
Hodges Estate then under settlement proceedings (Sp. Proc. No. 1672).

A thing is said to be in litigation not only if there is some contest or litigation over it in court, but also
from the moment that it becomes subject to the judicial action of the judge.36 A property forming part
of the estate under judicial settlement continues to be subject of litigation until the probate court issues
an order declaring the estate proceedings closed and terminated. The rule is that as long as the order for
the distribution of the estate has not been complied with, the probate proceedings cannot be deemed
closed and terminated.37 The probate court loses jurisdiction of an estate under administration only
after the payment of all the debts and the remaining estate delivered to the heirs entitled to receive the
same.38 Since there is no evidence to show that Sp. Proc. No. 1672 in the RTC of Iloilo, Branch 27, had
already been closed and terminated at the time of the execution of the Deed of Sale With Mortgage
dated November 21, 1994, Lot 11 is still deemed to be "in litigation" subject to the operation of Article
1491 (5) of the Civil Code.

This notwithstanding, we hold that the sale of Lot 11 in favor of respondent did not violate the rule on
disqualification to purchase property because Sp. Proc. No. 1672 was then pending before another court
(RTC) and not MTCC where he was Clerk of Court.

On the charges against the respondent, we find him liable for dishonesty and grave misconduct.

Misconduct is a transgression of some established and definite rule of action, more particularly,
unlawful behavior as well as gross negligence by a public officer. To warrant dismissal from service, the
misconduct must be grave, serious, important, weighty, momentous and not trifling. The misconduct
must imply wrongful intention and not a mere error of judgment. The misconduct must also have a
direct relation to and be connected with the performance of the public officers official duties
amounting either to maladministration or willful, intentional neglect, or failure to discharge the duties of
the office.39

Dishonesty is the "disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, defraud or betray; untrustworthiness; lack of
integrity; lack of honesty, probity, or integrity in principle; and lack of fairness and
straightforwardness."40

In this case, respondent deceived complainants family who were led to believe that he is the legal
representative of the Hodges Estate, or at least possessed of such power to intercede for overstaying
occupants of the estates properties like complainant. Boasting of his position as a court officer, a City
Sheriff at that, complainants family completely relied on his repeated assurance that they will not be
ejected from the premises. Upon learning that the lot they were occupying was for sale and that they
had to negotiate for it through respondent, complainants family readily gave the amounts he
demanded and, along with Saplagio, complied with the requirements for a loan application with PAG-
IBIG. All the while and unknown to complainants family, respondent was actually working to acquire Lot
11 for himself.

Thus, while respondent was negotiating with the Hodges Estate for the sale of the property to him, he
collected as down payment P5,000 from complainants family in July 1986. Four months later, on
November 18, 1986, the probate court approved respondents offer to purchase Lot 11. The latter
received further down payment from complainant in the amount of P10,000 between 1992 and 1993, or
before the Deed of Sale with Mortgage41dated November 21, 1994 could be executed in respondents
favor.

Thereafter, respondent demanded P3,000 from complainant supposedly for the subdivision of Lot 11
between the latter and the Saplagios. Yet, it was not until respondent obtained title over said lot that
the same was subdivided into Lots 11-A and 11-B. The records42 of the case show that the Subdivision
Plan dated April 25, 1996, duly approved by the Land Management Services (DENR) subdividing Lot 11
into sublots 11-A and 11-B, was inscribed on February 28, 1997 two years after TCT No. T-107519
covering Lot 11 was issued in respondents name on December 5, 1994.

Finally, in 1995, respondent received the amount of P2,000 to defray the expenses for documentation
and transfer of title in complainants name. In the latter instance, while it may be argued that
respondent already had the capacity to sell the subject property, the sum of all the circumstances belie
an honest intention on his part to convey Lot 11-A to complainant. We note the inscription in TCT No. T-
1183643 in the name of C.N. Hodges that respondent executed a Request dated February 19, 1997 "for
the issuance of separate titles in the name of the registered owner."44 Soon after, TCT No. T-
11646745 covering Lot 11-A and TCT No. T-11646846 covering Lot 11-B were issued in the name of
respondent on February 28, 1997 only eight months after he executed the Contract to Sell47 in favor of
complainant on June 3, 1996.

Respondents bare denials were correctly disregarded by the Court Administrator in the light of his own
admission that he indeed asked money from both complainant and Saplagio. The evidence on record
clearly established that by misrepresenting himself as the estates representative and as a court officer
having the power to protect complainants family from eviction, respondent was able to collect sums
totaling P20,000 from complainants family. Even after the latter realized they were duped since
respondent was already the owner of Lot 11, they still offered to buy the property from him.
Respondent, however, changed his mind and no longer wanted to sell the property after nothing
happened to the loan applications of complainant and Saplagio. This subsequent unilateral cancellation
by respondent of the contract to sell with complainant may have been an afterthought, and plainly
unjustified, based merely on his own assumption that complainant could not make full payment. But it
did not negate the deception and fraudulent acts perpetrated against complainants family who were
forced into submission by the constant threat of eviction. Such acts constitute grave misconduct for
which respondent should be held answerable.
In Re: Complaint Filed by Paz De Vera Lazaro Against Edna Magallanes, Court Stenographer III, RTC Br. 28
and Bonifacio G. Magallanes, Process Server, RTC Br. 30, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya,48 the Court
stressed that to preserve decency within the judiciary, court personnel must comply with just
contractual obligations, act fairly and adhere to high ethical standards. In that case, we said that court
employees are expected to be paragons of uprightness, fairness and honesty not only in their official
conduct but also in their personal dealings, including business and commercial transactions to avoid
becoming the courts albatross of infamy.49

More importantly, Section 4(c) of Republic Act No. 671350 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards
for Public Officials and Employees mandates that public officials and employees shall remain true to the
people at all times. They must act with justness and sincerity and shall not discriminate against anyone,
especially the poor and the underprivileged.1wphi1 They shall at all times respect the rights of others,
and shall refrain from doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order,
public safety and public interest.

Under Section 52,51 Rule IV of the Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, dishonesty
and grave misconduct are classified as grave offenses with the corresponding penalty of dismissal for
the first offense. Section 58(a) states that the penalty of dismissal shall carry with it the cancellation of
eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and the perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the
government service.

Section 53 further provides that mitigating circumstances attendant to the commission of the offense
should be considered in the determination of the penalty to be imposed on the erring government
employee. However, no such mitigating circumstance had been shown. On the contrary, respondent had
been previously held administratively liable for irregularities in the performance of his duties as Clerk of
Court. In A.M. No. P-01-1484,52 this Court imposed on respondent a fine of P5,000 for acting
imprudently in notarizing documents and administering oath on matters alien to his official duties. And
in A.M. Nos. P-08-2567 (formerly OCA IPI No. 99-670-P) and P-08-2568 (formerly OCA IPI No. 99-753-
P),53 respondent was found liable for simple misconduct and ordered to pay a fine equivalent to his
three (3) months salary to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

Since respondent had compulsorily retired from service on September 10, 2007, for this additional
administrative case he should be fined in an amount equivalent to his salary for six months which shall
likewise be deducted from his retirement benefits.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Nicolasito S. Solas, retired Clerk of Court IV, Municipal Trial
Court in Cities, Iloilo City, LIABLE FOR GRAVE MISCONDUCT AND DISHONESTY. Respondent is FINED in an
amount equivalent to his salary for six (6) months to be deducted from his retirement benefits.

SO ORDERED.

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.


Associate Justice
G.R. No. 173188 January 15, 2014

THE CONJUGAL PARTNERSHIP OF THE SPOUSES VICENTE CADAVEDO AND BENITA ARCOY-CADAVEDO
(both deceased), substituted by their heirs, namely: HERMINA, PASTORA, Heirs of FRUCTUOSA, Heirs
of RAQUEL, EVANGELINE, VICENTE, JR., and ARMANDO, all surnamed CADAVEDO, Petitioners,
vs.
VICTORINO (VIC) T. LACAYA, married to Rosa Legados, Respondents.

DECISION

BRION, J.:

We solve in this Rule 45 petition for review on certiorari1 the challenge to the October 11, 2005
decision2 and the May 9, 2006 resolution3 of the Court of Appeals (CA) inPetitioners, CA-G.R. CV No.
56948. The CA reversed and set aside the September 17, 1996 decision4 of the Regional Trial Court
(RTC), Branch 10, of Dipolog City in Civil Case No. 4038, granting in part the complaint for recovery of
possession of property filed by the petitioners, the Conjugal Partnership of the Spouses Vicente
Cadavedo and Benita Arcoy-Cadavedo against Atty. Victorino (Vic) T. Lacaya, married to Rosa Legados
(collectively, the respondents).

The Factual Antecedents

The Spouses Vicente Cadavedo and Benita Arcoy-Cadavedo (collectively, the spouses Cadavedo)
acquired a homestead grant over a 230,765-square meter parcel of land known as Lot 5415 (subject lot)
located in Gumay, Pian, Zamboanga del Norte. They were issued Homestead Patent No. V-15414 on
March 13, 1953andOriginal Certificate of Title No. P-376 on July 2, 1953.On April30, 1955, the spouses
Cadavedo sold the subject lot to the spouses Vicente Ames and Martha Fernandez (the spouses Ames)
Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-4792 was subsequently issued in the name of the spouses Ames.

The present controversy arose when the spouses Cadavedo filed an action5 before the RTC(then Court of
First Instance) of Zamboanga City against the spouses Ames for sum of money and/or voiding of contract
of sale of homestead after the latter failed to pay the balance of the purchase price. The spouses
Cadavedo initially engaged the services of Atty. Rosendo Bandal who, for health reasons, later withdrew
from the case; he was substituted by Atty. Lacaya.

On February 24, 1969, Atty. Lacaya amended the complaint to assert the nullity of the sale and the
issuance of TCT No. T-4792 in the names of the spouses Ames as gross violation of the public land law.
The amended complaint stated that the spouses Cadavedo hired Atty. Lacaya on a contingency fee basis.
The contingency fee stipulation specifically reads:

10. That due to the above circumstances, the plaintiffs were forced to hire a lawyer on contingent basis
and if they become the prevailing parties in the case at bar, they will pay the sum of P2,000.00 for
attorneys fees.6
In a decision dated February 1, 1972, the RTC upheld the sale of the subject lot to the spouses Ames.
The spouses Cadavedo, thru Atty. Lacaya, appealed the case to the CA.

On September 18, 1975, and while the appeal before the CAin Civil Case No. 1721was pending, the
spouses Ames sold the subject lot to their children. The spouses Ames TCT No. T-4792 was
subsequently cancelled and TCT No. T-25984was issued in their childrens names. On October 11, 1976,
the spouses Ames mortgaged the subject lot with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in the
names of their children.

On August 13, 1980, the CA issued itsdecision in Civil Case No. 1721,reversing the decision of the RTC
and declaring the deed of sale, transfer of rights, claims and interest to the spouses Ames null and void
ab initio. It directed the spouses Cadavedo to return the initial payment and ordered the Register of
Deeds to cancel the spouses Ames TCT No. T-4792 and to reissue another title in the name of the
spouses Cadavedo. The case eventually reached this Court via the spouses Ames petition for review on
certiorari which this Court dismissed for lack of merit.

Meanwhile, the spouses Ames defaulted in their obligation with the DBP. Thus, the DBP caused the
publication of a notice of foreclosure sale of the subject lot as covered by TCT No. T-25984(under the
name of the spouses Ames children). Atty. Lacaya immediately informed the spouses Cadavedo of the
foreclosure sale and filed an Affidavit of Third Party Claim with the Office of the Provincial Sheriff on
September 14, 1981.

With the finality of the judgment in Civil Case No. 1721,Atty. Lacaya filed on September 21, 1981 a
motion for the issuance of a writ of execution.

On September 23, 1981,and pending the RTCs resolution of the motion for the issuance of a writ of
execution, the spouses Ames filed a complaint7 before the RTC against the spouses Cadavedo for
Quieting of Title or Enforcement of Civil Rights due Planters in Good Faith with prayer for Preliminary
Injunction. The spouses Cadavedo, thru Atty. Lacaya, filed a motion to dismiss on the ground of res
judicata and to cancel TCT No. T-25984 (under the name of the spouses Ames children).

On October 16, 1981, the RTC granted the motion for the issuance of a writ of execution in Civil Case No.
1721,andthe spouses Cadavedo were placed in possession of the subject lot on October 24, 1981. Atty.
Lacaya asked for one-half of the subject lot as attorneys fees. He caused the subdivision of the subject
lot into two equal portions, based on area, and selected the more valuable and productive half for
himself; and assigned the other half to the spouses Cadavedo.

Unsatisfied with the division, Vicente and his sons-in-law entered the portion assigned to the
respondents and ejected them. The latter responded by filing a counter-suit for forcible entry before the
Municipal Trial Court (MTC); the ejectment case was docketed as Civil Case No. 215. This incident
occurred while Civil Case No. 3352was pending.

On May 13, 1982, Vicente andAtty. Lacaya entered into an amicable settlement (compromise
agreement)8 in Civil Case No. 215 (the ejectment case), re-adjusting the area and portion obtained by
each. Atty. Lacaya acquired 10.5383 hectares pursuant to the agreement. The MTC approved the
compromise agreementin a decision dated June 10, 1982.

Meanwhile, on May 21, 1982, the spouses Cadavedo filed before the RTC an action against the DBP for
Injunction; it was docketed as Civil Case No. 3443 (Cadavedo v. DBP).The RTC subsequently denied the
petition, prompting the spouses Cadavedo to elevate the case to the CAvia a petition for certiorari. The
CA dismissed the petition in its decision of January 31, 1984.

The records do not clearly disclose the proceedings subsequent to the CA decision in Civil Case No. 3443.
However, on August 18, 1988, TCT No. 41051was issued in the name of the spouses Cadavedo
concerning the subject lot.

On August 9, 1988, the spouses Cadavedo filed before the RTC an action9 against the respondents,
assailing the MTC-approved compromise agreement. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. 4038 and
is the root of the present case. The spouses Cadavedo prayed, among others, that the respondents be
ejected from their one-half portion of the subject lot; that they be ordered to render an accounting of
the produce of this one-half portion from 1981;and that the RTC fix the attorneys fees on a quantum
meruit basis, with due consideration of the expenses that Atty. Lacaya incurred while handling the civil
cases.

During the pendency of Civil Case No. 4038, the spouses Cadavedo executed a Deed of Partition of
Estate in favor of their eight children. Consequently, TCT No. 41051 was cancelled and TCT No. 41690
was issued in the names of the latter. The records are not clear on the proceedings and status of Civil
Case No. 3352.

The Ruling of the RTC

In the September 17, 1996 decision10 in Civil Case No. 4038, the RTC declared the contingent fee of
10.5383 hectares as excessive and unconscionable. The RTC reduced the land area to 5.2691 hectares
and ordered the respondents to vacate and restore the remaining 5.2692hectares to the spouses
Cadavedo.

The RTC noted that, as stated in the amended complaint filed by Atty. Lacaya, the agreed attorneys fee
on contingent basis was P2,000.00. Nevertheless, the RTC also pointed out that the parties novated this
agreement when they executed the compromise agreement in Civil Case No. 215 (ejectment case),
thereby giving Atty. Lacaya one-half of the subject lot. The RTC added that Vicentes decision to give
Atty. Lacaya one-half of the subject lot, sans approval of Benita, was a valid act of administration and
binds the conjugal partnership. The RTC reasoned out that the disposition redounded to the benefit of
the conjugal partnership as it was done precisely to remunerate Atty. Lacaya for his services to recover
the property itself.

These considerations notwithstanding, the RTC considered the one-half portion of the subject lot, as
Atty. Lacayas contingent fee,excessive, unreasonable and unconscionable. The RTC was convinced that
the issues involved in Civil Case No. 1721were not sufficiently difficult and complicated to command
such an excessive award; neither did it require Atty. Lacaya to devote much of his time or skill, or to
perform extensive research.

Finally, the RTC deemed the respondents possession, prior to the judgment, of the excess portion of
their share in the subject lot to be in good faith. The respondents were thus entitled to receive its fruits.

On the spouses Cadavedos motion for reconsideration, the RTC modified the decision in its
resolution11 dated December 27, 1996. The RTC ordered the respondents to account for and deliver the
produce and income, valued at 7,500.00 per annum, of the 5.2692hectares that the RTC ordered the
spouses Amesto restore to the spouses Cadavedo, from October 10, 1988 until final restoration of the
premises.

The respondents appealed the case before the CA.

The Ruling of the CA

In its decision12 dated October 11, 2005, the CA reversed and set aside the RTCs September 17, 1996
decision and maintained the partition and distribution of the subject lot under the compromise
agreement. In so ruling, the CA noted the following facts: (1) Atty. Lacaya served as the spouses
Cadavedos counsel from 1969 until 1988,when the latter filed the present case against Atty. Lacaya; (2)
during the nineteen (19) years of their attorney-client relationship, Atty. Lacaya represented the spouses
Cadavedo in three civil cases Civil Case No. 1721, Civil Case No. 3352, and Civil Case No. 3443; (3) the
first civil case lasted for twelve years and even reached this Court, the second civil case lasted for seven
years, while the third civil case lasted for six years and went all the way to the CA;(4) the spouses
Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya entered into a compromise agreement concerning the division of the subject
lot where Atty. Lacaya ultimately agreed to acquire a smaller portion; (5) the MTC approved the
compromise agreement; (6) Atty. Lacaya defrayed all of the litigation expenses in Civil Case No. 1721;
and (7) the spouses Cadavedo expressly recognized that Atty. Lacaya served them in several cases.

Considering these established facts and consistent with Canon 20.01 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility (enumerating the factors that should guide the determination of the lawyers fees), the
CA ruled that the time spent and the extent of the services Atty. Lacaya rendered for the spouses
Cadavedo in the three cases, the probability of him losing other employment resulting from his
engagement, the benefits resulting to the spouses Cadavedo, and the contingency of his fees justified
the compromise agreement and rendered the agreed fee under the compromise agreement reasonable.

The Petition

In the present petition, the petitioners essentially argue that the CA erred in: (1) granting the attorneys
fee consisting of one-half or 10.5383 hectares of the subject lot to Atty. Lacaya, instead of confirming
the agreed contingent attorneys fees of 2,000.00; (2) not holding the respondents accountable for the
produce, harvests and income of the 10.5383-hectare portion (that they obtained from the spouses
Cadavedo) from 1988 up to the present; and (3) upholding the validity of the purported oral contract
between the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya when it was champertous and dealt with property then
still subject of Civil Case No. 1721.13

The petitioners argue that stipulations on a lawyers compensation for professional services, especially
those contained in the pleadings filed in courts, control the amount of the attorneys fees to which the
lawyer shall be entitled and should prevail over oral agreements. In this case, the spouses Cadavedo and
Atty. Lacaya agreed that the latters contingent attorneys fee was P2,000.00 in cash, not one-half of the
subject lot. This agreement was clearly stipulated in the amended complaint filed in Civil Case No. 1721.
Thus, Atty. Lacaya is bound by the expressly stipulated fee and cannot insist on unilaterally changing its
terms without violating their contract.

The petitioners add that the one-half portion of the subject lot as Atty. Lacayas contingent attorneys
fee is excessive and unreasonable. They highlight the RTCs observations and argue that the issues
involved in Civil Case No. 1721, pursuant to which the alleged contingent fee of one-half of the subject
lot was agreed by the parties, were not novel and did not involve difficult questions of law; neither did
the case require much of Atty. Lacayas time, skill and effort in research. They point out that the two
subsequent civil cases should not be considered in determining the reasonable contingent fee to which
Atty. Lacaya should be entitled for his services in Civil Case No. 1721,as those cases had not yet been
instituted at that time. Thus, these cases should not be considered in fixing the attorneys fees. The
petitioners also claim that the spouses Cadavedo concluded separate agreements on the expenses and
costs for each of these subsequent cases, and that Atty. Lacaya did not even record any attorneys lien in
the spouses Cadavedos TCT covering the subject lot.

The petitioners further direct the Courts attention to the fact that Atty. Lacaya,in taking over the case
from Atty. Bandal, agreed to defray all of the litigation expenses in exchange for one-half of the subject
lot should they win the case. They insist that this agreement is a champertous contract that is contrary
to public policy, prohibited by law for violation of the fiduciary relationship between a lawyer and a
client.

Finally, the petitioners maintain that the compromise agreement in Civil Case No. 215 (ejectment case)
did not novate their original stipulated agreement on the attorneys fees. They reason that Civil Case No.
215 did not decide the issue of attorneys fees between the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya for the
latters services in Civil Case No. 1721.

The Case for the Respondents

In their defense,14 the respondents counter that the attorneys fee stipulated in the amended complaint
was not the agreed fee of Atty. Lacaya for his legal services. They argue that the questioned stipulation
for attorneys fees was in the nature of a penalty that, if granted, would inure to the spouses Cadavedo
and not to Atty. Lacaya.

The respondents point out that: (1) both Vicente and Atty. Lacaya caused the survey and subdivision of
the subject lot immediately after the spouses Cadavedo reacquired its possession with the RTCs
approval of their motion for execution of judgment in Civil Case No. 1721; (2) Vicente expressly ratified
and confirmed the agreement on the contingent attorneys fee consisting of one-half of the subject lot;
(3) the MTC in Civil Case No. 215 (ejectment case) approved the compromise agreement; (4) Vicente is
the legally designated administrator of the conjugal partnership, hence the compromise agreement
ratifying the transfer bound the partnership and could not have been invalidated by the absence of
Benitas acquiescence; and (5) the compromise agreement merely inscribed and ratified the earlier oral
agreement between the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya which is not contrary to law, morals, good
customs, public order and public policy.

While the case is pending before this Court, Atty. Lacaya died.15 He was substituted by his wife -Rosa -
and their children Victoriano D.L. Lacaya, Jr., Rosevic Lacaya-Ocampo, Reymar L. Lacaya, Marcelito L.
Lacaya, Raymundito L. Lacaya, Laila Lacaya-Matabalan, Marivic Lacaya-Barba, Rosalie L. Lacaya and Ma.
Vic-Vic Lacaya-Camaongay.16

The Courts Ruling

We resolve to GRANT the petition.

The subject lot was the core of four successive and overlapping cases prior to the present controversy.
In three of these cases, Atty. Lacaya stood as the spouses Cadavedos counsel. For ease of discussion, we
summarize these cases (including the dates and proceedings pertinent to each) as follows:

Civil Case No. 1721 Cadavedo v. Ames (Sum of money and/or voiding of contract of sale of
homestead), filed on January 10, 1967. The writ of execution was granted on October 16, 1981.

Civil Case No. 3352 Ames v. Cadavedo (Quieting of Title and/or Enforcement of Civil Rights due
Planters in Good Faith with Application for Preliminary injunction), filed on September 23, 1981.

Civil Case No. 3443 Cadavedo v. DBP (Action for Injunction with Preliminary Injunction), filed on May
21, 1982.

Civil Case No. 215 Atty. Lacaya v. Vicente Cadavedo, et. al. (Ejectment Case), filed between the latter
part of 1981 and early part of 1982. The parties executed the compromise agreement on May 13, 1982.

Civil Case No. 4038 petitioners v. respondents (the present case).

The agreement on attorneys fee


consisting of one-half of the subject
lot is void; the petitioners are entitled
to recover possession

The core issue for our resolution is whether the attorneys fee consisting of one-half of the subject lot is
valid and reasonable, and binds the petitioners. We rule in the NEGATIVE for the reasons discussed
below.

A. The written agreement providing for


a contingent fee of P2,000.00 should prevail
over the oral agreement providing for one-
half of the subject lot

The spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya agreed on a contingent fee of P2,000.00 and not, as asserted by
the latter, one-half of the subject lot. The stipulation contained in the amended complaint filed by Atty.
Lacaya clearly stated that the spouses Cadavedo hired the former on a contingency basis; the Spouses
Cadavedo undertook to pay their lawyer P2,000.00 as attorneys fees should the case be decided in their
favor.

Contrary to the respondents contention, this stipulation is not in the nature of a penalty that the court
would award the winning party, to be paid by the losing party. The stipulation is a representation to the
court concerning the agreement between the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya, on the latters
compensation for his services in the case; it is not the attorneys fees in the nature of damages which
the former prays from the court as an incident to the main action.

At this point, we highlight that as observed by both the RTC and the CA and agreed as well by both
parties, the alleged contingent fee agreement consisting of one-half of the subject lot was not reduced
to writing prior to or, at most, at the start of Atty. Lacayas engagement as the spouses Cadavedos
counsel in Civil Case No. 1721.An agreement between the lawyer and his client, providing for the
formers compensation, is subject to the ordinary rules governing contracts in general. As the rules
stand, controversies involving written and oral agreements on attorneys fees shall be resolved in favor
of the former.17 Hence, the contingency fee of P2,000.00 stipulated in the amended complaint prevails
over the alleged oral contingency fee agreement of one-half of the subject lot.

B. The contingent fee agreement between


the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya,
awarding the latter one-half of the subject
lot, is champertous

Granting arguendo that the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya indeed entered into an oral contingent
fee agreement securing to the latter one-half of the subject lot, the agreement is nevertheless void.

In their account, the respondents insist that Atty. Lacaya agreed to represent the spouses Cadavedo in
Civil Case No. 1721 and assumed the litigation expenses, without providing for reimbursement, in
exchange for a contingency fee consisting of one-half of the subject lot. This agreement is champertous
and is contrary to public policy.18

Champerty, along with maintenance (of which champerty is an aggravated form), is a common law
doctrine that traces its origin to the medieval period.19 The doctrine of maintenance was directed
"against wanton and in officious intermeddling in the disputes of others in which the intermeddler has
no interest whatever, and where the assistance rendered is without justification or
excuse."20 Champerty, on the other hand, is characterized by "the receipt of a share of the proceeds of
the litigation by the intermeddler."21 Some common law court decisions, however, add a second factor
in determining champertous contracts, namely, that the lawyer must also, "at his own expense
maintain, and take all the risks of, the litigation."22

The doctrines of champerty and maintenance were created in response "to medieval practice of
assigning doubtful or fraudulent claims to persons of wealth and influence in the expectation that such
individuals would enjoy greater success in prosecuting those claims in court, in exchange for which they
would receive an entitlement to the spoils of the litigation."23 "In order to safeguard the administration
of justice, instances of champerty and maintenance were made subject to criminal and tortuous liability
and a common law rule was developed, striking down champertous agreements and contracts of
maintenance as being unenforceable on the grounds of public policy."24

In this jurisdiction, we maintain the rules on champerty, as adopted from American decisions, for public
policy considerations.25 As matters currently stand, any agreement by a lawyer to "conduct the litigation
in his own account, to pay the expenses thereof or to save his client therefrom and to receive as his fee
a portion of the proceeds of the judgment is obnoxious to the law."26 The rule of the profession that
forbids a lawyer from contracting with his client for part of the thing in litigation in exchange for
conducting the case at the lawyers expense is designed to prevent the lawyer from acquiring an interest
between him and his client. To permit these arrangements is to enable the lawyer to "acquire additional
stake in the outcome of the action which might lead him to consider his own recovery rather than that
of his client or to accept a settlement which might take care of his interest in the verdict to the sacrifice
of that of his client in violation of his duty of undivided fidelity to his clients cause."27

In Bautista v. Atty. Gonzales,28 the Court struck down the contingent fee agreement between therein
respondent Atty. Ramon A. Gonzales and his client for being contrary to public policy. There, the Court
held that an reimbursement of litigation expenses paid by the former is against public policy, especially
if the lawyer has agreed to carry on the action at his expense in consideration of some bargain to have a
part of the thing in dispute. It violates the fiduciary relationship between the lawyer and his client.29

In addition to its champertous character, the contingent fee arrangement in this case expressly
transgresses the Canons of Professional Ethics and, impliedly, the Code of Professional
Responsibility.30 Under Rule 42 of the Canons of Professional Ethics, a lawyer may not properly agree
with a client that the lawyer shall pay or beat the expense of litigation.31 The same reasons discussed
above underlie this rule.

C. The attorneys fee consisting of


one-half of the subject lot is excessive
and unconscionable

We likewise strike down the questioned attorneys fee and declare it void for being excessive and
unconscionable.1wphi1 The contingent fee of one-half of the subject lot was allegedly agreed to secure
the services of Atty. Lacaya in Civil Case No. 1721.Plainly, it was intended for only one action as the two
other civil cases had not yet been instituted at that time. While Civil Case No. 1721 took twelve years to
be finally resolved, that period of time, as matters then stood, was not a sufficient reason to justify a
large fee in the absence of any showing that special skills and additional work had been involved. The
issue involved in that case, as observed by the RTC(and with which we agree), was simple and did not
require of Atty. Lacaya extensive skill, effort and research. The issue simply dealt with the prohibition
against the sale of a homestead lot within five years from its acquisition.

That Atty. Lacaya also served as the spouses Cadavedos counsel in the two subsequent cases did not
and could not otherwise justify an attorneys fee of one-half of the subject lot. As assertedby the
petitioners, the spouses Cadavedo and Atty. Lacaya made separate arrangements for the costs and
expenses foreach of these two cases. Thus, the expenses for the two subsequent cases had been
considered and taken cared of Based on these considerations, we therefore find one-half of the subject
lot as attorneys fee excessive and unreasonable.

D. Atty. Lacayas acquisition of


the one-half portion contravenes
Article 1491 (5) of the Civil Code

Article 1491 (5) of the Civil Code forbids lawyers from acquiring, by purchase or assignment, the
property that has been the subject of litigation in which they have taken part by virtue of their
profession.32 The same proscription is provided under Rule 10 of the Canons of Professional Ethics.33

A thing is in litigation if there is a contest or litigation over it in court or when it is subject of the judicial
action.34Following this definition, we find that the subject lot was still in litigation when Atty. Lacaya
acquired the disputed one-half portion. We note in this regard the following established facts:(1)on
September 21, 1981, Atty. Lacaya filed a motion for the issuance of a writ of execution in Civil Case No.
1721; (2) on September 23, 1981, the spouses Ames filed Civil Case No. 3352 against the spouses
Cadavedo; (3)on October 16, 1981, the RTC granted the motion filed for the issuance of a writ of
execution in Civil Case No. 1721 and the spouses Cadavedo took possession of the subject lot on
October 24, 1981; (4) soon after, the subject lot was surveyed and subdivided into two equal portions,
and Atty. Lacaya took possession of one of the subdivided portions; and (5) on May 13, 1982, Vicente
and Atty. Lacaya executed the compromise agreement.

From these timelines, whether by virtue of the alleged oral contingent fee agreement or an agreement
subsequently entered into, Atty. Lacaya acquired the disputed one-half portion (which was after
October 24, 1981) while Civil Case No. 3352 and the motion for the issuance of a writ of execution in
Civil Case No. 1721were already pending before the lower courts. Similarly, the compromise agreement,
including the subsequent judicial approval, was effected during the pendency of Civil Case No. 3352. In
all of these, the relationship of a lawyer and a client still existed between Atty. Lacaya and the spouses
Cadavedo.

Thus, whether we consider these transactions the transfer of the disputed one-half portion and the
compromise agreement independently of each other or resulting from one another, we find them to
be prohibited and void35by reason of public policy.36 Under Article 1409 of the Civil Code, contracts
which are contrary to public policy and those expressly prohibited or declared void by law are
considered in existent and void from the beginning.37
What did not escape this Courts attention is the CAs failure to note that the transfer violated the
provisions of Article 1491(5) of the Civil Code, although it recognized the concurrence of the transfer
and the execution of the compromise agreement with the pendency of the two civil cases subsequent to
Civil Case No. 1721.38 In reversing the RTC ruling, the CA gave weight to the compromise agreement and
in so doing, found justification in the unproved oral contingent fee agreement.

While contingent fee agreements are indeed recognized in this jurisdiction as a valid exception to the
prohibitions under Article 1491(5) of the Civil Code,39 contrary to the CAs position, however, this
recognition does not apply to the present case. A contingent fee contract is an agreement in writing
where the fee, often a fixed percentage of what may be recovered in the action, is made to depend
upon the success of the litigation.40 The payment of the contingent fee is not made during the pendency
of the litigation involving the clients property but only after the judgment has been rendered in the case
handled by the lawyer.41

In the present case, we reiterate that the transfer or assignment of the disputed one-half portion to
Atty. Lacaya took place while the subject lot was still under litigation and the lawyer-client relationship
still existed between him and the spouses Cadavedo. Thus, the general prohibition provided under
Article 1491 of the Civil Code, rather than the exception provided in jurisprudence, applies. The CA
seriously erred in upholding the compromise agreement on the basis of the unproved oral contingent
fee agreement.

Notably, Atty. Lacaya, in undertaking the spouses Cadavedos cause pursuant to the terms of the alleged
oral contingent fee agreement, in effect, became a co-proprietor having an equal, if not more, stake as
the spouses Cadavedo. Again, this is void by reason of public policy; it undermines the fiduciary
relationship between him and his clients.42

E.The compromise agreement could not


validate the void oral contingent fee
agreement; neither did it supersede the
written contingent fee agreement

The compromise agreement entered into between Vicente and Atty. Lacaya in Civil Case No. 215
(ejectment case) was intended to ratify and confirm Atty. Lacayas acquisition and possession of the
disputed one-half portion which were made in violation of Article 1491 (5) of the Civil Code. As earlier
discussed, such acquisition is void; the compromise agreement, which had for its object a void
transaction, should be void.

A contract whose cause, object or purpose is contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or
public policy is in existent and void from the beginning.43 It can never be ratified44 nor the action or
defense for the declaration of the in existence of the contract prescribe;45 and any contract directly
resulting from such illegal contract is likewise void and in existent.46

Consequently, the compromise agreement did not supersede the written contingent fee agreement
providing for attorneys fee of P2,000.00; neither did it preclude the petitioners from questioning its
validity even though Vicente might have knowingly and voluntarily acquiesced thereto and although the
MTC approved it in its June 10, 1982 decision in the ejectment case. The MTC could not have acquired
jurisdiction over the subject matter of the void compromise agreement; its judgment in the ejectment
case could not have attained finality and can thus be attacked at any time. Moreover, an ejectment case
concerns itself only with the issue of possession de facto; it will not preclude the filing of a separate
action for recovery of possession founded on ownership. Hence, contrary to the CAs position, the
petitionersin filing the present action and praying for, among others, the recovery of possession of the
disputed one-half portion and for judicial determination of the reasonable fees due Atty. Lacaya for his
services were not barred by the compromise agreement.

Atty. Lacaya is entitled to receive attorneys fees on a quantum meruit basis

In view of their respective assertions and defenses, the parties, in effect, impliedly set aside any express
stipulation on the attorneys fees, and the petitioners, by express contention, submit the
reasonableness of such fees to the courts discretion. We thus have to fix the attorneys fees on a
quantum meruit basis.

"Quantum meruitmeaning as much as he deservesis used as basis for determining a lawyers


professional fees in the absence of a contract x x x taking into account certain factors in fixing the
amount of legal fees."47 "Its essential requisite is the acceptance of the benefits by one sought to be
charged for the services rendered under circumstances as reasonably to notify him that the lawyer
performing the task was expecting to be paid compensation"48 for it. The doctrine of quantum meruit is
a device to prevent undue enrichment based on the equitable postulate that it is unjust for a person to
retain benefit without paying for it.49

Under Section 24, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court50 and Canon 20 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility,51factors such as the importance of the subject matter of the controversy, the time spent
and the extent of the services rendered, the customary charges for similar services, the amount involved
in the controversy and the benefits resulting to the client from the service, to name a few, are
considered in determining the reasonableness of the fees to which a lawyer is entitled.

In the present case, the following considerations guide this Court in considering and setting Atty.
Lacayas fees based on quantum meruit: (1) the questions involved in these civil cases were not novel
and did not require of Atty. Lacaya considerable effort in terms of time, skill or the performance of
extensive research; (2) Atty. Lacaya rendered legal services for the Spouses Cadavedo in three civil cases
beginning in 1969 until 1988 when the petitioners filed the instant case; (3) the first of these civil cases
(Cadavedo v. Ames) lasted for twelve years and reaching up to this Court; the second (Ames v.
Cadavedo) lasted for seven years; and the third (Cadavedo and Lacaya v. DBP) lasted for six years,
reaching up to the CA; and (4) the property subject of these civil cases is of a considerable size of
230,765 square meters or 23.0765 hectares.

All things considered, we hold as fair and equitable the RTCs considerations in appreciating the
character of the services that Atty. Lacaya rendered in the three cases, subject to modification on
valuation. We believe and so hold that the respondents are entitled to two (2) hectares (or
approximately one-tenth [1/10] of the subject lot), with the fruits previously received from the disputed
one-half portion, as attorneys fees. They shall return to the petitioners the remainder of the disputed
one-half portion.

The allotted portion of the subject lot properly recognizes that litigation should be for the benefit of the
client, not the lawyer, particularly in a legal situation when the law itself holds clear and express
protection to the rights of the client to the disputed property (a homestead lot). Premium consideration,
in other words, is on the rights of the owner, not on the lawyer who only helped the owner protect his
rights. Matters cannot be the other way around; otherwise, the lawyer does indeed effectively acquire a
property right over the disputed property. If at all, due recognition of parity between a lawyer and a
client should be on the fruits of the disputed property, which in this case, the Court properly accords.

WHEREFORE, in view of these considerations, we hereby GRANT the petition. We AFFIRM the decision
dated September 17, 1996 and the resolution dated December 27, 1996of the Regional Trial Court of
Dipolog City, Branch 10,in Civil Case No. 4038, with the MODIFICATION that the respondents, the
spouses Victorino (Vic) T. Lacaya and Rosa Legados, are entitled to two (2) hectares (or approximately
one-tenth *1/10+ of the subject lot) as attorneys fees. The fruits that the respondents previously
received from the disputed one-half portion shall also form part of the attorneys fees. We hereby
ORDER the respondents to return to the petitioners the remainder of the 10.5383-hectare portion of the
subject lot that Atty. Vicente Lacaya acquired pursuant to the compromise agreement.

SO ORDERED.

ARTURO D. BRION
Associate Justice

A.C. No. 9872 January 28, 2014

NATIVIDAD P. NAVARRO and HILDA S. PRESBITERO, Complainants,


vs.
ATTY. IVAN M. SOLIDUM, JR., Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This case originated from a complaint for disbarment, dated 26 May 2008, filed by Natividad P. Navarro
(Navarro) and Hilda S. Presbitero (Presbitero) against Atty. Ivan M. Solidum, Jr. (respondent) before the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD).

From the Report, dated 1July 2009, of the IBP-CBD, we gathered the following facts of the case:
On 4 April 2006, respondent signed a retainer agreement with Presbitero to follow up the release of the
payment for the latters 2.7-hectare property located in Bacolod which was the subject of a Voluntary
Offer to Sell (VOS) to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The agreement also included the
payment of the debts of Presbiteros late husband to the Philippine National Bank (PNB), the sale of the
retained areas of the property, and the collection of the rentals due for the retained areas from their
occupants. It appeared that the DAR was supposed to pay P700,000 for the property but it was
mortgaged by Presbitero and her late husband to PNB for P1,200,000. Presbitero alleged that PNBs
claim had already prescribed, and she engaged the services of respondent to represent her in the
matter. Respondent proposed the filing of a case for quieting of title against PNB. Respondent and
Presbitero agreed to an attorneys fee of 10% of the proceeds from the VOS or the sale of the property,
with the expenses to be advanced by Presbitero but deductible from respondents fees. Respondent
received P50,000 from Presbitero, supposedly for the expenses of the case, but nothing came out of it.

In May 2006, Presbiteros daughter, Ma. Theresa P. Yulo (Yulo), also engaged respondents services to
handle the registration of her 18.85-hectare lot located in Nasud-ong, Caradio-an, Himamaylan, Negros.
Yulo convinced her sister, Navarro, to finance the expenses for the registration of the property.
Respondent undertook to register the property in consideration of 30% of the value of the property
once it is registered. Respondent obtainedP200,000 from Navarro for the registration expenses. Navarro
later learned that the registration decree over the property was already issued in the name of one
Teodoro Yulo. Navarro alleged that she would not have spent for the registration of the property if
respondent only apprised her of the real situation of the property.

On 25 May 2006, respondent obtained a loan of P1,000,000 from Navarro to finance his sugar trading
business. Respondent and Navarro executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and agreed that the
loan (a) shall be for a period of one year; (b) shall earn interest at the rate of 10% per month; and (c)
shall be secured by a real estate mortgage over a property located in Barangay Alijis, Bacolod City,
covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 304688. They also agreed that respondent shall issue
postdated checks to cover the principal amount of the loan as well as the interest thereon. Respondent
delivered the checks to Navarro, drawn against an account in Metrobank, Bacolod City Branch, and
signed them in the presence of Navarro.

In June 2006, respondent obtained an additional loan of P1,000,000 from Navarro, covered by a second
MOA with the same terms and conditions as the first MOA. Respondent sent Navarro, through a
messenger, postdated checks drawn against an account in Bank of Commerce, Bacolod City Branch.
Respondent likewise discussed with Navarro about securing a "Tolling Agreement" with Victorias Milling
Company, Inc. but no agreement was signed.

At the same time, respondent obtained a loan of P1,000,000 from Presbitero covered by a third MOA,
except that the real estate mortgage was over a 263-square-meter property located in Barangay
Taculing, Bacolod City. Respondent sent Presbitero postdated checks drawn against an account in
Metrobank, Bacolod City Branch.
Presbitero was dissatisfied with the value of the 263-square-meter property mortgaged under the third
MOA, and respondent promised to execute a real estate mortgage over a 1,000-square-meter parcel of
land adjacent to the 4,000-square-meter property he mortgaged to Navarro.

However, respondent did not execute a deed for the additional security.

Respondent paid the loan interest for the first few months. He was able to pay complainants a total
of P900,000. Thereafter, he failed to pay either the principal amount or the interest thereon. In
September 2006, the checks issued by respondent to complainants could no longer be negotiated
because the accounts against which they were drawn were already closed. When complainants called
respondents attention, he promised to pay the agreed interest for September and October 2006 but
asked for a reduction of the interest to 7% for the succeeding months.

In November 2006, respondent withdrew as counsel for Yulo. On the other hand, Presbitero terminated
the services of respondent as counsel. Complainants then filed petitions for the judicial foreclosure of
the mortgages executed by respondent in their favor. Respondent countered that the 10% monthly
interest on the loan was usurious and illegal. Complainants also filed cases for estafa and violation of
Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 against respondent.

Complainants alleged that respondent induced them to grant him loans by offering very high interest
rates. He also prepared and signed the checks which turned out to be drawn against his sons accounts.
Complainants further alleged that respondent deceived them regarding the identity and value of the
property he mortgaged because he showed them a different property from that which he owned.
Presbitero further alleged that respondent mortgaged his 263-square-meter property to her
for P1,000,000 but he later sold it for only P150,000.

Respondent, for his defense, alleged that he was engaged in sugar and realty business and that it was
Yulo who convinced Presbitero and Navarro to extend him loans. Yulo also assured him that Presbitero
would help him with the refining of raw sugar through Victorias Milling Company, Inc. Respondent
alleged that Navarro fixed the interest rate and he agreed because he needed the money. He alleged
that their business transactions were secured by real estate mortgages and covered by postdated
checks. Respondent denied that the property he mortgaged to Presbitero was less than the value of the
loan. He also denied that he sold the property because the sale was actually rescinded. Respondent
claimed that the property he mortgaged to Navarro was valuable and it was actually worth more
than P8,000,000.

Respondent alleged that he was able to pay complainants when business was good but he was unable to
continue paying when the price of sugar went down and when the business with Victorias Milling
Company, Inc. did not push through because Presbitero did not help him. Respondent also denied that
he was hiding from complainants.

Respondent further alleged that it was Yulo who owed him P530,000 as interest due for September to
December 2005. He denied making any false representations. He claimed that complainants were aware
that he could no longer open a current account and they were the ones who proposed that his wife and
son issue the checks. Respondent further alleged that he already started with the titling of Yulos lot but
his services were terminated before it could be completed.

A supplemental complaint was filed charging respondent with accepting cases while under suspension.
In response, respondent alleged that he accepted Presbiteros case in February 2006 and learned of his
suspension only in May 2006.

After conducting a hearing and considering the position papers submitted by the parties, the IBP-CBD
found that respondent violated the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The IBP-CBD found that respondent borrowed P2,000,000 from Navarro and P1,000,000 from Presbitero
which he failed to pay in accordance with the MOAs he executed. The IBP-CBD found that based on the
documents presented by the parties, respondent did not act in good faith in obtaining the loans. The
IBP-CBD found that respondent either promised or agreed to pay the very high interest rates of the
loans although he knew them to be exorbitant in accordance with jurisprudence. Respondent likewise
failed to deny that he misled Navarro and her husband regarding the identity of the property mortgaged
to them. Respondent also mortgaged a property to Presbitero for P1,000,000 but documents showed
that its value was only P300,000. Documents also showed that he sold that property for only P150,000.
Respondent conspired with Yulo to secure loans by promising her a 10% commission and later claimed
that they agreed that Yulo would "ride" on the loan by borrowing P300,000 from the amount he
obtained from Navarro and Presbitero. Respondent could not explain how he lost all the money he
borrowed in three months except for his claim that the price of sugar went down.

The IBP-CBD found that respondent misled Navarro and Presbitero regarding the issuance of the
postdated checks, and there was nothing in the records that would show that he informed them that it
would be his wife or son who would issue the checks. The IBP-CBD also found that respondent had not
been transparent in liquidating the money he received in connection with Presbiteros VOS with DAR. He
was also negligent in his accounting regarding the registration of Yulos property which was financed by
Navarro.

The IBP-CBD found that respondent was guilty of violating Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility for committing the following acts:

(1) signing drawn checks against the account of his son as if they were from his own account;

(2) misrepresenting to Navarro the identity of the lot he mortgaged to her;

(3) misrepresenting to Presbitero the true value of the 263-square-meter lot he mortgaged to her;

(4) conspiring with Yulo to obtain the loans from complainants;

(5) agreeing or promising to pay 10% interest on his loans although he knew that it was exorbitant; and

(6) failing to pay his loans because the checks he issued were dishonored as the accounts were already
closed.
The IBP-CBD also found that respondent violated Canon 16 and Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility when he failed to properly account for the various funds he received from complainants.

In addition, the IBP-CBD found that respondent violated Rule 16.04 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility which prohibits borrowing money from a client unless the clients interest is fully
protected or the client is given independent advice.

On the matter of practicing law while under suspension, the IBP-CBD found that the records were not
clear whether the notice of suspension respondent received on 29 May 2006 was the report and
recommendation of the IBP-CBD or the final decision of this Court. The IBP-CBD likewise found that
there was insufficient evidence to prove that respondent mishandled his cases.

The IBP-CBD recommended that respondent be meted the penalty of disbarment.

In Resolution No. XIX-2011-267 dated 14 May 2011, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved
the recommendation of the IBP-CBD with modification by reducing the recommended penalty from
disbarment to suspension from the practice of law for two years. The IBP Board of Governors likewise
ordered respondent to return the amount of his unpaid obligation to complainants.

Complainants filed a motion for reconsideration, praying that the penalty of disbarment be instead
imposed upon respondent.

The only issue in this case is whether respondent violated the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The records show that respondent violated at least four provisions of the Code of Professional
Responsibility.

Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

Rule 1.01. - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

With respect to his client, Presbitero, it was established that respondent agreed to pay a high interest
rate on the loan he obtained from her. He drafted the MOA. Yet, when he could no longer pay his loan,
he sought to nullify the same MOA he drafted on the ground that the interest rate was unconscionable.
It was also established that respondent mortgaged a 263-square-meter property to Presbitero
for P1,000,000 but he later sold the property for only P150,000, showing that he deceived his client as to
the real value of the mortgaged property. Respondents allegation that the sale was eventually
rescinded did not distract from the fact that he did not apprise Presbitero as to the real value of the
property.

Respondent failed to refute that the checks he issued to his client Presbitero and to Navarro belonged to
his son, Ivan Garcia Solidum III whose name is similar to his name. He only claimed that complainants
knew that he could no longer open a current bank account, and that they even suggested that his wife
or son issue the checks for him. However, we are inclined to agree with the IBP-CBDs finding that he
made complainants believe that the account belonged to him. In fact, respondent signed in the
presence of Navarro the first batch of checks he issued to Navarro. Respondent sent the second batch of
checks to Navarro and the third batch of checks to Presbitero through a messenger, and complainants
believed that the checks belonged to accounts in respondents name.

It is clear that respondent violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. We have ruled
that conduct, as used in the Rule, is not confined to the performance of a lawyers professional
duties.1 A lawyer may be disciplined for misconduct committed either in his professional or private
capacity.2 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.3

In this case, the loan agreements with Navarro were done in respondents private capacity. Although
Navarro financed the registration of Yulos lot, respondent and Navarro had no lawyer-client
relationship. However, respondent was Presbiteros counsel at the time she granted him a loan. It was
established that respondent misled Presbitero on the value of the property he mortgaged as a collateral
for his loan from her. To appease Presbitero, respondent even made a Deed of Undertaking that he
would give her another 1,000-square-meter lot as additional collateral but he failed to do so.

Clearly, respondent is guilty of engaging in dishonest and deceitful conduct, both in his professional
capacity with respect to his client, Presbitero, and in his private capacity with respect to complainant
Navarro. Both Presbitero and Navarro allowed respondent to draft the terms of the loan agreements.
Respondent drafted the MOAs knowing that the interest rates were exorbitant. Later, using his
knowledge of the law, he assailed the validity of the same MOAs he prepared. He issued checks that
were drawn from his sons account whose name was similar to his without informing complainants.
Further, there is nothing in the records that will show that respondent paid or undertook to pay the
loans he obtained from complainants.

Canon 16 and Rule 16.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provide:

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.

The fiduciary nature of the relationship between the counsel and his client imposes on the lawyer the
duty to account for the money or property collected or received for or from his client.4 We agree with
the IBP-CBD that respondent failed to fulfill this duty. In this case, the IBP-CBD pointed out that
respondent received various amounts from complainants but he could not account for all of them.

Navarro, who financed the registration of Yulos 18.85-hectare lot, claimed that respondent
received P265,000 from her. Respondent countered that P105,000 was paid for real estate taxes but he
could not present any receipt to prove his claim. Respondent also claimed that he paid P70,000 to the
surveyor but the receipt was only for P15,000. Respondent claimed that he paid P50,000 for filing fee,
publication fee, and other expenses but again, he could not substantiate his claims with any receipt. As
pointed out by the IBP-CBD, respondent had been less than diligent in accounting for the funds he
received from Navarro for the registration of Yulos property.

Unfortunately, the records are not clear whether respondent rendered an accounting to Yulo who had
since passed away.

As regards Presbitero, it was established during the clarificatory hearing that respondent
received P50,000 from Presbitero. As the IBP-CBD pointed out, the records do not show how respondent
spent the funds because he was not transparent in liquidating the money he received from Presbitero.

Clearly, respondent had been negligent in properly accounting for the money he received from his
client, Presbitero.1wphi1 Indeed, his failure to return the excess money in his possession gives rise to
the presumption that he has misappropriated it for his own use to the prejudice of, and in violation of
the trust reposed in him by, the client.5

Rule 16.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:

Rule 16.04. - A lawyer shall not borrow money from his client unless the clients interests are fully
protected by the nature of the case or by independent advice. Neither shall a lawyer lend money to a
client except, when in the interest of justice, he has to advance necessary expenses in a legal matter he
is handling for the client.

Here, respondent does not deny that he borrowed P1,000,000 from his client Presbitero. At the time he
secured the loan, respondent was already the retained counsel of Presbitero.

While respondents loan from Presbitero was secured by a MOA, postdated checks and real estate
mortgage, it turned out that respondent misrepresented the value of the property he mortgaged and
that the checks he issued were not drawn from his account but from that of his son. Respondent
eventually questioned the terms of the MOA that he himself prepared on the ground that the interest
rate imposed on his loan was unconscionable. Finally, the checks issued by respondent to Presbitero
were dishonored because the accounts were already closed. The interest of his client, Presbitero, as
lender in this case, was not fully protected. Respondent violated Rule 16.04 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility, which presumes that the client is disadvantaged by the lawyers ability to use all the legal
maneuverings to renege on his obligation.6 In his dealings with his client Presbitero, respondent took
advantage of his knowledge of the law as well as the trust and confidence reposed in him by his client.

We modify the recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors imposing on respondent the penalty of
suspension from the practice of law for two years. Given the facts of the case, we see no reason to
deviate from the recommendation of the IBP-CBD imposing on respondent the penalty of disbarment.
Respondent failed to live up to the high standard of morality, honesty, integrity, and fair dealing
required of him as a member of the legal profession.7 Instead, respondent employed his knowledge and
skill of the law and took advantage of his client to secure undue gains for himself8 that warrants his
removal from the practice of law. Likewise, we cannot sustain the IBP Board of Governors
recommendation ordering respondent to return his unpaid obligation to complainants, except for
advances for the expenses he received from his client, Presbitero, that were not accounted at all. In
disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, the only issue is whether the officer of the court is still fit to be
allowed to continue as a member of the Bar.9 Our only concern is the determination of respondents
administrative liability.10

Our findings have no material bearing on other judicial action which the parties may choose to file
against each other.11 Nevertheless, when a lawyer receives money from a client for a particular purpose
involving the client-attorney relationship, he is bound to render an accounting to the client showing that
the money was spent for that particular purpose.12 If the lawyer does not use the money for the
intended purpose, he must immediately return the money to his client.13 Respondent was given an
opportunity to render an accounting, and he failed. He must return the full amount of the advances
given him by Presbitero, amounting to P50,000.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds Atty. Ivan M. Solidum, Jr. GUILTY of violating Rule 1.01, Canon 16, Rule
16.01, and Rule 16.04 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Accordingly, the Court DISBARS him
from the practice of law effective immediately upon his receipt of this Decision.

Atty. Solidum is ORDERED to return the advances he received from Hilda S. Presbitero, amounting
to P50,000, and to submit to the Office of the Bar Confidant his compliance with this order within thirty
days from finality of this Decision.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines for distribution to all its chapters, and the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination
to all courts all over the country. Let a copy of this Decision be attached to the personal records of
respondent.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO


Chief Justice

A.C. No. 5581 January 14, 2014

ROSE BUNAGAN-BANSIG, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. ROGELIO JUAN A. CELERA, Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:
Before us is a Petition for Disbarment1 dated January 8, 2002 filed by complainant Rose Bunagan-Bansig
(Bansig) against respondent Atty. Rogelio Juan A. Celera (respondent) for Gross Immoral Conduct.

In her complaint, Bansig narrated that, on May 8, 1997, respondent and Gracemarie R. Bunagan
(Bunagan), entered into a contract of marriage, as evidenced by a certified xerox copy of the certificate
of marriage issued by the City Civil Registry of Manila.2 Bansig is the sister of Gracemarie R. Bunagan,
legal wife of respondent.

However, notwithstanding respondent's marriage with Bunagan, respondent contracted another


marriage on January 8, 1998 with a certain Ma. Cielo Paz Torres Alba (Alba), as evidenced by a certified
xerox copy of the certificate of marriage issued by the City Registration Officer of San Juan, Manila.3

Bansig stressed that the marriage between respondent and Bunagan was still valid and in full legal
existence when he contracted his second marriage with Alba, and that the first marriage had never been
annulled or rendered void by any lawful authority.

Bansig alleged that respondents act of contracting marriage with Alba, while his marriage is still
subsisting, constitutes grossly immoral and conduct unbecoming of a member of the Bar, which renders
him unfit to continue his membership in the Bar.

In a Resolution4 dated February 18, 2002, the Court resolved to require respondent to file a comment on
the instant complaint.

Respondent failed to submit his comment on the complaint, despite receipt of the copy of the Court's
Resolution, as evidenced by Registry Return Receipt No. 30639. Thus, the Court, in a Resolution5 dated
March 17, 2003, resolved to require respondent to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt
with or held in contempt for failing to file his comment on the complaint against him.6

On December 10, 2002, Bansig filed an Omnibus Ex Parte Motion7 praying that respondent's failure to
file his comment on the complaint be deemed as a waiver to file the same, and that the case be
submitted for disposition.

On May 4, 2003, in a Motion, respondent claimed that while it appeared that an administrative case was
filed against him, he did not know the nature or cause thereof since other than Bansig's Omnibus
Motion, he received no other pleading or any processes of this Court. Respondent, however, countered
that Bansig's Omnibus Motion was merely a ploy to frighten him and his wife from pursuing the criminal
complaints for falsification of public documents they filed against Bansig and her husband. He also
explained that he was able to obtain a copy of the Court's Show Cause Order only when he visited his
brother who is occupying their former residence at 59-B Aguho St., Project 3, Quezon City. Respondent
further averred that he also received a copy of Bansig's Omnibus Motion when the same was sent to his
law office address.

Respondent pointed out that having been the family's erstwhile counsel and her younger sister's
husband, Bansig knew his law office address, but she failed to send a copy of the complaint to him.
Respondent suspected that Bansig was trying to mislead him in order to prevent him from defending
himself. He added that Bansig has an unpaid obligation amounting to P2,000,000.00 to his wife which
triggered a sibling rivalry. He further claimed that he and his wife received death threats from unknown
persons; thus, he transferred to at least two (2) new residences, i.e., in Sampaloc, Manila and Angeles
City. He then prayed that he be furnished a copy of the complaint and be given time to file his answer to
the complaint.

In a Resolution8 dated July 7, 2003, the Court resolved to (a) require Bansig to furnish respondent with a
copy of the administrative complaint and to submit proof of such service; and (b) require respondent to
file a comment on the complaint against him.

In compliance, Bansig submitted an Affidavit of Mailing to show proof that a copy of the administrative
complaint was furnished to respondent at his given address which is No. 238 Mayflower St., Ninoy
Aquino Subdivision, Angeles City, as evidenced by Registry Receipt No. 2167.9

On March 17, 2004, considering that respondent failed anew to file his comment despite receipt of the
complaint, the Court resolved to require respondent to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily
dealt with or held in contempt for such failure.10

On June 3, 2004, respondent, in his Explanation,11 reiterated that he has yet to receive a copy of the
complaint. He claimed that Bansig probably had not complied with the Court's Order, otherwise, he
would have received the same already. He requested anew that Bansig be directed to furnish him a copy
of the complaint.

Again, on August 25, 2004, the Court granted respondent's prayer that he be furnished a copy of the
complaint, and required Bansig to furnish a copy of the complaint to respondent.12

On October 1, 2004, Bansig, in her Manifestation,13 lamented the dilatory tactics allegedly undertaken
by respondent in what was supposedly a simple matter of receipt of complaint. Bansig asserted that the
Court should sanction respondent for his deliberate and willful act to frustrate the actions of the Court.
She attached a copy of the complaint and submitted an Affidavit of Mailing stating that again a copy of
the complaint was mailed at respondent's residential address in Angeles City as shown by Registry
Receipt No. 3582.

On May 16, 2005, the Court anew issued a Show Cause Order to respondent as to why he should not be
disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for failure to comply with the Resolution dated July 7, 2003
despite service of copy of the complaint by registered mail.14

On August 1, 2005, the Court noted the returned and unserved copy of the Show Cause Order dated
May 16, 2005 sent to respondent at 238 Mayflower St., Ninoy Aquino Subd. under Registry Receipt No.
55621, with notation "RTS-Moved." It likewise required Bansig to submit the correct and present
address of respondent.15

On September 12, 2005, Bansig manifested that respondent had consistently indicated in his
correspondence with the Court No. 238 Mayflower St., Ninoy Aquino Subdivision, Angeles City as his
residential address. However, all notices served upon him on said address were returned with a note
"moved" by the mail server. Bansig averred that in Civil Case No. 59353, pending before the Regional
Trial Court (RTC), Branch 1, Tuguegarao City, respondent entered his appearance as counsel with mailing
address to be at "Unit 8, Halili Complex, 922 Aurora Blvd., Cubao, Quezon City."16

On February 13, 2006, the Court resolved to resend a copy of the Show Cause Order dated May 16, 2005
to respondent at his new address at Unit 8, Halili Complex, 922 Aurora Blvd., Cubao, Quezon City.17

On June 30, 2008, due to respondent's failure to comply with the Show Cause Order dated May 16,
2005, for failure to file his comment on this administrative complaint as required in the Resolution dated
July 7, 2003, the Court resolved to: (a) IMPOSE upon Atty. Celera a FINE of P1,000.00 payable to the
court, or a penalty of imprisonment of five (5) days if said fine is not paid, and (b) REQUIRE Atty. Celera
to COMPLY with the Resolution dated July 7, 2003 by filing the comment required thereon.18

In a Resolution19 dated January 27, 2010, it appearing that respondent failed to comply with the Court's
Resolutions dated June 30, 2008 and July 7, 2003, the Court resolved to: (1) DISPENSE with the filing by
respondent of his comment on the complaint; (2) ORDER the arrest of Atty. Celera; and (3) DIRECT the
Director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to (a) ARREST and DETAIN Atty. Celera for non-
compliance with the Resolution dated June 30, 2008; and (b) SUBMIT a report of compliance with the
Resolution. The Court likewise resolved to REFER the complaint to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
for investigation, report and recommendation.20

However, the Return of Warrant21 dated March 24, 2010, submitted by Atty. Frayn M. Banawa,
Investigation Agent II, Anti-Graft Division of the NBI, showed that respondent cannot be located because
neither Halili Complex nor No. 922 Aurora Blvd., at Cubao, Quezon City cannot be located. During
surveillance, it appeared that the given address, i.e., No. 922 Aurora Blvd., Cubao, Quezon City was a
vacant lot with debris of a demolished building. Considering that the given address cannot be found or
located and there were no leads to determine respondent's whereabouts, the warrant of arrest cannot
be enforced.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, meanwhile, in compliance with the Court's Resolution, reported
that as per their records, the address of respondent is at No. 41 Hoover St., Valley View Royale Subd.,
Taytay, Rizal.

Respondent likewise failed to appear before the mandatory conference and hearings set by the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD), despite several notices. Thus,
in an Order dated August 4, 2010, Commissioner Rebecca Villanueva-Maala, of the IBP-CBD, declared
respondent to be in default and the case was submitted for report and recommendation. The Order of
Default was received by respondent as evidenced by a registry return receipt. However, respondent
failed to take any action on the matter.

On January 3, 2011, the IBP-CBD, in its Report and Recommendation, recommended that respondent
Atty. Celera be suspended for a period of two (2) years from the practice of law.

RULING
A disbarment case is sui generis for it is neither purely civil nor purely criminal, but is rather an
investigation by the court into the conduct of its officers.22 The issue to be determined is whether
respondent is still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice. Hence, an
administrative proceeding for disbarment continues despite the desistance of a complainant, or failure
of the complainant to prosecute the same, or in this case, the failure of respondent to answer the
charges against him despite numerous notices.

In administrative proceedings, the complainant has the burden of proving, by substantial evidence, the
allegations in the complaint. Substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. For the Court to exercise its
disciplinary powers, the case against the respondent must be established by clear, convincing and
satisfactory proof. Considering the serious consequence of the disbarment or suspension of a member
of the Bar, this Court has consistently held that clear preponderant evidence is necessary to justify the
imposition of the administrative penalty.23

In the instant case, there is a preponderance of evidence that respondent contracted a second marriage
despite the existence of his first marriage. The first marriage, as evidenced by the certified xerox copy of
the Certificate of Marriage issued on October 3, 2001 by the City Civil Registry of Manila, Gloria C.
Pagdilao, states that respondent Rogelio Juan A. Celera contracted marriage on May, 8, 1997 with
Gracemarie R. Bunagan at the Church of Saint Augustine, Intramuros, Manila; the second marriage,
however, as evidenced by the certified xerox copy of the Certificate of Marriage issued on October 4,
2001 by the City Civil Registry of San Juan, Manila, states that respondent Rogelio Juan A. Celera
contracted marriage on January 8, 1998 with Ma. Cielo Paz Torres Alba at the Mary the Queen Church,
Madison St., Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila.

Bansig submitted certified xerox copies of the marriage certificates to prove that respondent entered
into a second marriage while the latters first marriage was still subsisting. We note that the second
marriage apparently took place barely a year from his first marriage to Bunagan which is indicative that
indeed the first marriage was still subsisting at the time respondent contracted the second marriage
with Alba.

The certified xerox copies of the marriage contracts, issued by a public officer in custody thereof, are
admissible as the best evidence of their contents, as provided for under Section 7 of Rule 130 of the
Rules of Court, to wit:

Sec. 7. Evidence admissible when original document is a public record. When the original of a
document is in the custody of a public officer or is recorded in a public office, its contents may be
proved by a certified copy issued by the public officer in custody thereof.

Moreover, the certified xerox copies of the marriage certificates, other than being admissible in
evidence, also clearly indicate that respondent contracted the second marriage while the first marriage
is subsisting. By itself, the certified xerox copies of the marriage certificates would already have been
sufficient to establish the existence of two marriages entered into by respondent. The certified xerox
copies should be accorded the full faith and credence given to public documents. For purposes of this
disbarment proceeding, these Marriage Certificates bearing the name of respondent are competent and
convincing evidence to prove that he committed bigamy, which renders him unfit to continue as a
member of the Bar.24

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.

Respondent exhibited a deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of him as a member of the
Bar. He made a mockery of marriage, a sacred institution demanding respect and dignity. His act of
contracting a second marriage while his first marriage is subsisting constituted grossly immoral conduct
and are grounds for disbarment under Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court.25

This case cannot be fully resolved, however, without addressing rather respondents defiant stance
against the Court as demonstrated by his repetitive disregard of its Resolution requiring him to file his
comment on the complaint. This case has dragged on since 2002. In the span of more than 10 years, the
Court has issued numerous directives for respondent's compliance, but respondent seemed to have
preselected only those he will take notice of and the rest he will just ignore. The Court has issued several
resolutions directing respondent to comment on the complaint against him, yet, to this day, he has not
submitted any answer thereto. He claimed to have not received a copy of the complaint, thus, his failure
to comment on the complaint against him. Ironically, however, whenever it is a show cause order, none
of them have escaped respondent's attention. Even assuming that indeed the copies of the complaint
had not reached him, he cannot, however, feign ignorance that there is a complaint against him that is
pending before this Court which he could have easily obtained a copy had he wanted to.

The Court has been very tolerant in dealing with respondent's nonchalant attitude towards this case;
accommodating respondent's endless requests, manifestations and prayers to be given a copy of the
complaint. The Court, as well as Bansig, as evidenced by numerous affidavits of service, have relentlessly
tried to reach respondent for more than a decade; sending copies of the Court's Resolutions and
complaint to different locations - both office and residential addresses of respondent. However, despite
earnest efforts of the Court to reach respondent, the latter, however conveniently offers a mere excuse
of failure to receive the complaint. When said excuse seemed no longer feasible, respondent just
disappeared. In a manner of speaking, respondents acts were deliberate, maneuvering the liberality of
the Court in order to delay the disposition of the case and to evade the consequences of his actions.
Ultimately, what is apparent is respondents deplorable disregard of the judicial process which this Court
cannot countenance.
Clearly, respondent's acts constitute willful disobedience of the lawful orders of this Court, which under
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court is in itself alone a sufficient cause for suspension or
disbarment. Respondents cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of the Supreme Court
constitutes utter disrespect to the judicial institution. Respondents conduct indicates a high degree of
irresponsibility. We have repeatedly held that a Courts Resolution is "not to be construed as a mere
request, nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately, or selectively." Respondents obstinate
refusal to comply with the Courts orders "not only betrays a recalcitrant flaw in his character; it also
underscores his disrespect of the Court's lawful orders which is only too deserving of reproof."26

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court 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 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. The
practice of soliciting cases for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers,
constitutes malpractice.

Considering respondent's propensity to disregard not only the laws of the land but also the lawful orders
of the Court, it only shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity and good demeanor.
He is, thus, unworthy to continue as an officer of the court.

IN VIEW OF ALL THE FOREGOING, we find respondent ATTY. ROGELIO JUAN A. CELERA, guilty of grossly
immoral conduct and willful disobedience of lawful orders rendering him unworthy of continuing
membership in the legal profession. He is thus ordered DISBARRED from the practice of law and his
name stricken of the Roll of Attorneys, effective immediately.1wphi1

Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, which shall forthwith record it in
the personal file of respondent. All the Courts of the Philippines and the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines shall disseminate copies thereof to all its Chapters.

SO ORDERED.

A.C. No. 8101 February 4, 2015

MELANIO S. SALITA, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. REYNALDO T. SALVE, Respondent.
RESOLUTION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

This instant administrative case arose from an Affidavit-Complaint1 filed by complainant Melania S.
Salita (Salita) against respondent Atty. Reynaldo T. Salve (Atty. Salve) in connection with the latter's
alleged falsification of public documents.

The Facts

On December 14, 2002, Salita - the registered owner of a parcel of land located at Visayan Village,
Tagum City2with Transfer Certificate of Title No. T-678503 (subject property) - applied for a loan from
one Jocelyn Rodriguez (Rodriguez) in the amount of P50,000.00 and, in such regard, signed blank
documents, including an "incomplete" Promissory Note (PN).4 Subsequently, he restructured the
aforesaid loan and further signed several documents prepared by the latter, including two (2) Real
Estate Mortgage Agreements dated November 9, 20055 and November 18, 20056 (REM instruments),
and a pre-formed Deed of Absolute Sale7 covering the subject property as collateral.8

On November 15, 2006, Salita was able to pay his loan in full as evidenced by a Release of Real Estate
Mortgage9 executed by Rodriguez before Notary Public Buenaventura Melendres, which was later duly
entered in the Register of Deeds of Davao Del Norte.10

Notwithstanding such full payment, Rodriguez, on September 17, 2007, instituted an ejectment
complaint11against Salita before the Office of the Barangay of Visayan Village, Tagum City, presenting in
furtherance of his cause the pre-formed Deed of Absolute Sale and the two (2) REM instruments signed
by the latter.12 Upon checking the said documents, Salita discovered that the Deed of Absolute Sale had
already been notarized13 by Atty. Salve and his Community Tax Certificate Numbers were allegedly
falsified.14 During a Barangay Conciliation proceeding, Rodriguez presented the same documents to
reinforce her claims. Salita, for his part, noticed that one copy of the Deed of Sale was purportedly
notarized on August 12, 2007,15 while another was notarized a month later, or on September 12,
2007.16 Thus, Salita went on to conclude that because of the foregoing events, it appeared as if he had
sold the subject property to Rodriguez and executed the same before Atty. Salve.17Aggrieved, Salita filed
a criminal case for falsification of public documents against Rodriguez18 and Atty. Salve.19Salita likewise
filed the instant administrative case against Atty. Salve.

In his defense,20 Atty. Salve vehemently denied that he falsified the Deed of Absolute Sale. He averred
that the said document was regular on its face except the month of sale, i.e., August 12, 2007 instead of
September 12, 2007, which is a mere clerical error due to "sheer" inadvertence on the part of his
secretary. Accounting for such, Atty. Salve claimed that the date stamp accidentally slid to August
instead of September as it was also being used by three (3) other office clerks and two (2) lawyers for
other office documents.21 Atty. Salve further narrated that both Salita and Rodriguez went to him and
brought the PN and other loan documents executed by Salita himself. He also clarified that the PN was
notarized in their presence on December 12, 2002 and both got a copy right after. Atty. Salve then
inferred that it was Salita who erased the PNs machine printed numbers using his own handwriting and
thereafter photocopied it to make it appear that the document was not among the notarial documents
he submitted to the Office of the Clerk of Court of Tagum City for the year 2002.22 Finally, Atty. Salve
averred that the certified electronic copies of the PN in the Office of the Clerk of Court of Tagum City
and the ones in his law office are identical and the same, while Salitas alleged falsified photocopy is
totally different.23

The IBP Report and Recommendation

In a Report and Recommendation24 dated January 4, 2010, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)
Investigating Commissioner dismissed Salitas complaint for lack of merit.25 He found that Salita was not
able to obtain the required quantum of proof to hold Atty. Salve administratively liable, especially
considering that Salitas criminal complaint was dismissed for lack of probable cause.26

In a Resolution27 dated December 29, 2012 (December 29, 2012 Resolution), the IBP Board of Governors
adopted and approved the IBP Investigating Commissioners Report and Recommendation dismissing
the case for lack of merit.

On reconsideration,28 however, the IBP Board of Governors issued a Resolution29 dated March 8, 2014
(March 8,2014 Resolution) setting aside its December 29, 2012 Resolution and accordingly,
recommended the suspension of Atty. Salves notarial commission for a period of three (3) months. It,
however, failed to state the reasons for imposing the suspension.

The Issue Before the Court

The sole issue for the Courts resolution is whether or not Atty. Salve should be held administratively
liable.

The Courts Ruling

The Court rules in the affirmative.

Before delving on the merits, the Court finds it proper to first call out the IBP for failing to articulate the
reasons behind its resolution. Section 12 (a), Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court mandates that the
decision of the IBP Board of Governors shall clearly and distinctly state the facts and the reasons on
which it is based:

SEC. 12. Review and decision by the Board of Governors. (a) Every case heard by an investigator shall
be reviewed by the IBP Board of Governors upon the record and evidence transmitted to it by the
Investigator with his report. The decision of the Board upon such review shall be in writing and shall
clearly and distinctly state the facts and the reasons on which it is based. It shall be promulgated within
a period not exceeding thirty (30) days from the next meeting of the Board following the submittal of
the Investigators Report. (Emphasis supplied) Section 12 (b), Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court further
states that:

SEC. 12. Review and decision by the Board of Governors. x x x


xxxx

(b) If the Board, by the vote of a majority of its total membership, determines that the respondent
should be suspended from the practice of law or disbarred, it shall issue a resolution setting forth its
findings and recommendations which, together with the whole record of the case, shall forthwith be
transmitted to the Supreme Court for final action. (Emphasis supplied)

Notably, although the IBPs recommendation only covers herein respondents notarial commission and
not his license to practice law, still, in view of the necessary connection between the two (for only
members of the Bar in good standing may be commissioned as notaries public30), the Court equally
exhorts compliance with the preceding provision requiring the IBP Board of Governors to set forth its
findings, both of fact and law, and its recommendations in the resolution it submits to this Court for final
action.

With its March 8, 2014 Resolution barren of any reason to support the proffered recommendation, said
body had clearly failed to comply with the foregoing provisions. Thus, it is strongly prompted to be ever-
mindful of the above-mentioned rules.

Be that as it may, the Court takes up the cudgels and explains the reasons warranting the suspension of
Atty. Salves notarial commission.

To recount, records reveal that Rodriguez used, among others, the Deed of Absolute Sale notarized by
Atty. Salve to file an ejectment complaint against Salita. However, it must be remembered that Salita
was merely made to sign such document as collateral for his loan and that he had already fully paid the
same, as evidenced by the notarized Release of Real Estate Mortgage executed by Rodriguez herself.
Considering the circumstances, it is simply unfathomable for Salita to appear before Atty. Salve to have
the said document notarized, as it will be detrimental to his own interests. Hence, the Court finds that
Atty. Salve notarized the pre-formed Deed of Absolute Sale without Salitas presence before him.

Verily, a notary public should not notarize a document 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 the
truth of what are stated therein. These acts of the affiants cannot be delegated because what are stated
therein are facts they have personal knowledge of and are personally sworn to. Otherwise, their
representatives names should appear in the said documents as the ones who executed the same.31

The function of a notary public is, among others, to guard against any illegal or immoral arrangements.
By affixing his notarial seal on the instrument, he converted the Deed of Absolute Sale, from a private
document into a public document. In doing so, Atty. Salve, as borne from the records of this case,
effectively proclaimed to the world that: (a) all the parties therein personally appeared before him; (b)
they are all personally known to him; (c) they were the same persons who executed the instruments; (d)
he inquired into the voluntariness of execution of the instrument; and (e) they acknowledged personally
before him that they voluntarily and freely executed the same.32 As a lawyer commissioned to be a
notary public, Atty. Salve is mandated to discharge his sacred duties with faithful observance and utmost
respect for the legal solemnity of an oath in an acknowledgment or jurat. Having failed in this regard, he
must now accept the commensurate consequences of his professional indiscretion. His act of certifying
under oath an irregular Deed of Absolute Sale without requiring the personal appearance of the persons
executing the same constitutes gross negligence in the performance of duty as a notary public.33

In the case of Atty. Dela Cruz v. Atty. Zabala,34 the Court revoked the errant lawyers notarial
commission and disqualified him from being commissioned as such for a period of two (2) years for
similarly committing gross negligence in the performance of his duty as a notary public through his
failure to ascertain the identities of the persons executing the Deed of Absolute sale he
notarized.35 Thus, due to the infractions relative comparability, the Court finds it apt to impose the
same against Atty. Salve, thereby effectively modifying the suspension initially recommended by the IBP.

As a final point, it bears noting that unlike the aforesaid misdeed which palpably appears from the
records the Court expresses its concurrence with the IBP Investigating Commissioners finding that
Atty. Salve should nevertheless be absolved from the falsification charges against him. Suffice it to state
that Salita failed to prove the allegations against Atty. Salve, especially considering the resolutions in the
criminal case against the latter finding no probable cause to indict him of the crime of Falsification of
Public Documents.36 That being said, only Atty. Salves administrative liability for gross negligence in his
conduct as a notary public stands. WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Reynaldo T. Salve is found GUILTY of
gross negligence in his conduct as a notary public. His notarial commission, if still existing, is hereby
REVOKED and he is DISQUALIFIED from being commissioned as a notary public for a period of two (2)
years.

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to
respondent's personal record as attorney. Further, let copies of this Resolution be furnished the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to circulate
them to all courts in the country for their information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.

ESTELA M. PERLAS-BERNABE
Associate Justice

A.C. No. 10135 January 15, 2014

EDGARDO AREOLA, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. MARIA VILMA MENDOZA, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

REYES, J.:
This refers to the administrative complaint1 filed by Edgardo D. Areola (Areola) a.k.a. Muhammad
Khadafy against Atty. Maria Vilma Mendoza (Atty. Mendoza), from the Public Attorney s Office (PAO) for
violation of her attorney s oath of office, deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in office under
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court, and for violation of the Code of Professional
Responsibility.

In the letter-complaint dated November 13, 2006 addressed to the Honorable Commissioners,
Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Areola stated that he was
filing the complaint in behalf of his co-detainees Allan Seronda, Aaron Arca, Joselito Mirador, Spouses
Danilo Perez and Elizabeth Perez. He alleged that on October 23, 2006, during Prisoners Week, Atty.
Mendoza, visited the Antipolo City Jail and called all detainees with pending cases before the Regional
Trial Court (RTC), Branch 73, Antipolo City where she was assigned, to attend her
speech/lecture.2 Areola claimed that Atty. Mendoza stated the following during her speech:

"O kayong may mga kasong drugs na may pangpiyansa o pang- areglo ay maging praktikal sana kayo
kung gusto ninyong makalaya agad. Upang makatiyak kayo na hindi masasayang ang pera ninyo ay sa
akin ninyo ibigay o ng kamag-anak ninyo ang pera at ako na ang bahalang maglagay kay Judge Martin at
Fiscal banqui; at kayong mga detenidong mga babae na no bail ang kaso sa drugs, iyak-iyakan lang ninyo
si Judge Martin at palalayain na kayo. Malambot ang puso noon."3

Atty. Mendoza allegedly said that as she is handling more than 100 cases, all detainees should prepare
and furnish her with their Sinumpaang Salaysay so that she may know the facts of their cases and their
defenses and also to give her the necessary payment for their transcript of stenographic notes.4

Areola furthermore stated that when he helped his co-inmates in drafting their pleadings and filing
motions before the RTC Branch 73, Antipolo City, Atty. Mendoza undermined his capability, to wit:

(1) Atty. Mendoza purportedly scolded detainee Seronda when she learned that the latter was assisted
by Areola in filing a Motion to Dismiss for Violation of Republic Act No. 8942 (Speedy Trial Act of 1998) in
the latters criminal case for rape, which was pending before the RTC, Branch 73, Antipolo City. She got
angrier when Seronda retorted that he allowed Areola to file the motion for him since there was nobody
to help him.

(2) Areola assisted Spouses Danilo and Elizabeth Perez in filing their Joint Motion for Consolidation of
Trial of Consolidated Offenses and Joint Motion to Plead Guilty to a Lesser Offense. The spouses were
likewise scolded for relying on the Complainant and alleged that the respondent asked for P2,000.00 to
represent them.

(3) Areola helped another co-detainee, Mirador in filing an "Ex-parte Motion to Plead Guilty to a Lesser
Offense". When Atty. Mendoza learned of it, she allegedly scolded Mirador and discredited Areola.5

In her unverified Answer6 dated January 5, 2007, Atty. Mendoza asseverated that the filing of the
administrative complaint against her is a harassment tactic by Areola as the latter had also filed several
administrative cases against judges in the courts of Antipolo City including the jail warden of Taytay,
Rizal where Areola was previously detained. These actuations show that Areola has a penchant for filing
various charges against anybody who does not accede to his demand.7 Atty. Mendoza contended that
Areola is not a lawyer but represented himself to his co-detainees as one.8 She alleged that the
motions/pleadings prepared and/or filed by Areola were not proper.

After both parties failed to appear in the Mandatory Conference set by the IBP on August 15, 2008, the
Investigating Commissioner considered the non-appearance as a waiver on their part. Nonetheless, in
the interest of justice, both parties were required to submit their respective position papers.9

On December 29, 2009, the Investigating Commissioner issued his Report and Recommendation.10 The
Investigating Commissioner stated that the Complainant is knowledgeable in the field of law. While he
may be of service to his fellow detainees, he must, however, be subservient to the skills and knowledge
of a full fledged lawyer. He however found no convincing evidence to prove that Atty. Mendoza received
money from Areolas co-detainees as alleged. The charges against Atty. Mendoza were also
uncorroborated, viz:

There is no convincing evidence that will prove that the respondent received money from the inmates
since the charges are uncorroborated. In fact, the complainant is not the proper party to file the instant
case since he was not directly affected or injured by the act/s being complained of. No single affidavits
of the affected persons were attached to prove the said charges. Hence, it is simply hearsay in nature.11

Nonetheless, Atty. Mendoza admitted in her Answer that she advised her clients and their relatives to
approach the judge and the fiscal "to beg and cry" so that their motions would be granted and their
cases against them would be dismissed. To the Investigating Commissioner, this is highly unethical and
improper as the act of Atty. Mendoza degrades the image of and lessens the confidence of the public in
the judiciary.12 The Investigating Commissioner recommended that Atty. Mendoza be suspended from
the practice of law for a period of two (2) months.13

In a Notice of Resolution14 dated November 19, 2011, the Board of Governors resolved to adopt and
approve the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.

Atty. Mendoza sought to reconsider the Resolution15 dated November 19, 2011 but the IBP Board of
Governors denied her motion in its Resolution16 dated May 10, 2013. The Resolution of the IBP Board of
Governors was transmitted to the Court for final action pursuant to Rule 139-B, Section 12, Paragraph
b17 of the Revised Rules of Court.

The Courts Ruling

After a judicious examination of the records, the Court finds that the instant Complaint against Atty.
Mendoza profoundly lacks evidence to support the allegations contained therein. All Areola has are
empty assertions against Atty. Mendoza that she demanded money from his co-detainees.

The Court agrees with the IBP that Areola is not the proper party to file the Complaint against Atty.
Mendoza. He is not even a client of Atty. Mendoza. He claims that he filed the Complaint on behalf of his
co-detainees Seronda, Arca, Mirador and Spouses Perez, but it is apparent that no document was
submitted which would show that they authorized Areola to file a Complaint. They did not sign the
Complaint he prepared. No affidavit was even executed by the said co-detainees to substantiate the
matters Areola raised. Consequently, the Court rejects Areolas statements, especially as regards Atty.
Mendozas alleged demands of money.

The Court agrees with the observations of the Investigating Commissioner that Areola initiated this
complaint when he felt insulted because Atty. Mendoza refused to acknowledge the pleadings and
motions he prepared for his co-detainees who are PAO clients of Atty. Mendoza.18 It appears that Areola
is quite knowledgeable with Philippine laws. However, no matter how good he thinks he is, he is still not
a lawyer. He is not authorized to give legal advice and file pleadings by himself before the courts. His
familiarity with Philippine laws should be put to good use by cooperating with the PAO instead of filing
baseless complaints against lawyers and other government authorities. It seems to the Court that Areola
thinks of himself as more intelligent and better than Atty. Mendoza, based on his criticisms against her.
In his Reply19, he made fun of her grammatical errors and tagged her as using carabao english20. He also
called the PAO as "Pa-Amin Office"21 which seriously undermines the reputation of the PAO. While
Areola may have been frustrated with the way the PAO is managing the significant number of cases it
deals with, all the more should he exert efforts to utilize his knowledge to work with the PAO instead of
maligning it.

Interestingly, Atty. Mendoza admitted that she advised her clients to approach the judge and plead for
compassion so that their motions would be granted. This admission corresponds to one of Areolas
charges against Atty. Mendozathat she told her clients " Iyak-iyakan lang ninyo si Judge Martin at
palalayain na kayo. Malambot ang puso noon." Atty. Mendoza made it appear that the judge is easily
moved if a party resorts to dramatic antics such as begging and crying in order for their cases to be
dismissed.

As such, the Court agrees with the IBP Board of Governors that Atty. Mendoza made irresponsible
advices to her clients in violation of Rule 1.02 and Rule 15.07 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
It is the mandate of Rule 1.02 that "a lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the
law or at lessening confidence in the legal system." Rule 15.07 states that "a lawyer shall impress upon
his client compliance with the laws and the principles of fairness."

Atty. Mendozas improper advice only lessens the confidence of the public in our legal system. Judges
must be free to judge, without pressure or influence from external forces or factors22 according to the
merits of a case. Atty. Mendozas careless remark is uncalled for.

It must be remembered that a lawyers duty is not to his client but to the administration of
justice.1wphi1 To that end, his clients success is wholly subordinate. His conduct ought to and must
always be scrupulously observant of the law and ethics. Any means, not honorable, fair and honest
which is resorted to by the lawyer, even in the pursuit of his devotion to his clients cause, is
condemnable and unethical.23

In spite of the foregoing, the Court deems the penalty of suspension for two (2) months as excessive and
not commensurate to Atty. Mendozas infraction. Disbarment and suspension of a lawyer, being the
most severe forms of disciplinary sanction, should be imposed with great caution and only in those cases
where the misconduct of the lawyer as an officer of the court and a member of the bar is established by
clear, convincing and satisfactory proof.24 The Court notes that when Atty. Mendoza made the remark
"Iyak-iyakan lang ninyo si Judge Martin at palalayain na kayo. Malambot ang puso noon", she was not
compelled by bad faith or malice. While her remark was inappropriate and unbecoming, her comment is
not disparaging and reproachful so as to cause dishonor and disgrace to the Judiciary.

In several administrative cases, the Court has refrained from imposing the actual penalties in the
presence of mitigating factors. Factors such as the respondents length of service, the respondents
acknowledgement of his or her infractions and feeling of remorse, family circumstances, humanitarian
and equitable considerations, respondents advanced age, among other things, have had varying
significance in the Courts determination of the imposable penalty.25 The Court takes note of Atty.
Mendozas lack of ill-motive in the present case and her being a PAO lawyer as her main source of
livelihood.26 Furthermore, the complaint filed by Areola is clearly baseless and the only reason why this
was ever given consideration was due to Atty. Mendozas own admission. For these reasons, the Court
deems it just to modify and reduce the penalty recommended by the IBP Board of Governors.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court finds Atty. Maria Vilma Mendoza GUILTY of giving
improper advice to her clients in violation of Rule 1.02 and Rule 15.07 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility and is accordingly meted out the penalty of REPRIMAND, with the STERN WARNING that a
repetition of the same or similar act will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.

BIENVENIDO L. REYES
Associate Justice

A.M. No. P-13-3141 January 21, 2014


[Formerly OCA LP.I. No. 08-2875-P]

ATTY. RHEA R. ALCANTARA-AQUINO, Complainant,


vs.
MYLENE H. DELA CRUZ, Clerk III, Office of the Clerk of Court, Regional Trial Court, Santa Cruz,
Laguna,Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:
Before us is a Complaint1 dated June 23, 2008 filed by Atty. Rhea R. Alcantara-Aquino, Assistant Clerk of
Court, Office of the Clerk of Court (OCC), Regional Trial Court (RTC), Santa Cruz, Laguna, against Mylene
H. Dela Cruz, Clerk III, of the same office, for Grave Misconduct.

The facts, as culled from the records, follow:

On May 29, 2008, complainant alleged that Mrs. Emerita B. Moises, Municipal Civil Registrar of
Nagcarlan, Laguna, went to her office to verify the veracity of the documents in SP. Proc. Case No. SC-
2268, entitled Petition for Correction of Entry in the Marriage Contract filed by Ms. Bella Coronado
Igamen, who was then requesting a copy of her annotated marriage contract from the Municipal Civil
Registrar's Office. The documents included the Order2 dated May 4, 2007 issued by Judge Jaime C.
Blancafor of Branch 26, RTC, Santa Cruz, Laguna, which was certified as a true copy by complainant Atty.
Aquino and the Certificate of Finality3 dated May 22, 2007 signed by complainant Atty. Aquino.

Upon verification from the records of the OCC, complainant Atty. Aquino discovered that said petition
for correction of entry in the marriage contract with case number SP Proc. Case No. SC-2268, was
inexistent and that the same case number pertained to another case. This fact was attested to by Atty.
Arturo R. Trinidad, Clerk of Court VI, OCC, RTC, Santa Cruz, Laguna, in his Certification4 dated May 26,
2008.

Upon further scrutiny, complainant Atty. Aquino alleged that the purported Order dated May 4, 2007 of
Judge Blancaflor, the Certification dated May 25, 2007 that the said order was a true copy of the
original, and the Certificate of Finality dated May 22, 2007 were all spurious and her signature and that
of Judge Blancaflor appearing therein were forged. Complainant recalled that she never encountered
any petition of that nature during her stint as Branch Clerk of Court of Branch 26, RTC, Santa Cruz,
Laguna. Thus, it was impossible for her and Judge Blancaflor to have issued said documents. Aside from
her allegation, complainant submitted the Affidavit dated June 23, 2008 of Mrs. Isabelita B. Cadelina,
the then Civil Docket Clerk of Branch 26, RTC, Santa Cruz, Laguna, attesting that no such Petition for
Correction of Entry in the Marriage Contract was received by their court.

Complainant further pointed out that the rubber stamp used by the forger to stamp the words "certified
true copy" in the questioned order was different from the official rubber stamp for the certified true
xerox copy being used by the court.

On June 4, 2008, a conference was held with Judge Blancaflor, Clerk of Court Atty. Trinidad, Jr.,
Municipal Civil Registrar Moises and Ms. Igamen, the alleged petitioner of SP Proc. Case No. SC-2268, in
attendance. During the said conference, Ms. Igamen positively pointed to respondent Dela Cruz as the
one who met her in court after being referred to her by Mr. Laudemer F. San Juan (San Juan), the
Municipal Civil Registrar of Santa Cruz, Laguna, which led to the discovery of the fraudulent scheme
perpetrated by respondent.

Complainant further claimed that there was another set of copies of the spurious order of Judge
Blancaflor and certificate of finality of complainant, this time certified as true copies by respondent Dela
Cruz herself. When confronted about this, respondent admitted that she indeed certified the same upon
the request of San Juan and she even issued a handwritten note dated May 29, 2008 which reads: "Na
wala akong kinalaman sa lahat nang naging conflict sa petition ni Bella Igamen dahil pinakiusapan lang
ako ni Mr. Laudemer San Juan."5

Complainant was convinced that despite the knowledge that the documents were spurious and bore the
forged signatures of complainant and Judge Blancaflor, respondent Dela Cruz authenticated the same,
leading to the anomalous annotation of the spurious order in the certificate of marriage of Ms. Igamen.

Complainant added that in view of the above discovery, other documents purporting to be court-issued
documents emerged indicating respondent Dela Cruz and her cohorts, namely, San Juan, then Municipal
Civil Registrar of Santa Cruz, Laguna and a certain Ms. Apolonia B. Gamara, then Municipal Civil Registrar
of Nagcarlan, Laguna, as the culprits. Complainant informed the Court that she had already filed a
complaint before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and had requested Judge Blancaflor to issue
a Memorandum to the Local Civil Registries within his territorial jurisdiction regarding the matter in
order to prevent similar occurrences in the future. She stated that she planned to eventually file a
criminal case for falsification against respondent Dela Cruz and her cohorts.

On July 4, 2008, the OCA directed respondent Dela Cruz to submit her comment on the complaint
against her.6

In a Resolution7 dated August 3, 2009, the Court, upon the recommendation of the OCA, resolved to
direct respondent Dela Cruz to show cause why she should not be administratively dealt with for failing
to submit her comment despite the two (2) directives from the Court

Administrator, and to submit the required comment within ten (10) days from notice, failing which,
necessary action shall be taken against her and a decision on the administrative complaint shall be
rendered on the basis of the records on hand. The copy of the resolution sent to respondent Dela Cruz
was returned unserved with the postal carrier's notation on the envelope "RTC-Unknown." Thus, the
Court issued a Resolution8 dated November 23, 2009 requiring complainant to inform the Court of the
complete and present address of respondent.

In her Compliance and Manifestation9 dated January 27, 2010, complainant Atty. Aquino provided the
Court with the complete address of respondent. In the same compliance and manifestation,
complainant informed the Court that the NBI had referred its findings of Estafa thru Falsification of
Public Documents against herein respondent Dela Cruz, Municipal Civil Registrar San Juan and Ms.
Gamara to the Provincial Prosecutors Office (PPO) for preliminary investigation.10

On August 22, 2011, the Court dispensed with the submission of the comment of respondent Dela Cruz,
considering that the copies of the Show Cause Resolution dated August 3, 2009, which required the
latter to submit her comment on the complaint sent to her at her address on record and to the new
address provided by the complainant, were returned unserved.11

Further, the Court required the parties to manifest their willingness to submit the case for decision on
the basis of the pleadings/records already filed and submitted. On December 7, 2011, for failure of both
parties to submit their respective manifestations, the Court deemed the case submitted for resolution
based on the pleadings and records already filed.12

Meanwhile, respondent Dela Cruz tendered her resignation effective June 2, 2008. On October 20, 2008,
the Court accepted her resignation effective June 2, 2008, but without prejudice to the proceedings of
the instant administrative case.

On August 22, 2012, the Court referred the instant complaint to the OCA for evaluation, report and
recommendation.13

On July 1, 2013, in compliance with the Court's directive, the OCA, in a Memorandum,14 recommended
the following:

(1) the instant case against respondent MYLENE H. DELA CRUZ, former Clerk III. Office of the Clerk of
Court, Regional Trial Court, Santa Cruz, Laguna, be RE-DOCKETED as regular administrative matter; and

(2) respondent MYLENE H. DELA CRUZ be found guilty of grave misconduct and, in lieu of DISMISSAL
FROM THE SERVICE which can no longer be imposed upon her because of her resignation, be ORDERED
to pay a FINE of Forty Thousand Pesos (P40,000.00) with forfeiture of all her benefits, except accrued
leave credits and disqualification from reemployment in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the
government, including government-owned and controlled corporations. The fine of P40,000.00 shall be
deducted from her accrued leave credits which, as computed by the Financial Management Office, is
more than sufficient to cover said amount.15

RULING

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Republic Act 6713,
enunciates the State's policy of promoting a high standard of ethics and utmost responsibility in the
public service. And no other office in the government service exacts a greater demand for moral
righteousness and uprightness from an employee than in the judiciary.16

Every employee of the judiciary should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty. The
Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that the conduct of court personnel, from the presiding
judge to the lowliest clerk, must always be beyond reproach and must be circumscribed with the heavy
burden of responsibility as to let them be free from any suspicion that may taint the judiciary. The Court
condemns and would never countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of all those involved
in the administration of justice which would violate the norm of public accountability and diminish or
even just tend to diminish the faith of the people in the judiciary.

In the instant case, there is no question that respondent Dela Cruz miserably failed to live up to these
exacting standards. The records speak for themselves: (1) Dela Cruz knew that there were no existing
records that could have served as the basis for the issuance of the disputed certificate; (2)
authenticating documents was neither part of Dela Cruz's duties nor was she authorized to authenticate
documents; (3) Dela Cruz, despite knowledge that she was not authorized to authenticate, admitted
having authenticated the questioned order and issued the certificate of finality in SP Proc. Case No. SC-
2268 allegedly upon the request of Municipal Civil Registrar San Juan; and (4) Dela Cruz refused to face
the charges against her, in disregard of the Court's directives. Clearly, these facts and evidence, coupled
with respondent's admission, sufficiently establish her culpability.

A certificate is a written assurance, or official representation, that some act has or has not been done, or
some event occurred, or some legal formality has been complied with. To certify is to attest the
truthfulness of the document. Without the records to verify the truthfulness and authenticity of a
document, no certification should be issued. This is basic.17 Dela Cruz should know that when she
certified the questioned order, she did so under the seal of the court. Thus, when the decision she
certified turned out to be spurious and non-existent, she undoubtedly compromised the Judiciary and
jeopardized the integrity of the court. Respondents acts betray her complicity, if not participation, in
acts that were irregular and violative of ethics and procedure, causing damage not only to the
complainant but also to the public.18

The inculpatory acts committed by respondent are so grave as to call for the most severe administrative
penalty. Dishonesty and grave misconduct, both being in the nature of a grave offense, carry the
extreme penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave
credits, and perpetual disqualification for re-employment in the government service. This penalty is in
accordance with Sections 52 and 58 of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil
Service. In spite of her earlier resignation, the same accessory penalty shall be imposed upon her in
addition to a fine of P40,000.00 which shall be deducted from her accrued leave credits.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent MYLENE H. DELA CRUZ, then Clerk III, Office of the Clerk of
Court, Regional Trial Court of Santa Cruz, Laguna, GUILTY of GROSS MISCONDUCT and DISHONESTY.
Since she had resigned from the service, she is instead FINED in the amount of Forty Thousand
(P40,000.00) Pesos, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and privileges, except accrued leave
credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the
government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

The Provincial Prosecutor of the Province of Laguna is hereby ORDERED to inform the Court of the status
of the criminal case of estafa thru falsification of public documents filed against Mylene H. Dela Cruz,
Apolonia B. Gamara and Laudemer F. San Juan, within ten (10) days from receipt hereof.

Likewise, the incumbent Municipal Mayor of Santa Cruz, Laguna is hereby REQUESTED to determine if
there is basis for the filing of an administrative complaint, if none has yet been filed, against Laudemer F.
San Juan and other employees who may have participated in this illegal scheme.

Let a copy of this decision be attached to respondent's personnel records in this Court.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO


Chief Justice
A.M. No. P-14-3194 January 27, 2015
(Formerly A.M. No. 14-1-01-MTC)

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant,


vs.
CONSTANTINO P. REDONA, former Clerk of Court II, Municipal Trial Court, Tanauan,
Leyte, Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter stemmed from the financial audit on the Books of Accounts of the Municipal
Trial Court, Tanauan, Leyte, conducted by the Audit Team of the Court Management Office (Team) due
to the application for separation benefits under Section 11, paragraph (b) of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 8291
of Constantino P. Redoa.1The audit covered the accountability period of Constantino P. Redofia and
Ranulfo R. Balano, former Clerk of Court II and Officer-in-Charge, respectively, of the same court, from
October 1, 2004 to July 31, 2012 and August 1, 2012 to February 28, 2013.

As culled from the records, the audit report yielded the following results:

1. The cash count on March 1, 2013 disclosed neither shortage nor overage for the undeposited
collections, computed as follows;2

Name of Fund Date OR No. Amount

SAJJ 03/01/13 3886520 P9.60

JDF 03/01/13 1788954 P40.40

TOTAL P50.00

2. For the inventory of Used and Unused Official Receipts:

There are seventy-three (73) booklets and two hundred-thirty three (233) pieces of official receipts
which remain unused as of March 1, 2013, to wit:

Name of Quantity Inclusive Serial Number


Accountable Form

SC ORs 19 booklets 3886001-6500


3886551-7000

PHILJA ORs 7 booklets 643601-3650

643701-4000

UP LRF ORs 8 booklets 0725601-6000

DOJ ORs 10 booklets 4574001-4500

10 booklets 4574501-5000

10 booklets 4575001-5500

9 booklets 4575501-5950

JDF 30 pieces 3886521-6550

SAJF 46 pieces 1788955-9000

STF 23 pieces 7972928-2950

FF 43 pieces 2206908-6950

MF 29 pieces 643573-3600

LRF 29 pieces 725572-5600

VCF 33 pieces 4573968-4000

Total 73 booklets & 233


pieces

3. For the Fiduciary Fund (FF):

The audit of the court's Fiduciary Fund (FF) account showed an outstanding balance of Four Hundred
Seven Thousand Eight Hundred Seventy-Four Pesos (P407,874.00) and upon reconciliation of the said
balance against the court's LBP Savings Account, it disclosed a shortage of Seventy-One thousand Nine
Hundred Pesos (P71,900.00), which was restituted by Redofia on March 21, 2013. The detailed
computation was presented below:

Unwithdrawn Fiduciary Fund per audit,

beginning Balance as of Sept. 30, 2004: P258,384.00

Add: Collections (10/1/2004 to 2/28/2013) 1,041,710.00

Total P1,300,094.00

Less: Withdrawals (same period) 820,320.00

Balance of Unwithdrawn FF as of 2/28/2013 P479,774.00

Less: Bank Balance as of 2/28/2013 P423,045.53

Add/(Less) Adjustments:

Unwithdrawn Net Interest as of 2/28/2013 (P15,171.53)

407,874.00

Balance of Accountability - shortage 71,900.00

Less: Restitution on March 21, 2013 71,900.00

Final Accountability as of February 28, 2013 P00.00

The shortage totaling to P71,900.00 was due to unreported and unremitted collections, to wit:
Receipt
Bondsman/Litigant Case No. OR No. Amount
Date

06/26/08 Dominador Lim 6448 11922537 P12,000.00

06/26/08 Dominador Lim 6448 11922538 P12,000.00

06/26/08 Dominador Lim 6448 11922540 P12,000.00

06/26/08 Dominador Lim 6448 11922541 P12,000.00

11/09/09 Remy Tismo 6694 3503955 P2,000.00

11/16/09 Bernard Mijares 6748 3503956 P2,000.00

12/07/09 Chito Cesar 6911 3503957 P12,000.00

12/07/09 Raymundo Abarca 6095 3503958 P8,000.00

Total P72,000.00

Less: Adjustment for under-withdrawal of OR No. 7183422 (P100.00)

Adjusted total shortage P71,900.00

Out of P60,000 cash bond posted by Dominador A. Lim in Criminal Case No. 6448 on June 26, 2008,
onlyP12,000.00 was reported in the cashbook and monthly report. Redofia explained in his Letter dated
March 13, 2013 that OR Nos. 11922537, 11922538, 11922540 and 11922541 totalling to P48,000.00
were cancelled because of errors in the initial entries, and no collections have been received for the
cancelled official receipts. Redofia denied that he used the court funds, however, it appeared that he
allowed the refund of cash bond for the same case on September 14, 2011 amounting to P60,000.00.
Also as per Special Power of Attorney executed by Mr. Dominador A. Lim, Dennis V. Lim, Simeon Lim,
Luz Omega and Rogelio A. Yu, the accused in Criminal Case Number 6448, they requested to withdraw
the cash bail bond in the total amount of P60,000.00, thus, resulting to an over-withdrawal
by P48,000.00 for this case.

The audit team surmised that Redofia to cover up the missing collections, cancelled the original,
duplicate and triplicate copies of OR Nos. 11922537, 11.922538, 11922540 and 11922441, with a total
amount of P48,000.00. However, the photocopies of the original official receipts appended in the case
folder were not cancelled (Annexes "H-1", "H-2", "H-3" and "H-4")
For December 2009 monthly report, Redofia certified in the cashbook and monthly report that no
collections were made (Annexes "I" & "J"). To conceal collections, Redofia cancelled official receipt nos.
3503957 and 3503958 amounting to P 12,000.00 and P8,000.00, respectively. (Annexes "K" & "L"). As to
the amount of P12,000.00 covered by Official Receipt No. 3503957 dated December 7, 2009 from payor
Chito Cesar, he explained that due to pure inadvertence and honest lapse on his part, he said the
amount was not deposited and it was kept in a safe place in their office only known to him. For OR No.
3503958 dated December 7, 2009 in the amount ofP8,000.00, Redofia allegedly posted cash bail bond
for his friend, the accused Raymundo Abarca, out of pity.

After examination of the case folders, the following irregularities were also discovered, to wit:

1. Unreported collection of cash bond for Case No. 03-02-6868 dated March 15, 2011 amounting
toP6,000.00. Thus, Redofia cancelled Official Receipt No. 3503967 to conceal the above missing
collections. This was replaced with OR no. 3503973 on May 11, 2011 with the same amount (Annexes
"M" and "N"). In ... the cash bond affidavit of undertaking, the accused Mr. Ariel. Pirante posted a cash
bond in Criminal Case No. 03-02-6868 amounting to P6,000.00 under OR No. 3503967 on March 15,
2011 as evidenced by Annex "O", but the said OR No. 3503967 was marked as cancelled in the original,
duplicate and triplicate copies.

2. Received P4,000.00 from Florentino Mendoza in Case No. 10-04-6940 on October 29, 2010 under OR
No. 3503963, but such amount was unreported/unrecorded and undeposited. TQ, conceal the missing
collections, Mr. Redofia cancelled the above OR (Annex "P" and "Q"). This was replaced by OR No.
3503970 on May 10, 2011 with the same amount. In the cash bond affidavit of undertaking, the accused
Mr. Florentino Mendoza posted a cash bond in Criminal Case No. 10-04-6940 amounting to P4,000.00
under OR No. 3503963 on October 29, 2011 as evidenced by Annex "R", but the said OR No. 3503963
was marked as cancelled in the original, duplicate and triplicate copies.

3. Received P4,000.00 from Jayson Cabia in Criminal Case No. 02-08-6961 on March 1, 2011 under OR
no. 3503966, but such amount was unrecorded/unreported and undeposited. To cover up the missing
collections, Redofia cancelled the above receipt (Annex "S"). This was replaced with OR No. 3503972 on
May 11, 2011. In the cash bond affidavit of undertaking, the accused Mr. Jayson Cabia Cabudsan,
Doroteo Ocenar and six (6) unidentified persons posted a cash bond in Criminal Case no. 02-08-6961
amounting toP4,000.00 under OR No. 3503966 on March 1, 2011 as evidenced by Annex "T", but the
said OR No. 3503963 was marked as cancelled in the original, duplicate and triplicate copies.

4. Received P2,000.00 from Bernard Mijares in Case No. 04-10-6748 on November 16, 2009 under OR
No. 3503956, but such amount was unreported/unrecorded and undeposited. To cover up the missing
collections, Redofia cancelled the above official receipt in the booklet (Annex "U"). In the case on file,
the OR No. has not been marked as cancelled ("Annex "V"). In the cash bond affidavit of undertaking in
the case record, the accused Mr. Bernard Mijares posted a cash bond in Criminal Case No. 04-10-6748
amounting to P2,000.00 under OR No. 3503956 on November 16, 2009 as evidenced by Annex "W."

IV. For the Sherifrs Trust fund (STF):


Unwithdrawn STF per audit, beginning balance
as of September 30, 2004 P0.00

Add: Collections (6/16/2010 to 2/28/2013) P28,000.00

Total P28,000.00

Less: Withdrawals (same period) P11,722.00

Balance of Unwithdrawn STF as of 2/28/2013 P16,728.00

Less: Bank Balance as of 2/28/2013 P16,000.00

Add/(Less) Adjustments:

Petty cash fund P 278.00 P 16,278.00

Final Accountability as of Feb. 28, 2013 P0.00

V. For the JUDICIARY DEVELOPMENT FUND (JDF)

There was an over-remittance of Pl,150.40 of Redofia, which was due to Special Allowance for the
Judiciary Fund (SAJF) collections totaling to P 1, 148.40 deposited to the account, as computed below:

1wphi1

Total Collections
(Nov. 1, 2004 to February 28, 2013) P481,794.69

Less: Total Deposits (same period) 482,945.09

Over-remittance P( 1,150.40)
Less: SAJF collections deposited to this
account ( 1,148.40)

Balance of Accountability - over remittance P( 2.00)

VI. For the SPECIAL ALLOWANCE FOR THE JUDICIARY FUND (SAJF):

There was an over-remittance of P7.20, as computed below:

Total Collections
(November 1, 2004 to February 28, 2013 P616,748.20

Less: Total Deposits (same period) 615,607.00

Balance of Accountability P1,141.20

Less: SAJF collections deposited 1,148.40


To the JDF account

Balance of Accountability over-remittance P7.20

VII. For the Mediation fund (MF):

Total Collections (Sept. 1, 2005 to February 28, 2013) P99,000.00

Less: Total Deposits (same period) 99,000.00

Balance of Accountability
P00.00
In sum, the total accountabilities of Redofia, which was restituted on March 21, 2013, totalling to
Seventy One Thousand Nine Hundred Pesos (P71,900.00), was computed below:

TOTAL ACCOUNTABILITIES & PAYMENTS

Nature of Funds Accountabilities Restitution Balance

Clerk of Court Fiduciary Fund P71,900.00 P71,900.00 P0.00

Sheriffs Trust Fund P0.00 P0.00 P0.00

Judiciary Development Fund P0.00 P0.00 P0.00

Special Allowance for the Judiciary Fund P0.00 P0.00 P0.00

Mediation Fund P0.00 P0.00 P0.00

Total P71,900.00 P71,900.00 P0.00

Likewise, Redofia failed to remit his collections on FF on time, as shown below:

SCHEDULE 1: For Fiduciary Fund

Date of Collections Date Deposited OR No. Amount Period of Delay

06/26/08 03/22/13 11922537 P12,000.00 4 yrs. & 9 mos.

06/26/08 03/22/13 11922538 P12,000.00 4 yrs. & 9 mos.

06/26/08 03/22/13 11922540 P12,000.00 4 yrs. & 9 mos.

06/26/08 03/22/13 11922541 P12,000.00 4 yrs. & 9 mos.

11/09/09 03/22/13 3503955 P2,000.00 3 yrs. & 3 mos.

11/16/09 03/22/13 3503956 P2,000.00 3 yrs. & 3 mos.

12/07/09 03/22/13 3503957 P12,000.00 3 yrs. & 2 mos.


12/07/09 03/22/13 3503958 P8,000.00 3 yrs. & 2 mos.

01/13/05 04/19/05 11922976 P6,000.00 3 mos.

01/21/05 04/19/05 11922977 P5,000.00 3 mos.

01/21/05 04/19/05 11922978 P8,000.00 3 mos.

04/13/05 07/28/05 11922984 P2,000.00 3 mos.

04/20/05 08/22/05 11922985 P12,000.00 3 mos.

05/18/05 08/22/05 11922503 P10,000.00 3 mos.

12/01/05 03/07/06 11922996 P3,720.00 3 mos.

12/01/05 03/16/06 11922997 P2,000.00 3 mos.

06/26/08 08/05/08 11922539 P12,000.00 1 mo. & 9 days

Total P132,720.00

Considering the number of irregularities discovered by the audit team, the team recommended that
their audit report be docketed as a regular administrative matter against Redofia for gross misconduct,
gross neglect of duty, dishonesty and delay in the deposit of court collections, and that Redofia's
retirement benefits, except accrued leave credits, be forfeited. On March 3, 2014, the Court resolved to
re-docket the Report dated November 5, 2013 as a regular administrative matter against Redoa.

RULING

Time and time again, this Court has stressed that those charged with the dispensation of justice - from
the presiding judge to the lowliest clerk -are circumscribed with a heavy burden of responsibility. Their
conduct at all times must not only be characterized by propriety and decorum but, above all else, must
be beyond suspicion. Every employee should be an example of integrity, uprightness and honesty.3

The guilt of Redofia is undisputed. The recqrds speak for themselves, to wit: ( 1) The unreported and
unremitted collections with a total amount of P71,900.00 resulting to a shortage of P71,900.00;4 (2) To
cover up for the missing collections, Redofia cancelled several original receipts, including OR Nos.
11922537, 11922538, 11922540, 11922541, 3503967, 3503973. 3503963, 3503966 and 3503956
(Annexes "F", "M", "N", "O'', "P', "Q'', "S", "U"); (3) For the December 2009 monthly report, Redofia
issued a certification of "no collection" of fiduciary fund (Annexes "I" and "J") and again cancelled official
receipts nos. 3503957 and 3503958 (Annexes "K" and "L"), amounting to P12,000.00 and P8,000.00,
respectively, to cover up for the missing collections; (4) For OR No. 3503958 dated December 7, 2009 in
the amount of P8,0000.00, Redoa allegedly posted cash bailbond for his friend, the accused Raymundo
Abarca, out of pity; and (5) in several instances, Redofia incurred delay for a period of four (4) years and
nine (9) months in the remittances of his collections on fiduciary fund.

For his failure to remit the collections on time, Redofia committed a gross violation of SC Circular No. 13-
92 which commands that all fiduciary collections "shall be deposited immediately by the Clerk of Court
concerned, upon receipt thereof, with an authorized depositary bank." Settled is the role of clerks of
courts as judicial officers entrusted with the delicate function with regard to collection of legal fees, and
are expected to correctly and effectively implement regulations.5 Shortages in the amounts to be
remitted and the years of delay in the actual remittances constitute gross neglect of duty for which
Redofia should be administratively liable.

Safekeeping of public and trust funds is essential to an orderly administration of justice.1wphi1 No


protestation of good faith can override the mandatory nature of the circulars designed to promote full
accountability of government funds.6 Thus, Redofia's claim of good faith, his forgetfulness and lack of
secured storage area for the collections are lame excuses to evade punishment for his neglect of duty.

Clerks of court are not supposed to keep funds for a period of time. They have the duty to immediately
deposit their collections with authorized government depositories because they are not authorized to
keep those funds in their custody and failure in this regard constitutes gross neglect of duty. The
unwarranted failure to fulfill these responsibilities deserves administrative sanction and not even the
full payment of the collection shortages will exempt the accountable officer from liability. Moreover,
failure to comply with pertinent Court circulars designed to promote full accountability for public funds
constitutes grave misconduct.

Equally appalling is the tampering of the court records, such as the unwarranted cancellation of official
receipts which were committed with conscious and deliberate efforts to conceal the missing collections
thus evincing a malicious and immoral propensity.

Clerks of court perform a delicate function as designated custodians of the court's funds, revenues,
records, properties and premises. As such, they are generally regarded as treasurer, accountant, guard
and physical plant manager thereof.7 It is the clerks of courts' duty to faithfully perform their duties and
responsibilities to the end that there was full compliance with function, that of being the custodian of
the court's funds and revenues, records, properties and premises.8 They are the chief administrative
officers of their respective courts. It is also their duty to ensure that the proper procedures are followed
in the collection of cash bonds. Clerks of court are officers of the law who perform vital functions in the
prompt and sound administration of justice. Their office is the hub of adjudicative and administrative
orders, processes and concerns. They are liable for any loss, shortage, destruction or impairment of such
funds and property.

By failing to properly remit the cash collections constituting public funds, Redofia violated the trust
reposed in him as disbursement officer of the judiciary. His failure to explain satisfactorily the fund
shortage, and fully comply with the Court's directives leave us no choice but to hold her liable for gross
neglect of duty and gross dishonesty. In Lirios v. Oliveros9 and Re: Report on the Financial Audit
conducted in the Books of Accounts of Atty. Raquel G. Kho, Clerk of Court IV, RTC, Oras, Eastern
Samar,10 the Court held that the unreasonable delay in the remittance of fiduciary funds constitutes
serious misconduct.11 Even the restitution of the whole amount cannot erase his administrative liability.
Clearly, his failure to deposit the said amount upon collection was prejudicial to the court, which did not
earn interest income on the said amount or was not able to otherwise use the said funds.12

The inculpatory acts committed by respondent are so grave as to call for the most severe administrative
penalty. Dishonesty and grave misconduct, both being in the nature of a grave offense, carry the
extreme penalty of dismissal from service with forfeiture of retirement benefits, except accrued leave
credits, and perpetual disqualification for reemployment in the government service. This penalty is in
accordance with Sections 52 and 58 of the Revised Uniform Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil
Service.13

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent CONSTANTINO P. REDONA, former Clerk of Court II of the
Municipal Trial Court, Tanauan, Leyte, GUILTY of GROSS MISCONDUCT, GROSS NEGLECT OF DUTY and
DISHONESTY. Since he had already retired from the service, the penalty of forfeiture of retirement
benefits and privileges, except accrued leave credits, if any, and with prejudice to re-employment in any
branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations,
is instead imposed upon him.

SO ORDERED.

On leave
MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO*
Chief Justice

A.M. No. P-15-3296 February 17, 2015


[Formerly OCA IPI No. 14-4364-P]

ANONYMOUS LETTER-COMPLAINT AGAINST REYNALDO C. ALCANTARA, UTILITY WORKER I, BR. 70,


AND JOSEPH C. JACINTO, ELECTRICIAN, HALL OF JUSTICE, BOTH OF THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT,
BURGOS, PANGASINAN

RESOLUTION

PER CURIAM:

This case stemmed from an undated Letter-Complaint, addressed to Executive Judge Elpidio N. Abella
(Executive Judge Abella), Regional Trial Court, Alaminos City, Pangasinan,charging respondents Reynaldo
C. Alcantara (Alcantara) and Joseph C. Jacinto (Jacinto) with the commission of several illegal activities in
violation of Civil Service Rules.1 Alcantara worked as Utility Worker I, Branch70, Regional Trial Court,
Burgos, Pangasinan, whereas Jacinto was an electrician at the Hall of Justice in the same city.2

The Letter-Complaint was indorsed to the Office of the Court Administrator.3 The Office of the Court
Administrator then directed Executive Judge Abella to conduct a discreet investigation and submit a
report.4

In the Report dated July 17, 2013, Executive Judge Abella recommended that Alcantara and Jacinto be
immediately dismissed from service.5 He found that as early as 2009, Alcantara and Jacinto received and
encashed checks of their co-workers without consent.6 The investigating judge made the following
factual findings:

(1) Roger Ginez (Ginez), Junior Process Server, Municipal Circuit Trial Court, Burgos, Pangasinan,
executed an affidavit pointing to Alcantara as the one who stole his two (2) salary checks amounting
toP8,792.38, which covered the month of June 2009.7 According to Ginez, Alcantara later confessed that
he was the one who stole the checks. The incident was recorded in the blotter of the Philippine National
Police, Burgos, Pangasinan;8

(2) In May 2012, Annie Lyn R. Tugade (Tugade), then Officer-in-Charge, Regional Trial Court, Branch 70,
Burgos, Pangasinan, lost her representation and transportation allowance check in the amount of
8,000.00 for May 2012.9 She initially instructed Jacinto to verify the status of the check with the Checks
Releasing Division of the Supreme Court.10 Jacinto allegedly informed Tugade that the check was not
ready. However, she discovered that her check for May was already released and sent through mail by
the Supreme Court.11 Bank records revealed that Tugades signature was forged on July 30,
2012.12 Alcantara and Jacinto admitted to receiving and encashing Tugades check without her
permission;13

(3) Imelda Bruto Espaol (Espaol),Construction and Maintenance General Foreman, Hall of
Justice,Burgos, Pangasinan averred that Alcantara and Jacinto stole and illegally encashed several
checks.14 A check for P790.00, which was due to one of the contractors of the Hall of Justice but was
issued under Espaols name, was illegally encashed by Alcantara.15 Another check, in the amount
of P4,724.00 and in Espaols name, was taken and encashed by Alcantara and Jacinto without her
consent.16 Espaols signature appeared to have been forged on June 21, 2012;17 and

(4) Edwin Naval (Naval), Utility Worker, Hall of Justice, Burgos, Pangasinan, also alleged that Alcantara
and Jacinto stole his salary check and encashed it at the bank through forgery. Naval, however, claimed
that Alcantara and Jacinto had refunded him the amount taken.18

Executive Judge Abella found that Alcantaras and Jacintos actions constituted grave misconduct and
recommended their dismissal from service:

It could not be denied that they were the ones who committed these serious misconduct [sic] having
admitted in the presence of their victims and. . . in the presence of Judge Aguilar, that they either stole
or received their co-employees checks without proper authorization and encashed them without the
owner*s+ consent and us*ed+ the cash proceeds for their own personal use and benefit to the detriment
of their co-workers who are the owners of the checks. It is likewise very clear that the checks were
encashed in another bank. . . forging the signatures of the payees.19

The Office of the Court Administrator directed Alcantara and Jacinto to comment.20

In his Comment dated September 3,2013, Alcantara admitted to the taking and encashing of
Tugadesand Espaols checks without permission.21 He claimed, however, that he was not a thief.22 He
was only tempted to take and encash the checks because of his financial circumstances then to support
his family.23 He already asked for Tugades and Espaols forgiveness.24 He denied all the other
allegations, including Ginezs claims.25

Jacinto, in his Comment dated September 23, 2013, denied taking the checks.26 He admitted that he
accompanied Alcantara in encashing a check. However, he did not know that the check did not belong to
Alcantara.27 He received a portion of the proceeds from the check but when he found out that the check
belonged to Tugade, he returned the amount and asked for her forgiveness.28 He denied Espaols
claims.29

In its report dated October 14,2014, the Office of the Court Administrator found that Alcantara and
Jacinto are guilty of grave misconduct and dishonesty.30 According to the Office of the Court
Administrator:

In the case at bar, the acts of respondents Alcantara and Jacinto clearly amounted to dishonesty and
grave misconduct. Respondent Alcantara admitted to stealing and encashing the checks of Tugade and
Espaol and put up the lame excuse that he was forced to do it because of his dire financial situation at
the time. The explanation of respondent Jacinto is even more absurd. He claimed that he had no idea
that the checks were stolen but he admitted receiving proceeds from the scheme and allotting them to
his personal needs.

....

Under Rule 9, Section 46 of the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in Civil Service, promulgated on
18 November 2011, Serious Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct are grave offenses punishable by
dismissal from service even on the first offense. As correctly pointed by Executive Judge Abella,
respondents Alcantara and Jacinto committed grave offenses and "do not deserve to stay with the
judiciary even for a minute longer."31

We adopt the findings and recommendations of the Office of the Court Administrator.

Dishonesty is defined as the "[d]isposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; untrustworthiness; lack of
integrity; lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness;
disposition to defraud, deceive or betray."32
Grave misconduct is committed when there has been "a transgression of some established and definite
rule of action, more particularly, unlawful behavior or gross negligence by a public officer. 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, all of which must be established by substantial evidence, and
must necessarily be manifest in a charge of grave misconduct."33

In Rojas, Jr. v. Mina,34 respondent was found guilty of gross misconduct and dishonesty for stealing and
encashing Special Allowance for Judges and Justices checks payable to several trial court judges without
their consent. Similarly, in Re: Loss of Extraordinary Allowance Check No. 11-6739 of Judge Eduardo
Jovellanos,35respondent Rosario Santos was held responsible for stealing, encashing, and converting for
her personal use the amount covered by the check issued to Judge Eduardo U. Jovellanos.

In this case, Alcantara and Jacinto admitted to taking and encashing checks of their co-workers without
permission.1wphi1 There is no doubt that their acts of repeatedly stealing the checks and forging the
signatures of their coworkers constitute grave misconduct and dishonesty. Their alleged remorse for
what they have done does not erase the transgression they committed. "This Court will not hesitate to
rid its ranks of undesirables who undermine its efforts toward an effective and efficient administration
of justice, thus tainting its image in the eyes of the public."36

Under the Revised Rules on Administrative Cases in the Civil Service, Rule 10, Section 46, serious
dishonesty and grave misconduct are punishable by dismissal from service even if for the first
offense.37 This court held that:

we have not hesitated to impose the ultimate penalty. This Court had never and will never tolerate nor
condone any conduct which would violate the norms of public accountability, and diminish, or even
tend to diminish, the faith of the people in the justice system.38 WHEREFORE, respondents Reynaldo C.
Alcantara and Joseph C. Jacinto are GUILTY of Grave Misconduct and Dishonesty. Respondents are
DISMISSED FROM THE SERVICE, with forfeiture of all retirement benefits due them, except accrued
leave credits, and WITH PREJUDICE to re-employment in any branch, agency or instrumentality of the
government, including government-owned or controlled corporations.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO


Chief Justice

A.M. No. P-05-2051 January 21, 2014

OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. MONA LISA A. BUENCAMINO, Clerk of Court IV, DAVIDE. MANIQUIS, Clerk of Court III, and
CIELITO M. MAPUE, Sheriff III, all of the Office of the Clerk of Court, Metropolitan Trial Court,
Caloocan City,Respondents.

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

A.M. No. 05-4-118-MeTC

RE: REPORT ON THE FINANCIAL AUDIT CONDUCTED IN THE METROPOLITAN TRIAL COURT, OFFICE OF
THE CLERK OF COURT, CALOOCAN CITY

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This administrative matter originated from the financial audit conducted by the Office of the Court
Administrator (OCA) on the books of accounts of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Caloocan City (MeTC
Caloocan City). The audit covered the financial transactions of David E. Maniquis (Maniquis), former
Officer-in-Charge, Clerk of Court III, from January 1993 to 4 June 1996, and that of his successor Atty.
Mona Lisa A. Buencamino (Atty. Buencamino), Clerk of Court IV, from 5 June 1996 up to the audit dates.

The findings of the audit team are summarized as follows:

1) As of 31 December 2003 (cut-off date), the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF) had a cash shortage
ofP20,917.93, the Clerk of Court General Fund (GF) had a shortage of P1,574.30, and the Special
Allowance for the Judiciary Fund (SAJ) had a shortage of P238.00. Of these cash shortages, Maniquis was
accountable for P9,425.93 in the JDF and P352.50 in the GF, while Atty. Buencamino was accountable
forP11,492.00 in the JDF, P1,221.80 in the GF and P238.00 in the SAJ. In January 2004, Atty. Buencamino
settled her accountabilities in the JDF and SAJ, leaving a balance of P1,221.80 in the GF.

2) The MeTC Caloocan City had unwithdrawn fiduciary funds deposited with the Caloocan City
Treasurers Office (CCTO) amounting to P858,666.97 as of May 1992. Prior to May 1992, there was no
fiduciary fund account with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the depository agency was the
CCTO.

3) There were undocumented fiduciary fund withdrawals in the amount of P492,220.00,1 broken down
as follows: a) P90,500.00 was due to lack of documents; b) P202,720.00 as Atty. Buencaminos
undocumented withdrawals; and c) P289,500.00 as Maniquis undocumented withdrawals.

4) Cielito M. Mapue (Mapue), then Clerk III, withdrew several confiscated bonds amounting
to P10,100.00, which she converted to her personal use. Also, Mapue intentionally withdrew confiscated
bonds twice. The first withdrawal, amounting to P48,000.00, was converted to her personal use, while
the second withdrawal was deposited to the JDF account. Upon order by the audit team, Mapue
restituted a total of P58,100.00 on 30 January 2004 and 11 February 2004.
In her letter dated 10 March 2004,2 Mapue admitted that she misappropriated the amount
of P58,100.00 to defray her personal expenses. She further admitted that she started to misuse judicial
funds from November 1996 until 2000, during Atty. Buencaminos term.

5) There was neither a list or summary of confiscated bonds with deposit slips nor proof of remittance
and official receipts presented for audit, as required under the check list of documents and reports for
audit. Upon being directed by the audit team, Atty. Buencamino submitted a report, albeit incomplete.

6) Official receipts were not issued for the withdrawn interest amounting to P769,316.84 from October
1992 to December 2000, although this amount was remitted to the GF and JDF. Furthermore, the audit
team also noted an unauthorized or overdrawn amount of interest collection amounting to P6,598.53.

In a Resolution dated 3 August 2005, the Court, upon recommendation of the audit team and the OCA,
resolved to:

(a) DIRECT Atty. Mona Lisa A. Buencamino within ten (10) days from notice to: (1) RESTITUTE the
shortages incurred in the Clerk of Court General Fund amounting to P1,221.80; (2) SUBMIT documents
relative to undocumented fiduciary fund withdrawals in the amount of P202,720.00, and in case of her
failure to do so, she should restitute the said amount; (3) EXPLAIN why no administrative sanction shall
be imposed upon her for her failure to exercise close supervision over Ms. Cielito M. Mapue which
resulted in the misappropriation of judiciary funds amounting to P58,100.00; and (4) WITHDRAW all
fiduciary fund deposits with the City Treasurers Office and DEPOSIT the same to the Courts fiduciary
fund account with the Land Bank of the Philippines;

(b) DIRECT former Officer-in-Charge Mr. David E. Maniqui[s] within ten (10) days from notice to: (1)
RESTITUTE the shortages incurred in the Judiciary Development Fund and the Clerk of Court General
Fund in the amounts of P9,425.93 and P352.50, respectively, or a total of P9,778.43; and (2) SUBMIT
documents relative to undocumented fiduciary fund withdrawals in the amount of P289,500.00, and in
case of his failure to do so, he should restitute the said amount;

(c) DOCKET the subject report of the Financial Audit conducted in the Metropolitan Trial Court-OCC,
Caloocan City as a regular administrative matter against Clerk III Ms. Cielito M. Mapue and that
appropriate administrative disciplinary proceedings be instituted against her immediately;

(d) DIRECT the Legal Office to file appropriate criminal charges against Cielito M. Mapue; and

(e) ISSUE a Hold Departure Order, effective immediately, against Clerk III Cielito M. Mapue to prevent
her from leaving the country.3 (Boldfacing and italicization in the original)

In her letter-compliance dated 8 August 2006,4 Atty. Buencamino denied the shortage of P1,221.80 in
the GF. Atty. Buencamino attached the letter of Cashier I Rowena Ruiz (Ruiz) explaining that the alleged
shortage was due to the erroneous posting by Ruiz and the clerk in the OCA. Nevertheless, the amount
of P1,221.80 was deposited in the LBP. Regarding the undocumented fiduciary fund withdrawals, Atty.
Buencamino submitted the documents relating to them. On her failure to supervise Mapue, Atty.
Buencamino explained that Administrative Officer II Aida Sabater (Sabater) was assigned to audit,
monitor and supervise the Administrative Support Unit, which included Mapue. Mapue was assigned to
prepare checks relative to the withdrawal of bonds and rental deposits, and to release the checks to the
claimants. Atty. Buencamino alleged that she instructed Sabater to maintain a separate book on
withdrawals of fiduciary fund to monitor withdrawals of bonds and to prevent double claims by
claimants. Later on, she discovered that Sabater delegated the said task to Mapue. Atty. Buencamino
claimed that as a newly appointed clerk of court, she had little knowledge of the Administrative or
Collection Unit. She explained that the Manual for Clerks of Court is insufficient and she blamed the
Court for the lack of an orientation seminar to newly appointed clerks of court. Finally, Atty.
Buencamino insisted that she did not touch a single cent in the collections of fiduciary funds, and Mapue
was able to encash the checks on her own.

As for the fiduciary fund deposits with the CCTO, Atty. Buencamino alleged that she demanded a refund
of the amount, but City Accountant Edna Centeno required her to submit the official receipts indicated
in the List of Unwithdrawn Fiduciary Fund for the period August 1988 to May 1992.

In his letter-compliance dated 8 August 2006,5 Maniquis alleged that Ofelia Camara (Camara), the
retired Officer-in-Charge in the Accounting Section, was responsible for the shortages in the JDF and the
GF. Maniquis demanded restitution from Camara, but she did not reply. Maniquis also submitted the
documents relative to the fiduciary fund withdrawals, but he stated that he could no longer find the
documents for the amount of P3,000.00 despite due efforts. Thus, Maniquis requested the Court to
deduct the shortages amounting to a total ofP12,778.236 from his monthly salary. In his letter dated 18
January 2007,7 Maniquis alleged that he already paidP12,862.438 for the shortages, despite the fact that
the person primarily accountable was Camara.

In a Resolution dated 19 November 2007, the Court resolved to:

1. CONVERT the report on the financial audit in OCC, MeTC, Caloocan City, into an administrative matter
against Atty. Mona Lisa A. Buencamino, Clerk of Court IV, and Mr. David E. Maniquis, Clerk of Court III,
and INCLUDE Atty. Buencamino and Mr. Maniquis as respondents in the docketed administrative matter
against Cielito Mapue, A. M. No. P-05-2051;

2. DIRECT Atty. Buencamino to (a) SUBMIT to the City Treasurers Office of Caloocan City, the official
receipts indicated in the [L]ist of Unwithdrawn Fiduciary Funds for the period August 1988 to May 1992
in order that the fiduciary funds still deposited with the said office could be withdrawn and deposited to
the Land Bank of the Philippines, and (b) properly MONITOR the collection, deposit and withdrawal of
judiciary funds to prevent commission of similar irregularities in the future; and

3. REQUIRE respondents Cielito del Mundo Mapue, Atty. Mona Lisa A. Buencamino and David E.
Maniquis to MANIFEST to this Court whether they are willing to submit this matter for resolution on the
basis of the pleadings on record, within ten (10) days from notice.9
(Boldfacing in the original)

On 9 January 2008, Mapue manifested her willingness to submit the administrative matter for
resolution; emphasized that she already restituted the amount of P58,100.00; and asked for forgiveness
for her wrongdoings. On 11 January 2008, Maniquis likewise manifested his willingness to submit the
matter for resolution.

In an Addendum dated 14 January 2008,10 Atty. Buencamino reiterated her explanation in her letter-
compliance. Regarding the fiduciary fund deposits with the CCTO, she alleged that she partially
submitted the official receipts enabling her to withdraw a total of P362,750.84 fiduciary funds from the
CCTO. On 8 September 2009, Atty. Buencamino submitted the lists of official receipts and the
Certification issued by the City Accountant that the amount of P369,702.84 was already withdrawn from
the CCTO.11 In a letter dated 8 March 2011,12 Atty. Buencamino stated that a total of P448,785.79 was
already deposited to the LBP fiduciary fund account. She further alleged that her office was still exerting
efforts to locate other official receipts from the five branches of the MeTC Caloocan City. In another
letter dated 16 May 2012,13 Atty. Buencamino informed the Court that: (a) an amount of P323,489.60
was refunded by the CCTO; (b) another amount of P64,195.44 was withdrawn, but still waiting for CCTO
Certification; and (c) out of the P858,666.97 initial fiduciary funds deposited with the CCTO, a total
of P836,470.83 was already withdrawn from the CCTO and deposited with the LBP fiduciary fund
account.

In its Memorandum dated 18 February 2013, the OCA recommended that:

a) ATTY. MONA LISA A. BUENCAMINO, Clerk of Court IV, Office of the Clerk of Court be found liable for
Simple Neglect of Duty and be SUSPENDED from office for six (6) months effective immediately, with a
STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offense shall be dealt with more severely; and
she be REQUIRED to inform the Court whether she has fully complied with its directive to withdraw all
fiduciary fund deposits with the City Treasurers Office and deposit the same to the Courts fiduciary
fund account with the Land Bank of the Philippines and to submit the necessary documents in relation
thereto;

b) DAVID E. MANIQUIS, Clerk of Court III, Office of the Clerk of Court, be found liable for Simple Neglect
of Duty; however, considering that this is his first offense, that he be SUSPENDED from office for one (1)
month and 1 day effective immediately, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar
offense shall be dealt with more severely;

c) CIELITO DEL MUNDO MAPUE, Sheriff III, Office of the Clerk of Court, be found Guilty of Serious
Dishonesty and be meted the penalty of DISMISSAL from the service with forfeiture of all retirement
benefits except leave credits and disqualification for re-employment in any government office including
government-owned or controlled corporations; and

d) The Office of the Court Administrator be DIRECTED to file the appropriate criminal action against
respondent CIELITO DEL MUNDO MAPUE, Sheriff III, Office of the Clerk of Court.14 (Boldfacing in the
original)

The Court adopts the findings and recommendations of the OCA.


The Constitution mandates that a public office is a public trust and that all public officers must be
accountable to the people, and serve them with responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency.15 The
demand for moral uprightness is more pronounced for members and personnel of the judiciary who are
involved in the dispensation of justice.16 As front liners in the administration of justice, court personnel
should live up to the strictest standards of honesty and integrity in the public service.17

In the present case, Mapues admission, in her sworn statement, of misappropriating court funds shows
her blatant disregard of the principles of public office she had sworn to uphold. As found by the OCA,
her restitution of the total amount did not exonerate or mitigate her liability, as this was done after the
discovery of the misappropriation. Furthermore, Mapue already deprived the Court of the interest
otherwise earned had the confiscated bonds been deposited in the GF or JDF. In Office of the Court
Administrator v. Besa,18 the Court found respondent therein liable for dishonesty and dismissed her
from the service due to her own admission that she misappropriated the fiduciary funds for her personal
use. Gross dishonesty is a grave offense and merits the penalty of dismissal even for the first offense.19

Mapues admission of liability, however, does not exculpate Atty. Buencamino from her own
negligence.1wphi1

A clerk of court has general administrative supervision over all the personnel of the court.20 The
administrative functions of a clerk of court are as vital to the prompt and proper administration of
justice as his judicial duties.21As custodian of court funds and revenues, the clerk of court is primarily
accountable for all funds that are collected for the court, whether personally received by him or by a
duly appointed cashier who is under his supervision and control.22

In the present case, we find Atty. Buencamino remiss in the performance of her duties as clerk of court.
Atty. Buencamino failed to supervise Mapue and to properly manage the court funds entrusted to her,
enabling Mapue to misappropriate part of the funds. Atty. Buencaminos attempt to pass on the
responsibility to her subordinate, Sabater, is misplaced. As found by the OCA, Atty. Buencamino cannot
wash her hands of Mapues misappropriation as she even recommended Mapue for promotion to
Sheriff III after Mapues admission.23 Neither can she blame the Court for her lack of knowledge of the
financial duties of a clerk of court. It is incumbent upon Atty. Buencamino, as clerk of court, to be
diligent and competent in the performance of her duties, including the safekeeping of funds and
collections because that is essential to an orderly administration of justice.

Accordingly, Atty. Buencaminos failure to properly supervise and manage the financial transactions in
her court constitutes simple neglect of duty.24 Simple neglect of duty is the failure to give attention to a
task, or the disregard of a duty due to carelessness or indifference.25 It is a less grave offense punishable
by suspension for one month and one day to six months for the first offense.26 In Report on the Financial
Audit Conducted on the

Books of Account of Sonia L. Dy and Atty. Graciano D. Cuanico, Jr., RTC, Catarman, Northern Samar,27 a
six-month suspension was imposed for neglect of duty leading to the defalcation of court funds and the
consequent loss of income from the interest of such funds. Hence, we adopt the same penalty in this
case.
As to Maniquis, being the former Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Clerk of Court, he bore the same
responsibilities and was expected to serve with the same commitment and efficiency as a duly-
appointed Clerk of Court.1wphi1 Thus, like Atty. Buencamino, he must be held liable for any loss or
shortage of the funds entrusted to him by virtue of his office. Considering that this is Maniquis first
offense, we adopt the recommendation of the OCA as to the penalty.

We reiterate that the conduct of all court personnel is circumscribed with the heavy burden of
responsibility.28 The Court will not countenance any conduct, act or omission on the part of those
involved in the administration of justice which violates the norm of public accountability and diminishes
the faith of the people in the Judiciary.29

WHEREFORE, we find respondent Atty. Mona Lisa A. Buencamino, Clerk of Court IV, Metropolitan Trial
Court of Caloocan City, GUILTY of simple neglect of duty, and SUSPEND her from office for six (6) months
effective upon finality of this Decision. She is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or a similar
offense shall be dealt with more severely. Atty. Buencamino is further required to inform the Court
whether she has fully complied with its directive to withdraw all fiduciary fund deposits with the City
Treasurers Office and to deposit the same to the Courts fiduciary fund account with the Land Bank of
the Philippines.

We also find respondent David E. Maniquis, Clerk of Court III, Metropolitan Trial Court of Caloocan City,
GUILTY of simple neglect of duty, and SUSPEND him from office for one (1) month and one (1) day
effective upon finality of this Decision. He is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or a similar
offense shall be dealt with more severely.

We further find respondent Cielito M. Mapue, Sheriff III, Metropolitan Trial Court of Caloocan City,
GUILTY of serious dishonesty, and DISMISS her from the service effective upon finality of this Decision,
with forfeiture of all benefits due her, except accrued leave credits, and disqualification from
appointment to any public office including government-owned or controlled corporations.

The Office of the Court Administrator is further DIRECTED to file the appropriate criminal action against
Cielito M. Mapue and to update its audit until the present.

SO ORDERED.

MARIA LOURDES P.A. SERENO


Chief Justice

A.C. No. 1109 April 27, 2005


MARIA ELENA MORENO, Complainant,
vs.
ATTY. ERNESTO ARANETA, respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

Before this Court is a complaint for disbarment against Atty. Ernesto S. Araneta for deceit and
nonpayment of debts.

The complaint,1 dated 25 September 1972, was filed in this Court by Maria Elena Moreno on two causes
of action. The first cause of action involved Treasury Warrant No. B-02997354 issued by the Land
Registration Commission in favor of Lira, Inc., and indorsed by Araneta, purportedly as president of the
said corporation, to Moreno, in consideration of the amount of P2,177. The complaint alleged that
almost a year later, the warrant was dishonored.

The second cause of action involved Aranetas nonpayment of debts in the amount of P11,000. Moreno
alleged that sometime in October 1972, Araneta borrowed P5,000 from her, purportedly to show to his
associates, with the assurance that he would return the said amount within the shortest possible
time. Again in May 1972, Araneta borrowed P6,000 for the same purpose and with the same
assurance. Thereafter, since he failed to make good on both promises, Moreno sought repayment in
the aggregate amount of P11,000. Araneta issued two Bank of America checks in her favor, the first
dated 30 June 1972 for P6,000, and the other dated 15 July 1972 for P5,000. However, when Moreno
tried to encash the checks, the same were dishonored and returned to her marked "Account
Closed." She referred the matter to a lawyer, who sent Araneta a demand letter. Araneta, however,
ignored the same.

In his defense, Araneta claimed it was in fact Moreno who sought to borrow P2,500 from him. To
accommodate her, he allegedly endorsed to her the Treasury Warrant in question, worth P2,177, which
he received from Lira, Inc., as part of his attorneys fees, and gave her an additional P323 in cash.

Araneta also denied borrowing any amount from Moreno. He admitted that he issued the two undated
checks in her favor, but maintains that he had no intention of negotiating them. He avers that he gave
them to Moreno, allegedly upon her request, only so she could show the bank where she was working
that she "had money coming to her." Araneta further claims that he warned her that the checks
belonged to the unused portion of a closed account and could not be encashed. To protect himself, he
asked the complainant to issue a check in the amount of P11,000 to offset the two "borrowed"
checks. The respondent offered this check in evidence.

Moreno, however, contended2 that this check for P11,000 "belonged" to the Philippine Leasing
Corporation, which she managed when her father passed away. She claimed she signed the check in
blank sometime in 1969 when she fell seriously ill and gave them to Araneta who was then helping her
in the management of the corporation. She concluded that Araneta falsely filled up the check "in a
desperate bid to turn the tables on her."3

On 01 December 1972, the case was referred to the Solicitor General for investigation, report and
recommendation.4

The case was first set for hearing on 22 January 1973 at nine oclock in the morning, when the
complainant and her counsel appeared. Araneta was absent despite due notice. Upon motion,
however, of Moreno, and to give the respondent a chance to defend himself, the hearing was reset to
23 and 24 January 1973, both at nine oclock in the morning. Service of the notice for the new dates of
hearing were effected to the respondent through a certain Mely Magsipoc on 22 January 1973.5 On 23
January 1973, Araneta once more did not appear, so the case was called again the following day, 24
January 1973.

In the absence of respondent Araneta, an ex-parte hearing was conducted on 24 January 1973 with the
complainant, Moreno, taking the stand.6 On 27 February 1973, Araneta appeared for the scheduled
hearing, only to ask for a postponement to prepare his defense.7 No further hearings appear to have
been conducted thereafter. A hearing is shown to have been scheduled on 28 May 1973, however, on
said date, Araneta filed a joint motion for postponement with the conform of Morenos lawyer, as he,
Araneta, was "earnestly pursuing a possible clarification of complainants basic grievance."

Thereafter, nothing was heard from respondent Araneta. On 14 September 1988, records of the case
were forwarded to the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline pursuant to Rule 139-B of the Rules of
Court. Two days later, the Commission notified8 both parties of a hearing to be held on 2 November
1988, on which date neither of the parties nor the complainants counsel appeared despite due
notice. It appears that notice could not be served on Araneta, as he no longer resided in his indicated
address, and his whereabouts were unknown. An inquiry9 made at his IBP chapter yielded negative
results. The Commission reset the hearing to 18 November 1988 at two oclock in the
afternoon.10 Again on this date, none of the parties appeared. Thus on the basis of the evidence so far
adduced, the case was submitted for resolution on such date.11

On 28 December 1988, IBP Commissioner Concepcion Buencamino submitted her Report,12 which reads
in part:

The evidence of the complainant was not formally offered in evidence. Be that as it may, it is
worthwhile considering. The "stop payment" of Treasury Warrant No. B-02997354 was an act of Lira,
Inc. and not that of the respondent. There was a subpoena issued for the appearance of Lilia Echaus,
alleged President of Lira, Inc. and Simplicio Uy Seun, the alleged Secretary/Treasurer of Lira, Inc. to
explain about why the "stop payment" of the treasury warrant was done but neither witness appeared
(as evidenced by the records) before the Office of the Solicitor General to testify. At the dorsal portion
of Exh. "B," the photocopy of the Treasury Warrant is a signature which complainant claims to be that of
the respondent beneath which is the word "President" and above the signature are the words Lira, Inc.
but an ocular examination of said signature in relation to the signature on the checks Exhibits "G" and
"H" do not show definitely that they were the signatures of one and the same person, so there is no
basis to form the conclusion that the respondent did sign the treasury warrant as president of Lira,
Inc. The testimony of the complainant was merely that [the] same treasury warrant was given to her by
Atty. Araneta, which she deposited [in] her account. There is no evidence to prove that she saw him
sign it.

There is no evidence of a letter of the complainant informing the respondent about the "stop payment"
or even any written demand by the complainant to the respondent that the payment of the treasury
warrant having been "stopped" he should reimburse her with what he received as consideration for this
check.

Same considered, there is no cause to fault the respondent for the first cause of action.

On the other hand, the respondent admits having issued the two checks, one for P5,000.00 and the
other for P6,000.00 to the complainant for her to show to her creditors that money was coming her
way, when in fact he is presumed to have been aware when he issued said checks that his account with
the bank against which [these] checks were drawn was already closed, as was discovered from the fact
that the checks were dishonored for said reason.

Even disregarding the complainants evidence and considering the answer of the respondent, the act of
the respondent in issuing the two checks, one for P5,000.00 and the other for P6,000.00 which he gave
to the complainant for her to show to her creditors that money was coming her way, when there was
none and the respondent knew such fact was an act of connivance of the respondent with the
complainant to make use of these useless commercial documents to deceive the public. However
beneficial it may have been to the complainant, this act of the respondent as a lawyer is abhorrent and
against the exacting standards of morality and decency required of a member of the Bar.

The personal actuations of a member of the bar the like of which was, as in this case, committed by the
respondent, belittles the confidence of the public in him and reflects upon his integrity and morality. In
the Bar, moral integrity as a virtue is a necessity which the respondent lacks.

The above considered, it is respectfully recommended that as a lesson the respondent be suspended
from the practice of law for three (3) months arising from his irresponsible conduct as a member of the
bar to take effect upon notice by him of the decision of suspension.

The IBP Board of Governors adopted13 the above report, but increased its recommended period of
suspension from three months to six months.

Over ten years later, on 15 October 2002, IBP Director for Bar Discipline Victor C. Fernandez,
transmitted14 the records of this case back to this Court pursuant to Rule 139-B, Sec. 12(b) of the Rules
of Court.15 On 8 July 2003, the Office of the Bar Confidant filed a Report16 regarding various aspects of
the case. The Report further made mention of a Resolution17 from this Court indefinitely suspending the
respondent for having been convicted by final judgment of estafa through falsification of a commercial
document. The Resolution, which was attached to the report, states:
L-46550 (Ernesto S. Araneta vs. Court of Appeals, et. al.) Considering that the motion of petitioner
Ernesto S. Araneta for reconsideration of the resolution of September 16, 1977 which denied the
petition for review on certiorari of the decision of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. No. 18553-R which
affirmed the decision of the Court of First Instance of Manila convicting the said petitioner of the crime
of estafa thru falsification of commercial document, was denied in the resolution dated October 17,
1977 of the Second Division of this Court for lack of merit, which denial is final, the Court Resolved: (a)
to SUSPEND petitioner Ernesto S. Araneta from the practice of law and (b) to require the said petitioner
to SHOW CAUSE within ten days from notice why he should not be disbarred.

Verification conducted by the Office of the Bar Confidant revealed that the above case had been
archived on 20 November 1992.

It therefore appears that in the intervening time between herein respondents last filed pleading dated
28 May 1973, when he sought a postponement of the scheduled hearing on this case to settle matters
amicably between himself and Moreno, and the present, Araneta had been found guilty and convicted
by final judgment of a crime involving moral turpitude, and indefinitely suspended.

We find no reason to disturb the findings of Commissioner Buencamino. However, we disagree with the
penalty sought to be imposed.

Whether or not the complainant sufficiently proved that Araneta failed to pay his debts is irrelevant,
because by his own admission, the respondent issued two checks in favor of Moreno knowing fully well
that the same were drawn against a closed account. And though Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 had not yet
been passed at that time, the IBP correctly found this act "abhorrent and against the exacting standards
of morality and decency required of a member of the Bar," which "belittles the confidence of the public
in him and reflects upon his integrity and morality."

Indeed, in recent cases, we have held that the issuance of worthless checks constitutes gross
misconduct,18 as the effect "transcends the private interests of the parties directly involved in the
transaction and touches the interests of the community at large. The mischief it creates is not only a
wrong to the payee or holder, but also an injury to the public" since the circulation of valueless
commercial papers "can very well pollute the channels of trade and commerce, injure the banking
system and eventually hurt the welfare of society and the public interest. Thus, paraphrasing Black's
definition, a drawer who issues an unfunded check deliberately reneges on his private duties he owes
his fellow men or society in a manner contrary to accepted and customary rule of right and duty, justice,
honesty or good morals."19

Thus, we have held that the act of a person in issuing a check knowing at the time of the issuance that
he or she does not have sufficient funds in, or credit with, the drawee bank for the payment of the check
in full upon its presentment, is also a manifestation of moral turpitude.20

In Co v. Bernardino21 and Lao v. Medel,22 we held that for issuing worthless checks, a lawyer may be
sanctioned with one years suspension from the practice of law, or a suspension of six months upon
partial payment of the obligation.23
In the instant case, however, herein respondent has, in the intervening time, apparently been found
guilty by final judgment of estafa thru falsification of a commercial document, a crime involving moral
turpitude, for which he has been indefinitely suspended.

Moral turpitude "includes everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good
morals."24 It involves "an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes
his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty
between man and woman, or conduct contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals."25

Considering that he had previously committed a similarly fraudulent act, and that this case likewise
involves moral turpitude, we are constrained to impose a more severe penalty.

In fact, we have long held26 that disbarment is the appropriate penalty for conviction by final judgment
of a crime involving moral turpitude. As we said in In The Matter of Disbarment Proceedings v. Narciso
N. Jaramillo,27 "[t]he review of respondent's conviction no longer rests upon us. The judgment not only
has become final but has been executed. No elaborate argument is necessary to hold the respondent
unworthy of the privilege bestowed on him as a member of the bar. Suffice it to say that, by his
conviction, the respondent has proved himself unfit to protect the administration of justice."28

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Ernesto S. Araneta is hereby dISBARRED and his name is ORDERED
STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in the respondents record
as a member of the Bar, 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.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-
Martinez, Corona, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.
Carpio-Morales, J., on leave.

A.C. No. 4515 July 14, 2008

CECILIA A. AGNO, Complainant,


vs.
Atty. MARCIANO J. CAGATAN, Respondent.

DECISION

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

This is a complaint for disbarment filed by Cecilia A. Agno against respondent Atty. Marciano J. Cagatan
for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The record shows that respondent was the President of International Services Recruitment Corporation
(ISRC), a corporation engaged in the recruitment of Filipino workers for overseas employment. On July
12, 1988, ISRCs recruitment license was cancelled by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE)
for violation of labor law provisions and subsequently, on August 9, 1988, ISRC was forever banned from
participating in overseas recruitment.1

On Sepetember 19, 1988, the respondent appealed the DOLEs cancellation of ISRCs license with the
Office of the President. The appeal was resolved by the said office in respondents favor in the
Resolution dated March 30, 19932 which set aside the order of cancellation and directed both the DOLE
and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) to renew the recruitment license of ISRC
subject to the payment of a guarantee bond which was double the amount required by law.

Since ISRCs recruitment license had already expired on September 17, 1989, ISRC filed on April 12,
1994, an application for renewal of its recruitment license with the POEA.3

However, during the pendency of the aforementioned appeal with the Office of the President,
particularly on August 9, 1992, the respondent entered into a Memorandum of Agreement4 with a
United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) national, Mr. Khalifa H. Juma,5 the husband of herein complainant, Cecilia
A. Agno. The Memorandum of Agreement is quoted in toto hereunder:

MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT

KNOW ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS:

That the undersigned, Mr. JOMA HUMED KHALIFA, U.A.E. national, and Mr. MARCIANO J. CAGATAN,
Filipino citizen, have entered into this Memorandum of Agreement this 9th day of August 1992, at
Manila, Philippines, concerning the joint ownership and operation of INTERNATIONAL SERVICING AND
RECRUITMENT CORPORATION (ISRC) and have mutually agreed, in connection therewith, as follows:

1. That ISRC shall be jointly owned by the herein parties on a 50-50 basis and accordingly, immediate
steps shall be taken to submit the necessary documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission to
legalize the arrangement and to cause the issuance of the corresponding certificate of stocks to Mr.
Khalifa and his group;

2. That likewise, the sharing of the profits shall be on an equal basis (50-50) after deducting all the
pertinent expenses that the officers of the corporation shall be: Chairman of the Board of Directors
Mr. JOMA HUMED KHALIFA, President and General Manager, Mr. MARCIANO J. CAGATAN or his
designated representative, Treasurer, Ms. Cecilia Agno all of whom shall be members of the Board of
Trustees together with two others;

3. That for and in consideration of the above joint ownership of the corporation, Mr. KHALIFA
undertakes as his contribution to the stock ownership thereof, the following:

(a) To pay the amount of TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (P250,000.00) initially on or
before AUGUST 25, 1992, said amount to be used to have the license of ISRC reinstated;
(b) Upon the release of the license, to pay the additional amount of TWO HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND
PESOS (P250,000.00) to start the business operations of the corporation and to liquidate pending
government and other obligations, if any;

4. The management of the corporation shall be handled by Mr. KHALIFA and his group while the legal
and government liaisonship shall be the responsibility of Mr. CAGATAN; mutual consideration with each
other in the course of the business operations shall be maintained in order to avoid problem with the
government, the workers and the employers;

5. There shall be a regular accounting of the business every month, with the assistance of a qualified
accountant and each of the herein parties shall be furnished copy thereof; the share of the parties may
be released to each of them as often as the parties agree, however, advances against the share of each
may be agreed upon by the parties;

6. Any claim of workers or other parties against the ISRC before the signing of this agreement shall be
the sole responsibility of Mr. CAGATAN and Mr. KHALIFA or his 50% ownership shall be free from such
claims.

Manila, August 9, 1992.

JOMA HUMED KHALIFA MARCIANO J. CAGATAN

CECILIA AGNO

WITNESSES:

_______________ _________________

On December 26, 1995, which was more than three (3) years after the execution of the aforesaid
agreement, a Complaint-Affidavit6 for disbarment was filed with this Court by the complainant against
the respondent claiming that the latter used fraud, deceit and misrepresentation, in enticing her
husband, Khalifa, to join ISRC and invest therein the amount of P500,000.00 and that although the
respondent received the aforesaid amount, the complainant learned from her inquiries with the
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the POEA that the respondent failed to comply with the
terms of the Memorandum of Agreement. The complainant found out that the said Memorandum of
Agreement could not be validated without the approval of the Board of Directors of ISRC. While
respondent even had the complainant sign an affidavit stating that she was then the acting Treasurer of
ISRC, her appointment as Treasurer was not submitted to the SEC. The records of the SEC showed that
the Board of Directors, officers and stockholders of ISRC remained unchanged and her name and that of
her husband did not appear as officers and/or stockholders thereof. From the POEA, on the other hand,
the complainant learned that ISRCs recruitment license was yet to be reinstated.

The complainant claimed that respondent used for his own personal benefit the P500,000.00 that she
and her husband invested in ISRC. When she demanded that respondent return the said sum of money,
respondent issued a bank check dated March 30, 19947 in favor of the complainant in the amount
of P500,000.00 which was dishonored for being drawn against a closed account. Despite repeated
demands by complainant, the respondent failed to settle his obligation or redeem his dishonored check,
prompting the complainant to file a case for violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22 against the respondent.
An information was filed before the Municipal Trial Court of Cainta, Rizal, charging the respondent with
the said offense and a warrant of arrest was issued against respondent after the latter failed several
times to attend his arraignment. The complainant prayed for the disbarment of the respondent for
issuing a bouncing check and for his act of dishonesty in assuring her and her husband that the
Memorandum of Agreement would suffice to install them as stockholders and officers of ISRC which
induced them to invest in said corporation the amount of P500,000.00.

In his Comment,8 respondent denied the charges against him and averred that while ISRCs recruitment
license was cancelled by the DOLE in 1988, such cancellation was lifted by the Office of the President on
March 30, 1993, on appeal. During the pendency of the said appeal, he and complainants husband
Khalifa entered into a Memorandum of Agreement because the latter offered to buy shares of stock of
ISRC in order to finance the then pending appeal for the reinstatement of the ISRC license and for
Khalifa and the complainant to undertake the full management and operation of the corporation. The
respondent further alleged that Khalifa H. Juma, through the complainant, paid on various dates the
total amount of P500,000.00, which respondent claimed he used to reimburse borrowed sums of money
to pursue the appeal with the Office of the President. According to the respondent, while there were
still legal procedures to be observed before the sale of shares of ISRC to non-stockholders, Khalifa and
complainant were in a hurry to start the business operation of ISRC. Consequently, respondent sold and
assigned his own shareholdings in ISRC for P500,000.00 to Khalifa as evidenced by a Deed of
Assignment9 dated April 26, 1993. The respondent, in turn, issued a check in the amount of P500,000.00,
which was not intended to be encashed but only to guarantee the reimbursement of the money to
Khalifa and the complainant in case the appeal would be decided adversely against ISRC. Conversely, the
check would be returned to respondent if the appeal is resolved in favor of ISRC. The respondent denied
employing fraud or misrepresentation since allegedly, Khalifa and the complainant decided to buy his
shares after being told, upon inquiry in Malacanang, that ISRC had a good case. The respondent averred
that complainant was motivated by bad faith and malice in allegedly fabricating criminal charges against
him instead of seeking rescission of the Deed of Assignment and refund of the consideration for the sale
of the shares of stock. The respondent surmised that they decided not to proceed with the
Memorandum of Agreement when complainant had secured her own license after she had received the
Deed of Assignment and assumed the position of acting treasurer of the ISRC. The respondent justified
the non-submission of copies of the Memorandum of Agreement, Deed of Assignment and
complainants appointment as Acting Treasurer with the SEC because of the cancellation of ISRCs
license to recruit and the pendency of the appeal for reinstatement since 1989. Aside from a copy of the
Deed of Assignment in favor of the complainant and her husband Khalifa regarding the five hundred
shares of stock, respondent also presented in support of his allegations copies of 1) his Letter10 dated
April 12, 1994 to the POEA requesting the renewal of ISRCs license, and 2) a Letter11 dated May 24,
1994 from the Licensing and Regulation Office of the POEA requiring him: (1) to submit an escrow
agreement with a reputable commercial banking corporation in the amount of P400,000.00 to answer
for any valid and legal claim of recruited workers; cash bond deposit of P200,000.00; and surety bond
of P100,000.00; and (2) to clear ISRCs pending cases with said agency before respondents request for
reinstatement of ISRCs license as a land based agency.

In a Resolution12 dated May 22, 1996, this Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.

The IBPs Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), through Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan, held several
hearings, the last of which was on November 13, 2003. During those hearings, the complainant
presented her evidence. For his part, the respondent, instead of presenting his defense before the CBD
in open court, opted to present a position paper which was allowed by the Order dated April 20,
200413 of Commissioner San Juan. However, in lieu of said position paper, the respondent submitted a
Memorandum14 after the complainant had filed her formal offer of evidence. Eventually, on October 12,
2004, Commissioner San Juan submitted her Report and Recommendation.15 Said the Commissioner in
her report:

There is no question that the Memorandum of Agreement between the parties was executed on 9
[August] 1992. In said Memorandum, no mention was made of the assignment of shares of stock in
favor of the complainant and her husband. The conditions stated therein was that the amount to be
contributed by the complainant shall be used for the reinstatement of the license of the ISRC. No
mention was made regarding the assignment of shares in favor of the complainant and her husband.
Respondent presented a Deed of Assignment of shares of stock in favor of the complainant and her
husband worth P500,000.00 dated 26 April 1993, however, it is noted that there is a super imposed date
of 24 November 1994 in a notarial series of 1993 of Mario S. Ramos, Notary Public, which raises doubt
as to the date it was executed. Apparently, the Deed of Assignment was executed when the complainant
started her investigation regarding the true condition of the corporation. Anent the reinstatement of the
license of the company there is no showing that the respondent used the amount he received from the
complainant in compliance with the respondents undertakings in the Memorandum of Agreement. The
accusation of enticement employed by respondent is supported by the fact that complainant was made
to appear that she will be appointed as treasurer of the corporation, however there was no action on
the part of the respondent to change the composition of the Board of Directors and the treasurer in the
records of the corporation on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The respondent did not
fully reveal the true condition of the corporation regarding the reinstatement of the corporations
license to operate. Likewise the issuance of a check in favor of the complainant on 30 March 1994
against a closed account shows the respondent had no desire to return the money entrusted to him for
the reinstatement of the license of the corporation. The letter of the POEA dated 24 May 1994 xxx
clearly show that the payment of surety bond will not suffice to reinstate the license of the corporation
in view of several cases of violations of recruitment pending before the POEA against said corporation.
This fact was not disclosed to complainant when the Memorandum of Agreement was entered into by
the parties.

Thus, the Commissioners recommendation:


Given all the foregoing, it is submitted that respondent manifested lack of candor, when he knowingly
failed to provide the complainant with accurate and complete information due her under the
circumstances. It is respectfully recommended that respondent be SUSPENDED from the practice of law
in the maximum period prescribed by law and to return the money received from the complainant.

On October 22, 2005, the Board of Governors of the IBP passed Resolution No. XVII-2005-10216 adopting
and approving, with modification, the afore-quoted report and recommendation of the investigating
commissioner, to wit:

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 Respondents lack of candor
when he knowingly failed to provide complainant with the accurate and complete information due her,
Atty. Marciano J. Cagatan is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for two (2) years and
Restitution of the money received from complainant.

Two (2) days later, or on November 24, 2005, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline transmitted to this
Court the Notice of Resolution together with the records of Administrative Case No. 4515.17

On January 4, 2006, respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration18 of the Investigating Commissioners
Report and Recommendation with the IBP Committee on Bar Discipline. In IBP Resolution No. XVII-2006-
8319 dated January 28, 2006, the IBP Board of Governors denied respondents motion on the ground
that it has no more jurisdiction to consider and resolve a matter already endorsed to the Supreme Court
pursuant to Section 12 (b) of Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court.

After this Court noted the aforementioned IBP Resolution on June 28, 2006, a Motion for
Reinvestigation20 was filed by the respondent on September 12, 2006.

Subsequently, on November 15, 2006, the parties were required to manifest within ten (10) days from
notice, if they were willing to submit this case for resolution based on the pleadings filed.21

In our Resolution22 dated March 5, 2007, we noted without action respondents motion for
reinvestigation in view of respondent subsequent compliance and Manifestation dated December 27,
2006. In the same resolution, the Court noted (1) the said respondents compliance and manifestation of
December 27, 2006 relative to the aforementioned November 15, 2006 Resolution; (2) complainants
Manifestation dated December 19, 2006, stating that she was willing to submit the case for resolution
based on the pleadings filed and the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors; (3) respondents
Comment on Complainants Manifestation dated January 4, 2007; and (4) complainants Manifestation
dated January 10, 2007.

At the outset, the Court shall resolve respondents challenge as to complainants personality to file this
complaint. In his Motion for Reconsideration23 of the IBP Investigating Commissioners Report and
Recommendation of October 12, 2004, respondent contends that complainant, not being a party-in-
interest in the agreement between respondent and Mr. Khalifa H. Juma, has no legal standing to file the
instant complaint.

Respondents argument lacks merit.

Section 1, Rule 139-B24 of the Rules of Court explicitly provides that proceedings for disbarment,
suspension or discipline of attorneys may be taken by the Supreme Court motu proprio, or by the IBP
upon the verified complaint of any person. Accordingly, we held in Navarro v. Meneses III,25 as
reiterated in Ilusorio-Bildner v. Lokin,26 that:

The argument of respondent that complainant has no legal personality to sue him is unavailing. Section
1, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court provides that proceedings for the disbarment, suspension or
discipline of attorneys may be taken by the Supreme Court motu propio or by the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines (IBP) upon the verified complaint of any person. The right to institute a disbarment
proceeding is not confined to clients nor is it necessary that the person complaining suffered injury from
the alleged wrongdoing. Disbarment proceedings are matters of public interest and the only basis for
judgment is the proof or failure of proof of the charges. The evidence submitted by complainant before
the Commission on Bar Discipline sufficed to sustain its resolution and recommended sanctions.
(Emphasis ours)

The rationale was explained by us in Rayos-Ombac v. Rayos,27 viz:

[The] rule is premised on the nature of disciplinary proceedings. A proceeding for suspension or
disbarment is not in any sense a civil action where the complainant is a plaintiff and the respondent
lawyer is a defendant. Disciplinary proceedings involve no private interest and afford no redress for
private grievance. They are undertaken and prosecuted solely for the public welfare. They are
undertaken for the purpose of preserving courts of justice from the official ministration of persons unfit
to practice in them. The attorney is called to answer to the court for his conduct as an officer of the
court. The complainant or the person who called the attention of the court to the attorneys alleged
misconduct is in no sense a party, and has generally no interest in the outcome except as all good
citizens may have in the proper administration of justice. (Word in brackets ours)

Prescinding therefrom, it is, therefore, immaterial whether or not complainant herein was a party to the
subject transaction. In any event, complainant is actually a party-in-interest thereto because she is
mentioned as the treasurer of ISRC in the Memorandum of Agreement;28 as well as one of the assignees
in the Deed of Assignment of shares of ISRC stocks which respondent alleged to have executed;29 and as
the payee in the bank check issued by the respondent for the amount of P500,000.00.30

We shall now proceed to the merits of the case.

The pivotal issue herein is whether respondent employed fraud, deceit or misrepresentation when he
entered into the Memorandum of Agreement with Khalifa and received from the latter a sum of money
in the amount ofP500,000.00.

We rule in the affirmative.


The complainant contends that pursuant to their agreement, she gave the amount of P500,000.00 to the
respondent to be used for the reinstatement of ISRCs recruitment license as well as to start the
business operation of the corporation. The respondent, however, claims that complainant
misinterpreted their agreement because the P500,000.00 the latter gave him was in payment of his
personal shares of ISRC stock, as evidenced by a Deed of Assignment.

We are constrained to give credence to the complainants contention. The due execution and
authenticity of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the parties are undisputed. Moreover,
the terms thereof are clear and explicit that for and in consideration of the joint ownership of ISRC, the
husband of the complainant, Mr. Khalifa Juma, would pay the amount of P500,000.00, P250,000.00 of
which would be used for the reinstatement of ISRCs license, while the other P250,000.00 was for the
start of the operation of the corporation and to liquidate pending government and other obligations, if
any.31 Nowhere in said MOA is the alleged assignment of shares mentioned. The testimony of the
complainant32 on this score is more credible than that of the respondent because it conforms with the
written stipulations in the MOA. In contrast, the respondents explanations with respect to
the P500,000.00 in question had been inconsistent. The respondent averred in his Comment that
theP500,000.00 was given to him initially for the purpose of pursuing the appeal with the Office of the
President and that he used the same to pay loans or to "reimburse borrowed money" spent for the said
purpose. However, respondent also alleged that since the complainant was in a hurry to start the
business operation of ISRC, the money was used to buy his own shareholdings in the corporation for
which he executed a Deed of Assignment in complainants favor, which respondent claimed he could
validly do without the approval of ISRCs Board of Directors. His subsequent Memorandum33 submitted
to the IBP contained new allegations that aside from theP500,000.00 paid by the complainant for his
personal shares of ISRC stocks, an additional P500,000.00 should have been given to him as fresh capital
of the corporation and because of this failure of complainant to put up the alleged fresh capital, ISRC
was not able to put up the deposits required by the POEA resulting in the non-renewal of the license of
ISRC up to the present.

Indeed, the deceit and misrepresentation employed by the respondent was seemingly evident right at
the outset when he entered into the MOA concerning the joint ownership and operation of ISRC with
the complainants husband, knowing fully well that he could not do so without the consent of and/or
authority from the corporations Board of Directors. The unilateral execution by respondent of the Deed
of Assignment is a lame excuse offered by the respondent. We agree with the observation of
Commissioner San Juan that the said deed, which was not at all mentioned in the MOA, was executed by
the respondent after the complainant had conducted her investigation of the true condition of the
corporation. The so-called "guarantee check" appears to have also been issued by respondent for the
same reason.

Moreover, while the respondent made it appear in the MOA that the complainant would be appointed
treasurer and her husband Chairman of the Board of ISRC, the respondent had not complied with the
said undertaking as per the Certification34 dated October 13, 1995 of the Securities and Exchange
Commission (SEC). The respondent could not justify his non-compliance with the terms of the MOA by
citing ISRCs inability to comply with other governmental requirements for the reinstatement of its
license for various reasons, since the respondent failed to disclose the same to the complainant and her
husband.

Particularly, the respondent failed to apprise the complainant as to the true state of ISRCs affairs that
the reinstatement of the corporations recruitment license would require not only a favorable action by
the Office of the President on ISRCs appeal and the payment of a surety bond, but also ISRCs clearance
or exoneration in its other cases for recruitment violations pending with the POEA.35 The respondent
could not pass the blame to the complainant because of his belated excuse that complainant failed to
infuse an additional amount of P500,000.00. This new defense is clearly an afterthought and not
supported by evidence.

In view of the foregoing, the Court holds that respondent has violated the Code of Professional
Responsibility as well as his attorneys oath.

The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically mandates the following :

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.

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.1avvphi1

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.

The afore-cited canons emphasize the high standard of honesty and fairness expected of a lawyer not
only in the practice of the legal profession but in his personal dealings as well. 36 A lawyer must conduct
himself with great propriety, and his behavior should be beyond reproach anywhere and at all
times.37 For, as officers of the courts and keepers of the publics faith, they are burdened with the
highest degree of social responsibility and are thus mandated to behave at all times in a manner
consistent with truth and honor. 38 Likewise, the oath that lawyers swear to impresses upon them the
duty of exhibiting the highest degree of good faith, fairness and candor in their relationships with
others.39 Thus, lawyers may be disciplined for any conduct, whether in their professional or in their
private capacity, if such conduct renders them unfit to continue to be officers of the court.40

Hence, in this case, we are in accord with the findings of the IBP Commissioner, as affirmed by the IBP
Board of Governors. What is more, we find respondent to be guilty of gross misconduct for issuing a
worthless check.1avvphi1

In Sanchez v. Somoso,41 the Court ruled that a lawyer who paid another with a personal check from a
bank account which he knew has already been closed exhibited an extremely low regard to his
commitment to the oath he took when he joined his peers, thereby seriously tarnishing the image of the
profession which he should hold in high esteem. In Moreno v. Araneta, 42 we held that the issuance of
worthless checks constitutes gross misconduct, as the effect transcends the private interests of the
parties directly involved in the transaction and touches the interests of the community at large.

Respondent herein admitted having issued a check but claimed that it was only to guarantee the
reimbursement of the P500,000.00 given to him by the complainant in case of an adverse decision in
ISRCs appeal with the Office of the President. We note, however, that said check was issued on March
30, 1994 or one year after the appeal adverted to had already been favorably acted upon on March 30,
1993. Hence, our conclusion is that the check was issued only after the complainant demanded the
return of their P500,000.00 investment in ISRC. In any event, respondents act of issuing a guarantee
check for P500,000.00, when he was presumably aware that at the time of his issuance thereof his bank
account against which the check was drawn was already closed, clearly constitutes gross misconduct for
which he should be penalized.

In sum, the amount of P500,000.00 was received by the respondent for the reinstatement of the license,
but there is no showing that it was used for such purpose, as the respondent failed to give any credible
accounting or explanation as to the disbursement of the said amount in accordance with the stipulations
in the MOA. Respondent failed to disclose all the existing hindrances to the renewal of ISRCs
recruitment license, which enticed complainant and her husband to part with the aforesaid sum of
money. He also admittedly issued a check drawn against a closed account, which evinced his lack of
intention to return the money to the complainant pursuant to his supposed guarantee. It is thus proper
for the Court to order its restitution as recommended by the IBP.

We find the recommended penalty of suspension from the practice of law for two (2) years by the IBP
Board of Governors to be too harsh considering that this is respondents first administrative offense. It is
settled that the appropriate penalty which the Court may impose on an errant lawyer depends on the
exercise of sound judicial discretion based on the surrounding facts.43 Accordingly, for employing deceit
and misrepresentation in his personal dealings as well as for issuing a worthless check, we rule and so
hold that the penalty of suspension for one (1) year and one (1) month from the practice of law is
sufficient to be meted out to respondent.

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Marciano J. Cagatan is SUSPENDED FOR ONE (1) YEAR and ONE (1)
MONTH from the practice of law with warning that repetition of the same or similar acts will merit a
more severe penalty; and ordered to RESTITUTE the amount of P500,000.00 to the complainant.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished all courts, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the Office of the
Bar Confidant and spread in respondent's personal records.

SO ORDERED.

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO


Associate Justice
A.C. No. 6707 March 24, 2006

GISELA HUYSSEN, Complainant,


vs.
ATTY. FRED L. GUTIERREZ, Respondent.

DECISION

PER CURIAM:

This treats of a Complaint1 for Disbarment filed by Gisela Huyssen against respondent Atty. Fred L.
Gutierrez.

Complainant alleged that in 1995, while respondent was still connected with the Bureau of Immigration
and Deportation (BID), she and her three sons, who are all American citizens, applied for Philippine Visas
under Section 13[g] of the Immigration Law. Respondent told complainant that in order that their visa
applications will be favorably acted upon by the BID they needed to deposit a certain sum of money for
a period of one year which could be withdrawn after one year. Believing that the deposit was indeed
required by law, complainant deposited with respondent on six different occasions from April 1995 to
April 1996 the total amount of US$20,000. Respondent prepared receipts/vouchers as proofs that he
received the amounts deposited by the complainant but refused to give her copies of official receipts
despite her demands. After one year, complainant demanded from respondent the return of US$20,000
who assured her that said amount would be returned. When respondent failed to return the sum
deposited, the World Mission for Jesus (of which complainant was a member) sent a demand letter to
respondent for the immediate return of the money. In a letter dated 1 March 1999, respondent
promised to release the amount not later than 9 March 1999. Failing to comply with his promise, the
World Mission for Jesus sent another demand letter. In response thereto, respondent sent complainant
a letter dated 19 March 1999 explaining the alleged reasons for the delay in the release of deposited
amount. He enclosed two blank checks postdated to 6 April and 20 April 1999 and authorized
complainant to fill in the amounts. When complainant deposited the postdated checks on their due
dates, the same were dishonored because respondent had stopped payment on the same. Thereafter,
respondent, in his letter to complainant dated 25 April 1999, explained the reasons for stopping
payment on the checks, and gave complainant five postdated checks with the assurance that said checks
would be honored. Complainant deposited the five postdated checks on their due dates but they were
all dishonored for having been drawn against insufficient funds or payment thereon was ordered
stopped by respondent. After respondent made several unfulfilled promises to return the deposited
amount, complainant referred the matter to a lawyer who sent two demand letters to respondent. The
demand letters remained unheeded.

Thus, a complaint2 for disbarment was filed by complainant in the Commission on Bar Discipline of the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).
On 15 November 2000, Victor C. Fernandez, Director for Bar Discipline, required3 respondent to submit
his answer within 15 days from receipt thereof.

In his Counter-Affidavit dated 2 July 2001,4 respondent denied the allegations in the complaint claiming
that having never physically received the money mentioned in the complaint, he could not have
appropriated or pocketed the same. He said the amount was used as payment for services rendered for
obtaining the permanent visas in the Philippines. Respondent explained thus:

a) Through a close-friend, Jovie Galaraga, a Pastor and likewise a friend of the complainant, the latter
was introduced to me at my office at the Bureau of Immigration with a big problem concerning their
stay in the Philippines, herself and three sons, one of which is already of major age while the two others
were still minors then. Their problem was the fact that since they have been staying in the Philippines
for almost ten (10) years as holders of missionary visas (9G) they could no longer extend their said status
as under the law and related polic[i]es of the government, missionary visa holders could only remain as
such for ten (10) years after which they could no longer extend their said status and have to leave the
country.

b) Studying their case and being U.S. Citizen (sic), I advised them that they better secure a permanent
visa under Section 3 of the Philippine Immigration Law otherwise known as Quota Visa and thereafter,
provided them with list of the requirements in obtaining the said visa, one of which is that the applicant
must have a $40,000 deposited in the bank. I also inform that her son Marcus Huyssen, who was already
of major age, has to have the same amount of show money separate of her money as he would be
issued separate visa, while her two minor children would be included as her dependents in her said visa
application. I advised them to get a lawyer (sic), complainant further requested me to refer to her to a
lawyer to work for their application, which I did and contacted the late Atty. Mendoza, an Immigration
lawyer, to do the job for the complainant and her family.

c) The application was filed, processed and followed-up by the said Atty. Mendoza until the same was
finished and the corresponding permanent visa were obtained by the complainant and her family. Her
son Marcus Huyssen was given an independent permanent visa while the other two were made as
dependents of the complainant. In between the processing of the papers and becoming very close to
the complainant, I became the intermediary between complainant and their counsel so much that every
amount that the latter would request for whatever purpose was coursed through me which request
were then transmitted to the complainant and every amount of money given by the complainant to
their counsel were coursed thru me which is the very reason why my signature appears in the vouchers
attached in the complaint-affidavit;

d) That as time goes by, I noticed that the amount appeared to be huge for services of a lawyer that I
myself began to wonder why and, to satisfy my curiosity, I met Atty. Mendoza and inquired from him
regarding the matter and the following facts were revealed to me:

1) That what was used by the complainant as her show money from the bank is not really her money but
money of World Mission for Jesus, which therefore is a serious violation of the Immigration Law as there
was a misrepresentation. This fact was confirmed later when the said entity sent their demand letter to
the undersigned affiant and which is attached to the complaint-affidavit;

2) That worst, the same amount used by the complainant, was the very same amount used by her son
Marcus Huyssen, in obtaining his separate permanent visa. These acts of the complainant and her son
could have been a ground for deportation and likewise constitute criminal offense under the
Immigration Law and the Revised Penal Code. These could have been the possible reason why
complainant was made to pay for quite huge amount.

e) That after they have secured their visas, complainant and her family became very close to
undersigned and my family that I was even invited to their residence several times;

f) However after three years, complainant demanded the return of their money given and surprisingly
they want to recover the same from me. By twist of fate, Atty. Mendoza is no longer around, he died
sometime 1997;

g) That it is unfortunate that the real facts of the matter is now being hidden and that the amount of
money is now being sought to be recovered from me;

h) That the fact is I signed the vouchers and being a lawyer I know the consequences of having signed
the same and therefore I had to answer for it and pay. I tried to raised the fund needed but up to the
present my standby loan application has not been released and was informed that the same would only
be forthcoming second week of August. The same should have been released last March but was
aborted due to prevalent condition. The amount to be paid, according to the complainant has now
become doubled plus attorneys fees of P200,000.00.

Complainant submitted her evidence on 4 September 2002 and April 2003, and filed her Formal Offer of
Evidence on 25 August 2003.

On several occasions, the complaint was set for reception of respondents evidence but the scheduled
hearings (11 settings) were all reset at the instance of the respondent who was allegedly out of the
country to attend to his clients needs. Reception of respondents evidence was scheduled for the last
time on 28 September 2004 and again respondent failed to appear, despite due notice and without just
cause.

On 5 November 2004, Investigating Commissioner Milagros V. San Juan submitted her


report5 recommending the disbarment of respondent. She justified her recommendation in this manner:

At the outset it should be noted that there is no question that respondent received the amount of
US$20,000 from complainant, as respondent himself admitted that he signed the vouchers (Annexes A
to F of complainant) showing his receipt of said amount from complainant. Respondent however claims
that he did not appropriate the same for himself but that he delivered the said amount to a certain Atty.
Mendoza. This defense raised by respondent is untenable considering the documentary evidence
submitted by complainant. On record is the 1 March 1999 letter of respondent addressed to the World
Mission for Jesus (Annex H of Complaint) where he stated thus:
"I really understand your feelings on the delay of the release of the deposit but I repeat, nobody really
intended that the thing would happen that way. Many events were the causes of the said delay
particularly the death of then Commissioner L. Verceles, whose sudden death prevented us the needed
papers for the immediate release. It was only from compiling all on the first week of January this year,
that all the said papers were recovered, hence, the process of the release just started though some
important papers were already finished as early as the last quarter of last year. We are just going
through the normal standard operating procedure and there is no day since January that I do not make
any follow ups on the progress of the same."

and his letter dated 19 March 1999 (Annex L of Complaint) where he stated thus:

"I am sending you my personal checks to cover the refund of the amount deposited by your good self in
connection with the procurement of your permanent visa and that of your family. It might take some
more time before the Bureau could release the refund as some other pertinent papers are being still
compiled are being looked at the files of the late Commissioner Verceles, who approved your visa and
who died of heart attack. Anyway, I am sure that everything would be fine later as all the documents
needed are already intact. This is just a bureaucratic delay."

From the above letters, respondent makes it appear that the US$20,000 was officially deposited with
the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation. However, if this is true, how come only Petty Cash
Vouchers were issued by respondent to complainant to prove his receipt of the said sum and official
receipts therefore were never issued by the said Bureau? Also, why would respondent issue his personal
checks to cover the return of the money to complainant if said amount was really officially deposited
with the Bureau of Immigration? All these actions of respondent point to the inescapable conclusion
that respondent received the money from complainant and appropriated the same for his personal use.
It should also be noted that respondent has failed to establish that the "late Atty. Mendoza" referred to
in his Counter-Affidavit really exists. There is not one correspondence from Atty. Mendoza regarding the
visa application of complainant and his family, and complainant has also testified that she never met this
Atty. Mendoza referred to by respondent.

Considering that respondent was able to perpetrate the fraud by taking advantage of his position with
the Board of Special Inquiry of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation, makes it more reprehensible
as it has caused damage to the reputation and integrity of said office. It is submitted that respondent
has violated Rule 6.02 of Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which reads:

"A lawyer in the government service shall not use his public position to promote or advance his private
interests, nor allow the latter to interfere with his public duties."

On 4 November 2004, the IBP Board of Governors approved6 the Investigating Commissioners report
with modification, thus:

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it 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 applicable laws and rules, and considering respondents violation of Rule 6.02 of
Canon 6 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, Atty. Fred L. Gutierrez is hereby DISBARRED from the
practice of law and ordered to return the amount with legal interest from receipt of the money until
payment. This case shall be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman for prosecution for violation of
Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Acts and to the Department of Justice for appropriate administrative
action.

We agree with the IBP Board of Governors that respondent should be severely sanctioned.

We begin with the veritable fact that lawyers in government service in the discharge of their official task
have more restrictions than lawyers in private practice. Want of moral integrity is to be more severely
condemned in a lawyer who holds a responsible public office.7

It is undisputed that respondent admitted8 having received the US$20,000 from complainant as shown
by his signatures in the petty cash vouchers9 and receipts10 he prepared, on the false representation that
that it was needed in complainants application for visa with the BID. Respondent denied he
misappropriated the said amount and interposed the defense that he delivered it to a certain Atty.
Mendoza who assisted complainant and children in their application for visa in the BID.11 Such defense
remains unsubstantiated as he failed to submit evidence on the matter. While he claims that Atty.
Mendoza already died, he did not present the death certificate of said Atty. Mendoza. Worse, the action
of respondent in shifting the blame to someone who has been naturally silenced by fate, is not only
impudent but downright ignominious. When the integrity of a member of the bar is challenged, it is not
enough that he deny the charges against him; he must meet the issue and overcome the evidence
against him.12 He must show proof that he still maintains that degree of morality and integrity which at
all times is expected of him. In the case at bar, respondent clearly fell short of his duty. Records show
that even though he was given the opportunity to answer the charges and controvert the evidence
against him in a formal investigation, he failed, without any plausible reason, to appear several times
whenever the case was set for reception of his evidence despite due notice.

The defense of denial proferred by respondent is, thus, not convincing. It is settled that denial is
inherently a weak defense. To be believed, it must be buttressed by a strong evidence of non-culpability;
otherwise, such denial is purely self-serving and is with nil evidentiary value.

When respondent issued the postdated checks as his moral obligation, he indirectly admitted the
charge. Such admissions were also apparent in the following letters of respondent to complainant:

1) Letter13 dated 01 March 1992, pertinent portion of which reads:

Be that as it may, may I assure you for the last time that the said deposit is forthcoming, the latest of
which is 09 March 1999. Should it not be released on said date, I understand to pay the same to you out
of my personal money on said date. No more reasons and no more alibis. Send somebody here at the
office on that day and the amount would be given to you wether (sic) from the Bureau or from my own
personal money.
2) Letter14 dated 19 March 1999, reads in part:

I am sending you my personal checks to cover the refund of the amount deposited by your goodself in
connection with the procurement of your permanent visa and that of your family.

It might take some more time before the Bureau could release the refund as some other pertinent
papers are still being compiled and are being looked at the files of the late Commissioner Verceles, who
approved your visa and who died of heart attack. Anyway, I am sure that everything would be fine later
as all the documents needed are already intact. This is just a bureaucratic delay.

xxxx

As you would see, I have to pay you in peso. I have issued you 2 checks, one dated April 6, 1999 and the
other one dated April 20, 1999. I leave the amount vacant because I would want you to fill them up on
their due dates the peso equivalent to $10,000 respectively. This is to be sure that the peso equivalent
of your P20,000 would be well exchanged. I have postdated them to enable me to raise some more
pesos to cover the whole amount but dont worry as the Lord had already provided me the means.

3) Letter15 dated 25 April 1999 provides:

Anyway, let me apologize for all these troubles. You are aware that I have done my very best for the
early return of your money but the return is becoming bleak as I was informed that there are still papers
lacking. When I stopped the payment of the checks I issued, I was of the impression that everything is
fine, but it is not. I guess it is time for me to accept the fact that I really have to personally return the
money out of my own. The issue should stop at my end. This is the truth that I must face. It may hurt me
financially but it would set me free from worries and anxieties.

I have arranged for a loan from money lenders and was able to secure one last Saturday the releases of
which are on the following:

May 4, 1999- 200,000

May 11, 1999 -200,000

May 20, 1999-200,000

June 4, 1999-200,000

I have given my property (lot situated in the province) as my collateral.

I am therefore putting an end to this trouble. I am issuing four checks which I assure you will be
sufficiently funded on their due dates by reason of my aforestated loans. Just bear with me for the last
time, if any of these checks, is returned, dont call me anymore. Just file the necessary action against
me, I just had to put an end to this matter and look forward. x x x

4) Letter16 dated 12 May 1999, which reads:


The other day I deposited the amount of P289,000 to the bank to cover the first check I issued. In fact I
stopped all payments to all other checks that are becoming due to some of my creditors to give
preference to the check I issued to you.

This morning when I went to the Bank, I learned that the bank instead of returning the other checks I
requested for stop payment - instead honored them and mistakenly returned your check. This was a
very big surprise to me and discouragement for I know it would really upset you.

In view of this I thought of sending you the amount of P200,000 in cash which I initially plan to withdraw
from the Bank. However, I could not entrust the same amount to the bearer nor can I bring the same to
your place considering that its quite a big amount. I am just sending a check for you to immediately
deposit today and I was assured by the bank that it would be honored this time.

Normally, this is not the actuation of one who is falsely accused of appropriating the money of another.
As correctly observed by the Investigating Commissioner, respondent would not have issued his
personal checks if said amount were officially deposited with the BID. This is an admission of
misconduct.

Respondents act of asking money from complainant in consideration of the latters pending application
for visas is violative of Rule 1.0117 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which prohibits members of
the Bar from engaging or participating in any unlawful, dishonest, or deceitful acts. Moreover, said acts
constitute a breach of Rule 6.0218 of the Code which bars lawyers in government service from promoting
their private interest. Promotion of private interest includes soliciting gifts or anything of monetary
value in any transaction requiring the approval of his office or which may be affected by the functions of
his office.19 Respondents conduct in office betrays the integrity and good moral character required from
all lawyers, especially from one occupying a high public office. 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; he 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 his
brethren in private practice.

In a desperate attempt to put up a smoke or to camouflage his misdeed, he went on committing


another by issuing several worthless checks, thereby compounding his case.

In a recent case, we have held that the issuance of worthless checks constitutes gross misconduct,20 as
the effect "transcends the private interests of the parties directly involved in the transaction and
touches the interests of the community at large. The mischief it creates is not only a wrong to the payee
or holder, but also an injury to the public since the circulation of valueless commercial papers can very
well pollute the channels of trade and commerce, injure the banking system and eventually hurt the
welfare of society and the public interest. Thus, paraphrasing Blacks definition, a drawer who issues an
unfunded check deliberately reneges on his private duties he owes his fellow men or society in a manner
contrary to accepted and customary rule of right and duty, justice, honesty or good morals."21
Consequently, we have held that the act of a person in issuing a check knowing at the time of the
issuance that he or she does not have sufficient funds in, or credit with, the drawee bank for the
payment of the check in full upon its presentment, is also a manifestation of moral turpitude.22

Respondents acts are more despicable. Not only did he misappropriate the money of complainant;
worse, he had the gall to prepare receipts with the letterhead of the BID and issued checks to cover up
his misdeeds. Clearly, he does not deserve to continue, being a member of the bar.

Time and again, we have declared that the practice of law is a noble profession. It is a special privilege
bestowed only upon those who are competent intellectually, academically and morally. A lawyer must
at all times conduct himself, especially in his dealings with his clients and the public at large, with
honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach. He must faithfully perform his duties to society, to
the bar, to the courts and to his clients. A violation of the high standards of the legal profession subjects
the lawyer to administrative sanctions which includes suspension and disbarment.23 More importantly,
possession of good moral character must be continuous as a requirement to the enjoyment of the
privilege of law practice; otherwise, the loss thereof is a ground for the revocation of such privilege.24

Indeed, the primary objective of administrative cases against lawyers is not only to punish and discipline
the erring individual lawyers but also to safeguard the administration of justice by protecting the courts
and the public from the misconduct of lawyers, and to remove from the legal profession persons whose
utter disregard of their lawyers oath have proven them unfit to continue discharging the trust reposed
in them as members of the bar.25These pronouncement gain practical significance in the case at bar
considering that respondent was a former member of the Board of Special Inquiry of the BID. It bears
stressing also that government lawyers who are public servants owe fidelity to the public service, a
public trust. As such, government lawyers should be more sensitive to their professional obligations as
their disreputable conduct is more likely to be magnified in the public eye.26

As a lawyer, who was also a public officer, respondent miserably failed to cope with the strict demands
and high standards of the legal profession.

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court mandates that a lawyer may be disbarred or
suspended by this Court for any of the following acts: (1) deceit; (2) malpractice; (3) gross misconduct in
office; (4) grossly immoral conduct; (5) conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude ; (6) violation of
the lawyers oath; (7) willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court; and (8) willfully
appearing as an attorney for a party without authority to do so.27

In Atty. Vitriolo v. Atty. Dasig,28 we ordered the disbarment of a lawyer who, during her tenure as OIC,
Legal Services, Commission on Higher Education, demanded sums of money as consideration for the
approval of applications and requests awaiting action by her office. In Lim v. Barcelona,29 we also
disbarred a senior lawyer of the National Labor Relations Commission, who was caught by the National
Bureau of Investigation in the act of receiving and counting money extorted from a certain person.
Respondents acts constitute gross misconduct; and consistent with the need to maintain the high
standards of the Bar and thus preserve the faith of the public in the legal profession, respondent
deserves the ultimate penalty of expulsion from the esteemed brotherhood of lawyers.30

WHEREFORE, Atty. Fred L. Gutierrez is hereby DISBARRED from the practice of law and ordered to return
the amount he received from the complainant with legal interest from his receipt of the money until
payment. This case shall be referred to the Office of the Ombudsman for criminal prosecution for
violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Acts and to the Department of Justice for appropriate
administrative action. Let copies of this Decision be furnished the Bar Confidant to be spread on the
records of the respondent; the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for distribution to all its chapters; and
the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts throughout the country.

SO ORDERED.

ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Chief Justice

A.C. No. 5365 April 27, 2005

SPOUSES FRANKLIN and LOURDES OLBES, Complainants,


vs.
ATTY. VICTOR V. DECIEMBRE, Respondent.

DECISION

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Constituting a serious transgression of the Code of Professional Responsibility was the malevolent act of
respondent, who filled up the blank checks entrusted to him as security for a loan by writing on those
checks amounts that had not been agreed upon at all, despite his full knowledge that the loan they were
meant to secure had already been paid.

The Case

Before us is a verified Petition1 for the disbarment of Atty. Victor V. Deciembre, filed by Spouses Franklin
and Lourdes Olbes with the Office of the Bar Confidant of this Court. Petitioners charged respondent
with willful and deliberate acts of dishonesty, falsification and conduct unbecoming a member of the
Bar. After he had filed his Comment2 on the Petition, the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar
of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.

The IBP's Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), through Commissioner Caesar R. Dulay, held several
hearings. During those hearings, the last of which was held on May 12, 2003,3 the parties were able to
present their respective witnesses and documentary evidence. After the filing of the parties' respective
formal offers of evidence, as well as petitioners' Memorandum,4 the case was considered submitted for
resolution. Subsequently, the commissioner rendered his Report and Recommendation dated January
30, 2004, which was later adopted and approved by the IBP Board of Governors in its Resolution No. XV-
2003-177 dated July 30, 2004.

The Facts

In their Petition, Spouses Olbes allege that they were government employees working at the Central
Post Office, Manila; and that Franklin was a letter carrier receiving a monthly salary of P6,700, and
Lourdes, a mail sorter,P6,000.5

Through respondent, Lourdes renewed on July 1, 1999 her application for a loan from Rodela Loans,
Inc., in the amount of P10,000. As security for the loan, she issued and delivered to respondent five
Philippine National Bank (PNB) blank checks (Nos. 0046241-45), which served as collateral for the
approved loan as well as any other loans that might be obtained in the future.6

On August 31, 1999, Lourdes paid respondent the amount of P14,874.37 corresponding to the loan plus
surcharges, penalties and interests, for which the latter issued a receipt,7 herein quoted as follows:

"August 31, 1999

Received the amount of P14,874.37 as payment of the loan of P10,000.00 taken earlier by Lourdes
Olbes.

(Sgd.) Atty. Victor V. Deciembre


8-31-99
P10,000.00
PNB Check No. 46241 8/15/99"8

Notwithstanding the full payment of the loan, respondent filled up four (of the five) blank PNB Checks
(Nos. 0046241, 0046242, 0046243 and 0046244) for the amount of P50,000 each, with different dates of
maturity -- August 15, 1999, August 20, 1999, October 15, 1999 and November 15, 1999, respectively.9

On October 19, 1999, respondent filed before the Provincial Prosecution Office of Rizal an Affidavit-
Complaint against petitioners for estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa (BP) 22. He alleged therein
that on July 15, 1999, around one-thirty in the afternoon at Cainta, Rizal, they personally approached
him and requested that he immediately exchange with cash their postdated PNB Check Nos. 0046241
and 0046242 totaling P100,000.10

Several months after, or on January 20, 2000, respondent filed against petitioners another Affidavit-
Complaint for estafa and violation of BP 22. He stated, among others, that on the same day, July 15,
1999, around two o'clock in the afternoon at Quezon City, they again approached him and requested
that he exchange with cash PNB Check Nos. 0046243 and 0046244 totaling P100,000.11
Petitioners insisted that on the afternoon of July 15, 1999, they never went either to Cainta, Rizal, or to
Quezon City to transact business with respondent. Allegedly, they were in their office at the time, as
shown by their Daily Time Records; so it would have been physically impossible for them to transact
business in Cainta, Rizal, and, after an interval of only thirty minutes, in Quezon City, especially
considering the heavy traffic conditions in those places.12

Petitioners averred that many of their office mates -- among them, Juanita Manaois, Honorata Acosta
and Eugenia Mendoza -- had suffered the same fate in their dealings with respondent.13

In his Comment,14 respondent denied petitioners' claims, which he called baseless and devoid of any
truth and merit. Allegedly, petitioners were the ones who had deceived him by not honoring their
commitment regarding their July 15, 1999 transactions. Those transactions, totaling P200,000, had
allegedly been covered by their four PNB checks that were, however, subsequently dishonored due to
"ACCOUNT CLOSED." Thus, he filed criminal cases against them. He claimed that the checks had already
been fully filled up when petitioners signed them in his presence. He further claimed that he had given
them the amounts of money indicated in the checks, because his previous satisfactory transactions with
them convinced him that they had the capacity to pay.

Moreover, respondent said that the loans were his private and personal transactions, which were not in
any way connected with his profession as a lawyer. The criminal cases against petitioners were allegedly
private actions intended to vindicate his rights against their deception and violation of their
obligations. He maintained that his right to litigate should not be curtailed by this administrative action.

Report of the Investigating Commissioner

In his Report and Recommendation, Commissioner Dulay recommended that respondent be suspended
from the practice of law for two years for violating Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The commissioner said that respondent's version of the facts was not credible. Commissioner Dulay
rendered the following analysis and evaluation of the evidence presented:

"In his affidavit-complaint x x x executed to support his complaint filed before the Provincial Prosecution
Office of Rizal respondent stated that:

2. That last July 15, 1999, in the jurisdiction of Cainta, Rizal, both LOURDES E. OLBES and FRANKLIN A.
OLBES x x x, personally met and requested me to immediately exchange with cash, right there and then,
their postdated checks totaling P100,000.00 then, to be immediately used by them in their business
venture.

"Again in his affidavit-complaint executed to support his complaint filed with the Office of the City
Prosecutor of Quezon City respondent stated that:

2. That last July 15, 1999, at around 2PM, in the jurisdiction of Quezon City, M.M., both LOURDES E.
OLBES and FRANKLIN A. OLBES x x x, personally met and requested me to immediately exchange with
cash, right there and then, their postdated checks totaling P100,000.00 then, to be immediately used by
them in their business venture.

"The above statements executed by respondent under oath are in direct contrast to his testimony
before this Commission on cross-examination during the May 12, 2003 hearing, thus:

ATTY PUNZALAN: (continuing)

Q. Based on these four (4) checks which you claimed the complainant issued to you, you filed two
separate criminal cases against them, one, in Pasig City and the other in Quezon City, is that correct?

A. Yes, Your Honor, because the checks were deposited at different banks.

Q. These four checks were accordingly issued to you by the complainants on July 15, 1999, is that
correct?

A. I will consult my records, You Honor, because it's quite a long time. Yes, Your Honor, the first two
checks is in the morning and the next two checks is in the afternoon (sic).

COMM. DULAY:

Which are the first two checks?

ATTY. DECIEMBRE:

The first two checks covering check Nos. 46241 and 46242 in the morning. And Check No. 46243 and
46244 in the afternoon, Your Honor.

ATTY. PUNZALAN:

Q. Could you recall what particular time in the morning that these two checks with number 0046241
and 0046242 xxx have been issued to you?

A. I could not remember exactly but in the middle part of the morning around 9:30 to 10:00.

Q. This was issued to you in what particular place?

A. Here in my office at Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Q. Is that your house?

A. No, it's not my house?

Q. What is that, is that your law office?

A. That is my retainer client.

Q. What is the name of that retainer client of yours?


ATTY. DECIEMBRE:

Your Honor, may I object because what is the materiality of the question?

ATTY. PUNZALAN:

That is very material. I am trying to test your credibility because according to you these checks have
been issued in Pasig in the place of your client on a retainer. That's why I am asking your client

COMM. DULAY:

The name of the client is not material I think. It is enough that he said it was issued here in Pasig. What
building?

ATTY. DECIEMBRE:

AIC Corporate Center, Your Honor.

COMM. DULAY:

What is the materiality of knowing the name of his client's office?

ATTY. PUNZALAN:

Because, Your Honor, the materiality is to find out whether he is telling the truth. The place, Your
Honor, according to the respondent is his client. Now I am asking who is that client?

COMM. DULAY:

Your answer.

ATTY. DECIEMBRE:

A. It is AIC Realty Corporation at AIC Building.

Q. And the same date likewise, the complainants in the afternoon issued PNB Check Nos. 0046243
and 0046244, is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. So would you want to tell this Honorable office that there were four checks issued in the place of
your client in Pasig City, two in the morning and two in the afternoon?

A. That is correct, sir.

"Respondent was clearly not being truthful in his narration of the transaction with the complainants. As
between his version as to when the four checks were given, we find the story of complainant[s] more
credible. Respondent has blatantly distorted the truth, insofar as the place where the transaction
involving the four checks took place. Such distortion on a very material fact would seriously cast doubt
on his version of the transaction with complainants.

"Furthermore respondent's statements as to the time when the transactions took place are also
obviously and glaringly inconsistent and contradicts the written statements made before the public
prosecutors. Thus further adding to the lack of credibility of respondent's version of the transaction.

"Complainants' version that they issued blank checks to respondent as security for the payment of a
loan ofP10,000.00 plus interest, and that respondent filled up the checks in amounts not agreed upon
appears to be more credible. Complainants herein are mere employees of the Central Post Office in
Manila who had a previous loan of P10,000.00 from respondent and which has since been paid x x
x. Respondent does not deny the said transaction. This appears to be the only previous transaction
between the parties. In fact, complainants were even late in paying the loan when it fell due such that
they had to pay interest. That respondent would trust them once more by giving them
another P200,000.00 allegedly to be used for a business and immediately release the amounts under the
circumstances described by respondent does not appear credible given the background of the previous
transaction and personal circumstances of complainants. That respondent who is a lawyer would not
even bother to ask from complainants a receipt for the money he has given, nor bother to verify and ask
them what businesses they would use the money for contributes further to the lack of credibility of
respondent's version. These circumstances really cast doubt as to the version of respondent with regard
to the transaction. The resolution of the public prosecutors notwithstanding we believe respondent is
clearly lacking in honesty in dealing with the complainants. Complainant Franklin Olbes had to be jailed
as a result of respondent's filing of the criminal cases. Parenthetically, we note that respondent has also
filed similar cases against the co-employees of complainants in the Central Post Office and respondent is
facing similar complaints in the IBP for his actions."15

The Court's Ruling

We agree with the findings and conclusions of Commissioner Dulay, as approved and adopted by the IBP
Board of Governors. However, the penalty should be more severe than what the IBP recommended.

Respondent's Administrative Liability

Membership in the legal profession is a special privilege burdened with conditions.16 It is bestowed upon
individuals who are not only learned in the law, but also known to possess good moral character.17 "A
lawyer is an oath-bound servant of society whose conduct is clearly circumscribed by inflexible norms of
law and ethics, and whose primary duty is the advancement of the quest for truth and justice, for which
he [or she] has sworn to be a fearless crusader."18

By taking the lawyer's oath, an attorney becomes a guardian of truth and the rule of law, and an
indispensable instrument in the fair and impartial administration of justice.19 Lawyers should act and
comport themselves with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach, in order to promote the
public's faith in the legal profession.20
The Code of Professional Responsibility specifically mandates the following:

"Canon 1. A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law
and legal processes.

xxx xxx xxx

"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.

xxx xxx xxx

"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."

A high standard of excellence and ethics is expected and required of members of the bar.21 Such conduct
of nobility and uprightness should remain with them, whether in their public or in their private lives. As
officers of the courts and keepers of the public's faith, they are burdened with the highest degree of
social responsibility and are thus mandated to behave at all times in a manner consistent with truth and
honor.22

The oath that lawyers swear to likewise impresses upon them the duty of exhibiting the highest degree
of good faith, fairness and candor in their relationships with others. The oath is a sacred trust that must
be upheld and kept inviolable at all times. Thus, lawyers may be disciplined for any conduct, whether in
their professional or in their private capacity, if such conduct renders them unfit to continue to be
officers of the court.23

In the present case, the IBP commissioner gave credence to the story of petitioners, who said that they
had given five blank personal checks to respondent at the Central Post Office in Manila as security for
the P10,000 loan they had contracted. Found untrue and unbelievable was respondent's assertion that
they had filled up the checks and exchanged these with his cash at Quezon City and Cainta, Rizal. After a
careful review of the records, we find no reason to deviate from these findings.

Under the circumstances, there is no need to stretch one's imagination to arrive at an inevitable
conclusion. Respondent does not deny the P10,000 loan obtained from him by petitioners. According
to Franklin Olbes' testimony on cross-examination, they asked respondent for the blank checks after the
loan had been paid. On the pretext that he was not able to bring the checks with him,24 he was not able
to return them. He thus committed abominable dishonesty by abusing the confidence reposed in him
by petitioners. It was their high regard for him as a member of the bar that made them trust him with
their blank checks.25

It is also glaringly clear that the Code of Professional Responsibility was seriously transgressed by his
malevolent act of filling up the blank checks by indicating amounts that had not been agreed upon at all
and despite respondent's full knowledge that the loan supposed to be secured by the checks had
already been paid. His was a brazen act of falsification of a commercial document, resorted to for his
material gain.

And he did not stop there. Because the checks were dishonored upon presentment, respondent had the
temerity to initiate unfounded criminal suits against petitioners, thereby exhibiting his vile intent to
have them punished and deprived of liberty for frustrating the criminal duplicity he had wanted to foist
on them. As a matter of fact, one of the petitioners (Franklin) was detained for three months26 because
of the Complaints. Respondent is clearly guilty of serious dishonesty and professional misconduct. He
committed an act indicative of moral depravity not expected from, and highly unbecoming, a member of
the bar.

Good moral character is an essential qualification for the privilege to enter into the practice of law. It is
equally essential to observe this norm meticulously during the continuance of the practice and the
exercise of the privilege.27 Good moral character includes at least common honesty.28 No moral
qualification for bar membership is more important than truthfulness and candor.29 The rigorous ethics
of the profession places a premium on honesty and condemns duplicitous behavior.30 Lawyers must be
ministers of truth. Hence, they must not mislead the court or allow it to be misled by any artifice. In all
their dealings, they are expected to act in good faith.31

Deception and other fraudulent acts are not merely unacceptable practices that are disgraceful and
dishonorable;32 they reveal a basic moral flaw. The standards of the legal profession are not satisfied by
conduct that merely enables one to escape the penalties of criminal laws.33

Considering the depravity of the offense committed by respondent, we find the penalty recommended
by the IBP of suspension for two years from the practice of law to be too mild. His propensity for
employing deceit and misrepresentation is reprehensible. His misuse of the filled-up checks that led to
the detention of one petitioner is loathsome.

In Eustaquio v. Rimorin,34 the forging of a special power of attorney (SPA) by the respondent to make it
appear that he was authorized to sell another's property, as well as his fraudulent and malicious
inducement of Alicia Rubis to sign a Memorandum of Agreement to give a semblance of legality to the
SPA, were sanctioned with suspension from the practice of law for five years. Here, the conduct of
herein respondent is even worse. He used falsified checks as bases for maliciously indicting petitioners
and thereby caused the detention of one of them.

WHEREFORE, Atty. Victor V. Deciembre is found guilty of gross misconduct and violation of Rules 1.01
and 7.03 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is hereby indefinitely SUSPENDED from the
practice of law effective immediately. Let copies of this Decision be furnished all courts as well as the
Office of the Bar Confidant, which is directed to append a copy to respondent's personal record. Let
another copy be furnished the National Office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

SO ORDERED.
Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez,
Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

A.C. No. 6632. August 2, 2005

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, INC., and BEN A. NICOLAS, Complainant,


vs.
Atty. MACARIO D. ARQUILLO, Respondent.

DECISION

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Representing conflicting interests is prohibited by the Code of Professional Responsibility. Unless all the
affected clients written consent is given after a full disclosure of all relevant facts, attorneys guilty of
representing conflicting interests shall as a rule be sanctioned with suspension from the practice of law.

The Case and the Facts

This administrative case stems from a sworn Letter-Complaint1 filed with the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) by Ben A. Nicolas, acting for himself and on behalf of
Northwestern University, Inc. In that Letter-Complaint, Atty. Macario D. Arquillo was charged with
deceit, malpractice, gross misconduct and/or violation of his oath as attorney by representing conflicting
interests. The material averments of the Complaint are summarized by the IBP-CBD as follows:

"Herein [c]omplainants, Northwestern University, Inc. and Mr. Ben A. Nicolas, accuses (sic) herein
[r]espondent, Atty. Macario D. Arquillo, of engaging in conflicting interest in a case before the National
Labor Relations Commission, Regional Arbitration Branch No. 1, San Fernando, La Union.

"Complainant alleges that in a consolidated case, herein [r]espondent appeared and acted as counsels
for both complainants (eight out of the eighteen complainants therein) and respondent (one out of the
ten respondents therein).

"In a consolidation of NLRC Cases [Nos.] 1-05-1086-97, 1-05-1087-97, 1-05-1088-97, 1-05-1091-97, 1-05-
1092-97, 1-05-1097-97, 1-05-1109-97, 1-05-1096-97 ("consolidated cases"), herein [r]espondent
appeared as counsel for complainants therein, Teresita A. Velasco, Gervacio A. Velasco, Mariel S.
Hernando, Virginio C. Rasos, Bonifacio S. Blas, Ronald A. Daoang, Luzviminda T. Urcio and Araceli
Quimoyog. In the very same consolidated case, [r]espondent was also the counsel of one of the
respondents therein, Jose G. Castro.

"Complainants, as their evidence, submitted the Motion to Dismiss dated August 12, 1997 filed by Jose
G. Castro, represented by his counsel, herein [r]espondent filed before the NLRC of San Fernando, La
Union. Sixteen (16) days later or on August 28, 1997, [r]espondent filed a Complainants Consolidated
Position Paper, this time representing some of the complainants in the very same consolidated
case."2 (Citations omitted)

Respondent failed to file his Answer to the Complaint despite a June 24 1998 Order3 of the IBP-CBD
directing him to do so. Even after receiving five notices, he failed to appear in any of the scheduled
hearings. Consequently, he was deemed to have waived his right to participate in the proceedings.
Thereafter, the complainants were ordered to submit their verified position paper with supporting
documents, after which the case was to be deemed submitted for decision.4 In their
Manifestation5 dated August 30, 2004, they said that they would no longer file a position paper. They
agreed to submit the case for decision on the basis of their Letter-Affidavit dated March 16, 1998,
together with all the accompanying documents.

Report and Recommendation of the IBP

In his Report,6 Commissioner Dennis B. Funa found respondent guilty of violating the conflict-of-
interests rule under the Code of Professional Responsibility. Thus, the former recommended the latters
suspension from the practice of law for a period of six (6) months.

In Resolution No. XVI-2004-415 dated October 7, 2004, the Board of Governors of the IBP adopted the
Report and Recommendation of Commissioner Funa, with the modification that the period of
suspension was increased to two (2) years.

On December 12, 2004, the Resolution and the records of the case were transmitted to this Court for
final action, pursuant to Section 12(b) of Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court. On January 20, 2005,
respondent filed a Motion for Reconsideration to set aside Resolution No. XVI-2004-415. The IBP denied
the Motion.

The Courts Ruling

We agree with the findings of the IBP Board of Governors, but reduce the recommended period of
suspension to one year.

Administrative Liability of Respondent

The Code of Professional Responsibility requires lawyers to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all
their dealings and transactions with their clients.7 Corollary to this duty, lawyers shall not represent
conflicting interests, except with all the concerned clients written consent, given after a full disclosure
of the facts.8

When a lawyer represents two or more opposing parties, there is a conflict of interests, the existence of
which is determined by three separate tests: (1) when, in representation of one client, a lawyer is
required to fight for an issue or claim, but is also duty-bound to oppose it for another client; (2) when
the acceptance of the new retainer will require an attorney to perform an act that may injuriously affect
the first client or, when called upon in a new relation, to use against the first one any knowledge
acquired through their professional connection; or (3) when the acceptance of a new relation would
prevent the full discharge of an attorneys duty to give undivided fidelity and loyalty to the client or
would invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double dealing in the performance of that duty.9

In the present case, Atty. Macario D. Arquillo, as counsel for Respondent Jose C. Castro in NLRC Case
Nos. I-05-1083-97 to I-05-1109-97, filed a Motion to Dismiss those cases. Shortly thereafter, a position
paper was filed by Atty. Arquillo as counsel for several complainants in consolidated NLRC Case Nos. I-
05-1087-97, I-05-1088-97, I-05-1091-97, I-05-1092-97, I-05-1096-97, I-05-1097-97, and I-05-1109-97. All
the cases in the second set were included in the first one, for which he had filed the subject Motion to
Dismiss. Furthermore, in his position paper for the complainants, Atty. Arquillo protected his other
client, Respondent Jose C. Castro, in these words:

"3. More than lack of valid cause for the dismissal of complainants, respondents, except Atty. Jose C.
Castroand Atty. Ernesto B. Asuncion, should be made accountable for not according complainants their
right to due process."10

In his two-page Motion for Reconsideration, Atty. Arquillo claims that there was no conflict of interest in
his representation of both the respondent and the complainants in the same consolidated cases,
because all of them were allegedly on the same side. Attaching to the Motion the Decision of Labor
Arbiter Norma C. Olegario on the consolidated NLRC cases, Atty. Arquillo theorizes that her judgment
absolved Castro of personal liability for the illegal dismissal of the complainants; this fact allegedly
showed that there was no conflict in the interests of all the parties concerned.

This Court does not agree. Atty. Arquillos acts cannot be justified by the fact that, in the end, Castro was
proven to be not personally liable for the claims of the dismissed employees. Having agreed to represent
one of the opposing parties first, the lawyer should have known that there was an obvious conflict of
interests, regardless of his alleged belief that they were all on the same side. It cannot be denied that
the dismissed employees were the complainants in the same cases in which Castro was one of the
respondents. Indeed, Commissioner Funa correctly enounced:

"As counsel for complainants, [r]espondent had the duty to oppose the Motion to Dismiss filed by Jose
G. Castro. But under the circumstance, it would be impossible since [r]espondent is also the counsel of
Jose G. Castro. And it appears that it was [r]espondent who prepared the Motion to Dismiss, which he
should be opposing [a]s counsel of Jose G. Castro, Respondent had the duty to prove the Complaint
wrong. But Respondent cannot do this because he is the counsel for the complainants. Here lies the
inconsistency. The inconsistency of interests is very clear.

"Thus it has been noted

The attorney in that situation will not be able to pursue, with vigor and zeal, the clients claim against
the other and to properly represent the latter in the unrelated action, or, if he can do so, he cannot
avoid being suspected by the defeated client of disloyalty or partiality in favor of the successful client.
The foregoing considerations will strongly tend to deprive the relation of attorney and client of those
special elements which make it one of trust and confidence*.+ (Legal Ethics, Agpalo, p. 230, 4th ed.; In re
De la Rosa, 21 Phil. 258)"11

An attorney cannot represent adverse interests. It is a hornbook doctrine grounded on public policy that
a lawyers representation of both sides of an issue is highly improper. The proscription applies when the
conflicting interests arise with respect to the same general matter, however slight such conflict may be.
It applies even when the attorney acts from honest intentions or in good faith.12

The IBP Board of Governors recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for
two years. Considering, however, prior rulings in cases also involving attorneys representing conflicting
interests, we reduce the suspension to one (1) year.13

WHEREFORE, Atty. Macario D. Arquillo is found GUILTY of misconduct and is hereby SUSPENDED from
the practice of law for a period of one (1) year effective upon his receipt of this Decision, with a warning
that a similar infraction shall be dealt with more severely in the future.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez,


Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, and Garcia, JJ., concur.

Corona, J., on official leave.

A.M. No. 05-3-04-SC. July 22, 2005]

RE: LETTER DATED 21 FEBRUARY 2005 OF ATTY. NOEL S. SORREDA.

RESOLUTION

GARCIA, J.:

In a letter1 to the Chief Justice bearing date February 21, 2005, with copies thereof furnished all the
Associate Justices of the Court and other government entities, RTC judges and counsels listed
thereunder, Atty. Noel S. Sorreda, who identified himself as "member, Philippine Bar", expressed his
frustrations over the unfavorable outcome of and the manner by which the Court resolved the following
cases filed by him, to wit:

1. UDK-12854, Ramon Sollegue vs. Court of Appeals, et al.,

2. G.R. No. 149334, Artemio Dalsen vs. Commission on Elections

3. G.R. No. 148440, Lilia Sanchez vs. Court of Appeals

4. G.R. No. 152766, Lilia Sanchez vs. Court of Appeals, et al.


5. G.R. No. 154310, Noel Sorreda vs. Court of Appeals, et al.

6. G.R. No. 155446, Allan Reynold Cu vs. Court of Appeals, et al.

7. G.R. No. 156630, Ronilo Sorreda vs. Court of Appeals, et al.

8. G.R. No. 157046, Ronilo Sorreda vs. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.

9. G.R. No. 164163, Glenn Caballes vs. People, et al.

10. G.R. No. 164677, Marissa Macarilay vs. Hon. Alba-Estoesta, et al.

In said letter, Atty. Sorreda recounted the alleged circumstances surrounding the dismissal on February
7, 20002of the very first case he filed with the Court, UDK-12854, entitled Ramon Sollegue vs. Court of
Appeals, et al.Frustrated with the adverse ruling thereon, Atty. Sorreda had previously written a
letter3 dated April 2, 2001 addressed to the Chief Justice, copy furnished all the Associate Justices of this
Court, the Court of Appeals and the Office of the Solicitor General, denouncing the Court, as follows:

Mr. Chief Justice, I believe the manner the Court comported itself in the aforesaid case is totally
execrable and atrocious, entirely unworthy of the majesty and office of the highest tribunal of the
land. It is the action not of men of reason or those who believe in the rule of law, but rather of bullies
and tyrants from whom "might is right." I say, shame on the High Court, for shoving down a hapless
suitors throat a ruling which, from all appearances, it could not justify.

Reacting to the above, the Court, in an en banc Resolution dated August 14, 2001,4 required Atty.
Sorreda to show cause why he should not be properly disciplined "for degrading, insulting and
dishonoring the Supreme Court by using vile, offensive, intemperate and contemptuous derogatory
language against it".

In response to the "show cause" order, Atty. Sorreda addressed two (2) more letters to the Court dated
December 2, 20015 and June 16, 2002,6 arguing for the propriety of his action and practically lecturing
the Court on his concepts of Legal and Judicial Ethics and Constitutional Law. In its Resolutions of
January 15, 20027 and August 27, 20028, the Court merely noted said two letters.

Quoted from his earlier communications are the following statements of Atty. Sorreda disparaging the
Court with intemperate, insulting, offensive and derogatory language, to wit:

"SOMETHING HAS GOT TO BE SERIOUSLY AND TERRIBLY WRONG WITH THE COUNTRYS JUSTICE
SYSTEM"9

"WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE JUSTICE SYSTEM IN THIS COUNTRY, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE?

xxx xxx xxx

I therefore deplore and condemn in the strongest term such strong-handed actuations as the Honorable
Court has displayed. They are as one might expect in a dictatorship or authoritarian regime."10
Persistent in imputing to the Court and its Justices offensive and uncalled remarks, Atty. Sorreda again
went on a rampage in his subject letter of February 21, 2005:

xxx xxx xxx

Mr. Chief Justice, I do not doubt that these ten cases are among the most palpably meritorious cases
that have ever been brought before the Supreme Court, or any court of justice for that matter. I cannot
doubt that were it not for the Sollegue "miscounting," and the other incidents that ensued from it, at
least some of these ten cases would have met with entirely different endings, so obvious and patent are
their merits to any reasonable and impartial mind.

In short, Mr. Chief Justice, it is obvious that the High Court has taken it personally against me. To the
detriment of my innocent clients. And of justice.

Mr. Chief Justice, why should this be? If the Court had anything against me, I stood ready to have the ax
fall on my own neck, if it came to that. As I had stated in one communication-

*I+f there is one thing I agree with in the High Courts position, it is that x x x if indeed I had wronged the
Court in the way it had described, and if indeed my explanations and arguments "lack merit," I should
indeed be disciplined; and surely no less than DISBARMENT will do. It should also be done as swiftly as
possible, given the gravity of the charge and the high dignity and importance of the institution attacked.
Now on January 22, 2002 and May 7, 2002, the Court has resolved to deny to the undersigned the "full
opportunity" for self-defense that he request therefore he is now left without any defense, and he can
only wonder why no sanction has come down until the present time.

Might it be because I had continued, "Of course, I shall also only expect that such judgment, when it
does come, will be a fully-reasoned one, as thoroughly discussed perhaps as that in In re Almacen, 31
SCRA 562, for the proper guidance of all concerned"- and the Court knows that it is not able to give such
a "fully-reasoned judgment" as I ask? But rather than admit it has done wrong and rectify the same, it
would rather "get back" at me by means of unfavorable rulings in the cases I elevate to it- let the
innocent litigants, whose only mistake was to hire me as their counsel, and the cause of justice suffer as
they may.

Mr. Chief Justice, that is not only unjust; that is craven cowardice, to deal with an adversary like that.
It is not something I would have expected from the supreme judges of the land.

I can only view other happenings in the Honorable Court in such light. The same verifications that were
previously unfaulted, suddenly became course for dismissal. What other interpretation can I give it, than
that the court had run out of excuses to dismiss, since I was being careful not to repeat the same
adjudged "shortcomings"; and was now scrounging every which way for one, just so to make sure I
continue to get my "comeuppance."

That of the first nine cases, not one was assigned to the Third Division- only either to the Second
Division, then chaired by Justice Josue N. Bellosillo, which handled the Sollegue case; or the First
Division, chaired by the Chief Justice, to whom I have directly written afterwards. Could it be only a
coincidence - or is it a more likely explanation that the powers-that-be in the Court wanted to be very
sure I never get favorable ruling? Especially when it is considered that, following Justice Bellosillos
retirement on November 12, 2003, for the first time in the history of the nations judiciary a vacancy in
the Supreme Court was filled up way beyond the constitutionally prescribed period of 90 days- and after
so much mystery and intrigue has surrounded the appointment of his successor, Justice Minita V. Chico-
Nazario. In fact Justice Nazario was sworn in on July 14, 2004, just one day before a new retirement took
place, this time of Justice Jose C. Vitug. It was only following this latest retirement, that for the first time
this counsel had a case assigned to other than the First and Second Division. Could it be that Justice
Vitug, then Chairman of the Third Division, and Justice Nazario, erstwhile presiding Justice of the
Sandiganbayan, had redoubtable reputations for independent-mindedness; and the powers-that-be in
the court exercised their utmost influence to at least prevent the both of them sitting in the bench at
the same time, lest together they should "buck the system" and divide the Court, if not successfully
sway the Court to favorably rule on the undersigned counsels cases before it?

xxx xxx xxx

But this time, in these ten cases I have recounted, I am wholly convinced that the court is in the wrong. I
cannot but thus be filled with both acute sadness and burning indignation. Sadness as counsel, to come
to the realization that the high institution of which I am an officer has sunk to such a low. Indignation
as a citizen, that the public officers who are supposed to serve him and help him find justice, should
instead give judgments that so insult the intelligence and glare with iniquity.

Mr. Chief Justice, whatever gave the Court the notion that it could pronounce 29 days as greater than 60
days, and not to have to account for it? Who can believe that the supposedly most illustrious legal minds
of the land, would miss seeing grave abuse of discretion in the actions of an agency that directly
contravened numerous laws and rules all at once? How could democracys vaunted "last bulwark" suffer
a widow and her children to thereafter live in their toilet, by sanctioning the plainly void sale and illegal
demolition of their erstwhile family home? Did the court pause for even three minutes to put itself in
the shoes of an evidently innocent man kept locked up for three years now on a manifestly false and
fabricated charge, before it so blandly invoked its "discretion" not to entertain his appeal at all? Where
did the Court get such brazenness, such shameless boldness, as to dismiss on the ground that the
docket fees had not been paid, when the evidence clearly show they in fact were? What manner of
men are you- even challenging the citizenry to inform on the corrupt, and the bar to become like
"Frodo" in the fight against societys evils in your public speeches and writings, and yet you yourselves
committing the same evils when hidden from public view. Are all these rulings in the ten cases not the
clearest manifestation that the supreme magistrates have bought into the What-are-we-in-power-
for mentality? (Underscoring ours)

Upon instructions of the Chief Justice, Atty. Sorredas aforesaid letter of 21 February 2005 was included
in the March 15, 2005 en banc agenda of the Court.
In an en banc Resolution11 dated March 15, 2005, the Court again required Atty. Sorreda to show cause
why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for maliciously attacking the Court
and its Justices.

By way of compliance to the second "show cause" order, Atty Sorreda, in his letter of May 10, 200512,
again with copies thereof furnished the Justices, judges and lawyers thereunder listed, states that he
"does not see the need to say any more" because the "cause" has "already been shown as clear as day"
in his earlier letter of 21 February 2005, adding that "[T]he need is for the High Tribunal to act on the
instant matter swiftly and decisively". While admitting "the great seriousness of the statements and
imputations I have leveled against the Court", he dared the Court whether "it is capable of a judgment
that will be upheld by the Supreme Judge".

After going over the records of the cases in which Atty. Sorreda accuses the Court of being unfair in the
resolution thereof, the Court stands by its rulings thereon. Atty. Sorreda mockingly stated that the Court
does not know how to count when it dismissed the Sollegue case on ground of failure to file the petition
therein within the reglementary period. For the enlightenment of the good counsel, the Court dismissed
the petition in Sollegue not only for failure to have it filed within the period fixed in Sec. 4, Rule 65 but
also for failure to submit the duplicate original or certified true copy of the questioned resolution of the
Court of Appeals dated June 28, 1999 in accordance with Sec. 1, Rule 65 and Sec. 3, Rule 46, in relation
to Sec. 2, Rule 56.13 In another case, Ronilo Sorreda vs. CA, Atty. Sorreda claimed that said case was
dismissed on the mere ground of insufficient verification. Again, Atty. Sorreda must be reminded that
the petition was dismissed not merely for defective verification but more so because the petition was
evidently used as a substitute for a lost remedy of appeal.14 We see no need to belabor the grounds for
the dismissal of the other cases enumerated by counsel, said grounds having been stated in the
respective minute resolutions which were plain, clear, simply worded and understandable to everyone,
even to those who do not have a formal education in law. Suffice it to say that the dismissal of those
petitions was the result of a thorough deliberation among members of this Court.

Atty. Sorredas imputation of manipulation in the assignment and raffle of cases is utterly baseless and
at best a mere figment of his imagination.

Unfounded accusations or allegations or words tending to embarrass the court or to bring it into
disrepute have no place in a pleading. Their employment serves no useful purpose. On the contrary,
they constitute direct contempt of court or contempt in facie curiae and a violation of the lawyers oath
and a transgression of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

In Ang vs. Castro15, this Court held that if a pleading containing derogatory, offensive and malicious
statements is submitted in the same court or judge in which the proceedings are pending, it is direct
contempt, equivalent as it is to a misbehavior committed in the presence of or so near a court or judge
as to interrupt the administration of justice. Direct contempt is punishable summarily.16

Atty Sorredas conduct likewise violated the Code of Professional Responsibility, specifically -
CANON 11 A lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to judicial officers
and should insist on similar conduct by others.

xxx

Rule 11.03 A lawyer shall abstain from scandalous, offensive or menacing language or behavior before
the courts.

Rule 11.04 A lawyer shall not attribute to a judge motives not supported by the record or having no
materiality to the case.

While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his clients genuine
interest and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his clients rights, as well as the exertion of
his utmost learning and ability, 17 he must do so only within the bounds of the law.18 A lawyer is entitled
to voice his criticism within the context of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech which
must be exercised responsibly. After all, every right carries with it the corresponding obligation.
Freedom is not freedom from responsibility, but freedom with responsibility. The lawyers fidelity to his
client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and orderly administration of justice. It must be done
within the confines of reason and common sense.19

Atty. Sorreda, as a citizen and as an officer of the court, is entitled to criticize the rulings of this Court, to
point out where he feels the Court may have lapsed with error. But, certainly, this does not give him the
unbridled license to insult and malign the Court and bring it into disrepute. Against such an assault, the
Court is duty-bound "to act to preserve its honor and dignity and to safeguard the morals and ethics
of the legal profession".20

The eloquent words of the late Justice Conrado V. Sanchez in Rheem of the Philippines vs. Ferrer21 are
enlightening:

By now, a lawyer's duties to the Court have become commonplace. Really, there could hardly be any
valid excuse for lapses in the observance thereof. Section 20(b), Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, in
categorical terms, spells out one such duty: "To observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of
justice and judicial officers." As explicit is the first canon of legal ethics which pronounces that "[i]t is the
duty of the lawyer to maintain towards the Courts a respectful attitude, not for the sake of the
temporary incumbent of the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its supreme importance." That
same canon, as a corollary, makes it peculiarly incumbent upon lawyers to support the courts against
"unjust criticism and clamor." And more. The attorney's oath solemnly binds him to a conduct that
should be "with all good fidelity xxx to the courts." Worth remembering is that the duty of an attorney
to the courts "can only be maintained by rendering no service involving any disrespect to the judicial
office which he is bound to uphold."

In Surigao Mineral Reservation Board vs. Cloribel,22 Justice Sanchez further elucidated:

A lawyer is an officer of the courts; he is, "like the court itself, an instrument or agency to advance the
ends of justice." His duty is to uphold the dignity and authority of the courts to which he owes fidelity,
"not to promote distrust in the administration of justice." Faith in the courts a lawyer should seek to
preserve. For, to undermine the judicial edifice "is disastrous to the continuity of government and to the
attainment of the liberties of the people." Thus has it been said of a lawyer that "[a]s an officer of the
court, it is his sworn and moral duty to help build and not destroy unnecessarily that high esteem and
regard towards the courts so essential to the proper administration of justice."

Likewise, in Zaldivar vs. Gonzales,23 we held:

Respondent Gonzales is entitled to the constitutional guarantee of free speech. No one seeks to deny
him that right, least of all this Court. What respondent seems unaware of is that freedom of speech and
of expression, like all constitutional freedoms, is not absolute and that freedom of expression needs an
occasion to be adjusted to and accommodated with the requirement of equally important public
interests. One of these fundamental public interests is the maintenance of the integrity and orderly
functioning of the administration of justice. There is no antimony between free expression and the
integrity of the system of administering justice. For the protection and maintenance of freedom of
expression itself can be secured only within the context of a functioning and orderly system of
dispensing justice, with the context, in other words, of viable independent institutions for delivery of
justice which are accepted by the general community.

As officer of the court, Atty. Sorreda has the duty to uphold the dignity and authority of the courts and
to promote confidence in the fair administration of justice.24 No less must this be and with greater
reasons in the case of the countrys highest court, the Supreme Court, as the last bulwark of justice and
democracy

Atty. Sorreda must be reminded that his first duty is not to his client but to the administration of justice,
to which his clients success is wholly subordinate. His conduct ought to and must always be
scrupulously observant of law and ethics. The use of intemperate language and unkind ascription can
hardly be justified nor can it have a place in the dignity of judicial forum. Civility among members of the
legal profession is a treasured tradition that must at no time be lost to it.25

Here, Atty. Sorreda has transcended the permissible bounds of fair comment and constructive criticism
to the detriment of the orderly administration of justice. Free expression, after all, must not be used as a
vehicle to satisfy ones irrational obsession to demean, ridicule, degrade and even destroy this Court and
its magistrates.26

We have constantly reminded that any gross misconduct of a lawyer, whether in his professional or
private capacity, puts his moral character in serious doubt as a member of the Bar, and renders him
unfit to continue in the practice of law.27

In the very recent similar case of Tacardon, et al vs. Ponce Enrile,28 we imposed on the respondent
therein the penalty of suspension from the Bar. Here, as in Tacardon, we find the exclusion of Atty.
Sorreda from the Bar a fitting sanction until he proves himself worthy to enjoy the privileges of
membership to the profession. It is imperative to instill in him sense of discipline that should teach him
anew of his duty to respect courts of justice, especially this Tribunal. This rehabilitation must be done
outside the brotherhood he has dishonored and to which he will be allowed to return only after he has
purged himself of his misdeeds.29

WHEREFORE, ATTY. NOEL S. SORREDA is found guilty both of contempt of court and violation of the
Code of Professional Responsibility amounting to gross misconduct as an officer of the court and
member of the Bar. He is hereby indefinitely SUSPENDED as a member of the Bar and is prohibited from
engaging in the practice of law until otherwise ordered by this Court.

Let a copy of this Resolution be furnished the Court Administrator to be distributed to all courts for their
information. This Resolution shall be spread in his personal record and is immediately executory.

SO ORDERED.

Davide, Jr., C.J., Puno, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-
Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

A.C. No. 6192 June 23, 2005


(formerly CBD 02-947)

Heirs of the Late HERMAN REY ROMERO, Represented by ARACELI Vda. DE ROMERO, Complainants,
vs.
Atty. VENANCIO REYES JR., Respondent.

DECISION

PANGANIBAN, J.:

Lawyers are indispensable instruments of justice and peace. Upon taking their professional oath, they
become guardians of truth and the rule of law.1 Verily, when they appear before a tribunal, they act not
merely as representatives of a party but, first and foremost, as officers of the court.2 Thus, their duty to
protect their clients interests is secondary to their obligation to assist in the speedy and efficient
administration of justice. While they are obliged to present every available legal remedy or defense;
their fidelity to their clients must always be made within the parameters of law and ethics, never at the
expense of truth, the law, and the fair administration of justice.

The Case and the Facts

This administrative case originates from a Complaint3 filed by the heirs of Herman Rey Romero. They
charged Atty. Venancio Reyes Jr. with willful and intentional falsehood, in violation of his oath as a
member of the Philippine bar.

The material averments of the Complaint are summarized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) in this wise:
"The complainants charge respondent with committing a willful and intentional falsehood before the
Regional Trial Court of Bulacan, as a result of which the complainants have been denied justice in Civil
Case No. 906-M-94.

"Records show that complainants were intervenors in Civil Case No. 906-M-94, a civil case filed on
November 7, 1994 in the Regional Trial Court of Bulacan, by Elizabeth Reyes, assisted by her husband,
Jerry Reyes, against, Antonio Gonzales, Veronica Gonzales on her own behalf, and as representative of
V.R. Gonzales Credit Enterprises, Inc., and the Register of Deeds for Bulacan. Antonio Gonzales, Veronica
Gonzales and V.R. Gonzales Credit Enterprises, Inc. were represented by respondent, Atty. Venancio
Reyes, Jr.

"The subject matter is a property subject of multiple sale, in fact, sold thrice over: first to the
complainants, second to Elizabeth Reyes, and third, to V.R. Gonzales Credit Enterprises, Inc. The latter
party was able to have its deed of sale registered first, and a new transfer of Certificate of Title over the
property was issued in its name.

"On March 19, 1996, Hon. Fe Torres Arcilla, the trial judge, rendered judgment in Civil Case No. 906-M-
94 based on a Compromise Agreement submitted by the parties to the Court.

"Essentially, the Compromise Agreement ceded possession of the subject property to V.R. Gonzales
Credit Enterprises, Inc., for it to develop the property into a middle class subdivision upon the infusion of
capital by Antonio Gonzales and a certain Teresa Dela Cruz, in exchange for which complainants and
Elizabeth Reyes would receive certain sums of money after two years.

"The Compromise Agreement, dated June 16, 1995, was signed in three stages, first by Elizabeth Reyes
and her husband, then by complainants and their counsel, Atty. Renato Samonte Jr., and last, by Antonio
Gonzales, Veronica Gonzales for and on behalf of V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc. and by herein respondent.

"In a related case filed by complainants against V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc. for forcible entry, herein
respondent filed a Motion to Dismiss based on the Compromise Agreement in Civil Case No. 906-M-94,
whereby complainants had ceded possession of the subject lot to V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc[.] thus
rendering the case for forcible entry moot and academic. The motion was granted.

"On October 14, 1996, the building housing the branch of the RTC of Bulacan which heard the case was
gutted by fire. Thus, the case records were burned. The complainants filed a motion for reconstitution of
the records of the case, which was granted by the RTC of Bulacan. The documents attached to the
motion were the basis for the reconstituted records. Because of the circumstances of signing of the
Compromise Agreement, the copy submitted to the RTC bore only the signatures of Elizabeth Reyes, her
husband, complainants, and that of their counsel, Atty. Renato Samonte.

"After a lapse of two (2) years from the date of the Compromise Agreement, V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc.
still has not complied with its obligation toward x x x complainants. Hence, complainants filed a motion
for issuance of writ of execution against V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc. for such failure.1awphi1
"Respondent, as counsel for V.R. Credit Enterprises, Inc., moved to dismiss the motion on the ground
that the same was premature, and that the period of two (2) years should be counted from the date of
approval of the same by the RTC of Bulacan.

"Later, after a protracted series of pleadings, respondent raised the issue that Veronica Gonzales had
not signed the Compromise Agreement, and that she had not been duly authorized to bind V.R. Credit
Enterprises, Inc. to the Compromise Agreement.

"As a result of the objections raised by respondent in the RTC of Bulacan, the presiding judge, Wilfredo
T. Nieves, ruled to deny the Motion for Issuance of a Writ of Execution filed by herein complainants in
an Order dated September 18, 2000. The trial court likewise declared the Compromise Agreement to be
unenforceable and without legal effect."4

In his Answer5 dated August 1, 2002, respondent denied the charge against him. He averred that by
moving to annul the Compromise Agreement, he was merely raising a defense available to his client. He
explained thus:

"x x x. The compromise agreement was sent by the respondent through his messenger in the office after
he has affixed his signature thereto to Veronica Gonzales for her signature. Veronica Gonzales instructed
respondents messenger to just leave the copy of the compromise agreement to her and she would take
charge of filing the same in court. It was not surprising to the respondent knowing the practice of
Veronica Gonzales to consult [her] other lawyers on the work of the respondent before affixing her
signature on the pleading similar to the subject compromise agreement. In fact, this practice has caused
the termination of his professional relation with Veronica Gonzales. Although it was respondent*s+
natural expectation that the compromise agreement was signed by Veronica Gonzales especially so
when he received a copy of the courts decision approving the same, yet he cannot by personal
knowledge assert that indeed the compromise agreement was actually signed by Veronica Gonzales for
not being personally present when the actual signing was supposed to have been done. Thus, when his
attention was called by Veronica Gonzales on the absence of her signature on the compromise
agreement after the writ of execution was issued in the case, he could not help but to raise the said
absence in his pleading intended to avoid the effect of the writ of execution. He could not do otherwise
lest his client may doubt his sincerity and fidelity in representing her in the case."6

On September 2, 2002, both parties appeared at a hearing before IBP-CBD Commissioner Jovy C.
Bernabe, who thereafter directed them to submit their respective memoranda. Only complainants
complied, however.

Report and Recommendation of the IBP-CBD

In his June 16, 2003 Report,7 the IBP investigating commissioner found respondent guilty of violating the
attorneys oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility. The investigator opined that respondent
had "purposely deceived the parties and the trial court" by claiming that "Veronica Gonzales did not sign
the Compromise Agreement and that she was not suitably authorized to sign it, despite earlier actions
indicating the contrary." As a result, respondent succeeded in misleading Presiding Judge Wilfredo T.
Nieves, thereby causing the latter to declare the Compromise Agreement as unenforceable and devoid
of legal effect. Thus, Commissioner Bernabe recommended that respondent be suspended from the
practice of law for one year.

In Resolution No. XVI-2003-67,8 the Board of Governors of the IBP adopted the findings and
recommendation of the commissioner.

The Resolution, together with the records of the case, was then transmitted to this Court for final
action,9pursuant to Rule 139-B, Section 12(b) of the Rules of Court.

The Courts Ruling

We agree with the findings and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors.

Administrative Liability of Respondent

Lawyers are indispensable instruments of justice and peace.lawphil.net Upon taking their professional
oath, they become guardians of truth and the rule of law.10 Verily, when they appear before a tribunal,
they act not merely as the parties representatives but, first and foremost, as officers of the
court.11 Thus, their duty to protect their clients interests is secondary to their obligation to assist in the
speedy and efficient administration of justice.

We stress that as officers of the court, lawyers are expected to act with complete candor. In all their
dealings, they may not resort to the use of deception and the pretentions of wolves. The Code of
Professional Responsibility bars them from committing or consenting to any falsehood, or from
misleading or allowing the court to be misled by any artifice or guile in finding the truth.12 They are
mandated to observe the rules of procedure properly, not misuse such rules to defeat the ends of
justice.13 For these reasons, complete and absolute honesty when they appear and plead before the
courts is expected by judges.14 Any act that obstructs or impedes the administration of justice
constitutes misconduct and justifies disciplinary action against lawyers. In the present case, respondent
dismally failed to live up to these exacting standards of candor and nobility required by the legal
profession.

In assailing the legality of the Compromise Agreement, he claims good faith. He maintains that he
should not be faulted for raising an allegedly valid defense to protect his clients interests. The records
show, however, that his actions bear hallmarks of dishonesty and doublespeak.

Undeniably, respondent actively participated in the negotiation of the terms and conditions of the
Agreement. On several occasions, he necessarily had to vouch for its existence and validity.

First, he used it as a ground to support his Motion for the dismissal of the forcible entry case against his
clients.15 He specifically alleged that the Compromise Agreement had been duly ratified by RTC Branch
84 of Bulacan. By invoking its provisions, he was able to demonstrate his clients ownership of the
disputed property and thus obtain his desired relief from the court.
Second, when complainants submitted a copy of the Agreement as a part of their Petition for the
Reconstitution of the Records of Civil Case No. 906-M-94, respondent never raised any objection as to
its due execution. The Order16 granting the Petition clearly stated that he had "interposed no objection
and admitted all the documents presented."

Third, after the reconstitution of the records of Civil Case No. 906-M-94, complainants moved for the
execution of the Compromise Agreement against the clients of respondent. He opposed the Motion,
however, alleging that it was premature. Relying again on the provisions of the Agreement, he argued
that the period within which his clients should comply with their contractual obligations be reckoned
from the courts ratification of it, not from its execution by the parties.

Through the foregoing representations, respondent impressed upon the parties and the trial judge that
his clients were bound to the Compromise Agreement. Then, suddenly and conveniently, he repudiated
it by falsely alleging that one of his clients had never signed it. Obviously, he was anticipating a dead end
in shielding them from the courts Order of Execution. Suspiciously, he raised the issue only after they
had no other recourse but to comply with their obligation under the Agreement. His subterfuge was
undoubtedly a ruse to mislead the court because, as later proven by complainants during the
proceedings before the IBP, the Compromise Agreement had in fact been duly signed by the said
client.17

True, lawyers are obliged to present every available remedy or defense to support the cause of their
clients. However, their fidelity to their causes must always be made within the parameters of law and
ethics, never at the expense of truth and justice.18 In Choa v. Chiongson this principle was explained
thus:

"While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his genuine interest,
and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost
learning and ability, he must do so only within the bounds of the law. He must give a candid and honest
opinion on the merits and probable results of his clients case with the end in view of promoting respect
for the law and legal processes, and counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to
him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law. He must
always remind himself of the oath he took upon admission to the Bar that he will not wittingly or
willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same; and
that he will conduct *himself+ as a lawyer according to the best of *his+ knowledge and discretion with
all good fidelity as well to the courts as to *his+ clients. Needless to state, the lawyers fidelity to his
client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and the administration of justice, and it must be
done within the bounds of reason and common sense. A lawyers responsibility to protect and advance
the interests of his client does not warrant a course of action propelled by ill motives and malicious
intentions against the other party."19

Deception and other forms of moral flaw will never be countenanced by this Court.20 Respondent failed
to live up to the exacting standards expected of him as a vanguard of law and justice.
WHEREFORE, Respondent Venancio Reyes Jr. is found guilty as charged. He is hereby SUSPENDED for
one (1) year from the practice of law, effective upon his receipt of this Decision. He is warned that a
repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.

Let copies of this Decision be entered in the record of respondent as attorney and served on the IBP, as
well as on the bar confidant who shall circulate it to all courts for their information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.

ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
Associate Justice
Chairman, Third Division