You are on page 1of 30

Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila EN BANC A.C. No.

7199 July 22, 2009 [Formerly CBD 04-1386] FOODSPHERE, INC., Complainant, vs. ATTY. MELANIO L. MAURICIO, JR., Respondent. DECISION CARPIO MORALES, J.: Foodsphere, Inc. (complainant), a corporation engaged in the business of meat processing and manufacture and distribution of canned goods and grocery products under the brand name "CDO," filed a Verified Complaint 1 for disbarment before the Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) against Atty. Melanio L. Mauricio, Jr., popularly known as "Batas Mauricio" (respondent), a writer/columnist of tabloids including Balitang Patas BATAS, Bagong TIKTIK, TORO and HATAW!, and a host of a television program KAKAMPI MO ANG BATAS telecast over UNTV and of a radio program Double B-BATAS NG BAYAN aired over DZBB, for (1) grossly immoral conduct; (2) violation of lawyers oath and (3) disrespect to the courts and to investigating prosecutors. The facts that spawned the filing of the complaint are as follows: On June 22, 2004, a certain Alberto Cordero (Cordero) purportedly bought from a grocery in Valenzuela City canned goods including a can of CDO Liver spread. On June 27, 2004, as Cordero and his relatives were eating bread with the CDO Liver spread, they found the spread to be sour and soon discovered a colony of worms inside the can. Corderos wife thus filed a complaint with the Bureau of Food and Drug Administration (BFAD). Laboratory examination confirmed the presence of parasites in the Liver spread. Pursuant to Joint DTI-DOH-DA Administrative Order No. 1, Series of 1993, the BFAD conducted a conciliation hearing on July 27, 2004 during which the spouses Cordero demanded P150,000 as damages from complainant. Complainant refused to heed the demand, however, as being in contravention of company policy and, in any event, "outrageous." Complainant instead offered to return actual medical and incidental expenses incurred by the Corderos as long as they were supported by receipts, but the offer was turned down. And the Corderos threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the media. Complainant was later required by the BFAD to file its Answer to the complaint. In the meantime or on August 6, 2004, respondent sent complainant via fax a copy of the front page of the would-be August 10-16, 2004 issue of the tabloid Balitang Patas BATAS, Vol. 1, No. 12 2 which complainant found to contain articles maligning, discrediting and imputing vices and defects to it and its products. Respondent threatened to publish the articles unless complainant gave in to the P150,000 demand of the Corderos. Complainant thereupon reiterated its counter-offer earlier conveyed to the Corderos, but respondent turned it down. Respondent later proposed to settle the matter for P50,000, P15,000 of which would go to the Corderos andP35,000 to his Batas Foundation. And respondent directed complainant to place paid advertisements in the tabloids and television program. The Corderos eventually forged a KASUNDUAN 3 seeking the withdrawal of their complaint before the BFAD. The BFAD thus dismissed the complaint.4 Respondent, who affixed his signature to the KASUNDUAN as a witness, later wrote in one of his articles/columns in a tabloid that he prepared the document. On August 11, 2004, respondent sent complainant an Advertising Contract 5 asking complainant to advertise in the tabloid Balitang Patas BATAS for its next 24 weekly issues at P15,000 per issue or a total amount of P360,000, and a Program Profile6 of the television program KAKAMPI MO ANG BATAS also asking complainant to place spot advertisements with the following rate cards: (a) spot buy 15-second TVC at P4,000; (b) spot buy 30second TVC at P7,700; and (c) season buy [13 episodes, 26 spots] of 30-second TVC for P130,000. As a sign of goodwill, complainant offered to buy three full-page advertisements in the tabloid amounting toP45,000 at P15,000 per advertisement, and three spots of 30-second TVC in the television program at P7,700 each or a total of P23,100. Acting on complainants offer, respondent relayed to it that he and his Executive Producer were disappointed with the offer and threatened to proceed with the publication of the articles/columns. 7 On August 28, 2004, respondent, in his radio program Double B- Batas ng Bayan at radio station DZBB, announced the holding of a supposed contest sponsored by said program, which announcement was transcribed as follows: "OK, at meron akong pa-contest, total magpapasko na o ha, meron pa-contest si Batas Mauricio ang Batas ng Bayan. Ito yung ating pa-contest, hulaan ninyo, tatawag kayo sa telepono, 433-7549 at 433-7553. Ang mga premyo babanggitin po natin sa susunod pero ito muna ang contest, o, aling

liver spread ang may uod? Yan kita ninyo yan, ayan malalaman ninyo yan. Pagka-nahulaan yan ah, at sasagot kayo sa akin, aling liver spread ang may uod at anong companya ang gumagawa nyan? Itawag po ninyo sa 433-7549 st 433-7553. Open po an[g] contest na ito sa lahat ng ating tagapakinig. Pipiliin natin ang mananalo, kung tama ang inyong sagot. Ang tanong, aling liver spread sa Pilipinas an[g] may uod? 8 (Emphasis and italics in the original; underscoring supplied) And respondent wrote in his columns in the tabloids articles which put complainant in bad light. Thus, in the August 31- September 6, 2004 issue of Balitang Patas BATAS, he wrote an article captioned "KADIRI ANG CDO LIVER SPREAD!" In another article, he wrote "IBA PANG PRODUKTO NG CDO SILIPIN!"9 which appeared in the same publication in its September 7-13, 2004 issue. And still in the same publication, its September 14-20, 2004 issue, he wrote another article entitled "DAPAT BANG PIGILIN ANG CDO." 10 Respondent continued his tirade against complainant in his column LAGING HANDA published in another tabloid, BAGONG TIKTIK, with the following articles:11 (a) "Uod sa liver spread," Setyembre 6, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.276); 12(b) "Uod, itinanggi ng CDO," Setyembre 7, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.277); 13 (c) "Pagpapatigil sa CDO," Setyembre 8, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.278); 14 (d) "Uod sa liver spread kumpirmado," Setyembre 9, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.279); 15 (e) "Salaysay ng nakakain ng uod," Setyembre 10, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.280); 16 (f) "Kaso VS. CDO itinuloy," Setyembre 11, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.281); 17 (g) "Kasong Kidnapping laban sa CDO guards," Setyembre 14, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.284); 18 (h) "Brutalidad ng CDO guards," Setyembre 15, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.285);19 (i) "CDO guards pinababanatan sa PNP," Setyembre 17, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.287); 20 (j) "May uod na CDO liver spread sa Puregold binili," Setyembre 18, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.288); 21 (k) "Desperado na ang CDO," Setyembre 20, 2004 (Taon 7, Blg.290); 22 (l) "Atty. Rufus Rodriguez pumadrino sa CDO," Setyembre 21, 2004 (Taon 7,Blg. 291); 23 (m) "Kasunduan ng CDO at Pamilya Cordero," Setyembre 22, 2004 (Taon 7,Blg. 292); 24 (n) "Bakit nagbayad ng P50 libo ang CDO," Setyembre 23, 2004 (Taon 7,Blg. 293). 25 In his September 8, 2004 column "Anggulo ng Batas" published in Hataw!, respondent wrote an article "Reaksyon pa sa uod ng CDO Liver Spread." 26 And respondent, in several episodes in September 2004 of his television program Kakampi Mo ang Batas aired over UNTV, repeatedly complained of what complainant claimed to be the "same baseless and malicious allegations/issues" against it. 27 Complainant thus filed criminal complaints against respondent and several others for Libel and Threatening to Publish Libel under Articles 353 and 356 of the Revised Penal Code before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Quezon City and Valenzuela City. The complaints were pending at he time of the filing of the present administrative complaint. 28 In the criminal complaints pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City, docketed as I.S. Nos. V-04-2917-2933, respondent filed his Entry of Appearance with Highly Urgent Motion to Elevate These Cases to the Department of Justice, 29 alleging: xxxx 2.N. The question here is this: What gives, Honorable (???) Prosecutors of the Office of the City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City? xxxx 2.R. Can an ordinary person like Villarez simply be tossed around, waiting for miracles to happen? 2.S. Why? How much miracle is needed to happen here before this Office would ever act on his complaint? xxxx 8. With a City Prosecutor acting the way he did in the case filed by Villarez, and with an investigating prosecutor virtually kowtowing to the wishes of his boss, the Chief Prosecutor, can Respondents expect justice to be meted to them? 9. With utmost due respect, Respondents have reason to believe that justice would elude them in this Office of the City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City, not because of the injustice of their cause, but, more importantly, because of the injustice of the system; 10. Couple all of these with reports that many a government office in Valenzuela City had been the willing recipient of too many generosities in the past of the Complainant, and also with reports that a top official of the City had campaigned for his much coveted position in the past distributing products of the Complainant, what would one expect the Respondents to think? 11. Of course, not to be lost sight of here is the attitude and behavior displayed even by mere staff and underlings of this Office to people who dare complain against the Complainant in their respective turfs. Perhaps, top officials of this Office should investigate and ask their associates and relatives incognito to file, even if on a pakunwari basis only, complaints against the Complainant, and they would surely be given the same rough and insulting treatment that Respondent Villarez got when he filed his kidnapping charge here; 30 And in a Motion to Dismiss [the case] for Lack of Jurisdiction 31 which respondent filed, as counsel for his therein co-respondents-staffers of the newspaper Hataw!, before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City, respondent alleged: xxxx 5. If the Complainant or its lawyer merely used even a little of whatever is inside their thick skulls, they would have clearly deduced that this Office has no jurisdiction over this action.32 (Emphasis supplied)

xxxx Meanwhile, on October 26, 2004, complainant filed a civil case against respondent and several others, docketed as Civil Case No. 249-V-04, 33 before the Regional Trial Court, Valenzuela City and raffled to Branch 75 thereof. The pending cases against him and the issuance of a status quo order notwithstanding, respondent continued to publish articles against complainant34 and to malign complainant through his television shows. Acting on the present administrative complaint, the Investigating Commissioner of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) came up with the following findings in his October 5, 2005 Report and Recommendation: 35 I. xxxx In Civil Case No. 249-V-04 entitled "Foodsphere, Inc. vs. Atty. [Melanio] Mauricio, et al.", the Order dated 10 December 2004 (Annex O of the Complaint) was issued by Presiding Judge Dionisio C. Sison which in part reads: "Anent the plaintiffs prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order included in the instant plaintiffs motion, this Court, inasmuch as the defendants failed to appear in court or file an opposition thereto, is constrained to GRANT the said plaintiffs prater, as it is GRANTED, in order to maintain STATUS QUO, and that allthe defendants, their agents, representatives or any person acting for and in behalf are hereby restrained/enjoined from further publishing, televising and/or broadcasting any matter subject of the Complaint in the instant case more specifically the imputation of vices and/or defects on plaintiff and its products." Complainant alleged that the above-quoted Order was served on respondent by the Branch Sheriff on 13 December 2004. Respondent has not denied the issuance of the Order dated 10 December 2004 or his receipt of a copy thereof on 13 December 2004. Despite his receipt of the Order dated 10 December 2004, and the clear directive therein addressed to him to desists [sic] from "further publishing, televising and/or broadcasting any matter subject of the Complaint in the instant case more specifically the imputation of vices and/or defects on plaintiff and its products", respondent in clear defiance of this Order came out with articles on the prohibited subject matter in his column "Atty. Batas", 2004 in the December 16 and 17, 2004 issues of the tabloid "Balitang Bayan Toro" (Annexes Q and Q-1 of the Complaint). The above actuations of respondent are also in violation of Rule 13.03 of the Canon of Professional Responsibilitywhich reads: "A lawyer shall not make public statements in the media regarding a pending case tending to arouse public opinion for or against a party." II. xxxx In I.S. No. V.04-2917-2933, then pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Valenzuela City, respondent filed his "Entry of Appearance with Highly Urgent Motion to Elevate These Cases To the Department of Justice". In said pleading, respondent made the following statements: xxxx The above language employed by respondent undoubtedly casts aspersions on the integrity of the Office of the City Prosecutor and all the Prosecutors connected with said Office. Respondent clearly assailed the impartiality and fairness of the said Office in handling cases filed before it and did not even design to submit any evidence to substantiate said wild allegations. The use by respondent of the above-quoted language in his pleadings is manifestly violative of Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides: "A lawyer [s]hall [o]bserve and [m]aintain [t]he [re]spect [d]ue [t]o [t]he [c]ourts [a]nd [t]o [j]udicial [o]fficers [a]nd [s]hould [i]nsist [o]n [s]imilar [c]onduct [b]y [o]thers ." III. The "Kasunduan" entered into by the Spouses Cordero and herein complainant (Annex C of the Complaint) was admittedly prepared, witnessed and signed by herein respondent. xxxx In its Order dated 16 August 2004, the Bureau of Food and Drugs recognized that the said "Kasunduan" was not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order and policy, and this accordingly dismissed the complaint filed by the Spouses Cordero against herein complainant. However, even after the execution of the "Kasunduan" and the consequent dismissal of the complaint of his clients against herein complainant, respondent inexplicably launched a media offensive intended to disparage and put to ridicule herein complainant. On record are the numerous articles of respondent published in 3 tabloids commencing from 31 August to 17 December 2004 (Annexes G to Q-1). As already above-stated, respondent continued to come out with these articles against complainant in his tabloid columns despite a temporary restraining order issued against him expressly prohibiting such actions. Respondent did not deny that he indeed wrote said articles and submitted them for publication in the tabloids.

Respondent claims that he was prompted by his sense of public service, that is, to expose the defects of complainants products to the consuming public. Complainant claims that there is a baser motive to the actions of respondent. Complainant avers that respondent retaliated for complainants failure to give in to respondents "request" that complainant advertise in the tabloids and television programs of respondent. Complainants explanation is more credible. Nevertheless, whatever the true motive of respondent for his barrage of articles against complainant does not detract from the fact that respondent consciously violated the spirit behind the "Kasunduan" which he himself prepared and signed and submitted to the BFAD for approval. Respondent was less than forthright when he prepared said "Kasunduan" and then turned around and proceeded to lambaste complainant for what was supposedly already settled in said agreement. Complainant would have been better of with the BFAD case proceeding as it could have defended itself against the charges of the Spouses Cordero. Complainant was helpless against the attacks of respondent, a media personality. The actuations of respondent constituted, to say the least, deceitful conduct contemplated under Rule 1.01 of Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.36 (Underscoring supplied) The IBP Board of Governors, by Resolution No. XVIII-2006-114 dated March 20, 2006, adopted the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner to suspend respondent from the practice of law for two years. The Court finds the findings/evaluation of the IBP well-taken. The Court, once again, takes this occasion to emphasize the necessity for every lawyer to act and comport himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the legal profession, 37 which confidence may be eroded by the irresponsible and improper conduct of a member of the bar. By the above-recited acts, respondent violated Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which mandates lawyers to refrain from engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct. For, as the IBP found, he engaged in deceitful conduct by, inter alia, taking advantage of the complaint against CDO to advance his interest to obtain funds for his Batas Foundation and seek sponsorships and advertisements for the tabloids and his television program. He also violated Rule 13.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which mandates: A lawyer shall not make public statements in the media regarding a pending case tending to arouse public opinion for or against a party. For despite the pendency of the civil case against him and the issuance of a status quo order restraining/enjoining further publishing, televising and broadcasting of any matter relative to the complaint of CDO, respondent continued with his attacks against complainant and its products. At the same time, respondent violated Canon 1 also of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which mandates lawyers to "uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes." For he defied said status quo order, despite his (respondents) oath as a member of the legal profession to "obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities." Further, respondent violated Canon 8 and Rule 8.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which mandate, viz: CANON 8 - A lawyer shall conduct himself with courtesy, fairness and candor toward his professional colleagues, and shall avoid harassing tactics against opposing counsel. Rule 8.01 A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper, by using intemperate language. Apropos is the following reminder in Saberon v. Larong:38 To be sure, the adversarial nature of our legal system has tempted members of the bar to use strong language in pursuit of their duty to advance the interests of their clients. However, while a lawyer is entitled to present his case with vigor and courage, such enthusiasm does not justify the use of offensive and abusive language. Language abounds with countless possibilities for one to be emphatic but respectful, convincing but not derogatory, illuminating but not offensive.
1awphi1

On many occasions, the Court has reminded members of the Bar to abstain from all offensive personality and to advance no fact prejudicial to the honor and reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which he is charged. In keeping with the dignity of the legal profession, a lawyers language even in his pleadings must be dignified.39 (Underscoring supplied) By failing to live up to his oath and to comply with the exacting standards of the legal profession, respondent alsoviolated Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which directs a lawyer to "at all times uphold the integrity and the dignity of the legal profession." 40
1avvph!1

The power of the media to form or influence public opinion cannot be underestimated. In Dalisay v. Mauricio, Jr.,41the therein complainant engaged therein-herein respondents services as "she was impressed by the pro-poor and pro-justice advocacy of respondent, a media personality," 42 only to later find out that after he demanded and the therein complainant paid an exorbitant fee, no action was taken nor any pleadings prepared by him. Respondent was suspended for six months. On reading the articles respondent published, not to mention listening to him over the radio and watching him on television, it cannot be gainsaid that the same could, to a certain extent, have affected the sales of complainant.

Back to Dalisay, this Court, in denying therein-herein respondents motion for reconsideration, took note of the fact that respondent was motivated by vindictiveness when he filed falsification charges against the therein complainant. 43 To the Court, suspension of respondent from the practice of law for three years is, in the premises, sufficient. WHEREFORE, Atty. Melanio Mauricio is, for violation of the lawyers oath and breach of ethics of the legal profession as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility, SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three years 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 a copy of this Decision be attached to his personal record and copies furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts. SO ORDERED. Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila SECOND DIVISION

A.M. No. 1769 June 8, 1992 CESAR L. LANTORIA, complainant, vs. ATTY. IRINEO L. BUNYI, respondent.

PER CURIAM: This is an administrative complaint filed by Cesar L. Lantoria, seeking disciplinary action against respondent Irineo L. Bunyi, member of the Philippine Bar, on the ground that respondent Bunyi allegedly committed acts of "graft and corruption, dishonesty and conduct unbecoming of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and corruption of the judge and bribery", in connection with respondent's handling of Civil Case Nos. 81, 83 and 88 then pending before the Municipal Court of Experanza, Agusan del Sur, presided over by Municipal Judge Vicente Galicia 1 in which respondent Bunyi was the counsel of one of the parties, namely, Mrs. Constancia Mascarinas. Respondent Bunyi alleged that Mrs. Constancia M. Mascarinas of Manila was the owner of d farm located in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, and that herein complainant Lantoria was the manager and supervisor of said farm, receiving as such a monthly allowance. 2 It appears that the complaint in Civil Case Nos. 81, 83 and 88 sought to eject the squatters from the aforementioned farm. 3 These cases were assigned to the Municipal Court of Esperanza, Agusan del Bur, the acting municipal judge of which was the Honorable Vicente Galicia (who was at the same time the regular judge of the municipal court of Bayugan, Agusan del Sur). 4 The defendants in the mentioned civil cases were, in due course, declared in default. In relation to the same three (3) civil cases, the records of the present case show that complainant Lantoria wrote a letter to respondent Bunyi, dated 23 April 1974, which reads as follows:

Butuan City 23 April 1974 Atty. Ireneo Bunye 928 Rizal Avenue Santa Cruz, Manila Dear Atty. Bunye: xxx xxx xxx Upon informing him of your willingness to prepare the corresponding judgements (sic) on the 3 defaulted cases he said he has no objection in fact he is happy and recommended that you mail the said decisions in due time thru me to be delivered to him. xxx xxx xxx I will communicate with you from time to time for any future development.

My best regards to you and family and to Mrs. Constancia Mascarinas and all. Very truly yours, (SGD.) CESAR L LANTORIA Major Inf PC (ret) Executive Director 5 On 01 June 1974, respondent Bunyi wrote to the complainant regarding the said three (3) cases, in this wise:

June 1, 1974 Dear Major Lantoria, At last, I may say that I have tried my best to respond to the call in your several letters received, which is about the preparation of the three (3) Decisions awaited by Judge Galicia. The delay is that I have been too much occupied with my cases and other professional commitments here in Manila and nearby provinces. Not only to Mrs. Mascarinas I would say that I am so sorry but also to you. Mrs. Mascarinas has been reminding me but I always find myself at a loss to prepare these Decisions at an early date sa (sic) possible. So also with my calendar as to the dates for the next hearing of the remaining cases over there. Herewith now, you will find enclosed the three (3) Decisions against the (3) defaulted defendants. I am not sure if they will suit to satisfy Judge Galicia to sign them at once. However, it is my request to Judge Galicia, thru your kind mediation, that if the preparation of these Decisions do not suit his consideration, then I am ready and willing to accept his suggestions or correction to charge or modify them for the better. And to this effect, kindly relay at once what he is going to say or thinks if he signs them readily and please request for each copy for our hold. xxx xxx xxx Please excuse this delay, and thanks for your kind assistance in attending to our cases there. Regards to you and family and prayer for your more vigor and success. Brotherly yours, (SGD.) IRINEO L. BUNYI6

Counsel
It also appears that respondent Bunyi wrote an earlier letter to complainant Lantoria, dated 04 March 1974, the contents of which read as follows: 928 Rizal Ave., Sta. Cruz, Manila March 4, 1974 Dear Major Lantoria, This is an additional request, strictly personal and confidential. Inside the envelope addressed to Judge Vicente C. Galicia, are the Decisions and Orders, which he told me to prepare and he is going to sign them. If you please, deliver the envelope to him as if you have no knowledge and information and that you have not opened it. Unless, of course, if the information comes from him. But, you can inquire from him if there is a need to wait from his words about them, or copies to be furnished me, after he signs them, it could be made thru you personally, to expedite receiving those copies for our hold. According to him, this envelope could be delivered to him at his residence at No. 345 M. Calo St., Butuan City, during week end. or, at Bayugan if you happen to go there, if he is not in Butuan City. Thanking You for your kind attention and favor. Truly yours,

(SGD.) L. BUNYI 7 Three years after, that is, on 11 April 1977, complainant filed with this Court the present administrative case against respondent Bunyi, predicated mainly on the above-quoted three (3) letters dated 04 March, 23 April and 01 June, 1974. Complainant contends that respondent won the said three (3) cases because to (respondent) was the one who unethically prepared the decisions rendered therein, and that the preparation by respondent of said decisions warranted disciplinary action against him. By way of answer to the complaint, respondent, in a motion to dismiss 8 the administrative complaint, admitted the existence of the letter of 01 June 1974, but explained the contents thereof as follows: xxx xxx xxx b) In the second place, the said letter of June 1, 1974, is self-explanatory and speaks for itself, that if ever the same was written by the Respondent, it was due to the insistence of the Complainant thru his several letters received, that the decisions in question be drafted or prepared for Judge Galicia, who considered such preparation as a big help to him, because he was at that time holding two (2) salas one as being the regular Municipal Judge of Bayugan and the other, as the acting Judge of Esperanza, both of Agusan del Sur, with many pending cases and it was to the benefit of the Complainant that the early disposition of the cases involved would not suffer inconsiderable delay. But, the intention to draft or prepare the decisions in question was never spawned by the Respondent. Instead, it came from the under-standing between the Judge and the complainant who, from his several letters, had demonstrated so much interest to eject at once the squatters from the farm he was entrusted to manage. Furthermore, the Complainant's conclusion that the said decisions were lutong macao is purely nonsense as it is without any factual or legal basis. He himself knew that Judge Galicia asked for help in the drafting of said decisions as at any rate they were judgments by default, the defendants lost their standing in court when they were declared in default for failure to file their answers and to appear at the place and time set for hearing thereof (See first paragraph, letter of June 1, 1974) c) Thirdly, in the same letter, the decisions as prepared were in the form of drafts, as in fact, the letter mentioned subject to suggestion or correction to change or modify for the better by Judge Galicia (Second paragraph, Ibid); d) Fourthly, in the some letter, Responding (sic) even apologized for the delay in sending the same to the Complainant and expressed his gratitude for his assistance in attending to the cases involved (Last paragraph, Ibid.) In its resolution dated 28 November 1977, this Court referred the case to the Solicitor General for investigation, report and recommendation. 9 On 21 July 1980, the Solicitor General submitted his report to the Court, with the following averments, to wit: 1) that the case was set for hearing on April 12, September 29, and December 18, 1978, but in all said scheduled hearings only respondent Bunyi appeared; 2) that in the hearing of 16 January 1979, both respondent and complainant appeared; 3) that at the same hearing, the Solicitor General reported the following development

Atty. Mercado submitted a letter of complainant dated January 16, 1979 sworn to before the investigating Solicitor, praying that the complaint be considered withdrawn, dropped or dismissed on the ground that complainant "could hardly substantiate" his charges and that he is "no longer interested to prosecute" the same. For his part, respondent manifested that he has no objection to the withdrawal of the complaint against him. At the same time, he presented complainant Lantoria as a witness are elicited testimony to the effect that complainant no longer has in his possession the original of the letters attached to his basic complaint, and hence, he was not prepared to prove his charges. (emphasis supplied)
10

In his aforesaid report, the Solicitor General found as follows: a) that the letters of respondent Bunyi (dated 4, March and 1 June 1974), addressed to complainant, showed that respondent had indeed prepared the draft of the decisions in Civil Case Nos. 81, 83 and 88 of the Municipal Court of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, which he submitted to Judge Vicente Galicia thru the complainant; b) that those letters indicated that respondent had previous communications with Judge Galicia regarding the preparation of the decisions; c) that the testimony of complainant to the effect that he had lost the original of said letters, and complainant's withdrawal of the complaint in the case at bar are of no moment, as respondent Bunyi, and his motion to dismiss filed with the Supreme Court, admitted that he prepared the draft of the decisions in the said civil cases, and be affirmed the existence of the letters. Hence, in his report, the Solicitor General found that respondent is guilty of highly unethical and unprofessional conduct for failure to perform his duty, as an officer of the court, to help promote the independence of the judiciary and to refrain from engaging in acts which would influence judicial determination of a litigation in which he is counsel. 11 The Solicitor General recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year. He filed with the Court the corresponding complaint against respondent. In his answer 12 to the complaint filed by the Solicitor General, respondent manifested that in the future he would be more careful in observing his duties as a lawyer, and in upholding the provisions of the canons of professional ethics. On 10 December 1980, the date set by this Court for the hearing of this case, the hearing was postponed until further notice. On 9 March 1981, respondent filed a manifestation 13 alleging that no hearing was as yet set in the case since the last setting on 10 December 1980, and he requested

that the next hearing be not set until after six (6) months when be expected to return from the United States of America where he would visit his children and at the same time have a medical check-up. On 28 October 1981, the date set by this Court for bearing in this case, respondent Bunyi and the Solicitor General appeared, and respondent was directed to submit his memorandum. Respondent Bunyi filed his memorandum on 16 November 1981. In said memorandum, 14 respondent submitted that although he prepared the draft of the decisions in the civil cases, he did not offer Judge Galicia any gift or consideration to influence the Judge in allowing him to prepare the draft decisions. 15 He also offered his apology to the Court for all the improprieties which may have resulted from his preparation of the draft decisions. We agree with the observation of the Solicitor General that the determination of the merits of the instant case should proceed notwithstanding complainant's withdrawal of his complaint in the case, the respondent himself having admitted that the letters in question truly exist, and that he even asked for an apology from the Court, for whatever effects such letters may have had on his duty as a lawyer. With the admission by respondent of the existence of the letters upon which the present administrative complaint is based, the remaining issue to be resolved is the effect of the acts complained of on respondent's duty both as a lawyer and an officer of the Court. We find merit in the recommendation of the Solicitor General that respondent, by way of disciplinary action, deserves suspension from the practice of law. The subject letters indeed indicate that respondent had previous communication with Judge Galicia regarding the preparation of the draft decisions in Civil Case Nos. 81, 83, and 88, and which he in fact prepared. Although nothing in the records would show that respondent got the trial court judge's consent to the said preparation for a favor or consideration, the acts of respondent nevertheless amount to conduct unbecoming of a lawyer and an officer of the Court. Clearly, respondent violated Canon No. 3 of the Canons of Professional Ethics (which were enforced at the time respondent committed the acts admitted by him), which provides as follows: 3. Attempts to exert personal influence on the court Marked attention and unusual hospitality on the part of a lawyer to a judge, uncalled for by the personal relations of the parties, subject both the judge and the lawyer to misconstructions of motive and should be avoided. A lawyer should not communicate or argue privately with the judge as to the merits of a pending cause and deserves rebuke and denunciation for any device or attempt to gain from a judge special personal consideration or favor. A self-respecting independence in the discharge of professional duty, without denial or diminution of the courtesy and respect due the judge's station, is the only proper foundation for cordial personal and official relations between bench and bar. In the new Code of Professional Responsibility read:
16

a lawyer's attempt to influence the court is rebuked, as shown in Canon No. 13 and Rule 13.01, which

CANON 13 A lawyer shall rely upon the merits of his cause and refrain from any impropriety which tends to influence, or gives the appearance of influencing the court. Rule 13.01 A lawyer shall not extend extraordinary attention or hospitality to, nor seek opportunity for, cultivating familiarity with judges. Therefore, this Court finds respondent guilty of unethical practice in attempting to influence the court where he had pending civil case.
17

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Irineo L. Bunyi is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year from the date of notice hereof. Let this decision be entered in the bar records of the respondent and the Court Administrator is directed to inform the different courts of this suspension. SO ORDERED.

FIRST DIVISION

[A.C. No. 3455. April 14, 1998]

ARSENIO A. VILLAFUERTE, complainant, CORTEZ, respondent. RESOLUTION


VITUG, J.:

vs. ATTY.

DANTE

H.

Feeling aggrieved by what he perceives to be a neglect in the handling of his cases by respondent lawyer, despite the latter's receipt of P1,750.00 acceptance and retainer fees, complainant Arsenio A. Villafuerte seeks, in the instant proceedings, the disbarment of Atty. Dante H. Cortez. From the records of the case and the Report submitted by the Commission on Bar Discipline ("CBD") of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines ("IBP"), it would appear that sometime in January 1987, complainant, upon the referral of Atty. Rene A. V. Saguisag, went to the office of respondent lawyer to discuss his case for "reconveyance" (Civil Case No. 83-18877). During their initial meeting, complainant tried to reconstruct before respondent lawyer the incidents of the case merely from memory prompting the latter to ask complainant to instead return at another time with the records of the case. On 30 January 1987, complainant again saw respondent but still sans the records. Complainant requested respondent to accept the case, paying to the latter the sum of P1,750.00 representing the acceptance fee of P1,500.00 and P250.00 retainer fee for January 1987. Respondent averred that he accepted the money with much reluctance and only upon the condition that complainant would get the records of the case from, as well as secure the withdrawal of appearance of, Atty. Jose Dizon, the former counsel of complainant. Allegedly, complainant never showed up thereafter until November 1989 when he went to the office of respondent lawyer but only to leave a copy of a writ of execution in Civil Case No. 062160-CV, a case for ejectment, which, according to respondent, was never priorly mentioned to him by complainant. Indeed, said respondent, he had never entered his appearance in the aforenumbered case. In its report, IBP-CBD concluded that the facts established would just the same indicate sufficiently a case of neglect of duty on the part of respondent. The CBD rejected the excuse proffered by respondent that the non-receipt of the records of the case justified his failure to represent complainant. The IBP-CBD, through Commissioner Julio C. Elamparo, recommended to the IBP Board of Governors the suspension of respondent from the practice of law for three months with a warning that a repetition of similar acts could be dealt with more severely than a mere 3-month suspension. On 30 August 1996, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XII-96-191 which -

"RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, hereinmade part of this Resolution/Decision as Annex `A;' and, finding the recommendation therein to

be fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, Respondent Atty. Dante Cortez is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) months with a warning that a repetition of the acts/omission complained of will be dealt with more severely."
[1]

Both respondent lawyer and complainant filed with the IBP-CBD their respective motions for the reconsideration of the foregoing resolution. On 23 August 1997, the Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XII-97-66 that -

"RESOLVED to CONFIRM Resolution NO. XII-96-191 of the Board of Governors Meeting dated August 30, 1996 SUSPENDING Atty. Dante Cortez from the practice of law for three (3) months with a warning that repetition of the acts/omission complained of will be dealt with more severely."
[2]

The Court agrees with the IBP-CBD in its findings and conclusion that respondent lawyer has somehow been remiss in his responsibilities. The Court is convinced that a lawyer-client relationship, given the circumstances, has arisen between respondent and complainant. Respondent lawyer has admitted having received the amount of P1,750.00, including its nature and purpose, from complainant. His acceptance of the payment effectively bars him from altogether disclaiming the existence of an attorney-client relationship between them. It would not matter really whether the money has been intended to pertain only to Civil Case No. 8318877 or to include Civil Case No. 062160-CV, there being no showing, in any event, that respondent lawyer has attended to either of said cases. It would seem that he hardly has exerted any effort to find out what might have happened to his client's cases. A lawyer's fidelity to the cause of his client requires him to be ever mindful of the responsibilities that should be expected of him. He is mandated to exert his best efforts to protect, within the bounds of the law, the interests of his client. The Code of Professional Responsibility cannot be any clearer in its dictum than when it has stated that a "lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence," decreeing further that he "shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him."
[3] [4] [5]

Complainant, nevertheless, is not entirely without fault himself. He cannot expect his case to be properly and intelligently handled without listening to his own counsel and extending full cooperation to him. It is not right for complainant to wait for almost two years and to deal with his lawyer only after receiving an adverse decision. All considered, the Court deems it proper to reduce the recommended period of suspension of the IBP from three months to one month. WHEREFORE, Atty. Dante H. Cortez is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one month from notice hereof, with a warning that a repetition of similar acts and other administrative lapses will be dealt with more severely than presently.

Let a copy of this Resolution be made a part of the personal records of respondent lawyer in the Office of the Bar Confidant, Supreme Court of the Philippines, and let copies thereof be furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and be circulated to all courts. SO ORDERED.
Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila THIRD DIVISION A.C. No. 6155 March 14, 2006

MA. GINA L. FRANCISCO, JOSEPHINE S. TAN and CARLOS M. JOAQUIN, Complainants, vs. ATTY. JAIME JUANITO P. PORTUGAL, Respondent. DECISION TINGA, J.: Complainants filed before this Court an affidavit-complaint 1 on 15 August 2003 against Atty. Jaime Juanito P. Portugal (respondent) for violation of the Lawyers Oath, gross misconduct, and gross negligence. Complainants are related to petitioners in G.R. No. 152621-23 entitled SPO1 Ernest C. Francisco, SPO1 Donato F. Tan and PO3 Rolando M. Joaquin v. People of the Philippines, in whose behalf respondent filed the Petition for Review on Certiorari (Ad Cautelam) in the case. The complaint against respondent originated from his alleged mishandling of the above-mentioned petition which eventually led to its denial with finality by this Court to the prejudice of petitioners therein. The facts are as follows: On 21 March 1994, SPO1 Ernesto C. Francisco, SPO1 Donato F. Tan and PO3 Rolando M. Joaquin (eventually petitioners in G.R. No. 152621-23, collectively referred to herein as the accused) were involved in a shooting incident which resulted in the death of two individuals and the serious injury of another. As a result, Informations were filed against them before the Sandiganbayan for murder and frustrated murder. The accused pleaded not guilty and trial ensued. After due trial, the Sandiganbayan 2 found the accused guilty of two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide. At that juncture, complainants engaged the services of herein respondent for the accused. Respondent then filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the Sandiganbayan but it was denied in a Resolution dated 21 August 2001. Unfazed by the denial, respondent filed an Urgent Motion for Leave to File Second Motion for Reconsideration, with the attached Second Motion for Reconsideration. 3 Pending resolution by the Sandiganbayan, respondent also filed with this Court a Petition for Review on Certiorari ( Ad Cautelam) on 3 May 2002. Thereafter, complainants never heard from respondent again despite the frequent telephone calls they made to his office. When respondent did not return their phone inquiries, complainants went to respondents last known address only to find out that he had moved out without any forwarding address. More than a year after the petition was filed, complainants were constrained to personally verify the status of the ad cautelam petition as they had neither news from respondent about the case nor knowledge of his whereabouts. They were shocked to discover that the Court had already issued a Resolution4 dated 3 July 2002, denying the petition for late filing and non-payment of docket fees. Complainants also learned that the said Resolution had attained finality and warrants of arrest 5 had already been issued against the accused because respondent, whose whereabouts remained unknown, did nothing to prevent the reglementary period for seeking reconsideration from lapsing. In his Comment, 6 respondent states that it is of vital significance that the Court notes that he was not the original counsel of the accused. He only met the accused during the promulgation of the Sandiganbayan decision convicting the accused of two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide. He was merely requested by the original counsel to be on hand, assist the accused, and be present at the promulgation of the Sandiganbayan decision. Respondent claims that there was no formal engagement undertaken by the parties. But only because of his sincere effort and in true spirit of the Lawyers Oath did he file the Motion for Reconsideration. Though admitting its highly irregular character, respondent also made informal but urgent and personal representation with the members of the Division of the Sandiganbayan who promulgated the decision of conviction. He asserts that because of all the efforts he put into the case of the accused, his other professional obligations were neglected and that all these were done without proper and adequate remuneration.

As to the ad cautelam petition, respondent maintains that it was filed on time. He stresses that the last day of filing of the petition was on 3 April 2002 and on that very day, he filed with this Court a Motion for Extension of Time to File Petition for Review, 7 seeking an additional thirty (30) days to file the petition. Subsequently, on 3 May 2002, he filed the petition by registered mail and paid the corresponding docket fees. Hence, so he concludes, it was filed within the reglementary period. Soon thereafter, respondent recounted all the "herculean" efforts he made in assisting the accused for almost a year after the promulgation of the Sandiganbayan decision. He considered the fact that it was a case he had just inherited from the original counsel; the effect of his handling the case on his other equally important professional obligations ; the lack of adequate financial consideration for handling the case; and his plans to travel to the United States to explore further professional opportunities. He then decided to formally withdraw as counsel for the accused. He wrote a letter to PO3 Rolando Joaquin (PO3 Joaquin), who served as the contact person between respondent and complainants, explaining his decision to withdraw as their counsel, and attaching the Notice to Withdraw which respondent instructed the accused to sign and file with the Court. He sent the letter through registered mail but unfortunately, he could not locate the registry receipt issued for the letter. Respondent states that he has asked the accused that he be discharged from the case and endorsed the Notice of Withdrawal to PO3 Joaquin for the latter to file with the Court. Unfortunately, PO3 Joaquin did not do so, as he was keenly aware that it would be difficult to find a new counsel who would be as equally accommodating as respondent . Respondent suggests this might have been the reason for the several calls complainants made to his office. On 9 February 2004, the Court resolved to refer the matter to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.
l.net

1awph!

The case was assigned to Investigating Commissioner Leland R. Villadolid, Jr. (Commissioner Villadolid) who sent notices of hearing to the parties but of the three complainants, only complainant Carlos Joaquin appeared. Thus, in the mandatory conference held, the other two complainants were declared as having waived their rights to further participate in the IBP proceedings. 8 The parties were directed to file their respective position papers and on 27 May 2005, Commissioner Villadolid submitted his Report and Recommendation finding respondent guilty of violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility 9 and recommended the imposition of penalty ranging from reprimand to suspension of six (6) months. 10 On 12 November 2005, the Board of Directors of the IBP resolved to adopt and approve Commissioner Villadolids recommendation to find respondent guilty and specifically to recommend his suspension for six (6) months as penalty.
1awph!l.net

The only issue to be resolved in the case at bar is, considering all the facts presented, whether respondent committed gross negligence or misconduct in handling G.R. No. 152621-23, which eventually led to the ad cautelam petitions dismissal with finality. After careful consideration of the records of the case, the Court finds the suspension recommended by the IBP proper.

HELD:
In a criminal case like that handled by respondent in behalf of the accused, respondent has a higher duty to be circumspect in defending the accused for it is not only the property of the accused which stands to be lost but more importantly, their right to their life and liberty. As held in Regala v. Sandiganbayan:11 Thus, in the creation of lawyer-client relationship, there are rules, ethical conduct and duties that breathe life into it, among those, the fiduciary duty to his client which is of very delicate, exacting and confidential character, requiring a very high degree of fidelity and good faith, that is required by reason of necessity and public interest x x x . It is also the strict sense of fidelity of a lawyer to his client that distinguishes him from any other profession in society. x x x 12 At the onset, the Court takes notice that the ad cautelam petition was actually filed out of time. Though respondent filed with the Sandiganbayan an Urgent Motion for Leave to File Second Motion for Reconsideration with the attached Second Motion for Reconsideration, he should have known that a second motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading 13 and it rests on the sound discretion of the Sandiganbayan to admit it or not. Thus, in effect, the motion did not toll the reglementary period to appeal. Having failed to do so, the accused had already lost their right to appeal long before respondent filed his motion for extension. Therefore, respondent cannot now say he filed the ad cautelam petition on time. Also important to note is the allegation of complainants that the Sandiganbayan denied the second motion for reconsideration in its Resolution dated 7 February 2002. This respondent does not dispute. As to respondents conduct in dealing with the accused and complainants, he definitely fell short of the high standard of assiduousness that a counsel must perform to safeguard the rights of his clients. As aptly observed by Commissioner Villadolid, respondent had not been quite candid in his dealings with the accused or complainants. The Court notes that though respondent represented to the accused that he had changed his office address, still, from the examination of the pleadings14 he filed, it can be gleaned that all of the pleadings have the same mailing address as that known to complainants. Presumably, at some point, respondents office would have received the Courts Resolution dismissing the petition. Of course, the prudent step to take in that situation was to at least inform the client of the adverse resolution since they had constantly called respondents office to check the status of the case. Even when he knew that complainants had been calling his office, he opted not to return their calls. Respondent professed an inkling that the several phone calls of complainants may have been about the letter he sent PO3 Joaquin regarding his desire to be discharged as counsel of the case. However, though aware of such likelihood, respondent still did not return their calls. Had he done so, he and complainants could have threshed out all unresolved matters between them.

Had respondent truly intended to withdraw his appearance for the accused, he as a lawyer who is presumably steeped in court procedures and practices, should have filed the notice of withdrawal himself instead of the accused. At the very least, he should have informed this Court through the appropriate manifestation that he had already given instructions to his clients on the proper way to go about the filing of the Notice of Withdrawal, as suggested by Commissioner Villadolid. In not so doing, he was negligent in handling the case of the accused. Certainly, respondent ought to know that he was the one who should have filed the Notice to Withdraw and not the accused. His tale that he sent a registered letter to the accused and gave them instructions on how to go about respondents withdrawal from the case defies credulity. It should have been respondent who undertook the appropriate measures for the proper withdrawal of his representation. He should not have relied on his client to do it for him if such was truly the case. Without the presentation of the alleged registry receipt (or the return card, which confirms the receipt of the mail by the recipient) of the letter he allegedly sent to PO3 Joaquin, the Court cannot lend credence to respondents naked claim, especially so that complainants have been resolute in their stand that they did not hear from respondent after the latter had filed the ad cautelam petition. He could relieve himself of his responsibility as counsel only first by securing the written conformity of the accused and filing it with the court pursuant to Rule 138, Section 26 of the Rules of Court. 15 The rule in this jurisdiction is that a client has the absolute right to terminate the attorney-client relation at anytime with or without cause. The right of an attorney to withdraw or terminate the relation other than for sufficient cause is, however, considerably restricted. Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes to conduct an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its conclusion. He is not at liberty to abandon it without reasonable cause. A lawyers right to withdraw from a case before its final adjudication arises only from the clients written consent or from a good cause.16 We agree with Commissioner Villadolid that the dismissal of the ad cautelam petition was primarily due to the gross negligence of respondent. The Court has stressed in Aromin v. Boncavil17 that: Once he agrees to take up the cause of the client, the lawyer owes fidelity to such cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. He must serve the client with competence and diligence, and champion the latters cause with wholehearted fidelity, care, and devotion. Elsewise stated, he owes entire devotion to the interest of the client, warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his clients rights, and the exertion of the his utmost learning and ability to the end that nothing be taken or withheld from his client, save by the rules of law, legally applied. This simply means that his client is entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy and defense that is authorized by the law of the land and he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. If much is demanded from an attorney, it is because the entrusted privilege to practice law carries with it the correlative duties not only to the client but also to the court, to the bar, and to the public. A lawyer who performs his duty with diligence and candor not only protects the interest of his client; he also serves the ends of justice, does honor to the bar, and helps maintain the respect of the community to the legal profession.18 Respondent has time and again stated that he did all the endeavors he enumerated without adequate or proper remuneration. However, complainants have sufficiently disputed such claim when they attached in their position paper filed before the IBP a machine validated deposit slip in the amount of P15,500.00 for the Metro Bank savings account of one Jaime Portugal with account number 7186509273. 19 Respondent has neither admitted nor denied having claimed the deposited amount. The Court also rejects respondents claim that there was no formal engagement between the parties and that he made all his efforts for the case without adequate and proper consideration. In the words of then Justice Panganiban (presently Chief Justice) in Burbe v. Atty. Magulta: 20 After agreeing to take up the cause of a client, a lawyer owes fidelity to both cause and client, even if the client never paid any fee for the attorneyclient relationship. Lawyering is not a business; it is a profession in which duty of public service, not money, is the primary consideration. 21 Also to the point is another case where this Court ruled, thus: A written contract is not an essential element in the employment of an attorney; the contract may be express or implied. To establish the relation, it is sufficient that the advice and assistance of an attorney is sought and received in any matter pertinent to his profession. x x x 22 Hence, even if respondent felt under-compensated in the case he undertook to defend, his obligation embodied in the Lawyers Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility still remains unwavering. The zeal and the degree of fervor in handling the case should neither diminish nor cease just because of his perceived insufficiency of remuneration. Lastly, the Court does not appreciate the offensive appellation respondent called the shooting incident that the accused was engaged in. He described the incident, thus: "the accused police officers who had been convicted of [h]omicide for the salvage of Froilan G. Cabiling and Jose M. Chua and [a]ttempted [h]omicide of Mario C. Macato." 23 Rule 14.0124 of the Code of Professional Responsibility clearly directs lawyers not to discriminate clients as to their belief of the guilt of the latter. It is ironic that it is the defense counsel that actually branded his own clients as being the culprits that "salvaged" the victims. Though he might think of his clients as that, still it is unprofessional to be labeling an event as such when even the Sandiganbayan had not done so. The IBP Board of Governors recommended the suspension of respondent for six (6) months, the most severe penalty recommended by Commissioner Villadolid, but did not explain why such penalty was justified. In a fairly recent case where the lawyer failed to file an appeal brief which resulted to the dismissal of the appeal of his client in the Court of Appeals, the Court imposed upon the erring lawyer the penalty of three (3) months suspension. 25The Court finds it fit to impose the same in the case at bar. WHEREFORE, premises considered, respondent is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for three (3) months. Let a copy of the Resolution be furnished the Bar Confidant for appropriate annotation in the record of respondent. SO ORDERED.

SECOND DIVISION

[A.M. No. 5925. March 11, 2003]

RUBY MAE BARNACHEA, complainant, QUIOCHO, respondent. RESOLUTION


CALLEJO, SR., J.:

vs. ATTY.

EDWIN

T.

On January 3, 2002, Ruby Mae Barnachea filed a verified complaint for breach of lawyer-client relations against respondent Atty. Edwin T. Quiocho. It appears that respondent had not been in the private practice of the law for quite some time. However, in September 2001, he decided to revive his legal practice with some associates. Complainant engaged the legal services of respondent for the latter to cause the transfer under her name of the title over a property covered by Transfer Certificate of Title No. 334411 previously owned by her sister, Lutgarda Amor D. Barnachea. The latter sold said property to complainant under an unnotarized deed of absolute sale. Complainant drew and issued BPI Family Bank Check No. 0052304 in the amount of P11,280.00 and BPI Family Bank Check No. 0052305 in the amount of P30,000.00, both dated September 5, 2001, or the total amount of P41,280.00 for the expenses for said transfer and in payment for respondents legal services. Respondent enchased the checks. However, despite the lapse of almost two months, respondent failed to secure title over the property in favor of complainant. The latter demanded that respondent refund to her the amount of P41,280.00 and return the documents which she earlier entrusted to him. However, respondent failed to comply with said demands. On November 1, 2001, complainant received a letter from respondent informing her that he had failed to cause the transfer of the property under her name and that he was returning the documents and title she had entrusted to him and refunding to her the amount of P41,280.00 through his personal check No. DIL 0317787. Said check was drawn against his account with the Bank of Commerce (Diliman Branch) in the amount of P41,280.00 and was postdated December 1, 2001. Respondent told complainant that he needed more time to fund the check. However, respondent failed to fund the check despite the demands of complainant.

In his Answer to the complaint, respondent denied that complainant contracted his legal services. Although respondent admitted having received the two checks from complainant, he claimed that said checks were intended to cover actual and incidental expenses for transportation, communication, representation, necessary services, taxes and fees for the cancellation and transfer of TCT No. 334411 under the name of complainant and not for legal services. He asserted that he acted in good faith as shown by the fact of his return of complainants documents with an explanatory letter and his issuance of a personal check for P41,280.00 dated December 1, 2001. He insisted that he would not compromise for such meager amount his personal standing as well as his membership in the legal profession. His failure to transfer the title of the property under the name of the complainant was caused by his difficulty in making good the claimed amount, compounded by his affliction with diabetes and the consequent loss of sight of his right eye. Respondent further alleged that he was a licensed real estate and insurance broker and had been a freelance business management consultant. At the same time he engaged in real estate brokering, pre-need products marketing for Prudential Life, and life insurance underwriting for Insular Life. In 1999, he gave up the practice of his profession as a lawyer and subsequently managed to put up a business center with fellow insurance underwriters for their common insurance underwriting practice. He further claimed that sometime in August, 2001, an insurance client introduced complainant as an insurance prospect to him. In the course of their dealing, complainant intimated to respondent her willingness to consider respondents insurance proposal provided the latter would help her facilitate the cancellation and eventual transfer to her name the property covered by TCT No. 334411 in the name of complainants sister, Lutgarda Amor D. Barnachea. Respondent agreed to help complainant in the transfer of the title to her name, with the condition that no diligent study or verification of complainants documents, nor preparation of any additional document or any application or petition whatsoever, will be made by respondent. He explained to complainant that his task was merely to go through the regular process of presenting the available documents, paying the taxes and fees, and following up the processing for the cancellation and issuance of the certificate of title. In other words, respondent offered to complainant services which a nonlawyer familiar with the procedure and the related offices can perform and provide to the complainant with respect to the transfer of the title of the property in her name. Respondent asserted that in the latter part of September 2001, he discovered and became aware for the first time that the original copy of TCT

No. 334411 with the Register of Deeds of Quezon City was destroyed in a fire in Quezon City Hall several years earlier and that complainants copy of the title needed to be reconstituted before it can be cancelled and transferred. At about the same time, the working relations of respondent in the business center with his non-lawyer associates had become difficult and strained, impelling him to sever his business relations with them and cease from to going to the business center. Consequently, telephone communications between respondent and complainant at the business center was cut. Communications became much more limited when, apart from the fact that respondent did not have a landline at his residence, respondents mobile phone was stolen sometime in October 2001. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) designated Atty. Dennis B. Funa as Commissioner to conduct a formal investigation of the complaint. Despite several settings, respondent failed to appear and adduce evidence. On April 26, 2002, Investigating Commissioner Dennis B. Funa submitted his report and recommendation stating in part that: 1. Respondent is not able to meet his financial obligations due to financial difficulties, and that respondent is in good faith in his failure to meet this obligation. 2. It is recommended that respondent be ORDERED TO REPAY HIS CLIENT within ninety (90) days from receipt of this Decision. The principal amount being P41,280.00. Failure to comply with the Order shall be considered as proof of evident bad faith, and shall be considered in the continuing evaluation of the case in view of the continued failure to repay his client. 3. Respondent should also be given a WARNING that a repetition shall be dealt with more severely.
[1]

The Investigating Commissioner gave credence to the claim of complainant that she engaged the legal services of respondent and paid him for his services and that respondent failed in his undertaking and refund the amount of P41,280.00 to complainant despite her demands and that respondent appeared to be evading the complainant. On October 19, 2002, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XV-2002-550 adopting and approving the Investigating Commissioners recommendation with the additional sanction of reprimand for respondent:

RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner of the aboveentitled case, herein made part of this Resolution/Decision as Annex A; and, finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, with modification. Respondent is hereby reprimanded and ordered to return the Forty One Thousand Two Hundred Eighty (P41,280.00) Pesos to complainant within ninety (90) days from receipt of notice.
[2]

While the Court agrees with the Board of Governors that respondent should be meted a disciplinary sanction, it finds that the penalty of reprimand recommended by the Board of Governors is not commensurate to the gravity of the wrong committed by respondent. As found by the Investigating Commissioner, the complainant engaged the legal services of the respondent. As admitted in his letter to the complainant, respondent had just resumed his private practice of law two months before complainant contracted his services for the notarization of the Deed of Absolute Sale, the registration thereof with the Register of Deeds and the transfer of the title over the property to the complainant: NOVEMBER 1, 2002 DEAR RUBY, I AM SORRY I AM RETURNING YOUR DOCUMENTS WITHOUT CHANGES. I HAD A SERIES OF MONEY PROBLEMS RIGHT AFTER YOU GAVE ME THE TWO CHECKS AND COMING WITH THE AMOUNTS WITH PERSONAL FUNDS. I WAS REVIVING MY LEGAL PRACTICE ONLY FOR TWO MONTHS WHICH WE MET AND HAD JUST SET UP THE OFFICE WITH TWO ASSOCIATES WHICH A FEW WEEKS LATER WE HAD DISAGREEMENTS AND DECIDED TO DISBAND. I WILL HAVE TO REFURBISH MY OFFICE. I AM ISSUING MY PERSONAL CHECK TO GUARANTEE THE AMOUNT I TOOK. I NEED A LITTLE TIME TO COVER THE AMOUNT. THANKS FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING. (Sgd.) EDWIN.
[3]

Respondents claim that complainant did not retain his legal services flies in the face of his letter to complainant. Even if it were true that no attorneyclient relationship existed between them, case law has it that an attorney may

be removed or otherwise disciplined not only for malpractice and dishonesty in the profession but also for gross misconduct not connected with his professional duties, making him unfit for the office and unworthy of the privileges which his license and the law confer upon him.
[4]

In this case, respondent failed to comply with his undertaking for almost two months. Worse, despite demands of complainant, he failed to refund the amount of P41,280.00 and to return to complainant the deed of absolute sale and title over the property. Respondents claim that complainant could not contact him because he did not have any landline at his residence and that his mobile phone was stolen in October 2001, is hard to believe. He failed to adduce a morsel of evidence to prove that his telephone at the business center was cut or that his mobile phone had been stolen. Even then, respondent could have easily contacted the complainant at her residence or could have written her a letter informing her that the original copy of TCT No. 324411 in the custody of the Register of Deeds was burned when the Quezon City Hall was gutted by fire and that there was a need for the reconstitution of said title. Neither did respondent adduce evidence that he was a life insurance underwriter for Insular Life or that he had been sick with diabetes and had lost his sight in his right eye. Respondent simply refused to adduce evidence to prove his allegations in his Answer to the complaint. The Court is led to believe that respondents failure to cause the transfer of the title of the property under the name of complainant was due to a financial problem that beset him shortly after he received the checks from complainant. It can easily be inferred from respondents letter that he used complainants money to alleviate if not solve his financial woes. What compounded respondents unethical conduct was his drawing of a personal check and delivering the same to complainant without sufficient funds in his bank account to cover the check. Even as he promised to fund his account with the drawee bank, respondent failed to do so when the check became due. A lawyer is obliged to hold in trust money or property of his client that may come to his possession. He is a trustee to said funds and property. He is to keep the funds of his client separate and apart from his own and those of others kept by him. Money entrusted to a lawyer for a specific purpose such as for the registration of a deed with the Register of Deeds and for expenses and fees for the transfer of title over real property under the name of his client if not utilized, must be returned immediately to his client upon demand therefor. The lawyers failure to return the money of his client upon demand gave rise to a presumption that he has misappropriated said money in violation of the trust reposed on him. The conversion by a lawyer funds
[5] [6]

entrusted to him by his client is a gross violation of professional ethics and a betrayal of public confidence in the legal profession.
[7]

In this case, respondent intransigeantly refused to return to the complainant the amount of P41,280.00 which he received for the expenses for the transfer to her of the title of the property and for his professional fees. His dishonest conduct was compounded by his interjection of flimsy excuses for his obstinate refusal to refund the amount to complainant. The relation of attorney and client is highly fiduciary in nature and is of a very delicate, exacting and confidential character. A lawyer is duty-bound to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transactions with his clients. The profession, therefore, demands of an attorney an absolute abdication of every personal advantage conflicting in any way, directly or indirectly, with the interest of his client. In this case, respondent miserably failed to measure up to the exacting standard expected of him.
[8] [9]

IN LIGHT OF ALL THE FOREGOING , Respondent Atty. Edwin T. Quiocho is found guilty of violation of Canons 15 and 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for One (1) Year with a stern warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely. He is DIRECTED to restitute to the complainant the full amount of P41,280.00 within ten (10) days from notice hereof. Respondent is further DIRECTED to submit to the Court proof of payment of said amount within ten (10) days from said payment. If Respondent fails to restitute the said amount within the aforesaid period, he shall be meted an additional suspension of three (3) months for every month or fraction thereof of delay until he shall have paid the said amount in full. In case a subsidiary penalty of suspension for his failure to restitute the said amount shall be necessary, respondent shall serve successively the penalty of his one year suspension and the subsidiary penalty. This is without prejudice to the right of the complainant to institute the appropriate action for the collection of said amount. SO ORDERED.

FIRST DIVISION

[A.C. No. 5804. July 1, 2003]

BENEDICTO HORNILLA and ATTY. RICAFORT, complainants, vs. ATTY. SALUNAT, respondent. RESOLUTION
YNARES-SANTIAGO, J.:

FEDERICO ERNESTO

D. S.

On November 21, 1997, Benedicto Hornilla and Federico D. Ricafort filed an administrative complaint with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Commission on Bar Discipline, against respondent Atty. Ernesto S. Salunat for illegal and unethical practice and conflict of interest. They alleged that respondent is a member of the ASSA Law and Associates, which was the retained counsel of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association (PPSTA). Respondents brother, Aurelio S. Salunat, was a member of the PPSTA Board which approved respondents engagement as retained counsel of PPSTA.
[1]

Complainants, who are members of the PPSTA, filed an intra-corporate case against its members of the Board of Directors for the terms 1992-1995 and 1995-1997 before the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was docketed as SEC Case No. 05-97-5657, and a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman, docketed as OMB Case No. 0-97-0695, for unlawful spending and the undervalued sale of real property of the PPSTA. Respondent entered his appearance as counsel for the PPSTA Board members in the said cases. Complainants contend that respondent was guilty of conflict of interest because he was engaged by the PPSTA, of which complainants were members, and was being paid out of its corporate funds where complainants have contributed. Despite being told by PPSTA members of the said conflict of interest, respondent refused to withdraw his appearance in the said cases. Moreover, complainants aver that respondent violated Rule 15.06 of the Code of Professional Responsibility when he appeared at the meeting of the PPSTA Board and assured its members that he will win the PPSTA cases.
[2]

In his Answer, respondent stressed that he entered his appearance as counsel for the PPSTA Board Members for and in behalf of the ASSA Law and Associates. As a partner in the said law firm, he only filed a Manifestation of Extreme Urgency in OMB Case No. 0-97-0695. On the other hand, SEC Case No. 05-97-5657 was handled by another partner of the firm, Atty. Agustin V. Agustin. Respondent claims that it was complainant Atty. Ricafort who instigated, orchestrated and indiscriminately filed the said cases against members of the PPSTA and its Board.
[3] [4]

Respondent pointed out that his relationship to Aurelio S. Salunat was immaterial; and that when he entered into the retainer contract with the PPSTA Board, he did so, not in his individual capacity, but in representation of the ASSA Law Firm. He denied that he ensured the victory of the PPSTA Board in the case he was handling. He merely assured the Board that the truth will come out and that the case before the Ombudsman will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, considering that respondents therein are not public officials, but private employees. Anent the SEC case, respondent alleged that the same was being handled by the law firm of Atty. Eduardo de Mesa, and not ASSA. By way of Special and Affirmative Defenses, respondent averred that complainant Atty. Ricafort was himself guilty of gross violation of his oath of office amounting to gross misconduct, malpractice and unethical conduct for filing trumped-up charges against him and Atty. De Mesa. Thus, he prayed that the complaint against him be dismissed and, instead, complainant Ricafort be disciplined or disbarred. The complainant was docketed as CBD Case No. 97-531 and referred to the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline. After investigation, Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six (6) months. The Board of Governors thereafter adopted Resolution No. XV-3003-230 dated June 29, 2002, approving the report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner. Respondent filed with this Court a Motion for Reconsideration of the above Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors. The pertinent rule of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides: RULE 15.03. A lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts. There is conflict of interest when a lawyer represents inconsistent interests of two or more opposing parties. The test is whether or not in behalf of one client, it is the lawyers duty to fight for an issue or claim, but it is his duty to oppose it for the other client. In brief, if he argues for one client, this argument will be opposed by him when he argues for the other client. This rule covers not only cases in which confidential communications have been confided, but also those in which no confidence has been bestowed or will be used. Also, there is conflict of interests if the acceptance of the new retainer will require the attorney to perform an act which will injuriously affect his first client in any matter in which he represents him and also whether he will be called upon in his new relation to use against his first client any knowledge acquired through
[5] [6]

their connection. Another test of the inconsistency of interests is whether the acceptance of a new relation will prevent an attorney from the full discharge of his duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty to his client or invite suspicion of unfaithfulness or double dealing in the performance thereof.
[7] [8]

In this jurisdiction, a corporations board of directors is understood to be that body which (1) exercises all powers provided for under the Corporation Code; (2) conducts all business of the corporation; and (3) controls and holds all property of the corporation. Its members have been characterized as trustees or directors clothed with a fiduciary character. It is clearly separate and distinct from the corporate entity itself.
[9] [10]

Where corporate directors have committed a breach of trust either by their frauds, ultra vires acts, or negligence, and the corporation is unable or unwilling to institute suit to remedy the wrong, a stockholder may sue on behalf of himself and other stockholders and for the benefit of the corporation, to bring about a redress of the wrong done directly to the corporation and indirectly to the stockholders. This is what is known as a derivative suit, and settled is the doctrine that in a derivative suit, the corporation is the real party in interest while the stockholder filing suit for the corporations behalf is only nominal party. The corporation should be included as a party in the suit.
[11] [12]

Having thus laid a suitable foundation of the basic legal principles pertaining to derivative suits, we come now to the threshold question: can a lawyer engaged by a corporation defend members of the board of the same corporation in a derivative suit? On this issue, the following disquisition is enlightening: The possibility for conflict of interest here is universally recognized. Although early cases found joint representation permissible where no conflict of interest was obvious, the emerging rule is against dual representation in all derivative actions. Outside counsel must thus be retained to represent one of the defendants. The cases and ethics opinions differ on whether there must be separate representation from the outset or merely from the time the corporation seeks to take an active role. Furthermore, this restriction on dual representation should not be waivable by consent in the usual way; the corporation should be presumptively incapable of giving valid consent. (underscoring ours)
[13]

In other jurisdictions, the prevailing rule is that a situation wherein a lawyer represents both the corporation and its assailed directors unavoidably gives rise to a conflict of interest. The interest of the corporate client is paramount and should not be influenced by any interest of the individual corporate officials. The rulings in these cases have persuasive effect upon us. After
[14]

due deliberation on the wisdom of this doctrine, we are sufficiently convinced that a lawyer engaged as counsel for a corporation cannot represent members of the same corporations board of directors in a derivative suit brought against them. To do so would be tantamount to representing conflicting interests, which is prohibited by the Code of Professional Responsibility. In the case at bar, the records show that SEC Case No. 05-97-5657, entitled Philippine Public School Teachers Assn., Inc., et al. v. 1992-1995 Board of Directors of the Philippine Public School Teachers Assn. (PPSTA), et al., was filed by the PPSTA against its own Board of Directors. Respondent admits that the ASSA Law Firm, of which he is the Managing Partner, was the retained counsel of PPSTA. Yet, he appeared as counsel of record for the respondent Board of Directors in the said case. Clearly, respondent was guilty of conflict of interest when he represented the parties against whom his other client, the PPSTA, filed suit. In his Answer, respondent argues that he only represented the Board of Directors in OMB Case No. 0-97-0695. In the said case, he filed a Manifestation of Extreme Urgency wherein he prayed for the dismissal of the complaint against his clients, the individual Board Members. By filing the said pleading, he necessarily entered his appearance therein. Again, this constituted conflict of interests, considering that the complaint in the Ombudsman, albeit in the name of the individual members of the PPSTA, was brought in behalf of and to protect the interest of the corporation.
[15]

Therefore, respondent is guilty of representing conflicting interests. Considering however, that this is his first offense, we find the penalty of suspension, recommended in IBP Resolution No. XV-2002-230 dated June 29, 2002, to be too harsh. Instead, we resolve to admonish respondent to observe a higher degree of fidelity in the practice of his profession. ACCORDINGLY, respondent Atty. Ernesto Salunat is found GUILTY of representing conflicting interests and is ADMONISHED to observe a higher degree of fidelity in the practice of his profession. He is further WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely. SO ORDERED.

EN BANC

[A.C. No. 6424. March 4, 2005]

CONSORCIA S. ROLLON, complainant, NARAVAL, respondent. DECISION


PANGANIBAN, J.:

vs. Atty.

CAMILO

Lawyers owe fidelity to their clients. The latters money or other property coming into the formers possession should be deemed to be held in trust and should not under any circumstance be commingled with the lawyers own; much less, used by them. Failure to observe these ethical principles constitutes professional misconduct and justifies the imposition of disciplinary sanctions. The Case and the Facts Before us is a letter-complaint against Atty. Camilo Naraval, filed by Consorcia S. Rollon with the Davao City Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on November 29, 2001. The Affidavit submitted by complainant alleges the following:
[1]

Sometime in October of 2000, I went to the office of Atty. Camilo F. Naraval together with my son, Freddie Rollon, to seek his assistance in a case filed against me before the Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 6, Davao City entitled Rosita Julaton vs. Consorcia S. Rollon for Collection of Sum of Money with Prayer for Attachment; After going over the documents I brought with me pertaining to the said case, Atty. Naraval agreed to be my lawyer and I was required to pay the amount of Eight Thousand Pesos (Php 8,000.00) for the filing and partial service fee, which amount was paid by me on October 18, 2000, a copy of the Official Receipt is hereto attached as Annex A to form part hereof; As per the instruction of Atty. Naraval, my son, Freddie, returned to his office the following week to make follow-up on said case. However, I was informed later by my son Freddie that Atty. Naraval was not able to act on my case because the latter was so busy. Even after several follow-ups were made with Atty. Naraval, still there was no action done on our case;

Sometime in November 29, 2001, I decided to withdraw the amount I paid to Atty. Naraval, because of the latters failure to comply with our mutual agreement that he will assist me in the above-mentioned case; My son Freddie Rollon went to Atty. Naravals office that same day to inform Atty. Naraval of our decision to withdraw the amount I have paid and to retrieve my documents pertaining to said case. Unfortunately, despite our several follow-ups, Atty. Naraval always said that he cannot return the documents because they were in their house, and that he could not give us back the amount we paid him (Php 8,000.00) because he has no money; Having failed to obtain any response, I decided to refer the matter to Atty. Ramon Edison Batacan, IBP President of Davao City and to Atty. Pedro Castillo, the Commissioner on Bar D[i]scipline; xxx xxx
[2]

x x x.

In an Order dated March 12, 2002, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD), through Director Victor C. Fernandez, directed respondent to submit his answer to the Complaint. The same directive was reiterated in the CBDs May 31, 2002 Order issued through Commissioner Jovy C. Bernabe. Respondent did not file any answer despite his receipt of the Orders.
[3] [4]

Not having heard from him despite adequate notice, the CBD proceeded with the investigation ex parte. Its Order dated November 11, 2002, issued through Commissioner Bernabe, required complainant to submit her position paper within ten days from receipt thereof, after which the case was to be deemed submitted for resolution.
[5]

The CBD received complainants Position Paper on December 10, 2002.


[6]

Report of the Investigating Commissioner In his Report and Recommendation dated October 16, 2003, Investigating Commissioner Acerey C. Pacheco recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one (1) year for neglect of duty and/or violation of Canons 15 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The Report reads in part as follows: Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility requires every lawyer to serve his client with utmost dedication, competence and diligence. He must not neglect a

legal matter entrusted to him, and his negligence in this regard renders him administratively liable x x x. In the case at bar, the deplorable conduct of the respondent in misrepresenting to the complainant that he will render legal services to her, and after receiving certain amount from the latter as payment for filing fee and service fee did nothing in return, has caused unnecessary dishonor to the bar. By his own conduct the respect of the community to the legal profession, of which he swore to protect, has been tarnished. xxx xxx xxx

In fact, complainant claimed to have been shortchanged by the respondent when he failed to properly appraised her of the status of her case which she later on found to have become final and executory. Apparently, the civil suit between Rosita Julaton and the complainant have been decided against the latter and which judgment has long become final and executory. However, despite full knowledge by the respondent of such finality based on the documents furnished to him, respondent withheld such vital information and did not properly appraise the complainant. Thus, respondent violated the mandate in Canon 15 x x x.
[7]

IBP Board of Governors Resolution On February 27, 2004, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XVI-2004-64 upholding the above-quoted Report. The Board recommended the suspension of respondent from the practice of law for two (2) years for violation of Rules 15 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the restitution of complainants P8,000. The Courts Ruling We agree with the Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors. Respondents Administrative Liability Ordinarily, lawyers are not obliged to act either as advisers or as advocates of any person who may wish to become their client. They may decline employment and refuse to accept representation, if they are not in a
[8]

position to carry it out effectively or competently. But once they agree to handle a case, attorneys are required by the Canons of Professional Responsibility to undertake the task with zeal, care and utmost devotion.
[9] [10]

Acceptance of money from a client establishes an attorney-client relationship and gives rise to the duty of fidelity to the clients cause. Every case accepted by a lawyer deserves full attention, diligence, skill and competence, regardless of importance. The Code of Professional Responsibility clearly states:
[11] [12]

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. 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 his client informed of the status of his case and shall respond within a reasonable time to the clients request for information. Hence, practising lawyers may accept only as many cases as they can efficiently handle. Otherwise, their clients would be prejudiced. Once lawyers agree to handle a case, they should undertake the task with dedication and care. If they do any less, then they fail their lawyers oath.
[13] [14]

The circumstances of this case indubitably show that after receiving the amount of P8,000 as filing and partial service fee, respondent failed to render any legal service in relation to the case of complainant. His continuous inaction despite repeated followups from her reveals his cavalier attitude and appalling indifference toward his clients cause, in brazen disregard of his duties as a lawyer. Not only that. Despite her repeated demands, he also unjustifiably failed to return to her the files of the case that had been entrusted to him. To top it all, he kept the money she had likewise entrusted to him. Furthermore, after going through her papers, respondent should have given her a candid, honest opinion on the merits and the status of the case. Apparently, the civil suit between Rosita Julaton and complainant had been decided against the latter. In fact, the judgment had long become final and executory. But he withheld such vital information from complainant. Instead, he demanded P8,000 as filing and service fee and thereby gave her hope that her case would be acted upon.

Rule 15.05 of the Code of Professional Responsibility requires that lawyers give their candid and best opinion to their clients on the merit or lack of merit of the case, neither overstating nor understating their evaluation thereof. Knowing whether a case would have some prospect of success is not only a function, but also an obligation on the part of lawyers. If they find that their clients cause is defenseless, then it is their bounden duty to advise the latter to acquiesce and submit, rather than to traverse the incontrovertible. The failure of respondent to fulfill this basic undertaking constitutes a violation of his duty to observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transactions with his clients.
[15] [16] [17]

Likewise, as earlier pointed out, respondent persistently refused to return the money of complainant despite her repeated demands. His conduct was clearly indicative of lack of integrity and moral soundness; he was clinging to something that did not belong to him, and that he absolutely had no right to keep or use.
[18]

Lawyers are deemed to hold in trust their clients money and property that may come into their possession. As respondent obviously did nothing on the case of complainant, the amount she had given -- as evidenced by the receipt issued by his law office -- was never applied to the filing fee. His failure to return her money upon demand gave rise to the presumption that he had converted it to his own use and thereby betrayed the trust she had reposed in him. His failure to do so constituted a gross violation of professional ethics and a betrayal of public confidence in the legal profession.
[19] [20] [21]

The Code exacts from lawyers not only a firm respect for law, legal processes and the courts, but also mandates the utmost degree of fidelity and good faith in dealing with the moneys entrusted to them pursuant to their fiduciary relationship. Respondent clearly fell short of the demands required of him as a member of the bar. His inability to properly discharge his duty to his client makes him answerable not just to her, but also to this Court, to the legal profession, and to the general public. Given the crucial importance of his role in the administration of justice, his misconduct diminished the confidence of the public in the integrity and dignity of the profession.
[22] [23] [24] [25]

WHEREFORE, Atty. Camilo Naraval is found GUILTY of violating Rule 15.05 and Canons 16, 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and is herebySUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years, effective upon his receipt of this Decision. Furthermore, he is ORDERED TO RESTITUTE, within thirty (30) days from notice of this Decision, complainants eight thousand pesos (P8,000), plus interest thereon, at the rate of six percent per annum, from October 18, 2000, until fully paid.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished all courts, the Office of the Bar Confidant, as well as the National Office and the Davao City Chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. SO ORDERED.
Republic of the Philippines SUPREME COURT Manila SECOND DIVISION

A.C. No. 4380 October 13, 1995 NICANOR GONZALES and SALUD B. PANTANOSAS, complainants, vs. ATTY. MIGUEL SABACAJAN, respondent.

REGALADO, J.: This resolves the administrative case filed by Nicanor Gonzales and Salud B. Pantanosas against Atty. Miguel Sabacajan on February 14, 1995, 1 the verified complaint wherefor alleges: xxx xxx xxx 4. That sometime in October, 1994, complainants were informed by the Register of Deeds of Cagayan de Oro City that the complainants' owner's duplicate of title covering their lands, Transfer Certificate of Title Nos. T-91736 and T-91735 were entrusted to the office secretary of the respondent who in torn entrusted the same to respondent; 5. That respondent admitted and confirmed to the complainants that their titles are in his custody and has even shown the same (to) the complainant Salud B. Pantanosas but when demanded ( sic) to deliver the said titles to the complainant in a formal demand letter, marked as ANNEX "A," respondent refused and continues to refuse without any justification to give their titles (and) when confronted, respondent challenged the complainants to file any case in any court even in the Honorable Supreme Court; 6. That respondent's dare or challeng(e) is a manifestation of his arrogance taking undue advantage of his legal profession over the simplicity, innocence and ignorance of the complainants, one of whom is his blood relative, his aunt, for which complainants shudder with mental anguish; 7. That due to his challeng(e), the complainants sent a letter to the Honorable Supreme Court for enlightenment, copy of which is attached as ANNEX "B", for which the Honorable Supreme Court required 19 legible copies of a verified complaint;

8. That in spite of repeated demands, request(s) and pleas towards ( sic) respondent, respondent still fail(ed) and stubbornly refused without justification to surrender the said titles to the rightful owners, the complainants here(in), which act is tantamount to willful and malicious defiance of legal and moral obligations emanating from his professional capacity as a lawyer who had sworn to uphold law and justice, to the prejudice and damage of the complainants;
2

xxx xxx xxx On March 22, 1995, the Court required respondent to comment on the foregoing complaint. In his unverified "Answer" thereto, respondent admitted having met Salud Pantanosas but claims that, to his recollection, "Nicanor Gonzales/Serdan" has never been to his office. Respondent likewise denied that he challenged anyone to file a case in any court, much less the Supreme Court. He also claims that he referred complainant Pantanosas to his client, Mr. Samto M. Uy of Iponan, Cagayan de Oro City, for whom he worked out the segregation of the titles, two of which are the subject of the instant case. 3

Respondent likewise denies complainants' allegation that he is arrogant, in contrast to the innocence, simplicity and ignorance of said complainants. He contends that the truth of the matter is that complainants have been charged with a number of criminal and civil complaints before different courts. He also asserts that he was holding the certificates of title in behalf of his client, Samto M. Uy. 4 Atty. Sabacajan stresses, by way of defense, that "the instant action was chosen precisely to browbeat him into delivering the Certificates of Title to them without said certificates passing the hands of Mr. Samto Uy with whom the complainants have some monetary obligations." 5 In its resolution dated June 26, 1995, 6 for internal administrative purposes the Court referred this case to the Office of the Bar Confidant for the corresponding evaluation, report and recommendation. From the foregoing proceedings taken on this matter, the Court finds that respondent admitted having taken possession of the certificates of title of complainants but refused to surrender the same despite demands made by the latter. It follows, therefore, that it was incumbent upon him to show that he was legally justified in doing so. Instead, all he did was to inform this Court that "his obligation to deliver the certificates to Mr. Samto Uy excludes the delivery of said certificates to anyone else." 7 Respondent attached some certifications to his "Answer" to support his contention that complainants are notorious characters. However, the certifications indicate that most of the cases stated therein, especially those involving fraud, have been dismissed. With respect to those still pending, there is no indication as to the identity of the party who instituted the same, aside from the consideration that the remedy thereon is judicial in nature. At any rate, these aspersions on the character of complainants have no bearing on the misconduct of respondent charged in the present case. Respondent likewise submitted xerox copies of certain certificates of title in an effort to explain why he kept the certificates of title of complainants, that is, supposedly for the purpose of subdividing the property. However, an examination of the same does not show any connection thereof to respondent's claim. In fact, the two sets of certificates of title appear to be entirely different from each other. As a lawyer, respondent should know that there are lawful remedies provided by law to protect the interests of his client. The records do not show that he or his client have availed of said remedies, instead of merely resorting to unexplained, if not curt, refusals to accommodate the requests of complainants. Also, he cannot be unaware of the imposable sanctions on a counsel who resorts to unlawful means that would cause injustice to the adversaries of his client. The Court accordingly finds that respondent has not exercised the good faith and diligence required of lawyers in handling the legal affairs of their clients. If complainants did have the alleged monetary obligations to his client, that does not warrant his summarily confiscating their certificates of title since there is no showing in the records that the same were given as collaterals to secure the payment of a debt. Neither is there any intimation that there is a court order authorizing him to take and retain custody of said certificates of title. Apparently, respondent has disregarded Canon 15, Rule 15.07 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides that a lawyer shall impress upon his client the need for compliance with the laws and principles of fairness. Instead, he unjustly refused to give to complainants their certificates of titles supposedly to enforce payment of their alleged financial obligations to his client and presumably to impress the latter of his power to do so. Canon 19, Rule 19.01 ordains that a lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of his client and shall not present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present unfounded charges to obtain an improper advantage in any case or proceeding. Respondent has closely skirted this proscription, if he has not in fact transgressed the same. On the foregoing considerations, the Court desires and directs that respondent should forthwith return the certificates of title of complainants. To ensure the same, he should be placed under suspension until he presents to the Court proof of receipt by complainants of their respective copies of Certificates of Title Nos. T-91735 and T-91736 or a judicial order or document authorizing or justifying the retention of possession thereof by respondent or his aforenamed client. WHEREFORE, Atty. Miguel Sabacajan is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law until he can duly show to this Court that the disputed certificates of title have been returned to and the receipt thereof duly acknowledged by complainants, or can present a judicial order or appropriate legal authority justifying the possession by him or his client of said certificates. He is further WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar or any other administrative misconduct will be punished more severely. Let a copy of this resolution be spread on the personal records of respondent and have copies thereof furnished to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and duly circularized to all courts in the country. SO ORDERED.