July 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 6387 [Formerly CBD Case No. 11-3001], July 19, 2016 - GABINO V. TOLENTINO AND FLORDELIZA C. TOLENTINO, Complainants, v. ATTY. HENRY B. SO AND ATTY. FERDINAND L. ANCHETA, Respondents.
A.C. No. 6387 [Formerly CBD Case No. 11-3001], July 19, 2016
GABINO V. TOLENTINO AND FLORDELIZA C. TOLENTINO, Complainants, v. ATTY. HENRY B. SO AND ATTY. FERDINAND L. ANCHETA, Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Complainant Flordeliza C. Tolentino was the defendant in Civil Case No. SC-2267 entitled "Benjamin Caballes v. Flordeliza Caballes" a case involving recovery of possession of a parcel of land.1 On June 24, 1991, Branch 26 of the Regional Trial Court of Sta. Cruz, Laguna, rendered the Decision2 against complainant Flordeliza ordering her to vacate the land.
The case was appealed3 to the Court of Appeals through complainant Flordeliza's counsel, Atty. Edilberto U. Coronado (Atty. Coronado). While the appeal was pending, Atty. Coronado was replaced by Atty. Henry B. So (Atty. So), a lawyer of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance of the Department of Agrarian Reform.4chanrobleslaw
Complainants Flordeliza and Gabino V. Tolentino, her husband, afterwards learned that the Court of Appeals affirmed5 the Regional Trial Court Decision against complainant Flordeliza. Complainants contend that Atty. So did not inform them nor take the necessary action to elevate the case to this Court.6 Thus, they were compelled to secure the legal services of Atty. Ferdinand L. Ancheta (Atty. Ancheta), whom they paid P30,000.00 as acceptance fee.7chanrobleslaw
Atty. Ancheta allegedly promised them that there was still a remedy against the adverse Court of Appeals Decision, and that he would file a "motion to reopen appeal case."8 Atty. Ancheta also inveigled them to part with the amount of P200,000.00 purportedly to be used for making arrangements with the Justices of the Court of Appeals before whom their case was pending.9chanrobleslaw
Initially, complainants did not agree to Atty. Ancheta's proposal because they did not have the money and it was against the law.10 However, they eventually acceded when Atty. Ancheta told them that it was the only recourse they had to obtain a favorable judgment.11chanrobleslaw
Hence, in January 2003, they deposited P200,000.00 to Atty. Ancheta's Bank Account No. 1221275656 with the United Coconut Planters Bank.12chanrobleslaw
Complainants were surprised to learn that no "motion to reopen case" had been filed,13 and the Court of Appeals Decision had become final and executory.14chanrobleslaw
Hence, complainants sought to recover the amount of P200,000.00 from Atty. Ancheta. Through a letter dated September 10, 200315 by their new counsel, complainants demanded for the return of the P200,000.00. However, Atty. Ancheta did not heed their demand despite receipt of the letter.
On May 17, 2004, complainants filed their Sinumpaang Sakdal16 praying for the disbarment of Atty. So for neglect in handling complainant Flordeliza's case, and Atty. Ancheta for defrauding them of the amount of P200,000.00.
Atty. So counters that he was no longer connected with the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance of the Department of Agrarian Reform when the Court of Appeals Decision was promulgated on July 16, 2001.17 He alleges that he worked at the Bureau from 1989 to 1997, and that he resigned to prepare for the elections in his hometown in Western Samar.18 It was a procedure in the Bureau that once a handling lawyer resigns or retires, his or her cases are reassigned to other lawyers of the Bureau.19chanrobleslaw
Atty. Ancheta did not file a comment despite due notice. Hence, in this Court's Resolution dated February 23, 2011,20 he was deemed to have waived his right to file a comment. This Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for investigation, report, and recommendation.21chanrobleslaw
On June 8, 2011, the Commission on Bar Discipline of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines directed the parties to appear for mandatory conference at 10:00 a.m. on July 6, 2011.22 However, on July 6, 2011, only Atty. So appeared.23 Since there was no showing on record that complainants and Atty. Ancheta were notified, the mandatory conference was reset to August 10, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.24chanrobleslaw
In the August 10, 2011 mandatory conference, complainant Flordeliza was represented by her daughter, Arlyn Tolentino, together with counsel, Atty. Restituto Mendoza.25cralawred Arlyn Tolentino informed the Commission that complainant Gabino V. Tolentino had already died.26 Respondents did not appear despite due notice.27chanrobleslaw
Hence, the mandatory conference was terminated, and the parties were directed to submit their respective verified position papers within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice. After, the case would be submitted for report and recommendation.28chanrobleslaw
On September 19, 2011, complainant Flordeliza filed as her position paper, a Motion for Adoption of the Pleadings and their Annexes in this Case,29 including the relevant documents30 in Criminal Case No. SC-1191 (for estafa) against Atty. Ancheta, which she filed.
Atty. So filed his Position Paper31 on September 15, 2011. Atty. Ancheta did not file any position paper.32chanrobleslaw
The Commission on Bar Discipline recommended33 that Atty. So be absolved of the charge against him for insufficiency of evidence.34 As to Atty. Ancheta, the Commission found him guilty of serious misconduct and deceit and recommended his disbarment.35chanrobleslaw
In the Resolution36 dated December 14, 2014, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Board of Governors adopted and approved the findings and recommendations of the Investigating Commissioner.
On January 11, 2016, the Board of Governors transmitted its Resolution to this Court for final action, pursuant to Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court.37chanrobleslaw
This Court accepts and adopts the findings of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Board of Governors.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines correctly absolved Atty. So of the charge of negligence in the performance of his duties as counsel of complainant Flordeliza.
Complainants fault Atty. So for failing to inform them about the Court of Appeals Decision and for not taking the necessary steps to elevate their case to this Court.38 However, it is undisputed that Atty. So was no longer employed at the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance when the Court of Appeals Decision was rendered on July 16, 2001. Atty. So had resigned in 1997, four (4) years before the Decision was promulgated.39chanrobleslaw
Atty. So handled the appeal of complainant Flordeliza in his capacity as a government-employed legal officer of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance of the Department of Agrarian Reform. In his Notice of Appearance40 dated August 11, 1993 and Motion to Admit Additional Evidence41 dated November 22, 1993 filed before the Court of Appeals, Atty. So affixed his signature under the representation of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance.
Atty. So's appearance for complainant Flordeliza may be likened to that of a lawyer assigned to handle a case for a private law firm's client. If the counsel resigns, the firm is simply bound to provide a replacement.42 Similarly, upon Atty. So's resignation, the Director of the Bureau merely reassigned his case assignment to other lawyers in the Bureau even without complainants' consent.
It would have been prudent for Atty. So to have informed complainants about his resignation and the eventual reassignment of their case to another lawyer, although this was not required. Still, Atty. So's omission is not of such gravity that would warrant his disbarment or suspension. The serious consequences of disbarment or suspension should follow only where there is a clear preponderance of evidence of the respondent's misconduct affecting his standing and moral character as an officer of the court and member of the bar.43chanrobleslaw
On the other hand, complainants were not entirely blameless. Had complainants been indeed vigilant in protecting their rights, they should have followed up on the status of their appeal; thus, they would have been informed of Atty. So's resignation. Atty. So resigned four (4) years before the Court of Appeals Decision was promulgated.44 Thus, complainants had ample time to engage the services of a new lawyer to safeguard their interests if they chose to do so. A party cannot blame his or her counsel for negligence when he or she is guilty of neglect.45chanrobleslaw
The same conclusion cannot be made with regards Atty. Ancheta. We agree with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines' recommendation that he should be disbarred.
Atty. Ancheta's repeated failure to comply with several of this Court's Resolutions requiring him to comment on the complaint lends credence to complainants' allegations. It manifests his tacit admission. Hence, we resolve this case on the basis of complainants' Sinumpaang Sakdal and its Annexes.
It was established by the evidence on record that (1) Atty. Ancheta received the acceptance fee of P30,000.00 on December 9, 2002;46 and (2) complainants deposited on January 17, 200347 the amount of P200,000.00 to Atty. Ancheta's bank account. Atty. Ancheta made false promises to complainants that something could still be done with complainant Flordeliza's case despite the Court of Appeals Decision having already attained finality on September 22, 2001.48 Worse, he proposed bribing the Justices of the Court of Appeals in order to solve their legal dilemma.
Atty. Ancheta should have very well known that a decision that has attained finality is no longer open for reversal and should be respected.49 A lawyer's duty to assist in the speedy administration of justice50 demands recognition that at a definite time, issues must be laid to rest and litigation ended.51 As such, Ancheta should have advised complainants to accept the judgment of the Court of Appeals and accord respect to the just claim of the opposite party. He should have tempered his clients' propensity to litigate and save them from additional expense in pursuing their contemplated action. Instead, he gave them confident assurances that the case could still be reopened and even furnished them a copy of his prepared "motion to reopen case." Despite his representation that he would file the motion, however, he did not do so.52chanrobleslaw
Atty. Ancheta's deceit and evasion of duty is manifest. He accepted the case though he knew the futility of an appeal. Despite receipt of the P30,000.00 acceptance fee, he did not act on his client's case. Moreover, he prevailed upon complainants to give him P200,000.00 purportedly to be used to bribe the Justices of the Court of Appeals in order to secure a favorable ruling, palpably showing that he himself was unconvinced of the merits of the case. "A lawyer shall not, for any corrupt motive or interest, encourage any suit or proceeding or delay any man's cause."53 Atty. Ancheta's misconduct betrays his lack of appreciation that the practice of law is a profession, not a money-making trade.54chanrobleslaw
As a servant of the law, Atty. Ancheta's primary duty was to obey the laws and promote respect for the law and legal processes.55 Corollary to this duty is his obligation to abstain from dishonest or deceitful conduct,56 as well as from "activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system."57 Atty. Ancheta's advice involving corruption of judicial officers tramps the integrity and dignity of the legal profession and the judicial system and adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law.
Complainants eventually found out about his duplicity and demanded for the return of their money.58 Still, Atty. Ancheta did not return the P200,000.00 and the P30,000.00 despite his failure to render any legal service to his clients.59chanrobleslaw
Atty. Ancheta breached the following duties embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility:ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
CANON 7 - A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE INTEGRATED BAR.A lawyer "must at no time be wanting in probity and moral fiber, which are not only conditions precedent to his entrance to the Bar but are likewise essential demands for his continued membership therein."60 Atty. Ancheta's deceit in dealing with his clients constitutes gross professional misconduct61 and violates his oath, thus justifying his disbarment under Rule 138, Section 2762 of the Rules of Court.
. . . .
CANON 15 - A LAWYER SHALL OBSERVE CANDOR, FAIRNESS AND LOYALTY IN ALL HIS DEALINGS AND TRANSACTIONS WITH HIS CLIENTS
. . . .
Rule 15.05. - A lawyer, when advising his client, shall give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of the client's case, neither overstating nor understating the prospects of the case.
Rule 15.06. - A lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence any public official, tribunal or legislative body.
Rule 15.07. - A lawyer shall impress upon his client compliance with the laws and the principles of fairness.
. . . .
CANON 16 -A LAWYER SHALL HOLD IN TRUST ALL MONEYS AND PROPERTIES OF HIS CLIENT THAT MAY COME INTO HIS POSSESSION.
Rule 16.01. - A lawyer shall account for all money or property collected or received for or from the client.
. . . .
Rule 16.03. - A lawyer shall deliver the funds and property of his client when due or upon demand....
. . . .
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.
Furthermore, his failure to heed the following Resolutions of the Court despite notice aggravates his misconduct:
Resolution63 dated June 21, 2004, requiring him to comment on the complaint;
Resolution64 dated October 16, 2006, directing him to show cause why he should not be disciplinarily dealt with or held in contempt for failure to comply with the June 21, 2004 Resolution;
Resolution65 dated January 21, 2009, imposing upon him the penalty of P1,000.00 for failure to comply with the June 21, 2004 and October 16, 2006 Resolutions;
Resolution66 dated January 27, 2010, imposing an additional fine of P2,000.00 or a penalty of imprisonment of 10 days for failure to comply with the January 21, 2009 Resolution; and
Resolution67 dated January 12, 2011, ordering his arrest and directing the National Bureau of Investigation to arrest and detain him for five (5) days and until he complied with the previous Resolutions.
Atty. Ancheta's cavalier attitude in repeatedly ignoring the orders of this Court constitutes utter disrespect of the judicial institution. His conduct shows a high degree of irresponsibility and betrays a recalcitrant flaw in his character. Indeed, his continued indifference to this Court's orders constitutes willful disobedience of the lawful orders of this Court, which, under Rule 138, Section 2768 of the Rules of Court, is in itself a sufficient cause for suspension or disbarment.
The maintenance of a high standard of legal proficiency, honesty, and fair dealing69 is a prerequisite to making the bar an effective instrument in the proper administration of justice.70 Any member, therefore, who fails to live up to the exacting standards of integrity and morality exposes himself or herself to administrative liability.71chanrobleslaw
Atty. Ancheta's violations show that he is unfit to discharge the duties of a member of the legal profession. Hence, he should be disbarred.72chanrobleslaw
WHEREFORE, the complaint against respondent Atty. Henry B. So is DISMISSED for insufficiency of evidence. On the other hand, this Court finds respondent Atty. Ferdinand L. Ancheta GUILTY of gross misconduct in violation of the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility and hereby DISBARS him from the practice of law. The Office of the Bar Confidant is DIRECTED to remove the name of Ferdinand L. Ancheta from the Roll of Attorneys.
Respondent Ancheta is ORDERED to return to complainants Gabino V. Tolentino and Flordeliza C. Tolentino, within 30 days from receipt of this Resolution, the total amount of P230,000.00, with legal interest at 12% per annum from the date of demand on September 10, 2003 to June 30, 2013, and at 6% per annum from July 1, 2013 until full payment. Respondent Ancheta is further DIRECTED to submit to this Court proof of payment of the amount within 10 days from payment.
Let copies of this Resolution be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the Office of the Court Administrator for dissemination to all courts in the country.
This Resolution takes effect immediately.
Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Peralta, Bersamin, Del Castillo, Perez, Reyes, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Jardeleza, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.
Brion, J., on leave.
Mendoza, J., on official leave.
1Rollo, p. 12.
2 Id. at 12-23. The Decision was penned by Judge Jose Catral Mendoza (now Associate Justice of this Court).
3 Id. at 24.
4 Id. at 133, Notice of Appearance dated August 11, 1993.
5 Id. at 25-37. The Decision was penned by Associate Justice Josefina Guevara-Salonga and concurred in by Associate Justices Delilah Vidallon-Magtolis and Teodoro P. Regino of the Ninth Division, Court of Appeals, Manila.
6 Id. at 2.
7 Id. at 38.
8 Id. at 2.
13 Id. at 44, Annex L.
14 Id. at 45, Annex M.
15 Id. at 46-47.
16 Id. at 1-3.
17 Id. at 122, Atty. So's Comment.
18 Id. at 121.
19 Id. at 122.
20 Id. at 194.
22 Id. at 196, Notice of Mandatory Conference/Hearing.
23 Id. at 197, Minutes of the Hearing on July 6, 2011.
24 Id. at 198, Order dated July 6, 2011.
25cralawred Id. at 202, Minutes of the Hearing on August 10, 2011.
26 Id. at 205-207.
27 Id. at 203, Order dated August 10, 2011.
29 Id. at 224-227.
30 Id. at 228-230, Annex "A", Sinumpaang Sakdal of complainants; 231-232, Annex "B", Sinumpaang Sakdal of Roseline Caballes; 233, Annex "C", Memorandum of Preliminary Investigation; 234, Annex "D", Subpoena; and 235, Annex "E", Warrant of Arrest.
31 Id. at 209-215.
32 Id. at 241, Report and Recommendation dated September 6, 2013.
33 Id. at 240-248. The Report and Recommendation was penned by Commissioner Romualdo A. Din, Jr
34 Id. at 248.
36 Id. at 238.
37 Id. at 237.
38 Id. at 2.
39 Id. at 121.
40 Id. at 133.
41 Id. at 136-137.
42Rilloraza v. Eastern Telecommunications Phils., Inc., 369 Phil. 1, 10 (1999) [Per J. Pardo, First Division].
43See Gonzaga v. Atty. Villanueva, Jr., 478 Phil. 859, 870 (2004) [Per CJ. Davide, Jr., First Division], citing Resurrection v. Sayson, 360 Phil. 313, 321 (1998) [Per Curiam, En Banc].
44Rollo, p. 121.
45See Macapagal v. Court of Appeals, 338 Phil. 206, 217 (1997) [Per J. Mendoza, Second Division].
46Rollo, p. 38.
47 Id. at 43.
48 Id. at 45.
49Atty. Alonso, et al. v. Atty. Relamida, Jr., 640 Phil. 325, 333 (2010) [Per J. Peralta, En Banc].
50 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 12.
51In Re Joaquin T. Borromeo, 311 Phil. 441, 508 (1995) [Per Curiam, En Banc].
52Rollo, p. 2.
53 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 1, rule 1.03 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryRule 1.03. - A lawyer shall not, for any corrupt motive or interest, encourage any suit or proceeding or delay any man's cause.
54Manzano v. Atty. Soriano, 602 Phil. 419, 427 (2009) [Per Curiam, En Banc]; Atty. Khan, Jr. v. Atty. Simbillo, 456 Phil. 560, 567 (2003) [Per J. Ynares-Santiago, First Division].
55 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 1 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryCANON 1 — A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and for legal processes.
56 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 1, rule 1.01 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryRule 1.01. - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
57 Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 1, rule 1.02 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryRule 1.02. - A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system.
58Rollo, pp. 46-47.
60Gonzaga v. Atty. Villanueva, Jr., 478 Phil. 859, 869 (2004) [Per C.J. Davide, Jr., First Division].
61Sipin-Nabor v. Atty. Baterina y Figueras, 412 Phil. 419, 424-425 (2001) [Per J. Pardo, En Banc].
62 RULES OF COURT, Rule 138, sec. 27 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrarySec. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor. — A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party without authority to do so[.] See also Businos v. Atty. Ricafort, 347 Phil. 687, 695 (1997) [Per Curiam, En Banc].
63Rollo, p. 52. See also rollo, p. 155, letter of the Postmaster, Makati Central Post Office, Makati City. The Resolution was received by a certain Rey Teresa on August 10, 2004.
64 Id. at 157.
65 Id. at 173.
66 Id. at 175.
67 Id. at 179.
68 RULES OF COURT, Rule 138, sec. 27 provides:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibraryDisbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. — A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.
69Luna v. Atty. Galarrita, A.C. No. 10662, July 7, 2015 <http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/pdf/web/viewer.html?file=/jurisprudence/2015/july2015/10662.pdf> [Per J. Leonen, En Banc].
70Atty. Alcantara, et al. v. Atty. De Vera, 650 Phil. 214, 220-221 (2010) [Per Curiam, En Banc].
71Villanueva v. Atty. Gonzales, 568 Phil. 379, 389 (2008) [Per J. Carpio, En Banc]; Sipin-Nabor v. Atty. Baterina y Figueras, 412 Phil. 419, 424 (2001) [Per J. Pardo, En Banc]; and Radjaie v. Atty. Alovera, 392 Phil. 1, 17 (2000) [Per Curiam, En Banc].
72Tan v. Diamante, A.C. No. 7766, August 5, 2014, 732 SCRA 1, 10 [Per Curiam, En Banc].