June 2016 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 11246, June 14, 2016 - ARNOLD PACAO, Complainant, v. ATTY. SINAMAR LIMOS, Respondent.
A.C. No. 11246, June 14, 2016
ARNOLD PACAO, Complainant, v. ATTY. SINAMAR LIMOS, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before this Court is a verified complaint1 filed on November 4, 2011 by Arnold Pacao (complainant), seeking the disbarment of Atty. Sinamar Limos (Atty. Limos) for conduct unbecoming of a member of the Bar.
Sometime in March 2008, complainant's wife Mariadel Pacao, former vault custodian of BHF Pawnshop (BHF) branch in Mandaluyong City, was charged with qualified theft by BHF. At the preliminary investigation, Atty. Limos appeared as counsel for BHF. Thereafter, the case was filed before the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong City.2ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
To buy peace, the complainant initiated negotiation with BHF, through Atty. Limos, for a possible settlement. A meeting was then arranged between the complainant and Atty. Limos, where the latter represented that she was duly authorized by BHF. After a series of negotiations, Atty. Limos relayed that BHF is demanding the sum of P530,000.00 to be paid in full or by installments. Further negotiation led to an agreement whereby the complainant would pay an initial amount of P200,000.00 to be entrusted to Atty. Limos, who will then deliver to the complainant a signed affidavit of desistance, a compromise agreement, and a joint motion to approve compromise agreement for filing with the court.3ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
On October 29, 2009, the complainant gave the initial amount of P200,000.00 to Atty. Limos, who in turn, signed an Acknowledgment Receipt4 recognizing her undertakings as counsel of BHF. However, Atty. Limos failed to meet the terms of their agreement. Notwithstanding such failure, Atty. Limos still sought to get from the complainant the next installment amount of their purported agreement, but the latter refused.5ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Thereafter, in June 2010, the complainant met BHF's representative, Camille Bonifacio, who informed him that Atty. Limos was no longer BHF's counsel and was not authorized to negotiate any settlement nor receive any money in behalf of BHF. The complainant also learned that BHF did not receive the P200,000.00 initial payment that he gave to Atty. Limos.6ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
This prompted the complainant to send a demand letter7 to Atty. Limos to return the P200,000.00 initial settlement payment, but the latter failed and refused to do so.8ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
The complainant then filed a disbarment case against Atty. Limos before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) - Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD). The IBP-CBD required Atty. Limos to file an answer but she did not file any responsive pleading.9 A mandatory conference was then set on March 1 and 29, 2012, and April 19, 2012, but Atty. Limos failed to attend. Thereafter, the IBP-CBD ordered the parties to submit their position paper, but once again, Atty. Limos did not bother to submit her position paper.
On May 5, 2014, the Investigating Commissioner recommended the disbarment of Atty. Limos.10 The Investigating Commissioner found enough evidence on record to prove that Atty. Limos committed fraud and practiced deceit on the complainant to the latter's prejudice by concealing or omitting to disclose the material fact that she no longer had the authority to negotiate and conclude a settlement for and on behalf of BHF, nor was authorized to receive the P200,000.00 from the complainant. Atty. Limos was likewise ordered to return to the complainant the full amount of P200,000.00 with interest thereon at the rate of 12% per annum from the date of her receipt of the said amount to the date of her return of the full amount.11ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
In a Resolution12 dated April 19, 2015, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Investigating Commissioner's report and recommendation.
On March 8, 2016, the IBP transmitted the notice of the resolution and the case records to the Court for final action pursuant to Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court.13 As per verification of the Court, neither party has filed a motion for reconsideration or a petition for review thereafter.
Whether or not the instant disbarment complaint constitutes a sufficient basis to disbar Atty. Limos from the practice of law?14ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
To begin with, the Court notes that this is not the first time that Atty. Limos is facing an administrative case, for she had already been twice suspended from the practice of law, by this Court, for three months each in Villaflores v. Atty. Limos15 and Wilkie v. Atty. Limos.16 In Villaflores, Atty. Limos received attorney's fees of P20,000.00 plus miscellaneous expenses of P2,000.00, but she failed to perform her undertaking with her client; thus she was found guilty of gross negligence and dereliction of duty. Likewise, in Wilkie, Atty. Limos was held administratively liable for her deceitful and dishonest conduct when she obtained a loan of P250,000.00 from her client and issued two postdated checks in the latter's favor to pay the said loan despite knowledge of insufficiency of funds to cover the same. In both cases, the Court, gave Atty. Limos a warning that repetition of the same or similar acts by her will merit a more severe penalty.
Once again, for the third time, Atty. Limos is facing an administrative case before this Court for receiving the amount of P200,000.00 from the complainant purportedly for a possible amicable settlement with her client BHF. However, Atty. Limos was no longer BHF's counsel and was not authorize to negotiate and conclude a settlement for and on behalf of BHF nor was she authorized to receive any money in behalf of BHF. Her blunder is compounded by the fact that she did not turn over the money to BHF, nor did she return the same to the complainant, despite due demand. Furthermore, she even tried to get the next installment knowing fully well that she was not authorized to enter into settlement negotiations with the complainant as her engagement as counsel of BHF had already ceased.
The fact that this is Atty. Limos' third transgression exacerbates her offense. The foregoing factual antecedents demonstrate her propensity to employ deceit and misrepresentation. It is not too farfetched for this Court to conclude that from the very beginning, Atty. Limos had planned to employ deceit on the complainant to get hold of a sum of money. Such a conduct is unbecoming and does not speak well of a member of the Bar.
Atty. Limos' case is further highlighted by her lack of regard for the charges brought against her. Similar with Wilkie, despite due notice, Atty. Limos did not bother to answer the complaint against her. She also failed to file her mandatory conference brief and her verified position paper. Worse, Atty. Limos did not even enter appearance either personally or by counsel, and she failed to appear at the scheduled date of the mandatory conferences which she was duly notified.17ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
By her failure to present convincing evidence, or any evidence for that matter, to justify her actions, Atty. Limos failed to demonstrate that she still possessed the integrity and morality demanded of a member of the Bar. Her seeming indifference to the complaint brought against her was made obvious by her unreasonable absence from the proceedings before the IBP. Her disobedience to the IBP is, in fact, a gross and blatant disrespect for the authority of the Court.
Despite her two prior suspensions, still, Atty. Limos is once again demonstrating to this Court that not only is she unfit to stay in the legal profession for her deceitful conduct but is also remiss in following the dictates of the Court, which has supervision over her. Atty. Limos' unwarranted obstinacy is a great insolence to the Court which cannot be tolerated.
The present case comes clearly under the grounds given in Section 27,18 Rule 138 of the Revised Rules of Court. The Court, however, does not hesitate to impose the penalty of disbarment when the guilty party has become a repeat offender. Considering the serious nature of the instant offense and in light of Atty. Limos' prior misconduct which grossly degrades the legal profession, the imposition of the ultimate penalty of disbarment is warranted.
In imposing the penalty of disbarment upon Atty. Limos, the Court is aware that the power to disbar is one to be exercised with great caution and only in clear cases of misconduct that seriously affect the standing and character of the lawyer as a legal professional and as an officer of the Court.19 However, Atty. Limos' recalcitrant attitude and unwillingness to heed with the Court's warning, which is deemed to be an affront to the Court's authority over members of the Bar, warrant an utmost disciplinary sanction from this Court. Her repeated desecration of her ethical commitments proved herself to be unfit to remain in the legal profession. Worse, she remains apathetic to the need to reform herself.
"[T]he practice of law is not a right but a privilege bestowed by the State upon those who show that they possess, and continue to possess, the qualifications required by law for the conferment of such privilege. Membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions."20 "Of all classes and professions, the lawyer is most sacredly bound to uphold the laws. He is their sworn servant; and for him, of all men in the world, to repudiate and override the laws, to trample them underfoot and to ignore the very bonds of society, argues recreancy to his position and office, and sets a pernicious example to the insubordinate and dangerous elements of the body politic."21ChanRoblesVirtualawlibrary
Indeed, Atty. Limos has disgraced the legal profession. The facts and evidence obtaining in this case definitely establish her failure to live up to her duties as a lawyer in accordance with the strictures of the lawyer's oath, the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Canons of Professional Ethics, thereby making her unworthy to continue as a member of the bar.
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Sinamar Limos, having violated the Code of Professional Responsibility by committing grave misconduct and willful insubordination, is DISBARRED and her name ordered STRICKEN OFF the Roll of Attorneys effective immediately.
Let a copy of this Decision be entered in the records of Atty. Sinamar Limos. Further, let other copies be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and on the Office of the Court Administrator, which is directed to circulate them to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.
This Decision is immediately executory.
Sereno, C.J., Carpio, Velasco, Jr., Leonardo-De Castro, Bersamin, Perez, Mendoza, Reyes, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, and Caguioa, JJ., concur.
Brion, and Del Castillo, JJ., on official leave.
Peralta, and Jardeleza, JJ., on official business.
1Rollo, pp. 2-5.
2 Id. at 2.
3 Id. at 2-3.
4 Id. at 6.
5 Id. at 3.
7 Id. at 7.
8 Id. at 3.
9 Id. at 9.
10 Id. at 96-102.
11 Id. at 102.
12 Id. at 94-95.
13 Id. at 93.
14 Id. at 18.
15 563 Phil. 453 (2007).
16 591 Phil. 1 (2008).
17Rollo, p, 98.
18SEC. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. — A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.
19Spouses Floran v. Atty. Ediza, A.C. No. 5325, February 9, 2016.
20Atty. Alcantara, et al. v. Atty. De Vera, 650 Phil. 214, 220 (2010).
21Yu, et al. v. Atty. Palaña, 580 Phil. 19, 28-29 (2008).