January 2006 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 6792 - ROBERTO SORIANO v. ATTY. MANUEL DIZON
[A.C. NO. 6792 - January 25, 2006]
ROBERTO SORIANO, Complainant, v. Atty. MANUEL DIZON, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is a Complaint-Affidavit1 for the disbarment of Atty. Manuel Dizon, filed by Roberto Soriano with the Commission on Bar Discipine (CBD) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). Complainant alleges that the conviction of respondent for a crime involving moral turpitude, together with the circumstances surrounding the conviction, violates Canon 1 of Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility;2 and constitutes sufficient ground for his disbarment under Section 27 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.3
Because of the failure of Atty. Dizon to submit his Answer to the Complaint, the CBD issued a Notice dated May 20, 2004, informing him that he was in default, and that an ex-parte hearing had been scheduled for June 11, 2004.4 After that hearing, complainant manifested that he was submitting the case on the basis of the Complaint and its attachments.5 Accordingly, the CBD directed him to file his Position Paper, which he did on July 27, 2004.6 Afterwards, the case was deemed submitted for resolution.
On December 6, 2004, Commissioner Teresita J. Herbosa rendered her Report and Recommendation, which was later adopted and approved by the IBP Board of Governors in its Resolution No. XVI-2005-84 dated March 12, 2005.
In his Complaint-Affidavit, Soriano alleged that respondent had violated Canon 1, Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility; and that the conviction of the latter for frustrated homicide,7 which involved moral turpitude, should result in his disbarment.
The facts leading to respondent's conviction were summarized by Branch 60 of the Regional Trial Court of Baguio City in this wise:
"x x x. The accused was driving his brown Toyota Corolla and was on his way home after gassing up in preparation for his trip to Concepcion, Tarlac with his wife. Along Abanao Street, a taxi driver overtook the car driven by the accused not knowing that the driver of the car he had overtaken is not just someone, but a lawyer and a prominent member of the Baguio community who was under the influence of liquor. Incensed, the accused tailed the taxi driver until the latter stopped to make a turn at [the] Chugum and Carino Streets. The accused also stopped his car, berated the taxi driver and held him by his shirt. To stop the aggression, the taxi driver forced open his door causing the accused to fall to the ground. The taxi driver knew that the accused had been drinking because he smelled of liquor. Taking pity on the accused who looked elderly, the taxi driver got out of his car to help him get up. But the accused, by now enraged, stood up immediately and was about to deal the taxi driver a fist blow when the latter boxed him on the chest instead. The accused fell down a second time, got up again and was about to box the taxi driver but the latter caught his fist and turned his arm around. The taxi driver held on to the accused until he could be pacified and then released him. The accused went back to his car and got his revolver making sure that the handle was wrapped in a handkerchief. The taxi driver was on his way back to his vehicle when he noticed the eyeglasses of the accused on the ground. He picked them up intending to return them to the accused. But as he was handing the same to the accused, he was met by the barrel of the gun held by the accused who fired and shot him hitting him on the neck. He fell on the thigh of the accused so the latter pushed him out and sped off. The incident was witnessed by Antonio Billanes whose testimony corroborated that of the taxi driver, the complainant in this case, Roberto Soriano."8
It was the prosecution witness, Antonio Billanes, who came to the aid of Soriano and brought the latter to the hospital. Because the bullet had lacerated the carotid artery on the left side of his neck,9 complainant would have surely died of hemorrhage if he had not received timely medical assistance, according to the attending surgeon, Dr. Francisco Hernandez, Jr. Soriano sustained a spinal cord injury, which caused paralysis on the left part of his body and disabled him for his job as a taxi driver.
The trial court promulgated its Decision dated November 29, 2001. On January 18, 2002, respondent filed an application for probation, which was granted by the court on several conditions. These included satisfaction of "the civil liabilities imposed by [the] court in favor of the offended party, Roberto Soriano."10
According to the unrefuted statements of complainant, Atty. Dizon, who has yet to comply with this particular undertaking, even appealed the civil liability to the Court of Appeals.11
In her Report and Recommendation, Commissioner Herbosa recommended that respondent be disbarred from the practice of law for having been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.
The commissioner found that respondent had not only been convicted of such crime, but that the latter also exhibited an obvious lack of good moral character, based on the following facts:
"1. He was under the influence of liquor while driving his car;
"2. He reacted violently and attempted to assault Complainant only because the latter, driving a taxi, had overtaken him;
"3. Complainant having been able to ward off his attempted assault, Respondent went back to his car, got a gun, wrapped the same with a handkerchief and shot Complainant[,] who was unarmed;
"4. When Complainant fell on him, Respondent simply pushed him out and fled;
"5. Despite positive identification and overwhelming evidence, Respondent denied that he had shot Complainant;
"6. Apart from [his] denial, Respondent also lied when he claimed that he was the one mauled by Complainant and two unidentified persons; and,
"7. Although he has been placed on probation, Respondent has[,] to date[,] not yet satisfied his civil liabilities to Complainant."12
On July 8, 2005, the Supreme Court received for its final action the IBP Resolution adopting the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.
We agree with the findings and recommendations of Commissioner Herbosa, as approved and adopted by the IBP Board of Governors.
Under Section 27 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude is a ground for disbarment or suspension. By such conviction, a lawyer is deemed to have become unfit to uphold the administration of justice and to be no longer possessed of good moral character.13 In the instant case, respondent has been found guilty; and he stands convicted, by final judgment, of frustrated homicide. Since his conviction has already been established and is no longer open to question, the only issues that remain to be determined are as follows: 1) whether his crime of frustrated homicide involves moral turpitude, and 2) whether his guilt warrants disbarment.
Moral turpitude has been defined as "everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty, or good morals; an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals."14
The question of whether the crime of homicide involves moral turpitude has been discussed in International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) v. NLRC,15 a labor case concerning an employee who was dismissed on the basis of his conviction for homicide. Considering the particular circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime, this Court rejected the employer's contention and held that homicide in that case did not involve moral turpitude. (If it did, the crime would have been violative of the IRRI's Employment Policy Regulations and indeed a ground for dismissal.) The Court explained that, having disregarded the attendant circumstances, the employer made a pronouncement that was precipitate. Furthermore, it was not for the latter to determine conclusively whether a crime involved moral turpitude. That discretion belonged to the courts, as explained thus:
"x x x. Homicide may or may not involve moral turpitude depending on the degree of the crime. Moral turpitude is not involved in every criminal act and is not shown by every known and intentional violation of statute, but whether any particular conviction involves moral turpitude may be a question of fact and frequently depends on all the surrounding circumstances. x x x."16 (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
In the IRRI case, in which the crime of homicide did not involve moral turpitude, the Court appreciated the presence of incomplete self-defense and total absence of aggravating circumstances. For a better understanding of that Decision, the circumstances of the crime are quoted as follows:
"x x x. The facts on record show that Micosa [the IRRI employee] was then urinating and had his back turned when the victim drove his fist unto Micosa's face; that the victim then forcibly rubbed Micosa's face into the filthy urinal; that Micosa pleaded to the victim to stop the attack but was ignored and that it was while Micosa was in that position that he drew a fan knife from the left pocket of his shirt and desperately swung it at the victim who released his hold on Micosa only after the latter had stabbed him several times. These facts show that Micosa's intention was not to slay the victim but only to defend his person. The appreciation in his favor of the mitigating circumstances of self-defense and voluntary surrender, plus the total absence of any aggravating circumstance demonstrate that Micosa's character and intentions were not inherently vile, immoral or unjust."17
The present case is totally different. As the IBP correctly found, the circumstances clearly evince the moral turpitude of respondent and his unworthiness to practice law.
Atty. Dizon was definitely the aggressor, as he pursued and shot complainant when the latter least expected it. The act of aggression shown by respondent will not be mitigated by the fact that he was hit once and his arm twisted by complainant. Under the circumstances, those were reasonable actions clearly intended to fend off the lawyer's assault.
We also consider the trial court's finding of treachery as a further indication of the skewed morals of respondent. He shot the victim when the latter was not in a position to defend himself. In fact, under the impression that the assault was already over, the unarmed complainant was merely returning the eyeglasses of Atty. Dizon when the latter unexpectedly shot him. To make matters worse, respondent wrapped the handle of his gun with a handkerchief so as not to leave fingerprints. In so doing, he betrayed his sly intention to escape punishment for his crime.
The totality of the facts unmistakably bears the earmarks of moral turpitude. By his conduct, respondent revealed his extreme arrogance and feeling of self-importance. As it were, he acted like a god on the road, who deserved to be venerated and never to be slighted. Clearly, his inordinate reaction to a simple traffic incident reflected poorly on his fitness to be a member of the legal profession. His overreaction also evinced vindictiveness, which was definitely an undesirable trait in any individual, more so in a lawyer. In the tenacity with which he pursued complainant, we see not the persistence of a person who has been grievously wronged, but the obstinacy of one trying to assert a false sense of superiority and to exact revenge.
It is also glaringly clear that respondent seriously transgressed Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility through his illegal possession of an unlicensed firearm18 and his unjust refusal to satisfy his civil liabilities.19 He has thus brazenly violated the law and disobeyed the lawful orders of the courts. We remind him that, both in his attorney's oath20 and in the Code of Professional Responsibility, he bound himself to "obey the laws of the land."
All told, Atty. Dizon has shown through this incident that he is wanting in even a basic sense of justice. He obtained the benevolence of the trial court when it suspended his sentence and granted him probation. And yet, it has been four years21 since he was ordered to settle his civil liabilities to complainant. To date, respondent remains adamant in refusing to fulfill that obligation. By his extreme impetuosity and intolerance, as shown by his violent reaction to a simple traffic altercation, he has taken away the earning capacity, good health, and youthful vigor of his victim. Still, Atty. Dizon begrudges complainant the measly amount that could never even fully restore what the latter has lost.
Conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude may relate, not to the exercise of the profession of lawyers, but certainly to their good moral character.22 Where their misconduct outside of their professional dealings is so gross as to show them morally unfit for their office and unworthy of the privileges conferred upon them by their license and the law, the court may be justified in suspending or removing them from that office.23
We also adopt the IBP's finding that respondent displayed an utter lack of good moral character, which is an essential qualification for the privilege to enter into the practice of law. Good moral character includes at least common honesty.24
In the case at bar, respondent consistently displayed dishonest and duplicitous behavior. As found by the trial court, he had sought, with the aid of Vice-Mayor Daniel Fariñas, an out-of-court settlement with complainant's family.25 But when this effort failed, respondent concocted a complete lie by making it appear that it was complainant's family that had sought a conference with him to obtain his referral to a neurosurgeon.26
The lies of Atty Dizon did not end there. He went on to fabricate an entirely implausible story of having been mauled by complainant and two other persons.27 The trial court had this to say:
"The physical evidence as testified to by no less than three (3) doctors who examined [Atty. Dizon] does not support his allegation that three people including the complainant helped each other in kicking and boxing him. The injuries he sustained were so minor that it is improbable[,] if not downright unbelievable[,] that three people who he said were bent on beating him to death could do so little damage. On the contrary, his injuries sustain the complainant's version of the incident particularly when he said that he boxed the accused on the chest. x x x."28
Lawyers must be ministers of truth. No moral qualification for bar membership is more important than truthfulness.29 The rigorous ethics of the profession places a premium on honesty and condemns duplicitous behavior.30 Hence, lawyers must not mislead the court or allow it to be misled by any artifice. In all their dealings, they are expected to act in good faith.
The actions of respondent erode rather than enhance public perception of the legal profession. They constitute moral turpitude for which he should be disbarred. "Law is a noble profession, and the privilege to practice it is bestowed only upon individuals who are competent intellectually, academically and, equally important, morally. Because they are vanguards of the law and the legal system, lawyers must at all times conduct themselves, especially in their dealings with their clients and the public at large, with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach."31
The foregoing abhorrent acts of respondent are not merely dishonorable; they reveal a basic moral flaw. Considering the depravity of the offense he committed, we find the penalty recommended by the IBP proper and commensurate.
The purpose of a proceeding for disbarment is to protect the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this important function be competent, honorable and reliable - - lawyers in whom courts and clients may repose confidence.32 Thus, whenever a clear case of degenerate and vile behavior disturbs that vital yet fragile confidence, we shall not hesitate to rid our profession of odious members.
We remain aware that the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution, and that disbarment should never be decreed when any lesser penalty would accomplish the end desired. In the instant case, however, the Court cannot extend that munificence to respondent. His actions so despicably and wantonly disregarded his duties to society and his profession. We are convinced that meting out a lesser penalty would be irreconcilable with our lofty aspiration for the legal profession - - that every lawyer be a shining exemplar of truth and justice.
We stress that membership in the legal profession is a privilege demanding a high degree of good moral character, not only as a condition precedent to admission, but also as a continuing requirement for the practice of law. Sadly, herein respondent has fallen short of the exacting standards expected of him as a vanguard of the legal profession.
In sum, when lawyers are convicted of frustrated homicide, the attending circumstances - not the mere fact of their conviction - would demonstrate their fitness to remain in the legal profession. In the present case, the appalling vindictiveness, treachery, and brazen dishonesty of respondent clearly show his unworthiness to continue as a member of the bar.
WHEREFORE, RESPONDENT MANUEL DIZON is hereby DISBARRED, and his name is ORDERED STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys. Let a copy of this Decision be entered in his record as a member of the Bar; and let notice of the same be served on the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and on the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-5.
2 "CANON 1. - A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes."
"Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct."
3 "Sec. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefor. - A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to practice x x x."
4 Rollo, p. 32.
5 Id., p. 36.
6 Id., pp. 40-46.
7 The dispositive portion reads:
"WHEREFORE, the Court hereby finds the accused, ATTY. MANUEL DIZON, guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of FRUSTRATED HOMICIDE, as charged. There being one mitigating circumstance of voluntary surrender and one aggravating circumstance of treachery, the Court hereby imposes upon him an indeterminate penalty of 6 months of arresto mayor as minimum period to 6 years of prision correccional as maximum period.
"The accused is also adjudged civilly liable and is hereby ordered to pay unto the private offended party, Roberto Soriano[,] the following:
P76,293.00 as actual damages;
P100,000.00 as moral damages; andcralawlibrary
P100,000.00 as exemplary damages.
"SO ORDERED." (Rollo, p. 27)
8 RTC Decision, pp. 18-19; rollo, pp. 23-24. Penned by Judge Edilberto T. Claravall of Branch 60, Regional Trial Court, Baguio City.
9 Id., pp. 6-7 & 11-12.
10 Probation Order, p. 2; rollo, p. 29.
11 Rollo, p. 3.
12 IBP Report, pp. 4-5.
13 Nuñez v. Astorga, 452 SCRA 353, February 28, 2005.
14 International Rice Research Institute v. NLRC, 221 SCRA 760, 767, May 12, 1993, per Nocon, J. citing Can v. Galing, 155 SCRA 663, 667-668, November 27, 1987, per Padilla, J.; Tak Ng v. Republic, 106 Phil. 727, 730, December 23, 1959, per Barrera, J.; In Re Basa, 41 Phil. 275, 276, December 7, 1920, per Malcolm, J.
16 Id., p. 768. Citations omitted.
17 Id., pp. 767-768.
18 RTC Decision, p. 5; rollo, p. 10.
19 IBP Report, p. 5.
20 "I, (name), of (address), do solemnly swear that I will maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines; I will support and defend its Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; I will do no falsehood nor consent to its commission; I will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false, or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same; I will not delay any man's cause for money or malice and will conduct myself as a lawyer according to the best of my knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to my clients and I impose upon myself this obligation voluntarily, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. So help me God." (Emphasis supplied)cralawlibrary
21 The RTC Decision is dated November 29, 2001, while the Probation Order is dated May 3, 2002.
22 People v. Tuanda, 181 SCRA 692, January 30, 1990.
23 See Co v. Bernardino, 349 Phil. 16, January 28, 1998.
24 Tan v. Sabandal, 206 SCRA 473, February 24, 1992.
25 RTC Decision, p. 21; rollo, p. 26.
26 Id., pp. 12 & 17.
27 Id, pp. 11-12 & 16-17.
28 Id., pp. 20 & 25.
29 Tan v. Sabandal, supra.
30 Olbes v. Deciembre, AC No. 5365, April 27, 2005.
31 Resurreccion v. Sayson, 300 SCRA 129, December 14, 1998, per curiam.
32 Ting-Dumali v. Torres, 427 SCRA 108, April 14, 2004; De Jesus-Paras v. Vailoces, 111 Phil. 569, April 12, 1961.