July 2011 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
[G.R. No. 178941 : July 27, 2011]
JOSE ANSELMO I. CADIZ, LEONARD S. DE VERA, ROMULO A. RIVERA, DANTE G. ILAYA, PURA ANGELICA Y. SANTIAGO, ROSARIO T. SETIAS-REYES, JOSE VICENTE B. SALAZAR, MANUEL M. MONZON, IMMANUEL L. SODUSTA, CARLOS L. VALDEZ, JR., AND LYDIA A. NAVARRO, PETITIONERS, VS. THE HONORABLE PRESIDING JUDGE, BR. 48, RTC-PUERTO PRINCESA AND GLENN C. GACOTT, RESPONDENTS.
D E C I S I O N
On February 23, 2003 the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Board of Governors, then composed of petitioners Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, Leonard S. De Vera, Romulo A. Rivera, Dante G. Ilaya, Pura Angelica Y. Santiago, Rosario T. Setias-Reyes, Jose Vicente B. Salazar, Manuel M. Monzon, Immanuel L. Sodusta, and Carlos L. Valdez, Jr. (the IBP Board), received an administrative complaint  filed by Lilia T. Ventura and Concepcion Tabang against respondent Atty. Glenn C. Gacott for gross misconduct, deceit, and gross dishonesty. The IBP Board designated petitioner Lydia A. Navarro (Navarro) as Commissioner to investigate the case.
Commissioner Navarro summoned the parties to a mandatory conference and required them afterwards to submit their position papers. Based on these, Navarro submitted her Report and Recommendation to the IBP Board for its approval. Commissioner Navarro was herself a member of the IBP Board. After deliberation, the IBP Board adopted Commissioner Navarro's findings but increased the recommended penalty of six months suspension from the practice of law to disbarment. The IBP Board then transmitted their report to this Court.
On September 29, 2004, however, the Court remanded the case to the IBP Board for further proceedings in order to give the parties the chance to fully present their case.  The Court said the investigating commissioner should have subpoenaed and examined the witnesses of the parties considering the gravity of the charge against Atty. Gacott. Navarro rendered her report based solely on the position papers and affidavits of the witnesses.
While the IBP Board was complying with the Court's directive, Atty. Gacott filed a complaint for damages against the board's sitting members before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.  Answering the complaint, the IBP Board raised the affirmative defense of failure of the complaint to state a cause of action and filed a motion to dismiss the case on that ground. On March 9, 2006 the trial court denied the motion,  prompting the IBP Board to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals (CA) on special civil action for certiorari. 
On December 29, 2006 the CA denied the petition, pointing out that the RTC did not commit grave abuse of discretion. The IBP Board had other plain and speedy remedy, like proceeding to trial in the case and appealing in the event of failure of the RTC to dismiss the action. The CA denied in its Resolution dated July 12, 2007 the IBP Board's motion for reconsideration, thus causing them to file the present petition.
The key issue in this case is whether or not the CA erred in failing to rule that the Supreme Court's remand of the disbarment case to the IBP Board for examination of the witnesses, considering the gravity of the charge against Atty. Gacott, cannot serve as basis for the latter's complaint for damages against the members of that board.
Atty. Gacott states in his complaint for damages before the RTC that Supreme Court's remand of his case to the IBP Board is an affirmation of the latter's arbitrary abuse of its investigatory power. The IBP Board recommended his disbarment based on the Commissioner's report rendered to it without the benefit of exhaustive hearing. This made its members personally liable for actual, moral, and corrective damages. Essentially, therefore, Atty. Gacott anchored his complaint for damages on the result of the Court's assessment of the IBP Board's report and recommendation and its remand of the case against him for further proceedings.
The petitioner IBP Board members are correct in claiming that Atty. Gacott's complaint states no cause of action. The IBP Commissioner and Board of Governors in this case merely exercised delegated powers to investigate the complaint against Atty. Gacott and submit their report and recommendation to the Court. They cannot be charged for honest errors committed in the performance of their quasi-judicial function. And that was what it was in the absence of any allegation of specific factual circumstances indicating that they acted maliciously or upon illicit consideration. If the rule were otherwise, a great number of lower court justices and judges whose acts the appellate courts have annulled on ground of grave abuse of discretion would be open targets for damage suits.
Parenthetically, Atty. Gacott submitted the disbarment case against him for resolution based on the position papers that he and the complainants presented, without reservation, to the IBP along with the affidavits of their witnesses. The IBP Board prepared its report and recommendation to the Court based on these papers and documents.
WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS the petition, SETS ASIDE the decision dated December 29, 2006 and resolution dated July 12, 2007 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP 94692, and ORDERS the complaint for damages filed by respondent Glenn C. Gacott against petitioners Jose Anselmo I. Cadiz, Leonard S. De Vera, Romulo A. Rivera, Dante G. Ilaya, Pura Angelica Y. Santiago, Rosario T. Setias-Reyes, Jose Vicente B. Salazar, Manuel M. Monzon, Immanuel L. Sodusta, Carlos L. Valdez, Jr., and Lydia A. Navarro in Civil Case 4095 of the Regional Trial Court of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, DISMISSED for failure to state a cause of action.
Carpio,* Peralta, and Mendoza, JJ., concur.
Velasco, Jr., (Chairperson), J., pls. see concurring opinion.
* Designated as additional member in lieu of Associate Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, per Special Order 1042 dated July 6, 2011.
 Dated February 3, 2003; docketed as Administrative Case (CBD) 03-1054.
 Resolution dated September 29, 2004 in Administrative Case 6490.
 Docketed as Civil Case 4095.
 Rollo, pp. 146-149.
 Docketed as CA-G.R. SP 94692.
VELASCO, JR., J.:
I concur with the opinion of my learned colleague, Justice Roberto Abad, that the members of the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) are not liable for damages for recommending the disbarment of Atty. Glenn C. Gacott. No cause of action exists. Even as the case of Atty. Gacott was remanded to the IBP Board for further proceedings, this does not mean that the IBP Board of Governors gravely erred by not conducting an exhaustive hearing, and is, thus, liable for damages. The remanding of the case gives both Atty. Gacott and the IBP Board a better opportunity to construct their respective stands, considering the gravity of the recommended penalty. Disbarment is not a matter to be taken lightly.
I will, however, argue that an exhaustive hearing is not necessary in disciplinary cases, including those for disbarment. In the case of Atty. Gacott, he submitted the disbarment case against him for resolution even without the benefit of a full-blown hearing, but based on position papers and witnesses' affidavits. This would constitute a waiver of his claim for a full-blown hearing.
Even as Atty. Gacott has waived his hearing, I submit that the conduct of a full-blown hearing is not mandatory. Sec. 3 of Rule V of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission on Bar Discipline of the IBP states:
SEC. 3. Determination of Necessity of Clarificatory Questioning. Immediately after the submission by the parties of their position papers, the Investigating Commissioner shall determine whether there is a need to conduct clarificatory questioning. If necessary, a hearing date shall be set wherein the Investigating Commissioner shall ask clarificatory questions to the parties or their witnesses to further elicit facts or [information]. (Emphasis supplied.)
It is clear from the above provision that the determination of whether or not a hearing is necessary is at the discretion of the Investigating Commissioner. In Atty. Gacott's case, Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro in fact summoned the parties and required them to submit their position papers. She found no necessity for calling a hearing after reviewing the papers, and submitted her report to the IBP Board. No reason has been supplied to question her judgment on the matter of not calling for a clarificatory hearing.
To further buttress the argument that a full-blown hearing is not a requisite in disciplinary actions against lawyers, Sec. 8, Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court, on Disbarment and Discipline of Attorneys, states:
Investigation. - Upon joinder of issues or upon failure of the respondent to answer, the Investigator shall, with deliberate speed, proceed with the investigation of the case. He shall have the power to issue subpoenas and administer oaths. The respondent shall be given full opportunity to defend himself, to present witnesses on his behalf and be heard by himself and counsel. However, if upon reasonable notice, the respondent fails to appear, the investigation shall proceed ex parte.
The Investigator shall terminate the investigation within three (3) months from the date of its commencement unless extended for good cause by the Board of Governors upon prior application.
Willfull failure or refusal to obey a subpoena or any other lawful order issued by the Investigator shall be dealt with as for indirect contempt of court. The corresponding charge shall be filed by the Investigator before the IBP Board of Governors which shall require the alleged contemnor to show cause within ten (10) days from notice. The IBP Board of Governors may thereafter conduct hearings, if necessary, in accordance with the procedure set forth in this Rule for hearings before the Investigator. Such hearing shall, as far as practicable, be terminated within fifteen (15) days from its commencement. Thereafter, the IBP Board of Governors shall within like period fifteen (15) days issue a resolution setting forth its findings and recommendations, which shall forthwith be transmitted to the Supreme Court for final action and if warranted, the imposition of penalty. (Emphasis supplied.)
Even from the Rules of Court, it is clear that it is within the discretion of the IBP Board to determine the necessity of conducting hearings. The conduct of an exhaustive hearing is not mandatory in disciplinary actions against lawyers, and, thus, Atty. Gacott has no cause of action against the IBP Board, when their recommendation was made with no hearing having been held.
Atty. Gacott's complaint stated that the IBP Board recommended his disbarment without affording him a full-blown hearing, but as I have shown, such a full-blown hearing is not mandatory. Thus, the IBP Board is not liable for damages for simply following the procedure in its Rules and under Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court.