August 2017 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 11616 [Formerly CBD Case No. 08-2141], August 23, 2017 - LITO V. BUENVIAJE, Complainant, v. ATTY. MELCHOR G. MAGDAMO, Respondent.
A.C. No. 11616 [Formerly CBD Case No. 08-2141], August 23, 2017
LITO V. BUENVIAJE, Complainant, v. ATTY. MELCHOR G. MAGDAMO, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Before us is an Administrative Complaint dated December 28, 2007 filed by Lito Buenviaje1 (Buenviaje) against respondent Atty. Melchor G. Magdamo (Atty. Magdamo), docketed as A.C. No. 11616 for violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The antecedent facts are as follows:
In the instant Complaint dated December 28, 2007, Buenviaje alleged that he was married to the late Fe Gonzalo-Buenviaje as evidenced by NSO issued Marriage Contract Register No. 87-13503-A.2 Fe died on September 17, 2007.
Meanwhile, Atty. Magdamo was the counsel of Fe's sisters, Lydia and Florenia Gonzalo, who filed a criminal case for bigamy against Buenviaje. They claimed that Buenviaje was married to a certain Amalia Ventura in 1978, thus, making him guilty of bigamy.
In an attempt to protect the rights and interests of his clients in securing the monies of their sibling, deceased Fe Gonzalo, Atty. Magdamo sent a Notice of Death of Depositor3 dated October 11, 2007 to the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI)-Dagupan Branch where Buenviaje and Fe appeared to have a joint account. The pertinent portion of said Notice reads as follows:
"x x x xAggrieved, Buenviaje filed the instant administrative complaint against Atty. Magdamo for violation of Rule 1.01, Canon 7 , Rule 7.03 and Rule 19.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Buenviaje averred that in Atty. Magdamo's Notice of Death of Depositor dated October 11, 2007 sent to the BPI-Dagupan Branch, he untruthfully and maliciously quoted the following statements: (1) "a clever swindler by the name of Lito Buenviaje made it appear on spurious document that he is the husband of Fe Gonzalo when in truth and in fact Lito Buenviaje is married to Amalia Valero", (2) "since August 24, 2007, Lito V. Buenviaje has been a fugitive from justice as he has been hiding from the criminal charge in People of the Philippines versus Lito Buenviaje y Visayana, case number 7H-103365 pending in the City of Manila", and (3) "Fe never had a husband or child in her entire life" to his prejudice.
FE SOLIS GONZALO was formerly an Overseas Filipina Worker (OFW) Nurse in Switzerland whose lifetime savings is now in an account in BPI-Dagupan. She came back to the Philippines to spend the last days of her life with her family in San Fabian, Pangasinan. Unfortunately, while she was terminally ill and while residing in Manila so as to be near Saint Luke's Hospital, a clever swindler by the name of LITO BUENVIAJE made it appear on spurious documents that he is the husband of Fe Gonzalo when in truth and in fact LITO BUENVIAJE is married to AMALIA VALERA.
x x x x
Moreover, ever since 24 August 2007, LITO V. BUENVIAJE has been a fugitive from justice as he has been hiding from the criminal charge in People of the Philippines versus Lito Buenviaje y Visayana, case number 7H-103365, pending in the City of Manila.
x x x x
Fe never had a husband or child in her entire life. x x x" (Emphasis ours)
Buenviaje alleged that he discovered the Notice's existence sometime in December 2007 when he inquired about the remaining balance of his joint account with Fe. He lamented that he was shocked upon reading the letter and felt humiliated at the words written against him as the bank manager and the other bank personnel might have really thought that he was a swindler and a fugitive from justice.4
Buenviaje denied Atty. Magdamo's allegation that Fe was never married as they were in fact married in a public civil rites in the presence of many relatives of Fe. As to his alleged marriage with a certain Amalia Valera, Buenviaje admitted that he had extramarital relationship with her and that they had two (2) sons. When they separated and he subsequently worked overseas, it did not stop him from fulfilling his responsibilities as a father to his sons. He was then advised to remit money to Amalia but he was told that he needed a marriage contract to be able to do so, thus, he asked someone to make a marriage contract for remittance purposes and that he was told that there would be no record of it. Buenviaje claimed that at that time, he really believed that no valid marriage took place between him and Amalia and that he was single up to the time he married Fe.
Buenviaje lamented that Atty. Magdamo employed dirty and dishonest means and tactics to ensure that BPI will prevent him from withdrawing money from the joint account that he has with his late wife. He averred that in referring to him as a "swindler", Atty. Magdamo succeeded in intimidating BPI-Dagupan into extrajudicially "freezing" the joint account and in not transacting with him.
Buenviaje also pointed out that Atty. Magdamo, in referring to him as a fugitive from justice, in effect, made BPI-Dagupan believe that a criminal complaint was already pending against him when in truth and in fact, the August 24, 2007 complaint for bigamy filed by Lydia and Florenia was still pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Manila at the time that they wrote and served the Notice to BPI-Dagupan.
Buenviaje further added that Atty. Magdamo even made threats to him as evidenced by his text messages to him, to wit: "Sometime in the morning of 1 October 2007, I sent text messages to Lito's last known Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) number (+639062097612) requesting him to stop his merciless plunder and to voluntarily surrender to the rule of law."
Finally, Buenviaje questioned Atty. Magdamo's fitness to continue in the practice of law as he has displayed lack of ability to distinguish a fugitive from justice and a respondent in a criminal investigation; employed of dirty and unprofessional tactics of calling him a "swindler"; and by referring to his marriage contract with his wife as "spurious document". He, thus, prayed that considering Atty. Magdamo's actuations, he should be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law.
On January 9, 2008, the IBP-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) directed Atty. Magdamo to submit his answer on the complaint against him.5
In its Report and Recommendation6 dated October 23, 2013, the IBP-CBD recommended that Atty. Magdamo be reprimanded for his unethical actuations.
However, the IBP-Board of Governors, in a Notice of Resolution No. XXI-2014-717 dated October 10, 2014, resolved to adopt and approve with modification the Report and Recommendation of the IBP-CBD, and instead suspend Atty. Magdamo from the practice of law for three (3) months.7
Aggrieved, Atty. Magdamo moved for reconsideration. However, in Resolution No. XXII-2016-3268 dated May 28, 2016, the IBP-Board of Governors resolved to deny Atty. Magdamo's motion for reconsideration and affirm the latter's suspension.
We concur with the findings and recommendation of the IBP-Board of Governors.
The practice of law is a privilege given to lawyers who meet the high standards of legal proficiency and morality. Any violation of these standards exposes the lawyer to administrative liability. Canon 8 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
CANON 8 — A lawyer shall conduct himself with courtesy, fairness and candor towards his professional colleagues, and shall avoid harassing tactics against the opposing counsel.In the instant case, Atty. Magdamo's actuations do not measure up to this Canon. The records show that he referred to Buenviaje as a "swindler". He made this imputation with pure malice for he had no evidence that Buenviaje is committing swindling activities. Even if he was suspicious of Buenviaje, he should have refrained from making such malicious reference or name-calling for he should know as a lawyer that the mere filing of a complaint against a person does not guarantee a finding of guilt, and that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Here, other than the criminal complaint for bigamy which Fe's siblings filed before the prosecutor's office, there were no other cases decided against Buenviaje.
Rule 8.01. — A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive, offensive or otherwise improper.
Atty. Magdamo's malicious imputation against Buenviaje is further aggravated by the fact that said imputation was made in a forum which is not a party to the legal dispute between Fe's siblings and Buenviaje. He could have just informed BPI-Dagupan of the death of its client and that there is a pending litigation regarding their client's estate, and he did not have to resort to name-calling and make unnecessary commentaries in order to support his cause. Undoubtedly, his malicious imputation against Buenviaje is unfair as the latter was unnecessarily exposed to humiliation and shame even as there was no actual case yet to be filed in the courts.
Moreover, Atty. Magdamo is likewise out of line when he made inference to the marriage documents of Buenviaje and Fe as "spurious" as well as his conclusion that "Fe never had a husband or child in her entire life". He should know better that without the courts' pronouncement to this effect, he is in no position to draw conclusions and pass judgment as to the existence, and validity or nullity of the marriage of Buenviaje and Fe. That is not his job to do. While his statements in the Notice given to BPI-Dagupan might be prompted by a good cause, it were nevertheless careless, premature and without basis. At the very least, Atty. Magdamo's actuations are blatant violation of Rule 10.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Rule 10.02 - A lawyer shall not knowingly misquote or misrepresent the contents of a paper, the language or the argument of opposing counsel, or the text of a decision or authority, or knowingly cite as law a provision already rendered inoperative by repeal or amendment, or assert as a fact that which has not been proved. (Emphasis ours)Equally incredulous is Atty. Magdamo's statement in the Notice that "Lito V. Buenviaje has been a fugitive from justice as he has been hiding from the criminal charge in People vs. Lito Buenviaje y Visayana, case number 7H-103365, pending in the City of Manila". Upon review, it appears that case number 7H-103365 is the same bigamy case which Fe's siblings filed against Buenviaje before the Prosecutor's Office of Manila. At the time Atty. Magdamo made the subjects statement in the Notice to BPI-Dagupan, he knew that there was no final resolution yet from the prosecutor's office, no case has yet to be filed in the courts, there was no warrant of arrest against Buenviaje, and more importantly, there was no evidence that Buenviaje had any intent to flee prosecution as he even filed the instant case and participated in the proceedings hereto. A mere charge or allegation of wrongdoing does not suffice. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. There must always be sufficient evidence to support the charge.9 As to why Atty. Magdamo made such malicious statements is beyond this Court's comprehension.
We had an occasion to say that the use of disrespectful, intemperate, manifestly baseless, and malicious statements by an attorney in his pleadings or motions is a violation of the lawyer's oath and a transgression of the canons of professional ethics.10 The Court has constantly reminded lawyers to use dignified language in their pleadings despite the adversarial nature of our legal system.11 Though a lawyer's language may be forceful and emphatic, it should always be dignified and respectful, befitting the dignity of the legal profession. The use of intemperate language and unkind ascriptions has no place in the dignity of judicial forum. Atty. Magdamo ought to have realized that this sort of public behavior can only bring down the legal profession in the public estimation and erode public respect for it.12
In this case, Atty. Magdamo's statements against Buenviaje were not only improper but it also undoubtedly tended to mislead BPI-Dagupan into thinking that the latter is a swindler and a fugitive as it was made without hesitation notwithstanding the absence of any evidentiary support. The Court cannot condone this irresponsible and unprofessional behavior.
As this Court emphasized in Re: Supreme Court Resolution dated 28 April 2003 in G.R. Nos. 145817 & 145822:13
The Court cannot countenance the ease with which lawyers, in the hopes of strengthening their cause in a motion for inhibition, make grave and unfounded accusations of unethical conduct or even wrongdoing against other members of the legal profession. It is the duty of members of the Bar to abstain from all offensive personality and to advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justness of the cause with which they are charged. (emphasis ours)Finally, it must be emphasized anew that, in support of the cause of their clients, lawyers have the duty to present every remedy or defense within the authority of the law. However, a client's cause does not permit an attorney to cross the line between liberty and license.14 The lawyer's duty to its clients must never be at the expense of truth and justice. As explained in Choa v. Chiongson:15
While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his genuine interest, and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost learning and ability, he must do so only within the bounds of the law. He must give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of his client's case with the end in view of promoting respect for the law and legal processes, and counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as it appears to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law. He must always remind himself of the oath he took upon admission to the Bar that he will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same; and that he will conduct [himself] as a lawyer according to the best of [his] knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to [his] clients. Needless to state, the lawyers fidelity to his client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and the administration of justice, and it must be done within the bounds of reason and common sense. A lawyers responsibility to protect and advance the interests of his client does not warrant a course of action propelled by ill motives and malicious intentions against the other party.Based on the foregoing, We cannot countenance Atty. Magdamo's use of offensive and disrespectful language in his Notice addressed to BPI-Dagupan. He clearly violated Canons 8 and 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, for his actions erode the public's perception of the legal profession. We, thus, sustain the findings and recommendation of the IBP-Board of Governors.
ACCORDINGLY, the Court AFFIRMS the October 10, 2014 and May 28, 2016 Resolutions of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Board of Governors in CBD Case No. 08-2141 and ORDERS the suspension of Atty. Melchor G. Magdamo from the practice of law for three (3) months effective upon his receipt of this Decision.
Let a copy of this Decision be entered in Atty. Magdamo's personal record as an attorney with the Office of the Bar Confidant and a copy of the same be served to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and to the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts in the land.
Carpio, (Chairperson), Perlas-Bernabe, and Reyes, Jr., JJ., concur.
Caguioa, J., on leave.
1Rollo, pp. 2-6.
2Id. at 122.
3Id. at 12.
4Id. at 111-120.
5Id. at 26.
6Id. at 138-141.
7Id. at 137.
8Id. at 157.
9Spouses Boyboy v. Yabut, Jr., 449 Phil. 664, 668 (2003).
10Baja v. Judge Macandog, 242 Phil. 123, 132 (1988).
11Atty. Barandon, Jr. v. Atty. Ferrer, Sr., 630 Phil. 524, 531 (2010).
12Id. at 532.
13Law Firm of Chavez Miranda Aseoche v. Lazaro, A.C. No. 7045, September 5, 2016.
14Cruz v. Judge Alino-Hormachuelos, 470 Phil. 435, 445 (2004).
15 329 Phil. 270, 275-276 (1996).