August 2017 - Philippine Supreme Court Decisions/Resolutions
A.C. No. 6980, August 30, 2017 - CESAR O. STA. ANA, CRISTINA M. STA. ANA AND ESTHER STA. ANA-SILVERIO, Complainants, v. ATTY. ANTONIO JOSE F. CORTES, Respondent.
A.C. No. 6980, August 30, 2017
CESAR O. STA. ANA, CRISTINA M. STA. ANA AND ESTHER STA. ANA-SILVERIO, Complainants, v. ATTY. ANTONIO JOSE F. CORTES, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
In a sworn letter dated August 4, 2005, complainants alleged that respondent was left ith the care and maintenance of several properties either owned or under the administration of Atty. Casal since the latter's death; that respondent abused his authority, as such administrator, and engineered the sale or transfer of the said properties, specifically the two parcels of land covered by TCT Nos. T-1069335 and T-1069336, which were owned originally by their (complainants') ancestors; that on May 19, 2004, respondent, in connivance with Cesar Inis (Inis) and A Casal's alleged adopted daughter, Gloria Casal Cledera (Gloria), and her husband, Hugh Cledera (the spouses Cledera), sold the abovementioned parcels of land to the Property Company of Friends, Inc. (PCFI).1
Complainants further averred that as the said properties were originally in the names of Inis, Ruben Loyola (Loyola), Angela Lacdan (Lacdan) and Cesar Veloso Casal (Veloso), these persons, in conspiracy with respondent, caused to be executed a Special Power of Attorney2 (SPA) dated May 4, 2004, under which Loyola, Lacdan and Veloso purportedly authorized their co-owner Inis to sell the said properties; that this SPA was, however, forged or falsified, because Loyola was already dead on August 15, 1994, whereas Lacdan died on August 31, 2001, and at the time of the execution of the SPA in Catmona, Cavite, Veloso was in fact in Tacloban City; and that indeed, as a consequence of respondent's wrongdoing, criminal cases for Estata through Falsification of Public Document were filed against respondent and the spouses Cledera.3
Complainants moreover claimed that respondent notarized 12 falsified Deeds of Donation, dated September 17 and 18, 2003, and supposedly executed in Carmona, Cavite, under which it was made to appear that Atty. Casal purportedly donated 66 pieces of property to Gloria; that they (complainants) caused to be verified/examined Atty. Casal's "superimposed" signatures on these deeds of donation by the Questioned Documents Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI); and that in its Disposition Forms, the NBI concluded that "the signatures appearing on the said questioned documents are mere xerox copies which do not truly and clearly reflect the minute details of the writing strokes and other aspects relative to the preparation of the questioned signatures."4
In his answer, respondent asserted that all the criminal complaints against him had been dismissed, and the criminal information/s instituted therefor had been withdrawn by the Department of Justice (DOJ), hence, he had been exonerated of all the charges against him. Respondent adverted to the Resolution of Regional State Prosecutor Ernesto C. Mendoza, which in part declared -
In a Resolution6 dated November 27, 2006, the Court resolved to refer this administrative case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.x x x the signatures of Cesar E. Casal appearing on the said questioned documents are mere xerox copies which do not truly and clearly reflect the minute details of the writing strokes and other aspects relative to the preparation of the questioned signatures.Nowhere in this report was there a categorical statement that the document was falsified or the signatures were forged. x x x5
Report and Recommendation of the IBP
The Investigating Commissioner summarized the charges against respondent as follows:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
After due proceedings, the Investigating Commissioner submitted a Report8 dated May 14, 2010, finding respondent not only guilty of dishonesty and deceitful conduct, but also guilty of having violated hls oath as a notary public.
(a) First, [r]espondent was involved in the preparation of the Loyola SPA, which was used to sell the [s)ubject [p]roperties to PCFI, despite the fact that two (2) of the alleged signatories therein were already dead at the time the Loyola SPA was executed; (b) Second, [r]espondent prepared and notarized 12 Deeds of Donation, which [appear] to be spurious because the signatures of Atty. Casal thereon were only superimposed; (c) Third, [r]espondent notarized the 12 Deeds of Donation in Quezon City, within his territorial jurisdiction as a notary public x x x despite the fact that Atty. Casal signed the same in x x x Cavite, or outside his jurisdiction as a notary public; (d) Fourth, [r]espondent caused the preparation of the Casal SPA, which appears to be spurious because the signature of Atty. Casal thereon was only superimposed; and (e) Fifth, [r]espondent knowingly used the spurious Casal SPA and executed a Deed of Sale in favor of PCFI involving other properties.7
In finding respondent guilty of using a falsified document, the Investigating Commissioner noted that although there was no direct evidence that it was respondent himself who prepared or drafted the SPA, there was evidence nonetheless that respondent did actively participate, or take part, in the offer and sale of the properties to the PCFI; and that since the execution of the forged or falsified SPA is a crucial or critical component of the eventual consummation of the sale to PCFI, respondent could not be heard to say that he had no knowledge of the use of a falsified document.9
As regards the 12 Deeds of Donation allegedly executed by Atty. Casal, the Investigating Commissioner lent more credence to the unbiased or impartial report of the NBI's finding that the signatures of Atty. Casal were per se mere xerox copies; and that moreover, respondent had violated Section 24010 of the Revised Administrative Code, when he caused to be acknowledged the Deeds of Donation in his law office in Quezon City, despite the fact that these were supposedly signed and executed by Atty. Casal in Cavite. The Investigating Commissioner opined that respondent "ought to have known that since he was outside his territorial jurisdiction as a notary public, he could not have performed the acts of a notary public at the time of the signing of the 12 Deeds of Donation, including the taking of oath of the parties."11
The Investigating Commissioner thus recommended:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
1. ATTY. ANTONIO JOSE F. CORTES be suspended from the practice of law for a period ranging from six (6) months to two (2) years with a STERN WARNING that repetition of the same or similar acts or conduct shall be dealt with more severely; andIn its Resolution13 dated May 10, 2013, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the findings of the Investigating Commissioner but modified the recommended penalty to a one-year suspension from the practice of law, with revocation of respondent's notarial license, plus a two-year disqualification from reappointment as notary public. The pertinent portion of the Resolution reads:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
2. ATTY. ANTONIO JOSE F. CORTES be barred from being commissioned as a notary public for a period of two (2) years, and in the event that he is presently commissioned as notary public, that his commission be immediately revoked and suspended for such period.12
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby unanimously ADOPTED and APPROVED with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, herein made part ofthis Resolution as Annex "A", and finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules and considering Respondent's violation of the Notarial Law, Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one (1) year and his Notarial Commission immediately REVOKED presently commissioned. Further, he is DISQUALIFIED from reappointment as Notary Publicfor two (2) years.No motions for reconsideration having been filed by any of the parties, the case is before us for fmal resolution.
Lawyers are instruments in the administration of justice. As vanguards of our legal system, they are expected to maintain not only legal proficiency but also a high standard of morality, honesty, integrity and fair dealing. [It is only in living up to the very high standards and tenets of the legal profession that] the people's faith and confidence in the judicial system can be ensured. Lawyers may be disciplined - whether in their professional or in their private capacity - for any conduct that is wanting in morality, honesty, probity and good demeanor.14In the instant case, respondent acted with deceit when he used the falsified documents to effect the transfer of properties owned or administered by the late Atty. Casal. In a letter15 sent by Atty. Florante O. Villegas, counsel for the PCFI, to the spouses Cledera, the former explicitly stated that respondent did have a hand in the negotiation leading to the sale of the properties covered by TCT Nos. T-1069335 and T-1069336. In clarifying that it only entered into a Deed of Absolute Sale because of the "offer and representation that spouses Cesar and Pilar Casal are the true owners of the subject parcels of land,"16 the PCFI, through its legal counsel, declared:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
We understand that you, together with Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes, offered to sell the said parcels ofland to our client, and that on September 17, 2003, an agreement of Purchase and Sale was executed between Spouses Cesar E. Casal and Pilar P. Casal (represented by Atty. Cortes as their attorney-in-fact) and our client.17 (Emphasis supplied)Moreover, Mr. Guillermo C. Choa, President of the PCFI, narrated in his affidavit18 the events leading to another sale likewise involving properties coowned by Atty. Casal through the use of the spurious SPA, to wit:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
3) That sometime in August 2003, Sps. Hugh Cledera and Gloria Casal Cledera and Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes offered to me for sale several parcels of land owned by Cesar E. Casal (father of Gloria Casal Cledera) including Lot 5, Psu 10120 and Lot 6, Psu 101205 containing an area of 39,670 square meters and 47,638 square meters, more or less, located at Bo. Lantic, Carmona, Cavite which was then registered in the name of Eduardo Gan, et al. under TCT No. T-79153 of the Register of Deeds fur the Province of Cavite.Likewise, it cannot be denied that it was respondent who engineered the execution of the 12 Deeds of Donation involving 66 pieces of Atty. Casal's property. Respondent was personally present dwing the alleged signing of the Deeds of Donation in Cavite, which deeds he brought afterwards to his law office in Quezon City, and notarized the same. Indeed, in his Affidavit, respondent stated:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
4) That Sps. Hugh Cledera and Gloria Casal Cledera together with Atty. Cortes also presented to me the following documents, to wit:
a) TCT No. T-79153 of the Registry of Deeds for the Province of Cavite. b) Deed of Absolute Sale dated December 15, 1990 executed by heirs of Eduardo B. Gan, et al. in favor of Cesar E. Casal, Cesar Inis, Ruben Loyola and Angela Lacdan. c) Deed of Absolute Sale dated December 19, 1990 executed by Cesar Veloso Casal, et. al. in favor ofSps. Cesar and Pilar Casal.
x x x x
6) That in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale, it was agreed that the seller shall register the several Deeds of Sale and deliver the titles over said properties to Pro-friends (PCFI). In the above-mentioned Agreement of Purchase and Sale, Sps. Casal were represented by their duly authorized attorney-in-fact, Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes, of legal age, Filipino, with address at 2/F ELCO Bldg., 202 E. Rodriguez, Sr., Blvd., Quezon City. Present during negotiations for the terms and conditions to be contained in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale aside from myself and Atty.Cortes were Sps. Hugh and Gloria Cledera, the son-in-law and daughter, respectively of Sps. Casal; x x x19 (Emphasis supplied)
11. When I presented the documents for signature of the donorsspouses, Cesar E. Casal and Pilar P. Casal, the late Cesar E. Casal stamped the rubber facsimile of his genuine signature in all the spaces provided in all copies of the Deeds of Donation. At the same time and place, I also saw his wife Pilar P. Casal affixed [sic] her own signature in the Deeds of Donation. Also present dming the signing occasion was the donee herself, Dr. Gloria P. Casal, as well as, [sic] her husband, Dr. Hugh Cledera who affixed their signatures in all the copies of the Deeds of Donation in my presence.By using the falsified SPA and by knowingly notarizing documents outside of his notarial commission's jurisdiction, respondent was evidently bereft of basic integrity which is an indispensable sine qua non of his ongoing membership, in good standing, in the legal profession, and as a duly-commissioned notary public.
12. Thereafter, I gathered and brought all the signed copies of the Deeds of Donation to my office in Quezon City, and notarized them. Record shows that I notarized them and entered the documents in my Notarial Registry on September 17 and 18, 2003.20 (Emphasis supplied)
In actively participating in the offer and sale of property to PCFI, respondent was guilty of deceit and dishonesty by leveraging on the use of a spurious Special Power of Attorney
There can be no debate either as to the fact that respondent made use of a forged or falsified SPA in his dealings with PCFI. As the lawyer who assisted in the sale of the properties through the use of the falsified SPA in question, he ought to know that the use of such falsified or forged SPA gives rise to grievous legal consequences which must inevitably enmesh him professionally. As a member of the Bar in apparent good legal standing, he effectively held himself out as a trustworthy agent for the principals he was purportedly representing in the transaction/s in question.
Respondent's act of notarizing a forged Deed of Donation outside of his jurisdiction is a violation of his duties as a notary public, as well as a blatant falsification of public document
This Court agrees with the fmdings of the IBP Board of Governors which upheld the impartial report of the NBI and its findings that the signatures on the Deeds of Donation were mere photocopies attached to the said Deeds.21 Given the fact that respondent admitted to having been with the late Atty. Casal at the time of the execution of the Deed, it would not be far-fetched to say that the use of the said mere photocopies was with his knowledge and consent. What is more, his act of bringing the Deeds of Donation that were executed in Carmona, Cavite, to his law office in Quezon City, and notarizing them there, not only violated Section 240 of the Revised Administrative Code but "also [partook] of malpractice of law and falsification."22
Section 240 of the Revised Administrative Code explicitly states:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary
Sec. 240. Territorial jurisdiction. - The jurisdiction of a notary public in a province shall be co-extensive with the province. The jurisdiction of a notary public in the City of Manila shall be co-extensive with said city. No notary shall possess authority to do any notarial act beyond the limits of his jurisdiction.23 (Emphasis supplied)Needless to say, respondent cannot escape from the clutches of this provision.
The dismissal of the criminal complaints against respondent did not change the sui generis character of disbarment proceedings
Respondent's contention that the DOJ had resolved to withdraw the criminal complaints filed against him and his co-accused, the spouses Cledera,24 does not persuade. The dismissal or withdrawal of the criminal complaints/ information/sat the instance of the DOJ, is of no moment. As a member of the Bar, respondent should know that administrative cases against lawyers are sui generis, or a class of their own. "Disciplinary proceedings involve no private interest and afford no redress for private grievance."25 Disbarment cases are aimed at purging the legal profession of individuals who obdurately scorn and despise the exalted standards of the noble profession of law. It is within this Court's power, as a check and balance to its own system, to ensure undeviating integrity by members of the Bar both on the professional and the personal level. It is only by maintaining this integrity and this loyalty to the law, to the Courts of Justice and to their client and the public at large, that lawyers are enabled to maintain the trust reposed upon them and to deliver justice inside and outside the courtroom.
WHEREFORE, Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one (1) year and his Notarial Commission immediately REVOKED, if he is presently commissioned. Furthermore, he is DISQUALIFIED from reappointment as Notary Public for two (2) years, reckoned from the date of finality of this Resolution.
Furnish a copy of this Resolution to the Office of the Bar Confidant, which shall append the same to the personal record of respondent; to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and the Office of the Court Administrator, which shall circulate the same to all courts in the country for their infonnation and guidance.
Sereno, C. J., on leave.
Jardeleza, and Tijam, JJ., concur.
Leonardo-De Castro, J., on official leave.
*** Acting Chairperson; per Special Order No. 2476 dated August 29, 2017.
1 Deed of Sale attached as Annex "D," Complaint, rollo, pp. 13-16.
2 Annex "C," Complaint, id. at 9-11.
3 Docketed as I.S. Nos. B-04-4452, B-B-04-4453 and B-04-4454.
4 Annexes "N" and "O," Complaint, rollo, pp. 110-111.
5 Respondent's Verified Position Pnper, id. at 404.
6 Id. at 325.
7 Id. at 575-576.
8 Id. at 570-585; penned by Commissioner Leland R. Villadolid, Jr.
9 Report, par. 4.8, id. at 579.
10 Sec. 240. Territorial jurisdiction. - The jurisdiction of a notary public in a province shall be co-extensive with the province. The jurisdiction of a notary public in the City of Manila shall be co-extensive with said city. No notary shall possess authority to do any notarial act beyond the limits of his jurisdiction.
11Rollo, p. 582.
12 Id. at 585.
13 Id. at 569.
14Yu v. Atty. Palaña, 580 Phil. 19, 24-25 (2008).
15 Annex "L," Complaint, rollo, pp. 39-40.
16 Id. at 40.
17 Id. at 39.
18 Annex "A," Reply to Respondent's Comment, id. at 294-296.
19 Id. at 294-295.
20 Id. at 123.
21 Id. at 110.
22 See Judge Laquindanum v. Atty. Quintana, 608 Phil. 727, 737 (2009), citing Tan Tiong Bio v. Atty. Gonzales, 557 Phil. 496, 504 (2007).
23 REVISED ADMINISTRATIVE CODE of 1917, Volume I, Book V, Chapter 12.
24 See Comment, rollo, pp. 138-152, Respondent's Mandatory Conference Brief; id. at 330-335, and Respondent's Verified Position Paper, id. at 396-410.
25Yu v. Atty. Palaña, supra note 14 at 26.