A.C. No. 2024 March 11, 1996
SALVADOR T. CASTILLO,
Complainant, v. ATTY. PABLO M. TAGUINES,
In resolving this rather ancient disbarment complaint, this Court reiterates the rule that a lawyer must at all times conduct himself with honesty and integrity and deal with his clients, as well as other people, in a manner beyond reproach. Pursuant to the Code of Professional Responsibility, he shall not "engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct."
By a Resolution dated November 20, 1995, the First Division of this Court transferred this case to the Third. Thereafter, after careful deliberation and consultation on the submissions of the parties, the undersigned ponente who took his oath as a member of the Court on October 10, 1995 was assigned to write this Decision.
The complainant alleged that respondent Atty. Pablo M. Taguines failed to deliver to him P500.00 representing the monetary settlement of a civil suit. The complaint-affidavit, filed on April 25, 1979, reads:
That I am one of the plaintiff (sic) in Civil Case No. 115265 of the Court of First Instance of Manila, Branch XXXIX, entitled Salvador T. Castillo, et al(.) versus Dolores Licup, et al(.) a copy of the complaint is here to (sic) attached as Annex "A" and made integral part hereof;
That sometime in the second of (sic) week of December, 1978, a settlement of the case was agreed upon between the plaintiff and the defendant which was submitted in court and as a consequence of which the case was dismissed;
That in the settlement, defendant Mrs(.) Dolores Licup, represented by her counsel, Atty. Pablo Taguin es (sic) has to pay me the amount of P500.00 as full payment of the consideration for dismissing the case against the defendant;
That as per agreement, Mrs. Dolores Licup will give the P500.00 to her counsel Atty(.) Pablo Taguin es (sic) who will in turn give said amount to me or my counsel;
That while the case against the defendant was already dismissed, and while Mrs. Licup has already given the P500.00 to Atty. Pablo
Taguine s (sic) and received by him, said Atty(.) Pablo Taguines, for reasons known only to himself for his personal benefit, and violation of our agreement, the trust and confidence of his client, Mrs(.) Licup and me as plaintiff, did not give to (sic) me the P500.00 which was legally due me even as the case against his client was already dismissed;
That it was only sometime in the second week of January, 1979 when I discovered from Mrs. Dolores Licup herself that as of December 16, 1978 she had already given the P500.00 to her counsel Atty. Pablo Taguines and she showed to me a certification signed by Atty. Taguines which is self (-) explanatory, a xerox copy of which is hereto attached as Annex "B" of this affidavit complaint;
That I went personally several times to the address of Atty. Taguines at 55 B Scout Castor, Quezon City to demand for my money, but I was informed that he was in Tarlac, Tarlac, his home province; when I failed to contact, I even went to complain in Malacañang at Malacañang Assistance Center for confrontation but despite notices to him, he did not appear in said office;
That Atty. Taguines knows the office of my counsel, he knows the telephone number, but despite that knowledge he did not even called (sic) up or see my lawyer about the P500.00 which he received from Mrs. Licup to be paid to me;
That the act of Atty. Taguines is undeserving and unethical as a lawyer for having embeezzled the P500.00 which does not belongs (sic) to him, considering that the case against his client has been dismissed by me already, and for which I can no longer re-file in court;
The complainant alternatively prayed that the respondent be either "reprimanded, suspended or disbarred for acts unbecoming of (sic) a lawyer."
On the other hand, the Comment
of the respondent had attached to it the counter-affidavit he submitted in the criminal case of estafa (I.S.No. 79-11822) filed against him by the complainant, in which counter-affidavit he traversed the above-quoted accusations of the complainant, to wit:
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2. That at the outset, I wish to deny vehemently as I hereby deny vehemently that I have neither (sic) embezzled the amount of P500 which I received from my client, Mrs. Dolores Licup in connection with Civil Case No. 115265 of the Court of First Instance of Manila, Branch XXXIX nor refused to give the same to complainant Salvador Castillo in the aforementioned I.S. No. 79-11822 for estafa;
3. That I wish also to deny-vehemently as I hereby deny vehemently, for lack of knowledge and awareness as well as for lack of notice, the alleged confrontation at the Malacañang Assistance Center in connection with the amount of P500 that is the subject matter of said preliminary investigation;
4. That I admit having received from Mrs. Dolores Licup the amount of P500 to be given to Mr. Salvador Castillo but I never bound or committed myself to go out of my way to personally deliver the said amount to the (sic) Mr. Castillo or to his lawyer; I do not know personally Mr. Castillo his address or residence in Silang, Cavite; I do not also know where he holds office here in Metro Manila, if he ever holds office here;
5. That, per our agreement, Mr. Castillo or his lawyer will call or visit me to (sic) my office at Room 451, Republic Supermarket Bldg., Manila to inquire whether I was able to get some money from Mrs. Licup for Mr. Castillo in connection with the above-mentioned Civil Case; at that time a joint motion to dismiss signed by all the counsels (sic) has already been filed in said civil case after the parties have agreed to settle it amicably among themselves. Mr. Castillo has already received some money from my other client, Mr. Alex Sy, and he is requesting me to ask some my money from Mrs. Licup as additional consideration for the settlement of the said case;
6. That both Mr. Castillo and his lawyer knew where I hold office at the time for they once held their office also at the same building: Room 430;
7. That his lawyer never called me or went to my office to get the money for Mr. Castillo;
8. That, however, I recall that, a few days after I received the P500 from Mrs. Licup, when I was out of the office, according to Mr. Angelito B. Yabut, who is the Treasurer of Philwide Cinema Corporation where I hold office at the said Room 451, a big man(,) by his description(,) came looking for me and introduced himself as Buddy but because I was out at the time, he left with a message that he will return after lunch or late in the afternoon;
9. That, having received the message when I came to the office that day, I wanted (sic) far this "Buddy" who, however, never returned that day;
10. That, although I have never seen the man, I surmissed (sic) that he was complainant Mr. Castillo because of Mr. Yabut's description, his name "Buddy" I have heard his lawyer call him by that nickname and because I have been expecting him to be dropping by my office anytime in connection with the P500;
11. That I waited for him the following day as I was in the office preparing and finalizing some pleadings and other paper works in connection with some of my cases; but Mr. Castillo never came that day;
12. That, in view thereof, I gave to Mr. Angelito B. Yabut the P500 because he is the employee of Philwide Cinema who is always at the office and instructed him to give the money to one Mr. Salvador Castillo or his lawyer, Atty. Diosdado Dapucanta and to issue a receipt therefor; Mr. Yabut was in possession of the money for more than a week;
13. That from that time up until the end of January 1979, neither Mr. Castillo nor his lawyer called or went to the office to get the money given by Mrs. Licup to me?;
14. That beginning February 1979, we (Philwide Cinema Corporation) transferred our office from Room 451 Republic Supermarket to Room 312, Regina Bldg., Escolta, Manila; up to the present time, I still hold my law office at the said office address;
15. That I transferred to the above office address in good faith and without any intention to abscond with the money;
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20. That if only Mr. Castillo or his lawyer took the pains of contacting me or coming to my office to get the P500 or if only Mr. Castillo exercised some degree of prudence of leaving a message regarding the date and time of his coming back to get the money, such unfortunate incident like as (sic) this one would have been avoided;
21. That the mere fact that I executed and signed the certification acknowledging receipt of the money is evidence that will regate (sic) any criminal intent to abscond with the money for, as a lawyer, if ever I had the intention of embezzling or misappropriating the same, I would not have made said certification;
22. That I am not too miserable a lawyer as not to be able to produce, upon demand, the measly sum of P500; but the truth of the matter is that neither complainant nor his lawyer came to my office at Room 451 Republic Supermarket Bldg., Sta. Cruz Manila to get the money although both knew that I was holding office there;
23. That I have, likewise, not received any letter from either complainant or his lawyer, demanding delivery of the said amount to either of them; (Emphasis supplied)
In his reply to respondent's Comment, complainant further contended, among other things:
1. That I vehemently deny for being false, the allegation of Atty. Pablo Taguines contained in paragraph 2 of his counter-affidavit attached to his comment . . ., the truth of the matter being, that sometime in July, 1979, before the dismissal of my complaint. for estafa by the fiscal, Atty. Taguines had a talk with my lawyer in (sic) the telephone, my lawyer telling him that I am willing to accept the P500.00, and that I am ready to execute affidavits of desistance for all the cases I filed against him. Atty. Taguines agreed and even set a day, a Wednesday, for us to meet, but he failed to see or call my lawyer, instead, a woman from his office at Rm-312 Regina Building, Escolta, Manila, called up my lawyer that Atty. Taguines was in Tarlac and would not be able to see us, but he would do so the coming Monday. Come Monday, he did not see us or call my lawyer.
2. On August 13, 1979, I sent a letter addressed to his office at Rm-312 Regina Building, Escolta, Manila, requesting him to remit the amount to me or to my lawyer, but he did not remit or even answer my letter, or even called (sic) us up despite the fact that same day. A xerox copy of said letter is hereto attached as Annex "A" of this reply. Again I sent him two more letters dated September 17, 1979 and October 1, 1979, but he did not claim them so they were returned to me. Xerox copy of my said two letters are hereto attached as Annex "B" and "C" of this reply.
Investigation by Solicitor General
In a Resolution dated January 21, 1980, this Court resolved to refer this administrative case to the Solicitor General for investigation, report and recommendation.
The Office of the Solicitor General set the case for hearing almost every month from August 1980 to August 1982 but no hearing was ever had, because most of the time the respondent could not be notified of the date of hearing, or the complainant failed to appear. At the hearings scheduled on August 21, September 30, November 26, 1980 and January 15, 1981, respondent appeared since he was duly notified thereof, but just the same, the hearings were all postponed because either the respondent or the complainant was not feeling well. Thereafter, the respondent never appeared at the scheduled hearings and all notices of hearing sent to him by registered mail at his former and probable addresses were always returned unserved. Worse still, the respondent never informed the Office of the Solicitor General and, later, the IBP of his changes of address. In short, the respondent, if still alive, could not be located.
Investigation, Report and Recommendation by IBP
When the case was referred to the IBP around September of 1991, the Investigating Commissioner set the case for hearing five (5) times, but all notices of hearing sent to respondent by registered mail at his former or probable addresses were invariably returned unserved. On March 27, 1992, the complainant was finally able to present his evidence, but without the assistance of counsel.
In its Resolution
(dated March 23, 1993, the IBP Board of Governors took note of the admission made by respondent that he received from his client Dolores Licup the amount of P500.00 for turnover or delivery to the complainant, as well as his vehement denial that he misappropriated "such a paltry sum" when thousands or tens of thousands of pesos were being entrusted to him by his clients, along with his contention that he had always been waiting for the complainant to come to him at his office to get the money. The IBP Board further remarked:
However, from the documentary exhibits offered by the complainant himself, it appears that the respondent has not paid or turned over the P500.00 to the complainant despite repeated demands. Respondent even fooled the complainant by paying the P500.00 with BPI Check No. 193489 (Exh. "B") payable to Cash dated January 20, 1981, with the respondent as drawer or maker . . ., but the same bounced for the reason "ACCOUNT CLOSED"( Exh. "C"). When respondent's check was dishonored, the complainant made two formal demands on the respondent to make good his dishonored check. The first demand letter dated January 20, 1981 (Exh. "D") was received by the respondent on January 23, 1981 (Exhs. "D-1" and "D-2") and the second one dated February 9, 1981 (Exh. "E") was received by the respondent on February 19, 1981 (Exhs. "E-1" and "E-2"). But still the respondent refused to pay.
The Board concluded as follows:
From all the foregoing, it could be safely concluded that the respondent misappropriated the P500.00, a trust property, to the damage and prejudice of the complainant. However small is the amount misappropriated by him, the respondent just the same has shown his unfitness to continue as a member of the Bar.
WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Board of Governors hereby recommends that ATTY. PABLO M. TAGUINES be SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year.
The Court's Ruling
A thoroughgoing review of the affidavits, pleadings and other papers as well as the documentary evidence submitted by the parties convinces this Court of the correctness of the foregoing findings and conclusion of the IBF Board of Governors. They are consequently adopted and approved.
Respondent expressly admitted having received the sum of money intended for complainant. Despite various and repeated demands by complainant, and complainant's resort to the filing of criminal and administrative charges, and notwithstanding that respondent had innumerable opportunities over the course of so many years, to turn over and deliver the P500.00 to the complainant, he nevertheless persisted in refusing to do so. Thus we cannot but agree with the IBP's conclusion that respondent misappropriated the sum. But respondent made matters even worse, not only by his contumacious refusal to comply with a valid obligation for nearly eighteen (18) years, but also by "fooling the complainant" thorough the issuance of a bouncing check in short, piling one offense on top of another. This is simply appalling. If the P500.00 was indeed such a measly slim by his own estimation, his conduct with respect to satisfying the lawful demand of the complainant betrayed his own declarations. Calling respondent "unfit to continue as a member of the Bar" is putting it very mildly.
Canon 16 of the Code of Professional Responsibility
explicitly provides that "(a) lawyer shall hold in trust all moneys and properties of his client that may come into his possession", while Rule 16.03 of the same canon provides that "(a) lawyer shall deliver the funds or property of his client when due or upon demand. . . ." On the other hand, Rule 1.01 provides that (a) lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct." It is obvious, that respondent has no concern whatsoever for the property rights of others nor for canons of professional responsibility, not to mention, any respect for the Solicitor General, the IBP or this Court. That being so, suspension from the practice of law for one year, as recommended by the IBP, is the minimum penalty that respondent deserves for his outrageous conduct under the circumstances.
WHEREFORE, in light of the foregoing , the respondent Pablo M. Taguines is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of ONE (1) YEAR, effective upon notice hereof. Let copies of this Decision be spread upon his record in the Bar Confidant's Office and furnished the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Narvasa, C.J., Davide, Jr., Melo and Francisco, JJ., concur.
1 Complaint Affidavit dated April 20, 1979: rollo, volume I, pp. 1-2.
2 Rollo, volume I, pp. 21-27.
3 Ibid., p. 32.
4 Rollo, volume III, pp. 29-33.
5 Ibid., p. 32.
7 While the Code of Professional Responsibility was promulgated by the Supreme Court on June 21, 1988, or after the misappropriation subject of this case had taken place, nevertheless, the Canons of Professional Ethics. which were adopted by the Philippine Bar Association in 1917 and in 1946, and which were in force at the time of the said incident, contain similar provisions.