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Legal Profession

EN BANC [A.C. No. 1481, October 17, 2008] REBECCA B. ARNOBIT, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATT . PONCIANO P. ARNOBIT, RESPON!ENT. !ECISION PER C"RIAM# Rebecca B. Arnobit, in her affidavit-complaint [1] dated Ma 11, 1!"#, pra s that the $o%rt e&ercise its disciplinar po'er over her h%sband, respondent Att . Ponciano Arnobit, on the gro%nds of (mmoralit and Abandonment. (n her complaint, Rebecca alleged that she and respondent 'ere married on A%g%st )*, 1!+). ,'elve children 'ere born o%t of this %nion. Rebecca f%rther alleged seeing respondent thro%gh la' school, contin%o%sl s%pporting him %ntil he passed the bar e&aminations and became a member of the Philippine bar. -everal ears after, ho'ever, or in 1!./, respondent left the con0%gal home and started cohabiting 'ith one Benita B%enafe 1avarro 'ho later bore him fo%r more children. Respondent2s infidelit , according to Rebecca, impelled her to file a complaint for legal separation and s%pport. A criminal case for ad%lter against Benita and respondent later follo'ed. (n his Ans'er[)] dated 3%l 41, 1!"#, respondent admitted that Rebecca is his 'edded 'ife and the mother of their 1) children. 5e denied, ho'ever, having cohabited 'ith Benita. And he pointed to his complaining 'ife as the ca%se of their separation, stating the observation that she 'as 6al'a s traveling all over the co%ntr , ostensibl for b%siness p%rposes, 'itho%t his 7no'ledge and consent, & & & thereb neglecting her obligations to'ard her famil .6 [4] (ss%es having been 0oined, hearings 'ere cond%cted before the 8ffice of the -olicitor 9eneral and, s%bse:%entl , before the (ntegrated Bar of the Philippines ;(BP< $ommission on Bar =iscipline ;$ommission<. At the hearings, Rebecca presented both oral and doc%mentar evidence to s%pport her allegations of abandonment and immoralit . Aside from her testimon , Rebecca presented t'o other 'itnesses, vi>? @enancia M. Barrientos, her sister, 'ho identified a letter dated A%g%st )/, 1!"* 'ritten b respondent to her, addressing her as 6@ending6 ;A&hibit 6B-16<, therein as7ing for forgiveness for the %nhappiness he ca%sed his famil B and Melecio 1avarro, h%sband of Benita, 'ho testified abo%t ho' respondent too7 his 'ife Benita as a mistress, 7no'ing f%ll 'ell of their la'f%l marriage. Rebecca also presented the affidavits of 1ational B%rea% of (nvestigation agents Aladio $. @elasco and 3ose $. @icente ;A&hibits 65-16 and 65-)6< to sho' the e&istence of a prima facie case for ad%lter . ,he pict%res and baptismal and birth certificates of Mar Ann, Ma. L%isa, $aridad, and Ponciano 3r., all s%rnamed Arnobit, 'ere s%bmitted to prove the fact that respondent sired fo%r illegitimate children o%t of his illicit cohabitation 'ith Benita.[+] According to the investigating commissioner, respondent, despite d%e notice, repeatedl absented himself 'hen it 'as his t%rn to present evidence, adding that sched%led hearings had to be postponed 0%st to afford respondent ample opport%nit to present his side of the controvers . ,he investigating commissioner also stated that, in most cases, respondent 'o%ld see7 postponement, pleading illness, on the ver date of the hearing. And according to the $ommission, its several directives for respondent to send b mail his affidavits and doc%mentar e&hibits in lie% of personal appearance so that the commission co%ld finish 'ith the investigation proved f%tile. (n its Report dated 3%ne )1, 1!!#, the $ommission fo%nd respondent liable for abandonment and recommended his s%spension from the practice of la' for three ;4< months. ,he recommendation portion of the report reads, as follo's? C5ARAD8RA, it is respectf%ll recommended to the Board of 9overnors that the respondent be s%spended from the practice of la' for a period of three ;4< months as a lesson for him to change his 'a s. An indefinite s%spension is not recommended beca%se it has been gathered from complainant herself that respondent s%pports himself thro%gh the practice of la' - 'hich 'o%ld be cr%el for %s to c%rtail at this time 'hen he is alread advanced in age - the penalt of three ;4< months s%spension and recording of s%ch penalt in his record being s%fficient to berate him as to his lac7 of responsibilit as evidenced b his abandonment of the children. [Report and Recommendation rendered b $ommissioner @icente E. Ro&as] 8n 3an%ar )", 1!!., the (BP Board of 9overnors passed Resol%tion 1o. F((-!.-+4 adopting and approving the $ommission report aforementioned. Chile the $o%rt conc%rs 'ith the inc%lpator findings of the (BP on the charge of abandonment, it cannot bring itself to agree that respondent is liable onl for that offense. As it 'ere, the charge for gross immoral cond%ct has s%fficientl been proven. Dollo'ing established 0%rispr%dence, respondent deserves to be disbarred. ,he $ode of Professional Responsibilit provides? R%le 1.*1- A la' er shall not engage in %nla'f%l, dishonest, immoral or deceitf%l cond%ct? $A181 " - A la' er shall at all times %phold the integrit and dignit of the legal profession and s%pport the activities of the (ntegrated Bar. R%le ".*4- A la' er shall not engage in cond%ct that adversel reflects on his fitness to practice la', nor sho%ld he, 'hether in p%blic or private life, behave in a scandalo%s manner to the discredit of the legal profession. As this $o%rt often reminds members of the bar, the re:%irement of good moral character is of m%ch greater import, as far as the general p%blic is concerned, than the possession of legal learning. 9ood moral character is not onl a condition precedent for admission to the legal profession, b%t it m%st also remain intact in order to maintain one2s good standing in that e&cl%sive and honored fraternit . 9ood moral character is more than 0%st the absence of bad character. -%ch character e&presses itself in the 'ill to do the %npleasant thing if it is right and the resolve not to do the pleasant thing if it is 'rong. ,his m%st be so beca%se 6vast interests are committed to his careB he is the recipient of %nbo%nded tr%st and confidenceB he deals 'ith his client2s propert , rep%tation, his life, his all.6 [#] (mmoral cond%ct has been described as that cond%ct 'hich is so 'illf%l, flagrant, or shameless as to sho' indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the comm%nit . ,o be the basis of disciplinar action, s%ch cond%ct m%st not onl be immoral, b%t grossl immoral. ,hat is, it m%st be so corr%pt as to virt%all constit%te a criminal act or so %nprincipled as to

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Legal Profession
be reprehensible to a high degree or committed %nder s%ch scandalo%s or revolting circ%mstances as to shoc7 the common sense of decenc .[.] As officers of the co%rt, la' ers m%st not onl in fact be of good moral character b%t m%st also be seen to be of good moral character and leading lives in accordance 'ith the highest moral standards of the comm%nit . ["] A member of the bar and an officer of the co%rt is not onl re:%ired to refrain from ad%ltero%s relationships or 7eeping a mistress b%t m%st also so behave himself as to avoid scandali>ing the p%blic b creating the impression that he is flo%ting those moral standards. A revie' of the records readil reveals that despite the protracted dela in the hearings mainl ca%sed b respondent2s fail%re to appear, complainant relentlessl p%rs%ed this administrative case against her h%sband. -he 'as, to be s%re, able to establish b clear, convincing, and preponderant evidence his commission of marital infidelit and abandonment of his famil . Altho%gh respondent in his ans'er denied abandoning complainant and their children and offered an e&planation as to the ca%se of his and his 'ife2s separation, he opted not to ta7e the 'itness stand and be cross- e&amined on his s'orn ans'er. 1either did he bother to call and present his alleged paramo%r, Benita, 'ho co%ld have had disproved an e&isting ad%ltero%s relationship bet'een them, or, at least, confirm his protestation abo%t the paternit of her fo%r children. -ignificantl , Benita2s h%sband, no less, ris7ed personal ridic%le b testif ing on the illicit liaison bet'een his 'ife and respondent. ,he fact that respondent2s philandering 'a s are far removed from the e&ercise of his profession 'o%ld not save the da for him. Dor a la' er ma be s%spended or disbarred for an miscond%ct 'hich, albeit %nrelated to the act%al practice of his profession, 'o%ld sho' him to be %nfit for the office and %n'orth of the privileges 'ith 'hich his license and the la' invest him.[/] ,o borro' from Orbe v. Adaza, 6[t]he gro%nds e&pressed in -ection )", R%le 14/,[!] of the R%les of $o%rt are not limitative and are broad eno%gh to cover an miscond%ct & & & of a la' er in his professional or private capacit .6[1*] ,o reiterate, possession of good moral character is not onl a condition precedent to the practice of la', b%t a contin%ing :%alification for all members of the bar. Chile the on%s rests on the complainant proffering the charges to prove the same, respondent o'es himself and the $o%rt the d%t to sho' that he is morall fit to remain a member of the bar. Mere denial of 'rongdoing 'o%ld not s%ffice in the face of clear evidence demonstrating %nfitness. Chen one2s moral character is assailed, s%ch that his right to contin%e practicing his cherished profession is imperiled, it behooves the individ%al concerned to meet the charges s:%arel and present evidence, to the satisfaction of the investigating bod and this $o%rt, that he is morall fit to 7eep his name in the Roll of Attorne s. [11] Respondent has not discharged the b%rden in this regard. Altho%gh d%l notified, he never attended the hearings to reb%t the serio%s charges bro%ght against him, irresistibl s%ggesting that the charges are tr%e. Gndo%btedl , respondent2s act of leaving his 'ife and 1) children to cohabit and have children 'ith another 'oman constit%tes grossl immoral cond%ct. And to add ins%lt to in0%r , there seems to be little attempt on the part of respondent to be discreet abo%t his liaison 'ith the other 'oman. As 'e have alread r%led, disbarment is 'arranted against a la' er 'ho abandons his la'f%l 'ife to maintain an illicit relationship 'ith another 'oman 'ho had borne him a child.[1)] (n the instant case, respondent2s grossl immoral cond%ct compels the $o%rt to 'ield its po'er to disbar. ,he penalt is most appropriate %nder the premises. $%ERE&ORE, Att . Ponciano P. Arnobit is hereb !ISBARRE!. Let a cop of this =ecision be entered into the records of respondent in the 8ffice of the Bar $onfidant and his name stric7en from the Roll of Attorne s. Li7e'ise, copies of this =ecision shall be f%rnished the (BP and circ%lated b the $o%rt Administrator to all appellate and trial co%rts. ,his =ecision ta7es effect immediatel . SO OR!ERE!. Puno, C.J., Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Carpio, Austriaartinez, Carpio- ora!es, Azcuna, "inga, C#ico-$azario, %e!asco, Jr., $ac#ura, Re&es, 'eonardo-(e Castro, and )rion, JJ., conc%r. $orona, 3., on official leave.

[1]

Ro!!o, pp. 1-4. (d. at )*-)). (d. at )1.

[)]

[4]

A&hibits 6H,6 6L,6 6M-4,6 6M-",6 and 6M-!,6 Dormal Presentation of A&hibits dated 3%ne 1", 1!!) filed before the (BP, pp. )-#.
[+]

Cordon v. )a!icanta, A.$. 1o. )"!", 8ctober +, )**), 4!* -$RA )!!, 41..
[#]

$arag v. $arag, A.$. 1o. 4+*#, 3%ne )!, 1!!/, )!1 -$RA +#1, +.+.
[.]

)arrientos v. (aaro!, A.$. 1o. 1#1), 3an%ar )!, 1!!4, )1/ -$RA 4*, +*.
["]

Orbe v. Adaza, A.$. 1o. #)#), Ma )*, )**+, +)/ -$RA #.", #"1.
[/]

-A$. )" =isbarment or s%spension of attorne s b the -%preme $o%rt, gro%nds therefor. - A member of the bar ma be disbarred or s%spended from his office as attorne b the -%preme $o%rt for an deceit, malpractice, or other gross miscond%ct in s%ch office, grossl immoral cond%ct & & &.
[!] [1*]

Orbe, s%pra. $arag, s%pra note ., at +./.

[11]

$arag, s%pra at +")B citing Obusan v. Obusan, A.$. 1o. 14!), April ), 1!/+, 1)/ -$RA +/#B "o!edo v. "o!edo, A.$. 1o. ).., April )", 1!.4, " -$RA "#".
[1)]

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