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CASE #1

A.C. No. 11483

LUZVIMINDA S. CERILLA, Complainant


vs.
ATTY. SAMUEL SM. LEZAMA, Respondent

RESOLUTION

PERALTA, J.:

On November 22, 2010, complainant Luzviminda S. Cerilla filed an administrative complaint1


for gross misconduct against respondent Atty. Samuel SM. Lezama with the Integrated Bar of
the Philippines (IBP).

In her Complaint, complainant stated that she is one of the co-owners of a parcel of land located
at Barangay Poblacion, Municipality of Sibulan, Negros Oriental, with an area of 730 square
meters. The said property is covered by TCT No. 1-20416 and registered in the name of
Fulquerio Gringio. It was later sold by his sole heir, Pancracio A. Gringio, to the heirs of Fabio2
Solmayor, including the herein complainant. Being a co-owner of the subject property,
complainant engaged the services of respondent to file an unlawful detainer case against
Carmelita S. Garlito with the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) of Sibulan, Negros Oriental. At that
time, the complainant was working at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, and for this reason, she
executed a Special Power of Attorney (SPA) in favor of the respondent to perform the following
acts, to wit:

(1) To represent and act on my behalf in filing a case of ejectment against Lita Garlito of
Sibulan, Negros Oriental;

(2) To appear on my behalf during the preliminary conference in Civil Case No. 497-04 and to
make stipulations of facts, admissions and other matters for the early resolution of the same
including amicable settlement of the case if necessary.3

Complainant said that on the basis of the SPA, respondent entered into a compromise agreement
with the defendant in the unlawful detainer case to sell the subject property of the complainant
for ₱350,000.00 without her consent or a special authority from her. Paragraph 2 of the
Compromise Agreement dated January 31, 2005 states:

2. The plaintiff is willing to sell [the] property in question to the defendant in the amount of
₱350,000.00 within a period of three months beginning February 1, 2005 up to April 30, 2005,
the payment of which shall be paid in one setting.4

The Compromise Agreement was approved by the MTC of Sibulan, Negros Oriental in an
Order5 dated January 31, 2005. Subsequently, a Motion for Execution6 dated June 2, 2005 was
filed due to complainant's failure to comply with the terms and conditions set forth in the
compromise agreement, as complainant refused to execute a Deed of Sale. The MTC issued a
Writ of Execution7 on June 10, 2005.

Complainant contended that respondent misrepresented in paragraph 2 of the Compromise


Agreement that she was willing to sell the subject property for ₱350,000.00. Complainant
averred that she did not authorize the respondent to sell the property and she is not willing to sell
the property in the amount of ₱350,000.00, considering that there are other co-owners of the
property.

Complainant contended that by entering into the compromise agreement to sell the subject
property without any special power to do so, respondent committed gross misconduct in the
discharge of his duties to his client. She asserted that respondent's misconduct was the proximate
cause of the loss of the subject property in the ejectment case, which prejudiced her and the other
co-owners, as respondent knew that the ejectment case was filed by her for the benefit of all the
co-owners of the property.

According to complainant, the subject property is located near the Municipal Hall and town
plaza of the Municipality of Sibulan, Negros Oriental and the property's market value is not less
than ₱l,500,000.00. Since respondent sold the property for only ₱350,000.00, she (complainant)
and the other co-owners suffer actual loss.

Complainant contended that respondent's act of entering into the compromise agreement with the
misrepresentation that she was willing to sell the property in the unlawful detainer case without
her consent or conformity, which caused her material damage, warrants respondent's suspension
or disbarment.

In his Answer,8 respondent denied complainant's allegation that he misrepresented that


complainant was willing to sell the property in the amount of ₱350,000.00, since he was duly
armed with an SPA to enter into a compromise agreement, and the price of ₱350,000.00 was the
actual price paid by the complainant to the owner of the property.

Respondent contended that complainant has no cause of action against him for the following
reasons:

(a) The SPA dated December 27, 2004 was executed by the complainant in favor of the
respondent due to her inability to attend every hearing of the unlawful detainer case;

(b) The SPA contains the sentence under number 2: "including amicable settlement of the case if
necessary";

(c) During the preliminary conference of the unlawful detainer case, the respondent requested
Presiding Judge Rafael Cresencio C. Tan, Jr. to allow him to contact the complainant by mobile
phone before any compromise agreement could be executed. Respondent tried several times to
contact complainant to no avail during the recess. When the case was called again, he requested a
resetting, but the Presiding Judge insisted on a compromise agreement to be submitted because
respondent was armed with the necessary SPA anyway, and the result was the Compromise
Agreement of January 31, 2005;

(d) Upon the signing of the Compromise Agreement, respondent was able to contact
complainant, who objected to the agreement because the amount of ₱350,000.00 was small;

(e) After writing a letter of repudiation to the counsel of the defendant in the unlawful detainer
case, respondent filed a Manifestation dated February 24, 2005 with the MTC of Sibulan,
attaching therewith the letter of repudiation, and he also filed a Motion to Set Aside Order and to
Annul Compromise Agreement9(on the ground of mistake). However, the MTC denied the said
motion in an Order10 dated May 30, 2005. Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration, which
was also denied by the MTC;

(f) In 2006, the heirs of Favio Solmayor filed another unlawful detainer case over the same
property with the same MTC against the same defendant, which was dismissed by the court on
the ground of res judicata; 11 and

(g) In 2008, complainant filed a civil case12 for annulment of judgment/quieting of title,
recovery of possession and damages against Carmelita S. Garlito, respondent Atty. Lezama and
the MTC of Sibulan, Negros Oriental, and the case is still pending before the Regional Trial
Court of Dumaguete City, Branch 35, Negros Oriental.13

Further, respondent stated that the payment for the property in the amount of ₱350,000.00 is
under the custody of the MTC of Sibulan, although the money was deposited with the Philippine
Veterans Bank by defendant Carmelita S. Garlito, who opened an account in respondent's name.
Respondent stated that he has never touched the said deposit.

Respondent contended that the SP A given to him by the complainant was sufficient authority to
enter into the said compromise agreement.1âwphi1 The amount of ₱350,000.00 was the price of
the subject property, because the complainant paid the same amount for the purchase of the
property from the Gringio family.

According to the respondent, he entered into the compromise agreement under the honest and
sincere belief that it was the fairest and most equitable arrangement. Under the present policy of
the Court, parties should endeavor to settle their differences (in civil cases, at least) amicably. To
penalize lawyers for their judgment calls in cases where they are armed with authority to settle
would wreck havoc on our system of litigation, making them hesitant, apprehensive and wary
that their clients might file disciplinary cases against them for the slightest reasons. While the
filing of such complaint is part of the professional hazards of lawyering, the same should only be
anchored on the most serious misconduct of lawyers, which respondent does not believe is
present in this case. Hence, respondent prayed for the dismissal of the complaint.

On June 10, 2011, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline held a mandatory conference with the
parties, who were required to submit their respective Position Papers thereafter.

The Commissioner's Report


On June 28, 2013, Investigating Commissioner Jose I. De La Rama, Jr. submitted his Report,14
finding respondent guilty of violating Canons 15 and 17 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility and recommending that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a
period of two (2) years.

The Investigating Commissioner stated that during the mandatory conference, it was agreed upon
that the SPA dated December 27, 2004 was the same SP A granted by complainant in favor of
respondent. It was also agreed upon that by virtue of the said SP A, respondent entered into a
compromise agreement with the defendant in the unlawful detainer case. According to the
complainant, while it is true that she executed an SPA in favor of the respondent, there was no
specific authority granted to him to sell the subject property for ₱350,000.00, and that was the
reason why she refused to sign the Deed of Sale.

Moreover, respondent admitted during the mandatory conference that complainant did not give
him any instruction to sell the property, thus:

Comm. De La Rama: Prior to the execution of the compromise agreement on January 31, 2005,
were you under instruction by Ms. Cerilla to sell the property?

Atty. Lezama: No, Your Honor.

Comm. De La Rama: You were not?

Atty. Lezama There was none.

Comm. De La Rama: So what prompted you to [have] that idea that Ms. Cerilla is willing to sell
this property in the amount of Php350,000.00?

Atty. Lezama : Because that is the same amount that she paid [for] the property. It is an amicable
settlement in meeting halfway.

Comm. De La Rama: But you at that time, prior to the signing of the Compromise Agreement,
you do not have any instruction from Ms. Cerilla to sell the property?

Atty. Lezama No, Your Honor.

Comm. De La Rama : So it was your own volition?

Atty. Lezama : Yes, my own belief.15

The Investigating Commissioner stated that respondent must have overlooked the fact that the
subject property was co-owned by complainant's siblings. Respondent knew about the co-
ownership because of the existence of the Extrajudicial Settlement of Estate,16 but he did not
assert that his authority to compromise binds only the complainant. Respondent merely made a
flimsy excuse as shown in the transcript of stenographic notes, to wit:
Comm. De La Rama: Are you aware, Atty. Lezama, that the property does not belong
exclusively to Ms. Cerilla?

Atty. Lezama I was of the impression that it was owned by complainant that's why the ejectment
complaint filed speaks only of Luzviminda Cerilla but that was her claim because she said she
paid for it.17

The Investigating Commissioner stated that the transcript of stenographic notes shows that
respondent admitted that complainant did not grant him the authority to sell the property in the
amount of ₱350,000.00. Thus, knowing that he did not possess such authority, respondent cannot
validly claim that his client, complainant herein, was willing to sell the property in the amount of
₱350,000.00.

In order to save himself, respondent allegedly filed a Manifestation, but he failed to submit a
copy of the same before the Commission.

Further, the transcript of stenographic notes taken during the preliminary conference of the
unlawful detainer case shows that it was the respondent who stated that the plaintiff (complainant
herein) was willing to sell the property, and it was also the respondent who fixed the selling price
of the property at ₱350,000.00, thus:

Court : The plaintiff is willing to sell the property?

Atty. Lezama : Yes, if the defendant is willing to pay the amount of sale.

Court : How much?

Atty. Lezama : ₱l00,000.00, although the record is more than that, your Honor.

Court : They will also want to buy the property. You will sell it for ₱l00,000.00?

Atty. Lezama : I don't think, your Honor. Maybe it's ₱300,000.00.

Court : ₱300,000.00. How much?

Atty. Lezama : ₱350,000.00.

x x x.18

The MTC Judge also inquired about respondent's authority, and respondent replied, thus:

Court Are you authorize[d] to make some suggestions to other matter, dismissal or other
settlement? Do you have an authority?

Atty. Lezama : Yes, your Honor, but I have some limitations. I think, your Honor, we need one
more setting because I cannot agree on the proposal of the amount of the property your Honor.19
The Investigating Commissioner stated that based on the foregoing, respondent acted beyond the
scope of his authority. Respondent knew beforehand that no instruction was given by his client to
sell the property, yet he bound his client to sell the property without her knowledge. Thus, he
betrayed the trust of his client, complainant herein.

The Investigating Commissioner found respondent guilty of violating Canons 1520 and 1721 of
the Code of Professional Responsibility and recommended that respondent be suspended from
the practice of law for a period of two (2) years.

The Ruling of the IBP Board of Governors

On August 8, 2014, the IBP Board of Governors passed Resolution No. XXI-2014-386,22 which
adopted and approved the Report and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner.
Finding that the recommendation was fully supported by the evidence on record and the
applicable laws and for violation of Canons 15 and 17 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility, the Board suspended respondent from the practice of law for two (2) years.

Respondent's motion for reconsideration was denied by the IBP Board of Governors in
Resolution No. XXII-2016-17923 dated February 25, 2016.

In a letter24 dated August 18, 2016, Director for Bar Discipline Ramon S. Esguerra notified the
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the transmittal of the documents of the case to the Court
for final action, pursuant to Rule 139-B of the Rules of Court.

Ruling of the Court

The Court agrees with the finding and recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors.

Respondent entered into the Compromise Agreement25 on the basis of the SP A granted to him
by complainant. The SPA authorized respondent to represent complainant in filing the ejectment
case and "[t]o appear on [complainant's] behalf during the preliminary conference in said
ejectment case and to make stipulations of fact, admissions and other matters for the early
resolution of the case, including amicable settlement of the case if necessary." Nowhere is it
expressly stated in the SPA that respondent is authorized to compromise on the sale of the
property or to sell the property of complainant.

The records show that respondent admitted that he entered into the compromise agreement with
the defendant in the unlawful detainer case and stated that the plaintiff, who is the complainant
herein, was willing to sell the property to the defendant in the amount of ₱350,000.00 even if the
complainant did not instruct or authorize him to sell the property, and he merely acted upon his
own belief.26 As the SPA granted to him by the complainant did not contain the power to sell
the property, respondent clearly acted beyond the scope of his authority in entering into the
compromise agreement wherein the property was sold to the defendant Carmelita S. Garlito.

Respondent, in his Answer and Motion for Reconsideration of Resolution No. XXI-2014-386,
stated that his action was based on an honest belief that he was serving both the interest of his
client and the policy of the law to settle cases amicably. However, his justification does not
persuade, because his alleged honest belief prejudiced his client, since the property she was not
willing to sell was sold at a price decided upon by respondent on his own, which caused his
client and her co-owners to file further cases to recover their property that was sold due to
respondent's mistake. He overlooked the fact that he was not authorized by his client to sell the
property.

Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility states:

CANON 5 - A lawyer shall keep abreast of legal developments, participate in continuing legal
education programs, support efforts to achieve high standards in law schools as well as in the
practical training of law students and assist in disseminating information regarding the law and
jurisprudence.

The obligations of lawyers as a consequence of their Canon 5 duty have been reiterated in
Hernandez v. Atty. Padilla,27thus:

It must be emphasized that the primary duty of lawyers is to obey the laws of the land and
promote respect for the law and legal processes. They are expected to be in the forefront in the
observance and maintenance of the rule of law. This duty carries with it the obligation to be well-
informed of the existing laws and to keep abreast with legal developments, recent enactments
and jurisprudence. It is imperative that they be conversant with basic legal principles. Unless
they faithfully comply with such duty, they may not be able to discharge competently and
diligently their obligations as members of the bar. Worse, they may become susceptible to
committing mistakes.28

As found by the IBP Board of Governors, respondent also violated Canons 15 and 17 of the
Code of Responsibility:

CANON 15 - A lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and
transactions with his client.

CANON 17 - A lawyer owes fidelity to the cause of his client and he shall be mindful of the trust
and confidence reposed in him.

The Court sustains the recommendation of the IBP Board of Governors that respondent be
penalized with suspension from the practice of law for a period of two (2) years.

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Samuel SM. Lezama is found guilty of violating Canons 5, 15
and 17 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. Hence, he is SUSPENDED from the practice
of law for a period of TWO (2) YEARS and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the
same or a similar offense shall be dealt with more severely.

Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, to be appended to the
personal file of respondent. Likewise, copies shall be furnished the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines and the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts of the country for their
information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.
CASE #2

A.C. No. 10580

SPOUSES GERALDY AND LILIBETH VICTORY, Complainants


vs.
ATTY. MARIAN JOS. MERCADO, Respondent

DECISION

TIJAM, J.:

This is a disbarment case against respondent Atty. Marian Jo S. Mercado for violation of the
Code of Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer's Oath.

The Facts

Sometime in 2009, Spouses Geraldy and Lilibeth Victory (Spouses Victory) were enticed by
respondent to enter into a financial transaction with her with a promise of good monetary returns.
As respondent is a lawyer and a person of reputation, Spouses Victory entrusted their money to
respondent to invest, manage, and administer into some financial transactions that would earn
good profit for the parties.1

Respondent called and asked Geraldy Victory (Geraldy) whether he wanted to invest his money.
The respondent promised that for an investment of PhP 400,000, she will give Geraldy PhP
600,000 in 30 days; and for PhP 500,000, she will give Geraldy PhP 625,000.2

The investment transactions went well for the first 10 months. Spouses Victory received the
agreed return of profit. Some of such financial transactions were covered by Memoranda of
Agreement.3

Later on, respondent became evasive in returning to Spouses Victory the money that the latter
were supposed to receive as part of the agreement. Respondent failed to settle and account the
money entrusted to her by Spouses Victory.4

Spouses Victory alleged that the outstanding obligation of respondent is PhP 5 Million plus
interest or a total of PhP 8.3 Million.5

Spouses Victory filed a criminal complaint for estafa and violation of Batas Pambansa Blg. 22
with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Sta. Rosa, Laguna.6

After the filing of said criminal case, respondent met with Spouses Victory. Respondent
proposed to reduce her obligation from PhP 8.3 Million to PhP 7.5 Million in staggered
payments, to which Spouses Victory agreed. Respondent then issued three postdated checks in
the amount of PhP 300,000 each. However, said checks bounced.7

Report and Recommendation


of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
Commission on Bar Discipline

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)-Commission on Bar Discipline (CBD) found that
respondent indeed lured Spouses Victory in entering into a series of financial transactions with a
promise of return of profit. Respondent, however, failed to deliver such promise. On such
premise, the IBP-CBD recommended respondent's suspension, to wit:

On the basis of the foregoing, it is respectfully recommended that respondent Atty. Marian Jo S.
Mercado be SUSPENDED for SIX (6) MONTHS from the practice of law.8

Resolutions of the IBP Board of Governors

On March 20, 2013, the IBP Board of Governors issued Resolution No. XX-2013-199, which
reads:

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 of this 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 Canon 7 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility for evading the settlement of her financial obligations to the complainants and for
not bothering to appear in the investigation of this case, Atty. Marian Jo S. Mercado is hereby
DISBARRED.9 (Emphasis supplied)

Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration,10 which was denied in Resolution No. XXI-
2014-158, to wit:

RESOLVED to DENY Respondent's Motion for Reconsideration, there being no cogent reason to
reverse the findings of the Commission and it being a mere reiteration of the matters which had
already been threshed out and taken into consideration. However, considering that Respondent
is currently settling her financial obligations to Complainants and very apologetic and granting
her good faith in her investment transaction with Complainants, Resolution No. XX-2013-199
dated March 20, 2013 is hereby AFFIRMED, with modification, and accordingly the penalty
earlier imposed on Atty. Marian Jo S. Mercado is hereby reduced to SUSPENSION from the
practice of law for one (1) year. 11 (Emphasis supplied)

Issue

Should the respondent be held administratively liable based on the allegations in the pleadings of
all parties on record?
Our Ruling

Emphatically, a lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession.
The bar should maintain a high standard of legal proficiency as well as honesty and fair dealing.
A lawyer brings honor to the legal profession by faithfully performing his duties to society, to
the bar, to the courts and to his clients.12 Canon 1, Rule 1.01, and Canon 7 provides:

CANON 1 - A LA WYER SHALL UPHOLD THE CONSTITUTION, OBEY THE LAWS OF


THE LAND AND PROMOTE RESPECT FOR LAW AND FOR LEGAL PROCESSES.

Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

CANON 7 - A LAWYER SHALL AT ALL TIMES UPHOLD THE INTEGRITY AND


DIGNITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION AND SUPPORT THE ACTIVITIES OF THE
INTEGRATED BAR.

Exercising its disciplinary authority over the members of the bar, this Court has imposed the
penalty of suspension or disbarment for any gross misconduct that a lawyer committed, whether
it is in his professional or in his private capacity. Good character is an essential qualification for
the admission to and continued practice of law. Thus, any wrongdoing, whether professional or
non-professional, indicating unfitness for the profession justifies disciplinary action.13

In this case, it is without dispute that respondent has an outstanding obligation with Spouses
Victory, as the latter's investments which they coursed through the respondent fell through. To
make matters worse, respondent issued several checks to settle her obligation; unfortunately, said
checks bounced.

As a lawyer, respondent is expected to act with the highest degree of integrity and fair dealing.
She is expected to maintain not only legal proficiency, but also a high standard of morality,
honesty, integrity and fair dealing so that the people's faith and confidence in the judicial system
is ensured. She must, at all times, faithfully perform her duties to society, to the bar, to the courts
and to her clients, which include prompt payment of financial obligations.14

It must be considered that the deliberate failure to pay just debts and the issuance of worthless
checks constitute gross misconduct, for which a lawyer may be sanctioned with suspension from
the practice of law. Lawyers are instruments for the administration of justice and vanguards of
our legal system.15

We cannot exempt respondent from liability just because she encountered financial difficulties in
the course of her investment deals. Respondent even admitted that she continued to do business
despite such financial hardships; as such, her monetary obligations with different investors
accumulated at an alarming rate. In an attempt to settle her obligations, respondent issued
checks, which all bounced.

To Our mind, the actuations of respondent fell short of the exacting standards expected of every
member of the bar.
In this case, while respondent admitted her responsibility and signified her intention of
complying with the same, We cannot close our eyes to the fact that respondent committed
infractions. To uphold the integrity of the legal profession, We deem it proper to uphold the
findings as well as the sanction imposed by the IBP Board of Governors.

WHEREFORE, premises considered, We resolve to SUSPEND Atty. Marian Jo S. Mercado


from the practice of law for one (1) year to commence immediately from the receipt of this
Decision, with a WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar offense will warrant a more
severe penalty.

Let copies of this Decision be furnished all courts, the Office of the Bar Confidant, and the
Integrated Bar of the Philippines for their information and guidance. The Office of the Bar
Confidant is directed to append a copy of this Decision to respondent's record as member of the
Bar.

SO ORDERED.
CASE #3

A.C. No. 6980

CESAR O. STA. ANA, CRISTINA M. STA. ANA and ESTHER STA. ANA-SILVERIO,
Complainants,
vs.
ATTY. ANTONIO JOSEF. CORTES,, Respondent.

RESOLUTION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This is a complaint for disbarment filed by complainants against Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes
(respondent) against whom they imputed deceit and falsification of public documents in the sale
of two parcels of property located at Bo. Lantic, Carmona, Cavite and covered by Transfer
Certificates of Title (TCT) Nos. T-1069335 and T-1069336; and in the donation of 66 pieces of
property by Atty. Cesar Casal (Atty. Casal) and his wife, Pilar P. Casal (Pilar).

Factual Antecedents

In a sworn letter dated August 4, 2005, complainants alleged that respondent was left with 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 Atty.
Casal’s alleged adopted daughter, Gloria Casal Cleddera

(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 (SP
A) 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 SP A in Caimona, Cavite, Veloso was in fact in Tacloban City;
and that indeed, as a consequence of respondent’s wrongdoing, criminal cases for Estafa 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 Fonns, 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-

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 s1rokes 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. xxx5

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.

Report and Recommendation of the IBP

The Investigating Commissioner summarized the charges against respondent as follows:

(a) First, [r]espondent was involved in the preparation of the Loyola SP A, 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 SP A 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
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 his oath as a notary public.

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 SP A, 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 SP A 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:

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 act5 or conduct shall be dealt with more severely; and

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

In 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:

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 of this 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 if presently commissioned Further, he is DISQUALIFIED
from reappointment as Notary Public for two (2)years.

No motions for reconsideration having been filed by any of the parties, the case is before us for
final resolution.

Our Ruling

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.14

In 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. T1069335 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:

We understand that you, together with Atty. Antonio Jose F. Cortes, offered to sell the said
parcels of land 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 a:ffidavit18 the events
leading to another sale likewise involving properties coowned by Atty. Casal through the use of
the spurious SPA, to wit:

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 for the Province of Cavite.

4) That Sps. Hugh Cledera and Gloria Casal Cledera together with Atty. Cortes also
presented to me the following documents, towit:

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 of Sps. Cesar and Pilar Casal.

xxxx

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).1âwphi1 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)

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 during 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:

11. When I presented the documents for signature of the donors-spouses, 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 during 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.

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 supp

By using the falsified SP A 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.

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 SP
A in his dealings with PCFI. As the lawyer who assisted in the sale of the properties through the
use of the falsified SP A in question, he ought to know that the use of such falsified or forged SP
A 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/sin
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 findings 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:

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 information and guidance.

SO ORDERED.
CASE #4

A.C. No. 5573

GIZALE O. TUMBAGA, Complainant


vs.
ATTY. MANUEL P. TEOXON, Respondent

DECISION

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO, J.:

Before the Court is an administrative complaint filed by complainant Gizale O. Tumbaga against
respondent Atty. Manuel P. Teox.on, charging him with gross immorality, deceitful and
fraudulent conduct, and gross misconduct. The parties hereto paint contrastive pictures not only
of their respective versions of the events but also of their negative portrayals of each other's
character. They are, thus, separately outlined below.

The Complaint

In a verified complaint1 dated October 9, 2001 filed directly with the Court, complainant
narrated that she met respondent sometime in September 1999. He was then the City Legal
Officer of Naga City from whom complainant sought legal advice. After complainant consulted
with him a few times, he visited her often at her residence and brought gifts for her son, Al Greg
Tumbaga. Respondent even volunteered to be the godfather of Al Greg. In one of his visits,
respondent assured complainant's mother that although he was already married to Luzviminda
Balang,2 his marriage was a sham because their marriage contract was not registered. In view of
respondent's persistence and generosity to her son, complainant believed his representation that
he was eligible to marry her.

Complainant averred that on December 19, 1999, she moved in with respondent at the Puncia
Apartment in Naga City. In April 2000, she became pregnant. Respondent allegedly wanted to
have the baby aborted but complainant refused. After the birth of their son, Billy John,
respondent spent more time with them. He used their apartment as a temporary law office and he
lived there for two to three days at a time.

After Billy John was baptized, complainant secured a Certificate of Live Birth from the Office of
the Civil Registrar of Naga City and gave it to respondent to sign. He hesitantly signed it and
volunteered to facilitate its filing. After respondent failed to file the same, complainant secured
another form and asked respondent to sign it twice. On February 15, 2001, the Certificate of Live
Birth was registered.

Thereafter, complainant related that respondent rarely visited them. To make ends meet, she
decided to work in a law office in Naga City. However, respondent compelled her to resign,
assuring her that he would take care of her financial needs. As respondent failed to fulfill his
promise, complainant sought assistance from the Office of the City Fiscal in Naga City on the
second week of March 2001. In the early morning of the conference set by said office,
respondent gave complainant an affidavit of support and told her there was no need for him to
appear in the conference. Complainant showed the affidavit to Fiscal Elsa Mampo, but the latter
advised her to have the respondent sign the affidavit again. Fiscal Mampo was unsure of the
signature in the affidavit as she was familiar with respondent's signature. Complainant
confronted respondent about the affidavit and he half-heartedly affixed his true signature therein.

In May 2001, complainant went to respondent's office as he again reneged on his promise of
support. To appease her anger, respondent executed a promissory note. However, he also failed
to honor the same.

In June· 2001, complainant moved out of the Puncia Apartment as respondent did not pay the
rentals therefor anymore. In the evening of September 9, 2001, respondent raided complainant's
new residence, accompanied by three SWAT members and his wife. Visibly drunk, respondent
threatened to hurt complainant with the bolo and the lead pipe that he was carrying if she will not
return the personal belongings that he left in their previous apartment unit. As respondent barged
into the apartment, complainant sought help from the SWAT members and one of them was able
to pacify respondent. Respondent's wife also tried to attack complainant, but she too was
prevailed upon by the SWAT members. The incident was recorded in the police blotter.

To corroborate her allegations, complainant attached the following documents to her complaint,
among others: (a) pictures showing respondent lying in a bed holding Billy John,3 respondent
holding Billy John in a beach setting,4 complainant holding Billy John in a beach setting,5
respondent holding Billy John in a house setting,6 and respondent and complainant seated beside
each other in a restaurant7 ; (b) the Certificate of Live Birth of Billy John with an Affidavit of
Acknowledgment/Admission of Paternity showing respondent's signature8 ; (c) the affidavit of
support9 executed by respondent; (d) the promissory note10 executed by respondent; (e) the
police blotter entry11 dated September 9, 2001; and (f) copies of pleadings12 showing the
signature of respondent.

Respondent's Answer

In his answer,13 respondent denied the allegations in the complaint. He asserted that
complainant merely wanted to exact money from him.

Respondent alleged that he became the godfather of complainant's son, Al Greg, but he was only
one of four sponsors. He began to visit complainant's residence to visit his godson. He also
denied being the father of Billy John since complainant supposedly had several live-in partners.
He cited the affidavit of Antonio Orogo, complainant's uncle, to attest to his allegations.
According to the affidavit, Al Greg is the son of the complainant's live-in partner named Orac
Barrameda. Cpmplainant allegedly used Al Greg to extort money from Alfrancis Bichara, the
former governor of Albay, with whom complainant also had a sexual relationship.

Respondent denied that he lived together with complainant at the Puncia Apartment since he was
already married. As complainant was his kumadre, he would pass by her house whenever he
visited the house of Representative Sulpicio S. Roco, Jr. Respondent was then a member of
Representative Roco's legislative staff. Sometimes, respondent would leave a bag of clothing in
complainant's house to save money for his fare in going to the office of Representative Roco in
the House of Representatives in Quezon City. In one instance, complainant and her mother
refused to return one of his bags such that he was forced to file a replevin case. The Municipal
Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) of Naga City decided the case in his favor.

Respondent also claimed that complainant falsified his signature in the Certificate of Live Birth
of Billy John so he filed a complaint for the cancellation of his acknowledgment therein.
Complainant allegedly made it look like he appeared before Notary Public Vicente Estela on
February 15, 2001, but he argued that it was physically impossible for him to have done so as he
attended a hearing in the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Libmanan, Camarines Sur that day. He
also contended that complainant forged his signature in the Affidavit of Support.

As to the pictures of respondent with Billy John, he argued that the same cannot prove paternity.
He explained that in one of his visits to Al Greg, complainant left Billy John in his care to keep
the child from falling off the bed. However, complainant secretly took his picture as he was lying
in the bed holding Billy John. As to his picture with Billy John taken at the beach, respondent
alleged that at that time complainant gave Billy John to respondent as she wanted to go
swimming. While he was holding the child, complainant secretly took their picture. Respondent
accused complainant of taking the pictures in order to use the same to extort money from him.
This is the same scheme allegedly used by complainant against her previous victims, who paid
money to buy peace with her.

Respondent further alleged that politics was also involved in the filing of the complaint as
complainant was working in the office of then Representative Luis Villafuerte, the political
opponent of Representative Roco.

Respondent attached to his answer the following documents, among others: (a) the affidavit of
Antonio Orogo14 ; (b) the Decision15 dated May 8, 2006 of the MTCC of Naga City in Civil
Case No. 11546, which is the replevin case; (c) copies of the Minutes of Proceedings16 and the
Order17 of the RTC of Libmanan, Camarines Sur, both dated January 15, 2001, showing that
respondent attended a hearing therein on said date; and (d) a photocopy18 of respondent's credit
card and automated teller machine (ATM) card showing his signature.

The Proceedings before the IBP


Commission on Bar Discipline

The parties appeared before the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline for a few hearings and the
marking of their respective. evidence. Complainant marked the following documents, among
others, in addition to those already attached to the complaint: (a) a picture19 showing respondent
seated in a restaurant with complainant hugging him; (b) a receipt20 issued by the Clerk of Court
of the MTCC of Naga City, enumerating the objects (consisting mostly of items of clothing)
returned by complainant to respondent in the replevin case; and (c) receipts21 purportedly
showing respondent's payment of the rentals for complainant's apartment unit.
On motion of complainant, the IBP issued an order22 directing respondent, complainant, and
Billy John to undergo DNA testing in the DNA laboratory of the National Bureau of
Investigation (NBI) to determine the child's paternity. Upon motion23 from respondent,
however, the IBP annulled its prior order in the interest of the speedy disposition of the case.24

On November 14, 2008, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline issued its Report and
Recommendation,25 finding that respondent maintained an illicit affair with complainant and
that he should be meted the penalty of suspension for a period of two (2) years.

In the Resolution No. XVIII-2009-1526 dated February 19, 2009, the IBP Board of Governors
approved the above recommendation and increased the recommended period of suspension to
three (3) years.

Respondent filed a motion for reconsideration27 of the above resolution. Attached thereto were:
(a) the affidavits28 of Representative Roco and respondent's wife, Minda B. Teoxon, which
allegedly refuted complainant's contention that respondent lived with complainant at the Puncia
Apartment in Naga City; (b) the transcript of stenographic notes (TSN) dated May 10, 200529 in
Civil Case No. 11546 for replevin, wherein complainant supposedly admitted to her past
relationships; and (c) a letter30 from the University of Nueva Caceres that informed respondent
that he was chosen to be the recipient of its Diamond Achiever Award.

The IBP Board of Governors denied the motion for reconsideration in its Resolution No. XX-
2012-53931 dated December 14, 2012.

The IBP thereafter transmitted the record of the case to the Court for final action.

The Ruling of the Court

The Court agrees with the conclusion of the IBP that the actuations of respondent in this case
showed his failure to live up to the good moral conduct required of the members of the legal
profession.

We held in Advincula v. Advincula32 that:

The good moral conduct or character must be possessed by lawyers at the time of their
application for admission to the Bar, and must be maintained until retirement from the practice of
law. In this regard, the Code of Professional Responsibility states:

Rule 1.01 - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

xxxx

CANON 7 - A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession,
and support the activities of the Integrated Bar.

xxxx
Rule 7.03 - A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice
law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the
discredit of the legal profession.

Accordingly, it is expected that every lawyer, being an officer of the Court, must not only be in
fact of good moral character, but must also be seen to be of good moral character and leading
lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community. More specifically, a
member of the Bar and officer of the Court is required not only to refrain from adulterous
relationships or keeping mistresses but also to conduct himself as to avoid scandalizing the
public by creating the belief that he is flouting those moral standards. If the practice of law is to
remain an honorable profession and attain its basic ideals, whoever is enrolled in its ranks should
not only master its tenets and principles but should also, in their lives, accord continuing fidelity
to them. The requirement of good moral character is of much greater import, as far as the general
public is concerned, than the possession of legal learning.

Immoral conduct has been described as conduct that is so willful, flagrant, or shameless as to
show indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the community. To be the
basis of disciplinary action, such conduct must not only be immoral, but grossly immoral, that is,
it must be so corrupt as to virtually constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be
reprehensible to a high degree or committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as
to shock the common sense of decency. (Citations omitted; emphasis supplied.)

Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides for the imposition of the penalty of
disbarment or suspension if a member of the Bar is found guilty of committing grossly immoral
conduct, to wit:

SEC. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor. - A


member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme
Court for any deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral
.conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation
of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a willful
disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court, or for corruptly or willfully appearing as an
attorney for a party to a case without authority to do so. x x x.

In order to justify the imposition of the above administrative penalties on a member of the Bar,
his/her guilt must first be established by substantial evidence.33 As explained in Re: Rafael
Dimaano,34 substantial evidence or that amount of relevant evidence that a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

After a thorough review of the records of the case, the Court upholds the findings of the IBP as
there is indeed substantial evidence that respondent committed gross immorality by maintaining
an extramarital affair with complainant.

One of the key pieces of evidence that the IBP considered in ruling against respondent is the
Decision dated May 8, 2006 of the MTCC of Naga City in Civil Case No. 11546 for replevin.
In said case, respondent made it appear that he was merely seeking to recover personal
belongings that he left behind at one time in complainant's house. The items included a traveling
bag with various articles of clothing and file folders of cases that he was handling. He also tried
to recover the pieces of furniture that he allegedly bought for the complainant, which the latter
failed to reimburse as promised. These include a brass bed with foam mattress, a plastic dining
table with six plastic chairs, a brass sala set with a center table, and a plastic drawer. For her
defense, complainant argued that the respondent gradually left the items of clothing in their
apartment unit during the period that they cohabited therein from time to time. She also said that
the furniture were gifts to her and Billy John.

In its decision, the MTCC did rule in favor of respondent.1âwphi1 However, the following
elucidation by the MTCC is quite telling:

To the Court, this is one case that should not have been brought to court because [respondent]
could have resorted to a more diplomatic or tactful way of retrieving his personal belongings
rather than going on record with a lot of pretext and evasion as if the presiding judge is too naive
to appreciate human nature and the truth. [Respondent] would have done well if he was
gentleman, candid and responsible enough to admit his misadventure and accept responsibility
for his misdeeds rather than try to distort facts and avoid facing the truth. It is not manly.

Of course, the [MTCC] is fully convinced that the personal belongings listed in the complaint
[are] owned by him and the [furniture] that were eventually sold by [complainant] was bought by
him, even without showing any receipts for it. However, the [MTCC] is not persuaded by his
allegation that he left his bag with [complainant] because he was in a hurry in going to Manila.
He boldly declared in [the trial court] that he has three residences in Naga City and of all places
he had to leave his shirt and underwear with a lady whom he had visited "only twice".

[Respondent] could deny all the way up to high heaven that he has no child with [complainant]
but the [MTCC] will forever wonder why the latter would refuse to part with the shirts and pants
unless she is a bareface extortionist. But to the [MTCC], she did not appear to be so. In fact, the
[MTCC] had the occasion to observe [complainant] with two little handsome boys who appeared
to be her sons. Hence, this lends credence to the fact that she might have really demanded money
in exchange for the shirts and pants to support her children.

Be that as it may, the [MTCC] is duty bound to apply the law. There is no issue on the ownership
of the personal belongings contained in a bag allegedly left by the [respondent] in the house of
[complainant].

xxxx

However, as far as the [furniture] is concerned, like the brass bed, sala set, dining table and
plastic drawer, the [MTCC] is not persuaded by [respondent's] claim that he meant to be paid by
[complainant] for it. [Respondent] is a lawyer and although he is not engage[d] in the buying and
selling of [furniture] he should have known that if he really intended to be paid back for it, he
should have asked [complainant] to [sign] a promissory note or even a memorandum. As it is, he
failed to show any evidence of such an undertaking. That it was a gift of love is more like it.35
The IBP posited that the above ruling was more than sufficient to prove that respondent tried to
distort the truth that he and complainant did live together as husband and wife in one apartment
unit. The Court agrees with the IBP on this matter.

The MTCC plainly disbelieved respondent's claim that he merely left his bag of clothing in
complainant's house before he left for his place of work in Metro Manila - a claim which he
likewise made in the present case. The trial court further posited that the pieces of furniture
sought to be recovered by respondent were indeed bought by him but the same were intentionally
given to complainant out of love. Clearly, the MTCC was convinced that respondent and
complainant were involved in an illicit relationship that eventually turned sour and led to the
filing of the replevin case.

A perusal of the above decision reveals that the findings and conclusions therein were arrived at
by the MTCC after a trial on the merits of the case. In other words, the trial court first heard the
parties and received their respective evidence before it rendered a decision. As such, the trial
court cannot be accused of arriving at the aforementioned findings lightly.

Accordingly, the Court finds no reason to mistrust the observations and findings of the MTCC.
Respondent did not even point out any reason for us to do so. While the issues in the replevin
case and the instant administrative case are indeed different, they share a common factual
backdrop, i.e., the parties' contrasting account of the true nature of their relationship. From the
evidence of both parties, the MTCC chose the complainant's version of the events. Incidentally,
it was respondent himself who brought to light the existence of the MTCC decision in the
replevin case when he attached the same to his answer in the present case to substantiate his
narration of facts. Thus, he cannot belatedly plead that the decision be disregarded after the
statements and findings therein were used against him .

Complainant further attached pictures of respondent with her and Billy John as proof of their
romantic relations. A perusal of these pictures convinces this Court that while the same cannot
indeed prove Billy John's paternity, they are nevertheless indicative of a relationship between
complainant ~d respondent that is more than merely platonic.

One of the annexed pictures shows the couple in a restaurant setting, smiling at the camera while
seated beside each other very closely that their arms are visibly touching. Another picture shows
the couple in the same setting, this time with complainant smiling as she embraced respondent
from behind and they were both looking at the camera. From the facial expressions and the body
language of respondent and complainant in these pictures, the same unfailingly demonstrate their
unmistakable closeness and their lack of qualms over publicly displaying their affection towards
one another. Thus, the attempts of respondent to downplay his relationship with complainant flop
miserably. Curiously, respondent did not bother to explain the aforesaid pictures.

In his answer to the complaint, respondent only managed to comment on the pictures of himself
with Billy John. Even then, respondent's accounts as to these pictures are too flimsy and
incredible to be accepted by the Court. Respondent previously admitted to the genuineness of the
pictures but not to the alleged circumstances of the taking thereof.36 However, respondent's
allegation that the pictures were surreptitiously taken by complainant falls flat on its face. The
pictures clearly show that he and Billy John were looking directly at the camera when the
pictures were taken. Moreover, the angles from which the pictures were taken suggest that the
person taking the same was directly in front of respondent and Billy John.

In his motion for reconsideration of the IBP Board of Governors Resolution No. XVIII-2009-15,
respondent further argued that the pictures were not conclusive and the admission of the same
was not in accordance with the Rules of Court as nobody testified on the circumstances of the
taking of the pictures and the accuracy thereof.37 The IBP correctly disregarded this argument
given that technical rules of procedure and evidence are not strictly applied in administrative
proceedings. Administrative due process cannot be fully equated to due process in its strict
judicial sense.38

With respect to the affidavit of support, the promissory note, and the Certificate of Live Birth of
Billy John that contained an Affidavit of Acknowledgment/ Admission of Paternity, respondent
likewise failed to provide sufficient controverting evidence therefor.

In the affidavit of support and the promissory note, respondent supposedly promised to provide
monetary support to Billy John, whom he acknowledged as his illegitimate son. Respondent
verbally repudiated said documents, pointing out that the same were typewritten while he used a
computer in his office, not a typewriter.39 Respondent further accused complainant of falsifying
his signatures therein and, to prove his charge, he submitted photocopies of his credit card and A
TM card that allegedly showed his customary signatures.

The Court, still, finds this refutation wanting. To the naked eye, the sample signatures in the
credit card and A TM card do appear to be different from the ones in the affidavit of support, the
promissory note, and the Certificate of Live Birth. However, we likewise compared the sample
signatures to respondent's signatures in his pleadings before the IBP and other documents
submitted in evidence and we find that the signatures in the two sets appear to be likewise
dissimilar, which suggests respondent uses several different signatures. Thus, respondent's claim
of forgery is unconvincing. Moreover, as the IBP noted, the records of the case do not indicate if
he filed criminal charges against complainant for her alleged acts of falsification.

As to the Certificate of Live Birth of Billy John, respondent did file a complaint for the
cancellation of his acknowledgment therein. Thus, the Court will no longer discuss the parties'
arguments regarding the validity of respondent's signature in said certificate of birth as the issue
should be threshed out in the proper proceeding.

In his answer to the complaint, respondent attached the affidavit of Antonio Orogo in order to
belie complainant's allegations and that she merely wanted to exact money from respondent. In
the affidavit, Orogo claimed that respondent did not live with complainant in the Puncia
Apartment in Naga City. Orogo further accused complainant and her mother of engaging in the
practice of extorting money from various men since she was just 11 years old. The alleged
instances of extortion involved the complainant falsely accusing one man of rape and falsely
claiming to another man that he was the father of her first child.
The Court can hardly ascribe any credibility to the above affidavit. Given the materiality of
Orogo's statements therein, not to mention the gravity of his accusations against complainant and
her mother, he should have been presented as a witness before the IBP investigating
commissioner in order to confirm his affidavit and give complainant the opportunity to cross-
examine him. For whatever reason, this was not done. As it is, Orogo's affidavit lacks evidentiary
value. In Boyboy v. Yabut,40 we cautioned that:

It is not difficult to manufacture charges in the affidavits, hence, it is imperative that their
truthfulness and veracity be tested in the crucible of thorough examination. The hornbook
doctrine is that unless the affiants themselves take the witness stand to affirm the averments in
their affidavits, those affidavits must be excluded from the proceedings for being inadmissible
and hearsay x x x. (Citation omitted.)

In like manner, the Court cannot give much weight to the affidavits of Representative Roco and
Minda B. Teoxon, both of whom attested to the statements of respondent regarding his places of
residence during the time material to this case. It should be stressed that said affidavits were
executed only on June 15, 2009 or about four months after the IBP Board of Governors issued its
Resolution No. XVIII-2009-15 on February 19, 2009, which affirmed respondent's culpability
for grossly immoral conduct. This attenuates the credibility of the statements as the same were
only given as corroborative statements at so late a time given the relevancy thereof.

In the face of the accusations and the evidence offered against him, respondent was duty-bound
to meet the same decisively head-on. As the Court declared in Narag v. Narag41 :

While the burden of proof is upon the complainant, respondent has the duty not only to himself
but also to the court to show that he is morally fit to remain a member of the bar. Mere denial
does not suffice. Thus, when his moral character is assailed, such that his right to continue
practicing his cherished profession is imperiled, he must meet the charges squarely and present
evidence, to the satisfaction of the investigating body and this Court, that he is morally fit to
have his name in the Roll of Attorneys. x x x. (Citation omitted.)

Unfortunately, respondent failed to prove his defense when the burden of evidence shifted to
him. He could neither provide any concrete corroboration of his denials in this case nor
satisfactorily prove his claim that complainant was merely extorting money from him.

In light of the foregoing, the Court finds that respondent should be held liable for having illicit
relations with complainant. As to whether respondent also sired complainant's second child,
Billy John, the Court finds that the same was not sufficiently established by the evidence
presented in this case. The paternity and/or acknowledgement of Billy John, if indeed he is
respondent's illegitimate child, must be alleged and proved in separate proceedings before the
proper tribunal having jurisdiction to hear the same.

As to the penalty that should be imposed against respondent in this case, the Court had occasion
to rule in Samaniego v. Ferrer,42 that:
We have considered such illicit relation as a disgraceful and immoral conduct subject to
disciplinary action. The penalty for such immoral conduct is disbarment, or indefinite or definite
suspension, depending on the circumstances of the case. Recently, in Ferancullo v. Ferancullo,
Jr., we ruled that suspension from the practice of law for two years was an adequate penalty
imposed on the lawyer who was found guilty of gross immorality. In said case, we considered
the absence of aggravating circumstances such as an adulterous relationship coupled with refusal
to support his family; or maintaining illicit relationships with at least two women during the
subsistence of his marriage; or abandoning his legal wife and cohabiting with other women.
(Citations omitted.)

However, considering respondent's blatant attempts to deceive the courts and the IBP regarding
his true relationship with complainant, we agree with the IBP Board of Governors that the proper
penalty in this instance is a three-year suspension from the practice of law.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondent Atty. Manuel P. Teoxon GUILTY of gross
immorality and is hereby SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of three (3) years
effective upon notice hereof, with a STERN WARNING that a repetition of the same or similar
offense shall be punished with a more severe penalty.

Let copies of this Decision be entered in the personal record of respondent as a member of the
Philippine Bar and furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines, and the Court Administrator for circulation to all courts in the country.
CASE #5

A.C. No. 11394, December 01, 2016

MARIA VICTORIA G. BELO-HENARES, Complainant, v. ATTY. ROBERTO "ARGEE"


C. GUEVARRA, Respondent.

DECISION

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

The instant administrative case arose from a verified complaint1 for disbarment filed by
complainant Maria Victoria G. Belo-Henares (complainant) against respondent Atty. Roberto
"Argee" C. Guevarra (respondent) for alleged violations of Rules 1.01 and 1.02, Canon 1; Rule
7.03, Canon 7; Rule 8.01 of Canon 8; and Rule 19.01, Canon 19 of the Code of Professional
Responsibility. chanroblesvir tuallawlibrary

The Facts

Complainant is the Medical Director and principal stockholder of the Belo Medical Group, Inc.
(BMGI), a corporation duly organized and existing under Philippine laws2 and engaged in the
specialized field of cosmetic surgery.3 On the other hand, respondent is the lawyer of a certain
Ms. Josefina "Josie" Norcio (Norcio), who filed criminal cases against complainant for an
allegedly botched surgical procedure on her buttocks in 2002 and 2005, purportedly causing
infection and making her ill in 2009.4

In 2009, respondent wrote a series of posts on his Facebook account, a popular online social
networking site, insulting and verbally abusing complainant. His posts include the following
excerpts:chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Argee Guevarra Quack Doctor Becky Belo: I am out to get Puwitic Justice here! Kiss My
Client's Ass, Belo. Senator Adel Tamano, don't kiss Belo's ass. Guys and girls, nagiisip na
akong tumakbo sa Hanghalan 2010 to Kick some ass!!! I will launch a national campaign
against Plastic Politicians No guns, No goons, No gold - IN GUTS I TRUST!

Argee Guevarra Dr. Vicki Belo, watch out for Josefina Norcio's Big Bang on Friday - You will
go down in Medical History as a QUACK DOCTOR!!!! QUACK QUACK QUACK
QUACK. CNN, FOX NEWS, BLOOMBERG, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, L.A. TIMES c/o my
partner in the U.S., Atty. Trixie Cruz-Angeles :) (September 22 at 11:18pm)5

Argee Guevarra is amused by a libel case filed by Vicki Belo against me through her office
receptionist in Taytay Rizal. Haaaaay, style-bulok at style-duwag talaga. Lalakarin ng Reyna
ng Kaplastikan at Reyna ng Payola ang kaso... si Imelda Marcos nga sued me for P300 million
pesos and ended up apologizing to me, si Belo pa kaya? (September 15 at 12:08pm)6
Argee Guevarra get vicki belo as your client!!! may 'extra-legal' budget yon. Kaya lang,
histado ko na kung sino-sino ang tumatanggap eh, pag nalaman mo, baka bumagsak pa isang
ahensya ng gobyerno dito, hahaha (August 9 at 10:31pm)7

Argee Guevarra ATTENTION MGA BATCHMATES SA DOJ: TIMBREHAN NIYO AKO


KUNG MAGKANONG PANGSUHOL NI BELO PARA MADIIN AKO HA???? I just [want]
to know how much she hates me, ok? Ang payola budget daw niya runs into tens of
millions.... (September 15 at 3:57pm)8

Argee Guevarra thinks aloud how the payola machinery of vicki belo killed the news of a
picket demonstration in front of the Belo clinic. I wonder how television, print[,] and radio
programs can kill the story when the next rallies will have the following numbers 100, 200, 500
and 1000. Kung magkaasaran pa, 10,000 demonstrators will be assembled in front of the Belo
Medical Clinic at Tomas Morato on July 27, 2009. Hahahahaha! (July 17 at 7:56pm)9

Argee Guevarra Nakakatawa nga, 10milyon pa budget... [I] didn't know that my reputation is
worth that much. Aba ako kaya magdemanda sa kanila :) Ikot-ikot daw ang mga P.R. ni Belo
trying to convince editors to pin me down with something eh alam ko na wala naman akong
sex video!!! Adik talaga sa botox si Aling Becky at may tama na sa utak - eh kung gagastos
ka lang ng 10 milyon para sa tirang-pikon laban sa akin at to protect your burak na
reputasyon as a plastic surgeon, i-donate mo na lang yon sa biktima ni Ondoy, Pepeng at
Ramil! Yung mga homeboys ko sa Pasig na nilimas [ni] Ondoy ang kukubra sa yo! (October 23
at 5:31pm)10

Argee Guevarra is inspired by Jose Norio's courageous act of showing her face on national
television to expose the Reyna ng Kaplastikan, Reyna ng Kapalpakan. Inspired by shock
nevertheless by the fact that the much needed partial restoration of her behind would cost a
staggering $500,000-$1,000,000 Stanford Medical Hospital and she will still remain permanently
disabled for the rest of her life... (July 11 at 2:08am)11

Argee Guevarra Just got my internet connection. WILL EMAIL U THE LURID
UNASSAILABLE FACTS ABOUT VICKI BELO'S QUACK DOCTORING. (October 27,
2009)12

Argee Guevarra yeah... actually the issue is simple and you will easily see which side you'll be
taking- just pay Ms. Josie Norcio a visit at St. Luke's at talagang binaboy siya ng Reyna ng
Kaplastikan (July 10 at 12:08am)13
chanrobleslaw

The complaint further alleged that respondent posted remarks on his Facebook account that were
intended to destroy and ruin BMGI's medical personnel, as well as the entire medical practice of
around 300 employees for no fair or justifiable cause,14 to wit:
chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Argee Guevarra yup... [I'll] even throw the kitchen sink at her. Enjoy nga ito, we will paralyze
the operations of all her clinic and seek out her patients and customers to boycott her. [So]
far, good response – 70% decrease in her July sales... (August 9 at 10:29pm)15

Argee Guevarra Guys, pandemonium has broken loose in [BMGI's] 6 clinics after Ms. Josie
Norio's tell-all. With only 2 surgeons of BMGI certified by PAPRAS, there is real-and-present
danger that surgeries like liposuction, nose lift, boob jobs which have been performed by
[BMGI's] physicians, every patient runs the risk of something going wrong with the procedures
they have undergone under [BMGI's] hands:(" (July 12 at 12:21am)16

Argee Guevarra [T]hey perform plastic surgery procedures without licensed and trained doctors,
they nearly killed a client of mine, medical malpractice, use of banned substances/fillers on
patients. just recently, in flawless clinic, a patient who had a simple facial landed in the hospital
... (August 9 at 10:04pm)17

Argee Guevarra braces for typhoon Ramil without forgetting to ask comrades and friends in
Cebu to greet Vicki Belo with a boycott once she visits there on Oct. 20. Cebu's royal set already
knows that she is not a certified plastic surgeon: Boycott Belo, Flawless Reckless, Belat
Essentials!!!! (October 18 at 6:23pm)18

Argee Guevarra [W]ell, with all the kababuyan of the Belo clinic, its money-making
machines, dapat convert them into public health clinics!!! instead of pandering to the vanities
of those who want to look like Dra. Belo. (July 11 at 2:16am)19

Argee Guevarra darling kellyn, so far, i have 3 other ex-belo patients who will tell all too!!!!!
Grabe pala ang mga kapalpakan niyan. So did u leave Belo Clinic because it has become a
Frankenstein Factory? (July 11 at 2:30am)20

Argee Guevarra BOYCOTT BELO! FLAWLESS RECKLESS! BELAT ESSENTIALS!!!


I'll be gone for a week to a place where there will be no facebook so please, add Trixie Cruz-
Angeles if you want to find out more about our anti-quack doctor campaign! (September 24 at
3:00pm)21

Argee Guevarra Anyone care to sponsor T-shirts bearing this slogan? - BOYCOTT BELO!
FLAWLESS RECKLESS! BELAT ESSENTIALS! (September 23 at 12:17arn)22

Argee Guevarra Pare, eksena on Thursday I will go to the hearing with a placard - BOYCOTT
BELO!!! FLAWLESS RECKLESS!!! BELAT ESSENTIALS!!! I will vote for Adel Tamano
(La Salle-Ateneo lower batch sa akin at mabuti ang pamilya niyan)... BUT WOULD YOU???
(September 23 at 1:50am)23

Argee Guevarra advocates a national patients' boycott of the Belo Medical Group. To all my
friends and comrades, please stay away from Belo's clinics. I have 2 cousins and 3 friends
already who have canceled their lipo from belo. Please help me shut down the Belo Medical
Group until they perform their moral and legal obligation to Ms. Josie Norcio... (July 17 at
2:12pm)24
chanrobleslaw

Moreover, respondent, through his Facebook account, posted remarks that allegedly threatened
complainant with criminal conviction, without factual basis and without proof,25 as follows: chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Argee Guevarra Mr. Jay, by next year- GMA will no longer be president and she will be jailed
for plunder; Vicky Belo will no longer be a doctor and she will be in the middle of a criminal
prosecution. The General Surgeon of France will have a Philippine version. By October and
November, some congressmen I have spoken with will be issuing summons to Vicky Belo for a
congressional inquiry; the subject - legislation regulating the practice of cosmetic surgery!
(September 22 at 11:31pm)26

Argee Guevarra Celso de1os Angeles can still get medical attention in prison - from Vicky Belo
after she gets convicted too for criminal negligence and estafa (July 15 at 10:05am)27

Argee Guevarra is preparing himself for a campaign against the Belo Medical Group for its
criminal negligence which nearly killed Ms. Josie Norcio over a botched butt augmentation
procedure. He found out that the Dr. Belo herself marketed the product to Ms. Norcio, the
operation was carried out by her doctors who were not licensed by the Philippine Association
of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.............. (July 9 at 8:54pm)28
chanrobleslaw

Complainant likewise averred that some of respondent's Facebook posts were sexist, vulgar, and
disrespectful of women,29 to wit: chanRoblesvirtualLawlibrary

Argee Guevarra but can u help me too with maricar reyes? who's the hottest cebuana chic chick
there nowadays? haven't been there for quite some time... pa-chicks ka naman!!! I'm sure
marami kang 25-and-below naprends diyan (August 10 at 8:36pm)30

Argee Guevarra hay joseph!!! how's the gayest lawyer in cebu? our forces will soon picket the
belo clinic there, can u tell me where that is? halato ko na sayo si hayden, promise!" (August
10 at 12:23am)31

Argee Guevarra joseph, i can't say i love u too - baka belo's team will use all sorts of attacks na
against me. to thwart them, being the gayest gay in the philippines, can u issue a certification that
i am so not like your type? at yung preferred ko lang ay thin, thalino and thisay? (September 23
at 12:01am)32
chanrobleslaw

Finally, complainant averred that the attacks against her were made with the object to extort
money from her, as apparent from the following reply made by respondent on a comment on his
Facebook post:33 chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

Kellyn Conde Sy utang mo! Pay up time:) (July 11 at 2:37am)

Argee Guevarra kellyn, sisingilin ko muna si belo... at saka sabi mo naman, maibagsak ko lang
ang kaplastikan ni belo, quits na tayo ...(July 11 at 2:38am)34
chanrobleslaw

Asserting that the said posts, written in vulgar and obscene language, were designed to inspire
public hatred, destroy her reputation, and to close BMGI and all its clinics, as well as to extort
the amount of P200 Million from her as evident from his demand letter35 dated August 26, 2009,
complainant lodged the instant complaint for disbarment against respondent before the Integrated
Bar of the Philippines (IBP), docketed as CBD Case No. 09-2551.

In defense,36 respondent claimed that the complaint was filed in violation of his constitutionally-
guaranteed right to privacy,37 asserting that the posts quoted by complainant were private
remarks on his private account on Facebook, meant to be shared only with his circle of friends of
which complainant was not a part.38 He also averred that he wrote the posts in the exercise of his
freedom of speech, and contended that the complaint was filed to derail the criminal cases that
his client, Norcio, had filed against complainant.39 He denied that the remarks were vulgar and
obscene, and that he made them in order to inspire public hatred against complainant.40 He
likewise denied that he attempted to extort money from her, explaining that he sent the demand
letter as a requirement prior to the filing of the criminal case for estafa, as well as the civil case
for damages against her. 41 Finally, respondent pointed out that complainant was a public figure
who is, therefore, the subject of fair comment.42

After the mandatory conference had been terminated,43 the parties were directed to file their
respective position papers.44 Thereafter, the IBP, through the Commission on Bar Discipline
(CBD), set the case for clarificatory hearing.45 Upon termination thereof, the case was deemed
submitted for report/recommendation.46

IBP's Report and Recommendation

In its Report and Recommendation47 dated August 13, 2013, the IBP-CBD recommended that
respondent be suspended for a period of one (1) year from the practice of law, with a stem
warning that a repetition of the same or similar acts shall be dealt with more severely.48 It held
respondent liable for violation of Rule 7.03,49 Rule 8.01,50 and Rule 19.0151 of the Code of
Professional Responsibility for having posted the above-quoted remarks on his Facebook
account, pointing out that respondent cannot invoke the "private" nature of his posts, considering
that he had at least 2,000 "friends" who can read and react thereto. Moreover, the IBP-CBD
maintained that the criminal cases he had filed against complainant on behalf of Norcio had been
dismissed for insufficient evidence; therefore, he can no longer campaign against complainant
whose alleged crimes against Norcio had not been established.52

In a Resolution53 dated September 27, 2014, the IBP Board of Governors resolved to adopt and
approve the August 13, 2013 Report and Recommendation of the IBP-CBD.

Respondent moved for reconsideration,54 arguing that there was no specific act attributed to him
that would warrant his suspension from the practice of law. He also averred that the libel cases
filed against him by an employee of BMGI had already been dismissed, without prejudice, for
lack of jurisdiction.55

In a Resolution56 dated October 28, 2015, the IBP Board of Governors partially granted
respondent's motion, reducing the penalty from one (1) year to six (6) months suspension. chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

The Issue Before the Court

The sole issue for the Court's resolution is whether or not respondent should be held
administratively liable based on the allegations of the verified complaint. chanroblesvirtuallawlibrary

The Court's Ruling

The Court has examined the records of this case and concurs with the IBP's findings, except as to
the penalty imposed on respondent.

At the outset, the Court notes that respondent never denied that he posted the purportedly vulgar
and obscene remarks about complainant and BMGI on his Facebook account. In defense,
however, he invokes his right to privacy, claiming that they were "private remarks" on his
"private account"57 that can only be viewed by his circle of friends. Thus, when complainant
accessed the same, she violated his constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy.

The defense is untenable.

Facebook is currently the most popular social media site, having surpassed one (1) billion
registered accounts and with 1.71 billion monthly active users.58 Social media are web-based
platforms that enable online interaction and facilitate users to generate and share content. There
are various classifications59 of social media platforms and one can be classified under the "social
networking sites" such as Facebook.60

Facebook is a "voluntary social network to which members subscribe and submit information. x
x x It has a worldwide forum enabling friends to share information such as thoughts, links, and
photographs, with one another."61 Users register at this site, create a personal profile or an open
book of who they are, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including automatic
notifications when they update their profile. A user can post a statement, a photo, or a video on
Facebook, which can be made visible to anyone, depending on the user's privacy settings.62

To address concerns about privacy, but without defeating its purpose, Facebook was armed with
different privacy tools designed to regulate the accessibility of a user's profile, as well as
information uploaded by the user. In H v. W,63 the South Gauteng High Court of Johannesburg,
Republic of South Africa recognized this ability of the users to "customize their privacy
settings," but with the cautionary advice that although Facebook, as stated in its policies, "makes
every effort to protect a user's information, these privacy settings are however not foolproof."64

Consequently, before one can have an expectation of privacy in his or her online social
networking activity - in this case, Facebook - it is first necessary that said user manifests the
intention to keep certain posts private, through the employment of measures to prevent access
thereto or to limit its visibility. This intention can materialize in cyberspace through the
utilization of Facebook's privacy tools. In other words, utilization of these privacy tools is the
manifestation, in the cyber world, of the user's invocation of his or her right to informational
privacy.65

The bases of the instant complaint are the Facebook posts maligning and insulting complainant,
which posts respondent insists were set to private view. However, the latter has failed to offer
evidence that he utilized any of the privacy tools or features of Facebook available to him to
protect his posts, or that he restricted its privacy to a select few. Therefore, without any positive
evidence to corroborate his statement that the subject posts, as well as the comments thereto,
were visible only to him and his circle of friends, respondent's statement is, at best, self-serving,
thus deserving scant consideration.66

Moreover, even if the Court were to accept respondent's allegation that his posts were limited to
or viewable by his "Friends" only, there is no assurance that the same - or other digital content
that he uploads or publishes on his Facebook profile - will be safeguarded as within the confines
of privacy, in light of the following: chanRob lesvirtualLawlibrary

(1) Facebook "allows the world to be more open and connected by giving its users the tools
to interact and share in any conceivable way";

(2) A good number of Facebook users "befriend" other users who are total strangers;

(3) The sheer number of "Friends" one user has, usually by the hundreds; and

(4) A user's Facebook friend can "share" the former's post, or "tag" others who are not
Facebook friends with the former, despite its being visible only to his or her own
Facebook friends.67
chanrobleslaw

Thus, restricting the privacy of one's Facebook posts to "Friends" does not guarantee absolute
protection from the prying eyes of another user who does not belong to one's circle of friends.
The user's own Facebook friend can share said content or tag his or her own Facebook friend
thereto, regardless of whether the user tagged by the latter is Facebook friends or not with the
former. Also, when the post is shared or when a person is tagged, the respective Facebook
friends of the person who shared the post or who was tagged can view the post, the privacy
setting of which was set at "Friends."68 Under the circumstances, therefore, respondent's claim of
violation of right to privacy is negated.

Neither can the Court accept the argument that the subject remarks were written in the exercise
of his freedom of speech and expression.

Time and again, it has been held that the freedom of speech and of expression, like all
constitutional freedoms, is not absolute.69 While the freedom of expression and the right of
speech and of the press are among the most zealously protected rights in the Constitution, every
person exercising them, as the Civil Code stresses, is obliged to act with justice, give everyone
his due, and observe honesty and good faith.70 As such, the constitutional right of freedom of
expression may not be availed of to broadcast lies or half-truths, insult others, destroy their name
or reputation or bring them into disrepute.71

A punctilious scrutiny of the Facebook remarks complained of disclosed that they were
ostensibly made with malice tending to insult and tarnish the reputation of complainant and
BMGI. Calling complainant a "quack doctor," "Reyna ng Kaplastikan," "Reyna ng Payola," and
"Reyna ng Kapalpakan," and insinuating that she has been bribing people to destroy respondent
smacks of bad faith and reveals an intention to besmirch the name and reputation of complainant,
as well as BMGI. Respondent also ascribed criminal negligence upon complainant and BMGI by
posting that complainant disfigured ("binaboy") his client Norcio, labeling BMGI a
"Frankenstein Factory," and calling out a boycott of BMGI's services all these despite the
pendency of the criminal cases that Norcio had already filed against complainant. He even
threatened complainant with conviction for criminal negligence and estafa which is contrary to
one's obligation "to act with justice."·

In view of the foregoing, respondent's inappropriate and obscene language, and his act of
publicly insulting and undermining the reputation of complainant through the subject Facebook
posts are, therefore, in complete and utter violation of the following provisions in the Code of
Professional Responsibility: chanRob lesvirtualLawlibrary

Rule 7.03 - A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice
law, nor shall he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit
of the legal profession.

Rule 8.01 - A lawyer shall not, in his professional dealings, use language which is abusive,
offensive or otherwise improper.

Rule 19.01 - A lawyer shall employ only fair and honest means to attain the lawful objectives of
his client and shall not present, participate in presenting or threaten to present unfounded
criminal charges to obtain an improper advantage in any case or proceeding.
chanrobleslaw

By posting the subject remarks on Facebook directed at complainant and BMGI, respondent
disregarded the fact that, as a lawyer, he is bound to observe proper decorum at all times, be it in
his public or private life. He overlooked the fact that he must behave in a manner befitting of an
officer of the court, that is, respectful, firm, and decent. Instead, he acted inappropriately and
rudely; he used words unbecoming of an officer of the law, and conducted himself in an
aggressive way by hurling insults and maligning complainant's and BMGI's reputation.

That complainant is a public figure and/or a celebrity and therefore, a public personage who is
exposed to criticism72 does not justify respondent's disrespectful language. It is the cardinal
condition of all criticism that it shall be bona fide, and shall not spill over the walls of decency
and propriety.73 In this case, respondent's remarks against complainant breached the said walls,
for which reason the former must be administratively sanctioned.

"Lawyers may be disciplined even for any conduct committed in their private capacity, as long
as their misconduct reflects their want of probity or good demeanor, a good character being an
essential qualification for the admission to the practice of law and for continuance of such
privilege. When the Code of Professional Responsibility or the Rules of Court speaks of conduct
or misconduct, the reference is not confined to one's behavior exhibited in connection with the
performance of lawyers' professional duties, but also covers any misconduct, which—albeit
unrelated to the actual practice of their profession—would show them to be unfit for the office
and unworthy of the privileges which their license and the law invest in them."74 Accordingly,
the Court finds that respondent should be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one
(1) year, as originally recommended by the IBP-CBD, with a stem warning that a repetition of
the same or similar act shall be dealt with more severely.

WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Roberto "Argee" C. Guevarra is found guilty of violation of


Rules 7.03, 8.01, and 19.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. He is hereby
SUSPENDED from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year, effective upon his receipt of
this Decision, and is STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be
dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Office of the Bar Confidant, the Integrated Bar of
the Philippines, and the Office of the Court Administrator for circulation to all the courts.