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PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

SECOND DIVISION

[Adm. Case No. 4680. August 29, 2000.]

AQUILINO Q. PIMENTEL, JR., Complainant, v. ATTYS. ANTONIO M. LLORENTE and LIGAYA P. SALAYON, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N


MENDOZA, J.:


This is a complaint for disbarment against respondents Antonio M. Llorente and Ligaya P. Salayon for gross misconduct, serious breach of trust, and violation of the lawyer’s oath in connection with the discharge of their duties as members of the Pasig City Board of Canvassers in the May 8, 1995 elections. Salayon, then election officer of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), was designated chairman of said Board, while Llorente, who was then City Prosecutor of Pasig City, served as its ex oficio vice-chairman as provided by law. 1 Complainant, now a senator, was also a candidate for the Senate in that election.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Complainant alleges that, in violation of R.A. No. 6646, §27(b), 2 respondents tampered with the votes received by him, with the result that, as shown in the Statements of Votes (SoVs) and Certificate of Canvass (CoC) pertaining to 1,263 precincts of Pasig City, (1) senatorial candidates Juan Ponce Enrile, Anna Dominique Coseteng, Gregorio Honasan, Marcelo Fernan, Ramon Mitra, and Rodolfo Biazon were credited with votes which were above the number of votes they actually received while, on the other hand, petitioner’s votes were reduced; (2) in 101 precincts, Enrile’s votes were in excess of the total number of voters who actually voted therein; and (3) the votes from 22 precincts were twice recorded in 18 SoVs. Complainant maintains that, by signing the SoVs and CoC despite respondents’ knowledge that some of the entries therein were false, the latter committed a serious breach of public trust and of their lawyers’ oath.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Respondents denied the allegations against them. They alleged that the preparation of the SoVs was made by the 12 canvassing committees which the Board had constituted to assist in the canvassing. They claimed that the errors pointed out by complainant could be attributed to honest mistake, oversight, and/or fatigue.

In his Consolidated Reply, complainant counters that respondents should be held responsible for the illegal padding of the votes considering the nature and extent of the irregularities and the fact that the canvassing of the election returns was done under their control and supervision.

On December 4, 1998, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, to which this matter had been referred pursuant to Rule 139-B, §13, in relation to §20 of the Rules of Court, recommended the dismissal of the complaint for lack of merit. 3 Petitioner filed a motion for reconsideration on March 11, 1999, but his motion was denied in a resolution of the IBP Board of Governors dated April 22, 1999. On June 4, 1999, he filed this petition pursuant to Rule 139-B, §12(c).

It appears that complainant likewise filed criminal charges against respondents before the COMELEC (E.O. Case No. 96-1132) for violation of R.A. No. 6646, §27(b). In its resolution dated January 8, 1998, the COMELEC dismissed complainant’s charges for insufficiency of evidence. However, on a petition for certiorari filed by complainant, 4 this Court set aside the resolution and directed the COMELEC to file appropriate criminal charges against respondents. Reconsideration was denied on August 15, 2000.

Considering the foregoing facts, we hold that respondents are guilty of misconduct.

First. Respondent Llorente seeks the dismissal of the present petition on the ground that it was filed late. He contends that a motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading under Rule 139-B, §12(c) 5 and, therefore, the filing of such motion before the IBP Board of Governors did not toll the running of the period of appeal. Respondent further contends that, assuming such motion can be filed, petitioner nevertheless failed to indicate the date of his receipt of the April 22, 1999 resolution of the IBP denying his motion for reconsideration so that it cannot be ascertained whether his petition was filed within the 15-day period under Rule 139-B, §12(c).

The contention has no merit. The question of whether a motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading or not under Rule 139-B, §12(c) has been settled in Halimao v. Villanueva, 6 in which this Court held:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

Although Rule 139-B, §12(C) makes no mention of a motion for reconsideration, nothing in its text or in its history suggests that such motion is prohibited. It may therefore be filed within 15 days from notice to a party. Indeed, the filing of such motion should be encouraged before resort is made to this Court as a matter of exhaustion of administrative remedies, to afford the agency rendering the judgment an opportunity to correct any error it may have committed through a misapprehension of facts or misappreciation of the evidenced. 7

On the question whether petitioner’s present petition was filed within the 15-day period provided under Rule 139-B, §12(c), although the records show that it was filed on June 4, 1999, respondent has not shown when petitioner received a copy of the resolution of the IBP Board of Governors denying his motion for reconsideration. It would appear, however, that the petition was filed on time because a copy of the resolution personally served on the Office of the Bar Confidant of this Court was received by it on May 18, 1999. Since copies of IBP resolutions are sent to the parties by mail, it is possible that the copy sent to petitioner was received by him later than May 18, 1999. Hence, it may be assumed that his present petition was filed within 15 days from his receipt of the IBP resolution. In any event, the burden was on respondent, as the moving party, to show that the petition in this case was filed beyond the 15-day period for filing it.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Even assuming that petitioner received the IBP resolution in question on May 18, 1999, i.e., on the same date a copy of the same was received by the Office of the Bar Confidant, the delay would only be two days. 8 The delay may be overlooked, considering the merit of this case. Disbarment proceedings are undertaken solely for public welfare. The sole question for determination is whether a member of the bar is fit to be allowed the privileges as such or not. The complainant or the person who called the attention of the Court to the attorney’s alleged misconduct is in no sense a party, and generally has no interest in the outcome except as all good citizens may have in the proper administration of justice. 9 For this reason, laws dealing with double jeopardy 10 or prescription 11 or with procedure like verification of pleadings 12 and prejudicial questions 13 have no application to disbarment proceedings.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Even in ordinary civil actions, the period for perfecting appeals is relaxed in the interest of justice and equity where the appealed case is clearly meritorious. Thus, we have given due course to appeals even though filed six, 14 four, 15 and three 16 days late. In this case, the petition is clearly meritorious.

Second. The IBP recommends the dismissal of petitioner’s complaint on the basis of the following: (1) respondents had no involvement in the tabulation of the election returns, because when the Statements of Votes (SoVs) were given to them, such had already been accomplished and only needed their respective signatures; (2) the canvassing was done in the presence of watchers, representatives of the political parties, the media, and the general public so that respondents would not have risked the commission of any irregularity; and (3) the acts dealt with in R.A. No. 6646, §27(b) are mala in se and not mala prohibita, and petitioner failed to establish criminal intent on the part of respondents. 17

The recommendation is unacceptable. In disciplinary proceedings against members of the bar, only clear preponderance of evidence is required to establish liability. 18 As long as the evidence presented by complainant or that taken judicial notice of by the Court 19 is more convincing and worthy of belief than that which is offered in opposition thereto, 20 the imposition of disciplinary sanction is justified..

In this case, respondents do not dispute the fact that massive irregularities attended the canvassing of the Pasig City election returns. The only explanation they could offer for such irregularities is that the same could be due to honest mistake, human error, and/or fatigue on the part of the members of the canvassing committees who prepared the SoVs.

This is the same allegation made in Pimentel v. Commission on Elections. 21 In rejecting this allegation and ordering respondents prosecuted for violation of R.A. No. 6646, §27(b), this Court said:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

There is a limit, we believe, to what can be construed as an honest mistake or oversight due to fatigue, in the performance of official duty. The sheer magnitude of she error, not only in the total number of votes garnered by the aforementioned candidates as reflected in the CoC and the SoVs, which did not tally with that reflected in the election returns, but also in the total number of votes credited for senatorial candidate Enrile which exceeded the total number of voters who actually voted in those precincts during the May 8, 1995 elections, renders the defense of honest mistake or oversight due to fatigue, as incredible and simply unacceptable. 22

Indeed, what is involved here is not just a case of mathematical error in the tabulation of votes per precinct as reflected in the election returns and the subsequent entry of the erroneous figures in one or two SoVs 23 but a systematic scheme to pad the votes of certain senatorial candidates at the expense of petitioner in complete disregard of the tabulation in the election returns. A cursory look at the evidence submitted by petitioner reveals that, in at least 24 SoVs involving 101 precincts, the votes for candidate Enrile exceeded the number of voters who actually voted in the said precincts and, in 18 SoVs, returns from 22 precincts were-tabulated twice. In addition, as the Court noted in Pimentel, the total number of votes credited to each of the seven senatorial candidates in question, as reflected in the CoC, markedly differ from those indicated in the SoVs. 24

Despite the fact that these discrepancies, especially the double recording of the returns from 22 precincts and the variation in the tabulation of votes as reflected in the SoVs and CoC, were apparent on the face of these documents and that the variation involves substantial number of votes, respondents nevertheless certified the SoVs as true and correct. Their acts constitute misconduct.

Respondent Llorente’s contention that he merely certified the genuineness and due execution of the SoVs but not their correctness is belied by the certification which reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

WE HEREBY CERTIFY that the foregoing Statement of Votes by . . . [p]recinct is true and correct. IN WITNESS WHEREOF, we sign these presents at the City/Municipality of ___________ Province of ________ this _______ day of May, 1995. (Emphasis added)

Nor does the fact that the canvassing was open to the public and observed by numerous individuals preclude the commission of acts for which respondents are liable. The fact is that only they had access to the SoVs and CoC and thus had the opportunity to compare them and detect the discrepancies therein.

Now, a lawyer who holds a government position may not be disciplined as a member of the bar for misconduct in the discharge of his duties as a government official. 25 However, if the misconduct also constitutes a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility or the lawyer’s oath or is of such character as to affect his qualification as a lawyer or shows moral delinquency on his part, such individual may be disciplined as a member of the bar for such misconduct. 26

Here, by certifying as true and correct the SoVs in question, respondents committed a breach of Rule 1.01 of the Code which stipulates that a lawyer shall not engage in "unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct." By express provision of Canon 6, this is made applicable to lawyers in the government service. In addition, they likewise violated their oath of office as lawyers to "do no falsehood." chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Nowhere is the-need for lawyers to observe honesty both in their private and in their public dealings better expressed in Sabayle v. Tandayag 27 in which this Court said:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

There is a strong public interest involved in requiring lawyers to behave at all times in a manner consistent with truth and honor it is important that the common caricature that lawyers by and large do not feel compelled to speak the truth and to act honestly, should not become a common reality . . . 28

It may be added that, as lawyers in the government service, respondents were under greater obligation to observe this basic tenet of the profession because a public office is a public trust.

Third. Respondents’ participation in the irregularities herein reflects on the legal profession, in general, and on lawyers in government in particular. Such conduct in the performance of their official duties, involving no less than the ascertainment of the popular will as expressed through the ballot, would have merited for them suspension were it not for the fact that this is their first administrative transgression and, in the case of Salayon, after a long public service. 29 Under the circumstances, a penalty of fine in the amount of P10,000.00 for each of the respondents should be sufficient.

WHEREFORE, the Court finds respondents Antonio M. Llorente and Ligaya P. Salayon GUILTY of misconduct and imposes on each of them a FINE in the amount of P10,000.00 with a WARNING that commission of similar acts will be dealt with more severely.

SO ORDERED.chanrob1es virtua1 1aw 1ibrary

Bellosillo, Quisumbing, Buena and De Leon, Jr., JJ., concur.

Endnotes:



1. Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, §221(b). The third member of the Board, Ceferino Adamos, now deceased, was the Clerk of Court of the Pasig City Metropolitan Trial Court.

2. SEC. 27. Election Offenses. — In addition to the prohibited acts and election offenses enumerated in Section 261 and 262 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, as amended, the following shall be guilty of an election offense.

x       x       x


(b) Any member of the board of election inspectors or board of canvassers who tampers, increases, or decreases the votes received by a candidate in any election . . .

3. Rollo, p. 116.

4. Pimentel, Jr. v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 133509, Feb. 9, 2000.

5. SEC. 12. Review and decision by the Board of Governors. —

(c) If the respondent is exonerated by the Board or the disciplinary sanction imposed by it is less than suspension or disbarment (such as admonition, reprimand, or fine) it shall issue a decision exonerating respondent or imposing such sanction. The case shall be deemed terminated unless upon petition of the complainant or other interested party filed with the Supreme Court within fifteen (15) days from notice of the Board’s resolution, the Supreme Court orders otherwise.

6. 253 SCRA 1 (1996).

7. Id., at 6.

8. Counted from May 18, 1999, the 15th day falls on June 2, 1999.

9. Tajan v. Cusi, Jr., 57 SCRA 154 (1974); In re Almacen, 31 SCRA 562 (1970); Rayos-Ombac v. Rayos, 285 SCRA 93 (1998).

10. See Pangan v. Ramos, 107 SCRA 1 (1981); In re Del Rosario, 52 Phil. 399 (1928).

11. Calo v. Degamo, 20 SCRA 447 (1967).

12. In re: Victorio D. Lanuevo, 66 SCRA 245 (1975).

13. Agripino Brillantes, 76 SCRA 1 (1977).

14. Republic v. Court of Appeals, 83 SCRA 453 (1978).

15. Ramos v. Bagasao, 96 SCRA 395 (1980).

16. Philippine National Bank v. Court of Appeals, 246 SCRA 304 (1995).

17. IBP Report, p. 5; Rollo, p. 121.

18. In re Tionko, 43 Phil. 191 (1922); Re. Agripino A. Brillantes, 76 SCRA 1 (1977).

19. See Prudential Bank v. Castro, 155 SCRA 604 (1987); Richards v. Asoy, 152 SCRA 45 (1987).

20. Republic v. Court of Appeals, 160 SCRA 161 (1991).

21. G.R. No. 133509, Feb. 9, 2000.

22. Id., at 10.

23. E.g., Tatlonghari v. Commission on Elections, 199 SCRA 849 (1991); Angelia v. Tan, G.R. No. 135468, May 31, 2000.

24. Tabulated as follows (Pimentel v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 133509, Feb. 9, 2000):chanrob1es virtual 1aw library

CANDIDATE CERTIFICATE OF STATEMENT OF

CANVASS VOTES

Biazon 83,731 87,214

Coseteng 54,126 67,573

Enrile 91,798 90,161

Fernan 69,712 72,031

Honasan 62,159 62,077

Mitra 56,097 56,737

Pimentel 68,040 67,936

25. Gonzales-Austria v. Abaya, 176 SCRA 634 (1989).

26. Collantes v. Renomeron, 200 SCRA 584 (1991); (Gonzales-Austria v. Abaya, 176 SCRA 634 (1989); See RUBEN AGPALO, LEGAL ETHICS 425 (4th ed., 1989).

27. 158 SCRA 497 (1988).

28. Id., at 506.

29. She first served in the lower courts before working in the Supreme Court from 1981-1990 (Comment, p. 5; Rollo, p. 48).

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