[A.C. NO. 6549 : September 22, 2006]
ROBERTO POON, Complainant, v. ATTY. JANETTE BASSIG-CHUA, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
Roberto Poon (Roberto) was the defendant in a case entitled "Metro Central Mercantile Corporation (MCMC) v. Robert Poon," for unlawful detainer and docketed as Civil Case No. 174709 before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) of Manila, Branch 23, presided by Judge Tingaraan U. Guiling. Atty. Janette Bassig-Chua (respondent), on the other hand, was the counsel of the plaintiff, MCMC.
In a sworn complaint1 dated July 23, 2004, Roberto charged respondent with grave professional misconduct for deliberately failing to furnish his (Roberto) counsel, Atty. Antonio R. Tupaz (Atty. Tupaz) of the pleadings and motions she filed in Civil Case No. 174709. Roberto prays that respondent be disbarred for grave professional misconduct and for the total disregard of his right to due process.
Roberto alleged that when respondent filed a Complaint2 in behalf of her client, the same was deficient because it did not contain any Annex "B." Thus, Atty. Tupaz, filed a Motion to Complete the Complaint.3 Respondent filed an Opposition4 stating that the annexes were complete and that the Annex "B" referred to was a statement of account which had already been furnished to him before the filing of the complaint. Copy of said Opposition was served by respondent to Atty. Tupaz.
On March 18, 2003, respondent filed a Motion to Render Judgment5 contending that Roberto failed to file his answer within the reglementary period. Copy thereof was sent only to Roberto. On April 2, 2002, the MTC treated said motion as one to declare Roberto in default and directed respondent to show proof of service thereof to the latter. Indicated in the said order were the address of both Roberto and his counsel, Atty. Tupaz.6 In her Compliance dated April 10, 2003, respondent informed the MTC that the Motion to Render Judgment was personally served to Roberto. Again, copy of said compliance was furnished only to the latter but not to Atty. Tupaz.7
On April 15, 2003, the MTC granted the Motion to Render Judgment8 and subsequently rendered a judgment9 in favor of MCMC on July 1, 2003. The MTC served copy of the said decision and April 15, 2003 order only to Roberto and not to Atty. Tupaz.
On September 23, 2003, Roberto filed a Petition for Certiorari and Injunction10 with Branch 33 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, but was denied for lack of merit on December 4, 2003.11 Pending the resolution of Roberto's motion for reconsideration, respondent filed a motion for execution dated January 19, 2004 of the MTC decision. The same was granted by the MTC which issued a writ of execution directing Roberto to vacate the leased premises within five (5) days from receipt thereof.
Atty. Tupaz filed a Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution,12 to which respondent filed an Opposition.13 Roberto claimed that for the fourth time, respondent did not furnish Atty. Tupaz with a copy of the said Opposition. The MTC denied the Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution, hence, Roberto was ousted from the leased premises.
In sum, Roberto maintained that respondent failed to live up to a lawyer's duty to uphold the rights of the parties in a case, even that of the adverse party. Roberto asserts that respondent violated his right to due process by repeatedly and deliberately failing to furnish his counsel of the following pleadings: (1) Plaintiff's (Respondent) Motion to Render Judgment; (2) Compliance; (3) Motion for Execution; and (4) Opposition to the Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution.
Respondent argued that she did not commit any professional misconduct in not furnishing Roberto's counsel of the abovementioned pleadings. She averred that when she filed the Motion to Render Judgment on March 21, 2003, there was no legal basis to know that Roberto was represented by Atty. Tupaz because she received the Motion to Complete Complaint filed by the latter only on March 24, 2003, and prior to this, there was no formal appearance filed by the latter. Likewise, she claimed that Atty. Tupaz never appeared in the MTC case to represent the complainant.
Respondent added that she sent her Opposition to the Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution to Roberto because Atty. Tupaz again failed to indicate in the Notice of Hearing of said motion, the date and time of the setting of the hearing.
On October 4, 2005, Lydia A. Navarro, Investigating Commissioner of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Commission on Bar Discipline recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three months. Commissioner Navarro found that respondent admitted that she failed to furnish Atty. Tupaz with the pleadings she filed.
In a Resolution dated March 20, 2006,14 the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the recommendation of Commissioner Navarro.
The only issue for resolution is whether respondent should be held administratively liable for failure to furnish Atty. Tupaz of the pleadings she filed.
Section 2, Rule 13 of the Revised Rules of Court provides that service is the act of providing a party with a copy of the pleading or paper concerned. If any party has appeared by counsel, service upon him shall be made upon his counsel or one of them, unless service upon the party himself is ordered by the court. Moreover, an attorney is presumed to be properly authorized to represent any cause in which he appears, and no written power of attorney is required to authorize him to appear in court for his client.15
In the instant case, there is no doubt that Atty. Tupaz is the counsel of record of Roberto. After respondent filed a Complaint on February 17, 2003 against Roberto, Atty. Tupaz filed on behalf of the latter a Motion to Complete the Complaint. Respondent filed an Opposition dated March 24, 2003 and furnished both Atty. Tupaz and Roberto a copy of the same. However, subsequent pleadings such as the Compliance; the Motion for Execution; and the Opposition to the Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution, were furnished only to Roberto and not to Atty. Tupaz.
Respondent admitted not serving a copy of the Motion to Render Judgment to Atty. Tupaz because she received the Motion to Complete the Complaint only on March 24, 2003 after she had already filed the Motion to Render Judgment on March 21, 2003. However, except for her bare allegations,16 she presented no proof to substantiate her claim as to her date of receipt of said motion. Moreover, an entry of appearance is not necessary for Atty. Tupaz to be recognized as counsel of Roberto. The fact that he filed a pleading in behalf of the latter is sufficient notice to respondent that he is the counsel of record of Roberto and that copy of the pleadings should be served to him and not to the latter.
Anent her Compliance to the MTC's order dated April 2, 2002, respondent cannot claim that Roberto is not represented by Atty. Tupaz considering that the April 2, 2002 order clearly reflected that the MTC sent a copy thereof not only to Roberto but also to his counsel, Atty. Tupaz.17
The same is true with respect to respondent's Motion for Execution dated January 19, 2004 and February 19, 2004 Opposition to Atty. Tupaz's Very Urgent Manifestation and Motion to Recall Order of Execution. This is because at the time she filed the motion for execution, she already received on September 22, 2003 the petition for certiorari filed by Atty. Tupaz with the RTC. More so as regards the Opposition of respondent considering that she stubbornly failed to furnish Atty. Tupaz with a copy thereof although it was very clear that it was the latter counsel who signed the motion she was opposing.
It is elementary that when a party is represented by counsel, all notices should be sent to the party's lawyer at his given address.18 The purpose of the rule is obviously to maintain a uniform procedure calculated to place in competent hands the orderly prosecution of a party's case.19 In J.M. Javier Logging Corporation v. Mardo,20 we held, thus:
This rule is not a mere technicality, but one founded on considerations of fair play. A party engages an attorney of record precisely because it does not feel competent to deal with the intricacies of law and procedure. Furthermore, as the party directly served would have to communicate with its attorney and turn over to him the notice received, the net result would be to noticeably shorten the usable period for taking the proper steps required to protect the party's interests.
In sum, we find that respondent should be reprimanded for failing to comply with the rules. Under Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for the law and legal processes.
Nevertheless, the penalty of three months suspension from the practice of law is too harsh and not commensurate to the infraction of respondent vis - Ã -vis the damage caused to Roberto. The latter was declared in default because he did not file an answer within the reglementary period. His motion to complete the complaint was correctly treated as a mere scrap of paper for non-compliance with Section 5, Rule 15 of the Rules of Court. Neither can Roberto be considered to have been denied due process considering that he was able to elevate the case to the RTC. Indeed, due process is merely an opportunity to be heard which in this case was amply afforded to him.
WHEREFORE, for failure to observe Section 2, Rule 13 of the Revised Rules of Court, respondent Atty. Janette Bassig-Chua is found GUILTY of simple misconduct and is hereby REPRIMANDED and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts in the future will be dealt with more severely.
Panganiban, C.J., Chairperson, Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, pp. 1-5.
2 Id. at 7-10.
3 Id. at 12-13.
4 Id. at 14-15.
5 Id. at 16-17.
6 Id. at 18.
7 Id. at 19-20.
8 Id. at 2.
9 Id. at 126-127.
10 Id. at 23-44.
11 Id. at 45-47.
12 Id. at 53-56.
13 Id. at 59-64.
14 Id. at 238.
15 Rules of Court, Rule 138, Section 21.
16 Rollo, p. 70.
17 Id. at 18.
18 Philippine Commercial International Bank v. Court of Appeals, 454 Phil. 338,358 (2003).
19 Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 213 Phil. 362, 368 (1984).
20 133 Phil. 766, 769 (1968).