[A.C. NO. 7056 : September 13, 2006]
PLUS BUILDERS, INC. and EDGARDO C. GARCIA, Complainants, v. ATTY. ANASTACIO E. REVILLA, JR., Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
By their oath and under the Code of Professional Responsibility, lawyers must uphold truth and justice above everything else, even above their own and their client's interests. They must be willing and able to stand for their convictions against all odds; to carry on in spite of seemingly insurmountable opposition; and to be beacons for the weak, the oppressed and the marginalized. For failing miserably to live by this oath and Code, respondent must be sanctioned.
The Case and the Facts
This administrative case originated from a Verified Petition for Disbarment1 filed by Plus Builders Inc. and Edgardo C. Garcia before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). Complainants charged Atty. Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr. with committing a willful and intentional falsehood before the court; misusing court procedure and processes to delay the execution of a judgment; and collaborating with non-lawyers in the illegal practice of law.
The material averments of the Complaint are as follows:
"On April 7, 1999, Plus Builders Inc. filed before the Provincial Adjudicator of Cavite (PARAD) of DAR, DARAB CASE NOS. R-402-027-99 up to R-402-031-99, inclusive, against Leopoldo De Guzman, Heirs of Bienvenido De Guzman, Apolonio Ilas and Gloria Martirez Siongco, Heirs of Faustino Siongco; Serafin Santarin, Benigno Alvarez and Maria Esguerra, et al; hereinafter called [tenants/farmers] x x x.
"On November 15, 1999, the Provincial Adjudicator of Cavite (PARAD) rendered a consolidated Decision in favor of petitioner/complainant [Plus Builders, Inc.], and against [tenants/farmers]. x x x.
"[Tenants/farmers] filed several verified pleadings as part of the records of DARAB cases above-mentioned alleging under oath that they were 'MAGSASAKANG NAMUMUWISAN' or mere tenants of subject properties, acknowledging the rights of the registered owners at that time, even before the ownership and title were transferred to Petitioner/ Complainant Plus Builders, Inc. x x x.
"On Dec[ember] 17, 1999, counsel for TENANTS/FARMERS who at that time was Atty. Damian S. J. Vellaseca, filed a pro-forma Motion for Reconsideration and Manifestation x x x. As a result, PARAD did not give due course to the same x x x.
"On March 27, 2000, another counsel for TENANTS/FARMERS, by the name of Atty. Willy G. Roxas, who represented himself as counsel for TENANTS/FARMERS, filed a manifestation stating that he is representing TENANTS/FARMERS and alleged that they were 'bona fide' members of the [Kalayaan Development Cooperative] (KDC). Thereafter, he filed a Notice of Appeal on March 27, 2000 stating that they received the Decision on March 14, 2000 and alleged that the Decision is against the law and jurisprudence x x x.
"On May 31, 2001, Respondent Anastacio Revilla Jr., knowing that there was a monetary judgment by way of Disturbance Compensation granted to Tenants/Farmers, x x x filed a 'Motion for Leave of Court to Allow Correction of Caption and Amendment of Judgment' (referring to the Decision of PARAD of Cavite dated November 15, 1999 x x x) with a prayer 'x x x to include the name of the KALAYAAN DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION representing the following respondents herein above stated in the caption of [the] pleading.' Also, a Contract of Retainership dated April 4, 2001 was attached to the Motion x x x to make x x x KDC represented by Respondent, [the] retained x x x 'counsel on record' x x x.
"After realizing that his motion failed to give him beneficial monetary gain from the PARAD judgment, a Petition for Preliminary Injunction with prayer for Issuance of Temporary Restraining Order and to Quash Alias Writ of Execution with Demolition plus Damages dated July 18, 2001 was filed by Respondent x x x before the DARAB Central Office, Quezon City, notwithstanding the fact that this instant case was appealed by another lawyer (Atty. Willy Roxas). x x x.
"On the basis of this Petition, a Temporary Restraining Order by the DARAB Central Office, Quezon City, was issued on July 25, 2001 and an extension of or another Temporary Restraining Order was issued dated August 24, 2001, as a result of the active participation of Respondent x x x.
"Emboldened by the two (2) TRO's coming from DARAB Central Office, Respondent x x x filed an Indirect Contempt case dated August 28, 2001 against Plus Builders Inc. and their Board of Directors, Edgardo Garcia and [its] counsel Atty. Leopoldo S. Gonzalez before the same Office. x x x.
"Sensing a series of orders against herein Petitioners and considering, further, that the DARAB Central Office refused to hear arguments from Petitioners on the two (2) questionable TRO's, Petitioners decided to elevate the matter to the Court of Appeals by way of a Petition for Certiorari. A Decision was rendered by the Court of Appeals on [December] 20, 2001 stating that:
'WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED. The assailed orders issued by the DARAB are hereby declared NULL AND VOID for having been issued without jurisdiction. Consequently, this Court sees no impediment for the IMPLEMENTATION of the 15 November 1999 Decision of the provincial adjudicator.
"This incident was further elevated to the Supreme Court by Respondent x x x through a Petition, but said Petition was dismissed with finality x x x.
"Enraged by his defeat, Respondent x x x filed a verified "Action to Quiet Title" before the Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite praying for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), among others, to deliberately and maliciously stop the enforcement of the Decisions of the higher courts to implement the PARAD Decision dated November 15, 1999. x x x.
x x x x x x x x x
"Respondent signed his pleading under a group of non-lawyers joining him in the practice of law as [KDC] LEGAL SERVICES, LAW OFFICERS AND ASSOCIATES which included KDC as law partners in violation of the Rules on the practice of law with non-lawyers. As a matter of fact, under the Retainership Contract submitted by Respondent before the PARAD of Cavite, it was specifically mentioned that legal fees were to be collected as counsel on record for the cooperative and respondent. Therefore, this contract was effectively used [for] unlawful solicitation of clients in the practice of law with non-lawyers, being the cooperative (KDC) to become "counsel on record [sic] x x x.
"On March 6, 2003, the Regional Trial Court of Imus, Cavite quashed the earlier issued TRO and dismissed the case on the ground of 'res judicata' because the Court of Appeals ruled that, 'x x x the Decision of the Provincial Adjudicator of DAR dated November 15, 1999 has already become final x x x' and that, prescription does not run against registered land. x x x."2
In his Answer3 dated March 29, 2004, respondent denied the charges against him. He averred that by filing the action to quiet title in Civil Case No. 2763-03, he had merely wanted to protect the rights and interests of his clients. According to him, they sincerely and honestly believed that their possession of the litigated land had already ripened into ownership. He explained thus:
"Notwithstanding the claim of said farmers of tenancy relationship with [the] previous owner in the decisions of PARA[D], Court of Appeals and Supreme Court in the DISTURBANCE COMPENSATION CASES, (DARAB CASE NO. R-402-025-99; R-402-026-99; R-402-027-99; R-402-028-99; R-402-029-99; R-402-030-99; R-402-031-99) the said farmers, are not precluded, by any law or jurisprudence, from entertaining in good faith an opinion or belief that they could legally be considered as owners of the subject-property precisely because of the undisputed fact that they have been in possession thereof in an open, continuous, public, uninterrupted possession for more than fifty (50) years. x x x.
"It was on the basis of [a] sincere and honest belief and opinion o[f] acquiring ownership of the land through prescription that the said farmers had decided to pursue and file the Action to Quiet Title in Civil Case No. 2763-03, before the RTC of Imus, Cavite, Branch 20 x x x.
x x x x x x x x x
"It should be stressed that the decisions of the PARA[D], Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court in DARAB CASE No. R-402-025-99; R-402-026-99; R-402-027-99; R-402-028-99; R-402-029-99; R-402-030-99; R-402-031-99, [i]ndisputably refer only to the fixing of disturbance compensations. They did not in any way, involve [the] question of ownership of the subject property, which is the subject matter of Civil Case No. 2763-03, (Action to Quiet Title), filed before the RTC of Imus, Cavite, Branch 20.
x x x x x x x x x
"As new counsel of the said farmers x x x, respondent has the complete discretion [of] what legal strategy or cause of action to undertake on their behalf and the complainant and their counsel have no business or right to interfere with or dictate [upon] the respondent on how to protect the rights and interests of said farmers under the applicable law and jurisprudence.
x x x x x x x x x
"Respondent respectfully submits that he has not committed any illegal, unlawful, unjust, wrongful or immoral acts towards the complainant. Respondent, in good faith filed the aforesaid cases (Action to Quiet Title, RTC, Imus, Cavite, Branch 20; and Petition for Issuance of Preliminary Injunction and TRO, and Complaint before the Ombudsman), as a lawyer sworn to uphold justice and the law who was the bounden duty to exert utmost efforts to defend his client and protect his right, no matter how guilty or evil he appears to be, especially if they are poor and uneducated like the said farmers."4
In a Reply5 dated April 12, 2004, complainants emphasized that the nature of the possession of the subject land by respondent's clients had already been settled in the case for disturbance compensation. Complainants maintained that the PARAD Decision, which was sustained by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, clearly stated that these clients were mere tenants of the land. Thus, adverse possession could not be claimed by respondent in good faith, especially when he had previously acknowledged the rights of complainants as landowners.
On August 4, 2004, both parties appeared at a hearing scheduled by Edmund T. Espina, commissioner of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD). During the hearing, the parties were directed to submit their respective Memoranda.
Report and Recommendation of the IBP-CBD
In his April 30, 2005 Report,6 Investigating Commissioner Espina found respondent guilty of violating the attorney's oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility.7 Allegedly, respondent had "maliciously concealed the defeat of his clients in the case before the PARAD of Cavite and the higher courts,"8 in order to secure a temporary restraining order from the RTC of Imus, Cavite. As a result, he was able to delay the execution of the provincial adjudicator's Decision dated November 15, 1999.
Moreover, Commissioner Espina opined that the charge that respondent had been engaged in the unlawful practice of law was neither satisfactorily explained nor specifically denied by the latter. The failure of respondent to do so led to the presumption that the allegation was true.
Thus, his suspension from the practice of law for two years was recommended by the investigating commissioner. In Resolution No. XVII-2005-172,9 the board of governors of the IBP adopted the findings and recommendation of IBP Commissioner Espina.
The Resolution, together with the records of the case, was transmitted to this Court for final action,10 pursuant to Rule 139-B Section 12(b).
The Court's Ruling
We agree with the findings and recommendation of the IBP board of governors.
Administrative Liability of Respondent
Lawyers are officers of the court, called upon to assist in the administration of justice. They act as vanguards of our legal system,11 protecting and upholding truth and the rule of law.12 They are expected to act with honesty in all their dealings, especially with the courts. Verily, the Code of Professional Responsibility enjoins lawyers from committing or consenting to any falsehood in court or from allowing the courts to be misled by any artifice.13 Moreover, they are obliged to observe the rules of procedure and not to misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.14
Good faith, fairness and candor constitute the essence of membership in the legal profession.15 Thus, while lawyers owe fidelity to the cause of their client, they must never abuse their right of recourse to the courts by arguing a case that has repeatedly been rejected. Neither should they use their knowledge of the law as an instrument to harass a party or to misuse judicial processes. These acts constitute serious transgression of their professional oath.16
In the present case, respondent claims good faith in pursuing the cause of his clients. The records show, however, that his course of legal action was obviously a stratagem. It was meant to delay unduly the execution of the provincial adjudicator's Decision dated November 15, 1999.
It must be noted that when the Court of Appeals and this Court upheld that Decision, respondent resorted to a different forum to pursue his clients' lost cause. In the disturbance compensation case, he represented his clients as tenants and acknowledged that complainants were the owners of the subject land. In the action to quiet title, however, he conveniently repudiated his previous admission by falsely alleging that his clients were adverse possessors claiming bona fide ownership. Consequently, he was able to obtain a temporary restraining order preventing the execution of the provincial adjudicator's Decision.
Clearly, he was shielding his clients from the Order of execution. Contrary to his later claim of ownership of the land, he cannot feign ignorance of his previous admission of a tenancy relationship existing between his clients and complainants, as correctly observed by IBP Commissioner Espina.
The propensity of respondent for doublespeak was also revealed in his declaration that his clients were pauper litigants. His prayer for an exemption to pay court fees, on the ground that they did not have sufficient income,17 was granted by the trial court. Earlier, however, he admitted that they had engaged the services of his legal office for a fee of
P20,000, in addition to P2,500 per appearance in court. Also, in the action to quiet title, he even alleged that they were willing to post a bond to answer for damages, in the event that the court ruled in favor of the defendants. These facts contravene his claim that his clients could not afford to pay the appropriate court fees.
In support of the cause of their clients, lawyers have the duty to present every remedy or defense within the authority of the law. This obligation, however, must never be at the expense of truth and justice,18 as explained in Choa v. Chiongson:19
"While a lawyer owes absolute fidelity to the cause of his client, full devotion to his genuine interest, and warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost learning and ability, he must do so only within the bounds of the law. He must give a candid and honest opinion on the merits and probable results of his client's case with the end in view of promoting respect for the law and legal processes, and counsel or maintain such actions or proceedings only as appear to him to be just, and such defenses only as he believes to be honestly debatable under the law. He must always remind himself of the oath he took upon admission to the Bar that he 'will not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit nor give aid nor consent to the same'; and that he 'will conduct [himself] as a lawyer according to the best of [his] knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to [his] clients.' Needless to state, the lawyer's fidelity to his client must not be pursued at the expense of truth and the administration of justice, and it must be done within the bounds of reason and common sense. A lawyer's responsibility to protect and advance the interests of his client does not warrant a course of action propelled by ill motives and malicious intentions against the other party."20
Moreover, we agree with the finding of IBP Commissioner Espina that the silence or failure of respondent to challenge the allegation that he allowed non-lawyers to engage in the unauthorized practice of law may be deemed an admission of the truth of the accusation. We note that complainants successfully substantiated their claim that respondent, who held himself out as a law partner of the "KDC Legal Services, Law Offices and Associates," was rendering legal services together with persons not licensed to practice law. His silence on this accusation is deemed an admission, especially because he had every chance to deny it.21
Canon 9 and Rule 9.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provide thus:
"Canon 9 - A lawyer shall not directly or indirectly assist in the unauthorized practice of law.
'Rule 9.01 - A lawyer shall not delegate to any unqualified person the performance of any task which by law may only be performed by a member of the Bar in good standing.'"
The significance of this professional norm was emphasized in Cambaliza v. Cristal-Tenorio,22 which we quote:
"The lawyer's duty to prevent, or at the very least not to assist in, the unauthorized practice of law is founded on public interest and policy. Public policy requires that the practice of law be limited to those individuals found duly qualified in education and character. The permissive right conferred on the lawyer is an individual and limited privilege subject to withdrawal if he fails to maintain proper standards of moral and professional conduct. The purpose is to protect the public, the court, the client, and the bar from the incompetence or dishonesty of those unlicensed to practice law and not subject to the disciplinary control of the Court. It devolves upon a lawyer to see that this purpose is attained. Thus, the canons and ethics of the profession enjoin him not to permit his professional services or his name to be used in aid of, or to make possible the unauthorized practice of law by, any agency, personal or corporate. And, the law makes it a misbehavior on his part, subject to disciplinary action, to aid a layman in the unauthorized practice of law."23
Respondent failed to live up to the exacting standards expected of him as a vanguard of law and justice. In line with jurisprudence, he is held liable for gross misconduct and is suspended from the practice of law.24
WHEREFORE, Anastacio E. Revilla, Jr. is hereby found guilty of gross misconduct and is SUSPENDED for two years from the practice of law, effective upon his receipt of this Decision. He is warned that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.
Let copies of this Decision be entered in the record of respondent as attorney and served on the IBP, as well as on the court administrator who shall circulate it to all courts for their information and guidance.
Panganiban, C.J., Puno, Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Austria-Martinez, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo, Sr., Azcuna, Tinga, Chico-Nazario, Garcia, Velasco, Jr., JJ., concur.
1 Dated February 13, 2004; rollo, pp. 1-20.
2 Id. at 1-10.
3 Id. at 195-204.
4 Id. at 197-202.
5 Id. at 207-217.
6 Id. at 374-401.
7 Specifically, the following Rules were violated:
"Rule 1.03 - A lawyer shall not, for any corrupt motive or interest, encourage any suit or proceeding or delay any man's cause.
"Rule 10.03 - A lawyer shall observe the rules of procedure and shall not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.
"Rule 12.04 - A lawyer shall not unduly delay a case, impede the execution of judgment or misuse court processes.
"Rule 9.02 - A lawyer shall not divide or stipulate to divide a fee for legal services with a person not licensed to practice law."
8 Id. at 395.
9 Dated December 17, 2005; id. at 372.
10 The Supreme Court noted the Resolution of the board of governors of the IBP on March 7, 2006.
13 Canon 10.01.
14 Canon 10.03.
15 Manila Pilots Association v. Philippine Ports Authority, 357 Phil. 703, October 1, 1998; Sebastian v. Calis, 372 Phil. 673, September 9, 1999; Bayas v. Sandiganbayan, 391 SCRA 415, November 12, 2002.
17 Order dated February 10, 2003; rollo, p. 281.
20 Id. at 275-276, per Davide Jr., J.
23 Id. at 296, per Davide Jr., CJ.
24 Benguet Electric Cooperative, Inc. v. Flores, 350 Phil. 889, March 12, 1998; Villaflor v. Sarita, 367 Phil. 399, June 10, 1999; Rural Bank of Silay v. Pilla, 350 SCRA 138, January 24, 2001; Heirs of the Late Herman Rey Romero v. Reyes Jr., 461 SCRA 1, June 23, 2005.