[G.R. NO. 126980 : March 31, 2006]
SALLY V. BELLOSILLO, Petitioner, v. THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE INTEGRATED BAR OF THE PHILIPPINES and ANICETO G. SALUDO, JR., Respondents.
R E S O L U T I O N
Under consideration is this petition for certiorari assailing the Resolution,1 dated March 30, 1996, of the respondent Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP Board of Governors), adopting and approving the Report and Recommendation2 of the Investigating Commissioner in a complaint for disbarment filed by the herein petitioner Sally V. Bellosillo against respondent Atty. Aniceto G. Saludo, Jr. in Administrative (Adm.) Case No. 3297. The assailed Resolution reads:
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE, as it is hereby ADOPTED and APPROVED, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, hereinmade part of this Resolution/Decision as Annex "A"; and, finding the recommendation therein to be fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, the complaint against Respondent is hereby DISMISSED.
The records of the case disclose the following:
On January 31, 1989, the petitioner filed a complaint3 for disbarment against the respondent for alleged gross professional misconduct and malpractice. Essentially, petitioner charged respondent of pocketing the settlement money in the Philippine Plaza bombing incident; improper financial dealings through borrowings of cash and post-dated checks; and unwarranted solicitations in the form of gifts, pianos, lechon, and wallpapering of respondent's house.
In his Answer,4 dated May 31, 1989, with a number of documents attached thereto, respondent denied all the charges and dismissed them as deliberate falsehoods. He asserted that it was he, not the petitioner, who was the lender of money.
On August 4, 1989, the petitioner filed a Reply.5
In answer to said Reply, respondent filed a motion to dismiss6 the charges for failure to show a prima facie case against him. Respondent argued that despite the challenge to produce receipts and documents, the petitioner could not produce any document or evidence that he settled the claims of the Philippine Plaza bombing victims and misappropriated the proceeds thereof for his benefit; that with respect to the post-dated checks, the petitioner has changed her theory by alleging that it was she who was lending money to the respondent and the checks issued to her by the respondent were payments of said borrowings; and assuming arguendo the change in theory to be true, the parties' transactions were ordinary business transactions where conflicts do not provide grounds for disbarment.
Respondent's motion to dismiss as well as his subsequent motion for reconsideration were denied by the Hearing Commissioner.
From such denial, respondent then filed a Petition for Review 7 with the IBP Board of Governors. The petition, however, was likewise denied by the latter which even ordered the investigation to proceed with deliberate speed.
Respondent then went to this Court by way of a petition for certiorari and prohibition with prayer for preliminary injunction, challenging the above-mentioned orders of the IBP Board of Governors, and insisting that the pleadings of the parties on record, affidavits and admissions would clearly show lack of prima facie case against him, so that the case should be dismissed outright.
On October 13, 1992, the Court issued a Resolution8 dismissing respondent's petition, but directing the IBP Board of Governors, as follows:
The IBP Board is directed to look into whether or not, on the basis of all the records before it, there is a prima facie case, or, as claimed by the [respondent], circumstances warrant the outright dismissal of the case. If the interests of justice require it, reception of evidence may then proceed giving due process to both parties involved.9 (Word in bracket supplied).
On March 30, 1996, the IBP Board of Governors issued the herein assailed Resolution10 which adopted and approved the 31-page Report and Recommendation11 of the Investigating Commissioner, dated November 22, 1995, pertinent portions of which read:
In sum, it appears that complainant's actuations were motivated by vengeance, hatred and ill-will acting as she did only after the aforesaid civil cases were filed against her, for which she blamed the respondent.
Complainant has already made a history of issuing bouncing checks. In the case of Philippine National Bank v. Sally Bellosillo, CA. G.R. No. 67070-12, involving bouncing checks issued by the complainant, the Court of Appeals found that -
Sally V. Bellosillo was deliberately lying. And a person who is shown to be committing a deliberate falsehood to the court should not be believed.
x x x
xxx The fact that the appellants Bellosillo and Villamora, Sr. issued checks and had caused them to be encashed and the proceeds thereof to be received by the last endorsees, knowing fully well that they have no sufficient cash deposit, or that they did not intend to, or did not deposit funds sufficient to back up the checks they issued, is substantial basis for their liability to answer for their fraudulent schemes and actions. It is an insult to human decency for these appellants to now unashamedly claim that the successful encashment of the checks was at the risk of their co-defendants Ortiz and that they are not liable for cheating the bank. It is just saying that it is the cheated person who is to blame for allowing himself to be cheated and that the cheater is free from blame. In other words, the said appellants seem to justify their cheating by implying that there would be no cheater if no person allows himself to be cheated, and that the cheater should be rewarded with an impunity of his act. (Exh. "2" of Answer.)
Finally, we are not unmindful of the other imputations leveled against respondent which are mere fangless embellishments to the more demeaning charges already discussed. Thus, the charge for supposed "unwarranted solicitations" in the form of gift certificates, lechon and expensive attaché cases, is negated by complainant's admission that she gave those gifts in appreciation of respondent's concerns for their interest (pp. 5-6 of Complaint). The related charge that respondent requested for, and got, two pianos in 1985 is completely belied by the checks evidencing payment thereof which are dated 1980, 1981 and 1982 (Annexes A-3, A-4 and A-5 of Complaint).
We find no prima facie case against respondent. For this reason, "further investigation is not warranted." (Lacsamana v. De la Pena, 57 SCRA 22, 23 (1974); also, Requio v. Dy-Liaco, 75 SCRA 118 (1977). For to subject respondent to further investigation, even in the absence of a prima facie case, will be to unnecessarily prolong his agony, unfairly expose his name and reputation as a lawyer to erroneous conclusions and unfavorable innuendos, the charges that he was unfaithful, even as they were unfounded, being unfortunately not without their adverse effects (Aragon v. Matol, 30 SCRA 1 (1969). For as the Supreme Court ruled:
"There is this additional point to consider. As Cardozo aptly observed: ~Reputation (in the legal profession) is a plant of tender growth, and its bloom, once lost, is not easily restored. This Court, certainly is not averse to having such risk minimized. Where, as in this case, the good name of counsel was traduced by an accusation made in reckless disregard of the truth, an action prompted by based ingratitude, the severest censure is called for.
"Certainly, this is not easy to say that if a case were presented showing nonfeasance or malfeasance on the part of a lawyer, appropriate disciplinary action would not be taken. This is not such a case however. Respondent, as has been so clearly shown, was in no wise culpable; there is no occasion for the corrective power of this Court coming into play." (Albano v. Coloma, 21 SCRA 411, 420 ).
WHEREFORE, finding no prima facie case to justify a full dress hearing, it is hereby recommended that the present administrative case be dismissed.
In its Resolution12 of January 15, 1997, the Court noted the herein assailed Resolution dated March 30, 1996 of the IBP Board of Governors.
On December 3, 1996, the petitioner went to this Court by way of this petition for certiorari challenging the March 30, 1996 Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors. Petitioner imputes grave abuse of discretion on the part of IBP Board of Governors for allegedly not ruling on her several charges against the respondent. Petitioner demands that a full-dress investigation and hearing be conducted because the challenged Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors is biased for the reason alone that the Investigating Commissioner and the respondent are both members of the U.P. Sigma Rho Fraternity.
On July 14, 1997, the Court issued a Resolution13 treating the present petition as one filed under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court, and requiring the respondent to file his Comment thereon.
After the respondent has filed his Comment, petitioner filed her Reply thereto on November 14, 1997.
The petition must be denied.
Petitioner considers the assailed Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors as generally a biased judgment due to her perception that because the Investigating Commissioner, Atty. Plaridel C. Jose, and the respondent are both members of the U.P. Sigma Rho Fraternity, the former must, as a matter of course, favor the latter. In its April 6, 1989 Resolution,14 the Court has earlier rejected this erroneous perception when, resolving petitioner's letter for this Court to direct any member of the U.P. Sigma Rho Fraternity to desist from participating in the IBP proceedings on the case against respondent, the Court stated:
Membership in a college fraternity, by itself, does not constitute a ground to disqualify an investigator, prosecutor or judge from acting on the case of a respondent who happens to be a member of the same fraternity. A trial Judge, appellate Justice, or member of this Court who is or was a member of a college fraternity, a university alumni association, a socio-civic association like Jaycees or Rotary, a religion oriented organization like Knights of Columbus or Methodist Men, and various other fraternal organizations is not expected to automatically inhibit himself or herself from acting whenever a case involving a member of his or her group happens to come before him or her for action.
A member in good standing of any reputable organization is expected all the more to maintain the highest standards of probity, integrity, and honor and to faithfully comply with the ethics of the legal profession.
Petitioner next imputes grave abuse of discretion against the IBP Board of Governors for not ruling on her several charges, thereby invoking her theory that her present petition could be treated both as a Petition for Review under Rule 45 and a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. But these remedies are mutually exclusive and not alternative or successive; when the first is available, the second cannot be resorted to.15 Moreover, we have already stated in our Resolution16 of October 13, 1992 that only issues originally pleaded in the complaint, there having been no amendment to it, are the issues to be tried. Accordingly, the alleged other misdeeds of the respondent, namely: attempting to bribe a deportation hearing officer in respect to the Philippine Plaza bombing incident; pocketing of the grease money intended for the above attempted bribery; having abetted the perpetuation of fraud in the case for dissolution of petitioner's conjugal partnership; and receiving privilege from a party whose interest is adverse to that of the petitioner, need not be inquired into nor may this Court re-examine and re-evaluate whatever evidence, if any, has been presented by the petitioner before the IBP Board of Governors.
We now proceed to address petitioner's contentions that the finding of no prima facie case against the respondent is contrary to the facts and circumstances disclosed by the records.
Generally, a prima facie case consists of that amount of evidence which would be sufficient to counterbalance the general presumption of innocence and warrant a conviction, if not countered and contradicted by evidence tending to contradict it and render it improbable, or to prove other facts inconsistent with it.17 It is in this context that, in its Resolution of October 13, 1992, the Court directed the IBP Board of Governors to look into whether or not, on the basis of all the records before it, there is prima facie case to warrant reception of evidence or if circumstances warrant the outright dismissal of the administrative complaint against the respondent. The challenged Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors shows faithful compliance with this Court's directive.
Contrary to petitioner's allegations that the finding of lack of a prima facie case insofar as the charge of massive borrowing of post-dated checks by the respondent is derived solely from speculations and averments unsubstantiated by documentary proof, and also contrary to the nature of the checks submitted by the petitioner, there are telling circumstances found by the Investigating Commissioner which fully and correctly support the contested findings of the IBP Board of Governors. To quote a few of such circumstances:
Complainant claims that when she discovered in late 1986 that "Atty. Saludo had not been funding all the checks since 1984," she issued stop-payment orders and/or reduced account balances. In other words, it took her two (2) years to discover that he was not funding the checks. We find this unbelievable considering that complainant being, as she claims, a business woman. Moreover, by such assertion, she implies that prior to 1984, Atty. Saludo was funding his checks. xxx
Complainant likewise contradicted her foregoing allegations in her verified Reply, in which she made a comparison of the checks which she issued to respondent and vice-versa and she came up with the following comparative analysis:
The foregoing data, however, shows that complainant owes respondent the sum of
P1,936,161.50. It appears contrary to complainant's allegations that "it was Atty. Saludo who was borrowing checks from me and pretending to repay my capital plus interest." Following complainant's theory that she was the one lending respondent's money from 1981 to 1985, it is unbelievable that she still continue to lend him money after 1981 if he stopped being proper in his financial dealings with her in 1981.
x x x
More significantly, the records show that complainant received checks in huge amounts from respondent and, in turn, complainant gave respondent several checks in small, identical amounts with consecutive check numbers and in intervals of fixed periods which are features of installment payments. It shows that it was respondent who was lending money to complainant in her money market operations and the checks she issued were installment payments of her borrowings xxx.18
The fact that complainant was the one borrowing from respondent and not the other way around is also shown by the fact that she issued replacement checks for her dishonored checks. xxx
If said replacement checks were issued to replace dishonored checks, she would not have been issuing them, placing the word "replacement" on the face thereof, which she claims as mere accommodation.19
The transactions involving post-dated checks could not then, as advanced by the petitioner, constitute a prima facie case for grave professional misconduct by the respondent. Even from the viewpoint of petitioner's submission that she was the lender of post-dated checks and respondent was the borrower, still it is clearly evident that such arose from the parties' personal dealings and relationship, and not from an attorney-client relationship. These alleged transactions involved a purely personal interest, a civil transaction.
In Uy v. Gonzales,20 we held that a proceeding for suspension or disbarment is not in any sense a civil action; it involves no private interest and affords no redress for private grievance. They are undertaken and prosecuted solely for public welfare. Nonetheless, a lawyer may be disbarred or suspended for any misconduct, whether in his professional or private capacity, which shows him to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity and good demeanor or unworthy to continue as an officer of the court. In the present case, the petitioner failed to prove any of the circumstances enumerated above, by the subject post-dated checks transactions, and by the other charges against the respondent as hereunder noted.
The IBP Board of Governors dismissed the charge that the respondent pocketed the settlement money due to Nonoy ZuÃ±iga and Sammy Villarin from the Philippine Plaza for their injuries in the bombing incident in 1980, on its findings that the petitioner's complaint stating that "we later learned that Atty. Saludo got all the money that the victims and we were entitled to" is plainly hearsay; that the joint affidavit of Messrs. ZuÃ±iga and Villarin never imputed the alleged appropriation of the money by the respondent; and that the unexplained delay of nine years before the complaint for disbarment was filed casts suspicion on the motive of the petitioner.
Moreover, it appears that despite the order of the Investigating Commissioner requiring petitioner to submit "receipts from the Philippine Plaza for payments to the victims received by Atty. Saludo," she failed to comply therewith. Such assessments indeed justify the outright dismissal of that imputation.
On the alleged cash borrowings of the respondent from the petitioner, we see no reason to depart from the findings of the IBP Board of Governors that the charge was incredulous and contrary to normal human behavior. As pointed out by the Investigating Commissioner in his Report and Recommendation:
The complaint also states that these borrowings accumulated over a period of years from 1981 and that "1981 marked the start of the period when he stopped being very proper in his dealings with us concerning money matters." (Complaint, p. 4). If it were so, we find difficult to understand why she continued, as she claims, lending him cash and checks in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1985. She further claims in one breath that [respondent's] cash borrowings amounted to not less than
P50,000 each time, and because of her trust on him, she did not ask him to issue receipts. Yet in another breath, she claims to have check receipts evidencing alleged gifts of "lechon" to [respondent] with value less than a thousand pesos (Annex A-1, Complaint). Why she did not ask for receipts of [respondent's] "cash" borrowing amounting, as she claims, from P50,000.00 and to as high as P500,000.00 cash is something we could not comprehend.
The incredible aspect of the charge is further shown by her assertion that at one instance, respondent borrowed cash from her in the amount of half a million pesos, and that her maid or yaya delivered to him said cash of
P500,000.00. We find it contrary to normal behavior for the complainant to entrust to her yaya that amount of cash for delivery to the respondent.21 (Words in brackets supplied).
Finally, we agree with the IBP Board of Governors that the charge relative to the supposed unwarranted solicitations in the form of gift certificates, lechon and expensive attaché cases, is negated by the petitioner's own admission that she gave those gifts in appreciation of respondent's concerns for her and her family's interests. The related charge that the respondent requested for, and got, two pianos in 1985 is completely belied by the checks dated 1980, 1981 and 1982, evidencing respondent's payment therefor.22 Besides, these were plainly personal dealings, not professional misconduct.
The Court reiterates that the power to disbar must be exercised with great caution, and only in a clear case of misconduct that seriously affects the standing and character of a lawyer as an officer of the court and as a member of the Bar. To be the basis of disciplinary action, the lawyer's conduct must not only be immoral but grossly immoral. That is, it must be so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act or as 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.23 For the Court to exercise its disciplinary powers, the case against the respondent must be established by clear, convincing and satisfactory proof. Indeed, considering the serious consequences of disbarment or suspension of a member of the Bar, the Court has consistently held that clear preponderant evidence is necessary to justify the imposition of the administrative penalty.24
In Estrella Real Estate Corporation v. Court of Appeals,25 the Court declared that in the absence of any showing that the findings of the IBP are totally devoid of support in the record or that they are so glaringly erroneous as to constitute serious abuse of discretion, such findings must stand. Consequently, absent any showing that there is grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the complaint, the Court must give credence to the findings and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner and the IBP Board of Governors that the complaint must be dismissed for lack of merit.
Given the foregoing, the Court finds petitioner's demand for a full-dress hearing to be without basis. It is only when the complaint bears merit, or when the answer fails to show that the complaint indeed lacks merit, or when the respondent fails to file an answer that an investigation shall proceed. Otherwise, if the complaint is bereft of merit, either on its face or as proven by respondent's answer, it will be unjust to mandate the Investigator to conduct a full-dress investigation.26 Here, the petitioner has not even carried well enough the burden of establishing a prima facie case against the respondent.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the assailed Resolution of the IBP Board of Governors, dated March 30, 1996, dismissing the complaint against respondent in Adm. Case No. 3297 is AFFIRMED.
1 Rollo, p. 50.
2 Id. at 51-82.
3 Record, Volume 1, pp. 1-23.
4 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 381-428.
5 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 513-564.
6 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 573-589.
7 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 718-728.
8 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 769-771.
9 Record, Volume II-B, p. 769.
10 Rollo, pp. 80-82.
11 Id. at 51-82.
12 Record, Volume I, p. 245.
13 Rollo, p. 129.
14 Record, Volume II, pp. 2-3.
15 Banco Filipino and Mortgage and Savings Bank v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 132703, June 23, 2000, 334 SCRA 305.
16 Record, Volume II-B, pp. 769-771.
17 Bautista v. Sarmiento, G.R. No. L-45137, September 23, 1985, 138 SCRA 592.
18 Rollo, pp. 66-68.
19 Id. at 75-76.
20 Adm. Case No. 5280, March 30, 2004, 426 SCRA 422, 430.
21 Rollo, pp. 63-64.
22 Petitioner's Complaint, Record, Volume I, pp. 5-6.
23 Dante v. Dante, A.C. No. 6486, September 22, 2004, 438 SCRA 582.
24 Lilia Tabang and Concepcion Tabang v. Atty. Glenn C. Gacott, Adm. Case No. 6490, September 29, 2004, 439 SCRA 307.
25 Estrella Real Estate Corp. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 128862, September 30, 1999, 315 SCRA 650.
26 Nicanor B. Gatmaytan, Jr. v. Atty. Isidro C. Ilao, A.C No. 6086, January 26, 2005, 449 SCRA 269.