[A.C. No, 6854 : April 25, 2007]
[Formerly CBD Case No. 04-1380]
JUAN DULALIA, JR., Complainant, v. ATTY. PABLO C. CRUZ, Respondent.
D E C I S I O N
CARPIO MORALES, J.:
Atty. Pablo C. Cruz, Municipal Legal Officer of Meycauayan, Bulacan (respondent), is charged by Juan Dulalia, Jr. (complainant) of violation Rules 1.01,1 6.02,2 and 7.033 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The facts which gave rise to the filing of the present complaint are as follows:
Complainant's wife Susan Soriano Dulalia filed an application for building permit for the construction of a warehouse. Despite compliance with all the requirements for the purpose, she failed to secure a permit, she attributing the same to the opposition of respondents who wrote a September 13, 2004 letter to Carlos J. Abacan, Municipal Engineer and concurrent Building Official of Meycauayan, reading as follows, quoted verbatim:
x x x
This is in behalf of the undersigned himself and his family, Gregoria F. Soriano, Spouses David Perez and Minerva Soriano-Perez and Family and Mr. and Mrs. Jessie de Leon and family, his relatives and neighbors.
It has been more than a month ago already that the construction of the building of the abovenamed person has started and that the undersigned and his family, and those other families mentioned above are respective owners of the residential houses adjoining that of the high-rise building under construction of the said Mrs. Soriano-Dulalia. There is no need to mention the unbearable nuisances that it creates and its adverse effects to the undersigned and his above referred to clients particularly the imminent danger and damage to their properties, health and safety.
It was represented that the intended construction of the building would only be a regular and with standard height building and not a high rise one but an inspection of the same would show otherwise. Note that its accessory foundation already occupies portion of the vacant airspace of the undersigned's residential house in particular, which readily poses danger to their residential house and life.
To avert the occurrence of the above danger and damage to property, loss of life and for the protection of the safety of all the people concerned, they are immediately requesting for your appropriate action on the matter please at your earliest opportune time.
Being your co-municipal official in the Municipal Government of Meycauayan who is the Chief Legal Counsel of its Legal Department, and by virtue of Sub par. (4), Paragraph (b), Section 481 of the Local Government Code of 1991, he is inquiring if there was already full compliance on the part of the owner of the Building under construction with the requirements provided for in Sections 301, 302 and 308 of the National Building Code and on the part of your good office, your compliance with the provisions of Sections 303 and 304 of the same foregoing cited Building Code.
Please be reminded of the adverse and unfavorable legal effect of the non-compliance with said Sections 301, 302, 303 and 304 of the National Building Code by all the parties concerned. (Which are not confined only to penalties provided in Sections 211 and 212 thereof.)
x x x x4 (Emphasis and underscoring partly in the original, partly supplied)
By complainant's claim, respondent opposed the application for building permit because of a personal grudge against his wife Susan who objected to respondent's marrying her first cousin Imelda Soriano, respondent's marriage with Carolina Agaton being still subsisting.5
To the complaint, complainant attached a copy of his Complaint Affidavit6 he filed against respondent before the Office of the Ombudsman for violation of Section 3 (e)7 of Republic Act No. 3019, as amended (The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and Section 4 (a) and (c)8 of Republic Act No. 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).9
By Report and Recommendation dated May 6, 2005,10 the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, through Commissioner Rebecca Villanueva-Maala, recommended the dismissal of the complaint in light of the following findings:
The complaint dealt with mainly on the issue that respondent allegedly opposes the application of his wife for a building permit for the construction of their commercial building. One of the reason[s] stated by the complainant was that his wife was not in favor of Imelda's relationship with respondent who is a married man. And the other reason is that respondent was not authorized to represent his neighbors in opposing the construction of his building.
From the facts and evidence presented, we find respondent to have satisfactorily answered all the charges and accusations of complainant. We find no clear, convincing and strong evidence to warrant the disbarment or suspension of respondent. An attorney enjoys the legal presumption that he is innocent of the charges preferred against him until the contrary is proved. The burden of proof rests upon the complainant to overcome the presumption and establish his charges by a clear preponderance of evidence. In the absence of the required evidence, the presumption of innocence on the part of the lawyer continues and the complaint against him should be dismissed (In re De Guzman, 55 SCRA 1239; Balduman v. Luspo, 64 SCRA 74; Agbayani v. Agtang, 73 SCRA 283).
x x x x.11 (Underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
By Resolution of June 25, 2005,12 the Board of Governors of the IBP adopted and approved the Report and Recommendation of Commissioner Villanueva-Maala.
Hence, the present Petition for Review13 filed by complainant.
Complainant maintains that respondent violated Rule 1.01 when he contracted a second marriage with Imelda Soriano on September 17, 1989 while his marriage with Carolina Agaton, which was solemnized on December 17, 1967, is still subsisting.
Complainant further maintains that respondent used his influence as the Municipal Legal Officer of Meycauayan to oppose his wife's application for building permit, in violation of Rule 6.02 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
And for engaging in the practice of law while serving as the Municipal Legal Officer of Meycauayan, complainant maintains that respondent violated Rule 7.03.
To his Comment,14 respondent attached the July 29, 200515 Joint Resolution of the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon dismissing complainant's complaint for violation of Sec. 3 (e) of RA 3019 and Section 4 (a) and (c) of RA 6713, the pertinent portion of which joint resolution reads:
x x x A perusal of the questioned letter dated September 13, 2004 of herein respondent Atty. Pablo Cruz addressed to the Building official appears to be not an opposition for the issuance of complainant's building permit, but rather to redress a wrong and an inquiry as to whether compliance with the requirements for the construction of an edifice has been met. In fact, the Office of the Building Official after conducting an investigation found out that there was [a] violation of the Building Code for constructing without a building permit committed by herein complainant's wife Susan Dulalia. Hence, a Work Stoppage Order was issued. Records disclose fu[r]ther [that] it was only after the said violation had been committed that Susan Dulalia applied for a building permit. As correctly pointed out by respondent, the same is being processed pending approval by the Building Official and not of the Municipal Zoning Administrator as alleged by complainant. Anent the allegation that respondent was engaged in the private practice of his law profession despite being employed in the government as Municipal Legal Officer of Meycauayan, Bulacan, the undersigned has taken into consideration the explanation and clarification made by the respondent to be justifiable and meritorious. Aside from the bare allegations of herein complainant, there is no sufficient evidence to substantiate the complaints against the respondent.16 (Underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
After a review of the record of the case, this Court finds the dismissal of the charges of violating Rules 6.02 and 7.03 in order.
Indeed, complaint failed to prove that respondent used his position as Municipal Legal Officer to advance his own personal interest against complainant and his wife.
As for respondent's September 13, 2004 letter, there is nothing to show that he opposed the application for building permit. He just inquired whether complainant's wife fully complied with the requirements provided for by the National Building Code, on top of expressing his concerns about "the danger and damages to their properties, health and safety" occasioned by the construction of the building.
Besides, as reflected above, the application for building permit was filed on September 28, 2004,17 whereas the questioned letter of respondent was priorly written and received on September 13, 2004 by the Municipal Engineer/ Building Official, who on the same day, ordered an inspection and issued a Cease and Desist Order/Notice stating that "[f]ailure to comply with th[e] notice shall cause this office to instate proper legal action against you."18
Furthermore, as the Certification dated April 4, 200519 from the Office of the Municipal Engineer showed, complainant's wife eventually withdrew the application as she had not yet secured clearances from the Municipal Zoning Administrator and from the barangay where the building was to be constructed.
Respecting complainant's charge that respondent engaged in an unauthorized private practice of law while he was the Municipal Legal Officer of Meycauayan, a position coterminous to that of the appointing authority, suffice it to state that respondent proffered proof that his private practice is not prohibited.20
It is, however, with respect to respondent's admitted contracting of a second marriage while his first marriage is still subsisting that this Court finds respondent liable, for violation of Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
Respondent married Imelda Soriano on September 17, 1989 at the Clark County, Nevada, USA,21 when the Family Code of the Philippines had already taken effect.22 He invokes good faith, however, he claiming to have had the impression that the applicable provision at the time was Article 83 of the Civil Code.23 For while Article 256 of the Family Code provides that the Code shall have retroactive application, there is a qualification thereunder that it should not prejudice or impair vested or acquired rights in accordance with the Civil Code or other laws.
Immoral conduct which is proscribed under Rule 1.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, as opposed to grossly immoral conduct, connotes "conduct that shows indifference to the moral norms of society and the opinion of good and respectable members of the community."24 Gross immoral conduct on the other hand must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree.25
In St. Louis University Laboratory High School v. De la Cruz,26 this Court declared that the therein respondent's act of contracting a second marriage while the first marriage was still subsisting constituted immoral conduct, for which he was suspended for two years after the mitigating following circumstances were considered:
A. After his first failed marriage and prior to his second marriage or for a period of almost seven (7) years, he has not been romantically involved with any woman;
b. His second marriage was a show of his noble intentions and total love for his wife, whom he described to be very intelligent person;
c. He never absconded from his obligations to support his wife and child;
d. He never disclaimed paternity over the child and husbandry (sic) with relation to his wife;
e. After the annulment of his second marriage, they have parted ways when the mother and child went to Australia;
f. Since then up to now, respondent remained celibate.27
In respondent's case, he being out of the country since 1986, he can be given the benefit of the doubt on his claim that Article 83 of the Civil Code was the applicable provision when he contracted the second marriage abroad. From 1985 when allegedly his first wife abandoned him, an allegation which was not refuted, until his marriage in 1989 with Imelda Soriano, there is no showing that he was romantically involved with any woman. And, it is undisputed that his first wife has remained an absentee even during the pendency of this case.
As noted above, respondent did not deny he contracted marriage with Imelda Soriano. The community in which they have been living in fact elected him and served as President of the IBP-Bulacan Chapter from 1997-1999 and has been handling free legal aid cases.
Respondent's misimpression that it was the Civil Code provisions which applied at the time he contracted his second marriage and the seemingly unmindful attitude of his residential community towards his second marriage notwithstanding, respondent may not go scotfree.
As early as 1957, this Court has frowned on the act of contracting a second marriage while the first marriage was still in place as being contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality.28
In another vein, respondent violated Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility which provides:
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.
Respondent's claim that he was not aware that the Family Code already took effect on August 3, 1988 as he was in the United States from 1986 and stayed there until he came back to the Philippines together with his second wife on October 9, 1990 does not lie, as "ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith."
Apropos is this Court's pronouncement in Santiago v. Rafanan:29
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.30 (Emphasis and underscoring supplied)cralawlibrary
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Pablo C. Cruz is guilty of violating Rule 1.01 and Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and is SUSPENDED from the practice of law for one year. He is WARNED that a similar infraction 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 all courts throughout the country.
1 Rule 1.01. - A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
2 Rule 6.02. - A lawyer in the government service shall not use his public position to promote or advance his private interests, nor allow the latter to interfere with his public duties.
3 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.
4 Rollo, pp. 60-61.
5 Annex "E" of the Complaint, rollo, p. 36.
6 Rollo, pp. 7-10.
7 SEC. 3. Corrupt practices of public officers. - In addition to acts or omissions of public officers already penalized by existing law, the following shall constitute corrupt practices of any public officer and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
x x x
(e) Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official, administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence. This provision shall apply to officers and employees of offices or government corporations charged with the grant of licenses or permits or other concessions.
8 SEC. 4. Norms of Conduct of Public Officials and Employees. - (A) Every public official and employee shall observe the following as standards of personal conduct in the discharge and execution of official duties:
(a) Commitment to public interest. - Public officials and employees shall always uphold the public interest over and above personal interest. All government resources and powers of their respective offices must be employed and used efficiently, effectively, honestly and economically, particularly to avoid wastage in public funds and revenues.
x x x
(c) Justness and sincerity. - Public officials and employees shall remain true to the people at all times. They must act with justness and sincerity and shall not discriminate against anyone, especially the poor and the underprivileged. They shall at all times respect the rights of others, and shall refrain from doing acts contrary to law, good morals, good customs, public policy, public order, public safety and public interest. They shall not dispense or extend undue favors on account of their office to their relatives whether by consanguinity or affinity except with respect to appointments of such relatives to positions considered strictly confidential or as members of their personal staff whose terms are coterminous with theirs.
9 In the Complaint Affidavit it was erroneously referred to as RA 7160 (The Local Government Code of 1991).
10 Rollo, pp. 367 - 374.
11 Id. at 373-374.
12 Id. at 366.
13 Id. at 419-433.
14 Id. at 456-490.
15 Annex "11," rollo, pp.608-610.
16 Rollo, pp. 609-610.
17 As shown by Annex "A" of the Complaint, rollo, p.12.
18 Rollo, p. 74.
19 Id. at 199.
20 Id. at 79. Attached as Annex "5" of respondent's Answer is the Memorandum dated July 2, 1998 of Meycauayan, Bulacan Mayor Eduardo A. Alarilla, which states:
x x x
In accordance with MEMORANDUM CIRCULAR No. 17 dated September 4, 1986 of the Office of the President, MalacaÃ±ang, you are hereby given permission to engage in the private practice of your legal profession provided that it shall not be in conflict with your powers, duties and responsibilities defined and provided for by the Local Government Code of 1991, thus, always giving priority to the interest of the municipality.
x x x
21 Annex "10", rollo, p. 261.
22 The Family Code took effect on August 3, 1988.
23 Art. 83. Any marriage subsequently contracted by any person during the lifetime of the first spouse of such person with any person other than such first spouse shall be illegal and void from its performance, unless:
(1) The first marriage was annulled or dissolved; or
(2) The first spouse had been absent for seven consecutive years at the time of the second marriage without the spouse present having news of the absentee being alive, or if the absentee, though he has been absent for less than seven years, is generally considered as dead and believed to be so by the spouse present at the time of contracting such subsequent marriage, or if the absentee is presumed dead according to Articles 390 and 391. The marriage so contracted shall be valid in any of the three cases until declared null and void by a competent court.
24 St. Louis University Laboratory High School (SLU-LHS) Faculty and Staff v. Dela Cruz, A.C. No. 6010, August 28, 2006, 499 SCRA 614, 624; Ui v. Atty. Bonifacio, 388 Phil. 691, 707 (2000); Narag v. Narag, 353 Phil. 643, 655 (1998).
25 St. Louis University Laboratory High School (SLU-LHS) Faculty and Staff v. Dela Cruz, supra at 624; Ui v. Bonifacio, supra.
27 Id. at 625.
28 Villasanta v. Peralta, 101 Phil. 313, 314 (1957).
29 A.C. No. 6252, October 5, 2004, 440 SCRA 91.
30 Id. at 100-101.