A.C. No. 8335, April 10, 2019
AMALIA R. CENIZA, COMPLAINANT, v. ATTY. ELISEO B. CENIZA, JR., RESPONDENT.
D E C I S I O N
The abandonment by an attorney of his legitimate family in order to cohabit with a married woman constitutes gross immorality that wan-ants his disbarment.1
The Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) received the complainant's letter-complaint denouncing the immoral conduct committed by her husband, a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.2 She submitted therewith her affidavit detailing the grounds for her denunciation.3
The complainant stated that she and the respondent were married on November 12, 1989 at the Sacred Heart Parish in Cebu City; that in time they had two children, Marie Agnes (Agnes) and Christopher Chuck;4 that on April 21, 2008, he told her that he would be attending a seminar in Manila, but because she had some business to attend to in General Santos City, he seemingly agreed to her request to forego with his trip to Manila, and that upon her return from General Santos City on April 26, 2008, however, he had already moved out of their home, taking along with him his car and personal belongings.
On May 23, 2008, the complainant went to the Mandaue City Hall where the respondent worked as a legal officer in order to inquire about his situation. She learned from members of his staff that they had suspected him of carrying on an extra-marital affair with one Anna Fe Flores Binoya (Anna). On the next day, the complainant, accompanied by her daughter and a nephew, went to the address provided by the staff to verify the information. They were able to meet Anna's sister who informed them that she had moved out of their address; that Anna and her second husband, Atty. Eliseo Ceniza, Jr., the herein respondent, had been living together in Aldea Subdivision; and that in the evening of said date the complainant and her daughter proceeded to the new address where they found and confronted the respondent, who simply denied having committed any wrongdoing.
On July 9, 2008, the respondent commenced a civil action seeking the declaration of nullity of his marriage with the complainant,5 alleging her psychological incapacity under Art. 36 of the Family Code.
On August 11, 2008, the respondent visited the complainant at work and requested her to agree to the nullification of their marriage. She refused and instead pleaded with him to avoid displaying his paramour in public. Her pleas notwithstanding, he continued with the illicit relationship.
On November 18, 2008, the complainant brought a complaint for immorality against the respondent in the Office of the Ombudsman (OMB-V-A-10-0345-G).
On April 2, 2009, the complainant sent a letter to President Macapagal-Arroyo alleging therein that her husband had abandoned her and their children in order to live with another woman.
On May 18, 2009, the Presidential Action Center of the Office of the President forwarded the complainant's letter to President Macapagal-Arroyo to the Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC).6 In due course, the OBC directed the respondent to comment on the complaint against him.
On October 26, 2009, the respondent filed his comment,7 wherein he denied having engaged in immoral conduct and maintained that Anna had only been a business partner. He insisted that he had moved in with his parents after leaving their family home; and that he had left the complainant because her behavior had become unbearable.
In the meantime, on August 5, 2011, the Office of the Ombudsman issued its decision in OMB-V-A-10-0345-G,8 in which it found the respondent guilty of disgraceful and immoral conduct for having an extramarital affair with a woman in violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which required that:
.... all public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.9
WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, judgment is hereby rendered finding respondent ELISEO B. CENIZA guilty of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct. The said respondent is hereby meted the penalty of SUSPENSION from the service for a period of SIX (6) MONTHS without pay with a stern warning that subsequent violations of similar nature will be dealt with a more severe penalty.10
The issue is whether or not respondent is guilty of immorality in his relationship with Anna Fe Binoya.
Immoral conduct has been defined as "that conduct which is willful, flagrant, or shameless, and which shows a moral indifference to the opinion of the good and respectable members of the community.
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 so 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. (Emma T. Dantes vs. Atty. Crispin Dantes A.C. No. 6486 September 22, 2004).
Upon the other hand good moral character is a requirement not only upon one's application for admission but it is rather a continuing requirement even after admission for the enjoyment of the privilege to practice. Good moral character includes at least common honesty. (Boyong vs. Oblema, 7 SCRA 859).
WHEREFORE, premises considered, it is most respectfully recommended that the administrative suit be dismissed but with WARNING to the respondent to be more circumspect in his actuation to avoid the impression of committing immorality.12
RESOLVED to ADOPT and APPROVE as it is hereby unanimously ADOPTED and APPROVED, with modification, the Report and Recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner in the above-entitled case, herein made part of this Resolution as Annex "A," and finding the recommendation fully supported by the evidence on record and the applicable laws and rules, the case is hereby DISMISSED. However, the Warning imposed against respondent is hereby ordered deleted.
Respondent is adamant in his denial that he has a relationship with Binoya. He insists that complainant's accusation that he was having an affair with Binoya was purely speculative and unsupported by evidence.The Court will not deviate from the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman as fully affirmed by the CA.
Complainant, for her part, presented affidavits not only of their daughter, Marie Agnes ("Marie"), but also of two others, namely: Roberto Joseph Galvan ("Galvan") and Gabriel Jadraque ("Jadraque").
Marie declared, in part, that:9. That we found out on May 24, that he had another woman named Anna Fe Flores Binoya, and he was currently living with her in Block 11, Lot 27, Aldea Subd., Timpolok, Lapulapu City.
10. That I was there in Umapad dump site when I met Myrna Flores, Ann's mother, Ann and Ann's daughter. She tried to deny her relationship with my father, but just a few minutes after, I heard her three aunts tell us that she had a new husband. She identified the new husband as Atty. Eliseo B. Ceniza, Jr.
Meanwhile, Galvan alleged that:2. That I have been living at Aldea Buena Subdivision, Timpolok, Mactan, Lapu-Lapu City since February 2005;Finally, Jadraque averred that:
3. That I regularly stroll in our subdivision on board my bicycle or motorcycle with my kids;
4. That on several occasions in the month of December 2008 and January 2009, I saw the black Honda care (sic) with plate no. YDX 692 or sometimes the red Toyota Corolla care (sic) with plate no. GEJ 877 belonging to ATTY. ELISEO B. CENIZA, JR., parked in front of the house located on Block 11 Lot 27 of Aldea Buena Subdivision;
5. That more particularly, I have seen these vehicles parked for long periods of time and in some days overnight at the said place;
6. That on December 22, 2008 at around 8:00 PM, I personally saw ATTY. ELISEO B. CENIZA, JR. taking dinner, half-naked, facing the table in the above-mentioned house together with a woman whom I later identified as ANN FLORES from the picture that AMALIA R. CENIZA showed me;
7. That I saw them again inside the house on December 23, 2008 at around nine o'clock in the morning up to past twelve o'clock noontime;
That sometime on the first week of January 2009, Mrs. Amalia R[.] Ceniza approached me and sought assistance to conduct a surveillance of her husband's activities.
That Mrs. Ceniza provided me information that her husband has a girlfriend who is residing at blk 11, lot 27[,] ALDEA BUENA SUBD. [,] Timpolok[,] Lapu-Lapu City Cebu, which she also believed that her husband frequently slept there at night and most of the time uses their car a RED TOYOTA with LTO plate GEJ-877;
That on the nineth(sic) of January Mrs. Ceniza contacted me thru my mobile phone that the classes of her daughter will end at 6:30 in the afternoon at Cebu Doctor's College at Mandaue City and her husband will be the one to pick up and brought [her] home.
That at about 6:00 in the afternoon that day[,] I went ahead with a videocam with me in Blk 11, Lot 27[,] ALDEA BUENA SUBD.[,] Timpolok[,] Lapu-lapu City and strategically positioned myself in order to observed(sic) the place and the activities of the people in the surroundings;
That few minutes after I saw a RED TOYOTA with LTO plate GEJ-877 approaching the place this time I remembered the car mentioned by Mrs. Ceniza that [was] frequently driven by her husband, so I immediately turn[ed] on the video cam, and while the tape is running[,] I saw the RED TOYOTA with LTO Plate GEJ-877 parked in front of the house #27[,] at the same time[,] I saw one lady [who] went out from the house and proceeded to the gate and unlocked it then she went back inside the house;
That a moment after, one man went out from the driver aside of the RED TOYOTA with LTO Plate # GEJ-877 wearing white T-shirt and proceeded to the house # 27, he opened the gate[,] went inside, then he locked it and proceeded to the main door of the house where the lady who unlocked the gate waited near the main door;
(sic) That later[,] I identify (sic) the man who went out form the RED TOYOTA with LTO Plate GEJ-877 and proceeded to the house #27 as ATTY. ELISEO B. CENIZA JR.
Complainant likewise proffered photographs proving her claim that respondent frequents Binoya's house, as well as, proofs that the place which her husband visits was indeed owned by Binoya. Complainant also adduced evidence to the effect that facts of marriage appear in the Office of the City Civil Registrar, Cebu City, between Binoya and a certain Ebrahaim Angeles Yap who were married on 18 October 2002 at Al Khariah Mosque, San Nicolas, Mambaling, Cebu City. The corresponding Certificate of Marriage was likewise submitted.
Vis-à-vis complainant's overwhelming allegations, respondent offered only self-serving denials. It is elementary that denials are weak especially if unsupported by evidence. Denial is an intrinsically weak defense which must be buttressed with strong evidence of non-culpability to merit credibility.
It bears stressing that aside from his general claim that complainant only wanted to destroy his reputation and that the instant complaint is purely a vendetta on her part, respondent did not even attempt to present countervailing evidence to substantiate his bare allegations.
No less than respondent's own daughter, Marie Agnes, spoke her piece about the nature of her father's association with Binoya. His daughter is a budding teen-ager and has already attained a certain level of maturity to understand the dynamics of the relationship of her parents.
Moreover, the photographs and declarations of Galvan and Jadraque negate respondent's assertion that he merely visits Binoya as a business associate. His vehicles were seen in front of Binoya's house for long periods of time and in some days, on overnight stays. He was also seen in Binoya's house half-naked while having a meal. Under the prevailing circumstances, these cannot be deemed as actuations of a business partner or the usual business meetings as respondent insists.
It is true that complainant was unable to present photograph/s of respondent and Binoya together. Still, from the foregoing, she has given several pieces of evidence which yield the unmistakable conclusion that respondent and Binoya are having an illicit affair. Under the present scheme of things, these circumstances meet the requirement of substantial evidence in administrative proceedings. In the extant case, there is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion that respondent and Binoya are engaged in an illicit relationship.
We are cognizant of the fact that cases like this usually entail a 'He said – She said' version. However, complainant was able to build her case against respondent. As afore-discussed, complainant presented evidence to support her claims. There were documentary evidence and affidavits proving, to the best of her ability, her accusations against respondent."19
The CA upheld the findings of the Office of the Ombudsman, observing as follows:20Petitioner [Atty. Ceniza] maintains that the insinuations and accusations that he is having a relationship with Anna Fe Binoya is unfounded and baseless. Petitioner claims that he had a friendly relationship with the family of Anna Fe, and that they are far from being intimate. Petitioner contends that public respondent based its findings purely on circumstantial evidence. Petitioner emphasizes that not even a picture of him and Anna Fe was ever presented. Instead, the circumstantial evidence relied upon by public respondent at most would only prove that indeed the petitioner visited Anna Fe at her residence. A grave charge of disgraceful and immoral conduct according to petitioner requires direct and competent evidence which is absent in the extant case.
Petitioner's protestations fail to persuade. Evidence on record is awash of the immoral and disgraceful conduct of petitioner. We find no reason therefore to disturb the findings of public respondent that petitioner is guilty of Disgraceful and Immoral Conduct.
x x x x
In the face of the evidence presented by private respondent, the bare denial and self-serving statements of petitioner crumble. The positive and categorical assertions of private respondent and the uncontradicted statements of the witnesses that they saw petitioner staying overnight at Anna Fe's house on numerous occasions, have sufficiently established the administrative liability of petitioner. They reasonably and logically lead to the conclusion that petitioner was intimately and scandalously involved with Anna Fe. In fact, petitioner even admitted having visited Anna Fe's home several times but claimed that Anna Fe is her distant relative and client. If this was so, petitioner could have presented proof showing his business transaction with Anna Fe. Also, petitioner's claim that Anna Fe is his distant blood relative is wanting of any evidence. Nonetheless, if petitioner and Anna Fe are indeed relatives, this fact would not help prove petitioner's innocence from the charge of immoral conduct. Rather, it would only make petitioner's actions appear more scandalous and distasteful and would only tend to validate petitioner's inclination to thoughtless indiscretions.
Also quite untenable is petitioner's protestation that the evidence presented would prove at most his causal visits to his friend and relative Anna Fe. In his vain attempt for absolution, petitioner pointed out that neither a single photograph of him and Anna Fe going out together was ever presented nor even an allegation that they were seen holding hands or that they had a 'friendly kiss, or beso-beso'.
It is morally reprehensible for a married man or woman to maintain intimate relations with another person of the opposite sex other than his or her spouse. In the context of and during such an illicit affair, acts which are otherwise morally acceptable (such as having lunch or dinner, working overtime or watching a movie together) become tainted with immorality when done by a married man or woman with a person not his or her spouse. These otherwise innocent acts (like petitioner's casual visits to Anna Fe's house and his overnight stays) are deemed unclean because they are done in furtherance of and in connection with something immoral.
Moreover, immorality is not confined to sexual matters, but includes conduct inconsistent with rectitude, or indicative of corruption, indecency, depravity, and dissoluteness; or is willful, flagrant or shameless conduct showing moral indifference to opinions of respectable members of the community, and as an inconsiderate attitude toward good order and public welfare.
Rule 1.01 – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.
Rule 7.03 – A lawyer shall not engage in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law, nor should he, whether in public or private life, behave in a scandalous manner to the discredit of the legal profession.
.... it is expected that every lawyer, being an officer of the Court, must not only be in fact of good moral character, but must also be seen to be of good moral character and leading lives in accordance with the highest moral standards of the community. More specifically, a member of the Bar and officer of the Court is required not only to refrain from adulterous relationships or keeping mistresses but also to conduct himself as to avoid scandalizing the public by creating the belief that he is flouting those moral standards. If the practice of law is to remain an honorable profession and attain its basic ideals, whoever is enrolled in its ranks should not only master its tenets and principles but should also, in their lives, accord continuing fidelity to them. The requirement of good moral character is of much greater import, as far as the general public is concerned, than the possession of legal learning.
1Rollo, pp. 46-47.
3 Id. at 6.
4 Id. at 6.
5Rollo, pp. 24-29.
6 Id. at 45.
7 Id. at 110-117.
8 Id. at 429-451.
9 Id. at 449.
10 Id. at 450.
11 Id. at 499-514.
12Rollo, p. 923.
13 Id. at. 367.
14 Id. at 371.
14 Rollo, pp. 520-521.
15 Id. at 478-490.
16 Id. at 491.
17 Id. at 517.
19Rollo, pp. 443-448.
20 Docketed as CA-G.R. CEB- SP No. 06367, May 12, 2015, pp. 509-512.
21Advincula v. Advincula, A.C. No. 9226, June 14, 2016, 793 SCRA 237, 248.
22Cawaling v. Menese, A.C. No. 9698, November 13, 2013, 709 SCRA 304, 313-314.
23Castro v. Bigay, Jr., A.C. No. 7824, July 19, 2017, 831 SCRA 274, 280.
24 Gardner, Criminal Evidence, Principles, Cases and Readings, West Publishing Co., 1978 ed., p. 124.
25 See People v. Ramos, G.R. No. 104497, January 18, 1995, 240 SCRA 191, 198-199; citing Robinson v. State, 18 Md. App. 678, 308 A2d 734 (1973).
26Fabie v. Real, A.C. No. 10574, September 20, 2016, 803 SCRA 388, 397.
27Advincula v. Advincula, A.C. No. 9226, June 14, 2016, 793 SCRA 237, 248.
28 Id. at 247-248.
29Manaois v. Deciembre, A.C. No. 5364, August 20, 2008, 562 SCRA 359, 363.
30Bustamante-Alejandro v. Alejandro, A.C. No. 4256, February 13, 2004, 422 SCRA 527, 532.
31 A.C. No. 3405, June 29, 1998, 291 SCRA 451.
32 A.C. No. 6486, September 22, 2004, 438 SCRA 582.
33 A.C. No. 4256, February 13, 2004, 422 SCRA 527, 533.
34 A.C. No. 7136, August 1, 2007, 529 SCRA 1.
I fully agree with the majority that respondent Atty. Eliseo B. Ceniza, Jr. should be disbarred. I have in previous cases been of the opinion that immorality should not be a ground for disbarment. Here, however, the Complaint was filed by his wife, Amalia R. Ceniza. Complainant alleged that respondent "abandoned his family to cohabit with a married woman."1
In my dissent in Matudan v. Republic,2 a nullity of marriage case, I opined that the law should "not [be] a burden that unreasonably interferes with individual choices of intimate arrangements."3 I stated that “[t]he choice to stay in or leave a marriage is not for this Court, or the State, to make."4 I maintain this position on marriage and the private relation of parties, where the State generally does not interfere. However, this Court should act on complaints filed by the intimate partners of misbehaving lawyers.
Morality may either be religious or secular.5 In Perfecto v. Judge Esidera,6 this Court ruled that the determination of whether conduct is immoral must be measured by a secular standard.7 We neither have the authority nor the competence to declare that certain acts violate religious doctrine.8 Our mandate in disciplining lawyers concerns "only insofar as it involves conduct that affects the public or its interest."9
In my separate opinion in Anonymous Complaint v. Dagala,10 I proposed these guidelines in resolving disciplinary proceedings invoking immorality as a ground for disbarment:
If at all, any complaint for immorality should not be entertained except when it is commenced by its victims. That is, the betrayed spouse, the paramour who has been misled, or the children who have to live with the parent's scandalous indiscretions.Accordingly, in my dissent in Sabillo v. Atty. Lorenzo,12 where the complainant paramour did not raise immorality, I disagreed with the majority's conclusion that the "arrangement" forged by the lawyer, his wife, and the paramour was immoral. There was no victim wronged who complained of immorality. The grounds for disbarment were anchored on allegations of physical and psychological abuse. I opined that, by itself, the majority's finding that the children were living with the lawyer and the paramour was not immoral:
I accept that in some cases, especially where there is some form of violence against women and children within the families affected, it would be difficult for the victims to come forward. It should only be then that a third party's complaint may be entertained. The third party must show that it acts for the benefit of the victims, not as a means to cause more harm on them. Furthermore, the inability of the victims must be pleaded and proven.
In my separate opinion in Tuvillo v. Laron, I concurred with the dismissal of a judge for immorality and gross misconduct based on the complaint of the parties directly affected — the mistress and her husband. In Perfecto v. Esidera, this Court through my ponencia, did not sanction a judge for immorality based on the complaint of a third person. She was suspended for violating Canon 1 of the Code of Professional Responsibility when she knowingly contracted a marriage before a solemnizing officer who had no license to do so. I remain consistent in my view that immorality, as basis for administrative complaints, cannot be based on religious grounds:Thus, for purposes of determining administrative liability of lawyers and judges, "immoral conduct" should relate to their conduct as officers of the court. To be guilty of "immorality" under the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer's conduct must be so depraved as to reduce the public's confidence in the Rule of Law. Religious morality is not binding whenever this court decides the administrative liability of lawyers and persons under this court's supervision. At best, religious morality weighs only persuasively on us.
I appreciate the ponente's acknowledgment that "immorality only becomes a valid ground for sanctioning members of the Judiciary when the questioned act challenges his or her capacity to dispense justice." This affirms this Court's principle that our jurisdiction over acts of lawyers and judges is confined to those that may affect the people's confidence in the Rule of Law. There can be no immorality committed when there are no victims who complain. And even when they do, it must be shown that they were directly damaged by the immoral acts and their rights violated. A judge having children with women not his wife, in itself, does not affect his ability to dispense justice. What it does is offend this country's predominantly religious sensibilities.11 (Emphasis supplied, citations omitted)
This case, however, is different.
I fail to see what scandalous circumstances were present here. The "arrangement" where respondent's two (2) children stayed with complainant and respondent in their condominium unit, as explicitly intended by the children's mother, is neither scandalous nor immoral. Save for respondent's supposedly abusive behavior toward complainant, they were living in harmony. There was no evidence of hostility between [the paramour] and the children's mother.
Thus, I cannot agree with the Investigating Commissioner's finding that "while respondent has an 'arrangement' with his legal spouse with whom he has two children, who stays with him and complainant, the same does not make the illicit relationship morally upright."
The Resolution, meanwhile, expressed that "this Court is appalled by respondent's brazen attitude in admitting his sexual relationship with a woman, other than his wife, in full knowledge and recognition of his minor daughters as if there was nothing unconventional about their situation."
Deeming an amicable arrangement outside of marriage as immoral is a view that no longer keeps in step with the times.13 (Citations omitted)
The highest penalty should be reserved for those who commit indiscretions that (a) are repeated, (b) result in permanent rearrangements that cause extraordinary difficulties on existing legitimate relationships, or (c) are prima facie shown to have violated the law. The negligence or utter lack of callousness of spouses who commit indiscretions as shown by their inability to ask for forgiveness, their concealment of the act from their legitimate relationships, or their lack of support for the children born out of wedlock should be aggravating and considered for the penalty to be imposed.20 (Emphasis in the original)
1 Ponencia, p. 1.
2 799 Phil. 449 (2016) [Per J. Del Castillo, Second Division].
3 J. Leonen's Dissenting Opinion in Matudan v. Republic, 799 Phil. 449, 481 (2016) [Per J. Del Castillo, Second Division].
5See Perfecto v. Judge Esidera, 764 Phil. 384 (2015) [Per J. Leonen, Second Division].
6 764 Phil. 384 (2015) [Per J. Leonen, Second Division].
7 Id. at 398.
8 Id. at 399.
10 A.M. No. MTJ-16-1886, July 25, 2017, 832 SCRA 12 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
11 J. Leonen, Concurring and Dissenting Opinion in Anonymous Complaint v. Dagala, July 25, 2017, 832 SCRA 12, 74-76 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
12 A.C. No. 9392, December 4, 2018 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
13 J. Leonen, Dissenting Opinion in Sabillo v. Atty. Lorenzo, A.C. No. 9392, December 4, 2018 10 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
14 Ponencia, p. 2.
16 Id. at 8.
17 Id. at 6.
18 J. Leonen, Concurring and Dissenting Opinion in Anonymous Complaint v. Dagala, A.M. No. MTJ-16-1886, July 25, 2017, 832 SCRA 12, 75 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
19 Ponencia, p. 11.
20 J. Leonen, Concurring and Dissenting Opinion in Anonymous Complaint v. Dagala, A.M. No. MTJ-16-1886, July 25, 2017, 832 SCRA 12, 75-76 [Per Curiam, En Banc].
21 Ponencia, p. 11.