[A.C. NO. 4947 : February 14, 2005]
ROSA YAP-PARAS, Petitioner, v. ATTY. JUSTO PARAS, Respondent.
R E S O L U T I O N
Before us is this verified Petition1 filed by Rosa Yap-Paras praying for the disbarment of her estranged husband Atty. Justo Paras on alleged acts of deceit, malpractice, grave misconduct, grossly immoral conduct and violation of his oath as a lawyer.
On 18 January 1989, respondent filed his comment2 to the Petition.
In a Resolution dated 10 February 1999,3 the Court referred the case to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for investigation, report and recommendation.
The background facts are summarized in a Report and Recommendation dated 13 January 20044 of Commissioner Lydia A. Navarro of the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline, which Report reads in part, as follows:
"Complainant alleged that on February 9, 1965 the children of Ledesma de Jesus Paras-Sumabong namely Conegunda, Justo, Corazon, Carmen and Cataluna all surnamed Paras executed a Special Power of Attorney prepared by the respondent to sell parcels of land located in Matobato, Bindoy, Negros Oriental giving authority to their mother to sell the subject real properties previously registered in the name of the heirs of Vicente Paras wherein respondent was one of the signatories therein.
Complainant alleged that on May 4, 1966 on the basis of said Special Power of Attorney, Ledesma J. Paras-Sumabang executed a Deed of Absolute Sale in favor of Aurora Dy-Yap over the subject real property located in Matobato, Bindoy, Negros Oriental which was with the respondent's full knowledge since he was residing at the house of Soledad Dy-Yap at that time and from that time, the Yap family had been in possession of the subject real property up to the present.
Complainant alleged that sometime in June 1998 her attention was called to the fact that a free patent title to the aforesaid property was issued in respondent's name and upon verification with the DENR, Bureau of Lands, Dumaguete City, complainant was able to get copies of the documents for lot Nos. 660, 490 and 585 pertaining to the Notice of Application for Free Patent dated April 2, 1985 signed by the respondent; over the aforesaid lots previously sold by Ledesma de Jesus to Aurora D. Yap; Quitclaim/Renunciation of Property Rights and Interest Over Real Property executed by Ledesma de Jesus dated May 28, 1985; Letter of Application dated April 2, 1985 signed by respondent under oath before Apolonio Tan authorized officer to administer oath; Letter of Certification signed by Apolonio Tan dated June 4, 1985 and Order of Approval dated August 19, 1985 signed by District Land Officer Teopisto L. Gallozo with a Free Patent No. 328 in the name of respondent Justo J. Paras.
Complainant alleged that the aforementioned application was made by the respondent without her knowledge and consent and those acts of deceit, machinations and falsification of documents were deliberately willfully, and maliciously committed by the respondent in violation of Art. 172 in relation to Art. 171 of the RPC; in betrayal of his oath as a lawyer and a transgression of the Canons of Professional Responsibility.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Complainant alleged that respondent surreptitiously obtained a free patent title over real properties which had been previously sold by his own mother to Aurora D. Yap and now still under the control and possession of complainant's natural family, a fact respondent allegedly withheld from the Bureau of Lands which he had full knowledge in successfully causing the release of a free patent in his name and unjustly and unlawfully deprived the rightful owners of their legitimate title to the said property in betrayal of the court to pervert the administration of justice in gross violation of his oath of office.
x x x
In his Comment, respondent alleged that complainant was obviously not the owner of the properties and considering that the properties were applied for free patent titling during their marital union prior to its breakage, complainant was likewise a communal owner thereof and as such was also complaining against herself.
Respondent alleged that later on, a great portion of the public lands classified as forested zone in Matobato were declared and reclassified into public agricultural lands, then publicly surveyed and parcelized by lots identified in the survey map based on actual or known occupants; then the Bureau of Lands allegedly made a public announcement that the lands were available for private ownership thru Free Patent Application available only to native settlers or natural born Filipinos.
Respondent alleged that none of the Yaps including complainant being native or natural born Filipinos muchless Aurora D. Yap who in 1985 was said to be already an American citizen; complainant and her family; the Yaps prevailed upon him to apply for free patent over said questioned properties for the reason that respondent had already occupied the properties; introduced improvements thereon; acted as owner thereof; and could easily align his right to the property which had been identified in the public survey as "Heirs of Vicente Paras", otherwise the questioned properties allegedly according to the Yaps will be applied for and awarded to other qualified natural born Filipinos.
Respondent alleged that Free Patent Application was filed by him over the communal property of him and the complainant as well as those purchased by him including the portion whose occupancy of a public land was purchased by Aurora D. Yap from Ledesma Vda de Paras upon the prodding of the Yaps for all of them were not qualified to apply for ownership of an agricultural public land via free patent; none of them being a natural born Filipino or native settler and were disqualified from a gratuitous grant of public land from the government.
Respondent alleged that the whole idea of giving to him and the complainant the properties was hatched and executed by the Yaps, most particularly Atty. Francisco D. Yap to circumvent the law and prevent the properties from being given by the government to some other qualified persons. He allegedly applied for issuance of free patent in good faith and thereafter took dominion and control of the properties in the concept of a legitimate owner under authority of a gratuitous grant of the government.
Respondent alleged that complainant or any member of her family much less American citizen Aurora Dy Yap had not made any prior demand for the return of the questioned properties; nor filed a complaint under the Katarungang Pambarangay Law; nor filed an administrative remedy before the DENR for the cancellation and reversion/transfer of the Free Patent and Title to them; nor brought any action in any civil court for either quieting of title, or cancellation of free patent title or recovery of ownership or whatever.
Respondent alleged that even without such civil court determination on whether or not complainant or her family were qualified to become grantee of a government gratuitous grant of public agricultural land, if the Honorable Supreme Court will decide that complainant, her mother, brothers and sisters were within the ambit of the term natural born citizen or native citizens under the 1946 Constitution and to them rightfully belong the ownership of the questioned titled public agricultural lands; and that he can never be guilty of the Anti-Dummy Law consequent to such cession, respondent alleged that he will gladly deliver and transfer title to them.
Respondent alleged that he sought and prayed for recovery of possession of all conjugal/communal properties including the herein questioned properties for after he left the conjugal home in 1988 possession of all these properties, real and personal were until now with the complainant and her biological family.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
Respondent prayed for the outright dismissal of the petition for lack of merit."
Complainant subsequently filed a Reply5 to respondent's Comment, therein refuting respondent's claims that he was used as a "dummy" since complainant and her siblings had previously acquired Free Patents in their names. Complainant further alleged that respondent is morally unfit to continue to be an officer of the court because of his falsely declaring under oath that he had been occupying the subject real property since 1985 when in fact he did not and was never in occupation/possession thereof.
On 27 August 1999, the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline issued an Order6 noting the filing of the last pleading and setting the instant case for hearing. Several hearings7 were conducted wherein complainant presented all her witnesses together with their respective affidavits and supporting documents8, which were all subjected to cross-examination by the respondent. Likewise, respondent presented his Counter-Affidavit9 and supporting documents.
Based on the foregoing, the Investigating Commissioner concluded her Report and made a recommendation, as follows:
"From the facts obtaining respondent committed deceit and falsehood in having applied for free patent over lands owned by another over which he had no actual physical possession being aware of the fact that the same was previously transferred in the name of Aurora Yap; an act which adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law in violation of Rule 7.03, Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
"It is immaterial as to who instituted the complaint for as long as there was a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility which partakes the nature of proper disciplinary action pursuant to Section 1, Rule 139-B of the Disbarment and Discipline of Attorneys.
"Wherefore in view of the foregoing, the Undersigned respectfully recommends for the suspension of Atty. Justo Paras from the practice of his law profession for a period of three (3) months from receipt hereof.
"It is also hereby recommended that the IBP Chapter wherein respondent Paras is a registered member be furnished a copy of the Order and notified of the said suspension for proper enforcement."
Via Resolution No. XVI-2004-120 dated 27 February 2004,10 the IBP Board of Governors adopted the Report of the Investigating Commissioner but modified the latter's recommended penalty by recommending that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six (6) months for violation of Rule 7.03, Canon 7 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.
The case is now before us for confirmation.
We agree with the IBP Board of Governors that respondent should be sanctioned. We find, however, that the recommended penalty is not commensurate to the gravity of the wrong perpetrated.
The Court has always reminded that a lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession11 as the bar should always maintain a high standard of legal proficiency as well as of honesty and fair dealing among its members. By and large, a lawyer can do honor to the legal profession by faithfully performing his duties to society, to the bar, to the courts and to his clients.12 To this end, nothing should be done by any member of the legal fraternity which might tend to lessen in any degree the confidence and trust reposed by the public in the fidelity, honesty and integrity of the legal profession.13
In Marcelo v. Javier14, we held:
"It bears stressing that membership in the bar is a privilege burdened with conditions. A lawyer has the privilege and right to practice law during good behavior and can only be deprived of it for misconduct ascertained and declared by judgment of the court after opportunity to be heard has been afforded him. Without invading any constitutional privilege or right, an attorney's right to practice law may be resolved by a proceeding to suspend or disbar him, based on conduct rendering him unfit to hold a license or to exercise the duties and responsibilities of an attorney. It must be understood that the purpose of suspending or disbarring an attorney is to remove from the profession a person whose misconduct has proved him unfit to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities belonging to the office of an attorney, and thus to protect the public and those charged with the administration of justice, rather than to punish the attorney.
"An attorney may be disbarred or suspended for any violation of his oath or of his duties as an attorney and counsellor which include the statutory grounds enumerated in Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. These statutory grounds are so broad as to cover practically any misconduct of a lawyer in his professional or private capacity. It is a settled rule that the enumeration of the statutory grounds for disciplinary action is not exclusive and a lawyer may be disciplined on grounds other than those specifically provided in the law. Generally 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, in honesty, probity and good demeanor or unworthy to continue as an officer of the court, or an unfit or unsafe person to enjoy the privileges and to manage the business of others in the capacity of an attorney, or for conduct which tends to bring reproach on the legal profession or to injure it in the favorable opinion of the public."
Indeed, the practice of law is not a right but merely a privilege bestowed by the State upon those who show that they possess, and continue to possess, the qualifications required by law for the conferment of such privilege.15 One of those requirements is the observance of honesty and candor.
And in the recent case of Bergonia v. Merrera16, we ruled:
"Candor in all their dealings is the very essence of a practitioner's honorable membership in the legal profession. Lawyers are required to act with the highest standard of truthfulness, fair play and nobility in the conduct of litigation and in their relations with their clients, the opposing parties, the other counsels and the courts. They are bound by their oath to speak the truth and to conduct themselves according to the best of their knowledge and discretion, and with fidelity to the courts and their clients. x x x"
In the instant case, it is clear to the Court that respondent violated his lawyer's oath as well as the Code of Professional Responsibility which mandates upon each lawyer, as his duty to society and to the courts, the obligation to obey the laws of the land and to do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court. Respondent has been deplorably lacking in the candor required of him as a member of the Bar and an officer of the court in his acts of applying for the issuance of a free patent over the properties in issue despite his knowledge that the same had already been sold by his mother to complainant's sister. This fact, respondent even admitted in the comment that he filed before this Court when he alleged that the said properties were public land under the Forestal Zone "when the mother of the respondent ceded to Aurora Yap some portions of entire occupancy of the Parases"17 . Moreover, respondent committed deceit and falsehood in his application for free patent over the said properties when he manifested under oath that he had been in the actual possession and occupation of the said lands despite the fact that these were continuously in the possession and occupation of complainant's family, as evidenced no less by respondent's own statements in the pleadings filed before the IBP.
Anent his argument questioning the status of complainant and her family as "natural born citizens", this Court holds that the instant case is not the proper forum to address such issue. Furthermore, as correctly held by the Investigating Commissioner, "[i]t is immaterial as to who instituted the complaint for as long as there was a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility". Likewise, any other action which the parties may make against each other has no material bearing in this case. For, it must be remembered that administrative cases against lawyers belong to a class of their own. They are distinct from and may proceed independently of civil and criminal cases.
In line herewith, this Court in In re Almacen,18 held:
"Accent should be laid on the fact that disciplinary proceedings like the present are sui generis. Neither purely civil nor purely criminal, this proceeding is not - and does not involve - a trial of an action or a suit, but is rather an investigation by the Court into the conduct of its officers. Not being intended to inflict punishment, it is in no sense a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, there is neither a plaintiff nor a prosecutor therein. It may be initiated by the Court motu proprio. Public interest is its primary objective, and the real question for determination is whether or not the attorney is still a fit person to be allowed the privileges as such. Hence, in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court merely calls upon a member of the Bar to account for his actuations as an officer of the Court with the end in view of preserving the purity of the legal profession and the proper and honest administration of justice by purging the profession of members who by their misconduct have proved themselves no longer worthy to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities pertaining to the office of an attorney. xxx"
The facts and evidence obtaining in the instant case indubitably reveal respondent's failure to live up to his duties as a lawyer in consonance with the strictures of the lawyer's oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility, thereby occasioning sanction from this Court.
At this juncture, we take note that on 18 October 2000, in our Decision in A.C. No. 5333 formerly A.C. No. CBD-371, entitled Rosa Yap Paras v. Atty. Justo de Jesus Paras, respondent was previously meted with suspension from the practice of law for six (6) months on the charge of falsifying his wife's signature in bank documents and other related loan instruments, and for one (1) year from the practice of law on the charges of immorality and abandonment of his own family.
Considering the serious nature of the instant offense and in light of respondent's prior misdemeanors for which he was penalized with a six (6) month and one (1) year suspension from the practice of law, his deplorable behavior in the present case which grossly degrades the legal profession warrants the imposition of a much graver penalty.Ï‚Î·Î±Ã±rÎ¿blÎµÅ¡ Î½Î¹râ€ Ï…Î±l lÎ±Ï‰ lÎ¹brÎ±rÃ¿
WHEREFORE, finding respondent Atty. Justo J. Paras guilty of committing a falsehood in violation of his lawyer's oath and of the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Court Resolved to SUSPEND respondent from the practice of law for a period of one (1) year, with a WARNING that commission of the same or similar offense in the future will result in the imposition of a more severe penalty.
Let copies of this Resolution be furnished the IBP, as well as the Office of the Bar Confidant and the Court Administrator who shall circulate it to all courts for their information and guidance and likewise be entered in the record of respondent as attorney.
Panganiban, (Chairman), Sandoval-Gutierrez, Corona, and Carpio-Morales, JJ., concur.
1 Rollo, Vol. I at pp. 3-9.
2 Rollo, Vol. 1 at pp. 266-273.
3 Rollo, Vol. I at p. 346.
4 Rollo, Vol. II at pp. 618-626.
5 Rollo, Vol. II at pp. 1-5.
6 Rollo, Vol. II at p. 11.
7 Hearings were conducted on 15 October 1999, 12 November 1999, 16 December 1999 and 27 January 2000.
8 Rollo, Vol. II at pp. 32-223.
9 Rollo, Vol. II at pp. 259-296.
10 Rollo, Vol. II at p. 617.
11 Canon 7, Code of Professional Responsibility
12 Agpalo, R.E., Legal Ethics, [1989 ed.], 87.
13 Abragan v. Rodriguez, 429 Phil 607 ; Maligsa v. Cabanting, 338 SCRA 912 ; and Fernandez v. Grecia, 223 SCRA 425 .
14 214 SCRA 1 , citing People ex rel. Karlin v. Culkin, 248 NY 465, 60 ALR 851 ; Ledesma v. Climaco, 57 SCRA 473 ; Tajan v. Cusi, 57 SCRA 154 ; Ex parte Wall, 107 US 265, 27 L ed 522, 2 S Ct 569; Quingwa v. Puno, 19 SCRA 439 ; Daroy v. Legaspi, 65 SCRA 304 ; Diaz v. Gerong, 141 SCRA 46 ; In re Pelaez, 44 Phil 567 ; Halili v. Court of Industrial Relations, 136 SCRA 112 ; Erectors, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, 166 SCRA 728 ; and Mortel v. Aspiras, 100 Phil 586 .
15 Sebastian v. Calis, 344 SCRA 1  and Sabayle v. Tandayag, 158 SCRA 497 .
16 398 SCRA 1  with note: The Code of Professional Responsibility requires in Canon 10 that "a lawyer owes candor, fairness and good faith to the court"; Canon 8, "a lawyer shall conduct himself with courtesy, fairness and candor towards his professional colleagues x x x"; and Canon 15, "a lawyer shall observe candor, fairness and loyalty in all his dealings and transactions with his client."
17 Paragraph 5 (b) of respondent's Comment dated 03 December 1998, Rollo, Vol. I at p. 268.
18 31 SCRA 562 .