[ A.C. No. 12486, October 15, 2019 ]
ANTONIO X. GENATO, COMPLAINANT, VS. ATTY. ELIGIO P. MALLARI, RESPONDENT.
Lawyers are disciplined, as are judges and court personnel, on the totality of the circumstances attendant to the case being heard. In such administrative proceedings, the Court is not limited by rules and principles applied in a mechanical fashion. If justice so demands, we treat the parties' pleadings with due regard to what we really are, a small community where everyone knows or ought to know each one else. A disciplinary case is not accurately described as a straitjacket worn beneath judicial robes. More subtly but poignantly, cases of this type is like asking, "Who has seen the wind?" and answering, "[n]either I nor you, [b]ut when the leaves hang trembling, [t]he wind is passing through."1
Complainant Antonio X. Genato seeks the disbarment of respondent Atty. Eligio Mallari for the latter's deliberate disregard of the Rules of Court and jurisprudence, and violation of the Lawyer's Oath and Code of Professional Responsibility in his conduct and dealings.
In his undated complaint-affidavit,2 complainant essentially alleged:
Respondent and his wife claimed to be the owner of a one hundred thirty-three (133) hectare real property located in San Fernando, Pampanga which he allegedly acquired by virtue of a judgment award in a previous case.
Respondent induced complainant to invest P18 Million in the property. In turn, respondent would give complainant the exclusive power to sell a portion of the land, about thirty-three (33) hectares, and all proceeds of the sale would go to complainant. The latter, however, discovered that the property actually belonged to the Philippine National Bank (PNB) and had been divided for distribution to land reform beneficiaries.
Complainant filed a criminal complaint for estafa against respondent, docketed I.S. No. XV-03-INV-13D-04135. The criminal complaint was, however, dismissed, and is now pending review with the Department of Justice.
Aside from his own personal experience with respondent, complainant drew attention to cases and instances involving respondent which showcased the latter's propensity to deceive, his unethical behavior, and his abusive use of power as a member of the bar:
1. In "Eligio P. Mallari v. Government Insurance System (GSIS) and the Provincial Sheriff," respondent employed dilatory tactics to stop the execution of a final and executory decision involving his debt with GSIS which he had evaded to pay for twenty-four (24) years. In that case, given respondent's atrocious professional behavior, the Court had to order the Committee on Bar Discipline (CBD) to investigate his actuations. Despite the investigation, respondent continued to act with impunity in disregarding and flouting the Court's directives.
2. On October 29, 2012, respondent paid advertisements published in the Philippine Star and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, challenging Court of Appeals' Associate Justice Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr. to a "public and televised debate" in relation to an issuance in the case entitled "PNB v. Eligio P. Mallari, et al."
3. Respondent employed delaying tactics to prevent the enforcement of a writ of possession issued in the case docketed G.R. No. 157660 entitled "Eligio P. Mallari v. Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank." Consequently, the Court warned respondent about his unethical conduct.
4. Respondent filed baseless harassment cases against the lawyers of PNB and the Register of Deeds of Pampanga. These cases were dismissed. But respondent continued to file frivolous petitions before the Court purportedly to protect his alleged land ownership when it was too obvious that he merely fabricated a facade for his suspicious title.
The Court takes note of respondent's practice built on harassing and intimidating judges and court personnel, as well as opposing lawyers and their clients, with complaints and frivolous submissions.
In his Verified Answer dated November 25, 2015,3 respondent denied the charges. He asserted that in all the cases cited by complainant, he was only protecting and defending his proprietary rights.
As for the challenge to Associate Justice Bruselas, Jr. to a public and televised debate, he claimed it was his right as an officer of the court to mount such challenge because the latter issued a "VOID" resolution.
Respondent further contended that complainant filed the present disbarment complaint solely to harass and molest him and his wife.
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTEGRITY AND BAR DISCIPLINE
In his Report and Recommendation dated December 4, 2017,4 Investigating Commissioner Jose Villanueva Cabrera made the following findings:
1 Respondent's published challenge to an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals to a "public and televised debate" was an utter disregard of Section 20, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, which reminds respondent as an officer of the court:
i. To maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines and to support the Constitution and obey the laws of the Philippines;
ii. To observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.
As a lawyer, respondent was put to task by the Investigating Commissioner to know that Judges and Justices from first level courts, Regional Trial Courts, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals, Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court would decide cases based only on law and evidence, and there would be remedies and proper venues to challenge their decisions, resolutions, or orders. According to the Investigating Commissioner, this would not include challenging a Justice to a public and televised debate. Too, the Lawyer's Oath emphasized the obligation of members of the bar to "obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities." The Investigating Commissioner concluded that respondent violated the following provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
Canon 1 - A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land and promote respect for law and legal processes
Rule 1.02 - A lawyer shall not counsel or abet activities aimed at defiance of the law or at lessening confidence in the legal system
x x x x x x x x x
Canon 10 - A lawyer owes candor, fairness and good faith to the courts.
Rule 10.03 - A lawyer shall observe the rules of procedure and shall not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.
Canon 11 - A lawyer shall observe and maintain the respect due to the courts and to Judicial officers and should insist on similar conduct by others.
Rule 11.05 - A lawyer shall submit grievances against a judge to the proper authorities only."
2 Respondent deliberately disregarded the writ of possession issued in G.R. No. 157660 entitled Eligio P. Mallari v. Banco Filipino Savings and Mortgage Bank. The Investigating Commissioner reiterated the long-standing rule that upon the failure of a mortgagor to redeem the property within the prescribed period, a winning bidder becomes the absolute owner of the property and the issuance of a writ of possession in his favour becomes a matter of right. It would, thus, be a court's ministerial duty to issue a writ of possession. The Investigating Commissioner was of the belief that respondent took advantage of his profession as a lawyer to unjustifiably stop the issuance and enforcement of the writ of possession.
3 Respondent violated the Lawyer's Oath and the Code of Professional Responsibility in G.R. No. 157659 entitled "Eligio P. Mallari v. GSIS and the Provincial Sheriff." The Investigating Commissioner found respondent guilty of misconduct for employing dilatory tactics to stall the execution of a final and executory decision. Respondent was said to have resorted to vexatious maneuvers solely to delay the enforcement of a writ of possession. The Investigating Commissioner concluded that respondent deliberately abused court procedures and processes to obstruct the fair and quick administration of justice in favor of the mortgagee and purchaser GSIS,5 and adjudged respondent to have contravened Rule 10.03, Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, by which he was enjoined as a lawyer to "observe the rules of procedures and x x x not [to] misuse them to defeat the ends of justice[.]"6
4 On the charge of respondent's filing of whimsical cases against the lawyers of PNB and the Register of Deeds of Pampanga and complainant Genato, the Investigating Commissioner found no basis to support a further investigation of this charge.
The Investigating Commissioner recommended that in view of the nature of respondent's misconduct, and taking into consideration his "advanced age and the excessive and disproportionate passion in defending his own case," respondent should be meted the penalty of suspension from the practice of law for six (6) months.
RECOMMENDATION OF THE IBP BOARD OF GOVERNORS
Under Resolution No. CBD CASE NO. 14-4275, the IBP Board of Governors resolved to adopt the findings of the Investigating Commissioner, with modification:
RESOLVED to ADOPT the findings of fact and recommendation of the Investigating Commissioner, with modification, to impose upon the respondent the penalties of – i) SUSPENSION FROM THE PRACTICE OF LAW FOR A PERIOD OF SIX (6) MONTHS, and ii) for delaying the implementation of the writ of execution as well as his disrespectful acts towards the trial court an additional SUSPENSION FROM THE PRACTICE OF LAW FOR A PERIOD OF SIX (6) MONTHS, where the penalties shall be served successively.
We adopt the factual findings and legal conclusion of the IBP Board of Governors but impose a more severe penalty than mere suspension.
A lawyer must obey the law and
must not abuse court processes
Rule 10.03, Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility mandates all lawyers to observe the rules of procedure and not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice. To say that lawyers must at all times uphold and respect the law is to state the obvious, but this statement's profound importance can never be over-stressed. Considering that, of all classes and professions, lawyers are most sacredly bound to uphold the law, it is imperative that they also live by the law.7
The lawyer is the nexus of the common people to the law and the rules of procedure. For the lawyer deals directly with clients, and he or she is the one who explains to the latter the legal procedures and remedies available to them. It is imperative, therefore, that a lawyer must not only be knowledgeable of the law and the rules of procedure. He must by himself or herself abide by the law and rules, as well.
Lawyers are officers of the court. They are called upon to assist in the administration of justice. They act as vanguards of our legal system to protect and uphold truth and the rule of law. They are expected to act with honesty in all their dealings, especially with the court.8
Lamentably, many legal practitioners use their knowledge of the law to perpetrate misdeeds or to serve their selfish motives. Respondent was found to be one of these lawyers who has repeatedly deliberately abused court processes to fulfill his unlawful intentions and to harass fellow lawyers and their clients as well as judges and court employees who do not actuate his bidding.
Records reveal that in order to unduly prolong the proceedings in different cases filed against him, respondent had interposed numerous appeals and petitions from issuances rendered by courts in these cases. A template for this kind of practice, G.R. No. 157659 and G.R. No. 157660, respondent deliberately ignored the final and executory decisions therein and disregarded the writs of possession correspondingly issued by the courts. Respondent's dilatory and vexatious tactics were obviously to delay the full enforcement of the courts' decisions that were adverse to him. It is a fundamental rule that it is the ministerial duty of courts of law to issue a writ of possession once the decision in a case becomes final and executory. As it was, however, despite finality, respondent did not recognize these decisions, rendering them inutile. Worse, respondent employed all possible ways to stall the execution of the final and executory decisions.
Respondent's act of unduly extending the proceedings in these cases clearly run counter to the objective of the Rules of Court to promote a just, speedy, and inexpensive disposition of every action and proceeding.
In Ong v. Grijaldo,9 the Court spelled out in no uncertain terms the duty of a lawyer to obey a court issuance:
A resolution of this Court is not to be construed as a mere request, nor should it be complied with partially, inadequately or selectively. Respondent's obstinate refusal to comply therewith not only betrays a recalcitrant flaw in his character; it also underscores his disrespect of our lawful orders which is only too deserving of reproof.
This imperative proceeds from a lawyer's duty as an officer of the court to uphold the law and help in the efficient dispensation of justice. Respondent had miserably failed to discharge this duty.
The Court keenly notes that respondent has not disobeyed a lawful court order only on a single occasion. On the contrary, he has repeatedly defied court issuances and abused processes which should have otherwise been availed of only by litigants with genuine causes. Respondent's circumvention of a lawful court order is aggravated by his use of his knowledge of law as a tool to perpetrate disrespect for court dispositions and his purpose to harass judges, court personnel, lawyers, and adverse parties alike. The misuse and abuse of court procedures by lawyers like respondent is abhorred. In Re: Administrative Case No. 44 of the RTC, Branch IV, Tagbilaran City v. Occena,10 the Court warned:
x x x a lawyer should not abuse his right of recourse to the courts for the purpose of arguing a cause that had been repeatedly rebuffed. Neither should he use his knowledge of law as an instrument to harass a party nor to misuse judicial process, as the same constitutes serious transgression of the Code of Professional Responsibilities.
For his deliberate disregard of the lawful orders of the court, respondent had transgressed the following Canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility:
Rule 10.03, Canon 10
A lawyer shall observe the rules of procedure and shall not misuse them to defeat the ends of justice.
Rule 12.04, Canon 12
A lawyer shall not unduly delay a case, impede the execution of a judgment or misuse Court processes.
A lawyer must respect the
duly constituted authority
It is a lawyer's sworn duty to maintain a respectful attitude towards the courts. There is, thus, no rhyme or reason for respondent's reprehensible and arrogant behavior in challenging a Justice of the Court of Appeals to a public debate. Even assuming that the decision rendered by a magistrate is, according to the losing lawyer, erroneous and completely devoid of basis in law, evidence, and jurisprudence, a person, let alone a lawyer, should not act contemptuously by challenging the judge or justice concerned to a public debate that would unavoidably expose him or her and the entire Judiciary which he or she represents, to public ridicule and mockery.
A lawyer must foster respect for the courts and its officers. A lawyer must not sow hate or disrespect against the court and its members. He or she must be at the forefront in upholding its dignity. A lawyer, more than anyone, must know that there are proper venues for grievances against a magistrate or his or her decision or orders, which are sanctioned by law. Debate, a public one at that, is not one of these remedies.
By provoking a sitting Justice of the Court of Appeals to a debate, respondent violated his basic obligation under the Rules of Court to obey the laws of the Philippines, and to observe and maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.11 He also transgressed Rule 11.05, Canon 11 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, which provides:
11.05 - A lawyer shall submit grievances against a Judge to the proper authorities only.
Violation of the
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court is a standard guideline to determine the weight and repercussions of the acts committed by legal professionals. Not only did respondent commit gross misconduct and willful disobedience to a superior court, his repeated and persistent transgressions of court issuances, abuse of court processes, and disrespect to lawful authority demonstrate a clear violation of the lawyer's oath whereby he imposed upon himself the following duties: to maintain allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines; to support its Constitution and obey the laws as well as the legal orders of the duly constituted authorities therein; to do no falsehood nor consent to the doing of any in court; to not wittingly or willingly promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, or give aid or consent to the same; to not delay any man for money or malice, and to conduct himself or herself as a lawyer according to the best of his or her knowledge and discretion, with all good fidelity as well to the court as to his or her clients; and to impose upon himself or herself these voluntary obligations without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
Considering respondent's actions vis-a-vis these sworn duties, it is clear as day that he committed a violation of his basic oath as a lawyer. His unfitness to remain in the legal profession has now become indubitable.
The power to disbar is always exercised with great caution and only for the most imperative reasons or in cases of clear misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar.12 The Court has to ask itself whenever this remedy is considered - Do the transgressions of the erring lawyer justify his or her disbarment? What circumstances in the erring lawyer's life can we draw upon to avoid disbarment as an outcome? Would the legal profession be better off without this erring lawyer in the Roll of Attorneys, and would others be deterred from following the erring lawyer's type of practice?
Here, the Court has considered these questions and more. We have found out that respondent has demonstrated an utter lack of regard for the law, the rules, and the courts by his repeated transgressions, disobedience to court issuances, and arrogant behavior towards not just a sitting Justice of the Court of Appeals but several of them whose names are not recorded here, those other judges and justices who have been the subject of his vituperative style of practicing law.
In fact, respondent was previously suspended for employing dilatory tactics in the enforcement of the decision in Mallari v. GSIS and Provincial Sheriff of Pampanga. By his actions, respondent had definitely shown to have fallen below the bar set for the legal profession. The Court has repeatedly stressed the importance of integrity and good character as part of a lawyer's equipment in the practice of his profession,13 because the practice of law is a sacred and noble profession. We do not want this profession to become the subject of ill-will by the public and source of public disrepute.
Being a lawyer is a special privilege bestowed only upon those who are competent intellectually, academically and morally. Indeed, it is a time-honored rule that good character is not only a condition precedent to admission to the practice of law. Its continued possession is also essential for remaining in the legal profession.14
To cap it all, respondent has not shown any bit of remorse for his conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the legal profession. He has not seen the errors of his ways, and this is the most troubling occasion for the present case. He is and has been incapable of reform.
Section 27, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court provides:
Sec. 27. Disbarment or suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court; grounds therefore. - A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct, or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before admission to the practice, or for a wilful disobedience of any lawful order of a superior court or for corruptly or wilfully appearing as an attorney for a party to a case without authority so to do. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitute malpractice. (Emphasis supplied)
Time and again, the Court has reminded the bench and bar that the practice of law is not a right but a mere privilege subject to the inherent regulatory power of the court. It is a privilege burdened with conditions. As such, lawyers must comply with the rigid standards which include mental fitness, maintenance of highest level of morality, and full compliance with the rules of the legal profession.15
To repeat, respondent has repeatedly and deliberately caused a mockery of the judicial profession by his constant transgressions enough to justify a penalty graver than the six-month suspension recommended by the IBP Board of Governors. For respondent's serious administrative offenses, he deserves the ultimate penalty of disbarment. His name should be stricken from the Roll of Attorneys.
The Court notes that a lawyer need not commit an infraction many times over before the ultimate penalty of disbarment is imposed on him.
In Enriquez v. Atty. Lavadia,16 respondent lawyer was disbarred for his first infraction. There, the lawyer was found to have had a propensity for filing motions for extension of time and not filing the required pleading despite the extension given. Atty. Lavadia was disbarred to prevent other unknowing clients from engaging his services and losing their cases due to his nonchalant attitude.
Here, there is more reason to remove respondent from the legal profession for showing a proclivity to disobeying the law and discourtesy and contempt of authority and decency as the practice of law demands.
Embido v. Pe17 reminds lawyers, thus:
No lawyer should ever lose sight of the verity that the practice of the legal profession is always a privilege that the Court extends only to the deserving, and that the Court may withdraw or deny the privilege to him who fails to observe and respect the Lawyer's Oath and the canons of ethical conduct in his professional and private capacities. He may be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law not only for acts and omissions of malpractice and for dishonesty in his professional dealings, but also for gross misconduct not directly connected with his professional duties that reveal his unfitness for the office and his unworthiness of the principles that the privilege to practice law confers upon him. Verily, no lawyer is immune from the disciplinary authority of the Court whose duty and obligation are to investigate and punish lawyer misconduct committed either in a professional or private capacity. The test is whether the conduct shows the lawyer to be wanting in moral character, honesty, probity, and good demeanor, and whether the conduct renders the lawyer unworthy to continue as an officer of the Court.
To repeat, the Court looks deeply into the totality of the circumstances of a respondent attendant to a disciplinary case against him or her. We are not blind to both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in choosing the appropriate remedy for a particular case. Just like when the wind blows, the Court knows one when it feels one.
WHEREFORE, respondent Atty. Eligio Mallari is found GUILTY of violation of Rule 10.03, Canon 10, Rule 11.05, Canon 11, and Rule 12.04, Canon 12, of the Code of Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer's Oath. Respondent is ordered DISBARRED from the practice of law. His name is ordered STRICKEN from the Roll of Attorneys.
Let copy of this Decision be: (1) entered into the personal records of Atty. Eligio Mallari with the Office of the Bar Confidant; (2) furnished to all chapters of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines; and (3) circulated by the Court Administrator to all the courts in the country for their information and guidance.
This Decision takes effect immediately.
Bersamin, C.J., Carpio, Perlas-Bernabe, Leonen, Caguioa, Gesmundo, Hernando, Carandang, Lazaro-Javier, Inting, and Zalameda, JJ., concur.
Peralta, J., no part: spouse participated in one of the cases.
A. Reyes, Jr., J., no part.
J. Reyes, Jr., J., on leave.
NOTICE OF JUDGMENT
Please take notice that on October 15, 2019 a Decision, copy attached herewith, was rendered by the Supreme Court in the above-entitled case, the original of which was received by this Office on November 26, 2019 at 10:37 a.m.
Very truly yours,
(SGD.) EDGAR O. ARICHETA
Clerk of Court
1 Christina Rossetti, "Who Has Seen the Wind?"
2 Rollo, pp. 29-30.
3 Rollo, p. 235
4 Rollo, pp. 233-250.
5 Rollo, p. 249.
7 Resurreccion v. Sayson, 360 Phil. 313, 315 (1998).
8 Jimenez v. Francisco, 749 Phil. 551, 568 (2014).
9 450 Phil. 1, 13 (2003).
10 433 Phil. 138, 156 (2002).
11 Section 20, Rule 138 Revised Rules of Court.
12 Madria v. Rivera, 806 Phil. 774, 785 (2017).
13 Rivera v. Angeles, 393 Phil. 539, 543 (2000), citing Fernandez v. Grceia, 295 Phil. 428, 437 (1993)
14 People v. Tuanda, 260 Phil. 572, 577 (1990); Leda v. Tabang, 283 Phil. 316, 323 (1992)
15 Tan v. Gumba, AC No. 9000, January 10, 2018, 850 SCRA 123, 132.
16 760 Phil. 1, 13 (2015).
17 720 Phil. 1, 10-11 (2013).
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