SECOND DIVISION

[ A.C. No. 12690, April 26, 2021 ]

SPOUSES OSCAR L. MARIANO AND LOLITA MALIWAT-MARIANO, RICARDO M. MALIWAT, AND ATTY. JESUS BAUTISTA, COMPLAINANTS, VS. ATTY. ROBERTO C. ABRAJANO AND ATTY. JORICO F. BAYAUA, RESPONDENTS.

D E C I S I O N

PERLAS-BERNABE, J.:

Before the Court is a Joint Complaint-Affidavit1 filed by complainants Spouses Oscar L. Mariano and Lolita Maliwat-Mariano (Spouses Mariano), Ricardo M. Maliwat (Ricardo), and Atty. Jesus M. Bautista (Atty. Bautista; collectively, complainants) against respondents Atty. Roberto C. Abrajano (Atty. Abrajano) and Atty. Jorico F. Bayaua (Atty. Bayaua; collectively, respondents), seeking that the latter be disbarred for allegedly engaging in unlawful, dishonest, immoral or deceitful conduct.

The Facts

Complainants are the attorneys-in-fact of Lany Maliwat Mariano (Lany) and her son, Jerwin Calbang (Jerwin). Lany is the erstwhile spouse of George Calbang (George), who filed a Petition2 for Declaration of Nullity of Marriage (Petition) docketed as Civil Case No. 4595-MN entitled "George Lim Calbang v. Lany Mariano-Calbang" on September 28, 2005 before the Regional Trial Court of Malabon City, Branch 169 (RTC). Spouses Mariano are Lany's parents, Ricardo is Lany's uncle while Atty. Bautista is the counsel of Lany and Jerwin.3

In their joint complaint-affidavit, complainants particularly alleged that respondents, acting in conspiracy with each other, committed deceitful and unlawful acts in the preparation and filing of the Petition, in that: (1) they falsely indicated George's address therein to be in Malabon to make it appear that the venue of the action had been properly laid with the RTC when in truth, the address provided was the actual residence of one Erma S. Gimena4 who is not related to George; (2) they falsely indicated in the Petition that Lany's residence was in Sampaloc, Manila despite the fact that she was already a permanent resident of Milan, Italy since 1991; (3) they untruthfully alleged in the Petition that no real and personal properties were acquired during the subsistence of the marriage due to the fault of Lany; (4) they made it appear that summons were personally served to Lany through a certain Jake Mariano who claimed to be her sister, when Lany had no sibling of that name; (5) they pretended to have furnished Lany, by personal service, a copy of the Motion To Order Investigation and To Set Case For Pre-Trial at the fake address of George in Malabon through a certain James Mariano; (6) they again pretended to have furnished Lany, by personal service, a copy of the pre-trial brief at her bogus address in Sampaloc, Manila; and (7) they presented George as witness and offered in evidence his false testimony and fabricated story.5

Complainants further alleged that as a consequence of respondents' misuse of court processes and manipulation of proceedings before the RTC, they were able to secure a favorable judgment which, however, was prejudicial to the interests not only of Lany but also of Jerwin, Lany and George's son.6 Complainants also asserted that respondents engaged in the unauthorized practice of law since both were employees of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) at the time the Petition was filed.7

For his part, Atty. Bayaua denied ever being a partner of Atty. Abrajano and asserted that he only acceded to Atty. Abrajano's request to use his office space out of fraternal love to an ailing brother in the legal profession. He maintained that he had very limited participation in Civil Case No. 4595-MN, as he neither prepared nor signed the Petition, stressing that he merely notarized the Verification and Certification attached thereto. He further claimed that it was only upon the request of the ailing Atty. Abrajano that he signed the subsequent pleadings.8 Finally, he explained that it was Atty. Abrajano who prepared all the pleadings, and because he trusted his lawyer friend, he no longer verified its contents. However, Atty. Bayaua admitted that he received appearance fee in exchange for signing the pleadings.9

As for Atty. Abrajano, records show that he died on March 7, 2007,10 or even before the filing of the present disbarment complaint on August 7 2009.

The Report and Recommendation of the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines (IBP)

In a Report and Recommendation11 dated June 28, 2010, the IBP Investigating Commissioner recommended that the case against Atty. Abrajano be dismissed in view of his death even prior to the filing of the disbarment case. On the other hand, the Investigating Commissioner recommended that Atty. Bayaua be suspended from the practice of law for two (2) months.12

The Investigating Commissioner found that while there was no conspiracy between respondents, Atty. Bayaua nevertheless violated Section 3,13 Rule 7 of the Rules of Court because, by signing the pleadings presented to him by Atty. Abrajano, he in effect certified that he has read it, knew it to be meritorious, and it was not for the purpose of delaying the case. Regarding Atty. Abrajano's use of his office space, the Investigating Commissioner found that Atty. Bayaua allowed it not for purely altruistic considerations but rather because of Atty. Abrajano's connections 14 with the MMDA.15 Moreover, the Investigating Commissioner ruled that by signing pleadings for the clients of Atty. Abrajano, Atty. Bayaua tolerated the latter's commission of unauthorized practice of law. Therefore, Atty. Bayaua violated Canon 1, Rules 1.01 and 1.02, and Canon 9 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (CPR).16

In a Resolution17 dated September 28, 2013, the IBP Board of Governors adopted and approved the Investigating Commissioner's Report and Recommendation, with the modification increasing Atty. Bayaua's suspension for a period of six (6) months.

Upon Atty. Bayaua's motion for reconsideration, however, the IBP Board of Governors issued a Resolution18 dated May 4, 2014 dismissing the case, reiterating the earlier finding that there was no clear and convincing evidence of conspiracy between him and Atty. Abrajano. In an Extended Resolution19 dated June 2, 2014, the IBP Board of Governors explained that even if the Petition filed by Atty. Abrajano contained falsehoods and misrepresentations, Atty. Bayaua did not sign it; instead, he only notarized the Verification and Certification of George who had sworn under oath that the allegations in his Petition are true and correct to the best of his knowledge. Assuming further that Atty. Abrajano was aware of the falsehoods in the Petition, complainants failed to prove that Atty. Bayaua was similarly aware thereof. Thus, in the absence of proof of conspiracy between the respondents, Atty. Bayaua cannot be penalized for his act of notarizing the Verification and Certification since he simply relied on the oath made by the affiant that the facts stated in the Petition were true.20

Complainants moved for reconsideration but the same was denied by the IBP Board of Governors in a Resolution21 dated September 28, 2017. Aggrieved, complainants filed a petition for review on certiorari before the Court.22

The Issue Before the Court

The core issue for the Court's resolution is whether or not respondents should be held administratively liable.

The Court's Ruling

At the outset, the Court dismisses the instant complaint, insofar as Atty. Abrajano is concerned, in view of his death prior to the filing of the same.23

As for Atty. Bayaua, he attempts to evade administrative liability by contending, among others, that he only acceded to Atty. Abrajano's request to use his office space out of fraternal love for an ailing brother in the legal profession, and that his participation in Civil Case No. 4595-MN was very limited. In particular, Atty. Bayaua maintains that: (a) it was Atty. Abrajano who prepared and signed the Petition therein, and that he merely notarized the Verification and Certification attached thereto; and (b) while he signed as counsel in all other succeeding pleadings in that case (i.e., the Motion to Order Investigation And To Set Case For Pre-trial, the Pre-Trial Brief, and even the Memorandum24), it was nevertheless prepared by Atty. Abrajano, and that he did not anymore verify its contents because he trusted the latter.25

Atty. Bayaua's contentions are untenable.

Atty. Bayaua himself admitted that he signed the succeeding pleadings in Civil Case No. 4595-MN, and hence, practically confirmed that he is petitioner's counsel on record in the said case, and not Atty. Abrajano. His responsibility as such is thus governed by Section 3, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure (the prevailing Rules at the time the pleadings were filed), which reads:

Section 3. Signature and address. — Every pleading must be signed by the party or counsel representing him, stating in either case his address which should not be a post office box.

The signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.

An unsigned pleading produces no legal effect. However, the court may, in its discretion, allow such deficiency to be remedied if it shall appear that the same was due to mere inadvertence and not intended for delay.ℒαwρhi৷ Counsel who deliberately files an unsigned pleading, or signs a pleading in violation of this Rule, or alleges scandalous or indecent matter therein, or fails to promptly report to the court a change of his address, shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. (Emphases and underscoring supplied)

Notably, the magnitude of the signature of counsel on each and every pleading filed before the court, as well as the consequences of the failure to abide by this rule, has even been amplified in the amendments introduced to the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure by Administrative Matter (A.M.) No. 19-10-20-SC effective May 1, 2020.26

Thus, Atty. Bayaua's act of signing the same is essentially a certification coming from him that he has read it, that he knew it to be meritorious, and it was not for the purpose of delaying the case. More importantly, it was his signature on these pleadings which supplied the same with legal effect and elevated their status from a mere scrap of paper to that of a court document.27 In this case, Atty. Bayaua himself insists that somebody else, i.e., Atty. Abrajano, prepared the pleadings in connection with Civil Case No. 4595-MN and that he did not anymore verify its contents before signing them.28 Thus, by his own admission, Atty. Bayaua violated Section 3, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. This violation is an act of falsehood before the courts, which in itself is a ground for subjecting him to disciplinary action.29 Indubitably, there is substantial evidence to hold Atty. Bayaua administratively liable in this case.30

As to the proper penalty to be imposed on Atty. Bayaua, it must be pointed out that "[d]isbarment is the most severe form of disciplinary sanction and, as such, the power to disbar must always be exercised with great caution, only for the most imperative reasons and in clear cases of misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the bar."31 In this regard, case law instructs that "[w]hile the Supreme Court has the plenary power to discipline erring lawyers through this kind of proceedings, it does so in the most vigilant manner so as not to frustrate its preservative principle. The Court, in the exercise of its sound judicial discretion, is inclined to impose a less severe punishment if through it the end desired of reforming the errant lawyer is possible."32 In this case, Atty. Bayaua's offense is not so gross as to justify removal from the legal profession; and hence, a penalty other than disbarment may satisfactorily forwarn him and the other members of the Bar to be more cautious and diligent in the practice of their profession.33

WHEREFORE, the Court resolves to DISMISS the instant administrative complaint insofar as respondent Atty. Roberto C. Abrajano is concerned in view of his supervening death.

On the other hand, the Court finds respondent Atty. Jorico F. Bayaua GUILTY of violating Section 3, Rule 7 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure. He is hereby REPRIMANDED and STERNLY WARNED that a repetition of the same or similar acts will be dealt with more severely.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished to the Office of the Bar Confidant to be appended to respondent's personal record as an attorney.

SO ORDERED.

Lazaro-Javier, M. Lopez, Rosario, and J. Lopez,* JJ., concur.



Footnotes

* Designated Additional Member per Special Order No. 2822 dated April 7, 2021.

1 Rollo, pp. 1-5.

2 Id. at 31-39.

3 See id. at 1-2.

4 A Certification from the Barangay Chairman of Longos, Malabon City showed that Ms. Erma S. Gimena was the actual resident of Block 46A Lot 13 Phase 3 E2 Longos, Malabon City; see id. at 3 and 210. "Irma" in some parts of the records.

5 See id. at 2-3.

6 See id. at 4.

7 See Petition for Review; id. at 934. See also MMDA Certifications dated May 22, 2012 and May 28, 2012 signed by Nelia A. Soriano from the MMDA Administrative Office; see id. at 205 and 207, respectively.

8 See id. at 342-343, 918-919, and 1067-1068.

9 See id. at 344, 919, and 1068.

10 See Certificate of Death; id. at 126-127.

11 Id. at 917-923. Penned by Commissioner Cecilio A. C. Villanueva.

12 Id. at 923.

13 Section 3, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court reads:

Section 3. Signature and address. — Every pleading must be signed by the party or counsel representing him, stating in either case his address which should not be a post office box.

The signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him that he has read the pleading; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief there is good ground to support it; and that it is not interposed for delay.

An unsigned pleading produces no legal effect. However, the court may, in its discretion, allow such deficiency to be remedied if it shall appear that the same was due to mere inadvertence and not intended for delay. Counsel who deliberately files an unsigned pleading, or signs a pleading in violation of this Rule, or alleges scandalous or indecent matter therein, or fails promptly report to the court a change of his address, shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.

14 As evidenced by a Certification dated May 22, 2012 signed by Nelia A. Soriano from the MMDA Administrative Office; id. at 207.

15 In a letter to complainant Atty. Bautista, Atty. Bayaua explained that he accommodated Atty. Abrajano in his office because he was a "close friend" as well as the "director of the Legal Services Department of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) which office is only in front of my law office." See Letter dated July 9, 2009; id. at 82-83. See also id. at 921.

16 See id. at 922-923.

17 See Notice of Resolution in Resolution No. XX-2013-101 signed by National Secretary Nasser A. Marohomsalic; id. at 915-916.

18 See Notice of Resolution in Resolution No. XXI-2014-312; id. at 910-911.

19 Id. at 912-914. Signed by Director for Bar Discipline Dominic C. M. Solis.

20 See id. at 913-914.

21 See Notice of Resolution in CBD Case No. 09-2483 signed by National Secretary Patricia-ann T. Prodigalidad; id. at 908-909.

22 Id. at 931-943.

23 See Caoile v. Macaraeg, 760 Phil. 578, 585 (2015), citmg Apiag v. Cantero, 335 Phil. 511, 526 (1997).

24 See rollo, pp. 977-979, 980-984, and 985-996, respectively.

25 See id. at 919.

26 The revised provision reads:

Section 3. Signature and address. – (a) Every pleading and other written submissions to the court must be signed by the party or counsel representing him or her.

(b) The signature of counsel constitutes a certificate by him or her that he or she has read the pleading and document; that to the best of his or her knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) It is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

(2) The claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or jurisprudence, or by a non-frivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing jurisprudence;

(3) The factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after availment of the modes of discovery under these rules; and

(4) The denials of factual contentions are warranted on the basis of evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on belief or a lack of information.

(c) If the court determines, on motion or motu proprio and after notice and hearing, that this rule has been violated, it may impose an appropriate sanction or refer such violation to the proper office for disciplinary action, on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule, or is responsible for the violation. Absent exceptional circumstances, a law firm shall be held jointly and severally liable for a violation committed by its partner, associate, or employee. The sanction may include, but shall not be limited to, non-monetary directive or sanction: an order to pay a penalty in court; or, if imposed on motion and warranted for effective deterrence, an order directing payment to the movant of part or all of the reasonable attorney's fees and other expenses directly resulting from the violation, including attorney's fees for the filing of the motion for sanction. The lawyer or law firm cannot pass on the monetary penalty to the client. (Emphases and underscoring supplied)

27 See Lacurom v. Jacoba, 519 Phil. 195, 207 (2006).

28 See rollo, p. 919.

29 See id.

30 See Section 5, Rule 133 of the Rules of Court. See also Reyes v. Nieva, 794 Phil. 360 (2016); Arsenio v. Tabuzo, 809 Phil. 206 (2017); Alicias v. Baclig, 813 Phil. 893 (2017); Robiñol v. Bassig, 821 Phil. 28 (2017); Tumbaga v. Teoxon, 821 Phil. 1 (2017); Torres v. Dalangin, 822 Phil. 80 (2017); Rico v. Salutan, A C No 925 March 5 2018; BSA Tower Condominium Corporation v. Reyes II, 833 Phil. 588 (2018); Gubaton v Amador, A.C. No. 8962, July 9, 2018, 871 SCRA 127; Goopio v. Maglalang, A.C. No. 10555 July 31 2018; Billanes v. Latido, A.C. No. 12066, August 28, 2018; Vantage Lighting Philippines, Inc. v. Dino, Jr., A.C. No. 7389, July 2, 2019; Adelfa Properties, Inc. (now Fine Properties Inc.) v. Mendoza, A.C. No. 8608, October 16, 2019; Spouses Nocuenca v. Bensi, A.C. No. 12609, February 10, 2020.

31 Arma v. Montevilla, 581 Phil. 1, 7 (2008), citing Dela Cruz v. Diesmos, 528 Phil. 927, 933 (2006).

32 Id. at 8.

33 See id. at 9.


The Lawphil Project - Arellano Law Foundation