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Nature of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, C6S1 CPRA

Section 1, Canon VI

SECTION 1. Nature of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers. – Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be confidential in character and summary in nature.
Nonetheless, the final order of the Supreme Court shall be published like its decisions in other cases. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. Nature of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers

a. Confidential in character

Under this section, disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are confidential in character.

[N]o 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. (Embido v. Pe, Jr., En Banc, A.C. No. 6732, October 22, 2013, Per Bersamin, J.)

b. Summary in nature

Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers are summary in nature.

1) Sui generis

Disbarment cases are sui generis. Being neither criminal nor civil in nature, these are not intended to inflict penal or civil sanctions. The main question to be determined is whether respondent is still fit to continue to be an officer of the court in the dispensation of justice. (Gonzales v. Alcaraz, A.C. No. 5321, September 27, 2006, Per Panganiban, C.J.)

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. In such posture, there can thus be no occasion to speak of a complainant or a prosecutor. (In Re Almacen v. Yaptinchay, En Banc, G.R. No. L-27654, February 18, 1970, Per Castro, J.)

2) Dismissal of criminal or civil cases

Administrative cases against lawyers belong to a class of their own. They are distinct from and they may proceed independently of civil and criminal cases. (Gatchalian Promotions Talents Pool, Inc. v. Naldoza, En Banc, A.C. No. 4017, September 29, 1999, Per Curiam)

Gonzales v. Alcaraz, A.C. No. 5321, September 27, 2006, Per Panganiban, C.J.:

Complainant charged Atty. Arnel C. Alcaraz with grave misconduct, abuse of authority, and acts unbecoming a lawyer. The antecedents were summarized by the IBP Commission on Bar Discipline (IBP-CBD) as follows:

“x x x [C]omplainant alleges that on 11 August 2000, while he was driving along the South Superhighway upon entering the Sucat Toll Gate heading towards Makati, respondent, who was driving a Nissan Infiniti suddenly cut across his path while overtaking him and almost hit his car had he not been able to evade it. According to complainant, he chased respondent’s car and when he was side by side with respondent’s car, he angrily confronted respondent and then drove on. Complainant claims that respondent then chased him and shot him twice but fortunately missed him by a few inches[,] but broken glass coming from the shattered window allegedly hit him and slightly wounded his right arm and stomach. Complainant adds that respondent allegedly tried to escape but he was able to chase him and block his way at the Nichols Toll Gate where the PNCC guards responded to his call for assistance. According to complainant, respondent attempted to escape and avoid the PNCC guards by ‘proclaiming boisterously that he is a lawyer and a customs official’ but complainant was able to block his way again and their vehicles collided in the process. Complainant claims that he requested the PNCC guards to confiscate respondent’s firearm and accompany them to the nearest police station. At the time of the ‘arrest,’ respondent allegedly opened the back door of his car and pretended to have accidentally dropped so much money which distracted the policemen from further searching the car.

“At the police station, respondent allegedly identified himself and his lady companion, a certain Ferlita Semeniano, and [said] that he was the Deputy Customs Collector assigned at Batangas City. Complainant claims that respondent yielded ‘one (1) Super .38 cal. Springfield Automatic Pistol, SN NMII 3138, one (1) magazine with seven (7) live ammos and three (3) spent (empty) shells.’ Complainant adds that respondent presented only an unsigned Memorandum Receipt (MR) of the firearm without any Mission Order or Permit to Carry. Complainant claims that respondent allegedly kept calling persons to help him and a ‘fabricated Mission Order was brought and presented by another person more than eight hours after the shooting incident and apprehension.’

“Complainant alleges that the Nissan Infiniti used by respondent is allegedly a luxury vehicle which was not covered by any document whatsoever and ‘it was not verified whether stolen or smuggled.’

“Complainant finally alleges that the PNP Crime Laboratory examined his car and ‘they recovered one slug in between the wall of the left rear door while the other bullet went through the right front seat and exited at the left rear door of complainant’s car and that cases of Frustrated Homicide and Illegal Possession of Firearms were already filed at the Parañaque City Prosecutor’s Office.

x x x       x x x       x x x

“In his Comment dated 04 January 2001, respondent claims that the present administrative case is unfounded and unwarranted and was allegedly filed in bad faith, with malice and ill motive and allegedly has no other purpose but to harass, vex, humiliate and dishonor him. In support thereof, respondent points to the fact that complainant filed ‘substantially identical complaint affidavits with the same identical alleged cause of action as that of the present administrative case at [various] judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative tribunals and accused him of forum-shopping.

“Respondent denied the narration of facts stated in complainant’s Complaint-Affidavit as ‘self-serving, a misrepresentation of facts and obviously tainted.’ Respondent claims that he was not the aggressor during the incident and that he did not provoke complainant. Respondent claims that he ‘justly acted in self-defense and defense of a stranger under the true actuality of facts and circumstances the[n] prevailing.’

“Respondent also claims that the acts complained of in the present case were not connected with the practice of the legal profession and the fact that he was a lawyer is merely coincidental, immaterial and irrelevant.

x x x       x x x       x x x

“In connection with the cases filed by the parties against each other, respondent submitted the xxx Resolutions/Decisions issued in said cases to show that the charges filed against him by the complainant were dismissed while the criminal cases he filed against the latter [were] filed in court.

x x x       x x x       x x x

“Finally, it is the submission of the respondent that since the alleged acts complained of are not within the sphere of his professional duties as a lawyer, but rather are acts done in his non-professional or private capacity, the same, cannot allegedly be the subject of an administrative complaint for disbarment.”

c. Final orders published

While the proceedings may be confidential in character, the “final order of the Supreme Court shall be published like its decisions in other cases.”

In Re Almacen v. Yaptinchay, En Banc, G.R. No. L-27654, February 18, 1970, Per Castro, J.:

• Before us is Atty. Vicente Raul Almacen’s “Petition to Surrender Lawyer’s Certificate of Title,” filed on September 25, 1967, in protest against what he therein asserts is “a great injustice committed against his client by this Supreme Court.” He indicts this Court, in his own phrase, as a tribunal “peopled by men who are calloused to our pleas for justice, who ignore without reasons their own applicable decisions and commit culpable violations of the Constitution with impunity.” His client’s he continues, who was deeply aggrieved by this Court’s “unjust judgment,” has become “one of the sacrificial victims before the altar of hypocrisy.” In the same breath that he alludes to the classic symbol of justice, he ridicules the members of this Court, saying “that justice as administered by the present members of the Supreme Court is not only blind, but also deaf and dumb.” He then vows to argue the cause of his client “in the people’s forum,” so that “the people may know of the silent injustice’s committed by this Court,” and that “whatever mistakes, wrongs and injustices that were committed must never be repeated.” He ends his petition with a prayer that

… a resolution issue ordering the Clerk of Court to receive the certificate of the undersigned attorney and counsellor-at-law IN TRUST with reservation that at any time in the future and in the event we regain our faith and confidence, we may retrieve our title to assume the practice of the noblest profession.

• He reiterated and disclosed to the press the contents of the aforementioned petition. Thus, on September 26, 1967, the Manila Times published statements attributed to him, as follows:

Vicente Raul Almacen, in an unprecedented petition, said he did it to expose the tribunal’s “unconstitutional and obnoxious” practice of arbitrarily denying petitions or appeals without any reason.

Because of the tribunal’s “short-cut justice,” Almacen deplored, his client was condemned to pay P120,000, without knowing why he lost the case.

xxx xxx xxx

There is no use continuing his law practice, Almacen said in this petition, “where our Supreme Court is composed of men who are calloused to our pleas for justice, who ignore without reason their own applicable decisions and commit culpable violations of the Constitution with impunity.

xxx xxx xxx

He expressed the hope that by divesting himself of his title by which he earns his living, the present members of the Supreme Court “will become responsive to all cases brought to its attention without discrimination, and will purge itself of those unconstitutional and obnoxious “lack of merit” or “denied resolutions. (Emphasis supplied)

• Atty. Almacen’s statement that

… our own Supreme Court is composed of men who are calloused to our pleas of [sic] justice, who ignore their own applicable decisions and commit culpable violations of the Constitution with impunity

• was quoted by columnist Vicente Albano Pacis in the issue of the Manila Chronicle of September 28, 1967. In connection therewith, Pacis commented that Atty. Almacen had “accused the high tribunal of offenses so serious that the Court must clear itself,” and that “his charge is one of the constitutional bases for impeachment.”

• The genesis of this unfortunate incident was a civil case entitled Virginia Y. Yaptinchay vs. Antonio H. Calero,1 in which Atty. Almacen was counsel for the defendant. The trial court, after due hearing, rendered judgment against his client. On June 15, 1966 Atty. Almacen received a copy of the decision. Twenty days later, or on July 5, 1966, he moved for its reconsideration. He served on the adverse counsel a copy of the motion, but did not notify the latter of the time and place of hearing on said motion. Meanwhile, on July 18, 1966, the plaintiff moved for execution of the judgment. For “lack of proof of service,” the trial court denied both motions. To prove that he did serve on the adverse party a copy of his first motion for reconsideration, Atty. Almacen filed on August 17, 1966 a second motion for reconsideration to which he attached the required registry return card. This second motion for reconsideration, however, was ordered withdrawn by the trial court on August 30, 1966, upon verbal motion of Atty. Almacen himself, who, earlier, that is, on August 22, 1966, had already perfected the appeal. Because the plaintiff interposed no objection to the record on appeal and appeal bond, the trial court elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.

• But the Court of Appeals… dismissed the appeal [due to the motion for reconsideration not containing a notice of time and place of hearing “and is, therefore, a useless piece of paper” and thus it “did not interrupt the running of the period to appeal, and, consequently, the appeal was perfected out of time.]

• Atty. Almacen moved to reconsider this resolution… [which was eventually denied by the Court of Appeals].

• Atty. Almacen then appealed to this Court by certiorari. We refused to take the case, and by minute resolution denied the appeal. Denied shortly thereafter was his motion for reconsideration as well as his petition for leave to file a second motion for reconsideration and for extension of time. Entry of judgment was made on September 8, 1967. Hence, the second motion for reconsideration filed by him after the Said date was ordered expunged from the records.

• It was at this juncture that Atty. Almacen gave vent to his disappointment by filing his “Petition to Surrender Lawyer’s Certificate of Title,” already adverted to — a pleading that is interspersed from beginning to end with the insolent contemptuous, grossly disrespectful and derogatory remarks hereinbefore reproduced, against this Court as well as its individual members, a behavior that is as unprecedented as it is unprofessional.

• Nonetheless we decided by resolution dated September 28, 1967 to withhold action on his petition until he shall have actually surrendered his certificate. Patiently, we waited for him to make good his proffer. No word came from him. So he was reminded to turn over his certificate, which he had earlier vociferously offered to surrender, so that this Court could act on his petition. To said reminder he manifested “that he has no pending petition in connection with Case G.R. No. L-27654, Calero vs. Yaptinchay, said case is now final and executory;” that this Court’s September 28, 1967 resolution did not require him to do either a positive or negative act; and that since his offer was not accepted, he “chose to pursue the negative act.”

• In the exercise of its inherent power to discipline a member of the bar for contumely and gross misconduct, this Court on November 17, 1967 resolved to require Atty. Almacen to show cause “why no disciplinary action should be taken against him.” Denying the charges contained in the November 17 resolution, he asked for permission “to give reasons and cause why no disciplinary action should be taken against him … in an open and public hearing.” This Court resolved (on December 7) “to require Atty. Almacen to state, within five days from notice hereof, his reasons for such request, otherwise, oral argument shall be deemed waived and incident submitted for decision.” To this resolution he manifested that since this Court is “the complainant, prosecutor and Judge,” he preferred to be heard and to answer questions “in person and in an open and public hearing” so that this Court could observe his sincerity and candor. He also asked for leave to file a written explanation “in the event this Court has no time to hear him in person.” To give him the ampliest latitude for his defense, he was allowed to file a written explanation and thereafter was heard in oral argument.

• His written answer, as undignified and cynical as it is unchastened, offers -no apology. Far from being contrite Atty. Almacen unremittingly repeats his jeremiad of lamentations, this time embellishing it with abundant sarcasm and innuendo. Thus:

At the start, let me quote passages from the Holy Bible, Chapter 7, St. Matthew: —

“Do not judge, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you. But why dost thou see the speck in thy brother’s eye, and yet dost not consider the beam in thy own eye? Or how can thou say to thy brother, “Let me cast out the speck from thy eye”; and behold, there is a beam in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam from thy own eye, and then thou wilt see clearly to cast out the speck from thy brother’s eyes.”

“Therefore all that you wish men to do to you, even to do you also to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

xxx xxx xxx

Your respondent has no intention of disavowing the statements mentioned in his petition. On the contrary, he refirms the truth of what he stated, compatible with his lawyer’s oath that he will do no falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in court. But he vigorously DENY under oath that the underscored statements contained in the CHARGE are insolent, contemptuous, grossly disrespectful and derogatory to the individual members of the Court; that they tend to bring the entire Court, without justification, into disrepute; and constitute conduct unbecoming of a member of the noble profession of law.

xxx xxx xxx

Respondent stands four-square that his statement is borne by TRUTH and has been asserted with NO MALICE BEFORE AND AFTER THOUGHT but mainly motivated with the highest interest of justice that in the particular case of our client, the members have shown callousness to our various pleas for JUSTICE, our pleadings will bear us on this matter, …

xxx xxx xxx

To all these beggings, supplications, words of humility, appeals for charity, generosity, fairness, understanding, sympathy and above all in the highest interest of JUSTICE, — what did we get from this COURT? One word, DENIED, with all its hardiness and insensibility. That was the unfeeling of the Court towards our pleas and prayers, in simple word, it is plain callousness towards our particular case.

xxx xxx xxx

Now that your respondent has the guts to tell the members of the Court that notwithstanding the violation of the Constitution, you remained unpunished, this Court in the reverse order of natural things, is now in the attempt to inflict punishment on your respondent for acts he said in good faith.

Did His Honors care to listen to our pleadings and supplications for JUSTICE, CHARITY, GENEROSITY and FAIRNESS? Did His Honors attempt to justify their stubborn denial with any semblance of reason, NEVER. Now that your respondent is given the opportunity to face you, he reiterates the same statement with emphasis, DID YOU? Sir. Is this. the way of life in the Philippines today, that even our own President, said: — “the story is current, though nebulous ,is to its truth, it is still being circulated that justice in the Philippines today is not what it is used to be before the war. There are those who have told me frankly and brutally that justice is a commodity, a marketable commodity in the Philippines.”

xxx xxx xxx

We condemn the SIN, not the SINNER. We detest the ACTS, not the ACTOR. We attack the decision of this Court, not the members. … We were provoked. We were compelled by force of necessity. We were angry but we waited for the finality of the decision. We waited until this Court has performed its duties. We never interfered nor obstruct in the performance of their duties. But in the end, after seeing that the Constitution has placed finality on your judgment against our client and sensing that you have not performed your duties with “circumspection, carefulness, confidence and wisdom”, your Respondent rise to claim his God given right to speak the truth and his Constitutional right of free speech.

xxx xxx xxx

The INJUSTICES which we have attributed to this Court and the further violations we sought to be prevented is impliedly shared by our President. … .

xxx xxx xxx

What has been abhored and condemned, are the very things that were applied to us. Recalling Madam Roland’s famous apostrophe during the French revolution, “O Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name”, we may dare say, “O JUSTICE, what technicalities are committed in thy name’ or more appropriately, ‘O JUSTICE, what injustices are committed in thy name.”

xxx xxx xxx

We must admit that this Court is not free from commission of any abuses, but who would correct such abuses considering that yours is a court of last resort. A strong public opinion must be generated so as to curtail these abuses.

xxx xxx xxx

The phrase, Justice is blind is symbolize in paintings that can be found in all courts and government offices. We have added only two more symbols, that it is also deaf and dumb. Deaf in the sense that no members of this Court has ever heard our cries for charity, generosity, fairness, understanding sympathy and for justice; dumb in the sense, that inspite of our beggings, supplications, and pleadings to give us reasons why our appeal has been DENIED, not one word was spoken or given … We refer to no human defect or ailment in the above statement. We only describe the. impersonal state of things and nothing more.

xxx xxx xxx

As we have stated, we have lost our faith and confidence in the members of this Court and for which reason we offered to surrender our lawyer’s certificate, IN TRUST ONLY. Because what has been lost today may be regained tomorrow. As the offer was intended as our self-imposed sacrifice, then we alone may decide as to when we must end our self-sacrifice. If we have to choose between forcing ourselves to have faith and confidence in the members of the Court but disregard our Constitution and to uphold the Constitution and be condemned by the members of this Court, there is no choice, we must uphold the latter.

• But overlooking, for the nonce, the vituperative chaff which he claims is not intended as a studied disrespect to this Court, let us examine the grain of his grievances.

• As a law practitioner who was admitted to the Bar as far back as 1941, Atty. Almacen knew — or ought to have known — that for a motion for reconsideration to stay the running of the period of appeal, the movant must not only serve a copy of the motion upon the adverse party (which he did), but also notify the adverse party of the time and place of hearing (which admittedly he did not).

• If Atty. Almacen failed to move the appellate court to review the lower court’s judgment, he has only himself to blame. His own negligence caused the forfeiture of the remedy of appeal, which, incidentally, is not a matter of right. To shift away from himself the consequences of his carelessness, he looked for a “whipping boy.” But he made sure that he assumed the posture of a martyr, and, in offering to surrender his professional certificate, he took the liberty of vilifying this Court and inflicting his exacerbating rancor on the members thereof. It would thus appear that there is no justification for his scurrilous and scandalous outbursts.

• Accordingly, no comfort is afforded Atty. Almacen by the circumstance that his statements and actuations now under consideration were made only after the judgment in his client’s appeal had attained finality. He could as much be liable for contempt therefor as if it had been perpetrated during the pendency of the said appeal.

• More than this, however, consideration of whether or not he could be held liable for contempt for such post litigation utterances and actuations, is here immaterial. By the tenor of our Resolution of November 17, 1967, we have confronted the situation here presented solely in so far as it concerns Atty. Almacen’s professional identity, his sworn duty as a lawyer and his fitness as an officer of this Court, in the exercise of the disciplinary power the morals inherent in our authority and duty to safeguard and ethics of the legal profession and to preserve its ranks from the intrusions of unprincipled and unworthy disciples of the noblest of callings. In this inquiry, the pendency or non-pendency of a case in court is altogether of no consequence. The sole objective of this proceeding is to preserve the purity of the legal profession, by removing or suspending a member whose misconduct has proved himself unfit to continue to be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities belonging to the office of an attorney.

• The proffered surrender of his lawyer’s certificate is, of course, purely potestative on Atty. Almacen’s part. Unorthodox though it may seem, no statute, no law stands in its way. Beyond making the mere offer, however, he went farther. In haughty and coarse language, he actually availed of the said move as a vehicle for his vicious tirade against this Court. The integrated entirety of his petition bristles with vile insults all calculated to drive home his contempt for and disrespect to the Court and its members. Picturing his client as “a sacrificial victim at the altar of hypocrisy,” he categorically denounces the justice administered by this Court to be not only blind “but also deaf and dumb.” With unmitigated acerbity, he virtually makes this Court and its members with verbal talons, imputing to the Court the perpetration of “silent injustices” and “short-cut justice” while at the same time branding its members as “calloused to pleas of justice.” And, true to his announced threat to argue the cause of his client “in the people’s forum,” he caused the publication in the papers of an account of his actuations, in a calculated effort ;to startle the public, stir up public indignation and disrespect toward the Court. Called upon to make an explanation, he expressed no regret, offered no apology. Instead, with characteristic arrogance, he rehashed and reiterated his vituperative attacks and, alluding to the Scriptures, virtually tarred and feathered the Court and its members as inveterate hypocrites incapable of administering justice and unworthy to impose disciplinary sanctions upon him.

• The virulence so blatantly evident in Atty. Almacen’s petition, answer and oral argumentation speaks for itself. The vicious language used and the scurrilous innuendoes they carried far transcend the permissible bounds of legitimate criticism. They could never serve any purpose but to gratify the spite of an irate attorney, attract public attention to himself and, more important of all, bring ;this Court and its members into disrepute and destroy public confidence in them to the detriment of the orderly administration of justice. Odium of this character and texture presents no redeeming feature, and completely negates any pretense of passionate commitment to the truth. It is not a whit less than a classic example of gross misconduct, gross violation of the lawyer’s oath and gross transgression of the Canons of Legal Ethics. As such, it cannot be allowed to go unrebuked. The way for the exertion of our disciplinary powers is thus laid clear, and the need therefor is unavoidable.

• Undeniably, the members of the Court are, to a certain degree, aggrieved parties. Any tirade against the Court as a body is necessarily and inextricably as much so against the individual members thereof. But in the exercise of its disciplinary powers, the Court acts as an entity separate and distinct from the individual personalities of its members. Consistently with the intrinsic nature of a collegiate court, the individual members act not as such individuals but. only as a duly constituted court. Their distinct individualities are lost in the majesty of their office. 30 So that, in a very real sense, if there be any complainant in the case at bar, it can only be the Court itself, not the individual members thereof — as well as the people themselves whose rights, fortunes and properties, nay, even lives, would be placed at grave hazard should the administration of justice be threatened by the retention in the Bar of men unfit to discharge the solemn responsibilities of membership in the legal fraternity.

• Finally, the power to exclude persons from the practice of law is but a necessary incident of the power to admit persons to said practice. By constitutional precept, this power is vested exclusively in this Court. This duty it cannot abdicate just as much as it cannot unilaterally renounce jurisdiction legally invested upon it. 31 So that even if it be conceded that the members collectively are in a sense the aggrieved parties, that fact alone does not and cannot disqualify them from the exercise of that power because public policy demands that they., acting as a Court, exercise the power in all cases which call for disciplinary action. The present is such a case. In the end, the imagined anomaly of the merger in one entity of the personalities of complainant, prosecutor and judge is absolutely inexistent.

References

Canon VI, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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