SECTION 1. Proper conduct. – A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral, or deceitful conduct. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)
By definition, any act or omission contrary to law is unlawful. It does not necessarily imply the element of criminality although it is broad enough to include it. (Re: Report on the Financial Audit Conducted on the Books of Account of Atty. Raquel G. Kho, A.M. No. P-06-2177, 10 April 2007)
Any act or omission that is contrary to, or prohibited or unauthorized by, or in defiance of, disobedient to, or disregards the law is “unlawful.” (Jimenez v. Francisco, A.C. No. 10548, 10 December 2014)
Thus, the presence of evil intent on the part of the lawyer is not essential in order to bring his act or omission within the terms of Rule 1.01 [of the old CPR], which specifically prohibits lawyers from engaging in unlawful conduct. (See: Re: Report on the Financial Audit Conducted on the Books of Account of Atty. Raquel G. Kho , supra.)
To be “dishonest” means the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, defraud or betray; be unworthy; lacking in integrity, honesty, probity, integrity in principle, fairness and straight forwardness while conduct that is “deceitful” means the proclivity for fraudulent and deceptive misrepresentation, artifice or device that is used upon another who is ignorant of the true facts, to the prejudice and damage of the party imposed upon. (See: Re: Report on the Financial Audit Conducted on the Books of Account of Atty. Raquel G. Kho , supra.)
By altering the material dates to make it appear that the Notice of Appeal was timely filed, the respondent-lawyer committed an act of dishonesty. Under pertinent rules, dishonesty constitutes grave misconduct upon which the Court, in a recent case, imposed a one-year suspension on respondent therein for inserting in the records of the case a certification of non-forum shopping and making it appear that the same was already part of such records at the time the complaint was filed. (Rivera v. Corral, A.C. No. 3548, 04 July 2002)
A one-year suspension was similarly imposed on respondent in Reyes v. Atty. Rolando Javier for deceiving his client into believing that he filed the petition on time when in fact it was filed on a much later date. It should be stressed that brazenly resorting to such a legal subterfuge to mislead the court and to cover up for his failings toward his client is not only a disgraceful indictment on respondent’s moral fiber and personal fitness to his calling as a lawyer. It is also an embarrassment to his brethren in the Bar. Such misconduct warrants a similar penalty for the Court cannot tolerate any misconduct that tends to besmirch the fair name of an honorable profession. (Rivera v. Corral , supra.)
A member of the bar should have moral integrity in addition to professional probity. (Arciga v. Maniwang, A.C. No. 1608, 14 August 1981)
Immoral conduct has been defined as “that conduct which is willful, flagrant, or shameless, and which shows a moral indifference to the opinion of the good and respectable members of the community.” (Arciga v. Maniwang , supra.)
Immoral conduct is gross when it is so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree, or when committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the community’s sense of decency. (Garrido v. Garrido, En Banc, A.C. 65983, 04 February 2010)
Membership in the legal profession is bestowed upon individuals who are not only learned in law, but also known to possess good moral character. Lawyers should act and comport themselves with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach, in order to promote the public’s faith in the legal profession. (Jimenez v. Francisco , supra.)
For misconduct to warrant disciplinary action, the same must be “grossly immoral, that is, it must be so corrupt and false as to constitute a criminal act or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree.” (Fabugais v. Faundo, G.R. No. 10145, 11 June 2018)
Immoral conduct and gross immorality are distinguished from each other as the supreme penalty of disbarment arising from conduct requires grossly immoral, not simply immoral, conduct. (Garrido v. Garrido , supra.)
Arciga v. Maniwang, A.C. No. 1608, 14 August 1981”
• Where lawyer Arturo P. Lopez succeeded in having carnal knowledge of Virginia C. Almirez, under promise of marriage, which he refused to fulfill, although they had already a marriage license and despite the birth of a child in consequence of their sexual intercourse; he married another woman, and during Virginia’s pregnancy, Lopez urged her to take pills to hasten the flow of her menstruation and he tried to convince her to have an abortion, to which she did not agree. (Cting Almirez v. Lopez, A.C. No. 481, 28 February 1969)
• Where lawyer Francisco Agustin made Anita Cabrera believe that they were married before Leoncio V. Aglubat in the City Hall of Manila, and, after such fake marriage, they cohabited and she later give birth to their child. (Citing Cabrera v. Agustin, 106 Phil. 256.)
• Where lawyer Jesus B. Toledo abandoned his lawful wife and cohabited with another woman who had borne him a child. (Citing Toledo v. Toledo, 117 Phil. 768)
• The conduct of Abelardo Simbol in making a dupe of Concepcion Bolivar by living on her bounty and allowing her to spend for his schooling and other personal necessities, while dangling before her the mirage of a marriage, marrying another girl as soon as he had finished his studies, keeping his marriage a secret while continuing to demand money from the complainant, and trying to sponge on her and persuade her to resume their broken relationship after the latter’s discovery of his perfidy are indicative of a character not worthy of a member of the bar. (Citing Bolivar v. Simbol, 123 Phil. 450)
• Where Flora Quingwa, a public school teacher, who was engaged to lawyer Armando Puno, was prevailed upon by him to have sexual congress with him inside a hotel by telling her that it was alright to have sexual intercourse because, anyway, they were going to get married. She used to give Puno money upon his request. After she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, Puno refused to marry her. (Citing Quingwa v. Puno, A.C. No. 389, 28 February 1967)
• Where lawyer Anacleto Aspiras, a married man, misrepresenting that he was single and making a promise of marriage, succeeded in having sexual intercourse with Josefina Mortel. Aspiras faked a marriage between Josefina and his own son Cesar. Aspiras wrote to Josefina: “You are alone in my life till the end of my years in this world. I will bring you along with me before the altar of matrimony.” “Through thick and thin, for better or for worse, in life or in death, my Josephine you will always be the first, middle and the last in my life.” (Citing Mortel v. Aspiras, 100 Phil. 586)
• Where lawyer Ariston Oblena, who had been having adulterous relations for fifteen years with Briccia Angeles, a married woman separated from her husband, seduced her eighteen-year-old niece who became pregnant and begot a child. (Citing Royong v. Oblena, 117 Phil. 865)
Garrido v. Garrido, En Banc, A.C. 65983, 04 February 2010:
• In Macarrubo v. Macarrubo, the respondent lawyer entered into multiple marriages and subsequently used legal remedies to sever them. It was ruled that the respondent’s pattern of misconduct undermined the institutions of marriage and family – institutions that this society looks up to for the rearing of our children, for the development of values essential to the survival and well-being of our communities, and for the strengthening of our nation as a whole. In this light, no fate other than disbarment awaited the wayward respondent. (Citing Macarrubo v. Macarrubo, En Banc, A.C. No. 6148, 27 February 2004)
• In Villasanta v. Peralta, the respondent lawyer married the complainant while his marriage with his first wife was subsisting. It was held that the respondent’s act of contracting the second marriage was contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality. The lack of good moral character required by the Rules of Court disqualified the respondent from admission to the Bar. (Citing Villasanta v. Peralta, En Banc, 30 April 1957)
• In Conjuangco, Jr. v. Palma, where the respondent secretly contracted a second marriage with the daughter of his client in Hongkong. It was found that the respondent exhibited a deplorable lack of that degree of morality required of members of the Bar. In particular, he made a mockery of marriage – a sacred institution that demands respect and dignity. We also declared his act of contracting a second marriage contrary to honesty, justice, decency and morality. (Citing Conjuangco, Jr. v. Palma, En Banc, A.C. No. 2474, 15 September 2004)
Valdez v. Dabon, Jr., En Banc, A.C. No. 7353, November 16, 2015, Per Curiam:
• In his Affidavit-Complaint,1 dated September 13, 2006, Nelson averred, among others, that he married Sonia on January 28, 1998 in Paniqui, Tarlac; that Sonia was employed as Court Stenographer of the CA from 1992 until her resignation on May 15, 2006; that Sonia admitted to have had an adulterous and immoral relationship with Atty. Dabon, from 2000 to 2006, a span of more than five years; that he came to know of the relationship only on April 18, 2006 after receiving an anonymous text message hinting/stating about the existence of an illicit affair between the two; and that initially, Sonia denied the affair but eventually broke down and admitted her sexual liaison with Atty. Dabon when confronted with a text message he received from Atty. Jocelyn Dabon (Atty. Joy), the wife of the respondent, on May 4, 2006 at about 9:47 o’clock in the morning, which stated:
Nelson, Jun and I were separating I will file an annulment anytime soon, although I’m in great pain, I ask for your apology and forgiveness for everything he is leaving for US and I hope he evolves into a strong and mature person there. D cya masamang tao, just emotional and easily manipulated. Sana don’t blame him entirely bee. he is d type that never initiate things. He is passive and tame. He was honest with me and I hope Sonia would find d courage to tell d truth to you. I just pray for peace and fresh start for all of us. I just want to go on with my life and use above all these for my son’s sake. I love jun and I appeal to you n asana wala ka maisip sa atin lahat. Just as I have accepted everything. Salamat sa panahon at pangunawa. God bless.3
• Nelson also asserted that Sonia confessed her infidelity and described her extramarital affair with Atty. Dabon to have been attended by sexual assaults and maintained through intimidation and threats of exposure, humiliation and embarrassment.
• In her own Affidavit, dated September 13, 2006 and attached to the complaint, Sonia narrated that her illicit relationship with Atty. Dabon started sometime in November 2000 and ended in March 2006 when she, bothered by her conscience, decided to break it off; that Atty. Dabon relentlessly pursued her for years and even admitted that he fell in love with her the first time he laid eyes on her; that on November 13, 2000, Atty. Dabon lured her to what appeared to be a mere friendly lunch date, managed to put sleep-inducing drug into her food or drink causing her to feel drowsy and weak and, thereafter, brought her to Victoria Court Motel where he sexually molested her while she was asleep; that she opted to keep silent about the incident for fear of its adverse repercussions of shame and embarrassment to her and her family; that she pleaded with Atty. Dabon to leave her and forget what had happened, but the respondent instead taunted her by laughing at her misery; that since then, Atty. Dabon succeeded in having repeated carnal knowledge of her once or twice a week through intimidation and threats; that Atty. Dabon threatened her that he would tell everyone that she had been playing around with him, if she would not yield to his lascivious cravings; and that she suffered in silence for years and submitted herself to the bestial desires of Atty. Dabon, until she even thought that she was in love with him.
• Sonia further claimed that after years of living in deception and infidelity, she decided to call it quits with Atty. Dabon sometime in March 2006 but he could not let go of their relationship; that Atty. Dabon started pestering and threatening her through phone calls and handwritten messages in vile attempts to persuade her to continue their illicit affair; that despite their break-up, Atty. Dabon still pursued his lustful quest by bringing her to Anito Motel, along Quirino A venue on March 10, 2006, but she foiled his plan when she went ballistic prompting the respondent to drive her back to the CA; that on March 13, 2006, Atty. Dabon forcibly boarded her car and pleaded for forgiveness and reconciliation but she remained firm in her resolve to end the affair; that she had to seek the assistance of her officemates, Atty. Heiddi Venecia Barrozo (Atty. Barrozo) and Atty. Aileen T. Ligot (Atty. Ligot), just to convince Atty. Dabon to alight from her car as the said incident had already drawn the attention of several employees within the vicinity of the CA parking lot; that Atty. Dabon used the members of his staff to relay his messages and deliver his handwritten letters to her; that Atty. Dabon, angered by her repeated rejection, went berserk and sent her a letter which stated, among others, that he could no longer stand her constant avoidance of him and that he would divulge their illicit relationship to her husband; that it numbed her with fright, so she called Atty. Joy, without disclosing her identity, and told her that Atty. Dabon was harassing an employee at the CA; that Atty. Dabon sent a text message to Nelson telling him of the extramarital affair; that Atty. Joy called up Nelson and informed him that her husband, Atty. Dabon, had confessed to her the illicit relationship; and that when she was asked by Nelson, she initially denied the affair for fear of reprisal but, afterwards, admitted the truth and explained to him that she was merely a victim of Atty. Dabon’s threat and intimidation which led to their illicit relationship.
• Respondent Atty. Dabon strongly refuted the accusation against him claiming that the same was baseless and unfounded and that the complaint for disbarment was merely calculated to harass, annoy and besmirch his reputation.
• Lawyers have been repeatedly reminded by the Court that possession of good moral character is both a condition precedent and a continuing requirement to warrant admission to the Bar and to retain membership in the legal profession. This proceeds from the lawyer’s bounden duty to observe the highest degree of morality in order to safeguard the Bar’s integrity,16 and the legal profession exacts from its members nothing less. Lawyers are called upon to safeguard the integrity of the Bar, free from misdeeds and acts constitutive of malpractice. Their exalted positions as officers of the court demand no less than the highest degree of morality.
• In the case at bench, the Court subscribes to the IBP’s opinion that there was substantial evidence showing that Atty. Dabon did have an illicit relationship with Nelson’s legal wife.
• To begin with, the Court notes from the respondent’s Comment that he appeared to be perplexed as to whether or not he would admit his extramarital liaisons with Sonia. As Investigating Commissioner Chan stated in his report, Atty. Dabon interposed a blanket denial of the romantic involvement but at the same time, he seemed to have tacitly admitted the illicit affair only that it was not attended by sexual assaults, threats and intimidations. The Court also observed that he devoted considerable effort to demonstrate that the affair did not amount to gross immoral conduct and that no sexual abuse, threat or intimidation was exerted upon the person of Sonia, but not once did he squarely deny the affair itself.
• In other words, the respondent’s denial is a negative pregnant, a denial coupled with the admission of substantial facts in the pleading responded to which are not squarely denied. Stated otherwise, a negative pregnant is a form of negative expression which carries with it an affirmation or at least an implication of some kind favorable to the adverse party. Where a fact is alleged with qualifying or modifying language and the words of the allegation as so qualified or modified are literally denied, it has been held that the qualifying circumstance alone is denied while the fact itself is admitted. It is clear from Atty. Dabon’s Comment that his denial only pertained as to the existence of a forced illicit relationship. Without a categorical denial thereof, he is deemed to have admitted his consensual affair with Sonia.
• More telling of the existence of a romantic relationship are the notes and cards that Sonia sent to Atty. Dabon containing personal and intimate messages in her own handwriting. The messages conveyed Sonia’s affection towards him as she even referred to him as “hon” or “honey.” There were also gifts she gave him on special occasions such as signature shoes, watch and shirts. It also appeared that Sonia frequently visited him in his office either to bring him food, fruits and other goodies or to invite him to lunch which apparently displayed her emotional attachment to him. Curiously, the foregoing was never refuted by Sonia. Such “ego-boosting admissions” of Atty. Dabon indeed proved that a consensual relationship between him and Sonia existed.
• It has not escaped the Court’s attention either that Atty. Dabon really tried hard to win back Sonia because he could not let go of their relationship, even to the point of pestering her with his persistent pleas for reconciliation.
• In one instance, Atty. Dabon boarded Sonia’s car and refused to alight unless she would talk to him. Sonia had to seek the assistance of her officemates, Atty. Barrazo and Atty. Ligot, who pleaded with him to alight from the vehicle. Moreover, Atty. Dabon made several attempts to communicate with Sonia in the hope of rekindling their relationship through letters and phone calls but she remained firm in her stand to avoid him. Such incident was recounted by Ramos and Minerva in their respective affidavits.
• Incidentally, vis-a-vis Nelson’s overwhelming evidence of said harassments, he offered only denials which was self-serving and weak under the law on evidence. Other than his general claim that Atty. Barrazo, Atty. Ligot, Ramos, and Minerva were biased witnessess because they were former officemates of Sonia, the respondent did not even bother to proffer his own version of the supposed harassment incidents.
• In light of the above disquisition, the Court finds Sonia’s allegation that the illicit relationship was made possible by sexual assaults and maintained through threat and intimidations, to be untrue. Certainly, a sexually abused woman could not be expected to lavish her oppressor with expensive gifts or pay him affectionate compliments or words of endearment. The natural reaction of a victim of a sexual molestation would be to avoid her ravisher. In this case, however, it appeared that Sonia continually remained in the company of Atty. Dabon for more than five years, even inviting him for lunch-outs and frequenting his office to bring food whenever the latter was preoccupied with his workload and could not go out with her to eat. Verily, Sonia’s actuations towards Atty. Dabon are in stark contrast to the expected demeanor of one who had been repeatedly sexually abused.
• Further, the Court cannot fathom why Sonia never reported the alleged sexual abuse to the police, if such was the truth. She could have placed the respondent behind bars and put an end to her claimed misery. Also, the Court cannot lend credence to Sonia’s claim that she merely succumbed to the respondent’s sexual advances because of his continuous threats of public exposure and humiliation. It must be stressed that Atty. Dabon would be in a much more precarious situation if he would carry out such threats, as this would exposed himself to countless criminal and administrative charges. The Court believes that Nelson’s allegation of sexual assaults and continuing threat and intimidation was not established by clear preponderant evidence. The Court is left with the most logical conclusion that Sonia freely and wittingly entered into an illicit and immoral relationship with Atty. Dabon sans any threat and intimidation.
• For what ethical breaches then may Atty. Dabon be held liable?
• Morality in our liberal society today is probably a far cry from what it used to be. Notwithstanding this permissiveness, lawyers, as keepers of public faith, are burdened with a high degree of social responsibility and, hence, must handle their personal affairs with greater caution. Indeed, those who have taken the oath to assist in the dispensation of justice should be more possessed of the consciousness and the will to overcome the weakness of the flesh.
• It has been repeatedly held that to justify suspension or disbarment, the act complained of must not only be immoral, but grossly immoral. A grossly immoral act is one that is so corrupt as to constitute a criminal act, or so unprincipled as to be reprehensible to a high degree or committed under such scandalous or revolting circumstances as to shock the common sense of decency. It is willful, flagrant, or shameless as to show indifference to the opinion of good and respectable members of the community.
• In the case at bench, Atty. Dabon’s intimate relationship with a woman other than his wife showed his moral indifference to the opinion of the good and respectable members of the community. It manifested his disrespect for the laws on the sanctity of marriage and for his own marital vow of fidelity. It showed his utmost moral depravity and low regard for the fundamental ethics of his profession. Indeed, he has fallen below the moral bar. Such detestable behavior warrants a disciplinary sanction. Even if not all forms of extramarital relations are punishable under penal law, sexual relations outside of marriage are considered disgraceful and immoral as they manifest deliberate disregard of the sanctity of marriage and the marital vows protected by the Constitution and affirmed by our laws.
• In the case at bench, Atty. Dabon’s misconduct and unrepentant demeanor clearly showed a serious flaw in his character, his moral indifference to the sanctity of marriage and marital vows, and his outright defiance of established norms. All these could not but put the legal profession in disrepute and place the integrity of the administration of justice in peril. Accordingly, the Court finds the need for the imposition of the extreme administrative penalty of disbarment.
Case not considered as grossly immoral
Re: Decision dated 17 March 2011 in Criminal Case No. SB-28361 entitled “People of the Philippines v. Joselito C. Barrozo” (July 2015)
Where a lawyer is in a live-in relationship and both have no impediment to marry: Where a lawyer and a woman engaged in a consensual relationship, birthed a child, and upon passing the bar exam, were unable to get married at first due to the lawyer having no money and thereafter him getting married to a woman, in that order, the disbarment case was dismissed as the Court found the lawyer’s refusal to marry “was not so corrupt nor unprincipled as to warrant disbarment.”
Moral turpitude – is defined as an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals. (Garrido v. Garrido , supra.)
A lawyer’s conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude does not automatically call for the imposition of the supreme penalty of disbarment since it may, in its discretion, choose to impose the less severe penalty of suspension. As held, the determination of whether an attorney should be disbarred or merely suspended for a period involves the exercise of sound judicial discretion. (Garrido v. Garrido , supra.)
Examples of moral turpitude cases: adultery, concubinage, rape, arson, evasion of income tax, barratry, bigamy, blackmail, bribery, criminal conspiracy to smuggle opium, dueling, embezzlement, extortion, forgery, libel, making fraudulent proof of loss on insurance contract, murder, mutilation of public records, fabrication of evidence, offenses against pension laws, perjury, seduction under the promise of marriage, estafa, falsification of public document, and estafa thru falsification of public document (Zari v. Flores, A.M. No. (2170-MC) P-1356, 21 November 1979), as well as abduction, bouncing checks (B.P. 22), seduction, smuggling.
Plagiarism, a term not defined by statute, has a popular or common definition. To plagiarize, says Webster, is “to steal and pass off as one’s own” the ideas or words of another. Stealing implies malicious taking. Black’s Law Dictionary, the world’s leading English law dictionary quoted by the Court in its decision, defines plagiarism as the “deliberate and knowing presentation of another person’s original ideas or creative expressions as one’s own.” The presentation of another person’s ideas as one’s own must be deliberate or premeditated – a taking with ill intent. (In the Matter of the Charges of Plagiarism, etc. Against Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo, A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC, 08 February 2011)
The tendency to copy in law is readily explicable. In law accuracy of words is everything. Legal disputes often center round the way in which obligations have been expressed in legal documents and how the facts of the real world fit the meaning of the words in which the obligation is contained. This, in conjunction with the risk-aversion of lawyers means that refuge will often be sought in articulations that have been tried and tested. In a sense therefore the community of lawyers have together contributed to this body of knowledge, language, and expression which is common property and may be utilized, developed and bettered by anyone. (In the Matter of the Charges of Plagiarism, etc. Against Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo , supra.)
Not an offense
The Court will not, therefore, consistent with established practice in the Philippines and elsewhere, dare permit the filing of actions to annul the decisions promulgated by its judges or expose them to charges of plagiarism for honest work done. (In the Matter of the Charges of Plagiarism, etc. Against Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo , supra.)
This rule should apply to practicing lawyers as well. Counsels for the petitioners, like all lawyers handling cases before courts and administrative tribunals, cannot object to this. Although as a rule they receive compensation for every pleading or paper they file in court or for every opinion they render to clients, lawyers also need to strive for technical accuracy in their writings. They should not be exposed to charges of plagiarism in what they write so long as they do not depart, as officers of the court, from the objective of assisting the Court in the administration of justice. (In the Matter of the Charges of Plagiarism, etc. Against Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo , supra.)
Where a lawyer borrowed Php500,000.00, executed promissory note, issued a postdated check but later on bounced, failed to contact/explain to the creditor despite receiving a demand letter, his failure to honor his just debt constitutes dishonest and deceitful conduct. This dishonest conduct was compounded by Atty. Mendoza’s act of interjecting flimsy excuses that only strengthened the conclusion that he refused to pay a valid and just debt. (Sosa v. Mendoza, A.C. No. 8776, 25 March 2015)
Jimenez v. Francisco, A.C. No. 10548, 10 December 2014:
• In the facts obtaining in this case, Atty. Francisco clearly violated the canons and his sworn duty. He is guilty of engaging in dishonest and deceitful conduct when he admitted to having allowed his corporate client, Clarion, to actively misrepresent to the SEC, the significant matters regarding its corporate purpose and subsequently, its corporate shareholdings. In the documents submitted to the SEC, such as the deeds of assignment and the GIS, Atty. Francisco, in his professional capacity, feigned the validity of these transfers of shares, making it appear that these were done for consideration when, in fact, the said transactions were fictitious, albeit upon the alleged orders of Jimenez.