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The responsible and accountable lawyer, C3S2 CPRA

Section 2, Canon III

SECTION 2. The responsible and accountable lawyer. – A lawyer shall uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land, promote respect for laws and legal processes, safeguard human rights, and at all times advance the honor and integrity of the legal profession.
As an officer of the court, a lawyer shall uphold the rule of law and conscientiously assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.
As an advocate, a lawyer shall represent the client with fidelity and zeal within the bounds of the law and the CPRA. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. The responsible and accountable lawyer

Under this section, lawyers are required to “uphold the constitution, obey the laws of the land, promote respect for laws and legal processes, safeguard human rights, and at all times advance the honor and integrity of the legal profession.”

Ascaño v. Panem, A.C. No. 13287, June 21, 2023, Per Inting, J.:

• In the complaint, Ascaño alleged that Atty. Panem notarized a Deed of Absolute Sale (Deed) in favor of Spouses Severino and Matilde Guillermo (Spouses Guillermo) involving a property she owned in Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur, without her presence as the supposed seller thereof. Ascaño recounted that when she confronted Atty. Panem about it, he volunteered to handle the case in order to get the property back from Spouses Guillermo. Initially, Ascaño accepted Atty. Panem’s offer, but she later learned that the latter did not adhere to her narration of facts when he filed the action in court on her behalf.

• As a result, Ascaño filed the present administrative case against Atty. Panem for violation of the Notarial Rules when he: (1) notarized the Deed without the presence of one of the parties; (2) failed to ask for a competent evidence of identity before notarizing the document; and (3) failed to submit his notarial register for the period 2006-2007. She also charged Atty. Panem with representing conflicting interests in breach of the CPR.

• In his defense, Atty. Panem countered that Ascaño, who presented her community tax certificate as evidence of her identity, actually signed the Deed in his presence. He explained that his notarial register and all notarial documents were destroyed because his law office was flooded in July 2006. Finally, he argued that he was not guilty of representing conflicting interests considering that he only represented Ascaño in the civil action concerning the property in question.

• [A] notary public is prohibited from notarizing a document if the person involved as a signatory thereto is: (i) not present at the time of notarization; and/or (ii) not personally known to or otherwise identified by the notary public through a competent evidence of identity as defined above.

• In the case, Ascaño vehemently denied ever appearing before Atty. Panem during the questioned notarial act in Ilocos Sur, asserting that she was staying with her daughter in Bulacan at the time. On this point, the Investigating Commissioner noted that Atty. Panem did not submit his notarial register in order to prove his defense that Ascaño actually appeared before him to have the Deed notarized. While Atty. Panem tried to explain that his notarial register was lost because of flooding in his law office in July 2006, the Court simply cannot give any credence to this excuse because of the lack of sufficient evidence to support it.

• Even assuming arguendo that Ascaño truly appeared before Atty. Panem, the record shows that the latter failed to require her to present a competent evidence of identity for the notarization of the contested Deed. In particular, the document shows that Ascaño supposedly presented her community tax certificate to Atty. Panem, which is not considered as a valid and competent evidence of identity as it does not bear the photograph and signature of the individual.

• As earlier mentioned, the Court finds no merit in Atty. Panem’s assertion that a strong typhoon in July 2006 caused the flooding in his law office, which, in turn, destroyed his notarial register and all notarial documents. Not only is this unsubstantiated by evidence, but also, it does not explain Atty. Panem’s failure to comply with his duty to submit his notarial report for the months prior to and after the supposed calamity that hit Narvacan, Ilocos Sur in 2006.

• In view of the above-mentioned violations of the Notarial Rules, the Court likewise holds Atty. Panem liable for breach of Section 2, Canon III of the CPRA [i.e. the responsible and accountable lawyer].

• This is not to say that Atty. Panem is without any administrative liability in this regard. The records show that in the complaint20 for reconveyance that he prepared for Ascaño, Atty. Panem made it appear that the latter had signed the Deed in his presence before he notarized the document. Despite Ascaño’s demands, Atty. Panem did not amend the complaint in order to adhere to his client’s narration of facts. As such, Ascaño was constrained to hire another counsel who, in turn, filed an amended complaint  on her behalf.

• More than that, Atty. Panem clearly acted for his own selfish interests by stating in the pleading that Ascaño personally appeared before him to have the Deed notarized. As the Investigating Commissioner aptly observed, Atty. Panem only offered to represent Ascaño in the civil action to recover the property because he was aware of the mistake he made when he notarized the document in the absence of the seller. Indeed, Atty. Panem’s dishonest conduct is evinced by the fact that he changed the narrative against his client’s wishes in an obvious attempt to clear himself of any wrongdoing.

• By knowingly making untruthful statements in a pleading filed in court, Atty. Panem clearly violated Section 2, paragraphs 2 and 3 and Section 6, Canon III as well as Section 1, Canon IV of the CPRA.

Sps. Thomas v. Retardo, Jr., A.C. No. 13229, June 21, 2023, Per Inting, J.:

• Spouses Teodora and Jose Quirante (Sps. Quirante) wanted to obtain a loan from complainants, who were not versed in Philippine laws considering that William is an American citizen. Complainants thus sought the help of a lawyer to prepare the loan agreement. On April 25, 2011, the following persons appeared before respondent’s law office to develop and sign a legally binding document that would govern their intended loan transaction, namely: complainants; their friend, Steven Connor (Connor), who introduced them to respondent; Sps. Quirante; and the latter’s loan agents, Carmelo Obeja and Amel Obeso.

• After asking the parties for the terms of their intended transactions, respondent prepared two documents: (1) an Acknowledgment Receipt4 dated April 25, 2011; and (2) an undated Deed of Absolute Sale pertaining to a real property owned by Sps. Quirante, located in Brgy. Poblacion, Tagum City, Davao del Norte, and covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-263682 (subject property).

• The Acknowledgment Receipt reads as follows:

I, TEODORA QUIRANTE, of legal age, Filipino, married, and a resident of Tagum City, do hereby acknowledge receipt of the sum of FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND PESOS (PHP450,000.00), from MARIFE G. YUKOT, as loan, secured by my real property located at Poblacion, Tagum City, identified as Lot No. 6-B-6. Psd-112319-033470, containing an area of 214 square meters. more or less, embraced in and covered by TCT No. T-263682.

The loan is subject to the following conditions: [a] it is payable within six (6) months from date hereof; [b] earns interest of five percent (5%) per month, with the interest to be paid monthly without need of any demand; [c] late payment of monthly interest is subject to penalty, at 2.5% per month, with five (5) days as grace period; [d] in case of non-payment of the loan after its due date, the real property put up as collateral will be considered as payment of and for the loan, including the accrued interest thereof, under the concept of dacion en pago; for this purpose, we agree tn execute and deliver to Ms. Yukot the Deed of Absolute Sale involving subject property, with the condition that [the] same shall be effective only in case of default; we however have the option to restructure our loan, provided we are updated in our interest payments. (Italics supplied)

• Respondent explained to the parties that in case Sps. Quirante would fail to pay the loan secured by the subject property, complainants would have the right to take possession of the mortgaged lot.7 Respondent then notarized the Acknowledgement Receipt after the parties signed it.

• On October 7, 2011, complainants consulted respondent regarding their concern about the possible default of Sps. Quirante in view of their missed payments. In turn, respondent prepared and notarized a Courtesy Letter that reiterated the pactum commissorium stipulation contained in the acknowledgment receipt, viz.:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Quirante:

This is to formally inform you that the 6-month loan which you have taken from me x x x will become due and demandable on October 25, 2011.

While it is true that the above-said loan is deemed renewed if- and only if- you are up-to-date in your payments of the monthly interests of your loan, such renewal is on a month to month basis. This means that if you cannot pay one month interest, it would constitute default, and in that case, I shall have the option to invoke our agreement that in case of default, I can run after your property which you put up as collateral of your loan. Please understand that you have already executed and delivered to and in my favor a Deed of Absolute Sale involving the said collateral.

x x x x. (Italics supplied)

• On November 30, 2011, complainants again consulted respondent regarding Sps. Quirante’s failure to comply with the loan agreement. Respondent then prepared and notarized a Final Demand Letter,12 which again invoked the pactum commissorium stipulation:

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Quirante:

Subj [sic]: FINAL DEMAND TO PAY

x x x x.

I would also like to remind you that you have already executed a Deed of Absolute Sale in my favor, and all I have to do is to register this document and secure a title over the above-sold real property in my name.

x x x x. (Italics supplied)

• Despite the final demand, Sps. Quirante defaulted on their loan obligation.

• On December 12, 2011, complainants asked respondent for the next step to take after Sps. Quirante failed to pay their loan obligation. In response, respondent told complainants that they can take possession of the subject property. He then notarized the Deed of Absolute Sale signed by the parties on April 25, 2011 and instructed complainants to proceed to the City Assessor’s Office to obtain a tax clearance. Complainants did as instructed. However, about half an hour after their consultation with respondent, the latter via text message informed complainants that Sps. Quirante came to his office and wanted to meet with them. When complainants returned to respondent’s law office, Sps. Quirante asked for a l0-day extension within which to pay their loan obligation; complainants agreed. Still, despite the lapse of the agreed extension, Sps. Quirante did not pay their obligation. Instead, c0mplainants received a message from Sps. Quirante which stated that the latter could not pay the entire amount of the loan obligation.

• Consequently, complainants proceeded with the processing of the Deed of Absolute Sale pursuant to the loan agreement.

• Sometime in May 2012, Sps. Quirante filed a complaint before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) against complainants for Declaration of Nullity of TCT No. 142-2012002835 and Deed of Absolute Sale, Reconveyance, Quieting of Title, Damages, and Attorney’s Fees. Thereafter, complainants attempted to engage respondent’s services as counsel; however, the latter declined because of a “potential conflict of interest” which he did not fully explain.

• When the trial court subpoenaed respondent to the civil case, respondent filed a manifestation which expressed his reservation as to the request for subpoena based on the following grounds:

1) Mr. Quirante is among the petitioners in the case entitled, “In the Matter of the Petition for Cancellation of an Annotation on TCT No. T-4715, or in the alternative, for Court Authority to Close or Otherwise Dispose of the Property Covered by the Same” and docketed as Misc. Case No. 3220 (the Cancellation of TCT Annotation Case);

2) Respondent is the principal sponsor in the wedding of Jojo Quirante, son of Sps. Quirante; and

3) Respondent may not be able to assist complainants as it may violate the attorney-client relationship.

• Eventually, the RTC ruled against complainants and nullified the loan agreement for being a pactum commissorium, which is prohibited under Article 2088 of the Civil Code of the Philippines…

• Hence, the present administrative complaint.

• Complainants alleged that respondent violated the CPR for preparing loan documents which are void for not being in accordance with the law and for representing conflicting interests. They further alleged that because of respondent’s actuations, William suffered two separate mild strokes due to stress during the pendency of the civil case. Complainants likewise lost the amount of ₱100,000.00 for attorney’s fees in the civil case, ₱90,000.00 for the fees paid to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Register of Deeds which are not recoverable with the nullification of title, and ₱1,369,747.00 as loss of interest based on the original and agreed rate of interest.

• In his Verified Answer, respondent denied the allegations against him and stated that when the parties arrived at his office, they had already agreed on the terms of the loan. Respondent averred that, despite his reservations about the legal ramifications of the agreement, he notarized it because it was freely and voluntary entered into by the parties. In fact Sps. Quirante even expressed that they were not worried about the deed of absolute sale because their daughter who was working abroad would help them pay the loan. Anent the alleged conflict of interest, respondent asserted that he disclosed to complainants that Sps. Quirante were his previous clients. He added that he merely notarized the loan document; hence, he did not become the lawyer of either complainants or Sps. Quirante.

• Record shows that respondent rendered legal services for the complainants on multiple occasions, and in all those instances, respondent failed to disclose to complainants that an attorney-client relationship previously existed between him and Mr. Quirante; and that he is even the principal sponsor in the wedding of the son of Sps. Quirante. Hence, respondent represented conflicting interest in violation of the CPRA. In an attempt to hide behind the protective veil of the limited liabilities of a notary public, respondent denied the existence of an attorney-client relationship between him and complainants, arguing that “notarization” is not tantamount to “legal representation.” He thus stated that he cannot be held administratively liable for representing conflicting since no attorney-client relationship was formed when he simply notarized the documents relative to the parties’ loan agreement.

• An attorney-client relationship commences from the moment the client seeks the attorney’s advice upon a legal concern. Moreover, the CPRA expressly provides that a lawyer-client relationship arises “when the client consciously, voluntarily and in good faith vests a lawyer with the client’s confidence for the purpose of rendering legal services,” and the lawyer agrees to render such services. Thus, respondent’s contention that he never represented complainants in an actual case before the court or other fora will not exonerate him from a clear violation of Section 17, Canon III of the CPRA. It is well to stress that complainants consulted respondent on multiple instances, and in turn, respondent rendered the following legal services:

1. On April 25, 2011, respondent prepared and notarized the Acknowledgment Receipt between complainants and Sps. Quirante.

2. On October 7, 2011, respondent advised complainants on their next course of action on the possible default of Sps. Quirante. He also prepared and notarized the Courtesy Letter of complainants addressed to Sps. Quirante reminding them of their obligations in the loan agreement:

3. On November 25, 2011, respondent advised complainants regarding their demand for payment which was unheeded by Sps. Quirante, as well as drafted and notarized the final demand letter of complainants to Sps. Quirante.

4. On December 12, 2011, respondent, after the lapse of the grace period given in the final demand letter, advised complainants to enforce the pactum commissorium stipulation of loan agreement. He then notarized the undated Deed of Absolute Sale and instructed complainants to obtain a tax clearance before the City Assessor’s Office.

• Respondent clearly represented conflicting interests when he advised complainants as to their course of action and even prepared the necessary documents relative to the former’s claim against Sps. Quirante.

• Moreover, when Sps. Quirante filed a civil case against complainants, the latter tried to secure respondent’s legal services. However, respondent refused and disclosed for the first time that his representation of complainants would come in conflict with his attorney-client relationship with Sps. Quirante. In doing so, respondent not only violated the confidence resulting from an attorney-client relationship, he also committed professional misconduct and brought discredit to the entire legal profession, which is a ground for suspension or removal from the practice of law under the Rules of Court.

• Even worse, respondent, despite knowing that a pactum commissorium stipulation is prohibited by law, prepared and notarized various documents that were all anchored on such illegal stipulation. In other words, by his own actions, respondent consciously, not to mention, repeatedly, disregarded the law and settled jurisprudence pertaining to the prohibition against pactum commissorium. Verily, respondent violated Section 2, Canon III of the CPRA [i.e., the responsible and accountable lawyer].

b. Officer of the court

As an officer of the court, lawyers are required to “uphold the rule of law and conscientiously assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.”

[A] lawyer is an “officer of the court” and is “an agency to advance the ends of justice.” (Ramos v. Lazo, A.C. No. 10204, September 14, 2020, Per Gaerlan, J.)

An attorney enjoys the legal presumption that he is innocent of the charges against him until the contrary is proved, and that as an officer of the Court, he is presumed to have performed his duties in accordance with his oath. It is basic principle in adjective law that he who establishes a claim has the burden of proving such claim by the amount of evidence required by law. Reliance on mere allegations, conjectures and suppositions will leave an administrative complaint with no leg to stand on. Charges based on mere suspicion and speculation cannot be given credence. (Simonetti v. Marapao, A.C. No. 10297, March 09, 2022, Per Dimaampao, J.)

An attorney-at-law is an officer of the court in the administration of justice and as such he is continually accountable to the Court for the manner in which he exercises the privilege which has been granted to him. His admission to the practice of law is upon the implied condition that his continued enjoyment of the right conferred, is dependent upon his remaining a fit and safe person to exercise it. When it appears by acts of misconduct, that he has become unfit to continue with the trust reposed upon him, his right to continue in the enjoyment of that trust and for the enjoyment of the professional privilege accorded to him may and ought to be forfeited. (Tajan v. Cusi, Jr., G.R. No. L-28899, May 30, 1974, Per Antonio, J.)

Any misconduct affecting the standing and moral character of the lawyer as an officer of the court and member of the Bar justifies disciplinary action. Lawyers must conduct themselves beyond reproach at all times, whether they are dealing with their clients or the public at large, and a violation of the high moral standards of the legal profession justifies the imposition of the appropriate penalty, including suspension and disbarment. (Rodco Consultancy Maritime Services Corporation v. Concepcion, En Banc, A.C. No. 7963, June 29, 2021, Per Curiam)

The purpose of disbarment is mainly to determine the fitness of a lawyer to continue acting as an officer of the court and as participant in the dispensation of justice. The purpose of disbarment is to protect the courts and the public from the misconduct of the officers of the court and to ensure the administration of justice by requiring that those who exercise this important function shall be competent, honorable and trustworthy men in whom courts and clients may repose confidence. (Sosa v. Mendoza, A.C. No. 8776, March 25, 2015, Per Brion, J.)

In disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, the only issue is whether the officer of the court is still fit to be allowed to continue as a member of the Bar. Our only concern is the determination of respondent’s administrative liability. Our findings have no material bearing on other judicial action which the parties may choose to file against each other. Furthermore, disciplinary proceedings against lawyers do not involve a trial of an action, but rather investigations by the Court into the conduct of one of its officers. The only question for determination in these proceedings is whether or not the attorney is still fit to be allowed to continue as a member of the Bar. Thus, this Court cannot rule on the issue of the amount of money that should be returned to the complainant. (Heenan v. Atty. Espejo, En Banc, A.C. No. 10050, December 3, 2013, Per Velasco, Jr., J.)

c. Advocate

As an advocate, lawyers are required to “represent the client with fidelity and zeal within the bounds of the law and the CPRA.”

No lawyer is obliged to advocate for every person who may wish to become his client, but once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, the lawyer owes fidelity to such cause and must be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its termination, that is, until the case becomes final and executory. A lawyer is not at liberty to abandon his client and withdraw his services without reasonable cause and only upon notice appropriate in the circumstances. Any dereliction of duty by a counsel affects the client. This means that his client is entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy and defense that is authorized by the law and he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. (Venterez v. De Vera, A.C. No. 7421, October 10, 2007, Per Chico-Nazario, J.)

It is axiomatic that no lawyer is obliged to act either as adviser or advocate for every person who may wish to become his client. Every lawyer has the right to decline employment but once he agrees to take on the cause of a client, the lawyer owes fidelity to such cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. At that point, he owes entire devotion to the interest of the client, warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of his client’s rights, as well as the exertion of his utmost learning and ability to the end that nothing be taken or withheld from his client, save by the rules of law, legally applied. Simply put, a client is entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy authorized by the law and he may expect his lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. (Sousa v. Tinampay, A.C. No. 7428, November 25, 2019, Per Inting, J.)

The fiduciary duty of a lawyer and advocate is what places the law profession in a unique position of trust and confidence, and distinguishes it from any other calling. Once this trust and confidence is betrayed, the faith of the people not only in the individual lawyer but also in the legal profession as a whole is eroded. To this end, all members of the bar are strictly required to at all times maintain the highest degree of public confidence in the fidelity, honesty and integrity of their profession. The nature of the office of a lawyer requires that he shall be of good moral character. This qualification is not only a condition precedent to admission to the legal profession, but its continued possession is essential to maintain one’s good standing in the profession. Law is a noble profession, and the privilege to practice it is bestowed only upon individuals who are competent intellectually, academically, and, equally important, morally. Because they are vanguards of the law and the legal system, lawyers must at all times conduct themselves, especially in their dealings with their clients and the public at large, with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach. (Dayan Sta. Ana Christian Neighborhood Association, Inc. v. Espiritu, A.C. No. 5542, July 20, 2006, Per Callejo, Sr., J.)

Venterez v. De Vera, A.C. No. 7421, October 10, 2007, Per Chico-Nazario, J.:

• The Decision in Civil Case No. 981 was rendered by the MTC of Calasaio, Pangasinan, on 25 February 2004. Respondent admitted16 that he was served a copy of the said Decision on 4 March 2004. After having received a copy of the MTC Decision, respondent did not bother to file a Motion for Reconsideration or a notice of appeal with the proper courts. Thus, complainants were compelled to engage the services of a new counsel to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the MTC who did not, however, enter his appearance as new counsel. It bears stressing that during this time, respondent had not yet filed any notice of withdrawal as counsel for the complainants in Civil Case No. 981. Respondent only formally withdrew as counsel for complainant in Civil Case No. 981 when he filed with the MTC his Notice17 of Retirement as Counsel on 5 May 2004, on the ground that “he was also retired as Counsel for the [complainants] two days after he received copy of the decision rendered in this case when SALVADOR RAMIREZ, a representative of the [complainants], withdrew all the records of the case from [respondent] to be given to his new counsel.”

• We cannot accept respondent’s defense that he had already withdrawn from the case two days after his receipt of the MTC Decision and that he had allegedly communicated this withdrawal to Salvador Ramirez, son of one of the herein complainants, Inocencia Ramirez. It is an apparent attempt on the part of respondent to wash his hands of any liability for failing to pursue any of the available remedies to complainants from the adverse MTC Decision.

• The rule in this jurisdiction is that a client has the absolute right to terminate the attorney-client relation at any time with or without cause. The right of an attorney to withdraw or terminate the relation other than for sufficient cause is, however, considerably restricted. Among the fundamental rules of ethics is the principle that an attorney who undertakes to conduct an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its conclusion. He is not at liberty to abandon it without reasonable cause. A lawyer’s right to withdraw from a case before its final adjudication arises only from the client’s written consent or from a good cause.

• Without a proper revocation of his authority and withdrawal as counsel, respondent remains counsel of record for the complainants in Civil Case No. 981; and whether he has a valid cause to withdraw from the case, he cannot immediately do so and leave his clients without representation. An attorney may only retire from the case either by a written consent of his client or by permission of the court after due notice and hearing, in which event, the attorney should see to it that the name of the new attorney is recorded in the case. Respondent did not comply with these obligations. Therefore, he remains the counsel of record for the complainants in Civil Case No. 981 with the duty to protect complainants’ interest. Had he made the necessary inquiries as to the status of the case, he would have known that he was still the counsel of record as no entry of appearance was ever made by another counsel. It would have been easily discernible on his part that there was no change in his status as complainants’ lawyer. As of that time, their client-lawyer relationship was still subsisting. Therefore, he would have known that the Motion for Reconsideration was denied; and a writ of execution had been issued under the circumstances.

References

Canon III, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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